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Students meet blog buddies, Skype with author

  • Blog buddiesA student's face lights up in delight when author Ellen Potter appears on two screens in the front of the room during the Nov. 30 "blog buddies" event at the School of Education.

    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

    Blog buddies
  • "Meet" the authorEllen Potter speaks with a local fourth grade class and their William & Mary blog buddies via Skype.

    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

    "Meet" the author
  • Fourth gradersThe fourth graders pose for a photo outside of the School of Education.

    Photo by Amy Moser

    Fourth graders

The Holly Room in William & Mary’s School of Education is filled with fourth graders and College students all talking in hushed but excited tones around circular tables.

Finally, the distinctive chime of an incoming Skype call rings out, and the room draws in a collective breath of anticipation and delight as author Ellen Potter appears on two large screens at the front of the room.

“This is so exciting! I’ve been looking forward to this all day,” she says.

It was a day that the fourth graders had been looking forward to, as well. The 45-student class from Matoaka Elementary School in Williamsburg has participated in a “blog buddies” program with William & Mary students all semester. The “buddies” finally met face-to-face Nov. 30 when they gathered to speak to Potter via Skype.

The blog buddies program is the brainchild of Denise Johnson, an associate professor of reading education at the College of William & Mary. Earlier this year, Johnson came up with the idea to use Skype in elementary classrooms to connect students with children’s authors and illustrators. Johnson presented the idea to some of her graduate students who work in local schools, including Amy Moser ’11, who team teaches a fourth grade class at Matoaka Elementary with Dawn Hess.

Throughout this semester, students in Moser’s class have been writing blogs about “Spilling Ink,” a writer’s handbook written by Potter and Anne Mazer.

Hess said the students have really enjoyed blogging.

“They love it,” she said. “They can read each other’s blogs, and they can see what their peers think.”

Graduate students in one of Johnson’s courses were paired with one or two fourth-grade students. Throughout the semester, the college students interacted with the elementary students on their blogs, commenting on their posts and asking questions.

 “The blog buddies project provided the preservice teachers with an authentic opportunity to learn about the writing process, effective uses of technology, and the power of author visits through their own use of blogging and Skyping and through the eyes of their fourth grade blog buddies,” said Johnson.

Finally, the buddies were able to meet in person in the School of Education’s new building, which includes rooms designed with the increasing use of technology in the classroom in mind. The Holly Room’s setup made it easy for the group to talk to and see the author whose ideas they had been writing and talking about all semester.

“The use of technology to bring people together is exactly what we designed for in this building,” said Tom Ward, associate dean for academic programs. “This particular event shows how we can work together with our partners to enrich the experience of k-12 students and our own education students. Blog Buddies is ideal case of seeing the excitement of learning first hand, even if that is from thousands of miles away. We expect to have many more of these experiences in the years to come.”

During the Skype call, Potter talked about writing for a few minutes and then invited questions from the students. One student asked what her favorite things about writing were and another asked her what inspired her to write. A gasp of delight came from the students when Potter revealed she had just finished a new book, which is a remake of “The Secret Garden.”

Hess said that Skype gives students access to primary resources they would not otherwise have.

“Who better to talk to than the author of the book?” she said.