Random Thoughts

Chatting with 4th graders

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ISB just launched PantherNet. Our Moodle system that syncs (or is trying to) with PowerSchool. It’s still in Beta but early feedback from teachers:

“Where has this been?”

That’s a good sign!

Yesterday I met with a fourth grade teacher eager to see if PantherNet could fit into her classroom. I haven’t used Moodle much in the elementary but there is only one way to find out if it could be beneficial in the learning process.

The only way to do that is find a teacher who is game to give it a go, spend some time with it, and see what happens with the students.

I met with the teacher for about 30 minutes yesterday talking about her classroom and finding out what she wanted from the program.

It’s not about doing one more thing, it is about replacing something the teacher is already doing and then see if:

A) It works for both the teacher and the student.
B) See if there is added value in the learning process.

After our 30 minute talk the teacher was very excited, asked if I could come back in an hour to give chatting a go with her students.

So, we created a simple chat in Moodle to see if there would be any use of it in a 4th grade classroom….a clear and simple experiment.

The topic: What are some of your favorite things?

Chatting in 4th grade by jutecht.

We chatted in class for about 30 minutes. It was interesting to watch the students interact in this way. Some would write something and then run over to their friend to see if they saw it.

A couple observations:

Keeping the chat on topic was difficult. Both the novelty of using chat and the ability to say thing you might not say in class came up. We talked about both issues when we debriefed at the end of the session.

Taught students to use @ when responding to someone on a specific topic. They picked it up very quickly.

Looking at the image above, students are still trying to use complete sentences and proper grammar when chatting. Is this the correct writing style for a chat?

As the student were chatting the teacher and I watched and discussed what we were seeing. My favorite moment came when she turned to me and said, “This is like a new genre. We need to be teaching students how to communicate this way.”

And I agree.

The same day I did this chat with 4th grade. I myselft had three Skype chats with people around the world. From the US, Shanghai, and Australia.

This is how business gets done today. It would be interesting to see how businesses use a chat client. I know when I visited Wetpaint headquarters this summer they have an internal chat system running as a way to communicate. I wonder if other companies do the same?

The big moment came this morning though when I bumped into the teacher in the hallway. She came into school today and was bombarded by students in her class wanting to know why they couldn’t chat last night when they got home. 12 of the 17 students in her class when home last night, logged in and tried to chat.


The were never told the web address…they just remembered it.

They were told that the chat would be turned off…yet they tried to use it anyway.

Two students found out how to change their profile picture and uploaded and updated their profiles on the site.

It was what they wanted to talk about in class

…..did we just excite students about learning? Did we just speak to them in their language? Did we engage them with the tools they want to be engaged with? Why the excitement? Yes, it’s new, yes it’s different…but can we get learning out of it?

Questions I still have as we set up “Chat 2” next week. The conversations with students in the class have been the best part. Talking about communication and cyberbullying and doing it in a safe environment that we (the school) can control.

This is a life skill these students will need in 2017 when they graduate from high school. The skill of course is learning to communicate in digital world using new digital tools. The chat client…not so important.

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Jeff, I think it is awesome that you are chatting with 4th graders and having discussions about appropriate and inappropriate use of IM. It is very important that they learn how to use this technology in a useful and meaningful way. Last year with Twitter, Clay Burell was able to contact several important people for his students to interview; it totally opened the students’ eyes to the possibilities of communication with Twitter and IM programs. Also, several of the interviews were done on Skype. Keep it up!

  2. Jeff, we used our Moodle site forum/chat last year with grades 1 and 5. For the first graders it was play and excitement. They were focused on fonts, highlighting and the various smilies. We used linked gmail accounts so they could log in.
    The fifth grades used a forum as part of a response to their unit on Immigration. There were 5 topic questions. Each student had to respond to each question the first day. The next day they had to comment on other student’s responses. It was the first time they used it and the teacher spoke to them about quality commenting as well.
    Also, the fifth graders picked up on the chat capability on their own and many independently customized their profiles. Their teacher had to “ban” chatting during class.
    Moodle is a bit clunky but provides a few communication tools in one place that is contained and protected.

  3. Will Kirkwood Reply

    Jeff, I have been exploring the uses of Moodle at the Elementary level. Our middle and high school students/teachers have bought into the idea and the services provided but I am still trying to find the “way” to effectively bring it into the Lower School.

    We have developed discussion forums with NASA experts for a grade 5 students when they were studying Newton’s Laws of Motions and how they applied in Space. In grade 4 we have posted pieces of music and had students respond on the genre of music, the message that was being presented and the emotions that it brought out for their Performers unit. In grade 3 we developed wikis and chatted about how people have used technology throughout time for their History Detectives unit.

    While these examples have been successful they have been very rigid – as in the kids/teachers always used formal written language.

    So my project at the moment is to try and develop these projects and introduce a few other ones in the younger grades to try an make them more relevant for the “here and now”


  4. Jeff,

    I worked at the phone company this summer and the staff there used Yahoo IM for instant messaging throughout the day there. This is definitely technology worth learning about.

    I think it would be fun to chat with students in classes in other countries. What better way to learn about other people and cultures than through direct interactions?

    Bill Gx

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