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  • Writer's pictureDarren Ellwein

Because of One Picture

What’s the connection between a middle school in South Dakota and a school in Bergen, Norway?  Learning!  

The power of Twitter has been documented in education.  But in this case, a literal ‘one picture’ has created multiple opportunities for learning, even though the schools are seven hours apart.  It has also allowed me to have a great friend across the Atlantic.

It all started in May of 2015.  My building, Harrisburg South Middle School in South Dakota, was planning a Teach Like A Pirate Day for the the final full day of school.  I was planning on doing a drone class and took a picture of a student flying a drone before school began that day.  In the tweet I used #drones, which gained a response from Terje Pedersen (@terjepe) in Norway.  He responded by sending an engaging video of his students working with technology, including drones.  His colleague, Anne-Marit, had used drones in math lessons.

With both of us having a summer break, we started connecting our ideas and teachers using social media platforms in August of 2015.  When school resumed for both of us in August, we collaborated with a plan to connect teachers, students and relevant topics in our curriculums.  We both were driven to produce authentic learning outcomes.  That is when things blew up!

Terje and I connected via video chats to set the framework, and then brought interested teachers into the mix.  We started with English/Language Arts (ELA).  First, we wanted our students to critique each other’s writing.  We did this through Google Apps, but then, wanted a personal piece added.  During the year, students engaged in video chats, thanks to Norwegian students staying longer during their school day.  At first we used Google hangouts, but switched to to facilitate these discussions.


Second, Terje wanted our students to mentor Bergen students regarding the use of the English language.  Using Google docs and hangouts, the students critiqued spoken and written language components.

Before Christmas Terje created a private Facebook group for our students to discuss Native American topics and stereotypes.  Since South Dakota has several Native American reservations, this was a great fit for our students and our state history.  This expanded to include another one of our South Middle School ELA classes.  Students arrived early to school and implemented a Padlet discussion board on the same topic.  Padlet provided a medium for real-time discussion and questioning.

Then, our South students assisted me in connecting with Troy Worley and Marlys Big Eagle.  Mr. Worley works with the U.S Department of Justice as an attorney for Native American issues.  Ms. Big Eagle also works for the U.S. Department of Justice as a Victim Witness Coordinator.  We also did a private video chat with our students, along with Troy and Marlys, and sent it to Terje’s students.    Another class video chat took place with Bergen and Harrisburg students to discuss Native American dress and culture.

Learning in math was also influenced from this teacher collaboration.  Thanks to Terje’s colleague, Anne-Marit, we created a lesson to use our Jumping Sumo drones to explain the pythagorean theorem.  We also used Parrot’s quadcopter and Sphero’s for coordinate plane learning.  This could be another blog post by itself.


With the school year behind us, Terje and I are not resting with this experience only.  2016-2017 will take learning to a higher level.  One of our state senators in South Dakota, John Thune, will be at our school to engage in a video discussion in the fall about the United States presidential race and process.  This will be with our learners in Bergen, Norway.  In September of 2016 Terje and I will embark on a global project that will bring schools from New Dehli into our discussions.  Terje had a connection with an educator in India, and now our learners will work collaboratively on the topic of migration.  If this comes to fruition, we will have moved learning not just beyond walls, but oceans and continents.

Terje will tell you that using Hangouts or Appear between teachers has established a better understanding of what both parties are looking for in this cooperation.  It also means that a certain Norwegian teacher has improved his English (his words, not mine)!  Follow us, @terjepe and @dellwein, to see where learning takes us this year.   

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