MASON CITY | Second-graders at Harding Elementary recently completed collaborative projects with central Iowa classmates — all without leaving their seats.

It all started with a microblogging platform. 

After meeting two other Iowa teacher-librarians on Twitter, Shannon McClintock Miller of Van Meter and Sandi Ellis of Dallas-Center Grimes, Harding PK-4 teacher-librarian Sarah Staudt was inspired to use Google Hangouts.

Ellis and Staudt devised an educational, technological way to celebrate Picture Book Month in November.

Hangouts, a group video call program, connected teachers Vicki Zweibohmer and Kim Kvigne's Harding second-graders with Dallas Center-Grimes second-graders.

"We really wanted to break down the walls of the school, because technology is changing the way students are learning," Staudt said. 

AFTER SOME WAVING BACK AND FORTH between the two classrooms, the two teacher-librarians took turns reading Loren Long's "Otis and the Puppy."

Students later used online tools to further shared learning, drawing illustrations in real time with kids 140 miles away.  

This was the first time Harding students have done such an activity, but the response was overwhelmingly positive. 

They were totally engrossed and are eager for the next time they reconnect with their virtual classmates, Zweibohmer said.  

Astronomy is popular with her young learners right now.

The Hangouts project could easily be expanded for research, with opinions sought from other pupils statewide or even subject experts like NASA astronauts. 

IN AN INCREASINGLY DIGITAL AGE, Zweibohmer understands the importance of adapting her teaching method. 

"Students are thinking and learning differently from when we grew up," she explained. "They don't just sit and learn."

In the future, Staudt said she'd like to expand the program to all elementary levels.

It could be adapted for older students, who might read an appropriate picture book as a group or a chapter book on their own, and later complete assignments for comprehension, inferencing, visualizing and making connections. 

"I hope this takes off for our district, and we can inspire other to do the same," she said. 

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