I just spent over an hour exploring the ePals website and all I can say is WOW! I thought it was going to be simply a site where teachers could connect to find penpals (or e-pals) for their students (which would have been a good thing in and of itself). In fact, I found that it is that and so much more. It’s actually like a huge community including students and teachers (an even parents!) from all over the world where they can all connect and collaborate.
The site is easy to navigate. If you are looking for a classroom to collaborate with, you can browse the Find Classroom section, or you can put in your criteria to narrow your choices. You can create a project to collaborate on with another class or find classrooms around the world looking for other students to interact with.
In addition to providing a safe place for students and classrooms around the world to connect, on the Join Project page, there are a plethora of other projects that can be used in the classroom. Under each ePal project, you see the project name, topic, objectives and standards, essential question, overview, detailed directions and links, and the ability to connect with classrooms. This is great feature because it allows teachers to easily view what each project entails. For example, The Way We Are project provides a way for students to share what they’ve learned about each other after communicating for the school year. You can also create a project on the Start Project page.
The Learning Centers section contains hundreds of activities that can be done in one classroom or shared with the ePals community to showcase and get feedback on their work. They are organized under different categories including a Science Center, a Writing Center, a Books Center, a Current Events Center and more. Some of the activities I looked at that might be useful in an ESL classroom are the Welcome to My Town activity in the Writing Center and the Cultural Self-Portrait in the Global Citizens Center. The Learning Centers page even includes even includes a Common Core Implementation Center which contains ready-to-use standards-aligned collaborative projects, resources, and forums. Actually, the forums all over the site are another great feature which allow teachers to communicate with one another. This is a great way to discuss the different things that worked or didn’t work in each project. There is always room for improvement and feedback is a great way to improve your ideas and lessons for the future.
There is also a great resource page which includes things like a guide for navigating the website and information about internet safety. It also includes more classroom resources and teacher communities.
The truth is that many students don’t get to experience very much beyond their own world and experiences. In addition to this, we all know that field trips are in short supply and if students’ families don’t have a lot of money, they may not be able to afford to travel within their own city, let alone nationally or internationally. ePals takes down the social, economic, and political barriers that prevent students and teachers from learning about, experiencing, and benefiting from a wide range of people and cultures and allows them to broaden their world and experiences in an authentic and meaningful way.
All in all, I’m excited about what ePals has to offer and definitely plan on using the site in my classroom!