Tapped In Member Perspectives: Meet Cathy McDonald and Tyrone Braga Santiago

Cathy McDonald is a high school Language Arts teacher at Lovejoy Technology Academy in Brooklyn, IL, the oldest African American town in the United States. The school is located in a high crime, high poverty area. She uses Tapped In as one of many venues for her students to connect with a Brasilian teacher and his classes.
Tyrone Braga Santiago is a high school English as a Second Language Teacher at CECR - Escola Parque in Salvador, Bahia, Brasil. Tyrone also teaches students who live in violent neighborhoods.

Cathy's Perspective

After my superintendent made a trip to Brazil and toured CECR - Escola Parque in Salvador, Bahia, I connected with Tyrone Santiago, who teaches there. The result has been a fabulous relationship between us as professionals and our students who have learned so much about the culture of the two countries. One of the highlights of our weekly exchange is the use of Tapped In.

I was first introduced to Tapped In as a spot for professionals to meet for synchronous chat as a part of the PBS Capstone courses. As Tyrone's classes and mine already met using webcams at another site, we sought a way to move the students to a new level of thinking and sharing. They loved talking to each other synchronously, but I only had one webcam available and the 24 students had to rotate times they could talk.

The students wanted to use the synchronous chats to "get to know each other." However, it seemed there was too much going on at one time to have a meaningful discussion. As my students tried to solve the various problems, they really wanted me to stay out of it. They could handle it. Talk about critical thinking skills they were analyzing and problem solving every step of the way. When one or two figured out how to do something, they helped everyone else.

Tyrone and I chose for the students to view some of the same movies, starting with Freedom Writers. It took place in a violent neighborhood and our students would be able to relate to the students in the film. First we each made up questionnaires and uploaded them to our blogs, but there was still something missing. I had been telling my students, they needed to "stay on topic" with their classmates in Brasil and talk about the movie. We needed more interaction with everyone involved and the ability to provide direction to the discussions. I went to Tapped In to see if it might work any better.

I started with no more knowledge than Tapped In is a site where you could do synchronous chats and it is considered a safe site. What an experience! The staff was there to answer questions and to assist every step of the way. Two hours later, I knew how to navigate the site, set up a classroom and a group, and was made to feel it is okay to be new at something. In a later discussion with another staff member, I shared that I knew about threaded discussions, but no one seemed to know where we could go to do that. The staff member introduced me to how to set up threaded discussions using Tapped In.

My kids were ecstatic. They had a set question to discuss. They could think out their answers before putting them in print. They could respond to each other, and they could see most of it at one time. There was time to use the translation sites without feeling pressured, and they could stay on topic throughout the threaded discussion. They could see many similarities in the two cultures; and they learned that teenagers on two different continents think in very much the same way.

I have found Tapped In to be a great site to meet with students within the classroom and between two classrooms. When schedules could not allow us to meet face to face, the threaded discussion allowed the interaction to continue. We continue to plan for our students to communicate through Tapped In. It has truly made this experience a highlight of my teaching career.

Tyrone's Perspective

At the invitation of teacher Cathy McDonald, I agreed to create a Tapped In account to enable our students to Interact through this site. Since last March we have been using this site as an awesome pedagogical tool. The first topic discussed on Tapped In had to do with the movie, "Freedom Writers".

Through this site, Lovejoy (USA) and Escola Parque (Brazil) students could share opinions about that movie. In addition, they could compare their own lives to Freedom Writers' characters. Their points of view sometimes were consensual, sometimes not. But the most important thing was that students could talk about themselves in a formal way. We found a perfect excuse to make them write in a formal writing language--Cathy's, by avoiding slang as they needed to be understood by their Brazilian classmates who had to translate American comments; mine, when they needed to write in a formal Portuguese so that their texts could also be translated satisfactorily into English and posted at Tapped In.

The use of the site Tapped In has been very useful pedagogically speaking. It is excellent because it allows teachers to know what comments students have made during Tapped In usage. This possibility makes us teachers able to check whether students have given a satisfactory contribution to the proposed activity or not.

Working with the Tapped In site has been an important way to make students discuss about not only general subjects but also about their own lives. What has made the usage of Tapped more special for us Brazilians is that students here have been able to not only Interact with themselves but also to discuss their thoughts with their American colleagues. It has been very special to see that no matter how far they are from each other, both high school Brazilian and American boys and girls have lots of things in common: fears, hopes and dreams. We teachers have only to thank Tapped In staff for allowing us teachers to use this fantastic site to make our classes more pleasant and up-to-date, no matter where we are in this world!!! Thank you all for that!!!