Monday, November 16, 2015

Social Skills with Maria

This past summer, I was fortunate enough to attend a pre-ISTE workshop with fellow Skype Master Teachers. Towards the end of this workshop, Mike Soskil (a SMT from Pennsylvania) and Dyane Smokorowski (a SMT from Kansas) introduced us to their friend Maria. When the Skype call was connected and I heard this little girl's voice, I was confused as to what was going on. Up on the screen a small animated girl waved hello to us. I just thought "oh wow" this is kind of neat. However, then she started to talk to us and call us by our names. I was VERY intrigued at this point. We started to talk about different topics as if we were talking to a real 1st grader. It was truly amazing. Then at the end of the call she had us all participating in a game of "Maria Says." Every person in the room (all adults) were laughing and enjoying themselves a lot!

Maria is from Wondergrove, and is a learning platform for preschoolers through second grade. The site includes hundreds of videos and lessons on social and life skills. Some of the topics covered include: Safety, health and science, nutrition, and school readiness. There are a lot more topics that are covered and each topic has videos with the characters from Wondergrove in them. These characters are around the same age as your students and really help put the content lessons on their level. These videos show the student characters interacting amongst each other in a fictional classroom setting.

Once I saw Maria in action, I had to get this tool for my own teachers. I immediately e-mailed my K-2 teachers to show them the link. I had a discussion with our principal about getting each teacher in those grades a subscription for the classroom. Once he saw the content of the videos, lesson plans available, offered in Spanish and English, plus each lesson is common core aligned it was a no-brainer.

My first demo of the product was at our back to school faculty meeting before the students came back. I gave little bits of information to Wondergrove about my staff. Once we started talking, she was picking out certain teachers and asking them about their summer with all the details I had supplied. They were surprised and also loved it. Our teachers have been using Wondergrove now for the last two months and it has been an overwhelming success. Students are engaged with the lessons and Maria will even Skype into the classroom to talk to the students! Recently I visited our preschool classroom to watch a Skype call with actual students for the first time. This call was right before Halloween and included safety tips.

The staff at Wondergrove have been a joy to work with and they truly care about their product and our feedback. It has been a great relationship so far and we look forward to using it for the rest of the school year. Our preschool teacher Mrs. Cirulli had this to say about it after the first few months, "My students love Maria and her friends!! The lessons are short and to the point but hold my students attention. This learning platform is one of the best!! I have been able to utilize the videos and Skype calls to effectively teach different content to my students in a manner that they enjoy and look forward to. My students enjoy listening to Maria and her friends explain different concepts about health, social rules, holidays etc."

If you'd like to test out the service sign up for their Thanksgiving lesson which includes a chat with Maria, plus a two week trial of the service.