NETS standard #3 for K-2 talks about engaging with learners from other cultures via e-mail and other electronic means. In my mind this sentence shows how quickly the technology is changing for our students because email is becoming less useful than some of the newer platforms. Email is still a great way to communicate but it requires a login so for K-2 students to be able to actually send emails themselves requires a fair bit of set up and monitoring. I think 2nd graders are capable of it, they can all log into Webkins and Club Penguin, but you can't give a second grade student an open email account. Email is still something students need to learn how to do but there are so many other ways for students to communicate electronically. This NETS standard really gets to the heart of Web 2.0.
I may have just dissed e-mail but as it turns out one of the second grade classes at Glencliff is getting ready to use email to communicate with the author of a book they read recently. I set up Gaggle accounts for the students. These are email accounts that get run through all kinds of filters. You can also set them so that you get notices and flags for certain things. Also, since I set up all the accounts I can go look at all the accounts making them not private at all. These will be presented to the students just like that: as email accounts for school use only that are monitored by Gaggle, their teacher, and me. Their work will be reviewed before they hit send. But the great thing will be if the author emails them back. I could also foresee using these to have the students send digital work home for their parents to see without me having to send all the emails. How great would that be! Less paper, less work for the computer TA!
Regarding learning across cultures in K-2 I think there are several social media outlets that would be useful but because of the age most of these will be administered by the teacher and there won't be as much hands on experience for the students.
The first and easiest to start option is Skype. Within Skype you can join a group of educators who post ideas and requests for inter-classroom projects. I have found it very easy to communicate with the teachers who have posted ideas. Additionally, if you follow @Skype on Twitter they regularly post requests from teachers for collaboration partners and I've found some good contacts that way too. The biggest problem with using Skype is time differences and scheduling. Last year we did a 3rd grade Skype with a 2nd-3rd grade class in Peterborough, Canada. Even though it's the same time zone and everything it took a long time and a lot of hassle to find a time that would work and in the end only 1 of the 2 classes on our end that wanted to participate was actually able to do it. However, the students who got to participate absolutely loved it and the teacher said their understanding of some of the similarities and differences between Canada and the United States really excellent.
Recently I explored Oddizzi. Oddizzi was created in the spring of 2011 by a primary teacher in, I believe, England. I like many of the features of Oddizzi including satellite and map searching and photos of many landmarks in many countries. But I think the social networking aspect of Oddizzi is the best part for our younger students. Rather than a real time discussion, you send e-postcards to other students in Oddizzi and get messages back from them. These are sent between full classes, not individuals. There are also options to study weather and news. I found the news links hard to use but maybe they'll come along with time. Most of the signed up users were from Great Britain or were British schools in other countries, especially the United Arab Emirates and just a smattering from other countries and we'll be looking at it seriously.
Twitter can't be discounted as a classroom tool although again, the teacher needs to be the practitioner in this case. However, with all the personal learning networks on Twitter it would be fairly easy to connect with a teacher on the other side of the world and share information with other classes. I know of a U.S. Kindergarten class that has done this already. I like the use of Twitter because it is not real time so each class can send questions and check for responses on their own schedule. It's also short and sweet which makes it easy to incorporate into an already too busy schedule and fits a K-2 attention span. It can even be a great way to work on editing when the class needs to prune down a wordy question into 140 characters. It would be an excellent way to communicate with an author. What if the librarian started a conversation with a schools' favorite author and then took 5 minutes of library time to send the author a tween asking a question and check for recent tweets back from the author?