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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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How to Go Global in Your Classroom

Bob Lenz

Co-founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA

Given the level of technical sophistication of today's students, why not use technology to extend the classroom and collaborate globally?

Today's digitally connected world presents challenges and opportunities never before seen. To be successful in the workplace tomorrow, students must know how to interactively collaborate with peers locally as well as globally.

As educational expert Kathy Koch writes, "This generation of students is unlike any we've educated before, because they have been raised in a world drastically different from their parents and most teachers."

As I mentioned in a previous Edutopia.org post, Envision Schools uses project learning to help students master academically challenging content in a collaborative fashion.

Students collectively write papers using Google Docs, as well as script short films and Web sites. It's a low-cost way for students to work in teams, share ideas, and use class time effectively.

Another example of how technology can be used to expand the classroom is at Stanford University's Institute of Design. There, Professor David Kelly invites industry experts to give presentations on YouTube that students must view before class. Experts are then invited into the classroom, where students can spend the entire class period asking questions and learning more.

But experts and student peers needn't be physically present for effective collaboration to take place. For instance, in one American high school, students collaborated with peers in Singapore to create a Web site promoting tolerance. Students divided up their assignment, shared documents via the Internet, and created a finished Web site that provided resources and lessons to teach tolerance and stop bullying.

This not only helped them master rigorous academic content, it also gave them firsthand cross-cultural perspectives they otherwise wouldn't have had. The student team received an award from Oracle's ThinkQuest Education Foundation that recognized the value of their Web site and collaboration.

How are you using technology to expand the classroom and encourage global collaboration? Please share with us.

Bob Lenz

Co-founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA
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Comments (56)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Laurie Johnston's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hey all,
My name is Laurie Johnston and I teach grades 2-5 in an elementary gifted center in St. Louis, MO. I teach a different grade level each day. Our classroom environment is technology rich, but I thought I could share a powerful experience that I had with my 3rd grade students 2 years ago.

Since 2001, the 3rd grade LEAP (Lindbergh Eager Achiever Program) students have been studying migration and seasonal timing. Our primary source of information is the Journey North web program, where our major focus is the Whooping Crane Reintroduction Project. The web site is technology-rich with amazing photographs as well as video and audio clips that connect students with real world problems and issues. This project focuses on building a new flock of the endangered whooping cranes. Humans flying ultralight airplanes lead young cranes on a path that reintroduces them to a part of the eastern US where they formerly existed. You may have seen an article about it in the newspaper. Students follow the real-time experiment online, experience the scientific method in action in the real world, and develop an understanding of what it means to be a global steward of the earth.

Real-time science means teachable moments, and this hit us two years ago. In winter 2007 our 39 students were shocked and saddened to learn of the tragic loss of 17 of the original 18 cranes from the reintroduction class of 2006. We had a huge class meeting to discuss the tragedy, and the students demanded that we do something, not just talk about how we felt, but actually do something to make a difference.

A Service Learning initiative was launched. The students brainstormed a list of ideas, and four Action Lab groups were born. One group focused on educating others about the cranes and produced a public service announcement DVD that they shared with their home schools to help spread the word. Two groups focused on fundraising, and the fourth group focused on things that could be made and ultimately sold to raise money.

In a few weeks, the idea developed into a two-phase effort: one- a cook book compiled and illustrated by all of the students and it would include recipes for both humans and birds; and two- a birdhouse building clinic where families, friends, teachers and students would build birdhouses that would then go home with the students so they could focus on making a difference in their own backyard habitats.

As the projects began to take shape, the teaching staff identified three goals for the overall project:

1) To continue to help our students understand that being stewards of the earth means not just taking care of the environment for ourselves, but to do what we can to make sure that this glorious environment and all of its living systems will be here for generations to come.

2) To support and empower our young students as they realize that all people, young and old, can take action and make a difference, whether it is our own backyard habitats or reaching beyond to help an endangered species like the Whooping Crane.

3) To guide our students in developing as global thinkers who are capable of empathy.

Needless to say, both projects were a success, but the recipe book fundraiser brought everyone tremendous pleasure as the first printing of 300 copies was a sellout! Add to that donations from a few more sources, and our donation total came to $1,550! We were so pleased to be able to present a check to Operation Migration for $1,550 as our hope was that the Reintroduction Project would continue for years to come until population goals for the Eastern Flock could be met!

The Journey North web site is a wonderful way to introduce students of all ages to a variety of real-time explorations that encourage going beyond the classroom to connect with students and scientists throughout the northern hemisphere and beyond.
Try the Monarch Butterfly project and establish a connection with partner schools in Mexico. Try the Sunlight and Mystery Class, a study of changing sunlight and discover clues that lead to participating classrooms all over the world. Just go to www.Journeynorth.org and open a new world for your students!

Laurie Johnston
Gifted Education Specialist
Lindbergh School District
St. Louis, MO.
...exploring new frontiers...discovering the back of beyond...

Bill Farren's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello: I've set up an online class at the following space: http://plearn.net/class.
I'm looking for HS aged and higher students and teachers who might be interested in joining, tagging along, or contributing in their own way.

Here's the blurb:

Join educator Bill Farren as he travels through four South American countries-three of them chosen by students. Class members will get to vote on what countries their teacher/guide visits and decide on the types of activities the class embarks on. Through their guide, students will interact with local people, ask them questions, request various media, and help solve real problems-all in an engaging format: participatory learning.

Cheers.

Jackie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Monica thanks the information you gave was great and I plan to use many of the sites next school year.

Jackie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The information that so many of you have provided has given me hope for being able to include more technology into my lessons. I'm a fourth grade math and science teacher and have used technology in the classroom with things like research projects but had never thought about global classrooms. The the information you all have provided as well as your own experiences I feel confident that I could include these suggestions into my lessons. As you all know it is hard to get students interested in learning but with the tools you have provided I think they will be more engaged than ever and and they will be not only learning the curriculum but also experiencing the real world in real time. Wow! We have come so far from the times when I was in school writing letters the other countries at the beginning of the year and reading their responses at the end of the year.

Thanks you all for such great ideas and examples.

Jacqueline's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I wonder if anyone has used these programs/ideas of global connectedness for their math classes. I am a relatively new teacher as well as a new techie. How would you use these things for middle school math?

Wanda Turner's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Bill,
I am a second grade teacher who loves to help others. Helping others has been pretty simple so far. I ask parents and students to not purchase me gifts throughout the school year. Instead of a "holiday" and "end of the year gift" I ask parents to put their generosity and thanks into a gift card the class can then donate to charity. I would love to embark on such an adventure as you have with your class. What a life long impact you have made on each one of your students. I hope my students learn as much as I think your students have.
Wanda Turner

Wanda Turner's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Bill,
I am a second grade teacher who loves to help others. It has been pretty simple so far. I ask parents and students to not purchase me gifts throughout the school year. Instead of a "holiday" and "end of the year gift" I ask parents to put their generosity and thanks into a gift card the class can then donate to charity. I would love to embark on such an adventure as you have with your class. What a life long impact you have made on each one of your students. I hope my students learn as much as I think your students have.
Wanda Turner

Wanda Turner's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Bill,
I am a second grade teacher who loves to help others. It has been pretty simple so far. I ask parents and students to not purchase me gifts throughout the school year. Instead of a "holiday" and "end of the year gift" I ask parents to put their generosity and thanks into a gift card the class can then donate to charity. I would love to embark on such an adventure as you have with your class. What a life long impact you have made on each one of your students. I hope my students learn as much as I think your students have.
Wanda Turner

Cathy McDonald's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

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. Other ways to meet up with teachers from other countries are through the message board on Gaggle.net (free) and TakingItGlobal (tig.org) which has a small fee per year for the teacher with unlimited classroom use.

The students use our school blogs to upload pictures and introduce themselves to each other. They also make comments to each other there. Pictures, projects, and video are uploaded to class sites on Orkut. 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.

While the Brasilian students are learning English and applying what they learn through our conversations, the American students are learning communication skills to express themselves effectively and to collaborate with people who may not speak the language. 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 are analyzing and problem solving every step of the way. When one or two figure out how to do something, they help everyone else. They explore sites to improve that communication and use what they learn from their classmates in Brasil and from Internet research to produce research papers with meaning. They work on multi-media projects such as posters, video, and timelines. They are learning about real people and they have an authentic audience.

Soon it was time to find a way to move the students to a new level of thinking and sharing. 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.

We set up threaded discussion questions in TappedIn. My kids were ecstatic. They have a set question to discuss. They could think out their answers before putting them in print. They can respond to each other, and they can see most of the responses at one time. They must pay attention to grammar and spelling or the translation sites are not effective. There is time to use the translation sites without feeling pressured, and they can stay on topic throughout the threaded discussion. They see many similarities in the two cultures; and they learn that teenagers on two different continents think in very much the same way. When schedules do not allow us to meet face to face, the threaded discussion allows the interaction to continue.

The Lovejoy students asked me if I was going to make them write a book too. Not a bad idea. So we did. Our students wrote poems about their hopes and fears for the future. We "published" our book of poetry, Facing the Future: Our Hopes and Our Fears, using lulu.com. What an experience! Every poem is printed in both English and Portuguese along with a picture of the student. Tyrone has not received his copies of the book yet, but we plan to set up simultaneous assemblies to present the books to the students who wrote it. We will each record a message using VoiceThread to congratulate the students in the other country for a job well done.

Just yesterday I received a video from Escola Parque. Speaking in English, they introduced themselves telling briefly about their family and hopes for the future,. This was a major effort on their part to share about themselves in a language that is new to them. I could tell that they were nervous and excited. I am so proud of them. My kids - yes, they are in Brooklyn and in Salvador.

Cathy McDonald's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

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. Other ways to meet up with teachers from other countries are through the message board on Gaggle.net (free) and TakingItGlobal (tig.org) which has a small fee per year for the teacher with unlimited classroom use.

The students use our school blogs to upload pictures and introduce themselves to each other. They also make comments to each other there. Pictures, projects, and video are uploaded to class sites on Orkut. 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.

While the Brasilian students are learning English and applying what they learn through our conversations, the American students are learning communication skills to express themselves effectively and to collaborate with people who may not speak the language. 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 are analyzing and problem solving every step of the way. When one or two figure out how to do something, they help everyone else. They explore sites to improve that communication and use what they learn from their classmates in Brasil and from Internet research to produce research papers with meaning. They work on multi-media projects such as posters, video, and timelines. They are learning about real people and they have an authentic audience.

Soon it was time to find a way to move the students to a new level of thinking and sharing. 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.

We set up threaded discussion questions in TappedIn. My kids were ecstatic. They have a set question to discuss. They could think out their answers before putting them in print. They can respond to each other, and they can see most of the responses at one time. They must pay attention to grammar and spelling or the translation sites are not effective. There is time to use the translation sites without feeling pressured, and they can stay on topic throughout the threaded discussion. They see many similarities in the two cultures; and they learn that teenagers on two different continents think in very much the same way. When schedules do not allow us to meet face to face, the threaded discussion allows the interaction to continue.

The Lovejoy students asked me if I was going to make them write a book too. Not a bad idea. So we did. Our students wrote poems about their hopes and fears for the future. We "published" our book of poetry, Facing the Future: Our Hopes and Our Fears, using lulu.com. What an experience! Every poem is printed in both English and Portuguese along with a picture of the student. Tyrone has not received his copies of the book yet, but we plan to set up simultaneous assemblies to present the books to the students who wrote it. We will each record a message using VoiceThread to congratulate the students in the other country for a job well done.

Just yesterday I received a video from Escola Parque. Speaking in English, they introduced themselves telling briefly about their family and hopes for the future,. This was a major effort on their part to share about themselves in a language that is new to them. I could tell that they were nervous and excited. I am so proud of them. My kids - yes, they are in Brooklyn and in Salvador.

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