“I believe that my students will never forget their 2nd grade year when they skyped with an astronaut and a scientist, learned about cultures and celebrations from other classrooms, and taught kids around the world about Cinco de Mayo and Martin Luther King.
This authentic form of learning cannot be found in a textbook. I hope that I gave my students the foundation of global awareness that will follow them throughout life!”
– Louise Morgan, Sycamore Elementary Teacher of the Year 2012 – Texas, USA
Transcending Our Classroom Walls
In their recent book, Collaboration in Learning (ACER Press, 2013), education researchers Mal Lee and Lorrae Ward found that the normalisation (deep integration) of digital technologies in schools is driving a fundamental shift in contemporary teaching and learning practices. Through the use of ICT to connect with teachers, experts, and resources in the wider local and global community, a new form of collaborative teaching and inquiry learning is emerging, one which transcends classroom and school walls.
When we enable teachers and students to connect, learn, share, and collaborate beyond their classroom walls, we enable them to ‘learn with the world, not just about it’. We learn to care about people from other cultures, religions, and economic situations; and start to engage our students in rich, authentic learning opportunities which help to make a real world difference. This is more than adding global perspectives to your curriculum… this is living it.
Building Global Connections
Many teachers already collaborate with colleagues within their schools and professional learning networks. Global educators take this one step further: connecting, learning, and collaborating with online colleagues around the world. Age, location, and ICT skills are no barrier to teaching and learning globally – the only requirement is an open mind.
Building and maintaining global connections takes time and effort; however, this process is made easier when you join and actively contribute to an established global education organisation or social media community, e.g. on Twitter or Google+.
- The Global Classroom Project
The Global Classroom Project is a grassroots, online global education community, dedicated to helping teachers and students “explore new ways to connect, learn, share and collaborate globally”. (http://theglobalclassroomproject.wordpress.com).
This community is a valuable starting point for teachers interested in exploring the possibilities of global learning using ICT. With over 450 registered members from 40 different countries, it hosts a variety of K-12 global projects each year, and organises the monthly #globalclassroom Twitter chats (http://theglobalclassroomchats.wikispaces.com).
Global Classroom 2013-14 launches in September, and membership is free (http://globalclassroom2013-14.wikispaces.com).
- iEARN Australia
iEARN Australia is a founding member of the International Education and Resource Network (iEARN), which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Having recently presented at the iEARN International Conference in Qatar, I can attest to the amazing energy and rich cultural diversity of this organisation.
With 50,000 teachers and 2 million students, from 140 countries, iEARN provides a wide range of K-12 global projects for teachers to integrate into their curriculum, and a safe, structured online forum for students to interact with their peers around the world (http://www.iearn.org/iearn-project-book).
- Skype And Google Hangouts Communities
If you can access tools such as Skype and Google Hangouts in your classroom, video-conferencing is a powerful vehicle for building global connections with classes in compatible time zones. You can find excellent professional learning resources on ‘Skype Learning Calls’ at http://langwitches.org/blog/, and contact potential partners via social media (#mysteryskype, #mysterylocation), or online communities such as:
Skype Classroom: http://education.skype.com
Hello Little World Skypers: https://sites.google.com/site/skypershello/
Mystery Location Calls (Google+): http://bit.ly/MysteryCalls
Class And Student Blogging Communities
Blogging is a fantastic vehicle for developing students’ literacy skills, and connecting your class with the world. While classroom blogging is a long-term process, there are several online communities which can help support and develop your students’ skills:
100 Word Challenge: http://100wc.net
Edublogs Student Challenge (annual): http://studentchallenge.edublogs.org/
Other Recommended Organisations:
ePals: http://www.epals.com/ (free)
Flat Classroom Projects: http://www.flatclassroomproject.net/ (via paid subscription)
Global Virtual Classroom: http://www.virtualclassroom.org/ (free)
Kinderchat: http://www.kinderchat123.net/ (free)
People to People International: http://www.ptpi.org/ (free)
Enrich And Extend Your Curriculum
Global connections and collaborative projects are NOT add-ons to your curriculum. Successful projects enrich your students’ learning by building on your existing curricular objectives and activities. Your first projects may be short, one-off learning activities, but the true power of global learning will be revealed when you forge deeper, long-term connections over time.
Imagine… Your students are learning about life, culture, and religions in other countries. Instead of producing a boring slideshow presentation using information they have copied and pasted off the internet, why not enable students to connect with people living in those countries using tools like VoiceThread, Skype, blogs, and wikis?
For example, the very first Global Classroom Project (2011) saw my students contributing to a VoiceThread and sharing EduGlogster multimedia posters about their multicultural heritage with authentic global audiences. This was an extremely powerful and engaging learning experience, especially for my academically weak students. See http://globalclassroom2011.wikispaces.com.
In early 2013, I connected a Grade 5-6 class with classes in Asian countries using a class Google Doc questionnaire, which was shared via Twitter and The Global Classroom Project. While this was a one-off connection, my students developed a much deeper understanding of Asian life and culture than they would have through their typical internet ‘research’. See http://bit.ly/AsiaProject.
By using ICT to connect our students with the world, we are empowering them to become globally aware learners, helping to transform how they see, interact, and understand the world beyond their classroom and local community. And by integrating these connections and projects into our curriculum, we can enrich our students’ learning in ways we had never thought possible.
You Do Not Have To Be An Expert
Global projects do not have to be huge, complicated affairs. At their heart, they are an exchange of information, culture, expertise, and experience between two or more classrooms around the world. Projects could run for a few weeks, or a few months, and involve students engaging in either synchronous or asynchronous connections, depending on time zones and access to ICT tools (blocks and filters are frustrating!).
Synchronous connections include face-to-face Skype / Google Hangouts / Video Conferencing, while asynchronous connections use Web 2.0 tools (e.g. blogs, wikis, voicethreads), or physical objects (such as teddy bears, scrapbooks) to build connections and collaborative learning products.
Your choice of project and technology will depend on the nature of your class, the age of your students, and your access to web 2.0 tools at school. Just remember, the success of a project relies on the commitment and contribution of the teachers and students involved, not the technology.
Give yourself time to learn and explore, and start with an existing project which complements or extends your curriculum. There will be bumps in the road, but keep persevering – the rewards make it all worthwhile.
Global connections engage, inspire, and empower teachers and students to become active agents of change in their local, national, and global communities.
Starting out on my global journey a little over two and half years ago, I never imagined that I would co-found and lead the The Global Classroom Project community; let alone share my story through presentations at local, national, and global conferences. I am a third year relief teacher, still searching for a school of my own, yet I am making a difference in the lives of teachers and students around the world.
So, as you contemplate your first steps beyond your classroom walls, remember this: “magic happens”. Whether you are a classroom teacher, ICT integrator, school leader, or a student teacher, this is a journey worth taking. Find a community or project which works for you, start small, and give yourself time to learn alongside your students. You do not have to be an expert, and you do not have to do it alone.
So why not join us as we explore new ways to flatten our classroom walls? Welcome to the Global Classroom.
Michael Graffin is a third year relief teacher and global educator working in Perth, Western Australia. He is the co-founder and leader of The Global Classroom Project, and member of the @iEARNAustralia management team. He blogs at mgraffin.edublogs.org, and tweets as @mgraffin / @gcporganisers.