Buzzing. That is how I can best describe how I felt after attending the Learning2Asia conference last November. My brain was doing overtime with all the ideas that sparked during and after the conference. (You can read how L2Asia led me to Coetail here). One of the many remarkable moments was listening to Julie Lindsey share inspirational examples of global collaboration projects led by teachers and students.
Soon after the conference, while I was checking my Twitter feed, I saw a call for teachers who would want to connect with a Grade 6 Social Studies class in Sioux Falls in the US. At that time, I was just toying with ideas on how to connect my classes with the outside world, so when this opportunity presented itself I jumped at it. I was in awe of how serendipitous it was, as I teach a Grade 6 MYP Individuals & Societies/English Language Acquisition class and had just started using Flipgrid.
For both Javier and I, this would be the first time doing something like this, so we agreed on a suitable topic for our first connection and decided to see how things would evolve from there. The topic we agreed was related to travellers’ perspectives, which was connected to the unit I was doing at that time. My students were the first to record, introducing Suzhou, the city in China we live in, and its contrasting old and modern districts. My students used their observations from a recent field trip and their overall knowledge of the city when they recorded their videos. Javier’s students watched my students’ videos and their responses were filled with burning questions about our city and about China in general. These students were extremely curious to find out about our school, the area and what life was like living in such a foreign place to them. In return, they recorded their videos about their city and its major attractions. Following suit, my students posed all the questions they had after watching their videos, and in class we were able to discuss the differences and similarities between our two cities and how each would appeal to different types of tourists, which was the main objective of this activity.
By then, the connection had acquired a life of its own, and both sets of students were keen on getting to know more of each other. After our initial contact and the back and forth video-&-responses, the students managed to record a total of 50 videos with 2266 views! At this point, Javier and I started discussing how to move forward. We were both going in different directions in terms of our curriculum, so we decided to keep the connection open for the students to connect with a topic of their choice, which by overwhelming majority was schools. Our students proceeded to record their videos, and once again they all were met with curiosity from both camps. Without anticipating it, my students ended up discussing how despite living in such contrasting places and coming from very different cultural backgrounds, they had lots of areas where they connected and how awesome it is to know that we are not so different after all. These kids are going places, let me tell you.
Another by-product of this activity were the inquiries many of my students embarked on. I had students who had been using Google Map’s street view to see what Sioux Falls looked like, focusing on the school we were connecting with and the many attractions that the students mentioned in their videos, even researching some of them further. I had a student who investigated the name of the city and was able to share this information with the class. There was another student who was keen to know why there was a South Dakota and a North Dakota and not just one Dakota and did some research about this. Us being an Individuals & Societies class, I didn’t waste this opportunity to refine our geography skills. What a win-win!
Looking at @mscofino Kim Cofino’s guide to global collaborations (I wish I had known about it back in November!), there are a few items I would like to add based on this experience:
- When defining the scope of the collaboration, it is good to take into account possibilities for students furthering the connection created once the goal has been achieved. In my case, all students were so keen to keep going, that we had to provide the scenario for it.
- In the same line, it would be important to anticipate some of the potential outcomes of the collaboration, besides the collaboration goal itself, so facilitating teachers can be prepared to respond and accommodate for them.
- Before connecting, it is very important to discuss with the students cultural sensitive points, specially when connecting with students with diverse cultural and economic backgrounds, in order to avoid misunderstandings or conflict.
After this first experience, I would like to explore avenues for medium term project collaboration, and many of the Flat Connections global projects I have looked at are great. My next step is to bring this to my department to see if we can make this happen, as I would like to get my team’s teachers on board. It is exciting to see all the incredible possibilities there are once you dare to open your door.