My students and I have participated in Pernille Ripp’s Global Read Aloud for three years now, and so we are natural fans of global collaborative projects. By the way, the voting for next year’s books has begun! Click on the Global Read Aloud link above to continue or begin your GRA experience!
That said, I was nervous when we (my SPU DEL cohort and I) were asked to embark on a global collaborative project at the beginning of this quarter—in March! At this time of year, most teachers in the USA are trying to tie up a unit before Spring break and then after break comes the ever-too-quick race to the end of the school year. My situation (I teach at a Jewish Day School) is even more complicated by a host of Spring Jewish holiday observances (including two weeks of Passover break in April – which do not match with other schools’ Spring break) and a few field trips (8th graders end their school year when they leave for their Israel Trip on May 22), which pretty much means I have perhaps two upcoming full weeks of school with my 6th and 7th grade students, and I’ve already lost about a month of combined collaborative effort with other schools due to mismatched Spring breaks. Eek!
Onward and Upward!
I did not want my 8th graders to miss out on this experience simply because their school year effectively ends on May 20. So, we needed to act fast. I also wanted our experience to be relevant to our studies. The most natural outgrowth would be a connection to our Holocaust unit, the theme of which is “Light in the Darkness” and the final module of which is “Implications for the Future.” We had recently delved into the plight of refugee children and explored the stories of three refugee children through the New York Times Virtual Reality experience, The Displaced. After this experience, my students wondered what they could do to have an impact on the lives of refugee children. Enter Global Nomads Group and their global collaborative project with the Students Rebuild: Healing Classrooms Challenge and the International Rescue Committee. The Healing Classrooms Challenge asks students at participating schools to create pinwheels (lesson and template provided), which will then be sent to Students Rebuild, who will be able to collect a donation of $2 for each pinwheel, up to $400,000, from the Bezos Family Foundation, to benefit Syrian refugee children. My 8th graders remembered that they had recently created pinwheels as part of a social-emotional learning lesson during their weekly advisory class meetings. They knew that this pinwheel display was about to be taken down and hoped that the pinwheels could have a second life. We located the pinwheels (in a paper bag in the school counselor’s office – basically in the recycling bin) and the school counselor was thrilled at our idea. We packed them up (50 pinwheels in all) and sent them off before leaving for Passover break on April 20. It was refreshing to see how excited they were about this simple endeavor. The second part of this project involved the Global Nomads Group working with the International Rescue Committee to participate in a live webcast with Syrian refugee children, accessible to all participating schools, on April 21 (6:00 am PST on the first day of my school’s Passover break). My 8th graders knew about this webcast, but I am unsure whether any of them actually participated from home. I will find out when we return to school on Monday, May 2.
For my 7th graders, I hope to create a connection with a class of students from another school that will also be visiting Mt. St. Helens on June 7th. Each year, I take my 7th grade students on an overnight trip to Mt. St. Helens. We camp overnight in yurts at Seaquest State Park and then make our way to the Mt. St. Helens Johnston Ridge Observatory the following day. Each year, we are one of multiple school groups who are at the Observatory for the 10:00 am slot. This year, I hope to connect with one or more of the teachers of those other school groups, in order to create a collaborative learning experience for our students. Current situation: I requested information about schools who share our reservation from the rangers at Johnston Ridge Observatory and a ranger replied, writing that she forwarded my message to the teachers/schools who are also signed up for the 10:00 am slot. I am waiting for a reply.
For my 6th graders, I’m keeping it low-key, with a Mystery Skype. I used the map feature of the Mystery Skype website to connect with Mary Brown, a teacher at the Summerland School in New Zealand. Current situation: We are planning a Mystery Skype session for 2:30 pm on Thursday, May 19 (USA), which will actually be 9:30 am on Friday, May 20 in New Zealand! My 6th graders don’t know about this yet, as it has just been confirmed.
My goals for all of these experiences are for my students to be aware of the world outside of our classroom in terms of finding resources for themselves and of being a resource for others. Connected learning is wonderful, and if service learning can be folded in, even better.
Keep reading about this project!