While many contend the world is getting smaller and that as we grow older it continues to shrink, seeing how kids interact with a wider world tells me otherwise. I work at a tiny school, in a small rural community and it is all too rare for our kids to experience the world outside of our small town. We are one of many such towns tucked into pockets around America and around the world.
Educators frequently talk about developing children that can collaborate with a variety of people to create solutions, develop ideas, and ultimately make the world better. Meanwhile we attempt to prepare our kids to collaborate in an increasingly small world by encouraging them to work in groups within their class, or at best their within their school. In schools across the country kids are being taught to collaborate with their peers, but for many that doesn’t provide the diverse experience they really need.
CUE my newest project (see what I did there?) [Ed. Note- Yes, you’re very clever] If you have ever taught primary grade Social Studies, you know that much of what you do is based around communities. Who lives in the community? What is the area like? What are their professions? What are the geographical features?
How do we make social studies relevant and real?
It’s time to create opportunities for kids to experience the world outside their fishbowl. With that goal in mind, my classes this year are going to learn about communities from the kids who live in them. By leveraging my connections, both digital and in person, I am working to bring my kids into the classrooms of different communities around the world.
This idea grew from one developed by Kory Graham’s Kory Teller’s program. She has teachers from around the world read to her classes via Skype and GHO. Her class met many interesting people and developed some great relationships with several teachers and classes. One of the biggest successes of this program was having students from an alternative high school reading to kindergarten students. It wasn’t just important to show those young students people from outside their world, but it also worked to instill a strong feeling of value for many of the students that had the opportunity to be readers.
Starting from there, the kids in my classes are combining Google Hangouts, Google Forms/Sheets, and Tour Builder to create real opportunities for different experiences. Our class starts with a simple Google Form. That Form has several questions about the community, climate, and the kids themselves. Throughout the year we will compare those answers to those from kids around the world. We send the classes the Form in advance so we can be prepared to learn and ask more specific questions during the Hangout. We also plot the location of the new class on our class Community World Tour. We take a closer look at the area around the school and discuss geography, how their definitions of urban, suburban, and rural may be different than others, and see how the area looks different than our own.
During the call we share a project with the class, such as our International Dot Day projects, or spend time asking questions. We get the chance to interact with the people who are living in the communities we are now studying. As part of the call we share about our own community and travel using screen sharing and Tour Builder.
After the call is over, we add to our own tour in Tour Builder. We add notes, pictures, and any other interesting facts about the community we have visited. We have our own Google Form to document what we have learned about each community. Each child in my class has access to a tour of all of the communities we visited.
In the end, we will have visited many different places and learned about them from other children. This is a true opportunity for students to learn. They love the opportunity to learn from peers, and to teach kids about their own area. This activity has more meaning to them than any text I could share. They will see, hear, and learn from real people, in real places, that they can see. While many of our students cannot actually travel the world to learn from different communities, they can experience them through a variety of digital tools.
Which brings me back to the beginning- How do we help kids build comfort and competence in working with a truly diverse population? By introducing them to the wider world and actually interacting with people. My ultimate hope is that this project will grow into multiple opportunities to collaborate and build relationships with kids from many different places. No matter what happens, I know I am using my connections to create a more meaningful, lasting experience for my kids that will impact them rather than just instruct them.
*Ed. Note- Brian will be presenting a session based on this project at ISTE 2016 in Denver, CO. Congratulations to Brian and to everyone who’s sessions were accepted.
Brian Costello is in his 7th year of teaching in Southern New Jersey. Brian started his career as an instructional aide before going on to teach Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd Grades. He is an avid writer, blogger, and Twitter user. He recently published his first children’s book, Will McGill and the Magic Hat. Brian speaks at Educational conferences on topics including educational technology, leadership, communication, and professional development.