In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing became clear: It truly is a small world and we’re all in this together. That’s why it’s never been more important to provide students with opportunities to connect with others to understand that despite differences, we all share many important similarities. Through these connections, students develop empathy, knowledge, perspective and communication skills all goals of the ISTE Global Collaborator standard within the ISTE Standards for Students.
As outlined in the standard, Global Collaborators use digital tools to broaden their perspectives and enrich their learning by collaborating with others and working effectively in teams locally and globally.
Since the pandemic first hit, we’ve seen how these skills have come into play. They’ve helped reduce the spread of the virus by allowing people to communicate digitally while social distancing; they’ve helped experts communicate vital information quickly to all reaches of the earth; and they’ve allowed people to empathize with each other.
When our students hone these skills, they become leaders in our physical and digital world, and develop an appreciation and understanding of others along the way.
With that in mind, I’d like to share a few examples of projects and activities that help students develop as global collaborators.
Connecting with different backgrounds and cultures
ISTE Global Collaborator indicator 7a states that students use digital tools to connect with learners from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, engaging with them in ways that broaden mutual understanding and learning.
One way to do this is by connecting your classroom to another in a different town, state or country. That might sound daunting to set up because of different time zones, class schedules and curriculum resources. But you can find organizations that make these connections easier by matching classrooms according to age groups, time slots and topics.
Wadsworth Elementary School in Flagler County, Florida, used a site called Empatico to connect K-6 students with classes in New York, Mexico, Nigeria and other locations.
Empatico was developed with seed funding from the KIND Organization whose mission is to cultivate a future generation with a greater understanding of others. Empatico makes it easy for teachers to connect students with other classrooms, which has made this a popular teaching tool since its launch in 2017.
To get started, you simply complete a profile that includes grade level preferences, class schedules and the types of lessons you’re interested in implementing. From there, Empatico provides a list of classroom matches from around the world, and then it’s as easy as clicking a button. To give you a small idea of how connected Empatico is, I searched for matches for 5- to 6-year-old students and found classrooms in the United States, Ghana, Argentina, Mexico, Brazil and Romania.
This gives you the opportunity to make connections that wouldn’t have been possible without this technology, demonstrating to students how small our world can really be!
Wadsworth Principal Anna Crawford described what happened when her students connected with a fifth grade classroom in Mexico. “At first, our students were nervous to talk on camera, but by the end they were showing off their Fortnite dances to each other,” Crawford explained.
Students in both countries created presentations to share ways they help others in their communities, and they learned how similar their communities were in that both have homeless citizens, hunger issues and elderly people needing help buying groceries and maintaining their homes.
“It’s difficult to put into words the feeling you get when you see these exchanges taking place,” Crawford said. “I just know that this is right and what we should be doing with kids.”
In addition to helping students become more aware of other cultures, students developed vital skills. As they completed more exchanges, their communication skills improved and they were able to take on leadership roles for setting up equipment and leading the lessons. Teachers took a back seat, allowing students to collaborate in more authentic ways.
Using technology to connect with experts
Another important aspect of the Global Collaborator standard involves using technology to learn from experts and to solve problems. Indicator 7b states students use collaborative technologies to work with others, including peers, experts or community members, to examine issues and problems from multiple viewpoints.
There are a number of videoconferencing tools that facilitate this, such as Skype, Zoom or Google Hangouts. Another great tool that helps teachers easily connect with students and adults around the world is Flipgrid.
Flipgrid has a teacher dashboard that allows educators to easily connect with guest speakers and other classrooms around the world for numerous projects.
One example was the #GoalsProject (flipgrid.com/765d8d15) that took place in fall 2018 in which students engaged in collaborative projects that encouraged them to connect with peers around the world. Ayush Chopra, founder of #SDGsForChildren, launched this project with a Flipgrid board, inviting students to introduce themselves and talk about a United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) they were interested in.
It was amazing to see so many students from around the globe sharing positive messages. Later, students used Flipgrid to connect with others focused on the same goal to share their projects and ideas.
Students take action
We feel confident that once you test the waters with global collaboration, you’ll be ready for more authentic and elaborate interactions with other classrooms, and you’ll be ready to address indicator 7d, which expects students to explore local and global issues and use collaborative technologies to work with others to investigate solutions. Luckily, there are a plethora of online resources to help educators engage students in authentic and meaningful projects.
The U.N. SDGs were developed in an effort to transform our world by 2030. With goals such as zero hunger, climate action and gender equality, it’s clear that achieving them will take time and effort.
In 2016, Ada McKim, Amy Rosenstein, Fran Siracusa and Jennifer Williams co-founded the #TeachSDGs Movement that focused on educating teachers and students about these goals, while empowering them to take action. From there the movement exploded. A wealth of projects and resources were created, giving students a chance to learn about global issues and have opportunities to help solve them.
Resources to get started
The following resources can help you get started with engaging students in SDGs and connecting with classrooms around the world.
World’s Largest Lesson. The website features free lesson plans and resources to support each sustainable development goal. These resources include kid-friendly posters and infographics that can be displayed in classrooms to remind students about the importance of serving others.
#TeachSDGs. The website teachsdgs.org engages students in the SDGs and offers SDG Ambassadors who serve as mentors to eucators who need extra support with initiating global projects with their students.
Teach Boldly. The ISTE book Teach Boldly: Using Edtech For Social Good by Jennifer Williams, Ph.D., is a valuable resource for any educator seeking to engage students in global projects and authentic learning. This book blends the ISTE Standards with research-based ideas for connecting students around the world and empowering them to solve community and global issues.
Student-centered global projects
Take Action Global, led by Jennifer Williams and Koen Timmers, introduced and managed the following projects:
#GoalsProject. This project has connected over 1,600 classrooms from around the world to tackle the SDGs. Each classroom chooses one of the 17 goals and works with other classrooms to address it. Classrooms connect through Google, Flipgrid, Padlet and other multimedia tools to share their learning and advocate for social good.
STEMpatico Project. In a partnership with Empatico and Cisco, students engage in STEM and social-emotional learning using a design thinking approach. This project provides professional learning opportunities to teachers, while students connect with a classroom from around the world and explore challenges in their communities.
#TakeActionProject. This project focuses on social awareness and global conversations. Take Action Global partners with organizational thought leaders like UN75 and WWF to offer webinars, class-to-class collaborations and a guided experience with classroom resources.
What’s stopping you from getting started with global collaboration today? In many districts and schools, security restrictions make these types of lessons seem difficult or impossible at first glance. If student-to-student videoconferences, chats and online communication are not possible, then consider employing class-to-class exchanges instead.
It’s important to review your school or district’s acceptable use policy in regard to student online communication and media/social media policies. If photographing and recording students is not typically allowed, then request the use of videoconference tools that will not be archived or can be maintained in a private space online.
As you encourage students to explore our small, connected world, I hope their list of global friends will continue to grow as mine has. Additionally, I hope they understand the great rewards and joy that come from using technology for the greater good.
Kristin Harrington (@kristincharr) is a district K-12 edtech coach at Flagler County Schools and an adjunct professor at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. She’s the ISTE Learning Spaces PLN president and has been a guest writer for Empowered Learner and the ISTE Blog.