The session was planned for 2.30pm Melbourne time, but I reached the library a bit earlier to find a group of kids already chatting excitedly. Tahni, Alex, Ronnie, Ruby, Jaimie and Elijah were about to connect with Craig and his Year 4 class in Saigon to further their inquiry into Vietnam.
Craig’s Year 4s were quite delightful, as was the entire session! Craig fielded the tougher questions and encouraged his students to respond to the ones they could. Theirs is an international school, but they explained that their life and school are not typically Vietnamese. It was great to hear the authentic Vietnamese voice of NguyenU Phuong, the Vietnamese Teacher’s Assistant providing her perspective too. Craig seemed a bit surprised at his students’ ability to identify and describe difficulties faced in their country, such as Dengue Fever, flooding and traffic congestion.
The Aussies talked quietly amongst themselves in between, comparing the responses with their own lives here. Their questions showed that they had already done some research and they connected what they heard with prior learning. As well as wanting to know about school, festivals and daily life, their deeper questions related to government and social inequities, big ideas from earlier units of inquiry.
The session went on longer than expected and the Year 6s loved every minute of it. As they gathered their belongings to go back to their classes, I heard their comments:
‘I got so much out of that’, ‘All my questions were answered’, ‘I didn’t even know there were PYP schools all over the world’, ‘The kids were sooo cute’, ‘You learn so much more this way, than from just looking stuff up’….
What’s the other story? (Craig)
As with many students attending international schools, our students come from upper middle class to upper class homes. The students see what they have and their lives as being ‘normal’. It is quite common for families at our school to have housekeepers, nannies, drivers, security guards and the like. Other children come to school on the back of a motorbike, which is the most common form of transport used in Vietnam.
To prepare for the session with the Year 6 students in Australia, my students were asked to think about the questions over the weekend so we could brainstorm and share ideas prior to the Skype conference. I was quite pleasantly surprised by the thought the students had put in and some of the contributions that they’d made. My students reminded me of the mosquito borne virus, Dengue Fever, which has affected the families of at least 7 of my students, including my wife. They also came up with the flooding that we deal with on a monthly basis due to king high tides on the Saigon River. I wish I was that switched on to the world around me when I was 9 years old.
While my students recently completed and video recorded many personal interviews as part of their current unit of inquiry, the Skype conference with Year 6 students from Edna’s school has given me the inspiration to try something similar when we’re inquiring into cultures and religions. I have former colleagues teaching all over the world who might be willing to support my students as they continue accessing primary sources. Instead of reading books about religions in February, the students inquiring into Judaism can Skype with students at Edna’s school, those inquiring into Islam can talk with students from my former school in the Middle East.
I think by the time the conference had come to an end, everyone had taken away something positive – what could be better than that?