Geography, when I was in primary school, included rote learning of capital cities and populations and, most fun of all, making flags and colouring in maps.
Half a century later, Year 2 (7-8 year olds) at my school are inquiring into how geography affects the ways people live. They will explore landforms, climate, people and how they live, not from a textbook, but by connecting with children their own age in other parts of Australia and the world.
So far, each of our five classes has made contact with a class in another part of Australia and partnered up with classes in Indonesia, China, Canada, Singapore, New Zealand and Cambodia. Some of the teachers on both sides are new to this kind of interaction, but all are keen to connect via Skype, blogs, email and whatever other creative means they can think of.
Romy, one of new Year 2 teachers and her class connected this week with Sari and hers, from Surabaya, Indonesia, who was one of the participants in my recent digital citizenship workshop.
“The kids were so fascinated that they could be in touch with a school in another country and it really provided them with an opportunity to think about how different things are between the two schools and countries, but it was wonderful to see the smiles and wow moments when they realised they had things in common.”
A few years back, many of our teachers were nervous about getting involved in this kind of interaction without a great deal of support. Connecting with kids in other places has become more natural over time, but has often consisted only of a single Skype session, with little if any follow-up. Before each Skype session kids would prepare questions… and then sometimes be so busy waiting for their turn to ask, that they’d forget to listen to responses. We’re great learners though, always refining the process and learning from our mistakes.
This is the first time a whole Year level is on board at once and I’m as excited as the teachers are. They have made initial contact with their collaborators and most have decided it’s worthwhile connecting with their classes informally the first time, so that the children know who they’ll be interacting with. They have come up with a range of lovely ideas such as creating puppet videos to introduce themselves first!
There are many opportunities ahead for reading, purposeful writing for an audience, speaking and listening, mapping, learning about our own and other countries… and a host of worthwhile trans-disciplinary skills. And there will be opportunities for the development of a variety of attitudes such as appreciation, confidence, curiosity, respect and cooperation.
In the next few weeks, our Year 2 learners will be calling for photos from all over the world, with descriptions of how local geography (in the broadest sense of the term) influences the way you live.
Watch this space!