Connecting through music…

The kids in Australia and the kids in India have a shared appreciation of music. They have played and sung to each other a few times and discussed their liking for Shakira

Further reflections:

Eli in Australia:

I am really enjoying talking to the students at Shiragon high school over skype. I think its really fun that we get to talk to kids in a whole different country. I was amazed at how well they spoke English. I like to ask and answer questions and love sharing our cultures and beliefs. I love sharing common interests  and sharing music as well. My favourite thing is that I am doing something new and exciting to me.

Attar, computer teacher at Shiragon (he became the computer whiz at school thanks to Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall and the interest he showed in it that Sugata reinforced.):

Its a wonderful, incomparable world. At one click the new generation is doing away with the barriers between nations with the help of new technology. Older people have more limited attitudes, that youngsters don’t even have an idea of [the barriers]. Best wishes to Mitra Sir that the SOLEs are coming into play through his vision.


Global classroom…

I’ll have a new role in 2011. Teaching and Learning Coordinator. I love the title because those are the things that matter to me. I’ve always been a teacher and never aspired to be any kind of head. I’m not interested in admin, budgets, management or dealing with complaints. I care about learning. And next year I’m going to try and change its face…

Most of my own learning in the past couple of years has come from online interactions. Through conferences, blogs, Twitter, Skype… I have made some wonderful connections and broadened my thinking enormously. I have shared ideas about teaching and learning with educators on every continent. I have interacted with interesting people who have made me think in different ways about big ideas in education, about the world and about myself.

While it’s tough for me to imagine not having my own class, I hope I can make a bigger difference in my new role. What’s taken place in my own learning will apply to students too. I know the days of just learning in a room with walls are over. Just as I have expanded my learning sphere, so can they…

Last week I thought it was exciting that some of my Year 5 students were teaching Hebrew to a 15 year old in Colorado. The fact that a group of Year 6 students were coming to talk to kids in India at lunchtimes was amazing. This week, it’s becoming ordinary. We’re getting to used to it! Both groups had conversations today and they are beginning to take the lead themselves. I try to stay out of the way as much as possible.

It’s a model for what learning can look like. Should look like. I’m hoping gradually it will become commonplace. Groups of students learning from and with other kids anywhere in the world. Learners on different continents sharing, debating and discussing. Kids communicating and collaborating across the globe.

I asked Manish at the SOLE in Maharashtra why he’d enjoyed talking to the kids in Australia. He thought for a minute, then typed ‘We have a common thing which is talk freely with another childrens’. Indeed.

And it’s not even difficult to achieve.



Connecting with kids in India…

Guest post by Year 6 students, Liat, Isabella, Rebekah and Talia. For more details, see my post ‘More similar than different…’

We spoke on Skype to kids in India!

At the beginning there were only three of them but near the end, the room gradually filled up and they were all very interested.

We found out that they love soccer, sweet food and fire-crackers. (for Diwali). We asked them what they eat and they said they eat Laddu which is made of rice powder and other things. They said they mainly eat dried food. We think this could be because they may not have fridges.

We showed them our currency and they showed us theirs, which has Mahatma Gandhi on it. They said the paper is special paper imported from Europe.

We mentioned that Liat likes singing they asked us to sing, so we sang them a song and they sang us one!  We asked them if they play musical instruments and they said they play harmonium and drums. Rebekah plays the guitar and they said they have the sitar and they want Rebekah to bring her guitar next time we speak.

Next session: Today we played two songs for them on Rebekah’s guitar and sang, which they said that they enjoyed. One even asked us how much a guitar costs. They taught us some words in Marathi, which is their home language.


I thought that this was an awe inspiring experience because when you think of Indian kids you think of starving children wearing rags, but once we got to know them we found that we were similar to each other in a lot of ways and I found myself connecting with them on a deeper level. I also found that once I had talked to them for a while I felt that my whole opinion on how they acted had changed from ‘they are sad’ to ‘they are happy’.


I thought it was a really interesting thing to do. I found that they had really good English when you wouldn’t think they would be able to speak to us at all. We had so many things in common like what music we like and what games we play. They all like to speak to us and they all want to tell us different things and they scream out to tell the boy who speaks the most English what to type and then he translates what we reply.


I enjoyed talking to the Indian kids, not particularly to learn our differences but mainly to discover all the similarities. Most of them can speak a lot more English than we thought and understand everything we say. What was very interesting was how they knew some of our songs and we didn’t know any of theirs. They were very positive about everything and never told us they disagreed. Talking to them was great because while knowing that we could understand each other, we still had enough differences to keep up our conversation.


I think it’s great that we (Australians) can talk to people in India. I find it even better that it’s led by children, because it can help us with our inquiry. It’s a good idea that we can interact with children of a different culture and find out about them in this way.

More similar than different…

Rajat, Gouri, Ashkay, Sameer, Amol, Ankar, Sanket, Vikrant and Laxman are students at a rural school in Shiragon 100kms from Goa in Maharashtra, India. They have gathered today at the SOLE near their school.

Isabella, Liat, Talia and Rebecca are Year 6 private school students in Melbourne, Australia.

Differences: language, environment, culture, economic background, religion…

Question: Who cares?

They chatted on Skype for half an hour and began to get to know each other. This was the first time (due to the time difference) that there has been an opportunity for a genuine connection between kids at my school and one of the SOLES. One previous interaction between kids was a once-off set up by Suneeta with a group who didn’t speak English, so the chat was through her translation. I thought it was wonderful at the time, but this is going to be even better!

They were bubbling with enthusiasm and kept saying how exciting, how much fun, how cool…They learned each others’ names and asked about school and sports. They sang their national anthems to each other. Best of all they arranged to meet again the next day. The second time was more relaxed and natural and I left them to it. I know that among other things, they talked about musical instruments and Rebecca is bringing her guitar to the next interaction! But the girls will write the next post themselves…

Some comments from the Australian kids:

  • They’re not that different from us! (R)
  • All kids have fun and learn stuff! (L)
  • Instead of learning about them, we talked to them. (I)
  • It was fun to talk to people who we thought were completely different and find how similar they are to us. (L)
  • We’ve done the introduction now, we’ll be able to talk about more things next time. (T)
  • I thought it might be difficult to talk to them because of cultural difference and background but it wasn’t. (R)
  • You get nervous meeting new people anyway, and they’re across the world, but it was easy and fun.(R)
  • My impression of Indian children was that they were all starving… I didn’t think about how similar they might be to us. (I)

I’d love to get some from the Indian kids too…

Learning at its best…

I am utterly inspired my Monika Hardy’s Innovation Lab. Learn more about it here and here.

These students are following their passions and learning independently through global connections. This is kids really taking control of their learning and my attempts in the classroom seem to pale into insignificance…

Sam wants to learn Hebrew. He knows the alphabet, is working on the grammar and needed someone to help with pronunciation. A chance tweet from Monika was picked up by someone who follows my blog and knows I’m a Hebrew teacher. And here we are today…

Dean, Matthew and Jay in Melbourne, Australia, learners of Hebrew as a second language at a Jewish school, are sharing their knowledge with Sam in Colorado, a Christian who would like to be able to read the bible in its original language.

After the first session…

Sam: I liked it. I really liked it.

Matthew: I think it’s fantastic that we are getting the opportunity to teach, so others maybe can benefit from what we’ve learned ourselves.

Jay: It was great in the sense that we can share our learning all over the world and it’s not limited just to the classroom!

Monika: The boys literally looked like they were trying to peak into a window.

Ed: I have used the title of this post before and I’ve no doubt I’ll use it again and again. The boundary is shifting.

Times have changed…

When my grandparents left Lithuania for South Africa, a century ago, they probably said goodbye forever. I wonder if they had further contact with the family and friends they left behind.

My husband and I emigrated from South Africa to Australia 30 years ago. When our children were young, we sent letters and photos in the mail and exchanged audio cassette tapes with the grandparents. Mail, be it letters or tapes, took more than a week in each direction and as phone-calls were expensive, they were short and infrequent.

My daughter left yesterday to live and volunteer in Ecuador for a year. This means that currently, members of my immediate family live on 5 different continents. But the world is smaller now than it was in the old days. Global communication is easy and inexpensive.  We can Skype, email, call, text, share photos and videos instantaneously.

Times have changed. What’s possible has changed.

Times have changed for schooling too. Learning need no longer be confined to a classroom in a particular place. The teacher at the front of the room is no longer the bearer of all knowledge. All kinds of information are readily accessible to learners. Connections can be made in an instant with other learners, teachers or experts around the world.  

Times have changed. What’s possible has changed. Have you?




Letter from India…

Series on Learning in Different Contexts #3

I often blog about how excited I am at flattening classroom walls and creating opportunities for meaningful global learning. I wrote recently about my mentor group for our PYP exhibition unit and their Skype conversation with Raj in India. Max, one of the students in the group, emailed Raj afterwards with a couple of final questions to round off his understanding of education in India. He wondered if Raj could tell him about his own school experiences and compare them to his son’s education.

Within a couple of days, we received 12 emails with different perspectives on schooling in India! Raj had asked friends and colleagues of varied ages and backgrounds to describe their schooldays and compare them with education in India today. What an interesting collection of primary sources to enrich learning for the students and bring their inquiry to life! This post is one of  them…

Guest post by Jaya, a user experience designer at Zoho Corp, Chennai

I went to school in the rural parts of  Tamil Nadu – my native village, until my 5th standard. It was a typical government school, classes under the tree and small rooms. My class teacher was a tenant in my house, so imagine my freedom at school. I could go when I wanted to and rest otherwise – No questions asked. It went on this way till I was in first standard.

When we moved to the nearby town, I joined a new school – a private one but still in Tamil medium. English medium schools were then definitely for people with educated parents.  The school that I joined was supposedly a premium school, running for more than 40 years in the same place, managed by an elderly couple. We had the school food (government provides free food) every day, did all teacher house work,  sweeping and folding their clothes. But it was not imposed on us, we did it as fun! It was a privilege to know that teacher would drink water which I fetched for her. No restrooms, only the school compound wall for your natural calls – one side of it for boys and other for girls!!

I knew c-a-t in my third standard and knew that there existing vowels in English in 5th standard. But we wereintroduced to a lot of Tamil reading. We even had a small playground. Near our compound, an old lady would be selling all exciting eatables like raw mangoes and amlas  as per the seasons. No pressure, no homework, no ranks systems, not much of tests, no failures even. We used to have a reading session after meal everyday, and I still remember how mesmerized we would be listening to the other person reading the book. We would wait for our chance! One teacher handled two classes and almost every subject, don’t ask me how and worse still, two classes shared the same room too.  It reminds me of J.Krishnamurti’s  school philosophy where they do not divide classes based on the kid’s age, it is like varied age groups sitting in the same classes, for at least a few sessions. I am proud we were doing this in our village itself, even if it was due to space and people constraint.

After fifth we moved to Chennai and joined an English medium school. It took some time to adjust to the new area, new friends, new school… Wearing shoes and carrying a huge bag were few of our shocks. We me and my sister) rather took it as a challenge. We used to get very low marks, handwriting so poor, and I remember kneeling outside the class too. I used to fail in English till my 8th standard and obviously get the first mark in Tamil. After 9th, I think something changed, not sure what, it was probably our attitude that paid us. We were improving in all levels. No more failures in English, no more shy and timid person. I became the third rank holder and somewhat identified as an intelligent girl.

Education in India now is so different, urban schools compete with one another for name and fame, students and money. I think we have moved to a complex mode of education. There is lot of competition, lot of expectation from parents. I do not think that my father even knew how much I was scoring in school, but nowadays parents are expected to memorize the child’s syllabus. I actually want my child to enjoy school rather than study. I want him to have pleasant experience! I do not pester him to study or put pressure to excel, which my parents never did to me.

My education was not just with books and classes but everything other than that.  I am glad that I had it this way, because I realize that without it I would not be what I am today!


Just kids talking to kids…

If you’ve been with me a while, you’ll know about my interactions with disadvantaged kids in Hyderabad via Skype as part of the SOLES and SOMES project. If not, you can read about it here.

More recently, I blogged about our  PYP exhibition, the group I am mentoring and their inquiry into access to education in developing countries,  particularly India.

This week brought a  meeting of the two!

I suggested to my group that they email Suneeta from SOLES and see if she had any ideas for the action component of their inquiry.  As it turned out, she had a great idea and they called her on Skype to discuss it. She is currently working with the Kelghar organization in Pune, whose motto is ‘education for the deprived’. Khelgar provides activities  for children who live in a slum area named Lakshminagar at Kothrud, Pune.  Suneeta asked my students if they would like to interact with kids from the Kelghar project.

By whatedsaid | View this Toon at ToonDoo | Create your own Toon

Today was the day. There was Rajendra, Anil, Amar and Maya.  They don’t speak  English, but Suneeta was happy to be the interpreter. She explained that some of the children who come to Khelgar only started going to school in Year 5, due to economic reasons, being children of migrant labourers who were often on the move, or the fact their parents don’t value education. In some rural areas it is hard for children to attend school because they live too far from schools.  They were thrilled by the idea that the Aussies could talk to kids in another country (them!) as part of their school learning and wondered at the fact that our kids have continuous internet access at school.

This was an eye-opener for my  privileged group who have been at school since the age of 4 and take for granted the excellent facilities  at their disposal. The Indian kids were amazed to hear that we only have 24 kids in a class. There are 24 girls in their class and then approximately 40 boys as well.  This group only attends school in the afternoons as there are too many children in the class to fit into the room, so the school day requires two sessions.

The most delightful thing is, that despite differences in language, culture, economic situation or educational opportunities… kids are kids. They exchanged information, laughed and sang to each other. As soon as it was over, they asked if they could do it again!

Learning at its best…

I blogged last week about our coming Year 6 PYP exhibition, a culmination of learning throughout the primary school years. The central idea of the unit is: Social inequities create  a need for action in the world.

Max, Gigi and Casey, whom I am mentoring, have chosen to explore access to education in developing countries, focusing on India.  My role is to support them in the inquiry process, encourage and guide them, help them find resources and take the pressure off the class teacher a bit! We meet a couple of times a week to discuss their findings and clarify further direction.

Today they gathered some interesting new information from primary sources. The first Skype conversation was with Clive , an engineer turned teacher, who’s volunteering in Sri Lanka teaching teachers to use computers. He told the kids about his work and that of the organisation he works under, and was able to make comparisons with India as he volunteered there too.

Later in the day they spoke to Raj, in India. He was happy to answer their questions comparing city education to that in villages, as well as gender related issues. When Raj explained that in many cases it’s more important for families to get their daughters married off than for them to be educated, Casey voiced aloud her wondering : ‘Why is there pressure for women to marry and have families, when there are so many people in India already?’!

Flat classroom

I am really excited by the ways education has changed over the years! (especially since we became a PYP school) I am excited about the fact that primary school children are developing global awareness and a social conscience.  I am excited about the fact that learning today (in my school, at least)  is relevant, challenging and engaging. I’m excited about breaking down classroom walls and the incredible learning that can take place through global interactions,  so easily via Skype. And I’m excited about the power of the internet to make meaningful connections between people who otherwise would never have met!