Inter-cultural understanding…

What could be more engaging than kids talking to kids across the world? What better way to learn about other people? What better way to encourage inter-cultural understanding and global awareness?

Our Year 4 students are currently exploring other cultures. They are using the iceberg model to investigate how cultural beliefs and values influence people’s customs and perspectives. Part of their inquiry will include interacting with children (and adults) from a variety of cultures via Skype and Voicethread. By constantly referring to the iceberg, they will gradually develop their understanding that the things we see  (food, festivals, customs) reflect the deeper beliefs and values of a culture.

Time and again, I have found the best way to make connections for this kind of learning is through my existing online PLN. Tweeting for interested collaborators in this unit has, so far, brought us willing collaborators in Indonesia, China, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and other parts of Australia. Friends in India have agreed to connect with the Year 4 children too. It’s not the best time of year for this inquiry, as schools in other countries are finishing for the year, but it’s still worth asking… If you’d like your students of any age to collaborate with us, either via Skype or by responding to our coming Voicethread, please let me know!

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


Learning beyond walls #2…

As I said before…

Learning for teachers isn’t limited by the walls any more. We can share ideas, discuss our practice, learn with and from other educators outside our own institutions. Skype allows us to collaborate with anyone, anywhere, (almost) any time.

On a cold, wintry morning, twenty educators rose early for an a voluntary professional learning session before school hours.

Kathleen and Kelly are a couple of vivacious and energetic, young teachers at a school a couple of hours away from ours. They were in their classroom early, supported by their principal Ruth, to share their experience and advice with us via Skype. At my school, teachers gathered in the library to further their own learning about class blogging to promote literacy.

Many of our teachers started class blogs this year for the first time. A few were blogging with their classes last year. None are bloggers themselves.

Kathleen and Kelly talked us though their class blog and explained how it is an integral part of teaching and learning literacy. They answered questions about how to encourage students to blog and parents to comment. We saw a delightful video of students talking about the benefits of blogging. We were shown evidence of students’ progress in writing, through the development of their comments on the blog. Teachers left the session inspired to move their own class blogs forward, armed with new ideas and examples.

As always, here’s what I learned:

  • Teachers enjoy learning from other real, live teachers, sitting in their own classrooms.
  • Hearing voices from outside can be powerful, even if they say the same things voices inside have already said.
  • There are incredible, generous educators out there, willing to share with anyone who is open to learning from them.
  • Passion and love of learning are contagious.
  • Offering every kind of support, when people are ready, is an effective way to instigate change.
  • Teaching is changing. Ways of learning are changing. The possibilities are endless.
  • A head of school who makes breakfast so his teachers can learn is an example to all.
  • If you have an idea, run with it. Don’t wait for a better time, particular conditions or permission to try. What’s the worst that can happen?


Learning beyond walls…

Learning for teachers isn’t limited by the walls any more. We can share ideas, discuss our practice, learn with and from other educators outside our own institutions. And I don’t mean through conferences and workshops, live or virtual…

Skype allows us to collaborate with anyone anywhere. As soon as I asked ‘Who wants to learn with us?’ Judith Way said she would love to!

We often gather before school to learn together. I’m lucky to work with a group of teachers committed to ongoing learning and always in search of ways to improve teaching and learning in our school. Over the past few years we’ve had regular voluntary early morning sessions before school, to discuss readings, explore new tech tools, share learning from outside workshops, push each others’ thinking and learn from each others’ experiences.

Yesterday was different, though. Judith Way, a well known teacher librarian and seasoned presenter joined us via Skype to chat with us about responding to literature through a range of web 2.0 tools. She talked us through a variety of examples on her reading wiki and teachers enjoyed seeing familiar and unfamiliar tools used in novel ways to express student learning. One favourite was Google Lit Trips, which we haven’t used at all and teachers were excited by the possibilities for using Google Earth in interesting ways.

Watch this space for follow-ups! Des, who a year ago was a reluctant tech adopter without a shred of confidence to experiment with new tools, was applying ideas from the session already today. (Read about her transformation here.) She was thrilled with her class inquiry into how best to express their learning and their shared exploration of Toondoo. In our next week’s session, we’ll take some time to explore Judith’s wiki slowly on our own and discuss how we might adapt her ideas to suit our learning needs. 

There were teachers from all over the world who expressed interest in learning with us. Hopefully we can create more opportunities to make this happen!


A special connection…

I have a new friend. His name is Kalpesh and he lives in Talere, Maharashtra, India. He’s 15 years old, in 10th grade and his favourite subject is science. He likes his teacher because he makes jokes. Kalpesh loves Ben 10 cartoons, is a karate fan and likes to play cricket. His best friend’s name is Raviraj. His home language is Marathi and he speaks Hindi too. His English is limited to the classroom… and now his interactions with me. 

I learn these things from our interactions via Skype through the SOLE project, about which I have written before here and here. It’s amazing how much we’ve already learned from each other, when you consider the limitations of our communication. Apart from the language barrier, there is no sound when we connect, although there is video, so we communicate by typing and by hand and facial gestures. This SOLE is in the Vaibhavwadi taluka of Sindhudurg, Maharashtra, in the village of Talere, although the children also come from surrounding villages. I’m told that the SOLE itself is a room with a tin roof which makes it feel like an oven in the summer heat.

During our ‘conversation’ about school, Kalpesh tells me there are 80 children in his class. He knows I’m a teacher and asks to see photos of my school, so I show him a few images of students learning in the classroom. His responses are usually brief and often single words and I know he doesn’t always understand what I type, because then he simply doesn’t respond. So I wonder if he’ll know what I mean when I ask ‘What did you notice?’

[28/04/2011 3:38:43 PM] SOLE C1: mam your school photos 
[28/04/2011 3:39:01 PM] Edna: let me look. 
[28/04/2011 3:40:29 PM] Edna: here are some pictures of children at my school 
[28/04/2011 3:41:26 PM] SOLE C1: nice photos 
[28/04/2011 3:41:34 PM] Edna: what did you notice? 
[28/04/2011 3:42:42 PM] SOLE C1: typing your school childrn in laptop and painting 
[28/04/2011 3:42:51 PM] Edna: yes 
[28/04/2011 3:43:09 PM] SOLE C1: thank you

I’m filled with mixed emotions… shame at having shown him the colourful classroom with small groups working at laptops… pleasure that he has understood and responded in a whole sentence… gratitude for the opportunity to see what learning looks like in a different context… disappointment that there’s no sound and I can’t hear what he’s saying to the other children as they laugh… frustration at the limitations imposed on our conversation by language… warmth towards these eagerly responsive children… delight that despite the obstacles, I have managed to make a connection…

[28/04/2011 3:55:08 PM] SOLE C1: mam you come India and my house

I would love to.


How do we communicate?

After interacting with a group of children at a SOLE  in India via Skype yesterday, I couldn’t help but reflect on the different ways communication can take place. A conversation with Chetan, Akansha, Pravin and the others could have been doomed by the potential obstacles…

  • I had never met this group and it was the first time they interacted with a ‘foreigner’.
  • Our backgrounds are as different as you could possibly imagine.
  • We don’t speak the same language.I know 5 words of Hindi and no Marathi. Their English is very limited.
  • Although we had video, the sound wasn’t working. They could occasionally hear me. I couldn’t hear them at all.
Here’s what we achieved…
  • We communicated for almost an hour by text, hand gestures and smiles.
  • I learned some Hindi words (see above!)
  • I shared pictures of animals and they saw a kangaroo for the first time.
  • They told me their ages and how many people in their families.
  • They asked about my children and I showed them a photo.
  • I learned where Mahbalshour is and next time I will show them Australia on the map.
  • We made faces and laughed.
I love the paradox of being able to use modern communication technology like Skype to interact with people anywhere, but then having to resort to the most basic forms of communication like hand gestures and making faces!
Here’s what I learned from some of my other SOLE experiences:

Talking to people… globally

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know I’m always talking about the power of global connections. In my ideal school, kids would be connecting at any time of day with people anywhere in the world to further their inquiries. They’d be independently Skyping with kids in other place to share learning and exchange ideas. But for now, interactions initiated by teachers are at least a starting point.

On Friday I’ll have another opportunity to talk online about the experiences we’ve had so far at my school. It’s for InnovatEd Conference in Memphis, USA, and I love the idea of presenting via Skype about kids connecting globally in just this way. We haven’t been able to do much of this in the past couple of months, due to tech difficulties resulting from our move to a new building. However we’re almost back in business, so if there’s anyone out there who’d like to connect in May for a Year 4 unit on understanding other cultures or a Year 2 unit about how schools are organised in different countries, please let me know.(The age of the students doesn’t need to match.) Skype is great, and Voicethread works well if we need to connect asynchronously due to inconvenient time differences. If you have never done this sort of thing, here’s a good place to start!

Meanwhile here’s an example of where one of my own online connections has led…

It was wonderful to meet face to face and exchange ideas today with @megangraff , who I met on Twitter. She’s a teacher librarian at a PYP school in Singapore, visiting Melbourne to see friends.  Showing her around our school, discussing similarities and differences, having her input in one of our meetings about report cards, it felt as if we had known each other for ages. She’s moving to Tanzania later this year to volunteer as teacher librarian at the School of St Jude. She has promised to stay in touch so that we can try to find a way to connect our students to provide an opportunity for some great learning on both sides.

As one of my students reflected last year, ‘Talking to people is much better than learning about them’!


Contrasting conversations…

I’m a huge admirer of the work of Sugata Mitra, as you will know if you read this blog. It was great fun today to talk to a class in Hong Kong… and Sugata himself! As an e-mediator with the SOLE and SOME project, I was asked to do a session with this group as part of a demonstration for teachers there to see the possibilities of such global interactions.

The class of extremely well behaved, somewhat formal 12 year olds, sat quietly and watched as small groups came up to the camera to talk to me. They introduced themselves politely one at a time and answered my questions about their school subjects, their hobbies and their interests. They respectfully asked a few questions and, with some encouragement, sang their school song. These students are clearly from well-to-do homes, as many have travelled extensively and some have even been to Australia. When I asked what they thought the similarities and differences between our countries might be, they thoughtfully expressed their ideas. They all speak Mandarin and Cantonese and most of them spoke very good English. Although I had a problem with screen sharing (I hadn’t practiced with the latest version of Skype), it was easy to engage them in conversation for about an hour. They were interested to hear that at my school, we use Skype for interactions of this sort as part of class learning.

No sooner had the conversation ended, then I had a call from one of the SOLEs in Hyderabad. There was lots of activity and noise in the room as kids came and went. The usual core group of girls stayed at the computer, chattering cheerfully. I have been away for a while and they seemed excited to see me, waving, making faces and all talking at once, mostly in Hindi! Much of the conversation (if you can call words and short phrases a conversation!) was typed, as the background hubbub made it hard to hear and anyway we use text to support the communication and help overcome accent and language barriers. It was Thaseen’s birthday and she was wearing a glitering red and silver dress and distributing chocolates to her friends. I asked about their birthday traditions and they told me she was having a party for friends and relatives and there would be cake but not gifts. We sang happy birthday, they clapped for themselves and laughed at me pretending to eat the proffered chocolate, mimicking the expressions on my face. I showed them how to fold the wrapper into a boat and while this modeling and copying was going on, more kids appeared and told me their names, talked over each other and redirected the camera to themselves.

I caught up with Rodger, another Australian e-mediator for a few minutes afterwards…

[7:12:01 PM] Edna: hi rodger
[7:12:17 PM] Edna: did you talk to HK too?
[7:34:29 PM] Rodger M: yes… how was it?
[8:06:45 PM] Edna: very different than the indians!
[8:07:02 PM] Rodger M: yes… much better english …
[8:07:15 PM] Rodger M: and much better communication quality
[8:07:27 PM] Rodger M: but more reserved and formal
[8:07:41 PM] Edna: and better off, well travelled… quite a few had been to Aus
[8:07:52 PM] Rodger M: yes .. quite different
[8:08:02 PM] Edna: then i had a bunch of noisy jiya kids with poor english… more fun!
[8:08:15 PM] Rodger M: yes 😀
[8:08:20 PM] Edna: lots of laughing
[8:08:47 PM] Rodger M: yes … just being themselves
[8:09:19 PM] Rodger M: 🙂

Contrast makes life interesting…


10 ways to create global connections…

Use your imagination….

Picture two boys on opposite sides of the world playing chess in a foreign language. Imagine kids in Australia asking kids in Thailand about conditions where they live. Visualise 5 year olds in different countries singing for each other. Suppose kids in a privileged school could find out from kids in an Indian slum what not having ready access to water feels like. These are some of the global interactions that have taken place at my school in the past year. I’m dreaming of bigger things…

I know there are teachers and classes who have been connecting and collaborating successfully for longer than I have. I was inspired by them. I still am. This post is to encourage those who haven’t taken that first step…

1. Think small.

Connect with a teacher you know (me for instance!). Exchange ideas. Start simply, by having your students exchange emails.

2. Be inspired.

Read about great global collaborations other teachers have made. For inspiration read posts by Kath McGeadySylvia Tolisano and even some of mine.

3. Connect asynchronously.

Set up a Voicethread and have students ask questions. Share the link with others around the world. Encourage participation from everywhere. Create a conversation.

4. Sign up to Skype.

Make a start by having your class talk to someone. Practice with the class next door. Ask a contact in another place to Skype with your kids. One thing leads to another.

5. Make friends with your tech support people.

Ask for support. Show appreciation. Tell them what it’s for. They’ll probably be interested and more inclined to help.

6. Make it relevant.

Don’t just communicate for the sake of it (although that could be a starting point.) Find someone to collaborate with on a topic that’s relevant to the learning in your class. You can try sites like epals, but we’ve had our greatest successes via people we know from Twitter and blogs. Check out Yoon’s post about our recent connection.

7. Let kids own it.

They can make connections too. They can plan interactions. They can think about who to talk to and what to ask. Listen  to their reflections.

8. Consider the benefits.

Think about the difference between learning in the classroom and learning directly from and with people around the globe.

9. Don’t be put off by obstacles.

Ask for help. Accept there will be times when it doesn’t work. Have a plan B for when technology fails. Be patient. Be persistent. Don’t give up.

10. Think big.

There is a whole world out there and learning doesn’t have to be confined to the classroom.  Invite people or classrooms around the world to collaborate with you on a global project.


Opening new vistas…

Guest post by Suneeta Kulkarni.

#8 in the series Learning in different contexts.

You may already be familiar with Sugata Mitra’s work. Some of you may have gathered from Edna’s earlier posts that the initiative SOMEs (Self Organized Mediation Environments) grew out of the SOLEs (Self Organized learning Environments). We began this particular initiative in May 2009 and faced many challenges along the way. Ask any of the eMediators and they could give you a long list. But what most of them would also share with you are the ‘highs’. The thrill we experience each time we make contact is beyond description… because we go just that bit forward toward reaching our objectives. And what I’d like to share with you is a bit about one of those objectives. The experience we had at today’s SOME at Khelgar, Pune that manifests the movement in that direction….

The SOMEs were initiated to facilitate contact between children in remote, disadvantaged settings in rural and urban areas. When we began, we were not sure where it would lead…. Every day brings new surprises! What began as a primarily story telling /story reading activity rapidly expanded to include puzzles, quizzes, sharing pictures, free flowing conversation, and even craft activities. The starting objective was that children would become confident and pick up English fluency and, in the process, be able to make more effective use of the internet for their academic development.

Though the media still refers to it as the ‘granny cloud’, that is a misnomer, catchy though the phrase might be. We have in our group not only grannies, but also grandpas, as well as uncles and aunts and elder ‘siblings’ too. What we are emphasizing in all these relationships is the ‘grandmother’ approach.It means that the children get to interact with a person who is encouraging, and appreciative of their efforts, irrespective of whether or not they are entirely familiar with what the child is trying out!

A lot has happened since Sugata came up with the idea. Through this period, we became more and more aware of the potential of the SOMEs to enable children to achieve objectives even more important than learning English. It has opened up new vistas for them,  helped children all over the world gain new perspectives, enabled them to become acquainted with and better understand different ways of living, recognize and appreciate the meaning of traditions and customs in different set ups.

Earlier this month we were able to get going, thanks to the children at the SOLE in Shirgaon, Maharashtra and Edna’s school in Melbourne, Australia, direct interaction between the children themselves. And yet other gains opened up….

Interest in the SOMEs and its possibilities for helping children learn English, specially conversational English has begun to spread and even places that do not have regular SOLEs set up are trying to figure out how they can still have the SOMEs, while figuring out how to get the whole SOLE facility.  One such organization is Palakneeti Khelghar in Pune. They provide meaningful ‘out of school’ recreational and academic experiences to children living in a nearby slum area.

So today, again with an interaction set up between children in Australia and those from Pune, we explored what would happen if children from Melbourne attempted to find out about the experiences of the Khelghar children related to ‘water’. The children had all kinds of questions! And they drew many responses, quite a few even after the session was over! Do remember that the children at Khelghar have never used a computer before. (They have seen one in the centre’s office, but that’s about it).

The thought of seeing children from so far away in their own room was exciting, and intimidating all at once. But they caught on to the idea that they could find out about each other using this medium:  text on skype, translations from and into English, from and into Marathi and Hindi. And I was inundated with queries to send to them even after the session was over.

But what really struck me, yet again, was the vast potential for understanding different perspectives and situations. Here are just a few of the questions from Melbourne and the kind of responses: (edited to show the connection between the question and answer)

Q: Where do you get your water from, is it fresh and clean? Do you ever get sick from the water? Do you get water 24 hours in a day?

A: No (in response to availability of water)

Q: When do you get your water?

A: 2 hours in the morning, 2 hours in the evening

Q:  Do you store water? How? Where do you wash your clothes, Do you use the tap water?

A: yes… in barrels, cans, and tanks in the house and big kitchen utensils

(wash clothes) at home from the stored water

and a little later in the conversation—

Q: Does the government help you in any way?

A: at election time, (some parties) make sure we get water for 2 days at a stretch (Other children added) The Govt puts liquid chlorine in the barrels to purify the water, also potassium permagnate

Q: Do you a have a family?  Is the water enough for your family?

A: Yes it is enough…

I wonder what children with resources would make of this ‘satisfaction’ and ‘contentment’ with what little they have and what other questions might arise in their minds. I do know what questions came up at Khelghar following this conversation… They wanted to know SO much about these children… what they saw through their webcam certainly looked different from what they are used to, but their questions were not about what these ‘other’ children have… the questions were about the system! (Edna, does that answer, to some extent, your concern that these children might feel bad because they see other children having many material resources?)

These are just a few of the queries from Pune:

  • Do you have tuition other than school?
  • What do you study in history?
  • Do your parents send a lunch box with you to school?
  • How many days of the year do you have school?
  • Do you have a teacher’s day and a children’s day?
  • Do you get punished if you don’t study?
  • Do you bunk school?
  • If someone finds out that you have bunked, what happens?
  • Do you have a school uniform? Do you have to tie braids?
  • Do you have a centre that you can go to outside of school, like we come to Khelghar?
  • Are you forced to study?
  • Do you like to study? How do you feel about coming to school?

And then there were questions about families, and food, and God, and festivals, housing facilities and much more. But more about that another time….

As I listened to the questions from the children at Khelghar, I realized that through the questions they were sharing a lot of their own experiences and hope they have a chance to talk about these in more depth. It would show them a world that has many possibilities….. and perhaps they will be enabled to do something about it!