By Fran Siracusa
“Learning is the gateway to adventure.” -Princess Beatrice of York
Jan-ken-pon. Hajar, Waraqah, Meqas. Rock, paper, scissors: shoot! You have paper, I have rock. Paper covers rock. Shoot, I lose. I am out. Michelle’s next. Rock, paper, scissors: shoot! Michelle has rock, he has scissors. Rock crushes scissors. Yay, she wins. Next? Rock, paper, scissors: shoot! She has paper, he has scissors. Scissors cut paper. Yay, he won. Michelle lost. I am back up!
Play, smiles, applause: all of these easily translate into meaning, no matter what the language. (In the game, we were speaking Japanese, Arabic, and English.) In multiple experiences as an educator, a volunteer, a parent, and a child, vivid memories were created when I happily connected with new persons around the world. I have learned that a smile can break down feelings of uncertainty or stress or apprehension. I have learned that during simple games, people are so engaged in the fun or competitive aspect; and they stop worrying about the minor details. Importantly, during a game, the human component is the piece that captivates and truly connects us.
Two weeks ago, I experienced a Portal, created by Shared Studios. I came face-to-face with a small group of boys from Iraq, aged 9 - 16 years old, along with their teacher and English translator. These new friends are part of a refugee camp located in Iraq, where this particular group is seeking shelter and protection from ISIS. The camp quarters are small, and the students do not go to school, nor are they given freedom to roam, as they must stay close. They tell us that there is not much to do there. Their teacher is friends with the UNESCO contact, and she invited him and his students to spend an hour or so that Friday evening interacting with our group from Philadelphia. The kids have no plans, so they excitedly come over to occupy their time with the Portal.
In mid-October, I attended the Global Education Forum and benefited from an amazing opportunity to connect with teachers and education stakeholders from around the world. In this particular exhibit (sponsored by VIF International Education, Partnership for 21st Century Learning, Qatar Foundation International and Level-Up Village), the Portal (or gold and black tent structure) was equipped with immersive A/V, so as to simulate being in the same space as someone else, somewhere else in the world. (Think Skype + JumboTron + walk-in closet!) This interactive format was like nothing I had experienced before, in the virtual world and without a plane ticket! This platform is utilized for multiple purposes, such as sharing musical and art experiences, where two people can connect, even though separated because of physical location.
Fortunately, my friend David Potter disclosed to me the evening before that the Portal would be featured and physically situated at the conference. He invited me to experience the Portal, and especially was curious to hear my viewpoint, through the lens of an educator. As a Spanish teacher and Educational Technologist, I could not have imagined the impact it would have upon me. Notably, the experience affirmed what I continue to speak about: connections-based learning is instrumental in modern educational practice. When students make authentic connections to learning or action partners, they can achieve better understanding.
Empower Student Voice
That day, when I was not playing the game, in my conversation with the boys, I elicited feedback about their situation at the camp, but also commonality in questions regarding favorite sports and hobbies. With the Iraqi teacher and Michelle, we shared perspectives, and together, we empowered those Iraqi students when we prompted them to teach us a game, a dance, and a song from their culture. My friend Sean Robinson said, “It is the human element that makes the difference.” That day, the sentiment rang true.
At the Global Education Forum, various speakers shared best practices and programs in global education. Different education stakeholders advocated for programs that would prepare students for an interconnected world by honing various skills and encouraging positive attitudes. I particularly attended the conference hoping to connect with new global learning partners in order to curate networks of persons that are ready for action and implementation of programs to better our world.
The main message I individually gleaned from the conference was also the fourth pillar of Global Competence: take action! The students with whom we work should be prepared to make a difference in the world, not just learn about the world. By creating interactive routines where we push our students not only to investigate other cultures, but instead to also communicate and collaborate with learners from other countries, we can promote authentic global citizenship.
So what impact could this Portal technology have on education? After a review of the 2016 ISTE Standards for Students resource, I pondered the scope of three of the skills and qualities we hope to cultivate in our students: (a.), Digital Citizen; (b.), Creative Communicator; and (c.), Global Collaborator. Students could employ digital tools such as Portals to broaden their perspectives and global awareness while conversing or playing with international peers. Engaging in teams to develop understanding of others’ environments, or later, to devise imaginative solutions when tackling global issues would enhance the overall learning landscape. Further opportunities would arise for learning with and from global peers. Global education is empathy education, and to provide platforms and opportunities for meaningful learning experience for youth around the world is imperative!
Moreover, as was stressed during various sessions during the Global Education Forum and especially during our experience at the Social Good Summit in New York in September, I am certain that the UN’s platform for Sustainable Development should guide our learning objectives for student global competence in world classrooms. Todays’ students can engage with each other and utilize shared resources and voice to achieve so much! I continue to advocate for connections-based learning in conjunction with authentic student experience in all classrooms in tandem with action pieces where students take to heart the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and do their part to transform the world for the better.
Just like this Portal became a gateway for my interaction with the Iraqi refugee boys, so should educators create a portal for the learners in their classrooms. Open your lessons to creative design, new global learning networks, celebration of digital learning artifacts (such as Buncees) and empowerment of learners so that our students can take action, support global citizens, and make a difference!
If you would like to learn more about connections-based learning and global education, please read Sean Robinson's post here. Cheers!