Monday, November 9, 2015

Globalize Your Classroom with a United Nations Virtual Field Trip

(Please note this is part two of two about our virtual field trip experience with the United Nations. Part one, a photo essay, can be found here.)
What does being a connected educator mean?

I used to think being a connected educator meant using the internet and its vast resources to plan/ create my lessons, and to occasionally contact others. As I've learned more, however, I've seen that expanding beyond my classroom walls is imperative for making learning relevant.
Now, when I am considering a topic and planning a unit, I find myself asking who I can contact, voices and resources I can bring in, whether virtually or face to face, to bring learning alive. Or how my students can, in essence, "ship out" their ideas and learning to share with others. Whether this means across the hall or across the world, it means that authentic audiences = authentic learning and motivated learners.

Our world is in transition--migration, politics, climate change, technological advances/ changes, population increases, means of communication, etc., which means that education demands are necessarily different.

Four global competences underlie the work of globally-minded educators, according to the Asia Society and Partnership for Global Learning. When I think of being a connected educator, I think of a classroom which has these learning goals for its students: (taken from Mansilla's text, noted below):

1. Investigate the world beyond their immediate environment, framing significant problems and conducting well-crafted and age-appropriate research.
2. Recognize perspectives, others’ and their own, articulating and explaining such perspectives thoughtfully and respectfully.
3. Communicate ideas effectively with diverse audiences, bridging geographic, linguistic, ideological, and cultural barriers.
4. Take action to improve conditions, viewing themselves as players in the world and participating reflectively.

Yes, these are each critical capacities for our students to strive toward, but to be truly competent in a global sense, these capacities are best when integrated. When planning my lessons, I am learning to think about how these capacities might come into play, and although a lesson might not address each of the 4 components, that consideration is increasingly necessary. And it makes sense.

How does this look?
Our students were about to learn about the United Nations and its role in the world today, 70 years after its inception. Rather than lecture, or have students read an excerpt in the text book with rote question responses, we reached out to the United Nations itself.

Our fancy connected educator tool?
We simply asked if they had any outreach program for distance learning, or a virtual field trip where a studied guide could provide some history of the UN, and talk about its many current roles.

Within a few days, we had a response, did some "logistic-ing" via email, then tested our skype connections for two (!) presentations so that more students could benefit. A little legwork, sure. But worth it?

Investigating the world went far beyond their textbook and classroom walls as we saw real time views of NYC, the flags outside the UN, and even waved to tourists as they walked by. Listening to the guides and asking them questions allowed students to view the UN through the perspective of someone who spent many many hours a day there, enmeshed in its work. Asking appropriate questions and responding to our guide provided ideal and authentic communication practice.

We really need to give a shout out to our guides--I'd have never guessed the kids could laugh as much as they did when learning about the UN! Well-done, dear guides! Excited to bits (partly from the technology working, but mostly from the quality of the presentation) my colleagues and I also learned a lot, took our own notes, and laughed far more than we'd have imagined.

During the skype session, students took notes--they had questions to guide them, but (wonderfully!) most took notes on their own, and far more than we'd asked them to. Taking action is definitely an area to work on. Maybe the next time we can ask students to prepare a 60-second speech on one of the roles of the UN, or create a short video on why it's important for the UN to stick around another 70 years. (all of the student feedback indicated the UN presence was necessary for another 7 decades) We could have asked students to seek out information and possibly contact someone with an anti-UN view, then create a persuasive piece (letter, video, art, etc.) to "push" him/ her into a different way of thinking.

The point is, it's not enough to say: here is the information. Remember it. Test  on Friday. That will not spur ideas and creativity. Promise. I guarantee very few (if any) students would express "now I know where I want to work. Where do I start to find out what kind of jobs are available at the UN?" 
Big curriculum picture in hand, think of one area in which you can begin to apply these global competences. How can you reach out to the community, extend learning past your classroom walls, and meet the differing learning demands facing us and our learners?

I'd love to know of some ways you have opened up your classroom and ways you address these global competences. Please comment or respond to me via email!
Thanks so much for stopping by.

A fantastic resource, and seminal text, for learning more about Educating for Global Competence (Veronica Boix Mansilla and Anthony Jackson) can be found here. 

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