I had the privilege last month of traveling across the country to speak to teachers, administrators, and technology trainers. The "light bulb" of awareness for the need to empower teachers and student to collaborate globally is definitely shining brightly! Whether you are a second grade general education teacher or a high school foreign language teacher, our field of education gets it! In order to prepare our students to be competitive, analytical, and successful, we need to arm them with an awareness of others. In most of our communities, we exist in an isolated confine. We generally do not expose our children to what is happening across town, let alone across the state or ocean.
Teachers in Louisiana, Florida, Missouri, Boston, and Kansas have all told me that the see the value of having kids speak with other kids. The Independence, Missouri school district, for example, just annexed schools from Kansas City, Missouri. Teachers in Independence see the value in accessing online communication tools to empower these students to talk with one another. To see and appreciate their similarities and differences in this unique situation.
One teacher in Louisiana, Kate Ryder, partnered her second grade students with learners in Plymoth, United Kingdom. These kids live in the town where the pilgrims started their journey to the United States. The two second grade classes shared video documentaries of their classes, as well as community parcels. The partnership gave authentic meaning to the discovery of American History.
The world is flat. Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, speaks to the increased need to expose our children to other children globally. In many instances, they are already doing this outside of the school day, networking through online learning communities. It is time to enable students to collaborate online within the parameters of education so that we can teach them the "how" and the "purpose" for this type of communication. As children grow up and compete globally for jobs, they need to have a cultural sensitivity, awareness, and intelligence that they can take with them into the ever shrinking marketplace. We just need to keep them safe while we simultaneously expand their horizons.
The Internet is the great equalizer for kids. Online, you are as intelligent as your words. Your peer in another country doesn't know if your glasses are unusually thick, if you walk with a funny limp, or if you wrote your email with the help of a paraprofessional. So many of our young people today seek acceptance, compassion, and friendship. How exciting for those students who can embrace this friendship with peers in many parts of the world through the help of their teachers.
The long tail. Much has been written about the long tail of the economy. It is the business thought behind the success of Amazon. But increasingly education also represents the long tail, as we work to teach detailed content or support students with individual needs. Not long ago, if you were a French teacher in Kansas, you were limited to the French instruction provided in your basal teaching guide. Now you can expand your own professional development by connecting with a teacher in France. YOU can learn what it means to be French, to speak and think French, to learn about cultural celebrations, historical landmarks, daily nuances associated with being uniquely French. BUT you can also expose your students to the same opportunities. No longer do your students have to memorize the French words just to repeat them back to you on a weekly quiz. We know what the research says about this type of memorization and its lasting implications for comprehension. Your students can now have an authentic opportunity to practice conversing in French with kids who are from France. Or your students can put their new skills to practice with similar peers who themselves are also learning the new language. It is all about the connection. It is about the long tail of your students' unique needs.
So, I've had the most exciting month working with teachers across the nation as their light bulbs ignite! Teachers realize that it is time to integrate these new tools in ways that will truly make a difference in the lives of their students! I've had the opportunity to help teachers see the "how" and the "why" of global communication and collaboration.