Global Project Based Learning (PBL)

Culture in the Classroom: Replacing Misrepresentation with Authenticity

“Culture exists in community, and community exists in context.”
–Taiye Selasi

02.12.2017

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Pine Ridge, SD, Lakota Nation (Sioux). Photo by Aaron Huey. Click image for a NYTimes article on the photographer’s work and the experiences of the Sioux (2013). Huey is a rare example of deep understanding of and connection to a culture not his own, and even after many years living among the Sioux, he knows he remains an outsider (see his excellent TED Talk at https://www.ted.com/talks/aaron_huey)

For Anne and Andre

On an elementary school walk-through last fall, a colleague and I encountered a bulletin board ostensibly demonstrating students’ learning through crude drawings of European pilgrims and Native Americans.  Each drawing included a short narrative about the experiences of that group during Westward Expansion.  I saw my colleague, who is Osage, stop dead in her tracks.  Pointing at a Disney-like image of a Native American, she could barely get the words out: “This isn’t culturally appropriate,” she told our guide.  “The students are drawing a stereotype,” she stuttered.  “We shouldn’t do this.”

My colleague looked over at me as though searching for better words, and I stepped in.  I’m usually very careful not to speak other people’s truths for them, but I could see she had more to say and was too angry to articulate it.  “It’s dehumanizing to portray another culture this way,” I told our guide.  “Think of the difference between using real photographs of real people in a meaningful way, as compared to drawing a caricature of who they are.  There are thousands of different indigenous nations in the world; this is just the Disney cartoon version of an indigenous person.  Instead of making a living culture more real and human to students, it’s doing the exact opposite.”

I’d love to claim that these mistakes are rare, especially in schools with an intentionally global focus, but they’re all too common.  These approaches serve to exacerbate stereotypes rather than bringing living cultures alive in authentic and nuanced ways for students.  I’ve seen cultural festivals where students dress up to look like the stereotype, and it’s like assuming the Disney princess version of Mulan captures the original Chinese folktale from the Ming Dynasty, which actually carries layers of cultural nuance—and is significantly different than the Disney interpretation.  I’ve seen well-meaning teachers play dress up, too, portraying only ancient or stereotypical images of a given culture rather than trying to help students see how alive and nuanced it still is today.

I don’t blame teachers and I believe our intentions are usually good; after all, if we’ve never engaged with a culture we’re trying to teach about, how can we capture it accurately for students?  I hear this concern from teachers all the time—what happens when we reach the end of our authentic knowledge and can’t help students see that bigger, more humanizing picture of others’ experiences?  Students have grown up with the stereotypes, too, with the pervasive message that most cultures can be reduced to a caricature, and many spend their childhood singing along to songs which further reduce cultures, such as those from Aladdin which suggest that the Arab world is “barbaric” even after criticism forced Disney to change the lyrics.  If we want to help our students overcome those misrepresentations, we have to understand ourselves where realities end and stereotypes begin.

Following are a few suggestions that can help you avoid the slippery slope of mirepresentation and build authentic projects grounded in intercultural understanding.

  1. Make sure students’ experiences are authentic and immersive.  Use photography and video to help students see cultures as real, human and community-based, being sure that the sources you use don’t exoticize or diminish the nuances of difference across a given culture or region.  Remember that good anthropology is about being proximate with real people rather than observing them from 30,000 feet, what my alumna Katie Horvath recently called “the deep hanging out” in an interview for my book.  For example, use photography from a global array of online “Week in Photos” sources, or short documentaries from organizations like Global OnenessNational Geographic and UNICEF, to help students connect with other cultures in authentic and meaningful ways.  Use technologies like 360Cities and Google Earth to help students enter the places they’re studying (virtual reality technologies will make this increasingly easy to do).  Always try to focus on voices from the culture being investigated; for example, read literature by people from the culture being represented, rather than by foreigners who think they can capture local experience through a few weeks abroad.  Even if a few nuances are lost in translation, exposing students to ideas and perspectives through a native author will always be more authentic than an outsider trying to capture the voice and experience of a culture not their own.
  2. Humanize the cultures you’re learning about.  Connect live or online with real people living today in the cultures your students are studying.  Whenever possible, connect your students with their global counterparts, with young people from the cultures you’re learning about, through partnerships founded in equity of purpose, benefit and power.  The goal of these experiences should be for students to see other cultures as peopled with real, whole human beings who have their own challenges and strengths, joys and sorrows, just like they do; as well as to understand their traditions and rituals, their values and ways of life, and their perspectives on the challenges we have in common.  For more on how to build equitable global partnerships, see my blog on the topic and my forthcoming book from Solution Tree Press, The Global Education Guidebook.
  3. Whenever possible, tie history to current day.  This helps students see ancient cultures as living and relevant today, and can often help them understand history better by allowing them to see the past alive in the present.  For example, if students are learning about ancient civilizations in Egypt and Greece, go deeper than the Hollywood imagery of pharoahs and philosophers to museum collections of real artifacts online.  Use 360Cities to look for the vestiges of history found in the streets of Cairo and Athens, helping students connect the past to current day. Get students thinking about how the past informs the present, and even consider teaching history backwards, so that students understand these societies today and then dig into history to understand why they developed as they did.
  4. Remember that language matters, and base students’ inquiry on an asset mindset.  Avoid using words like “explore” and “observe,” replacing them instead with words like “engage” and “understand.”  Words like “exploration” come from a long tradition of colonization and suggest an observational and even superior mindset rather than deep, immersive engagement.  Help students see the people they encounter as real and complete human beings, and avoid reducing another culture with words that suggest different circumstances automatically mean less intelligence or capacity for a complete life.  In her exceptional TED talk, Taiye Selasi says that our cultural identity is defined by the Rituals, RelationshipsandRestrictions that make up our day-to-day life, and good intercultural education can help students dig into those “Three Rs” in powerful ways.
  5. Be very careful about how you construct museum projects, especially if the culture is still alive and well.  While the creation of a museum is a common structure in many classrooms and can often lead to an interesting demonstration of learning, keep in mind that students often perceive museums to be filled with the past, with what is dead and gone.  I have seen far more “Dead Indian Museums” than I care to remember, filled with the subtext that no native cultures exist currently rather than offering a close look at the real experiences of indigenous cultures today.  There are certainly exceptions to this, like the National Museum of African American History & Culture, and the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC, which help bring both history and current experience to life in powerful ways.  If you do a museum project with students, be sure that it brings living cultures to life rather than suggesting they are only a thing of the past.
  6. If your curriculum is focused on a given culture, immerse yourself in that culture.  There are incredible professional development experiences available for teachers that include such travel and intercultural immersion, not just a 30,000 foot tour but a deep dive into daily life through homestays and community-based partnerships.  And while many are expensive, many are scholarship based and accessible for teachers with the passion to travel and make use of their learning in the classroom.  For excellent teacher travel programs, see Edutopia’s yearly post and proposal advice.
  7. Remember that these are good rules for local and global cultures.  Sometimes we forget that global education runs parallel to and can easily complement intercultural and inclusive practices in schools.  In the best schools I know, the two work in tandem.  Use resources from current movements like the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program and Choices Curriculum on the Black Lives Matter movement when learning about Civil Rights, so that students understand and engage deeply in the ongoing struggle toward full and equal rights.  Get your students thinking about local water or land rights of indigenous peoples in your region when studying their history, or understanding the differences among the varied Latin American and/or Asian cultures present in your school.  Connect students with speakers from relevant local cultures who can speak to their experiences and goals.  In other words, help students see beyond the stereotypes and engage with the nuances, learning to ask the kinds of questions that unearth the real distinctions between regions and within one given culture.

I saw “The Queen of Katwe” on a plane recently, and it left me feeling a little better about Disney.  Though it’s probably more imperfect in its representation than I can recognize, since I’ve never been to Uganda, the film is based on the true story of a chess champion who grew up in poverty.  Instead of portraying her story through cartoons or foreign actors portraying a culture not their own from inside a Hollywood production studio, it was cast with Ugandans and filmed on site in Africa.  At the end of the film, each actor is shown with the person he or she portrayed, with an overlaid narrative about what that real person has done since the era depicted by the film.  In one case, the actress even kneels to pay tribute to the woman she portrayed and, in a deeply human moment, the woman pulls the actress back to her feet.

This simple technique brought the stories to life as those of real people, people we got to see and understand through an actor’s portrayal but whose experiences go well beyond the screen or final credits.  When we move away from fictional stereotypes and toward realities, we help students see the communities and contexts that give birth to cultures, and by doing so help students foster their ability to engage with those cultures authentically and constructively.

Writing the Narrative Ourselves: Final Reflections on the 2016 People of Color Conference

12/11/2016

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“Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
― Chinua Achebe
I find it interesting how often we heard the word “narrative” at the People of Color Conference this year and were invited to reverse it, shift it, and claim a new narrative in our schools.  In our pre-conference workshop on Wednesday, Kapono Ciotti and I shared and elicited the stories of students, harnessing the power of student voice to shift educational practice.  We invited participants to plan with specific students of color in mind, particularly those they aren’t seeing thrive in their schools.  The trend continued with Bryan Stevenson, who encouraged us to shift the narrative when it comes to the school-to-prison pipeline and ensure all young people have the right to a childhood; with Richard Blanco, whose work encouraged us to “contribute a chapter” to the narrative of our nation; and with Zak Ebrahim, who made the choice to reject his father’s narrative for a more peaceful one.  And we ended on what may have been the most stirring narrative shift of all, with Brittany Packnett sharing how she turned her wounds into power and conviction.
Every session I went to included elements of narrative and story, from Rosetta Lee’s stories about her life as a Korean American to David J. Johns’ insistence that we ask students about their stories and needs so we can best support their growth.  On Saturday, I attended a session by Princess Sirleaf Bomba of the Wheeler School, who shared her experiences as an African in America, so different from the experiences of African-Americans.  Tensions arose in this session—exactly the tensions the session was trying to address—over the disparate stories of blacks in the United States (African-Americans having a history of slavery, white supremacy and limited opportunity; while more recent immigrants from African nations come from varied socio-economic and educational backgrounds and may or may not be fleeing from oppressive circumstances).  The clash of narratives is always difficult, those moments when one person’s truth counters another’s.  There is so much to be learned, however, when we can lean into discomfort and try to keep talking.
We saw this kind of discord at the end of Zak Ebrahim’s session as well. Stories are power; narratives live deep inside our hearts and memories, and while stories can lift us up or help us connect, they can also make connecting painful when our stories and truths don’t align.  It is hard to make room for all of the narratives, even among adults, to live in the kind of space Rosetta Lee described, where we recognize our need for each other in order to see the whole truth.  I think one of the most important things we can do as educators is navigate that uncomfortable place when equally valid narratives clash, and it’s a skill our students need for an increasingly complex world.  For me, the discord we experienced underscored the importance of starting from questions, and of starting by acknowedging that we can only move forward if we let ourselves hear and honor a variety of answers.  Sometimes, just modeling a willingness to live in the struggle and “live the questions themselves,” as Rainer Maria Rilke put it, provides a good starting place for our students, too, especially if we are willing to be vulnerable with them.
We ended the PoCC this year with two extraordinary experiences, both of which included the power of narrative.  We got to meet three leaders who have dedicated their lives to the struggle for civil rights: baseball giant and civil rights champion Hank Aaron; Georgia Congressman John Lewis, who was a Freedom Rider and has spent his entire career as a civil rights advocate; and Martin Luther King’s only surviving sibling, his sister Christine King Farris, who taught at Spelman College for many decades.  It was like staring into the face of history to hear them speak, and each provided thoughts on how we need to move forward in the advancement of human and civil rights.  Hank Aaron told students to follow their gifts, whatever they are, and to be the best at whatever they choose, pointing out that there are no shortcuts.  John Lewis suggested that we need to get in trouble—good trouble, necessary trouble—in order to create change, telling students and teachers to “stand up and speak out” when we see an injustice.  And Christine King Farris reminded us of her brother’s dream of a “beloved community,” encouraging us to build beloved communities in our schools and beyond, to work toward communities where love, justice and non-violence prevail.
But the voice still ringing in my head and heart as I left the PoCC on Saturday was that of Brittany Packnett, Teach for America’s VP for National Community Alliances.  Her honest, direct style and oratory power made her riveting, and her history as a student of color in an NAIS school made her narrative even more important and relevant.  She shared her wounds with us, in particular telling us of the white boy who spit on her in high school–and who was never held responsible.  She talked to us about breaking down inequitable systems and building more equitable ones, of how easy it would have been for her to become the kind of person who didn’t take her seat at the table.  But Brittany was raised to speak her mind and not shrink for others, and she told the story of dinner with President of the United States Barack Obama as a moment in which she truly took her seat at the table.  “I am the lion,” she told the students, echoing Chinua Achebe; “The hunter will not tell my story; I will.”
I have a friend in education who likes to point out that humans were not meant to live in separation, that we began our existence sharing our stories around campfires in community.  The People of Color Conference and the Student Diversity Leadership Conference are such campfires, beloved communities where we have the chance to share our stories and commit to the hard work of shifting the narrative in our schools.  I hope that the SDLC experience helps to catalyze a sense of purpose for our students, that they take their place within a long tradition of peaceful change makers and feel their connection to the common purpose held by all of the exceptional people who shared their stories.  As our SDLC leaders put it in the closing ceremonies, the next Aaron, Lewis and King Farris are already in the room, preparing to take their places at the table and ready to rise.  And I hope the PoCC experience galvanizes the resolve of all adults of good conscience, helping give us the energy needed to do the hard work of equity and belonging in our schools.
We are the lion, after all, and it’s time we tell the story ourselves.

Waiting to Exhale: Coming Home to the People of Color Conference

12/2/2016

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Sarah Fukami, Wakeme (Partition). “The past is monumentalized through the dissemination of history; he or she who controls the circulation of that history limits the ways in which one can perceive it. During WWII, the War Relocation Authority manipulated how Japanese-American internment was viewed by the public through censoring photography and media depictions of what occurred in the camps. This piece displays idyllic photographs commissioned by the WRA against those from the Associated Press which reveal the reality of the Japanese-American experience. At the same time, their racist agenda is revealed ironically by the blatant display of propagandist rhetoric in the captions that were published in newspapers. By creating this contrast, the viewers are asked to reshape their own histories; and question beyond the information that has been conveniently handed down by the transgressors of the crime. ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.'”

“Walls turned sideways are bridges.”
–Angela Davis

I realized the other day that I’ve barely breathed since 2am on Wednesday, November 9th. That panicked, tight feeling in my chest and stomach hasn’t left since I woke up in a haze and realized what happened. I haven’t taken a deep breath, haven’t cried or exhaled completely since that morning. It’s almost like my body and mind don’t want to let me mourn. Every time I try to write, all that come out are questions: How might we empower our students to keep our schools hate-free? How might we best support marginalized students and colleagues who are living in fear? How might we open civil but meaningful dialogue that makes room for multiple perspectives without veering toward bigotry? How might we combat the “isms” in our communities, even learn to honor indigenous values and varied ways of life around the world? How might we avoid normalizing Standing Rock, hate crimes and other forms of systematic oppression and marginalization? And how might our students be a part of constructive change-making and community-building efforts beyond their school walls?

As the indices of hate crimes began to rise immediately post-election, particularly in K-12 schools, I found myself thinking of every young person who has a reason to feel marginalized and threatened by the increased legitimization of all our worst social “isms.” I thought of my former students, of all those amazing young people who are beyond the schoolhouse walls now, using their gifts to make the world a better place. I thought of my Dreamers, undocumented students from Latin America who gained access to college through the Dream Act and now find themselves dangerously visible. I thought of the children of immigrants who passed through my classroom, many of whom fear deportation or forced registration of the hard-working parents who sacrificed for their sake. I thought of my Muslim-American students, of the stories I keep hearing about Muslim mothers begging their daughters to ignore their faith and stop wearing hijab in public to keep themselves safe. I thought of my African-American students and my constant fear of unwarranted violence against them, of my Japanese-American students whose grandparents experienced internment in this country and who know just how dangerous divisive thinking can be (see the extraordinary artwork of my former student, Sarah Fukami, on this blog). I thought of my differently abled students, my gay students, my transgender students, all of whom fear mockery, violence and legalized exclusion now more than ever. I thought of the struggling public school I just started working with, a school filled with immigrants and refugees where teachers and administrators dream of equity and inclusion–and are working hard to get there.

I thought of myself, too, and what it felt like to grow up Jewish in the United States. Last week, I told my mom for the first time of the little blonde boy in 2nd grade who told me Hitler’s body had never been found, that he could be alive and might come back to kill my family. That early experience with feeling othered and threatened was so intense that I can still picture the scene down to the quality of light in the room when he said it; that little boy placed the first crack in the protective veneer of my childhood, and I have felt “other” ever since. I thought of my trip to Los Angeles on November 10th this fall, of how my inner 2nd grader felt that same vulnerability and threat as I moved through public crowds in airports as an adult. I saw a woman laughing as she watched election results on Fox News in the United Club in Denver, and I couldn’t breathe, much less respond. I am the child of activists; I was raised to always take unapologetic non-violent action to promote social change. I’m the last person to keep my mouth shut in a moment of injustice; I believe in living my values out loud. Yet that week I found myself scared and silenced, walking through crowded airports wondering who wished my family and I would just “go home” to the countries we escaped three generations ago.

PictureSarah Fukami, Kiku (Chrysanthemum). “This piece is part of a portrait series of my Japanese family, which utilize hanakotoba, or, the language of flowers. The western version of this concept is also referred to as floriography, where specific flowers are symbols for various sentiments or communications. While I use the visually beautiful imagery of the flower, I also want to emphasize the flaws in associating others with symbols. This afterthought quickly becomes the rejection of what they are perceived to represent.”

We find ourselves at a crossroads in the United States, in a country divided. As educators, our responsibilities are overwhelming, and many teachers are still trying to figure out how to talk to their students about what comes next. Much as we saw in the weeks following 9/11, many educators feel paralyzed and unsure of how to confront division and discord in a way that honors all perspectives but also encourages dialogue toward inclusion, community, and what Buddhists call “right action.”

At World Leadership School, we decided that our best line of action was to send out resources to support the teachers and administrators in our networks. These curricular resources for post-election classrooms come from an array of excellent educational and social justice organizations, and we hope you find them helpful. World Leadership School renews our intention to support schools as they find ways to challenge bigotry and teach understanding and acceptance. We believe in the power of teaching students to lean into discomfort and connect across all that separates us, and in the importance of working together to build diverse, safe, and thoughtful learning communities.

As I pack my bags and prepare to leave for Atlanta, I find myself grateful beyond words for the PoCC. As I wrote after the conference in 2013, the People of Color Conference community is, for me, the best demonstration of Naomi Shihab Nye’s “shared world” I’ve ever been a part of. I feel honored and blessed to share this common vision and purpose with all of you, with so many extraordinary people who care about the needs of students, teachers, administrators and families. I can’t wait to exhale, to breathe out in community, to let myself mourn with my PoCC family. Our students need these days together, too. Helping to foster community and a pride in who they are is the least we can do, and I hope their experiences this week will have constructive reverberations in our schools and broader communities for the next four years and beyond.

I come home to the PoCC this year ready to laugh and cry and strategize together; ready to craft plans to keep our communities safe, inclusive, and focused on constructive change; and ready to breathe in the power of our collective educational vision for the children in our care.


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Sarah Fukami, Modern Mathematics. “As an artist who deals primarily with social injustices against Japanese-Americans during the 1940s, it is vital for me to also speak out against contemporary issues. The message here is clear: our government would rather create a facade of peace than to make real change and give justice to black victims of police violence and combat the inherent racism that permeates the justice system. Beneath this message are the names of the unarmed victims who were killed by police in 2015, and are specifically those in which no officer has been charged. There were 102 lives senselessly lost; if we have learned anything from the injustices of the past, we know that silence is consent.”

 

 

Language Matters in Education: Putting Vigor over Rigor

9/11/2016
This will be the first in an ongoing blog series on key language and learning distinctions that really matter when we’re crafting high-quality, student-centered experiences for our students.I’ve been a language nerd since I first started to accumulate a vocabulary in early childhood, and I believe that the words we choose always matter.  In education, what Kath Murdoch calls “invitational language” can make a huge difference with students; open-ended “how might we?” opportunities unlock creativity, innovation and critical thinking about how to make our communities and lives better, helping students develop problem-solving skills for school and life beyond the schoolhouse.  Guy Claxton’s ideas about a language he calls “Learnish” are connected to this as well, to students becoming flexible and fluent in the language needed to articulate their own learning.  Similarly, poor use of language can truncate high quality experiences and stifle creativity, limiting how students view the possibilities and parameters before they even begin to problem solve, even belittling or diminishing students and their varied minds, learning pathways and world views.Rigor vs. Vigor
I’ve heard the word “rigor” used for far too long in education, and it horrifies me.  Rigor comes from late Middle English, from the Latin word regere, which means “to be stiff.”  We refer to a corpse as going through rigor mortis when it becomes stiff shortly after death.  So why on earth would we describe education as rigorous?  Do we really want learning to be stiff and inflexible, or do we want students to enjoy learning and spend their lives doing it?  Educator Shawn McCusker put it perfectly on Twitter this August, when he wrote, “My least favorite word in education is rigor. I feel like we use it to justify grinding the souls of our children.”  I couldn’t agree more.  The word rigor makes me think of angry teachers using rulers to rap students on the backs of their hands or heads for lack of conformity to the rules of traditional education.I am a proud graduate of the Open Schools of Jefferson County, Colorado, where we didn’t use the word rigor.  Instead, founder and educational thought leader Arnie Langberg believed in vigor, in building a culture where learning was vigorous and personalized, not rigorous and inflexible.  The word vigor also comes from Middle English, from the Old French vigour and the Latin vigere, meaning “to be lively.”  A lively educational experience is one that students find engaging and relevant, authentic and meaningful, an experience that makes them think and wonder and take risks for the sake of deeper learning. The word vigor makes me think of students collaborating to solve authentic challenges, of conversations filled with energy and enthusiasm, of classrooms filled with noise and movement and thinking and risk taking.PictureGraphic by Lisa Westman; click image to see full articleConsider thought leader Milton Chen’s claim that we can judge the quality of a classroom by whether students run in more quickly than they run out.  In my experience, students always run into a vigorous learning environment–and generally dream of running out of a rigorous one.  As educator Lisa Westman points out in her blog and graphic, there is a big difference between compliance and learning.  The higher the grade level, the easier it becomes to mistake compliance for engagement–or even to value compliance over learning because, after all, compliance is quieter and less messy than authentic, engaged learning tends to be.Think about how different a learning environment becomes when we focus on vigorous engagement over rigorous drilling.  Think about how much more enjoyment is possible with a word like vigor.  And vigor isn’t mutually exclusive to high test scores, if anyone’s worried, just as fun is not mutually exclusive to learning. In fact, vigorous learning, by which I mean deep, engaging and meaningful learning, will lead to more transferable knowledge and skill, not less.  (Although they use the word rigorous way too often in their work, see results from the first Knowledge in Action research project for quantifiable evidence that students can have fun while simultaneously learning something serious and important.)  I love how my colleague Dayna Laur captured genuine learning–and its unfortunate antithesis–in a recent letter to her daughter’s teachers.  And colleague Jill Akers Clayton blogged recently on the space between knowledge and understanding; a vigorous classroom seeks the kind of deep curiosity and understanding she describes, as well as vigorous learning opportunities that allow young people to explore the world beyond their classroom walls.

As we begin this new school year in the northern hemisphere, and near our last months in the south, I wonder what might happen if we re-envision our school cultures and instructional pedagogies through the lens of vigor.  What might we do differently this year to emphasize vigor over rigor?  How might we help our students to see their own learning as flexible, and foster their ability to learn from failure?  How might we increase the joy in our classrooms, foster students’ enthusiasm and energy for learning?  How might we ensure, in other words, that students run in more quickly than they run out of our classrooms and schoolhouses?Perhaps most importantly, how might we help students reach high expectations not through stiffness and inflexibility but through multiple pathways that capitalize on their individual gifts and passions?  What does it look like to facilitate learning experiences with that level of flexibility and personalization, particularly in light of our standards-driven accountability systems in the United States?  We all know that challenges exist, that even the best of teachers feel they have to teach to the test by February or March.  But while we enjoy the first few months of school, with testing still far off on the horizon, how might we rethink how we meet those standards?  If we put vigor first and trust that learning happens when students are engaged and excited, we might combat the belief that rigor leads to excellence.  Rigor may lead to episodic successes, to what Sarah Lewis calls “an event-based victory” or two, but mastery is a life-long pursuit, one pursued with vigor and enthusiasm and passion by those who are committed to their own growth.Let’s make this the year we put vigor before rigor in how we talk and think about our classrooms, schoolhouses, and students.

Student Products: Engaging to Stop Ebola in Sierra Leone

12/14/2014
I am excited to share two new products from students in the United States who have been working closely with Hindogbae and the Bumpe Ngao Chiefdom in Sierra Leone.  Both of these schools work closely with World Leadership School on their global initiatives.  Congratulations to all on these inspiring student-driven products!Town School for Boys (San Francisco, California) has been doing a project on exponentials in their high school Algebra class (8th grade).  Once they realized, through the math, that a donation now has more impact than it will in even a few weeks, they mounted a fundraising campaign to support the grassroots work in Bumpe.  Please see and share their video below.  Teachers: Hilary McArthur and Garrett Frank.
The Madeira School (McLean, Virginia) is doing a project on Ebola eradication in a new course called Contemporary Issues in Science (12th grade).  Their first product, which is embedded below, is a Public Service Announcement for use in Bumpe Ngao Chiefdom, which was created at Hindo’s request–and which features a Mende soundtrack students found on the CDC website. Their second product, a documentary film designed to explain the science and engage a western audience, will be finished in early January, 2015.  Teacher: Ashley Johnson.

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Here are a few reflections from Ben, the Town School student who did the bulk of the film editing for his team:“I really enjoyed this project, and I think that as we have grown to be 8th graders, the projects we do more apply to real world topics. This has pushed me to take more care in my work and create meaningful products for very real dilemmas such as Ebola. I spent most of my Tuesday night finishing our poster and video at school, something I probably wouldn’t have done if the overall goal of the project hadn’t meant what it did. These kinds of projects are also open-ended and allows the students to contribute in their own ways, and in my case, making a video. That is a great segue into my role in this 8th grade project. I joined the video team along with Ethan and Freddie. My decision was based on that fact of an video idea I had before the brainstorm. I knew I couldn’t make as much of a difference on the bake sale, assembly, or the other teams, and that making a video was a way I could help the cause the most. I wanted to start small, advertising for Hindo’s cause in our community. The video is underway now but here is the initial storyboard:Overall this project was a realization of the Ebola epidemic. Being here in the US, I often forget of the problems that don’t involve myself. But after talking to Hindo and hearing about his experiences, I really wanted to do something. To help in anyway I could for the people of West Africa and give to people like Hindo.As for the math part, Exponential equations are also a very real thing. Especially when discussing and predicting things that grow rapidly, they will be a great addition to our math arsenal.

Global Partnerships: Strategies for Connecting your Classroom with the World

1/5/2014

PictureFrom National Geographic’s 2013 Year in Review

“…it is quite enough if [educational exchange] contributes to the feeling of a common humanity, to an emotional awareness that other countries are populated not by doctrines that we fear but by people with the same capacity for pleasure and pain, for cruelty and kindness, as the people we were brought up with in our own countries.”  –Senator J. William Fulbright

Teachers trying to globalize their practice often ask me how to develop a successful, socially responsible collaboration with a teacher, classroom or sister school elsewhere in the world.  To be honest, I’ve been frustrated by how many potentially excellent partnerships I’ve seen tank over the last few years, so I no longer promise anything beyond making introductions and sharing strategies.  There is no magic wand in this work–there is a lot of trial and error, a lot of struggling and risk, and a lot of work involved in building a successful global educational partnership.

But there’s also no question that students are moved by real human connections more than anything else we do in our increasingly global classrooms, so it’s worth trying to bring authentic partnerships into that mix.  In this article, I’ll explore a few strategies which I hope might help educators build their own partnerships successfully, though I hesitate to suggest that I’ve figured out the perfect formula–I hope readers will share their insights in the comments as well.

Look first to existing networks, relationships and organizations for your ideal global partner.  Finding a good partner teacher, classroom and even sister school community can be much more of a crap shoot than most global educators would like to admit.  Even wonderful, established organizations like iEARN and TakingITGlobal–and well-developed programs for partnership like Flat ClassroomChallenge 20/20 and Global Partners Junior–have plenty of train wrecks in their track record.  The bottom line is that it’s hard to develop a deep and collaborative relationship with colleagues in our own buildings, much less with unknown strangers across the planet.

I’ve found that the best partnerships come from existing connections in the teacher’s life and extended community.  Have any of your former colleagues moved to work in schools in other parts of the world?  Did any college friends end up doing unusual work globally?  Have current colleagues taught abroad or do they know people who are doing so now?  These questions can lead to much more personal, individualized connections–and are more likely to succeed because they will more likely spring from the vested interest of both educators.

I also know plenty of educators who have found good partners by advertising under the #globaled and #globalclassroom hash tags on Twitter, however–my point is just that deep collaboration requires full investment on both sides, and this isn’t easy to find.  In terms of finding like-minded educators, I love the yearly online Global Education Conference, and its year-round community network hosted by Lucy Gray and Steve Hargadon.  The conference community functions as a Professional Learning Network, offering a forum throughout the year for seeking global partners and sharing project ideas, and the conference itself often leads to new connections and collaborations (recordings of previous years’ sessions are available on the community pages).  Similarly, international webinars and e-courses such as the one I teach for TakingITGlobal for Educators can be an ideal forum for developing projects, getting feedback on project ideas, and finding a global partner with similar interests.

Establish your partnership based on socially responsible and culturally responsive foundations.  One of my biggest concerns about global education is the tendency of educators in the developed world to see the rest of the world as something to be explored for the sake of their own curriculum.  There’s a level of exploitation suggested in this common paradigm, if not intended, which leaves one partner classroom working for the benefit of the other.  Mutual benefit and opportunity is key to a socially responsible and culturally responsive partnership, and this requires that both educators come to the table with an empty plate.  What I mean is that educators need to approach their partners as equals, with a willingness to start the conversation without too much of their own personal agenda, with a curiosity about the needs and interests of the other teacher.  The best partnerships grow out of collaborative, equal dialogue between educators–and students.  Furthermore, mutually beneficial projects, such as having both communities work on a problem they share, can go a long way to helping our students see that global education isn’t about saving or even helping others so much as collaborating toward a better world for everyone through the gifts each person brings to the table.

Educational consultant and friend Tim Kubik and I wrote on the topic of avoiding exploitative, even imperialistic forms of global partnering in a simultaneous blog posting in Fall 2012.  We agreed that the biggest danger of global education is the emerging paradigm of developed schools exploiting less-developed communities for their educational advantage in a way which dehumanizes the less developed by suggesting they don’t have as much to offer a global collaboration (see Tim’s “Global Education as THE Dialogue Among Civilizations” and my “Our Messy World: Learning From and With, Not About”).  If we want students to stop “othering” and start seeing the world’s cultures as possessing a richness and history we can learn from and engage with, we have to start by making the global relationships themselves more important than any educational or curricular agenda.

Partner your classroom for the sake of authentic connection over “exotic” cultural differences or distance.  It’s important to notice–and avoid–an “exoticism” mentality if it starts to emerge.  I often work with educators, for example, who insist on finding a global partner from the most distant and/or culturally different country possible, usually in the developing world–not because it’s relevant to their curriculum but because it feels more exotic or “gritty” than partnering with a Canadian school, for example.  However, this mentality can often exacerbate social inequalities rather than combatting ideas about “the West and the Rest,” and in doing so can end in projects which go directly against the equal partnership goals of responsible global education.

Global educators can’t be blamed for wanting to develop something unique and far reaching for their students, but it’s also important that students learn about poverty and difficulty in our own societies.  The “glocal” education movement asks us to consider important global questions on a local level:  Could your students learn as much about collaborating to end poverty by partnering with a food bank in your own city?  Could they connect to ancient cultures and reach the same level of inter-cultural skills and relationships through a trip to the American Southwest as much as a trip to Peru?  Most of our challenges are shared, borderless challenges, and understanding that helps students stop abstracting issues like poverty and conflict into something which only happens outside of North America–and in doing so opens new avenues of action and engagement in global change at home.

Don’t expect immediate success–deep, constructive global relationships require a marathon, not a sprint.  The challenges of global partnerships are many, and teachers have to develop the same inter-cultural skills as they hope to foster in their students in order to be successful.  The learning curve can be long–and that means global partnerships are rarely efficient, easy to organize, or completely successful the first time around.  The worst thing you can do, however, is jump from partner to partner in search of the “perfect” pairing–the best partnerships are rarely perfect to begin with.  The moral of the story is to work at it, to think of the partnership as a long-term relationship which will improve with time and effort, and to expect things to be messy for the first year or two.  Whether it’s navigating time zone differences (east to west), school year differences (north to south), trouble-shooting differences in technological access, or just trying to communicate regularly and well, you can expect this relationship to take effort–and to get richer and deeper as you put in that effort.

It’s essential to accept the limitations of technology and work within its potential, but it’s also important to think beyond technology as well.  Global communication and relationships reach their deepest level through in-person experiences–and no matter how much technology has done for the global educational field, it will never replace the value of international travel for teachers and students with relationship-oriented organizations such as World Leadership School.  Whether this is a teacher traveling to connect personally with their partner teacher(s) or students traveling to connect their communities, there is no question that deep relationships–especially on the level of sister schools–require more than email and Skype calls.

Keep your expectations realistic in year one–consider small successes significant successes, and build something bigger from there.  It’s reasonable to say that most teachers go into global partnerships expecting too much their first time around, largely because the prospect of a global collaboration is so exciting and we have trouble controlling ourselves.  Much of the time, however, when teachers try to accomplish too much too quickly, they leave the topics students find most relevant.  By creating a space for less content- or standards-driven dialogue about favorite movies or day-to-day life, we can help build the foundations for much deeper dialogue later by helping kids see what they have in common. Bigger successes and deeper virtual events on global issues and perspectives might come later, but small successes count in the meantime.

Just knowing how to connect Skype doesn’t mean there will be a deep and meaningful dialogue between classrooms; in fact, navigating the awkward silences and discomfort of the first few Skype sessions is often what turns new teachers away from global education. I’ve seen huge, high-tech global events go to heck in a hand basket on million dollar equipment, and I’ve seen a no-budget Facetime call change students’ lives.  Remember that deep global experiences aren’t about fancy technologies and big events–they’re usually about small accidental moments which occurred because the teachers created the right context for dialogue and didn’t push the kids too far too fast.  I’ve had many experiences where a simple, seemingly innocuous question in a video conference drew out something meaningful and helped students connect with the world authentically; if you’re hungry for examples, see “Creating the Conditions for Accidental Learning: Dialogue with Syrians, Palestinians, Canadians… and Wookies.”

Consider building smaller experiences and “one-offs” with individuals to fill the gaps while deeper partnerships develop. Sometimes it makes best sense to supplement the developing partnership with a few Skype sessions with relevant individuals who can help to take the conversation deeper.  People all over the world are involved in creating change in their homes, schools, communities and beyond, and most are so passionate that they’re thrilled to engage with classrooms and inspire the next generation to become leaders in their fields.  Especially in the first few years of developing a deeper partnership with a classroom or school, these one-off experiences can really help globalize the dialogue in your classroom immediately, and speakers can be found in non-profits, non-governmental organizations, and even your alumni directory.

Particularly among higher-level teachers, I’ve noticed a tendency default to Skyping with semi-famous or major “experts” in a given field, and this makes sense when an expert can answer student-generated questions better than a young person can.  However, I’ve found that sometimes more important connections happen when kids get to meet an individual who’s closer to their age and not yet considered important for their efforts.  For example, I often connect classrooms with Yasser Alaa Mobarak, a young Egyptian photographer who has done a great deal of work with iEARN.  He shares his photography, talks about what he hopes viewers will see, answers questions from the kids, and then invites students to continue the photographic dialogue and sharing in a private group he’s set up on Facebook.  Honestly, no number of experts in Middle Eastern politics could ever impact kids as much as just one of Yasser’s photographs because they’re real, raw, and relevant.  Most importantly, connecting with someone like Yasser demonstrates that young people don’t have to be famous to make a difference through their individual efforts and passions.

Remember that communication will take patience and inter-cultural skills, particularly in cases where teachers don’t share a common language.  While language differences can slow down the initial steps in a global partnership, teachers have an opportunity to develop–and model–the kinds of inter-cultural communication skills needed for culturally-responsive global engagement.  By making use of local expertise–among colleagues, students and parents–we can help spotlight the gift of foreign language proficiency among members of our community, and can help students see the value of learning another language in real terms.  By testing (rather than avoiding) the technological tools available for translation, we can also help students become more discerning about their value and better at identifying accuracies.  My suggestion is usually that teachers communicate in their native language and use resources (people, translators, etc.) to understand what they receive, but there is great value in trying and practicing your partner’s language as well–and there is little more valuable for young language learners than seeing the example of adult learners taking risks with a new language.

Be thoughtful about how you handle inter-cultural and personality differences that pose challenges along the way.  Other nuances of communication can also pose challenges, and differences of tone and communication style can often cause more difficulty than pure language use.  I’ve seen teachers from culturally aggressive countries inadvertently offend teachers from more culturally submissive regions, I’ve seen teachers from “nice” cultures politely agree to things they have no intention of doing, and I’ve seen teachers from argumentative cultures create conflict without meaning to.  The best advice I can give is to be transparent.  To meet in a face-to-face setting like Skype can be a huge help, but more importantly, transparency means letting your partner teacher know when you hit a road bump.  Try to engage in dialogue rather than avoid confrontation if you’re struggling with an element of the project or communication–let your partner know if you’re bad at answering emails around exam times, let them know how you respond to stress.  Just as we want our students to lean into discomfort and learn to collaborate effectively in spite of–perhaps even because of–our differences, we need to do the same ourselves.

Read what’s out there and learn from what others have tried; more progress happens when we stop reinventing the wheel. There are far too many good publications for global educators to list them all, but I’ll name a few I’ve been exploring lately–and liking.  I hope readers will add to the list by commenting about books, articles and other resources worth exploring.

Books:

Blogs:

  • Suzie Boss (Regular Edutopia blogger with expertise in Project-Based Learning who often shares stories of successful global partnerships and projects)
  • Silvina Tolisano’s “Langwitches” (Varied Global and Educational Technology Topics from a Classroom Practitioner, The Graded School, Brazil)
  • Kristen Goggin’s “Stories from the Garage” (Global PBL in Middle School Math from a Classroom Practitioner, Town School for Boys, California)

Marxism, Borgs, and Project-Based Learning: A Response

11/6/2013

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This blog is dedicated, with my deep appreciation and respect, to the (socialist) teachers of Edmonton, Canada–thank you for helping to recharge my batteries, for reminding me that adultscan learn, and for helping me find the courage to post this response.

I learned recently that Project-Based Learning (PBL) is apparently a Marxist conspiracy to develop collective empathy over individualism.  I know that sounds absurd–or I hope it does to most of you–but there appears to be a growing movement of conservatives who actually believe that PBL is some sort of communist plot.

This dialogue, perhaps better called an attack spree, was sparked by a wonderful Global PBL developed by educator Heidi Hutchison recently, described in her blog, “The One and Only Ivan Global PBL.”  In her project, students are encouraged to empathize with all living creatures, and to work together to improve the conditions of animals around the world through the true story of Ivan, a gorilla who lived in a circus-themed mall for 27 years, alone in a cage, without ever seeing another gorilla.  Oddly enough, Heidi was attacked on her blog for trying to slant her students’ perspectives toward empathy in a world where animals often have to be caged and mistreated.  She was called a Marxist on Twitter.  As soon as I jumped on board to defend her, I was called one as well.  Don’t get me wrong–I don’t particularly care what people call me–but I do mind that increasing numbers of conservatives consider PBL a Marxist conspiracy.

I struggle with the claim that PBL–or society in general, for that matter–is in danger of putting the collective ahead of the individual, the hallmark of Marxist thought.  More importantly, I struggle with the assumption that there’s anything wrong with doing so, as though thinking about others somehow threatens our sense of independence and individuality as humans.  Science fiction loves to demonstrate the most extreme examples of this kind of thinking–Star Trek’s “Borg,” for example, assimilates every individual into a collective, allowing no room for independent thought or even the use of “I.”  The Borg replaces the individual completely with a collective “We” which drives toward only one goal: to find more individuals and assimilate them into the system.  Resistance is futile.  While the individual provides skills, memories and knowledge the Borg needs, the individual’s value lies in what it offers the collective.  But that’s science fiction, designed to help us imagine the worst extreme of current trends.  The key word here is fiction. 

In real life, there is no way individuals can undo or deny the importance of their own thoughts, ideas and needs.  Even in the most extreme and oppressive circumstances, the individual believes what s/he wants to because no one can force collective thought on a human being.  Let me provide a solid example: I’ve spent significant time in Cuba, where people are supposedly being brainwashed into a particular mindset, but the assumption that everyone has bought into the Castros’ party line is absolutely absurd.  People believe what they want–they may say they agree with the system when asked by an audience they don’t know or trust, but that doesn’t mean they no longer know how to think for themselves.  In fact, Cubans openly refer to a social “doble moral” which dominates political dialogue–people will say what their audience expects (which is a very individualistic act of self preservation if you ask me), but they may maintain very different views in private.  In Cuba, as in many parts of the world, individual goals may not be supported by the governmental system as much as collective ones, but that doesn’t mean that anyone stops believing what they want to believe, no matter how “brainwashed” we may think they are.

So, why all this paranoia about U.S. education heading our society toward a collective mindset?  Why are we still so threatened by words like “globalize” and “collaborate,” as though McCarthyism never ended?  I don’t have any answers–just more and more urgent questions about what’s happening to the country I’ve decided to stay in spite of our consumerism, our disregard for the underserved in our communities, our belief that we have the right to police the world, and our ongoing (and increasingly absurd) arguments about who deserves access to health care and a quality education.

So, what does any of this have to do with project-based learning, you ask?  Good question.  PBL certainly emphasizes collaboration, but not because the individual doesn’t matter; rather, it emphasizes collaboration because many individual minds are always better than one, whether that’s in seeking solutions to global problems or in trying to understand varied perspectives.  Our best advances across human civilization have come thanks to individual ideas put into action by groups of people committed to the same ideals.  PBL doesn’t suggest that the individual doesn’t matter; unlike the Borg, the goal is not to erase the thoughts or aspirations of any one student–it is to develop students’ ability to work with others because better solutions require many thinkers, because the best human achievements come from a symphony of innovators and solution builders–because, like a symphony, our music is more powerful in combination than in isolation.

If anything, PBL actually creates the space for students to pursue their individual passions more deeply, whether in connection to group work or not.  In most PBL classrooms, group work makes up no more than 20% of each student’s grade, and elements like Voice and Choice ensure that students are able to make choices aligned with their interests and gifts, choices which help make everything they learn more relevant.  The point is not to subsume each child into a group mentality, to erase who they are for the good of the group–in fact, the point is quite the opposite.  Even in group work, the purpose of PBL is to develop the individual gifts of each student in the service of a common goal.

That said, I do think that a slant toward empathy and concern for others is a reasonable approach to take; it’s not about brainwashing, it’s about developing students’ sensitivities to the needs of others, whether that other is a gorilla or another human being.  Empathy and connectedness are hallmarks of the global education movement, some of the most important inter-cultural skills fostered in any global classroom.  Organizations like Asia SocietyWorld Savvy, and Oxfam consider empathy, compassion, and a sense of connectedness to be central in developing globally constructive citizens in our classrooms, and “global competency” is showing up on more and more lists of 21st Century Skills.  Even business guides now stress the importance of inter-cultural skills for anyone wanting to work across transnational boundaries.

None of this work suggests that individual endeavors are unimportant compared to collective wellbeing–in fact, most global and PBL educators would agree that students’ individual innovations and insights are what we hope will save our planet and species in the long run.  Consider Tony Wagner’s “Seven Survival Skills,” which include myriad examples of both individual and collective skills which will serve students in our increasingly global society–and these come from the world of capitalism, not socialism:

·      Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
·      Collaboration across Networks and Leading by Influence
·      Agility and Adaptability
·      Initiative and Entrepreneurship
·      Effective Oral and Written Communication
·      Assessing and Analyzing Information
·      Curiosity and Imagination

Personally, I believe that individualism can marry empathy and ultimately produce a society where everyone can thrive.  And yes, I’ll admit that my views swerve to the extreme left most of the time, at least by U.S. standards; I’ve been attacked as a “leftist idealist” more than once.  I do believe we should think of others as much as ourselves, particularly if the accident of birth has provided us with more.  I do believe that we are born with a responsibility to others–but I also believe that we should put on our own oxygen masks before helping others.  There can be no collective wellbeing unless individuals continue to take care of themselves and be true to their own needs, and there can be no individual wellbeing unless we find ways to solve our collective, borderless problems across the globe, both for ourselves and the other species of this planet we share.

Approaches to #GlobalEd: Understanding and Solving Global Problems

10/6/2013

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“There’s no competitive advantage today in knowing more than the person next to you.  The world doesn’t care what you know.  What the world cares about is what you can do with what you know.” –Tony Wagner

Another essential goal of global education is to help students understand the roots of our most pervasive global problems, and to develop students’ ability to come up with new solutions.  Young people are often told they’re being prepared to lead change in the future, yet youth movements are creating real and immediate change as much as any other grassroots movements on the planet.  The truth is that young people can be catalysts of change now, but to do so they need to understand the history behind and nuances of our most pressing, borderless problems.  Even more importantly, students need their divergent and creative skills developed so that they can learn to ask good questions and ultimately develop innovative new solutions.

This requires a significant shift toward student-driven, inquiry-based pedagogies in the classroom; rather than teaching toward a set of known answers, we now need to foster classrooms where an unusual, unexpected answer is the best answer, and we are preparing students with the habits of mind which will allow them to navigate an uncertain, volatile future.  As teachers, we need to pose questions with many possible answers, and to help students see every answer as valuable and worth considering if it offers a constructive solution to the problems faced by our increasingly interconnected societies.

At the Moses Brown School and the Berkeley Carroll School, students chose from the Millennium Development Goals and worked in teams explore the nature of the problems underlying each goal–where these problems exist, what the repercussions are, and what solutions are being posed and tried by governmental and non-governmental organizations.  Using the platform of TakingITGlobal to connect with organizations and youth around the world, students worked together to analyze solutions, and each team presented on what they believed to be the best solution for their global problem in a particular context.  At Moses Brown School, 9th grade students produced videos and letters designed to persuade their student government to invest in the organization of their choice.  At the Berkeley Carroll School, students put on a global issues fair for their peers, to educate their broader community about a myriad of global issues and solutions.  Please note that both projects will be presented at the annual conferences of the National Council for Social Studies (November, 2013) and the National Association of Independent Schools (February, 2014).

Try this in your classroom:  
Create a “global village” activity in which teams of students are given the roles of different countries–and their share of 100 pennies based on the actual economy of that country.  This can also be adapted to include objects for household use or other resources.  Give the whole class a set of everyday challenges (food for family, education for children, home, health care, clean water, etc.), and have students work in teams to determine how to best spend their limited money (be sure that no team has enough resources to afford everything, so that choices are required).

See an excellent, more developed model of a global simulation with middle schoolers at the Heifer Global Village.  This approach is not just for older students, either; see John Hunter’s extraordinary work with 4th graders through the World Peace Game.

Approaches to #GlobalEd: Exploring Varied Perspectives

9/22/2013

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“The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”  –Alvin Toffler

A primary goal of global education is to expose students to a variety of global perspectives, and to help them learn to honor experiences and points of view which are vastly different from their own.  Exploring perspectives includes learning about the cultural and political roots of opinions on any given topic, whether historical or modern, as well as recognizing and celebrating our shared human experience and values.

While this strand of global education has often been considered “fluff curriculum” by traditional educators, developing students’ global pluralism is actually a foundational building block for work in international diplomacy, development, business and politics.  Most global educators will agree that we need to foster students’ empathy for others at a young age—from that empathy comes students’ urge to think critically about how to understand others and contribute to positive change.

It’s important, too, for students to learn how to think about and communicate a critical message when they feel a global practice is harmful, but to be able to balance that critique with respect for the cultural and/or religious roots it comes from.  I used to use Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as an example in my all-girls high school classroom because it elicited such a strong emotional response from students.  We explored the historical, cultural and religious roots of the practice, tried to trace where it was in practice and why, and explored our own ethical reactions while seeking a deep understanding of why it continues to exist.

These topics bring up important questions for students: How do we collaborate globally when our values and goals are often different?  Who gets to decide what “right” looks like, and are we allowed to enforce that right on others?  How do we ensure that our increasingly globalized world doesn’t destroy the best in individual cultures while we seek to eliminate the worst, and that we can come to see all countries as partners in a common human effort toward growth and improvement, equality and justice?

One of my favorite examples of perspective building in action comes from the collaboration between the Centre for Global Education(Alberta) and TakingITGlobal (Ontario) which has produced Global Encounters, a powerful video conferencing program for young people.  In Global Encounters, students participate in online and in-class discussions and student-driven explorations of a given topic, and then come together in live multi-point events designed to bring students into contact with experts and a network of classrooms.

For example the Middle East in Transition series includes video conferences each year on Peace and Conflict, Poetry of Witness, and Resistance Art.  In all cases, students learn about the perspectives and experiences of young people and experts in the Middle East, but are also invited to explore and express their own perspectives on whether, for example, violence is ever a justified response to oppression–and who gets to decide.  In other programs, such as those focused on climate change and other global challenges, students participate in Model United Nations-style dialogue and resolution building to solve real, relevant global problems.

Try this in Your Classroom:  
Choose a recent event in global news, and have students research online to collect as many different news pieces as they can on that one event, from a wide array of global news sources.  Ask students to identify key points they want to compare (title, tone, who is blamed in conflicts, cultural or other perspectives represented, etc.), and have students chart out their comparisons.  Finish by having students craft a news piece of their own, written or video, which brings at least four divergent perspectives together in one product to honor all views, not dilute them.  In a more complex variation, students can develop a Model UN-style debate in which they represent different countries’ viewpoints on an issue and work together to reach a resolution which benefits as many players as possible.

Favorite Resources for #GlobalEd

5/31/2013 

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This week, I’d like to draw attention to a few specific resources I’ve come across for the global classroom.

The first comes from the World Digital Library, which I discovered thanks to a participant in one of my e-courses.  This is a pretty incredible resource–it contains visual images of ancient literary materials from all over the world, is multilingual and authentic, and certainly appeals to bookies like me!  I can imagine endless explorations and learning coming from a site like this, and it would enrich any classroom.

 

PicturePhotographs can be a powerful window into the world, and I still remember being fascinated by National Geographic images when I was a child.  NG continues to offer some of the best global photography available, and like 360Cities, it offers a way to develop visual and cultural literacy skills.

I used photographs two ways in my classroom–as prompts for creative writing, and as exercises in cultural literacy (and foreign language use).  Years ago, I saw a woman at a conference talk about deconstructing images for Background, Props/Objects, Clothing, Expression and Gesture.  I added the PBL-style “wonders” as well, encouraging students to ask questions about what they couldn’t see or understand, what they were left wondering about. 

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 Frontline is airing an incredible new documentary online, in partnership with PBS.  In “Outlawed in Pakistan,” we see a young Pakistani woman confront her rapists in court.  This is an incredible documentary which students could benefit from seeing, as it gives a real and personal look at the experience of women in Pakistan.  
Hat tip to Upworthy for sharing this incredible resource–I encourage educators to subscribe to their emails, so that these resources cross your desk every day!

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 Finally, I want to offer a shout out to the United Nations Foundation for a powerful new graphic about their work to support the needs of women globally.  I was president of the United Nations Association in Denver for many years, as well as sponsoring the Model UN club in my school.  I remain convinced that no matter what you might think about the effectiveness of the UN itself, exposing students to their work is incredibly valuable and can help students understand the complexity of solving global issues.  
In this case, the UNF offers a very clear sense of how many global challenges really do tie back to the needs of women in particular.  An image like this could provoke powerful discussion and inquiry for students.