Paul ‘Lanny’ Watkins discusses the importance of connecting students globally and provides practical tips to help you get started with creating a connected classroom.
As teachers we are constantly encouraging our pupils to step out of their comfort zone and try new things. It’s a wonderful thing to see a pupil’s face light up when they have these experiences for the first time and the excitement of what now lies ahead for them. Sadly, this is not something that in general teachers are good at doing themselves. Although the global events of 2020 have seen teachers having to adopt, embrace and develop the use of technology in their practice, this was widely done as a necessity and not through exploring opportunities. Teachers, during their careers, establish practice – to some extent a formula for success. Once this is established it can be difficult to move away from. This is not being critical of the teacher and their practice, their pupil’s results are a clear indication that their teaching style works, but we can ask the question if this practice is providing students with the skills they need in the future?
During the course of 2020 teachers have quickly adapted to hybrid learning, with part of this being the recording of lessons and also in some places, the streaming of live lessons. The introduction of this has for many introduced them to a new world off opportunities, ones which previously they were not willing to even consider. Many of us teachers have been at fault in confining learning to within the walls of the classroom. Although this can provide wonderful learning opportunities and academic achievement, we must also not lose focus of the fact that these students need to be prepared and equipped for the road that lies of them. We have the responsibility to help them develop those essential transferrable life skills that they need to succeed. Problem solving, communication and collaborative skills will always be needed, especially if we have the desire for our students to be the change makers we long for them to be. Educator, author and Global Teacher of the year finalist Michael Soskil challenges us – “We want our students to change the world, but it’s hard to change the world when you don’t know much about it. Kids need #GlobalEd”. How can our pupils be inspired to and believe they can change the world if we don’t show it to them? But more importantly, how can we introduce this to our pupils?
Ask a pupil how many walls a classroom has, and you probably be told “four”. However, with the introduction of a webcam and microphone the walls of the classroom are removed, and a world of learning and opportunity is presented to the students. Imagine having an explorer teaching you via a Skype call how to read a map, but more importantly how important that skill is in life, or a marine biologist helping pupils from their lab on the other side of the world helping pupils with their coursework on coral reefs, answering those questions they can’t find in text books or online. Learning experiences like these do not only help to raise standards in pupils work but pupils leave these sessions inspired. From having authors help pupils with creative writing to museum curates leading pupils though history from the other side of the world, these sessions are memorable and impactful, with pupils being introduced to jobs that they didn’t realise existed, providing them with a career to aim for. Opportunities to partake in such projects as the Global Climate Change project with schools from across the world enable pupils to realise through live connections that they all have responsibility for the world that we live in. When students identify the problems that are faced across the world, we want them to be a generation who will look at it with the attitude “We can do something about this!”
Through games like Mystery Skype (a yes/no game to guess something like a location, animal, number or person etc) pupils can develop life skills and confidence in speaking to others. I love how the students start to develop a lovely team mentality within the class which strengthens relationships. It’s amazing to see the disengaged come alive during these lessons! But the hidden gem in these calls is when you let the students talk to each other, discussing their likes, dislikes, hobbies and school life etc. Students quickly realise that they have far more in common than they thought, and they quickly acknowledge each other as friends. What a wonderful way to nurture empathy and incorporate global learning into the classroom. Swedish educator, Emma Naas, shared why she uses Skype Classroom with her students: “When you have friends across the world it will be more difficult to start wars”.
For many years I put off using Skype as a teaching tool, concerned that I needed an elaborate webcam and microphone set up. It was, however, an inexpensive off the shelf webcam that provided these rich learning experiences for my students. Now is a great time to investigate these global learning opportunities with the announcement of Microsoft Global Connect on November 10th and 11th. This annual event has seen thousands of schools from across the world connect with other classes, guest speakers and take amazing virtual field trips to museums, national parks and zoos – without leaving the class or incurring any traveling expenses. Find out more about this event and how to join here: Microsoft Global Learning Connection 2020 and how you can connect your classes using Skype, Flipgrid and Microsoft Teams. Or head over to education.skype.com and sign up for free to search the wealth of connections available for free and all the resources you need to get started.
Sionil Jose said “The influence of teachers extends beyond the classroom, well into the future. It is they who shape and enrich the minds of the young, who touch their hearts and souls. It is they who shape a nation’s future.” That’s why our pupils need global learning experiences!