HEN Teachers Collaborate on Global Learning Project
At the end of the 2015 New York City Summer Seminar, three participating teachers – Patrick Connelly from Rochester, New York, Marianna Pataki from Budapest, Hungary, and Angela Gascho from San Diego, California – came up with the shoot-for-the-moon idea to create an online student forum for dialogue about the Holocaust and human rights issues.
Two short months later, they launched the Global Learning Project, an initiative which enables their high school students to link their classroom discussions to a larger global conversation. The teachers wanted to build what Marianna calls a “non-virtual virtual community,” so that students can “understand one another and find support from others who share their values, even though they live at different ends of the world.”
From the beginning, “We – and more importantly, our students – were very excited about the project,” adds Patrick. “I’m amazed at how motivated they are to engage with one another.”
With their teachers’ encouragement, the students took ownership of the online forum at the start, introducing themselves and sharing stories of life in their home communities, while also exchanging trinkets and notes via traditional post. They then began to engage with various literary selections – from Olga Lengyel’s book Five Chimneys and other sources – in their classes, later posting their responses to shared assignments online.
“It was initially a challenge to get them to dig deeper, and not be afraid to write and explain their responses,” Angela recalls, though before long, students found themselves opening up.
The connection between the students deepened even further after the first of several Skype calls scheduled for the year. Though it was no easy feat to coordinate given the three different time zones, the initial call took place on December 9, 2015 and was a huge success. Because several of Angela’s students cross the border from Mexico each morning, they had to set out extra early to make it to school in time. Marianna’s five participating students stayed late to join in, and Patrick’s nine were excused from class in the middle of the day.
When the call began, the energy and excitement of that initial face-to-face meeting was palpable. Seeing one another added yet another dimension to the student exchange, and ultimately made it easier for the students to talk about tough topics. It also, as one student pointed out, “made everything so real.”
Students bantered about common interests, like their tastes in music, before tackling the discussion question, “What can teenagers do to make a better world?” They expressed their belief that to become a positive force in the world, they must first make changes in their personal lives. Looking at the suffering in the world, they drew the collective conclusion that they can only effect change on a local level, like assisting the homeless and refugees in their own communities.
Marianna believes the Skype event highlighted the essential principle that underpins the Global Learning Project, exemplified by an exchange between two students during the call. An Hungarian student asked a peer from Rochester what he thought about Hungarians, to which the New York student replied, “I thought you were somehow different, but now I realize we are quite the same.”
The call concluded with an exploration of ways students might use social media to continue their partnership and advance their cause as the project continues.
“By the end, their only regret was that the conversation had to end,” says Angela.