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Globetrotting: Stepping into the World Without Leaving the Classroom

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January 17, 2017

When I think about who I am as an educator, and what I want for my students here in Kansas, I know that part of my responsibility as their fourth grade teacher is to open the world to them and expand their opportunities beyond the four walls of our classroom. My goal is to create global citizens—and one of the ways I have done that is to create a global classroom.

I first began connecting with others outside of the classroom while beginning a science unit on space a few years ago. I had heard that classes could connect with NASA astronauts for free, and scheduled several video calls for my class. After seeing how much more engaged my students were in the academic material and the fact that they could interact and ask questions while deepening their knowledge of the content, I was hooked. I knew that my teaching and my students’ learning would fundamentally change.

Since then, we have had many connections with authors, national parks, scientists, museums, and classrooms from across the world. One video conference my class had was with an elephant sanctuary in Florida. My students were able to see up close the elephant’s trunk, ears, and feet. They watched as the animal caretakers brushed and rubbed the elephant’s skin to keep it clean. My students asked questions and saw the answers demonstrated in real-time.

Now, my students routinely connect through video conferencing tools like Skype and Google Hangouts to classes and individuals around the world. We do first-hand research and interview experts in certain fields of study, experience remote parts of the world through virtual field trips, and collaborate with peers from across the globe on projects. With the advancement of technology, it is no longer necessary for students to simply learn the academic material from books within our classroom. Knowledge can be accessed anywhere in the world.

Connecting with experts in the field of our academic study is a powerful learning tool. Yes, our students could do an internet search or look in a book to find answers, and that is an important skill to develop. But, it makes the learning much more authentic if my students can talk to a penguin researcher in Antarctica or see how a Maple tree is tapped in Vermont in order to make maple syrup, rather than simply reading about the process. This sort of connection helps students become emotionally engaged and more interested in the academic material, and thus better able to retain the information. Collaborating with peers in different parts of the world teaches my students to be creative problem-solvers, using communication and critical thinking skills to tackle real-world problems, and empowering them to know that they can change the world.

Each spring, my class also holds a Skype Around the World Day. We connect with classes and individuals all over the world on every continent from the start of school that day until midnight. My students shared facts we had learned about Kansas and took notes on other country’s economy, history, and culture. They saw traditional dresses and games in action from students in India, took a sneak-peak into an after-school cooking class in Uruguay, learned how to play rock-paper-scissors in Japanese, learned the rules of cricket from an Australian student, saw first-hand the harsh Antarctic landscape, and learned how to say “hello” in a dozen different languages. Later in the week, the students took their new knowledge and wrote either a comparison with one of the countries we visited with Kansas or created a digital travel brochure of one of our global destinations.

As access to technology increase and the world “becomes smaller” students have unprecedented ability to communicate and collaborate with others worldwide. By exposing students to other viewpoints and cultures, we are helping them develop empathy and understanding, and making the world a safer place by breaking down the barriers of ignorance, fear, and the unknown. Seizing information that’s at their fingertips and creatively problem-solving and collaborating with peers from across the world, students realize that despite our differences, there is far more that binds us together. They begin to see peers regardless of geography or culture as global citizens and take ownership in developing their own global classroom.

Todd presented a webinar on this topic in January 2017. View the webinar here:

Todd Flory is a 4th grade teacher at Wheatland Elementary School in Andover, Kansas. He is a Skype Master Teacher, Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, Buncee Ambassador, Sway Champion, Microsoft Certified Educator, Google Certified Educator, and the 2016 PBS Digital Innovator Kansas lead. As an educator, Todd focuses on providing global collaboration and real-life, passion-based learning experiences for his students. He has spoken on these topics at state and national education conferences, including at ISTE and FETC. Todd believes that teachers need to create global citizens in a global classroom to empower students to shape their future and the world’s. Connect with him on twitter @Todd_Flory or on his blog toddflory.com

Todd Flory

Todd Flory Fourth Grade Teacher Twitter: @Todd_Flory

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