Friday, January 6, 2012

Friday's Five - Diversity and Understanding

Friday's Five is a feature every week where I pick a new topic and list five items that I think fit best.  Then I ask you to share your thoughts in the comment section.  For an archive of past topics, check the Friday's Five Page

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

I love that Mark Twain quote.  Being open-minded, leaving behind one's own ethnocentric biases, and experiencing another culture is by far the best way to understand others and their points of view.  Unfortunately, it's not possible to travel with our students in a way that would allow them to have those experiences.  Many of my students growing up in rural Pennsylvania will go their entire childhoods without even visiting New York City or Philadelphia, both of which are a two hour drive away.  With school budgets being cut, even local field trips are becoming a thing of the past.  Certainly a class visit to a totally different country and culture is out of the question, and seems even ridiculous to mention.  

The challenge for us is to find ways for our students to interact, be exposed to, and appreciate the differences of other cultures. It's exceedingly difficult to do in a country where 95% of the news coverage is about domestic matters.  With the increasing bullying problems we seem to be having in our schools and online and the seeming lack of acceptance of anyone different in our society, finding ways to understand others is of increasing importance.  How, then, can we travel, meet others, and learn from them without leaving our classrooms?  Here are five suggestions.
  1. Virtual Field Trips - While it doesn't allow you to interact with others, virtual travel is a great way to experience other locations without spending any money or travel time.  As an added benefit, you aren't limited to the present time.  If it fits your studies, you can visit Ancient Rome or Colonial Williamsburg.  There are many resources out there that will allow you travel virtually.  A few weeks ago someone shared a "List of 100 Incredible and Educational Virtual Tours You Don't Want to Miss."  That's a great place to get started.
  2. Find a class in a very different culture and connect as pen pals.  Up until the past decade, this would have been an expensive and time consuming option.  Now, with the technologies available to us, the cost of postage and the time it used to take to send letters is no longer an obstacle.  Use e-mail, Google Docs, a wikispace, or some other technology to instantly communicate with other student around the globe.  Exchange pictures of schools, classrooms, and pets.  Discuss upcoming holidays and favorite dinners.  Share family traditions.  Talk to your students about how "different" doesn't mean "wrong."  Your students will start to see that while many of the things that people do around the world may be different, we have a lot more in common than many people realize.
  3. Videoconference with other locations.  If your students are studying King Tut, who better to conference with than an expert in Egyptian Archaeology who is currently digging in Egypt?  If you are discussing addition and subtraction, why not Skype in with students from Europe who learn to add and subtract from left to right and ask them to explain why that makes sense to them?  If we want our students to think about solutions to problems from many points of view, we need to expose them to many points of view.  Videoconferencing makes that easy and fun to do.
  4. Collaborate with students from other cultures on a project.  The number of web 2.0 tools that make it easy to collaborate is exploding.  Instead of only using those tools to allow for in-class collaboration, connect with other classes in foreign locations and collaborate with them.  If you are studying the rainforest, maybe you can connect with a class in Brazil and figure out how you can work together to make a difference to save species.  If your class wants to know the effects of climate change on glaciers, why not connect with a class living in the Alps, Rockies, or Himalayas and study it with them?  We don't know a lot about the future world we are sending our graduates into, but we do know that it is getting smaller and that global collaboration is becoming more important.  It's important to give our students opportunities to practice those skills in school.  
  5. Model the skills you want your students to have.  How can you find classes, experts, students, and teachers in other cultures and countries?  Build a global professional network of educators with whom you regularly collaborate using social networking sites like Twitter, Plurk, Facebook, and Google+.  Regularly seek out different ways to do things and be open to change.  Share new ideas that you stumble upon with your students.  If you want your students to be life-long learners, model for them what it looks like.  
Now it's your turn.  How do you teach diversity and understanding in your classroom?  How do you connect with other cultures?  What tools have you found most helpful for collaboration with others around the globe?  How have you build your Professional Network, or what difficulties have you faced in doing so?  Do you find that your students are lacking understanding of other cultures?  Please share with us your ideas and pass the post on to others using Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Plurk so that we can hear their ideas as well. 

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