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Successful Global Exchanges: How Two High Schools Commit to Real-World, Real-Time Collaboration

February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) month and therefore I will be highlighting programs and resources that support a global dimension in CTE. Today, we have a post by Russell Davis, principal, and Mark Tronicke, Global Exchange Coordinator at Bergen County Academies in New Jersey, where international content and perspectives are integrated into programs in each of their seven academies. Be sure to read their advice on how to start your own global exchange.

By guest bloggers Russell Davis and Mark Tronicke

Early in the morning, on November 11, 2014, seven high school students from Bergen County Academies (BCA), together with a physics teacher, principal, and the district's Global Exchange coordinator, left Newark Airport bound for Hiroshima, Japan. The trip was part of the district's Global Exchange Program.

The trip had two goals: The first was to meet the students and staff of Kokutaiji Senior High School, with whom they had been collaborating via Skype over the past few months, and present their collaborative research on asteroids. The second was to attend a signing ceremony in which the principals of both schools would sign an agreement extending their participation in the Global Exchange program.

History of International Engagement
BCA is a public, county-wide magnet technical school located in Hackensack, New Jersey. The Daily Beast ranked BCA 18th in the nation out of more than 700 magnet and charter schools nationwide.  One hundred percent of students are required to take at least three years of study in a core language of French, Spanish, or Mandarin Chinese. Ninety-seven percent of the student population continues to take a fourth year of world language study. 

In 2006, a Fulbright grant led to an exchange with Japan. While there, BCA administrators and teachers formed a sister school partnership with one of Japan's Super Science high schools, Kokutaiji Senior High School. Students initially participated in a joint research project investigating the differences between the mitochondrial DNA of the Japanese Giant Salamander and the Eastern Hellbender of the United States. It culminated with students traveling to Japan to present their research.

In 2010, BCA began participating in the Mission to Mars challenge created by NASA astronaut Dr. Charles Camarda. Through this project, students were charged with designing ways to travel to Mars. They decided to again join forces with Kokutaiji and together successfully launched a high altitude balloon to measure pressure, temperature, and radiation in space. Bergen students again traveled to Japan to present their findings to more than 2,000 students from Hiroshima prefecture.

Real-World, Real-Time Collaboration
Now, for the third time, BCA students took to the stage in Japan to share joint research—this time on their efforts to capture and harvest an asteroid. With a display of technological dexterity and skill, the students performed a live demonstration of their work. During the first part of the presentation, one student held an Arduino device, which detects magnetism and then transmits the results back to the receiver. Another student moved an "asteroid," a small rock in this case, toward the transmitter as the software program the students created determined that the rock would most likely contain water. A third student held a video camera so that everyone could see the demonstration on screen. The students then replaced the rock with a piece of steel. As the steel was brought closer to the transmitter, the software began to make its calculations and determine that due to the high magnetic content, this "asteroid" would most likely not contain water. Following this presentation, the students of Kokutaiji High School discussed the mathematical calculations needed to change the orbit of an asteroid and displayed a computer simulation which showed how the path of an asteroid could be changed.

In addition to the presentation of research, representatives from the Japanese Prefectural Board, the Ministry of Education, and almost 1,000 students gathered in the gymnasium to witness the signing of the agreement to extend the ongoing partnership. 

Exposure to Culture
The sister partnership with Kokutaiji Senior High School aims to deepen the cultural understanding between our two countries. At Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park, the BCA group moved quietly past displays which told of the devastation caused by the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Photos of the aftermath, artifacts from the area, and interactive displays communicated not only of the horrific details of the incident, but also of Hiroshima's ongoing commitment to peace. There was a feeling of loss, but also one of hope that Hiroshima's message of peace would ensure that mankind would never again have to endure an event such as this.

An Ongoing Commitment
Not only do the students in the Academy for the Advancement of Science and Technology have opportunities to collaborate with peers around the world, but Business and Finance Academy students have traveled to London for an international educational program that is based on their International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, and the students in the Visual and Performing Arts Academy have traveled to Greece for a "Global Community Building through the Art of Theatre" program. 

To involve a broader BCA student body toward international mindedness, the administration is working on designing short-term study abroad experiences centered around the world language programs: Mandarin Chinese (Shanghai, China), Spanish (Barcelona, Spain), and French (Quebec City, Canada).

Advice to Others
We hope to build global programs in each of the seven academies because not only do students learn about other cultures and what life is like after graduation, but they are more engaged in their learning. In fact, students are so engaged that they have helped to conceptualize and create new international programs.

We recommend starting sister or exchange programs by forming relationships with other schools around the world via social networks and videoconferencing. Authentic learning experiences will take place when this type of peer-to-peer interaction happens, e.g. language immersion, national feelings on current events, or cultural trends toward fashion and food. In our experience, students will open up fully about their views on the world while respecting the views of someone their own age.

When this bond between students grows stronger, you can then designate a club or activity—a team of global ambassadors who could take the interaction to the next level. Meaningful learning will evolve and may lead to study abroad opportunities given the right amount of administrative and financial support.

High school students need to understand that globalization is going to be a key element for their future, and that we must connect with the world at large. It is through these exchanges that we hope to instill increased respect for values and traditions other than our own.

Follow Mark, Russell, and Asia Society on Twitter.

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