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Utilizing Peer Connections Abroad to Meet Science Standards

Utilizing international connections can be a meaningful and engaging way to enhance student knowledge of math and science. That is what today's guest blogger Brian Jones, a 7th grade life science teacher at Los Alisos Middle School in Norwalk, CA set out to do with help from Sarenawati Jaafar, principal of SRI Al Hafeez Pasir Mas school, Malaysia; Liz Meredith, 8th grade science teacher, St. Clairsville Middle School, Ohio; and Dr. Ayelet Segal, head of education, TouchCast. 

By guest blogger Brian Jones, with Ayelet Segal, Liz Meredith, and Sarenawati Jaafar

Norwalk is a suburb of Los Angeles, located about 20 minutes southeast of the downtown area. The students of my school come from areas of Norwalk that are filled with gangs and poverty. Many of the students I teach rarely set foot outside of Norwalk, not to mention outside of the greater Los Angeles area. 

These hurdles have made it difficult for students to learn and traditional teaching was no longer working. Therefore, I decided to apply two of my childhood passions, writing and global pen pals, to my teaching. The result is the GlobalCOlab project, a digital arena for teachers and students to actively work together beyond the walls of the classroom.   

Starting as a project within my classroom, I used Twitter to connect with Sarenawati Jaafar, a principal in Malaysia. We found that with minimal cost and one iPad mini, our students could share existing and current scientific research on environmental conditions around the world. This first project with Mrs. Jaafar was abruptly cut short when a monsoon tore through her city causing flooding and devastation. While Mrs. Jaafar took care of her students and her community, the students from my classroom learned empathy as they cared about another classroom filled with students just like themselves, located thousands of miles away. This experience also brought science to life and provided the platform that changed all of our perspectives.

Formal Platforms and Partnerships
Looking at the damages caused to life and biodiversity, I wanted to connect again, and reached out to Dr. Ayelet Segal, Head of Education for TouchCast. She immediately saw how the GlobalCoLab project allowed students to take control of their learning by using the platform to create interactive presentations (which include video) to be posted and shared. Through the app and the GlobalCOLab website, students from around the world can collaborate by offering feedback with each other through a peer review process.

globalCOlab image.png

The pre-production process of making these interactive videos provides a hands-on learning environment where students construct their knowledge in an engaging and meaningful way. Students are researching and integrating a wealth of information resources on a topic, and are developing presentation and media literacy skills. Aligned with the Common Core Standards, the platform promotes the students' creativity, communication, and critical thinking.

Transformations in Teaching and Learning
Touchcast also allowed me to post a commercial via their app and to their email subscribers, soliciting new teachers to participate in the GlobalCOlab project. A teacher from rural Ohio named Liz Meredith answered. Due to the remote location of the school Ms. Meredith teaches at, she felt the need to connect her students to students around the world in a meaningful way. 

Before GlobalCOlab, Ms. Meredith held a rather rigid teacher-centered classroom that allowed students some flexibility in their learning but reserved most control for herself. Ms. Meredith's students learned the standards and participated in projects to engage higher order thinking, but they lacked skills in applying what they learned to their community and beyond. After the assignment was over, her students went back inside the box they were accustomed to thinking in, uninspired and unequipped to make waves in today's world.

Since joining the GlobalCOlab project, Ms. Meredith's students see learning as part of everyday life, an essential key to building and solving meaningful issues. They no longer subscribe to their small town way of thinking; they engage in the learning process in a much more meaningful way. They see how science applies to the world around them and can identify the steps important to not just sustain their world but also make it better. 

Ms. Meredith herself has undergone changes in both teaching and style. She was aware of how to use the needed technology, but didn't know how useful it would be in connecting teachers from across the globe. After a trial run, it was easy to see how asynchronous planning could be accomplished. The hard part of this journey, however, was in the transition to a student-centered classroom. Global learning, and the GlobalCOlab project, transformed Ms. Meredith's teaching style inside the classroom.

It took a few trial runs, as Ms. Meredith went from a rigid set of student guidelines, to a more tiered method, to finally granting complete control to her students. She learned as she went and made some mistakes, but sees each mistake as a learning experience for herself and her students. Ms. Meredith feels that the student-centered approach gained through GlobalCOlab has strengthened her teaching, her students' way of thinking, and their approach to education as a whole.

One of the most amazing parts for me has been the connections I made alongside my students. Just like pen pals growing up, I have met amazing people of all cultures and backgrounds. I have learned so much from them, and as a result, have grown as an educator.

Connect with Brian, Ayelet, TouchCast, Liz, and Sarenawati through Twitter.

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