March 4, 2014
BKW Elementary School students took their learning on a journey around the world this school year as they stamped their academic passports and entered the iEARN Global Learning Circles program.
Some 40 students in grades 4-6 went on a 16-week computer learning adventure that began in the fall, sharing continuous information with their peers and teachers from countries as far away as Russia, Nigeria and Taiwan and domestically from New Jersey, Tennessee and Washington State.
Through Learning Circles, “We were literally able to expand the walls of our classrooms,” said BKW fourth grade teacher Agnes Zellin. “We shared information including pictures of places we may never get a chance to experience in person, but we were able to gain some understanding of them through the eyes (and words) of far-away students and teachers."
"It was amazing the sense of friendship that could grow from the almost daily correspondence," she added. "I was able to engage with teachers who were sending their own information, and their students' work about how they live, learn and think.”
iEARN Learning Circles has been a long running project that has facilitated Internet and communication technology collaborative project-based learning among classrooms is diverse regions of the world since 1995. Twice a year (September and January), as many as 80-100 classrooms are connected in interactive circles for the purpose of online project work. The result is authentic student work and true international collaboration.
This school year’s project involved three groups of BKW students - Zellin’s fourth graders, Rebecca Thorman's sixth graders and members of the school’s International Club (grades 4-6). The teachers integrated Learning Circles into BKW’s English Language Arts (ELA) and social studies curricula.
"It was an incredible experience," said Thorman, whose students study cultural aspects of life in their sixth grade social studies work. "Our students were exposed to various cultures by PowerPoint presentations, writing samples, projects and food tastings. It also enable multiple grade levels to learn collaboratively together."
How does the Learning Circle work?
The Learning Circle program begins with introductions between the participating schools, class surveys to learn about each other’s schools and communities, project development, and the sharing of student work.
Under the theme “Places and Perspectives,” BKW students and their peers spent several weeks exploring their regional history, culture, government, and geography and shared that knowledge with the people from the other six schools within their Learning Circle.
Those schools included ChungShan Elementary School, Taiwan; Kirchkalninskaya Middle Comprehensive School, Russia; St. Mary’s Ecumenical Primary School, Nigeria; Franklin Township School, Quakertown, N.J.; McConnell Elementary School, Hixson, Tennessee; and Lynnwood Elementary School, Washington.
The ultimate goal of the project was to help students - no matter where they live - understand how historical events and geographic conditions interact to help shape their lives. It also gives them a deeper understanding of themselves, their families and their communities. Each classroom was charged with sponsoring a project for a section in the Places and Perspectives review.
To see all BKW Learning Circle's group projects, click here. Then click the "Group Project Website" under the heading, Places and Perspectives: Elementary (heading in red). Under "Collaborative Projects" and "Class Survey" you can view all students' work from every participating school, as well as BKW.
In one of their inquiries, BKW students asked questions like this of the Learning Circle schools: “In one day of your life as a student ...
What do you eat for breakfast?
How do you get to school?
What subjects do you learn?
What do you do during recess?
What do you do after school?
When do you do homework?
What chores do you do?
What do you do with your family time?
What do you do when you have free time?
What are your school lunches like?
What special projects do you do in science?
Some of the answers surprised them
Some of the answers surprised them …like a Taiwanese breakfast of “stuffed steamed buns and milk” and unusual recess activities such as “playing chess” or “cleaning toilets.” At the same time, students in Nigeria were eating okpa for breakfast and helping their parents “hawk” (sell) items along the streets after school. Their new friends from Russia shared with them stories about how their country was preparing for the Winter Olympics in Sochi and information about the girls from their Dance Club known as “The Chickens.” (see photo above)
The schools also shared photos and descriptions about traditional and formal clothing, favorite holidays, typical classroom settings, special events, and their thoughts about the environment, people, foods, and more.
“Our students had many questions, especially for those living in the regions most unlike ours,” Zellin said. “Asking questions is an important part of learning and being able to formulate questions is an important skill. We worked in class on practicing that skill.”
Learning Circles also gave BKW youngsters plenty of opportunity to “write with a purpose,” Zellin explained, as they answered questions and shared their opinions with their peers. “All of the students, near and far, were eager to share details about each other's daily lives, and that alone is a great communication builder,” she said. “We hope to do this project again next year.”