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global classroom

This global classroom features Mystery Skype and collaboration projects

Working with Flat Connections, one classroom opens its doors to the world

Classroom walls don’t exist to Toni Olivieri-Barton, a library technology educator at Fountain Valley School.

She specializes in using technology to connect students at the private day and boarding high school in Fountain with students worldwide to do projects together.

“Students need to learn at a young level that they have similarities and differences” with students from Mexico, Ireland, Kazakhstan and other countries, she said. “Kids’ eyes get opened up, and they see things sometimes adults don’t see.”

Her experiences with the new and growing field of global education caught the attention of Julie Lindsay, an Australian teacher, author and founder of Flat Connections, an online collaboration program.

Olivieri-Barton is one of nearly 100 educators from around the world featured in Lindsay’s new book, “The Global Educator: Leveraging Technology for Collaborative Learning and Teaching.”

The book was released in July by the International Society for Technology in Education, a nonprofit organization that focuses on enhancing education with technology.

The book shares approaches, updated practices and case studies on how educators can make learning global.

The trend is in its infancy, said Lindsay, via email.

Olivieri-Barton was included in the book because she “understands the processes, skills, technologies and habits of learning required to implement online global collaboration into learning,” Lindsay said.

The ability for students to interact with peers who live in different places and have different life experiences is invaluable, Olivieri-Barton said.

“It’s very important that we get rid of issues like stereotyping and racism by allowing our students to work together on topics that don’t have to do with that,” she said.

Global education can take many shapes and forms. Students in younger grades can be paired with teams of students from other schools to talk about housing, transportation and religion, for example.

“You can explore what’s unique about your school, what classes you have, what sports look like in your country, what play time looks like,” Olivieri-Barton said.

Students can communicate with each other over secure social networking sites such as Ning and Edmodo, or the software application Skype, which uses a computer camera to project images of students or a classroom online.

The ultimate goal, Lindsay said, is for educators to not only reach out and form worldwide connections for their students, but also “embed a global project into everyday learning.”

That approach allows students to partner on a deeper level long-distance.

“In global terms, they work in online communities, co-creating research and other outputs, such as shared ideas and solutions to global issues,” Lindsay said.

For example, one of Olivieri-Barton’s projects involved students at Fountain Valley outsourcing video production to a class in another country for a team assignment.

This is Olivieri-Barton’s second year at Fountain Valley; she previously worked at an elementary school in Academy School District 20 and the high school in Manitou Springs District 14. She also taught in China.

Her work in opening up the world for students began at those schools and has continued at Fountain Valley.

She recently invented Mystery Skype, a game in which students from two schools connect online but don’t know where the other is from. To find out, they ask each other questions with “yes” or “no” responses.

Questions to the other class may include are you in the Northern Hemisphere? Are you in South America? And so forth.

“It teaches them to use 21st-century skills of communication, collaboration and critical thinking,” Olivieri-Barton said.

The interaction is fun, too. Olivieri-Barton said second-graders she worked with wanted to move to Iowa after they learned through Mystery Skype that children in that state can drive a tractor at age 12.

“They learn things you might not expect,” she said. “Other students can be a source of what’s going on in the world, and you find that the perspective of a 17-year-old from Kazakhstan might be different from the news perspective.”

Courtney Wheeler, a senior at Fountain Valley, said she thought Mystery Skype was a “very cool” opportunity.

“Being able to talk to people in different places and learn about them was fun,” she said. “As a group of competitive kids, this activity made learning about another place interesting.”

Mystery Skype was a highlight of the school year for Jen Lebo, an English teacher at Fountain Valley.

“Watching my students interact with a younger class from across the country, I was proud to see them encouraging the younger kids, laughing with them, learning with them,” she said. “I know my class loved the experience, and I would encourage any teacher to try it with their own classes.”

Olivieri-Barton and a group of other global educators offer free lesson plans for teachers at Sept. 15 is recognized as “Global Collaboration Day.”

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