Creating global citizens in our K-12 classrooms
The Case for Educating Global Citizens
Thanks to technological advances, we’re now living in a global economy as more U.S. companies expand overseas and foreign businesses flourish here. Stephen Heppell, an English educator specializing in technology and global education, hits home the importance of including global education in our K-12 curriculum to prepare our children for life and work as global citizens. Heppell states, “I’m sitting here with a Swiss watch, don’t know where my shirt was made…shoes in Italy…but I am sitting here clothed in global stuff looking at a Sony camera, sitting probably on a stool made in New Zealand in a room probably designed by a Dane.” And in their book, Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds: Move to Global Collaboration One Step at a Time, Julie Lindsay and Vicki A. Davis stress the need for incorporating global collaboration into the educational curriculum at all levels to help students find their place and succeed in a global economy.
According Dr. Diane Roussel, superintendent of Jefferson Parish Public School System, “Our international competitors understand the key role their education systems play in producing workers prepared for a globally competitive 21st century economy. We need to understand and act on this understanding too. Not doing so will short-change our students. 1
International exchange programs build 21st century learning skills
Virtual international exchange programs are one way to help students acquire essential 21st century learning skills: critical thinking and problem solving; communication; collaboration; and creativity and innovation. Additional benefits include more engaged students, new perspectives gained from their peers, increased levels of comprehension and retention, and greater confidence. One virtual exchange student stated he “learned to never give up.” His teacher felt that one of the best aspects of the program was seeing kids develop. "The kids I worked with matured in the three months of the program like you wouldn't believe!" 2
To help students acquire these skills, educators recognize not only the need to change what they teach, but how they teach it. Dr. Tony Wagner, co-director of Harvard’s Change Leadership Group, outlines “two major trends in the world that pose a fundamental challenge — and many opportunities — to our educational system." One is the shift from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy. The other is that students brought up on the Internet are very differently motivated to learn. 3 In our multicultural, digitally enhanced society, it’s critical that we see global citizenship as an important piece in the curriculum. Our changing world requires that students develop the skills needed to recognize and accept other cultures, understand that they can learn from other races and cultures, and engage in identifying ways they can help countries grow economically and socially.
Incorporating cultural exchange into core curriculum
Schoolwires’ Greenleaf International Classroom Exchange program is an example of how international collaboration can be incorporated into core curricula. Greenleaf supports 21st Century learning on a global level, leveraging students' natural desire to engage and collaborate with peers. As participants in the Greenleaf program, students in the U.S. and China work together on projects to gain a deeper understanding of their respective cultures and explore global issues and viable solutions. Students focus on six big idea topics: team building, exploration of their communities, their future in school and career, global citizenship, community landmarks, and iconic images that helped shape their country’s culture and history. Zhijian Fang, the principal of the Beijing Yu Yuan Tan Middle and High School, felt that the Greenleaf program was a welcome departure from the traditional Chinese teaching method and helped students develop collaboration skills. “The traditional instructional method is really teacher-centered. The teacher gives instruction, and the main activity for the student is listening to the teacher’s instruction. Also, traditionally, Chinese students tend to learn independently, not in group collaboration. This program helps break with that tradition. 4
Integrating global topics
Another example of schools integrating global topics into core curriculum can be found in rural Scotland, where students collaborated with their peers to learn about child labor via online research, creative writing and discussions. They were so excited about what they discovered that they contacted multinational companies and presented their findings to an assembly attended by Jack McConnell, Scotland’s First Minister. 5 This same school takes their students beyond the formal curriculum by having them experience what it’s like to manage a vending machine that supplies fair trade, organic and healthy snack options; a Fair Trade truck shop; and a Fair Trade website. This allows teachers to use business as a way to make traditional curriculum more relevant to students. The school is also part of a European Union Comenius sustainability project, along with schools in Poland and Italy. Certain students study ‘Life in Malawi’ using material developed from links with schools in that country. So students not only learn about cultures, they learn with those cultures.
Collaboration across borders
Global collaboration is also being taught through The Art Miles project. In their article, “Schools without Borders,” Mali Bickley and Jim Carlton describe the project as helping geographically distant K–12 classes learn about a specific aspect of each other's country. Several classes from Japan partnered with classes from Canada, Indonesia, Russia, Vietnam, Italy, and Fiji. The program is expanding to other countries as well, including Romania and the United States. “The students' primary job is to teach their partners about a specific aspect of their own country or culture. Each class begins by preparing and sending a welcome package of gifts from their culture to introduce themselves to the other class. 6
Creating a technology-rich learning environment
Effective use of technology is essential for teaching and learning in our global, digital age. As many school districts and educators look for more cost effective ways to design and support a technology-rich learning environment that connects students to communities of learners around the world, virtual cultural exchange programs are emerging as a viable solution.
Classroom exchange programs such as Schoolwires’ Greenleaf program support global learning and help students develop the 21st century learning skills they need to succeed as global citizens. Greenleaf offers a flexible curriculum that provides students in the U.S. and China with opportunities to gain a deeper understanding of global issues through collaborative, project-based learning.
Schoolwires, Inc. provides a suite of technology products and related services to more than 1,300 educational entities, including K-12 school districts and schools in the United States and China. The company’s technologies are designed to foster community, student, teacher and parent engagement in the classroom, locally and internationally. Its solutions include an integrated website and content management system, a safe social learning and networking system, and an enterprise technology platform. Schoolwires brings together a district’s essential technologies, information, and content to effectively engage the K-12 community in support of district and student success. The company currently serves an estimated 10 million users and has been recognized as one of the top privately held education companies for the fifth consecutive year by Inc magazine. Schoolwires was incorporated on April 5, 2000 and is headquartered in State College with an office in Beijing, China.
3 http://asiasociety.org/education/resources-schools/professional-learning/seven-skills-students-need-their-future. Heather Singmaster
4 Fish, Katie, CHINA: Partnerships With U.S. Schools Break Down Walls, edweek.org, Febr. 1, 2012
5 http://www.oxfam.org.uk/education/gc/files/education_for_global_citizenship_a_guide_for_schools.pdf, p. 9