I had the opportunity to be a fly on the wall for an amazing experience with our 5th graders yesterday. With the help of, O'ia-da International Inc, a group in Newark, we videoconferenced with a school in Ghana!
Our experiences videoconferencing have all been positive, but some less engaging than others. I've wondered at times if Skype isn't a more effective learning tool as it tends to have more interaction between audience and speaker. This event however, truly showcased why videoconferencing is so uniquely special.
Our students first "met" with representatives from O'ia-da who gave them a little background and told them what to expect. O'ia-da then conferenced in the school from Ghana and helped our teachers and the teachers there moderate the rest of experience.
The teachers and students from the Ghanian school went out of their way to make this a special event. They had songs prepared and even taught our students a dance - at one point students from both schools were clapping and dancing together. Our students and the Ghanian students each prepared a list of historical facts about their cultures to share with each other. It's always interesting to hear what aspects of history are important from a child's perspective (and the Ghanian school children were very proud of Ghana's contribution to the chocolate industry, among other things).
My absolute favorite part was the Q&A. This was the learning that resonated. Students from my school had the opportunity to ask questions that were answered by at least two students in Ghana, providing a different perspective. Then the Ghanian students had a turn asking questions. The students we spoke with had a natural poetry in thier view of the world and attachment to nature that consistently came across in their explanations and favorite things. They also all had iPods and videogame consoles and find the heat in Ghana "very aggravating". The Ghanian kids were very interested to learn about our kids' favorite athletes and sports teams and there was a lot of excitement on both ends when they uncovered sport-alliances, or rivalries. After one of our kids named their favorite restaurant as "Red Lobster" a teacher from Ghana who lived in the US for a year immediately needed to know if Red Lobster still had chedder biscuits (which led to cheering affirmation from our kids) . Then when asked about birthday celebrations, one of my students shared that she felt her birthday went mostly ignored. The Ghanian school made sure to sing her their version of a birthday song before we said good-bye.
I've spent the past day savoring the warmth I felt during that session and chuckling over the commonalities. I know our students felt it too, some of them have specifically stopped me in the hall to thank me for coordinating it (and an umprompted "thank you" from a 5th grader means a lot). The 5th grade class happens to be studying Ghana as part of the Kingdom of Askum for history right now, and yes, this experience ties in nicely. More then that though, as they're approaching middle school and a very challenging, introspective period in thier lives, I strongly believe this experience will help them recognize how interconnected they are to others and that those connections can be celebrated.