It is very important we help students in our classrooms develop deeper, broader, authentic world views through the information we share and collaborative activities in which we engage together during and after class. It is also critical we help students develop values like respect, empathy, and compassion. Learning is most powerful when it is experiential and connected to the real world, and more opportunities than ever are available to help bring these types of learning experiences to your students. Here are several ideas for research resources and class projects you should consider this year.

Multicultural education is very important, but sometimes classroom activities are limited to just learning about holiday customs and foods in different countries. As we study other parts of the world, we should strive to PERSONALIZE and HUMANIZE learning by making direct connections with others in different contexts. Global Voices Online is one of my favorite websites to use when researching other countries to read individual blogger perspectives about and from those countries. Use the drop down menus at the top of the website to select a country, region, or topic of interest.

Global Voices Online - Select region, country or topic

If you’re looking to make a direct connection with teachers and students in another country, utilize one or more of the following free websites and learning communities to find a partner classroom: ePals, Teachers Connecting, the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration’s Collaboration Center, the Global Education Collaborative, Global SchoolNet’s Projects Registry, and Classroom 2.0. The K-12 Online Conference is a great place to make connections as well. These links are provided on my workshop wiki, “Connecting and Collaborating with International Teachers Worldwide.”

Students benefit when they are guided to understand that learning does not have to be limited to a purely cognitive, isolated and disconnected experience. Service learning:

… is a method of teaching, learning and reflecting that combines academic classroom curriculum with meaningful service, frequently youth service, throughout the community. As a teaching methodology, it falls under the philosophy of experiential education. More specifically, it integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, encourage lifelong civic engagement, and strengthen communities for the common good.

The National Service Learning Clearinghouse contains a wealth of resources you can use to start and support service learning initiatives in your classroom and school. If you’re involved in a service learning project, consider empowering your students to become Storychasers. Storychasers can use digital and social media technologies to “tell the story” and “chase the story” of their service learning project, heightening awareness and realizing the project’s objectives with powerful communications technologies.

While local community service and action is vital, it is also important to help students understand their decisions and actions can have a global impact. Kiva is an outstanding project to consider joining as an individual and as a classroom to make a real difference in the lives of others through fundraising and providing entrepreneurial loans. According to Kiva’s about page:

We Let You Loan to Low Income Entrepreneurs: Kiva’s mission is to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty. Kiva is the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend to unique entrepreneurs around the globe.

If you join Kiva and make a microloan, consider joining Karl Fisch’s “Shift Happens” Team on Kiva. See Karl’s December 2008 posts, “Give Until It Feels Good: Join Team Shift Happens on Kiva” and “Kiva Update and a Not-So-Modest Proposal.” Students can help determine which country and what person to which they’d like to make a loan, and then track over time the progress of that person in reaching their entrepreneurial goals.

Once the person to whom you and your class have made a loan repays that amount, your “investment capital” is then freed for you to make another loan to someone else. This project can not only help students in your class make more personal learning connections to people in other countries, it can also help students learn about economics and how their actions can make a positive difference in the lives of others fighting poverty, by supporting entrepreneurs. The fact that your class can periodically log in to check up on the “progress” and status of Kiva entrepreneurs to whom you loan money can also add to the potential value and impact of this activity.

A final classroom project idea less focused on “changing the world” through service learning and activism, but none-the-less potentially exciting for students as they expand their geographic worldviews, is to create a classroom “travel bug” and set it loose amidst the world’s geocaches. According to the English WikiPedia:

A Travel Bug is a registered trademark of Groundspeak, Inc. used to describe a dogtag used in Geocaching. It is moved from cache to cache, and its travels can be logged on the geocaching website (www.geocaching.com). Each travel bug tag is printed with a unique PIN, which is needed to post a log online. Some tags are fastened to an object, such as a plastic figurine, before they are put in a cache.
Travel bugs are tracked on the Groundspeak-owned website Geocaching.com, but there are a number of other tracking sites such as Geotag Tracker or Traveler Tags that log other trackable items.

After participating in Beth Goodwin’s ACTEM 2009 workshop last week (“Geocaching In and Out of the Classroom”) and hearing how much fun her own students have had creating geocaches in historical sites of interest around Wells, Maine, I realized that “travel bugs” would make a great classroom project as well. You can choose the “mission” or destination for your travel bug, and that can be directly related to your geographic studies in the classroom. Geocaching can be fun as well as educational, but the learning can be taken to another level through the creation and release of “trackable” items like “travel bugs.”

Geocache found!

We need to take global awareness seriously in our families, classrooms, and communities. Silvia Tolisano‘s K12Online07 presentation, “Travel through Space and Time,” is a great professional development session which emphasizes the importance of global awareness and also provides more concrete suggestions for classroom projects that can enhance students’ global literacy.

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