Global Learning Experiences Take Students to New Heights: Collaborating with Students in Other Countries On The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

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It is often said that teachers create magic in their classroom.  Kathryn Crawen at Ashford School in Venon, CT took creating magic to a global classroom with the project, Global Learning Experiences Take Students to New Heights.

They are developing an exciting and immersive cultural exchange for students from Kindergarten to 8th grade using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as a launching point for project based learning and collaboration with students in other countries (both in person and virtual). Students in K-8th grade will be immersed in school-wide projects that connect them with their global peers, working to engineer solutions the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This project is the first of its kind to utilize these parameters and tools laid out by the United Nations.

What is the project and their goals?

The goal of the project was to create global competency opportunities through international student-led collaborations focusing on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Students met the following criteria defined by the Asia Society: 

  1. Recognize perspectives from around the globe 
  2. Communicate ideas to diverse populations
  3. Take action to design innovation solutions to global problems
  4. Investigate the world

Prior to their collaboration, 7th and 8th grade students completed a reflection rubric on their global leadership skills. The rubric included questions and scales for the four criteria from the Asia Society (above). The same students completed the survey at the mid year point and on average they moved 1.8 levels on the global leadership rubric. 

The students had the opportunity to practice recognizing perspectives from around the globe by using Skype with German students on topics such as climate change, gender equality, and sustainable economics. They communicated ideas through presentations both in Germany and within the local community. They took action through creating an interactive GIS map of indicators of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. And, most importantly they had the opportunity to investigate the world through the district’s first exchange program. 

What did they accomplish?

Students created the first part of a StoryMap on ArcGIS. Each student generated a question based on a United Nations Sustainable Development Goal. As a whole school, they collaborated with their German friends to discuss the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and how to meet them. Most of these collaborations were done via Skype, though they had substantial collaboration while in Germany as well.  Kathryn Craven states, “It was fun to watch them all grow while working to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”

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How has this project affected the learning of students and/or teachers?

Katheryn Craven and her colleagues were thrilled and honored by how involved their whole district got in the Global Learning initiative. In addition to making progress towards the goals listed above, their major achievements for this year were: 

First International Exchange for Ashford School:

They participated in the first international exchange ever for their district. Most of their students had never been out of the country or on a plane before and grew enormously while in Germany. This exchange was life-changing for the core group of 20 students, and also reached every part of their school through virtual collaboration and exchanging ideas and solutions back and forth. See students working on their exchange here: http://ashfordabroad.weebly.com/ 

First District Wide Teacher Exchange in the state of Connecticut:

photo of teachers and students
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While they were in Germany collaborating with other schools, they realized that teachers could also benefit from teaching abroad. They met with administrators at the German partner school and then in their home district, and came up with an idea for a reciprocal exchange in which teachers

switched classes for three weeks. Since their district is so enthusiastic about the partnership, it allowed them to use district funding for this – a sign that the relationship is going to continue for a long time! 

Schoolwide Global Learning Initiative:

All students have engaged in Skype sessions with partner classes where they talk about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In addition, they were accepted as one of four Empathy Project schools in the United States. This means that each student in the school in grades 1-6 will have a virtual partner school in a different country. 

Collaboration on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

Their collaboration focused primarily on students developing solutions to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Students have worked on solutions to goals like UNSDG-13 (Climate Change) by holding a maker drive. 

What challenges did they experience and how they are addressing the challenges to improve the project?

One challenge that they faced with getting the program up and running was that some people in small towns can feel intimidated to get involved with international exchanges. In fact, prior to the proposal, their school had never had an international exchange before, and many students had never even spoken to someone from a different country. However, the support and the enthusiasm about global learning garnered by this grant helped them to overcome these problems. They used to have children who struggled to converse with anyone with an accent. But through these in-person and virtual exchanges, their students’ natural curiosity helped them overcome these challenges as they learned that people in other parts of the world have amazing stories to tell. Currently, each classroom has a virtual partnership, and they were blown away by the difference in their students when it came to talking with people from around the world. To continue their growth in this area, they would like to begin collaborations with non-Western countries so students can continue to gain different perspectives from around the world. 

Further reading

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