sustainability

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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Photo of students collaborating
Project Photo

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.”

photo of two students
Project Photo

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
Project Photo

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

ESD: Expandng Sustainable Education Through International Understanding

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“I learned that even though other cultures live totally different lives, many things are still the same and we do them alike.” – Student Participant

Students Exchange Pen-pal letters with students in Korea. Project Photo.
Students Exchange Pen-pal letters with students in Korea. Project Photo.

How do students learn about other cultures from studying sustainability? In a project like ESD: Sustainable Education Through International Understanding based in Orem, Utah, these things go together quite naturally. In our first update from this project we learned about how an international collaboration with Japanese students focusing on global issues and sustainability. They also worked within their local community through service projects to highlight local issues. Since we last heard from this team, they have busy growing their sustainability focused academic enrichment project to involve more learners, more educators and more conversations.

Exploring Human Equity Through Sustainable Development Education

http://wbvsmallingerland.nl/ CC by SA 2.0
http://wbvsmallingerland.nl/ CC by SA 2.0

During this second year of funding for the project, the goals expanded. The team wanted to stimulate and facilitate responsible sustainability awareness and interaction at the individual, community and global scales, so they planned to:

  • Develop teacher collaboration;
  • Build a Sustainability Retreat;
  • Expand the Sustainability Fair;
  • Conduct cross-curricular collaboration/training
    and
  • Expose students to international discussions.

International Teacher Collaboration Fosters Partnerships and Training Opportunities

Educators from The World Studies team at Lakeridge Junior High School collaborated with teachers from Utah and Scandinavia on sustainable development education to establish partnerships and teacher training. This included hands on sustainability training in Hammarby Sjostad, Stockholm Sweden and at the European Union Offices for Environmental Education. In addition they visited schools and met with teachers where we were able to set up exchange projects between their students. This collaboration directly impacted student learning by giving students hands on and direct contact with students in Finland about sustainability.

Examples of Projects created by Merinda Davis http://www.davisworldstudies.com/
Examples of Projects created by Merinda Davis http://www.davisworldstudies.com/

Through the grant team members were also able to arrange an international exchange with students in Finland and pay for penpal letters to be sent to Finland, Japan and Pakistan. Students were also able to Skype with students in Japan and South Korea to discuss global issues and learn some of the language. They were also able to continue to work with Japan Societys Going Global project (from the first year of this project) to talk about current events with kids in Pakistan, Japan and Finland. These collaborations also inspired an end of the year international food tasting so that students could experience new foods.

Project Team members were able to present and train teachers at several conferences during the course of the year including Utah Council for Social Studies/Utah Geography Alliance Conference, Utah Environmental Education Conference, Utah Coalition for Educational Technology Conference, and Merinda Davis was a panel speaker for Finnish Educator/Author Pasi Sahlsberg when he spoke at BYU. Utah Education Network has also asked the team to submit lesson plans for these projects to share with teachers throughout the state.

Sustainability Retreat Prepares Students for Global Conversations

Using from the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation Lakeridge educators were able to sustain the‐day, 2night Sustainability Retreat. At the retreat this year they offered special schedule of University Professors and community specialists who came to speak to the students in a TEDTalk format.

Students who participated in the previous year of the project helped to serve as councilors and helped prepare the current students to be chairmen for the school wide Model United Nations Conference. During this time they were given the opportunity to learn about sustainable development topics and how they influence the local and global communities.

To share their learning, students who attended completed reflection videos from their experience. Through access to technology students completed sustainability based research, communicated with international partners on global issues and produced dynamic media in partnership with Adobe who donated software for all of the computers labs in the school.

Project Sign Up http://www.davisworldstudies.com/
Project Sign Up http://www.davisworldstudies.com/

Student Documentaries Evolve for Sustainability Fair

Using the model they created the previous year, the team made some changes to the ‘Sustainability Fairso that they could include more students. As the 9th grade students worked on their sustainability documentaries they created posters, trailers and PSA’s to advertise their documentaries. Each poster had a QR Code linked to their trailer or PSA and were posted throughout the school for ParentTeacher Conference and for the rest of the year.

Another way they evolved the project was that they set up a school Student Film Festival, where each day student media was exhibited and students voted on the best documentary. The winners of the best documentary for each day received prizes being donated by local businesses as well as purchased through the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation grant. In addition, students created projects for the Fairchild Challenge, a sustainability based competition for Utah. Through these partnerships, the team was able work together to expand student participation in sustainability fair.

Model United Nations and Model European Union Conferences expand Student Perspective on Migration

Modern European Union Project http://www.davisworldstudies.com/
Modern European Union Project http://www.davisworldstudies.com/

In addition to the Model United Nations (MUN) Sustainability Conference that they offered on the topics of Water, Urban Planning, Energy and Agriculture in December 2014, in May 2015 they scheduled a Model European Union (MEU) Conference to discuss the topic of Migration. About 400 students participated in both conferences.

For MUN they assumed roles of diplomats from over forty different countries in ten different committees. Students studied their respective countries and their policies on the assigned topics, two topics per committee. They produced documents that outlined their countries’ policies and applied this knowledge, using parliamentary procedure, in debating, compromising and writing resolutions with fellow participants. For MEU they assumed roles of country leaders in the European Council. Much like MUN, they studied their countries and the impact of migration on both their country and the European Union using the most recent information available. Because this is a timely issue and they have contacts in Europe, students were able to learn about the perspective of European students.

Achievements Extend Beyond Curriculum

Students, in conjunction with watching the movie “Gandhi,” completed ‘Roman Kent Peace Projects’ for which the purpose was to help them understand how their actions make a difference. Students came up with a wide variety of ideas – as unique as the students themselves. All of the projects throughout the year had a cumulative effect in increasing awareness and student discussion.

One student decided to write kind notes on index cards and hide them in books in the library for people to find. Another sent 25 text messages to friends and family telling them how important they are, and said after, “I learned that everyone needs a little love no matter who they are, and the community as a whole should express more kindness and peace towards their peers.” 

Another student taught a lesson on tolerance and avoiding discrimination to elementary school kids, because “I wanted to leave an impact on people younger than me. My generation and the generations following mine are responsible for the future moral values of society, so I thought it would be important to reinforce ideas about tolerance and peace to kids at a young age.” 

Reflecting on their international and sustainability experiences students said:

“I learned that it is important to experience other cultures and talk with other people about their lives. I also learned that it is somewhat difficult but important to communicate with people from other countries.”

“I learned that even though other cultures live totally different lives, many things are still the same and we do them alike.”

“I learned that we have a great future map of Utah’s water which makes me happy. I did learn that we don’t have enough water if we just keep wasting, if we take little steps right now and start to conserve like shut off water then you are good and our future doesn’t need to be worried about.”

“I learned that I’m better at stepping outside my comfort zone than I thought, with talking to new people and things.”

“I learned that I can be a good leader and help people know what they can do to be helpful.”

“I learned that I have great editing skills. And I can also lead a group that doesn’t really work to get things done with. I didn’t wait until the last minute but I did at the same time. Next time I just need to take it and do little by little.”

“We learned that what we do personally can make a difference. But we can make a difference as a community to be more sustainable.”

“I liked how we were able to find out about a problem pertaining to sustainability in our community, Utah, USA, or even bigger, the world. It helps people to realize how many problems there are that may go unnoticed to many people.”

The program has also affected the learning of educators. Davis stated,

“The McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation Academic Enrichment grant has allowed for learning opportunities that I never expected. This grant has not only been transformative for my students, but for my school community and me. My curriculum is being revitalized in a way to engage and enrich students’ lives. It has given students opportunities that they would not have had otherwise. In addition to presenting to teachers throughout the state, I was able to present these projects to the Utah House of Representatives Education Committee and to the Governor during the Governor’s Education Committee meeting. As a direct result of these projects I was selected as a 2015 National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow and a 2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator where I will be able to bring back more engaging projects for my students to enrich their learning. Additionally, in January 2015 I was one of twenty­‐four international educators selected to attend the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz in Poland. Because of that experience and collaboration with international educators I was able to expand the sustainability projects to include social equality.”

What could other educators learn from this project?

The end of year project report from the team offered a few reflections for project improvement. Although the documentary project worked better this year with the adjustments that they made, next year they will continue to improve by making adjustments based on student feedback. The biggest challenge they faced this year was timing because of the new projects they implemented took extra time.

Team members plan to adjust the curriculum pacing to help build a stronger foundation for students to build on using these projects. They were able to develop projects with schools in Finland and will continue that, in addition students will have more exchange time in the following year. Although students had more time this year to work on sustainability projects, next year they will submit projects to the Fairchild Challenge and Davis will work with the district to help other schools get involved in this sustainability fair.

Next year as part of the curriculum redevelopment they are going to include more of the human rights as part of sustainability. As the three ‘E’s’ of sustainability are: environment, economics, and equity, next year will be a culmination of what they have learned these last two years.

All in all, at the end of the second year, more than 100 students were able to participate in a sustainability retreat with experts and professors.

More than a thousand students were exposed to sustainable development concepts, International exchanges and international culture/food.

As Davis explains, the funding was leveraged to meet many needs and sustain further academic enrichment in this area, “This McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation Grant allowed us to support pen-pal exchanges, subs so we could get the resources, international teacher collaboration, and funding field trips to local restaurants with guest speakers. We now have a class set of computers, a multimedia lab so students have access to filmmaking equipment, filming studio, and training. These students have been able to exhibit their work and be recognized for their learning. We have been able to share these academic enrichment projects with teachers around Utah as well as internationally.”

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Sustainable Education Through International Understanding

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“When one country has an issue, it becomes the whole world’s issue. We as a planet have to try and make a change, because there is only one earth, which happens to be our only home… The small things affect the most, so definitely, I will do small things to save and conserve our planet.”

That’s a quote from one of the students, in the ESD: Sustainable Education Through International Understanding program, after collaborating internationally with Japanese students. It exemplified what the educators at Lakeridge Jr. High School were setting out to accomplish with this program.

Students Learn About Sustainable Education and How It Impacts the World

Students participate in a survey of the new Korean foods they just sampled.
Students participate in a survey of the new Korean foods they just sampled. Project Photo.

In an increasingly interconnected and globalized world the butterfly effect takes on new meaning. Emission problems in one country don’t just affect them; they affect all the surrounding countries and some that are not so close. As the rainforest is depleted we lose a global source of oxygen. When radiation leaks into the ocean, everything from algae to people are affected. Creating an awareness of global issues and sustainability is a necessary part of surviving in the modern world.

As Americans we often find ourselves a bit self-centered when it comes to world issues, but now that we can communicate across oceans with the click of a button, that distance has shrunk immeasurably and we can no longer afford to only think of ourselves.

How are 9th grade students in Orem, Utah learning about global issues through sustainability?

According to the initial proposal, submitted by Merida Davis’ team at Lakeridge Jr. High School, “Our goals are to stimulate and facilitate responsible sustainability awareness and interaction at the individual, community and global scales.” Their goal was to be realized by creating cross-curricular partnerships between the science department and the other subject instructors, initially in a professional development workshop. By creating this cross pollination of subjects teachers learned to “seamlessly incorporate sustainability into their subjects… and […] new perspectives on teaching their own subject area.” After this initial work with the educators was completed, the project moved on to address the students directly.

Japanese Students teach American Students how to make Origami Cranes.
Japanese Students teach American Students how to make Origami Cranes.

To become well versed in sustainability, students participated in sustainability-based community service projects. Part of those projects were about creating a documentary movie to highlight local issues, such as pollution, agriculture, climate change, resource management and depletion. Along with this, they also collaborated with Japanese students, giving them a perspective on this subject that they wouldn’t get otherwise.

WATCH: ESD Student Videos at VPD Awards

This project includes plans to offer a Sustainability Fair where students will celebrate their work by sharing their service and other sustainability-based projects. The Fair will culminate with a student film festival showcasing their work from throughout the school year.

Is this project something other teachers can replicate?

While now the primary benefits go to those students and educators directly involved with the program, it is the hope with future funding that they will be able to create online archives of lessons, produced videos, and other student work to serve as an outline for educators to adapt the program to their own schools needs.

Though the bulk of the cost goes into covering the teachers training, the best part about this model is once that initial hurdle is cleared it becomes increasingly easier year after year to teach this program.

How has the project evolved?

Through the lessons learned the projects accomplished in the last year, the educators have a better grasp on how to replicate the program in other classrooms more efficiently. Being able to replicate the program will enable them to broaden their scope in the coming year.

Pen-Pal Exchange builds relationships across continents. Project Photo.
Pen-Pal Exchange builds relationships across continents. Project Photo.

Through the grant they’ve been also able to fund Pen Pal letters to Toyoda Jr. High School in Japan.  The exchange went beyond traditional pen pal relationships in that they were also able to chat electronically with students in Japan and Pakistan.  A few students started learning basic Korean which resulted in a field trip to a Korean restaurant for many of the students first encounter with that culture’s cuisine.  As a result of these opportunities, exchanges have also begun over Skype with students in Korea.

Students Exchange Pen-pal letters with students in Korea. Project Photo.
Students Exchange Pen-pal letters with students in Korea. Project Photo.

All of these things are creating students with a wider worldview and a greater connection to a global society. Through building relationships between teachers, offering meaningful exchange opportunities to students and by taking time to integrate curriculum, the ESD team has made sustainability education a reality for their students.

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