Creating Global Learners – Another Inspired Collaboration from Boris Berlijn
Boris Berlijn is a SMART Exemplary Educator. He currently teaches geography at Ashram College in Alphen aan den Rijn, Netherlands. Boris often undertakes student projects within the SEE community and we’re really proud of how he embodies the spirit of inspired collaboration in his classroom.
At Ashram College, a secondary-level SMART Showcase School in the Netherlands, students can choose the content of their curriculum in geography in second class (eighth grade) because the teachers think that they will be more engaged if they get to choose the subject they want to follow and learn more about. The curriculum of SMART Exemplary Educator Boris Berlijn’s class was going to be about the United States and the final subject of our curriculum was going to culminate in a Bridgit session with a classroom in the U.S.
Leveraging PLNs and social media to organize exchanges
During the SEE Summit in 2011 in Calgary, Canada I met Michelle Kedzierski from Orland Park, Illinois, in the United Sates. I recently posted a request in the Facebook group for the SMART Exemplary Educators (North America) because I would like to create more online exchanges with my students and foreign students. I want to get them in touch in real time with students from other countries. Michelle Kedzierski wanted to join in. Besides the technology such as a SMART Board, webcam, SMART Notebook software and Skype that could make it all possible we had to take into account the difference of 6 hours between our time zones. We used Skype to prepare the exchange between the schools prior to the Bridgit session.
Identifying technology availability to collaborate in both classrooms
We would start at 15:00 CET (Central European Time), which is equivalent to 8:00 am CDT (Central District Time) in the U.S. My first choice was to use Bridgit conferencing software as I have done with other collaborations, but since this was not an option for Michelle’s classroom, we elected to share the content through both the SMART Board and a webcam video stream. We used LogMeIn and I shared the desktop of my computer, so that the presentations of my students were visible and interactive through the SMART Board on the other side of the ocean. We used Skype on the iPad as a webcam, so the students in both our classes could interact face to face. In both the Netherlands and in the United States, we connected seperate projectors to iPads in order to stream the webcam video on big screens in our respective classrooms. (The next time I would use my iPhone as a webcam instead because it’s more mobile, has a better camera and fits on a tripod.)
Students sharing how they see themselves
At the beginning of the day, I showed the SMART Notebook lesson from Michelle about Orland Junior High School and Orland Park. My students especially liked the short film they created about their school! My students were enthusiastic about the music room and the large lockers for pupils showed in that short movie.
Then I gave my students the assignment to create photos during the day so that we could use in our presentation that afternoon with Orland Junior High. Those students had to take a picture of something they wanted to share with the students of Orland Junior High and they could choose what they wanted to show themselves. They the students had to think of three sentences (in English!) to tell a story about that particular picture to our audience in Illinois.
During geography lessons prior to this session, my students from class also created a presentations with Prezi about what they thought were the biggest cultural differences between the U.S. and the Netherlands. Some cultural differences students identified were sports, school, food and drinks, etc. I shared the Prezis they’ve created in advance with Michelle and she found the projects (perhaps because of the fun language errors) ‘adorable,’ but that was okay. The American students loved learning about the similarities and differences between our nations and were full of anticipation for our connected classroom session. We were good to go!
Students lead the live collaboration
Due to our time zone issues, our live learning session needed to begin before classes officially start in Orland Park. As a result, students come early on a volunteer basis to participate. Of the 54 students who are in Michelle’s classes, over 40 students came to school early to join in the global excitement. Comments flew through the building that they were, “going to the Netherlands today!” and students that are not enrolled in Michelle’s classes popped in to share in the excitement.
The collaboration session started at 15:00 CET and my students presented their pictures and stories to Michelle and her students. They were very excited to share with our new American friends. Pictures of gyms, a big row of bicycles, our cafeteria, playground pond, a drawing of our future king Willem Alexander and student lockers were presented to Orland Junior High and the differences did become more apparent.
Live cultural observations
For instance, at Orland Junor High School (or the US in general) it is inconceivable that students come unaccompanied by a teacher near at a pond during school hours and the students from Orland Junior High stated that the sight of our cafeteria was much nicer and more luxurious than theirs, where only prepackaged foods were available.
Michelle and the students had prepared some questions for the live collaboration and students were given the opportunity to discuss via webcam their thoughts, questions, or simply give a wave across the ocean. Time flew by and when it felt we just started, it was already half past nine in Orland Park and they needed to get the regular classes started.
Final thoughts and plans for next time
During this session my students were much more engaged and eager to share than the last time we virtually ‘visited’ Orland Junior High using just Skype. Michelle and I prepared this very well and besides the enthusiasm of our students, good preparation and patience are needed for collaborative sessions!
Working with several programs, devices, and time zones requires creativity and a positive attitude for last-minute troubleshooting that comes hand in hand with online collaboration on this scale. Michelle and I have agreed to meet one more time before the end of this school year. Next year we are planning for a shared unit-across the ocean! Let’s see if we can make more global learners.
Boris Berlijn currently teaches at a SMART Showcase School named Ashram College in Alphen aan den Rijn, which was first outfitted with SMART Board interactive whiteboards in 2007. Berlijn is an ambassador of technology in education and of SMART products, in particular, both at his school and within the Dutch government community. In May 2008, he attended the SMART Interactive User Forum in Stockholm, Sweden, which is when he first became a fan of other SMART products beyond the SMART Board.