By Brenna R. Kelly
As she sits down and starts to type a letter, Westridge Elementary 5th-grader Emily Rudic begins by thanking the recipient for participating in her school’s project.
The letter will go to educators in at least 24 countries who have agreed to have their students help the Franklin County students learn about other cultures through folklore.
“We’re learning about different cultures and learning how to use different forms of technology,” Rudic said.
The idea is to have students in 30 countries write original folklore and read it to Westridge students over Skype or recorded videos. The students then will create a website to collect the stories “for anyone to go on there and look at them,” Rudic said.
Rudic and two teammates are working with Westridge Librarian Jessica Holmes on the project as part of the Student Technology and Leadership Program.
“We are a rather sheltered school with limited cultural diversity, so I hope this project will open their eyes to cultures from around the world,” Holmes said. “It will show them that even though they live in a rural Kentucky community, through the digital devices they use every day they have authentic access to communities around the world.”
In addition to enhancing their cultural understanding and leadership and technology skills, the students also will learn literacy and research skills and be exposed to several different languages.
They are seeing firsthand how technology has made a world a much smaller place.
“When I was growing up, this would have been a lot harder,” Holmes told the students as they checked for new connections on the site. “It would have all been through letters.”
But Rudic and her teammates, 5th-grader Jon Strange and 4th-grader Muhammed Cisse, used a website called ePals to connect across the world. The site is designed to connect educators in different countries to collaborate on projects such as the similarities and differences in games children play, analyzing poverty around the world or learning about the meaning behind colors and symbols on flags.
Holmes and her students created an account on the site and wrote a brief description of their project. When a teacher agrees to participate, Holmes’ students can email the teacher directly.
Twenty four teachers had signed on to participate as of early February, including teachers from Germany, Switzerland, France, Turkey, Guatemala and Australia.
“One man in Australia has three tribes represented in his classroom and he told us he would have each one of them write a piece based on their individual tribes,” Holmes said.
After the teachers agree to participate, the letter Rudic and her teammates wrote explaining the project in more detail will be sent. The letter also details the types of stories the students are hoping to receive.
“We want the stories that they would hear growing up about what happens in their country,” Rudic said. “We’re just hoping to find out about their culture from these stories.”
The teachers also will get instructions about how to connect with the students by Skype or submit a recorded video.
Before the students talk to each other over the Internet, Holmes’ students will research each country to ensure that they will be sensitive to the country’s culture when speaking to the students.
“We have to learn the dos and don’ts before we Skype them,” Strange said. “In certain countries you don’t show them the sole of your shoe.”
If the students in another country don’t speak English, Holmes’ students will have to use a translator, she said. They also have to plan to for the time difference in other countries.
Once the students have the stories they will analyze the submissions, looking for cultural elements that are similar and different in each of the countries.
The students recently presented their project at Westridge’s diversity day, which celebrates cultures around the world. They also plan to develop ways to share their project with teachers and students both in their school and classrooms around the world, Holmes said.
“We’ve looked at ways to use such tools as Google Maps to show younger students in our building the exact locations of the schools with which we are collaborating,” she said. “The students keep growing their ideas as they find more ways their project could impact all the classrooms involved. It’s been fun to watch them take the simple idea of cultural awareness and turn it into the project’s current form.”
In April, the students will take their project to the state finals of STLP in Lexington. The project already received high marks in the regional competition, Holmes said.
But the judges had a few pointers for the students. Judges told the group they were too scripted and need to talk more confidentially about their project – not repeat memorized lines.
“You were nervous at the other round, but this time you’ll be more prepared for what’s going to happen,” Holmes told her team.
If the students win at the state level, they will get to go the International Society Technology in Education conference in Denver this June.
MORE INFO …
Jessica Holmes Jessica.Holmes@Franklin.kyschools.us