Monday, February 6, 2012

Innovative Educators Enable Students to Break Free From the Classroom and Connect with The World

If you read this month’s Education Week, you may have noticed I was quoted in article U.S. Schools Forge Foreign Connections Via Web which explains how American students are teaming up with classrooms around the world to learn valuable lessons. The piece features anecdotes of young people connecting and learning with others like the American students who videoconferenced with students in Egypt when President Hosni Mubarak stepped down. Americans and Egyptians both were in awe, clapping and laughing and sharing in a moment of global importance. Donna Rose, the director of the American school’s program explained that they had a real-life lessons in “what freedom is, what a democracy means, how fortunate they are to be where they are, and how people have to struggle to get to that level.” She shared that “In a heartbeat, they changed their view of humanity” and asked, “How could I have done that on my own?”

The reality is that not only is it true that Ms. Rose couldn’t have done that on her own, she shouldn’t have. In the age of the internet the world is indeed flat. We no longer need to depend on politicians, agenda-backed textbooks, or the media to tell us about other peoples and cultures.  We can connect ourselves easily with tools like Skype, Facebook, Twitter, and Google Hangout and with the advent of Google Translate it has become even easier to understand people from around the world.

In the article I shared how I thought this would affect children and our society explaining that it’s really easy to hate what you don’t know. However, I believe social media will help break down barriers and help build tolerance in our word. In fact, in the future, I think there are going to be big changes in the way countries are defined, because people around the world are going to be connecting and bonding with each other in a way that doesn’t involve places, but rather their ideas and passions.

It is no longer acceptable for educators to keep children confined to a classroom. Even with just one computer and the internet, any classroom can, and should, be transformed into a global communication center. Read about how teachers across America like Suzie Nestico and The Flatclassroom Project, are doing just that in this month’s Education Week.


  1. I was inspired by this story of a team of teachers connecting with schools in Afghanistan to discuss meaningful topics. I couldn't help but blog about it, hopefully your readers enjoy it:

    Thanks for another great post, Lisa.


  2. In order to compete in the 21st century marketplace, and to create compassionate, empathetic human beings, our children must become global citizens. As a teacher, I am committed to bringing the world into my classroom. The issues I confront are control over the internet by school district tech filters...we have to find a balance.

  3. Lisa (and Ben),

    I love the concept of having students break free of the classroom to explore and connect with the world -- be it on a 12x16 raft or by videoconferencing with students in Egypt when President Hosni Mubarak stepped down.

    My concern (and the reason I'm starting a new school to address this concern) is that this sort of powerful international experience usually occurs a quick detour from "the curriculum". Because we hadn't anticipated a revolution in Egypt, or because we didn't know we'd have a connection with a school in Afghanistan, there's no time budgeted for a deep exploration. So after a few days of very cool world-expanding work, we return to the regularly scheduled program.

    We need to get clear what skills we want students to develop -- then we can make a strong argument that a sustained (say 2-3 week) impromptu unit to learn about Afghanistan from people who live there -- or from Egypt from people who live there -- is an opportunity not to be missed.

    Through this sort of engagement, students will learn empathy and communication skills (written, verbal, reading and listening) and possibly even math and statistics, if we do it right and try to contextualize Egypt and Afghanistan. There are, for example, 80 million people in Egypt. How many have internet access? Are the folks we're connecting with representative?

    And over in Afghanistan, some estimates say the US has spent $500 billion there so far. Is that money well spent? That would be worth debating -- but you can't do that sort of debate in a meaningful way in one or even three days. You need time.

    So I'm creating a new school that teaches the foundations (math and communication) and then takes an increasingly constructivist approach as students progress from 6th to 7th to 8th grade. In 8th grade they will complete a 6-month capstone project where they engage with the world, using exactly the sort of tools you are talking about -- but not for a few days or even a few weeks -- they will do this for the better part of six months.

    More details at

    Thanks for pushing my thinking (and for cool examples of what's possible)

  4. “In a heartbeat, they changed their view of humanity”. Really? Phew.... we finally found the key for compassion, empathy, wisdom: videoconferencing! Seriously, when I read these simplistic and naively enthusiastic sentences about education I slowly lose hope that we will be able to face current and coming challenges. Yes.. you "push thinking" of what is possible!