This story originally appeared in the spring 2014 Harker Quarterly.
The Harker School is known for its unique student and teacher exchange programs with educational institutions around the world. But Harker’s rich global education doesn’t stop in between such visits. Throughout the school year, middle school students keep connected virtually with their foreign pals via interactive video conferences and online forums.
In grade 6, video conferences between students and their same-age buddies from Harker’s sister school in Tokyo, Tamagawa Academy K-12 & University, help build excitement for future visits. And in grades 7 and 8, two separate online forums fuel dynamic conversations between Harker students and their peers in both Kazakhstan and China. Here’s a look at how Harker keeps globally connected through video conferencing in grade 6 and online forums in the older middle school grades.
Grade 6 Video Conferences
In mid-December, grade 6 students enjoyed connecting with their buddies from Tamagawa Academy during a series of interactive, game show-style video conferences, held on the middle school campus.
“After emailing each other this past semester in their computer science classes, students came face-to-face with their email buddies in a ‘Family Feud’-style game show!” reported Jennifer Walrod, director of Harker’s global education program.
“Questions (ranging from discovering favorite desserts to best after-school activities) were generated by students with a focus on interests of middle school students,” said Walrod, explaining that half of the grade 6 students participated in the conferences, with the remaining half slated for next semester.
“Designing an educational yet fun game was a very interesting task. I also had fun at the video conference talking to the Tamagawa students and playing ‘Family Feud,’” said student Sejal Krishnan.
The video conferences set the stage for the grade 6 trip to Japan in the spring.
Grade 7 Online Poetry Forum
Last year grade 7 students in Mark Gelineau’s English class launched an online poetry forum with a school in Kazakhstan. Using the forum, Harker seventh graders connected with peers from the Nazarbayev Intellectual School (NIS) to discuss selected poetic works.
Gelineau created the forum in conjunction with Lauren Gutstein ’06, who works at the NIS school in Astana, one of seven state-funded selective schools for middle and high school age students spread throughout major cities in Kazakhstan.
Through their online postings, students from both Harker and NIS share insights and observations about posted poems. Using the forum, more than 100 students recently read and discussed American and Kazakh poems about winter.
Grade 8 Online World Issues Forum
Where we live and how it affects our perspective on global issues was the topic of a recent grade 8 World Issues Forum with the World Foreign Language Middle School (WFLMS) in Shanghai. Other topics covered have included personal choices and the global ecosystem; global perspectives; issues preventing access to the global community; and leadership in today’s society.
“This is not new as we’ve been doing it for numerous years. However, it has really strengthened over the past couple years and the forum now gets hundreds of posts throughout the semester,” Walrod said.
In fact, the middle school’s annual trip to China was originally based around the grade 8 computer science class’ global issues forum. Last year the trip also incorporated the grade 7 historical component of learning about ancient China. Including seventh graders on the China trip was such a success that it will be repeated again this year.
“I really enjoyed participating in the forum with the students from WFLMS. By talking to them, I learned totally different perspectives on some things that I had never even heard before. I also learned a lot about the cultures of China. Now, I have left the class with a greater knowledge of the world than I had before,” said student Megan Huynh.
“It is indeed exciting and interesting to communicate with people from the other side of the world and the discussions are supposed to be diverse and offering an insight on both sides’ point of view,” agreed fellow student Nastya Grebin.
“Adding the online forum discussions to my computer science curriculum has provided a great opportunity for students to combine their technical knowledge to global issues related to the world they live in. The students’ forum discussions have been compulsory to their studies of systems that are the basis for their computer science final project applications,” noted Abigail Joseph, middle school computer science instructor.