If everything goes as hoped by supporters of the Connect All Schools Initiative, every school in the U.S. will be connected to schools abroad by 2016.
Whether that’s through physical or virtual exchanges, and whether it’s in order learn foreign languages, solve global issues, collaborate on new media projects, or extend professional development opportunities to teachers (to name just a few), the goal is the same: Get U.S. schools linked with the world so that kids can foster global understanding, communicate with different cultures and countries, and learn in a way that’s exciting and meaningful.
Officially launched on March 19, 2011 at the Celebration of Teaching and Learning, the campaign is led by the International Education and Resource Network (iEARN-USA) and managed in partnership with 84 other organizations (and counting).
How do those organizations intend to reach their goal? Through stories. The Connect All Schools website is essentially a clearinghouse where teachers and students can share how they’ve connected with the world and inspire others to do the same (or something quite different).
“If teachers could tell their stories — what they’re doing, what impact it had on their students, how it changed their classroom, how it prepared their students for the 21st Century, and what organizations they worked with to make it happen, other teachers would be able to say, ‘I can do that,'” says iEARN-USA Executive Director Ed Gragert.
And, via this interface, they’d be able to actually do it. If a school worked with the Asia Society on a project, for instance, an interested teacher could click through to the Asia Society’s Web site and contact them for more information.
While there are some sites that collect international education projects and link students and teachers (see a previous MindShift post for examples), there isn’t a lot of comprehensive, aggregated information out there about what’s already happening in U.S. schools, says Gragert.
And it’s important. Thanks in part to “the Partnership for 21st Century Skills movement,” he says, “there’s been the recognition that it’s not just about science and math; students also need reading and writing skills, they need global awareness, they need to know how to work in teams, they need to know how to use technology.” And years of iEARN project evaluation shows that “having an authentic audience of their peers gets kids motivated.” Gragert and initiative partners call this “learning with the world, not just about it.”
For example, a Skype conference between students in Redwood City, California, and Karachi and Rawalpindi/Islamabad, Pakistan, to discuss youth-produced journalism, will soon be written up on the Connect All Schools site. The students in Karachi are involved in an Adobe Youth Voices (AYV) filmmaking project (check out this MindShift post about AYV) and the Rawalpindi/Islamabad students produce content for World Youth News. The Redwood City students work on both projects. Under Secretary of State Judith McHale attended the call, sharing with the students how important these kind of virtual exchanges are becoming for diplomacy.
Other Connect All Schools stories so far include: Online collaboration between U.S. students and students in eight different countries to address local and global environmental issues, online debates between Washingon, D.C. and Qatari students, and teacher and student exchanges between Iowa and the Ukraine.
“The response from education organizations on this has been dramatic,” says Gragert. “We’re getting requests for new partnerships every day. We want this to go a bit viral. But it’s only going to happen if we all work together, and if we don’t see it as, ‘Everybody must do it my way.'” Despite the hefty aims of a five-year plan, “I think we can do it, absolutely,” he says. “It’s just not going to look the same in every school.”