by Kimberly Riviere, PTAC Member
When I was 16, an opportunity to travel abroad opened my eyes, heart and mind to the world. Today, as a French teacher, I aspire to open my students’ eyes, hearts and minds to the vast world in which they live.
We know that global awareness is an important 21st century skill, but how do we provide opportunities for students to gain this critical cultural awareness?
Traveling abroad has always been a powerful way to accomplish this goal. Traveling to France and Quebec with students has been instrumental in providing my students with a new lens to view the world. Engaging with local people, sampling their foods, visiting their cultural heritage sites has always shown my students that our similarities are greater than our differences. Each trip lights a spark for travel and cultural understanding for students fortunate enough to participate, but each trip only reaches about 30 students.
Knowing the strong impact of these travel experiences not only on myself, but also on my students, I wondered how these abroad experiences could impact even more children. The answer: technology.
Trips which once impacted about 30 students, now reach hundreds of students in my district. Students back at school can follow along with the trips through daily travel blogs complete with photos, videos and even virtual reality experiences of everything from sites visited to foods tasted.
Students in my classroom used inexpensive Google cardboard Virtual Reality (VR) headsets to experience parts of the trip like never before. They can almost have the experience of being atop the Eiffel Tower, on a boat off the coast of Southern France, or in the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré near Quebec City.
VR allows students to experience features of the trip virtually, but the greatest excitement came from video conferencing during the trip. For the first time last year while in France with 25 high school students, we used FaceTime to connect live with district French students back at home in Pennsylvania. I turned over my smartphone and a pair of earbuds to students on the trip, and magic happened.
The traveling students became cultural ambassadors and took our district middle and high school students on live tours of our French partner high school, through quaint villages in Provence, and even through a centuries-old olive tree grove. Those who were fortunate enough to be on the trip guided and shared, while the videoconference was projected in classrooms back home. Students in Pennsylvania were able to ask questions about Francophone culture and history; they could ask their traveling classmates about what it is like to be abroad, how much their language skills had improved, and any other questions that piqued their curiosity.
I stood back and watched my students on both sides of the Atlantic engage simultaneously. I have to admit that it gave me goosebumps.
During our March 2018 trip to Quebec, students teleconferenced again. However, this time I was determined to extend the impact of live distance learning to even more students. As a result, I reached out to Anthony Grisillo, a colleague in my school district for help.
My traveling students used Google Hangouts to call into Mr. Grisillo’s library at the Glenwood Elementary School. I turned over my smartphone and pair of earbuds to my students and once again I saw the magic of live global connection. From the top of Mount Royal, two Glenwood alumna, current sophomores in high school, shared 3 clues about their location with the elementary students. The 4th graders spent some time researching and succeeded in figuring out that my sophomores were in Montreal. With Montreal’s skyline as the backdrop, the high school students were able to answer questions from the elementary students and most importantly, inspire them to get out and explore their world.
Traveling cultivates an appreciation for what we do and what we have, but it also opens our imagination to other possibilities, providing us with another lens to view our world. While there is no true substitute for the first hand experience that travel provides, technology promises to give students a taste of the travel experience in ways that weren’t possible before. For many of our students there are two main obstacles to travel abroad: financial restrictions and/or a fear of the unknown. Technology now permits our students to get a taste of that experience without incurring fees nor fears.
Thanks to technology, our students can now connect live and inspire their classmates from half a world away. Vive la technologie!
Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee