Conversations with Zimbabwe: Developing a Global Mindset at EMS

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Students at Eastern Middle School piloted Level Up Village’s brand-new live video chat technology with their global partner students in Zimbabwe as part of their LUV Global Conversations: The Giver course in June.

By Bridget Suvansri

As this school year came to a close, I couldn’t help but be filled with joy at the positive experiences my students and I shared. Yes, they improved their writing skills, read wonderful books, conducted research, delivered presentations, took standardized tests, and all of the rest.  And yes, all of that is worth celebrating.

But what stood out the most, by far, were the moments that happened during our second Global Conversations literature course with The Anderson School in Gweru, Zimbabwe. After reading Lois Lowry’s The Giver, students explored the concept of Utopia, the impact of rules on a society, and how societies grapple with the issues.  The power in the course lies in the research and sharing of real-world issues that the students face in their local communities such as racism, gender roles, unemployment, pollution, and crime.  Ultimately, students are challenged to think about the solutions to these issues and how improvements can be made.

Here’s what my students had to say about the experience: not only did my students get to know someone and discuss literature across an ocean through video letters, many of my students also got to experiment with the new LIVE CHAT feature on the Level Up Village platform to talk in real time with their partners!  Build right into the platform, it gives students the opportunity to engage in a 10 minute real-time conversation with their partner as a culmination of the course. With only a six-hour time difference, we were able to participate in the Chat at the start of our day, just as our partners were finishing up their school day.  Since the partners already knew each other via the video messaging, the live chat conversations were a natural extension of their friendship and of the course.The tremendous social-emotional growth that they developed and the memories they made were the icing on the cake.   

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One student in Zimbabwe shared his love for music with his partner in Bridget’s class at Eastern Middle School in Greenwich, CT.

From Helen:  I really enjoyed this experience, and I think that it is very powerful. I was able to see the point of view of someone across the world and learn the problems in that area. It is really great to talk to someone in totally different circumstances, and this course inspired me to fix things in my own life and in the world.

From Arjun:  I found it really interesting how unique my partner’s points of views were. I noticed that she thought that a lot of issues in the world could be solved if people interacted with others.

From Andrew: I found that even over oceans, on completely different continents, there can be two people who could easily be friends and classmates. I also learned that out of hard circumstances, people will be molded into their best selves and will be very focused on helping others overcome the circumstances.

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EMS students read The Giver and communicated regularly with their global partners throughout the course via collaboration documents, recorded video messages and near the end of the course, they also connected via live video chat.

From my own experience of leaving an insular neighborhood in Philadelphia, and traveling for the first time as a young adult, I realized that we need to engage in open interactions if we want to understand people who are different than us, work together, and solve global problems. Like many teachers, books had been my main vehicle to help my students open doors to the experiences of others up until two years ago when I wrote and piloted global collaboration courses in my classroom. While real-world travel experiences are still the ideal way to gain cultural competency, it’s not the only way. Thanks to technology like the Level Up Village platform, we can build on literature with real-world conversations with peers across the globe creating a deeper, richer experience for students. We can use the experience of a global exchange to dispel misconceptions, correct misinformation, build trust, and build respect for cultural diversity. How wonderful is it that students today need not wait till they can travel to develop awareness and understanding that will remain with them for life.

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Students practiced their communication skills and discussed non-verbal cues in their conversations with global partners in Zimbabwe.

This article originally appeared on Bridget Suvansri’s blog here.