Over the Christmas holidays my family had a wonderful month-long trip to the United States of America. We experienced a white Christmas in Boston, New Year’s sledding in Vermont, a stay with friends in Richmond, Virginia and a week of Legoland and Disneyland fun in California. We made many happy memories, learned about some of the differences between our cultures and established new friendships from another country.
One of the many highlights for me was a visit to an elementary school with my eldest child. The friends we were visiting in Richmond organised for us to visit to the Kindergarten class of their child. Due to very cold weather the start to the school day was delayed by two hours (something we had never experienced before) and our arrival coincided with lunch break in the cafeteria. Here was one major difference for my child to experience – a cafeteria. There were many other differences but as we discovered there were many similarities too.
After lunch we headed into the classroom where I read the students “Possum Magic” by Australian author Mem Fox, and as the possum travelled around Australia eating different Australian foods we pointed out places on a map and explained what the foods were. We followed this with a YouTube clip of our national anthem, a chat about some Australian animals, a demonstration of our paper money and coins and a question time. My child fielded the questions with me and I was amazed at the maturity and thoughtfulness of the questions. The students wanted to know things like: if our houses were the same, if we ate the same foods, if it snowed where we lived and if our school was like theirs.
We finished off by giving the students all a taste of two of the foods mentioned in the book we read. We had made Vegemite bread squares and mini pavlovas with blueberries and cream. These were handed out to all students and they all had to wait until everyone had their food before they could start on the Vegemite. This is a memory that will stay with me for a long time! My own child and our Aussie friend were in stitches as we watched the facial expressions and listened to the reactions. Some children smelled the Vegemite bread and would go no further, others had the tiniest taste and declared it inedible but one brave boy had a big bite of his and instantly regretted it. The look of horror that came over his face was priceless and he proceeded to gag and retch as he worked on swallowing the disgusting morsel. How he didn’t vomit I still don’t know. Most of the class had to get a drink of water before they could tackle the pavlova, which most of them ate and loved. Suffice to say the two Aussie kids finished off the plate of Vegemite bread as no one else wanted anymore!
I made a connection that day with the classroom teacher and the school library media specialist; we exchanged emails and plan to connect several of our classes via social media. What struck me about this when I thought about it later is that although I made these connections via travel I didn’t actually have to travel in order to connect globally with another school or class in another country. I could have had the same experience, and given the same experience to that class while staying in my own classroom and in my own country and using social/educational media and networks (and possibly snail mail to send the Vegemite).
Children in the 21st century have opportunities for global connection like never before. We as educators have the opportunity to expand their horizons and deepen their learning and cultural awareness of the world in which they live. During the next few terms of this school year I will be exploring ways to globally connect my students using Skype in the classroom, Skooville and iEARN These are all tools that I have not explored with students before and I’m excited about learning with them, through them and from them.
The next global connections that I make will not require me to purchase a passport or board a plane – how fantastic!