South Orangetown Central School District

Cottage Lane Elementary School students in three third-grade classes have become virtual classmates with students at The American School of Barcelona, Spain, as part of a 10-week pilot program that uses technology to connect the two schools. Students are exploring cultural and curricular topics together through video exchanges, written messages and live chat sessions through Padlet, a collaboration app. As the program progresses, CLE students and their ASB partners will share a problem they see in their community, brainstorm solutions and, ultimately, co-present their project via Skype.

“We get to make videos and learn about people in Spain,” says Savannah R., a student in Claire Eckert and Katrina Smith’s class. “Santiago likes McDonald’s and burgers, and I like Wendy’s and french fries.”

Destiny J. adds, “It’s cool to see people in a different country. They do different stuff than we do here, but they do some of the same stuff, too. They like to draw and play gym just like me.”

In fact, CLE students have been surprised to discover how much they have in common with their Barcelona-based counterparts…right down to the same mystery reading unit! “It opens their eyes to other cultures,” says Mrs. Eckert. “They’re very motivated to write to them and they’re learning about different forms of communication, from interviews to how to make a connection or write a compliment. There are a lot of small but valuable teachable moments.”

“Developing intercultural competence, to be able to effectively communicate and collaborate with teammates from different cultural backgrounds, is increasingly important,” notes K-12 Instructional Technology Coach Marc Eckert. “The technology we have in our classrooms has made activities like this easier to implement and sustain over the years. The hard part is no longer getting access to the technology to make it work, it’s finding partner schools like ASB.”

Principal Karen Ramirez hopes to expand the program in the future. “Projects like this give students a real audience for their ideas and work. They have to think about who they are writing to and who they are making a video for, keeping those students in Spain in mind as they develop ideas and share their writing,” she explains. “Most importantly, it helps students to develop empathy for people outside our South Orangetown world. We know that part of teaching students to really value diversity is giving them opportunities to have a personal connection with people who are different from them in some way. And, in reality, what ends up happening is students realize that they have more commonality than differences.”

Teacher with two students viewing videos on ipads