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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Making Global Friends

If you have not connected your students to friends somewhere else on the planet, they are missing out on an amazing opportunity to build global awareness, understanding, and meaningful projects. Over my years in the classroom, my students had a variety of experiences with global friends. From actual letters sent through the mail, to travel buddies and Flat Stanley projects, to Skype and shared online projects, the experiences were all valuable and engaging for children!
We, in my last years of teaching, had long term friendships established with teachers in Colombia, Finland, South Africa, Lebanon, and Australia. Over the years we also had connections and projects with children in India, Saudi Arabia, England, Zambia, Sweden, Taiwan, Mexico, Canada, Iceland, Turkey, Scotland, Brazil, and undoubtedly others I am forgetting. One year we had friends in Iceland while a volcano was erupting and, at the same time, in Australia where wildfires were burning out of control. My students were watching the events on the news at night, and communicating with students in each location at school. Each experience added to the knowledge of children on both sides of the exchange, as they learned how much alike they all were in spite of their geographical differences.

There are many ways to build international connections for your students. My favorites were ePals and the Microsoft Educators Network (Now call Microsoft in Education). My original connections were made within ePals. As a result of one such connection, I became part of the Microsoft Innovative Educators where I met others in person at global conferences. The new Microsoft in Education site has Skype in the Classroom which I have also used to connect with students in other places. One of my teaching partners found great success with using grade level hashtags (i.e. #kindergarten or #1st grade) to find pen pals on Twitter. Her kindergarten students communicate with students across the globe. Here is a list of links (some I have used, others I have not) to explore for finding a partner class or global project to join:

One of the most important things to remember is that finding a great international partner for your classroom requires persistence. Some requests for partners go unanswered. Others result in a one time communication that does not continue. But, if you are patient and don't give up, you will eventually find another teacher who is willing to establish a long-term friendship and connection from his or her classroom to yours. Below are links to two posts from another blog of mine. The story begins in the very first post made to the blog in 2009. I have chosen these to share because they tell a bit of the story about what can happen when you reach out to teachers in far away places:
(The two international teachers mentioned in that blog are still my friends. The photo above is of Rawya and I at the Cape of Good Hope. The teacher from Australia and her family will be visiting me in my home in Colorado in a few short weeks.)

Finally, finding the right project or style of communication is important. That will be the subject of several future blogs as I share the many incredible experiences my students had with friends around the world. For now, reach out to a few classrooms and try to make a connection. Or, perhaps your class wants to start a project and is looking for partners to join them. There are many places to try, but concentrate on one and be persistent. You never know where you and your students may find that special new friendship that can last a lifetime!

(This one is for you, my dear friend, Rawya!)

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