Students in grade six are engaged in a unique learning opportunity that connects them with students in Vilnius, Lithuania. The objectives of this learning experience are to provide students with the opportunity to learn about the ways of life of other countries and increase their cultural competence. Students are learning to appreciate similarities and differences by interacting with students their own age and developing academic and social relationships. Additionally students are strengthening their transferable skills and realizing the importance and varied components of a Quality Education (Sustainable Development Goal #4).
The project started with a connection between Kim Brown and Melinda Carpenter, both of Fairfax. The Brown Family is in their second year of living and working in the capital city of Vilnius, Lithuania. Kim is currently teaching 6th grade math at Vilnius International School (VIS) and formerly taught middle school math in Bakersfield, VT.
As an introduction, and to investigate engagement in communicating with a school in another country, all students completed an initial interest survey and the results came back a resounding, “Yes, please!” Students in both schools were very excited about the opportunity, and with some help from Rhonda Siemons, Technology Integrationist at BFA, they began posting introductory videos on their 1:1 devices. Using an app called Seesaw, BFA students introduced themselves, described something they thought was interesting about Lithuania (based on their limited knowledge) and then Lithuanian students reciprocated and began asking questions. The project started to get intriguing when we noticed that BFA students had to check some of the preconceived notions they formed with regard to the culture of northern Europe. For example, BFA students were surprised at how well our new friends could speak English (as well as many other languages), and the variety of their extracurricular activities. We also learned that we shouldn’t make assumptions about the types of food that eleven and twelve year-old Lithuanians eat, i.e., they do NOT put sour cream on all of their food! We noticed that they were curious about whether we knew anyone famous, who is our favorite football team, and our thoughts on our president.
Some of the similarities that we have found are that many of the students enjoy P.E. classes, like to to swim, play video games and board games, watch YouTube videos, play basketball, dress in a similar way and enjoy hanging out with their friends. Some differences are that many VIS students have lived in other countries, speak several languages and that they live in an urban environment and walk most places.
After all students had posted videos, BFA 6th graders shared some of their current academic work, using the 5 Themes of Geography to explain more about Fairfax, Vermont. Students created digital presentations about location, place, human environment interaction, movement and region to help our Lithuanian friends understand our geography and its impact on our culture. Having an authentic global audience for our work has required us to look at it more carefully and consider it through the eyes of our new international friends. Working with Kim has also been a tremendous pleasure, and we feel so fortunate to have made this valuable connection with such a knowledgeable, versatile and dedicated educator.
We are looking forward to continuing our communication with the Lithuanian students and to exchange more information about our country, school, and day-to-day life. We plan to work more with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and identify common concerns and solutions for local and global issues. At the same time, it has really enjoyable and meaningful to let the students guide this communication and be flexible with topics. We also excited to explore the idea that we share many of the same hopes for the future while learning how to respectfully pose questions and negotiate differences.
Melinda Carpenter- BFA Grade 6 Science/Social Studies Teacher. UVM Outstanding Teacher 2013