It's a Small World: Global Connections in the Classroom
What comes to mind when you hear the term global connections? How about global collaborations? A lot of times, educators steer towards the tried and true pen pal projects, where you find a partner class to exchange either snail mail or emails to learn more about each class and their region or part of the world. If you’re a connected educator and—dare I say—more adventurous, you may even consider a Mystery Skype or Hangout or have even tried a few global collaboration projects with your class. Either way, making global connections with your students should be an essential part of their learning experiences, especially during these times when the world keeps getting smaller and smaller.
The Importance of Global Connections
Technology has changed how we communicate today. It is common to find even the simplest of tools such as Facetime or Skype to connect with friends and families. Nowadays, connecting with others across the globe can also be as simple as joining a certain Facebook group, where shared interests can drive people together. The same has happened with commerce, business, along with some careers. Thanks to technology, careers and businesses have been able to evolve and further thrive in a global community. With this growing technology, comes a global society and with that comes responsibility to teach our learners how to interact and effectively communicate with others who may not look like them or come from similar backgrounds or parts of the world. This is crucial if we are to prepare the next generation of learners, future workers, but more importantly global citizens.
Establishing global connections in the classroom has its many benefits. Cassidy (2018) stresses that we already live in a hyper-connected society, where technology makes it easier to connect not only in personal lives but also in our professional lives. She stresses that we should start preparing even our youngest learners to communicate with others around the globe because that is the environment they will most likely be working in the future (Cassidy, 2018).
Global connections also build empathy among learners. It is easy to come across tragedies taking place all over the world, but many times our learners are not affected by these. Cassidy (2018) states that establishing global connections with classrooms around the world, make these global events real since students now have a face and connection with someone they have interacted with. So when their country or region is going through a natural disaster, for example, there is a sense of worry and empathy towards them. Suvansri (2014) also had a similar experience when her students connected with a class in Pakistan. After reading a novel with her class about Pakistan, Suvansri connected with school in Pakistan so her students could make connections with students in that country. She saw many benefits as a result of interactions between her students and their partner class in Pakistan, mainly how those connections built empathy among her students (Suvansri 2014).
Another benefit of global connections is that it shows learners how to interact effectively with others in digital spaces. Cassidy (2018) argues that connecting with other classes provides opportunities for learners to learn online etiquette and safety practices. She explains the importance of modeling online safety practices when posting and sharing work with a global audience as well as with online interactions. Deyamport (2015) also stresses the importance of effective communication between partner classes during global collaboration projects. Respect is of utmost importance when it comes to online communication and this should not only be modeled but taught to learners as they interact with others around the world. Communication is key when it comes to global connections (Deyamport 2015).
Things to Consider: Internet Safety and Student Work
Before planning your first global connection, it is wise to check with your school district’s policies regarding participation in online projects as well as required permissions to post student work or names online. It’s always best practice not to name any students and whenever possible to take group shots over individual shots. Most school districts have parents and guardians sign an Acceptable Usage Policy (AUP), to grant the school permission for their child to use the internet for a variety of learning purposes, and Photograph Release Forms, to allow for their child’s image to be posted online on behalf of the school or district. It is best to check with your school and district about these types of permissions before participating in any global connections or projects. If you are in need of some sample AUPs or permission forms for your classroom, feel free to check out this resource list compiled by Shelly Terrell (2013).
Preparing Your Students for Global Collaboration Projects
Before participating in any global connections or projects it is important to prepare your students for those online interactions. As mentioned earlier by Deyamport (2015) establishing respect and effective communication is important when it comes to global connections. One step to establishing these is to have discussions and review expectations among your learners on what effective communication is and what it looks like (Deyamport, 2015). Creating a routine or structure to use during your online global connections is also recommended. Deyamport (2015) suggests pre-planning any questions or discussions that may arise along with assigning specific jobs to your students during the call or interaction. Although her structure is specific to Mystery Location Calls, the idea of having a plan and structure in place can help facilitate effective communication among participating classes.
While there are a plethora of options when it comes to global projects, I have narrowed my list to those that can span across a broad range of age groups and that can be integrated to different subject matters and content areas. These projects are also easily accessible and offer participants the option to decide how involved they want to get. Have a look at decide for yourself if any of these projects can bring the world to your classroom.
Global Read Aloud (Elementary-Secondary)- With this project, students read from a list of pre-selected novels or picture book alongside other classrooms around the globe. The novels chosen offer a range of reading abilities and themes that are appropriate for early elementary students up to secondary students. This project takes place once a year usually jump starting around October. Once the title selections are made, participating classes are encouraged to connect with other classes around the globe to discuss and share. There is both a blog and Facebook community for The Global Read Aloud, where teachers can connect with other classrooms that are also participating. This provides classrooms the opportunity to have virtual “book talks” or share projects they have been working on that pertain the the novel or picture books selections. For more information on how to sign up and a timeline for this project, visit The Global Read Aloud blog.
The Monster Project (Elementary)- This project offers a creative approach to connecting students through creation and collaboration, where the goal is to share writing and creations with a global audience. After you sign up your class, you’re assigned a part of the monster to describe. Your description can only be 12-20 words and can include measurements. Next, you submit your description and check back on the project page to get a description for the remaining body parts. At this point, you can assign different body parts to either individual or groups of students to recreate in your classroom. Once your “monster” is complete, you submit a photograph of your final product and name your monster. The final step is that each class or school gets to vote for their favorite monster and the winners are featured on the site. This project is an engaging way to incorporate STEM and collaboration in the elementary setting. Submissions are due by Halloween of each year, and you can find more information and tips on how to get started and connect with other participating classes by visiting the Tips for Participants on the project page.
ePals Global Community (Elementary-Secondary)- This is an inclusive site that presents several projects that applies to a broad range of age levels and interests. A unique feature of this site is that it lets you filter your students’ age range, type of experience, where you can choose from cultural, language, or subject-based, and source, which refers to the organization sponsoring the event such as McGraw Hill or the Smithsonian. These filters help narrow your search to locate an experience that would be most relevant for your age group of learners. This site also offers the capability to join the community and search for classrooms around the world via their profile as well as to create either a pen pal project or experience for your class. Furthermore, The ePals Global Community is worth checking out because they go beyond a pen pal project to offer several opportunities for students to explore food around the world, popular culture and innovations that can benefit others around the world.
Skype in the Classroom (Elementary-Secondary)- Another resource worth reviewing is Skype in the Classroom. While signing up to Skype in the Classroom is free, you must have a Skype account for your classroom in order to connect. You will find that this expansive online community offers experiences such as virtual field trips, virtual guest speakers, classroom connections, and more. A popular experience among the Skype in the Classroom community is Mystery Skype. This call involves having two classrooms guess each other’s location in the world through a series of yes/no questions. Students then use the responses as clues along with some deductive thinking skills to narrow the location of their partner class.
Another video conferencing alternative to Skype is Google Hangouts. You can also host a Mystery Google Hangout and while the Mystery Google+ Community no longer exists, teachers can find partner classes to connect with on social media sites such as Twitter by using the hashtash #mysteryhangout and #mysteryskype. Facebook technology groups are also a great source for connecting with other classrooms to try a “mystery video call” or other online collaborative projects.
Global connections can take many forms and have many benefits for learners. However, it is crucial to prepare your students before participating in these. As an educator, it is important to take precautions that deal with required permissions to participate in global connections and posting student pictures and their work. Setting up a structure and expectations are also necessary in order to establish positive and meaningful communication with other classes around the world. This will facilitate an exchange between classes that is based on respect and further encourage more conversations and connections that open up your classroom to the world.
Cassidy, K. (2018, February 11). Why even young students benefit from connecting globally. Mindshift. Retrieved from
Deyamport, E. (2015, May 27). Mystery location calls: Communicating across cultures. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/mystery-location-communicating-across-cult...
Suvansri, B. (2016, April 8). Creating meaningful global connections. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/creating-meaningful-global-connections-bri...
Terrell, S. (2013, September 5). Make a Global Connection [Blog Post]. Retrieved from