This year, Grade 6 classrooms extend far beyond our campus at One Brookwood Road and include students from countries as far away as Moldova, Suriname, Russia and Rwanda, to name just a few.
New to sixth grade this year, science teacher Rich Lehrer is teaching a weekly class called Global Competency Project (GCP), in which he focuses on some basic skills needed when working with people from other cultures.
“Brookwood students are heading into a world full of opportunities and challenges that we can barely imagine. As the global community becomes more connected and interdependent, as the U.S. becomes increasingly affected by things that happen on the other side of the world, and as our global challenges become more numerous and pressing, our students will undoubtedly experience a greater need to understand the world and their place in it. It is our hope that the GCP helps prepare our students for those future demands,” explains Rich. “GCP class aims to help students understand what it means to be ‘globally competent’ and why it is important to be globally competent.”
“Our goal is to pursue this work within the actual curriculum of the classes in which students already participate,” says Upper School Head and Grade 6 Social Studies teacher Evan Diamond. “Doing this work effectively requires that it be integrated into the work they are already doing so it doesn't feel like ‘other.’ When we do stand alone activities, students tend to see people and cultures as "other" and may fail to see the connections between the work and the classes in which they already participate.”
The Global Competency Project is integrated across disciplines, providing “sixth grade students with a broader global context for understanding the material that they study in geography, English, and science classes. Additionally, this integration allows the sixth grade team to better identify the common curricular areas and ‘connect the dots’ between them for students,” adds Evan.
“By studying a number of global issues and approaches to addressing global problems, such as those solutions outlined in the United Nations Global Goals initiative, we help provide the global perspective for the work that students are doing in their English, geography, and science classes,” Rich explains. “For example, when students participated in a global story writing project in their English class, they learned about the countries that were participating in the project in the GCP class. While students are studying an upcoming forest ecology unit in sixth grade Science, in GCP they will be learning about a Ugandan school organization called The Kasiisi Project, with whom students will be collaborating.”
While Evan and science teacher Annie Johnson work on developing future GCP work for their students, English teacher Maile Black has a story writing project, to which Rich referred, currently underway.
“We have joined a group called iEARN, which brings schools together from around the world. Our current project is called Our Storybook. Together with schools from Indonesia, Georgia, Iraq, Tunisia, Russia, Taiwan, Macedonia, Suriname, and Moldova, we are writing two different stories (one called 'The Unknown World,' the other, 'A Girl and Her Dog'),” Maile explains. “Each school gets a week to write a piece of the story, then we voice-record what we've written. For the last two weeks, kids exchange books and give feedback, then we have a webinar and a virtual reading club where we all get to meet each other! I'm eager to see how it all unfolds.”
Pivoting off this work in English, students in geography are using skills to discover more about the countries with which they are collaborating, and likewise in science as they have studied geologic activity around the world, they have specifically looked at plate tectonics in these countries.
As a result of the connections made during her 2014 Teacher Exchange in Rwanda, Maile adds that her students have a second global project in the works. “I'm also working with FAWE and APAPEC, our two partner schools in Rwanda. I've been working with Patrick Musimolya now for a couple of years. He is eager to do projects together,” she says. “At this point, we're starting to exchange the kids' intros, a writing project where students write about who they are and what makes them ‘really happy.’ We've done our introductions and posted them, and are awaiting the same from Rwanda.”
For her innovative global classroom work, Maile this year received a Virtual Teacher Institute grant from the World Leadership School. Besides broadening her global skills as an educator, this two-year honor supports perfectly the work she is currently doing in Brookwood’s GCP class.
“The grant is for two years of working with Jen Klein at the Virtual Teacher Institute, part of the professional development branch of the World Leadership School. The goal is to help teachers globalize their teaching. They help design curriculum and envision new possibilities for collaborative learning all around the world,” says Maile. “Jen Klein is an amazing person. She works with leaders all over the world, travels everywhere to consult with teachers and administrators about their schools, and is a powerhouse at the Project Based Learning giant, The Buck Institute.”
“Later in the year, we'll have collaborations with other schools through science, art, music, geo, and even math. Our bigger goal is to make the whole sixth grade curriculum even more collaborative and relevant. We want to see kids making actual connections between what they learn in English and science and art and music, and we hope that the bigger perspective – the global one – will help them do so,” Maile says.