Torch - Spring 2017

Pen Pals of the Digital Age: Connecting with Classrooms Around the World

aspects of their own regions. “One of our girls took a picture of her dad shovelling the driveway after a big snowfall and with it she wrote a brief post. This may be a regular part of our daily lives, but for a child living in a much warmer climate, that might seem like a pretty remarkable thing,” Lockington recalls. The relationship is similar in some respects to pen pals of past eras, except that in today’s world the connection is instantaneous. “The girls absolutely love it because they’re learning about other cultures, other countries, through the perspective of kids their own age.” Students also watch Salopek answer questions about his journey and keep a “slow looking” journal, where they answer questions such as: “If you could walk around the world, what do you think you would see?” and “If you could connect with someone your age from any country across the globe, what would you tell them about where you live?” The class is exploratory and often based on what Salopek is up to in his journey; for example, one week he talked about the ways that hair is used in other countries and in another post he explored the dying Aral Sea in central Asia, near Kazakhstan. This provides the girls with a unique opportunity to observe aspects of our world that they wouldn’t otherwise see in the news or other mainstream media outlets. Lockington says that reactions to the project have not only been positive, but also profound. “When I asked the students what they’ve learned that they didn’t know before September, a lot of them said: ‘It’s really taught me to slow down and really observe things more closely. I look at things in a new way now. I think about other people’s worlds and cultures differently than I might have before.’”

The world, and indeed Havergal, can be a fast-paced place. For students with 24–7 connectedness, not to mention a variety of classes, extra-curricular activities and social opportunities, the invitation to slow down and reflect, to pause and really connect, can be a challenge. All the more reason to discover the upside of slowing down, says Grade 5 teacher Raeme Lockington. Along with Junior School Technology and Media Studies teacher Helen Carayannis, she’s leading the Grade 5 Language and Social Studies students through a slow journalism initiative sponsored by Harvard’s Graduate School of Education research groups. “We thought, ‘What a great opportunity for the girls to have a real-life, present-day ability to see the world from a perspective that is so unique and totally outside of textbooks,’” Lockington says. The project follows Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and National Geographic fellow Paul Salopek on a 21,000-mile Out of Eden Walk, where he retraces the migratory pathways of ancient human ancestors. Salopek has been documenting his journey since 2013 and, since then, more than 1,000 classes in schools from 52 countries have been following his mission to “slow down to observe the world carefully and to listen attentively to others” (read more about the project at out-of-eden-learn ). In practical terms, the project, which takes place during Media class time, has students connecting with others from six or seven other classrooms around the world. Havergal is paired with classes in Italy, Greece, the United States and Canada, where students use online platforms to share


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