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International Email Project
meets NJ Core Curriculum Standards

Cross-Content Workplace Readiness 2 and 3; Language Arts 3.2; Social Studies 6.8, 6.9; World Language 7.2; Mathematics 4.1, 4.2, 4.3, 4.4, 4.5; Science 5.1, 5.2, 5.5, 5.8: Technology (Draft revisions): 8.1, 8.2

 

Goals and objectives: Engage students in authentic learning:

· Students will write in clear, concise, organized language that varies in content and form for different audiences and purposes.

· Students will acquire geographical understanding by studying human systems in geography.

· Students will acquire geographical understanding by studying the environment and society.

· Students will be able to demonstrate an understanding of the interrelationship between language and culture.

· Students will develop spatial sense and he ability to use measurement to model, describe and analyze phenomena solving problems requiring calculations that involve different units of measurement.

· Students will develop an understanding of the concepts and techniques of data analysis and will use them to model situations, solve problems, and analyze and draw appropriate inferences from data.

· Students will use mathematical processes of problem solving, communication, reasoning, and technology to solve problems and communicate mathematical ideas.

· Students will develop problem-solving, decision-making and inquiry skills, reflected by formulating usable questions and hypotheses, planning experiments, conducting systematic observations, interpreting and analyzing data, drawing conclusions, and communicating results.

· Students will investigate the diversity of life.

· Students will observe weather changes and patterns worldwide.

· Students will use technology, information and other tools to enhance communication.

Students will use critical thinking, decision making and problem-solving skills.

 

Detail of activities

Seventh grade Social Studies students were organized in collaborative groups of four members. Each member of the group was designated as the “chief correspondent” responsible for communicating with a specific country. The concept of “chief correspondent” means that an individual student represents the group and is responsible to survey the group for email content and questions. For example, a group member asked the chief correspondent to ask a specific question about how football is played in the partner country. Continuity was maintained even if the chief correspondent was absent as other group members were familiar with the international partner and could volunteer to substitute for the exchange. Since each group member communicates with a different country, the group communicating with a total of four countries. Students collaborated in composing common questions asked of each of the four countries. In this problem-based learning activity, it is important that the group be as self-directed as possible in determining the questions. It was a definite advantage to start the exchanges with friendly “teenage chatting.” Differentiated learning was achieved when the “chief correspondent” edited group opinions and included his/her individual interests. Keypal responses to the emailed questions were shared and analyzed by the group. For example, the group that decided to pose questions about football engaged in an exciting discussion about the variety of football responses from four different countries. Students charted responses to facilitate a compare/contrast strategy. Analysis of the charted responses enhanced student discussion of the causes and effects of cultural differences. Student interest in history was sparked as they asked why cultures with vast geographical differences have surprising similarities in culture. For example, they asked why football was similar in Canada and Australia. Why baseball is common in the USA and Japan!

Although groups chose a variety of individualized tasks, we discovered that all groups and classes engaged in the following common activities.

· When keypals described themselves, our students realized they needed to convert height and weight of keypals from metric. Students came to the realization that most countries use the metric system. Curiosity about the appearance of keypals resulted in comparing height and weights of keypals by outlining students on large white paper hanging on classroom wall.
· When keypals chatted about the cost of popular music and games, our students realized they needed to calculate exchange rates of currency. Students developed a list of common items to compare. Analysis of email about cost of items resulted in students questioning the causes and effects of cost of living differences.
· When keypals chatted about weather, our students collaborated to ask life sciences questions such as comparing average temperatures and sunrise/sunset times. In the case of our exchange with Japanese students, they exchanged vegetable seeds and recorded the rate of growth and amount of sunlight. They communicated results and analyzed the causes and effects of different latitude locations. When keypals chatted about snow storms, our students compared and contrasted the different ways keypals create snowmen.
· Students often chose to discuss current events. The expressions of sympathy from our keypals after the tragedy of 9/11 resulted in our student discovering they had far more international friends then they first thought. Discussions about the Iraq War lead our students to discover the diversity of opinions around the world. The exchange with keypals personalized the experience for our students and sparked their interest in further analysis of current events in class discussions.
· Students volunteered to exchange gift boxes that included hand drawn greeting cards, coins, and candy. Students enjoyed the challenge of selecting items that represented our culture. The gifts were limited to low cost and lightweight to minimize postage expense.
· Students extended their use of technology to scan images and use Adobe Photoshop to edit the images. They used keypal videos to analyze the differences in language and accents. Netetiquette was enhanced as students discussed ways their email might be misinterpreted. For example, the use of capitalization might imply anger.

Feedback and Assessment

Assessment includes teacher observations, student self-evaluation using a collaboration rubric, teacher evaluation using a collaboration rubric, and email responses. Group progress is assessed by the completion of a compare/contrast chart. Writing assignments asking students to describe the causes and effects of cultural differences may be assigned. The most rewarding assessment tool has been the observation that students often request reading email responses as their “preferred activity time.” We often would choose this activity for a Friday or day before holiday break.

This plan is easily replicated and adapted to a wide variety of age levels, abilities and curriculum goals because it provides a structure and strategy that encompasses a wide variety of activities. The strategy of selecting “chief correspondents” personalizes the exchange while maintaining continuity if students are absent or move. Sharing multiple emails with partners helps maintain interest if a specific keypal does not respond when scheduled. Group collaboration allows for the successful inclusion of students with a variety of abilities. We successfully included ESL teachers and their students to assist mainstreamed students in using phrases. For example, Spanish speakers helped us to include greetings in Spanish to our Peru keypals.

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