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October 1, 2002
Vol. 60
No. 2

Around the World in 24 Hours

Videoconferencing brings 1st–5th graders in Florida face-to-face with their peers in other countries.

Around the World in 24 Hours - thumbnail
When you ask a group of 4th graders, “How many of you read the newspaper?” or “Did you see the news last night?” don't expect a bevy of hands to wave in the air. Nevertheless, students need to be aware of how closely their lives are tied to what is happening across the United States and around the world. They may not understand how an uprising in Nepal affects their security. They do understand, however, when students their age who live at the foot of Mt. Everest tell them that their water is terribly polluted and that they rode elephants over the weekend. Students can read about the destruction of the world's rainforests—but such knowledge only hits home when their peers in the Philippines tell them that they just returned from a field trip to their rainforest, only 10 percent of which remains. Students in our 1st–5th grade vertical team have these and many other global experiences.
Today my students sit in front of a large map of the world and locate oceans and continents. Linking math to our study by dividing the map into 24 time zones adds another dimension to their work. Eventually, the students will use what they have learned to participate in a culminating activity that we call the Big Night—a 24-hour, round-the-world adventure that engages students, teachers, and parents from across the globe in an exciting exchange of cultures, geography, and environmental concerns. More than 80 students, assisted by dozens of parents and teachers, will spend all night at the school to communicate with their international peers. The exciting world of videoconferencing makes such a learning journey possible. Are my students globally aware? You bet!

Preparing for the Adventure

Defining Our Purpose

  • Communicate effectively.
  • Develop an understanding of various cultures.
  • Acquire a sense of their place in the world.
  • Appreciate the responsibility that each of us has to others and to our environment.
We have at our fingertips the power to communicate with students around the world within moments. We get firsthand accounts of their lives and ask questions about what we do not understand. How much more important, for example, the border between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan becomes to 3rd–5th grade students when they have developed relationships with students in an international school in that part of the world. Our students ask their newfound friends about their schools, climate, geography, culture, and family lives. Foreign students tend to have similar questions for our students. And because we live in central Florida, we get more than a few questions about our theme parks.
In addition to getting to know students from around the world, our students want to know what environmental concerns other students have and what they are doing to address those concerns. In turn, our students share details of our water monitoring and environmental restoration projects and encourage their international peers to take action to conserve water in their local communities.

Getting Permission

Any program that reaches beyond the classroom walls needs the blessing of the school administrator, district technical advisors, and parents. All parties need to know, for example, that your students will be communicating during the 24-hour Big Night event with students around the world through protected international e-mail and videoconferencing programs.


The planning process begins with the students—they do the background work that lays the foundation for the Big Night. Students use reading and writing skills across the curriculum to research countries, calculate contact times, and compile questions for their peers about worldwide environmental concerns and possible solutions. Students e-mail more than 200 classrooms in their search for schools with videoconferencing capabilities. Each day they arrive to find that students in schools around the world have responded to their invitation to participate in the culminating videoconference. They learn that Scottish students are hoping for a day off from school because it's snowing. Australian students, by contrast, are returning from their summer break.
While students are busy with their research, teachers assess the technology needs of the project. A simple “eyeball” camera and an inexpensive microphone, along with the appropriate software, should be enough to connect students with peers around the world. We use two computer stations: one global, well-protected connection allows us to speak to students in one school at a time, and another provides for a secured chat room in which 10 students can participate simultaneously.
From the start, parents are crucial components of the project. Parents help students make preliminary contacts, keep records, and develop their e-mail and “chat” skills. Enlist the help of parents who are as excited about being world travelers as you and your students are. A couple of dedicated helpers keep a program of this magnitude running smoothly while students collect pertinent information on other countries and develop the interdisciplinary skills necessary to make the learning journey a success.
  • Schedule and put on the school and district calendar a date for the Big Night. Choose a date with no school the following day—but not a Friday because it will be Saturday in schools on the other side of the planet.
  • Plan a timeline and list of responsibilities for all participants.
  • Enlist commitments for parental support in all areas.
  • Contact Internet programs that have connections to classrooms around the world with videoconferencing capabilities.
  • Send invitations to schools around the world with your purpose, details about the technology required to participate in the project, and an outline of the project.
  • Keep records, including copies of all the responses that students receive, notes on the time zones covered by respondents, a schedule of contacts, and plans for the 24-hour program.
  • Stay on top of international responses so that a valuable participant doesn't fall through the cracks.
  • Plan activities and meals and assess facilities needs for the Big Night.
  • Prepare facilities for meals, sleeping space, and activity areas.

Enjoying the Big Night

Perhaps we should call the Big Night the “Big 24 Hours” instead—the culminating activity kicks off as soon as students get to school in the morning. Throughout the day, as students around the world arrive at school, our students make contact with their international peers. Once the final bell sounds, our students kick into overdrive. They move desks and equipment to prepare the dormitories: Girls sleep in one classroom and boys in another, with parents and teachers scattered throughout. Sleeping bags, blankets, pillows, and inflatable mattresses are strewn from corner to corner. Students then have free time while we make final preparations for the evening's events.
Our science area becomes an international restaurant as parents bring in foods from around the world. Delicacies include Japanese sushi, Irish corned beef and cabbage, Scottish cookies, and Italian lasagna. And of course there is the ever-popular pizza for the less adventurous among us.
  • Storytelling—we set up an area outside under the trees, complete with tepees and a bonfire.
  • A puppet play—students choose a short environmental play and make stick puppets and backdrops.
  • Computer activities—we receive permission for students to use the computer lab during the evening.
  • Weaving—students practice on small, individual looms and then begin a class wall hanging on our larger classroom loom.
  • K'Nex and Legos—students construct imaginative creations using building blocks and connecting rods.
In addition to these activities, we have two computers set up for overnight videoconferencing and two for e-mailing. Because some connections are unsuccessful, we use e-mail to try to correct problems or just to chat. For instance, Australian students tried repeatedly to connect to the videoconference; eventually we “talked” through their problems by e-mail. A young man in Singapore wanted to participate but did not have the necessary equipment—so he chatted in real time instead. Thai students sent traditional music, which fascinated our students.
At approximately 11:00 p.m., parents prepare popcorn and popsicles for students, who settle in front of our puppet stage to watch the previously prepared puppet play. Following the show, we bed down and sleep until about 4:00 a.m., when students in Europe begin to contact us. Then we talk to students in Italy, Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands, and other countries.
By 7:00 a.m., everybody is awake and hungry. Parents bring in breakfast donated by a local restaurant. By the time parents arrive to collect their weary world travelers at 9:00 a.m., students have rolled up their sleeping bags, returned desks and equipment to the proper places, and left eating areas clean and trash-free. And by 9:15 a.m., we teachers are staring at one another in an exhausted stupor and asking ourselves if the project was worth so much time and energy. By the following week, however, parents are already making suggestions for next year's program, students are writing letters to newfound e-pals, and we teachers are talking about what a rich learning experience all the participants have had.

Reflecting on Our Journey

As we reflect on the activities of the past six months, we ask ourselves whether the time and energy expended on this project were well spent. Should we have stuck to the prescribed curriculum, or did we in fact teach the curriculum in a different and more relevant way?
  • How many students learn about life in Italy, the Netherlands, Ireland—and many other places—firsthand from their peers who live there?
  • How many students know that Canadian families must pay $5 per bag of trash per week for every bag of trash over two that they throw out? Or that students in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, are concerned about the long-term effects of atomic research on their health?
  • How many classrooms can claim 36 parents who are willing to stay up all night to participate in such a program—and return to do it again next year?
  • How many teachers hear from parents who were not available for the Big Night but who want to be certain to participate next time?
After much reflection, we conclude that we have achieved the goals that we set for this videoconferencing project. Our students are more globally aware—as aware as 1st–5th graders can be. They understand that what they do to protect their environment affects the entire world. They have looked into classrooms around the world and talked to students who share responsibility for their future. They have made international friends. Parents have been deeply involved in their children's learning experiences and learned a lot themselves along the way. And we teachers have once again been amazed by what we can learn about understanding and responsibility from our own students.

Gail McGoogan has been a contributor in Educational Leadership.

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