Fourth graders arrived at school early and excited on Thurs., Dec. 6. They had an important "meeting" with students from their partner school, Ruska Poliana School in Ukraine, and quickly sipped hot chocolate for extra energy as teacher Margo Tintle fired up her computer and launched the Skype digital conference.
Despite some technology glitches, students from each school had a chance to share information about and important artifacts from their respective country. Ukrainian students sang folk songs and showed off traditional clothing from their homeland, while Holton girls explained things like the White House, Hershey Bars, and football, then recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
For students on both sides of the planet, this was an exciting culminating event after a fall of getting to know each other and collaborating on a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) project digitally. "Through video conferencing," Ms. Tintle explains, "the schools have been discussing the issue of access to electricity and designing sustainable solar flashlights." Partners traded and talked through ideas together online, then used Tinkercad software to create 3D designs and printed them into existence using 3D printers. Along the way, students built friendships and learned about another culture and country. This year's fourth grade is broken into three groups, each partnered with a different school in Eastern Europe or Africa.
The partnership is made possible through Level Up Village, a program that aims to provide "seamless collaboration between students around the world via pioneering STEAM enrichment courses." Holton students are participating in Level Up's Global Inventors course, which pairs schools up with global partners that may lack reliable access to electricity to work together on solutions. This helps make the problem "real" for students. Suddenly, the topic is no longer something they just learn or read about; it's something that impacts their friends overseas, something they have a direct connection to and stake in now.
Over the course of the project, students build a host of 21st-century skills. "There really are too many benefits to name," Ms. Tintle says of the collaboration. But when pressed, she notes that the partnership especially helps cultivate perseverance, problem-solving abilities, interdisciplinary thinking, and cross-cultural communications skills. "Students learn to listen to others who have a different perspective, to speak clearly and confidently for video messaging, and to communicate effectively when speaking and writing for audiences for whom English is not the primary language," all increasingly important in the ever-globalizing world.
This marks the school's second year using the Level Up platform. The Lower School has engaged in cross-cultural collaborations before this, but Ms. Tintle says that Level Up makes the process much easier and more efficient, secure, and reliable communications-wise. Overall, she says, the project is extremely illuminating for the students and sparks so many interests and ideas.
View a slideshow of students' Dec. 6 Skype meeting with their Ukrainian partners, and some shots of the sustainable flashlights they produced, below: