BGL just facilitated another successful international student collaboration with the fantastic Menlo School in California. While not as extensive as our Cubic Foot Project (it was organized and implemented in just three weeks time), this project is as a good example of what is possible once a collaborative relationship is established with another school.
The following is a report from BGL’s Teacher Jackie:
A 10th grade class at Menlo was studying Confucius and wondered what kinds of insights they could gain from the Chinese students at their collaborative partner school, Tsai Hsing in Taiwan. They prepared a Googledoc survey that students from both schools would answer. As I introduced the survey to my Taiwanese students I was impressed at how much they already knew about Confucius’s life and work.
Students completed the survey, answering questions such as, “When working with classmates on a math, science or other academic problem, I most want to be…” and, “The achievement that would make my parents most proud of me is…”
Later, students at both schools analyzed the results, comparing the Taiwanese and American responses. On both ends this led to some deep thinking about questions that get to the core of cultural beliefs. The students were now ready for a face-to-face conversation to hear each other’s answers.
Some genius technical maneuvers made it possible for a real-time discussion based in three locations to run smoothly. An iPad in a classroom in Taiwan was connected to the Menlo students through a Facetime call, and mounted so that from Los Angeles I could see both the iPad and the rest of the classroom in Taiwan. On monitors and screens in the classroom, Taiwan students could see both me and the Menlo students.
What followed was incredible to witness and culturally illuminating. Highlights of the 45-minute conversation included a discussion of colleges and scholarships that showed that American students have relatively greater college opportunities through non-academic areas like sports or music. The students in Taiwan seemed surprised to learn that so many American students go straight from school to practice a sport, while they themselves remain at school studying, sometimes until 9 pm. The American students were equally shocked to learn this about their counterparts.
The American students noted that many of the Taiwanese students responded to questions about siblings by saying they did not have any. An enlightening conversation showed that many Taiwanese families choose to have only one child to maintain greater financial security, and that a new type of family was emerging – the zero child household. Though many families in Taipei are middle class, there is a perception from the students that these families do not have enough money to have more than one child. Taiwanese students also explained that their population is shrinking in part because young people are pursuing education and career opportunities in other countries like America.
Students then probed into the survey results related to behavior within group work. Most Taiwanese students stated that it was most important to be harmonious when working in groups, while Americans thought it was most important to be a leader. They found common ground when the Menlo students explained that they find a group to be more harmonious when there is a strong leader in place. Also, American students stated that they feel adults encourage and reward leadership skills, and view that as a sign of strength in a student.
The conversation rounded out with a candid conversation about Taiwan’s perception of America, and vice versa. Many Taiwanese students viewed America favorably, and said they would like to live, or at least visit there someday. In turn, American students admitted that they knew very little of Taiwan, but that this collaboration has inspired them to learn more about their new friends.