Peace Across the Ocean
In 2005, Carol Sphar, Arts Educator at Hathaway Brown Primary School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, began accessing content provider programs through videoconferencing. Since Art History is part of her curriculum, she really wanted to connect with museums in other countries.Unable to find what she wanted, she decided to look for a school contact in Italy, a country related to her curriculum.On the ePALS website, she found Andrea Mennella, Social Studies and Foreign Language teacher at San Filippo Primary School in Citta di Castello, Italy.
Andrea Mennella began interacting outside his school walls in 2003/2004 with the Tibetan Community of Rome.He says, “I was and am constantly inspired by the American First Nations “Sacred Wheel of Medicine,” an ancient teaching about the beauty of creation, balance and unity.”He has been able to meet with Lakota and other Native Representative in Italy and continues to dialogue with them today.
I.Year One: 2007-2008
Beginning in November 2007, their third grade students each were paired with a partner.Using art as a universal language for communication and story telling, American and Italian students explored Peace Education and cultural exchanges.They began by exchanging simple greetings, drawings and self-portraits through postal mail and over the internet.
Next, Ms. Sphar & Mr. Mennella designed and
taught a Peace Education lesson, using powerpoint, which focused on three circles of peace: inner peace, community peace and world peace.
The First Project
|Their Next Project
Following Postcards for Peace, each class joined an iEARN Art Miles mural project.The American students designed their half of a large canvas mural, painted it and shipped it to Italy where students designed and painted their half.The final mural was displayed at both schools and then sent to the Art Miles organization.
About Art Miles
Art Miles murals are being painted all over the world in an effort to promote understanding and empathy among the participants.The murals will be put together in a digital format, attached to a constructed pyramid and floated down the Nile River in Egypt in September 2010, creating the world’s largest children’s art mural.The exhibition will also be webcast live.
Early in their relationship, students began meeting face-to-face via webcam and Skype projected onto a large screen. They used a general format (sharing greetings, favorite foods, colors, sports, birthdays, families, pets and other simple topics) to guide them through their conversations. A highlight of each exchange included students singing songs from their country or playing instruments for each other.
|Italy students singing to Ohio students|
Student exchanges and technologies expanded as the relationships and projects continued to evolve. Student exchanges have progressed to letters, handmade holiday gift exchanges and more complicated dialogue. Mr. Mennella provided American students with the Italian translation of the dialogue so they could speak Italian while his students practiced their English. Hathaway Brown then obtained a Polycom unit and San Filippo installed Polycom PVX Software, which was donated by Polycom, enabling clearer connections.
II. Year Two: 2008-2009
Tibetan Prayer Flag Project
The teachers worked together to create a lesson related to Tibetan Pray Flags which was taught to the now fourth graders at each school.The Tibetan Prayer Flag shares a message of peace and goodwill for all humanity.This concept was stressed to the entire community of each primary school as they were invited to create flags to carry messages of peace.The flags were then shipped by postal mail to partner schools, as well as to Northfield Primary School in Adelaide, South Australia to support their celebration of “Harmony Day.”The project culminated in a Tibetan Day organized by Mr. Mennella for his school.It included the honour of a visit to San Filippo Primary School by Tibetan Monk, Ghesce Thueten Dargye, who included students at Hathaway Brown in a lesson through via videoconferencing. He was assisted by his two volunteers, Ms. Stefania Sabaini and Jigme Thuben (interpreter) who are also members of the Samatabadhra Institute in Rome.
|Ghesce Thueten Dargye,
Expanding the scope
During this second year, two other classes also met over videoconferencing.Maryalice Johnson’s second grade class at Hathaway Brown shared their Heritage Festival with Antonio Palazzotti’s second grade class, who then shared their Carnevale Celebration in return!
PURPOSE AND IMPACT
Both Ms. Sphar and Mr. Mennella believe that teaching their students, some of the youngest global citizens, to have empathy and compassion for others is extremely important in this new global economy. They look to show them what they have in common and to understand and accept their differences.
Ms. Sphar says: “I cannot stress enough the excitement and engagement our students experience surrounding each exchange. They practice their dialogue, are thoughtful about what they want to send to their partners, and eagerly anticipate each videoconference.
Because we have taken these students through two consecutive years, they know and have a personal connection to their partners. The smiles, the laughter, the applause, and even the excited nervousness they express prior to a videoconference tell me that they are fully engaged in this exchange process.”
Classroom reflections at the end of their sessions have resulted in statements such as “I can’t believe I just visited someone across the ocean” and “Maybe there really can be peace.”
Student learning in the areas of developing multicultural understanding, communication skills (including written, oral and visual,) cooperative group learning, leadership and technology was abundantly clear.There was also improvement in students’ understanding of the world outside of themselves and the development of empathy towards others.Documentation of this improvement can be seen in the recorded videoconferences, the written and visual works, and oral reflections over the past two years.
Andrea Mennella and Carol Sphar have worked hard to make these encounters a meaningful educational adventure.It has taken much time and patience to put together the lessons and organize the videoconference times, agendas, and technologies. They have been supportive of each other and in understanding the challenging moments when the technology didn’t work, the student absences affected the format, or scheduling conflicts arose.
Ms. Sphar had to let go of other projects in her curriculum to make room for this one.She encourages anyone who wants to try international exchanges to understand that it is a process and building the relationship between the classroom teachers is critical to the success of the project.
She says,”I can only tell you that it is all worth it in the long run. The personal joy I have experienced during this adventure makes all the work worthwhile.In those quiet moments after a videoconference, when the children have left and the equipment is turned off, I am overwhelmed with the feeling that I am helping shape the next generation of global citizens.”
Mr. Mennella has also expressed in words and in his actions his commitment to promoting understanding and brotherhood in the global arena.It is this passion for global education with these young primary students that motivates and inspires them both to do this work.
Carol has always viewed art as an interdisciplinary subject. As she has worked on this international exchange, she better understands how to integrate other subject areas into her projects.She finds it also helps students put the project into a bigger context and gain greater understanding of how art, communication, writing, history, geography, language and other subjects are all important in learning to view the world.
Andrea Mennella has stretched his knowledge of aesthetics. His command of English really made these projects possible. His commitment has inspired Carol to learn his language as well!
- Plan and schedule. These are very important to the success of an international project.
- Build the relationships between the classroom teachers. It is critical for success.
- Carol and Andrea used Skype to build this relationship and for planning activities.
- They also emailed extensively to share ideas and finalize agendas.
- Provide students with language assistance.
- Since language was a potential barrier, students were given printed copies of the dialogue prior to the connection, giving them time to practice and a sense of the speaking order.
- The order and the dialogue written on a white board provided students with extra support during the connection. This was a tremendous help.
- Encourage students to speak loudly, slowly, and clearly and wait for the lagtime.
- Have a student leader to keep things flowing smoothly.
- Practice. Practice. Practice.
- Rehearse songs or other presentations to boost confidence
- Find the best room set up to make students comfortable and accessible to the camera.
- Understand and be cooperative.Know that when something doesn’t work, you might need to reschedule.
- Know you may need to go the extra mile.
- Carol found the time to give three/four English tutoring sessions for the Italian fourth graders over Skype.
- Support from Others is Vital
- This was the first international exchange at Hathaway Brown Primary School (HB) and our IT department was extremely supportive and cooperative. It took patience and understanding from everyone involved.
- The HB IT department taught Ms. Sphar how to run and troubleshoot the videoconferencing equipment on her own and also provided some support for Mr. Mennella.
- Do not overlook the need for support from within your school community to negotiate schedules, share the use of equipment, or access dollars from a limited budget.
While no details have been finalized for this upcoming school year, both Carol and Andrea are looking forward to their exchanges with their now fifth grade students! AND, Carol has plans to visit San Filippo this year to meet Mr. Mennella and his students in person!
Carol and Andrea wish to show their appreciation for the support of this project to:
- Teacher Teams consisting of Antonella A., Antonella N., Cecilia, Chiara, Emanuela, Luisa, Roberta, Sabrina, Sandra,and Stefania - San Filippo Primary School
- Professor Massimo Belardinelli - Director San Filippo Primary School
- Ms. Kathy Zopatti - Director of Hathaway Brown Primary School
- Carol Lechietner, Barry Kallmeyer, and Kathy Maimone - Hathaway Brown IT Department
- Mary Boutton, Lois Cameron, Chris Fran, Carol Rounds, Maryalice Johnson and Brett Russell – Hathaway Brown classroom teachers