the sally sisson blog

July 19, 2010

The Seeds of Global Citizenship: From Snail Mail to Skype

schylling-dc3-airplane.jpgAs a suburban school kid in the ‘70s, pen pals were the closest we came to cross-cultural exchange. These days we’d likely describe it as an authentic experiential-learning exercise, albeit a slow-motion one.

Pen pals | e-Pals

I still remember the name of my sixth grade pen pal: Riz Zainal Abadin. The name sounded so exotic and, well, peculiar. All those Z’s. Was the middle name a real middle name, or should I tack it onto the first name in salutations? Living south of Boston in a small town full of Smiths and Sullivans, my frame of reference was rather slim.

My friend Lydia and I would giggle when we got our bimonthly letters in the mail. We would repeat the names of our pen pals over and over, always in full.

“It’s a letter from Riz Zainal Abadin! Maybe someday I’ll marry him and move to Malaysia!”

sabah-malaysia-airline-map.jpgOur exchanges went something like this:

Dear Sally:

How are you?  Do you wear American blue jeans?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Dear Riz:

Yes, I wear Levi’s.lychee.jpg

Do you eat lychee fruit?  Have you ever been caught in a monsoon?

aerogram2.jpgAerogram | Aerogramme

The letters were always printed with neat ballpoint pen on an aerogram. We’d use a letter opener to cut the crease at the top of the ultra-thin blue paper, or carefully peel one of the gummed tabs on the side, so as not to tear any of the words.

I think I still have a couple of those aerograms, tucked away in a box of old correspondence and birthday cards somewhere in my barn. (Note to self: Must call Lydia to see if she remembers the name of her pen pal.)

I cringe when I think how sheltered and politically incorrect I was back then. Thankfully today’s students are far more worldly and with it. The recent push for “global citizenship” in American schools and society is making an impact. So is the technology that’s enabling it.

Although the old-school purist in me is thrilled that some still send handwritten letters via snail mail, I have to admit that the use of technology in this area is brilliant. This is not technology for technology’s sake; it’s technology with a true purpose.

UnknownEngaging in real-time video conferences with students on the other side of the world is a powerful thing. It opens minds in ways previously unimaginable. Even in the smallest of small towns.

Here’s a post I wrote on the subject for the TECH TIPS blog on Discovery Education’s “Web 20.10” site:


TECH TIPS BLOG | Web 2.0: Break Out of Your Bubble

There’s been a lot of buzz about global citizenship lately. But with tight budgets and time constraints, this critical concept can seem like a daunting one to incorporate into your curriculum. Thankfully new Web 2.0 tools make it simpler and more efficient than ever to connect and collaborate with students and schools around the world–for free.

Online tools like wikis and web conferencing enable students to engage in cross-cultural exchange without ever leaving the classroom. Students spark friendships with virtual pen pals, immerse themselves in foreign languages with native speakers, and trek through virtual field trips without leaving their desks.

When students interact with real people from real places in real time, it makes for a meaningful, authentic experience and adds new dimensions of understanding. Kids begin to make connections between their own lives and those of kids in different parts of the world. They begin to challenge stereotypes, break out of their bubbles, and really get what it means to be interconnected.

Read full article here…

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Posted in: education, web 2.0