Yarmouth schools use technology to promote cultural exchange

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YARMOUTH — Students and school administrators are using technology and innovation to bridge cultural gaps as they connect with students all over the world.

High school Principal Ted Hall is in an exchange program with administrators in China, the freshman class is using video to communicate with students in southern China, and a fourth-grade class is involved in the Flat Classrooms program with seven other elementary schools around the country.

Hall said Chen Henghua, a principal from a 4,000-student high school in Beijing, visited Yarmouth in December as part of the China Exchange Initiative, based in Newton, Mass. He spent a week observing classes, giving presentations and visiting the Portland Arts and Technology School and Casco Bay High School.

In April, Hall will visit Chen at his school.

“I learned a lot from him and think he took away a lot from us as well,” Hall said. “He was so engaging and so open to learning. It will be a great experience to visit his school and be in that environment.”

When Vice Principal Amy Bongard traveled with other administrators to China last year she made connections with a school in Chongqing. As a result, freshmen in Yarmouth correspond with students in China through e-mail and video messages.

“Our students made videos about the town of Yarmouth and sent the links to the students in China,” Bongard said. “It is a loose program, but we hope to accomplish a few more projects during the year.”

Bongard said the students may also create a video of the Yarmouth schools, an evening of cooking in the Chongqing style and may use Skype to communicate with the students.

At the elementary school, fourth-grade students are participating in the first elementary school Flat Classroom Project. The project is a way for students in grades 3 through 5 to reach out to other students and collaborate, communicate and use technology to share stories about their school time, leisure time, clothing, food, and housing. 

Cathy Wolinsky, the school instructional technology leader, and fourth-grade teacher Rosie Lenehan are working with the students in the project called “A Week in the Life … .” They are communicating with other students in China, India, England, Czech Republic, New York, Massachusetts, and Illinois.

Wolinsky said the students use multimedia tools such as Edmodo, a program similar to Facebook, but controlled and contained by teachers; Animoto and PhotoPeach, programs used to make slideshows and video from photographs; Simple Booklet, a program used to combine text and pictures, and VoiceThread, a way to upload photographs and videos that allows others to comment.

“The students love being exposed to the new (technology) tools, and are very excited about Edmodo,” Lenehan said. “In some ways the project is challenging, but they are learning how to be critical of their own work and how to communicate with others.”

Wolinsky said she is thankful to be able to work with the students on this project.

“It’s a new way to create a learning experience and a way to open the classroom,” she said. “This is a project that creates a new opportunity for teachers and students. We will figure it out together and learn more about global education.”

Interested teachers and supporters of global collaborative projects are encouraged to review the developing material at aweekinthelife.flatclassroomproject.org.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net