Pen pal

Guest Blog Matthew Baganz: Connecting Cultures, Inspiring Individuals

Andrew Baum for Schools, Schools (K-12) 0 Comments

Matthew Baganz is an International Baccalaureate teacher who thrives on provoking curiosity at an international school near Frankfurt. A fiction writer and playwright, Matt is passionate about digital storytelling as a medium for sharing ideas with young audiences who have been raised in a digital world. He recently completed an intercontinental video project that he facilitated with several schools around the world and he shared details with us.

As a Primary Years Programme teacher working in accordance with the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO), the nurturing of international-mindedness in my students is a high priority. It is also a tough concept to ‘teach.’ I put ‘teach’ in parentheses, because some concepts, like international-mindedness, are not as transferable as knowledge. This is a dynamic perspective, a state of mind. And considering how much the globe has become a village, many of its members seem to lack in this approach to social behaviour.

Many resources for teaching international-mindedness include the Internet and books about other cultures. In my experience, this only takes students so far; rarely do they develop a deep understanding of any culture that they learn about through traditional classroom approaches.  These learning experiences often cover the concepts on top of the cultural iceberg, such as festivals, fashion, food, etcetera, but they rarely touch authentically on deeper cultural notions such as perspectives on bravery, respecting personal space, or appropriate conversational patterns.

I have, however, taken students on international trips to learn about different cultures, and these experiences, which build real-life relationships and provide exposure to the countless components that make up a culture, make impressions on students that truly touch their hearts and change them forever. It is the person-to-person experience that accomplishes social realization most effectively. If my students could get to know other children, they’d hopefully shy away from the single story of any given culture and expand not only their own awareness of that particular culture, but also become more conscious of the truth that there’s more to every other culture or individual than meets the eye.

Pen pal

A girl writes her first letter to her new pen pal.

Unfortunately, on my teacher’s salary, I could not travel the world with my students, but I could foster inter-cultural peer relationships for them. I began the Demo Effect project to serve as a virtual hub where students and teachers could meet and greet one another through recorded clips. I reached out to several schools and requested a feature of the project on the IBO blog.  As schools signed up, teachers shared class information and connected individual students through everything from traditional pencil-and-paper pen pal letters to chatting on live Google documents. Clips of these experiences were uploaded in the shared folders for all participants to see and use in projects as they saw fit.

Collaboration over Google docs

A boy laughs as he makes jokes with one of his international project teammates on live Google Documents.

While connecting kids from different cultures, the project also strived to demonstrate through authentic action the different ways kids could help make a positive impact, or effect, on their communities, hence the project title, Demo Effect.

WeVideo not only connected all of these students, teachers and schools by serving as that online meeting point to share clips, but it did it in real time. Because the program is cloud-based, the video clips were uploaded and available from thousands of miles away within seconds.  Soon, the shared folders began to fill up with children taking action in their communities, from kids cleaning up beaches in Mozambique to kids demonstrating the importance of water filters on the streets of Brooklyn. Teachers also filmed their students opening their pen pals’ letters, so we were able to watch a group of students sitting in mangrove trees in the British Virgin Islands opening up the letters that they received from their pals in Germany.

WeVideo Editing

Students played with the final movie timeline to discover more features and options in WeVideo.

We’d like to run the experience again as the Demo Effect project 2018, and we are looking for more schools to participate. This time, the project will narrow its goals to focus specifically on students taking action in their school, local and wider communities, although we invite classes to continue fostering new relationships as well. If any educators out there are interested or would like more information, please contact Matthew Baganz at matthewbaganz@gmail.com.

View the Demo Effect movie 2017 below:

For more information about the Demo Effect project, please visit the website at www.demoeffect.net or email at demoeffectproject@gmail.com.

You can also see Matt’s classroom blog at http://pyp5bb.blogspot.de/