Technology Enables Students to Empathize on a Global Scale
By Michael Dunlea and Stacie Delaney, Third Grade Teachers
“It’s hard to change the world when you don’t know much about it.”
This quote from Michael Soskil, the 2018 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year, captures all the reasons we embraced global learning projects and pedagogies these last two years. It all began when I (Michael) met Koen Timmers in Washington, DC last summer at the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, NNSTOY, Leadership Conference. He asked me if I was interested in participating in a global learning project called Climate Action Project. I agreed and mentioned it to Stacie when we met for the first time that August. And so began our wild journey of teaching beyond the four walls of the classroom. We were able to collaborate with over two hundred and fifty schools in sixty countries. In the last year and half we have Skyped with teachers and students in Bangladesh, Ireland, Canada, Croatia, Austria, South Africa, and Italy. We have been on Skype calls where six of the seven continents were on the call with thirty-five countries present. We also worked with classes in Vermont, Tennessee, Minnesota, Illinois, and Arizona.
When we engaged on the global stage we became aware of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals SDG’s. These seventeen goals create a framework our students could relate to. Each student researched one specific goal. Abby chose Gender Inequality, Ethan picked Access to Quality Education, and so forth. We embraced the concept that our students could start changing the world today, while they learned about it. One powerful moment came after we Skyped with some students in South Africa. We later discovered that it costs about four hundred dollars a year to send a child to school there. Students were shocked to find that is about a fourth of an adult’s yearly earnings. We could never have taught them what poverty was as effectively as than when we interacted with people living with it. Our teaching was going way beyond the walls of the classroom. This was all due to global learning projects, the SDG’s and an amazing free platform called Empatico.
These connections deepened our students’ learning and understanding of the world, as well as the impact that they have on it. At the start of the school year teachers spend a lot of time setting up their rooms, routines, and building a classroom community that is inclusive, respectful, empathetic, and kind. However, have you ever thought about how to spread these incredibly important values beyond the classroom? How it could impact your students and the world? We did!
The tool we use, Empatico, is available to teachers who work with students age seven to eleven but they are looking to expand the ages soon. It gave us the vehicle to foster a meaningful relationship with another classroom that was different from our own. We’ve been connected with a class from Memphis, Tennessee for the past two years. We have built an unforgettable bond with this class and the teacher. Students in both classes were learning from each other and they realized that they had more similarities than differences. We were teaching our students about diversity and culture through authentic interactions, which is extremely powerful and life-changing. When we asked a student, “How are you alike and how are you different from your friend in Memphis?” Her response was, “My color is teal and her favorite color is pink.” We fully expected her to talk about demographics, but to a seven-year-old “my color” means favorite crayon.
This brings us back to Michael Soskil’s quote at the beginning, but with a slight twist: how can you change your teaching about the world if you don’t know how to? James Ford, North Carolina Teacher of the Year 2014, said at a workshop once, “If we have not prepared our students to interact with people who are different from them have we done our jobs, are they fully developed humans if they can’t?”
Michael Dunlea currently teaches 3rd grade in Tabernacle, NJ. He’s a 2012 NJ State Teacher of the Year Finalist. He attained National Board Certification in 2015, National Geographic Certification in 2018 and is currently pursuing his 2nd Masters Degree in Teacher Leadership at Mount Holyoke College. He was chosen as a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert for 2018–2019 as well as a Teach SDG Ambassador. In 2018 he received the Presidential Award of Excellence in Mathematics Science Teaching. He serves his community as the President of the non-profit group, Alliance for a Living Ocean, ALO.
Stacie Delaney currently teaches 3rd grade special education at Tabernacle Elementary School in NJ where she is the 2019 Teacher of the Year. Stacie is also a NNSTOY/Empatico Mentor Fellow and works with other teachers to build and spread empathy and kindness within her classroom and beyond. She is the Autism Speaks Fundraiser co-coordinator for her school since 2016. Each day, she tries to instill this passion for learning in her students with activities and projects that are impactful to them.
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