An All-Girls School Takes Computer Science to the Next Level with Global Collaboration

globally connected students

By Jessica Buckley

Every school year I start with a goal in mind.  This goal might be to implement something new, tweak an existing project by taking it to the next level, or even implement a change as simple as rearranging the classroom. But after attending ISTE 2016 last June, I was inspired to make Global Collaboration my goal for the 2016-17 school year.

When my Principal, who is always sharing new opportunities with us, sent us an email about Level Up Village (LUV), it was just the sign we needed to make Global Collaboration a reality for our students. The oldest continuously-operating school for girls and the oldest Catholic school in the United States, Ursuline Academy of New Orleans “looks to a future committed to continuing to educate all women as leaders in a global society,” as our Academy President, Dr. Karen McNay, frequently reminds us. With the help of Level Up Village, Ursuline has been given the opportunity to “walk the talk.”

Although LUV mainly works with elementary and middle school students, we decided to pursue it at the high school level because we believed the Global Web Designers course would benefit our high school intro level Web Mastering students. My class of 16-, 17- and 18-year-old young women in New Orleans, Louisiana, is now collaborating with middle school students at Banjul American Embassy School in The Gambia in West Africa. Each one is working individually with a global partner to co-design a website focused on solutions to global climate change. Through this virtual collaboration, my students are not only learning HTML, JavaScript and CSS, but are also inspired to develop a more global mindset about the world around them.

Here are five reasons teachers should consider implementing this type of innovative global collaboration in their classroom:

1. Global Projects Inspire Curiosity about the World

two teenage girls in school uniforms using Google Cardboard VR
Photo courtesy of Ursuline Academy of New Orleans.

One of the first things we did once we found out we were working with students in West Africa was to look up the location of our global partner school on Google Maps to see if we could find The Gambia with our class set of Google Cardboards. This is Augmented Reality at its finest! With the help of our Google Cardboards, students were able to search for The Gambia and customize their own exhibitions to tour their global partners’ home country. A classroom set of Google eCardboards allows students to travel across the world without ever leaving the classroom. After viewing Gambia this way, my students really felt a connection to and greater understanding of their global partner’s country.

2. The Connection is Both Global and Personal

Banjul (BAES) Middle school students 16-17.jpg
Photo Courtesy of Banjul American Embassy School

Words cannot begin to describe the look on my students’ faces when they watched their global partner videos for the first time. It was truly one of those special moments that gave me chills and reminded me why I became a teacher in the first place. After their first video exchange, this was not just a project to them anymore–this was a personal connection to a fellow student across the world! Through watching their global partner’s first video, they learned about another person’s life. The more my students communicated with their global partners, the more they realized their similarities far outweighed their differences. They learned that their partners also experienced a rather typical school day, took many of the same subjects, followed similar daily routines, used many of the same technologies, and even shared the same passion for finding solutions to global climate change. The connections my students made with their partners was truly an eye-opening experience for them and mesmerizing for me to watch.

3. Technology-Driven Global Collaboration is Surprisingly Effortless

african student using computer to chat with american girl and take part in global collaboration for a computer science program
Photo Courtesy of Banjul American Embassy School

It’s fascinating to see how quickly my students have adapted to collaborating and communicating with partner students across the world. After their first video exchange, it was like they were working in the same classroom. The Global Web Design Platform made it easy for them to collaborate and truly be on the same page. Communicating across global lines seems effortless to them as they collaborate on shared project files, design websites and exchange multiple video messages with their partners from across the world.

4. Projects with Global Partners Provide Opportunities to Mentor

Since our students are slightly older than those at our Global Partner school, I have noticed a unique sense of mentoring that is occurring in their global collaboration. My students seem to model for their global partners when designing their websites, setting the tone for what is to come. For example, when one younger global partner student placed an image on her collaborative global climate change website, my student enhanced the image with an insightful quote on global climate change solutions. This process gives students the opportunity to learn from one another and guide one another throughout the entire project.

5. Meaningful Global Interactions Draw Girls to STEM

Students from the all-girls school smiling due to their involvment with STEM
Photo courtesy of Ursuline Academy of New Orleans.

From my experience this school year, this project created a user-friendly, positive environment to recruit girls to Computer Science. This type of experience encourages girls to consider careers in technology at the same time as it prepares them to participate in a global economy. Students gain the hands-on experience necessary to create meaningful projects on a global scale. I watched as their confidence with HTML, CSS and JavaScript grew each class and was amazed with their rapid progression.  My students went from novice to almost expert at an astounding rate. Moreover, this experience provided opportunities to integrate deeper communication, collaboration and empathy in the classroom setting.

After this project, I can confidently say my classroom was transformed into a space where they could live out the vision of women as leaders in a global society. This is the future of education: a world in which students design, create, problem solve and imagine together, despite cultural differences or language barriers. The experience is truly invaluable, and it is my hope and prayer that even more students will have the opportunity to be positively impacted by global collaboration opportunities like this one.

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Jessica Buckley is a High School Technology Teacher at Ursuline Academy of New Orleans (@UrsulineNOLA). Follow her on Twitter: @BuckleyMethod.

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