Global Playground Unveils Teacher Toolkit at Foreign Languages Conference

Monday, May 04, 2009 | posted by Jennifer Rinker |
At the 2009 Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (NECTFL), Global Playground unveiled its new Teacher Toolkit, which shows teachers how to connect their classrooms to students at Global Playground's schools across the world. Although foreign languages instruction might be an obvious outlet for cross-cultural dialogue, GP's Teacher Toolkit is not just for foreign language teachers. "There is room for a cross-cultural curriculum in every subject area," said board member Becca Sacra, the lead developer of the toolkit.

The toolkit provides primary school educators in the United States with lessons that can easily be incorporated into studies of other cultures and how those cultures differ from one's own. The toolkit has two main goals: facilitating cross-cultural dialogue and helping students develop a general awareness of culture. Among the lessons in the toolkit are a digital picture exchange and an artwork exchange piloted this past January by students at The Park School in Massachusetts and Global Playground's students in Thailand and Cambodia. Also included are exercises on geography and mapping, economics, a Web-based cultural scavenger hunt, and a video exchange piloted in 2008 at Brooklyn's P.S. 261.

Global Playground saw NECTFL as a fitting forum for unveiling the toolkit. Teaching foreign languages is fundamentally about teaching people how to connect to others who are different than themselves. Learning languages is about acquiring cultural sensitivity. To make the study of a language "real" to students, they must understand the people who speak that language on multiple levels, including both the words they use and their cultural values. "The typical [foreign language] teacher thinks in traditional pedagogical modes of grammar and vocabulary," observed board member Doug Bunch, "but language is a way of communicating on different levels."

Global Playground hopes that its presence at NECTFL encouraged participants to think broadly about the teaching of foreign languages and about how to incorporate cross-cultural education into their classrooms. The NECTFL platform also provided Global Playground the opportunity to learn from foreign language educators about which of the lesson plans they thought could most benefit their students. Global Playground's next target audience for the Teacher Toolkit will likely be teachers of social studies, but as Ms. Sacra has stressed, there is room for cross-cultural curriculum in every subject area.

Although several of the lessons in the Teacher Toolkit are self-contained and do not require special equipment, the lack of certain technologies in Global Playground's schools across the world creates an impediment to cross-cultural dialogue. For example, some of the projects completed to date required physically traveling to Uganda, Cambodia and Thailand to be the in-person conduits for the interactions.

Resources such as computers, Internet, and in some places even simple electricity will make such interactions easier. Global Playground is actively seeking donations to provide the necessary equipment to its schools. Global Playground will eventually launch its own platform to facilitate cross-cultural initiatives found in the Teacher Toolkit and elsewhere.

- Jennifer Rinker