New initiative brings local third-grade students together with students in Senegal
Geneva, NY — Hobart and William Smith Colleges have received a $10,000 grant from the Independent College Fund of New York and the John Ben Snow Trust Public/Private Learning Collaboration to initiate a new project, Bringing Relevant Internet Dialogue to Geneva Education (BRIDGE), through which HWS students on a term abroad in Senegal are linked via the internet with third-grade students at the West Street School, Geneva, N.Y.
The BRIDGE project, which enables third-grade students to pose and research questions about Senegalese society and answer questions put to them by Senegalese children, is led by Hobart and William Smith Professor of Philosophy Scott Brophy. According to Brophy, “This is very much a team project. Those of us collaborating bring different kinds of expertise. Some have worked on international projects in education, some are technology specialists, and others are teachers and students at the elementary school and college-level. We’re enjoying the experience of learning from one another.”
Last fall, Sarah Barry, a senior in the HWS education program, student-taught in Anne Bergstrom’s third grade class at West Street School. Since Barry would be in Senegal this spring, and in fact another HWS education student, Katie Sisk, would be student teaching in Bergstrom’s class this spring, the BRIDGE program was initiated there. Bergstrom and Barry led the class in discussing Senegalese life, culture, geography, and history. Now that Barry is in Africa, she is the correspondent who helps the class initiate and solve a series of “mysteries,” or invitations for student inquiry, on the Senegal economy, politics, and society. Sisk, meanwhile, assists Bergstrom back in Geneva.
The mysteries, and the investigations that follow, are communicated through a web site with easy-to-post digital video and still images, linked discussion threads, posted documents, and external links.
Geneva third-graders ask questions based on the mysteries and direct the HWS students in conducting research through an e-mail exchange, including digital photographs taken at both locations. Geneva third-graders may ask questions of Senegalese children through the HWS students, and Senegalese schoolchildren may respond with questions of their own, enabling Geneva students to examine their own community, culture, and geography in a new light.
In the project, computers are used creatively to enhance student learning and sharpen research, analytical, and communication skills. Curriculum and instructional goals have determined how technology is used, rather than letting the technology drive the instruction. The project is also designed to “bridge” technology and traditional instructional materials, and monies from the grant were used to purchase books, atlases, and art supplies in addition to computer software. These traditional materials inform the students’ use of the internet, and the internet enlivens their use of these materials.
Families of the West Street School students can follow the project through visits to the web site, either on their own computers, at an upcoming West Street School open house, or on any computer with a web browser. By visiting www.blackboard.com/courses/icfny-snow-grant, and logging on as a “guest,” all members of the community can follow the students’ progress or join the discussion.
At the end of the year, information from the web site, including the mysteries, questions, and answers, will be downloaded and compiled in book form for circulation in classrooms and the school library. Geneva students will also present the findings to other classes. The school also plans to hold an evening exhibition of the work for the students’ families.
A large benefit of this program is that HWS education students are able to increase their participation in curricular design and the use of instructional technologies as well as from the integration of international experience and service learning into their studies.
Mark D. Gearan, the president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges and the former director of the U.S. Peace Corps, is excited about the potential of the collaboration. “The value of bringing our program in Senegal back home to students at West Street School is extraordinary for everyone involved. Both the students away from home and the young people in Geneva benefit immensely from their interactions.” says Gearan. “It is a great honor to be entrusted by the Independent College Fund and the John Ben Snow Trust to facilitate a project of this merit.”
Approximately 30 West Street School students and 12 HWS study-abroad students are participating in the first year of the program. Karen Simon and Tom Simpson are offering instructional technology support from the Geneva City School District, as is Stan Skrabut from the Colleges. The team collaboration also includes Lilian Sherman, Charles Temple, and John Burns from the Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ education department. Another member of the department, Pat Collins, assisted in the design of the project. Joe DeMeis, the principal at West Street School has been involved and very supportive.
It is hoped that next year the project be expanded to pair local students in another classroom with HWS students in a Latin American country to broaden their experience even more.
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