On Creating a University for the Planet

How can we create a world that works for all? That question animates education futurist Pavel Luksha, professor at the Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO and Director of Global Education Futures.

Luksha thinks students need more learning experiences to cultivate a sense of purpose. He sees purpose arising from knowing yourself and the world.

The first step is self observation. “There is an insufficiently cultivated ability to listen to yourself,” explained Luksha. “It is one of the shortcomings of a predefined, one-size-fits-all curriculum.”

But finding that passion requires something else. In addition to listening to yourself and giving things a try with play-based and experience-based learning, it requires the ability to empathize and dialog.

In particular, Luksha wants to see more dialog about the environment. He sees widespread disregard for all the ways humans are impacting the climate. He thinks we’re putting the future of humanity at risk. To address the problem, Luksha is working on a big idea: a university for the planet.

Planetary University

There is accelerating recognition of the impact humans are having on the planet. Young people might be the last generation with a chance to mitigate the damage we’ve caused.

“If we continue on the path that we are on, in the next 100 years the planet may become uninhabitable,” said Luksha. “We need to engage critical mass of people in the next 20 or 30 years or we are doomed.”

Given the complex changes in the biosphere, “The only way to go forward is to become more modest, to acknowledge that we are part of a much bigger system. We need to learn how to reconnect, modify our ways, and stop harming the ecology.”

Luksha proposed a University for the Planet to help build the global skills to connect with a common future. He envisions a system of 250 hubs around the world that will support lifelong learning for global citizenship.

A series of short in-person workshops will extended into six month programs. Participants will often engage in projects to mitigate or adapt to climate change. A project platform will give investors a view of all the global projects.

While Luksha sees great invention opportunity (e.g., clean energy, sustainable cities), “We have enough answers; we need to spread knowledge.”

Luksha sees a University for the Planet as key to creating a world that works for all of us. “It gives me hope that education can be one of the factors enriching and stewarding a global civilization.”

Reimagining Education

Creating a global lifelong learning collaborative could be a key part of combating and adapting to climate change. It could also help reimagine education. “It’s about bringing life into the more machine-like civilization that we have become,” said Luksha.

For hundreds of years, schools have been modeled after factories. “The only antidote is to awaken the life in you and the life in relationships; to become part of the tapestry of life, more humane, more lifelike,” said Luksha.

“Any system project begins with relationships on the micro-level, the level of the classroom or school. It starts by cultivating a different kind of relationship, not transactional, but recognizing the other as a complex human being. This is where the journey begins, to awaken to who we are.”

University for the Planet is a big idea. But it just might start small with a few people coming together in community, sharing what they know, and making a contribution.

10 Innovations that Support Students’ Community Contributions

How many of us recall our elementary and secondary education experiences truly mattering outside the four walls of our schools? Surely our parents, relatives or neighbors saw some value in what we studied, but few if any programs focused on supporting students in community outreach and impact.

Thankfully, that’s changing. There are many exciting digital initiatives and brick-and-mortar organizations geared toward involving students in the betterment of the world today in a variety of ways. However, often these innovations are only known within their origin. A Finland-based nonprofit, HundrED, is dedicated to helping these spread on a global scale through identifying and sharing impactful and scalable K-12 innovations. Each year, they research pedagogically-sound educational innovations from around the globe and select 100 that are proven to be working and have the potential to work in many countries.

Here are 10 global innovations highlighted by the team at HundrED that are enabling kids to make real contributions to their communities.

1. CommunityShare
Multiple locations, U.S.A.

CommunityShare transforms cities into human libraries through an online platform and offline relationships that connect local community expertise and knowledge to real-world learning experiences with students and teachers. CommunityShare has connected over 10,000 students and teachers with community partners who have served as volunteer mentors, project collaborators, guest speakers and more.

2. Youth Made Initiative
Multiple locations, Malaysia

The Youth Made Initiative is a collaboration of education and industry to help contextualize design and technology for K-12 students. Local companies agree to help schools on a range of endeavors: in-person visits, work experience, live design briefs and more. This builds familiarity with STEM education while enabling staff and students to ‘upskill’ with relevant, modern skills and knowledge required for the world of work. Current collaborations are taking place in Malaysia, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.

3. Global Create-a-thon
Napa, U.S.A.

What happens when you give students a high visibility community space to present their creative projects and then give them a day to create art, animations, drawings, photographs, stop-action or green screen videos to fill that public space? Pure magic. The Global Create-a-thon project is a daylong design challenge where the best artwork created is incorporated into Lighted Art Festivals around the world.

4. Gold Youth Development Age
Cape Town, South Africa

This organization’s audacious goal is to develop 10 million young African leaders with character and integrity to mobilize members of their generation with the knowledge, tools and support to reach their full potential. They’re focused on achieving concrete results in social behavior change, education and job creation through embedding the format of long-term peer leaders and mentors into schools and communities.

5. Initiative for Peace

The hope of those leading this initiative to train young people to become peace-builders is that it will ultimately inspire them to bridge gaps within their own communities toward lasting peace. Facilitating peace conferences for youth from areas of conflict or post-conflict remains one of its chief aims.

6. Green Hope Foundation
Toronto, Canada

Green Hope Foundation is a youth organization working on education for sustainable development, children’s rights and environmental protection by empowering young people and helping to build effective partnerships with all stakeholders of civil society.

7. Redes de Tutoria
Mexico City, Mexico

An educational movement to build networks of learning based on personalized dialogue, reflection, and community presentations.

8. Green School Bio Bus
Bali, Indonesia

Bio Bus addresses transportation and waste problems in Bali through education and community mobilization. It aims to provide sustainable transport services to Green School and local communities by offering sustainable transportation, solutions to health and waste problems around used cooking oil by converting it into biodiesel, and deliver real-world, integrated learning to youth.

9. Global Minds Initiative
Pittsburgh, U.S.A.

Global Minds Initiative (GMI) is a youth-imagined and designed program for combating intolerance by fostering intercultural friendships and global understanding. Global Minds promotes inclusive spaces by investing in the next generation of leaders.

10. High Resolves
Multiple locations, Australia

High Resolves has developed and refined an award-winning, comprehensive citizenship curriculum rooted in cutting-edge learning science and more than 14 years’ experience in the field. The curriculum includes professionally delivered and film-based immersive experiences, a library of over 80 teaching resources and real-world application exercises on topics like social justice and inclusive leadership. It has expanded to Brazil, Canada, China and the U.S.

For more, see:

How Writing and the Arts can Contribute to Beautiful, Meaningful International Projects

Only connect! This famous exhortation made by novelist E.M. Forster in the early 1900s resonates for 21st-century educators as they begin to realize how important international student collaborations are in creating successful global citizens. The National Education Association agrees, insisting that American students “begin developing a deeper understanding of the world’s economic, social, and political issues. Global competence in the 21st century,” they remind us, “is not a luxury, but a necessity.’

It seems logical that international projects can play an important role in teaching our students about the world. What to base these projects on, though? A lot of attention has been given to the idea of students collaborating on global issues such as water shortages and hunger. Good ideas—but remember that more possibilities exist; possibilities that might resonate more deeply for you if you stress creativity in your classroom.

Why not base an international project on writing and the arts? As Asia Society notes, “the arts play a critical role in shaping a student’s worldview in ways that are at once deeply personal and universal. The exploration of dance, music, theater, and visual arts allows students to experience their own culture and to meet other cultures and traditions in unique and inviting ways.” Connecting students across borders by using writing and the arts may be the perfect way for the creative educator to develop global competence in students. Here are two examples of success for you to consider:

A few years ago, Dr. Susan Gay Hyatt created the Children of Conflict program, connecting students from G-Star High School for the Arts in West Palm Beach with their peers at the Center for Children’s Theatre Development in Pristina, Kosovo to collaborate on the creation of a performance piece about living in the shadow of conflict. At that historical moment, Kosovo was asserting its independence from Serbia, and as conversations on the project’s online discussion board focused on that topic, nastiness arose between students who were ethnically Serbian and those who were ethnically Albanian. The American students, for their part, struggled to understand the history of the animosity they were witnessing. At one point, an American student chastised her international peers for their strong opinions and told them they should “just learn to get along.”

Here was an example of what Kwame Appiah means when he argues that “the most fundamental level of disagreement occurs when one party to a discussion invokes a concept that the other simply doesn’t have. This is the kind of disagreement where the struggle is not to agree but just to understand.” Both Albanian and Serbian students immediately responded to the American girl, providing her with a quick and intense history lesson. She ended up apologizing for her ignorance and attitude. Real, albeit uncomfortable, learning took place that day.

Another example: This year, at North Fort Myers High School for Arts and Media, teacher Ashley Monastra is connecting her animation students with high school students at SMP Kartika Siliragung School in East Java, Indonesia. The Fort Myers school has a large budget for art supplies and electronics, including a 3-D printer. The Indonesian school has only 25 students and no arts programs at all. The only advanced technology in their small schoolhouse is one laptop and one projector; the teacher connects to Ms. Monastra by accessing Facebook on his flip phone. Taking these differences into account, Ms. Monastra created a collaborative project in which the Fort Myers students are designing robots, creating backstories and model sheets for them, and sending this information to the Indonesian students. With colored pencils donated by Ms. Monastra’s class, those students are coloring the robots, having learned about texturing from a tutorial created by Ms. Monastra. Finally, the Fort Myers students will electronically texture the robots as described by their partners and send the final products back to Indonesia. Java has a small 3D animation industry, and this project will give the Indonesian students some basic 3D knowledge and skills. The Fort Myers students, in the meantime, will learn about Indonesia, and they’ll learn to take orders remotely from an international “client.”

Ms. Monastra is also taking an extra step: in addition to sending colored pencils, she and her students are soliciting donations of art supplies from the larger school population to send to SMP Kartika Salirigung School. They are moving beyond simply knowing that poverty exists in Southeast Asia to engaging personally with Indonesian young people to tap the creativity they possess despite their poverty—and then they’re taking action to address the lack of materials that prevents those students from finding a voice—and perhaps gaining employment—through art.

Through examples like these, we learn that when young people use writing and the arts to connect across borders, many benefits accrue. Here are four of the most important:

1) Students learn about another culture from the perspective of its young people. Often, what they learn contradicts the messages they have absorbed from movies, the media, and other narratives that claim to define a country or a culture. Their exchange initiates a cross-cultural conversation, prompting questions and answers from both groups.

2) Common ground is established. As participants recognize the similarities between themselves and others whom they once considered so different, their common humanity is made apparent.

3) Empathy is developed. As students communicate—using Skype, email, discussion boards, and the like—they experience the world through each other’s eyes. They put themselves in each other’s shoes.

4) Students learn to communicate clearly. Because they are collaborating with peers from another culture, who may speak another language, students must consider how they word their messages, what slang they’re using, and what they’re taking for granted when they talk and teach about the US.

So, give it a try: when you engage in an international project, take inspiration from these projects and base yours on writing and the arts. The process will be meaningful, the impact will be great, and your students will never forget the experience.

For more, see:

Cora Bresciano is the Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Blue Planet Writers’ Room. Follow her on Twitter: @BluePlanetWrite

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Whittle School & Studios: Transforming Education for Global Good

Armed with a “big idea,” entrepreneur Chris Whittle has assembled a talented global team of thought leaders, educators, innovators, architects and designers with a shared goal of launching Whittle School & Studios, “the world’s first truly global school.” The Fall of 2019 will welcome the first 2 campuses in Washington DC and Shenzhen, China with additions each subsequent year, to total 36 campuses in 15 countries throughout the world.

With motivation fueled by “the power of education as a transformative force for global good,” the school’s goal is to “graduate students with the skills, knowledge, and character to succeed in the Innovation Age.” Through the thoughtful exploration of best learning practices and the strategic design of program aspects that do not currently exist, the creation of this global learning community will set a stage for learners to impact their local and global world well beyond campus walls and infuse the benefits of collaborative relationships with global learners and partners from across the planet.

A world-class staff, informed by a global academic advisory board and leading-edge partners, developed a school model that incorporates 10 important innovations that set the new standard for quality education.

Getting Smart served as a lead education design partner for the innovative school network. According to Project Director Adam Kulaas, “The design represents best-in-class learning in 10 dimensions, with a focus on preparing young leaders for global contribution.”

1. Personalized learning. It is no secret that personalizing learning increases student autonomy, ownership and buy-in. It solidifies a partnership with the educators, parents and partners within a learning community through tailoring learning to amplify each student’s social, emotional, physical and academic growth. It sets a stage for voice and choice in advocating needs that will elevate interest and relevance in learning.

Design Highlight: Every single element of the Whittle School & Studio design process has utilized, and demanded, presence of mind in empathizing with the lens of the learner. A non-negotiable in terms of design, it is woven into all aspects of the holistic experience. Teachers will be armed with the skills to inform and accelerate learning to meet the needs of students where they are at with intentional emphasis on where they will go. As the bedrock of the model, additional layers are identified in highlights below.

Whittle School & Studios schematic of master schedule

2. Holistic advisory. At Getting Smart, we view advisory as a vehicle for incubating and nurturing social and emotional development, with a cohesive balance to grow academically as they learn how to acquire new knowledge. It is a balanced approach to serving the whole learner en route to the identification of post-secondary opportunities, with the learning “currency” that qualifies them for successful transition and navigation of lifelong learning.

Design Highlight: With a shared philosophy and belief in the outcomes associated with high-quality advisory, the evolving design includes emotional, intellectual, physical, ethical, social and academic development targets with a few unique separators. Advisory is weighted as an equal partner with academic coursework, which is represented in master scheduling, and bolstered through staffing targets and an extension to students prior to 6th grade. This approach increases the validity of its role within the learning model and front loads fruition and successful progression of competencies identified within this advisory program.

3. Maker mindset. Students are the future, and inevitably inherit the responsibility of creating solutions to local and global issues in their current and future worlds. With increased urgency behind the value of a growth mindset, makerspaces and the associated tools and processes provide experiences in prototyping and “failing forward” with multiple iterations of design thinking en route to personalized discovery of new knowledge. It is a practice that breeds self-reflection and maximizes all senses and movements that are kinesthetically connection.

Design Highlight: With robust makerspaces on each campus and connected resources through each affiliated Center of Excellence and Studio, internal and external learners will have access to spaces to create in. As described in deeper detail below(Centers of Excellence and Studios), each campus will house physical space and pedagogy/curriculum supporting mindset development to inspire and equip students to apply learning through these resource-rich spaces. These are also vessels for bridging the learning community and makerspaces to the larger host city as a point of design emphasis. The weighted importance of expanding learning beyond the walls of the campus is another design pillar that exemplifies the model and will provide a positive impact for local and global good.

4. Local and global. As we highlighted recently, globally connected students and classrooms spark learning experiences that accelerate shared empathy and collaboration in addressing the challenges that our collective learners currently face. This mindset and the design actions behind making it a reality provide an opportunity to maximize local resources in relation to the global issues in partnership with immediate and distant learners.

Design Highlight: All Whittle School & Studios environments (Campuses, Centers of Excellence, and Studios) have intentionally created the infrastructure needed to bring the local and global learning experience to fruition. With multiple access points, their approach, both physical and design, will act as an example of how to facilitate and support a user experience that has fluidity in connecting local resources and learning with global contributions and collaboration.

5. Place-based education. Place-based learning offers a path and outlet to student-centered, personalized learning. It removes classroom walls and expands the learning community to grow a mindset of learning anytime, anywhere. As advocates for the benefits of this shift, we developed a thought leadership campaign to get you started, “Learning & The Power of Place.”

The Whittle design team (below) recently braved a cold blast to pilot some of the City as Classroom lessons in Washington DC. The team studied monuments in forgotten parks, hit historic campaign stops like Ben’s Chili Bowl and ate African food at Bokum Cafe in Adams Morgan while discussing global development.

Design Highlight: The Whittle School & Studios Design Team is composed of experts within the field of experiential learning. The “City Core” integration and experience design will provide highlights from the inception of each campus as a learner partner to the host city where they reside. By identifying the rich culture and value associated with each location, students will maximize their experience through full immersion into each city and benefit from access to their global peers throughout the world, in person or virtually through multiple access points. This emphasized engagement model will also lend to pedagogical and curriculum alignment around application and engagement.

6. Centers of Excellence & Studios. In identifying our targets for 2018, Getting Smart continues to be committed to growing and unpacking innovative initiatives and opportunities that create the future of work and learning. Along this path, we are committed to maximizing the use of educational opportunities that reside within each local and global community to support students by infusing design thinkinghigh quality project-based learning, and community partnership.

Design Highlight: Each Whittle campus will have a Center of Excellence (C.O.E.) that is aligned with characteristics that make that city unique to the world. Students will be provided with learning experiences that bring these components to life and fuel deeper learning. They will be rich in facilitating mentoring relationships, and will act as a catalyst for relevant student-centered application of knowledge acquired. With emphasis on leadership development intertwined into all aspects of the learning design, each C.O.E. will utilize the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as beacons for the creation of thematic targets.

In addition to the C.O.E., Whittle Studios will provide access to learning beyond the school days and deliver an additional opportunity for deeper learning and academic supports as they work with advisors to capture learning in online portfolios.

7. Talent development. A school can only be as successful as the faculty established to bring the experience to life. Onboarding, collaboration, reflection, evaluation and growth practices are all extremely relevant when designing a school or network. A meaningful approach to talent development requires a balanced design of efficiency and effectiveness and must include in a continuum framework that maximizes the talents and skills of the individuals within the learning network. In order to create world-class learning opportunities, networks must build opportunities for the development and expanded capacity to guide world-class work.

Design Highlight: In modeling learning design expectations and graduate profile components for the learners within the Whittle School & Studios, the holistic approach to designing talent acquisition and development has been intentional in mirroring the same global lens utilized to craft the learner experience. The faculty experience will be personalized and each staff member will be supported in growing their capacity to better serve each global student. A firm foundation of rich professional learning and collaboration systems that increase relationships with colleagues throughout the world will codify a partnered investment in each students social, emotional and academic development.

8. Beautiful, learner-centered space. Learning space plays an integral role in facilitating the experience and acting as a base for the culture of the community. Intentional alignment with the pedagogical philosophy, user and learner experience are a few elements that will create longevity within their design. It is also relevant that they are recognizing growth patterns when opening new facilities, with their foresight focusing in part on the ability to support expanded enrollment and address environmental factors associated with each location.

Design Highlight: In the architectural design of Whittle School & Studios there is an intentional alignment with pedagogy and instruction, illustrated below through a vision provided by renowned architect Renzo Piano, who has designed “inspiring environments for making, sharing, and growing—places where students can pursue their passions and achieve their highest potential.”

Whittle School & Studios, Washington DC Campus
Whittle School & Studios, Shenzhen Campus

9. Learning abroad. In alignment with the value generally placed on opportunities for learners to experience the world through the eyes of other learners across the globe, technology has supported the ability to connect us all. In a recent blog, we highlighted the use of technology as a tool to increase access for global learning and the associated power that comes with the knowledge and skills to investigate the world, weigh perspectives, communicate ideas and take action. While it increases core knowledge and application, it’s also useful in terms of the human competencies gained through the empathy that comes with exploring other cultures and experiences.

Design Highlight: The connectivity of the global campus is driven by access to learners and cities throughout the world. Whittle Schools & Studios has taken a different approach through the frequency of the travel their students can experience: a ceiling does not exist. In the promotion of student integration into countless cultures and global insights in multiple formats, each student’s opportunity is limited only by their own passions and preferences. The model supports access points along a continuum of travel opportunities and experiences, including “summer programs, trimesters abroad, and full years abroad at Whittle campuses around the world.” With a balanced intention of growing knowledge and friendships, this element of the design will inevitably open experiences to students that will last a lifetime.

10. A global school. The concept of a global school inspires a belief in the idea that together, we can be and do better. It is a commitment to personalization that harnesses the potential of each learner with emphasis on human connections and the shared purpose that only learning and growing can provide. As we continue to be more intentional in creating learning networks based on opportunities that bring people together, we will truly accelerate the transformation of education.

The global school is informed by a Global Academic Board chaired by Getting Smart CEO Tom Vander Ark. “The opportunity for young people to learn with students around the world, study with experts at 30 Centers of Excellence, and travel to the world’s leading cities, makes this an exciting advance in global education,” said Vander Ark.

The advisory board includes Cindy Mi, CEO VIPKID; Todd Rose, Director of the Mind, Brain, and Education, Harvard and Co-founder of The Center for Individual Opportunity (author of The End of Average); Pavel Luksha, Russian Education Futurist (report author of Skills of the Future: How to Thrive in the Complex New World); and Melina Uncapher, Neuroscape Education Director and UCSF Neuroscientist.

At the launch event last night at the Andrew Mellon Auditorium (left), Chris Whittle introduced Chancellor Nicholas Dirks (who will join the Whittle team in June), who summarized the benefits of a Whittle education: the world’s most personalized school preparing globally-ready students in immersive language, art, and design experiences.

In the fall of 2019, Whittle School & Studios will open multiple “doors” to the world for students and educators. Armed with continued motivation to “transform education for global good,” the design components and implementation discoveries highlighted above will support shifts that will transform education. For more information, check out Whittle School & Studios.

For more, see:

This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures please see our Partner page. If your organization is ready to make an impact and would like a partner in creating the future of learning, contact our Services Team.

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Canadian in Paris: The Life and Work of an International Educator

After growing up in Nova Scotia, Daniel Kerr made the expensive decision to attend college in Maine. To pay off some of his student debt, Kerr took a teaching post in Abu Dhabi for the attractive salary and housing stipend. During his first break, he realized that international travel was a big bonus of teaching at an international school.

Kerr met a counselor in Abu Dhabi, who ironically was from the same part of Nova Scotia, who became his wife. They accepted positions at the Jakarta International School, a well-regarded school where they taught for seven years.

In Jakarta, Kerr met Tim Stuart (featured in this report on the Singapore American School, now head of school in Addis Ababa), and learned about the importance of professional learning communities.

Now a decade into his teaching career, Kerr was hooked as an international educator. He accepted a leadership role at a large middle school in the heart of Shanghai, a diverse and inclusive school with students from 65 countries.

Check out Dan’s Shanghai Tedx Talk on Living a Life Well Lived.

After four years in China, Kerr took the opportunity to lead an intermediate school in Quito, Ecuador. And after three years there, he became lower school director at the American School of Paris (ASP).

Sound crazy? Kerr’s journey is not unusual for an international educator. Each post was an important developmental stage, an opportunity for growth and contribution. Like the intentional leadership development in the military–each stage added breadth and responsibility. Kerr (@DanKerr1) speaks five languages. His children, age 10 and 12, have visited two dozen countries. He is a thoughtful educator and citizen of the world.

American school, an international community

Mark Ulfers leads the first American school in Europe. The American School of Paris (@asparisofficial), founded in 1946, serves 780 students ranging from preschool through 12th grade.

About four in 10 students are children of US expats. The rest are international students and children of French parents interested in attending a US university.

The leadership team is adopting broader measures of success, supporting more student-centered learning experiences, and striving to make the campus even more inclusive.

Middle School Director Jeff Lippman (@jefflippman) showcases design studios and projects in 1:1 classrooms that promote creativity, innovation and connected learning. Middle-grade students are beginning to build portfolios and lead parent conferences.

Kerr observed creativity, imagination and problem solving during a third-grade lesson on invisible forces.

He explained: design challenges plus projects plus maker plus service learning prepare young people to be citizens of the world.

Three new buildings expand student opportunity this year on the ASP campus, and a new high school features an IB Diploma Programme.

In addition to being a pathway to American universities, ASP offers a more progressive option than the very traditional French schools. Lippman admits that the master schedule offers challenges like design studio versus choir. “Balance is key,” he adds.

Kerr is only six months into the lower school assignment. He is supporting professional learning communities. He writes thoughtful reflections in his Monday Musings Blog and contributes to The International Educator.

For more see:

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How Schools Around the World are Tackling Social Justice – Part 2

We are currently exploring how schools and classrooms around the world are incorporating the myriad of social justice issues going on each and every day. In our first post in this series, we heard from school leaders at Gimnasio Los Caobos in Colombia, Shanghai American School in China, and Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Washington, DC, and they shared how they are addressing issues of social justice and providing the space for their teachers to discuss with students. In this post, we will hear from teachers at these schools to learn more how they are integrating social justice in their classrooms.

As we did last time, let’s first understand the makeup of these classrooms.


Jorge Jimenez Buritica teaches Social Studies, at Gimnasio Los Caobos, to 14, 15, and 16-year-old students which is the equivalent of grades 9, 10, and 11, in the United States. Jorge uses Project-Based Learning (PBL) in his teaching given the school’s recent move to becoming focused on PBL.



Kirk Irwin teaches 7th-grade students Social Studies at Shanghai American School. Their ages range from 11 – 13. Kirk uses “the PBL model most of the time with a focus on how the students can relate what is happening in the world today with history. We also focus a few of our projects on how our students are directly affected by what is happening in the world and also how they affect the world they live and how they can be apart of change if they believe/want it to happen.”


The United States:

Alyssa-Paige Miller is a 10th grade English teacher at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. She shared, “my students are 95 percent African-American, and all qualify as economically disadvantaged.”

There are two main questions we posed to these teachers:

  1. How do you discuss social justice issues in your classroom; and
  2. Do you connect with other classrooms/teachers for ideas on how to teach about this subject?

As we saw in our first post of this series, with the leaders of these schools, social justice issues exist in each of these communities, and as expected, discussion is happening in the classroom. We start with Alyssa to begin to understand the learning strategies each teacher is using to talk about these issues.

Alyssa Paige-Miller, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, on discussing social justice issues in the classroom:

It’s hard for me to imagine teaching and not addressing social justice issues as this is something that I intentionally incorporate into my classroom. I love taking organic opportunities to discuss social justice by making space for discussion, being vulnerable with students, and responding as needed. Students love expressing their thoughts and feelings, and they will respect you for letting them share (whether you agree with their ideas or not). Often, in the organic moments, I don’t need to respond, but sometimes, it’s necessary for them to know where I stand on certain issues–especially with the population of students I teach.

I also intentionally build some elements into our lessons, such as pairing a meaningful song as a “Do Now” that will set a foundation for issues affecting characters in that day’s reading. When I prepare for these conversations, I always make sure that all student voices are heard and that students are allowed to disagree with me and/or classmates.

I’m constantly thinking about how to bring real-world issues into my classroom for my students, so if I see a video or an ad or read an essay, I consider how my students could engage with it and their curriculum content to have a better experience. As an English teacher, I tend to use resources that are text-based, such as current articles, lyrics to a justice- or injustice-oriented song, relevant poems, and excerpts of essays. For example, we’ve used “Reagan” by Killer Mike to discuss mass incarceration, and we used  “Casket Pretty” by Noname to engage a conversation about community violence, police brutality, and death. Anything can be a resource, as long as it’s a meaningful opportunity for genuine discussion and high-level learning.

How Alyssa connects with other teachers and classrooms:

I had the privilege of attending a National Endowment for the Humanities workshop this summer, and in my collaboration with teachers across content areas around the nation, I  gleaned an immense number of ideas. Many of my ideas and approaches are influenced by Teacher Twitter; I follow many amazing educators and activists who share great methods. I’m also very lucky to be at a school that values collaboration among teachers, which lends itself to general discussions and advice, combined projects, or cohesive activities among classes.


Kirk Irwin, Shanghai American School, on discussing social justice issues in the classroom:

We have a project we are working on currently that has been focusing on Historical Social Activism and how our students can be socially active today, what that could look like and why it is important to be a global citizen. In this project, students are primarily focusing on Social Media campaigns and we are trying to steer them away from the ‘donate money’ idea as they are not really becoming activists in this way. We are finding that many of the students are so far removed from some of the topics that they have a hard time understanding how they are impacted by some of the issues, besides the environmental ones. Some of the students are discussing supporting refugees/migrants with language classes to help them get employment, while others are talking about educating both groups of people concerning the issue of police brutality against African Americans. We will continue to talk to them about these issues and push them to become more informed and current when it comes to global issues and social activism.

We ask the students to come up with an issue they are most passionate about at this time and then come up with a plan on how they can be socially active right now, in their school or community (this is tough b/c we live in China, but we try).

The primary resources we are using are library databases for information: Britannica and World Book Online Encyclopedias, US/World History in Context, Scholastic Magazines and
News Websites.

How Kirk connects with other teachers and classrooms:

Currently, Kirk mentioned his class is not really connecting with other classrooms but he said he definitely does reach out to others as he is planning units. He shared, “ee sometimes bring in experts or professionals in certain fields to come and talk to the students about the importance of the issue or why being a globally minded citizen and helping others is important for them.”

Jorge Jimenez Buritica, Gimnasio Los Caobos, on discussing social justice issues in the classroom:

It can at times be a challenge to talk about social justice issues happening in Colombia, with my students. The students are, by and large, first-class students and their reality is not the war or the social issues that are currently going on. Sometimes I like to show testimonies of people living through the war in capital cities of Colombia but we get pushback from the parents about these experiences being shared. Within this context, it becomes a struggle on how you relate to current events, the peace process, and the politics of what is going on in the country. So, you begin to incorporate these issues in different ways. Rather than teaching directly about these events, I teach through a comparative analysis of what can be learned from wars throughout history such as World War I and II. I’ll ask the students to think about, “what Colombia can learn and avoid from these examples?”

Of course, the goal is to also teach the students to be aware of the other Colombia that exists. The students are aware of the “other” Colombia in terms of its history, but they are not emotionally connected to the fact. The students are not aware of how others are living because they never really explore Colombia outside of their own city. For vacation, they go outside of the country. The parents reinforce this as well. Most parents are interested in wanting their children to in know about the culture of other countries but not the culture of what is happening in Colombia. It is easier for the students to learn about the social justice situations that other countries may be going through, and some may be similar to what Colombia is facing, rather than relate to the plights within their own country. History and current events are still being taught and will continue to be taught because it is important for the students to understand their history and how it impacts the future, which includes the student’s place in that process. As Jennifer D. Klein mentioned in our previous post, the school is committed to ensuring the students have the knowledge and understanding to make a difference in their community and the world. A great example of this is that the school has a heavy focus on entrepreneurialism and it is Jennifer D. Klein’s goal to infuse more social importance into the projects students are creating. She wants to encourage students to think about social responsibility and not just about the thing they are creating.

How Jorge connects with other teachers and classrooms:

The 11th-grade class will soon start a partnership with an AP Spanish class in Colorado. Through this partnership, the class will learn more about Colombia and the peace process.


If you are a teacher we’d love for you to join us in this conversation. How are you integrating social justice issues in the classroom? Comment below or respond on Twitter using #SmartPlanet.

Be sure to visit our first post in the series where we talked to school leaders. For our third and final post we want to hear from you. What barriers, if any, do you think exist to teaching about social justice? We recognize responses may be sensitive so you can share with us anonymously here.

For more, see:

Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update.


How Schools Around the World are Tackling Social Justice – Part 1

We are currently in a time period where social justice issues such as racism, extreme poverty, environmental issues, access to healthcare and the like are being ever more threatened, and injustices are playing out in news cycles around the world. In light of these injustices, we have seen an overwhelming number of people activate themselves to protest, campaign, and stand up for social justice. While grassroots organizing is happening around the globe, we are left wondering how are these conversations making their way into classrooms and schools around the world?

We seek to examine this question and have called on Getting Smart friends in Colombia, China, and the United States to help us, and our readers, learn more. To jumpstart the conversation we reached out to school leaders at Gimnasio Los Caobos in Colombia, Shanghai American School in China, and Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Washington, DC.

Before we dive into the responses, let’s first get to know the schools a bit better:


Jennifer D. Klein, Head of Gimnasio Los Caobos (and author of The Global Education Guidebook), school is situated in Chía, just north of Bogotá, in Colombia. The school has existed for 26 years and currently enrolls 600, 4 to 18-year-olds which equates to grades Pk-12 in the United States. The students that attend the school are in the middle and upper classes of society. Three years ago the school made a shift to focusing on project-based learning and personalized learning.



At the Shanghai American School we spoke with Instructional Coach, Andrew Miller, who shared that his school is “an international community with teachers from over 27 different countries. Our students learn from a variety of core subjects, AP and IB, as well as a variety of electives in languages, physical education and the arts. We use many standards and curricular outcomes from the United States including the Common Core, the National Core Arts Standards, the Next Generation Science Standards, and the C3 Framework for Social Studies. While many of our students are local Chinese, many are expatriates from other countries including Korea, the UK, the U.S. and many more. Our students engage in variety of activities that take them outside the 4 walls of the school from regular sporting events to “China Alive,” our “week without walls” where students learn in a variety of contexts across China.”


United States:

Josh Parker is an Instructional Coach at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Northwest Washington, DC. He explains that “most of the students come from an impoverished background yet have enormous potential for learning and greatness. Our school is the first public high school for African Americans in the country and boasts some of the great African Americans of our time as its alumni (Dr. Charles Drew and Senator Eleanor Holmes Norton) as well as its distinguished faculty (W.E.B. DuBois).” The school is currently in a slight restructuring which includes new staff along with an eye towards building a new history for its students. Dunbar “is looking to re-establish the Drew Academy for engineering as well as the Norton Academy of Law and Public Policy.”

There are two main questions we posed to these leaders:

  1. Are there social justice issues going on within your community, and how do you address them within the context of your school?
  2. Are you talking about social justice issues from around the world as content within your school and how do you address them within the context of your school?

Like many schools around the world there are social justice issues going on in each of these school communities, and while they vary in context they hold a common thread that no place is without the opportunity to discuss current events. Starting with Josh Parker, here’s what each leader had to say:

Josh Parker, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, on exploring social justice issues within the community and world:

Our community, the Noma/Ivy City community, is situated in Ward 5 of Washington, D.C. This community is diverse in its inhabitants and in its issues. There have been homicides that have affected the students (and teachers) of this school as well as issues related to access to high-quality teachers and course content. As a school leader, I support my teachers in having those community conversations as well as global conversations about issues of social justice. Additionally, our curriculum does not shy away from these subjects and invites them into the classroom through thematic units designed to promote conversations that we all need to have. One particular example comes to mind when I consider how the leadership of the school rallies around our teachers’ commitment to social justice. The leader of the Social Studies department, lead a campaign through her street law class that was promoted primarily through t-shirts. Each t-shirt read: Know Your Rights. I can proudly say that nearly every faculty member purchased a shirt. You can see us wearing them nearly every week; bringing awareness to a platform issue that was birthed with classroom conversation.

As a school, we subscribe to the 4 R’s: Rigor, Relevance, Relationships and Responsiveness. We attempt to make relevance a part of daily instruction by prompting teachers to connect the daily learning with the out of school lives of children. This can be done through the Essential Questions of the Unit, but is most practically done in the Warm-Up activities and spontaneous discussions that arise out of the content students are learning. We encourage our teachers to ask this question of their instruction as often as they can remember: why would a Ward 5 student want to know or care about this lesson? How can s/he apply it in a real-world context?

Andrew Miller, Shanghai American School, on exploring social justice issues within the community and world:

As Shanghai and China is a very diverse city and country, we have many common social justice issues, from pollution issues with smog to food safety and poverty. In addition, many of our students themselves have challenges such as depression and anxiety, which are major health concerns. To explore and take actions on these issues, many teachers create engaging PBL units where students make content and skills connections to real-world problems. Math teachers had students investigate whether or not our ramps met standards for safety as set by the United States. Some students might engage in a social justice project on a topic of their choice, or create documentaries to tell stories on social justice issues. Our middle school health program has many projects where students problem solve stress issues, investigate healthy eating, and even build awareness campaigns on other health issues. Some of the projects related to student concerns like anxiety come from teachers and the community noticing it themselves. As these issues became more prevalent, teachers thought about engaging curriculum in health to support the whole child. At the high school level, a decision was made to not only have college counselors but also counselors focused on social-emotional needs, so all students have access to both, one per grade level. In terms of the social justice issues in the community like poverty, students don’t bring those issues up as much. It’s more of a “teacher move” to make those connections.

Students might also do projects where they connect with students across the world, such as math project where students designed a playground for students in Nairobi. In general, teachers often use PBL as a way to not only teach and assess content, but address social justice issues. As an instructional coach, I’m often involved in dialogues to help teachers design and implement these authentic projects. We continually support teacher reflection on how to use PBL to make connections between curriculum and the real world and often this takes the form of a project experience connected to social justice.


Jennifer D. Klein, Gimnasio Los Caobos, on exploring social justice issues within the community and world:

Colombia is at a turning point right now. In late August, the then called Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) moved from its distinction as a rebel group to a political party. The party is now called the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force but it still is known as FARC, and the country is divided both on how it views the peace process and the legitimacy of FARC as a political party. To understand this, one most understand Colombia’s history, including FARC’s involvement in the challenges of the war. The long-lasting war, the peace negotiations with FARC, the ongoing peace process, and all the reasons FARC initially came into existence: the inequality and repression that existed (and exists) between the poor and rich, this is of course coupled with the extremely violent means FARC at times used to come into power, and you are left with a country facing social justice issues, unrest, and the healing of a nation.

While the country is undergoing the peace process, there are lasting wounds that still exist. Thousands of people were killed during the years at war and hundreds of thousands were displaced. While the country deals with these realities, the school is pretty insulated from it given the population it serves. The students come from very privileged backgrounds, and don’t understand, nor at times have interest in, what’s happening in the rest of the country. This is coupled with a very engaged group of parents who have at times expressed they do not want their children to be taught about certain current events. This then leaves the school, and its teachers, to think creatively about how to teach about current events. Even with this juxtaposition between what is currently going on in the country, and the challenges of teaching taught about it, Jennifer stresses that the school is seeking to impress upon the students that they should be able to connect to a deeper sense of purpose and understanding. She referenced the classic Spiderman notion that, “with great power (in this case privilege) comes great responsibility.” The goal is to get students to understand that they have an opportunity to make a contribution to society and their country and do this they first they must have knowledge of what is going on. In addition, the school is trying to ensure the students gain exposure to the many facets of the country, such as communities that have not benefited from war and people they have never had access to.

While learning about Colombia’s own social justice issues may present challenges at times, students are regularly learning about social justice issues happening around the world. Jennifer equates this with the view that is often easier to grasp the “other’s” issues rather than the issues going on within one’s own country. It has been Jennifer’s experience that it is easier for people, including these students, to investigate and ask questions about someone, or someplace that is not close. It becomes easier for people to talk about someone else’s problems because they are not as embroiled in them. If problems exist outside one’s own backyard safer to address.

This may be the context that currently exists, but educational leaders and teachers always find ways to creatively teach difficult topics and that is exactly what is happening at this school. We will learn more from a teacher at the school in our next post.

Get Involved

If you are a school leader we’d love for you to join us in this conversation. How are you addressing social justice and allowing teachers the space to discuss within your own school? Comment below or respond on Twitter using #SmartPlanet. In the second post of this series, we’ll learn about some of the ways teachers are bringing social justice to the classroom.

For our final post we want to hear from you. What barriers, if any, do you think exist to teaching about social justice? Share with us anonymously here.

For more, see:

Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update.

Capitalism that Works for Everyone

Private ownership of property and production, the profit motive, free markets and free trade–capitalism is an economic system and ideology. It made America the world superpower. The rise of capitalism promoted an 80 percent reduction in world poverty in less than four decades led by a 97 percent reduction in East Asia (as shown below).

The bad news is that capitalism is not working very well for most Americans. As David Leonhart illustrated, poor and middle class, who used to see the benefits from income growth, are now largely getting the scraps, left behind by the one percent, or really, the 0.001 percent.

“I think the greatest issue of our time is the disparity of wealth and the problems that exist for the lower 40 percent of the population,” said Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates. Bridgewater is the world’s largest hedge fund, which about $160 billion in assets. According to Forbes, Dalio himself is worth about $17 billion.

“If you carve out that lower 40 percent, not only has there been no income growth, but death rates are rising because of opiate use, suicide, and because they’re losing jobs,” Dalio said. “This is the biggest issue of our time—the biggest economic issue, the biggest political issue, and the biggest social issue.”

Warren Buffett said “You really shouldn’t have an economy with over $50,000 in GDP per person and have lots of people living in poverty who are willing to work. I mean, that makes no sense and we need governmental policies to correct that.”

“Capitalism does not self-correct toward greater equality—that is, excess wealth concentration can have a snowball effect if left unchecked,” said Bill Gates.

Inequality Gets Worse From Here

Our new report on the future of work and learning illustrated how the combination of artificial intelligence, big data and enabling technologies like robotics are changing the employment landscape fast.

A PwC report predicts that more than a third of jobs could be at risk by 2030. A new McKinsey report says 400 to 800 million people will be looking for work (some predict bigger losses starting next year).

The combination of AI, big data and new enabling technologies is creating new jobs but most are small technical niches that are even harder to predict than displacement which will vary by sector and geography.

“Workers who have steadily lost access to the economy as digital processes replace them have a sense of things falling apart, and a quiet anger about immigration, inequality and arrogant elites,” said Brian Arthur, an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute.

The angst that fueled the 2016 election only gets worse from here. Financial returns are rapidly shifting from labor to capital–the people that own and finance the robots win in the automation economy.

Arthur notes that we’re at the end of the old production economy driven by free-market economics and old measures of growth and in a distribution economy where it’s all about who has access to what’s produced. From here on out, it’s all about sharing–who has access to the benefits and income produced by exponential technology–and that’s a political problem.

Learning to Share

Psychology (and Calvinism) suggest that young children are inherently selfish. Biology seems to boost the capacity for empathy by age six or seven leading to early-stage altruism or at least a sense of fairness. Early attitudes and habits can be influenced by adults that create terms of engagement and model fairness and generosity.

Middle-grade students learn to collaborate and work together on projects. Many high school students learn the importance of civic duty and community service.

Two current policy examples from Washington DC appear to look backward rather than forward and exacerbate hoarding rather than promoting sharing.

Not So Neutral Net. The FCC is set to vote December 14 to reverse Obama era regulations requiring internet providers to provide open access to their networks for all digital content.

The new rules would give network providers like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon new power to throttle distribution of certain content and charge more for better access. The proposed ruling is based on a bad definition and sets a bad precedent for sharing.

“Internet rights are civil rights,” said Jay Stanley, American Civil Liberties Union senior policy analyst. “Gutting net neutrality will have a devastating effect on free speech online. Without it, gateway corporations like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T will have too much power to mess with the free flow of information.”

School superintendents are concerned about the rollback of net neutrality regulations – concerns shared by SETDA and iNACOL.

There are arguments on both sides of this bill, but the proposed repeal appears to have little to do with the urge to share and the drive for equity.

Tax Cuts For the Wealthy. The Senate Republican tax plan gives substantial tax cuts and benefits to Americans earning more than $100,000 a year, while the nation’s poorest would be worse off, according to a report released Sunday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Whatever way the House and Senate reach a compromise tax bill, it is will exacerbate rather than narrow income inequality in America

Despite a 2016 election driven by populist angst, the DC dialog seems relevant to plutocrats rather than the broad interests of American’s facing automation economy.

Sustainable Capitalism

The innovation economy will produce tremendous benefit and wealth–and both will be concentrated unless we decide otherwise. To extend US leadership in the innovation economy we’ll need to update our form of capitalism.

Our new paper on the future of work and learning suggests a couple solutions:

  1. Build a stronger social safety net. There are likely to be waves of dislocation and transition. Vulnerable populations will be at risk more frequently, putting new demands on social services including transitional housing, job training and mental-health supports.
  2. Build a new civic infrastructure. Given congressional gridlock, cities and states will be the laboratories of a new social compact in the U.S.–and they’ll need new public-private-philanthropic partnerships that frame challenges and run experiments on topics ranging from basic income protection, to job training, to autonomous vehicle regulation.
  3. Build lean public agencies. Taking a page from the Silicon Valley playbook, government entities will need to become more nimble by surveying and convening stakeholders to develop temporary agreements—a form of iterative social development. (The Finns changed their constitution to allow this form of active experimentation on basic income.)
  4. Build smart cities. Every region needs to develop learning ecosystems that help people skill up fast around distinctive capabilities. As we noted in Smart Cities That Work for Everyone, learning ecosystems include innovation leadership, public and private partnerships, aligned investment, talent pipelines and multiple affordable-learning entry points that recognize prior knowledge and certify new skills. Lots of small colleges will go bankrupt in the next few years, smart cities will find ways to transform these campuses into lifelong learning centers focused on emerging job clusters.
  5. Provoke youth contribution. There’s never been a better time to build an app, launch a campaign or start an organization. The ability to build large datasets around big problems and aim open source machine learning tools at them is unprecedented (like TensorFlow Lite and an iPhone X). Schools and community groups should invite young people into the problem solving, infrastructure building and agreement crafting process.

The debate in Washington is disappointing and irrelevant to the challenges we face. Cities and states will need to lead the way into the innovation economy. It starts with learning together about what’s happening and making decisions our kids will be proud of.

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Samsung Creativity Lab–And What it Means for Education

Digital City is a gleaming corporate utopia in Suwon-si, an hour south of Seoul. One floor under Central Park is an underground crossroads that connects high rise buildings (and protects workers from Korea’s hot summers and cold winters) and is the epicenter of Samsung’s commitment to innovation.

Jay Lee leads the Creativity & Innovation Lab, C-Lab for short, a corporate incubator launched in 2012 with the goal of being “Creative igniters for the future.”

Open to any Samsung employee, C-lab is temporary home to about 100 staffers working on new projects. They get a two year runway, some investment and technical assistance.

The incubator has spun up 180 business ideas in 16 categories (below) from 750 participants.

Some of the ideas picked for development include:

  • EyeCan: eye tracking mouse for disabled users
  • Noe.Ye.Mo: brainwave sensing wearable that detects strokes
  • TipTalk: uses vibrations in your finger to answer smartwatch phone calls
  • Idea printer: compact printer that connects to phones and prints on sticky notes.
  • Mr VR: motion headset that lets you feel VR (below)
  • Mopic: phone accessory that enables 3D content
  • HumOn: transcribed humming into musical score with orchestration
  • Relumino: improves vision for sight impaired
  • Ignis: thermal imaging devices and gas mask visor for firefighters

In the next few years Samsung plans to invest $1 billion in venture deals including C-Lab companies.

There have been 32 spinout companies from C-Lab. About a third of the ideas are abandoned. Samsung will rehire entrepreneurs if they aren’t successful developing a product or developing a market fit.

In addition to serving as an innovation engine for the Korean tech giant, C-Lab is a cultural experiment. Founding values include creative ideas, pioneering spirit, lean thinking, and collective intelligence.

Borrowing from Zappos, C-Lab models a holacracy where teams operate with autonomy. Jay Lee explains that by forming many small business units they hope to spur disruptive innovation and a new kind of hybrid organization.

Budding entrepreneurs in the lab use Mosaic, a collective intelligence platform that combines analytical, marketing and communication tools.

Each year the 30 C-Lab staffers hosts two hackathons where all Samsung employees can work on new ideas.

C-Lab for Education?

C-Lab is a great example of a corporate incubator, but what does it mean for education?

A recent education conference in Seoul hosted by the World Bank and the Korean government included representatives from southeast Asian countries. Participants visited Samsung looking for secrets of the innovation economy–for industry and education.

Every region needs a C-Lab for learning. Some regions already have an incubator: LearnLaunch in Boston and 4.0 Schools in New Orleans, for example. Tech incubators like

Y Combinator in San Francisco and 1776 in DC also serve EdTech startups. (See full list of incubators and accelerators).

Denver Public Schools is the only school district with its own incubator, the Imaginarium, where teacher teams can design new learning models.

C-Lab gets five things right that regional edu-incubators could learn from

  • Everybody can propose new ideas–and good ideas rise to the top
  • You drive your idea (and it doesn’t get jacked by the mothership)
  • Teams get a two year runway with some investment and technical assistance
  • Teams with demonstrated market fit get venture investment
  • Five year safety net: you can get your old job back if the idea flops

Samsung, Hyundai, LG and other Korean companies are making the shift from decades focusing on low cost manufacturing as the competitive advantage to innovation as the new leverage point. C-Lab is a great step in that direction.

For more see

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Bridging Continental Divides with Virtual Music Collaboration

By Mary Kay Altizer

At a time when the world is in turmoil, with conflict saturating the news every day and people afraid to reach out, we decided to take a group of teenagers who live 5,500 miles apart and bring them together to show how music can transcend the strife and anger in this world. From Los Angeles to Sweden and back, 24 of our students performed a music concert in Sweden without ever having met, and also performed two concerts in front of live audiences in Westlake Village, a suburb of Los Angeles. It was an ambitious undertaking, but that’s exactly what we achieved this year at our small school in California.

I’m the Performing Arts Department Chair at Oaks Christian School, a co-educational college preparatory school on the western fringes of Los Angeles. Recently, after taking a course on Global Learning for my master’s degree, I became captivated with the idea of connecting my high school music students with students in other parts of the world. There are so many innovative learning platforms available for our classrooms and these advanced technologies make it easy to break down communication barriers and give students the freedom to collaborate in real time.

Making Music Virtually in the Classroom

In 2015, our school began collaborating with students at the Academy of Music and Business (AMB) in Tingsryd, Sweden. We were exploring cross-platforms that the BYOD classrooms could collaborate with and had narrowed them down to Pro Tools and Logic Pro X. An Oaks alum approached us about investigating Soundtrap, a cloud-based audio recording platform that lets students compose, play and edit songs, recordings and podcasts in real time and share them online in a secure environment.

As a professional musician and former symphony pianist, I’m always looking for innovative ways to meet the massive changes in the music industry and exploring new ways to give students access to deeper, more meaningful learning experiences. Soundtrap turned out to be the right solution for this collaborative project with AMB. Not only does it mimic the way today’s teenagers communicate online through social media but it also offers a video feature that allows them to see each other while they’re collaborating.

After communicating with AMB for two years, we finally got serious about the collaboration. Each school picked 12 of their best and brightest musicians to collaborate on eight to ten cover songs for live performances in both the United States and Sweden. All year long, the students worked in groups in their classrooms to create new arrangements for the pieces they were assigned. Every day, they embraced working in a collaborative learning environment with their peers across the globe.

When Tragedy Strikes, Global Music Collaboration Heals

In April of this year, tragedy hit Stockholm, Sweden, while our students were en route to meet and perform at the American Embassy there. We were preparing to board a connecting flight from Zurich to Copenhagen for the two schools’ first in-person performance when we learned that a truck hijacked by a terrorist drove into a crowd in Stockholm’s busy downtown, killing five and injuring 14. Our dilemma: Do we continue or turn around and go home?

Convinced that our cross-cultural journey of bonding was now also one of healing, we continued to Stockholm the next morning. Together, in front of 140 diplomats and their guests, and without ever having practiced or sung a single note together, our schools pulled off a flawless, 30-minute concert. Because the students had met virtually and were able to learn each others’ styles and personalities beforehand, the concert went off without a hitch.

Where Technology Intersects Humanity

In addition to working together to heal the global divisions that are so prevalent today, the students built bonds with each other and they now text and regularly connect through social media. The Swedish students returned our visit and came to our school in California. One hundred and forty students and a full orchestra performed our Spring Spectacular concert in front of 1,500 people.

Even within the four walls of a school, students can get out of the classroom. If you don’t have the financial means to send your student to another country, collaborating cross-culturally with the right EdTech tools (Soundtrap worked well for us) can nonetheless get your students out of the classroom virtually. The teenagers in this story are still collaborating together, and I like to think they’ll maintain these international bonds for the rest of their lives.

For more, see:

Mary Kay Altizer is in her 17th year of teaching at Oaks Christian High School and is the Chair of the Performing Arts Department.