The Digital ClassroomTeaching with technology provides new perspective for students
The final question came from a Punahou second-grader. Standing in front of her classmates, she asked a group of Japanese third-graders, "Do you have a lily pond?" Vickie Bisho's second-grade students were sure they knew the answer. But when a Japanese third-grader emphatically responded, "Yes, we do!" it was difficult for the surprised students to keep silent.
From inside Damon Lab, a crescendo of murmurs led to a collective, "Whoa!" The students laughed, amazed at the coincidence that both of their schools have the unique water feature. The same girl happily replied, "We have one, too! It's very big."
The first face-to-face exchange between Punahou's second-graders and third-graders from Kansai University Elementary School, which opened in April 2010 in Osaka, Japan, went well. The conversation was accomplished using Skype –the free Internet software that allows video-conferencing from anywhere in the world. With a laptop, a projector screen, and no technological glitches, the young students have been getting to know one another since the beginning of the 2010 school year.
Punahou's second-graders learn Japanese and Kansai University's third-graders study English. The faculty organized a yearlong connection between the two classes to underscore each school's language curriculum. By their first Skype session in November, the young e-pals had already shared quite a bit, swapping digital introduction cards and other exchanges about school and home life, posted to their "Coming Together" wiki space. Among them were slideshows depicting Punahou field trips and colorful posters about the third-graders' favorite things (insects, sports and dancing ranked high). The two groups of students discovered they had plenty in common, which quickly helped them bond.
When Kansai University Professor Kenichi Kubota reached out to Punahou in hopes of a possible connection, it was a welcome opportunity. Last summer, Punahou's Grades 1 – 4 Technology Resource Teacher Heather Roxbourgh '63 Byrne, Bisho, and Japanese teacher Naomi Omizo welcomed Kubota and his colleagues, including Ryan Fujii, an American faculty member who teaches English and plans curriculum, and third-grade teacher Mr. Haruhisa Komoto. During that summer, the Japanese third-graders kicked off the collaboration with a specially made DVD highlighting their school, in which they played tour guides.
These digital encounters have been a great success, but not without the help of a dedicated bunch of faculty, who coordinate logistical hurdles – from translation glitches, uneven class sizes (Mr. Komoto's class has 32 while Bisho has 25 students), to negotiating the 19-hour time difference between Japan and Hawai'i. Somehow everything fell into place.
By springtime, group Skyping sessions evolved into a more intimate setting, with smaller groups of students connecting with one another. One afternoon, second-graders in groups of six convened at the four computer stations set up at Damon Lab. Tyler Murakami '21 looked on as his classmate Cosette Wu '21 talked with a Japanese girl. "We get to talk all the way to Japan and make new friends," he pointed out as he patiently waited his turn to speak with his far-flung companion.
Even the teachers are excited about how much they've been able to engage their students. "We had no idea when we started that we'd be doing this!" said Bisho about the individual Skyping conversations.
The one-on-one session complements another digital correspondence that faculty set up for the kids – an online bulletin board, where Punahou and Kansai students are paired up. A Google translator helps field their many questions to one another about hobbies, sports, favorite school subjects, food and much more.
Byrne also is pleased about how well the digital connection has fostered personal relationships: "To me, it's really about exchanging the culture, and that's hard to get across to young kids. But just to show, face-to-face, that there are people outside of 'our world' is so important for them."
Fujii, who has been instrumental in translating sessions quickly and coordinating technological logistics with Byrne – agrees. "Because Hawaiian and Japanese culture have traditionally distinct clothing, languages, songs, dances, diets, histories, etc., there is truly a lot to share with each other. I think the kids are [realizing] that learning can be a very eye-opening and fun experience. When we bring real things in the world into the classroom in meaningful ways, there is a spark that ignites," he said.
So while the second- and third-graders practice their English and Japanese with one another, they also relish that their newfound friends nearly 4,000 miles away are more similar than they first thought, such as playing by the lily pond, attending art class, using Apple computers, and enjoying the same sports. The exchanges, while supporting language curriculum, also bolster a love of culture while opening a world of opportunities and making the world a smaller place.
In that early DVD from Kansai University Elementary School, Vice Principal Tatsuya Tanaka expressed his gratitude for beginning such an exchange. "I hope that our students and teachers will make a good team to make many special lasting memories."
Indeed they have.
By Melissa A. Torres-Laing