Teaching Opinion

Response: Ways To Teach Globalization

By Larry Ferlazzo — June 29, 2014 13 min read
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Craig Perrier asked:

How do you teach globalization?

It’s an important issue, one that’s highlighted in the above photo I took recently at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. on a recent visit.

Four educators -- John T. Spencer, Diana Laufenberg, Jennifer D. Klein, and Jason Flom -- have contributed responses to Craig’s question. In addition, I’ve included comments from readers.

Readers might also consider listening to a ten minute conversation I had with John and Diana on this topic at my BAM Radio show.

In my own classroom, I’ve approached the topic of globalization from a number of perspectives.

One way has been by using the fairly common strategy of having students look at all their clothing labels to identify where they’ve been manufactured. There are many different “takes” on this lesson -- you can see one at The New York Times Learning Network which focuses on working conditions in the Third World.

I’ve also done a series of lessons working with “sister classes” throughout the world. You can see many examples of those projects here, and learn how to make those connects at The Best Ways To Find Other Classes For Joint Online Projects.

I’ve also used resources from The Best Ways To Learn About The World’s Different Cultures and from The Best Tools to Help Develop Global Media Literacy.

Finally, I’ve used some intriguing materials from The Best Resources To See Connections (or Disconnections) In The World Before & After The Internet to provide some historical context to this issue.

Before I turn the rest of this post over to my guests, I should say that this is the last question this blog will deal with until late August. However, there still will be plenty of new content appearing here over the next two months. There will be two new posts each week: an interview with a noted education author and a second one that will bring together links to all my posts over the past three years on a certain theme (student motivation, teaching reading, classroom management, etc.). And there’s still time to contribute your question to be answered in the next school year!

Now, to my guests:

Response From Diana Laufenberg

Diana Laufenberg has taught all grade levels from 7-12 in Social Studies over the past 15 years. She most recently taught at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, an inquiry-driven, project-based high school focused on modern learning. Her practice has deep roots in experiential education, taking students from the classroom to the real world and back again. Prior to her work in Philadelphia, she was an active member of the teaching community in Flagstaff, AZ. Diana was featured on TED.com for her “How to Learn? From Mistakes” and recognized for earning National Board Certification. Her publications include a featured piece on the New York Times Learning blog, an article in the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy and regular contributions to teachinghistory.org:

Globalization is one of those courses that seems so big in scope that it is incredibly difficult to get your brain around as a teacher. Figuring out the balance between knowing about the issues of globalization while also understanding the interconnectedness of the world is daunting. The goal, like with World History is not to teach it ‘all’.

The most critical piece of teaching globalization is a healthy understanding of the current affairs of the world. A steady diet of current events and robust discussion about those events will build capacity in the students to think deeply about and find connections between the issues of globalization.

Another approach I like to use in teaching globalization is to ground the class in a shared text, like Collapse by Jared Diamond. The book allows us to have some structure to focus a conversation about the nature of how societies both thrive and falter. (Many of my students had read Guns, Germs and Steel by Diamond in a previous class) This reading threads itself throughout the class providing new and interesting angles on the discussions of the modern global scene.

Next, I include a long-term, student directed learning activity that they pursue throughout the course. This allows the students to have some freedom and flexibility to study of a region or topic they are interested in pursuing further. One year I challenged them to follow election procedures in another country, find a voter to talk to and report back to the class that included a comparison to the US system. The challenge of finding a person to connect to was a lofty one, students had to dig into the country in a way was wasn’t a report, but rather a investigation of a situation unfolding in real time and using their knowledge of the US system to make connections to in their learning.

Additionally, one year I had the extreme luck to partner with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. This collaboration brought reporters from all reaches of the globe to my classroom to talk about the issues they were investigating. While I know this was a unique opportunity, seeking out global connections with digital tools can also hold immense power for connection and understanding in the globalization classroom.

Globalization is one of those courses that if you try to teach it ‘all’ you will find yourself frustrated. Ground your class in a text, feed it a healthy diet of current events and look for projects and opportunities that allow your students to make connections with the world around them.

Response From John T. Spencer

John Spencer is currently a sixth grade ELL teacher in a low-income urban school in Phoenix, Arizona. He blogs regularly at Education Rethink, writes a column for Kappan magazine and has written several books:

Globalization can feel like a pretty large, abstract concept. So, I start students out with the driving question of “How is our world connected?” I start with a Twitter chat or an Edmodo group where they chat with students in another country, asking about similarities and differences. From there, they begin to realize that most companies are transnational and that technology, economic systems and products are more global than they are national.

From there, they begin to explore globalization in their own world. They have to research one product and see how the production moves from place to place. They begin to examine global marketing. I also ask them to find examples of globalization in their own neighborhood. Some of them interview people and ask about global conferencing. Others get into the idea of immigration. Still, some of them do a photo diary. This often leads them to see the cultural elements of globalization and ask hard questions about whether globalization is eroding cultural identity in a push toward a monolithic culture.

It’s only then, when they have a very local, concrete, human perspective on globalization that we get into the political and military side of globalization, the questions of neo-colonialism and the clash between micronationalism, nationalism and transnationalism.

I’ve had some success in having students put all these elements together into a documentary. However, a blog might work well to chronicle the evolution of learning or maybe even a problem-based unit centering around a scenario where globalization is creating conflict.

Response From Jason Flom

Jason Flom is the Learning and Communications director at Cornerstone Learning Community in Tallahassee, FL. He is an ASCD Emerging Leader, class of 2010, and the founding editor of Ecology of Education, a multi-author blog exploring issues and ideas in education. He is also a BAM Commentator. Give him a follow on Twitter at @JasonFlom:

Teaching globalization is as much about “teaching” empathy, awareness, and critical understanding as about skills related to comprehending the interdependence of nations. Done right, students find themselves questioning hidden assumptions, re-examining their culturally embedded perspectives, and expanding their sense of what constitutes a need vs. a want.

When trying to expand students’ “International Mindedness” (as it is termed in the International Baccalaureate world), I have found that awareness is the easiest starting point.

Often students - be they early elementary or high school - have little understanding of the variation between themselves and others beyond their borders. So, I like to start with activities that are intended to expose the contrast between them and their international peers while simultaneously piquing their interest / curiosity.

Fortunately, with the bevy of resources at hand, this is relatively simple. If given access to the Internet, I engage students in exploring the diversity their situations vs. those of others. The Atlantic offers a wonderful reality check in their post, “‘Where Children Sleep': Around the World Tour of Bedrooms.” I’ll have students observe a bedroom that strikes them and then have them compare/contrast the bed. I’ll extend with maps related to political, physical, and resource boundaries. I use the opportunity to capture students’ questions and those become the spring board for the next phase.

Often such an exercise will lead into an awareness of a need. If given the time, resources, autonomy, and curricular flexibility, such emotion and desire on the students’ part can translate into meaningful service projects that incorporate research, project-minded thinking, and collaborative coordination. All of which expand students’ cognitive understanding, wherewithal, and application of emotion leveraged into action as it relates to globalization.

Related resources include:

Response From Jennifer D. Klein

A product of experiential project-based education herself, Jennifer D. Klein taught college and high school English for 19 years, including five years in Central America and 11 years in all-girls education. In 2010, Jennifer left teaching to begin PRINCIPLED Learning Strategies, through which she provides professional development to support the integration of authentic global learning experiences in schools:

“In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” --Eric Hoffer

Our students face an increasingly globalized world, and with it comes challenges we haven’t even discovered yet. At the very least, we know that our worst global problems will require young change makers taught to think and collaborate globally in innovative and constructive ways. The goals of global education include three strands of approach and intent: exploring global perspectives and developing students’ ability to honor the experiences and needs of others; teaching global problems and fostering the innovative thinking needed to solve them; and fostering the global competencies which will allow students to collaborate globally to solve our interconnected challenges and be a part of authentic change. In excellent global programs and deeply globalized schools, all three approaches are maintained and supported as interwoven strands which matter to the entire community, not just a few individual teachers making isolated efforts.

Perhaps the most important goal of these three strands for a global classroom is to foster students’ global competencies, particularly the ability to communicate and collaborate across cultural and political boundaries to solve our most pressing “borderless” problems. Improving our impact on the environment, for example, is a problem requiring collaborative efforts because individual choices increasingly impact our entire human society. Like pollution, human trafficking crosses borders and requires the collaborative effort of many governments and organizations. Even most business fields are now requiring the intercultural skills developed in the global classroom, as global businesses need to understand and meet the demands of different markets and work forces in order to succeed.

While it can be very difficult to develop and maintain an effective global partnership with another teacher in the world--and very expensive to offer the kinds of international service travel which will naturally teach students to collaborate across cultural and language boundaries--global teachers can recreate many of the same experiences inside their classrooms. In international and culturally diverse schools, the school community provides an authentic forum for intercultural dialogue and collaborative work. Furthermore, any school with an internet connection can connect students with the world, and there are many programs and organizations which help connect schools and classrooms for online collaborations (see examples below).

Another way to achieve global partnering is to connect your classroom with the broader vision and goals of a non-governmental organization working on the issues to which you wish to expose students. At the Town School for Boys in San Francisco, 6th grade math students work in partnership with Kiva to develop micro-loan opportunities for struggling entrepreneurs around the world. Students borrow money themselves in order to develop an entrepreneurial project, usually developing a product to sell to their peers. Through effective marketing--and a great deal of math--students work in teams to develop businesses, the goal being to pay back loans and use profits to make loans to individuals around the world on Kiva. The Town School Kiva Project has been incredibly successful not just in terms of the mathematical skills it develops in authentic, relevant ways, but also in terms of deepening students’ sense of interconnectedness with a broader global community. Students develop their collaborative skills both in and out of the classroom, they work in partnership with the visionaries behind Kiva, and they participate in financial excercises which serve to benefit real people in real ways.

Try this in your classroom: There are many organizations offering programs to support the pairing of classrooms for global projects. Making an initial connection doesn’t guarantee a fully successful collaboration the first time around; in fact, developing deep global partnerships can take years, and success often requires opportunities for face-to-face encounters. That said, it is always important to start somewhere. Some of the most notable organizations and programs connecting classrooms include TakingITGlobal for Educators, iEARN, the Flat Classroom Project, NAIS’s Challenge 20/20 and ePals.

Responses From Readers

Jose Fulgencio (@joseful):

Teaching globalization can be done by using social media tools such as YouTube. As studies have shown, for example, in the 21st Century Fluency Series, millennial students learn best with visualization. Showing students a YouTube video of what globalization looks like, what it is and how it affects their daily life will be most effective than just giving them a textbook. I do have to say that giving students at least a few text assignments is necessary but to not forget the YouTube videos.

Thanks to John, Diana, Jennifer and Jason, and to readers, for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org.When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

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Education Week has published a collection of posts from blog -- along with new material -- in an ebook form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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