20 years ago, my education was based on memorizing and it wasn't student-centered at all. While I learned about water all I got was a textbook. I now remember very little of these lessons. Time to do better. I wanted to initiate a global student-centered project about one of the UN sustainable development goals: Water.
I choose countries based on three criteria:
- Combined, they represent nearly every continent of the world, having different religions, cultures, languages and habits.
- They all have inspiring water-related places (Dead Sea, Amazon, Ganges, desert, Mississippi, etc.).
- They deal with very different water-related issues, like water shortage, lack of clean water and spoilage of water.
I was invited to the Maverick Teacher Global Summit 2016 near Bangalore, India. We worked in groups on seven United Nations sustainability goals. As I spoke to the Indian teachers, I discovered nobody in India thinks about drinking tap water, except for the poor people who even seem to have become immune for diseases. It inspired me to set up a global project about water.
I contacted teachers from around the world and ended with nine schools participating from six continents: Argentina, Belgium, India, Israel, New Zealand, Nigeria, South-Africa and the U.S. (California and Minnesota)—and the Global Water Project was born.
By setting up a shared online OneNote document, I started to brainstorm, to collect links and phrases while doing research, to sketch, note ideas and bring structure to abstract data. Once I had a final draft of the project, I shared the document with some schools who already decided to participate. While we were collaborating in this shared document we could finalize the document.
One teacher involved in the project stated:
“Water is such a precious resource and vital commodity. I am thrilled that we are involved in the Global Water Project, so my students not only learn from their peers about the challenges of getting clean water in other parts of the world, they also learn to appreciate the water they have here and how important it is to take care of it.” —Tammy Dunbar (USA)
The goal was to make the project student-centered and interdisciplinary. We wanted students to discover, create, collaborate, present and share—keeping 21st-century learning skills in mind. Students turned into journalists and classrooms into newsrooms. The weekly topics were related to Science, Geography, ICT, Literature, Biology, History and Health. I believe that computers need to be in the classroom for every subject, as this allows students to automatically and instinctively learn how to use computers while immersed in the subject.
The 21st-century learning design offers a perfect framework by:
- Providing real-world problem solving. What better way to learn about issues in other countries, like water scarcity, than by talking with people from these countries?
- Offering collaboration. Collaborative learning is key. Knowledge created in a group has higher value than knowledge offered by a teacher.
- Extending Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for learning.
- Delivering knowledge construction. Students had to be creative and find solutions to existing problems and went beyond knowledge reproduction to generate ideas.
Behaving as real journalists the students did research and developed ideas. They gathered and analyzed information and used multimedia—both articles and videos—to address the audience.
Students from New Zealand went on an excursion to take and test water samples.
Time to bring more structure to the OneNote Notebook. I created one section for each participating country, which contained pages to track ideas, note research, add links and stories in pipeline and to publish the results.
Over five weeks, the students were presented five topics. As part of an introduction they had to present water-related places in their area. In a later stage, they needed to write reports and articles about the quantity, quality and use of water. Every weekly topic was introduced by a flyer I created.
The weekly topics were introduced via flyers.
This project needed to be global. What’s better than learning about another culture, religion and habits than speaking to these people in person? By looking at their presentations, the students began to create in small groups. Every country used different approaches. In some schools, students created one specific slide in one PowerPoint presentation. In other schools, students collaborated in small groups while each group made their own PowerPoint presentation. After presenting the outcomes to their peers, the presentations were sent to every participating country so students could learn directly from students with very similar interests in very different countries.
The teacher became a guide rather than an instructor. Students creating articles in groups.
Collaborative learning is key
Knowledge constructed by students in group has a greater value than knowledge offered by a teacher. By putting students in the journalist role, they learn to create, present and share content with a critical eye. All students worked in one shared OneNote Notebook, which allowed them to structure, collaborate and share content. It also allowed teachers to guide their students when needed.
OneNote offers a canvas that allows to users to insert text and hyperlinks, multimedia and handwriting. Once projected on a wall, it can be a whiteboard—an easy alternative for expensive smart boards—without any limitations.
OneNote can also be used as a photo gallery since it allows to insert many pictures.
Students doing research about the Mississippi River.
What followed was simply amazing. The innovative teachers involved sent impressive photos and stories. Some spontaneously started using Minecraft to recreate some geographical spots, others went on an excursion to lakes and created their dream pool in Legos. Students created stop-motion videos and created Sways. Some used Lifeliqe to demonstrate the water cycle and others created videos using a green screen, to overcome the language barrier.
But we tried to go further than scenarios in which students were discovering and sharing facts. We wanted them to find solutions to help bring change in the students’ homes. Some schools invited the students’ parents to speak about water spoilage and water conservation. In our project, the aim was to prevent students and their parents wasting water and at the same time bringing them to drink more water—instead of soft drinks—and live healthier in general.
Students interviewing their parents about wasting water and noting solutions.
For the water wastage topic, I put the participating schools in two different groups. Each group got access to another OneNote Notebook. To bring a small competition between both groups, they were asked to create the longest list of tips to prevent water spoilage. They used Skype to collaborate live. They drew and created messages for their peers which were discovered a few hours later because all participants live in different time zones.
We never had live contact with each other during the first weeks. We only sent emails and collaborated in ONE OneNote Notebook. At the end of the project we set up Skype meetings with one another to “meet” each other in person. The South African and Belgian students were able to have a Skype call in their native language (Dutch and African are related).
So, could we possibly have conducted this global project about water without ICT? No. The students needed tools to find, analyze, structure, present and share information and to communicate with students from very different countries in different parts of the world. The students eagerly turned their classroom into a newsroom and only wanted their time in the classroom to this project.
—Koen Timmers, in collaboration with Jennifer Verschoor (Argentina), Olivier Dijkmans (Belgium), Neeru Mittal (India), Karina Batat (Israel), Nikkie Laing and Jodi Hill (New Zealand), Vera Anique (Nigeria), Keshma Patel (South Africa), Tammy Dunbar (California, U.S.) and Luke Merchlewitz (Minnesota, U.S.)