Then and now: Global Collaboration

Part one of a three part series:  How I implemented Global Collaboration in my first year of teaching with minimal tech and how I do it now in a 1:1 environment. 

Setting the scene:

Teaching was supposed to be a two year gig. As part of a two-year service teaching program, I was sent to Brownsville, Texas  to teach grade 9 geography. I imagined teaching for two years and then getting a “real” job. I’m still not sure what a “real” job would look like, but I knew before I ever stepped foot in a classroom that I would be bored out of my mind teaching for more than two years. I’m currently ending my 12th year of teaching and I can’t imagine any job that could be more dynamic than teaching. There are tedious bits of my job, but it is never boring and always changing.

But looking back at my first year of teaching I’m amazed how many things I tried to do in my classroom in Brownsville with minimal technology and what I now try to do in my 1:1 classroom in Yokohama. This small little series will look at different learning strategies, how I implemented them year 1 of teaching and year 12 teaching and reflect on what has changed and what has stayed the same.

Global Collaboration:

Brownsville, 2001:

One the first people I met in my dorm room at the University of Notre Dame was Abby Gottschalk. She lived two doors down from me and quickly became one of my best friends**.  After graduation, I went to Brownsville with six weeks of teacher training. Abby went to a small town in Germany on a Fulbright teaching scholarship. We were teaching the same general ages and decided to do a project between the two schools. We were studying Europe and they were studying English and it made sense. We brainstormed with our students questions they had about Germany and Texas and Mexico***. To the best of my memory****, the questions were things like “What is your school like?” or “What do you do for fun?”. I remember vividly my students getting really into this project because they knew someone was actually going to read it and it would represent Brownsville. We created a scrapbook, with everything handwritten and loaded with pictures we actually printed. I then went to the post-office and sent it off to Germany. And it was incredibly exciting when a package of letters came from Germany. My kids thought it was strange the German students wrote on grid paper and how different their handwriting was. They realized they both ate sausages and listened to the same music. It was fun and it was real and simple.

Yokohama, 2012

One of my goals this year was to increase the amount of global collaboration I do in my classroom. Everyone has a computer, I teach in an international school, and I have connections to lots of people. Global collaboration seems like a natural fit.

Some of it has been simple, with a quick Skype chat between my grade 7s and a class in Australia. Other collaborations have been more complicated.** The Flat Classroom Conference in Mumbai was an incredible opportunity to see how kids can work together with people from all over the world. I have also participated in the Digiteen Project, though Flat Classroom with my grade 8s. It’s been a blast watching my kids sharing K-pop songs with kids in the States and working together to pull together a project on Digital Citizenship across time zones. I truly believe that by having a global audience, my students are more engaged and want to do their best work. It’s amazing how many opportunities our students have to work with other students from all over the world. It’s as easy as turning on Skype, joining a wiki, or sending an email. And many of these opportunities are fun, real, and simple.


The aim of global collaboration in education is to improve learning, breakdown classroom walls, and develop authentic audiences. A global collaborative classroom is able to connect, collaborate, and create products with other classrooms anywhere in the world.

Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds, by Julie Lindsey and Vicki Davis

Looking back at this year, I am pleased with my attempts at using tech to make global links. But as I look at the relationship built between YIS’a Zoe Page and Ben Sheriden in Borneo and I’m inspired to improve how I integrate global collaborations in my classroom. In remembering my small exchange with Abby eleven years ago I think one of the reasons the project worked between Brownsville and Germany was that Abby and I had a relationship and the project fit my curriculum. And it is no different now. I think that in order to create more sustainable relationships between classrooms, I need to take advantage of the individual relationships I already have with other teachers.  So next year, if I am friends with you, don’t be surprised if I ask you to work with me. And let me know if you want your class to work with mine. It needs to be real, authentic, and fun. Because I think amazing things can happen when we make these global connections.


*If there is ever a reason to blog, it’s to make sure you can always find the cool things you once did in your classroom. I looked high and low for my paper portfolio that might have evidence of what I did in my first year of teaching. I know it’s somewhere, but after five moves, who knows where I stored it? I love that everything I’m proud of is now saved somewhere in case I want to reminisce.

**She’s now Dr. Abigail Nunez and a principal at Maya Angelou Community School in the Los Angeles Unified School district. She is one of the smartest, most thoughtful, and most impassioned people I know.

*** Brownsville is a border town, and when I was there, the border was quite fluid. My school was private, so Mexican nationals could attend. Many students were American citizens, but lived in Mexico and crossed over the bridge everyday. Culturally, linguistically, and physically it was quite hard to tell where Mexico ended and American began. I considered that a very special thing.

*** If you would have told First-Year-Teacher-Me that one-day I would take six kids to India I would have said you were crazy.

Photos used under Creative Commons Licence
The Oldest Ind. Brewery in Texas by Texasbubba
Vera Cruz by Ahuachtli
German Flag by domeniconicola

About Rebekah Madrid

MYP Humanities Instructor. International School Teacher in Japan. Google Certified Teacher. Apple Distinguished Educator. National Board Certified Teacher. Traveler & TV Watcher. This is where I write my thoughts about all of the above.
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3 Responses to Then and now: Global Collaboration

  1. Pingback: Then and Now: Project Based Learning | Rebekah Madrid

  2. Pingback: Then and Now: Game Based Learning | Rebekah Madrid

  3. Yes. So true. This is one of the hardest things about promoting global collaboration – it works much better when you have the personal connection and the personal relationship with the other person, when you know how they work, when you can have casual conversations that lead to big decisions, when you can be completely honest. So it’s tough to set up a thoughtful and dynamic connection for another person (which is often something I end up doing as a tech coach). (Having said that, my absolute best collaborative connection that has turned into a long lasting professional relationship and friendship with the amazing Chrissy Hellyer, was through a completely open sign-up system and we were paired by a third (equally amazing) teacher in the US, Jennifer Wagner, when I was in KL and Chrissy was in NZ.

    Anyway, we are lucky that we work in an environment where we do know lots of different teachers in lots of different places, but not everyone has that advantage. I recommended a few weeks ago that you read some of Clarence Fisher’s work, particularly with the Idea Hive. I think you’ll find it really fits with the kind of connection you’re talking about here. And, in one of the highest compliments I can think of, the way you work with students and think about teaching and learning reminds me so much of him. We need to get him out to YIS!

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