TakingITGlobal Co-founder Michael Furdyk on Future Friendly Schools and Beyond!

We are honored to speak with Michael Furdyk, one of the co-founders of TakingITGlobal, which is one of the global collaboration platforms we have highlighted here on ASAC.  Mr Furdyk has helped create an amazing platform for hundreds of thousands of students across more than 200 countries. He has also appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Time Magazine, Fast Company, BusinessWeek, CNN, MSNBC and USA Today.

photo-1ASAC: We are thrilled to see the Future Friendly Schools Program taking off. As one of the co-founders, can you explain how this program differs from current efforts schools are undertaking to promote global citizenship and environmental stewardship?

Furdyk: For schools already leading the way in promoting global citizenship and environmental stewardship, Future Friendly Schools is designed to recognize and showcase their existing practices, through their school portfolio, and connect them with peer schools across the globe to collaborate with and learn from. Many schools who might not have a focus in these areas will see a different and broader benefit, in gaining tailored recommendations from the accreditation process to support setting priorities to strengthen these values, and a connection to a “living laboratory” – the community of schools around the world who are leading the way.

tiged (1)ASACFor a school weighing its budgetary constraints, what benefits does joining the Future FriendlySchools network offer?

For schools looking to differentiate themselves in locations with many school choices, the designation as a “Future Friendly School” offers an appealing signal to prospective parents and students of a school’s commitment to key values and cultural priorities, and to staying relevant in an increasingly interconnected world. OCED’s recent TALIS survey results demonstrated a link between professional collaboration and educator job satisfaction, and opportunities to collaborate across the Future Friendly Schools network can contribute to this opportunity to strengthen employee engagement.

Finally, the actionable recommendations offered by the certification process can provide significant value in identifying areas for increased focus and specific support resources, helping to strengthen student engagement and satisfaction.

ASAC: TakingITGlobal for Educators (TIGed) remains one of the world’s most successful global collaboration platforms for schools worldwide. How has the organization used this growth to its advantage and managed to maintain such a high level of program quality?

Furdyk: As a small organization, we believe that a partnership-based approach is the best strategy to creating materials that are relevant and high-quality! For most of our education program development, we’ve partnered with Universities who have provided content expertise, while we add our digital platform skills and expertise. For example, our recent Mental Health Thematic Classroom was created with Dalhousie University’s Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health: http://www.tigweb.org/tiged/projects/mentalhealth/

ASAC: Can you describe the Culture Connect mini-program you help oversee at TIGed?

In 2013, we received the Intercultural Innovation Award from BMW Financial Group and the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. As part of the award, we were challenged to create a new program to propel our intercultural activities to new heights, and Culture Connect was a result. Culture Connect (http://www.tigweb.org/community/cultureconnect/) is a 4-week digital exchange program where young people from different regions of the world share photographs of their daily life, culture, and aspirations and reflect on the contributions of others. So far, we’ve run about 30 cycles of the program for young people in over a dozen countries. We’ve also launched a free MOOC to help educators bring this approach into their classrooms, in English, French, Spanish, and Arabic, as part of the NMC Academy.

large-241ASAC has highlighted the efforts of other collaboration platforms like iEarn and Flat Connections. I realize your relationship is based on collaboration over competition, but for interested teachers, why would you tell them to adopt the TIGed model over the others?

Furdyk: Our TakingITGlobal for Educators program provides three core services to educators in support of global education: professional learning offerings, a network of educators and projects, and a platform for collaboration.

Our friend Julie who leads Flat Connections has a wonderful professional learning offering and I’ve been honoured to be involved as a facilitator at her conference, helping to develop projects. For those educators, they might only make use of our collaboration platform, and that’s great – we’re happy to play any role needed in an educator’s journey.

One unique thing about TakingITGlobal is that we don’t just provide these services for educators, but we have a corresponding platform and set of free tools to support students in developing the values we focus on – global citizenship, environmental stewardship, and student voice. So even for educators completely satisfied with the services they need from someone else like the wonderful team at iEARN, we have thousands of free student resources that they can benefit from and link to their projects.

There’s so many teachers in the world that we need more organizations like ours to serve them – and I know that we all aim to collaborate and send educators more than compete as much as possible.

ASAC: For the teacher or administrator that knows they need to start integrating global citizenship and international collaboration tools into their curriculum but is totally overwhelmed by the range of choices out there, what is a good starting point (or attainable Year One goal) you would recommend for them?

Furdyk: I think an ideal way to start is invite students to find an International Day aligned to their curriculum and design a project to showcase their learning linked to that issue on that day. For example, students in Math could pick International Polar Bear Day (February) and showcase math formulas related to Carbon Footprints, the energy savings of a change in thermostat settings, or the effects of the delayed Sea Ice formations on Polar Bear populations. This provides a fixed date to work towards, a wealth of resources typically already created for each day, and an opportunity to gain local media/community attention as alignment to an international event is always a rich story.

To help you get started, TakingITGlobal’s new International Day section provides a listing of nearly 100 days organized by the United Nations or many international NGOs, with resources linked to each: http://days.tigweb.org

ASAC: Many thanks to you Michael and best of luck in your continued mission! We really respect your work!


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Award-winning author of “OPEN: How We’ll Work, Live and Learn in the Future” speaks about “Self-Determined Learning”

David Price is an award-winning education writer that develops innovative programs to re-engage learners. His forward-thinking ideas and practical strategies have increased student engagements across a wide age and geographical demographic. His recent book “OPEN: How We’ll Work, Live and Learn in the Future”  provides an excellent insight into ways educational models can be adapted to today’s rapidly-changing world. Since much of his approach hinges on collaborative learning, we asked him a few questions to shed light on how his finding relate to the service learning and on-line global collaboration platforms ASAC endorses. 


Hello David. Thanks for joining us. One of your catch-phrases is “Self-determined learning.” Can you define this for our readers? 

Sure. This graph (see link here) lists some of the characteristics as I see them – best seen as a walking journey. The three models are 1) Teacher-led: I know where I want you to go, and I’ll show you how to get there; 2) Self-directed: I know where you need to go, but I’ll let you partially explore your own route; and 3) Self-determined: you know where you want to go, you’ve chosen the destination and the route. 

How does service learning coalesce with the “open” classrooms you envision in your book? 

Very much so. Open schools are ‘learning commons:’ democratic places where learning is routed in the community and students do ‘work that matters.’  Projects that are authentic and contribute something to their communities fit very well with service learning.

Have you experimented with any of the current on-line global collaboration platforms (iEARN, TIGed, Flat Connections, etc.)? Do you see these platforms as effective tools to propagate the “open” educational system you endorse? 

I have not really played with any of those. Platforms matter, of course, but only in so far as they ease the connection between participants and allow good, meaningful work to happen. The more open they are, the better.

Right, “the more open, the better” seems to be the mantra. What is the first step you would recommend for teachers/administrators looking to embrace an open classroom? And, is this something a teachers can initiate on their own? 

Absolutely – “be the change” and all that. First step? Find out your students passions, and design learning around those passions. Make student work public (“do it for the world to see”), engage with local experts, and aim to do some of the learning out of the classroom (physically or virtually). Lastly, highlight purpose, passion and participation in the design of learning (allowing learners to co-design  learning).

Sound advice. Are there any success stories you would like to share from schools that have been able to adopt the “open” educational model you endorse? 

Gosh, too many to list: check out High Tech High (San Diego); Hartsholme Academy/EOS Alliance (UK); Campbelltown Performing Arts High School/ Northern Beaches Christian School (Sydney); St Paul’s School (Brisbane); Springdales School (New Delhi). There are great schools all over the world – just not enough of them! 

Wonderful. Thanks for your participation. Readers can link with David through his Engaged Learning Blog or on Twitter @educationalarts or @davidpriceobe. His book is available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk


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Flat Connections: An Ideal Global Collaboration Model

One of the most innovative new approaches to instilling global citizenship is by using current technology and contemporary social issues to connect students from schools around the world. Once a global collaboration community has been established, students can work together in a project-based environment to develop workable solutions and learn about their own agency in the world.
One of the most forward-thinking organizations   that is creating these forums is “Flat Connections.” ASAC spoke with the founder,  Julie Lindsay, an Australian educator with substantial international teaching experience. In recent years, she has become an expert in integrating tech into the classroom. She is currently Director of Learning Confluence and Flat Connections, co-founder of Flat Classroom® and Global Collaboration Consultant for THINK Global School. She is also co-author of Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds: Move to Global Collaboration One Step at a Time, Pearson 2012.
ASAC: It seems that one reason more schools have not engaged in projects like yours is because they are still not adequately equipped in terms of technology. But we have discovered that many schools suffer from more of a PERCEIVED lack of technology when in fact they have tools they could be utilizing more effectively. What is the minimum amount of digital tools needed for a school to participate in the “FlatProjects” for example?
JULIE: Flat Projects are based around the use of Web 2.0 tools as these are the real ‘flatteners’. Tools such as wikis, blogs, audio and video sharing and educational networking building for discussion and interaction allow teachers and students to connect and collaborate. They go beyond a typical school learning management system which although serving the immediate school community is 
usually blocked and locked down for external participation. Flat Projects also build communities of teachers for each project so this relies on a common set of tools for communication. These are the essential tools used and provided (if a subscription is needed) by Flat Connections:

  • Screen Shot 2014-01-25 at 12.50.15 PM  –  Wikispaces
  •   –  Ning for older students, Edmodo for younger
  •   –  Google groups for private teacher interaction
  •   –  Timebridge for scheduling
  •   –  Diigo for social bookmarking
  •   –  Fuzebox and Blackboard Collaborate for virtual meetings
  •   –  Skype for classroom interactions
  •   – Voicethread and other Web 2.0 tools for sharing multimedia. Each project determines other Web 2.0 tools according to the needs of the teacher and group and project – there is flexibility as no two projects are ever exactly the same.
 ASAC: What has been the benefit of connecting schools from countries that have drastically different socio-economic conditions?
JULIE: I do not believe Flat Connections projects have included very diverse socio-economic classrooms yet. We have connected students from across the world from many different school systems in most continents so that students have experienced cultural interaction and been able to gain a deeper understanding of lifestyles and influences in those cultures. Many of our schools are international schools, so depending on the type of school (and there are many) the students could be very western and can share their experience of the culture they are immersed in with us. Our goal is to be able to include more diverse classrooms and build on the social-learning aspects of global collaboration. 


ASAC: On the surface, your project is very similar to TIGed and iEARN. For schools trying 
to decide between the three, how is Flat Connections different? Or is there overlap between them? 

JULIE: This is a really good question as it is important for teachers and schools to understand the differences and be able to include opportunities from all of these partner groups in their curriculum across the K-12 years. What distinguishes Flat Connections is usually the length and depth of each project we organize. We have a limited number of projects (currently 6) and each of these runs twice a year, once per semester. The projects are offered on a subscription basis – although we never knowingly refuse any school due to lack of funds, especially schools from more diverse locations. The projects are also fully managed and supported by teachers who have completed the Flat Connections Global Educator course. Teachers with no global collaborative experience are guided through the project, and teachers with lots of experience are able to help shape a unique project for themselves and the other classrooms. Weekly online synchronous teacher meetings provide the glue to keeping the project together. The projects all have learning outcomes and a timeline and structures for completing certain things at certain times – but we do not provide curriculum as such – which is why classrooms across the world can embed our projects into their normal learning. Yes, there are some overlaps between us and iEARN and TiGED – but I believe Flat Projects currently demand a higher level of technology use to connect, communicate and collaborate (both teachers and students), and move collaboration to co-creation. We work very hard to build communities for learning around each project and ‘flatten’ the learning by expecting teachers and students to be one classroom, not a number of classrooms working individually and sharing their products at the end. 

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ASAC: Can you share a story from one of your current or past school collaborations that seems to exemplify the benefits students gain from this type of program?
JULIE: Well, in our book, ‘Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds’ we share a number of our stories and stories from others – it really is all about the stories we tell about achievement and personal success that makes this so special and encourages us to continue to bring these opportunities to schools. A more recent simple story is from one of our subscription schools in the USA where all Grade 10 students complete the Flat Classroom Project (now called the Flat Connections Global Project). One student, upon moving into Grade 11 came back to tell the teacher they felt lost and closed in – the learning had been opened up for them with regular teacher and student-driven connections with project schools, and regular conversations and co-creations. Once that mode of learning was taken away (well, it never existed in other classes in Gr 10 either!) it was missed. I think this is an excellent indication that we are having an impact on personalized learning modes and new ways of acquiring and synthesizing information that are more in tune with the needs of young people who are digitally fluent in many ways.
ASAC: For schools looking to integrate one of the Flat Connections initiatives into their schools, do most schools directly integrate this into their curriculum or do make it more of an extra-curricular activity like a Social Action Club or Global Issues Network style? 

JULIE: Most schools now integrate projects into their curriculum as the amount of time each week needed to complete a project goes beyond a 1-hour weekly session for an after school club. However, a project such as Global Youth Debates could be club-based with students meeting between weekly gatherings to do research and record their debate responses. For many years I ran global collaborations as after school initiatives – it was hard work – until I realized the best experiences and learning was occurring beyond the designated learning times as such, and I am now a firm advocate of bringing these experiences and opportunities into the regular classroom.


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ASAC: One of the limitations of initiatives like this is due to financial resources. I am thinking about GIN in particular. I notice you have a Flat Connections conference in Sydney. Do schools that may want to become a part of the  Flat Connections network have to make this trip and if not, will their experience be any less meaningful?
JULIE: I believe the Flat Connections Conference Sydney 2014 (and previous Flat Classroom Conferences – Japan 2013, China 2011, Qatar 2009) have demonstrated that a new conference – one that includes teachers and students working together and separately is an exciting and viable 21st century model. I believe this is an excellent next step, or alternative step for those schools who belong to GIN and pay to send their school community to those conferences. We provide similar but more process-based experiences with group/team work at the event – not focusing so much on what has been done in the past back at school. So yes, it is expensive, but we provide a cultural experience and a chance to work hands on with new technologies. Schools who are not able to attend in person can join virtually, and depending on the determination of the teacher and students to be a part of this learning experience, they can become team members and contribute to outcomes. We always run a virtual piece including video-streaming sessions live to the world and running a backchannel and other social media.
Thank you Julie. We wish you the best of luck with this most worthy endeavor and you other projects!

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Instilling Global Citizenship Within the International School Network

Published on December 10, 2013 in Global Education Magazine:

One of the hot trends in education today is “promoting global citizenship,” but this somewhat amorphous cause can often be as difficult to achieve as it is to define. Being a global citizen goes well beyond simply traveling on the international stage or living an expatriate lifestyle; it refers to a more holistic view of the world, understanding the commonalities we share and recognizing our responsibility to help our fellow man and safeguard our planet’s future.

The multi-cultural setting of international education lends itself to a more natural development of global citizenship. From this starting point, there exist different approaches to developing this global awareness, such as: 1) curriculum design which embraces themes of awareness, empathy and a more holistic educational approach; 2) the use of technology that fosters connections between classrooms and destinations around the world; 3) social action projects that use service-based learning to create a deeper awareness of global issues; and 4) extra-curricular projects that offer a variety of tools to promote global citizenship.globepass

Firstly, one of the most prominent forms of cultivating this awareness is by creating a scholastic curriculum around its encompassing ideals. The Academy for Global Citizenship, a highly-acclaimed Chicago charter school, has based an entire scholastic approach on “environmental stewardship, holistic wellness and a global perspective.” A similar approach has been adopted within international schools like Yokohama International School, where the Former Head of School James MacDonald implemented the innovative “Global Citizenship Degree” which allows students an opportunity to do extra-curricular activities in order to obtain a supplementary degree upon graduation. Beyond these school-wide approaches, teachers can develop ways to link their existing curriculum with these principles of global awareness. This requires them to seek underlying lessons that can be drawn from course materials and classroom activities. For example, a geography class on desertification can be expanded to include the testimony of people who have been forced to flee their villages due to the lack of grass for their animals to graze and water for them to drink. When students recognize the human impact of an issue, they become more engaged in the learning process and start to develop this awareness we are hoping to inspire.

The second tool that can be used to advance these ideals is through the use of digital technology. For years, sites have offered classrooms the opportunity to link up with other classrooms in order to learn about each other’s cultures and countries, but the current trend is to take these partnerships beyond the traditional “what is life like in your country?” model. Nowadays, partner schools can research social issues afflicting our planet and then propose and carry out concrete plans of action to create positive change. In some cases, the partner schools team up to address a local issue afflicting one of the schools, while other programs unite the schools to address more global issues. There are also a number of web-based programs that connect classrooms around the world to foster a cultural exchange. Projects like this can be carried gloout on a class-by-class basis or can be implemented on a school-wide level. Two of the most innovative programs are iEarn (International Education and Resource Network) and TIGed (TakingITGlobal for Educators); each connect schools around the world to global issues and provide a framework for collaborative projects that expose students to global issues and hands-on solutions. For those teachers or administrators interested in exploring these options, I would also recommend taking a look at Challenge 20/20, Adobe Youth Voices and Shout Initiative (run through Microsoft’s Partners in Learning).

Another strategy to foster students’ sense of empowerment is by engaging them in social action projects. Partnering with local non-profits is an excellent way to not only impact the community, but to engage students in fostering positive change. Research shows that this model of “service learning” benefits students in many ways. First of all, young people experience a greater sense of self-efficacy as they see firsthand what a positive impact they can make. Meanwhile, they develop ideals of empathy and compassion which cultivates community development and nurtures global citizenship that lasts long beyond high school. Involvement in these projects has also proven to increase academic achievement as students learn problem-solving skills, how to plan activities and important team-work abilities. Many of today’s leaders in public service point out how their formative experiences volunteering or engaging in community service helped form the civic engagement skills that has defined who they are today. This just goes to show the deep impact that service learning can have as international schools seek to foster global citizenship.

Just as important as the effect upon the school and the students is the impact on the individuals benefiting from these community-based programs. After all, these recipients – be they elderly, hospitalized, deaf, mentally-challenged or poor – are the reason students, teachers, parents and community leaders mobilize their efforts. It is heart-warming to see how community members take a fresh look at the youth of the community once they see them lending their assistance. When I took a group of at-risk high-school boys from the inner-city of Chicago to volunteer at a homeless shelter, numerous residents commended the boys, telling them “It’s so great to see you all in here helping people instead of being out on the street gang-banging.” For most of the boys, this was the first time they had been in a position to lend a hand to someone in need and I could see their self-awareness and self-worth skyrocket before my very eyes.

In order to achieve a meaningful service learning project, there are a few guidelines that should be followed. First of all, the project must be based on real community needs. Just because kids are learning about deforestation does not mean they should be out there planting trees if their efforts could be better applied addressing a more urgent concern. Service learning projects should be focused on the priorities of the community; remember, the lessons of empathy and productiveness students take away is often more important than the exact issue being addressed! Secondly, the young people must have active and meaningful leadership roles. Too often, teachers have designed these projects in a top-down manner and told kids, “Okay, today we will go clean up trash on the beach.” When students can study the issue first, then brainstorm for ideas and propose solutions on their own, they take a lot more from the experience and display much more enthusiasm in making it a success. Active and structured reflection is another integral component; the more the students can really think about the issue and their role in helping, the more profound the lesson will be. A fourth component I have discovered to be a key in effectiveness is showing a sustained commitment over time. Sure, one-day visits to an elderly home are beneficial to everyone involved, but when this collaboration lasts over the course of the school year and students establish a rapport with the people they are assisting, they often look for deeper ways to help and take away more from the experience.

glo2Since it has been established that projects like this help foster this global awareness we are so keen on instilling, the next question is how to go about designing a project like this. Though some of the on-line resources listed above provide a good framework, it is quite possible to establish an effective program without relying on digital technology. In many cases, the most important step is finding a reputable partner organization. By speaking with community leaders, parents and students themselves, schools can locate efficiently-run community-based projects to partner with. Most local organizations or non-profits are keen to partner with schools if they realize that such a collaboration allows them the opportunity to deepen their impact by engaging young and motivated students to help support their mission. Partner organizations I have worked with have benefited from the new energy and enthusiasm that young volunteers bring, especially when they are able to capitalize upon the unique abilities each young person brings. Involvement with an international school also helps these organizations increase their public profile; sometimes these projects work in the exact neighborhood of these schools, but were unrecognized until someone within the school proposed a partnership, resulting in increased visibility for the project within the community.

My non-profit, The Cause & Affect Foundation, has served as partner organization for several schools projects and through these experiences, I have learned some valuable lessons that are applicable in this context. First of all, choose one specific issue to focus your efforts on. Designing a campaign around “saving the environment” may look good on paper but unless kids really understand exactly what is the issue and how their involvement will improve the problem, most will not be interested. Secondly, introduce the issue to students in the most engaging manner possible. A field visit is ideal, but if this is not possible, photos and videos are imperative in sparking an emotional connection with students. As they say, “An image is worth a thousand words.” Thirdly, involve the students in brainstorming for a solution and proposing a plan of action. When teachers march in and say, “We are going to help a local homeless shelter. I need everyone to bring in ten cans of food,” the student gets nothing out of the experience and sees the effort as another empty assignment. But if they visit the shelter first or watch videos about life on the street and are then asked to brainstorm for ways to help these people, they will be a lot more active (and ultimately, more successful) in their efforts.

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If you partner with a local non-profit or an outside organization like Cause & Affect, be sure to lay out what is expected from each partner and make it clear that your school requires some sort of field visit or video report to present to the students so they can see the fruits of their labor. I produce “field report” videos and then post them to You Tube so students can watch them in school and also share them with their parents and friends. Even if they do not get to deliver the aid firsthand, they can take pride in knowing they played a role in the project.

Lastly, make sure that students realize that the project undertaken is just one example of how they can be proactive in helping the health of our planet or the well-being of a family on the other side of the planet. It is important they realize that each project can be replicated or expanded upon. This is where it can be helpful to highlight the work of an activist who has dedicated his/her life to an important cause. For example, I like to tell students about my personal hero and mentor, a retired school teacher from San Francisco named Marc Gold, because it was his person-to-person “micro-philanthropy” model that inspired me to pursue my own form of humanitarian work. I explain his approach (making small, targeted donations to directly improve the lives of those in need) to show students that all of us, as individuals, have the ability to cut across borders and backgrounds to improve the lives of people in need.main-shoestring-philanthropist-0

When highlighting the inspiring work of others, teachers should try to incorporate videos and live testimony as much as possible. When I saw Marc Gold, this little 5’4” sixty year-old man trudging through the garbage dumps of Cambodia, it made a lasting impression on me. When I show video of him to young students, I can see it has a similar effect. The fact that he distributed more than a million dollars to improve people’s lives taught me that yes, one person  can  make a difference. Global citizenship does not end when the school bell rings; it is an awareness that will direct their decisions for the rest of their lives!

The fourth approach to developing global citizenship within the international schools is on the extra-curricular level. Luckily, due to their resources international schools often have more opportunities to pursue globally-based projects on an extra-curricular level than public schools. Social Action Clubs are one of the most popular ways of cultivating student activism. The basic structure of a Social Action Club involves a teacher or administrator overseeing the club, first by seeking out students interested in becoming members. Obviously, the more engaging and dynamic the club activities and description, the more students it will attract. Once the club has been established, it is up to the teacher and students to decide their course of action. In general, they should choose an issue and as they begin their research, they should identify a specific problem within that general topic on which to focus. They can then identify stakeholders (those impacted by the issue) and go about assessing the needs and strengths of the community related to the issue, by first finding out what (if any) organizations are working on the same issue and how best to address the situation.

The next step is to assemble a team. Again, here it is often best to partner with other organizations or recruit friends to help. Students, working under the supervision of the club’s faculty member, can then design a project to their resources and draw upon their strengths. The most effective Social Action Clubs work under a direct action model in which the members decide a course of action and then create a plan to carry out a project. After the implementation of their action project, they should be encouraged to monitor and evaluate the effects. By keeping data, surveying participants, and tracking the results of the project, they are not only able to measure their success but also approach future projects in an effective, quantifiable manner.

supercuteBeyond Social Action Clubs, there are other extra-curricular options as well, such as the Global Issues Network (GIN) wherein schools create teams that address global issues and then attend regional conferences where they collaborate with each other in seeking solutions to these problems. Though the framework is similar to Model UN, GIN encourages a more hands-on approach, motivating schools to pair with local non-profits and apply their activism in tangible ways outside of the school structure.

As we have learned, global citizenship is not just a buzzword within present-day education circles, but is a worldwide phenomenon that is changing the way people think about the world and their place in it. As educators, we must help instill in our students their interconnectedness with the world and their responsibility to act to improve it. When addressing students, our personal experiences can be a great departure point for planting the seed, but we must look to some of the tools described above to properly instill this invaluable consciousness in our students. Once they develop this awareness, they will excel as students and more importantly, will add value to the world and the communities in which they live. The effects are yet to be seen, but it is already glaringly obvious that by creating global citizens, we are helping give rise a better world.

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Chicago Charter School Offers New Model for Global Citizenship

The Academy for Global Citizenship is an innovative Chicago Public Charter School, located on the underserved Southwest side of Chicago. Their holistic approach to education aims to foster systemic change and inspire the way society educates our future generations.Image
We sat down with Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, the Founder and Executive Director to see how her vision has manifested itself in terms of creating young global citizens in a rough urban environment.
-Hello Sarah and thanks for participating in ASAC’s blog here. Since ASAC was developed to assist International Schools design and implement their own Social Action Strategies, can you briefly summarize AGC Chicago’s approach? What are the guiding principles and how is it put into action?
Great. Thanks. At the Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC), we are fostering environmental stewardship, holistic wellness and a global perspective in our 350 students as well as our broader community. This is achieved through concept-driven units of inquiry such as “From Farm to Table” or “Our Global Impact,” wherein environmental, local and international themes are explored within the context of the core curriculum: literacy, science, math, technology and social studies.  
AGC is located on Chicago’s industrial southwest side in an area where access to quality public education, healthy foods and resources can be a challenge for many families. We are therefore also committed to serving as a community hub for sustainability, health and internationalism. 
We invite parents, community members, local authorities and local leaders in social change to contribute to the conversation by volunteering, speaking to our students, hosting or chaperoning a field trip, or getting involved in one of our many annual community events. We serve breakfast, lunch and snack made only of whole, organic foods that nourish the bodies and brains of our students and staff. 
We are also positioning ourself as a laboratory for innovation in education. Since AGC has been recognized as a successful model, we are feeling a tremendous sense of urgency to extended this approach across the public education system. We are creating an open source model where our modules of innovation are both incubated and shared systemically; school districts across the country and schools around the world are already adopting elements of our approach. Our School Sustainability Handbook and step-by-step guide for educators, for instance, is available for free download on our website, www.agcchicago.org
– A lot of economic studies show that the “American dream” of easily climbing the socio-economic ladder is no longer a feasible reality. How did your students react to their White House visit and do you think students in the inner-city of Chicago still feel they could be President one day?
We have welcomed over 6,000 visitors over the past 5 years from all across the world, from politicians to oceanographers, and paleontologists to representatives from the White House, US Department of Agriculture and United Nations. All of these experiences provide our students with students with a “window to the world” and introduce to them a life of possibility. We work to model for our students the incredible potential within them and to help them to realize their potential by encouraging them to take responsibility and initiative: in the classroom, the garden, their communities, and ultimately the world. 
– The vast majority of your students are low-income minority students that are inmany ways marginalized socio-economically. How has your educational approach capitalized upon (or suffered from) this reality? 


The Academy for Global Citizenship has neither “capitalized upon nor suffered” as a 
result of our 90% minority and 83% low-income student population. When we were developing the philosophy and framework for our community centered school, we knew we were interested in developing an approach that would be scalable across the district by transcending demographic differences. We researched neighborhoods across the city and conducted site visits, looking for an area where there was a need for quality public education, and an opportunity to make an impact on community nutrition and sustainability.  We have witnessed the success of AGC’s model in communities with different socio-economic and cultural needs.  We wholeheartedly believe that all students will benefit from a trans-disciplinary, experiential approach to education that addresses the need of the whole child and engages families along the way.
– With our focus on International Schools, I am curious what sort of feedback you received from your foreign visitors and whether they are now trying to emulate any of the innovative approaches implemented by AGC Chicago. 
We have been inspired to witness the tremendous interest in replicating aspects of our model in countries around the world – including Jordan, Colombia, Japan, Cyprus and South Africa.  As the world becomes increasingly concerned with the state of our planet, AGC’s School Sustainability Handbook has been adopted by schools across the globe as a mechanism for supporting a more environmentally minded generation. Our students also share their experiences and work on projects with our sister school students in Uganda, the Himalayas and Guatemala.   As an authorized International Baccalaureate School, we are part of a global network that includes collaboration and sharing best practices among schools in 138 countries.
– What is the most effective way to schools around the world to “foster international awareness” amongst students that each live in their own little corner of the world? 
Simply put: exposure. The Academy for Global Citizenship’s students collaborate with students in five sister schools through Skype and video shares as part of their transdisciplinary units of study. Students launch projects together and see first hand how they are similar and how they are different; the effect of sharing their perspectives is incredible. We actively seek opportunities for our staff to travel and have had teachers lead their classrooms in Climate Change research from the Arctic, share their experiences with our students after returning from conservation trips to Fiji or permaculture projects in Cuba.  Our “placed based” philosophy of education focuses engaging with our local community in order to more effectively understand our role in the world; international experiences and perspectives represented among our staff support the broadening of our students’ world views.
– I notice you use video chats to communicate with schools in other countries. How did you find these partner schools? What is the framework of your sister school program? ASAC works with many International Schools, so is AGC Chicago interested in adding partner schools or participating in collaborative projects in the future?
We have developed many partnerships through Omprekash (http://omprakash.org/), an international service organization. We are able to facilitate trips abroad for teachers, administrative staff and parents through this site (some financial support is available) and while building bottle schools (http://hugitforward.org/), for instance, our AGC ambassadors are also developing longterm relationships. We are interested in developing this much further and have been discussing the possibility for student travel as we expand into middle school in the coming year.  We have also initiated globally collaborative partnerships through the International Baccalaureate (IB) Organization, by which AGC is authorized as an IB World School.
-For an International School looking to improve their Social Action Strategy, what do you see as the most important first step or guiding principle?
The Academy for Global Citizenship’s mission is to foster mindful leaders who take action, now and in the future, to positively impact their communities and the world beyond. We are working towards this every moment of the day, it is in the way that we recruit teachers and staff, our school policies, our community engagement efforts and the way our teachers interact with students. With thoughtful leadership, guidance, and, most importantly, respect, our students develop the most exciting ideas for how they want to impact  their communities. These ideas are taken very seriously. For instance, our 4th graders last year were discussion scarcity of certain resources in global communities and were moved by the lack of resources in their own community to develop a clothing exchange and food pantry called “The Free Store.” Instead of pointing out how difficult it was to organize an initiative of this magnitude, teachers rearranged their lesson plans and made room in their schedule to make the most of her students motivation and inspiration. Teachers encouraged students to interview key stakeholders, including our administrative team, and led them through the process of developing a business model, which they presented to the entire Board of Directors. This thoughtful process demonstrates how the whole community contributes to and is galvanized by student social action initiatives.
Thanks to Sarah and the entire Academy for Global Citizenship staff for their inspirational work. More info can be found on their site

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