Through the Eyes of Parents – Japan Skype Night

I asked my parents to also reflect on the evening.  I thought it was pretty amazing and wanted to know their opinion.  Seems like we are on the same page!

  • What an incredible evening last night was. I will confess I found myself choked up at several points. What stands out for me is how incredible it felt to me, personally, on a deep level, to watch these beautiful Japanese kids standing up so proud and tall and stretching to speak our language and communicate a bit about themselves and to extend a hand across the sea. The sound of their voices–pushing through the “accent” of their dialect, straining to match ours, caught me by surprise. Their repeated statement was so simple, and so moving: “I am happy to be your friend.” As I watched them, one after another, on the big screen, I felt touched, and suddenly aware of this feeling of hope, about what it means to believe that, against all odds (oceans, time zones, languages), a real connection can be made.

And then it hit me that, as each of our American kids got up to the camera and extended their own gesture. What the Japanese were seeing on the other side was exactly what we were seeing. Here were our kids, standing tall and proud, stretching to speak another language and communicate a bit about themselves, and to extend a hand across the sea as well. To us it just sounded like they were saying foreign words, but suddenly, somehow, I began to imagine how it must sound on the other side. Surely we were not all nailing the accent perfectly. But therein was the sweetness of it. Each of our kids was equally earnest, extending, stretching, trying.

I knew to some degree that there was a chance our kids were just doing this because they were told to. Their teacher was watching. Perhaps a grade was on the line. Their parents were watching. Perhaps the wanted to follow the rules and avoid trouble. (“Remember: model students,” as Mrs. E had instructed and reminded). But then I saw the most magical thing of all. At the end of the night, after each student had stood in a line, as instructed, and shared their script. After the collective had sung their songs, as instructed, to their friends across the sea, Mrs. E walked up to the camera and began to speak. She made some closing comments, expressed her gratitude, and happiness about the success of the night, and she even offered up the thought that perhaps some of these kids would meet someday. And bigger still–perhaps the world they all grew up in would be a more peaceful world. I was pondering this–loving Mrs. E for the way she takes everything and extends it to the next level, connects it to what else might be possible. And then it happened.

The students began waving at each other. It was one or two kids at first, sneaking in a little hand-flip behind Mrs. E’s head during the closing comments, sort of the way onlookers wave their hands behind an on-the-scene newscaster. But then a few more kids did it, on the other side of the sea. Then a few more on our side. And before I knew it, unprompted, natural, sweet, and full of the joy of finding their own way, together, to put their stamp on the moment,  kids on one side of the ocean and the other, began to wave their arms all around signalling to one antother: I am here, I see you, we did this, thank you for your letters. Their simple waving seemed, to me, to hold all of that.

Water sprung up in my eyes, and my throat tightened up, in that good way throats sometimes do. For all the preparation, and rehearsal, and anticipation, and review, this moment sprung forward as naturally and flowing as the current of the river out behind the school. I was cracking up, and tearing up, and I thought to myself, “What a sight to see.” And what a moment to be a part of.

I am grateful for the creativity and above-and-beyond-the call aspect of our kids’ teacher, for an opportunity like this. I am proud of our kids—my son, who popped right up there and shared a beautiful artistic rendering of his view of Christmas–and all the kids, one after another, who, together, created an event of import and, at the end, a moment of meaning. And I am delighted that somehow, I was lucky enough to be there to see it all.

  • We had a fun time meeting our penpals. I liked how the kids sang songs to one another. I thought it was neat that we had that capability. Thanks to the advance technology! With the time difference, I know my son was trying to figure out what time it was in Japan. With Thailand, it’s pretty easy. They are 12 hrs ahead of us.
  • Wow! What an experience for the children, as well as the parents in attendance.  Watching the students speak with their pen pals in Japanese nearly brought tears to my eyes.  This was such a special lesson for them.  I so enjoyed watching the kids interact with their Japanese peers and thought they all did amazing with their foreign language.
  • Fantastic event.  It was a lesson in global humanity and the power of technology used in the most creative of fashions.  It gave my son and I an opportunity to discuss how we are all connected and that it is a big small world. I thought the name signs were a solid idea on the other end that you may want to shadow.  Overall, it touched my heart. Thank you.
  • I thought the Skype night with Nanai was a wonderful experience for the kids.  They really seemed thrilled to “meet” their pen-pals face-to-face–the many many miles and time zones separating them just seemed to melt away.  It was terrific that each class took the time and effort to speak to the other kids in their own language–what a feeling of accomplishment that must have given them.  The songs were wonderful because
  • singing let the kids be a bit less formal with each other while conveying a bit of local culture.

It really was amazing.

I second that sentiment!


Through the Eyes of the Students — Reflections on Japanese Skype Night

Wednesday, December 9th:  It’s been almost a week since our Japan Skype Night.  Since then, we have skyped twice with our peers in the United Kingdom.  It’s just an incredible tool.  I was telling my son Christopher about this experience.  This is what he remembered from having a penpal:  It is amazing what technology can do. I remember in third grade we had pen pals, and it was hard (for me at least) to establish any sort of connection. Skype makes real human contact possible.

Here’s the students’ reflections on this special night:

  • I think it was a really fun experience because we got to talk to our penpals and it was cool how we could see people on the other side of the earth.  Their English was very good and my dad said, “You’re on one side of the earth hoping that you’ll say the Japanese words correctly and they’re on the other side of the earth, wondering if they’re saying the English correctly.”  I thought it was awesome because we could see each other even though we were on complete opposite sides of the world.  Now we know more of what our penpals like and we know some Japanese and they know some English.
  • Last night was really awesome and amazing.  My mom said she was so proud of me and she was so happy for our class.  I thought my penpals did really well with their English and did really well on their songs.  I loved how all the penpals said our names and said “I’m happy to be your friend.”  That says to me that I have a Japanese friend!
  • I really liked having Japanese food.  I also thought that it was incredible to be able to talk face to face with someone across the Earth.  I was amazed at how fluent they were in English.  I hope to someday meet my penpal in person.  The drawings on the back of their nametags looked like they were made by a computer.
  • I think it was really cool because we could barely speak any Japanese and they could barely speak any English.  My dad said he really liked it because we were communicating with people from the other side of the earth.
  • I think it was fun to see my penpal speak in English and to see her sing.  It was a little weird learning my third language – English, French, and Japanese.
  • Last night was an amazing project to Skye with our Japanese penpals.  The dinner was delicious with the sushi and the little candies.  I have always liked Skyping as I have done it with my dad and my friend.  One thing I noticed is that their English was much better than our Japanese.  But overall, it scored a 10 out of 10.
  • Thursday night was awesome!  I really liked the fact that it was a long distance skype call.  I think it was better than when I skype with my Grandpa, probably because it was in English and Japanese.
  • At first, it was odd speaking Japanese.  It was my first time skyping, and it was fun seeing our penpals.  It was embarrassing speaking Japanese in front of Japanese people.  I felt this was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
  • I thought it was really cool to meet my penpal.  My mom said “I think the skype was really cool to meet people from Japan.”  I had never had skyped before this and it was really exciting.
  • I thought this was really fun because you were meeting people from around the world.  It was also fun learning a bit of a different language and talking to someone in Japan.  My parents thought it was really cool to see people talking to each other in different countries.
  • I liked it because I got to see my penpal and I also got to learn a little bit of Japanese and see how they talk.  I think we should do it again some time.  Some of the penpals spoke really good English.  My mom liked it too.  I hope we can do it again.
  • It was really fun because we had only known them through their letters before we skyped them Thursday night.  It was interesting listening to them speak English and also us speaking Japanese.
  • I thought it was a good experience because we got to see our penpals and talk to them.  I thought it was cool that we were talking to them in Japanese and they were talking to us in English.  I thought they were really really good at speaking in English.  I wonder if they thought we were speaking well in Japanese?
  • I thought it was a great experience because it was fun and exciting to talk in Japanese to my penfriend and to have them talk to me in English.
  • My Dad said it was so cool because we just saw and talked to people in Japan and that’s not a regular thing that you can do every day.  I thought it was cool too.  I’ve never met anyone from Japan and I wanted to speak to someone in Japan in Japanese.
  • I was very, very nervous, but I don’t really know why.  They all had very good English.  I got to see my penpal and her twin, and her best friend.  I liked doing it other than the nervous part.
  • I really liked meeting our penpals and speaking to them. I thought learning Japanese was really fun.
  • I had a great time last night.  It was fun learning Japanese, but I was nervous that I would mess up, but I was also excited to meet my penpal.  My mom had a great time, and she couldn’t help but to wave by to my penpal.  One positive to me was that we got to meet our penpals.  Another positive is that I learned a little Japanese.

The Art of Conversation – Part One

Onuma Elementary School on the island of Hokkaido

The Art of Conversation – Japanese Skype Night

My class is never for a loss for words.  They participate all the time in class, they ask great questions, they encourage one another, they laugh with one another, they support one another.  However, on a balmly Thursday evening in early December in Room 305B, an incredible conversation took place.  After much planning, our Skype Night with our Japanese Pen Friends was to take place.  I would need to get my students to come back to school at night, since our Penfriends in Onuma Elementary School are 14 hours ahead of us.   So, 7:00 p.m. on a Thursday night in Concord, was 9:00 a.m. in Onuma on the island of Hokkaido in Japan.  Food is always a great enticement, and my great room parents set up a dinner consisting of pizza, jasmine rice (thanks Mrs. Pettyjohn), salad with ginger dressing, other little Japanese finger foods, and one of the students made sushi.  It was a festive event and around 6:45 p.m., we headed up to our classroom to get ready for the evening.   I had been out sick all week, and wrote out a script for each student to say.  My great sub practiced it with the students.  What’s the big deal about having to practice what to say?  There was a catch – my students would speak to their penfriends in Japanese and the penfriends would speak to my students in English.  I was nervous, because my ability to speak Japanese is very basic.  Yukie is a polished English speaker and writer.  After not seeing my students for a week, I was worried if they understood what to say.  We would soon find out.

When we arrived upstairs, I already had a message from Bobby, a CCHS grad and now the CIR in Nanae that they were looking forward to speaking with us.  Quickly, I texted him back to say we were getting ready, and we would text him when we were ready to receive the Skype call.  I was nervous, what if it didn’t work and I had a room full of students and their parents, what if the students couldn’t be understood and I didn’t write the sentences correctly in Japanese?  I gave Bobby the “thumbs up” and suddenly, Bobby appeared on the screen.  Suddenly, I became so excited to see Yukie, the teacher I had met in the summer of 2008, appear on the computer screen.  We exchanged our greetings and arranged our students in the order to greet themselves.  The penfriends held signs with their names on one side and a picture of what they liked on the other side.  It was incredible to hear them say, Hello, my name is , I like, and finally, “I’m happy to be your friend.”  My students responded with Ohayo Gozaimasu, O genki desu ka?, Watashi was ocha ga suki desu, and finally, Nanae tomadachi, sayonara.   As I scanned the room, I could see several parents getting teary eyes.  My tech specialist buddy was beaming, as was Mrs. Pettyjohn, who had traveled to Japan with me during that summer.  My principal stood speechless in the back of the room, observing the special magic that was occurring.  After greeting one another, our penfriends sang “Jingle Bells” in Japanese.  We then sang our Thoreau School song, followed by our penfriends singing a popular children’s song in Japanese.  We then sang a verse of “Why Don’t You Walk a Mile in My Shoes?” Yukie’s students then sang their school song.

The formal part of our conversation was done, but the non-verbal part of the conversation just began..  Both sets of students enthusiastically waved to one another, smiling and laughing together across the world.  It was hard to disconnect our call, but when we did I told the students how wonderful an experience that had been, and true to the song “Walk a Mile in My Shoes”, that perhaps their world will not be such a diplomatic mess because they have friends around the world.  I distributed the “funny erasers” that our penfriends had sent us and said Good Night to everyone.  After the room was quiet, Ms. Howard and I shook our heads at yet another incredible evening with this class.

I will be posting the students’ and parents’ reactions to this night in our next post.  What an experience!

National Technology Standards and Global Education in Room 305B

Both on Friday and on Monday, I have spent time discussing with two colleagues how our classes can communicate with one another.  Now, if these were colleagues here at the school, it would be pretty easy:  go into one another’s classroom to discuss a subject, or have the kids talk and discuss at lunch and recess. But these colleagues weren’t across the hall, instead, they are on other sides of the ocean:  one from St. Michael’s School in Ascot England, and the other from Onuma Elementary School in Nanae Japan.  We’ve been busy arranging for our classes to meet via the use of technology.  Our Global Elementary Educational Technological Summit will be held the week we get back from the Thanksgiving break.   We will discuss student-arranged questions with our colleagues from England on December 1st and 2nd.  On Thursday evening, December 3rd, we will be Skypping with our penfriends from Onuma Elementary School.  It’s just amazing to think how our students will have this incredible opportunity to meet students from all over the globe.  I’ve been trying to arrange the Japan opportunity for about a year, but for the English students, one of our Digital Farmers set it up.   Our DLF project nicely ties in with so many of the National Technology Standards.  I’ve copied the second standard for you to all learn what our students should be doing in this age of Digital Learning.

2. Communication and Collaboration

Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others. Students:

a. interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media.

b. communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats.

c. develop cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with learners of other cultures.

d. contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems.

Letters from Japan

The Class looks at their penfriends' class picture
The Class looks at their penfriends' class picture

Today, at 8:45 a.m., the students filed in and looked at the directions on the ActivBoard.  “4.  Work on the sheet at your seat.”  As each arrived, they put their homework in the folders, washed their hands, and headed towards their seats.  A math sheet lay their at their place.  However, suddenly, the class became louder.  It certainly wasn’t  the math sheet — it was what lay underneath the math sheet.  Our penfriend letters from Onuma Elementary School had arrived late yesterday and were there for the students to read.  The letters were written in Japanese Hiragana onletter1 the top and translated into English on the bottom of the letter.  The Japanese students had thoughtfully drawn all sorts of great pictures on the letter and had included a bookmark for each of my students.  The students excitedly ran to each other, sharing their letters and what they learned about their letter2penfriends.  The room was abuzz.  “When can we write back?” was our Question of the Day.  After our spelling tests, we started our letters.  Students excitedly wanted to create their own book marks and learn about whether or not they celebrate Halloween in Japan.  I pulled up a Wiki, kept by a Concord-Carlisle alum, who works in Nanae as a Coordinator of International Relations, and explained the holiday of Tanabata.  This holiday is held in July, and is a little similar to Halloween minus the costumes.  Students began to add this information to their letters.  One student, wanted to know how to say pumpkin in Japanese.  I found the word, but he wanted the Hiragana.  I found this symbol, and he wrote this in his letter.   I’ll buy some Halloween stickers this weekend to include in our letters.  It’s great to see how excited both sets of students were to receive letters from 6,000 miles away.  With the relationship that Concord has with its sister city, maybe one day, they might meet their penfriends in person.  We do hope to slightly meet our penfriends in person, by Skypeing with them in the near future.  Keep tuned!