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7th Graders Welcome Namibia Pen Pals Using Technology

Persell Middle school seventh grader, Ella Storms, waves to her pen pal is Ern-Moesha Matsuis who lives in Namibia, Africa.

“Hi my name is Kaitlyn and I want to know what kind of sports you have at your school?’ asked Persell Middle School seventh grader Kaitlyn Kennedy to a classroom in Namibia, Africa.

“We have net ball and soccer.”

“What is net ball?”

“It is a sport for females almost like basketball.”

Kaitlyn was talking directly to fellow students in Namibia through on-screen technology. Thanks to an innovative grant through Educators of America, Persell Middle School teacher Grace Johnson, with the help of JPS Technology Integration Specialist Jason Kathman, are one of three schools in Western New York who are participating in the grant, including Ken-Ton and Pine Valley. The three-year grant, through Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES, allows Western New York students to work with students in Namibia on a project-based assignment. At Persell, the students started out by writing letters to their pen pals and receiving letters in return talking about their respective lives in America and Africa. Then, with the help of Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES, students met and conversed with their pen pals through ZOOM live-streaming from each classroom. Students had an opportunity to see each other and ask questions.

“There was so much excitement when the kids got to see their Namibia friends live and talk with them,” said Mrs. Johnson. “It has been such an amazing way for students to learn about another culture. We hope to have these live chats two or three more times this year.”

The kids love the experience with their Namibia friends.

“What surprised me the most was that they are so much like us,” said Persell Middle School seventh grader Sydney Maggio. “My friend, Cierra, likes volleyball and soccer and listening to music. It really puts it into perspective that we are all a lot alike and more the same than different.”

“My friend Siola is part of a tribe,” said Persell Middle School seventh grader Kaitlyn Kennedy. “But she talked a lot about how she loves her friends and baking. What she bakes might be different than we would, but it’s still similar interests.”

The goal of the program is to have the two classrooms work on a project-based assignment in small groups in May and June. The plan is to focus on some of the unique species specific to Namibia and a way for the students to collaborate with their friends in Namibia. The project-based learning is centered around a challenging problem or question and allows the students in Jamestown and Namibia to have sustained inquiry, a voice and choice in what they study, a time to reflect, critique and review with each other and produce a product such as an e-book, song or poem.

As part of the grant, Mrs. Johnson and Mr. Kathman have also taken professional development workshops with BOCES to better understand project-based learning and how to implement it in the classroom.

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