In an effort to learn more about other cultures, a group of fifth-grade students from the Bettendorf Community School District are going straight to the source.
About two dozen students participating in an Extended Learning Program project are communicating online with students across the country as well as in Canada, Japan, China, India and Poland in an effort to put together projects about their daily lives and the things that make them different and the same.
The Flat Classroom project divides the students into teams of six, with no two students on any team from the same community.
The students communicate through Edmodo, an online social network designed for teachers and students that is formatted similar to Facebook. The teams are assigned topics for their projects based on an aspect of their everyday lives, such as food, clothing, celebrations, housing, transportation and school.
Meeting twice a week at Bettendorf Middle School, the students log onto Edmodo and exchange messages and photos with members of their teams. Each team is assigned a teacher from one of the participating schools.
Logan Quick, a student at Paul Norton Elementary, logs onto the page from his team, which has been assigned to do a project about the differences and similarities in housing and transportation in the team members’ respective communities.
His teammates come from places as nearby as North Carolina and California and as far away as China. One of his teammates has posted a photo of her family’s van in front of her house. The van looks about the same as a van you would see in Bettendorf, but the house shows that homes in China can look much different.
Quick said he learned that bicycles are a far more common mode of transportation in China than they are in the United States, and he plans to post a photo of his own home.
Teacher Aaron Maurer said the interaction with students from other cultures has been eye-opening for his students.
“They find out that not every country has Halloween, and it just blows their mind,” Maurer said.
Maurer said the students also are learning that some things, such as pop star Justin Bieber, are nearly universal for kids their age.
“It’s kind of interesting how small the world is, but they’re also learning they have differences, too,” he said.
While the time difference between Bettendorf Middle School and schools on the other side of the world precludes the students from having much live interaction with their teammates, Maurer said there are plans to communicate live with some of the students through Skype.
“A lot of them are still wrapping their minds around the fact that they’re communicating with kids thousands of miles away,” he said.
Hoover Elementary student Ashley Endorf’s team is working on a project about leisure time, and she has found that students in other parts of the world play the same games she plays, such as four square, basketball and soccer.
“I’ve learned that people around the world do a lot of the same things we do,” she said.