April 2016 brought more than just spring weather to the Wellsville Central School District, it also brought Emily Lester’s grade 11 ELA class an interactive learning experience with students from halfway around the world. It was another step in her ‘Pen Pal’ project that had begun in Fall of 2015, and will continue to the end of 2016 school year.
The Wellsville Junior Class began the year with a different type of writing project than usual. Ms. Lester had been in contact with an English class from Vrasta, Bulgaria about doing a joint project. Her students and the 26 students from the Joan Ekzarh Foreign Language School in Vrasta, Bulgaria have been corresponding via traditional mail, fax, and email as pen pals for the past couple of months. They have also shared class care packages, sending back and forth mementos and items that would reflect their own cultures and way of life. This past month, the two classes were able to have their first real time conversation via Skype.
Ms. Lester approached her class about the Skype possibility and explained the challenge that would come with it due to the 7 hour time difference and the different school day schedules. In order to make the call happen, the students from Vrasta would need to stay after school hours and the students from Wellsville would need to arrive an hour before school would begin. Despite these challenges, the students were eager for the opportunity and welcomed the experience.
The call was not without its share of technology hiccups though, as the morning of the call the network in Vrasta started to have some trouble. After a few IM’s back and forth, and switching from using a computer to using an iPhone, the students were able to meet each other and put a face to the names of their pen pals. This experience allowed for students to see planning, preparation and problem-solving all come together to make an idea turn into a successful reality. Ms. Lester plans to continue with this project and planning for another call later in the year is already underway. Her students are already looking forward to that call, not matter what time of day it may be.
By: Rob Griffith, CA BOCES Professional Development