For several months, a connection with a school in a rural area of Japan has been formally planned. Test connections took place and we got a glimpse of the classroom without students.
This was my first quite formal connection as previous skype linkups have been spontaneous, sometimes unplanned, rather relaxed with some discussion on what we would do and how it would look once we connect. The learning has often been customized by the students and teachers involved as the connection evolves. However, with Mariko, a University colleague from Japan, we had a very formal structure in place with specific briefs and time to be taken for each part of our 30 minute connection.
Meanwhile behind the scenes:
The week before, students decided to organise a KrisKringle with the presents being opened on the day of the organised Japanese linkup. Names were drawn out of a hat so that the girls knew who their gift recipient was to be, would spend up to $10 on the gift and decided to open them prior to the Japanese web conference. Meanwhile, staff decided during the week to have a smorgasboard morning tea on that same day.
Prior to the connection:
- On the actual day, I emailed Mariko to ask whether her students would like to hear about Christmas and how we celebrate it here if there was time. She responded yes and suggested we do it at the start of the lesson.
- Students collected ‘Christmas’ type items around the school eg the year 5/6 Christmas tree, examples of craft work, printouts of pictures and amazingly found a Santa costume.
- Students brought in their gifts and placed them in the Santa Bag.
- Printed off individual first names on A4 paper so that the Japanese students would see who was talking to them.
The actual connection
Students completed a survey prior to the connection to share what they already knew about Japan. Surprisingly for me, two or three said that they knew nothing at all. At the appointed time, the skype call came through. We were seated informally around the webcamera, Christmas gear discreetly out of sight and faced a very formal classroom setup with the Japanese students seated in rows, some with masks over their mouths and a couple of girls with a blanket over their knees.
The girls proceeded to introduce themselves one at a time, name tag clearly displayed. Then showed some of the pictures, craft work and the Christmas tree. As this was going on, a lot of noise was coming from the corner of the room. About to reprimand those who were making the noise, I saw that they were quickly trying to dress a student in the Santa costume. With no planning at all, Santa, then grabbed the presents that were placed in the Santa sack, ho ho’ed her way into to the webcamera and did the Kris Kringle on the spot!
There was much laughter and fun as the girls opened their presents in front of the web camera and showed what they closer to the camera. There were chocolates, lollies, lip gloss, cosmetics and jewellery. Curiousity gave way as we had to explain what some of the goods were and compare whether some of the confectionery and chocolates were available in Japan. At times we had to wait to be interpreted, a new skill for the girls to learn.
Talk then proceeded to the food we eat, when I suddenly remembered the leftovers from our smorgasboard morning tea. Leaving the girls to continue talking, I returned with some of the special cakes, chocolates and part of Christmas fruit cake. Britt Gow a fellow teacher shared her fruit cake with them and explained what it was.
It was then question time. Our girls wanted to know why the boys were wearing the face masks and why the girls had a rug on their knees. Too quickly it was time to say goodbye and despite the fact that we did not follow our original program, the lesson worked, was fun, student led and directed with one of our favourite festivals and Santa taking pride of place!