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by Jennifer D. Klein
Head of Gimnasio Los Caobos, Colombia

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August 7, 2017
Fostering Global Competencies and Partnerships through PBL

by Jennifer D. Klein
Head of Gimnasio Los Caobos, Colombia

“There could be no creativity without the curiosity that moves us and sets us patiently impatient before a world that we did not make, to add to it something of our own making.”
--Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom


While you can do Project Based Learning without making global connections and create Global Education experiences for students without PBL, at their best these two pedagogical approaches can work in concert toward the same central goal: to create problem solvers who think innovatively and collaboratively about how to improve their communities and solve our urgent, borderless challenges. When teachers enrich their projects through authentic opportunities to connect with other young people in the world, or with experts who are working on the global issues students are studying, projects become an opportunity to learn with and from the world.

There are many ways to intersect the more specific elements of Gold Standard PBL and Global Education; following are a few suggestions to help you expand your Global PBL toolbox:

  1. Design PBL experiences founded on gathering multiple perspectives (Sustained Inquiry and Reflection). One of the central tenets of global education, identified by the Center for Global Education at Asia Society as one of the Four Domains of Global Competence, is recognizing perspectives. When inquiry includes gathering and understanding a wide array of perspectives, particularly in the process of developing products oriented toward solving local and global challenges, every individual with different life experiences becomes an expert who can enrich students’ understanding of the topics you teach.
  2. Ground student engagement with partner classrooms in the development of global competencies (Success Skills). While they rarely come up in conversations about 21st century competencies, even 17 years into the century, global competencies are a 21st century imperative. This is true not just for student success in education and beyond on an increasingly interconnected planet, but because they lie at the heart of building a more just and equitable world. I generally encourage teachers to identify the global competencies they hope students will engage by exploring those proposed by Asia Society, World Savvy, and Oxfam. These competencies, which include powerful concepts like empathy, humility and comfort with ambiguous situations, are just as important as the communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity most PBL teachers strive to foster.
  3. Partner with other classrooms in the world to collaborate on shared global challenges like the Sustainable Development Goals or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Challenging Problem or Question, Authenticity, Public Product, Student Voice and Choice). Rather than seeing global learning as an endless series of service projects or fundraisers, in which one classroom fixes or saves another, consider how two or more classrooms might learn from and with each other about the challenges they have in common. Such partnerships help develop not only a solution orientation in students, but can lead to significant local participation and action during the course of a project. Besides offering frameworks for voice and choice, exploring our shared challenges can help ensure that students engage the world with an asset mindset, so that students see how learning from and with people who have different values and experiences can lead to better solutions. See Teach the SDGs to join the growing movement of teachers around the world who are engaging their students in this important work.
  4. Use non-classroom partners to expose students to people doing the work they’re learning about (Authenticity, Critique and Revision, and Public Product). Some of the best Global PBL partnerships I’ve seen have been with NGO leaders and other experts who, from their experience in the field, are able to frame our academic disciplines in an authentic context and humanize the topics students are studying. Such experts can help to launch a project through a powerful Skype call, deepen students’ knowledge in the course of inquiry, provide feedback on students’ innovations, and be an audience for final products. In the best examples, like the #Decarbonize project from the Centre for Global Education in Edmonton, students work in close collaboration with experts—as well as their global counterparts—to refine white papers which they ultimately share with high-level policy makers, providing student voice on issues of authentic concern to organizations like UNEP and UNESCO.
  5. Create the conditions for global collaboration and then get out of the way (Success Skills, Challenging Problem or Question, and Student Voice and Choice). The best Global PBL I’ve seen is all about student voice, about the teachers creating connections and then encouraging students to collaborate, problem solve, and act. Too often, teachers assume that the point of education is to teach students the ways of the past; while understanding history is key to not repeating it, modeling too much just leads to repetition. Instead, a powerful project that puts students in charge can produce new solutions to the world’s pressing problems. TakingITGlobal Co-Founder Jennifer Corriero put it this way: “I wonder… if young people were actively engaged in all aspects of society, and thought of themselves as community leaders, problem-solvers, role models, mentors and key ‘stakeholders’ …how would the world change?” In my opinion, it can only change for the better.

Whether you feel ready for a global partnership or not, exposing your students to real global topics and people committed to addressing them can only lead to deeper, more meaningful learning—and ultimately to more constructive, asset-based engagement with the world. In doing so, I believe teachers can help foster a generation of constructive, globally engaged young people who use their knowledge and competencies to build a more just and peaceful world.

Jennifer Klein recently authored The Global Education Guidebook: Humanizing K-12 Classrooms Worldwide through Equitable Partnerships.


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