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Engaging primary students in project-based learning

The KFIT International School Project (KISP) is a component of UNESCO Bangkok’s “Facilitating Effective ICT-Pedagogy Integration Project” which aims to create an enabling environment for student-centred use of ICT. To do this, KISP has been engaging primary school teachers and students from various countries – Canada, China, Korea, Philippines, Malaysia and Bangladesh - in conducting Project-Based Learning (PBL) activities through telecollaboration.  The PBL activities have been taking place in UNESCO Bangkok's Education Community web portal (EC).

From March to July 2012, participants of this project have been communicating and collaborating with their international counterparts through a series of web-based activities and projects.  For the first phase of the project, the students prepared digital stories to introduce themselves, their schools and countries.  The schools were encouraged to use various applications - whether standalone or web-based – in making their digital stories.  The participants used text, pictures, sound and video clips in their digital stories. They then shared the digital stories by posting the file or link to the EC portal, for the others to view and comment.  

Afterwards, the KISP teachers and students proceeded to the second phase of the project, where teachers and students from the same school or country were able to practice their know-how on PBL through local projects – which they themselves would design and implement.  

The participation of the teachers and students in the preceding activities is essential in preparing them for the on-going international project phase, the third and final phase of KISP.  In this phase, the participants are implementing projects related to “weather”, set by UNESCO as the general topic.  The teachers selected the specific topics and prepared the guides to a couple of weather-related projects, one of which is a weather calendar project.  

In the weather calendar project, the students will use a web-based application (Popplet) in sharing information on their countries' weather and how it affects their culture and way of life.  Students were distributed to groups so that they will go beyond working with their schoolmates and collaborate on projects with students from other countries.  In turn, teachers will not only handle the students from their own schools, but were also assigned to facilitate interaction and collaboration of these international and inte-cultural groups of students.  The students will primarily use the EC portal - particularly the groups and forum sections - to communicate with each other, particularly in planning, implementing and commenting on their projects.  It is hoped that the students and teachers will not only learn about the weather conditions beyond their own communities, but also deepen their knowledge and appreciation of other countries – and make new friends in the process.

The implementation of an international project through telecollaboration has its share of challenges.  In the case of KISP, interaction among participants (both teachers and students) is done online, via the EC portal or other web-based apps (i.e. email, chat); participants are thus able to communicate with each other and collaborate on school projects through ICT.  While online communication has its advantages, participants occasionally experience technical difficulty (e.g. intermittent Internet connection, limited access to schools computer labs) which poses challenges to KISP planning and implementation.  

Language is also a factor to be considered; even though it has been decided that English would be the working language of KISP, there are still several participants who have a hard time interacting with the others because they are not proficient in the language. Also, the participants have to allocate and make time for KISP activities – which was not easy to do because the teachers and students are also busy with regular schoolwork.  These challenges, as experienced by participants of the KFIT International School Project, can be addressed through careful planning, constant monitoring and effective management. The current KISP project is expected to be completed by the end of July 2012 and the impact of the project will be evaluated and publicized soon after.