Cherokee Nation project

A digital cultural exchange between school students in Brighton, UK and Cherokee school students in Oklahoma, USA.

In the first blog post in December 2011, Phil Jones wrote: ‘This project aims to use digital media to significantly enhance the way that existing cultural exchange programmes between schools are run. The idea is to test and develop ways of using technology to encourage school students from different cultural and historical backgrounds to engage in real time interaction, to co-create content and to use visual and story-telling media, enabling them to build strong relationships through a mutual understanding and knowledge of each other.’

Since then, we’ve had a new school sign up from the Cherokee Nation – here’s a reminder of who’s taking part:

UK – Blatchington Mill School  and Cardinal Newman Catholic School

US – Fort Gibson Public Schools and Maryetta Public Schools Another school, Sequoyah, a small school which is one of the only ones that teaches students in the Cherokee language is taking part through an after school club.

One of the first things we decided was that we needed time to discuss the project with teachers across the continents, get them talking to each other, find out what technology they were using already and to try to set a framework for the curriculum. We also needed to agree how many students would take part to start with and identify classes and teachers. We didn’t want to be too prescriptive with the curriculum as we really wanted the kids to take hold of the project when it started and to help drive what they would be doing in the lessons set aside for the project. One of the things the Cherokee side wanted from the project was to identify possible teachers of the future to help keep Cherokee tradition and language alive and that came into the mix as well.

It’s all about a digital cultural exchange, and those three words are what sums the whole thing up and it’s important to keep all those things in mind (at the same time!)… we wanted the kids to reflect on their own culture and lives and then think about how they could communicate that to people they might never meet (although more of that later)… and the tools they might use to do that. One thing that needs to be done is to find out what devices and technologies the kids already use and know, make use of them and introduce new technologies to them through the curriculum.

Although the first phase of this year-long project from April- August 2012 has been mostly to set things up, the Brighton schools have had some preparatory lessons in June and July. Year 7 English language pupils at Blatchington Mill have been studying some background about the Cherokee Nation using materials supplied by the Cherokee Nation Foundation, a charity that supports the education of Cherokee students.  They were introduced to the beautiful Cherokee language syllabary and to recordings of traditional Cherokee lullabies and then spent time reflecting on Brighton and their own lives. Then, and here’s the exciting bit, they made short films in small groups to introduce themselves and Brighton to their Cherokee counterparts. They used Movie Maker to do this, which was new to the teachers.

Year 7 History students at Cardinal Newman school had similar preparatory lessons and also produced materials to share with the Cherokee children. They used various technology including Powerpoint (it’s a start) and Movie Maker.

A highlight of the project so far is undoubtedly the visit to Brighton in July 2012 of Andrew Sikora, the US project manager and a star Cherokee student, Corey Still, in July 2012. Corey is currently studying at the University of Oklahoma and is a great ambassador for the Cherokee Nation. He was in the UK to take part in an event with the UK government to celebrate the 250th year anniversary of the “Emissaries of Peace” Cherokee visit to the UK to see King George III in 1762.  Fortunately for us, he had time to visit Brighton and we organized visits to both Blatch and Newman schools so Corey and Andrew could meet the pupils and teachers on the project. Corey was a real pro at talking with the kids and we had a Q&A session at both schools as well as meeting senior staff and being taken on a tour of each school.

To communicate across the pond we’ve been using Skype and Basecamp so far. We’ve had a number of conference calls using Skype and had an interesting time figuring out that you can’t do group calls using an iPad if you want visuals not just sound and that one person in the group needs Premium Skype in order for you to all see each other. All the teachers taking part in the project are signed up to Basecamp as well as other interested parties who want to contribute. Use has been patchy but is being revitalized particularly by Fort Gibson school’s teachers who are regular contributors. We’ve shared the initial materials the year 7s made through Blogger and we’re discussing what platform we might want to try out as well – one US schools uses Edmodo and we’re also talking about Posterous which none of the schools have used before…

We’ve had a launch event but that’s the subject of another post… More later

Fenella Tallon