While February is officially Black History Month in the United States, it’s important to discuss issues like discrimination, identity, and civil rights with your students all year long. Teachers around the world can incorporate lessons about civil rights movements from different countries to help students understand that the fight for equality transcends borders, skin color, religion, and gender.
This week, we’re excited to recognize a 7th grade class from Canada who recently participated in Walking to Freedom. As they learned about prominent civil rights leaders and activists like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, they compared civil rights movements abroad with the efforts of activists in their community.
Their teacher, Ms. Jennifer Hamill, supported her students as they learned with PenPals in order to help them improve critical reading, writing, digital citizenship, and social and emotional learning skills.
PenPal Schools: How did you implement PenPal Schools?
Ms. Hamill: We spent a month working on our PenPal Schools project. We were able to discuss global and digital citizenship. Students had lesson/discussion days, research days, commenting days, and writing days.
PenPal Schools: How did you align Walking to Freedom to your curriculum?
Overall the project linked very well to our theme of "Legacy- How will you be remembered?" The project allowed students to learn about people who have and are still building a legacy. The Walking to Freedom project connected wonderfully to our curriculum. We used this project to strengthen writing structure and research practices. Students were able learn how to write a more in-depth paragraph that later transitioned into a full essay.
It’s clear that Ms. Hamill emphasized writing structure in her World Connectors class! Many of her students wrote well-structured and detailed paragraphs, demonstrating reading comprehension skills like summarizing and comparing & contrasting.
“There are many civil right activist in my community that we honor in various ways. We honor Viola Desmond by including her face in the 10$ bill. The 10$ bill represents Viola Desmond's refusal to leave the white-only section of a Nova Scotia movie theater. This made her into a Civil Right symbol for Black Canadians. For more information visit this website https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-viola-desmond-10-bill-explainer/.There are many civil right activist in my community and we honor them in many different ways.”
"Many people are still fighting for their and other people's civil rights in society. A Canadian social activist, Rachel Parent fights for our rights to know. She is the founder of the Kids Right To Know, a not-for-profit organization that she founded to inform the public, especially other children, about food safety. This organization started when she began researching for a school project and became alarmed by what she learned about GMOs (GMO is a genetically modified organism). So she would be able to fight for our right to know what’s in our food by making GMO labeling a law in Canada. Another social activist we have already read about is Mahatma Gandhi and he fought for discrimination towards Indians and black people. He spent 21 years of his life fighting discrimination in South Africa before going back to India. A similarity between Gandhi and Parent are they both have and had non-violent resistances. A difference between Gandhi and Parent is that Gandhi fought for racial discrimination and Parent fought for the right for children and parents to know about GMOs and that we were being used as used as test subjects. Mahatma Gandhi and Rachel Parent have fought in different ways but they did fought to make the world a better place."
“In my community we have many different ways of remembering and honoring civil rights leaders. Where I’m from, many people have have fought for civil rights such as Desmond Cole, Viola Desmond, and the famous five statues in downtown. Viola was honored by having her face printed on the ten dollar bill. Also Desmond Cole was known for being carded over 50 times for no reason.”
By comparing and contrasting issues around discrimination in their home country of Canada with the ideas they learned about in Walking to Freedom, these PenPal Stars were able to help provide a new perspective for their global peers!
Online global collaboration allows students to practice a variety of critical reading and writing skills.
Many PenPal Stars from Ms. Hamill’s class also demonstrated great digital citizenship skills in their responses! Students often cited sources in their written responses so that their PenPals can continue to learn more.
“There are many ethnic groups such as Canadian 32.32%,English 18.34%,Scottish 13.93%,Irish 13.43%,German 9.64%,Italian 4.61%,First Nations 4.43%. Canadian’s are the largest self-identified ethnic group in Canada. Prior to European arrival, indigenous peoples (Inuit, Metis, and First Nations) lived in Canada. By the late 1850s, Canada had received many immigrants with origins including English, French, Scottish, Irish, German, Italian, and Chinese. People from a diverse set of ethnic backgrounds can identity as "Canadian". They came to Canada because war, money, and better resources.If you want to know further information you can view this website https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/ethnic-groups-and-nationalities-of-canada.html it is really intersting. If you want to know more about these ethnic groups vist https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/ethnic-groups-and-nationalities-of-canada.htm. These are the main ethnic groups in our country, Canada that came for different reasons.”
“I have had two highlights from studying with PenPals over the time reading articles. Some highlights would be when I learned that people lost their lives fighting for the next generation, so that all people can be equal to each other around the world. Another highlight from studying with PenPals is that discrimination may not look like it is here but it is. People lost their lives like, the province’s police watchdog announced no charges would be laid against a Peel Region Police officer whom shot and killed a black man, Jermaine Carby. Recently, a Taco Bell employee refuses an order from a deaf customer and reports are found that black people are more likely to be injured or killed by Toronto Police officers than white people. For more information visit https://globalnews.ca/news/4818688/taco-bell-video-deaf-service/, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/toronto/article-report-reveals-racial-disparities-in-toronto-polices-use-of-force/ and https://www.thestar.com/news/crime/2015/08/16/how-many-black-men-have-been-killed-by-toronto-police-we-cant-know.html. These had made me have more awareness about people are dead for protesting and discrimination is still here.”
Discussing topics like discrimination and diversity requires students to practice social & emotional skills like empathy, respect, and self-awareness.
These PenPal Stars demonstrated excellent social & emotional skills as they reflected on instances of discrimination in their own community and came up with ideas to promote tolerance.
“I can promote equality in my community by making a change. If someone is be racist towards someone then you should make sure that person knows. It is possible that someone is being racist by accident. You could not join in with the discrimination. Also bring awareness about it by telling a adult abut the issue. For more information go to: https://carleton.ca/equity/human-rights/discrimination/#anchor9 . Making a change in your community it will promote equality.”
“In my community, we have many different ways to promote equality. If I happen to see someone who is not being treated equally, I would stand up for that person. Some ways you can stand up for people would be to use your voice because we all have the right to express what we feel and say what we believe in. If the issue was something more complicating and involves many people then a peaceful protest would also work. If you would like to learn more about promoting equality then check out this website http://www.charterofrights.ca/en/17_00_01 for more information. As you can see we have many different ways to promote equality in my community and I intend on using them to help others.”
“In my entire life I have been treated fairly among everyone that I meet, however no country is perfect and Canada has had its own days when discrimination was present and in some cases permitted. Due to the fact that I haven't been discriminated I will tell you of a time when a canadian girl named Asmahan who was kicked out of her soccer game because she wouldn’t remove her hijab. She and her family tried time and time again to convince their coach to let her onto the team until her family had enough, they all went to court to settle the issue. After careful consideration the jury decided that just because she has a hijab doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t be allowed to play soccer. For further reading I suggest https://ottawasun.com/2012/07/10/let-hijab-wearers-play/wcm/d6bf5c61-a181-475d-acd5-56a1e0f45ba1. Although there are many pros and cons to wearing a hijab during a game like soccer even though, the judge decided to let her play regardless the risks because they wanted it to be equal.”
As Ms. Hamill's class reflected on their experience, these PenPal Stars shared some great advice for future PenPals!
“PenPal is a great website to visit. It is educational, interesting and you also get to talk to other students around the world about your thoughts on the articles you read. For upcoming PenPal users the only thing I will say is have fun because Penpal is not only educational but it is also fun.”
“Question: What advice do you have for future students who study this topic? Answer: This is an awesome website and I have lots of advice for the many students studying this topic in the near future. Firstly, I would like them to be as open to new ideas or perspectives as possible. This website and topic is filled with many experiences and different points of view for them to consider, so it is based around people, and have many opinions to consider, and accept. Another important part or aspect that would be good for future students to understand is that they need to be able to write what is on their mind and not be afraid that the're going to be judged, because everyone on the Pen Pals website has a very common mindset and goal. Not being afraid to write what they actually believe in is a key part in participating in this topic, since even though some people might not have the same thoughts, they will still learn for you. Lastly, I also believe that you should not be afraid to ask questions because when you ask questions, you introduce a new perspective to the person you are asking, and you would learn more. I am hoping that the future Pen Pal participants are able to learn and express themselves as much as I was able to, and they have a successful Pen Pal experience.”
We had a chance to talk with some of Ms. Hamill’s PenPal Stars to learn more about their experience learning with PenPals.
PenPal Schools: What has been your favorite thing about learning with PenPals?
Maryam: My favourite thing about learning with PenPals is how I could communicate with people around the world.
Aiman: Whenever I read a new paragraph I learned more about the topic I was reading and the opinions of people all around the world
Shatha: I have learnt that equality is very important to everyone around the world and that I should accept everyone even if they are a different race.
PenPal Schools: What was the most important lesson you learned in this project?
Aiman: I learned many different lessons but my favorite lesson was about Gandhi. I never really knew who he was until I read the article.
Shatha: I learnt to be more accepting
Maryam: The most interesting thing I learned from my PenPals was that in many different countries they all face the same level or worse amount of discrimination, so I felt like I wasn't alone.
Shatha: I feel like I have learnt that equality is not practiced nor encouraged all around the world and that we need to stand up and make our world a better place.
PenPal Schools: How has your project changed the way you think about the world?
Shatha: That everyone needs to be accepted and everyone has experienced discrimination weather it's big or small.
PenPal Schools: Why do you think it's important to learn with other students from around the world?
Maryam: I think it's important to learn with other students around the world because I find it essential for children to not only know what's happening in their community, but what's happening everywhere.
Aiman: I think it is important to learn with other students around the world because they may have a different opinion from us and that will help us see certain topics from a different angle.
Shatha: I think it is important because everyone has different opinions about different problems they are facing in their countries.
PenPal Schools: What advice do you have about being a great PenPal?
Maryam: Advice I have to becoming a great PenPal is to not be afraid to talk and express what you feel, because you never know if someone else feels the same. I also recommend asking many questions and considering all the perspectives anyone has, and lastly, to not be nervous to talk to anyone on the website.
Aiman: My advice to future PenPals is that you should keep the conversation going. Asking questions, commenting and maybe even suggesting something.
Shatha: Be more open and do not be shy to express their opinions.
Their teacher, Ms. Hamill, also share some of her reflections about her students’ experience during Walking to Freedom.
PenPal Schools: What has been your favorite part of PenPal Schools?
I love that the students have a opportunity to write for an audience other than their teacher. It has helped them take more ownership of their writing.
PenPal Schools: How has learning with PenPals from around the world impacted your students?
When they interact with other students from around the world they are able to see that issues we discuss are not just the ones in textbooks but they are happening all around the world and that everyone is working around the world to make it a better place.
PenPal Schools: Why is it important to you to connect your students with their peers around the world?
I feel that it is important to connect students with others around the world to broaden their perspectives and help students understand that the world is more than just the city they live in. Students are able to create real life meaning from the lessons they learn about in school.
PenPal Schools: What advice do you have for teachers that are new to PenPal Schools?
My advice to teachers that are new to the project would be to reach out to other teachers working on PenPal School to see if there are ways that your lessons can connect with each other. Encourage students to not only respond to each other's posts but also to create a dialogue.
Congratulations again to these PenPal Stars, Ms. Hamill’s class from Canada! Their thoughtful responses are a great example of how students can connect, learn, and reflect together as they discuss difficult histories during Black History Month.
Your students can join Walking to Freedom, too! Or, explore Race in America during Black History Month.