Burns middle students learn lessons by interacting with peers across the globe

Apr. 17—The news project Teresa Perkins and her Burns Middle School students have been working on the past few weeks has been an eye-opening experience for her as a teacher, because it’s been a way to introduce students to the world beyond the four walls of her classroom.

Perkins, BMS computer applications teacher, has been able to introduce the topic of finding credible news sources with students through a different lens. By using the PenPal Schools platform, her students have been able to discuss many topics with teens from around the world.

According to penpalschools.com, students connect through the online social media platform from all over the world every day to read, write and create original projects. More than 250,000 students in 150 countries participate and collaborate.

In Perkins’ class each week, students have “Real Talk Time,” in which they discuss topics that interest them. One day students brought up something they saw on TikTok, and they wondered how and why someone would disseminate misinformation on social media. They discussed the dangers of unreliable or incorrect news and the reasons why it could potentially draw an audience.

When it came time for her eighth grade students to choose a theme on which to focus with their pen pals, students chose unreliable news.

“My students chose (unreliable) news (accounts) because they are affected by (unreliable) news on their social media accounts,” Perkins said, adding that she was surprised at first the topic had the most votes in her class.

Students honored in on a specific question to ask of their pen pals: How does misinformation affect the different communities around the world? They watched YouTube videos and read articles each day and responded to discussion board questions on the PenPal Schools’ website. Through the site, students were allowed to connect with three students from different countries.

They were given the option to choose two students from the US, but were asked to choose at least one student from a different country. They also have been tracking their discussions and what countries their pen pals are from.

“As a class, we have a map that hangs in the hallway to showcase all the places we have discovered through this experience,” Perkins said. “We have communities with students from 23 countries and six states in the United States.”

Some of the other countries include Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Kuwait, Germany and Brazil.

Students generally have been surprised to learn how their counterparts from across the globe are impacted by misinformation, Perkins said.

One topic of conversation was how gossip impacts communities, she said.

“A pen pal from the Dominican Republic shared that if you start a rumor or gossip in school, you could get suspended for up to two weeks from school,” she said.

Her students thought that was a harsh punishment for that offense, and they discussed how rumors or gossip can be hurtful and lead to disrupted learning.

To top off the project, students were asked to create a resource that could be used with students or adults to help recognize unreliable news sources and misinformation. The resource could be a document, presentation, video or a website, and it was created using the information students gathered through their pen pal exchange.

Perkins said her students learned quickly that not all countries are the same as the US, and she said the experience was enlightening for all involved.

“This has been one of my favorite projects to do with students this semester, because it has given the students a whole picture of the world,” she said. “Students are relating to other students their own age from around the world.”

Bobbie Hayse, bhayse@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7315

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