Finnish Penpals

One of the best products of my trip to Helsinki, Finland, for a meeting with Innokas and the Global Education Foundations, was meeting and collaborating with two educators from a Finnish school north of Helsinki.  We planned and put a plan in place to set up penpals between our classrooms and use a.   We wanted our initial letters to be handwritten so that the students felt they were more personal and got the feeling of receiving something in the mail from another country.   From there, they could then continue corresponding via email or post (whichever they preferred).  We also planned to share projects that we were doing in class to help give our students a real global audience to which they could share their learning.  To do this, we set up a blog called Bridging Communities (this ties in with the Building Bridges theme from the Global Education Foundation).  There was such a benefit to meeting and working with these two in person.  A bond was created that made it feel more comfortable when we communicated by email afterwards.
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Last week our first letters arrived and the students were ecstatic to receive them.  For the most part we were able to pair them one to one, boy to boy and girl to girl, with a couple sharing a pen pal or receiving two.  The students read their letters and immediately were sharing with each other and asking some questions of me, such as what team is Oulun Kärpät (a Finnish ice hockey team), what is floorball, and what is a pedal car.  The letters lead to lots of discussions about similarities and differences from Finland to the USA.

When most of the discussion had died down, the kids asked if they could begin writing their penpals back.  My response was of course.  They began writing and you could have heard a pin drop until they began sharing what they had written, asking for ideas of what to share with their penpal, and wondering if it was okay to say Americanized things in the letters like football or tv show names.

I’m so excited to continue this collaboration into future school years and grow by connecting with more schools in other countries.  The engagement level for our students has increased for wanting to create projects to share, have time for writing, and we are building relationships that could span a lifetime.

Nicole, Jefferson & Roosevelt Elementary schools, Janesville, USA

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