Now, I want to be clear here, I'm not necessarily saying this is a bad assignment. I don't know where the teacher is going with this. I could see this being the start of a really interesting exploration of countries, we'll just have to wait and see what happens.
We began by doing what the assignment asked. We helped Abby find some appropriate websites about Bermuda and she read through them and tried to pull out some interesting and relevant facts about Bermuda (copying and pasting into a Google Doc). We also pulled up Bermuda on Google Maps to see where it is, and went to Flickr to look at some pictures of Bermuda. We had some decent conversations about what might be considered important about a country, but what might also be interesting to other sixth graders.
Now, at this point, it's an okay if not particularly engaging assignment and, again, I don't know where the teacher/class is going next with this. But, because Abby is our kid (some would say "has the misfortune of being our kid") we asked her if she might like to try to talk to someone in Bermuda and ask them some questions. (We're walking a fine line here, but we're trying to encourage her to be more curious and less anxious about just finishing the assignment.) She said sure, so I tweeted out
Within a couple of minutes Jennifer tweeted back
And then a few minutes later Shannon tweeted
We learned several things about Bermuda that Abby hadn't found in her initial search for "10 facts", including that they catch rainwater from their roofs for all of their fresh water, that girls like playing "netball," and that each house is only allowed to own one car. She also got to see what the roofs and houses looked like, and what Shannon and his wife (and their house) looked and sounded like. Ultimately Abby combined this new information with what she already had, came up with her 10 facts, and we printed out the Google Doc to staple to the homework worksheet. (Yes, I know, but sometimes it's just easier to print and staple than perhaps cause problems by asking to turn it in electronically. She also made a blog post.)
So, which is Abby more likely to remember, the facts she found from a couple of websites, or the 15 minute conversation with Shannon and his wife? (After we hung up we were talking about collecting the rainwater for all their water needs and Abby said, "Wow, they must get a lot of rain." I'm thinking that has more of an impact than reading their annual rainfall in inches.) Which one gave her a better feel for what it was like to live in Bermuda? Which is more likely to encourage her to be curious about the world around her?
What assignments of your own could perhaps be revisited? How can you help connect your students to the wider world around them?