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PenPal Schools

location_on United States of America

PenPal Schools connects students from 150 countries to make friends and discover the world.

PenPal Schools is the world’s largest project-based learning community, with over a quarter million students in 150 countries. Students collaborate through online topics ranging from human rights and the environment to fake news and robotics, all while practicing literacy, technology and social-emotional skills. PenPal Schools was recognized by President Obama.

HundrED 2021
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Overview

HundrED has selected this innovation to

HundrED 2021

HundrED 2019

HundrED 2018

2012

Established

500K

Children/users

195

Countries
Organisation
Not-for-profit
Target group
All
Updated
November 22nd, 2022
You won’t find other apps that provide student to student connections guided with learning

About the innovation

What is PenPal Schools?

Teaching students about the world around them has the potential to be awe inspiring, yet often the lessons and materials can feel removed from the real world, lacking the substance and authenticity to spark excitement.

Access to their international peers is an opportunity to learn about other cultures and ways of life, and to begin to think globally, yet few students have the chance to do so.

PenPal Schools is a social enterprise connecting students around the world through collaborative online projects. Groups of penpals use weekly sessions to connect and collaborate on a selected topic, which could be anything from folk-tales and French art to immigration and environmental protection.

PenPal Schools topics are designed for students ages 8-18 and are aligned to a wide variety of academic standards. All topics are inquiry-based and are offered at multiple difficulty levels, which can be differentiated based on student ability. Some topics are designed specifically to accommodate English-language learners. You can review the current project catalog and preview any project (no login required) at go.penpalschools.com/topics

Students work in groups with classmates to create original videos, presentations, service projects, art, poems, and more. Students then share their creations with peers, teachers, and parents from around the world in the PenPal Schools Showcase.

As students collaborate with their classmates to create projects they practice a variety of social and emotional skills. Students must work together to combine their various talents, accommodate multiple opinions, and combine their efforts into one cohesive project.

To helps students create their projects, they log in to complete a series of lessons. Each lesson includes a video, non-fiction text, and discussion question. Once students answer the discussion question they gain access to a forum of thousands of students from around the world who have answered the same question. Students must then interact with peers from around the world to gather diverse perspectives to include in their projects. Students practice must develop empathy and respect for other cultures and perspectives, while learning how to collaborate productively with peers with different working and communication styles.

PenPal Schools makes global project-based learning easy for teachers by providing pre-made, self-guided projects. However, teachers still play an active role. Teachers can review student projects in the Showcase, and can review every message that students send and receive in the lesson forums. Teachers can provide students with private written feedback and can grade student work across a wide variety of reading comprehension, writing, digital citizenship, and social & emotional skills. Assessment criteria are customizable and are aligned to Common Core standards. In addition to teacher assessment, students must reflect on their own performance and learning, and are encouraged to provide feedback to classmates and peers around the world. Learn more at www.penpalschools.com/learning-outcomes.html

In addition to reviewing and grading student work, teachers can access supplemental offline class activities as well as a wide variety of professional development resources related to social-emotional learning, project-based and inquiry-based learning. Teachers can also connect with teachers worldwide through educator forums, and can invite teachers from the PenPal Schools community to join them in projects. Teachers can search by country, subject, student age, and other factors to find classrooms around the world to invite to projects.

In 2015, President Obama recognized PenPal Schools as one of the world's leading social enterprises, as part of the Spark Global Entrepreneurship coalition.

Impact & scalability

Impact & Scalability

PenPal Schools combines a global connection with an exciting learning experience. Students from across the world can collaborate and communicate within an authentic context for learning. To date PenPal Schools is used by 500 000 in almost every country of the world.

HundrED Academy Reviews
PBL with children around the world - wow! A great innovation to help to promote compassion, tolerance, understanding of the world and of course learning about variety of topics. Seems easy to launch and use. Great that it can be personalized to meet different needs.
This innovation seeks to create an international community amongst students and teachers from different places. It seems easy to use, attainable, scalable and impactful. Nowadays with globalization, we must embrace the opportunities to connect students correctly and safely.
- Academy member
Academy review results
High Impact
Low Scalability
High Impact
High Scalability
Low Impact
Low Scalability
Low Impact
High Scalability
Read more about our selection process

Implementation steps

Sign up to PenPal Schools
Teachers can visit penpalschools.com where they can register for an account. Teachers invite their students to join using the class code provided.

The first 5 teachers from a school can register for free. If a school wishes for more teachers to use the site, they pay a site license. There are discounts available for low income or PenPal Partner schools.

Choose from dozens of topics
Teachers can choose standards aligned projects from a broad range of subjects such as social studies projects on fake news, the environment, and civil rights, and STEM projects on robotics, meteorology, and geometry.

Each project comes with lesson plans including articles and videos to share with students. 

Language may be a barrier to some students as only four languages are currently supported. However, there are opportunties to improve their languages skills as PenPal Schools has language-intensive projects for English, Spanish, French, and Chinese.

Familiarize yourself with lesson content

Go through each lesson before assigning the project to students.

Look at each article and watch the videos for that project. Consider what the students may find difficult and whether they will need any additional support to answer any of the questions. 

Pre-teach any necessary skills
Anticipate which areas students may encounter difficulties and consider pre-teaching these skills to support them to access the project.

Some students may not have some of the literacy skills necessary to write to another or they may not know how to edit their work so it can be more easily read by someone else. By explicitly teaching these skills to students before they start a PenPal Schools project, they will have the best chance of success. 

The Mystery PenPal Class activity can be downloaded from the Teacher Dashboard and provides lesson plans and resources to help teach students how to  start a conversation with their penpals. 

Timetable 30 minutes a week for PenPal time
Find the time for students to log in for 30 minutes each week to correspond with their penpals.

Weekly online lessons include discussion questions to inspire thoughtful conversations and well as high-quality videos, non-fiction texts, and vocabulary exercises to help students become informed. 

 

Encourage intercultural understanding
Researching into their penpals' countries and cultures can increase general knowledge and deepen students' understanding of other cultures.

Students could explore news articles related to their new friends' country or learn about their culture. This could lead to interesting conversations in the classroom and makes the experience and learning more authentic for students thereby increasing motivation. 

Use the teacher dashboard to guide students
The teacher dashboard enables teachers to see what their students have written and provide feedback.

Weekly feedback to students through the dashboard can help improve their writing by providing feedback on strengths and areas for development. Writing can be shared with parents. 

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