Joe Troyen, Founder
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.
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