When I opened our home mailbox recently, I excitedly pulled out 15 beautifully
decorated letters postmarked Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. The letters were
all colorfully hand decorated and bore
the stamps of the African nation. They
represented the final stage of a yearlong
international project that my environmental science students were involved
in with students from Canada, England, Brazil, and Burkina Faso.
The project, called Fire and Ice, is a
social outreach program that connects
schools in the northern hemisphere to
schools in the southern hemisphere.
The Ice represents the colder northern latitude nations of the temperate
regions, and Fire represents the hotter southern latitude nations of the
tropics and deserts. Just as fire and ice
are opposites, so too are these hemispheres in many ways. The wealthy Ice
nations’ access to technology, health
care, and education contrasts with the
poorer Fire nations’ limited resources.
The project set out to demonstrate
that despite these differences, both
hemispheres face similar problems.
Fire and Ice is designed to bridge
the chasm between the two worlds. It
was created by the e-learning platform
provider Elluminate, and it offers students a chance to collaborate in real
time on social topics, such as climate
change, peace, and poverty reduction.
The hope is that cultures can learn
about and come to understand each
other through shared experience. My
school, Insight School of Washington,
proudly became the first virtual school
to participate in the program.
Fire and Ice Project
The Fire and Ice Project consists of
Getting to know each other. In the first
stage, students from all four nations met
online to introduce themselves. The
students were fascinated by the differences and similarities of each culture.
The students from Burkina Faso shared
pictures of their school and surrounding
countryside. My students were amazed
that, although the school had very basic
amenities, it still had computers.
All the students quickly adapted to
the technology and got the hang of
synchronously communicating with
peers from around the world. I was on
vacation in Salisbury, England, at the
time, yet I was still able to participate.
I found a quiet corner in a Starbucks
coffee shop, where I sat and watched
while my students scattered around
Washington state talked with students
from Canada, Europe, South America,
Sharing information. In the second
stage, students from each school gave
a presentation to the group about an
environmental challenge they face in
their local area. The students talked
about a possible plan of action and
asked for the groups’ input. This demonstrated that environmental issues
My students shared information
about research conducted by the University of Washington on the declining
water quality in the Hood Canal, a
locally important crab and salmon fishery. The falling oxygen levels are causing a sharp decline of marine life. This
is of immense importance in our neck
of the woods because fishing is a significant economic resource in our state.
In addition to sharing information
about Hood Canal, Insight students created a newsletter to share their culture
with the other schools. They wrote about
being online students and discussed
their favorite books. A few students
By Mishele Newkirk-Smith