13-year-old Ebba recently discovered that families in Germany don’t share a communal butter knife. The revelation came during a meal with a German exchange student her family hosted for several days during the autumn term.
“I realised that in Germany they live in a different way than here in Sweden. When he stayed with us he started taking the knife for the butter to himself because they have their own knives for butter there!”
It might not seem like a life-changing realisation, but for Ebba it was an eye-opening moment. Discovering that people around the world have different norms is the first step to becoming aware and respectful of other cultures and customs.
The student exchange project is just one of many projects that realise the school’s goal of shaping future global citizens. Part of the Futuraskolan network, which operates nine preschools and seven schools in Stockholm, Futuraskolan International Bergtorp offers grades 6-9 and teaches a combination of the Swedish curriculum and the International Middle Years Curriculum (IMYC).
“We try to teach students how the world works,” explains teacher Johan Filander, who heads up the school’s International Communications profile and organises the global citizenship projects. “We teach different communication and presentation skills to interact with each other but also to compare lives with students abroad.”
There are several global citizenship projects running per class at any given time, such as the Världen Barn project in which sixth graders collect money for charity and investigate how it’s used, the Rubbish project run in collaboration with a school in Sri Lanka and, of course, the German exchange project mentioned by Ebba. All projects are carried out in English so students simultaneously improve language skills and become more culturally aware.
Principal Kevin Munro explains: ''All of the current research suggests that experience and emotions are key components in the learning process. As such, we try to construct and facilitate experiences rather than assignments. This way students can attach meaning to their studies and can really apply it to their world in a way that best suits their ambitions.''
Integrating projects and curriculum
A major win for the school came in the form of Erasmus +, a two-year project funded by the EU and run in partnership with schools in the Netherlands, Poland and Germany. Johan explains that, where possible, teachers at Futuraskolan International Bergtorp try to connect the projects with the IMYC -- in the case of Erasmus +, it naturally combined with the seventh grade’s Curiosity unit.
“We want our students to learn about their family history, so we started researching their family backgrounds and connected it to writing an article and the unit of curiosity, since you have to be curious to find out about your background,” says Johan.
He adds that the students have also created a travel agency to find similarities and differences between Sweden and the other countries involved with the project. They have designed packages for “trips in time” to see how the countries are connected but also where they differ.
Students have already travelled to Poland as part of the Erasmus + project and are looking forward to trips to Germany and the Netherlands over the coming year.
Improving language skills
This year is the first time 12-year-old Ivar has taken part in a global citizenship project.
“I thought it would be fun and interesting to take part”, he told The Local. “It’s fun learning about other countries and languages and learning English too.”
So far, Ivar and his classmates have recorded messages in English to share with a partner school in Scotland. The students swapped stories about Christmas traditions which he was pleased to find are similar in some ways but very different in others.
“I’m enjoying speaking with other people and socialising with people from different cultures,” enthuses Ivar. “This term, we will write a letter and learn about the schools and Skype with people from Scotland. I look forward to Skype, I like learning languages and some new words I don’t know.”
Seventh grader Stella has also particularly enjoyed the opportunity to bolster her language learning skills. Not just in English but also in German, which she was able to practice with her German exchange student.
“We had lots of fun and did lots of things together. She taught me how her school works and told me about how she lived and her hobbies. It was very exciting. I have learned new words and have spoken a little German too which I’m also studying.”
Johan notices a real change in the children that take part in the global citizenship projects. They start out shy, he says, but quickly develop different communications skills and learn plenty about themselves and others in the process.
“We hope to develop more understanding children who are tolerant and empathetic. We want them to see the positive things in the world and this is a thing that raises more positivity.”
There are obvious perks for parents too, he adds.
“When they go on trips they don’t have their parents with them and we teachers are not always there, so they have to find their own way of solving problems. That probably benefits the parents too when they get home!”
This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Futuraskolan International.