A few weeks ago my principal asked if I would host some visitors in my class. This is a frequent occurrence, because our school is part of several networks of schools and visiting one another is normal. We also have relationships with sister schools in Germany, South Korea, China, and Japan.
Friday, eleven people came to my 7th period. One was a former student who now works for the San Antonio Council for International Visitors, a nonprofit that aims to “build international friendships, facilitate the exchange of ideas, foster cultural understanding, and promote San Antonio as an international city.” One was an interpreter from the U.S. State Department, and another was a facilitator of this particular exchange. The other eight were important people from other countries hoping to learn about cybersecurity and digital communications in the United States. They were coming to our school to see how we teach young people to communicate digitally, so Digital Media class was a good fit.
Due to the time frame of their visit, they were only going to spend time with my 7th period, but I wanted to get the other classes involved. So in periods 1-6, I passed out the one-page biographies of each visitor and asked groups of 3 or 4 students to write questions for that person on an index card. I was curious to see what they would ask of an Ethical Hacker from Slovakia, the Chief Analyst for fighting human trafficking in Macedonia, or the person who headed up the cyber crime division in Hungary’s version of the FBI.
Fortunately, I have two periods off (lunch and conference) right before 7th period, so I had time to rearrange the furniture into larger groups. I made placards for the official guests, and seated two at each table, along with 6 to 8 of my freshmen. The students had just designed business cards in a graphic design unit, and Friday was the day I printed them out. I placed the business cards in certain seats, with certain items. The person sitting to the right of a guest was given that person’s bio, and the task of introducing them to the group by reading the three most interesting things (in their opinion) on the piece of paper. The student in the middle had a computer, and was tasked with showing their digital portfolio to the group. The others received the index cards with the questions from the other class periods, and chose which ones to ask.
At first, the students were intimidated, but very quickly they felt at ease. Every student got to interact with each visitor, because the adults rotated from group to group after ten minutes. The structure, which was necessary at first, was less needed after the second rotation, so I gave them permission to just talk. That’s when the walls really came down.
One of my favorite moments was when the lawyer from Tajikistan gave her business card to one of the students, and I encouraged the student to give her business card in return. She was so excited! Several students got in a spirited discussion with their experts on the Area 51 Raid, which was happening that day. The guests encouraged the students to look up images of their countries and they were impressed by the beauty of a place like Macedonia.
For the last 5 minutes of class, I invited people to share something they learned or appreciated about the experience. Several students hopped to their feet to say what they enjoyed. When class ended, the local tour guide told me the visitors asked if they could just keep visiting high schools for the rest of their itinerary.