Beyond pinatas, fortune cookies, and wooden shoes: using the world wide web to help children explore the whole wide world

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Date: January-February 2014
From: Childhood Education(Vol. 90, Issue 1)
Publisher: Association for Childhood Education International
Document Type: Article
Length: 3,567 words
Lexile Measure: 1290L

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The advent of technology and access to the internet through the World Wide Web have stretched the traditional ways of teaching social studies beyond classroom boundaries. This article explores how teachers can create authentic and contextualized cultural studies experiences for young children by integrating social studies and technology. To prepare students for the expanded responsibilities of global citizenship, educators can access technological tools to look beyond token symbols of cultural diversity. Meaningful use of technology can be an effective way to address questions that challenge young learners' understanding of themselves in relation to others, both within their communities and beyond.

After his first day of kindergarten, Ethan came home and exclaimed, Mom! My teacher, Ms. Garcia, wears a scarf on her head all day long! It's kind of like her hat! Can I have a scarf to wear tomorrow?" This was the beginning of Ethan's journey as a global citizen in his diverse elementary school.

An enthusiastic young learner, Ethan was very interested in the "different" elements of his classroom: one of the boys in his class had dreadlocks (which he had never seen), his music teacher had an Italian accent, one of his friends was born in China, and another friend had two dads. As a social studies teacher, his mother was thrilled that he was having these diverse experiences at such a young age. Some experiences challenged Ethan's openness to differences: he negatively questioned the smell of one of his classmate's lunches, he was saddened when his teacher refused to remove her scarf so he could see her hair, and he grew frustrated when he couldn't understand the accent of his Chinese and Vietnamese classmates.

Yet these challenges were also valuable, giving him the opportunity to practice problem solving and diplomacy. Fortunately, his teacher was well prepared to address the challenges; she brought in pictures and books from her culture and the cultures represented in her diverse class, invited parents to speak to and cook authentic foods for the class, and spoke openly with the children when conflicts or confusion caused discomfort.

These experiences and the open, accepting atmosphere enhanced the children's ability to understand the differences and similarities within their class. Ethan was in kindergarten five years ago. Imagine what Ms. Garcia could do with the technologies currently available.

For the current generation of children, the window to the world has been flung open with the advent of the World Wide Web. Young learners of today have access to authentic world perspectives that can inspire a deep understanding of the world community. Modern technologies provide children with an entry point for discovering the unique contributions of world cultures, and help them build bridges across cultures in authentic and meaningful ways.

Technology has linked us to the world beyond our classroom. Therefore, teachers can create authentic and contextualized cultural studies for young children. Students can explore culture through multi-sensory experiences that move beyond the stereotyped artifacts approach used in some elementary schools. For example, rather than serving fortune...

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