PenPal Schools believes it is essential to teach students around the world to be global citizens who understand and respect others’ cultures, ideas, and perspectives, regardless of where they come from. To achieve this mission, PenPal Schools has been connecting thousands of students between the ages of 9 and 22 from about 40 countries to help them learn about new cultures, practice foreign languages, and think critically about global issues.
PenPal Schools implements its program in three steps:
- Match: The team at PenPal Schools pairs each class with another class from around the world based on students’ age range and the number of students in the class. Each student in these classes is then assigned a PenPal with whom they will communicate throughout the duration of the course (usually three or six weeks).
- Learn: Each week, the students log on to PenPal Schools’ web-based app, whether from home or from school, to complete an assignment, which is usually focused on global issues such as poverty, environment, and technology. PenPal Schools provides an original video, attaches a news article, and offers a set of discussion questions on the topic. These modules are aligned with the Common Core Standards and are available in multiple levels of difficulty.
- Discuss: Students then discuss what they have learned with their PenPals and are encouraged to reflect and comment on what their PenPals write. The students can exchange their perspectives and cultural norms regarding the topics and share personal stories on how these issues have affected their lives.
To expand its “global community” and encourage students from all around the world to join, PenPal Schools offers its program on a Pay-What-You-Want basis, which allows teachers from low-income schools and countries to sign up their classes for free. Teachers currently participating in the program pay an average of $1.50 to $2.00 per student, using funding from their schools, from fundraisers, or from their own pockets.The program encourages international connections between students by making them fun, easy, and highly educational; the app also makes it easy for teachers from schools of all types and financial situations to connect their classes.
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CEI approaches in actionStudent supportEducational TechnologyComprehensive curriculum21st century skills (soft skills)Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Model details2012LiteracyEnglish languageCulture/indigenous knowledgeComprehensive curriculum21st century skills (soft skills)Information and Communications Technology (ICT)ActiveLong-term project50,00050%50%
PenPal Schools provides its program for free to low-income schools. Because all communication is written on the program’s online app, students can share a single computer and write whenever they have Internet access. PenPal Schools is currently working with partners to provide computers to low-income schools.
TechnologyComputerInternetClassroom lesson deliveryLearning materials for studentsMaterials in other languagesTeaching materials
Scale1,000About 1,000 teachers have used the program.800About 800 schools have used the program.About 50,000 students have used the web-based software.
PenPal Schools began with a handful of teachers in 2012 and has grown almost entirely through word-of-mouth.
Monitoring & EvaluationYes
Teachers have an app to monitor student activity. In addition, PenPal Schools is building diagnostics and grading rubrics to track student progress and differentiate instruction.Standardized assessment performanceNo
As of 2014, teacher retention rate is 88%, and the referral rate is 73%.