Connection in the Clouds


This whole project began with the idea of not using a KWL to introduce my Middle East unit; I did not have any plan for word clouds, never mind making a global connection.  I simply decided to use a modified Frayer Model, which focused on how students viewed the Middle East and how they did not view it.   That was the plan.  But after class discussion, I could sense some common themes and wanted to visualize their answers so that we could analyze them as a whole. 

I collected students’ responses and put them into two separate word clouds to show their perceptions of what the Middle East is, and what it is not.  I then took all the words from my blogs and articles about Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Jordan and put them into one word cloud; I wanted my cloud to represent my perceptions at the time of travel, not a rosy hindsight view. 

The word clouds spoke for themselves and I proudly shared them with my husband and brother-in-law.  My brother-in-law casually commented on how great it would be to get a class in the Middle East to do the same about the United States.   I jumped on Twitter at 11pm on a Sunday night and tweeted a request for collaboration.  By the next morning, @Intrepidteacher, in Indonesia, had sent me some connections to former students, in Qatar, and @missnoor28, in Jordan, had expressed interest in the project.  Within a couple weeks, I was able to add word clouds from both Jordan and Qatar.  I thought this would conclude the project.

Yet, when my American students saw what students in Jordan and Qatar thought of their country, they reacted with frustration and disappointment.  Through emails with @missnoor28, I knew that her students felt the same regarding American students’ perceptions of the Middle East.  The tone was negative and it just didn’t seem right to land in a place where each group was left feeling disliked and misunderstood.

Through email, @missnoor28 and I decided to go one more round.  We asked our students to share how they would like their country to be viewed.  “When you think of America/Jordan, please think of these words….”  As I put these final clouds into the Prezi, it felt right.  Of course, perceptions will change and evolve, but we had a conclusion that allowed students to speak for their own country and showed more commonalities than the differences they started with.  I am very grateful to @missnoor28 and her students for working with us through this process. 

Something else came out of this project that was unexpected.  In addition to sharing differences and similarities with people in another part of the world, my students also learned to respect the differences among them.  When my students looked at the final word cloud, some were not happy with the words they collectively chose to represent America.  Yet, everyone in the 6th grade got three words and it was not my job to censor their responses.  Ultimately, they learned that even students who are the same age, at the same school, in the same country have different perceptions of the United States– opinions that they might not agree with, but can respect as part of the diverse views in our own community.

I’ve never done a KWL where kids come in asking to add to what they want to know, or what they learned.  But every day throughout this unit, students have come into class asking if I’ve heard back from the kids in Jordan.  At the end of the unit, they will reflect on these word clouds and what they learned through this process.  I expect that I will hear some heartfelt reasons for why this lesson resonated with them and how it might affect their perceptions of other cultures in the future.  I can’t wait to not do another KWL again.