LONDON, England (CNN) -- It's not easy to keep a group of 60 elementary school children seated, but when students from Canada and Burkina Faso gathered in a virtual classroom, they all sat, eyes eagerly glued to the computer screen as they listened to stories about the lives of their new peers.
Brazilian students share what they have been doing to help the enviornment
The students were united by Elluminate, a Web conferencing provider whose global initiative, Learning Across Borders, brings students in North America together with their counterparts in developing countries to engage in conversations, and the occasional nathional anthem sing-a-long.
In August 2006, Elluminate launched "Fire and Ice," a virtual classroom where students from diverse countries discuss a problem that concerns all of them -- global warming.
Fire and Ice donates the "classroom of tomorrow" technology to equip the schools that can not afford it with a computer, Webcam, speakers and an electronic wipe board. The students, along with teachers, event coordinators and translators are then able to communicate about their environments.
Stace Wills, the co-founder of Fire and Ice says, "This project is about inspiring students to create their own solutions for helping combat climate change in their local areas. What really makes this different is that the students are translating dialogue into action."
Instead of simply talking about pollution, or watching celeb-studded documentaries, students aged 7 through 13 in Mozambique, Canada and Brazil gather online to exchange ideas about how they can change their communities. Later in the year, they "meet" to share the progress they have made, giving "show and tell" a new eco-friendly purpose.
Ally O' Grady, the Canadian event coordinator says, "The technology gives the children the opportunity to feel empowered to do something about climate change. It sounds cheesy, but they felt like they were doing something really big."
While children in Brazil may not be able to directly relate to the cold of a Canadian winter, they have inspired their international companions by sharing their own success stories.
In Massambara, a secluded village several hours from Rio, the soil had been devastated by fires, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Students partnered with local farms to learn how to use composte to create orgainic fertilizers and grow garden vegetables.
Cintia Vasconcellos, the teacher and event coordinator who helped to implement Fire and Ice's software in Brazil said, "The community was thrilled to see what their little school was doing for the world."
The 7th and 8th graders at Lakefield College School in Ontario were astounded when they discovered that forest fires had been burning just 300 meters away from "that little school" in Brazil.
O'Grady says, "My students really gained the ability to put themselves in somebody else's shoes. They were so impressed by what the other kids were doing in Massambara."
The students in Ontario have also experienced their own mini-triumphs. They devised a no-idling campaign, targeting parents who release harmful carbon dioxide emissions by leaving their cars running without the engine on. The students wrote letters to the government, gave presentations to the community and crafted nifty flyers to raise awareness about the effects of idling.
Now the Lakefield parking lot is working towards being an officially idle-free zone. The students will next attack idling in drive-thru restaurants, so automobile owners can enjoy their greasy fries guilt-free (or at least without having to worry about added harm to the environment).
Elementary and middle school students are at an ideal age to become involved in initiatives like Fire and Ice, according to O'Grady who says, "Younger students want to change the world - they seem to be more idealist or utopian and they are loving the project."
Elluminate's Fire and Ice program was recently nominated for the 2007 Tech Museum Award for technology benefiting humanity.
What's next for Fire and Ice? In 2008, they will kick-off the next series of projects. They are currently considering the next ubiquitous theme and what students will have the opportunity to become involved.
"The project has real value because it gives students a chance to understand from each other that beyond any differences we may have, the world is just one and our problems are common" says Juan Pablo Gonzalez, a logistics coordinator and translator from Argentina. E-mail to a friend
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