An interview with iEARN-USA Educators Laura Nietzer and Renee Day

Yerim Kim
iEARN-USA Intern
South Korea

This is Yerim Kim from iEARN-USA. I am participating in the Korea West Government program. While on this program, I have been working at iEARN-USA as an intern. I would like to introduce Laura and Renee and share their experiences. They are global educators with iEARN who have been champions for global education and for iEARN projects. They shared some stories at the November monthly webinar for educators! Let’s hear their stories.

Below is an extract from the iEARN-USA Educator Webinar on November 2018. If you want to view the full webinar featuring Renee and Laura, go to

Renee Day

Renee Day at the 2018 iEARN International Conference and Youth Summit

Renee Day has been involved with iEARN since 2007. She has worked on several projects with iEARN. This is what she says about her experience with iEARN.

Why do you Engage your Students in iEARN Projects?

“We’re pioneering how to use some of the projects as a way to teach our students about different cultures around the world, because that’s part of 21st century learning, and our students are 21st century citizens. Even if they can’t get on a plane and leave Riverside, CA, they can at least go online, and they can meet with people face to face through video conferencing and understand that they have more common with people who live around world than they realize.”

What has been the Impact of iEARN Projects in your Classroom?

“These kinds of projects really can inspire kids to develop ideas and skills they never knew they had. So with that, I have to say that iEARN and all its training just helps me become a better teacher and then helps the students develop skills really kind of into the person I feel they were meant to be. They discover things about themselves they never knew before. Honestly you can’t get that out of a textbook.

What we’re doing is we’re taking the textbook, we’re taking our information, and then we’re taking a project, and we’re using that project based learning activity or model, and we’re not extending the learning but applying the learning, and so now the learning becomes more meaningful.”

What has been your Most Inspiring Moment with iEARN?

“As you can tell, I love this program and I think every student should have the opportunity participate along with educators. I think for me there was a moment, and it wasn’t necessary a project, it happened in the Teachers Forum. It was the day after Christmas, and there had been a conflict between Israel and Palestine, and unfortunately a community was hit, and it was a school that had been damaged, and obviously there were some people who did not survive, and the teacher from Israel posted: ‘How can this be?’ And she’s living there, so she posted it, and the teacher from Palestine agreed. And from there, I know this isn’t particularly a student moment, but for me it was an educator ‘aha’ moment, like this is a program that will benefit me, enrich my life, and teach me more about how to be a good teacher and frankly a good human being. Because from there, there is the support between the Palestinian teachers and the Israeli teachers. We all came together as a whole community on that day in the Teachers Forum, and I believe we created a project. It was something to do with peace. I think, also the project Talking Kites began to have more of a meaning that way, because we had to find a neutral project, a neutral way, that was apolitical, but that addressed this very dire circumstance in which those children were living, and we had to think as teachers and educators -- ‘How do we create a more stable environment out of chaos? How do we empower our children to feel like they have a voice and they have some control over their own environment?’ And to me, that was the greatest lesson I received as a teacher. And I’m in awe of my students, and frankly, all students on these platforms. Everytime I go to a conference, when I’m lucky enough to go to one of the international conferences, l learn more and more from the teachers and the students there from the work that they’re doing. So that’s the impact that this program has had on me as a teacher.”

Renee Classroom2
Renee Classroom3
Renee Classroom

Renee also gave some tips for people who want to become new iEARN members or are interested in global education. This is the advice she shared.

How do you Select New iEARN Projects for your Students?

“I normally do an informal survey of my students’ interests by show of hands, and then I let them explore the project Collaboration Centre and write down in a discussion form for me like a posted comment: ‘Which project seems like you would be interested in if we weren’t tying it to the curriculum?’

You do need to take a look and see how active the project has been and then to see if the students will have some support and some instant responses. The first step for me as a classroom teacher is to always contact the project facilitator.”

How do you Find Partners Before Starting Projects and How do you Connect with Them?

“I went into the Teachers Forum and sent out my proposal idea for this video conference on renewable energy and sustainable fuel. So I had someone from India who wanted to do that and it took us about two months to kind of flesh out what we wanted the students to talk about. And so by month three, we had a live video conference and we talked about not just renewable energies but also sanitation, and even democracy. The whole conversation amongst the students just kind of evolved and developed. It was really wonderful to see, and that all happened in the span of an hour.

Typically, when I’ve done a course I would connect with someone hoping to connect with someone in the course, and usually when I do that, that’s where you have to email, or you can Facetime, or however it is that you want to connect with them.

And so you just kind of have to keep going until you find someone you feel comfortable with and you connect with, which really isn’t very hard. There’s a lot of people who want to work together and connect with another classroom.”

What Are Some Challenges and How do you Overcome Them?

“Sometimes your own colleagues can feel overwhelmed by what you are doing they don’t quite see how to fit it in. So I find that producing a project and being able to have results and a final product helps not only my colleagues, but also my administration, my school board representatives, even my city officials understand the work that the students are really doing in terms of collaborating with their peers around the world and how is this really this benefiting not just the district, but even the city of Riverside, because you’re going to have informed global citizens who may one day be business leaders or elected officials. And so you want people who are able, they’re fluid in what’s happening in the world, they have a fluid working knowledge of other cultures and they are able to create a dialog that is ongoing. It isn’t just superficial knowledge. And there’s also a kind of acceptance and a kind of community they come out with once they’re done with this program, which is why I remain committed to it to this day.

Laura Nietzer

Next is Laura Nietzer. She has been involved in iEARN since 2010. She is active in several iEARN projects including My Hero. This is what she says about her experience with iEARN.

What has been your Most Inspiring Moment with iEARN?

“I knew it would be good for my students to have a better understanding of the world through peers, through interactions with other students and finding out the similarities, not just the differences, but you may take the same kinds of classes, or you may play soccer, or you do dance, or you get answers to questions. But it was a totally life changing moment for me meeting these educators from different countries who believe in the same thing that we do. Seeing people who, when you’re watching the news, you may think that they would be on polar opposite sides and wouldn’t want to interact; and together they’re planning for a better future for students. And personally working with a facilitator from Algeria on the Bridge program for two years, being able to meet with staff in Virginia was amazing. To be able to have the opportunity to work with the people and communicate for a few years with them, you get to know them; but you’ve never met them in person, but you know them. That’s been amazing.

Laura Classroom1
Laura Classroom3
Laura Nietzer

On the other hand, this is Laura’s advice for people who want to become new iEARN members or are interested in global education.

How do you Select New iEARN Projects for your Students?

“I always look for something that would connect to my classroom curriculum, to a concept or skill I was already going to teach, and then look at the projects. Another thing I always do is go on the forum just to see how active a project has been, because although a project may have been active for three years, it may have lost little bit of the oomph of people being involved; and you don’t want to start your global collaboration unless there are going to be people collaborating.

I often will contact the facilitator and ask what the schedule is for the project because I want to make sure that the begin and finish date can work with my classroom. I don’t want to drop the project.”

How do you Find Partners Before Starting Projects and How do you Connect with Them?

“Once I have started projects, I have contacted the other teachers involved with the project directly, asking who can have their students on the forum, because that’s something my students really like to do is that communication in the forum, where they’re asking questions and getting answers authentically from people around the world.

What Are Some Challenges and How Do you Overcome Them?

“I think a few of the main challenges have been the time zone. There are times that you want to connect directly at the same time, say a video conference with someone, and you can’t do that; but there are a lot of other ways to get around that and be on the forum and share information other ways.

School schedules are also a challenge. Sometimes a school will go on vacation, or have some exams for a week or two, or in some countries I’ve learned even longer it seems between the preparation and exams. So you want to know that ahead of time so that you can plan accordingly. You don’t want to think that you’re doing your work in the month that there won’t be any kind of communication.

The time in the classroom can be a challenge as well. Is there time to be able to use? And you have to convince your administrators that what you’re doing is the right thing to do and show them the benefit of that. And I know that Renee talked a little bit about a club she had, and I’ve done that too. There are some projects I haven’t been able to fit in my curriculum, but I’ve been able to do it in some club time. So maybe being slightly creative is something I’d recommend trying.”

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