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World at their feet

Getting pupils to share sandwich tips and kung fu moves via video link-up promotes cultural harmony. Stephen Manning finds out what happened when Devon met China

Seeing how the other half lives and learns is always fascinating, and schools such as Manor Primary in Ivybridge, Devon, are embracing video-conferencing as a way to "meet" other pupils in far-off places. In April, they hooked up for the first time with a school in China for a cultural exchange. The Chinese pupils came in specially at 6.30pm to talk to pupils at UK time, 10.30am. Thirty Year 3 and 4 Ivybridge pupils spent roughly an hour with about 40 children from St Lorraine Anglo-Chinese School in the Guangdong province of southern China.

After formal introductions ("What is the weather like there? What time do you start school?"), individual Ivybridge pupils spoke about their school and environment ("Dartmoor has a lot of wildlife - ponies run wild and free"), as well as wider lifestyle matters such as fish and chips, Girls Aloud and Easter, all illustrated with pictures on PowerPoint.

The Chinese pupils responded by talking, in English, about their food - crispy duck and rice.

The highlight was a more active cultural exchange. The English children had been learning about the Tudors, so they performed a Tudor dance with slow steps, curtseys and bows, which their Chinese counterparts attempted to mimic. They reciprocated by demonstrating some kung fu moves for the English to emulate.

Ivybridge has conducted more than 50 video conferences since the school obtained the equipment this year. Their contacts come mainly through the websites of Global Gateway, which finds international partners for schools, and Global Leap, which manages schools' video-conference links.

Ivybridge also makes regular contact with two schools in Ohio, USA.

Recently, they held a "snack-off" where, as part of their geography lessons on food around the world, each prepared a typical sandwich from the other nation. Ideas on ingredients were exchanged during one session, followed two weeks later by a grand tasting, which lasted about an hour.

Will Davies, the school's ICT co-ordinator, is keen to take this further.

"It opens up the world to your classroom. What I would love is if we could video conference with places that have little in the way of technology, such as Africa or the Middle East. That would be a really powerful experience."


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