by TÜLAY ÖNDER
I have been working in Mehmet Özcan Torunoğlu secondary school since 2008 with teenagers aged 11-14 years old. The journey that I will tell you about started for me and my students in 2009, changing our lives a lot. During these seven years, l took 70 students and 40 teachers to different European countries for international project activities without any cost. These projects were provided by the Comenius programme in the past but for the recent two years they are known as Erasmus+. Every year several countries come together on an online platform, such as eTwinning, create a project incorporating many subjects, and apply for a grant. If the application is approved, each country gets a fund and starts working on the project. In the process, any project involves two kinds of meetings for participants: the Transnational meetings, organized solely for the teachers to plan the activities together, and the Short-term Teaching Learning meetings, in which both teachers and students work out the activities according to the plan.
Our first international project within the Comenius programme was called ‘’Local and national symbols’’. For two years eight participating countries presented their own symbols, traditions, and elements of culture to one another. The budget that we recieved to cover travel expenses and activites we carried out in the course of collaboration allowed 20 teachers and 20 studenst to travel around Europe and share their presentations about the Turkish culture. Most of the students had a chance to travel abroad by plane for the first time in their life, and most of my collegues had a chance to visit another country. Later on we successfully applied for another project called ‘’European gardens’’. Students in our school learnt a lot about gardening, enviroment, and the process of growing plants, and 16 students and 22 teachers travelled to many countries in Europe again.
Last year our school applied for two projects offered by the Erasmus+ programme, “Water” and ’’Healthy lifestyles”. To our joy, both were approved yet again! My collegues and all the students have been working hard on these two projects lately. As a result, we have one activity for each day at school and this made my whole school more international, too. For instance, for the Water project students prepared water boxes to put out on the territory surrounding our school for the street animals. Students wanted stray cats and dogs to drink clean water. Some students are responsible for refilling the cups every day. In relation to this project, science teacher gave seminars about the importance of water in our lives, while other teachers carried out various experiments and conducted classroom activities to support the topic across curriculum.
Impact – for teachers, students, parents
Working on these projects, my students have greatly improved their language and ICT skills as they started to use technology often and in a good way. Their art skills also have got a boost because they have prepared many postcards for their friends in different countries. Now, on special days such as Christmas and New Year, they make posctards on their own, without even asking me, because they know that there are always teachers and students who are waiting for them.
As a result of our international experiences, both school staff and pupils in our school have noticed how important English is, how a foreign language in real life connects people from all over the world. During the visits all students are hosted by local host families, which makes students learn more about the local cultures. Besides, this collaboration is not just a chance to travel to Europe, but also an opportunity to host teachers and students, too. When families of our learners agree to host their peers from other countries, they all try to share Turkish culture in a natural, casual way.
It is interesting to see the impact our exchanges had for the parents. When we first started to take part in project visits abroad, parents were anxious about sending their kids to Europe. Now many of them are waiting for their turn! Moreover, these projects made parents of our students more internatonal, too. Some of the kids connected their parents from different countries, who then started to send e-mails to each others and even making future plans for independent visits.
The experience organizing projects has changed my life, too. My life is richer now as l have many friends and collegues from all over the world. Through connections I’ve established on social media, it became possible for our school to get an invitation from an American high school to come for a visit and make a presentation about our country, tell about our learning adventures. With the help of these projects, we stepped into another world, made friends with students and teachers from all over Europe, created links between schools, pupils, and teachers.