Image: A screengrab from the CLS 23 presentation
This blog is part of the Connected Learning Alliance’s Post-CLS Blog Series, where we are highlighting work presented at CLS2023. Check back here to see more posts in this series.
At first glance, the Greek island of Crete with its azure ocean and coastal climate shares little in common with Colorado and its Rocky Mountain ruggedness. But a group of 14-year-olds, half from Colorado and half from Crete, have found common ground and language in youth participatory action research (YPAR). The young people from both countries came together to present at the 2023 Connected Learning Summit about their individual and shared research.
For the past three years, the youth in Crete have been exploring democratic values and practice in Europe as part of the Erasmus Project. For more than a year, the Colorado young people have been engaged in their own grassroots research to change a dangerous street after their teacher’s roommate, as a pedestrian, was hit and killed by a car.
While the projects and contexts are drastically different, the young people share a spirit of identifying problems, conducting their own research, and working with adults to make meaningful change in their schools and communities. They have interacted synchronously on video platforms and asynchronously through Flip, Padlet, shared documents, and other online tools.
The international young people have collectively found that the external changes – like changing a street – are small compared to the internal changes that happened inside the students. They’ve shared that the increased agency and confidence they get from conducting youth research helps them feel more empowered, safer, and encouraged that they can create change.
CLS specifically allowed the young people a chance to reflect on the benefits of knowing fellow young researchers from different continents and working together to strengthen their collective voices. Below, nine of the students share their takeaways from the CLS presentation.
Being in a program in which you have the opportunity to have international relations with teenagers and students all round the world is amazing. Not only is it very beneficial for educational purposes, but it is also very interesting and fun. Being surrounded by a large range of different opinions, thoughts, and ideas can also be very inspiring towards student future productivity. Personally, I’ve already been very inspired, and I believe the Erasmus program has already broadened my perspectives on all different topics, and I am really looking forward for more!
During the conference I really enjoyed learning about other problems and their solutions. I spent so much time on our problems that I realized there was more I can help fix. The kids in Greece were awesome. I got to learn about new things usually nobody gets to learn about. I hope we all can come together and fix all of the problems all over the world.
Having worldwide acquaintances, let alone friendships, is really beneficial, especially when you’re a teenager. That’s because by communicating with others from around the globe, you get to “compare” your life with people that live in a totally different environment, have other customs and cultures, but also realize that there are several things that we can bond over, regardless of our nationality. During such programs that involve people from around the world, we have the ability to do that and feel as part of an international team, but also inspire each other!
The benefits of working together around the world, for me personally, was to learn to grow and understand just how different cultures are all coming together to create one big healthful society. It was very interesting to me at first, and it was very new to me, but I started to understand that us coming together and working together from all around the globe is a good thing. Instead of this being a small community thing, we’ve spread youth research big, all over the world. That inspires me, and I know it inspires others to do the same.
The perks of having international friendships are a lot. The most important for me is that it gives you a deeper understanding of the world and its people. Moreover, you are able to exchange opinions and discover new cultures. To sum up, knowing each other may have a positive impact on our personality and develop our character.
I believe youth working together from all countries helps bring cultures together and solve some predisposed ideal about each other. It also helps when you’re researching things. You don’t always have all views, so when you talk to other people and other countries, they might have an updated topic. So, in short, I highly support youth from all countries coming together and talking together. It definitely helps research and a brain development
I believe that knowing each other is very good for both countries because we communicate with people that are living so far, and also we improve our English. The benefits of sharing our work are that we have similar projects and it is more interesting working with people from other countries because you learn new things. You learn about different cultures, and you make new friends.
This journey offered me the opportunity to interact with teenagers around Europe and in the US. This project was definitely beneficial educationally. We got to practice our English speaking level, learn about different cultures and traditions. What most of us did not expect, which was a fun surprise, was to actually bond with our “coworkers” and become friends. So at the end of the day, working with each other became fun and interesting rather than confusing and hard.
From the Erasmus program, it was a once in a lifetime experience. We learned a lot about democracy and history. The best thing was when we met teens from other countries . We became friends, and we exchanged opinions, ideas. We learned about their culture and we brocasted our culture to them.
In addition, three adults have worked closely with the youth and briefly share their thoughts below:
Milahd Makooi, teacher/researcher, Colorado
At first, I was unclear how students in Greece were going to interact with students from America, and how we would be able to help each other on entirely different projects. As the meetings began, what I saw develop was an opportunity for youth to inspire youth. Excitement for both projects spread, and allowed a space for youth to collaborate and learn from each other… across the globe!
Konstantinos Sipitanos, teacher/post-doc researcher, Crete
I am very happy when I see my students participating in conferences expressing their ideas and raising their voices! As a teacher-researcher I believe that all the teachers should honor the voices of their students especially the marginalized ones who have experienced inequity and injustice. This is not an easy path to walk! I am very happy I met other practitioners like Dane, Milahd and their students who also believe in this idea.
Dane Stickney, higher-ed partner/researcher, Colorado
I’m immensely proud of the US teacher, Milahd, for the work he’s done in partnership with the students. I’m beyond impressed by the US students and the out-of-school effort they’ve shown to stay together and push for change. I’m deeply thankful for meeting Kostis, the Greek educator, and being introduced to the young people he works alongside. CLS ‘23 allowed us to synthesize thinking and deepen relationships. I’m excited to see where this connected learning goes and grows now and in the future.
- More on the Greek students’ project
- More from the Colorado teacher
- Resources from Transformative Student Voice guided the Colorado students’ project
- The Action Research Network of the Americas and the Collaborative Action Research Network provided space for the initial connections between and presentations by these youth.
This post was co-authored by researchers and youth:
Dane Stickney is a former newspaper reporter and middle-school classroom teacher, who is now a clinical assistant professor in the School of Education and Human Development at CU-Denver. His research focuses on youth participatory action research (YPAR) and the sociopolitical impacts it has on students. Dane is a long-time member of the Transformative Student Voice research collective.
Konstantinos Sipitanos is a teacher in the Experimental Junior High School in Crete and a postdoctoral researcher in the University of Crete. He runs the Erasmus project with 15 students and colleagues from Spain, France, Portugal, and Italy. His research focuses on the connection between literacies and youth participatory action research. He has published papers in journals and chapters and participates actively in funded research projects: COALITION, S.HI.E.L.D. against DISNFO, Developing Artificial Intelligence Literacy – A MOOC for ALL, CIVIS.
Milahd Makooi is a Persian-American educator from Denver, Colorado, and will graduate from CU-Denver’s master’s program in December 2023. Milahd grew up hating school due to a variety of his own learning disabilities. It was not until his high school English teacher showed him what he was capable of achieving before he decided to pursue a career in education aiming to help like-minded students. He has found that when he leads with vulnerability it creates a space that can be healing for both the youth and teacher in the classroom.
Zoë, Crete youth
Gage, Colorado youth
Eleni, Crete youth
Emilleo, Colorado youth
Persa, Crete youth
Sam, Colorado youth
Marios, Crete youth
Sofia, Crete youth
Grigoris, Crete youth