On a Monday night at the University of South Florida, 14 honors students and their professor filled a conference room in the school’s John and Grace Allen building. Their days were almost over, but for the other students who were about to join them, theirs were just beginning.
USF Honors Professor Atsuko Sakai’s students shared their class time with 102 fourth graders across the world in Japan through a Skype call.
It was 7 p.m. Monday in Tampa, but 9 a.m. Tuesday in Japan.
For three semesters, Sakai has used her Geographic Perspectives class, a required class in the Honors College, to teach her students about Japan. Other versions of the class focus on Ukraine, Sub-Saharan Africa and more.
For the first part of the semester, students learn about different aspects of the culture. Later on, they get the opportunity to communicate with a school in Japan. This year, it was Dainohara Elementary in Sendai City.
“We learn about the school a little bit, then we actually create videos to introduce ourselves,” said Sakai. “They learn a little bit about Japanese, how to introduce themselves, talk a little bit about their background, their major, what they’re studying.”
Sakai’s students were split up into four teams and tasked with developing an interactive activity to teach their Japanese classmates. These ranged from teaching sports vocabulary to translating a song.
With the exception of a few students who spoke the language fluently, most had to learn basic Japanese in the class to communicate with the fourth graders.
Sakai said that this is a way for students to learn important skills that aren’t taught in textbooks.
“How to interact with people, how to communicate with people. What would you do if you don’t have the language you can speak, but you want to communicate with them?”
When they presented their activities, the groups brought up props and held up signs in front of a camera to help translate and teach the students.
When the first group taught sports vocabulary, they said the words in Japanese and English, then showed mannerisms for the fourth graders to mimic. For basketball, this was shooting a hoop, for fishing, it was casting a rod.
Another group showed a science experiment where they made “elephant toothpaste” by mixing yeast, dish soap, hydrogen peroxide and other ingredients.
They translated different ingredients in the experiment, asked the children what color dye they wanted to use and what chemical reactions they thought would occur.
When the third group presented, they decided to teach a song, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” While one student played the ukulele, others translated star, diamond and world for the Japanese fourth graders and then they sang together.
Another group talked about camping, they taught vocabulary like flint and steel, and talked about s’mores, teaching the translations for graham cracker, chocolate and marshmallow.
USF sophomore Jack Edwards, who was part of this final group, said he wanted to present something fun to the Japanese students.
“It didn’t really have to be super educational necessarily, just sort of like, entertaining,” Edwards said. “That’s sort of how I can communicate, I can communicate through laughs as opposed to words.”
Edwards, an Eagle Scout, he wanted to show the fourth graders something that he enjoyed but was also unique to Florida and the U.S.--so he pitched a four-person tent right in the middle of the conference room.
After Sakai’s students presented, the fourth graders got to have a presentation of their own. With big, excited smiles on their faces, they talked about their city of Sendai, explained the cuisine and architecture, and even sang a song for their classmates overseas.
The two groups of students then got to ask each other questions. The children wanted to know how many grade levels there were at USF and how many classes students take each day.
The USF students asked the fourth graders what their favorite classes were, how many children were in each class and even what their favorite Pokemon and anime was.
Along with the Skype call, students in Sakai’s spring semester class will be traveling to Japan over the summer to meet the children they get to talk to.
Edwards said while he won’t be able to go on that trip, the class made him want to travel to the country one day.
“This course overall definitely changed my perspective on Japan a bit,” he said. “I know more about them, which obviously allows me to view them in a different way.”