OPE: Office of Postsecondary Education
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International Education Programs Service

A World of Resources for K-12 Teaching

Archived Information

In this Information Age we are instantaneously aware of international events and how these events affect our communities, our countries, and us. Television and the Internet are the primary media conduits of international news, but the conflict between entertainment value and educational value often limits their capacity to convey a concrete understanding of global issues to their audiences.

To meet the needs of students today, teachers must have a base of expertise grounded in the realities of the "e-world," in which increasing access to information necessitates a broader intercultural understanding. The ability to interpret and incorporate current issues into classroom teaching requires an understanding of historical, cultural, political and economic contexts, and an awareness of available teaching resources. In support of this broader understanding, the U.S. Department of Education (the department/ED) awards funds for an array of programs designed to facilitate access to internationally-focused professional development and curricular resources for K-12 (elementary and secondary) teachers. During a summer, an academic year, or year-round, there are overseas study opportunities, training institutes, and teaching materials available at low or no cost to savvy educators who know where to find them.

The Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961 provides two programs that offer overseas learning opportunities for educators. Each summer, under the Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad program, approximately ten four-to-six-week seminars provide 160 humanities, social sciences and language educators with introductions to different non-West European countries. Participants are responsible only for costs relating to the pre-departure orientation (estimated at up to $350). Airfare, room and board, tuition and fees, and program-related travel in the destination country are provided by the seminar. Eligible participants include not only K-12 teachers, but also faculty and administrators from two- and four-year colleges, librarians, museum educators, and media or resource specialists with curriculum development responsibilities. In summer 2003, seminars designed for elementary and secondary school educators were offered in New Zealand; South Africa; Thailand and Vietnam. A specialized language program was offered in Japan. For secondary and postsecondary personnel, seminars were offered in the Czech and Slovak Republics; Mexico/Costa Rica; Sri Lanka/India; and Brazil. Additionally, a program specifically for community college personnel was offered in India and Nepal. A similarly exciting array of seminars was developed for 2004. More information on the seminars and how to apply is available through the department Web site (http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ope/iegps/index.html).

Another Fulbright-Hays program, Group Projects Abroad provides overseas training, research, and curriculum development opportunities organized by U.S. colleges and universities, state departments of education, and private non-profit educational organizations. Through short-term (5-6 week) seminars, curriculum development teams, 3-12 month group research projects, or advanced intensive language institutes, participants obtain valuable overseas study experience that hopefully translates into enhanced curricula at their home institutions. Many Group Projects respond specifically to regional educational priorities. For example, a 2002 Connecticut State Department of Education short-term seminar in China established a core group of teachers now serving as staff development presenters for district professional development programs. A curriculum development project hosted the same year by the University of Arkansas at Monticello involved six weeks of researching, planning, and designing curricular materials in South Africa in order to improve the teaching of African studies in Arkansas schools.

"This was a wonderful program, and I am deeply grateful that people care about teachers and recognize that it's important that teachers have these sorts of opportunities…. These sorts of programs inspire teachers to take on larger tasks and dream bigger dreams, because things that were so foreign become more clear."
- from a participant's evaluation of the Connecticut State Department of Education's 2002 seminar, "Changing China: Economy in Transition"

Associated costs to the GPA participating educators vary based on the individual project, with the Federal support defraying a large portion of expenses. Unlike for the Seminars Abroad, Group Projects participants apply directly to the institution hosting the project - or they design a project that meets needs they have identified and submit a proposal to ED. Project abstracts and contact information for the funded projects are on the department Web site, as is information regarding how to propose a Group Project (http://www.ed.gov/programs/iegpsgpa/index.html).

In addition to funding these overseas study opportunities, ED supports networks of Centers for International Business Education (CIBEs), Language Resource Centers (LRCs) and National Resource Centers(NRCs) at institutions of higher education across the country. These centers, funded under Title VI of the Higher Education Act, serve as coordination points for foreign language, area, and international studies teaching, research and outreach. As such, they collaborate with and provide extensive services for K-12 and postsecondary educators.

Thirty Centers for International Business Education located in 21 states serve as national resources for the teaching of improved business techniques, strategies, and methodologies emphasizing the international context in which business occurs. They include among their activities programs for K-12 audiences, such as business language training workshops and curriculum resources for teachers, guest speaker bureaus, international studies summer institutes, and joint curriculum development projects. The CIBEs' unique curricular partnerships with schools provide students with exciting opportunities. For example, the University of Colorado at Denver's Japan High School Mentor Program pairs high school students with business executives in order to learn about Japanese culture, business protocol, and how to do business in Japan. The Georgia Institute of Technology's Model High School International Business Program has developed a student-run trading company to teach import and export processes, a school store to teach business life skills, and a network of Cooperative Global Business Education Programs fostering joint projects with high schools in Estonia, England, Brazil, and Jamaica. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is sponsoring a three-week Virtual Trade Mission to Africa - a web-based curriculum designed to increase high school students' and teachers' understanding of the political, social, environmental, and economic variables involved in global trade. For grades 3-5, the University of Memphis has developed a global connections curriculum and teacher resource guide centered around five learning themes: Our Place in the World; Peoples of the World; Global Connectedness; Global Responsibilities; and Global Careers. These are but a few examples of the interesting ways in which CIBEs' resources are being utilized to strengthen K-12 education. A more complete synopsis is found in "International Business Education: Outreach Initiatives for Grades K-12," available on the CIBEs' joint website. Compiled and edited in Fall 2002 by the Centers at Purdue University and the University of Memphis, this publication is a handy guide to the CIBEs' present and future K-12 partnership efforts.

As the program name suggests, the Language Resource Centers (LRCs) focus research, programs and services on efforts to improve language instruction nationally. Fourteen LRCs are housed at large universities known internationally for the quality of their foreign language programs, and involve leading foreign language specialists from across the country as board members, program planners, and active participants. All LRCs sponsor summer institutes or training workshops for language educators and post articles, newsletters, and other resources on their Web sites, which can be reached through links from the LRCs' joint site (http://nflrc.msu.edu/). Michigan State University's Center for Language Education and Research also offers on-site workshops for teachers at minimal cost to the hosting school.

Although all of the LRCs engage in outreach to teachers, Iowa State University's National K-12 Foreign Language Resource Center (NFLRC) specifically focuses on improving elementary and secondary student learning of foreign languages. NFLRC is a partnership involving national leaders in K-12 foreign language education, K-12 teachers and district supervisors of foreign language, and personnel from both Iowa State and the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, DC. Its initiatives include preparing teachers in using effective teaching strategies, using new technologies, administering and interpreting foreign language performance assessments through NFLRC's week-long summer institutes, ongoing research, and dissemination projects. NFLRC summer institutes provide ongoing learning experiences by involving participants in pre-institute planning and group work, as well as post-institute dialogue through e-mail exchanges.

The Language Resource Centers' offerings are not limited to French, Spanish and German. Their authorizing legislation emphasizes the importance of the LRCs in meeting needs for instruction of less-commonly-taught languages, and indeed, several LRCs focus specifically on providing resources for teaching the languages of non-Western world regions. These include the National Middle East Language Resource Center at Brigham Young University, the Slavic and East European Language Resource Center at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Center for Languages of the Central Asian Region at Indiana University, the National East Asian Languages Resource Center at Ohio State University, the South Asia Language Resource Center at the University of Chicago, and the National African Languages Resource Center at the University of Wisconsin.

While the LRCs are expressly engaged in developing resources for language learning, the National Resource Centers focus more broadly on foreign language, area and international studies. Consequently, their professional development programs and teaching resources are designed not only for language teachers but for educators from any field who desire a broader understanding of the contemporary world. Engaging in teacher training activities is a requirement of the NRCs' federal funding. They do this by organizing public programs and professional development workshops; managing lending libraries and "travel boxes" of curricular resources; developing Web-based teaching materials, bibliographies and interactive learning objects; hosting "Teachers as Scholars" programs that reconnect teachers to the world of academia and lifelong learning; and coordinating speakers bureaus - to name just a few of the NRCs' K-12 outreach activities. Currently, 118 centers across the country are building bridges between elementary, secondary, and postsecondary schools with initiatives to deepen the schools' understanding of people and events outside the United States. A contact list of centers, complete with their Web addresses, and center abstracts organized by world region focus are available through the ED Web site at (http://www.ed.gov/programs/iegpsnrc/awards.html).

A group of NRC outreach professionals has organized a collaborative International Studies Outreach Web site which was launched in July 2003. This Web site, Outreach World, features:

  • exemplary instructional units (including multiple and stand-alone lesson plans) produced by teachers participating in NRC and LRC workshops;
  • annotated listings of recommended K-12 educational resources available through the centers and on the commercial market;
  • a national calendar of teacher training activities listed by focus, date, sponsor, and U.S. locale;
  • guidelines for best practices including guides for developing innovative multidisciplinary instructional materials;
  • contact information for international and area studies experts available for consultation -- including teachers, scholars, librarians, multimedia specialists, professional associations, the center outreach personnel;
  • and select news items relevant to the K-12 outreach community at large.

This joint effort is the first site dedicated to providing comprehensive and direct access to the teaching resources available through the Title VI centers. It can be reached at: (http://www.outreachworld.org).

Of the 14 international education programs funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad and Group Projects Abroad and the Title VI CIBEs, LRCs and NRCs provide the most extensive array of resources specifically for K-12 educators. However, there are other programs that can be used to enhance the international aspects of elementary and secondary teaching. The Undergraduate International Studies & Foreign Language Program has recently helped to internationalize pre-service teacher education programs at Western Kentucky University and at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; and the International Research & Studies Program funds research and materials development projects, including the development of materials and assessment instruments for K-12 language teaching.

Together, the Title VI and Fulbright-Hays programs provide a comprehensive set of opportunities for strengthening international teaching through critical collaborations among educators, improved access to high-quality professional development opportunities, and the creation and dissemination of teaching materials. Thanks to them, a world of educational resources is available to assist teachers in breaking through today's "sound byte" mindset and providing students with a deeper understanding of the world in which we live.

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Last Modified: 01/21/2011