The World Is as Close as a Postcard

A while back I was surfing the Internet and came across Postcrossing.com.  Basically, this website is a portal for exchanging postcards around the world.  You register with an email address, get a physical address from another registered member (who already sent out a postcard to someone else entirely), and an identification number.  You send a postcard with the I.D. number on it to the address you get.  When this person gets your postcard, he or she logs in to the website, inserts the I.D. number on the postcard, and you become the next person in line to get a postcard in return.  All it costs is the amount of the postcard and postage. (I purchased postcards at my city’s visitor center for $0.50 a piece, and international postage for a postcard is around $0.90.)  It’s not like pen pals because the person you send a postcard to is not the person from whom you get a postcard in return, but it’s a cool way of connecting to the rest of the world and collecting postcards in the process.

I liked the idea just for the fun of it, but of course, the teacher in me was thinking, “How can this be more educational?”  I wasn’t looking necessarily for a huge project, although as you will read it evolved to have a concluding assessment that is more substantial than I’d originally thought.  At first I was just looking for a way to get my students thinking and talking about how government impacts other areas of a given society.  Since my course is predominantly about American government, I knew we wouldn’t necessarily be able to go into great depth with all the countries, but rather I considered this as a jumping off point for further discussions.

In the end, I decided to create a bulletin board called “Postal X-ing” with a world map in the center. (See photo below.)  This year, each of my senior government students is going to register with the website and send out 1 postcard with a simple message of goodwill.  They will indicate the school’s address as the place to which they want the postcards to return.  When we get a postcard in return, I’m going to have the students do some research on the country and compare it to the United States.  Here’s some points of comparison I’m thinking about having them research:

  • Government – democracy, authoritarian, parliamentary, presidential, etc.
  • Population – total population, median age, etc.
  • Economy – capitalist, communist, GDP, biggest industries, etc.
  • Education – what percentage of the population is literate, completes high school, college, etc.
  • Health – life expectancy, biggest health challenges
  • Religion – role it plays in government and society, dominant religion, minority religions, etc.
  • Other Issues – do they have a free press?, if they have voting, who can vote?, what kind of ethnic diversity does the country have?, etc.

I know that we may not be able to find statistics on each of these things for each country, but it’s a start. The students will use websites and apps like the CIA World Factbook and World in Figures among others.  To get everyone involved, pairs of students will be responsible for finding different information to share with the rest of the class, and to teach students to verify the facts they find, I will require them to visit at least two different reliable websites to get their information.  Sometimes this may be done in class, while other times it may be homework.  Once we research a country, we’ll take some string and a pushpin and connect the place on the world map to the postcard on the sides of the bulletin board.  The information gathered will go below the postcard.

Here’s where it gets a bit more substantial for my upper school students.  Towards the end of the semester, I will require the students to pick one country from anywhere in the world – either one from which we’ve received a postcard or another one altogether.  They will have the option of either writing a paper (I’m thinking 4 to 6 pages) or creating an iMovie (equivalent length to be determined). In either case, they will be responsible for presenting a detailed analysis of that country’s government and how the structure of the government influences and interacts with at least 3 other areas such as the economy, education, healthcare, etc.  For instance, if the country has experienced a lot of immigration in recent decades from other parts of the world, how is the government responding?  Or as another example, if the country is a part of the euro zone, what changes have occurred in the government since the financial meltdown began?  Since this will be done at the end of the semester, after we’ve studied American government thoroughly, they will be using their understanding of government in the United States to analyze another country and make inferences and comparisons.  **UPDATE:  I decided to have the students create ePubs instead of writing a paper or doing an iMovie.  The assignment will remain the same, but the format will be different.

I registered with Postcrossing, sent my first postcard off a few weeks ago, and received a postcard from Vietnam today!  I’m going to use this postcard to introduce this activity to the students the first week of school and get their postcards out the first or second week of school as well.  I’ve got several other postcards sent, so that I can fill in the first few weeks while we are waiting for theirs to return.  As we progress with this activity, I’ll post some updates on how the project is going, changes or tweaks I make to the assignments, student interest, etc.

FYI – I used a green plastic tablecloth for the background of my bulletin board.  I got this idea from Pinterest, and I will never go back to paper!  It was incredibly easy to put up and the colors won’t fade, so you could use it for a while.

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