Primary/HS Students' Learning Circles

Overview of Elementary and High School Learning Circle Projects

In schools, Learning Circles are groups of classrooms rather than single individuals. A Learning Circle joins a team of 6-8 teachers and their classes in the virtual space of an electronic classroom. The groups remain together over a 3-4 month period working on projects drawn from the curriculum of each of the classrooms organized around a selected theme. At the end of the term, the group collects and publishes its work. Then, just as most learning activities, the Learning Circle comes to an end. A new session begins with different groups of classes working together in a new Learning Circle. The success of the Learning Circle model seems to be tied to frequent changes of partners so that teachers - as well as students - are learning from the new experiences. The teachers who participate in different Learning Circles begin to create a community --a network of professional colleagues from around the world. This development of the community is an important part of the Learning Circle model.

The Learning Circle model evolved out of an early research project at the University of California, San Diego in the mid-eighties. Riel worked with the AT&T Learning Network from 1987-1996 to evolve a model which at its height was connecting over thirty thousand students and their teachers in learning circles around 6 themes and in 4 different languages. Beginning in the Fall of 1997, AT&T Educational Foundation funded the process of moving the Learning Circle Teacher Guide to the Internet and made it available online to International Education and Resource Network (IEARN) as well as other organizations.

In the Learning Circle Guide, Riel describes how teachers who share common goals can work together to sponsor a set of projects that support teaching and learning across very different settings. Organizing Learning Circles within a larger community, such as iEARN can help make the experience more successful.

iEARN Global Learning Circles has been a long-running project that has facilitated Internet and communication technology collaborative project-based learning among classrooms in diverse regions of the world since 1995. Twice a year (September and January) as many as 80 to 100 classrooms are connected in interactive Circles for the purpose of online project work. The result is authentic student work and true international collaboration. This work was originally directed by Margaret Riel but is now directed by Barry Kramer, one of the teachers who participated in learning circles for many years. Barry Kramer also provides professional development to teachers to help them understand how to integrate this process into the classroom. Two times a year Barry places classrooms into learning circles with different themes: Places and Perspectives, Computer Chronicles, Mindworks, and more recently, My Hero learning circles.

Learning Circles have also been taking place for 12 years in French, English, Spanish, Arabic, Dutch, German, Ukrainian, Slovenian, and Papiamentu as a part of the Global Teenagers Project which was funded by the International Institute of Communication and Development. In 2011 around 60 Learning Circles were conducted gathering 480 classes from Secondary and Middle schools from 40 countries in Europe, Africa, North and Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East. GTP student circle interaction can be read on the Learning Circle wikis which are open for viewing to the public. Over the years, GTP has modified and translated the original version of the Learning Circle Teachers Guide in the languages of the LC interaction. GTP strives to continuously improve the quality of the Learning Circle interaction and works with institutes and ministries of education to help them integrate the Learning Circles as a model for learning.

Global Teenager Project

The Global Teenager Project (GTP) offers thematic Learning Circles to Elementary, Secondary and Vocational schools, including Special Needs Education. Founded in 1998, GTP offers collaborative global learning to over 20,000 students in 42 countries, in the following seven languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Dutch, Arabic, and Papiamentu.

Here are some examples of GTP Learning Circles

The United beyond Our Diversity Learning Circles is a Learning Circle created to respond to the needs of students and teachers in Lebanon. It became a recurrent theme in the Global Teenager Project. The same theme connected students speaking Arabic, French and English in four Learning Circle and the creation of 4 collaborative art murals which were completed at the iEARN International Conference in the Netherlands (2006).

The Eco-friendly school Learning Circle (add link) grouped students from Taiwan, The Netherlands, Lebanon, Canada etc and encourages students to take positive action in their environment. The Learning Circle was presented as part of the iEARN Conference in Taiwan.

The GTP SEN Learning Circle (link) groups special needs classes from the Netherlands and Suriname. The circle was supported by a study visit whereby teachers developed resources for their students.

The Radon Learning Circle (link): in Ukraine, the Ministry of Education has adopted the GTP Learning Circle method to raise awareness and address issues related to Radon. The national Learning Circle culminated with a video conference between students from Ukraine, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Lebanon.

The Ministry of Education in Slovenia has adopted the GTP Methodology in its e-competent school program in a train-the-trainer approach.

In 1989, the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) prepared. In the Netherlands, this treaty was signed along with almost all countries in the world, The treaty, which consists of 54 articles, describes almost all aspects of life for children.The rights are divided into three categories:Lot's Learning Circles

  • Facilities. Children have the right to free and quality education, good and accessible health care and rehabilitation;

  • Protection. Children have the right to protection from abuse, exploitation, neglect, child labor, war, and slavery;

  • Participation. Children have a right to be involved in children concerns.They have a right to free speech and have a say in matters that concern them.

On 25 November 2014, the CRC will have been in place for 25 years. Unfortunately, children's rights violations are still prevalent in the world today. Attention to children remains necessary. Children also need to know their rights. Therefore, early this year Lot's Foundation was created. A foundation that will promote the rights of children worldwide involving children in this process. In addition to ongoing projects, the Destiny Foundation will organize major events this year. Soon the Lot's Foundation website will be launched.


Another project that uses some aspects of the Learning Circle structure and guide is the Friends and Flags Project dedicated to multicultural education, for information on this project contact Karen Eini in Israel.

Working within a larger community provides direction and support to explore creative ways of integrating communications technology into your classroom. The supporting network provides much more than the technical links between the classrooms; it provides a rich network of human resources for learning how to use telecommunications as an instructional tool.