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17 July 2019
Students Develop Intercultural Competence, Academic Skills, and Global Awareness During Model UN Workshop

IMG_2214Early each morning from July 15th to 17th, students poured into the library at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, MD for the second annual Model UN Workshop hosted by Global Classrooms DC (GCDC). The workshop’s aim was to help students develop fundamental academic and life skills, and to prepare them to become active participants in Model UN simulations and global conversations. Participation in the workshop this year more than tripled, growing from 11 students last year to 36 students this year. Multiple nationalities were represented, as students from Vietnam, China, and the USA traveled to attend the three-day workshop. 

During the first morning of the workshop, students learned about the United Nations and its role in the global community. Students activated their background knowledge about the United Nations and gained a solid foundational understanding of various global issues and duties of major UN committees through discussing with their peers, watching informative video clips, and completing written activities. 

After gaining a basic understanding of the United Nations, students moved on to learning about Model UN, its purpose, procedures, and key vocabularies. Next, students were given a chance to practice writing a Model UN position paper using the analogy of building a hamburger to learn and remember the most important elements to include. Students were paired into double delegations and assigned countries to represent on the topic of Migration. They used a background guide, information about how to research, and GCDC Program Assistants’ guidance to write brief position papers on the topic of Migration from their assigned country’s perspective. 

The afternoon of the first day was focused on specific skill development, especially on effective communication in small and large culturally diverse group settings. Students participated in a very engaging activity called “Sell Me Anything!” in which they actively tried to convince their peers to buy basic office supplies. After the activity, students had reflections regarding what contributed to a good speech and what habits to avoid during public speaking. Students then watched an inspirational speech by Malala Youfsafzai to cement their understandings of positive public speaking traits. They applied what they had learned in small groups as they practiced reading selected portions of Malala’s speech and received feedbacks from their group members. By the close of the first day, students had gained a clear understanding of the UN, Model UN, and how to speak effectively in public. They had also gotten to know their peers and had formed new friendships with students of different nationalities. 

On day two of the workshop, students focused on the skills of negotiation and collaboration. They started the morning with and activity called “Alone on a Deserted Island”, in which they worked first in small groups and then as a whole class to prioritize and negotiate items needed if they were stranded on a deserted island. Students had a lot of fun reasoning to each other and defending their choices. They also got a chance to answer tough questions from the GCDC staff members regarding why they chose the items. After the activity, students were led to reflect on what techniques had helped them during the negotiation process, what didn’t work, and how to make sure all voices were heard during the process. Then, they further extended their negotiation skills and practiced collaboration during a second activity in which again they worked first in teams, then as a whole group, to design a menu for a fictional friend’s birthday party. They had to consider elements such as price, location, allergy restrictions and food preferences, then collaborate to create a final menu that the whole class agreed upon. 

Later during the second day, students practiced their negotiation and collaboration skills further as they wrote operative clauses and policy recommendations on migration from their assigned country’s perspective. After constructing a first draft, students presented their work and received constructive criticism from group members. Students used suggested guidelines to ask each other strong questions and challenged one another to think critically about their policy choices, then groups negotiated and collaborated to modify their clauses and policy recommendations. By the end of the day, students were expert negotiators and collaborators, and they had enjoyed applying their new skills through a variety of increasingly complex tasks. They had also improved their communication skills by talking to peers who had varying levels of English language proficiency and different perspectives on global topics.

On the last day of the workshop, students participated in a mini-simulation similar to what they would experience at a Model UN conference. The topic of the simulation was “Migration in the World Today”. Student delegates delivered opening speeches presenting their country’s perspective on the topic, then spent most of the morning in various moderated and unmoderated caucuses to discuss possible solutions to the problem. During unmoderated caucuses, students formed two distinct blocs, grouping with other countries who they could collaborate with to create dynamic solutions. Students had the opportunity through these activities to utilize the skills they had developed earlier in the workshop, such as public speaking, negotiation, and collaboration. 

Next, students cooperated with other delegates to write on draft resolutions. Their writing skills were challenged as they attempted to write clear and compelling draft resolutions that might elicit support from other country delegations. Once students had completed two draft resolutions, they presented them to the committee and received questions. During the questioning period, students worked together to construct definitions, negotiate clauses, and finalize better solutions. In the end, students voted on the resolutions and experienced the gratification of a job well done when both resolutions were passed.

The conference was an incredible learning experience for students and staff alike. Students walked away with stronger skills in public speaking, negotiation, collaboration, writing, and communication. Meanwhile, they also gained experience in working with people from diverse cultural backgrounds who held different perspectives. Most importantly, they comprehended a global issue and experienced the satisfaction that came with working together to address global problems.