About Us
What is Orillas?
Our Philosophy
Past Projects

Current Group Projects
Math in Our Lives
Other Group Projects
Link to IEARN-Orillas

Getting Started
Tips for Getting Started
Project Planning

Sister Class Partnerships
Culture Packages
Sister Class Activities

For More Information

De Orilla a Orilla
c/o Kristin Brown

847 Arden Dr.
Encinitas, CA 92024
530/475-0410 (ph/fax)


Enid Figueroa, Kristin Brown, and
Dennis Sayers, Co-Founders

Reinaldo Rivera, Technical Support



The Basics of Sister Class Exchanges

Sister classes engage in two kinds of exchanges:

  1. culture packages of maps, photos, audio and videotapes, memorabilia; and
  2. joint collaborative projects, which may best be described as "long-distance team-teaching units."

Collaborative Projects

In addition to sharing monthly culture packages, ORILLAS teachers and their students plan and jointly execute collaborative projects that involve interdependent, cooperative activity in small groups at both sites. Teachers design these projects to complement and extend their standard curriculum activities, whether in language arts, science, math or social studies. Experience has shown that collaborative projects fall into four major

  1. Shared Student Publications. Classroom journalism and publishing are among the most common collaborative projects. Everyone involved has clearly defined roles. Students are "reporters" when they write articles for local newsletters; "editors" while revising and polishing their writing; and "correspondents" when they send finished articles for inclusion in the school newspaper produced by their distant sister class. In some cases, two sister classes decide to plan and publish a single newsletter by establishing a "joint editorial board." Students from both classes form a panel to make the innumerable decisions which go into a successful journalistic product, ranging from the title of the newspaper and the topics that reporters will cover in both classes, to the final stages of production involving artwork, layout and printing. This project can be enriched by inviting reporters and editors from community newspapers to offer professional advice to students, and by organizing field trips to local newspaper offices.

  2. Comparative/Contrastive Investigations. The second type of collaborative project can take many forms, but one of the most popular and illustrative is the "comparative community survey". Here, the Sister Classes pick a theme of common interest. This theme is usually a controversial one that confronts and challenges the students' respective communities (for example, homelessness, drug abuse, or the depletion of the ozone layer resulting from industrial pollution). The classes nominate and together evaluate various items for inclusion in a joint community survey that taps public opinion on their chosen theme. Items are selected which provide both quantifiable data and open-ended reactions. When the survey is completed, the sister class teachers help students to analyze the results and to craft a report on their community's stance toward the controversial theme. These reports are then shared between sister classes. The spirit of the comparative community survey is to "Think Globally and Act Locally", and the project often leads to joint community actions initiated by teachers and students.

    The goal of this activity, like other comparative investigations, is to develop students' critical inquiry skills. As community "self-portraits" are shared, sister classes begin to compare and contrast their communities and worldviews, so often taken for granted. This same impulse drives other collaborative projects which fall under this category, such as joint science investigations, contrastive geography projects, and dual "slide/tape" shows.

  3. Folklore Compendiums and Oral Histories. In the third category of collaborative projects are collections of folklore and community narratives. These projects often involve numerous sister classes, since the more wide-ranging and diverse the participation, the richer the final product. Folklore compendiums can include collections of proverbs, children's rhymes and riddles, fables and folktales, and lullabies and songs. Folklore collections are really intergenerational studies, since students often "go straight to the source" by consulting with parents, grandparents and other relatives in their extended families. Comparative oral histories take a slightly different approach. To complete these collaborative projects, the sister classmates (armed with tape recorders and notebooks) arrange to interview key community figures on agreed-upon themes, such as "What was school like for parents and grandparents?" or other topics relating to local community heritage.

  4. Experimental/Evolving Projects. Cross-cultural learning such as constantly occurs in the ORILLAS network will always challenge us to discover new techniques, approaches and organizing metaphors which help us plan classroom activities to meet our educational goals. As we saw above, the "metaphor" of student journalism provides teachers and students with a rich and complex set of roles that can be harnessed to foster writing skills development. But other organizing metaphors hold great promise for reaching specific curricular goals.

    Among the new metaphors which ORILLAS teachers are exploring to promote their students' social perspective-taking skills is the metaphor of *students and teachers as cross-cultural anthropologists*. Here, students in different sister classes are paired and alternately play the roles of anthropologist and cultural informant. Each student anthropologist questions her or his distant informant on a specific culturally significant theme, and gradually they develop a thematic narrative; then they switch roles to explore the same theme in the other sister class setting. Finally, all the sister classmates share the resulting narratives on a range of themes, and a sound basis is created for genuine cross-cultural awareness.


Our experience in ORILLAS has shown that (1) shared publications, (2) comparative investigations, and (3) folklore collections are the kinds of collaborative projects which are common to nearly every sister class exchange. Yet, as the final example illustrates, a hallmark of our network is (4) the on-going, experimental search by ORILLAS teachers for new organizing metaphors and related classroom activities that explore the learning potential of long-distance sister classes.