(Posted earlier this month in the NAIS Teachers of the Future blogs)
(Posted earlier this month in the NAIS Teachers of the Future blogs)
Reflecting on 2009
On many occasions in 2009 I described myself as an ordinary teacher who has had extraordinary opportunities. I am very thankful for those extraordinary opportunities and for the many, many inspiring teachers and visionaries I met over the course of the year.
Top Ten Special Moments
1. Working with Karin Muller of Take2 videos:
Karin Muller, who created Take2 videos non-profit organization, has definitely been one of the most inspiring people to personally touch my life and my teaching practice. Karin skyped into my classroom to provide assistance to my students to first understand the documentary process and then create their own short documentaries based on the footage of Darfur refugee camps that she provided. Her stories and those of whom she chronicled are unforgettable. We have shared many rich conversations; I would love to meet her face to face someday. More about my students’ work with Take2 and the sites where you can learn more can be found here and here.
2. Selecting team for Teachers Without Borders Canada
From start to finish, the TWBC (now EBB) team that I led while in Africa was top shelf. The team was comprised of Jody Meacher (QC), John Schinker (Ohio), Zac Chase (IL/PA), Lois McGill-Horn (Manitoba), Ian Vailingitham (ON) and Noble Kelly (BC). Belonging to a team that collaborated so well at a distance and even better on the ground in Africa was a rare opportunity. My teammates were professional, hilarious and big-hearted – a fantastic combination. I returned from Africa with a hunger and a drive to work full-time with such a team. I am still looking….
3. Students working with XOs and Doctors Without Borders
I have had a particular fascination with the XO laptop and have not only brought a few with me to Africa, but had a few more donated to me over the course of the past year which my students were able to appreciate. My students were asked to develop educational content using the programs on the XO and then we were able to ship several of them over to Nepal and Kenya. Unfortunately, they never reached their destination in Nepal due to customs restrictions (possibly corruption), so I learned the hard way to work with trusted NGOs who are working on the ground. Nevertheless, the student learning from experience of developing content for a real audience was very valuable. Another authentic learning opportunity came about when my students working on the Darfur video project were able to skype out to an administrator of a Doctors Without Borders Camp in Sudan (who was in Canada at the time). They later used some of the audio from the interview and incorporate it into their documentary.
It seemed like one day I was showing the Kiva video - A Fistful of Dollars - to my grade seven advisory class and the next they had taken charge of a plan to approach the Students Council to donate money to Kiva. They worked for several weeks on a multimedia slideshow presentation to persuade the Student Council to provide a loan and follow it through their high school career (four more years). I was very proud of their initiative, dedication and enthusiasm of their undertaking. They truly owned the idea, the process and the vision.
5. NECC – winning award
It was an iffy project and one of my students thought it would never take off and go anywhere, but the Darfur Video Project ended with a big bang in spite of many false starts. The pairing of a terrific idea (Karin Muller’s amazing video footage of a Sudan refugee camp and with her unwavering support) and engaged and hard-working students was the recipe for success for this initiative. I knew that overall the project had significant educational merit, but I was stunned and delighted when it was awarded first place for the Online Learning Award by ISTE. The recognition entirely belongs to Karin and to my students.
We have terrific NGO partners in Africa and these partnerships make all the difference in cross-cultural initiatives. A good deal of communication and coordination is required. For several months ahead of time, we were in regular communication with our partners, Edunova and Khanya. Communicating online with anyone in Africa is always challenging, but their dedication helped us to contextualize our preparation for our visit with teachers in South Africa. I thank John Thole (Edunova) and Kobus van Wyk (Khanya) especially for their roles in this initiative. I learned a lot through our interactions; they were excellent cultural interpreters who understood the challenges of their educational system and the teachers themselves. I look forward to another season of working with these fine people and hope our partnership will be even stronger this year.
7. Twitter moment
Probably my favourite twitter story for 2009 was when I took a chance on my twitter network and asked if there was anyone out there who would be willing to donate an XO laptop to a teacher in Kenya. The story begins when I asked Dan Otedo, a leader of our partnering NGO in Kenya (African Centre for Women, ICT), if I could bring him a souvenir from Washington DC, knowing that Kenyans, in general, are big fans of Obama. I was expecting him to ask for a baseball cap or tshirt. To my surprise, he responded, “I would like an XO laptop”. Now one generally cannot just pick up an XO in any of the Washington DC souvenir shops, so I was in a bit of a quandary. So I put the request out on twitter. To my great delight, a follower of a follower responded! She shipped the XO to one of our team members and so Dan was able to get his hands on one of these amazing machines. The generosity of others never fails to touch me. And the power of twitter is not to be underestimated!
8. Visiting the islands of Lake Victoria, Kenya
Visiting any part of Africa is special – having the opportunity to visit remote communities – those on hard-to-reach islands, is particularly special. Our team was able to spend a day visiting 3 islands in Lake Victoria. On two of those islands, we visited at least one primary school. Just as most other schools we visited on the mainland, these schools were very poor and lacked electricity and resources. However, the children on these islands also were affected by the remoteness; they had probably never seen electrical powered devices or automobiles until they have opportunity to leave the island. The conditions on the islands are very bad. On one of the islands – the one furthest from the mainland, I felt as though I was in the wild west or in some surreal Star Wars movie (remember that bar scene in the first movie?). It was the closest I felt to being in danger of my time in Kenya.
The final island we visited, Mfangano Island, was remarkably special and stood out from the other two. There we met Chas Salmen, a graduate student completing his thesis in medical anthropology (now a medical student in the US), who had studied the spread of HIV/AIDS amongst the fishing communities due to prostitution. He, and many Kenyan nationals, were fund-raising to build a community centre that would house an amphitheatre, testing clinics, an Internet centre, and a radio station. The official opening of the building was in December 2009. The computers for the centre were held up in customs, but soon this remote island of 19,000 would have a fully functional community centre. The vision for this project was staggering and one of the most inspirational I have encountered. To my great delight, our organization has been invited back to Mfangano to provide ICT training for its teachers using the resources now available in this incredible initiative. Truly, this was one of the high points of not just my visit to Kenya, but to my entire year!
9. Meeting Mama Sara
It was a completely serendipitous and unexpected meeting. We had been told that the Obama homestead was within a half hour of our travels between Mbita and Gilgil, our next destination. I asked our American team members if they were interested in making a small detour so we could visit the homestead. Receiving a positive response, I asked our Kenyan drivers to make the detour – they were thrillled! I promptly fell asleep in the “way back” of the mutatu to be awakened a short time later… on a Kenyan farm. I was a bit confused. We stepped out of the van, showed our passports to the Kenyan soldiers and went out to look around the basic Kenyan farmyard – no one else seemed to be around. We found two gravestones – one each for Obama’s father and grandfather. While we were taking photos of this, a woman stepped out of the house and informed us, “She is taking breakfast and will see you soon.” Okay, who was “she”?? “She” was Obama’s grandmother – actually, the stepmother of Obama’s father. In a little while, she did join us. A guest book was passed around which we signed. She answered of our questions through a translator and we had our photo taken. About 7 weeks prior to my visit to Mama Sara’s farm, I was in Washington D.C. The difference between those two locations was vast. And yet, there was that one connection….
10. Special conferences
Last year, I had the privilege of attending a few conferences. The three that stand out were Educon, NECC and CCK09 Online. My daughter attended Educon with me again in January and was warmly welcomed by the staff and students at Student Leadership Academy. I recall many good conversations that shaped my thinking for the future. It was also my opportunity to talk to Zac Chase about Africa; he later was selected as one of our team members. Attending NECC had not been in my original plans. The timing was too close to my departure to Africa. But when our Darfur Video Project won first place, I decided to attend to accept the award. The three and half days were a blur of meetings, presentations and running around to find resources to bring to Africa. I left from Washington to New York to catch my flight to South Africa. Though my experiences in Africa eclipsed the conference, it was an unforgettable intense 3 days of very fine conversations and reunions with special friends. It was indeed an unexpected blessing to attend NECC. And finally, the opportunity to share the podium with John Thole (Edunova) for the CCK09 online conference was very special because it gave an opportunity for an African to use an online platform to a global audience about technology advancements in that continent.
Here are some final thoughts summarizing some key ideas and insights from my year:
Having the opportunity to return to Africa brought about better understanding of differences in culture and how culture influences the adoption of technologies. Africa is ahead of us (in North America) in using mobile technologies in resourceful and innovative ways. This is borne out of necessity and accessibility. We could learn much from them.
Working on a team of like-minded, passionate, dedicated, and deep-thinking educators is an invaluable experience that has changed my perspective on education. A team like this can accomplish a great deal and I deeply wish I can have that experience again in the future.
Taking risks as an educator or as a student is under-valued in our current system. Some of the remarkable experiences of my year were not due to expertise or especially superior intelligence on my part (I wish!), but to the risks I was willing to take to pursue projects and relationships.
Reality-based learning projects offer excellent opportunities for students to learn 21st c skills as they become empathetic global citizens. I have become a strong advocate of these kinds of projects.
We have entered the second decade of this millenium. I am more excited than ever. We live in exciting times to be an educator and I have high hopes and optimism for 2010. I wish the same for you.
“Live-blogging” in Townships Workshops – Day 1
No, not really!
Noble is beginning our workshops by sending SMS messages through skype to the mobile phones of the workshop sessions as a kickoff to the week of workshops.
Today, we start low-tech for our first session by using sticky notes to first identify why we are here, what learning gaps exist in the system, how ICT can be used promote learning, and what barriers exist to using ICT in the system. We are hoping to kick off some lively group discussions as we share our impressions and experiences.
The first session went well and we collected the ideas in order to build a wordle which we will later show them at the end of the day.
Zac Chase was a terrific host and leader of the first session using humour and anecdotes effectively as we warmed up to the educators who were with us.
The next session will have the participants divided into two groups, One group will be in the computer lab and asked to take a technology skills audit (a survey on an excel spreadsheet). They are also given a 2 GB flash drive (generously donated by P from ISTE’s NECC last week!) where we have placed OSS formatted by LiberKey.
We go through basic file management skills with the educators as we model how to use a computer lab effectively
The other group is examining the shift in pedagogy from traditional to digital practices for using ICT and discussing how this fits in to their current practices.
In the afternoon, we broke into two groups and used a second venue with a computer lab so all the participants could have hands-on access to computers. First we had educators create a table using Word (a new skill for most of them) so that they could use it to create a lesson plan. Then we showed them how to create a gmail account – which failed mostly because gmail refused to permit so many new accounts from teh same IP address.
Now tonight, a LONG planning meeting for more to come tomorrow. Boy, will I be tired tomorrow as I attempt to lead two workshops about information literacy, Internet search skills and how to use PowerPoint effectively for teaching and learning.
Not to be outdone by his world-travelling wife, my husband Doug just returned from a week in rural Jamaica on a construction project for a school. While there, he and 15 other men from our church repaired plumbing and built a chain link fence, basketball and tetherball courts, and an Internet cafe. He was the prolific blogger of the trip and put to shame my posts to my trip to Africa a few months ago!
On that note, Teachers Without Borders Canada (now known as Education Beyond Borders) is gearing up for return trips to South Africa and Kenya in July-August ’09. The applications for the teams (we are seeking between 15-20 educators – hopefully a multinational team!) can be found on the TWB Canada site. One must join our organization and then the group (South Africa or Kenya) in order to request an application. I will be leading one of the teams to South Africa this time around and am quite excited about the potential line-up of workshops and school visits. We have received an enthusiastic invitation from our NGO contacts there and I am eagerly looking forward to building on the relationships we began last year.
It’s been one week into the course on connectivism and, while I simply cannot keep up with the critical thinking of many of the participants (due to time constraints mostly), I have discovered that it is providing a way of dealing with my re-entry culture shock after almost seven weeks in Africa.
I especially enjoyed the reading of the “Little Boxes” – it helped me see that I had moved from a position of networked individualism here in Canada to “little boxes” in South Africa and Kenya and back again to networked individualism. This shift back and forth was what I had found most disconcerting. I came to a place where I was comfortable with the “little boxes” in Kenya, because that was just the way things worked, and internet access was just so intermittent. Moving back to instant online access became just too much information overload in the first couple of weeks. Truthfully, I had just wanted to hide my head in my hands rather than go online.
Just being able to identify that shift helped me better understand what I was going through and my frustration with all of it.
Also, when we were there, we were trying to show African educators who did have access to a computer and the Internet the potential of networked individualism. New wine in old wineskins? Now I am wondering if it was a good approach. However, I think it would be ethically wrong not to show them tools that would help them connect to other educators around the world.
I enjoyed a very hectic, but gratifying, first week back in the classroom which prevented me from being all but a lurker in the course. At the end of the week, I treated myself to reading the articles and listening to the audio recording of Dave Cormier, Stephen and George. Slowly munching through the contents….
Cross-posted from the TWB Canada Ning:
The suitcases are unpacked, the souvenirs mostly distributed, the jet lag has almost worn off, and the photos are slowly been sifted.
Fortunately, I had a few days to catch my breath and slowly digest the experiences, conversations, and encounters of the past 7 weeks. There is a part of me that doesn’t want to start letting go of it. My dreams every night are filled with African faces and African landscapes.
Practically speaking, though, it is time to move to the next stage. Maybe for me the raw emotions generated from the trip are still too close to the surface, because I am finding it difficult to focus on what is the “what’s next?”.
I am starting to make lists of what to do and who to contact. This next stage is very likely a critical one as we seek to maintain contact and further develop relationships with teachers in Africa and supporters of Teachers Without Borders.
Any thoughts, comments, or advice would be most welcome!
I am trying to catch up on blog posts….
Here is a letter I wrote to my colleagues upon my return two weeks ago. It contains a fairly good overview of my experiences in Africa.
The original was written on Aug. 14th:
30,000 Km later….
After an uneventful 44 hours of traveling, I returned home yesterday from an incredible and intense 6+ weeks of experiencing education firsthand in South Africa and Kenya.
It was a privilege to be a member of the two Teachers Without Borders CANADA (now known as Education BEyond Borders) teams – the very first teams to go abroad from Canada. My team members were first class educators from across the country. Due to a prior commitment, I left the Kenyan team a week early; this week, they are presenting workshops to about 70 elementary teachers in the rural Naivasha district (about an hour outside of Nairobi). I am feeling as though I am going through withdrawal from being a part of “the collective”.
Our visits to South Africa and Kenya exceeded our expectations. Not only did we meet with hundreds of teachers in large and small groups for workshops, meetings and school visits (where we met thousands of students), we also formally met with District Education Officers, officials from the ministries of education (in both countries), principals and heads of schools, heads and members of various NGOs, the Kenyan Institute of Ed. curricula advisors, and the representatives of CIDA at the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi. We were warmly greeted by all. The content and delivery of our workshops made quite an impression on all the educators (phew! this was a big concern) and we laid an important foundation for many, many return visits in the future. Our goal is to invite South African and Kenyan educators to be on the teams presenting workshops next year. Our vision is to build both sustainability and capacity as we move forward.
Of course, I also went on safari and had a good deal of time to have fun along the way. My team members had extraordinary senses of humour and I laughed my way across half a continent.
In the next few days, I will upload some videos for those of you who would like to hear singing and watch dancing of the African students. (That is done and you can find them here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1Ckf8B2MMQ, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBnIrJu1kiI&feature=related, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSAu-yPoLq0&feature=related ) Some awesome Maasai dancing there!!
I was the team member known for her enthusiasm about technology – and was teased almost relentlessly about the XOs. I do tend to get a bit passionate about their potential in developing nations….
The two XOs donated from LEARN were gratefully received by Fezeka High School in Gugulethu township, Cape Town (a Xhosa school) and by Longonot High School in Naivasha District of Kenya. I brought with me a total of four XOs which had been donated. Each of the schools mentioned received two XOs. Once again, a very sincere thanks to LEARN!
The Flip camera was given to an inspirational principal I met on our recon mission to the Laikipia District (Mt. Kenya region) who is connecting with a school in Canada with an organization called Kenyan Sister Schools Project. Next year, we will be offering workshops to teachers in that district as well.
As for what’s next, it is very likely that I will be one of the leaders of a team returning to at least South Africa next year – and I am looking for willing recruits to be on my team! Let me know if you are interested….
I hope you are all enjoying your last few weeks of summer….
I have been a bit shy about sharing the news about my trip to Africa with Teachers Without Borders, but so many of you have been asking that it is about time that I share more of what we have been planning.
The last few months I have been quietly gathering resources that will be coming with me – somehow squeezing into my luggage allowance of about 100 lbs. Thank goodness I can put a lot of resources either online or on a CD or flash drive!
Below is my itinerary – in a nutshell and from what I know so far:
June 26 – departure for Cape Town, via London UK (meet with Terry and Elaine Freedman for the day, June 27)
June 28- arrival in Cape Town, work for two days with team members David Dallman, John Ehinger and Noble Kelly on workshops
June 30 – meet with ICT Ministry of Ed folks in Cape Town
July 1 – begin workshops for about 35 teachers on implementation of ICT in the curric. – I will be presenting the info lit workshop – Internet search (for beginners)
July 2 – continue with workshops; Konrad Glogowski, our fifth team member, arrives straight from attending NECC in San Antonio; my daughter Meg arrives for a 5 week program with World Learning: Experiment in International Living
July 7 – second week of workshops for a different school
July 14 – class visits at Fezeka High School – we get to meet real students!!
July 19- panel discussion at principals’ conference
We are partnering with NGOs Edunova and Education Without Borders. The people from those organizations have been incredibly wonderful in arranging these opportunities for us. Emails have flown back and forth for a few months now – as well as a few audio and video conferences.
On July 19th, Konrad, Noble and I overnight to Nairobi Kenya and then drive to the Lake Naivasha region. We will catch up with the rest of our team of ten teachers from across Canada who will be delivering workshops to about 120 teachers in that region. Again, we have been partnering with an NGO, Comfort the Children. I have had a chance to videoconference with teachers and a few students from a school already.
Our first few days, we will have the opportunity to do classroom observations as we finalize our workshops for the teachers. We will be providing resources in the area of math, science and English (I will be helping out with the workshops for the English teachers). I am hoping we will also have ample opportunity to meet students.
On July 25th, we will begin the presentation of workshops.
On August 10th, I will fly home a week earlier than the rest of the team so that I can collaboratively present a workshop with my long-time Internet project partner, Reuven Werber (whom I have never met f2f) at CAJE in Vermont on August 14th.
Here is a list of some of the resources I plan to take (some of which I plan to leave behind):
Konrad and I also have a dream about taking as much video footage as possible of our discussions with teachers and students AS WELL AS putting the cameras in the hands of the students and having them take their own footage which we can then take back to Canada and have students edit.
Three of my own personal goals for the trip:
In August, when I return, I am very delighted to share that I will be returning to the classroom at The Study in Montréal, teaching English and Computer Studies – a great blend for me! They have been very warm in welcoming me on staff and supportive of my trip to Africa.
You can imagine how I already have some ideas about global collaborative projects….
One of the schools where we will be in Cape Town solicited questions and issues they would like for us to address during our workshops. The questions gave us a good idea at the level of understanding that ICT can play in the overall curricula, but most compelling was this question: “How can ICT make me a better teacher?”
I think I would need more than just even one blog post to tackle that one! It has been on my mind for weeks now and probably a good question all of us in educational technology should be asking ourselves regularly. Behind that question, I think I sense a certain disbelief that ICT really can “make better teachers”. And perhaps that person is right! I realize that I will need to keep focused on “why ICT in education”and be prepared to justify its use in education. I would love to hear your thoughts on that!
My hope is to be regularly updating my blog throughout my trip, although I may be going off the grid when I am in Kenya due to limited access to the Internet. You are welcome to join me on our adventure!