The Final Countdown

I’m excited about the possibilities of this project. It is one that my colleague and I have been discussing, planning and re-working since the beginning of the year.

Working in an international school is a fantastic opportunity for many reasons. For me, the most important of these is the place in which we work. Schools are great for learning, but the world around us is even better. I feel sometimes that our students, and even some teachers, miss out on the learning that comes from the place where we live. It is easy to live within the bubble of the ex-pat world and miss learning from the people and places around us. That’s what this project is about.

We hope to encourage our students to listen to the stories around them and find out a little bit more about the communities within which they exist . Not just their expat community, but their neighbourhoods, their families, and the people who work for and around them. Students will be asked to listen and re-tell stories from their friends, family and locals as they work their way through the project.

We recently had one of the founders of Accra[dot]Alt come in and talk about their project and the importance of recording history and sharing the thriving culture of Ghana to dispel the myth of a continent that only suffers.  We are trying to line up a few more guest speakers as well including Daniel from the Troski Journal who will talk about the social activism aspect of his own cultural history project.

The activities will include students collecting and telling their own personal history across a couple of days based on their use of social media and texting.  We hope that this will lead to a good discussion about how history is told and what is included as well as left out.

The project is scheduled to start after spring break and last most of the rest of the school year.  Even though we have a solid plan, we fully expect it to change and develop as we go.  We are hoping to make this a yearly project that students will look forward to, tweak and develop into their own passionate learning experiences.

Conscious Evolution

I was quite startled to find similarities in an article about Apple’s


attempts to infiltrate the academic world of Duke University and the democratically based educational programs of rural Colombia.  But there they are staring me in the face.

These two articles, one assigned reading for COETAlL and one that serendipitously wound up in my Twitter feed this morning, discuss the same issues in education from incredibly different worlds.  Each of them look for ways to empower students and improve education.  One through the use of technology and one through simply creating active learners.

I think the majority of education is caught somewhere in between.  I think about my own experiences in school and it was a lot of chalk and talk.  I read about international schools through my PLN and its amazing.  Then I look at the conversation in Ghana lately about education and not much has changed.  There’s a big debate about religion within schools here, a whole different conversation, but also about the way students are taught.

This was incredibly evident to me in my own home last night. Our housekeeper’s little brother, Kwame, has become a good friend of my son.


They play together every afternoon and often sit and help each other with their school work.


Last night Kwame asked to use our computer to do some homework. I was elated that he was using technology for school.  However, it turned out that he simply needed to copy the 35 languages of Ghana from a website.  That was it. No identifying where they were spoken, no map creation or comparisons, no thought.  Look it up and copy.

We’ve had many conversations with Kwame about school.  He tells us what they learn and how they use technology. At least two to a computer and sounds like just email and typing.  There’s no critical thinking, its mostly memorisation and his test are simply regurgitating the information that he has been given.  He has even mentioned being afraid to ask to go to the bathroom, not because he might get in trouble, but because he might miss some notes.

Yet in rural Columbia we have students providing teachers with assistance adjusting to their system of learning.  One that supports interaction, working together, independence and critical thinking.  In these schools students are not only being given knowledge, but the tools to be a citizen.  They are learning to question and manage their own futures instead of simply being receptacles to eventually deposit in the streets.

When teachers unfamiliar with this approach are assigned to these schools, it’s often the students themselves who teach them how to apply the method. “In these schools, citizenship isn’t abstract theory,” Ms. Colbert told me. “It’s daily practice.”

I feel I might have rambled a bit here, so I’ll try to tie it up neat here at the end.

And, before you point it out, I realize one is a distinguished American University and the other just a grade school, though it is a “private” Ghanaian school.  But what a difference! At Duke:

We simply asked students to dream up learning applications for this cool little white device with the adorable earbuds, and we invited them to pitch their ideas to the faculty.

What a fantastic way to develop thinkers and learners.  Here’s a new tool, how will it make your educational experience better?  The article goes on to discuss how interdisciplinary the course was, the leadership roles that students took and even how blogs produced better written work than term papers.  On so many levels it sounds as if some of the same ideas are being incorporated in those rural schools in Colombia, perhaps minus the technology.

The evolution needed here is understanding that collaboration, experiential education and interaction with peers is essential to learning.  Students in each of these articles, unlike those in many of our outdated school systems,  are being given the tools to succeed in a modern world.  One by using the tools and technology of the times, the other by developing the problem solving and critical thinking skills that will allow them to figure out those tools when they become available to them.  In both cases, the common denominator is access to peers, interaction and feedback.  Students across the globe and from kindergarten to graduate school need to be able to see themselves as experts, to inquire, to fail, learn from it, recover and ultimately succeed.

I know the last link is wrong. As a native of NC and a Tarheel, I couldn’t resist taking a shot.


Runnin Down a Dream

I’ve taken a shot at global collaborations a few times and I guess I would call those attempts mildly successful.  I’m still searching for the one that will stick and feel like a complete success.  I really love the idea of students working on projects that defy the traditional brick and mortar confines of schools.

My first project started almost 7 years ago and in some forms still continues.

First visit to Ghana
First visit to Ghana

You can read the full story from the link if you like, but the short version is my school in North Carolina connected with a school in Tema to provide them with a computer lab and hopefully create an exchange between students.  It was a long process. The first exchange was on paper and two years later there was a digital exchange.  Then the project stalled.  We’ll leave it at that for now.

This year I was contacted by a former colleague to do another letter exchange with her students who were English language learners in the mountains of North Carolina.  My advisory students somewhat willingly agreed to participate and we shared a few exchanges, but over the winter break, that too fell apart.

As I read through Kim Cofino’s Step-by-Step Guide to Global Collaborations I’ve realized that one of my flaws has been I’ve approached it more as a “this will be cool” kind of thing than “here’s what I want to accomplish”.  The Tema project developed with purpose after the initial phase, but it was a shaky start.

I would also venture to say that it is a little more difficult to convince middle school students in an international school that a global collaboration, mystery skype, etc. is a cool and advantageous exercise.  SkypeThey’ve lived all over and keep in touch with their friends in other countries via social media already.  Oh, and they’re middle schoolers.  There has to be more than just bells and whistles, they need to be interested.

I’ve had some success helping others at our school connect with projects. Our KG classes have connected with a school in Canada, first grade with a school in Finland and a few other connections that I’ve been able to help create thanks to Twitter, but I haven’t found the one for me yet.

I’m hoping that the unit that is the basis for my final project will eventually lead to a global collaboration.  This is our first year trying out the project and we want to keep it simple to start with, but in the future I see it as an opportunity to share the finished product, connect with other schools, and develop a broader collection of stories.

I feel like I’ve got the connected educator part down.  I’ve built the PLN, shared resources, gained resources and all of that.  Now I’ve got find the extension cord to my classroom.

A Change Would Do You Good

As I read Mark Pensky’s article Shaping Tech for the Classroom, I nodded along in agreement.  Change is needed and not just doing old things in new ways.  We need to do new things in new ways.  That’s what education should be about learning how things have been done and looking for new and better ways to do them.  Pushing our students and our schools to be innovators, be at the edge of the future instead of balancing somewhere precariously between the past and the present.

Then I realized that the article was written in 2005. eye poppingTen years have passed and many of the same issues and ideas are still being discussed.  Why?  Even the MacArthur foundation report discussing the ways teens use and learn through technology is now seven years old. That means the subjects of the  study and the students of the classrooms discussed in Pensky’s article are very likely college students or even professionals by this time.  Hypothetically some of them are even teachers.

Why then, if we have been talking about technology in education for the past ten years, actually since the days of Mr. Jefferson, Thomas not George, have we still got classrooms with chalkboards and teachers using SMARTBoards as over priced projectors?  Shouldn’t today’s new teachers be tech savy and masters of integrating technology in the classrooms.  Yet it seems that statistics show that, in the United States, we aren’t quite there yet and the public believes we have a long way to go.LEAD Poll Results

It is hard to understand why we continue to have these conversations and the call for change is being trumpeted throughout education, yet it only seems to bounce of the walls of policy and funding and leave the teachers in the lurch.

The positive side of it comes from the expanding, or maybe shrinking, world of teacher’s taking the reigns for their own professional development.  It is evident everyday on Twitter that the agents of change are knocking down walls and entering into global collaborations to instill change in our profession. On chats like #NT2t, #BFC530, #INZpirED, #whatisschool and, shameless plug, #AfricaEd along with countless others, they’re encouraging one another, sharing ideas and experiences and gathering data to help implement new ideas and programs in their own schools.  Its a source of inspiration and hope.

The pundits and the thinkers and politicians will continue to talk about it and tell us how it should happen.  But its on the ground where changes occur, and I truly think it is coming.  The proof is in the conversations from the real experts.


Image Credit: Villani, Joshua. Eye Popping Cartoons. Digital image. Deviant Art. N.p., 2010. Web. 1 Mar. 2015.



Funny the Way it Is

because, “you know how in school you’re creative, but you’re doing it for a grade so it doesn’t really count?” -from Living With New Media

Of everything I read, watched or listened to this week, this quote is what struck me the most. 

Are we ruining creativity by assigning it?
Are we ruining creativity by assigning it?

What is it about school that makes a creative kid feel as if school has sucked the creativity out of her chosen form of creative expression?  That’s rough.

It makes me think about Clark.  The high school kid that walked campus alone and sat in the corner of my humanities class with out speaking for the first few weeks of school.   But then, stood up in front of the class and gave a dynamic presentation about his favorite video game.   By the end of his presentation he had the whole class laughing and asking questions about a game that five minutes ago they cared/knew nothing about. 

Clearly messing around and playing this game was more than just a passing phase for Clark.  He put thought and creativity into strategies and resources that were needed to win. He had an entire cohort of people he collaborated with online.  Yet, the essential reasons the game was so important to him was the connection he was able to maintain with his friends in the States.

After that presentation, he was a little more vocal in class, but he never showed that kind of interest again.  Work was turned in late and he just kind of floated through the class. The creativity was definitely in there, he just felt no reason to bring it out for World Wars or politics on the global levels.

It certainly warrants a look at what it is we are doing for and to our students. It makes me wonder why more schools aren’t experimenting like this. It is hard to develop creativity in an environment that fosters compliance.  Yet the first ISTE Standard for Students is creativity and innovation.  I’d go along with the argument that there need to be some major changes in our approaches to education if we really want to see worthwhile creativity from our students. That is creativity that isn’t practiced or developed just for a grade.

My little ones learning to code together on an iPad
My little ones learning to code together on an iPad

If students are spending their time at home developing, creating and innovating with technology and we are constantly trying to predict the next big thing and keep up with them by bringing those same tools and platforms into the classroom, are we encouraging their creativity or ruining it?

Image credit (ironically enough a Testing eLearning company’s site)

With a Little Help From My Friends

While I understand the importance of understanding how we learn, if I’m honest, I tend to drift a bit when it comes to reading about learning theories.  I start to understand how my middle school students from across the globe feel as they read about a bunch of white guys in knickers and wigs deciding they are tired of paying taxes to a bunch of other guys in fancier knickers and wigs.  Granted, my students are probably facing a few more distractions, but you get the idea.

But then, while I’m listening to some tunes, messing around on the internet and browsing, mostly educational, articles in between working on a proposal for professional development at my school, things start to click.

I re-read what George Seimens says in Connectivisim: A learning theory for the digital age: “Since we cannot experience everything, other people’s experiences, and hence other people, become the surrogate for knowledge.” I realized that my proposal for edCamp style professional development is based on something I’ve never actually experienced myself.  However, I’m quite keen on trying it out at our school and believe that it would be a breath of fresh air for our school’s staff development program.

edcamp Ghana
Hopefully coming soon…

So how do I go about building my knowledge?

Well, I’ve previously Skyped with one of the founding members of edCamp, when I first had the idea months ago, who offered all kinds of great advice and resources. There’s also a previous connection made (via Twitter) with one of the organizers of edCamp Denver who shared the entire planning process for their large scale event via Google Docs. So I’ve got some prior knowledge built from primary sources.

My next stop is Twitter again where I ask my PLN for info on their experiences.

A little help from my friends
A little help from my friends

Within an hour I’ve got three blogs to read and four other people saying they’ll put me in touch with the people who planned similar sessions at their schools.  Pretty soon emails are rolling in from colleagues of my Twitter contacts and I’ve got a ton of information to work through and create a proposal.

In the course of a day I realize I’ve exemplified most of the significant trends in learning outlined by Siemens and hopefully put together a pretty good proposal constructed almost entirely with other people’s knowledge and experiences.  I just had to take that information, make sense of it and apply it to the situation I was facing.

Now some of that lofty lingo from the deep thinkers about thinking is starting to make sense.  I’m still not certain I have a perfect grasp on the connectivism theory, but by being connected, I’m slowly figuring it out.  I never knew that messing around could be so productive.

Thanks guys.


The Long Strange Trip to my PLN

I’ve always thought of myself as a tech guy when it comes to the classroom.  I’ve been the guy other teachers looked to for everything from trouble shooting VCRs in the beginning to introducing Google Hangouts.  But I was doing a lot of work on my own searching for resources and learning through trial and error.  I was a long way from being a connected educator and, as Jeff Utecht suggests in Reach, figuring out how to get the resources to come to me.

It took a somewhat random series of events for me to actually understand the power of a PLN and begin to establish my own.  Let me take you back a couple of years…

In the beginning I used Twitter to read about sports, news and music.  I was mostly just a lurker. Then I got some replies from a couple of famousish people and started thinking there was some power behind it all.  And then, last year this happened

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 8.53.36 AM

(That’s Jimmy Conrad from the USMNT. He came and played in our staff pick up game)

That’s when I realised the power of connectivity and the limitless boundaries of the tool.  I talked a former member of the US World Cup squad into visiting my school.  Maybe there’s some potential here professionally as well.

I then increased my lurking (which is common enough that there is at least some data) to include a few educator chats like #satchat but still rarely chimed in on the conversations.  I just wasn’t sure what to say.  Then I stumbled onto #BFC530 one day during my planning and it took off from there.  It was more than a chat, it was a true community. I was greeted and welcomed each day.  All of a sudden I felt like I had not just a new set of resources, but a new set of friends. The resources that were being shared blew me away.  I mentioned wanting to try out an edCamp here in Ghana and I instantly had access to the entire catalog of planning documents for edCamp Denver.  I was becoming a part of a bigger picture that included teachers and students who already knew the power behind the internet and connected communities.

I enjoyed the sense of being connected and had found a group of like-minded educators to bounce ideas off of and share resources.   Now I wanted to connect with teachers who were working under similar conditions, in similar schools on the same continent.  So I did a little research, asked a couple of related-to-friends-through-Twitter connections, found a little support and became a truly active member of my PLN by starting my own Twitter Chat.

#AfricaEd2#AfricaEd has a small group of educators from international schools across Africa that discuss educational topics every Tuesday and Thursday.  Its been a fantastic, challenging, growth experience.