Friday, August 14, 2009

Reflections on the Last Leg

The final leg of my African journey is coming to a close. Each and every location that we have worked in has been a very different experience.

Many of the teachers who came to Utumishi Academy in Gilgil were only expecting English/Math/Science workshops. In many cases, they had never touched a computer and were very excited to have the opportunity to do so. Sharon planned a simple week of basic workshops that incorporated a lot of time to explore. It set just the right tone. It was lots of fun to work with the teachers as they realized what they were able to do. I had an especially good chat with Moses, a Kenyan teacher who attended the workshops last year and came back to help facilitate this year. His eyes were wide as saucers as he considered the possible classroom applications of what he was learning.

It was in talking to the teachers this week that I rediscovered some of my own energy. They were giving up their holiday time to come for PD. They teach in incredibly challenging conditions. Many North American teachers I know would throw up their hands at the large class sizes and lack of materials (to say nothing of the myriad of other issues here) and say that they could not implement any new strategies. I have heard it before. “Oh, we don’t have the money to buy a new set of books to do that program,” (So adapt some of the ones you have!). “Oh, I have 28 students in my class, that strategy just isn’t manageable.” These teachers got excited about what they recognized as superior teaching strategies.

I think that this week was another set of high quality sessions. It was especially interesting to watch as the Kenyan facilitators began to take over parts of each session. I can really see the sustainability beginning to be built. It is like they say, a good teacher works him/herself out of a job. That is our goal too.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Sad Day

John and Lois left this morning. It has been a sad day for me. We have spent together and I think that the experiences we have shared havemany weeks made us quite a tight-knit group. In some ways, it seems like this is the beginning of the end of our time in Africa. In another week, we will all be heading home. Breaking up the group is just the beginning.

Lois made a nice analogy to explain why she is not staying longer. She says that when she reads a book, she needs time afterwards to digest it before beginning a new one. Our experience in Mbita was one book and she was not ready to begin a new one yet. I am recognizing the wisdom of that decision today. I am still trying to process what has happened in South Africa and Mbita. I am not sure whether I am ready for another challenge. I feel tired and it seems like it will take a lot of energy to merge with the other team for another set of workshops.

Time to gear up and dig deep.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Leaving Mbita

It is with some sadness that we have left Mbita behind us. We have felt so welcomed over the past 2 weeks. I hope that one day I will be able to return.

In reflecting on the past week’s sessions, I think the thing that I am most proud of is the way that I modified the workshop I lead on Assessment and Evaluation. The workshop was scheduled for the afternoon. The feedback that we had been receiving was that it was difficult to stay awake in the warm room after a heavy lunch. I needed to keep the participants working. In addition, my original plan called for showing several rubrics using the projector. Unfortunately, we were expecting the possibility of an all-day power outage because of power sharing. I had to rethink.

In North America, I might have decided to make photocopies of the rubrics in question. That option was not available to me. Instead I changed things around. I copied six rubrics onto chart paper and used them for an activity. I had all the participants head outside for a 10 minutes active game on the topic. I created another activity to illustrate the necessity of sharing objectives with students.

Even though the power stayed on all day, I am glad that I didn’t need it. Copying the rubrics out was a lot of work, but in the end, it was a better activity. Working within the constraints and challenges forced me to think harder about my approach. I am proud of the workshop that resulted. I certainly will make me reconsider my classroom lessons. I also think that I will be less stressed on days when the photocopier is out of order.

On to Naivasha!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wonderful Conversations

This week’s sessions have flown by. At times it seems like we have barely scratched the surface, and I begin to wonder whether any of these teachers will have an opportunity to use what little they have had a chance to learn. At other times, I have a brighter perspective on what we have managed to accomplish.

John has got the computers at the SUBA centre working at their optimal levels. Software has been installed, viruses eliminated, and RAM added from defunct machines as well as various other adjustments. A wireless network has been set up, as well as an eGranary Internet in a box. It is now truly a resource centre that can help teachers, as well as the rest of the community.

Teachers who had very limited experience with computers at the beginning of the week have learned basic skills, experienced PowerPoint, used cameras (digital still and video), and learned to use a browser to search for information on the eGranary. They have also done some hard thinking in various pedagogy workshops that are appropriate to ICT integration, but may be equally useful in their classrooms right away.

The most important thing that has come out of this week may be the connections that we have made with the teachers here. This is the first year of a four-year program. There are so many talented, and thoughtful teachers that I hope will return next year to continue building on what we have begun.

I have had so many wonderful conversations with inspiring teachers this week. It is hard to believe that tomorrow will be our last day in Mbita. My heart is already heavy at the thought of leaving. As we left South Africa last month, we could extract promises to keep in contact via email. With the lack of connectivity here, this is not realistic.

It has been a special pleasure to chat with Catherine, Dorothy and Fautuma. Catherine and Dorothy especially have taught me about what everyday life is like as a mother and a teacher in Kenya. I will treasure the insights they have given me into their lives, and the moments we have shared. They are gifted, talented teachers and strong women, I am sure that they are wonderful role models for the girls in their lives. I will miss speaking with each of them. Each one is a beautiful, strong woman and amazing, thoughtful teacher. I hope that we will find a way to keep in touch and I look forward to a day when we will meet again.

I am sure that I will cry when the workshop ends tomorrow.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Testing Culture

As we were visiting classes last week, the students were writing exams. The students here write a great number of exams. They write national exams at certain grade levels, practice exams for the national exams, and of course, local exams. When I chatted with a few teachers today about how to evaluate students, tests and written homework assignments were the two suggested assessment methods

The national testing program definitely puts pressure on the teachers here. Student grades on these tests determine what kind of high school the students are eligible to attend. The best marks get into the best secondary schools. Student eligibility for university is also determined by grades on national exams. Students who do not score high enough will not get into university. Schools are judged by the success of their students on these exams. There is a tremendous orientation toward preparing students for these exams.

I think that this is creating a testing culture. The school system is revolving around the tests rather than the learning. When this level of importance is placed on exams, it is difficult to appreciate the place of other forms of assessment. It will be difficult to convince teachers of the benefits of cooperative learning and project work. It takes a leap of faith to try new approaches and trust that, with better learning taking place, the students will perform even better on the exams.

I am hopeful, however. One teacher, in particular, expressed things very well after today’s sessions. She said, “So, we are killing our students.” She gets it, and after just one day! I hope that the conversations will continue and that we will be able to convince several to challenge this culture of testing and try some new approaches to evaluation.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

More Similar Than You'd Think

In visiting the schools, one of the things that has become clear is that many of the challenges they face are similar, albeit to a greater degree, to those experienced by North American schools.
  • Many children come to school hungry and cannot concentrate on learning.
  • The classrooms are over-crowded, although clearly, 50 students per class represents greater over-crowding than is typical in N.A.
  • There are not enough textbooks to go around, although one book for four or more children represents a greater need than is typical in N.A.
  • There is never enough money from the government, although few North American schools resort to hiring extra teachers paid by the community.
  • Drugs are a concern everywhere.
  • Students must travel great distances to attend school, although few students in N.A. leave home at 5:00 am to walk two hours to school and return home at 7:00 pm.
  • Parents have difficulties paying school fees.

In this area, the main economic activity is fishing. The only education required is enough literacy to read and sign a contract and enough numeracy to count money. The men fish at night and women go down to the shores in the morning to get fish to sell for the day. The fish populations in the lake are getting smaller. Women form relationships with the men who supply them with fish to sell. The men move around a great deal following the fish leading to quite a spread of HIV/AIDS. The result is that many children are orphaned. Many stay with relatives who have little interest in their education.

The biggest difference may be the challenges facing the “girl-child,” or “girl-learner,” in this area. There are great pressures on girls to drop out of school before graduation. Girls are often responsible for helping with meal preparation and bringing water from the lake. These responsibilities make it difficult to be at school on time or to do any studying at home. In looking at the top academic grades at one school, we noticed that the top girl had an average that was 2 letter grades below that of the top boy(C instead of A). Also, parents often do not wish to invest in a girl’s education because they fear she will become pregnant before graduation and waste the investment. A teacher at one of the island schools explained that girls who are sent to collect fish often meet fishermen who give them money for small things they need (sanitary items, food,…). They decide that this is a man who can support them and that they should get married. They leave school and get married as young as 13 years old. I don’t think that girls in 7th grade at home could even imagine a life like this.

Continuing to wrap my mind around how we will help these teachers to help their learners through ICT. Lots to think about. Tomorrow, thoughts on a testing culture

Friday, July 31, 2009

On to Kenya

A week ago, we arrived in Kenya, and at this point, we have made our way to Mbita. This is a remote area by the shores of Lake Victoria. We are staying in a family home and getting to experience many local foods.

We have spent the last three days visiting schools in the area. For 2 days, we travelled in the back of a pick-up truck. Today, we travelled by boat to visit schools on even more remote islands in Lake Victoria. We have had the chance to speak with many students at various grade levels as well as their teachers.

I have been taking it all in, but am having difficulty processing it all. These schools do not even have electricity, and most are a long way from having even one computer. It will be a real challenge to make next week’s ICT workshops meaningful to the teachers who will attend.

So many thoughts are swirling around in my head, I cannot be coherent about them. I will post again over the weekend when I have had a chance to assimilate what I have seen.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Beyond words,…but I’ll try. (Or, Week 3 Reflection)

Today was an incredible day. In many ways, it is beyond words, but I want to try to write a few of my thoughts.

I spent a second day at Mkhanyiseli Primary School in a grade 7 class. It was such a special day! I was able to put a Flip video camera into the hands of 3 students and watch them explore their school with it. We even had a chance to learn to edit some of the footage together. In the afternoon, the whole class sang for me. It was beautiful to watch them. At the very end of the day, one student stood and said a very eloquent thank-you. Another gave me a long, touching thank-you letter. As the students left, the girls wanted hugs, and I worked my way through 4 different handshakes with the boys. Words do fail me at this point to describe how meaningful this all was, and how much of a connection I feel with these learners after just 2 days together.

Driving away from the school, I suddenly realized that this was my last trip through the Township. I have become used to seeing the colourful hodge-podge of structures that form most of the buildings in the Township. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly noticed the teeming life and the great poverty that are in this area, but it has become a part of our routine to see it each day. It felt unexpectedly urgent that I take note and remember what I was seeing today.

Tomorrow will be our last day in Cape Town. We will visit with partner organisations and say our goodbyes, then do a little quiet shopping before returning home to pack our things. Tomorrow, we will also say goodbye to Ian, the only team member not continuing on to Kenya. I am excited to go to Kenya, but I feel sad to be leaving South Africa. It seems as though the time has flown by, and it feels like there is so much more to learn here. Perhaps I will be able to return someday and continue my education.

On to Kenya!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Techie-Geek Heaven

What a great session with the EduNova facilitators today! We condensed about 4 workshops into a 3-hour period. We worked on integrating multimedia projects into the curriculum. During the session, we worked on projects using Presentation Software, Digital Storytelling, Video, and desktop publishing. At various times, we had digital cameras, cell phones, microphones, and Flip video cameras in use. Each team of two facilitators worked on one type of project with a Teachers Without Borders team member to guide them. They will get together next week and teach each other what they have learned.

It was a terrific, hands-on way to learn this type of integration. It was also techie-geek heaven. We were working with a group of people who are comfortable with technology, so we could move ahead at a brisk pace without overwhelming them. We were able to put all the toys in their hands and have them play with them. The small group jigsaw let us work closely and go deeper into the project. All in all, very satisfying.

On the down side, internet connectivity has been a challenge. The school we visited today had reached their cap for the month. This meant that we could not do a second session using GoogleApps to collaboratively design workshops. There was plenty to do in the multimedia workshop to fill out the day, though. The 3G mobile internet sticks that we have been using at home are out of minutes too. This is more frustrating as it impacts both our planning for Kenya and our contact with family and friends at home.

Looking forward to meeting with some educators and learners in the classroom tomorrow. I hope that I will be able to take lots of pictures!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Week 2 Reflections

Well, another week has flown by. So many things happened this week, it is hard to remember them all. We started the week with a workshop for principals of the teachers we met in the first week. It was interesting to hear their perspective on things. The principal’s “boot-camp” lasted 2 days. In many ways, I would have liked for us to participate in more than a single session. The principals can do so much to drive technology integration. I hope that we were able to set the seeds with a few of them.

The rest of the week was working with ICT facilitators. As I looked around on the first morning, I noticed that the body language was cold, closed, and skeptical. Despite a day fraught with technological challenges (5 power failures, extremely slow (and sometimes non-existent) Internet connectivity, as well as other glitches) the body language opened up and there was a positive atmosphere. By the end of the week, I really had the sense that we had helped. The facilitators had a better appreciation of the challenges facing educators to integrate ICT in a meaningful way. They also learned about a lot of useful tools. I hope that they will continue to collaborate and share with each other in the weeks and months to come.

We also encouraged them to start building banks of shared lessons created by the educators they work with. I think that doing this would have a very positive impact. Educators will lighten their planning load, and benefit from different ways of thinking about effective integration. Each of the facilitators works with many teachers, sometimes in as many as 35 schools. By working with this group, we have had the potential to affect a large numbers of educators in South Africa. I hope that this will bear some fruit.

As for what I learned this week…

1. The technical difficulties caused me to reflect on how difficult it is to be a novice integrator and have to deal with a lesson not working. A couple of these types of experiences is enough to put any educator off. We preached the need to have a “plan B” ready to launch in case of such problems. The reality is, however, that “plan B” is never what you really wanted – that was “plan A.” In working with laptops that are available when I need them, I realize that, after a little trouble shooting, my “plan B” is often the “no-tech” lesson I had planned next. I then work out the tech issues when the students are not around, and try again another time – maybe even later the same day. I have that flexibility because I can shift the schedule as needed. A teacher with limited lab time does not have this luxury. What I realized is that teachers in my own school do not know how to quickly trouble shoot and move on. I think that I need to be conscious about these moments in my own class and discuss the explicitly with my colleagues.

2. Don’t invest too much time in planning, but plan for the unexpected. The schedule of these workshops, like that in my classroom, is fluid. Things change, and it does not make sense to be too heavily invested in planning something that may not happen. On the other hand, when working in unreliable situations, it is necessary to plan for the unexpected. Plans B and even C make frequent appearances this week. I am still working on juggling this balance between not too much, and having options, but I am more conscious of it.

I am sure I learned a myriad of other things, but these are the two that I am thinking of now. For the moment, I am off to bed. We have a busy week of planning, working with teachers in their classrooms, as well as will the facilitators.

Friday, July 17, 2009

IWB Thoughts

Ian and I gave a workshop on Interactive Whiteboards for the Khanya facilitators today. It was interesting on many levels.

At some point during our first week, we were told that the Khanya facilitators were responsible for training the teachers to use the IWBs. The teachers clamoured for training, with most having little to no previous experience with a board. On Monday, we were told that selected Khanya facilitators are highly trained in the boards and passing their knowledge on to the others. As a result, we expected very little interest in this morning’s session.

Today’s session was made optional to help out the facilitators who had travelled large distances. We only expected about 15-20 people to be there. In fact, there were closer to 35 people. That kind of changed the way we had hoped to get everyone interacting with the board. On the other hand, I was really pleased to see that kind of enthusiasm.

I think, based on a straw poll, that the turnout was motivated by the fact that most Khanya facilitators seem not to have much experience with the boards. It is difficult to train someone in something that you are not completely comfortable with. If the educators are asking these facilitators for training, I can see why they would want a little more information.

Ian showed a Wiimote board as a less expensive way of having an IWB. There was lots of interest. We than discussed how to best use the tools to create sound, pedagogical lessons. I hope that the participants got what they came for. I am left with the feeling, however, that they remain unprepared to support the type of lessons that can really make the most of the power of an IWB. Maybe they are better prepared than they were, though, and maybe they will follow-up with some of the internet links we gave them. Maybe they will also increase the access by building a few Wiimote boards too. I will be crossing my fingers.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Half-Blood Prince

Saw Harry Potter tonight. So pleased that we were able to get out to the show. Naturally, they left tons of stuff out (I mean, have your seen the book? The movie was less than 3 hours!). That being said, I thought they remained quite true to the story. They didn’t seem to make unnecessary changes or anything. Made me laugh, say “awwwww,” jump in surprise, and shed a tear. Must have been pretty good. I enjoyed it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Curriculum Delivery vs Learning

We are in the middle of our week of workshops for facilitators. Today’s menu included a visioning workshop. When asked about the main goal or mission statement for the organization, the participants came up with a statement about getting computers and training to the school to allow for “curriculum delivery through ICT.”

Think about that for a minute. Curriculum delivery. No learning need ever take place in the scope of this vision. As long as the curriculum is delivered using ICT, it is a success – not matter if it is actually received! This vision does not even suggest at the acquisition of any kind of technology skills by teachers of students.

For the next school year, I want to keep this in mind when planning my lessons. Am I delivering content, or planning for development of competencies and learning? Am I suggesting that the technology will teach (teach-nology?) or have I designed a lesson for inquiry and construction of knowledge? Good questions to ask myself.

Busy day tomorrow. We are all hoping for great connectivity for various activities. It has been spotty at best this week. Cross your fingers that all goes well, otherwise we can demonstrate the interactive tool while everyone just watches. Better have a back-up plan, I guess.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


We visited the Cape of Good Hope today. Along the way we stopped in Simon’s Town and saw some penguins. I brought along one of the Flip video cameras that were donated to leave in Africa and was able to capture some video footage to take back for students at home to work with.

I often say that teachers do all the things we wish our learners would not. In workshops, they read ahead, call out without raising their hands, talk amongst themselves when a presenter is speaking, etc. At one point on today’s trip, we pulled over to the side of the road to see some baboons. Typical of teachers not doing what we would expect of our learners, we did not read the signs carefully enough. We got out of the car so that we could get better pictures. As we moved away from the car, the alpha male of the baboons strode up to the driver’s side door. Ignoring the partially open window, he stood on his hind legs, grasped the handle and opened the door. Before we could even react, he was inside, riffling through our things. As we opened and closed doors, honked the horn, and generally shouted and shooed him out, he grabbed a team member’s backpack and dragged it to the middle of the road. Much to the delight of other passers-by, he proceeded to fling its contents onto the road as he searched for the food inside. When he was done, we managed to retrieve the bag and continue on our way with a great deal of laughing. It was one of today’s highlights. Lesson learned: pay attention to the signs.
What we reached th Cape of Good Hope, we climbed up a lookout and stood at the most South-western point on the African continent. A storm was moving in as we climbed the steps to the look-out. At times, the wind felt as though it could blow us away. At the top, I actually closed my eyes and spread my arms. I concentrated on just feeling the wind. It was wild, rough, and strangely cleansing. I thought about the early explorers who first rounded the Cape of Good Hope in search of a sea route to the East. Did they put in to shore as they rounded the point? Did they climb the same lookout and cast their gaze to the east? Did they have a celebration on the beach when they realized their success?

It was wet, windy weather, but all in all, a great trip.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Reflections on Week 1

The first week of workshops is finished. When we arrived home, I went for a walk on the beach and looked back on the week. Here are a few reflections on things that I have learned from these wonderful South African Educators.

1. Slow down and take it easy. I realized this week that it has been a long time since I have worked with teachers who are beginner and novice computer users. The teachers I work with at home have regular access to computers. Even those who are most timid can check their email, type in Word, save, etc. They may not be speed demons or display much confidence, but they know how to navigate around their machines and find what they need. This means that introducing something new is less foreign.

It took me a few days to connect the dots. I was thinking of the learners in our workshop like the timid technology users at home. I was speaking in simple terms, but ones which teachers at home would understand. I need to remember how to slow down even more, do fewer steps at once. I was out of touch with learners who were excited just to get some hands on experience with computers. I am glad to have finally made that connection.

2. Prolong the conversation. Walking around the lab, I popped in on various people as they worked or when they asked for help. I found that I often gave an expeditious answer and turned away quite quickly to help someone else. As I did so, the person I had helped often grabbed my hand and drew me back. They had more to ask or discuss. I had some wonderful exchanges during those moments when I turned back to the conversation that I had considered complete. It makes me wonder if I move on too quickly when circulating in my own class as well. What exchanges am I missing by moving on instead of lingering and perhaps asking another question?

3. Taking risks is hard. The first time is easier when someone is there to hold your hand. Some of the things we asked of the learners this week were a little scary for them. Those who were not familiar with anything we were doing really had to stretch themselves. Sometimes they just needed someone there with them to reassure them that they were on the right path. Just like taking a big jump off a rock is easier when you hold hands and jump together, any stretching of self is easier when you are not alone. The next time, jumping alone seems more achievable. Sometimes, I think that we forget this step when we are trying to teach students to be independent, confident learners. I hope that the Ning will help these educators to hold each other’s hands as they explore their developing ICT skills.

4. No matter how great the stuff you want to share, your message will not get through if there is too much of it. We had a great many things that we felt were important at the beginning of this week, and we could not envision leaving any of them out. We cut each session shorter to fit more sessions in. The problem was that there was just too much for the educators to take in. They could not longer appreciate what we were working on because we moved from one topic to the next too quickly. There was little time to consolidate skills. They were on information overload. When we went back to longer sessions and focussed on fewer topics, the educators seemed to take much more from the workshop. I wonder how often I throw too much information at my students (like when we need to get through a certain section of the math textbook)? The “I hope some of it sticks,” is not was I want to be using in my class. Less information with time to absorb it is clearly the way to go.
5. Call them what they are: Learners. I love that these teachers call their students learners. The business of students is to study. The business of learners is to learn. I want learners in my classroom.

So, there are some thoughts on the first week. When I picture the faces of the learners from this week, it makes me smile. I have felt honoured to sit shoulder-to-shoulder and learn along with them.

Serendipitous Timing

Today was the day for discussing issues of access to ICT, and the formation of ICT committees in the schools. I had arranged to have a Skype call with someone who supports and coordinates ICT Integration at the school board level in my home school board. We were waiting to start the Skype call on the big screen when he dropped off Skype.

As I tried to contact him by email to find out what was wrong, Sharon Peters (One of the team leaders) jumped on Twitter to see if anyone from her network was available. Just then, my laptop started ringing. My parents, with whom I had not spoken since arriving in South Africa, had noticed that I was online and decided to give me a call. My father, who sits on the local school board at home, agreed to step in and have an impromptu chat with the participants.

It is nice how things just work out sometimes!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What a Treat

I was able to listen to a group a educators in a session this afternoon sing a song called “Shoshanna”. This is a song that is sung all over Africa during soccer matches and the like.. It was a wonderful mingling of the rich, powerful, happy voices of our colleagues. The rhythms of it went straight through to my core. I feel so lucky to have been there listening and watching.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

First Impressions of South Africa

Well, I have been in South Africa, specifically Cape Town, for a little over a day now. I am here with a Teachers Without Borders – Canada team who will provide ICT training to for teachers from schools in the Townships.

While I am still trying to take it all in and assimilate what I have been seeing.

We visited the school where we will be doing our first workshops (on school holiday right now). It was incredible. There was a big fence with razor wire around the outside of the building and parking lot. There is another locked fence to get into the school and play area. All the classroom doors face an outdoor play yard. Each door has double locks and the windows have bars on them. The door to the computer lab is like a bank vault door. It really puts things into perspective.

Our school had discussions this year about whether the front door of the school building should be locked at all times or not. Kids bring iPods to school and leave them in their unlocked lockers. Various bits of technology are scattered around the building. I don’t think that kids at home could even imagine going to school in an environment like this.

I can’t help thinking about the motivation that must be required in education here. Re-read the description of the school and think about whether you would feel welcomed as either a teacher or a student. As a student, what will keep you coming back to school day after day? As a teacher, consider walking your class down to a computer lab that is locked up like a bank vault. Imagine getting your class of 45 students into the small lab with two students per machine. How would you feel if the bandwidth for the month was already used up, and your lesson would not be possible until next month? When problems crop up, as they inevitably do with technology, would you have the tenacity to troubleshoot? And, yet we will fill a room with 50 educators, during their holidays, who are committed to getting technology into the hands of their students. A big problem here is getting kids to stay in school. Clearly, technology can be used to promote this, but just as clearly it will require quite a commitment from teachers to make this happen.

We spent the afternoon visiting Townships. We got out of the car in Langa Township and visited some of the homes there, then drove through two or three more Townships. Even though I have seen pictures and movies before, they do not do justice to the real thing. People have built shelter and homes out of whatever materials they had available. Tiny boxes, smaller than a single room in a North American house, are homes for entire families. The guide called these homes "informal housing" but that does not even come close to describing them. It was quite a contrast to drive down the street and seeing areas of informal housing next to relatively affluent areas of larger, more permanent constructions with well kept gardens. Continuing down the same street lead to smaller, simple government subsidized homes, then a return to the informal housing. It was unbelievable how much it could change in a short distance.

I am still trying to absorb and process a lot of it. Can’t wait to see what new adventures tomorrow will bring.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


End of the school year activities are in full swing, but my attention is torn between my class and my upcoming Teachers Without Borders (TWB) trip.

Last night was the final WOW2 (Women of Web 2.0) podcast of the school year. The topic was TWB and our team was invited to participate. It is a podcast that has meant a lot to me in terms of hearing new ideas and expanding my horizons beyond the area in which I live. It was exciting to be on the other side, as it were.

My only frustration was not being able to get into the chat room. I went to school to get to a high-speed connection, only to find that the chat is not accessible. Ah well.

Listening to the other team members and talking about our trip, it was very real. I can hardly believe that school will be over in 4 weeks, and we will be leaving in just 5 weeks! I have so much left to do – not the least of which is preparing my four year-old for my extended absence. Or was that preparing myself for my absence from my four year-old? Still, I can’t wait - what an experience this will be!

Keeping Up

Wow, took a look at my blog this morning and realized how long it has been...

In case anyone out there actually notices, I have written a couple of posts that I meant to write and back dated them to when the notes and the thinking were from.

New resolutions to keep current!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Teachers Without Borders

Teachers Without Borders!

I am so excited! I have been accepted on a team for Teachers Without Borders Canada! I can hardly believe it. I followed Sharon Peter’s blog when she went last summer and I thought that it sounded like a fantastic experience. I applied in the hopes that I might be considered, but I suspected that there might be much stronger candidates.

I will be spending three and a half weeks in South Africa and three weeks in Kenya. We will be giving workshops in ICT and visiting schools to help develop their school ICT planning teams.

I hope that I can make some connections with teachers there and bring them back into my classroom at home. My mind is spinning with the possible projects that we could collaborate on next year.

I know that bandwidth will be an issue and that I may not be able to get online as much as I would like. I plan to blog about my experiences this summer. If I cannot post over the summer, I will write anyways and back-date the posts when I get back.

Wish me luck!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Interactive Whiteboards

I’ve been reading and thinking quite a bit about Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs) this month. I’ve had one in my classroom for 5 months now, and I want to make sure that I am using it well.

What does it mean to use an IWB well? Is it becoming an integral part of my teaching? Are the kids touching it regularly? Are the lessons that I am using it for “interactive”? I think that these are questions that I will need to continue asking myself over the course of the year.

I have realized that it is easy to put stuff on the board and talk about it, but that isn’t really the kind of teaching I want in my class. So I should be aiming for more inter-active lessons. This raises the issue of time. I was chatting with a colleague who bemoaned the fact that it takes so long for the kids to come up to the board, it is easier to run the board herself. I try to remind myself that this is not a big toy for me, and the kids will not get nearly as much out of an interactive lesson if they are simply supplying answers while I interact. Besides, the time it takes for one student to walk to the front is good thinking time for those who need to mull things over a little longer.

As long as I keep monitoring my use, I think that I will continue to find new and exciting ways to use this tool. Now, I must set about modelling this approach for my fellow teachers. By March, we will have IWBs in every classroom, and I would like to have most of them being used effectively every day.