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.