Saturday, February 28, 2015

EduDay with Google in Guatemala

I am sitting in a hotel room right now in Guatemala just thinking about how I got here and what I learned.  It all started with Emily Roth, of Our Global Friendships.  Emily sent an email to us asking us to send pictures for her 
husband's company, Pixsell.  They were having a conference in Guatemala and wanted to display all these classes around the world.  As an aside in the email she casually mentioned that if any of us were willing, we could go present at the conference, all expenses paid.  I, adventurous person I am, jumped at the opportunity.  

Everything happened so quickly and, before I knew it, I was writing a keynote, my first, and preparing a presentation about connecting with Google drive. Plane reservations arrived, information about pick up at the airport, confirmations about the technology set up, and I was on my way.

What I didn't realize was how amazing and important this conference really was. This is what is says on the Pixsell website: 

"At Pixsell, we seek to improve the world through technological innovations.  We challenge the impossible with our technological expertise and a commitment to deliver constant value to people and organizations."

Sounds very...yeah.  But I spent time with Pixsell these past few days.  Luis Bolanos, Emily's husband, and his partner and founder of the company, Joseph Tanpoco, really believe they can change the world.  They put technology into the hands of educators in countries that have very little.  Guatemala is their fourth country.  

Guatemala is a beautiful country with some of the friendliest people I've ever met.  But 2/3 of the children live below the poverty line.  Children often work instead of going to school.  Here is more:

  • 75%: The illiteracy rate in many rural areas of Guatemala
  • Two-thirds: The proportion of Guatemalan children living in poverty
  • $4 a day: The average daily earnings of a rural, Guatemalan family
  • Nine out of ten: The proportion of schools in rural Guatemala that lack books
  • 60%:  The percentage of entry-level jobs in Guatemala that require computer skills
  • 79%: The percentage of Guatemalan middle- and high-school students who lacked the opportunity to learn to use a computer prior to the arrival of our program
  • One out of ten: The proportion of rural Guatemalans who attend middle school
  • 1.8: The average number of years an indigenous Guatemalan woman stays in school

So when they decided to come to Guatemala, they set up this technology conference, EduDay with Google at Guatemala, to introduce the power of Google to educators and the government. They sent out 200 invitations and 500 people showed up.  Most came with no computers.  Many traveled far to get here.  All were excited, skeptical, and enthusiastic.  This all happened because of Pixsell and one lone Google Certified Teacher with an action plan.  Michelle Urdiales is the first person in all of Central America to be a GCT.  Her little action plan was to bring Google to Guatemala. She and Pixsell pulled off an amazing feat!
So what did I see here?

1. A renewed vigor for the excitement of learning.  The educators I met and spoke with were excited to try all of these great ideas. 

2. A whole new level of PLN.  Michelle, Luis, Joseph, Marybell Rodriguez and Jocelyne Perreard, GCTs from Mexico, Pablo Barrios, the publicity guru behind the whole day, Otto Diaz and Mario Estuardo, part of Pixsell, and David Deeds, ex-pat extraordinaire.  I spent so much time with all of these people and was made to feel very welcome and very much a part of it all.  We will be in touch always.

3. Marvin, our tour guide for climbing the active Pacaya Volcano.  This father of three has such a love for his country and for the volcano that it was hard not to get caught up in it all.

4. Rene, our driver, who stayed with us, helped us, carried bags, translated conversations, found a bank to get Quetzels and went above and beyond anything he was supposed to do.

5. A new appreciation for all I have and all I can reach through technology.  Without my PLN, without Google, without support from my district and my family, none of this would have been possible.  

I admire all the people I met.  They are better people than I, living what I know I cannot, working hard against incredible odds, to make things better for others. I am grateful to have been able to spend a few days in their company and happy that I will connect with them all for a long time to come.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Why do we teach?

I am an idealist.  I really do believe that things will always work out for the best.  Most of the time, that feeling does well for me.  But, lately, I am finding it very hard to keep my idealism in education. As much as I believe that, someday, somehow, things will work out in the classroom, I am finding it very hard to believe that I will be around to see it.

Everyone always talks about cycles in education.  If you don't like an idea, just wait a year or two and it will go away.  If you love something and it is no longer the way to do things, just wait.  But always, always, there was a feeling among my fellow teachers that what we do matters, that we can improve things.  I don't feel it anymore.

This came in the mail yesterday.  

That's my governor.  I'm so proud. (Read dripping sarcasm).  And I don't think that my governor is alone in his feelings.  

Originally I was going to write a blog about how discouraged I am and how much I want to leave education.  But I decided I needed a boost and maybe you do, too.  So here are some things to remember.  I am numbering them just for Paul Bogush and Dean Shareski.  Thanks for the idea, Paul.

1. We teach children because we want children to love learning!
         We teach reading so children will learn to love to read.  Not so they can do well on the reading test.  We want children to be excited to pick up the latest book and discuss it with their friends.  We want them to not even hesitate to read a book to help them revamp their heating system or fix up an old car.  We want them to pour over a travel guide before visiting a new place just to see what they shouldn't miss.  If we can get them to that point, then who cares how they do on the tests?

2. We teach children because we want the world to be better!
         If we keep our world small, their ideas will be small.  If we only show our
children what they already see every day, we will never change the world.  But if we show them what is across the street, down the road, in the next town, in the next country, across the ocean...we open up their world to bigger, greater ideas.  How will they help make the world better when the only world they know is the one they see every day?  How will they know what needs to be done?  How will they know how many collaborators they can have if they only see the few in their own classroom?

3. We teach children because we love watching that spark of learning take place!
          I have never, in all my years of teaching, heard a child gasp with excitement over a test prep time.  I have never seen a child cheer when I said, "Take out your workbook."  And I have never had a child forget it was lunch time while we were practicing for a test.  But ask them to write to the governor to change the testing laws, and pencils fly.  Ask them to research the problem with the rhinos in Africa and they stop watching the clock.  Ask them to write a diary entry about their pretend trip to Oregon during the 1800s and they forget they have to go to the bathroom.  I love lessons when, as soon as I say it is time to clean up, the line for the bathroom starts to form.  

I have to believe that, if I teach my children to love to read and write and do math and explore and examine and research, then they will do well enough on the tests to have the governor leave me alone.  And if they don't, then they were being tested on the wrong thing and I don't care. 

 My kids want to come in early each day, stay late in the afternoon, not stop working for lunch, ask if they can continue work at home, break the rules about walking while reading, talk during lessons with each other because the topic is too exciting to sit quietly, and demand that we skip our writing lesson for the day so we can continue working on our Tall Tale videos and scripts (You know...writing the scripts for our videos).  And if all of that doesn't show that I am a competent teacher and my children are learning and being prepared for college and career, then I really don't belong in the classroom anymore.

What do you do to make it worthwhile to come to school each day?  What more can you do?