Anne Lambert from San Diego, California retired from her formal teaching and librarian career this year. She spoke to me about her career in global collaborative learning and what it has meant to her and her students.
When and why did you join iEARN?
I grew up fifteen minutes from the US-Mexico border in the ‘60’s, and I was always interested in people and cultures. As a teacher I arranged day trips to Tijuana, Mexico, worldwide pen pals, and student exchange programs in Ensenada, Mazatlan, and Europe. By the 90’s I saw the internet as an opportunity for students to travel virtually and to learn languages, but the logistics of our connections were not smooth. iEARN brought not only other classes ready to participate in academic projects; it provided inspiring and motivating projects that could apply to all our required subjects. I joined iEARN as an individual teacher long before I convinced our school to join. I think of iEARN and of myself as a matchmaker / cheerleader for the ideas of others.
What has iEARN meant to you?
iEARN offered me and my students fascinating new people, new perspectives, and a reason to learn technology. “Same here, same there,” proclaimed a teacher from Uzbekistan, referring to weather in San Diego and in Termez. But nothing was ever really the same after we first made contact with him and his students. The change in teaching environment iEARN facilitated made each day special; iEARN so motivated students that I included international connections whenever I could.
I found iEARN to be welcoming and empowering, reaching across distance, language, ethnicity, wealth, and academic achievement. Student by student, the worldwide classroom of each iEARN project broke down stereotypes and invited our whole community to experience the power of communication. As an African teen wrote about his project,“Our aim is to create awareness and to help bring people from all walks of life together.” That was certainly more than a few steps above a student saying, “I finished page 89.”
What are some of the projects you have been involved in?
As teacher librarian I worked with all teachers and students at our K-12 school. In Learning Circles, I have shared lessons with children, teens, and adults in Bahrain, Belarus, Cameroon, Canada, Greece, India, Kenya, Korea, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Spain, Taiwan, the United States, Uzbekistan, and Zimbabwe—a remarkable world tour for my many students who rarely even travel across town. I made Learning Circles, for elementary and secondary, a yearly event in the library and AVID classes I taught, and that way students could always share whatever they were doing at the moment—sports, technology, books, jobs, music, etc.
With younger students, our classes grew tulips and daffodils with classes in other latitudes and longitudes, and kids realized what it was to communicate via picture and words with people we did not see in person. The whole school K-12 did the Side by Side art, and we dazzled the parents with portraits that filled the auditorium. Talking Kites became a physics class project and also inspired the whole school to be a force for peace at a time when many military dads were in Iraq. Scholars Against Failure was an interesting exchange about how hard some teens were working to finish school and find jobs; our struggling students really found a place in international projects with this one. Middle school students did a creative writing project which really showed them how to improve and inspired them to work harder. A few music students recorded a song for a music exchange project and for the Daniel Pearl events. Our My Hero Learning Circles work became part of our school’s accreditation report.
What’s been the impact on student learning and their worldview?
Students learn not only to evaluate and to create, but also to open their hearts. We have had live conversations on Skype that rival and reach the intensity of sport, or art as students find ways to communicate with language, writing, and mime. “Do you like this? Which one do you want?” a Taiwanese student asked on Skype, holding up a stick of sugar cane and a wax apple for a fifth grade food project. Our students were stumped, but they shared a good taco recipe.
What has been the impact on your teaching career?
iEARN really gave me a way to teach technology and research that fueled my own idealism. It gave me a virtual community that brought new purpose, perspective, and passion to my teaching. Linking students to others around the world set up a new kind of learning environment that motivated students and set high standards. Whether it was through a pack of letters from Spain or a shared movie-making project with Mexico, or a videoconference with Taiwan, we actively connected with people we would have never met without iEARN. I appreciated sharing with teachers, and I stay in contact with many of them.
Thanks to iEARN for bringing to world to our classroom.
You’ve been such active an participant in global collaborative learning. We don’t want to let you go! Will you continue to be involved as you enjoy retirement?
I’m not thinking of moving out of my virtual world community yet; I still keep up with friends I made in iEARN. Two of my international teacher friends have visited me in the US, and I’m helping other US teachers learn to connect. I also have a new project to add to the mix in the future; my goal is to find ways to put teachers and students together with purpose.
Thank you Anne, we look forward to hearing more!