For the past 25 years, iEARN educators, like Deanne McBeath from Trenton, New Jersey, have helped create an alternative to the “us vs. them, online vs. face-to-face, virtual vs. physical” construct.
Perhaps the zero-sum framing of online vs. face-to-face learning and virtual vs. physical exchange is inevitable. Resources are constrained. Our education system is not designed to change at the rate that new technologies are changing our lives. We are warned: Facebook can ruin study abroad. Evidence of the positive impacts of technology on teaching and learning and study abroad have been viewed skeptically for decades.
This zero-sum framing also extends to our government’s rhetoric that we must “out-educate” other countries and prepare our children to “out-compete” their peers around the world.
There are other ways to think about education, exchange, technology, and how we want to engage with people in other countries to make a meaningful contribution to the health and welfare of the planet and its people. Deanne shares her thoughts about her journey from an online course to Nyahururu, Kenya:
A quick report on an incredible journey to Kenya.
During the summer of 2011, while taking an online Global Collaboration course through iEARN, I met David Ngare. David is Head Teacher at Igwamiti Primary School in Nyahururu, Kenya. He was taking the course as well and although we had different objectives overall, we did decide to collaborate on the Teddy Bear Project through iEARN. Together we wrote up a project plan, involving 1st and 5th graders. The purpose of the Teddy Bear Project is to foster tolerance and understanding of different cultures through the exchange of teddy bears. The students compose diary entries, as if they were the bears, describing experiences in their new culture, which are ideally shared through the iEARN Teddy Bear Forum. It wasn’t long before it became apparent that David would not have the resources to obtain the bears. My dear friend, Ann Osborne, who already had a love of Kenya, purchased and shipped to Kenya six teddy bears sporting t-shirts with “Igwamiti Primary” emblazoned on the front.
Unfortunately, the first lesson was in the difficulty of sending parcels to a developing country. Though the U.S. Postal Service estimated delivery would take ten days, after two months, the package still had not arrived. After another two weeks, when we were just about to give up hope, we received an email from David that the bears had finally reached their postal destination. However, we were sadly informed that the Kenyan postmaster would not release the bears to David without his paying $30 in customs’ fees, a large sum for a struggling school.
Village Charter School used this as an opportunity to teach a middle school Social Studies class the effects of a food embargo and the power of the government and others to halt the delivery of goods and services.
We were able to fundraise the money necessary to “free” the bears and soon afterwards we received an account of the bears’ first night in their new land and were able to share this with all of our students at Village Charter School.
David, myself, and Ann have remained in close contact over the last few years; Igwamiti Primary is the sister school of Village Charter, with a bulletin board in the hall. (see photo). We have had numerous fundraisers for Igwamiti—selling bracelets and having Neon Dance Parties. Over spring break, I traveled with Ann, her-15 year-old daughter Emily, and 15-year-old Leah, to Kenya. David met us at the airport and spent the next 10 days with us. Five of those days were spent at Igwamiti Primary School.
It is hard to put into words the experience of being at the school. I felt as if I were at home. Through iEARN, we had already shared so many experiences, photographs, and stories. I was able to spend a couple of days doing professional development with the teachers. The school has a lab with 20 computers; however there is very limited access to the Internet and the electricity was out more than it was on! We brought a printer and a projector with us as gifts. Our professional development covered iEARN—we did some Skyping, the teachers did “My Name Around the World”, we talked about the Project-Based Learning and how the “Finding Solutions to Hunger” project through iEARN provided Village Charter with an opportunity to do a school wide PBL that culminated in an assembly attended by over 500 people.
Thank you iEARN for enriching my life!
Thank you, Deanne, Ann, David, and your students and families, for enriching ours.
Please join Deanne and fellow iEARN teacher Mary Brownell on Thursday, May 30th for a free, non-zero-sum, webinar, where they discuss how iEARN projects can bring real-life experience and meaning to the Common Core State Standards. Deanne and Mary will be pleased to share inspiring ways to think about teaching and learning with technology and global partners.