This is the first of a couple of guest posts from two U.S. educators who had a rare opportunity to attend the Microsoft Partners in Learning Innovative Education Forum for the Middle East & Africa hosted in Aqada, Jordan last month. Here’s a dispatch from Doug Bergman, a high school computer science teacher from Charleston, South Carolina. Doug was a winner at the U.S. Innovative Education Forum in July and will be one of ten educators representing the U.S. at the Partners in Learning Global Forum in November. You can learn more about Doug’s winning project here.
This past July, I was honored to have been one of nine teachers selected to represent the United States at the upcoming Partners in Learning Global Forum in Washington, DC in November where we will be spending a week interacting with hundreds of innovative teachers from over 75 countries. Over 150 of us will be competing for 4 awards in each of 5 categories related to innovation, technology, and 21st century learning.
Microsoft invited two of those U.S. winners to be guest presenters at the Middle East & Africa Innovative Educator Forum held in Jordan. The next thing we knew, Margaret Noble, an art teacher from California (doing amazing things with technology, math, and art) and I were on a journey to an area of the world neither of us had ever been.
The forum was very much like the U.S. Innovative Educator Forum we had been involved with in July in Redmond, WA, so we were very familiar with the world class expectations of the event. The Microsoft’s Partners in Learning team in partnership with the Jordanian Ministry of Education hosted the 3 day event in Aqaba, Jordan, which I can best describe as one of the most beautiful places in the world. Each day was work-hard play-hard…full of presentations, speakers, workshops, panel discussions, sharing of ideas, sightseeing, incredible food, traditional dance, and even an occasional dip in the Red Sea.
But, I found myself more intrigued by my new friends from around the world. Never have I been in one place with the rare opportunity to meet so many talented people from so many cultures, religions, and countries (over 200 educators from over 20 countries, each who had already won their regional events). Over those 3 days, I made some great friends, especially connecting with Joel from Uganda, Mandeep from the U.K, Nourah from Saudi Arabia, Louise and Kim from South Africa, and Saeed from Ghana. And of course the teacher in us already has begun planning collaborative projects. In fact, Nourah will be one of my online judges in next semester’s business presentation panel for my Computer Science class and I am already planning some Skype calls between my classes and those of Saeed and Joel.
One of the unexpected realizations of the experience was that in that room full of people of differing religions, cultures, economic diversity, age, gender, and color, we were really just a bunch of teachers, passionate about what we do, eager to share our own ideas and hear about what others are doing. You could literally see the stereotypes we had in our minds vanishing as we noticed the same gleam in all of our eyes as we told stories about our innovative experiences, students, schools, and friends back home. (to the left Doug pictured with Nourah a computer science teacher from Saudi Arabia)
And with incredible communication tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and Skype those relationships will continue long after the conference ended. In fact, it is just beginning.
There is a side to Microsoft that is as valuable as any of their software products…and that is their commitment to education. Events such as these I am involved with now, tools they make available to educators, connections they help build, and recognition they help provide—all of that will help elevate the quality of educators and education worldwide.
Computer Science Teacher, Port-Gaud High School
Charleston, South Carolina