This is a guest post from Margaret Noble a Media Arts educator from High Tech High in San Diego, CA. Margaret who had the opportunity to participate in the Microsoft Partners in Learning Middle East & Africa Innovative Education Forum and collaborate with educators from across these Middle East & Africa. Margaret partnered with math educator David Stahnke and became a finalist at the U.S. Innovative Education Forum this July. They will be two of ten educators representing the U.S. at the Partners in Learning Global Forum in November. Learn more about their project here.
Reflection by Margaret Noble
On a Wednesday afternoon, I received an e-mail that there was a potential opportunity to attend a Microsoft Partners in Leaning conference with educators from 27 different Middle Eastern and African countries in Jordan. The only hitch was that I had to prepare to fly out in 5 days. Without hesitation, I pushed the send button with a return e-mail stating my enthusiastic, “Yes!” Wondering if I would be one of the lucky ones, I spend the late night hours rechecking my e-mail to find out if my dream would come true. The next morning, I groggily awake to a confirmation email that indeed, I am attending the Microsoft Partners in Learning conference in Jordan.
It is no light task to leave your classroom for a week, especially when school has only been in session for one week. It is a critical time of forming classroom norms and team building. As I scrambled for a substitute teacher, I also consulted with my students on how best to design their week ahead so they would have a positive experience without me. We collaborated and they sent me off with smiles – they wanted me to have this opportunity.
I packed my luggage and I waited for my plane ticket. I had no idea when I would be leaving but it didn’t matter – my heart was already there. In the very last hours before the conference would begin I receive my flight information. On Tuesday I leave in the morning by bus to the San Diego airport. I then fly from San Diego to Los Angeles, then to Italy and finally into Jordan for three nights. I stumble off a plane half awake and a friendly young Jordanian man takes me through customs and helps me to sort out my visa. Next, a four-hour bus ride to my hotel in Aqaba, Jordan - it is 1 AM and I am suddenly awake and excited.
The next morning, I am up and still catching my bearings. I enter a large breakfast hall with extraordinary new foods and I realize on first glance that I appear strikingly different from my peers. I am in drab western business attire but surrounded by magnificent colors, fabrics and cuts rarely seen in San Diego. But, everybody is new to each other and everybody is smiling and chatting. By the end of the day, I made meaningful connections with teachers from 8 countries. I was able to discuss with teachers that I would've never had the chance to learn about if it were not for this forum. And by the end of the conference, I was also able to talk to education leaders, government officials and other ambassadors to progressive education. It felt like a United Nations conference for education.
I presented my project to the entire group of 100+ educators and the walls came down even further between my comrades and me. No differences between teachers in the East or West as far as intention and goals for student experience. We all want our students to be happy in their learning process. We all believe in the value of using technology effectively and obviously we all want our students to succeed.
During the two-day conference, there were many amazing keynote presentations. The most striking observation that came through time and time again from these many diverse speakers was that if education is going to really change then we must not rely only on the teachers. School administrations and governments must pick up the slack to help these teachers bring positive learning experiences to their classrooms. And if technology is a central goal for education then we need to give teachers professional development so they can learn to implement ICT effectively in the classroom. If we throw teachers into the deep without proper support then they may have a negative experience in facilitating technology. Instead, we must spend our time helping them learn to design new-media and digital technological projects for their students’ future successes.
Another main idea from the presentations was that technology is not enough to prepare students for the 21st century; technology must be facilitated in a collaborative environment moving away from old-school models. Coming from a world of full technology, I found it important to remember that for some of my peers in the Middle East and Africa resources are often limited. However, these teachers were so passionate and excited about their work; they were effective communicators and knew how to facilitate teamwork to design great classroom projects. They wanted to collaborate with their peers, students and other educators across cultures. I was reminded that innovation needs only enthusiasm, passion and great ideas.
Not surprisingly, I also learned that teachers from around the world deal with the same problem of student disconnection and apathy in the classroom. One of the South African teachers presented the point that it was important to make sure we have “No more boredom in the classroom!” Boredom begets apathy and apathy takes away from learning. The presentations kept reinforcing the importance of fun in the classroom. There is a global movement towards making learning fun. Fun activities help kids to relax and take risks. Fun builds confidence and confidence supports learning.
If a picture is worth 1000 words then an experience is worth a billion. The Partners in Learning Middle Eastern and African event was positively transformative and I commend the Microsoft team for bringing multicultural perspectives to education in such an engaging and supportive way. Only through events such as this will the global educational community be able to come together to support each other, exchange ideas and collaborate. Because of this event, I have forged promising connections and friendships with educators from Saudi Arabia, Gayaza, Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, Jordan and England.
See the cool photo story Margaret created (remember, she teaches Media Arts : )