The best part of today

Day 3 at Wavecrest Primary saw an hour of play time for the grade 7 teachers, the vice principal and the school’s lab assistant. The way Benji and I have been handling things is sitting the laptop on the desk in the case at the top of the session and saying, “Ok, let’s start. First, would you hook up the laptop please?”

Startled looks.

“Don’t worry. We won’t let you do anything that can’t be fixed.”

Cautiously they began.

We’ve met with the grade-level teachers for every grade in the school.

Some teachers have never touched a laptop before. The adapter on the VGA cable has been a cause of difficulty for most. Once past it, we tell them to play with the SMART Board doing anything they’d like.

A quizzical look.


Eventually they start to play.

By the end of the hour, once they’ve learned how to shut down and pack up the laptop, every teacher says something to the effect of “I didn’t know I could do that.”

It’s pretty awesome to see teachers get so jazzed about something they can use immediately in their practice.

Today, after our sessions, I got to visit classes.

I started with Ms. Hendricks’ Reception Level (kindergarten) class. We were learning listening skills by clapping when she said the word “sun” – more difficult than you might think.

From there, I joined Ms. La Vita’s grade 4 class in the computer lab. They were using Encarta Kids to find maps of South Africa. Then, Ms. La Vita let them use the Games and Activities section.

Twenty-six computers, 40 plus learners. They were 2 to a machine. Except Wallace. He’d sat at the machine with the bunk monitor.

I tried to fix it but I couldn’t.

I pulled out my laptop.

We looked at pictures from this year and last on iPhoto. I was getting ready to go talk to the rest of the class, so I opened Word. “Write a note about whatever you want,” I said.

“Write a note to who?”

“To me.”

“Ok,” he said with a pensive look.

Fifteen minutes later, Wallace waved me to the back of the room.

Here’s what he wrote:

I know he doesn’t know me. I know I’m not really his hero. But, he typed it for me. He was proud of it. So, no matter how cynical you are, let me think, for today, that I’m Wallace’s hero and he’ll miss me.


Meeting the man at the top

I wasn’t quite certain what to expect when meeting the principal of Wavecrest Primary School Wednesday.

I’ll be working with the faculty at Wavecrest next week to help their teachers who attended our Cape Town workshops further integrate tech into their teaching. I’m also hoping to work with their ICT Committee to set up a structured, regular schedule for meeting to achieve the school’s vision for ICT integration.

Those were the ideas in my head prior to meeting with the principal.
I knew full well they could fall by the wayside – or waveside (sorry).

Each member of our team is paired with a school identified by Edunova as most likely to benefit from some one-on-one attention in our last week here.

I’d heard varying stories from the other principal meetings. One had waved it off and said we should speak with the school’s LAN Administrator*. While not standing in the way of ICT integration, that principal wasn’t willing to make room on his plate for taking it on as his own priority either.

Some pieces of this process really do translate internationally.

These meetings can also be tricky if we run into an overzealous principal. The one who asks for full-faculty trainings, repairs to a long-defunct computer lab, physical resources, etc.

The whole idea behind EBB is capacity building.

We work with those on the ground here to build their knowledge and plans for passing that knowledge on.

If I give a whole-faculty workshop on the ins and outs of PowerPoint, the learning’s more than likely to stop once I walk o

ut the door. Teachers are sometimes left waiting for the next year’s team to pick up where I left off, not building their skills throughout the year. It

might be doing the right things, but it wouldn’t be doing things right.

As much as I was braced for the aloof, uninvolved principal, I was prepared for the hyper-interested, high-maintenance principal as well.

Wavecrest presented me with neither.

Waiting in for our meeting, I saw three of the teachers from the week before. I got hugs.

When my colleagues from Edunova, Khosi and Benji, and I sat down with the principal, he was gregarious and welcoming.

After formal introductions, I asked what help we might be able to provide around ICT integration in the coming week.

His teachers lack confidence, he said. They need to know they can use technology without fear.

“What about the school’s ICT committee?” I asked.

We have one, yes, but they will meet here and there.

“Would it be alright if we worked to set up something more formal?”

“Oh, yes, yes. That would be very good.”

2 for 2

“We have 3 SMART Boards,” he said, “But none of the teachers use them because they do not know how. Could you show them?”

“Your teachers at last week’s workshops rece

ived training on SMART Boards. We could work with them to design workshops where they help their colleagues learn about the boards.”

Again, agreement.

“Is there anything else you can think of?” I asked.

“Would you have time to visit some of our classes and observe the learners and talk with our teachers?”

Jackpot! I miss kids. It’s even worse to be spending all this time in schools, but not get to work directly with kids.

Friday Khosi, Benji and I will be meetin

g with the principal, the seven teachers who attended the workshops and the two members of the ICT committee who weren’t at the workshops. We’ll be forming up a plan for the week ahead.

I love it when a plan comes together.

*LAN Administrator here means a teacher who is in charge of developing a time table for the use of a school’s computer lab along with other duties.

Let ’em admire the shiny

Due to illness, we’re down a team member today. Our partner NGO, Edunova, is also down a team member. Both of the missing team members were responsible for the same session today. As such, a little schedule shuffling was necessary this morning.

The results are to the teachers’ benefit. We’ve inserted a joint session.

For the first half, the teachers are getting a basic overview of how to use Smart Boards. Many of them have them in their classrooms or schools, but they sit dormant because teachers don’t know how to use them or are frightened of them.

They sit like white elephants in the schools, representative of thousands of rand that could have funded a laptop and projector or some other more varied ICTs.

Seems educational technology companies don’t have the best interest of schools and their learners at heart.

The second half of the new session is a Part II of yesterday’s multimedia session. Khanyiso and I drafted a project for the teachers in about 15 minutes.

Using their cell phones and Windows Movie Maker, they’re to create a 1-3 minute video answering the question, “What does it mean to be a teacher?”

We spent all of our 45 minutes on explaining the project, oggling the gadgets and storyboarding.

I’m not worried we didn’t get to the videos.

We’ve built about an hour into the day today for the teachers to play.

Many of them are planning on creating their movies.

The best part for me was watching them realize they had video capabilities on their phones and then take meaningless videos of their colleagues for 30 seconds simply because they could.

They were waking up to the power of the tools they carry in their pocket everyday.

Also, we didn’t re-direct them. We didn’t demand their attention or that they get back on task. I knew they’d get there.

For the moment, the tools were shiny.

When my first iPhone arrives, I imagine I won’t be making too many calls. I’ll just be admiring the shiny.

After about 5 minutes, all of the groups, each and every teacher, was working diligently to create a storyboard to tell the world what it means to be a teacher.

When we were wrapping up, we discussed the benefits of what they’d been doing:

  • Incorporating many subject areas.
  • Most of the work could be done in the classroom with minimal need to wrestle for a chance at the computer labs.
  • The gadgets were shiny and new, but the task won out.
  • One hundred percent of them were engaged.
  • They cared about what they were creating.

The plan is to post the finished products up on youtube and then share them here.

Most importantly, they’ll have seen what can happen once you get past admiring the shiny.

Teachers aren’t the worst audience

Khanyiso, Mlungisi and I were in charge of leading the session on multimedia in the classroom Wednesday. It was the afternoon and the usual grumblings about too much theory and not enough practice had begun in a small contingent of teachers.

They were ready for some hands on.

To get us started, I pulled up Schooltube and Teachertube to grab a few examples. The first was not so academic. The second, though, led to some interesting conversation about how the use of multimedia ICTs could be of use in the classroom.

The teachers could see how learners would be required to incorporate learning across multiple areas of study to create a short video on a given topic.

We’d talked about this in the theory portion of the week when discussing the importance of collaboration.

The teachers could tell how creating multimedia products would require learners to do new things using new tools.

We’d talked about the Literacy, Adaptive and Transformative levels of ICT integration earlier in the week, so they were able to point it out and use the language.

The teachers discussed what it would take to locate the information the learners had used in the sample video.

We’d talked about information literacy and search strategies earlier. A trend was forming.

If I’d been a different kind of fellow, I would have noted how all the theory was necessary to name the practice and discuss it using common language. If I’d been a real jerk, I would have pointed out how important the part they were complaining about was proving to be during the part they’d been clamoring for.

I’m neither of those types.

Instead, I said things like, “If you remember what Chris said about refining search terms in his session earlier…” or “What’s the difference between the transformative learning in this example versus the adaptive learning Cyndy talked about Tuesday?”

Teachers, it’s been said until it needs not be said anymore, are the worst audience. I don’t know how much I agree with that.

Teachers are learners. We make assumptions they’re inherently more willing to listen to someone else drone on and on than children. They’re not.

They’re learners.

Yes, the stages of development are different, but they still have learning styles, they still need to move, they still need to be engaged. And, learning, oftentimes, is a difficult and uncomfortable process for them.

I love it.

Would you marry the Internet again?

When I’m playing “What if?” and I come up with this scenario, I imagine someone tripping over a chord and the entire country making that cartoony power-down sound.

As you’ve likely heard, the Internet’s broken on the west side of Africa. Something called SEACOM went down and that was that.

It’s not quite what you’d like to have happen when you’re on Day 1 of a week of workshops about technology in education. If you’re minutes away from leading a session signing 25 teachers up for their first-ever e-mail accounts, it’s certainly not the news you’d like to get.

We’re not even going to consider the implications if the country in which you happen to be staying is hosting one of the most highly watched sporting events in the world.

Anyway, someone tripped over a cord up north and brrroooooooooo. 😦

The session I was supposed to lead at the end of the day became the second session of the day – sans my google docs-stored notes.

You roll with it.

I gave the scenario a few posts ago of tech leaders from around a state showing up to a conference and losing connectivity.

Now, imagine a few countries lost that connectivity. Imagine the Eastern Seaboard of the United States broke their connection. Chaos, right?

Here, we’re moving on and teaching Photo Story 3 and discussing how to get communities surrounding schools with computer labs to take ownership of those resources.


The Internet’s broken and no one has set fire to a single car. I want to run into the computer lab and scream, “Don’t you understand what’s happening?! Don’t you get there’s no way to talk about it on Facebook?!”

Yes, I’m convinced the connectedness and access the Internet affords will exponentially provide South Africa educational opportunities educators and learners have no access to now. I have no doubts.

I wouldn’t be spending more than a month here if I weren’t certain.

Access will make things better.

I wonder, though, if access will become the dependence seen across the U.S.

If we had the Internet to do over again, would we?

The Death of Ritual

20 July 09

Today was a down day during which we debriefed the previous two weeks with Edunova and then had time to ourselves to decompress. Decompression and stray thoughts lead to what’s below.

Becoming a Man:

At 18, Xhosa males are taken into the bush where they become men. According to Khonaya, our guide for our township tours, this ritual is about “learning the identity of the tribe” and “grasping the true essence of ritual.” During their time in this conclave, the boys are circumcised.

During the ritual, Khonaya told  us, the boys are not allowed to flinch or show signs of pain. “Being masculine,” he said, “you have to handle the pain.”

This was just about as much as he could tell us about the ritual as the men are not allowed to divulge or describe what happens once they return.

In fact, during yesterday’s braai, when Terry asked one of the Xhosa Edunova facilitators about when he was taken into the bush, all of the women at the table excused themselves and Terry was told men weren’t allowed to talk about what happened in the bush. 

“I have a younger brother,” Khonaye had told us, “and all I can do is support him when the time comes.”

Sharon asked if there were any differences once the men returned home. Khonaya said sometimes “circumcised boys in the classroom expect to be treated differently” especially by female teachers.

I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around all of this for over two weeks now, and I just don’t think I can. More to the point, this is one of the pieces that creates a breech in my ability to understand the culture here. I’ve no basis for comparison. While I’m certain this ritual and others like it have far-reaching social implications, I simply don’t know what I don’t know.

When I see the community that exists here, the strength of the social structure, I begin to worry that the plurality of America also means we’ve watered down or lost our rituals along the road to coexistence. While I’m not suggesting the adoption of this particular ritual, I do wonder if the lack of a shared threshold experience leaves most of our youth without a clear sense of whom they are and where they come from.

To the Island

18 July 09

Nelson Mandela is 91.

Prior to arriving in Africa, I’ll admit, Mandela was really one of the few national icons with whom I was familiar. Even that knowledge wasn’t appreciably deep.

Having had a few weeks in Cape Town and traveling within the province of Western Cape, I’ve gained a better understanding of what this man has meant to his country and what he continues to represent.

One of the things that strikes me about driving or walking through the townships or working with educators in their schools here is the air of hope I can’t help but breath in. The people I’ve met have hope and faith that their schools will improve and provide stronger, more connected educations for their learners.

Yes, they will admire their problems with the same rockstar status of any other group of teachers I’ve met, but when all’s said and done, they are hopeful.

More than anything else, Mandela embodies that hope.

This made visiting Robben Island, the prison island where Mandela spent 18 years of his life, on his birthday especially poignant.

I remember, as a teenager, watching Mandela’s release from prison, and knowing, but not understanding that something important was happening. It wasn’t until the boat ride on the Susan Kruger (the boat that first ferried political prisoners to Robben Island in 1961) that I started to grasp (if only feebly) the what it would have meant to be imprisoned for 18 years for holding onto an idea.

During each day of their imprisonment, the political prisoners on the island were forced to work 8 hours a day in one of the island’s limestone quarries. The stone was eventually used to pave the roads of the island and some of Cape Town. Initially, though, none of it was put to any actually use. It was meant as a soul-crushing exercise in futility.

What struck me, though. What truly hit home was the walk back to the prison from the quarry. Just over the rise at the pit’s mouth, Cape Town comes into view. As my tour group moved back along the same route, I imagined what it must have been like to toil purposelessly for 8 hours a day for 18 years and to return to your cell each day with a clear view of the home and country you love so much but to which you were forbidden to return.

In some ways, I wonder if South African teachers, if not many educators around the world, aren’t facing the same struggle – working each day for 8 hours for often unclear reasons only to come out of the pit at the end of the day feeling where they want to be is just as clear, but just as distant as when they they began.

I choose to believe the desperation is misplaced. Yes, we’ve a long way to go, but our own “long walk to freedom” is well under way.