Saturday, November 12, 2011

How time changes everything...

Imagine being a teacher sitting at a table with five other passionate educators from around the globe that you have just met, some of whom do not speak English, and being given the task of developing a learning project for students about the global issue of water. That is an opportunity for collaboration and knowledge building at its best and exactly the situation I found myself in over the past week.
Two years ago I began this blog to reflect on the use of changing technology in the classroom. I was "sorting it all out" and looking for direction. Today as I reflect on the experiences of attending the Microsoft Partners In Learning Global Forum in Washington, DC, I realize that I have moved in a new direction entirely. Technology has found its place in my teaching, not as the focus and purpose for lessons, but as the tool set that enables learning not otherwise available to my students. My new focus is the need to provide my students with rich opportunities to build knowledge from student directed, globally connected, meaningful learning activities. Without technology, that would be nearly impossible, but at the center of such learning there will always be people.
Living in a rural area far from a big city, there are few chances for my students to meet face to face with people from other regions of the globe. Although they will likely never meet the educators I planned with last week, they will definitely meet their students online as they share learning that I cannot alone provide. I found myself in situations this week that opened my eyes to the power of allowing students to build knowledge from experiences and reflection rather than lecture and feedback of facts.
Yesterday I had a chance to reflect on the powerful information I had gathered in eventful days at the forum. I had a few hours to fill before my flight and could have gone to Arlington Cemetery to observe the Veteran's Day Ceremony, but instead I chose to walk across the National Mall to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. It was in that museum that all the pieces began to fall into place for me. As I listened to the peaceful flute
music playing in the exhibits and read the beautiful thought provoking quotes in the displays I suddenly found meaning in all that was pounding in my head.
The topic of water was intensely important to all of the people I was working with. We revealed vast differences, not in the way water is used by each of us in our regions of the earth, but in how it is obtained. The teachers from Brazil told of water from the Amazon River and an abundance of rain. In Taiwan we learned of rainwater collection. Our friend from Saudi Arabia told of great factories desalinating water from the sea as there are no rivers and little rain. In India we learned of a shortage of freshwater for drinking. I, of course, told of water from our river that we often take for granted. We heard about the growing concern for water shortages that may lead to war as a lack of clean water becomes life threatening.
It was on the flight home that I began to make sense of all that I heard and learned from my new friends. I was looking out the window at the darkness and lights dotting the land of my country below when I recalled the daytime visions from my flight to the forum days earlier. It had been one of those beautifully clear days with few clouds. For several hours I flew over land that looked like a patchwork quilt. Each block of the quilt belongs to someone. I thought of the land so long ago that was inhabited by our native people. Their words of honor, respect, and gratitude to the earth came back to me. It is my sense that long ago they did not think of owning the land, but rather considered themselves to be part of nature and understood their place in the great balance that kept them alive, providing for their needs as they shared with all living creatures. The earth today is visibly divided. Every inch belongs to someone. We have claimed our places and built our fences to protect what belongs to us. Our needs are no longer met by nature around us, but by goods and services that are brought to us from far away places. Rather than sharing the responsibility and recognizing the needs of all, it would seem to me that we are more concerned with making sure that we protect our property and that we get what we need from others. We have lost the reality of being part of nature and protecting the delicate balance. We have become so wrapped up in maintaining our fences that we lose sight of our responsibility to all the people and creatures of this great planet. Meeting them in person, however, made me realize that we all have the same hopes and dreams. I made friends that I am certain I will have for the rest of my life. I am missing them today. I listened to teachers from Europe tell of change in their nations as people from other regions are immigrating to make new homes in their countries. They talked of losing the sense of nation that once existed as they become more diverse in populations. We can all be friends and should be. We can share the land and resources once again.
Time has changed the earth, time has changed my understanding and teaching, and time will hopefully change our world for the better as we become a global nation of friends.
I have twenty small children in my classroom that deserve a chance to learn in the way I did this week. I could go back to class and simply tell them what I learned, but few would actually internalize and find meaning in that. I will instead use technology to connect them to children in faraway places so that they might also find friendship, respect, and understanding. I will pose questions to them and allow them time to find their own answers and build knowledge that will undoubtedly stick with them for life. I am so excited to begin the project planned with my new friends from around the world and I can't wait to share that excitement with my kids! We will truly become partners in learning!


  1. What a though-provoking post, Cheryl. Thanks for your insight as someone from within the trenches. The fact that you are using technology to build knowledge in ways that would not be possible otherwise is very powerful. I love the fact that you are now going to begin a global project with your students. I can't wait to read/hear more.

    It was great to spend some time with you DC, and hope we can continue to grow together.

    Thanks for a great post.


  2. It's nice to hear that others are searching for those learners like mine that are in "far away places." Then again, I suppose all of us are in far away places. Eager to read more about your evolving projects.

  3. Thank you, Lee. I enjoyed meeting you as well and hope to meet again.

    Frank, I see that you are in Mexico. I have several students from Mexico in my class and would love to hear from your students!

  4. What a great post! I can't wait to follow you on your journey. While wandering through the exhibits, I met the two teachers from South Africa that teach Fourth grade. We are going to work to find a way to connect our students. I can't wait.

    It was great to reconnect and spend a couple of hours with you!!

  5. Cheryl - Know that you personify the word "teacher" and "learner" :) A perfect combination. It has been an honor getting to know you these past two years. Thank you...

  6. Mary, the honor has been mine. Thank you for all of your inspiration and kind words. I know you will be missed, but I'm so excited for you for your new adventures! Best wishes to you :)

  7. Laura, one of my best international friends is from South Africa. You will undoubtedly have an incredible experience working with the teachers you just met. Enjoy!!