Thank you Roseville High School (via the awesome Marie Criste) for hosting this weekend’s Google Summit. Start to finish, what an awesome way to spend a weekend! Below are a few of my favorite takeaways:
Technology, High Expectations and the Art of Relationships – Having Jeff Heil kick-off the Summit with his opening keynote was an inspiring start. I had the good fortune to first meet Jeff at the 2012 Google Teacher Academy in Mountain View. We were in the same group/team (led by the amazing Jenny Magiera), so I already knew that Jeff is both brilliant and hilarious. But I did not know about his commitment to using technology as a tool for achieving educational equity, a passion ignited from his time spent working with homeless youth. I am still thinking about Jeff’s question/challenge: “How can the creation of something as simple as a relationship transform student achievement?”
Create Accessibility: Accessible Design for Classroom Creators – If Melissa Oliver’s engaging, hands-on session had been the only one I attended, it would have been well worth the drive to Roseville. As educators in a digital age, we all need an understanding of how to make content we post online – including student-created works – accessible to our readers. Visitors to our online sites, whether they be blind, deaf, colorblind, or elderly, deserve equal access to the content.
Melissa started her session with an easy accessibility first step: adding “alt text” to all images. “Alt text” is an abbreviation for “alternative text.” When you add an “alt text” to an image, screen readers for the blind and visually impaired will read out your text description, thereby making your image accessible. If you are a G Suite district (AKA Google Apps for Education district), I think you’ll appreciate that Google understands the importance of accessibility and has created a very helpful guide. In Google Docs and Slides, for instance, you can find the “alt text” option by selecting the image, clicking on Format, and scrolling all the way down to the last option. In Google Forms and the new Google Sites, select the image, click on the three vertical dots, select “Add alt tag,” and add your description.
Closed captioning (CC) was the second big item on Melissa’s agenda. We’ve been discussing this requirement recently in my district – and feeling a little overwhelmed. Given how many teachers embed or include links to videos on their websites and in digital lessons, I hope their reaction is not to delete all videos.
I am also hoping that students who are creating their own videos will not find the task of adding closed captioning too daunting. Since many teachers require a script before students start the filming process, they may already have text they can copy and paste into a closed captioning program. If not, they can use YouTube’s auto-generated captions and then edit them (and the auto-generated captions will need editing, but at least it’s not like starting from scratch).
In addition to three tips for closed captioning in YouTube, Melissa also shared Caption Creator for Google Drive. You will need to review and give permission to open the program first, and then select a video. What I love about this program is that as soon as you start to type in a caption, the program stops the video and waits for your next pause before continuing where you left off. Easy to use + free = a great combination! Closed captioning student video creations seem like a worthy collaborative project for parent/grandparent/community volunteers or even older students to tackle.
Given that my district was recently served notice by the Office of Civil Rights informing us that we need to make our homepage and all department and school websites (we have 66 schools) and teacher websites (tons!) accessible, my goal in attending this session was to gather useful resources and join a conversation on accessibility issues, solutions, and best practices. Mission accomplished!
How to keep other tabs open when in the presenter view of Google Slides: While in the edit view of your slideshow, click on the URL. Towards the end of the URL, where you see /edit, select and replace with present. You’re good to go!
How about adding a hyperlinked table of contents (TOC) in the footer of your Google Doc? Sure, you can add a TOC at the start of a Doc, but it doesn’t travel with you as you move down through pages. It’s all about Bookmarks. Start by selecting the words or phrases in your document you would like to be hyperlinks in your footer; then click on Insert > Bookmark. When you’ve finished setting up your Bookmaks, go back to Insert and add them to your footer. Type whatever corresponding text you’d like in your footer, select it, go to Insert > Bookmark. I’ve just added a hyperlinked footer to my On Coming to America HyperDoc. Love it!
Exploring Google Expeditions with Cardboard – If you have any extra smartphones you no longer need, I would love to have them … to insert inside Google Cardboard … and expand on the world of virtual field trip possibilities. Jim Sill’s packed session was a wonderful introduction to Google Expeditions! As we stepped into a very breathtaking 3D climb up Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan, I thought about a teacher in my district who recently took his 5th graders on a virtual visit to Yosemite through a videoconference with our National Parks. The videoconference was an extension to a story the students had read about John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt. I think a teacher-led Google Expedition of Yosemite would be one more powerful way technology can open the walls of the classroom (especially in our Title 1 schools).
Revenge of the Sheets: Learn to Google Sheets the Jedi Way – This was my first time to attend one of Jesse Lubinsky’s workshops. He shared a number of great tips for ramping up your Google Sheets skills. A new one for me was the Mapping Sheets add-on, a visual way to let data tell a story:
I also really appreciate Jesse’s comprehension digital handout, which includes links to his various presentations. Each presentation includes links to take you into, through, and beyond a specific Google tool. Thank you!
Back to HyperDocs…As I watched Lisa create a HyperDoc* from scratch on how she might teach students the correct use of there, their, and they’re, I found my session takeaway: Google Story Builder. I’ve known about Story Builder for a long time, but it hadn’t occurred to me what a powerful tool this could be for letting students build their writing skills.
* “HyperDoc is a term used to describe a Google Doc that contains an innovative lesson for students- a 21st Century worksheet, but much better.” From What Is a HyperDoc?
Student Agency EDU – Coming full circle, I ended my Roseville Summit weekend with Jeff Heil, this time joined by presenter/author Trevor McKenzie. They quickly had me immersed in an interesting topic: mastery vs. grades. What if we required students to reach for an A, rather then allowing them to slide by with a B, C, or D? The best way to make this shift happen is to allow students to explore topics and develop projects that they care about. But students will need some scaffolding to take them to this level/goal/expectation. I will definitely be sharing Trevor’s graphics, including the one below, to make visible what the process of moving from teacher-led to student-initiated inquiry looks like:
What a well-spent Saturday and Sunday! With much appreciation for all the planning, vision, and energy the stellar EdTechTeam puts into a Google Summit, I am already looking forward to the 2018 event.
On Coming to America – Small Moments, Big Meanings
We are a nation of immigrants.” Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, etc.
The greatest gift we can give someone is the gift of their history.” HmongStory40
Yes, we are a nation of immigrants. I am fortunate to work in a school district that is yearly enriched by its history of cultural diversity. Last year, in recognition and celebration of the experiences, challenges, and contributions of those who have come to America, I collaborated on the Coming to America – Small Moments, Big Meanings Lesson and Teacher’s Guide. This year, I am adding another resource: On Coming to America Hyperdoc.*
Both these online lessons are invitations to your students to interview, document, and publish the story of an immigrant or refugee, with a shared goal of:
Introducing students to the differences between an “immigrant” and a “refugee”
Providing a collection of primary source interviews (videos) with recent refugees
Providing guidelines for students to step into the role of oral historians by conducting an interview
Encouraging students to publish their Small Moments, Big Meanings projects to an authentic audience via several online options.
How about your school or district? Have your students had the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and do the work of an oral historian? If not, I can promise that in the process of interviewing an immigrant or refugee, they will discover what I have learned: history happens one story at a time. It would be an honor to showcase your students’ On Coming to America projects.
Questions? Suggestions? Please leave a comment. Let the conversations begin!
*Note: The term “hyperdoc” stems from the ever-amazing Lisa Highfill’s commitment to use tools (such as Google Docs/Slides/Sheets) to create lessons with access to “instructions, links, tasks… to get kids thinking.”
Last week a school district colleague shared a beautiful letter her 9th grade daughter Emma had written for a homework assignment: Write a persuasive essay on a topic you care about. Emma chose the topic of equal rights for women – on a global scale. She wrote her essay in a letter format, addressed to President-elect Trump.
The English teacher was actually on maternity leave, so the assignment came via a long-term substitute teacher. But Emma’s letter was too timely and too well-written to not have an authentic audience, an audience beyond just the teacher. I shared with my colleague the National Writing Project’s Letters to the Next President website. Of all the phenomenal projects and communities the NWP sponsors, Letters to the Next President has to be one of the most timely.
In addition to addressing some immediate community actions/reactions in the days following the election, the panel also discussed the need for teaching media literacy. Links to referenced articles are posted on the site.
I am very grateful for an exponentially growing support group for “teaching and learning in a time of Trump” – with the NWP at the top of my list. I also want to recogize Harvard’s Project Zero: Children as Citizens project as as a second global microphone for students.
From my own region (northern California), I’d like to acknowledge Sacramento City Unified for stepping up to be the first school district in the greater Sacramento region to approve a resolution declaring Sac City a safe haven for students who may be “fearful of deportation and hate speech.” The resolution is in response to the “intolerant rhetoric made over the course of the 2016 presidential race.”
As the January 20 Inauguration Day fast approaches, a quote from Teachers Teaching Teachers panelist Dianca London continues to resonate with me: “Apathy is not an option anymore.”
It would be difficult to read a newspaper, listen to a news broadcast, or open any social media site without seeing some reference to “fake news.” NPR NewsHour’s recent interview How online hoaxes and fake news played a role in the election highlights this growing concern. There is definitely a need to bring media literacy into classrooms.
The Common Core State Standards call for media literacy:
“To be ready for college, workforce training, and life in a technological society, students need the ability to gather, comprehend, evaluate, synthesize, and report on information and ideas, to conduct original research in order to answer questions or solve problems, and to analyze and create a high volume and extensive range of print and nonprint texts in media forms old and new.” Common Core ELA Standards
However, since the standards do not come wrapped in a curriculum package, it is up to each district to provide some clarity on what media literacy looks like in our K-12 classrooms. Thankfully, the list of resources for teaching media literacy is growing (see resource list at end of post).
From NAMLE (National Association for Media Literacy Education): “Media literacy is the ability to ACCESS, ANALYZE, EVALUATE, CREATE, and ACT using all forms of communication.”
In addition to Bill’s resources, I’d like to add the voices of students speaking out on the role of media literacy, via Canada’s Media Literacy Now site:
Similar to the above-listed definitions, the Ontario Ministry of Education defines media literacyas
“…helping students develop an informed and critical understanding of the nature of mass media, the techniques used by them, and the impact of these techniques. More specifically, it is education that aims to increase the students’ understanding and enjoyment of how the-media work, how they produce meaning, how they are organized, and how they construct reality. Media Literacy also aims to provide students with the ability to create media products.”
How about some resources for teaching media literacy?
I hope these resources will be useful to you and your students, especially following an extremely contentious election year. As always, if you have resources to add or classroom practices to share, please contribute to the conversation by leaving a comment.
Friday night was book club night, a favorite monthly event. For 16 years we’ve been coming together to discuss, over wine and dinner, good literature, education and, occasionally, politics. Although we briefly discussed our November book choice (Kate DiCamilo’s YA Flora and Ulysses), for most of the evening, we tried to make sense of the election results, consider the ramifications of our President-Elect’s cabinet choices, and envision the possible impacts, both immediate and long-term. I’m guessing that across the nation hundreds of thousands of similar discussions were happening.
If you are looking for a antidote to post-election blues, I highly recommend pulling together a student showcase of elementary, middle, and high school students excited to demonstrate innovative uses of technology. To that end, last week I was tasked by my district’s Technology Services Director to bring a team of students to the Sacramento Convention Center for the 2016 CETPA Conference. This was my first time to attend the CETPA Conference. It was also CETPA’s first time to dedicate a section of the convention lobby for a two-hour Student Showcase. What an enjoyable, inspiring morning!
Our youngest presenters, a team of four 2nd graders from Elliot Ranch Elementary School, introduced conference goers to Code.org. They were joined by Herman Leimbach Elementary School’s team of 5th and 6th graders, who were eager to share how to create a digital story through MIT’s Scratch coding program.
The video production team from Toby Johnson Middle School alternated between talking with visitors to their table and making the rounds to gather interviews for upcoming school-wide news broadcasts.
Sheldon High School’s K9 Studios’ team dazzled conference goers, including vendors, with their virtual reality (VR) projects. I loved watching the teams interact with – and impress the heck out of – technology directors and visionaries from across the state.
This morning I received an email from Shawn Sullivan, who is featured with his students in the above photo. He wanted me to know that his students were interviewed by Google and that “Google was interested in sharing VR and how to use it in the classroom. They were excited to hear we already are using it. They gave a challenge to the students on creating educational content for the classroom. At lunch, that day, the students started planning what to do for that challenge!”
And CETPA rewarded the students with t-shirts and pizza. Nice combo! Wonderful event!
If I had had any idea of how amazing Dr. Robert Ballard’s keynote would be, I would have tried to persuade the student teams to extend their stay. Ballard is a brilliant + hilarious presenter (another nice combo). Although his keynote was not filmed, the TEDX Talk below and a visit to his website will give you an idea of why I was swept away by his keynote.
I came to CETPA incorrectly assuming that the conference sessions would be more for those who support districts’ technology infrastructures rather than classroom practices. I ended my CETPA experience with three great teacher/TOSA presentations:
Is Drive Driving You Crazy? – Rebecca Maas’s session was a reminder of why it’s a good idea to introduce teachers to Google Drive before jumping into Docs/Slides/Sheets/Forms/Drawings. When she mentioned color coding folders, for instance, a teacher shared that he has students color any shared folders red. Great tip!
Make Writing: 3D Printing to Teach Literacy and Writing – Teacher/TOSA/Edutopia columnistHeather Wolpert-Gawron and Principal Matt Arnold made visible an often missing component of the “maker movement”: writing. They shared their excitement over a significant transition (in attitude and learning) they witnessed with a group of disengaged LTELLs (Long Term English Language Learners), sparked by opportunities to explore what they could do with a 3D printer that happened to be housed in their English class. The slideshow provides a window into the depth, breadth, and awesomeness of the project.
This year’s Fall CUE Conference seemed like a drive-by event since I could attend on Friday only. (But don’t feel sorry for me for missing out on Saturday’s sessions; I was headed up to Amador County for an annual wine-tasting weekend.) Despite a rainy 2-hour drive to and from Napa, Friday’s sessions were worth the travel time.
Due a few traffic slowdowns, I unfortunately missed Dave Burgess’ (Teach like a Pirate) opening keynote, but from Session 1 on, I left with some great takeaways:
Steam Power Your School – I am a huge advocate for making sure the “A” is included in STEM (STEAM not STEM) programs, especially at the elementary level. I loved the research pieces session leaders Jennifer Kloczko, Joe Wood, and Brandon Blom included in their slideshow, such as this infographic from the University of Florida. But what really made their session zing were the live clips of students at their school sites starting the school day with dance and/or having access to dance and music throughout the school day. I’m also adding Prodigy Island Math (free online game designed for students in grades 1-8 to use their math skills to battle wizards) and Math Olympiads (an $89 gaming program to challenge your advanced math students) to my list of engaging math programs.
Student Research Using Google Tools – At least once a year, I teach a Google Search workshop in my district or region, so I’m always interested to see what other presenters are including in their search sessions. I’m glad I attended Melissa Hero’s session. Her presentation is very similar is scope and sequence to my workshop, but I came away with a great takeaway: search queries to use if you want your Google search to return Google Docs, Slides, or Sheets for whatever topic you or your students are seeking:
So if I wanted to find Google Slides presentations on butterflies, for instance, I’d enter the following in the omnibar: site:docs.google.com/presentation/d butterflies. I’m not sure what the “d” stands for on the end of each query, but I’m headed to Google Mountain View on Monday for a Google Certified Innovator celebration, so I’ll pose that question and then update this post.
The World Isn’t Flat – Oh, my, such a mind-blowing session! Brian Briggs and Bill Selek opened a new world of teaching and learning possibilities with the 360° camera. Their presentation link takes you, via Thinglink, to a 360° field of sunflowers, with Brian (I think) in the middle. No, he did not have to swivel and take snapshot after snapshot – the camera does that for you. In thinking about historical events or scenes from literature, consider how often the story is – or could be – told from different perspectives/viewpoints. Imagine recreating a scene from the Civil War, for instance, with soldiers advancing and surrounding a key battle site. If I had had this camera with me during my recent trip to Rwanda, I would be working right now on an interactive lesson to pair with the movie Hotel Rwanda. Oh so many possibilities for taking digital storytelling to new levels.
If a 360° camera is not in your budget right now, a very good next-best option is the free Google Street View App. Thank you, Ryan O’Donnell, for joining the session and giving some tips on using this app.
I don’t usually showcase tools or programs that are not free, but I’d like to present a case to teachers and administrators on why the price of a Thinglink 3D account + a 360° camera (or the free Google Street View App) could seamlessly transform a lesson from Substitution to Redefinition.
Thank you to the wonderful group of teachers who joined me for my Can I Use That? session. Please feel free to contact me with questions on Creative Common, copyright, and fair use as they come up in your teaching assignments.
A huge thank you to the CUE team for all the planning and work that went into the 2016 Fall CUE Conference. Your efforts were worth every minute!
The October issue of entrsekt, ISTE’s quarterly journal, immediately caught my attention – with the cover boldly featuring Jennifer Snelling’s “A Culture of Civility: The New Tenets of Connecting in the Digital Age.”
In a highly contentious election-year atmosphere, I really appreciate having at my fingertips the research, examples, and reminder that “Civility and citizenship come from understanding alternate viewpoints and being able to have conversations and respectful debates.”
When ISTE released the 2016 Standards, I was delighted to see Digital Citizenship as an integral component. In reading “A Culture of Civility,” I was struck by the connection between Digital Citizen and Global Collaborator, and how both standards promote “vital skills to empower students to thrive in an uncertain future.”
In my day job, I serve on a district committee tasked with making sure teachers have access to a wealth of high-quality resources, such as Common Sense Media, for teaching and modeling digital citizenship skills with their students. Initially the topic tended to be taught in isolation, as part of an homeroom advisory period or in a computer class, for instance – too often without providing students with opportunities to put their digital citizenship skill set into practice. The arrival of Chromebooks and Google Apps for Education has thankfully brought technology integration into the core curriculum – along with the need to make sure all students are firmly grounded in what it means to be a positive, contributing digital/global citizen.
One of the many note-worthy quotes from Snelling’s article is from psychiatrist Dr. Helen Riess, who stresses the importance of developing listening skills, a first step in building empathy:
As soon as there is a culture of disrespect for opposing opinions, we lose the art of not only listening but also of compromise and negotiation, and that’s what’s contributing to this polarized society.”
In response to Dr. Riess’s concern, I’d like to share that, occasionally, when visiting classrooms in my district, I enter just as a student has apparently posted something inappropriate online. Instead of taking away the Chromebook, I love how teachers are tapping into technology misuse incidents as teachable moments on how to respectfully disagree. It is inspiring to watch students come to understand that being proficient in the genre of commenting is a non-negotiable, must-have skill for the digital age.
I am bundling the “Culture of Civility” article (which does require an ISTE membership in order to access) with two of my favorite digital citizenship resources on teaching the art of commenting as a genre:
From Linda Yollis’s 3rd graders: How to Write a Quality Comment
With interactive technology tools such as Google Docs, blogs, wikis, and videoconferencing making it so easy to take student voices beyond the classroom, creating a culture of civility is an essential step in empowering students to listen to and learn from a mix of shared and alternate viewpoints.
If you have resources to add to the topic and conversation of promoting a culture of civility, I warmly invite you to share them by leaving a comment.
Question: How do you talk about and teach difficult topics, including the unthinkable, the unspeakable?
Answer: You look for the good.
This summer I traveled to Rwanda, Africa, with the incredible Carl Wilkens, director of the World Outside My Shoes Foundation – and the only American to remain in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. Without a doubt, this trip was the most thought-provoking, heart-wrenching, uplifting ten days ever. Each day was beautifully planned with visits to historic sites, meeting with genocide witnesses, government officials (Rwandan and U.S.), community leaders, and activists – now living together, committed to learning from the past and moving forward.
To actually visit Rwanda was an opportunity to step into its past and to witness the power of reconciliation and forgiveness and, equally important, the impact a single person can have when he/she has the courage to step up and take action for others.
For a quick, but excellent, introduction to the causes and impact of the genocide, please read my fellow traveler Timothy Redmond’s recent post: Reflections from Rwanda. Tim’s article will also give you more background on Carl’s courage and commitment to take a stand against genocide. Or, if you want a resource aimed at students, download fellow traveler James Ingram’s Never Again, a “textbook” he co-authored last year during his senior year in high school.
A large part of what made the trip to Rwanda so memorable was a combination of Carl’s leadership talents, combined with our wonderful team (16 educators, 1 student, 1 pastor), the Iris Guest House (our cozy home-base), our bus driver Peter, our frequent tour guide and shopping companion Johnson – and the beauty of Rwanda, “land of a thousand hills.”
As jet-lagged as we were upon arriving at the hotel (I’d been traveling almost two days (from Sacramento to JFK to Qatar to Uganda to Rwanda), we quickly unpacked, met out front for a getting-to-know-you activity, and then headed out and up the hill for a walking tour of our neighborhood en route to a local cafe for our first dinner together. I think we were all drawn into the beauty of Kigali as we walked past the French Embassy, the President’s Compound, the Hotel des Mille Collines (AKA Hotel Rwanda), all accented by lush tropical gardens. A perfect start to an amazing journey.
Day 1 – The next morning, our first full day in Rwanda, we stepped into the recent past with a trip to Kigali’s Genocide Memorial. Before entering, Carl reminded us to intentionally take “positive snapshots” throughout the day to balance images from a site that memorializes a tragic event.
The Memorial serves as the final resting place for over 250,000 victims of the genocide and provides a window into the brutality of this horrifying event. But the Memorial also includes an education center and a beautiful garden that offers visitors, many of them survivors of the genocide, a peaceful place to honor those who died and to find strength in their daily lives to keep moving forward. Click here for a interactive Google street view from a section of the gardens.
So although this trip may already sound like “dark tourism” (“travel to places historically associated with death and tragedy” – Wikipedia), Carl guided discussions on why it is important “not to hate evil more that you love good.” No matter what site we were visiting, we had only to look around and see what a vibrant country and culture Rwanda is today.
Case in point: From the Kigali Genocide Memorial, our next stop was the Kigali Public Library, a beautiful space, from the entry space to the rooftop cafe.
From the Library, it was on to the Belgian Memorial, which honors the ten Belgian UN peacekeepers murdered early in the genocide by Hutu extremists hoping to spark the exodus of the UN forces. Their goal was achieved, clearing the way for a full-scale genocide to quickly explode.
As we traveled across Kigali on our way back to our hotel and a fabulous dinner, the group bonding was clearly happening. Between our debriefing of the day’s events, Carl’s pointing out key sites from the past and present (including his former home and neighborhood), and the regular injection of humor and hope, our bus became as much a home base to us as the Iris Guest House.
Following a pattern set on this first day of exploring Rwanda, every day was a near magical combination and balance of stepping into and studying Rwanda’s dark past but also marveling at and celebrating the resilient spirit and determination of a country to unite as one people.
On Day 2, our first stopping point was Nyamata Church, a short drive from Kigali in the Bugasera region, to where over 10,000 Tutsi had fled, believing the church and grounds would be a safe haven. That was not the case. There were less than 100 survivors. Within the church, there are over 6,000 bodies buried – men, woman, and children – all victims of a brutal, brutal attack by the Interahamwe (the militia supported by the Hutu-led government). The church also includes a stand-alone coffin that is a memorial to Mugando, a young woman whose violent murder was proceeded by a violent rape, too often included in the genocide toolkit.
As we gathered in Nyamata’s peaceful garden to reflect on what had transpired at this site during the genocide, children from the school next door came out for recess. Joyful voices, laughter, and soccer served as a reminder that Rwanda is indeed moving forward.
How did we find the good after a morning spent at Nyamata? We climbed back into our bus and headed down the road to Mayanga to visit the Millennium Village, a project started in 2005 by a group of visionary professors from Columbia University who sought to improve rural, impoverished areas of Africa by creating sustainable villages through agriculture, education, healthcare, and local business start-ups. The project includes a reconciliation village, where currently about 300 Tutsi and Hutu live side by side, both survivors and perpetrators of the genocide.
We gathered together in a shaded area and listened to villagers share their stories. Silas, a perpetrator, shared that he lives next door to a pastor – whose family he murdered. He shared how the pastor taught him about the power of forgiveness. Silas’s testimony was followed by Lorensia’s, a strong woman whose husband was killed during the genocide. Following the testimonies, we mingled with the villagers, including beautiful children and a dynamic group of women weavers (whose baskets are now proudly displayed in my home).
Another highlight from the afternoon included a visit to the Millennium Village Center, where we were treated to music and dance from local teenagers. What I didn’t realize until after their performance was that we were witnessing another step forward for Rwanda: women are now allowed to play the drums, which happens about mid-way through the dance (shown in second clip):
Day 3 – Had I traveled to Rwanda on my own, I probably would have passed on visiting Prison 1930 (Nyarugenge Prison), based on my U.S. prison mindset. But from the moment we entered the grounds, I knew I was witnessing a lesson our country could learn from Rwanda. Prison 1930 was constructed by Rwanda’s Belgian colonizers. Prior to colonization, “Gacaca” was Rwanda’s system of restorative justice, a system the country has since revived, in which villagers sit together to decide on a fair consequence for a crime. Today, Prison 1930 has moved from punitive justice to restorative justice.
As our bus approached the prison gates, we could see visiting family members entering the grounds – with an absence of security checks. We were warmly greeted by Pelloy Gakwaya*, Director of the Rwandan Justice System. *Note: Rwanda has a 30% rule that requires businesses, including government, to hire a minimum of 30% female employees.
As we walked across the courtyard, what we did not see were shackles, guns, or clubs. Family members came bearing gifts. Joyful greetings and conversations were happening. I had to remind myself that I was in a prison.
The purpose of our visit was to meet with three inmates who were “genocideiers.” We entered a large conference room where Pelloy introduced us to Olive, director of Prison 1930. Olive explained that today’s prison system is structured on community life outside the prison walls. The system provides job training, support groups, counseling, opportunities for service learning, and even leadership roles.
We were joined shortly by three prisoners (2 males, 1 female), all three imprisoned for their roles in the genocide. Sezibera (male) shared his crime of distributing guns and being a genocide leader, although he lost his position for harboring a Tutsi in his home. He asked that we tell the stories of the genocide and bring it to the world. Mulamini (female), who spoke beautiful English, shared about growing up as a Hutu in the 1970’s. She recalled school days when teachers promoted hateful anti-Tutsi propaganda. Although she was married to a Tutsi, who was able to escape with their children, Mulamini joined the government forces to avoid being accused of being a sympathizer. She currently serves as the president of the prisoners’ council and is also the director of the unity and reconciliation club for the women’s section of the prison. Mulamini requested that, as educators, we think about what we share with our students, who often look to their teachers for truth. Like Sezibera, she also asked that we become a voice for the stories of the genocide.
The third prisoner, Gregoire, needs his own paragraph. Having read I’m not Leaving, I knew about the commanding officer whose troops surrounded the Gisimba Orphanage (Day 5 visit) with the plan to slaughter all who were hiding. Carl had also shared with us that two years ago he visited the prison, met with and – 20 years later – recognized Gregoire as that commanding officer. At that time, Carl found it difficult to even have a conversation with Gregoire. Two years later, they entered the conference room together. In his testimony, Gregoire admitted that a plan had been in place to kill Carl. Today he gives thanks for Carl’s heroism and for all he did for Rwanda. Carl responded by telling him he looks forward to joining him on the journey of forgiveness. This is Carl. This is restorative justice. This is Rwanda.
Day 4 – We boarded our bus at 5:30 this morning to head to Akagera National Park, picking up Johnson on the way. Johnson, now 31, lost his entire family during the genocide. Part of the loss included watching his mother and baby sister murdered at a roadblock. Having survived the genocide as a 9-year-old orphan, he still managed to complete his secondary schooling and move on to college, with a year spent in an intensive English program at Texas Christian University. His English is excellent. His story is inspiring. His tour guiding skills are exceptional.
The hippos had a huge presence and made it known.
A day at Akagera National Park was almost a total break from our genocide studies. Although the park is still recovering from a devastating loss of wildlife during the genocide, the government is actively working to restore Akagera to its pre-1994 rich ecosystem.
The trip back to Kigali included a beautiful setting sun. Being located so close to the equator, every day the sun starts to rise at 6:00 a.m. and set at 6:00 p.m. (“6 up; 6 down”).
Day 5 – Sunday in Kigali – Following breakfast at the Iris (love starting the day with Rwandan coffee, fresh mango juice, and pastries!), a group of us walked down our hill and over to the Pariossee Sainte Famille Church to attend a morning mass. There are many stories from the genocide regarding the role of Catholic clergy – as upstanders, bystanders, and even perpetrators.
Although Sainte Famille was not always a safe haven during the genocide, attending a mass there today is definitely a joyful event, with singing and dancing in the aisles an integral part of the experience. The walk back to the Iris was a time to share what we had seen and learned in our first days in Rwanda.
Next stop: A shopping expedition to the Kigali Market, where we spent two hours, but could have easily spent more time browsing the endless aisles of merchandise. Having Johnson join us and mentor us in the art of bartering was an added bonus. I decided the best way to bring home the colors of Rwanda would be through their bright, bold, stunning fabrics.
From the Kigali Market, we headed to the Gisimba Orphanage. I will remember this stop in our journey for a long time to come. Johnson would now transition from being our market place guide to helping us step back in time to 1994, when as a 9-year old, he witnessed and lived through the genocide. We gathered outside a window where Johnson vividly remembers looking out and seeing Carl coming down the hill with water and supplies.
For the orphans at Gisimba, escaping the sounds and acts of violence surrounding the orphanage was not possible, as Johnson shares in this short clip (my apologies for not turning the phone from vertical to horizontal).
Johnson also shared about Damas Gisimba, director of the orphanage, who was a courageous upstander, putting his life on the line daily to protect the children – and a small group of adults also hidden away in a tiny room. Because of Damas, the Gisimba orphanage had truly become a supportive, nurturing, and safe home.
Catching Carl by surprise, Johnson completed our tour of the grounds by leading us into a room filled with people – some of them orphans at Gisimba during the genocide – who wanted to thank Carl for what he had done for the orphanage. Many of us reached for Kleenex as we watched the former orphans step up to embrace Carl and share their memories and stories. How do you thank someone who risked his life over and over to pass through roadblocks to bring food, water, and blankets to the orphans? The group acknowledged Carl as “the sun in the middle of horror who gave us hope” and presented him with a beautiful painting that symbolizes his legacy.
Halfway through our Rwanda journey and already so much to celebrate!
Day 6 – Murambi – As we boarded the bus for our 3-hour drive to the Murambi Genocide Memorial, site of one of the most brutal mass murders of the genocide, we knew this would not be an easy visit. We began a discussion on how sites can have harsh memories, but if we look back at our evening celebration at Gisimba Orphanage, it is possible to create new memories, happy memories alongside the bad. We cannot erase the bad memories, but we can balance them with the good.
As we arrived at Murambi, I tried to hang on to the many beautiful people, sites, and events I had been inspired by thus far. Looking for the good is a challenge at Murambi, which before the genocide was a school. As with churches, many Tutsi mistakenly believed they would be safe on school grounds. On April 16, of the 65,000 who fled to the school, 45,000 were murdered. Almost all who escaped were killed within the next few days.
What is unique about this genocide memorial is that as you tour the classrooms, whole bodies are on display, half-decomposed, mummified by lime, which preserved and turned the bodies white. Out of respect for the dead, we were asked not to take pictures. To see the skeletal remains of so many men, women, and children, who in a single day, lost their lives is difficult to take in.
As I wandered through the exhibit hall, I came upon the unforgettable words of Feliciene Ntabengwa:
We ended our tour of Murambi with time to walk the grounds, take in the beauty of the surrounding hills, and quietly reflect on a tragedy that should never be forgotten.
Our trip back to Kigali included a stop at Sweet Dreams, Rwanda’s one-and-only ice cream shop. We needed that after leaving Murambi. Thank goodness for inspirational stories that include ice cream. The shop is another success story and step forward for the women of Rwanda. The Sweet Dreams documentary tells of Rwanda’s first women’s drumming group. And the ice cream? Delightful!
Day 7 – By now I should have figured that we would be heading off to another day of unforgettable sights and interactions. Our first stop was a visit to the home of Damas Gisimba. Damas was too ill to join us for the Orphanage reunion, so we came to him. For Damas, having his life-long friend Carl and a group of teachers gathered on his porch was a “moment from the heart.”
Our next stop was at MindLeaps, a life-changing organization developed and supported by New York City choreographer Rebecca Davis. The mission statement says it all:
MindLeaps creates dance and educational programs for street children and out-of-school youth in post-conflict and developing countries. MindLeaps uses a kinesthetic-based curriculum to improve the cognitive skills of youth to ensure they can go to school, enter the workplace and leap forward in life.”
Kigali’s program currently supports close to 100 street children, ranging from 9-18 years old. MindLeaps bridges the many divides that homeless children too commonly face. When a child enrolls in the program, the MindLeaps staff provides meals, requires attendance in English and computer classes, and brings the joy, art, and discipline of dance into that child’s life. Children who remain in the program and thrive have the opportunity to be sponsored at a secondary boarding school.
We happened to be visiting MindLeaps on home visits day, which meant we were able to split up and join a teacher and a MindLeaps’ student for a walk to the student’s “home.” Travel colleague Kelly Rosati and I joined English teacher Innocent and 12-year old Joseph. Our first stop was at a small stall to purchase rice and beans for the family. We then stepped off the main street and began to wind our way up a steep hillside of mud huts. Joseph lived at the top of the hill, with his mother Josephine and two sisters.
Josephine welcomed us into their one-room home. Despite a lack of common amenities such as water or electricity, she was grateful for this family space. She praised MindLeaps and how this special program could provide a promising future for Joseph. She also praised the work of President Kagame, whose commitment to help improve living conditions made it possible for her to receive free HIV meds.
We boarded the bus for our final visit of the day: the Magelegele TIG Camp. We picked up Pelloy (prison director) on the way. The Magelegele TIG is one of 9 TIG camps remaining in Rwanda and houses 124 prisoners. TIG is a French word for “work camp,” but with the concept of performing work for the general public. Entering the camp was another eye-opening experience. Again, it’s hard for me to imagine “joyful” and “prisoners” in the same sentence. As our bus pulled up and we began to unload, we were greeted by an energizing welcome, as the video below captures:
There is no fence surrounding the TIG. The camp guards are not armed. The camp prisoners maintain a garden, prepare meals – as well as work on projects out in the community. On Sundays they can put on civilian clothing and attend local churches. They are also allowed 10 days per year to return home to their families. Restorative justice in action.
As we headed back to Kigali, just when it seemed an amazing day could not be any more amazing, Carl shared that we had a dinner reservation at Heaven. To find out more about this 5-star restaurant, founded by two expats determined to contribute to Rwanda’s rebuilding, I recommend A Thousand Hills to Heaven. The Millennium Village is also a result of their vision and hard work. The restaurant’s stunning views and fabulous food were truly the icing on an extraordinary day.
Day 8 – Our nickname for Carl was “master key” because he opened so many doors for us. Day 8 was no exception. Our first outing was to the Presidential Compound, where, after passing through security, we were graciously welcomed to sit and meet with Clare Akamanzi, Director of Strategic Planning. Over tea and breakfast snacks, she led a discussion on President Kagame’s vision for Rwanda:
Unite – one people; everyone has a part of everything
Accountability – to each other; the government to the people
Thinking big – with overcoming poverty a connecting thread
Kagame has set a goal of “one cow per family,” improving education, improving health care. The stats are already impressive: 95% of Rwandan children are attending primary school; 90% of the population has health insurance; malaria has been reduced by 70%.
Clare also addressed the controversial question of President Kagame serving a third term: “Why take away your biggest asset?”
Her message for our students:
“Be concerned. Know what happened in Rwanda.” “Look at how people rise against all odds, like a plant rising from ashes.”
The U.S. Embassy is a short drive from the from the Presidential Compound and was our second stop of the morning. We had the privilege of meeting with Ambassador Erica J. Barks-Ruggles. The Ambassador compared Rwanda to an onion: “Pull off a layer and you find more. Every time you think you understand what’s happening, something new arises.” She also stated that Rwandans who are over 22 have PTSD. “You can’t get over the genocide because it’s absorbed in your own story.”
The question of teaching Rwandan students about the genocide was raised. It is supposed to be taught in grade 6. I can’t imagine a more challenging curriculum. How do you teach a topic when both the victims and perpetrators are alive and present?!
Our last stop was to visit Pastor Seraya, one of Carl’s larger-than-life heroes, “the best example of servant leadership.” During the genocide, Pastor Seraya, also with the Adventist Church, was targeted by the Interahamwe because he had lived in the Congo and spoke English, two traits common to the rebel RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) forces. The pastor and his wife hid in Carl’s home. On a daily basis, the pastor provided guidance and advice to Carl. His wife left the safety of their home almost daily to forage and bargain for food and supplies.
Pastor Seraya’s message for educators:
“Moving on is to forget; moving forward is to learn from.” “The power of the word is like a fire. If it is a kind word, it warms. If it is a negative word, it destroys.”
Day 9 – On this morning of our last full day in Rwanda, we set out for what we knew would be a tough visit: the Mahama Refugee Camp, “home for now” for over 20,000 refugees from Burundi. But how amazing that about midway on our drive, we noticed a team of cyclists coming up the hill, quickly gaining on our bus. Carl called to Peter to pull over. We were about to witness the Rwandan Men’s National Cycling team in action – a team that rose from the ashes to move Rwanda into the Olympic arena (You really want to watch this short trailer!), demonstrating that anything is possible.
Before entering the refugee camp, we stopped first at at a newly constructed school built by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in collaboration with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). The school is for the refugee children, but also for the local Rwandan children from the surrounding community. This week was actually a holiday for the students, but a group of students arrived to take advantage of special classes to prepare for upcoming national exams. Thanks to the combined efforts of ADRA and UNHCR, the students have access to many services, including tutoring, lunches, and uniforms.
As I walked through several classrooms, I saw the power of words (via chalk) to portray tough realities, but also to inspire more promising futures.
The school visit served as an introduction to the Mahama Refugee Camp. Like the school, Mahama was quickly constructed in 2015 in response to the wave of refugees entering from Burundi. Our guides gave us a brief overview of the camp and program and then invited us to tour the camp. We were asked not to take photos, but this short YouTube video will give you an idea of how quickly the camp has grown over the year.
The camp is organized in a progression of housing options. Refugees enter the camp in what are referred to as “hanger tents,” long rows of connected tents, with many families under the same extended canvas roof. After screening for health issues and completing the registration process, they move on to more house-like tent structures, which shelter two families, separated by a canvas dividing sheet. The goal is for refugees to eventually move to semi-permanent homes, which they help construct.
Again, the UNHCR and ADRA work together to provide food, medical services, and education. I think much credit also goes to Rwanda, accepting and welcoming refugees when the country is still recovering from their own national crisis. Life is tough in Mahama, but refugees were maximizing and making do with very little. I wish I had a picture of their tiered wedding-cake-style gardens, for instance, which were scattered throughout the camp. Vegetables and herbs were planted in each layer, but watering happened on the top layer, so it could trickle down to the other layers. Such a practical use of space and water.
One of my favorite Mahama stories was shared by fellow traveler Tim Redmond. As we walked around the camp, we drew quite a crowd of children. Tim was walking alongside our colleague Kelly, who was jotting down notes (in cursive). Behind Kelly, a young girl was following – and fluently reading aloud Kelly’s notes. Despite the challenges of being a refugee, this child was already reading in several languages. Together, Rwanda, UNHCR and ADRA are making the dream of better life a possibility for Mahama’s refugees.
Our last stop of the day was to ADRA headquarters, just outside the camp to drop off donations we brought with us from the States for the refugees. I know that my donation of clothing and art supplies will be put to good use and greatly appreciated. So proud to be a part of this incredible group of educators and humanitarians!
Day 10 – Everyday of our journey, Carl would remind us that we would witness both the worst and the best of humanity. Our last day was a huge dose of the best. Our drive to the airport included a stop at an outlying neighborhood that was hosting a cow-distribution ceremony. The ceremony was sponsored by Carl’s friend Amiel, a fellow ADRA worker and genocide survivor, who, in 2008, founded Life Lifting Hands. Across the region, Amiel’s team helps buy cows from neighboring communities to distribute to needy families, one cow per family. A cow represents a lifeline to a poor Rwandan family, as it provides multiple benefits (milk for children, income from selling milk, manure for vegetable gardens, and ultimately money for selling’s a cow’s offspring).
Such a joyous occasion, with music and dancing throughout the ceremony – and Kigali children learning a few new dance moves:
Taking part in the cow distribution ceremony was a perfect exit ticket to an unforgettable trip.
As we headed into the Kigali Airport to start the long flight(s) home, I think we all realized that, given the awe-inspiring sights and experiences of the last 10 days and the bond we had formed as a group, in many ways our journeys were just beginning. Thanks to email, Facebook, phone calls, and videoconferencing, the shared conversations continue, starting with the topic of how we will incorporate the lessons and reflections from Rwanda into our teaching assignments. I’ve already connected with several outstanding high school teachers in my district to discuss projects, resources, and curriculum to ensure that students know what happened in Rwanda, the importance of looking for the good, and understanding that a single person can cross the line from bystander to upstander to change the course of history.
I wake up every morning so very grateful for having made the trip to Rwanda and looking for ways to pass on the experience, inspiration, and lessons learned.
I’m back from the ISTE 2016 Conference, somewhat rested, and ready to reflect on and share my top takeaways.
For a starter, having futurist Michio Kaku as the opening keynote was a wonderful, energizing kick-off for the 4-day ISTE adventure. Brilliant + hilarious is always a winning combo.
Before Michio took the stage, ISTE introduced their new Technology Standards for Students. Love that digital citizenship is in the mix.
Favorite Session Takeaways – Some Resources, Tips, and Quotes
Given that there were over 1,000 sessions, the daily challenge was to narrow it down to one pick per time block. I did pretty well 🙂
Digital Literacy for Teachers & Students – Kyle Pace and Lise Galuga were a great team, with Kyle covering search basics and Lise bringing critical thinking into the search process with Beyond Google Search. Loved the opportunity to explore Ngrams. Quote from LIse: “Ngrams = Wordle through time based on Google search frequency over time. It’s graphical interface.”
Hands-On Geography – I registered for Warren Apel’s session because I’m working on a new workshop (Mapping Our Journeys, digital handout and slideshow coming soon) and wondered what I might add to MyMaps, Google Tour Builder, and Google Street View. The combination of Gap Minder and Google Sheets to create a Choropleth chart (a map that uses shades of color to display data) was a great takeaway – definitely a WOW factor!
What Can You Do With Google Drawings? – I’m also adding Google Drawings to workshops I’ll be teaching this year, so I waited in the long line for the Google EDU session by Chantell Manahan and Lance Yoder. In this very short (15-minutes) session, Lance and Chantell surveyed the audience via a Google Form to select top 2 choices to demo: creating a customized banner (Page Setup to select inches or pixels; WordArt for logo) and creating a collaborative Padlet-like cork board (Insert Image to search for cork board and Post It notes). I agree with Lance’s answer to the session title question: What can’tyou do with Google Drawings?!
Get student feedback. When you open an assignment, take advantage of the send private comment feature. This option is way more effective than adding a comment on paper because it’s a conversation (“A comment is not a comment; it’s a conversation!”). Create a culture where students are comfortable asking a question.
Tap into keyboard shortcuts. Use Ctrl Alt M to insert comment/feedback; Ctrl + enter saves comment; Ctrl W – closes tab and puts you back into Classroom. Sort in G Drive by “last opened by me” so you can quickly move on to next student.
How about grading on the conversations, not the outcome. This mindset shift will encourage students to ramp up their challenge level.
Choose Your Own Adventure– Loved Michelle Armstrong’s fun, highly interactive, insightful session! I’ve dabbled a bit in Google Forms with logic branching (AKA Choose Your Own Adventure) but haven’t actually taught this incredible option yet in my own workshops, mainly because it seemed easier to set up in the old Google Forms than the new Forms, which Michelle confirmed: “Granular control in old Forms is better (font, header, image). You don’t have a built-in search option, but you can head out and search for images.” Her short slideshow is a gem! Slides 4, 5, and 6 include links to walk you through the process via samples, video, and Google Slide graphic organizer:
Beyond the Headlines – Lise Galuga’s quote “Newspapers provide access to an event as it is unfolding – way better than a Google Search” set the tone for this thought-provoking session. If you’re not familiar with Google’s Newspaper archive, the collections range from 1738 to 2009, which is when Google bought PaperofRecord.com. Unfortunately, the legal contracts between Paper of Record and Google not transferable, so there’s a halt right now in digitizing, but Google is leaving the collections until they able to resolve the legal limitations. But, oh my, what a treasure – over 200 years worth of primary sources. If you go through Lise’s slideshow, you can see how digital newspapers can even transform the traditional grade school family tree project from a parent-created task to a time travel adventure.
Next Steps for the Next Wave – A Plan for Rethinking Schools – Will Richardson – Of all the sessions, this was the one I wish all school administrators could have attended. It was also my biggest Conference takeaway. Ten years ago, I bought Will’s Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, a book I still recommend and refer to (especially when writing grant narratives. Will’s session was the icing on my ISTE cake.
Opening question/statement: What to do when kids are learning, but it looks nothing like the classroom … The question is not how do we do it better, but how do we do it differently?
Answer: Try to move from the right-hand column to the left-hand column
To see the context for this chart, I highly recommend watching Will’s 16-minute TED Talk The Surprising Truth About Learning in School – the next best thing to attending his ISTE session.
But in looking at the above chart, how do we transition from the right-hand column to the left-hand column and create modern schools for our kids? Will suggests that we LEAD (learn, educate, articulate, do it)
Learn – building your own personal capacity . “There has never been a more amazing time to be learning.” Seymour Pappert, 35 years later, still relevant. How are you connected to other educators from around the globe who share your passions? To learn – you have to teach yourself. Take on the disposition of an 8-year old.
Educate – CCSD59 – educating the community http://www.ccsd59.org/ – constantly putting information out front. We need a maker culture, not a maker space (like building a computer lab)
Articulate – What is your intentions as a school (mission). Vision – how do you do that? Finland refocusing based on impact of PISA scores. Mt Vernon Norms : start with Qs, Fail up, share the well, assume the best, have fun. SLA’s mission/vision; Albemarle County Public School (work based on beliefs & context). “Our mission is to teach everything that anyone is interested in learning
Do it – Create the left column.
Oh … and not to forget the Poster Sessions and Exhibitors Hall …
My favorite poster session = The Smithsonian’s Learning Lab – “Digital Creation with Real Substance” – Five years in the making, the Learning Lab is a fabulous free resource not only for finding primary sources, but for also curating your own collections. Check out the video for a window into the Learning Lab.
My biggest takeaway from the Exhibitors Hall = Amazon Inspire. This Open Education Project will allow K–12 schools to upload, curate, and share open education resources (OERs). Amazon hopes to go live with Inspire in two to three months, This free platform/service will allow educators to rate and review content, add self-published work to their collections, and upload “a school’s entire digital library that is open and freely available online.” I signed up for early and am really looking forward to exploring Inspire’s resources and possibilities. You can sign up too by clicking on this link.
A huge shout out to the ISTE planning team for an outstanding event!
No, it’s not too soon to start planning for ISTE 2017. I’m looking forward to again sharing the adventure – and hotel room – with the ever-inspiring Sandy Hayes and Cathe Petuya (who has already booked our hotel:-). San Antonio, here we come!