Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Maldives Report

Travel Lightly, Live Slowly and Other Lessons from the Maldives

The project for my Fulbright Award and the basis for my spring, 2008 spring semester sabbatical, was titled “Internationalizing Teacher Education.” This project included teaching two classes, “Introduction to Guidance and Counseling” and “Sociology of Education,” helping with the development of the teacher education curriculum, working with student research projects, observing and supervising pre-service teachers in schools, and working with students in the role of an advisor all at the Maldives College of Higher Education (MCHE) in Male, Republic of the Maldives. In addition to my work at MCHE, my sabbatical included travel to Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and Vietnam all within the context of learning more about international education and for setting up student teaching opportunities for Luther College education students interested in internationalizing their teacher education program or for choosing international teaching as a potential career choice.

In addition to the more formal responsibilities, the nature of the Fulbright Program is to increase mutual understanding between the peoples of the United States and other countries through the exchange of persons, knowledge and skills. Consequently, during my sabbatical semester, my wife and I took the opportunity to talk with many people from all across the globe and whether it was to learn about life in Sri Lanka through the daily contact we had with the fitness instructors at the gym, or about Bangladesh and India through many workers living in the Maldives, or about New Zealand and Australia through several colleagues on the faculty at MCHE, or about the daily life of Maldivians through our regular interchanges with our landlord, neighborhood contacts and numerous students with whom I interacted outside of the classroom, or with the hundreds people with whom we had one-time interchanges in Male and in India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam during our travels, this was a semester filled with opportunities to learn about other people, their stories and their hopes and dreams for the world and for them to learn about the USA. The unprecedented coverage and interest in the USA democratic primaries primarily focusing on the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, provided the catalyst for engaging a wide range of people in these conversations.

Before I continue, based on the fact that we have learned that the Maldives are not a well-known place in the USA even among people who have traveled extensively, it might be helpful to provide a few facts about the country. There are about 300,000 Maldivians living on the 200 inhabited islands of the country that lies about 500 miles south of the southern most point of India. There are approximately another 800 uninhabited islands. We lived in Male, the capital of the Maldives, which is about 1 square mile and is home to approximately 135,000 people. The other 89 resort islands serve as the backbone for the economy with over 600,000 tourists visiting the Maldives each year. The weather during the semester we were there was consistent with temperatures hovering around 88 degrees with about 75-80% humidity.

Having lived and taught abroad for sixteen years of my career and in five different countries before beginning at Luther College and having developed an international student teaching program for the Luther Education Department, I was anxious to revisit the international lifestyle and to become immersed in a new culture to learn about the educational system through the lens of a teacher education program. Our family had traveled to the Republic of the Maldives as tourists in 1993 and felt that we had an idea of the challenges awaiting us upon our arrival. We were in for a few surprises and learned many lessons about life, about ourselves, and about teaching and learning both internationally and in the United States. Following is a summary of some of these lessons.

The Importance of Traveling Lightly

Perhaps the first clue that we were not traveling lightly should have been the excess baggage charge that we unexpectedly had to pay on our connecting flight from Colombo, Sri Lanka to Male, Republic of the Maldives based on different rules for flights disembarking in Male than for other international destinations. However, what really drove the point home that we were traveling with “excess baggage” was when we arrived in Male at 11:00 p.m. and had to climb 94 steps up a stairwell with our luggage in about 88 degree heat and 75% humidity to our 450 square foot 6th floor apartment. We then spent the next few days tripping over piles we had made to find some way to deal with all of the extra “stuff” we had brought on this trip. Five months later, many of the piles were where we had left them only to be repacked for our trip back to Decorah.

Not only was it the excess weight in the suitcases that made the trudge up the stairs a reason to ponder what might be unnecessary to be hauling around in life, but it was also the excess weight around my waist that slowed me down that struck me as needing to be “downsized.” Over the course of the next several months this idea was reinforced since it was rare to see a Maldivian who was overweight and who carried around this “excess baggage.” I was determined to see what I could do during this sabbatical to get in better shape physically and, fortunately, I had the weather, the fitness facilities and the time to make this happen.

This general notion of traveling lightly through life was one I pondered regularly during this Fulbright and sabbatical experience. In addition to the completely unnecessary possessions we hauled to the Maldives, between our laptop, digital camera, I-pod, extra memory cards, online storage sites, and other Internet resources, we hauled around a library of “digital stuff.” Currently, I have well over 4,000 digital photographs on my computer and these alone could consume as much time as I would like to dedicate to organizing, cropping, enhancing and doing all the rest made possible through i-Photo. Add the daily writing and responding to e-mails, searching the Internet for travel bargains and destinations, completing e-banking transactions, keeping up on Facebook groups, reading a variety of blogs, reading decorahnews.com, and generally keeping up on the news can be much like the piles of material possessions we found ourselves tripping over. We did hold out on acquiring a cell phone during our time in the Maldives, although it is a piece of technology that is dramatically changing the way of communicating, the way people interact in the Maldives and consumes a significant amount of the younger generation’s time.

The Challenge of Living Slowly

Much of our life in Male and in the Maldives was rather predictable and provided ample time to talk with people and for my wife and I, recent empty nesters, to reflect about our lives and to think about our futures. Even though I taught two classes with a total of 92 students in them and worked a relatively comparable daily schedule in many ways with my schedule at Luther, life away from the Faculty of Education in the Maldives was not filled with the busyness of day-to-day life in the USA. We did not have a car primarily because you can walk across Male in about 30 minutes and because there is no place to drive. Our apartment, because it was very small, took almost no time to maintain. Because meals at restaurants were quite inexpensive, we almost never prepared meals at home. On the weekends, we left Male to explore one of the remote islands of the Maldives where the primary activities were snorkeling, reading, talking with people from all over the world, walking the island, doing some occasional fishing and spending significant chunks of time around meals.

This may sound easy and appealing to live this slowed down lifestyle. Initially it is more challenging than one may think but, with time, it gave me many reasons to contemplate just why is it that Americans are so compelled to stay compulsively busy and take such odd satisfaction in being completely stressed out. Perhaps it is all linked to the need to pile up possessions that we are all seemingly tripping over or, at least, that’s what we did during our semester in the Maldives and during the flood clean-up that we helped with shortly after our return to Decorah.

There are Too Many People in the World

My anecdotal analysis based on our life in the Maldives and on our travels throughout other countries, would suggest that the world cannot sustain the growing worldwide population. Male, the island where we lived, was home to at least 135,000 people (with the exact number unclear because of the number of people who were there illegally or were living with extended families because of the tsunami) in an area of less than one square mile. A majority of Maldivians lived in multi-family dwellings. When we felt cramped in our 450 square foot apartment, we reminded ourselves that the middle class Maldivian household would have an apartment this size for at least 8-10 family members.

In response to this lack of space, the Maldivian government with support from a number of countries, is reclaiming land to provide more space for housing and other development. This is often at the expense of coral reefs that, in turn, make the islands more vulnerable to the changing weather patterns resulting from global warming. The solutions to dealing with too many people trying to inhabit too small of space often seems worse than the initial presenting problems. In the end, don’t we need to figure out ways of controlling the number of people in the world?

And, in our travels outside of the Maldives that took us to India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, the same theme emerged. The combination of a growing population with growing world-wide consumption patterns present an extremely complex set of challenges that, if they go unaddressed, will be a formula for a global catastrophe unprecedented in the history of the world. My experience, during my semester abroad, was that there is little reason for optimism in these areas.

The Fragile State of United States Leadership in the World

Never before have I had the opportunity to interact with foreign college students and professionals who were highly motivated to talk about USA politics and foreign policy often triggered because of the coverage of the Clinton-Obama primary debates. This was particularly stimulating because of the fact that the Maldives is a 100% Islamic state and is also attempting to transition into a multi-party, more democratic country. It was my sense that the United States government wants to be sure, although is it a small country of only 300,000 people, that the Maldives don’t become a more fundamentalist country politically and is the reason for substantial USA support for both the agenda of change and for the many infrastructure projects being funded in the Maldives.

Without exception, the conversations with Maldivians always reflected a fascination with the USA, a high level of respect for the freedom and for the openness of the democratic process, a hope that the USA can use its influence and power throughout the world to impact freedom and opportunities for all people, and a genuine openness to learn what is positive about life in the USA. At the same time, there is much confusion and worry that the USA is increasing greedy, self-serving, unwilling to listen to others, out of touch with the rest of the world, and will be incapable of being a world leader unless some of these fundamental issues of respect are addressed. It was my sense that there is guarded optimism from the Maldivians and international community that this needed change will be a part of the next administration’s agenda in the USA.

Exaggerated International Education Standards

Although there is substantial and convincing research that the USA is not doing well educationally in comparison to other countries especially in math and science standardized testing, it was my experience again during my semester in the Maldives and other countries in Asia that we must be cautious about these comparisons.

The first area of caution I would suggest is related to the pool of students being compared and on what basis these comparisons are being made. In countries (i.e. India) where still a majority of students do not go beyond the 5th grade in any kind of formal education, we need to be aware of the implications for comparing the test scores of one population with those of another. In the Maldives, the percentage of students who reach a level of “proficient” in reading and writing is alarmingly low even with a total population of fewer than 100,000 students countrywide. There is a much more prescribed national curriculum within many countries outside of the USA, including the Maldives, that can result in a much more narrow curriculum and outcomes that can be measured more cleanly by standardized measures, but which often also results in unmotivated and passive students. The short term “gains” as measured by standardized testing and that can be used for international comparisons often do not serve students well over the long haul and for post K-12 experience comparisons both educationally and for their lives beyond school.

The second area of caution would be in the whole area of special education, special needs, and dealing with all students regardless of their levels of ability. It is my experience that there is not another country in the world and especially in Asia, that comes close to the USA in these areas. Many would argue that the USA has allocated too many resources for dealing with special needs students but I would suggest that, at least, it is difficult to compare the overall effectiveness of schools and their ability to prepare all students for their futures if this piece is left out of the comparison.

The areas of creativity, the arts, the social and emotional health of students, extracurricular activities and their role in education, technology, vocational education, and many other objectives of education in the USA just aren’t a part of the educational process in the Maldives or many other countries by which the USA system is compared. Although the relative value of these areas of the educational experience in the USA can be argued, I believe it is fair to say that comparing two systems when the objectives of each system are different makes it difficult, if not impossible, to make a fair comparison. All things considered and acknowledging that we can learn much from other systems and ways of educating students, I came away from this semester again with the impression that the high standards of international education are exaggerated for reasons that aren’t completely clear to me if you actually spend time in schools outside of the USA and don’t rely solely are data that is generated from all kinds of sources with all kinds of confusing variables.

Returning to Luther College

As sabbaticals are designed to do, I am coming back to Luther College energized and anxious to integrated what I learned from my semester in the Maldives with what I teach and with what I do here. I am convinced that we need to figure out ways to get more of our future teachers outside of the USA as they prepare to deal with their future students. They will not only learn about other systems and other people but they will also reflect on what we do well in the USA. We need to help students to think globally about the decisions they make because virtually all of the significant issues facing our world are dependent on international cooperation and understanding to address them in a comprehensive way.

More specifically, I would like to develop an international education endorsement that would be included with the options for an elementary education degree and could be included as a part of a secondary teaching minor. This endorsement would include additional coursework and practicum experiences specifically designed to help student better understand the interconnectedness of the world, to help them look at educational issues through an international lens, and for students to learn about other educational systems. Furthermore, I would like to generally bring more international perspectives into the education department’s curriculum with particular emphasis on developing teachers for global responsibility. Finally, through the additional links I have established with international schools throughout Asia, I will continue to encourage Luther College’s education major to consider doing a practicum or student teaching experience abroad.

And, in the end, if there are any two lessons I would especially like to share with my students from my Fulbright and sabbatical experience they would be to travel more lightly through life and to live more slowly. These are two lessons that the kind and caring people of the Maldives shared with me and ones that have huge implications for the future of our planet. I sincerely appreciate that Luther College provided me the time and the financial support for this sabbatical to be a reality and I plan to integrate what I learned and experienced into my teaching and work in the education department.

Radically Changing Education?

Radically Changing Education

Click on "Radically Changing Education" and watch the video clip about how the speaker believes we need to radically change what we value/teach in schools. I was especially taken by his idea about how if all insects died tomorrow humans and the planet as a whole wouldn't last long. If all humans died tomorrow, the planet would flourish. We do need to think about what that means and what it means for teaching and learning. Somehow, we don't seem to "get it." Will look forward to your reactions since our cooperative learning activity tomorrow will center around this clip.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Animal School

Animal School (Click on this to watch the video clip)
Once you go to the Raising Small Souls, go to the purple box on this page and watch the video. How would NCLB work in the Animal School? Are there "basic skills/competencies" that are important for all "animals" to master?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Crazy or What?!

Have a look at the following movie clip and ask yourself whether this can be real or not? Seems to me this is about as crazy as it gets.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Useful Websites

Dear Ed Psych Students:

Following are a list of useful websites that you can reference during the second half of this semester and as you begin to develop strategies for effective teaching. There are a few tasks I would like you to do in preparation for this week's classes.
  1. Since we are going to be hearing from Decorah School Board members during class on Monday, take a look at the Iowa School Board Association website to get a general idea of the role of school boards with the work of schools and teachers. If you can generate a question or two to ask based on the review of this website, that would be terrific.
  2. Compare Madeline Hunter's lesson plan design format with the understanding by design concept. The Madeline Hunter format is what the typical Luther College lesson plan looks like. This webpage gives good descriptions of each section and how the sections connect with the others.
  3. Look at the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development website and watch the YouTube clip shown on this page.
  4. Take a look at the classroom management link. Do you think this is a good source for thinking about one of the most challenging aspects (classroom discipline) of first year teachers?
Classroom Management
Iowa School Board Association
Madeline Hunter Lesson Plan Design
Understanding by Design Resources
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Model Webpage

Check out Decorah 3rd Grade Teacher, Steve Peterson's, Webpage
You will quickly see why it recently won an statewide award for excellence. You should especially check out his students' podcasts of viewing Decorah through the eyes of children. It is a terrific model of how a webpage/blog can be used in multiple ways to enhance communication and learning for his students.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Secretary of Education Margaret Spelling's Speech

Spelling's Speech

Take a look at Secretary of Education Spelling's speech that she delivered about NCLB in January. Do the main points of this speech reflect the main points of our High Stakes School Improvement plan? Does it appear that we would have been in compliance with this legislation and may have even been setting the bar high for other districts to model?

No Child Left Behind Role Play

Government Website for the NCLB Legislation:

The above link is the government website with full description of the NCLB legislation. It is a large site with lots of links but could be your official source to answer any question you might have about this law. Hopefully, we portrayed some of the basics of the legislation with our role play but read for yourself to see what we might not have accomplished very well.

There are many questions that can be raised about the process which we experimented with on Monday night. Included are some that come to mind for me.
  1. Would it have been more beneficial to present the guidelines for NCLB for a few class periods and then complete the exercise? Or does this activity provide you with some context and for some motivation to learn more about it? If you spend a few minutes on the website listed above you will quickly learn that it is a long, detailed piece of legislation.
  2. Did you make the connections between what we have been talking and reading about in class or should I have been more direct about these connections? Since it is important for all of you to consider learning theory, how students learn best, the relationship or lack of the same between self-esteem and learning, what is meant be "Highly Qualified Teachers" (is this the same as expert teachers?), etc., did this exercise give you the opportunity to see the complexity of all of these concepts in context of a school setting?
  3. Did you sense how powerful roles can be even when they are assigned for a one hour activity? Can you begin to imagine what the "role" of schools and teachers can differ for all kinds of different groups? Can you visual what you want your ideal role to be as a teacher and in relationship to your students and families?
  4. How would we begin to test your learning for this activity? Would a grading system have changed the dynamic during the activity?
  5. Is it possible as a teacher to be bias or value free? Can you work well with people who might strongly disagree with you?
I will be interested to see what other questions you have during class tomorrow. I am enjoying reading all of your blogs.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Believing in Your Students!

Check out: Believing in Your Students!

If you can generate and maintain a genuine belief that all of your students in your classroom can and will achieve ("selling students to themselves") you will be an expert teacher and one who will make a difference. Hope you enjoy this video clip as much as I did.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Why A Blog?

Please watch the video clip to see the importance of blogs in the classroom.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Life on an Island

I lived in the Republic of the Maldives last semester where I completed a Fulbright Scholarship and a Luther College sabbatical. I taught two classes at the Maldives College of Higher Education (Introduction to Guidance and Counseling and Sociology of Education), I observed in local schools, and I worked with students in the role of an adviser. In addition, I traveled to Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and Vietnam to set up relationships with international schools for the purpose of practicum and student teaching placements for the future.

08 Ed Psych "Section C" Blogs

Amy Streck
Sara Walston
Sam Murry
Carrie Hoskey
Emily Kilgore
Rachel Gabbert
Laura Davis
Beth Gonia
Kelly Jo Roth
Dana Sonnicksen
Ben Marple
Lara Graves
Bethany Van Sloten
Samantha McCamy
Michelle Voights
Katie Terhune
Ben Harkins
Steven Beckman
Brian Doudna
Kayla Oppermann
Laura Wasz
Sarah Lundine
Maria Vejdani

08 Ed Psych "Section B" Blogs

Amanda Olson
Laura Forst
Andrea Martinson
Haley Gibbons
Bethany Wichman
Brett Epperson
Anna Kenyon
Jocelyn Hare
Dustin Noble
Anders Hanson
William Morris
Hannah Berlin-Burns
Alex Redding
Jen Tweten
Eric Anderson
Cody Edwards
Katie Deaver
Aliyah Richling
Bridget Casper
Katie Trewartha
Abby Herman
Hilary Fasbender
Justin Strauser

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Philosophy of Education

If you can't identify why you are teaching something in your classroom you shouldn't be teaching it. Students should be able to identify the reasons for your lessons, too, and should be encouraged to ask questions related to the objectives for the class. The most common reasons given to students from teachers as to why they need to learn something include: 1) Because it is in the curriculum. 2) Because you will need it in the next grade level. 3) So you can get a good grade. 4) So that you can get a good job some day.

Are these sufficient reasons for expecting students to give their best in your class? What better reasons could you provide for motivating to learn what you are teaching?

Establishing a philosophy for teaching is fundamentally important for becoming an effective teacher. This "why" of teaching is as important as the "what" and the "how."
Unfortunately, we do not spend enough time in our schools and classrooms surrounding the big questions for teaching and learning.