March 7-8 was the second round of Solve pitches, with 6 new “Solvers” being introduced, each with a proposal to “solve” – or, more accurately, to “create a piece of the solution” – the challenge of educating millions of refugee children as they are in transit or in various stages of their journey. It was exciting to be a part of this gathering, and even more exciting to meet the team from StudentBox, who presented a proposal very much aligned to the second part of my initiative: to create a place where students can store and online portfolio of their work, which will go with them anywhere in the world. We quickly decided to join our efforts and work on this solution together, so I welcome the StudentBox team to “CSREI.” Here is a link to their complete proposal. .
I have been thinking about what this site will look like, and I really like what a group from Oxford University did at http://www.oxpand.org so I am borrowing some of their ideas. Take a look and leave some comments! Click here: Platform Vision Another great site is www.icouldbe.org – this site connects kids in the US with volunteer mentors; a similar concept to what I hope to help enable between displaced persons around the world and volunteer teacher mentors.
I had wonderful conversations with contacts in Lille, France, and Kayseri, Turkey in November. I am amazed by all of the creative programs to help unaccompanied minors and children of displaced families being worked on in these and so many other locations. Some big challenges these children are confronted with: living in survival mode puts a huge damper on children’s creativity and curiosity. Critical thinking (a difficult but necessary skill for all children to learn) gives way to an urgent need to make a choice and move on. The nurturing that is supposed to be happening for children in stable homes gives way to a focus on survival: these children become distrustful as a very understandable reaction to growing up in a world where violence and deception are all too prevalent. The challenge for those who want to teach: how to help children learn to trust again, to question fearlessly, to work together. Conversations with adults working in the field have built my understanding of the needs of these kids. Even those who are in some sort of school often don’t have records kept of their schoolwork, so the concept of a portfolio monitored by a certified teacher would be helpful in helping them make progress as they continue to relocate. From what I hear second-hand (I have yet to interview a refugee student myself, but am getting closer, and am also reading a somewhat recent book which contains stories of refugees’ journeys – Embracing the Infidel by Behzad Yaghmaian), students are interested in obtaining some sort of certificate, which reminds me of another Solve semi-finalist’s idea on educational badges. This is certainly something which could be part of my educational platform. Progress: I am building resources in the Schoology group being used for the pilot program. Basic materials for teacher sensitivity training and suggestions for teachers to use to interview students are available there now for teachers. A welcome discussion contains teacher introductions written by teachers who have joined the group. In November, I sent an invitation to teachers to help out with the pilot program. This went out to the faculty at my school (about 50 teachers), the principals at all of the other Mennonite schools in the US (since I know the director of the Mennonite Education Agency, and she kindly passed the invitation on for me), 2 other local private schools, and 3 teacher friends of mine at public schools (who I’d hoped would pass the invitation on to other teachers, but that doesn’t seem to have happened). Of all those contacts, I received emails back from 8 teachers who expressed interest, as well as two retired teachers (one a personal contact and the other a contact through a relative of mine). It’s interesting to see how the online networking progresses. I responded to all the emails from people interested, asking them to fill out my google survey which collects information on courses taught, languages spoken, etc. I also asked them to join the schoology group. As of today, I have 4 responses to the google form and of those, 2 joined the schoology group. I am reminded how busy teachers are, and that a key item to this platform will be ease of access and ability to get in and out quickly, and to easily obtain any resources needed. The biggest obstacle presenting itself to my goal of a dozen teachers and a dozen students connected in this pilot phase is the language barrier, finding teens who speak enough English to overcome the limitations of online translation tools. I continue to search through friends of friends of friends. In my online searching, I discovered Teachers Without Borders. http://teacherswithoutborders.org/ an international group of teachers who share ideas and information. They work on programs such as education for girls and emergency response education. I have joined that online community and look forward to new contacts with teachers who have big hearts and want to use their craft to help those in dire need. They have a fantastic website which provides me with yet another source of inspiration for my platform design.
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Harness the power of e-learning and a worldwide desire to help by connecting individual refugee learners with volunteer teachers. We may not be able to solve the refugee problem in the near or even distant future. An end to all wars is something we all dream about but is quite an elusive hope. But each of us can do something, however small, and make a difference somewhere in this world. This project will connect teachers around the world who have just a little spare time but who want to make a difference in the life of a single child (or adult) in a refugee camp with someone who wants desperately to learn, but needs some help getting started and help to persevere through the ups and downs of life. Please read about this project in the About page! You can also read about it at the MIT news page . My entire proposal and initial plan are at this Solve solution page . The school where I teach, Dock Mennonite Academy in Lansdale, PA, also published an article about this endeavor which you can read at Dock’s website.
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