About a year ago, I had the opportunity to visit Singapore...thank you Apple, Pav and Adrian! It was an amazing, life expanding experience. For two weeks, I visited 6 schools and worked with a fabulous group of Apple Distinguished Educators. I can't believe how the year has flown since then and a day doesn't go by without me contemplating this adventure.
You never know when contacts made somewhere will come in handy. Approximately a month ago I was contacted to help plan a trip being organized by Maris Stella High School, one of the schools I visited in 2008. Educators from this school wanted to travel here to establish partnerships for global projects. These projects would start in pilot format in January 2010 ideally, followed by a visit from their principal in February or March. In July or August, there would be some sort of culminating student conference, possibly with US students visiting the Singaporean students. The projects would continue on with additional schools once this pilot was completed.
After much discussion over iChat and email, the Maris Stella team decided to focus on high school grade levels, so I suggested that they visit Glenbrook North, where I know the tech coordinator, Ryan Bretag, and the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, where I used to teach. I also suggested that they continue on to Maine and connected them with Bette Manchester of the Maine International Center for Digital Learning. Bette set up visits for the Singaporeans at two Maine High Schools. Additionally, I suggested that this group visit the School at Columbia, which is comprised of grades K-8, to learn more about their work with student social networks and Google Apps. As I write, they are in Maine and will be heading to New York shortly.
I had the opportunity to join my Singaporean friends on their trip to Glenbrook North, and it truly was a magical day. I can't wait to see the relationship between the two schools develop. Ryan Bretag and his group did an OUTSTANDING job of hosting this meeting, providing meals, tours, and access to Glenbrook students and staff. We also learned about their special Academy for International Studies.
Throughout the day, many opportunities for collaboration became apparent. For instance, one English class was incorporating new media literacies into the study of A Thousand Splendid Suns, a novel that takes place in Afghanistan. Students used a variety of media and a wiki to investigate different aspects of the book and according to Ryan Bretag, the framework for this was based on the work of Henry Jenkins. This model seemed replicable and appealed to many of the Maris Stella teachers. The Glenbrook North English teacher who designed this project as also very excited about possibly replicating the activities with a future class and the Singaporean team.
Yesterday, the group visited the Laboratory Schools and University of Chicago. I had another obligation during that time, so I met them at the Booth School of Business for lunch before they headed back towards O'Hare Airport to get ready for their next leg of their trip.
I continue to be impressed with the attitudes towards education expressed by Singaporeans in general. I observed last year that culturally, there is a strong priority on education. Singaporeans are comfortable seeking out best practices, and it is routine to travel abroad to learn from others or to bring experts to the country. They also understand that they must prepare their students to participate fully in the world at large; hence, the goal of global collaborations. Yes, they could find partners for global projects through a variety of organizations including the Global Education Collaborative, but this team in particular clearly understood that personal connections are vital to collaborative projects, that face to face meetings are still essential, despite technologies that allows us to interact easily with others around the world.
My final observation (at least for this blog post) is that my Singaporean guests were the most gracious, kind and interesting group. I really enjoyed talking shop with them and learning about their plans. I felt very comfortable with them and feel like I have 12 new friends to continue conversing with. Members of this team even brought trinkets for my children, which they were very excited about, and they also presented me with a lovely engraved plate. Lining the edges of this plate are various symbols of Singapore, and it is a great reminder of my trip last year to their country and of their visit to mine!