Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Continuation of Day 2

It's hard to believe that our time in South Africa is over and I am back in my classroom thinking back about what I've witnessed, learned, and what and how I can share it with those around me. One way that I need to share is through my sadly neglected blog. I am going to pick up where I left off with our second day in Pretoria with the people from the Mereka Institute.

The discussion swerved once again to the topic of mobiles in education with a program that Mereka started called Dr. Math. Dr. Math is a mobile mathematics tutoring service using instant messaging. The students access tutors using their cell phone and communicate via text messaging. The service is available after school and on the weekends with Sunday night being their most heavily utilized time. They are currently working on a “mathlete” program where students become the tutors. They have found that those students who work with other students actually learn better (learning by teaching is nothing new) and motivate them to better in their work. One school, Cornwall Hill High School, is part of the pilot for this and their students are becoming tutors.

They are looking for more tutors from around the world. It could be those with a good grasp of the subject, teachers, or students who have taken higher level mathematic courses and excelled or are able to work to tutor others. This link will allow you to register to become a tutor and this link will take you to the official Dr. Math website.

While we were at Mereka, we had a special visit from a Mathematic teacher from Cornwall Hill High School. Helen had a very interesting theory about teenagers. She said that they don't own their home, their don't own their bed, and they don't even own the toilet that they use in their home, but they do own a cellular device. She has started to allow them to use mobiles in her classroom because it's something they have ownership of and it allows them to use it to take ownership of their learning.

She said that in the short amount of time that she's been working with them and their mobile devices, she has learned a few things. If she finds an app she likes, chances are it will only be for one type of phone or if it is cross-platform, it won't work the same way on each device. She said she tries to find mobile sites that the students can access regardless of the device they are using. If she does want to use an app, she will team the students into groups and rely on the conversations that occur through the use of the application.

She also said that a good teacher is a good teacher whether they use technology or not. This was something we touched on in nearly every educational meeting that we had. A good teacher is going to be a good teacher regardless of the situation they are in. They will find ways to teach their students. It was agreed, however, that the use of technology could make a good teacher an awesome teacher if they use the technology appropriately.

On the lines of the Digital Doorway discussed in the beginning post for this day, they were also focused on creating MobiKits. These MobiKits will contain mobile devices (cell phones or tablets), a MobiCharge that will use solar energy to charge the batteries for the devices and the wireless signal, and another piece that will supply the Internet source. These will be packed up in tough cases and distributed again into rural villages that will not have lines to provide Internet services. This is one of their new projects and Grant was working hard on the prototype.

The people at Mereka were truly innovators. They were thinking way outside of the box to find solutions for very unique situations. Their one problem seemed to be putting their research into practice. I hope that they are able to find a way to involve practitioners in their efforts to start building their programs.

After our inspirational day at Mereka, we left the CSIR facility and toured Pretoria, also called Jacaranda city, because of all the beautiful Jacaranda trees that line the streets. We were very lucky to be there during this time because they were in full bloom!

Pretoria is one of the three capitals of South Africa. It is the home of the executive branch. We drove through the city visiting the site of the Union Building and the beautiful gardens below. We drove past the United States Embassy and some other historical sites including Paul Kruger's home. The view from in front of the Union Building was beautiful as you could see the lines of purple Jacaranda trees.

Our next stop was the Lesedi Cultural Village. Here we took a tour of five different African tribes and learned a bit about each of them. We saw what they lived in, some of the things that they ate, what they wore, and learned a few of their phrases. After the tour we gathered around a fire pit to enjoy native music and dance for each of the tribes. The evening ended with a feast of traditional tribal foods including crocodile! Everyone had a wonderful evening and we glad to head back to the hotel for some rest.

You can view my photographs from today's events here.

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