“It was Amazing!” From High Tech to Low/No Tech and Back Again: Reflections from a Week of Teaching in the DR

The smile says it all!

The smile says it all!

Within the classroom environment, 1:1 iPad programs engage students and help inspire new models of instruction and project-based learning, sharpening our collective focus on the cultivation of the 21st Century skills of creation, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.

Getting outside of the classroom environment to immerse ourselves in other cultures and ecosystems as we do during our experiential learning “Trips” week is also how we are transforming teaching and learning at my school, Sugar Bowl Academy.

This spring, SBA Spanish teacher Aly Kendall and I organized a weeklong experiential learning/service trip to the Dominican Republic, where we worked alongside eight SBA students teaching English in a small town public school through non-profit Outreach360.

We had none of the high tech tools to which Sugar Bowl Academy teachers and students have grown happily accustomed; no iPads, no LCD projectors, no wireless routers, no Apple TV for mirroring, certainly no air conditioning, and not even a photocopier.

“I had to teach for the first time, which was a shock in itself. But I also taught children who spoke a different language, in one of the hottest climates in the world, and in overcrowded classrooms without windows,” said SBA’s Sinead Danagher (’16).

Lesson planning was a time-consuming but creative and collaborative process of figuring out kinesthetic ways (TPR) to teach new vocabulary and of developing illustrations to teach new English vocabulary which we would tape to the chalkboard during class sessions.

Chalkboards!

We ate Dominican food, danced Dominican dances, and taught with the same limited tools that a Dominican teacher has at his/her disposal. We were fully immersed.

“STOP TO TALK,” OR “STOP TALKING?!” LESSONS FROM NO-TECH LESSON PLANNING

One of our objectives during our week of English teaching at the Escuela Básica John F. Kennedy in Monte Cristi was to teach the concepts of the words “this, that, these, and those.” A considerable amount of critical thinking, creation, collaboration, and communication went into developing that particular lesson plan within and between our two teaching teams.

For the most part, the lesson involved illustrations – singular and plural – taped to front and back walls of classrooms, along with some TPR.

We also developed what we initially thought was a brilliant kinesthetic way to teach the expression “stop to talk,” but ultimately – and after discussing during our evening reflection session – left the lesson feeling that the students probably thought that we were telling them all to “stop talking!”

STUDENTS SEE THE VALUE

Students certainly recognize the value of Sugar Bowl Academy’s experiential learning trips, both in terms of their own development and of the benefits that service-focused experiential learning trips in particular offer to others living in less fortunate societies.

“I grew by having my eyes opened to the culture and struggles of the Dominican people, and by leaving a positive impact on the community,” said Sinead.

Said Julia Puchkov: “I saw what opportunities I have, as opposed to the Dominican kids. I really realized how lucky I am. Also my view of the world grew and expanded.”

Being away from their tech-infused environs also helped our students grow in ways that they most likely had not foreseen. Without the powerful pull of their mobile devices, students found themselves engaging one another on a very personal level.

“Being without Internet in a mostly contained environment for 8 days made everyone spend more time together. We played cards for hours and everyone became much closer,” said Sinead.

“I don’t think I understand the meaning of life but I think I understand happiness and generosity a bit more. Once you are removed from materialism, you can truly appreciate the wonders all around you.”

EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING ACROSS THE LEARNING CONTINUUM

Having co-led trips abroad to the Caribbean, Latin American, and Europe, I have seen firsthand how – thoughtfully planned and executed – experiential learning can be a powerful and transformative experience.

At the secondary level, it is perhaps best exemplified by THINK Global School, which has students “immerse themselves in twelve countries over four years.”

At the postsecondary level, the University of Virginia’s Semester at Sea leaps to mind as a leader in experiential learning.

Also at the postsecondary level, I have written previously here how Minerva Schools at Keck Graduate Institute is attempting to build a for-profit earned undergraduate degree model on a foundation of experiential learning abroad.

Experiential learning has been in vogue for some time, but appears to be gathering greater momentum across the learning continuum.

Provided we can accept its inherent hazards – particularly when it involves travel to the developing world – the experiential learning movement truly has the power to transform teaching and learning and to give our students the skills they will need to succeed in a global economy.

FROM NO TECH TO HIGH TECH: REFLECTIONS FROM REENTRY PHASE

If adjusting to a teaching and learning environment mostly bereft of technology proved challenging to all of us on the Outreach360 experience in Monte Cristi, it was also a readjustment to return to a classroom where each student carries an iPad and where the classroom is equipped with write-on walls, LCD projector, Apple TV, air conditioning, and glass windows.

In the hands of teachers who embrace technology knowledge along with content knowledge and pedagogy knowledge as essential and equally important elements of their toolkits, these technologies mean that more learning, and higher quality learning, happens at a much faster pace.

In the Dominican Republic, for reasons both related and unrelated to technology access, learning at a poco-a-poco pace was, for the student-teachers from Sugar Bowl Academy, and remains, I suspect, for most all teachers in the developing world, the most realistic expectation. The many rewards, however, of this experiential learning/service trip – though intangible – were rich and deeply satisfying.

Said Kathleen Smith (’17): “One day there was a boy in second grade named Luis, and he wasn’t understanding the concept I was teaching him,” wrote one student/teacher on our Outreach360 trip. “There was clearly a language barrier, and I could have gotten really frustrated… He finally got it, and it was the best feeling in the world to see him smile and feel proud.

“It was amazing!”

“Even though the kids didn’t have a lot they came to school with a smile on their face and were excited to learn. It really taught me to appreciate what I have and that life isn’t all about the things we own,” said Pilar Alvarez.

Our wonderful student-teachers at the clock tower in Monte Cristi

Our wonderful student-teachers at the clock tower in Monte Cristi

 

(Concluding on an aside, the staff and programming at Outreach360-Monte Cristi was phenomenal across the board.  Jump right in!)