This article describes the development of a study seminar and travel program that teams Brazilian and U.S. teachers and experts together, focusing on the education, environment, and culture of Brazil. Today's students live in a rapidly changing world in which a new global society is emerging. It is essential that educators become participating members in this developing global network, maximizing knowledge to better communicate with students.
The use of technology has recently become an important tool, connecting of teacher participants, administrators and experts in both Brazil and the U.S. The groundwork is now in place for the expansion of technology capabilities in the future for both teachers and students in each country. Research possibilities are limitless and can have application for similar programs in other countries. This Brazil-U.S. project is sponsored by North Carolina State University in cooperation with the Instituto Sangari, Sao Paulo Brazil.
The world in which today's students live is rapidly changing, growing significantly smaller in scope as a new global society emerges. As educators, it is essential we become active, participating members in this developing global network, maximizing our own knowledge so that we are better able to communicate with students. We must be collaborative members of the world community, cooperating with other teachers to educate the leaders for today, tomorrow, and the future.
Amazing changes in technology, as well as new software programs, allow educators to utilize and incorporate new people, new places, and new ideas into the curriculum. This article creates a framework for developing an international experience enhanced through the use of new technology. Teachers can communicate via internet telephony, a computer-based tool that allows many people to converse on a free conference call. As a result of new technology and the aid of an interpreter, teachers from Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Alaska, and Texas can talk together about a specific topic, compare the type of weather they are experiencing, and pass on a topic their students would like to discuss in a monthly E-letter. Up to ten individuals may participate in a conference call. Students will be able to look at video clips, see each otherís drawings, and listen to each other's music if a microphone is in the classroom. They will be able to propose different strategies to solve problems. Unbelievably, it is all free. This is "living education," and it has infinite applications and implications for all educators and their students.
Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined sitting in plastic chairs on the upper deck of a small boat motoring on the Rio Negro in the Amazon (see Figure 1). Suddenly, in the middle of this river stretching from horizon to horizon, with no other boats within sight, a phone rings. It belongs to one of the Brazilian educators traveling with us. She tells a family member in Sao Paulo about a dance we have just seen and how we joined the native Indians in their ritual. Farther up river, another phone rings. The Brazilian educator tells the caller we have just left a river community, where the children are picked up by boat and taken to school. Teachers aboard this small boat could communicate with their families, thanks to technology unheard of in the world of yesterday.
Figure 1. Boat on river in the Amazon
Changes in Technology
Both the use and the access to technology have changed significantly over the past four years, both in Brazil and for those from the U.S. who participate in our programs. In 2004, participants shared a computer in the hotel lobby or had to take turns in the computer room with about six computers. No one brought a laptop computer with them. In the summer of 2007, computers were available for each individual; additionally, wireless connections for laptops were available at our hotel in Sao Paulo. This allowed each participant e-mail access and free telephony with home contacts, alleviating the sharing of rented computers (formerly, a significant cost to the program). In 2007, several participants took their laptops to the Pantanal. Although web-access was difficult to find and not always available, journaling, photo collection, and activity development could be continued. In one outlying pousada, there was wireless access within the office area; this was a pleasant surprise! The safety of laptops in rough terrain can now be better maintained with our larger bus transport; consequently, participants will be asked to bring their own laptops for the 2008 sessions.
Future networking with Brazilian participants becomes easier each year. Each state in Brazil approaches their technology differently, and as in the U.S., this step-by-step approach results in different technology availability for each stateís educational system. It is difficult to make blanket statements, as the variability is great. Brazil is a country about the size of the U.S., and many different scenarios exist which are similar to ours. In Sao Paulo, for example, teleconferencing centers have been established throughout the city. Teacher in-training programs are disseminated through these centers, requiring that teachers go to these centers to participate. Teachers and administrators in the public schools have access to computers, but there are few computer labs for students. Many, but not all of the private schools have computers and internet connections. Instituto Sangari reported that in Brazilia, fewer than 10% of the public school classrooms have white boards, and only about 25% of the schools there have internet connections. In Brazil, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software is more difficult in application than in the U.S. (Gioppo, personal communication, 2007), where GIS software is free for educators. Gioppo was a participant in many early GIS workshops in Raleigh, NC (Stubbs, Devine, & Hagevik, 2002).
We view the advance of technology with teachers and students of Brazil as an opportunity to do the following: ground our own knowledge, purposely develop the technology capabilities of our teachers as they travel to a foreign country, share our knowledge and programs with others, learn about other programs, and plan future endeavors between both Brazilian and U.S. teachers and students. Developing networks between teachers and students will have a profound effect upon the globalization of both present and future citizens. This activity is slow in initial planning and design; however, after a baseline is in place, we anticipate a surge forward, and we are preparing our teachers to be ready for it.
Why Plan an International Professional Development Experience for Educators?
Teachers with firsthand experience through international adventures can speak personally and passionately to students about their discoveries, as they share photographs, anecdotes, and videos of indigenous people, cultural traditions, native ecosystems, and local schools. Such teachers are also more likely to share their knowledge with peers and to become leaders in disseminating scientific information and global perspectives to varied audiences. In, The Middle Mind, Why Americans Donít Think for Themselves, Curtis White (2004) states that
the imagination is not only about creation; it is also about how we see and how we experience. We cannot create in a fresh and lively way while looking at our world from a stale (even if familiar and comforting) perspective. So, before the productive work of the imagination can begin, we must be outside of the familiar (p. 2).
Exploration of countries and cultures different from their own, forces teachers to stretch their knowledge, experience, and understanding. Teachers who bring the trusted results of their own hands-on experience and discovery to the classroom are confident and well-grounded. They will create classroom activities that match their interests and improve their analytical skills, as well as stimulate students to explore new lines of questioning. Studies have shown that experiential learning in new environments can stimulate teachers to collaborate in professional development activities which exponentially expand knowledge and skills (Howe & Stubbs, 1998). We have found that teachers respond most effectively to educational and professional development models that inspire and motivate them. When they design their own teaching activities and curricula based on their individual understanding of new material, they learn more. They teach these activities well, and they are more likely to share with others (Howe & Stubbs, 2003). These educators want to learn about new developments directly from the experts, researchers, and scientists doing the work.
Why a foreign country?
"We have to teach our kids what it is to live and work in a global society. By the time they join the work world, they'll be working not only with people from other countries, but businesses from other countries, whether they are in marketing or engineering or furniture making." — John Black, North Carolina Principal of the Year.
First, you must be convinced you need to globalize your work. Choose and work with the country most important for you and your participants. We had connections in the country we were collaborating with. Without the support and infrastructure of the foreign country, our project would not be the project it is. We developed our focus and a rationale for why this would be important for educator participants.
There are many locales in the western and eastern hemispheres that could provide interesting educational opportunities. Brazil’s educational system and environment were of major interest to us (see Figure 2). Brazil was selected for our adventure because of its broadly diverse geographical, commercial, cultural, and environmental elements, as well as its interconnections with the United States. Brazil is among the top ten countries in the world in terms of breadth of cultural diversity, with its colorful music, rich drama, bold art, textiles, intriguing cuisine, and diverse traditions in religion, spirituality, and ceremonial activities.
Figure 2. Brazilian riverfront
Learning firsthand from foreign teachers, scientists, and community members, the K-12 science educators from the U.S. understood how human activities affect both the biological and physical systems of our planet (see Figure 3). Simultaneously, the foreign teachers learned about education in the U.S. Directly shared experiences of teachers raises the awareness of local plant and animal diversity, natural history, cultural differences, and how students learn in other countries. When excited by inspired teachers, students are more likely to consider international connections as they move toward college.
Figure 3. Participating educators in Brazil
It is important to focus on the particular country which you intend to visit. Learn as much as you can about the people, the culture, research information about the country, and whatever you intend to specialize in – and plan your visits!