Reflections from our March visit

Reflections from our March visit
Fri, 03/25/2011 - 21:32

Greetings from Belize! We have just finished a week filled with rich conversations, school visits, and involvement in planning meetings which provided us with more clarity and a deeper understanding of the education system in Belize.

Most of our week involved participation in working meetings regarding the revision and finalization of the math and science curriculum. Four of us (Courtney, Brenda, Evelaine, and Sandra) first met with Nelson Longsworth, Ministry of Education in Belize on the Monday to review editing that had been done by the Belizean cohort group to both curriculums over the last number of months.  Discussion continued around possibilities for teacher professional development once the curriculum is ready to be piloted with schools. Plans were made to meet with the cohort group on Thursday to share ideas and plan next steps.

Tuesday involved a full day meeting with District Education Managers, Education Officers, Faith Leaders, and principals from across Belize. After an excellent morning of strategic planning exercises using individual district data to set goals, identify strategies for success, as well as for monitoring and evaluating goal attainment, we moved into an afternoon of presentations by Tony on positive classroom behavior management and ours on some possibilities for technology integration in different subject areas and different grades. Both were very well received. In fact, after our technology presentation, a number of participants requested further information and support. One district manager identified that technology integration was just what his district needed and was ready to take the next steps.

Since our visit to Belize followed on the heels of the fact-finding team in February (Stan, Jerome, and Stephen), we were excited about the possibility of visiting schools and beginning conversations with teachers that would facilitate the next steps necessary for meaningful technology integration. We knew that the identified school sites across Belize were in different places in terms of their access to computers and the Internet but had high hopes that one or two might be ready to move forward.

The highlight of our week was on Wednesday morning when Nelson graciously organized visits to two schools in very different situations in Belize City. We were impressed with the quality of the lessons observed in the science and math classes at both schools. We saw examples of excellent teaching strategies being implemented such as cooperative learning, sharing of learning objectives with students, science demonstrations, interactive activities, games, graphic organizers, etc which all led to engaged students.
Lured by the sounds of children playing recorders behind a classroom door, we also learned about a school initiative to bring music education into student lives.  This particular school had hired an itinerant teacher who taught music two or three times each week to 22 young students whose families were fortunate enough to be able to pay the $5 monthly fee.

Both visits to the school computer labs were unplanned. One school had a full lab of mismatched monitors, CPUs, and keyboards. None of the student computers had Internet connection due to past frustrations in trying to make them work. The Internet wiring had all been cut and the computers now were only used as stand-alones. However, the teaching station was complete with a projector and Internet. Software for students was limited to Word, Publisher, Paint, and Excel.

We were fortunate enough to meet the computer teacher who shared how she provided access to the lab for all students throughout the school year. Younger students used Paint for drawing and Word for basic writing. Work with older students was connected to curricular areas such as the use of Excel to plot out the distance of planets in the solar system. Students also made cards using Publisher and letter writing with Word. Keyboarding was taught to all students using an older version of Mavis Beacon.

This teacher also spoke of one student who is blind and how she was using technology to provide him with the opportunity to write independently. When on the computer, the software will tell the student where his cursor is on the page and when he writes, it reads out each letter as he types. The challenge is now how to provide him with this access and support in the classroom.

This teacher is one who is well aware of how to effectively use technology as a tool to support teaching and learning as well as how it might be used to enable access for students with special learning needs. We were both really touched by what this teacher is able to do with such limited resources.

The second school also had a computer lab. The good news for this lab was that the principal indicated that the school is receiving free Internet. However, the students are not benefiting from this as all of the CPUs but one was missing, apparently out being repaired.

We both learned a tremendous amount on this trip to Belize. There was great value in meeting so many educators at the different levels in the education system. We are excited about the possibilities for next steps for education and technology integration across Belize and look forward to supporting teachers as they are ready to move forward.

Sandra and Evelaine