Blog 1: INTRO I signed up for this course because I have always wanted to see Africa. I love travelling and exploring new cultures. I hope to gain a new perspective on education from a new context. I want to talk to the South African educators and gain insights into what life is like for them inside and out of the classroom.
Blog 2: SUMMARY Its been nice being able to talk with the South African and Marymount educators to see their side of things. Despite coming from different environments we seem to have the same philosophies on education and issues we face in the classroom. For the UDL framework, it's important to provide multiple means of representation, action and expression, and engagement. In South Africa, exclusivity is a wicked problem thats being treated with tame solutions like special education classrooms instead of more substantial country wide measures. Blog 3: SUMMARY Language and trauma has a big impact on learning. If students can't understand the language that is being spoken in the classroom, nothing is understood. This is a big problem in South Africa, which has 11 official languages. Many impoverished students are victims of trauma at home that affects their learning in the classroom. There is violence and abuse are affecting children at home, they won't feel comfortable in other environments. I hope to convey myself in a proper manner with the South African educators by engaging in authentic conversation. There is an obvious disparity between the societies that we live in but coming together for the purpose of education is the most important thing. I want to ask them questions about their lives to show we are curious and eager to learn about them. Blog 4: My trip to Africa started on June 19. My flight from San Diego left at 10:00 pm which meant that I would be arriving at my last destination of Johannesburg at reasonable time of 1:15 pm. I had a semi-structured plan of what I was going to do when I arrived. I knew that Victoria Falls was at the top of my list of places I wanted to visit and probably Tanzania as well but I hadn’t booked any flights in addition to my initial flight before I had taken off. I was very lucky that every leg of flights that I had en route to Johannesburg had vacant seats next to me. Being a large person on a plane can be difficult at times with problems like fighting for arm rests, knees hitting the seat in front, and drink carts ramming your shoulders at random intervals while sitting in aisle seats so I was very grateful for the extra space. I love watching movies so the seemingly endless amounts of movies available to watch always make long flights a little more enjoyable. The only time where I thought things were going to go south was when my plane landed in my connecting city of Addis Abbaba, Ethiopia. My layover time here was a short hour and a half and my plane had landed 30 minutes late. I knew that by the time I was let out of the plane I would have about 40 minutes to get to my connecting flight. As I imagines what African customs was going to look like, I thought for sure that I would miss my flight and be stuck in the country for a day. Little did I know that a shuttle bus was waiting for me on the runway to take me to my next fight and that I wouldn’t have to step foot inside the airport. My ignorance to the rules of layovers and connecting flights gave me unnecessary worry. I would soon learn from my future fights in the continent that flying rules in Africa are much more easy-going than I was used to in the states. Baggage weight restrictions aren’t absolute and mandatory return flight provisions aren’t taken too seriously. I didn’t want to waste any time so I had wanted to grab a flight to Victoria Falls as soon as I landed in Johannesburg but underestimated how I was when I landed and decided to spend the night in South Africa. I had a pizza as my first African meal ever and went on my way to the hotel that I booked, where I passed out at 4pm watching the world cup.
Blog 5: APARTHEID MUSEUM We were off on our first activity as a class 10 minutes after I arrived at our homestay in Johannesburg. As a future history teacher, I was very excited to go to the Apartheid Museum. I had some knowledge of apartheid before I came to Africa but it wasn’t extensive. Reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography really opened my eyes to what this great man went through and illuminated what apartheid actually meant. I found it interesting that this museum about the dark history of South Africa was next to an amusement park. At the entrance of the museum some of my classmates got to meet the South African educators in their changemaker groups, unfortunately, the educators in my group went to the wrong museum and we didn’t get a chance to meet that day. Upon first entering the museum, we were handed cards by our professor, Dr Jez, that either had the phrase “white” or “non-white” imprinted on them. We would these to act out an exercise that was very real during the apartheid days. It was a great deal of help to have the South African educators walking through the museum with us as they gave us their unique opinons and valuable first hand accounts of what we saw in the museum. I loved the museum but it was just too massive to engage with all of it in the short time we had there. My brain was exhausted after leaving due to all the reading I had done inside. There was so much to read but I wanted to read all of it to get the best picture of era as I could. I think this was a great first activity to do in the country because it put every future activity we were going to do into perspective.
Blog 6: SOWETO BIKE TOUR I didn’t really know what to expect from the bike ride that we had scheduled. I thought that we were going to rent some bikes and ride around a park or something just as something to do for the day. My expectations were blown away. This was the first time we met out the Marymount group that would join us in the whole changemaking project. Our two groups conversed while we waited for our bike tour to start. I didn’t know that we would be biking through one of the most poverty-stricken areas of the region. I think bike-riding through a poor area might not appeal to most on the surface but I was pleasantly surprised as to how much I enjoyed it. The bike ride and the knowledgeable guides showed me the reality of this important neighborhood. I wished we had been able to go inside Nelson Mandela’s house instead of just stopping outside but just being in his neighborhood was enough for me. The tour also took us to a beautiful memorial for innocent victims killed during a university protest in the apartheid era. The young kids we passed on our bikes were so happy to see us as we pedaled through their neighborhoods. Some would high-five us and grab on to our bicycles.
Blog 7: GROUP PLANNING We were first able to get with our whole groups after the Soweto bike ride. Our USD and Marymount University groups traveled to a nearby school to meet with our fellow South African educators. We had only known each other in a virtual setting through our emails to each other, so it was great to finally put faces to the names. We were properly introduced to each other and made small talk for awhile in a circle. There was a bit of a discrepancy between ages among us but they were all so nice and inviting. We talked about our responses from our previous emails and discussed our respective classrooms. We were tasked with thinking of a problem that was present in all of our classrooms and using a strength from our school system that we could use to address the problem better. Our group agreed that parental involvement was a major issue that was present in all of our classes. We also came to the conclusion that collaboration was one the biggest assets we had for support. We further discussed how effective collaborative practices could be used to improve parental involvement in our classrooms and began creating our presentations for the next day.
Blog 8: CHANGEMAKER PRESENTATIONS There were 5 groups presenting their presentations that morning along with a few other great speakers. Everyone's presentations were entertaining and so well-done. Each group had ways of capturing the attention of the audience with little performances or songs at the beginning of their presentations. It was the first conference-type event that I had ever been to and it was great to be able to check out Witwatersrand University. Everyone was pretty tired at the end of the presentations, we had gotten there at 8 a.m. and left around 4 p.m. When we finished with everything, we gave our San Diego souvenirs to the South African educators. I got them mini Volkswagen bus magnets with "San Diego" written on the sides, they seemed to like it a lot. We said our goodbyes and expressed our gratitude for their presence in our project.
Blog 9: SAFARI I had been on safari before in Sri Lanka, but this experience took my perception of safaris to a new level. The resort we stayed at was beautiful and had many different activities to participate in. Most of our group practiced our archery and took part in a traditional drum circle. We took two safari tours, one in the afternoon the day we got there and one in the early morning the next day. We got so lucky with all the animals that we saw. Giraffes, Zebras, Rhinos, Lions, Leopards and more. I think the most impressive sight came right before we were supposed to leave the safari park. Our safari driver called us over saying there were elephants by a bridge. I walk over expecting to see a couple of elephants just hanging out and was shocked to find almost thirty elephants drinking from the watering hole. Incredible.
Blog 10: DISES CONFERENCE DAY 1 I never thought I would've had the opportunity to participate in a conference like this in my life. It went on for three days and had amazing speakers speaking on a variety of education topics. The food was great too. We had the opportunity to choose which speakers we could listen in on by reading a description of their topics and shuffling around between lecture halls. One speaker I heard talked about teaching students with intellectual disabilities in Portugal. She argued there was no middle ground between inclusive education and special education. I learned that Portugal's complacency with teaching disabled students had to do with their history and how a short time ago, they believed that disabled people were made that way because they committed a sin. I learned that when dealing with education you need to take into account the history of events in order to explain things sometimes. Another presentation I saw was from Mark Francis, the president of DISES, who talked about how to induce change. He showed how he went to various communities in different countries to implement more inclusive practices. He mentioned how teacher development was one of the big barriers of inclusivity. In order for teachers to be accommodating to a diverse classroom, they need proper developmental instruction in how to do so. Universal Design for Learning(Ahn, Evmenova) was another presentation I really enjoyed. They introduced their talk by saying how it would be impossible to design a cockpit for the average person, it would be different for anyone. There is also no such thing as the average learner, everyone learns differently. They gave various tips on how to differentiate things in the classroom to make learning more accessible. Newsela was a good tip about a website that has news articles where you can change the lexile level to adapt to different reading levels.
Blog 11: DAY 2 I saw Dr. Jez' presentation on supporting collaborative efforts to benefit diverse learners. Unfortunately, she was having some health issues so some of us in the class had to help her with her presentation. Her presentation consisted of a survey taken by educators indicating things like amount of time spent lesson planning, grading, and if they feel stressed. I learned that many other educators had the same issues I went through in my first semester of student teaching. I also saw what areas I probably would have to concentrate on in my future teaching career. I also witnessed a presentation on Technology Training for Teachers for students with disabilities(Wheeler) which provided many software applications and physical devices that can be used in the classroom. Many of the devices were on display downstairs in the main area for everyone to look at. Simon the autism robot stood out in my mind. It was kind of creepy. I was completely oblivious about the devices available to use in the classroom for students with disabilities.
Blog 12: DAY 3 Alfredo Artilles was the keynote speaker on the last day of the conference. He talked about his field studies in inclusive education in countries like Guatemala and the general state of inclusion in education. I learned about how special education and bilingual education were are often at odds with each other because they don't want to be associated with one another and how inclusive education was often at odds with social inclusion. The meaning of inclusive education is different in countries like Guatemala where working is seen as a bigger priority than school. I sat in for a talk on Inclusive Education in Israel. The speaker talked about the many barriers to inclusivity in the country. There is legislation in place but its not being followed through. The most important thing I learned is that there can't be integration in schools if society doesn't reflect integration like that of Israel.
Blog 13: WINE TASTING We went wine tasting as a class to the wine region known as Stellenbosch. I'm not a huge wine lover, all wine really tastes the same to me but it was nice hanging out with everyone including the Marymount group. We had the opportunity to check out the cute town of Stellenbosch as well. It reminded a lot of us of a northern Californian town. The wine was so cheap too, 6$ per bottle. I bought a bottle to bring home but unfortunately it didn't last that night.
Blog 14: CAPE TOWN TOUR Our class booked a group bus tour that took us everwhere we wanted to go. We started off on a boat ride at Hoat Bay where we saw a bunch of seals. We then saw some penguins that were nesting on a beach. We rode bikes in a nature preserve, where we saw many ostriches, which are delicious by the way. We also visited the Cape of Good Hope, the South-Western most point of the continent