I just had the incredible opportunity to be a part of the Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE) Asia Institute this last week in Singapore. All I have to say is wow, what an amazing experience! 60 inspiring, fascinating, and motivated educators from around the east/southeast Asia region came together to participate, create, collaborate, and share knowledge in the 5-day institute. The team from Apple Asia facilitating the institute was awesome, as well, organizing fun, engaging, and authentic learning opportunities that we can take back and use in our classroom. Once finished, the participating educators earn the designation of being an Apple Distinguished Educator. There are over 1200 ADEs around the world, so I feel honored to be a part of this dynamic family of forward-thinking educators.
ADE institutes are not about learning about the latest and greatest Apple software tools, even though that can happen in the activities and project creation described below. The Institute and what we take from it is about learning, rethinking what and how we teach, helping students become well-versed in the skills they’ll need to be successful this century, and creating engaging learning environments with technology integrated seamlessly as a transparent part of the process and/or final products when appropriate. Of course, Apple products and software tend to be the best for creative processes in education, so those are highly recommended to use along with a variety of web 2.0 tools such as Wikispaces, Twitter, Ning, YouTube, the Google suite, Flickr, and a few others throughout the Institute.
Not all educators in attendance were completely fluent with the new pedagogical models for 21st century education nor were we all fluent with Apple software or the core Web 2.0 tools being used by many of us in the room. Each person had a variety of strengths and unique experiences to bring to the institute. Thus, to help us have a common vocabulary, we received a review of these important pedagogical concepts and tools in the first couple of days. Of course, regardless of how much we came in knowing, useful nuggets of knowledge came out in these sessions as there is always a slightly different angle given on a pedagogical idea and something new to learn with a Web 2.0 application. At the same time, a few different useful activities were organized for us to help us brainstorm and jolt our minds for creative teaching ideas using Apple products, digital video and still cameras, and Web 2.0 tools. Some activities and the project got us out to different parts of Singapore, so we were not stuck to the hotel conference room the whole time. A professional photographer came on the fourth day, giving us some valuable insight into taking great pictures. It was all very engaging.
The core of the institute is collaborating with two to three other educators to create a project by the end of the Institute that can actually be used with students when we get back home. The projects needed to be designed around Apple Classroom of Tomorrow 2 (ACOT2), a challenge-based curriculum that looks like a dynamic mix of Understanding by Design and Route 21 principles. We were given a variety of themes to choose from to create the projects, then we found partners with like minded ideas and created a group. I teamed up with three excellent educators from Shanghai American School: Amanda deCardy, Jonathan Chambers, and Tom Banaszewski. We were interested in the “Societal Change” theme. We were also interested in the idea of digital storytelling/oral histories, so we quickly got to work thinking about how to combine these two elements. What we came up with was a project called Wisdom Lost, Wisdom Found. After a long brainstorm, the essential question we settled on for this project was: How does listening to wisdom through the generations allow us to shape our own stories for the future? The complete details of this project can be found on our wiki and the stories and how-to videos we created can be seen on our YouTube Channel. All ADE projects created at the institute are entered into the Apple Learning Interchange (ALI) so that member educators from around the world can access them and use them as needed for their own classrooms (you don’t have to be an ADE to join the ALI). All the ADE projects presented on the last day of the Institute were amazing.
A lot of learning occurred in the process of the ADE experience. First, new technical knowledge came about. I finally learned some key processes in Adobe Photoshop that I’ve been needing to learn thanks to Amanda, one of my group partners. I learned some advanced functions of Google Maps, which we would would incorporate in to our project. I learned about and how to use the basic functions of the 3D design tool Google SketchUp. This is such a cool application that puts the 3D design in the hands of anyone- for FREE! I also learned a little bit more about iMovie, Apple’s video editing software that is part of the iLife creativity suite of software. I still feel I’ve only scratched the surface of what iMovie can do, however. This is something I’ll be playing with more in near future.
On the pedagogical front, the understanding that we must transform the way we do education and not just do the same things with new technologies was re-emphasized for me throughout the Institute. This is probably the most important idea that we need to keep in mind as we make these shifts in education today. The collaborative experience in the process of creating the project greatly reiterated the importance of this skill and how it must be something we foster constantly with our students- it is a key skill for success in this century. In my group, each of us had our own strengths, and we emphasized these in the parts of the project creation we took on. At the same time, we helped each other learn- collaboration at its best. My personal learning network (PLN) increased massively, as well. PLN’s are the best means for learning today. Anything I need to know or get feedback back on is just a click away from all these great educators with whom I’m linked around the world.
The content and process of doing our project brought learning, as well. In the fast paced and ever changing world we live in, I was reminded by doing this project that we need to stop at times and listen to the stories of our elders and absorb the wisdom they’ve gained in their years. With what they’ve seen and experienced in their lives, it would a shame to forget about and lose that wisdom. With the digital technologies we have at our fingertips, it’s so easy to capture their words and thoughts and publish them for all the world to hear and learn from. Furthermore, they will be easily stored for many generations to hear. I’ve been inspired to do this with my own family along with facilitating the project in one of my classes. The important characteristics of being able to be adaptable and flexible was also emphasized in doing the project. We had trouble getting people to do interviews in Chinatown (Singapore). We wasted half of our main work day trying to get interviews, only to keep failing. All of sudden when we were buying ice cream while trying to do another interview that failed, a very gregarious Indian man just started talking to us out of the blue. It was amazing. From that, we decided to shift our efforts into Little India. Once there, we easily found two eager Indian gentlemen who were excited to pass on their wisdom. It was great, and everything fell into place from there.
All in all, this ADE experience was literally an ‘experience.’ Between all of the great educators I met and the knowledge and understandings I acquired or was reminded of, I’ve become even more optimistic about our future. The world may be experiencing some difficult and trying times at the moment, but us educators will not back down to achieve our main goals- to bring dynamic, engaging, and challenging learning environments to our students that will prepare them to be effective leaders, creators, critical thinkers, and problem solvers. At the same time, we will do this while championing innovative uses of technology for thinking and learning. We are at the forefront of creating the change needed to help bring our world back to being a better place. Thank you Apple and the Apple Asia educational team for a dynamic experience.