President in Town

Apr 19, 2015

Back in February, just before I was about to leave for San Francisco to attend the Learning and the Brain Conference, the organizers sent us an email about special security measures undertaken at the conference venue, the Fremont Hotel, because of a high profile guest who would be staying at the hotel. Who might that be, was a question everybody tried to answer - Brad Pitt? orGeorge Clooney? No, we concluded it must be a politician - possibly Vice President.

However, it turned out that the high profile guest was no one less than the President himself. But no, even though we were in the same hotel I never caught a glimpse of the President.  We kind of hoped he would drop by and say hi to the attendees, however, the protocol didn't include our conference, but another one in Palo Alto, which was on internet security. Having him stay there meant long lines to pass the security checkpoint and enter the hotel as well as temporary road closures in the neighborhood.

The conference was interesting with some great keynotes and workshops, but it was the city itself that made a huge impression on me. There was the usual hustle and bustle as in any big city, but the ambiance was more laid back and casual, more relaxed and informal than anywhere else. The visit to the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge confirmed that no matter how well I know a landmark from books, photos, songs and movies, it still gives the goosebumps and leaves an extraordinary impression. Just like Lombard Street, the crookedest street in the world along with the beautifully steep streets that I first saw years ago in that crazy movie What's up, Doc?, starring Barbara Streisand and Ryan O'Neil. Interestingly enough, but not surprisingly at all, I googled and found my favorite scene with the glass pane on the steep streets of San Francisco.

Week 35: Bunker Hill Community College

Apr 11, 2015

Faithful readers of my blog (all three of them) already know that back in January I was selected for The Community College Residency Program. This is a program within the Humphrey Program which provides the Fellows with a one-week visit of learning and exchanging experiences at a community college.

Yesterday I returned from Boston where I visited Bunker Hill Community College along with Siradji Mahamane, a Fellow from the Vanderbilt University.  I applied for BHCC because I wanted to see how  they teach English to speakers of other languages, how they apply new methodologies in language teaching and I wanted to learn more about a new language initiative that they are implementing at their College. Also, I wanted to learn more about community colleges, because I only had a vague idea what they are and how beneficial they are for students. The visit exceeded my expectations.

Our contact person and coordinator was Ms. Zoe Edwards who excellently organized our visit, skillfully coordinated all the activities and events and was very kind, helpful and knowledgeable. Ms. Laura Montgomery, Director of the BHCC Art Gallery, hosted us in her beautiful triple decker on Mission Hill. Laura was so kind to drive us to college and back every day and even though her house was not far from the college, Laura always took a different route to show us the sights of Boston. She is a Bostonian who truly loves her hometown and knows all its secrets and we immensely enjoyed the rides during which she shared her stories about Boston and the Bostonians with us.

On the first day we were introduced to Dean Maria Puente and Ms. Vilma Tafawa, Executive Director of International Center, who warmly welcomed us to their college. After that a reception was organized for us and we had the opportunity to introduce ourselves to the Faculty and the students from the Community College Initiative Program.

Over the next days we visited ESL classes, talked to several ESL professors, all of whom readily and gladly answered all our questions, shared their experiences and were eager to hear about our teaching practices. They are also very passionate about their work and their enthusiasm was contagious. Time passed too  quickly when we spoke with them and I wished the visit lasted for at least a couple of weeks more. 
We observed several ESL classes and we even had an opportunity to talk about our jobs, our countries and also about environmental issues.

A great pleasure for me was to meet a cohort of young professionals from all over the world who were selected for the competitive Community College Initiative Program. I really enjoyed talking to these young fellows.
The highlight of the visit for me was the Language lab. Launched in 2005 by Alessandro Massaro, who I had a pleasure to meet and talk to, the lab is a place where everyone is welcome to improve their foreign language skills in a variety of ways - by using language learning software, practising on language websites, 1:1 tutoring or workshops - you name it, they will provide it! We even learned Chinese calligraphy in the lab and I wrote my name in Chinese!

Not only in the language lab do the students get whatever they need, but this is a school policy - BHCC is completely student-centered and students are provided with everything they need - education, career and financial planning, tax counseling, child care and also exchange programs funded up to 80% by the International Center.

This visit has greatly contributed to the enhancement of my practical experiences, especially with regard to using technology to enhance students’ language skill and to achieve the required learning outcomes. Learning from educators who are at the forefront of the 21st century education will significantly contribute to building my teacher capacity and to expanding my professional learning network. 

This visit also holds personal significance for me, because it was in Boston three years ago that I first submitted my application for the Humphrey Fellowship Program. I still remember, it was on the night of our arrival that I finally clicked the submit button, after having spent weeks and weeks on writing it, and on the next day I enjoyed exploring the sights of Boston as I was dreaming of being selected for the program. And the dream really came true. 

Our first duck tour ever

With artist and educator Susan Thompson, whose exhibition we visited at the MassArt.
Post about our visit on the Bunker Hill Community College website: BHCC hosts Hubert H. Humphrey Fellows.


Weeks 32, 33 & 34: Sources of inspiration

Apr 7, 2015

As my  Fellowship year is slowly drawing to its end, I just can't find the time to write my weekly (or bi-weekly) posts. The whole year has been very busy, but now it seems to me that my day should last 48 hours if I want to complete all the things on my schedule.

The past weeks have been all about conferences. The TLT Symposium in University Park was a great event with some inspiring speakers and workshop leaders. Dr. Eric Mazur gave a great keynote on teacher education in the 21st century. He is an amazing speaker who engaged all of us in a heated discussion on a physics-related topic. Another presentation that I really liked and found very interesting and useful was One Tool Doesn't Fit All focused on Universal Design for Learning.

The highlight of all the conferences and workshops that I've had a chance to attend during my fellowship year has been the P21 Summit on 21st Century Learning in Washington DC. It was just my perfect cup of tea. The keynotes, the panels, the workshops - they were all excellent. I especially liked Fredi Lajvardi's inspirational keynote Improbable to Unstoppable about a robotics team made up of four underprivileged students from a Phoenix high school where he works as a STEM teacher. A documentary film Underwater Dreams and a Hollywood motion picture Spare Parts have been made about him and his team  and how they beat the MIT robotics and other university teams in a national robotics competition. I also liked the workshop The Critical Components of 21st Century Creativity. You can find more about it in the white paper Inspiring a Generation to Create: Critical Components of Creativity in Children that has just been released. And, BTW, at the conference, Dr Helen Soule, the CEO of The Partnership for 21st Century Skills announced the change of the name of  The Partnership into The Partnership for 21st Century Learning.

All the fellows have been working hard on their capstone projects and last Tuesday we had our poster presentation. The turnout was great and we did our best to present our projects that we're planning to implement when we return home.

I've traveled quite a bit over the past weeks, but it's not the travel itself that made these weeks so special. It was my family who was here with me, first my husband, then my kids, my sister and my nephew. I loved having them here in the US with me.  If only they could stay with me until the end of the year! (Note to future Humphrey Fellows: bring your family with you!)

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