Saturday, 27 October 2012

Choc Quib Town

Quick break from the life plans stuff to share this amazing band, hip hop with beautiful latin and african rhythms, from the Pacific Coast region of Colombia.

A good YouTube playlist

Friday, 19 October 2012

Where I am At, Part 2 - My New Vision

In short, I have a new master plan.

My last master plan went roughly like this - become a teacher, get some experience, use that to travel the world, live overseas and do some good. VSO was the culmination of that plan, and on finishing my placement I felt a little directionless as I didn't have a new one. That was one of the reasons I wanted to spend some time travelling, learning, reading, meeting people, having fun, and reflecting.

It has been a great experience. I have meet and stayed with wonderful people with very different lifestyles, from eco village hippies to young entrepreneurs blazing a trail in foreign lands. And more importantly, I have had a chance to let the mental dust settle, see what is left standing and think about what I want from life and what I can offer.

So, my new master plan is, more or less:

to work to develop the use of technology to radically reshape how education works, improve opportunities for creativity, exploration and play, free teachers to teach, and better serve those who are most let down by the current system

This topic is something that has surfaced in me in one form or another throughout my life learning, teaching and advising.  I have also been hugely inspired by some recent reading, especially The One World Schoolhouse by Salman Khan, Why School? by Will Richardson and Beyond the Hole in the Wall by Sugata Mitra

What I will end up doing exactly is something I will find out as I embark on this new path. I could work with NGOs or schools in developing countries to try new models of education delivery. I could work as a teacher in in the UK or elsewhere with a focus on experimenting with cutting edge technology driven teaching methods. I could work for one of the organizations that are blazing new trails for what education can mean, such as the Kahn Academy. Or I could pioneer a project of my own, perhaps alongside a more traditional teaching job.

Whatever path I take, I am convinced that technology, and especially the open sharing of information, has the potential to vastly improve (or damage) the equality of educational opportunities, to improve (or damage) motivation, independence and curiosity of learners, to liberate (or cage) teachers. And I want to be part of this exciting change.

And I need your help.

I don't expect to have a clear path laid out for me. And I definitely don't have all the answers. So I would love to hear, in the comments or by email:
  • Ideas, criticisms, thoughts and comments
  • Suggestions or introductions to people, organizations or schools thinking along similar lines
  • And ideas for a name for a new blog dedicated to the topic of using technology to reshape education. Using some or none of the following: learning, fun, play, change, excite, exploration, personalisation, technology, evidence based, equitable, revolution, curiosity, awe, joy, creativity
Thanks for reading. I will write more soon on how I have come to this decision, what I think I have to offer, what I think is wrong with education as it is now (and where it is headed) and how I imagine it could be transformed for the better.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Where I am at - and recap of the best Spanish learning resources

One of the problems of blogging on the road with no laptop is that once you miss a little while it is hard to know where to start... So just a quick post for now to update where I am at now, and then I will get into the habit of sharing my thoughts and experiences more...

I am now in San Gil, Colombia, working as a bike guide and mechanic for a couple of months. San Gil is being marketed as the extreme sports capital of Colombia. It is a beautiful little city surrounded by lush hills and close to amazing rivers, canyons and beautiful little towns. I was lucky to bump into a couple, one Brit and one American, who run a restaurant and bike company here - They needed a bit of help with bike guiding and maintanance, and so I jumped at the chance to settle a little while in a beautiful part of Colombia, ride bikes and learn more about looking after them. It is hard work - our most common tour is 55km, mostly downhill, but factoring in preparation and putting away it is a good 13 hour day's work, and plenty of exercise.  At the same time I have been continuing to take the time to work on my Spanish and think about where I want to head next in terms of life and career.

Spanish first - although living and working with mostly gringos is not helping too much, I am still picking up Spanish pretty well. I am probably between an A2 and B1 level on the Common European Framework now - can get by really well in most situations, but big groups, drunk farmers and new vocabulary is still challenging, and I still make plenty of gramattical mistakes when talking. I haven't taken any official lessons, but a combination of meeting and talking to as many people as possible, and working with a few great books seems if anything more effective for me than I think formal lessons would be. The best resources for me have been:
  • duolingo, a wonderful free website with a combination of principles including Kahn Academy style lessons and a knowledge map, paid for by using elements of people's language learning to crowd source translation of the internet. There is an interesting TED talk by the maker of the site here.
  • Practice makes Perfect: Spanish Verbs - a great textbook for practicing the bizarre intricacies of conjugating spanish verbs, but introducing vocabulary and other elements of the language along the way
  • And Breaking Out of Beginner's Spanish which is a really wonderful book for bridging the gap between the artificial Spanish you encounter learning grammar and vocabulary and how people really speak. I have lost count of the number of times this book has helped me with real conversations and idiomatic or colloquial speach. Really reccomended for anyone past the very basics - it might be a bit tricky to start with but will repeated readings will take your spanish up a great deal.
Good, that shows that the hardest bit of blogging is getting started! Think this post is long enough, so I will save where I am at with career and life thoughts for a future post.


Friday, 29 June 2012

Getting high

I´ve moved on from Caracas now, at least for the time being, to stay in a fledgeling eco village project high up in the Andes, near to Merida. It is a stunningly beautiful place, just above the level of the cloud forest, and a lovely contrast from the buzz of Caracas.

My stay in Caracas was wonderful, and a great advert for Couchsurfing as a way of travelling and getting under the surface of things. In a week there, I saw rehearsals and performances at a prestigious music school, visited two different special needs schools, met some wonderful people, salsa danced, visited the beach, saw an amazing amount of different live music as well as fitting in a few of the standard tourist sights and working little by little on my Spanish. All thanks to my wonderful hosts Cheryl and Jorge. They also hooked me up with the eco village as a next stop.

Venezuela is an incredible country, with music, landscapes, art and wonderful people coming out of its ears. There is however an elephant of a problem here. An angry, destructive elephant. The violence. From the apartment in Caracas you could hear the ra-ta-ta-ta of gunfire coming from the nearby barrio most nights. The perception Venezuelans themselves have is that the rule of law no longer really exists in many places. Day to day things feel more structured, controlled and safe than Guyana, but in the cities there is an almost constant background threat of armed robbery. The cause is unclear. Chavez, the USA, a violent history, the curse of oil, inequality, poverty, guns from Colombia, corrupt police, and a growing consumerist culture are all possible contributors. It is a great shame to have such a cloud hanging over such an amazing country.

However, there is so much here to love and enjoy that I have to feel some optimism for the future.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Ciudad de musica

I´m now a couple of days into my stay in Caracas, after a week relaxing on the beach. I´m staying (couchsurfing) with a couple of musicians who teach, sing and play in various bands around Caracas. This city is alive with street art, music and drama - in the last couple of days I have an incredible amount of artistic activities - a street festival for St John´s day with loads of different venezualan drumming and dancing groups, murals and graffiti everywhere, a street music festival with local bands playing in hundreds of locations across the city streets, and situational drama in the streets. I even got to add my contribution to the music this afternoon with a pair of shaky eggs.

It is worth noting that a lot of these happenings are part of Chavez's election year propaganda machine!

For all that you hear about Caracas, it seems really safe, attractive and friendly. There are big Barrios (shanty towns) covering most of the hills surrounding the city, and many of these are violent, with high powered weapons being common. However, there is so much more to the city, and it feels like one of the most alive and spirited cities I have had the pleasure to visit. It is also beautiful in it´s way, a messy combination of old colonial architecture, ugly concrete skyscrapers and tumble down Barrios surrounded by lush green mountains, with a perfect year-round climate.

Still to come in Caracas I will be visiting a special needs school, getting a drumming lesson, and I suspect much more. Can´t wait.

Here are few Caracas pictures - more on my Picasa Album

Monday, 11 June 2012

Creatures and Saltos (waterfalls)

I wrote some comments and stuff on here, and put the pictures in the right order, but the internet ate them and I´ve been in the internet cafe too long already. So just look at the pretty pictures anyway. Taken at Pandama Wines and Wowetta in Guyana, and Santa Elena, El Pauji, the Gran Sabana, Santa Fe and Mochima National Park in Venezuela.

¿Aprendo espanol es facil?

This lovely video put together by Matt Stone and Trek Parker (not a phrase you hear often!) nicely explains what I´m doing with my life. It´s amazing to discover that you don´t need to be rich or clever to travel the world and have amazing experiences. You just need to do it!

I discovered the video on the blog fluent in 3 months which is a blog written by an Irish guy who has spent the last 8 years travelling and learning language, and has some great tips on faster language learning - mainly, speak it! There´s some great life lessons here too.

Few people seem to speak English here anyway, so this shouldn´t be a problem, however to put a bit more pressure on making language learning a clear goal, I hereby publicly set myself a target of achieving a level of B1 on the Commmon European Framework benchmarks for language fluency  over the next three months - that is,
Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.
Wish me luck!

Currently my main resource for learning is my Kindle, loaded up with Collins English-Spanish and Spanish-English dictionaries, Learn Spanish the Novel Way, Spanish made Simple and Practice makes Perfect: Spanish Verbs, plus trying to get out and talk to people as much as possible. Any other recommendations or lovely PDFs people could send me would be incredibly welcome!

In the meantime, I´ll also be having as much fun as possible. Next post will give a few pictures of the fun so far.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

On to the next stage

So, my Guyana experience is over, at least for now. At some point I might write some blogs trying to put the whole experience into context, and filling you in on some of the crazy and wonderful parts of my experience in more detail - losing a toe to a fish, crossing the jungle and savannah by motorbike, DJing at parties and out in public, getting powdered, soaked and dyed at Phagwah,  learning to cook roti and bake and learning to wine and to waltz Guyanese oldies style.

Wow, that´s a lot!

Finishing a placement is as much of an emotional rollercoaster as starting it. I was very lucky to get to the point where the work that VSO had started in the region could be handed over to some amazing Guyanese teachers - Simone and Mycinth. I feel honoured to have worked with two people with such a passion for improving education in Guyana and such positive and selfless individuals, and very hopeful that they can continue to work with teachers to move things forward. VSO has largely pulled out of education in Guyana now, and so it is wonderful to be able to pass on the baton to such capable hands.

Right now I am starting a new journey - a few months travel in South America. Starting in Venezuela, continuing to Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. I hope to get some perspective on my experience in Guyana, and how it has changed my understanding of what I want from life and what I can give. Also I hope to meet people with different lifestyles and cultures, learn Spanish to a reasonable level, and have fun in amazing places. This part of the world has a shaky reputation for safety, but is also packed full of mountains, waterfalls, beaches, music, dancing, animals, and different cultures.

My journey began with some time in the Rupanuni. Thanks to Tjeerd, Sergio, Melvin, Sonja and Eddie and Behi for the great company and hospitality along the way. The Rupanuni is a savannah area in the south of Guyana, with amazing open skies and incredible sunsets, bordered by jungle covered mountains. Relaxing into the steady pace of life there with a few walks and bike rides was a great way to get into the travelling spirit.

My first faltering steps into Latin America have been in Santa Elena de Uarien, a lovely frontier town (not a phrase you hear often) a few kilometers into Venezuela from Brazil. I have spent a few days hanging out, testing out a few phrases of Spanish and meeting some interesting people. There are a few nomad type travellers around, including a Spanish guy who has been cycling with a tent all the way from Mexico, and a camper van full of Argentinian graphic designers who have been on the road for three years, passing through Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. They keep going by selling some crafts and working over the internet from time to time and seem like some of the happiest people I have met.

I also started on my plan to get more active with a very long and very hilly bike ride through the Gran Sabana to a small hippy ish community called El Pauji, where I stayed for a couple of nights and swam in some beautiful waterfall plunge pools before facing the long and very hilly bike ride back.

Signing off for now, new blogging policy is quick and straight from my head. One lesson I am trying to learn from my experience so far is: less perfectionism, more action!

Also, work less, live more!