About Me

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I have been an elementary and secondary school teacher and administrator. Currently, I am a faculty member in the Faculty of Education at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. My M.Ed. and Ph.D. had a focus on the educational and linguistic experiences of children who moved from other countries to Canada.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Laurier in Haiti October 2015 Trip: Preparing for a summer institute and science program

In two weeks, I'll be in Haiti again. I am anticipating an excellent trip with two focus areas:

1. Preparing for our 2016 summer Laurier Educator Institute in Cap-Haitien.
2. Developing a program that will support girls and teachers in science and engineering.

The Laurier Educator Institute will provide an opportunity for Canadian and Haitian teachers to learn together in a one week professional development setting. We are anticipating an environment including 10-15 Canadian educators and up to 200 Haitian educators with learning strands in special education, school leadership, critical literacy, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). An early goal is that the Canadian educators will be paired up with leading Haitian educators to co-lead the workshops. Another unique aspect of the summer institute will be a parallel summer camp with a science focus. I am tremendously excited about the summer institute and camp; we have been working toward this opportunity for three years.

In October, our seven person team will also be training a group of Haitian teachers to support a science and engineering program. Many North American elementary and secondary school students have the opportunity to participate in FIRST Lego and FIRST Robotics competitions. My son has participated in the FIRST Lego program for the past two years and I have had a nephew who was heavily involved in FIRST Robotics. Both are superb programs to engage young people in developing a science and engineering mindset in a very accessible and friendly fashion. At the end of the training, our partner school in Haiti is anticipating having a club at the school that will get young girls involved in the programs.

We are passionate about supporting the capacity of Haitian educators. The summer institute and science/engineering program have the potential to dramatically impact the educational outcomes of hundreds of Haitian students. We have developed a research program to track the outcomes of these initiatives. Stay tuned for more details!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Minding the Gap Between Traditional and On-line Learning: Considering Escalators in Haiti

For the last number of years, we have been talking about developing on-line learning modules with our Haitian colleagues. There is tremendous potential to scale up the professional development that can be done in face-to-face settings through on-line learning. However, one of the challenges we have identified has been the issue of accessibility: Many Haitian students, teachers, and university faculty members do not have laptops or tablet computers with reliable Internet access. This obstacle is being quickly overcome as inexpensive tablets with wi-fi and integrated data plans (click here to read about Surtabs) are being built in Haiti.

I've been thinking about another obstacle recently that has to do with cognitive accessibility. I'm not talking about intelligence here but rather the development gap that occurs when a new tool is made available in a context that skips some of the steps that leads to the development of the tool.

Here's an example from one of my trips to Haiti after the new airport was built in Port au Prince following the 2010 earthquake... An escalator was now in the airport and clearly many people had never been on an escalator before. In fact, the airport had to have a person on the bottom of the escalator and one at the top to assist people getting on and off. It was an "aha" moment for me: Some of the people had never used an escalator before so they required an intermediary to help them access the tool. It had everything to do with familiarity and support.

A theoretical connection would be Lev Vygotsky's concept of the Zone of Proximal Development: We need a coach, teacher, parent, mentor, etc. to help us accomplish what we cannot do without one.

Once that person has helped us attain new knowledge or skills (familiarity), we can then perform the task and prepare ourselves for accessing new knowledge/skills.

Which brings me back to on-line learning in Haiti. I'm wondering if we need to continue to move toward on-line learning opportunities but within a learning framework that includes guidance and mentoring so that people become familiar with the tool? In other words, we need people at the "top and bottom of the escalator" who can help us through the initial stages of the new learning paradigm. Once the technology has become embedded and part of the natural environment, the support is no longer needed (or becomes minimized or is focused on a new area of learning). This could mean that we introduce, support, and model on-line learning through workshops and camps where traditional (i.e. face-to-face) methods are also used.

FYI: There are no longer people helping others on and off the escalator in Port au Prince. People know how to "mind the gap".
Photo credit on picture

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Social Innovation and Venture Creation in Haiti: Next Steps for Laurier

I was recently appointed as an inaugural Social Innovation and Venture Creation (SIVC) Fellow at Laurier. This appointment is largely due to the capacity-building work I have been doing in Haiti. It has also caused me to question: What are next steps in social innovation and venture creation for the work we want to do in Haiti?

1. Summer Teaching and Leadership Institute and Summer Camps
A traditional way to deliver workshops for teachers and principals is through face-to-face workshops that focus on teaching methods and content areas. We anticipate that the summer institute will begin in July, 2016. The innovative part of the institute will be the teaching methodology (Haitian and Canadian instructors, co-teaching) and having camps for young people associated with the summer institute. The camps will provide an opportunity for teachers to implement some of the ideas they have learned in the workshops. A small fee for Haitian participants in both the institute and camp will support sustainability of the project and venture creation. Canadian participants will pay a small "social venture fee" which will serve as a fund to support social entrepreneurship of Haitian participants.

2. On-line Learning Supports
The Digital Mentoring Project was certainly innovative (you can read more in earlier blog posts). I would like to build on the opportunity that on-line learning provides by developing resources and learning modules that teachers, principals, and students can access to supplement face-to-face learning. I anticipate that an on-line professional learning community could be available to anyone (open access) with some resources being available for a minimal fee (social venture).

3. STEM, Female Teachers and Students
We have noted that there are very few female secondary school teachers in Haiti. There are even fewer female teachers in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) areas. As a result, it is not surprising that very female students consider post-secondary education and careers in these areas. We are implementing an innovative robotics program this fall in an all-girls school, with female coaches, to examine how girls can be encouraged to consider STEM fields. The social venture aspect of this project will evolve but will focus on supporting girls in creating and/or participating in STEM-related projects.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Education and Social Change: Release of Our New Book

Our new book that features international and comparative perspectives on social change in developing countries was released recently. The book is co-edited by two colleagues with whom I have worked in Haiti (Gaetane Jean-Marie and Charlene Desir) and is published by Information Age Publishing (North Carolina).


The book features two chapters which I contributed to, one on social change in Haiti and the other that looks at social entrepreneurship in Haiti and Kenya. I used the chapter on social entrepreneurship in a summer course I taught and was really appreciative of the insights of my students as they used the chapter to develop a critical perspective on the role of low-fee private schools in the developing world.

The other chapters of the book feature insights into education in contexts such as Ghana, India, China, Peru, and Thailand. A novel feature of the book is the comparisons that are made with educational programs amongst indigenous peoples in Canada, United States, and New Zealand.

I am pleased with the early reviews of the book and hope that it will provide further insights and ideas for educational capacity-building.

You can find more information on the book by clicking here.