The story behind Tech in the Middle

I have been teaching in international schools for the last seven years (which is when I started teaching, so technically, I have always taught in international schools). First in Munich, Germany, and now in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I absolutely love living internationally. I love being able to truly experience daily life and culture in a foriegn country. I love meeting people from a different country every day. I love working with such wonderful and wordly students. And, of course, I love the travel opportunities.

However, there is one huge disadvantage to teaching abroad: no real network or collaboration of colleagues outside of the individual school you work in. You see, many international schools are so isolated that they are a world unto themselves. And, of course, we have no "district" or "region" to connect with - we are on our own. Occasionally schools in the same city may collaborate, but so far I haven't seen that happen. What this means is that we often end up teaching in isolation. Especially specialist teachers, like myself, that are the only teacher for their subject at that particular age group (for example, I am the only IT teacher in the middle school).

So, I was thinking the other day, now that we have all these amazing web 2.0 tools at our fingertips, and everything is free and easy, why don't some of the interested international school teachers start collaborating? You never know who you will be working with (or for!) in the future, so we can all start making some connections now. So, I had 2 concrete ideas (focused on middle school technology, because that's my subject and grade level, but there's no reason to stop there) to start with:
  • A common blog where we can share ideas, experiences and resources among ourselves, but more importantly with the teachers we work with. I know it can be a challenge to get teachers on board with technology projects, but imagine if you had a website with stories of different projects, how they started, what they looked like when they were finished, and how they were implemented. What an amazing resource!
  • A common wiki (this one) where we can post links and resources to support those various projects. A place to link all of the projects we have done. A place for all international school teachers to share their work with technology in the classroom. Can you imagine how much easier it would be to transition to a new school if you knew this resource was always available?

Why Tech in the Middle?

A few reasons, actually:
  1. In my last two international school postings, I have arrived in my classroom with little to no appropriate curriculum materials waiting. I have found myself developing the entire middle school curriculum from scratch, mostly independently, because in international schools there is often only one specialist teacher per grade level. Thankfully both schools have used the same set of standards, and I have been fortunate to have extremely supportive and helpful colleagues and administrators, but nonetheless, no one at either school actually had the exact same goals, concerns, issues, and subject matter as me. I think this is a challenge specific to international schools. We travel from school to school, doing our best work, but often end up re-creating the wheel time and time again. I certainly brought my expertise and experience from one school to another, but I have never had the chance for true collaboration with colleagues at exactly the same level. In essence, we are often working in isolation.
  2. In addition to that isolation, we are also working with an extremely transient population. Many of our students may not be with us from elementary through middle up to high school. At each level of the school, we have a very high percentage of new students that may come from, and return to, different educational systems. Therefore the work of the department as a whole may be lost on them. I believe that this is an issue also specific to international schools, and one that the IBO is working towards resolving. In my last position, I attended the MYP Trainers workshop in Amsterdam and was approved as a trainer, but ironically, I am now working in a non-MYP school. I utilize the technology design cycle in my teaching, but I am no longer able to work within the framework of that international curriculum. This is an element I would like to develop within this project as well, as I truly enjoyed working with the MYP.
  3. Along with those two challenges, I believe IT teachers have a very special challenge - educating other teachers and administrators about the possibilities of technology in an educational setting (especially new and emerging technologies). As an IT integration specialist, I often work with teachers that are afraid of the changes that technology brings, and many times the administrators are no wiser to the developments in the world of technology than the teachers. It is a constant battle to educate and comfort teachers that are afraid of these changes. And, quite often, those teachers have themselves been working in isolation for many years and do not see or understand the impact technology has had on the world today. Nor are they required to utilize technology in their teaching because they do not have State or government regulations to meet in this international setting. It would be a powerful tool to have an entire community of educators contributing their specific middle school success stories and samples of projects that we could share with those teachers. Having this extended community not only reinforces the reality that I, alone, have not determined that these tools are essential to students' education, but that this, in fact, is going on around the world - and to be able to show them exactly how it works.
  4. I was also thinking that it would be nice to collaborate with other international school teachers specifically. To see what schools are doing in different areas of the world. To see how different middle school IT teachers deal with issues and concerns specific to the international school setting. And, to actually communicate with those teachers on a personal level, to share and learn, so that we can develop a common resource of our own making - specific to the needs of middle school technology teachers in international schools. I love conferences and that buzz you get from working with colleagues in different schools, but all too often, that energy and communication does not extend beyond the days of the conference. I am thinking of this project as a simple way to keep that dynamic going, even after we move on to a new school and a new country.

Who is Collaborating on Tech in the Middle?

This wiki was started by Kim Cofino, but has grown to include (please add yourself):