Education brings the world to students. Knowledge opens minds. As technology advances, finding its place in the classroom has been seen as important over and over again. Moveable type made textbooks possible, television and video made seeing breaking news and action possible, and, most recently, the internet makes information of all types available in an instant.
Unfortunately, instant access is not true everywhere in the world. Some of the most far flung and needy locations are being served by volunteers in the Peace Corps. Our grades 7 and 8 have embarked on a collaboration with the Peace Corps, to have our easy access to technology and our digitally fluent students help a volunteer in Mozambique further his work there.
The Peace Corps uses map data to track diseases and facilities as they work to improve conditions in the many locations where volunteers are serving. Technology for mapping and satellite images has improved, and access to this information is free. Unfortunately, spotty internet connection and lack of time makes accessing information difficult for many locations in the world. Young people in the USA, and especially at our school, have the capability and access to use the mapping program– and grades 7-8 have taken on the responsibility of mapping 25% of Mozambique! Using the free program Open Street Map (openstreetmap.org), students trace the streets (and some well used footpaths) and map buildings. The data is uploaded, transferred, and verified, and then can be used by volunteers “on the ground.”
Our learning activities for the project filled most of the school day. The kickoff speaker was PDS parent, Katie Green, a former Peace Corp volunteer who still supports the program, and who brought this mapping project to our attention. Katie spoke with the students about her commitment to global service, and also her sense of adventure!
Next, history teacher,Jake Lahey, who has been piloting this project for us, trained the students in the Open Street Map program. This work is too extensive for one day, so will be ongoing. Next, the students randomly drew questions about Mozambique and researched the answers. The information is now on a bulletin board for everyone to read, because there is no sense in mapping a country that we know nothing about!
One of the biggest benefits for us is that our partnership with the Peace Corps brings us a particular volunteer– Taylor Marshall– who is currently serving in Mozambique. He is teaching science and English, among other things, and our students wrote letters to his students, that he will use to help his classes. Taylor was able to make time in his evening (there is a seven hour time difference) to Skype with our students. Students were well prepared with questions: about serving, about being a long way from home, about why his work is rewarding and what is hard about it (scarcity of dark chocolate being one item!), and about games that the kids play where he is serving. Our partnership with Taylor Marshall will extend at least for the rest of this school year. He kept us riveted for the forty minute call.
The long chain of commitments that led to this learning for our students is actually breathtaking: commitment led to a program like the Peace Corps, commitment led to the software that is open and free to all, commitment led to satellite images being available for the software to use. One the more personal side, commitment led Katie and Taylor to service, and to share with us. Jake committed to learning about this project and giving it the “legs” needed to bring his colleagues aboard and structure hours learning for our students. And, last but not least, our students committed to doing quality work, both in mapping and in sharing what they had learned about Mozambique in a public display.
One of the outcomes we most hope for in our graduates, is that they will grow to become adults who commit to meaningful work, and their local and global communities. The thoughtful and structured learning environment that this project created, certainly sets them on that path.