Friday, September 27, 2013


This week I've been intentional about taking time to notice. Life moves too fast, and I've seen that if I just take a moment to appreciate the ordinary that joy permeates deeper within me. I think that seeing the incredible images that friends, families, and allies provide me on Instagram pushed me to break my routine, pause, and notice. There is so much natural beauty around that is purposed for filling our souls with wonder and delight. Take notice. Smile. Stretch the time of the day.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Are we chasing the wrong things?

These three questions are dominating my thinking lately.

What is the best school that has come from our high stakes testing environment?

Is that school currently good enough for the learning that the students need for the next decade?

If not, why are we chasing the same model?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Last 48 Hours

The final 48 hours in Guatemala were a complete blur. After we had seen the sights in Antigua, we walked in the dark to an Italian restaurant that was near our hotel. I should mention that our hotel was incredible. It truly was hotel as art. It had beautiful furniture, an interior courtyard, and more. It would have been a wonderful place to stay for three or four days as you explore Antigua. During dinner, we spent some time processing the week, and started the final game planning for our meeting with the Ministry of Education. Though it would have been nice to plan and create our presentation earlier in the week, the final vision for phase one of the Global Learning Exchange Initiative (GLXi) didn’t take shape until that day in Antigua. We stayed simple with our slides, and we featured photos of kids learning at the schools that we visited. 

The Minister herself took almost a full hour with us discussing our ideas to bring complimentary reading services to Guatemalan schools in grades K-3 during after-school programs using a technology-rich environment. We were excited to get a meeting with her, and blown away that she took a full hour with us. She too recognizes the power of focusing on literacy at early grades, and the Ministry of Education is very interested in how technology could be a part of that. Everyone did a fanastic job on short rest. After our visit, we had a synergy meeting with the Central American Lutheran Ministry Society (CALMS) folks. They are doing an incredible job with their work in small villages in Guatemala. We discuss the tenants of truly helping those in need without amplifying the fatalism that exists in many of these communities. I was pointed to a text called Helping Without Hurting. I’m excited to get more deeply focused on making sure that our work remains true to these tenants. Following lunch, we traveled to the book store to create our first box of travelling books. Our hope is to bring technology-rich guided reading to our programming while also providing additional supplementary texts for independent reading. 

We are hoping that schools throughout the US may see the power of bringing these books to towns and villages in Guatemala, and I’m hoping to help coordinate these efforts. After this stop, we went to JMDR, a public school in Guatemala City for our final school visit. This visit brought us a new set of realities. This schools was ringed with a street market and poverty just inches outside of its walls. We arrived at recess, and the place was a bit crazy. There were lots of students running around on a small playground, and there were many others very interested in us. We met with the principal of the school, and she was very receptive to us bring there. It was clear that she had a lot of pride in her school, and we would soon realize why. We also saw a new computer lab that was in the principals’ office. It consisted for 8-10 “thin client” computers networked together. They were a pilot from Microsoft and the Ministry of Education. The internet connection was very slow, and we weren’t able to see kids using them during our visit. From the beginning of our trip, we thought that this urban public school would include a lot of illiterate children. It was awful that we had that mental model to start because the brilliance of this third grade classroom was amazing. They were eager learners. They asked for tougher books. They wanted to play the math game over and over. This visit confirmed that, urban or rural, public or private, the GLXi project can be effective in any space. 

After our visit, we were quite weary and truly on empty after this completely full week of learning. We had 45 minutes to rest, only for it to be interrupted by the biggest earthquake that I’ve ever experienced. Dave, who led our trip, is a native of CA, so it was a little tremor for him. Later, we would realize that over 30 people were killed in the earthquake closer to the epicenter. The final push of the evening came from a farewell dinner from our “host family” the Bonillas. Jose is the in-country coordinator for GLXi, and was responsible for our flawless itinerary and trip. Jose’s father Eduardo, served as our driver for the week. He was a crafty driver in the crazy street of Guatemala City and a race car driver outside the city. Mrs. Bonilla allowed us to share her family for the week, and her smile and energy sparked us throughout our tired moments. This project wouldn’t be possible without this dedicated family. Dinner was incredible, steak, sausage, potatoes, salad, and drink, and the beauty of Guatemala for visitors is that it was quite inexpensive. Lots of hugs to end the evening, and lots of promises to return. I can’t imagine being in Guatemala City without being with the Bonillas. The alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday morning for the final push home. I’m in the air about an hour from Saint Louis as I write this. There is at least one more blog post coming from the trip after it all sinks in a bit. I’m not to the takeaways yet, but I do know that I’m ready to build a network of kids, teachers, and more around the efforts of the GLXi because from those that have much, much is expected. This sense of service and empathy is a critical piece of building the whole child and more.

A pretty rough football game at JMDR School. 

The principal was very interested in the support of GLXi.

Dr. Henke and Dave Barford chat with the Minister of Education. 

Having a long audience with the Minister and her assistant was a blessing. Our work is designed to complement the work of the government in K-3 literacy. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Antigua Guatemala

Today was an opportunity to prepare for our meeting with the Ministry of Education. Throughout the day and well into the night we fine tuned our message and left with a clearer purpose of how the Global Learning Exchange Initiative will do to support the literacy work in Guatemala. Included in our day was some time to explore Antigua Guatemala, a city that was the capital of all of Central America, many years ago. We took time to see the sites including the wonderful vista, the cathedral, the open air market, and the jade museum. Tomorrow is a full day of meetings with key players in the country as well as our final school. I'll be home in 40 hours, and it is hard to believe how much we accomplished. 

The view from above Antigua. The volcano, Agua, is in the distance. 

Our in-country coordinator, Jose, sporting his University of Missouri shirt.

The beauty and peace of Antigua filled our afternoon. 
Fish for lunch, the whole fish 

From the ruins...rises a new start.

The best power strip over.

The cathedral facade in Antigua.

Jade is only found in two places in the world, and one of them is Guatemala.
These women are working to polish the jade.
One of many open air markets.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Guatemala- A Design Thinking Challenge

Over the last few months, I have been working with an organization called the Global Learning Exchange that has a mission to bring technology-infused reading experiences to the children of Guatemala and beyond. Over the past year, our group has developed relationships with an initial set of schools, and my journey this week took me into those schools to learn the logistics necessary to bring our programming to their space. We learned a lot, and we were intentional about using design thinking as part of our growth process this week. We didn't want to bring our solution to a space without considering the needs of those that we were serving. We talked about the needs of those that we were trying to serve throughout this process. This led us to building a problem statement that reads:

The young, eager learners that are beginning and emerging readers in Guatemala need to experience the best practices of reading instruction that maximize engagement so that they can progress into lifelong readers and learners.

In order to tackle this issue, we have spent time in the ideation phase looking at a variety of ways to bring a solution to the table. One idea has emerged at this point. We want to bring technology-infused reading experiences to students by coupling the compelling nature of the XO Android Tablet with a projector in after-school spaces in the schools that we serve. We tested this potential solution over the past week in country, and we have had solid results in the how it draws students into the learning.

We have recognized a set of logistics that emerge when we take this project from our one time test to bringing systems into schools that are sustainable over time that we need to overcome. This is where we need some assistance from the wisdom of the masses. We are in need of a mobile learning system that allows us to have the following conditions in place.

1. We would like a lockable box that can be secured with all of the technology in one space. We also need this box to be able to be locked to a wall for additional security.

2. We would like for the box to house a projector with the following conditions: allows the fan to function to avoid overheating, serves as a space from where the projector can project without removing it from the box, sits at a height that can project onto a wall for visibility in the classroom.

3. We would like a space in the lock box for a universal power supply that could be removed each night for charging by the teachers who live in the town below.

4. We would like spaces to store 3-5 XO Tablets in the box.

5. We would like a space to store some additional supplies (30 portable white boards, a laser pointer, HDMI cable, etc.)

6. We would like a space for a backpack to be hung or stored on the box. This is backpack that will be used to haul the battery down the mountain each evening for charging.

7. We would like a storage container that has wheels for easy movement between classrooms in a rural environment.

8. We would like for the container to handle the weather (high humidity and some precipitation) without being compromised.

9. We would like the container to cost between $200-300 and be replaceable quickly.

With these things as guiding thoughts, I turn things over to the children of the United States and beyond. We are open to new, innovative ideas on our process, product, and storage needs. We looking forward to thinking together with all of those working on this project. For more details, please reach out to me at:

Guatemala- Day Four; Our Trip to San Miguel

We woke this morning with a single mission in mind. It was to travel into the hills to see if our ideas for bringing technology-infused reading experiences could be effective and replicated in the rural sections of Guatemala. The group boarded our new vehicle capable of handling the extreme road conditions on the way to San Miguel, and we departed. The biggest early surprise was the beautiful town of Huite (wheat-tay). It was a clean and beautiful town with great homes, flowers, and parks. The road was straight up from there for about 20km until we reached the village of San Miguel. Pigs, goats, dogs, cows, and people littered the road to the village that climbed thousands of feet from Huite. 

We arrived, and there was instant interest from the kids like there has been in each school. All of the white people create quite the stir. We talked with the principal teacher and a few teachers. I should say that Jose, our translator, talked to these folks. I have tended to get really shy in these moments, part discomfort and part embarrassment that I have so much to offer, but nothing without language to share. Soon we realized that the school at San Miguel functions with no electricity. This was a surprise for us, but the school said that they could pay their neighbor who would loan us some electricity to showcase how our OX Tablets and projector can reshape reading in their classrooms. 

The next 30 minutes were complete chaos as all of the teachers left their rooms to meet with us, and they left all of their classes to do whatever. We were also trying to get the electricity run. This meant running an extension cord out of the window of the classroom (it was really three wires with a junction box attached on one end and a plug on the other), and then throwing the wire over the barbed wire fence that surrounded the school and attaching the cord to a second extension cord (attaching means jamming two wires into a plug on one end of the cord). This cord was run across the road before it was thrown over the neighbors hedges. From there, it was run through a hole in the wall in the neighbors home into and outlet for power.  

Once we had power, we showcased the potential power of the projector in these spaces. It was well received, and we discussed the possibility of bringing this technology to this space for future use. After walking the village a bit, we boarded the car to discuss the logistics to make this work in the poorest of conditions. We need help with this, and we are calling on experts, students, and solutionists to help us achieve our goals. More details about how to make this a successful project are coming soon. 

Our team preparing for the day. Lots of driving to get from Zacapa to San Miguel. 

The beautiful children of San Miguel. 

Sixth grade readers were reading at a first grade level at this school.
Our best work has to be with the toughest of places. These
students were so excited to learn and read. 
Recess in every place in the world looks a lot alike. 

Beyond the fence and the barbed wire about 20 meters is the electricity that this school desperately needs.
Never thought that we would be game planning around schools that have no electricity. 

Engagement is a beautiful thing to see in action.
These young learners are so ready to experience learning in a new way. 

With a projector and a tablet, we create our own interactive whiteboard along with a broom handle pointer. 

Some mom from Weikel Elementary School donated this shirt a long time ago, and it ended up in the mountains of Guatemala. We are such an interconnected place.  
The vista from San Miguel was magical. The fertile valley below, and the mining mountains in the distance. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Guatemala- Slowing to Think

I've been in Guatemala now for about three days, and I'm not sure that I've taken time to breath. There is so much to reflect on, and I'm just sort of getting comfortable being in this space where I can't talk to anyone at any length because I am arrogant enough to only know English. This country is beautiful. The land, the people, and children are really special. It is hard to imagine so many genuine smiles on the faces of so many obstacles, but I continue to laugh, smile, and enjoy space with so many different people. Guatemala has problems. Rural Guatemala is disconnected except for cell phones, satellite television, and the internet. There is a different face of poverty than I expected. I thought dirty clothes, incredible alcohol use, and laziness, but instead, I see workers, cleanliness, and not a bottle to be found on the side of the road. I'm in a real state of mental model confusion based on these items, but also in the fact that I keep going to nice malls and great restaurants, but 20 meters away someone is cooking tortillas on a wood fire stove, armed guards on standing outside car washes, and dogs and animals fill odd spaces on the landscape. Systemic change here is almost impossible to think about, but little moments of breakthrough seem economically feasible in short order. The air population of diesel engines hangs in the air, and the water in the rivers leaves me longing for clean water to drink. There is poverty here, but it looks different, feels different, and sounds different than I expected. Tonight I'm in a hotel with a pool, air conditioning, and more, but across the street is one of those stands that sells Coke and Fritos. I ate tacos tonight, and so many in this town ate nothing. I haven't seen a house that looks like any house in Saint Louis in three days, but I've seen kids loving learning everywhere. There is confusion in my head. Guatemala is complex, confusing, bold, and bright. More time to process this space is needed, but for now, I'm exhausted as the day was filled with pouring yourself into giving.

Guatemala- Day Three Recap and Pictures

The first task for the day was to beat the traffic out of Guatemala City. This meant a 5:45 a.m. departure. We worked our way out of the mountains, on very, very windy roads. The vistas were beautiful with cloud capped mountains on both sides. Guatemala is a beautiful volcanic land with folded steep hills throughout the country. Following breakfast that seemed like it was at Dennys, we reached a beautiful agricultural valley. This area was rich with fruits and vegetables, and it was clear that this was a special place. It was a humid place with lush tropical trees sitting next to cacti. Workers could be seen walking up and down the road with their tools of the trade preparing to harvest bananas, papaya, and more. Road side stands filled the way offering varieties of vegetables and fruit.

We reached Zacapa around 10 a.m. for our first school visit of the day. It was to the Lutheran school attached to the University. The grounds were very nice, and it was clear that much attention was giving to the learning in this space. We met with the principal of the school, and while explaining to him the mission of the Global Learning Exchange to bring a technology-infused reading experience to the schools of Guatemala through a variety of different shaped programs, we also had a chance to observe the students in the school. All of the students were eating lunch and playing. The variety of foods ranged from traditional Guatemalan dishes to traditional junk food. Some of the student bought from the vendors in the school courtyard and some brought their lunch. This school was considered a middle class school. It costs about $40 to attend this school every month. This rules out many of the students in Zacapa, but it provides a strong school for some. Next, we had an opportunity to showcase how our XO Tablets worked with a projector as well as how the XO Tablets worked with small groups. It was amazing again how the engagement level went through the roof, and how small hands that had never touched a tablet devices took to the mechanics of getting to content that they preferred.

At the school, we found two of the major things that we need from our partners, a space for this type of learning and a teacher or more that are interested in bringing this to their students. We found a teacher that looked like a natural leading with technology. This situation was a contrast to the day before where we were working in a back yard after school program that served the poorest of the poor. The second visit for our day took us to the town of Gualan. As we crossed over the bridge, you could see this beautiful hillside school that had views of both the river and the mountain. We met with Luis, the school leader, and it was clear from the beginning that he was someone that understood the power of literacy and the amplification power that technology can have on learning. We took our learning experience to a first grade class. This school clearly has order and learning taking place. The students were eager to interact. They were welcoming, and they were practicing their English. Thank goodness. The students showed incredible interest in using the books, math games, and memory games that we showcased, and the staff and students were eager to know when we could bring this experience to their space full time. It is an easy space for our partnership, but I believe that it is important to get easy wins in this difficult work. There was much debate in the car about whether our program should be targeting schools that were even poorer or whether we should be OK with supporting these middle class schools.

I'm not sure that I know the answer, but I do know that we need school leaders and teachers that can embrace this project to make this really work. In addition, we are fine tuning the opportunities that schools throughout the United States will have to support this program. We are looking for partners, and we know have a better sense of how we can all work together on this project. Below are some photos from the day with captions.
Our first visit today. A beautiful space for learning attached to the University. 

A classroom space

Jose and Dave discuss the mission of the Global Learning Exchange with the principal in Zacapa.

Lunch is served in Zacapa. 

I'll never complain about my computer lab again. They were using this room the best they knew. 

Our second visit today. A beautiful, progressive school in Gualan with a great view of the river and mountains. 

These students had computer access once a week for 30 minutes. Yes, there were on Facebook and YouTube. 

The power of a technology-infused reading experiences is seen here. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Guatemala- Day Two in Pictures

My morning started with a strategy session about how to bring Global Learning Exchange to schools in Guatemala in a way that was digestible for the folks teaching in these schools while maintaining a rigor necessary to make meaningful changes in literacy in a country that doesn't have the most robust literacy culture. From there, we traveled to the largest mall in Central America. It was beautiful. It was probably a better mall than any mall in Missouri. It was beautiful, clean, had every store that you could have asked for, and it oozed of luxury. Miraflores was a great space, but it wasn't representative of the reality check that was yet to come. Lake Amatitlan is a beautiful crater lake that is home to villages and squatters that exist in the most poverty that I've ever experienced. I was embarrassed to be there. I felt like I was a voyeur to a space and time that isn't acceptable to anyone. This was the first space that we were bringing the power of the Global Learning Exchange, and my first reaction was that there is no way that we could make an impact in this space. We toured the space with the gentleman that serves as doctor, mentor, and caretaker of this property. He hosts 26 children in his after-school space from 1:30-7:00 p.m. on every day that he can. He knows the importance of education, and he works to support these children every day. Only one of the 26 children have a mother with a sixth grade education, and the homes of all of these children are squatters' homes. The doctor running this program called where they live, which is across from the after school space, "the belt of misery". The children learning in the space maintained an energy for learning, and continued my believe that all humans have the curiosity to learning and the desire to love fellow humans. We introduced the XO Tablets, the projector, and the fresh opportunity to be a part of a digital learning space to the kids, and my gut which was telling me that this was a hopeless space turned to a place of hope and tears as I watched the technology tools of learning begin to do their magic. All of the students were reading orally from the projector for a long time. I doubted their stamina, but they maintained their reading and showcased their comprehension. When we placed the tablets in their hands to explore, the learning and engagement intensified. For hours, students were exploring, learning, and enjoying being in a learning community with fellow learners. It definitely has me believing that schools in the states can and should support this work. We need book drives for our schools. We need digital image dictionaries for our youngest learners. We need blogger to talk about life in the United States. We need student making simple childrens' books. Before the day was over, I got to play soccer with the kids, take pictures with them, and dedicate myself to this project in a deeper way. Five schools to go, and five more parts to this story. Everyone deserves a chance.... 

Jose and David project our first book on the XO Tablet for  the kids. 

Eduardo and Jose, our driver and translator, have the biggest hearts of all of us.
They want to change their country, one school at a time. 

Digital learning can happen anywhere. This girl looks like she has been handling a tablet for year.
Swiping, pinching, and learning from the moment it ended up in her hands. 

Lake Amatitlan is a beautiful place with the harsh reality of poverty everywhere.
 It was a great place to Lead Strong. 

Deep poverty should erase hope, but there is beauty in every space and every person.
We must bring a chance to every child. 

Running water changed the equation for this single mom. Her home was humble, but her heart was rich. 

Beautiful souls. Let us not consign them to less than we would want for our children. 

Guatemala- Day Two

Here are some initial thoughts. I needed to write something for the Affton community surrounding technology, and this is what came out. It was raw, unfiltered, and in the moment.

I've had a chance of a life time to bring digital learning to Guatemala this week. I'm in a church/clinic/school with 12 students that are so hungry to learn and the three tablets are feeding their minds and souls. There were tears earlier when I realized that this can work. Across the street is a squatters' neighborhood, and these are the kids that are learning.  This experience which we will replicate five times this week reminds me of how much more we can and should do with our technology resources. We have an opportunity to support global learning as a district in the next few months and I hope we rise to the challenge. See everyone Monday. Allow this week to be one with tears about what we can do for our kids in Affton.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Questions that We are Asking

What does it feel like to go to a school with no electricity? What does it feel like to go to school in a classroom where the teacher doesn’t show up to work? What does it look like to be in a school with no connectivity? What does literacy mean for a rural Guatemalan family. Can these students compete in the global marketplace at a high percent? What are your dreams when your education space is so narrow? Do we have any responsibility to teach the world’s children? What does empathy look like in the solutions that are needed in these spaces? How do we design with the schools not for the schools? What truly is our problem statement in which we are building a solution? These are the question that we are asking as part of the Global Learning Exchange. Is anyone else asking these questions?

Our Day in Guatemala City

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary day. This midwest gringo landed without a word of Spanish, and I have survived. I've tried a few phrases, and I've failed poorly. Thank goodness for our translator Jose. He and his father have been our tour guide throughout the day taking us to places that we couldn't have traveled on our own (zone 3) and giving us a chance to see a real view of Guatemala from those living on the side of the hill, to those with deep nationalist pride to those eating at Applebees. Seriously there is an Applebees here. It has been a tiring day, but one filled with the small moments that matter on trips like this. There was a beautiful vista, great music, and beautiful weather. Dr. Henke joins us tonight. Every new person brings a fresh dynamic to the system. Tomorrow starts the busy day of school visits and more.

 A view from the top of the mountain
The National Pride is Easy to See Here

Fox in Guatemala showing Cumbia Ninja, makes reality TV seem OK

Bieber Fever in Guatemala?

Great Maya Music on Our Walk Today

Food Truck Sunday in Guatemala City

Welcome to Guatemala

Sitting in the airport with a mixture of thoughts, most of them are filled with excitement, the excitement that comes from a new adventure. This trip sort of snuck up on me. I have been so busy with the start of school that I haven’t thought about the implications of heading to Central America for the first time. I have lots of ideas about what to expect, but I wonder a lot about how my expectations will meet the realities on the ground. My purpose for this trip is to see in a number of different ways. See the reality on the ground concerning bringing digital learning to these schools. See a new place and experience the food, culture, and people. See that which comes from being in education for 15+ years. See inside myself a bit as I experience life in Guatemala for the first time. See this project through the eyes of the teachers here in the States. See. See. See. I’m also thinking back to my selection of langugage learning in high school and college. I decided to learn French in middle school because I liked crepes, and though it has helped me in Paris and while watching the Tour de France, I’m longing right now to have some Spanish as a part of my communication repetoire this week. I’m sure that there will be some universals in the world of education, but there will certainly be some connections that will be lost in translation. Hopefully, there will be a few folks that have an opportunity to view this blog throughout the week. I’ll be grabbing the five best pictures from the day (hoping to take hundreds each day) and provide them in this space along with my learnings, musings, and connections that arise from this adventure. To learn more about this project overall, you can go to Global Learning Exchange.