By day four of the Future of Learning (FoL) institute, Esther Carvalho, a principal of a two-unit school in Sao Paulo, Brazil, was thinking a lot about globalization, the importance of teaching students to be good citizens, and ethics in the media. "My goals in coming were to update myself in terms of technology applied to education; reflect about new ways of thinking, teaching, and learning aligned to the 21st century; and improve the approach that we have developed in our schools," she says.
Offered by Project Zero in collaboration with Programs in Profession Education (PPE), FoL, now in its second year, focuses exclusively on how societal changes and technological advancements affect students' abilities to learn and their impact on educational practice.
Carvalho knows firsthand the challenges of reforming a more traditional school in today's fast changing world. Part of her job, she says, includes traveling the world to learn more about best practices in different educational systems. At Colegio Robranco -- a large, private K-12 school with 2,400 students and 150 teachers -- Carvahlo has developed initiatives to change the "traditional paradigms of teaching and learning." The school as been making progress on its own, she says, "by improving professional development inside our school, differentiating learning, and using new media."
Facing an outdated pedagogical model, Carvalho created a teaching improvement plan for the school. While this was a step in the right direction, Carvalho admits implementation has been a struggle since many teachers have difficulty undertaking new teaching methods. "Their [personal] experience as students was so traditional that, [as a result], this is the only way they know how to teach - the same technique they had as students," she says.
FoL reminded Carvalho and the 199 other participants, who attended from all over the world, of the reason change is necessary. "We really need to rethink our roles as educators in this new society," she says, noting that currently schools are losing ground. Of particular interest to Carvalho, is the suggestion from the institute that the role of schools should stretch beyond the traditional teaching of math, English, and history to include the teaching of citizenship and respect.
Carvalho was impressed by much of what she learned at FoL and plans to share it with her colleagues upon returning to Brazil. Northwestern University Professor Alan Collins' session "Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology," which explored globalization, new technology, home schooling, and distance learning, prompted Carvalho to consider the role of schools in teaching children to be citizens and respecting each other in society, something that, she says, can be exciting and frightening for schools. And, after being introduced to Professor Howard Gardner's GoodPlay Project - an examination of the ethical character of young people's activities in digital media today -- she plans to implement some of the project's findings at Colegio Robranco.
Eager to continue her networking efforts and learn more about what other education systems are doing in the world, Carvalho attended two other summer institutes in addition to FoL: Redesigning High Schools for Improved Instruction and Connecting the Mind, Brain, and Education. Carvalho says she found the different methodology of each institute particularly important to her own learning, but appreciates that they all encouraged participants' involvement in their own learning. "The groups, protocols, activities -- [all] are very well-organized and incorporate proactive learning [environments]," she says, noting that she was so happy with her experience this summer she plans on coming back next year. "Each institute has a special way of building engagement... . [Each] provides something new to learn and put into practice in our schools."