I feel like I am living in a dream! I am going to Atlanta, Georgia in the USA for the ISTE2014 conference! Better yet, I am going as an award winner! Yes, the project of my heart, The Travelling Rhinos Project, has won ISTE’s SIGOL Online Learning Award and as a result, I get to travel to Atlanta, attend the conference and receive an award! I also get to present my project in a two-hour poster session. I am beyond excited.
The annual ISTE conference has been on my bucket list for a number of years, but as a South African, actually getting there is a huge stretch. Not only is the distance a challenge, but the costs are prohibitive. However, I have now truly learnt that one should not give up on your dreams, and that dreams can come true – or, as my daughter said, miracles do happen!
What started off as a small, Flat Stanley-type project, has grown beyond my wildest dreams. Five little stuffed rhinos have touched hearts and captured the imagination of students and teachers all around the world. These rhinos have worked hard to raise awareness of the severe rhino poaching crisis in South Africa. They have travelled to the corners of the earth from South Africa to Australia and New Zealand to Singapore, Korea, China, Russia, Greece, Ireland, Guatemala, Canada and many states in the USA – including Alaska and later this year, Hawaii!
On their travels these little rhinos have visited the classrooms of passionate teachers who, with their students, have gone out of their way to raise awareness and use their voices in different ways, so that the future of our rhinos might be more certain. Each of the teachers followed a different approach, but their passion shone through in the activities they have involved their students in. We’ve had everything from rhino songs, rhino presentations, letters and articles in local media, art work, rhino sand castles, messages in bottles, posters, letters to President Zuma, rhino appeal videos, rhino assemblies, a shout-out on a radio station, a petition, fundraising (a bonus spin-off, totally unplanned) and so much more! Some teachers have even signed up for a second rhino visit.
Obviously technology has been the underlying success of this project. Through the wiki and other online tools such as VoiceThread, Padlet, YouTube, Glogster, Vimeo, blogs, Skype, Google Hangouts and others, the work done by these classes has been made all the more possible and the sharing and collaboration has been amazing.
All these wonderful activities have been documented in the project wiki for all to see. It has become a symbol of the power of PASSION – my passion for our rhinos and also the passion of the teachers and students who have participated in this project so far, and also those who will still participate in the future. These are the wonderful people who made this project possible and who have, ultimately, led me to this award. To each and every one of you, I am eternally grateful. You have become rhino warriors of note and your students have learnt so much, not just about rhinos, but also about how to be better citizens of this world by standing up for the animals and being the voices that they do not have. While there have been champions of this project, I do not want to highlight specific people here, for fear of omitting someone. Each and every teacher and student who has participated and contributed to this project so far has touched my heart profoundly. You have all made a difference in your own special way. For this I thank you all.
I would, however, like to extend my gratitude and thanks to Michael Graffin, co-founder of The Global Classroom Project. If it wasn’t for him, I would not have entered. He brought the ISTE SIGOL Online Learning Award to my attention about a year ago, when he suggested that I enter. I felt it too early then, but Michael didn’t leave it at that. Later in the year he reminded me of it again and then in December he again suggested I enter for the award – and that’s exactly what I did. The rest, as they say, is history! Thank you, Michael, from the bottom of my heart.
I also have to make mention of my school, Elkanah House. I have had nothing but support throughout this project and my colleagues and the management have joined me in celebrating the successes of this project. I am deeply indebted to them for helping me to make this dream a reality.
Much has to happen before I can jet off at the end of June. There are so many ideas going around in my head – a Travelling Rhinos teacher meet-up is high up on the agenda. I look forward to meeting face to face with the many online friends I have made over the past 17 months. Let the good times begin!