#EdPins: Highlighting the Beautiful, Unique Work in Every School By: Dale Plotzki

There are many ways to share a story. Educators from around the world contribute to JRNEY every week. While I'm partial to the written word, often in long form, I'm always excited when I come across innovative ways to share stories using technology. I found that in Dale Plotzki's #EdPins. We live and die by reviews these days, so why not focus on the wonderful, fun, powerful, meaningful, and authentic, projects and learning going on at our schools throughout the world. You don't always have to have a video conference to bring the world into your classroom. Sometimes you do it like this. Here's Dale's story...

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In the foothills of the Peruvian Andes, some 160 km south of the capital city of Lima, is the town of Lunahuana (pronounced "loona-wa-na"). Lunahuana lies in a deep valley that is home to some of Peru's most fertile farmland; fed by a river of the same name, the valley has been inhabited for as long as humans have been in the area. Anything can grow in this valley. Wandering through the sleepy orchard roads, you begin to notice that almost every tree and shrub is growing some variety of delicious fruit or vegetable. The mild and unchanging climate allows for three harvests per year. There is a definite Garden of Eden vibe to the whole place.
Most people only visit Lunahuana as a weekend getaway from the chaos of Lima to enjoy some of Peru's only whitewater rafting or perhaps a boozy pisco tour of the local vineyards and bodegas. Like so many small towns in the fast-developing nation of Peru, it is the kind of place that has an incredible past, people, and spirit. Yet it is also largely unheard of to anyone outside of the country.

On the southern outskirts of Lunahuana lies the state public school, Colegio San Jeronimo. It is a modest cement building with approximately 350 students and is perhaps the quintessential Peruvian public school. Happy, chatty students in simple yet neat uniforms eagerly learn throughout the school day. They learn complex mathematics and basic English through direct instruction with modest materials. They untangle the complex web of Peruvian history and civics to try and make sense of this fast-moving, politically challenging country. Laughter bounces off of sparse concrete walls in every classroom from students who genuinely love learning. Far from the view of the #edchat crowd on Twitter is a faculty of hard working Peruvian educators whose endeavors help to close gaps in education, health, and wealth. Not only are they striving to develop young minds, but they are also working to improve a struggling nation. Yet the beautiful learning that is happening here is almost entirely invisible to the outside world. Should you search for Colegio San Jeronimo online, all you will find are bot-generated 411-style information pages with an address and maybe a phone number.

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There are no 'student devices' in the classrooms let alone costly wifi networks to connect 'Colegio San Jeronimo to the outside world, and teachers have to use their own phone or go into town for limited access. Even if these devices were accessible, there are no tech coaches or integrationists in Peruvian public schools who could help train teachers to make the most efficient use of these tools. While teachers at Colegio San Jeronimo work hard to close the aforementioned social gaps in the country, their students are slipping further and further behind in the area of tech skills. This lack of access to the wider global educator network also means that Peruvian stories, ideas, successes and expertise in education go largely unheard. And perhaps one of the best ways education in the country could be further improved would be to connect its' teachers to the global educator networks found online. This would allow Peruvian teachers to leapfrog over the lags in teacher training in the country and access content and materials from the educational leaders who share their work openly online.

A new Google Innovator project called #EdPins seeks to do just that. By harnessing the power of Google Maps, #EdPins collects, organizes, and shares the best learning experiences in a school and maps it by geographic location. What makes this idea powerful and different is in its' harnessing of Google Maps as the basis for a new platform. While Colegio San Jeronimo may not be on any social media platform, have a fancy website, or even much of a result in Google Search, it has the same presence on Google Maps as pedagogical giants like High Tech High. And it is not just Colegio San Jeronimo that you can find on maps; pretty much every school that exists in a physical building on planet earth is locatable on Google Maps. It is truly jaw-dropping to consider the extent to which we have already plotted every corner of the globe!

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Google Maps is an educational equalizer; a free, open space that can be repurposed to change the way schools from across the planet collaborate, share, and celebrate learning regardless of their level of privilege. The 'review cards' on Google Maps are democratic, public, self-translating and are multimedia compatible.  These 'review cards' can be easily shared across places and spaces and sorted with a simple hashtag system. Any teacher with a Google Map can contribute to one of these review cards on their school and use it as a free platform to highlight the stand-out work they are doing. They can also seek out the work of other teachers to connect and learn from them, regardless of traditional barriers such as language or distance. Technological requirements are minimal; all you need to dive right in would be a cellphone. Essentially, #EdPins is seeking to carve out a new global education-specific social media platform via a repurposing of the Google Maps technology. The core belief of the project is that every teacher and classroom has work, stories, and knowledge worth sharing with the world.
In the coming weeks, I will be headed back to Lunahuana on a Classroom Without Walls trip with my students. We will go rafting and hike through the orchards that climb the valley walls. We will visit the school to build new bleachers, to paint the classrooms and teach the students some more 'native' English. However, we will also be coming to plant a seed in the teachers of Colegio San Jeronimo that the time has come to connect them with the rest of the educational world. By getting them onboard #EdPins we will be highlighting their incredible school to the world and bringing the world to them. They will take their idea to their regional associations and ministry and hope to push it further and into even deeper, more remote parts of the country. Over the course of the next year, I hope that this idea catches on like wildfire. I hope that the dedicated professionals of schools across the developing world will be connecting and collaborating more and more on this new network. And when we come back again in one more year, it is my dream that more people will know about Lunahuana, and not because they want to go rafting!

By Dale Plotzki

Here's how you can get involved...

Add your school's story on #EdPins to make learning visible.  

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Educator, Rascal, Man of the World, Chronic Pocket-Tweeter. Dale Plotzki is a Learning and Innovation Coach from Lima, Peru. Lover of poodles and cold-wave surfing. I love watching education evolve into new and better forms! Connect with him on Twitter @dale_rickardo