Research Ambassadors

In my school, third graders reign supreme. The school consists of three grade levels: first, second, and third. There are approximately 225 students enrolled in each level, so it is a fairly large school. For most people, it is difficult to imagine third-grade students possessing seniority. Despite third graders’ young age, I am constantly amazed by their talent, intelligence, and determination. Elementary-aged students are leaders in the making. They jump at opportunities where they can exhibit their leadership qualifications. Educators often have to create these opportunities, especially when serving young students.

The Blue Diamond Gallery
I decided to pilot such an opportunity during open library time that I call Research Ambassadors. This special research cohort makes use of third graders’ leadership and academic abilities. Research Ambassadors are school-wide leaders who possess the knowledge and skills of a good researcher. Students become expert researchers who support the research efforts of peers by engaging in a meaningful inquiry project of their own.

Program Overview
The Research Ambassadors program is designed to give one student from each third-grade homeroom the research skills necessary to help fellow classmates conduct research during regular instruction. Ambassadors learn and practice the skills of a good researcher by engaging in a project where they use a variety of sources to investigate a topic or pursue a passion.


Each third-grade homeroom teacher selects one student to represent their class as a Research Ambassador. Teachers choose Research Ambassadors based on students’ academic strengths and leadership capacity. Ambassadors meet in the library twice a week for 40-minute sessions to work on their projects. Projects typically take 10-12 weeks to complete. Upon completion of the program, researchers present their projects to an audience of peers and family members.

The Blue Diamond Gallery
According to Dictionary.com, an ambassador is “a person who acts as a representative or promoter of a specified activity.” This definition describes a Research Ambassador perfectly. Research Ambassadors are charged with the task of teaching the ones they represent (their classmates) how to follow the inquiry process and utilize a variety of information sources.

A Sample Project
Inquiry-based learning initiates by posing questions, problems, or scenarios—rather than simply presenting facts or prescribing a specific path to knowledge. Research Ambassadors follow the inquiry process to explore a topic. The following section outlines how my students engaged in inquiry-based learning to complete a research project that required a diverse set of information sources.
  1. Motivate/Connect. The research unit begins by sparking students’ interest in the topic. Students view 360-degree images and videos from my 2016 expedition to Antarctica as a National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. Students record observations of the Antarctic landscape and wildlife. I explain to students that they will have the opportunity to explore a new place on Earth through research. Students select a country to research based on their interest in that particular place. Students build background knowledge about their country by reading a print book from the library or an electronic book from Epic!
  2. Question – Plan. Students develop and refine their inquiry questions. The best research questions are “open” inquiries, meaning they are not easy to answer and we need to look at many different information sources to find the answers. Each student writes a letter to a family member that lists their questions and gives rationale for choosing the topic.
  3. Investigate. Students read closely to locate evidence that answers the research questions. A variety of resources are used to support students’ research including Google Earth, Britannica, PBS LearningMedia, and Web results from Kiddle (a safe search engine powered by Google). Students identify the author, title, and date of each source. They keep track of key details and pertinent information in note-taking graphic organizers.
  4. Construct. Students synthesize meaning from their notes and begin outlining their presentations. There are a number of formats students can choose from to demonstrate their learning. For instance, students can create digital and physical posters, three-dimensional models, slideshow presentations, brochures, and short videos.
    Some students created brochures in Microsoft PowerPoint
    Inquiry-based learning encourages students to consider new alternatives for demonstrating their knowledge. Many students created a hands-on instructional activity for their audience to complete such as a Breakout EDU game, puppet art, and matching games.
  5. Present. Students present their knowledge product to an audience of peers and family members. Copies of students’ presentations are uploaded to the school library’s social media accounts and website.
  6. Evaluate/Reflect. Students evaluate their research product using a learner-friendly rubric. Students plan for the future by reflecting on the learning experience and identifying their individual strengths and areas in need of improvement.
The inquiry phases are from the “School Librarians Take a Starring Role in the Common Core State Standards: Be a Star in Reading Comprehension”

Teaching Others

The first man to walk on the moon is right. I want my students to use the knowledge they gain from research to create and to teach. At the conclusion of the project, Research Ambassadors present their final products to their homeroom classes. Parents and administrators are also invited to attend. During presentations, ambassadors do more than display their work and discuss their learning. They explain how they used the phases of inquiry to examine a new topic. Presenters demonstrate how to access information sources by conducting sample keyword searches. Research Ambassadors explain how to filter search results, use text-to-speech Chrome Extensions, and cite sources. Because of researchers’ presentations, they are viewed by their peers and their teachers as experts in research. The next time the class investigates a topic, a Research Ambassador will be there to assist and lead.

Research Ambassadors do more than conduct research; they become ambassadors. Students not only master the skills of a good researcher, they share what was learned with their classmates. They teach others how to answer inquiries by utilizing print and digital sources from the school library. In its third year, the Research Ambassadors program has impacted every student in the school from all three grade levels. Now, second-grade teachers select students to serve as ambassadors. In addition to presenting projects and the inquiry process to homeroom classes, Research Ambassadors deliver workshops to first-grade students. First graders are trained on how to access and use age-appropriate information sources from the library to address their research needs. Most importantly perhaps is the fact that many first-grade students are inspired to show their teachers that they too have what it takes to become a Research Ambassador.
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15-Minute PD: You Get What You Give

There is a lot one can accomplish in just 15 minutes. You can update your resume, grab takeout dinner, take a shower, or even explore a new educational technology or library service. That’s right, in 15 minutes, school libraries can provide effective professional development (PD) opportunities for teachers and support staff. Due to time constraints and scheduling conflicts, it can be difficult to provide formal PD during or after the school day. As information experts and curriculum specialists, it is our duty as school librarians to provide opportunities for teachers to learn about programs and resources that support classroom instruction. The obstacle, however, is finding the best time to facilitate said opportunities, especially with time being so scarce. A possible solution? Monthly 15-minute professional development sessions for professionals on the go.

picpedia.org
The first Common Belief of the American Association of School Librarians states: “The school library is a unique and essential part of a learning community.” School librarians are leaders of the library space and its functions. We ensure that the library environment provides members of the school community access to information and technology. My school library has progressed over the years by acquiring makerspace supplies, offering online information databases, embracing virtual learning environments, and adopting the latest educational technology for instruction. Despite my library’s advancements, I felt as if something was missing. At no fault of their own, teachers were not utilizing the library programs and materials on a consistent basis. As a school librarian on a fixed schedule, I do not have common planning with teachers. Classes are in the library for “Special Area” from 8:20 to 2:15, so teachers cannot reserve the space as needed. I knew I had to communicate all that my school library has to offer despite these barriers. An after-school 15-minute PD that meets once a month was a good place to start.

What can someone learn in 15 minutes? More than you think. In my professional development sessions, teachers get information about a great resource and they have time to give their own ideas and suggestions. Hence the name of my workshops: Get and Give. I have heard of short PDs being called Finished in 15, PD On-Demand, and Just-in-Time PD. Regardless of what you call these educational workshops, the purpose is the same: to improve learning for educators and students.

Staff from the public library joined our Get and Give
about the book loan program
It is important to keep in mind the goals, needs, and circumstances of your school when selecting the topics for your 15-minute workshops. My first few Get and Give events featured the school library’s latest resources and services. For instance, I presented the book loan program between our school and the public library. At the Get and Give, teachers learned how to search and request items from the public library. Teachers were interested to learn that reserved items are delivered to the school and later picked up by public library staff.

Another Get and Give I provided was about the newest addition to the school library’s suite of technologies: a mobile VIVE virtual reality (VR) system. Within 15 minutes, my colleagues experienced VR first-hand, browsed available programs, and practiced reserving the mobile VR cart for their students to use.

Sometimes teachers need experience with the latest resources
before they feel comfortable integrating them in the classroom
As the school year progressed, I observed a need for programs in certain aspects of classroom instruction. I noticed that when students searched for information, the majority began with Google despite the number of specialty databases available. My students have access to Britannica School, Scholastic GO!, and Explora for Primary Schools. These online databases provide fact-checked, age-appropriate content on almost every subject and are often the best places to initiate research. I decided to offer a Get and Give on these online databases. Teachers were amazed by how easy it is to access these services. They were impressed that students can change the articles’ reading level and follow along with audio narration. After my 15-minute PD, teachers decided to change their Chromebooks’ start-up page to a cluster of web links that direct users to online databases. In the future, I intend to administer short Google Form surveys to faculty about the topics they would like to see featured at the Get and Give PD. Giving my audience a voice in their learning will lead to more meaningful training events that reflect the needs of teachers and their students.

I host monthly 15-minute Get and Give workshops after school in the school library from 3:30 to 3:45. A week before the PD, I create promotional graphics in Canva, a free graphic-design tool website. Canva uses a drag-and-drop format and provides access to over a million photographs, graphics, and fonts. With Canva you can create designs for the Web or print: blog graphics, Facebook covers, flyers, posters, invitations, and more. I share my Get and Give graphics with faculty through email and social media, and I place printed copies in their mailboxes.

I use Canva to promote my Get and Give PDs.

iPad Kiosk and Goodies
When teachers enter the school library for a Get and Give, they sign in at the iPad kiosk using the app, Random: All Things Generator. At the end of the 15 minutes, I use the app to randomly select a teacher to receive a door prize, which is usually a gift card to a local coffee shop or teacher store. The combination of door prizes, snacks, and engaging content results in high attendance at my monthly PDs.

Don’t let your 15-minute PD opportunities end when the timer sounds. Follow-up each PD by emailing a link to your slideshow along with pertinent attachments to all faculty and staff. Even the ones who were unable to join the in-person workshop will benefit by reviewing the presentation and speaking with colleagues who did attend. Teachers will come to you with questions or seek advice on how to integrate the strategy or resource discussed at your workshop. In the time it took you to read this article, you could have introduced a resource or strategy, demonstrated its capabilities, given your audience the chance to try it out, and lead a brainstorming session for its use in instruction. What are you waiting for? The clock is ticking.

Works Cited

American Association of School Librarians. n.d. “Common Beliefs.” https://standards.aasl.org/beliefs/ (accessed December 17, 2018).
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TEACH Bahrain: Cultural, Historical, and Economical Sites

On the final morning of the U.S.-Arab Bilateral TEACH Fellowship, I awoke with with mixed emotions. I felt like most students do the very last day of school. First and foremost, I was excited! Excited for a day of what would include amazing sites in Bahrain. But I was also sullen from knowing the fellowship had reached an end.

Randy, Oktay, and I getting ready to enjoy shaurma, a 
Middle Eastern meat preparation based on the doner kebab 
It would be difficult leaving the other Fellows. We were a close-knit group of educators who shared similar interests and similar approaches to teaching and learning. Conversations while riding in the van gave me inspiration to continue pursuing professional development through field-based experiences. Programs like the Bahrain TEACH Fellowship not only gave me knowledge and understanding about new places, they inspire me to develop news methods for students’ exploration of the world.

Our last day in Bahrain included five site visits. Each outing enlightened me on Bahrain’s culture, history, and economics. These three subjects do not exist in isolation; they are interconnected. By approaching each site from a holistic view, I was able to formulate a better understanding of the site’s context within the Middle East and the world at large. Doing this for each of the five stops helped me make connections between all of the places I had experienced during the fellowship. This kind of interdisciplinary approach to learning is what I strive for my students to experience. Education should emphasize the interconnectedness among content and skills. In doing so, students will become better decision-makers and problem solvers who are ready for the world beyond the classroom.

Stop #1: First Oil Well
The First Oil Well in Bahrain is situated below Jebel Dukhan, and is the first oil well in the Persian Gulf. It was operated by Bahrain Petroleum Company. The oil first spurted from this well on 16th October 1931, and finally began to blow heads of oil on June, 2nd 1932. Bahrain was the first place in the Arabian side of Persian Gulf where oil was discovered, which also coincided with collapse of the world pearl market.

First Oil Well in the Gulf Region was in Bahrain @bilateralteach #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
360-degree image of the first oil well in the Arabian Gulf


Stop #2: Peninsula Farms
Peninsula Farms were established to grow fresh food for the people of Bahrain. They grow local food for local people. Peninsula Farms’ main objective is to contribute to the development of the agricultural sector in Bahrain as well as aiding the country to achieve its goal to be self-sustainable in terms of local fresh produce. In order to combat the desert climate, the farm has custom designed a closed loop cooling system and introduced new flatbed growing trays that have reduced the number of plants but vastly increased the yield.

In addition to sustainable farming, Peninsula Farms produces goat milk soap. Goat milk soap is wonderful for people with dry or sensitive skin, or conditions such as eczema. According to goatmilkstuff.com, “Goat milk contains alpha-hydroxy acids such as lactic acid which help remove dead skin cells from your skin’s surface.” Goat milk also contains high levels of Vitamin A, which is necessary to repair damaged skin tissue and maintain healthy skin. Besides the health benefits, goat milk soap comes in a variety of scents. I purchased a bar of soap made with frankincense and myrrh.

Stop #3: Tree of Life
The evergreen Tree of Life of Bahrain, or otherwise referred to as Shajarat-al-Hayat by the locals, is approximately 400 years old. It is believed to have been planted in 1583. The tree is covered with green leaves, despite being in the Arabian Desert. It is approximately 9.75 meters tall and a lone tree standing in the desert, with no other vegetation around it. Minimal vegetation can be spotted a few miles away from the Tree of Life. The tree is called the Tree of Life due to its ability to thrive with no obvious source of water.

Tree of Life in Bahrain - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
360-degree image of the Tree of Life


Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) is “The Home of Motorsport in the Middle East”. BIC opened in 2004 and is used for drag racing, GP2 Series and the annual Bahrain Grand Prix. The 2004 Grand Prix was the first held in the Middle East. The grandstand holds 70,000 spectators.


Bahrain International Circuit Motorway @BilateralTeach #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
360-degree image of Bahrain International Circuit
The Royal Camel Farm is home to over 600 camels of all ages and sizes. The farm was created by the King of Bahrain, Sheik Mohammad as a means of preserving camels in Bahrain. For many in the Middle East, camels are regarded as a symbol of power, wealth, and fertility. A camel’s hump stores up to 80 pounds of fat, which the animal can break down into water and energy when sustenance is not available. These humps give camels their legendary ability to travel up to 100 desert miles without water (National Geographic).

Royal camel farm in Bahrain @BilateralTeach #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
360-degree image of Royal Camel Farm


Stop #6: King Fahd Causeway
The King Fahd Causeway is a 16-mile bridge that links Bahrain to Saudi Arabia. The causeway is currently the only land link Bahrain has with the outside world, and it is a major contributor to increased Inter-Gulf trade. In terms of passenger traffic, it is one of the busiest in the Middle East. On average, 100,000 residents from Saudi Arabia cross the King Fahd Causeway into Bahrain every weekend. After my delightful week in Bahrain, I can see why it is such a popular destination.

I departed Bahrain on the eve of America’s Thanksgiving holiday. I have a lot to be thankful for. I am thankful for the opportunity to explore Bahrain’s past, experience its present, and learn of its future. I experienced a special part of the world that many people never get to see first-hand. The memories I made in the Kingdom of Bahrain were made possible thanks to the U.S.-Arab Bilateral Chamber of Commerce and their generous sponsors. I am thankful for the memories made with the other nine TEACH Fellows. My understanding of the Arab World was enriched because of the conversations we engaged in each day. Through personal communications and professional exchanges, I have a new sense of purpose in teaching my students about the Middle East and its unique culture. I am eager to share my experience through lesson plans, community programs, education conferences, and personal exchanges.
What do you do when you have a 7-hour layover in London? Take the underground into the city, of course! My first stop was a walk through Hyde Park to Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s residence. Next, I strolled through beautiful St. James Park toward Westminster. After taking time to admire the Parliament building, I went for a tour inside Westminster Abbey. At Westminster Abbey more than 3,300 people are buried, and the church has been the setting for every coronation (crowning of king or queen) since 1066. It was amazing to see markers indicating the remains of prominent figures like Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, Edward the Confessor, and Charles Dickens. After the tour of Westminster, I walked two miles along the Thames River. I ended my London tour by taking in the majesty of Tower of Bridge.

Buckingham Palace - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
360-degree image outside Buckingham Palace
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TEACH Bahrain: It Takes a Village to Educate a Child

We played a financial literacy game at Injaz.
Most everyone has heard the popular African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The saying holds true even today. It takes an entire community to help a single child grow and develop. This theme was woven throughout the third day of the US-Arab Bilateral TEACH Fellowship in Bahrain. Many people in a community think they do not impact a child’s learning if they are not his or her teacher. That could not be further from the truth. Everyone has the potential to play a role in students’ education. What could be a more noble cause?

At Junior Achievement Worldwide in Manama, Bahrain, I learned of how large corporations and local businesses support students’ education. Junior Achievement is called Injaz in Bahrain but the mission is the same: to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy. Through more than 3,000 volunteers, Injaz reaches 20,000 students annually. Volunteers from various businesses visit classrooms to teach students financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship. The programs ignite the spark in young people to realize the opportunities and realities of work life in the 21st century.

Entrepreneur and Injaz volunteer, Fitawe
TEACH Fellows had the pleasure of hearing from Injaz volunteers. Fitawe is an entrepreneur who launched a mobile spa and salon service in 2013. She shared her inspiring journey. Fitawe became a business owner despite pressures from family and friends to continue her studies in medicine. In the end, she followed her passion and is now doing something she truly loves. Regardless of where you live in the world, volunteers and financial supporters teach students new skills and provide motivation. They contribute greatly to the education of every child they touch.

After tea and goodbyes, we left Injaz for The Bahrain Bayan School. Bayan School is a private International Baccalaureate (IB) School in Manama. IB teachers and coordinators develop and implement curriculums in almost 5,000 schools globally every day, in over 150 countries around the world. The program’s mission is to “promote intercultural understanding and respect, not as an alternative to a sense of cultural and national identity, but as an essential part of life in the 21st century” (International Baccalaureate).

Facts about Bahrain Bayan School: 
  • Bilingual school
  • Co-education from K-12
  • 1,147 students: 53% male and 47% female
  • 98% Bahraini Nationals
  • Arabic and American English based curriculum
  • 90% of graduating students go to universities abroad
  • Average class size is 18-22 pupils
  • Total of 208 faculty and staff from 20+ different nationalities
  • Staff working hours is 7AM to 3PM
  • One school year consists of 190 days
  • Teacher contract includes housing and transportation to and from the school in addition to a monthly salary which is approximately $2,500 for a first-year employee. 

TEACH Fellows and hosts from Bayan School
School Facilities: 
  • School Library/Innovation Hub
  • Prayer Mosque
  •  Religion is a major part of life in the Middle East. An overwhelming majority of Bahrainis are Muslim so schools offer religion classes and opportunities for students to pray. 
  • Green House
  • Dance Studio
  • Track and Soccer Field
  • Tennis Court 
  • Fitness Center
  • Two Gymnasiums
  • Science Labs for Physics, Chemistry, and Biology
The school week in Bahrain is Sunday through Thursday since Friday and Saturday make up the weekend. However, students at Bayan School have a four day week. Every Tuesday, students are excused from classes so teachers can have a full day of professional development. How great is that? My students back home were very curious to know if Bahraini schools have recess. I found out that at Bayan School, students get a 25-minute recess and then an extended lunch of approximately 45 minutes to eat and have social time.

Government (Public) Schools: 

Education is compulsory and free in Bahrain. Primary school is the first six years of a child’s education. The following three years makes up intermediate education and the next three years are secondary education. Students receive instruction from subject teachers beginning in grade three. There are separate schools for boys and girls until grade six when genders are integrated. Boys are taught by female teachers in primary and intermediate grades. Students are taught English and Arabic at a very young age. On average, teachers have direct contact with students 1.7 hours a day. The rest of teachers’ time is spent completing administration tasks.

I shared brochures my students created about life in Kentucky
with students at Bayan School.
In Bahrain’s 211 public schools, students are given a government mandated exam every six weeks. I was told by a director at Bahrain’s Economic Development Board (EDB) that because of testing, most teachers teach content, not skills. Students learn to memorize facts and subject areas are taught in isolation. Learning is not relevant to students but rather itemized for achieving a high test score. Until the entire system is changed, students will receive archaic instructional strategies (i.e. lectures, note-taking) rather than receiving opportunities to ask their own questions and investigate topics through a variety of sources.

In 2003, Bahraini students took The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Their scores ranked 55th out of 58 countries. Bahraini schools’ practice of teaching students to memorize content for the nation’s standardized test contributes to this low performance. As a result of schools promoting rote memorization, many students in Bahrain know things but cannot do things. Companies in Bahrain spend a lot of time training new employees to develop the skills needed to complete specific tasks.

The gender gap in the Arab World is the biggest on Earth according to international assessment data. Girls outperform boys by a very large margin. Males lack motivation. Boys realize they will inherit the family business or have little trouble landing a job upon graduation. Seventy percent of university graduates are women. Yet, females make up only 23% of the workplace. After graduation, it is customary for women stay at home and raise a family.

Recently, a teacher college was established in Bahrain where one can earn a Bachelor’s in Education degree. Pre-service teachers get a stipend of half a teacher’s salary plus a guaranteed position at the end of the training. Most secondary teachers do not have a degree in education. They have a content degree (i.e. Chemistry, Arabic). However, if a teacher does not have a teaching certificate, they cannot be promoted to the next pay scale.

From the meeting at the EDB, it is apparent that Bahrain has a skill gap. The answer to this problem lies in education. In order to deliver best practice instruction and inquiry-based learning, a change must occur at the top. Once the Ministry of Education believes in a new system to teaching and learning, the schools will have the opportunity to educate students using an interdisciplinary approach. I am reminded of the saying, “Culture eats the greatest strategy.”

School Library/Innovation Hub

I was fortunate to get a personal tour of the school’s newly renovated library now called, the Innovation Hub. The Innovation Hub is staffed with a head librarian and two full-time assistants. The head librarian escorted me around the media center. She pointed out their new sound room, video studio, research center, quiet room, and makerspace.

To prepare for the renovation, library staff weeded 300 kilos of books that had not been borrowed within the past two years. Discarded items were donated to local public schools.
Since re-designing the library to a place centered on learning through discovery, the space is now reserved by 4 to 5 classes daily compared to 1 to 2 last year. The library operates on a flexible schedule which gives the library staff time and opportunity to collaborate with classroom teachers and student groups. Public schools in Bahrain also have libraries. Most library media specialists hold a bachelor’s degree in Library Science. The librarian at Bayan School said that the Innovation Hub is promoting STEM education. Students crave learning by doing and teachers are beginning to feel more comfortable using the new materials and technology.
Library Bahrain - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
360-degree image of the Bayan School Library/Innovation Hub

The Bayan School provides opportunities for students to participate in afterschool activities. Students can join the Vex Robotic team which competes in regional and international competitions. Intermediate students sign up for First Lego League Jr. Primary students can choose to attend after school workshops for learning the basics of binary computer coding. As you can see, STEM education at Bayan School begins at an early age. These programs lay the foundation for when students use more sophisticated computer programming software and technology tools in the upper grades.
Despite the Bayan School Library’s renovation, challenges persist. Here are some issues faced by the school’s librarian. These are similar to the issues many school libraries contend with in the U.S.
  • Connecting students with books
  • Motivating students to read independently. The school offers incentives like pizza parties and awards for the classes that read the highest number of books. 
  • Getting students to use the library’s virtual databases (i.e. EBSCOhost). Most of the time, students simply “Google” information and select the top search results.

There are so many complexities and anomalies when it comes to examining and understanding education in Bahrain. The same holds true for K-12 education across the United States. Despite our circumstances and challenges, we must continue to find new alternatives for enriching teaching and learning. A lot of what shapes a school climate is based on the decisions made at the state and national levels. However, that does not mean we cannot create a learning environment in our individual classrooms that promotes collaboration, cross-curricular connections, and relevant learning experiences. Regardless of a teacher’s background or location on the planet, the goal is the same: to teach students skills and content that will prepare them for life outside the classroom. It is comforting knowing that I have a common ground with my counterparts in Bahrain. Together, we can break the molds of tradition and embrace new methods for teaching students 21st century skills.
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TEACH Bahrain: Stay Curious and Ask Questions

For the second day of the TEACH Bahrain Fellowship, I wore my shiny dress shoes and navy necktie. The agenda was a mix of cultural highlights and professional meetings which warranted more formal attire. Events included a mosque tour, a luncheon with our sponsors, and a Q & A session with diplomats at the U.S. Embassy. It has been just two full days since first arriving on Bahrain Island, and the memories are stacking up as if I have been here for weeks. The Fellowship is giving me a totally new perspective of the Arab World. I am finding the culture complex and fascinating.
Al Fateh Grand Mosque
Bahrain is a great Middle Eastern country to visit, especially for those like me who have never been to this part of the world. Bahrain is one of what I hope are additional journeys to the Gulf.

Our first stop of the day was at Al Fateh Grand Mosque. Built in 1987, Al Fateh is one of the largest mosques in the world. The building can accommodate 7,000 worshipers at one time. Like most mosques, Al Fateh makes a call to prayer over outdoor speakers five times a day. It is often a very crowded place.
Top Left: A minaret is a slim tower originally used as a high point from which to make the call to prayer.
Top Right: Muslim prays in the direction of of the Kaaba in Mecca.
Bottom Left: All Muslims, regardless of nationality, recite prayers from the Qur'an in Arabic.
Bottom Right: Our tour guide is pointing to the second call to prayer. In Arabic, information is read from right to left.



Photo Credit: Sukejna Kovacevic
The majority of the day was spent visiting the TEACH Fellowship’s sponsors: Gulf Petrochemicals Industries Co. (GPIC). Executives, engineers, and directors met our van at the curb of the building’s entrance. We were given a cordial welcome with hearty handshakes, carrot juice, and dates. GPIC is a highly successful company in the Gulf. Over 50% of their goods are shipped to the United States. They claim that their greatest commodity is not their product, petroleum and methanol; it is people. The business invests in their workers by providing education opportunities and programs that support their overall well-being. GPIC’s devotion to knowledge and learning is evident in their support of the TEACH Fellowship. For that, I am extremely grateful.

At GPIC, we were asked to leave our phones and cameras behind. Not to worry. I do not think I can forget my visit to the fish farm where sea bass are bred or the bird sanctuary where flamingos search the shoreline for food. And I will definitely remember lunch. I had a fully cooked fish, lamb, sheep, chicken, shrimp, and a pistachio “cheesecake” with ice cream for dessert. GPIC gifted each Fellow a bag filled with souvenirs and tasty dates. It was a generous gesture by a company that has been so generous already. The TEACH program in Bahrain would not be possible without GPIC’s support.

U.S. Embassy Bahrain
We left GPIC and headed toward the U.S. Embassy. There, we met with the Deputy Commissioner. She willingly answered all of our questions pertaining to Bahrain’s politics, economy, safety, and education. I learned that the online giant, Amazon is planning to build three huge data centers in Bahrain by 2019. These 'availability zones' will use cloud computing technology to store big data, cutting costs for companies and supporting private and public sector growth (Arabian Business).

It were fun facts like this one that made the meeting so interesting. The Deputy Commissioner concluded our visit to the embassy with some advice for students. She said, “Stay curious. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.” I will cheerfully relay the message to my first through third grade students who are inherently curious. Educators teach content and provide resources but they also inspire. We inspire by making students’ learning meaningful and authentic. Meaning and authentic are two words that describe the TEACH Fellowship. The experience has motivated me to learn more about the Middle East. I think my students will be as equally eager to discover new parts of the world when I tell them about my trip through images, stories, and classroom activities.
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TEACH Bahrain: Unforgettable First Day and First Impression

I traveled for over 7,000 miles to reach The Kingdom of Bahrain. As soon as I exited the airport and stepped out into the open air, I knew every mile was worth it. We arrived in the capital city, Manama, at 1AM. TEACH Fellow Randy Martin said it best, “You can taste the Gulf in the air.” He was right. Scent of the sea permeates the streets. Bahrain is an island country in the Persian Gulf or Arabian Gulf as Arab countries call it. The waters’ gentle waves and blue hues contribute to its serenity.

Other U.S.-Arab Bilateral TEACH Fellows and I rode in a van down the empty streets toward our hotel. My initial glimpses of the city intensified my desire to experience it. I felt overwhelmed with excitement and worried I would not fall asleep. Once my head hit the pillow, all my worries disappeared.

My first day in Bahrain began with a leisurely run along the streets surrounding the hotel. I simply could not resist 80-degree weather, especially when it is in November. It was quite the contrast from the snow flurries that bid me farewell just two days before in Kentucky. I rewarded myself for going on a run with a delicious breakfast at the hotel. It was my first taste of Bahrain, and I instantly knew that we were going to get along just fine.
Our first day in Bahrain included several cultural highlights. The outing was a great way to acclimate ourselves to the climate and time change while learning about Bahrain's history at the same time. The first destination was Qala’at Al-Bahrain (Bahrain Fort). Archaeological excavations carried out since 1950’s have unearthed artifacts from an mound created by various groups from 2300 BC up to the 18th century. It was once the capital of the Dilmun civilization and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.

Lunch was our next “cultural highlight.” We went to a restaurant named, House of Coffee. I ordered a traditional Bahraini dish called Chicken Biryani. Biryani is meat and vegetables cooked on rice using Indian spices. Delicious! The cucumber yogurt that accompanied it made for a perfect combination. No Bahraini meal would be complete without a cup of Arabic coffee. Arabic coffee refers to a version of the brewed coffee of Coffea arabica beans. The drink is served in an espresso sized cup. It was so enjoyable that next time I will know to order two.

After lunch we went to the House of Qur'an. This cultural institution contains over 10,000 copies and manuscripts of the Qur'an, the holy book of Islam. We marveled at ornate copies of the text including a first edition printed in Germany in 1694 and the oldest translated version in Latin in Switzerland in 955.

Opening prayer of the Qur'an read by our tour guide.

Palace Gates
Day met night as we toured Bahrain National Museum. I could hear calls to prayer recited from a nearby mosque. Traditionally, Muslims are called to five scheduled daily prayers by a formal announcement, known as the adhan. Many people leave their homes or places of work and go to the mosque to pray. In Bahrain, there is a blurred line between religion and everyday life.

It was great reflecting on day one in Bahrain with the other teachers. Each Fellow offers a unique perspective to what we are all experiencing for the first time: Bahrain. I am in the midst of a highly talented group of professionals. If it were not for their amiability, I would be intimated. My first day in The Kingdom of Bahrain did not disappoint. In fact, it exceeded my expectations. I am thankful for the Bilateral US-Arab Chamber of Commerce TEACH Initiative. The program is giving me the opportunity to see, hear, smell, taste, and feel a small but very special piece of the Arab World.
TEACH Fellows 2018
Photo Credit: Sukejna Kovacevic
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TEACH Bahrain: Building a Diverse, Connected and Tolerant World

When I asked a group of third graders to describe a kingdom, every hand shot in the air. I called on a boy in the second row who answered, “A kingdom is where a prince fights a dragon in order to save the castle.” The student vividly described the combat scene between dragon and man. I praised him on his imagination. Next, I called on a girl in the back row. She said, “Kingdoms are from a long time ago. The princess ends up marrying a brave knight.” Students’ responses were more than entertaining; they were enlightening. I was able to assess students’ background knowledge and identify misunderstandings.

Wikipedia
From the class discussion, I learned that most students associate the word kingdom with European Folklore. Students did not realize that kingdoms exist today and are much unlike the ones from classic fairytales. I used Google Street View to show students 360-degree images of a present kingdom: The Kingdom of Bahrain. Students moved the panoramas in every direction. They saw apartment buildings with clothes hanging to dry, lawns made of sand, and coastlines adorn with palm trees and skyscrapers.

One student inquired, “So this a kingdom? Where are the forests and horses?” I responded by using Google Earth to show students Bahrain’s location in the Persian Gulf. The country’s climate is arid with an average annual rainfall of 2.8 inches (Ministry of Transportation Kingdom of Bahrain). Using an interactive map, the class compared Bahrain’s current temperature to that of our home state, Kentucky. They were surprised to find that in November, Bahrain had a day-time temperature of 87 degrees Fahrenheit. It happened to be just 36 degrees in southern Kentucky that day. The website, thetruesize.com, let students drag and drop Kentucky over Bahrain to compare their relative size. Students gasped when they saw how much bigger Kentucky is than the Kingdom of Bahrain (40,114.02 square miles bigger to be exact.)
The True Size Of...
Students began to appreciate that Earth’s geography is quite complex. Many places look and feel much different than what students know and understand. Governments can also be different. The United States is a democracy. America is also a republic where the chief of state (the president) is elected by the people. This is dissimilar from a monarchy like that of Bahrain, where the throne is inherited through a family dynasty (Scholastic).

With the help of geo-tools and information from credible sources, I finally convinced students that Bahrain is in fact a kingdom. I even displayed a picture of Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah who was declared sovereign when Bahrain became a kingdom in 2002 (BBC News).

Manama is the capital of Bahrain
Wikimedia Commons
Students have many misconceptions about the world. Often these misbeliefs are a result of limited experience. Children are not the only ones with misconceptions. Admittedly, I know little of the customs and traditions in Bahrain. Most of what I know about the Middle East is from what I see and hear on the nightly news. I hope to gain a new perspective and a better understanding of the Arab World by traveling to Bahrain. During my trip, I will experience the Kingdom of Bahrain first-hand. I hope my time there will help dispel common misconceptions and stereotypes about the Middle East.

TEACH Bahrain Fellowship

I am one of ten educators to be selected for the 10th Annual Teachers Educating Across Cultures in Harmony(TEACH) Fellowship. The Fellowship takes place November 15-21, 2018 in the Kingdom of Bahrain. This year’s Fellows represent academic institutions from ten different states across America. During our active study tour across Bahrain, we will encounter invaluable opportunities for hands-on collaboration with regional learning authorities and will be immersed in Bahrain's rich culture and heritage.

The TEACH Fellowship was launched in 2009 by the Bilateral U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce. The program provides U.S. educators an opportunity to visit the Middle East and gain insight into the culture, the challenges, and the opportunities experienced by their peers. Through personal communications and professional exchanges, Fellows inspire a new sense of purpose that ignites new possibilities for their students and their communities. I plan to share my experience through lesson plans, community programs, national education conferences, and personal exchanges.

Pre-Departure Research

My students decided not to wait until I return from Bahrain to learn about its culture and history. My selection as a TEACH Fellow was a great opportunity for students to engage in meaningful research. It was an equally great opportunity for me to teach students how to use credible, age-appropriate sources and public domain images for their infographics. I was amazed by students' dedication to this project. They surpassed my expectations by designing a series of digital posters, making announcements over the school intercom, and placing fun facts about Bahrain around the library for others to read when browsing for books. I find my young students to be inherently curious about the world. It helps when their librarian travels to unique destinations like Bahrain.
Students conducted research on Bahrain using Encyclopedia Britannica, results from Kiddle (a safe search engine), and Google Earth
Students took notes about Bahrain from videos and online articles. They posted facts about Bahrain around the library for everyone to see.
A group of students use the library's LEGO wall to construct a Bahrain skyscraper: Four Seasons Hotel.
A student used Microsoft Word to write a school announcement which she read over the intercom.


Students created digital posters using Canva and Adobe Spark. They used these graphics to share their research on Bahrain with other classes.

Students used the app, ChatterPix to create a 20-second audio recording of Bahrain's flag telling facts about its country. 

 
Students used PowerPoint to create a brochure about their lives in Kentucky. I plan to give these brochures to teachers and students I meet in Bahrain.
I applaud my elementary school students on their research and digital products. Before working with primary aged students, I had misconceptions about their abilities. I thought they were too inexperienced to engage in independent research. You see, we all have misconceptions about a wide array of topics. It is important that we remember to approach life and work with an open-mind. My students are doing it. After all, they now know that a kingdom can exist in a desert in the year 2018.
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