National Museum of Education, Akron, Ohio.
WhaleNet operating out of Wheelock College in Boston, Massachusetts.
Northwest Invention Center of Seattle, Wqshington.
Part 1 - Long road toward the educational mission...
October 28, 2007 - Day 111 6.6337N,154.1737W
I remember being bored in class when I was little, especially when the learning seemed to require memorization. History classes only peaked my interest if they talked about the people and their relationships, and if timelines and charts and pictures were provided. Dates, names, places buried in text were utterly uninteresting unless I traced my finger on a map, visualizing in my mind how it must have been.
I loved visiting museums with my father and scampering up the ramparts of old castle ruins which are plenty in Turkey, where I grew up. I had always been more interested in encyclopedias than course materials. Maybe I was too impatient to pace my learning. Visiting historical places and excavated sites allowed my imagination to take flight. I learned more during those moments of daydreaming, while piecing together the clues around me with the bits of information which had been fed to me in books. Learning was, making sense of the world around me.
Geography lessons came alive with images, movies, diagrams, associating names and numbers and trivia like the tonnage of coal produced in Great Britain. What the color of granite is, and how it smells were questions finally answered when I first visited the Yosemite Valley to climb, soaking in the glory of its majestic walls and spires, slowly carved by glaciers over millenia, just like I had learned before.
A moment that I remember vividly as a boarding student in middle school was when our teachers at the İzmir Maarif Koleji, which later changed its name to Bornova Anadolu Lisesi, gathered us during daytime outside the school building. The school had only one black and white television set in the cafeteria, which was brought out so we could watch the astronauts walk on the moon, live. I imagined myself flying to the moon, not in fiction as I had read about Jules Verne's voyagers shot by a cannon, but on an actual rocket. I went to the library to learn about rockets and space craft... I had found a research project of my own, not assigned by a teacher. I did not have to do this in middle school; I wanted to. Our teachers had created that "teacheable moment" and they had sparked that curiosity in me. Problem solving, and answering how and why things worked became my passions, and I later became an engineer, went to graduate school, obtained a business master...
When I decided to embark on my new path as a human powered traveler, I wanted this to be shared, especially with children. If I could be their eyes and ears as I traveled, reaching them from remote corners of the world by whatever technological means available, bringing them along for the experience, then perhaps we could excite them into wanting to learn also.
The day that Frank Olding walked me into the office of Christopher Beer, we quickly agreed that a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation would be the best way to achieve this goal, and we incorporated Around-n-Over in 2003. We had an educational mission at the heart of this new organization.
We have always looked for ways to realize the dream and to stay true to the mission. One of the companies that I visited, had its headquarters in Redmond, Washington. I had come to this large software company to discuss how we could work together. How could I go wrong: they kept advertising "your dream, our passion" and even had spawned off a huge charitable foundation for causes in health and education. I was introduced to a group of Turkish project managers there, and my hope was that I could gain additional insights from them to prepare a wiser proposal for their company.
That day, I finished my opening pitch, by approximately saying: "Anything we teach our children today is memorization unless they participate as knowledge is created. We can leverage mobile office solutions from your company to engage children in the journey, to create that rare teacheable moment while they are captivated by someone who can answer their questions, sharing with them information about distant people, places and cultures. What I will be doing has immense value while the adventure is happening -- once it is done and kids have to read about it in a book, the attraction will be lost; I might as well be Christopher Columbus buried in some history text, to be memorized."
"Is this you who is saying this, or are educators?" was a key question which determined the tone of that meeting. I had been talking to an audience of non-educators, mainly engineers and marketing types, who had forgotten how to be a child, and who had never seen the sparks in the children's eyes when I had shared my stories and pictures. These individuals thought that there had to be an exact fit to their company's marketing concepts, without revealing any of them. I was faced with a moving target, and my presentation points were not noted to be further developed in collaboration, but were shot down one by one with a gang fever. They were dismissive about the "adventure learning" concept, did most of the talking, and rather than on the merits of my concept, they focused on my shortcomings as a person in the field of education. This was a missed opportunity, serving only to reveal their "passion to tear down a dream," giving me a taste of their unique corporate culture. I never went back to them.
We were not educators at Around-n-Over. However, I personally observed the children's excitement in my stories, and they reminded me of myself in those ages. I chose to nurture the dream by practicing selective hearing and we did not give up. As Around-n-Over, we truly believed that parents and educators would be the true judge of our efforts, not the popular media, and certainly not the low level corporate employees who stood between us and the decision makers...
(more to follow)