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I got settled into the hotel in Montevideo very quickly, and an orientation helped to get my bearing and prepare me for what was to come. I didn’t think about it a lot, but all of the things that we are so accustomed to in the US become apparent. The hotel card key not only opens the door, but it also goes in the slot to turn on the room’s electricity. So when you take it out all the electricity goes out. It’s a great energy saving strategy. But I wished they had put batteries in the clock, because it has to be reset every time the electricity went out. I finally just let it blink.

But I’m not complaining; I’m just now focused on the differences and similarities because I made it a goal of this trip. Only seven years ago, Uruguay was devastated by economic crises. But, just like in the US, it’s not immediately apparent. Then here comes the mule drawn cart on the same street where the cars go and it is. But, any traveler would tell you it’s a scene not unlike one in cities all over the world. The big grins on the boys made me think they were having fun. Maybe it was because they had an especially good night of collecting recyclables.

On the face of it, the education system is not unlike that in the U.S. And, it is just as full of discrepancies. The schools are in need of repair and air conditioning is either not working or isn’t there. The rooms are open to the outside. But, they do have one of the best blended learning programs I’ve seen to date. A nation-wide program, Plan Ceibal (Ceibal is the national tree of Uruguay, an Erythrina), is a social leveling program to equip every school, every student, with computers.

The students in the public school we visited had computers, and they had them on their desks. (One way you can tell it is a public school is by the white lab coats the students and teachers wear. Private school students were uniforms. ) The teacher was working on a lesson, and the students were not shy about sharing their work with us. I was able to visit with the students a bit in a classroom along with a representative from Plan Ceibal. Then an interesting exchange happened between a small group of students. When I asked them if they had cell phones, the representative said they wouldn’t have them at school. But as she was saying it several cell phones popped out and just about every student in this small group had one. It was a bit awkward. I asked the question because I’ve been reading articles that are indicating smart phones are the preference of students over computers, and that students prefer using other ways of communicating over e-mail.

So…what did I learn? That the architects of Plan Ciebal are organized and are considering the same challenges that we are in the U.S. It is not just putting computers in the hands of students, but a comprehensive approach to making computers a relevant and useful tool. I liked the Plan because it involves all stakeholders, and teachers figure greatly in the implementation.

I wasn’t sure that it was up to speed yet. Teachers are struggling to use the computers, but they are working on it. I can’t help but feel there is some pushback, but because it puts a important technology in the hands of all students, not just those that can afford it, teachers that I spoke with understood the role in helping equalize the wide economic divides.

More to come…Ta? Ok.

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Hi, Everybody,  I’m Mike from the National Education Association where I staff the science, technology, engineering and mathematics desk.  Like Matt, I’m excited to meet everyone, too.  I imagine I will learn as much from the team as I will from our contacts in Montevideo and Buenos Aires.

I’ve been with NEA for only a short time, but in the last few weeks, the role of technology in schools – and especially interest in bringing technology into schools – has grown exponentially.  Keeping up with its growth is an interesting challenge.  So, I am looking forward to learning the whos, whats, wheres, and hows of technology in both the countries.  I’m wondering what we will have to look forward to in the near future.

Not too long ago, I traveled all over Argentina from Ushuaia to Iguazu Falls; it’s a fantastic country of incredible diversity…cultures and landscapes.  I’m a bird watcher, too, so you’ll know what I might be doing “in-between”  all our work.    If you’ve heard of the recent movie “The Big Year,”  I can relate. And…I’m looking forward to a second spring!  Maybe the jacaranda trees will be blooming.