What do Polar Bears and Touchstones have in Common?

By Howard Zeiderman

When I was younger, I never expected to travel to the many places I have visited over the last three decades: Alabama; Jordan; Ontario; Qatar; Tanzania; and Zanzibar to name a few. The list is longer still when including places I’ve visited by phone and SKYPE. I was trained as a college teacher to be more sedentary. But once I started working on Touchstones, travel was imperative.

We traveled to interest people in our work, to train teachers who were implementing our programs, to observe established Touchstones programs, and to present at educational conferences. It’s true that every place has unique needs and purposes for bringing Touchstones into its educational practice. But here is one place that, though thousands of miles away from our home base in Maryland, demonstrates how universally well Touchstones cultivates authentic learning.

The Canadian Province of Manitoba has a deep commitment to bilingualism, and they educate more than 82,000 of their students in French. Some are Francophones, while most are Anglophones. And in 2010, when the bureau of French education in Manitoba searched the globe for a program to teach their students to think critically, they found Touchstones. Our method and materials were their program of choice.

Under a special partnership in 2012, seven Touchpebbles and Touchstones volumes (teacher’s and student’s editions) were translated into French—along with Discussion Leadership, Getting Started. Then we set off for Winnipeg.

Over the course of a week, we prepared a select group from within the bureau’s curriculum and assessment team as Touchstones trainers. Since then, the team has trained hundreds of Manitoba teachers, and thousands of students report how their Touchstones discussions have helped them become more fluent speakers and thinkers—in French. Touchstones is even used in the northern-most schools in Manitoba—yes, where the polar bears live.

While this project’s success has been great, it’s even more impressive that Manitoba’s outcomes are leading them to expand their Touchstones programming. This winter, the Province has purchased more than 850 additional books, which they’ll provide to teachers being trained in Touchstones. Ultimately, of course, it’s the students who benefit from an education that prepares them for the 21st Century.

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