Palestinian-Israeli citizen calling for peace, making her voice heard through Online Model United Nations [guest post]

I have a dream, I dream of a world with no racism, with acceptance no matter what religion, colour, language, or ideology.

My name is Salam, I am 18 years old, and I was rejected my entire life by the people around me, something that made me so insecure.

I was born in a country that defines itself by religion. I was treated differently because of my religion, because of the way I dress. Basically, because I was not Jewish, I was never welcomed in the state of Israel, even though I am an Israeli citizen!

There is a whole wide community of undefined citizens just like me. I am a Muslim Arab that wanted to make my voice heard – to share my story and help my community – and found the perfect opportunity through this inspiring great program called Model United Nations.

I had a dream but I didn’t have a voice until I joined the Online Model United Nations program!

Why is this program so important to me?

Well for the first reason that it accepts anyone no matter who they are, for the first time in my life I felt like I was welcomed to something, that people actually accepted me for who I am. I was part of a greater community, and I felt comfortable sharing my story.

All the conflicts facing the world today could be easily solved by sharing our stories together, by meeting one another, because most humans are led by their government or leaders who decide for them who they are, but human nature tends toward a peaceful safe environment, deep down inside all human beings are the same, nobody cares about religion or colour or anything else for that matter, all these titles that were given to separate us, we all eventually just want to live a happy peaceful life.

And that can’t be done unless people realize who they really are. All people around the world should share their stories, especially in this time when it’s just a click away to communicate with anyone, anywhere.

Even though the status quo over here is somehow steady, I shouldn’t be afraid of sharing my story because it might jeopardize it, neither does anyone else, nobody should be forced to live hand to mouth, we all should share our stories. It’s the thing that gets us closer!

And we shouldn’t just not care about each other, I mean when I share my story I would love to get a response from someone else, telling me their story and how they can relate.

O-MUN gave me a voice, and the chance to meet students from all around the world and share my story, not just online but also in international conferences. I never thought I would meet students from Islamic and Arabian countries before, but I am so glad I did because it changed my whole perspective. Most things that are presented to us by the media are not true, we can’t jump into conclusion or start a conflict based on a misleading statement.

So let’s take an advantage of the Internet and let it unite us, such an incredible online program that united me with students from all around the world.

Hopefully someday we can all look over our differences, live together peacefully and create our own superior united government that unites us all.

We all should be free to be who we want.

Thanks to O-MUN for making my dream seem more realistic and achievable. And, of course, for the person behind all of this, Ms. Lisa Martin!

Now it’s your turn to share your story!

Sharing my story at Qatar Leadership Conference 2013 and Pictures from conferences and programs I joined.


Previously in this series

Salam Keadan is 18 years old. She is one of the Middle East and Africa Assistant Directors at O-MUN and hopes to study Liberal Arts at TAU International, She has recently started an O-MUN club at her school, Al-Qasemi High School in Baqa al-Gharbiyye, Israel.

You can find her on Facebook and share your story!

Connected global youth and the Online Model United Nations movement [guest post]

I became an educational entrepreneur by accident. A humble social studies teacher and Model United Nations (MUN) director by training, I am now working with students in over 50 countries to develop one of the most innovative global ed programs around: Online Model United Nations, or O-MUN for short. Up until 2011 there had never been a fully online version of this popular academic simulation. While precise estimates are unknown, it is likely that close to half a million students – grade 6 through university – engage in MUN each year. Tapping into this enormous community and undertaking the complex task of developing a free and open program for youth around the globe has changed my views on education, technology, and youth forever. And along the way, I have learned a few lessons that are as telling about the state of education and our comfort/discomfort with student-empowering technology as it is about the actual online debates program itself. So a bit of background is in order.


The first attempt at online MUN was done while I was a teacher at a private, for-profit online high school. I decided to start a Model UN club as my required extra-curricular activity. Using my Blackboard Collaborate classroom, I quickly realized that I needed a model to show my students. With the help of a co-collaborator, we rounded up a dozen students from around the world to test the viability of this platform. For nineteen hours, wave after wave of students found us, logged in, and tested out the room’s features, and  found them to be fun and engaging. Many of the very procedures we use in our program today were discovered and tested  in that first open session. I went to sleep that night with my computer on, listening to the chatter of students in Singapore and Malaysia troubleshooting how to vote or submit amendments. I woke the following morning a changed educator. Like a thunderbolt, I knew I had fallen into something potentially huge. With barely-above-average tech skills and a fair amount of MUN experience, I set out on  a path to develop an online, global debating program for high school students. Two successful debates later, my online school’s administration and corporate leaders began to catch the online MUN fever too, and that is when trouble started.

Delegate at O-MUN

The response of my school was to pull the plug on the entire program. I was then entrusted to a minder and told not to publicly speak about the program. Attorneys were called in to assess how this program could be patented and monetized.  Figures were bandied about, with a princely $235 subscription fee per student the likely price for access to this online debates program. The program was to be run from behind the school’s enormous firewall, and developed in isolation and away from a larger international student population. People with no experience in MUN were put in charge of developing the program. So with the core values of this program at stake, and marginalized within the school for which I had developed the program, I made a tough decision. I walked away from my job and my expensive online classroom – the great enabler of the program. With no good alternatives in sight, and taking very seriously my non-compete clause, I sat it out for a year and, in September of 2011, relaunched the idea as O-MUN, a not-for-profit global education program offered up to students for free. (O-MUN’s vision can be found here.)

Delegate from Tanzania

I tell this story in order to set the stage for what happens next. Without resources, we patched together free and open source technology tools to meet our growing needs. Having to  innovate as we went along, our operating costs were (and remain) negligible. We won an online Blackboard classroom in a contest hosted by Steve Hargadon. With that one precious room as the cornerstone of our program, we launched O-MUN. There was no  institutional backing and very limited ability to connect with a larger audience; in fact, most of the over-25 crowd studiously ignored us during that first year. But we grew because students found us, primarily via  our growing community on Facebook. When our debates were small, we wrung our hands, put our heads together, and tried to figure out the next plan of attack. For the students who got actively involved that first year, they worked together to innovate our leadership structure, down to the positions needed and what their job descriptions would be, how to run our Facebook communities, and what worked/didn’t work with Google Docs. Students actively developed our website, our banners and graphics, and our training and moderating programs, so critical for a student-driven organization. No one made students do this. They certainly didn’t do it for grades. This was in the era of pre-digital badges, so they didn’t even get that (they do now, but more on that later). Most would never meet one another face-to-face, but the O-MUN community esprit des corps soared that year, as did the social currency that binds communities together: inside jokes, shared mythology and legend, even a currency and theme song.

Delegate from UAE

In the waning days of 2013, I look back at what has been O-MUN’s true international debut: a partnership with THIMUN, exposure and collaboration with a small but growing number of organizations, and a proliferation of programs driven by the demand and ideas of students around the world, working collaboratively, simply for the sheer love of MUN and their O-MUN community: a middle school and university level program, the first online model International Court of Justice, national programs in places like Taiwan , Singapore, Turkey, and France (and more on the way), a recently-launched French language version of O-MUN, with Arabic planned for 2014. The frosting on the cake has been O-MUN’s travel teams, proving to others as well as ourselves that online activity can translate into real, face-to-face skill development and opening a path for participation that normally would have been denied students without an online avenue to connect with the larger MUN community.


This week members of our community will share how Online Model United Nations has impacted them, professionally and personally, as delegates and as human beings. I believe they are the voices that educational thought leaders, teachers, administrators, and parents need to hear. What is driving O-MUN’s development is far removed from what we often talk about in education circles. It is my hope that the O-MUN story adds a fresh perspective to the global education conversation.

nick and Salam, opening ceremonies

Previously in this series

Lisa Martin is a 20+ year educator who has worked in places as far flung as the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, San Diego, and, now, Amman, Jordan. She is the Co-Founder and Director of Online Model United Nations and would love to connect with like-minded educators. You can find her just about everyplace online, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.


Upcoming guest series: Online Model United Nations

FYI, over the next week or so I am turning my blog over to Lisa Martin and the students who help her run the Online Model United Nations (O-MUN) program. Many of you may be familiar with the Model UN program and know what a wonderful experience that is for students. Now imagine taking that program and extending it online and across multiple continents and time zones!

The O-MUN story is an incredible tale of perseverance, creativity, and student empowerment. I hope that this guest series will get you thinking about some possibilities and that you’ll interact with Lisa and these amazing students over the next few days.

About those PISA scores…

Here are PISA scores for 15-year-olds as typically presented by politicians. When you see these, it’s easier for Americans to be more alarmist (oh no, others are ahead of us!).

Average scores


Percentage of high scorers


But we also should look at the data another way.

Number of high scorers


Our size benefits us, and we need to remember that too. [of course we have many more LOW scorers as well…]

More data at American Achievement in International Perspective.

Hashtags for state-, province-, and national-level education conversations [SPREADSHEET]


In Iowa we use #iaedfuture to organize our online conversations about education in the state. In Wisconsin they use #wiedu. In the United Kingdom, they use #ukedchat to have similar conversations at the national level. What are other states, provinces, and/or countries using? (beyond the generic #edchat)

I made a publicly-editable Google spreadsheet to organize all of these geography-bound education hashtags. These are different from hashtags for conferences or for particular education topics (e.g., STEM or teaching History). Instead, they’re hashtags that allow folks to talk about the present and future state of education in their area, to share ideas and resources, to propose and push back on proposed laws and policies, and to otherwise organize themselves. It’s often said that the Internet destroys geography. While that’s true in many instances, schooling systems still are primarily organized by geographic regions so boundary-level conversations are still relevant.

I hope you’ll contribute the hashtag for your state / province / country. If you don’t have a hashtag like these, perhaps it’s time to get one started!

How do you say ‘worksheet’ in Dutch?

I’m in Amsterdam with my colleague, John Nash, for the European League of Middle Level Education (ELMLE) conference. Yesterday I facilitated an all-day preconference with a small group of teachers and administrators on the topic of Preparing Students for What Is and Will Be. Our discussions were fabulous. Today John conducted an energetic Design Thinking workshop that was very well-received. Tomorrow I keynote the conference and also do a session on setting up a RSS reader and making it work for you as an educator. I’m greatly enjoying my interactions with these international school educators from all across Europe.

Rijks Museumphoto © 2007 Charles Hutchins | more info (via: Wylio)John and I are getting a chance to explore the city as well. In addition to spending a lot of time riding the trams, wandering around, people-watching, and general culture-absorbing, we also have hit a few museums and city hotspots.

The Van Gogh Museum was interesting but I liked the Rijks Museum even better. Imagine my ‘delight,’ however, to see scores of Dutch middle school children in the latter running from exhibit to exhibit, quickly jotting down 2– to 5–word answers in order to fill in blank spaces on worksheets given to them by their teachers. I know this is a common way to do museum field trips in the United States but until that instant I hadn’t given any thought to how universal this practice might be.

Is this a common way to do school-to-museum field trips across international locations?
Do students ever get much from this style of museum visitation?
How do you say ‘worksheet’ in Dutch?

Shanghai PISA v. [insert American city] PISA

In a critique of the latest PISA results, Walt Gardner said:

Shanghai is hardly representative of China because it is an industrialized center with scores of modern universities. In contrast, the U.S. selected students from both public and private schools across the nation.

Shanghai by nightphoto © 2007 Thierry | more info (via: Wylio)I wonder what American cities would compare to Shanghai. It’s a little difficult because Shanghai is so large. New York? Boston? Chicago? San Francisco? Los Angeles?

Can we think of one or more similar metro areas? If so, how would those students’ PISA scores compare to those from Shanghai? Given the relatively-woeful test performance of most urban school systems, I’m guessing that even if we included test scores of surrounding suburban students, it wouldn’t be enough to bring the metro area up to the performance level of Shanghai.

For that matter, do many / most of our best school districts perform at a comparable level to Shanghai? As you can see, I’ve got lots of questions…

ISTE 2010 – Some early takes on the opening keynote (and on conference attendees’ behavior)

Here are some excerpts from blog posts about last night’s opening keynote by Jean-François Rischard for the ISTE conference

Joanna Bobiash:

The keynote was disappointing. It did nothing a keynote was suppose to do. The speaker only depressed us with the world ending in 20 years and making fun of government. His slides were only words and hard to read in a huge theater. There was no energy or inspiration that came out of this speech. The audience was too polite (for the most part) not to leave and many had trouble staying awake.

Joe Bires:

The ISTE keynote was certainly a case of failed execution (were there any pictures at all and could anyone read that text?). The purpose of an opening keynote is like a leadoff hitter in baseball; to get on base and start something.  He started nothing, except to dampen expectations.  However ultimately it isn’t his fault it’s ISTE’s, you have to have the right person in the lineup at the right time and he just isn’t a motivating opening speaker.

Kevin Bushweller:

The speech was heavy on the global big picture, with charts, diagrams, and lists on a large screen on the stage, but there were not a lot of specifics about how education, and more specifically, educational technology would help solve those problems.

Erik Hilton:

Speaking of old methods, let’s talk about the keynote with Jean François Rischard. I am sure that somewhere in all of those  Power Point slides was a message.  However, I missed it because it was simply not at all engaging.  I was sitting at the Blogger area and I enjoyed the heckling from them much more than I enjoyed the presentation.  It was a strange thing to be sitting in a group of innovators and people who are working in the system, looking for ways to bring it into the 21st century, while the keynote speaker was droning on with an incomprehensible Power Point presentation.  It was an interesting irony, to have the keynote speaker at a conference that seems to showcase innovation and new technology tuned out because it was, well I’ll just say it, a boring presentation.

And here are some Twitter responses…

Ross Rogers:


Michael Richards:


Finally, David Wees, Ryan Berardi, and Peter McAsh asked if perhaps the audience’s reactions were overdone, too harsh, or should have been directed more privately to ISTE rather than blogged and Tweeted publicly…

Ryan Berardi:


Peter McAsh:


David Wees:

This year’s keynote was awful.  The way the presenter talked, the disconnect between what he talked about and what most of us are here for, and the use of his PowerPoint slides was just horrendous.  Here’s a mindmap, created by @dwarlick (click on it to open the full image in a new window). . . . I’d like to say that the response from the audience, while probably accurately describing his presentation, was a bit harsh.  Maybe people on Twitter on the #ISTE10 channel were expressing concern about their own presentations tomorrow.  My recommendation to them, don’t follow #ISTE10 during or shortly after your presentation if you have any self-esteem at all and want to keep it.  I’d love to have seen a few more supportive folks, but the typical crowd mentality of “okay he’s down now let’s jump on him” cropped up yet again and pretty much everyone was negative.  Let’s try and avoid this kind of negativity for each other’s presentations in the next few days, shall we?

Any other thoughts regarding the opening keynote speaker? Are David and Ryan right? Are we creating an environment at ISTE that’s too tough on presenters?