February 06, 2004

Day One in Targoviste

What an incredibly long day. The mini-bus picked up the 12 of us from the hotel and we went to Valahia University for a welcoming ceremony. We were seated at tables arranged in a U-formation with the flags of each country at each place setting: 5 from Spain, 2 from Romania, 2 from Italy and 1 each from Finland, Poland and the US. The University is clearly happy to be involved in a project like this and in general I get the impression that the whole country is doing whatever it can to join the larger world after 50 years being stuck in the Soviet bloc.

That was followed by a visit to the ancient part of Targoviste: the castle and church built by the princes of this part of Romania during the 15th century. One of those princes, Vlad Tepes, was the inspiration for Dracula. The walls of parts of the castle are still standing.

There is a church that's in much better shape with its inside walls completely covered with paintings of saints. We climbed up a tower that was used to watch for marauding Turks on the way. From there you can take in all of Targoviste: snowy mountains to the north, oil wells in the distance and lots of smokestacks and apartment flats. In the gift shop by the castle, there were mostly religious pictures and statues for sale. They had the good taste to resist the temptation to fill it up with bat wings and bloody fangs and Bela Lugosi t-shirts.

Then we went on to a working session in which each of the participating institutions reported on the activities of the last year. They have designed an online course to teach teachers how to create WebQuests and have implemented it once already and are about to offer it a second time. It's interesting to see the snags involved in implementing a project in five countries simultaneously. One of the deliverables for Think, Construct and Communicate is the creation of WebQuests that will be published on the web and made freely available to everyone. In Finland, however, a recent law makes it illegal to require students to publish their work, so we'll only be able to see four of WebQuests created there.

After lunch it was time for my session about improving the quality of the WebQuests created in the project. It seemed to go over well. Then we continued on to Ion Chica Economic College, the high school that's involved in the project. Several teachers who took the online course described their WebQuests and kids demonstrated the products they created. One teacher came up and thanked me for coming up with the idea. She said her kids have already done two WebQuests and they love them. Nice to hear!

A choral group from the University was next. Nothing moves me to the edge of tears more quickly than hearing a well trained group of kids singing. It's a combination of admiring the self-discipline that made them so good at it, along with the innocence still in their faces. It always leaves me feeling that the future will be in good hands.

And the grand finale couldn't have been grander. The school has courses to prepare kids for all aspects of running a restaurant and to cap off the celebration, they brought out a WebQuest cake. The second line is hard to translate. Apparently it means something like "many happy returns".

Coincidentally, the ninth birthday of the WebQuest model will be next week.



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