Technology in action: The Travelling Rhinos Project

| March 16, 2014 | 0 Comments

By Karen Stadler

In July 2012, my family and I visited the Kruger National Park.1 Towards the end of our holiday, we were sitting in a bird hide situated at a watering hole. Suddenly five magnificent rhinos came out of the bushes and began drinking at the water hole. We were so close that we could hear them breathing and drinking up the water, after which they queued up to take a mud bath. We sat there in silence; I snapped away on my camera.

Realising the rights of rhinos

It was just at this time that the rhino poaching statistics started making waves in the news. On our return home, I just could not forget those five beasts. I started monitoring the poaching figures and was horrified at how they were rising daily. I began following rhino action groups on Facebook and became very interested in rhino activist groups such as Outraged South African Citizens Against Poaching (OSCAP).2

Quite by chance, I also became aware of an initiative to raise money for the protection of rhinos, the rehabilitation of survivors and the support of conservation education: the Rooting for Rhino School Route Challenge.3 Students make a donation and then they form the shape of a rhino on the school’s field. I jumped at the chance to participate, and in October our school formed its rhino and made a donation to Rooting for Rhino. Once again, this set me thinking about those five beautiful animals I had photographed. I wondered whether they were safe; whether some or all had been poached. Slowly but surely an idea started forming in my head.

The call to arms

I realised that I could muster the voices of the children of the world to cry out against this travesty. I realised that I could do what I was born to do – educate! Inspired by that photograph, I created a global classroom project to raise awareness of the dire poaching situation in South Africa and the world, and so The Travelling Rhinos Project was born. I had five (one for each of the rhinos in the photo) small, uniquely African stuffed rhinos made by one of our parents. The rhinos were made of African sheshwe fabric4 and I held a competition among our students to name them. We settled on Lilitha, Lesedi, Makulu, Siyanda and Zindzi. These little rhinos were then sent in five different directions around the world, to visit classrooms and schools to raise awareness of this problem. The project is based loosely on the Flat Stanley concept.5 Each rhino travels with a journal in which its journey is documented or messages are written, and each class contributes to a page in a wiki that I created for the project: http://saveourrhinos.wikispaces.com.

Using Twitter and Facebook to get the word out

I belong to a group of global teachers called the Global Classroom Project,6 so I sent requests to all those contacts via Twitter (I am a regular tweeter – @ICT_Integrator – and swear by Twitter in the classroom). The teachers are able to sign up in a shared Google document, and there is also a Google tracking document that the teachers can use to track the progress of their rhino.

I also set up a Facebook page for the project (https://www.facebook.com/TheTravellingRhinosProject) to stay in touch and update news and information. In addition, we use Skype and Google+ Hangouts,7 and I have been up at some strange hours at times to make connections possible with classes in Canada, the US and Korea.

Project takes on life of its own

The project was officially launched on 7 December 2012 and was scheduled to run for one year but due to demand, that time frame has now been extended indefinitely. It has been used as a real-world project for project-based learning by some teachers, and the feedback from all the participants is that this has been one of the best projects they have participated in. The amount of learning that has taken place is wonderful. Students around the world have created posters, made videos, reworked songs with rhino lyrics, presented assemblies to their schools, written to local newspapers, written letters to President Zuma, put messages in bottles, blogged about their learning, held fundraising events and more.

Fundraising was not the aim of this project at all, but it has been a much-appreciated and surprising spin-off. Classes have held cake sales, raffles, hosted rhino days, sold key rings, etc. to raise funds for this cause. One class in New York City in the US raised approximately R10 000 and sent it to the International Rhino Foundation.8 Just recently, a class in Canada made a donation of just over R5 000 and a class in the UK raised over R6 000! At my own school we have run two rhino initiatives. They are ongoing, with students participating in activities over the course of the year. We even have an honorary Travelling Rhino, named Elkanah, which travels around the country visiting schools with Rock ‘n Ride 4 Rhino.9

Seasoned travellers

To date, the rhinos have visited 55 classes in countries such as South Africa, the US, Canada, Guatemala, Ireland, the UK, China, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand. The project has reached a minimum of 1 375 children, but obviously the true reach cannot be measured. There are currently rhinos in South Africa, China, Australia and two in the US. One will soon be heading to Russia, and later in the year rhinos will visit Alaska and Hawaii! Some teachers have signed up for a second time. Our local rhino, Lilitha, has travelled from Cape Town to the Eastern Cape to KwaZulu- Natal, and she is currently in Johannesburg. She will be heading to the Free State shortly. Keeping track of five travelling rhinos has been a challenge – I feel like a mother hen watching over her chicks. The postal services have wreaked havoc with the schedules in some cases – I recently had a rhino missing for six weeks between England and China – but it has all been worth it.

Technology a transformative teaching tool

Through this project, there is now a growing awareness of this severe problem in countries all around the world. The children are using their voices to protest against this terrible issue, and the aim of my project is being fulfilled – to teach the children of the world about rhinos and the predicament in which they find themselves. The use of different means of technology and online tools has made this project possible and most effective. I am so grateful for the way in which teachers and their students around the world have embraced the project and for the many wonderful connections I have made. Recently, the project was named a Top Ten finalist in the Argo Stars in Education Competition.10 I am honoured and very grateful for the exposure that this has gained for the project. I do believe that we can make a difference, and that we must never give up the fight for our rhinos. Education is key! 

Karen Stadler is head of digital learning at Elkanah House Senior Primary School in Cape Town.

References:
1. See, for example: http://www.krugerpark.co.za/.
2. See, for example: http://www.oscap.co.za/
3. Both state and independent schools around the country have responded to
this worthy challenge, including ISASA schools such as St Andrew’s
Preparatory School and Kingswood College, both in Grahamstown in the
Eastern Cape. See, for example: http://www.kariega.co.za/blog/photo-of-theweek-
st-andrews-prep-rooting-for-rhinos.
4. See, for example: http://www.dagama.co.za/index.php?option=com_
content&view=article&id=102&Itemid=164
5. In 1994, Dale Hubert began the Flat Stanley Project in Ontario, Canada.
Hubert had the brilliant idea of having children create their own Flat
Stanley paper cut-outs and mailing them to friends and family around the
globe, in order to foster authentic literacy activities for kids and get them
excited to write about Stanley’s adventures. (Source:
https://www.flatstanley.com/about?subpage=project.)
6. See, for example: http://theglobalclassroomproject.wordpress.com/.
7. Google+ Hangouts is a free video chat service from Google that enables
both one-on-one chats and group chats with up to 10 people at a time.
(Source: http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/G/google_hangouts.html.)
8. See, for example: http://www.rhinos.org/.
9. See, for example: http://www.rnr4r.org/.
10. See, for example: http://www.ed.org.za/index.php/teachers/209.

 

Category: Autumn 2014, e-Education

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