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Bonnie Bracey

Educator/Agent of Change
Washington D.C., USA

What do you teach and how long have you been a teacher?

I have been a teacher almost all of my life, teaching in schools in the US, in Germany (DODDS), in International Schools (as a sub) and then in the District of Columbia, and then finally in Arlington, Virginia Schools.  Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DODDS) are provided by the United States Armed Forces for the children of military personnel stationed overseas.

I have worked in black schools, magnet schools, science schools, and in teaching GT (Gifted and Talented).  I decided that all kids were gifted and talented in some way, so I decided to teach all kids and look for the best in all kids.  The last school I worked in, I was the technology teacher.  Now I teach preservice teachers, and technology professionals.  I work to develop ideas with wonderful people.  I like to develop games and projects.  I love science, astrophysics and astronomy, geology, geography, technology and I read all of the time.  I like helping kids find out about what they are interested in and guiding them to learn.  I have visited many, many countries in my work in technology and media, or in helping to conquer the digital divide and I have brought what I learn back to my students.

What is the digital divide?

Digital Divide is big enough to write a book on and we are doing that.  The best definition I know is at, look under digital divide.  I think that means that some of us have and others have not the use of technology, but there are lots of other factors as well, that is why I send you to the DD homepage on that site.

Did you always want to teach?

I taught as a child.  There were many children in my neighborhood who were not able to read and write.  Since I went to Catholic schools, and could read at three, I helped a lot of the kids learn to read.  My mother and father were both teachers and they had moved to Alexandria, Virginia to help in the minority schools. So I had early practice.  My mother was American Indian, my father was Black.  My father taught shop, bricklaying, electricity, woodshop, and some kinds of carpentry.  My mother gave up teaching to stay at home with us.  She became a florist with her flower shop in our home.  She used to teach first grade.

So I can be a florist because I am trained.  I was a model for a little while in Paris, but it was boring to me.  I wanted to see things, not be seen.  I wanted to see Europe.  I wanted to be a pilot.  I wanted to fly.  I learned how in a NASA teacher workshop.  But mostly I take planes to special places.  I love looking out of the window and seeing things on the ground.

What countries have you lived in or traveled to?

I have usually been working.  I don't get to take many vacations.  My Greek friends are teaching me to have more vacations.

I have been to Greece often, especially Athens, and Cyprus (which is also Greece).  I have also lived in Spain (doing archaeology with Earthwatch), France, Germany (I lived in Idar Oberstein and taught school in DODDS (Department of Defense) schools.  I have traveled and worked in Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Malta, Tunisia, Egypt, Namibia, Zambia, South Africa, New Zealand, and Mexico.  I have been to many places in Mexico because I study the Maya and followed the trails of the conquistadors and the Maya settlements.  I have studied geography in Haiti, Belize, Santa Domingo, Canada (lots of places in Canada with the National Geographic) Atlantic and Pacific and even in remote parts of Canada, Bermuda, Saint Croix, St. Maarten-Martin, Saint Thomas, the Virgin Islands, Japan, China, Singapore, Greenland and Iceland.  I think those are the main ones since touching down in a plane does not count.  I think you know a country when you know the airport, the geography, the food and some of the culture.

I spent a lot of time as a teacher in India on a Fulbright exchange, and had a short trip to Nepal.

My most interesting travel was in Greece because it is very different from place to place and I have not conquered the language and did not have mentors or study guides.  I did not know what to expect, so it was more challenging.  I knew least about it, but the land is very beautiful.  I like the coves for swimming where the water is turquoise blue, and you can float easily.  I like the bright sun, yellow, pink and blue sunrises and the brilliant sunsets.  I like the stories of the ancients.

India is like a thousand different countries linked by people speaking a lot of languages.  I loved traveling to 28 cities in India.  I never decided which city was best, but I really liked Darjeeling, Mumbai, and Lake Dal, in Kashmir and of course the Taj Mahal, and Bangalore (the gardens).  I did not like monkeys who were trained to beg money because they would hold on to your dress until you gave them the right amount of money.  I liked the peacocks, and the golden temples.  I liked having bed tea.  That is when early in the morning someone delivers hot tea to your bedroom.  I liked eating a lot of different mangoes and listening to Indian poetry.

How do you become a Fulbright Scholar and what does it mean?

You apply and pray that you get selected!  It is a very special honor in which you get to go study the culture, and work in another country as a way of creating bridges of friendship and knowledge between scholars and members of the learning groups in each country.  You get to be an ambassador for your country.  Senator J.W. Fulbright wanted people to have the experience of actually being in the culture, rather than reading about it remotely.

What do you like best about living in other countries?

I like learning about the people. I like learning as I did at National Geographic, the land, the resources of the land, the culture, music, art, food.  FOOD... I like learning to cook foods in the place where they come from, so I must mention France.  There I loved the big tubs with the feet, and the big cups of cafe au lait.  France was the first country I visited, and they like Jazz, and colors and fashion, so I like seeing fashion, foods, and fun in a different way.

In Germany, where I lived the longest, my neighbors were very friendly, and were always helping me to do things.  Some things I did not want to do, like open the windows in the freezing winter to let the bad air out (that air was warm)!  We walked a lot and the Germans taught me to eat in season, and to walk, walk, walk.  Europeans walk a lot.  They also made sure I was healthy and eating well.  We spent lots of time together. I was not too happy about a mattress that was in three pieces with buttons on it, but I got used to it.  I liked learning about nature, and about opera and so on.  My original landlord boiled her clothes over a fire with a stick having a dream and fell back into the root cellar.  I thought I was having a dream.  I had never seen that either, but she was very nice.  I let her use my washing machines and we shopped together. She helped me to buy food, but she wanted me to buy fresh every day.

I love the trains in Europe. My best trip was to Davos, Switzerland.  I like Switzerland, but some famous person was coming and they had these big cowbells to greet them, chocolate and some drink.  I think the cowbells certainly woke me up from being tired after a long flight.  We went by lakes, and then changed trains and went up in to Heidi country.  Finally when we arrived at Davos, we took a sled to the hotel, but there were taxis.  I liked the apple strudel in a vanilla lake (this is on a plate -- I just like to call it that), and the mounds and mounds of snow and the good coffee concoctions.  Swiss chocolate melts fast, in your mouth, in your hands, and it is not a good idea to put it in your pockets or you will have a gloppy mess, but it will still taste good.  I have never seen so many kinds of cheese.  Between Switzerland and France there are too many kinds of cheese to remember.  I saw a lot of cows too.

I like the culture of other countries.  We (the United States) are a young country with interesting stories, but not as many as lots of other countries.

I never knew that much about the Romans or Greeks.  What I knew was boring facts, out of the books.  I never knew how much the Romans and Greeks were a part of Europe.  There are monuments everywhere!  I therefore loved the ruins like Trier, and learned to love archaeology.  I like going on digs.  When learning about Europe from books, I did not get it that the Romans had been there.  I don't know why!

In Italy, I felt, as I do in Greece, as if I was walking in history.  What I liked about Italy and Greece is the history, the statuary, the stories, the art... unbelievable!  I walked in Rome so much, but my feet never hurt.. I walked, walked, walked!  In Rome there are markets, one near the apartment where I stayed, the Square Farnese, and there were all kinds of oranges, and fruits and fish (very fresh), and toys and flowers.  Did I mention gelato?  Did I talk about the beautiful architecture, and the meals?  Gelato, espresso, .... and walking the areas to see the beautiful fountains.  Rome and Paris were bigger than my imagination.

I read a lot of books, and did lots of tours, I never knew that learning, when actually being in a place, was so much fun.  Because I work in media, we meet lots of children from all around the world with their projects.  We evaluate films that people make for children.  We evaluate films that children make and award prizes sometimes.

I have wanted to go to Egypt and the Middle East all of my life.  Everyone who has read about Howard Carter and his discoveries certainly knows that feeling.  I went in search of Cleopatra, the pyramids, Alexandria and Luxor.  I am amazed by the difference in what Cairo is, and how it has been described to me.  The part of the pyramids I liked was the pictures inside.  They are so beautiful.  I rode on a camel and liked it a lot.  I liked it that people thought I was Egyptian.  The museum in Cairo is so full of wonderful things.  I would like to go there again.  I would like to photograph in the small cities.  I would like to teach technology in some of the technology centers.

I collect children’s’ games and toys and would bring those things back to my classroom to teach children about the different countries.  The custodian probably did not like it.  I had lots of things.  I like teaching children about other countries especially since there are so many children in America from other countries.  I am working with a professor at MIT who is sharing his country with me in a technology way.  Starfestival is a CD-ROM in which we learn about Japan, as we learn what it was like when he left it as a child.

I take pictures when I travel.  Sometimes I collect sand from the beaches, because it is very different in many places.  You should see it under the microscope.  I have green sand from Hawaii, black sand from beaches in India, pink sand from Bermuda, and yellow sand from an island in Greece.

Indigenous peoples of the world are my favorite study.  I am sure you can guess why.  I like their jewelry, their stories of the night sky, and how they explain astronomy, make maps and their art.  Once I got to cook in New Zealand with the Maori.  My favorite indigenous people are my own:  I believe that the Indigenous people of the world have many gifts to share with the other people.  So far I have studied the people of Tonga, the Masai, the Cook Islanders, and Native Americans or the first people.  I have spent a little time in Hawaii, but mostly as a tourist.  The museum in New Zealand, Te Papa, is outstanding.  I have been there three times and I have only been to New Zealand twice.  I spent two days, the last time, learning in that museum.

What is StarFestival?

StarFestival is the next generation in interactive learning.  You can join the Professor as he returns to Japan after a 30 year absence to rediscover his hometown, his past, and his unique identity.

What have been your most memorable experiences?

Being able to train myself to do the technology thing on my own no matter how people tried to make me stop.

Blackwater rafting:  I never want to hear about it again.  I was terrified and screamed a lot.  My friends were NOT happy with me.  But I do not like that darkness underground.  I don't even like caving that much.

Walking in the inside of Mayan architecture, thinking I would slip and fall and getting tired while gazing at the places inside the temples.  It is a little bit slippery and close inside the Mayan pyramids.  Sitting on the edge of it was hot and muggy.  Sitting on the side of a cenote.  Swimming in Tulum.  That has got to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  Trying to walk down the steps of the temples in Mexico.  They have a chain you can hold on to, but I considered that being chicken.  Very scary!  (Especially if your feet are not child sized.  You would laugh at how long it took me to get down without holding onto the chain!  I drank a huge coke once I got down.  It was HOT and HUMID there.

Working in Archaeology in Deia, Mallorca, Spain was wonderful fun.. and figuring out that the Mediterranean was the crossroads of history.  I found a bone awl, and beads from Carthage, but I might have been in a barbecue pit.  I liked the way they treated children in Spain, homemade soaps, and afternoon teas.  Having a pig eat my straw hat when I dropped it while gathering water for tea on the dig.

I had a child in my class, Michael Delp, who wrote me letters from Tunisia.  I loved visiting there, and going all the places he told me about.  I only went because he wrote to me about the country.  I was not disappointed.  Roaming Carthage.  Looking at the ruins and mosaics.  Shopping in the souks.  He told me he ate briks.  That is a sandwich.  And it is good.  I ate a lot of them.  Don't worry.  They are delicious.

I love the beauty of New Zealand.  New Zealand is so beautiful.  I liked One Tree Hill the view at night, and windy Wellington, and Christchurch, and Dunedin.  Once I could not find the way to cut the lights on in my hotel room and so I was so tired I just went to sleep.  I was too tired to figure it out.  I think Queensland is beautiful, and I loved touring the sounds.

When you travel, do you take family members?

I took my mom to Hawaii with me, and we all went to Mexico and to Paradise Islands.  My father loved the islands a lot.  I have a kind of Greek family.  I have never stayed in a hotel in Greece.  People who are your friends in Europe want to enjoy your company and want you near.  I have technology friends in the Middle East and Europe so we are always traveling together.  My friend Heba helped me to learn not to take too much luggage when I travel.  I have a lot of technology friends and we meet all over the world for projects like Prix Jeunesse.  I always was collecting things for my classes, even in Santa Fe, or San Francisco.  I am usually meeting someone for work, as in Munich to review films.  It is interesting work.

You have a lot of titles.  What do these mean and how do you get picked?

I am a fellow for the George Lucas Educational Foundation.  I go places and make speeches for them to people who are interested in our work.  We want to bring technology to classrooms and to teaching and learning.  So we talk to them about it and show them how to use computers.  George Lucas is very kind to teachers.  He cares a lot about children.

One title is a Challenger Fellow, NASA funded us after the tragedy of Christa McAuliffe, who died in a shuttle accident.  We wanted to touch the future, and teach children about space so we created projects for them.  We have Challenger Centers for learning.  I have traveled with them and learned in many places in the US with them.  We also teach teachers to understand NASA projects.  We have lots of special projects.  I like making Marsville, and Mars City Alpha.  I think I got picked for that because of my projects.

I am from the Young Astronaut Chapter Leaders, that is a lot of fun.  It is sharing, also with children, about space and science and ecology.  I got picked for that because of my work in space science.  Well, my children in the classroom did outstanding work!

I am a poster person for Earthwatch, because I believe in the global classroom.  Earthwatch helps teachers to learn about the world, and has the global classroom for children to talk to people working in Earthwatch projects around the world.

The other Christa McAuliffe honor was from the National Education Association.  We had members who gave money to the union to help us to remember Christa McAuliffe and so we taught teachers to use computers and technology in interesting ways.  We used to have a seminar at Stanford, in California.  The idea was to help with technology.  I got picked for that because I am a technology pioneer.

I worked with President Clinton and Vice President Gore in helping to frame the ways that Americans thought and planned the use of super information highway.  My children learned so much from me, because of learning from NASA, and National Geographic, and NOAA, and the Baltimore Aquarium, so I was picked to help other teachers think about transforming ways, new ways to teach and learn.

NASA helped me work on a project about Amelia Earhart.  I always wanted to fly the planes and not be a passenger.  I got a chance to do that.  It was fun.  I helped to write a project that took another woman, a flyer all around the world, well, as far as Amelia Earhart went.  Then I also learned about Dorothy Coleman who was a Black flyer.  The French and Germans helped her learn to fly, and she had a license.  I never knew about her.  I also did not know that the Wright Brothers went to school with my favorite poet, Paul Lawrence Dunbar.

How do you think computer games can be used for education?  Do you think they are a good thing?  Why or why not?

When people work in the army and armed forces they play a lot of "war games."  This is a practice to try out the equipment, to practice strategies, and to learn the use of equipment.  That is one kind of game.  There are also simulations.  I like them and the way that you can explore, as in explorations at the National Geographic site.  I hope you have tried that.  It is awesome.

Games are a way of practicing and in games it is ok not to be the best.  You can practice it until you get it right and there is no penalty.  In games it is also ok to be the best!  Sometimes in school, if you are very smart people resent it and make fun of you or call you a nerd.  In a game, they want to get your score and join you!  Games are an environment and you don't have to get bored, you can be excited about it.  People learn in different ways.  I am putting together some ideas with people at MIT, as a teacher member of folks thinking about games.  The Olympics were games, and there have been throughout history many ways of teaching thinking.  I think visualization, modeling, and practice help people to learn in wonderful ways.

NASA uses some of these techniques in many different ways.

What are your goals for the future?  Is there anything you haven't done, or anywhere you haven't gone, that is on your list of things to do?

I want to continue to help teachers learn to use technology.  I am working on a book to help people think about the people who do not have much, and how we can help them to learn.  I want to spend more time learning about the culture of Native Americans because I did not grow up on a reservation.  I want to connect children to learning places like the museums that I love, and field trips that teach.

I have not been to most of South America, though I have explored it in movies, on the Internet, in books, poetry and food.  I am most interested in Brazil, and Argentina.  I read a lot of books by writers from those countries.  I THINK I would like to visit many parts of Brazil.

I would like to taste some of the Eskimo foods.  Muktuk?  I do not know if I would like it.  I would like to visit Russia and go to a film festival in Bratislava.

I want to go to Stratford on Avon and see a Shakespearean play in England.

I like it when I meet people and they do not know what I am, or what country I am from.  Sometimes they say bad things about America, but they usually just have a misconception about the country.  I wish I could speak many languages.

I would like to go up to the Lick Observatory again in San Jose, and also to visit the volcanoes like the ones in Hawaii.  I want to learn about the Hawaiian gods so that I know the stories.  The stars seem to have more color in the Hawaiian sky.  I would like to see them from one of the observatories in Hawaii.

What advice do you have for students?

When a child tells me they are bored, I ask: whose fault is that?  There is so much to do, to learn, to investigate.  There is a world of interesting things to do.  There are new inventions to be made and ideas to be expressed.  Children should be creators and inventors too.  With the new technologies they can do that.

Do you have children or pets?

I have a cat.  My cat lives in my family's home with the rest because I travel too much for her.  She sits on my lap and will not move when I come home.  She did not like going to kennels and being taken care of and I would not dare to leave her alone.  She likes to play outside every day even when you can hardly see her in the snow.  She has always been at that place because I lived there to help my mother for a while.  She climbs trees a lot.

I have many children whom I have taught.  We email.  I do not have children of my own.

What is your cat’s name?

My cat’s name is KATT.  I was visiting a friend and a bad snowstorm came up.  I got in the car and so did the cat.  I put it out on one side, and got in to drive home and it jumped on my lap and sat there.  It was snowing so hard I felt sorry for it, but I put it out because I figured it belonged to someone.  Finally my friend said it was a street cat.  It is a Maine Coon cat.  KATT loves to race you to the door, train you to get her food when SHE wants it, and she likes laps and high trees.

What does your family think of your job?

Not so much until I bring back cool stuff.  My brother is a doctor so we sometimes compare notes and cook food together.  They are not so crazy about technology as I am but my mother saw me on television at the White House.  She liked that.  I think I make them want to travel more.  They call my house “the museum”, because I have cool stuff from around the world that they never saw before.

- 6 July 2001


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Last Updated:
25 March 2002

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