Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Global Teacher Prize Trip Report - Storms, Spices, and Spectacular Conversations

What a day! It seems like weeks ago that I woke up this morning at the Hilton Garden Inn, had a nice quiet breakfast by myself, and took a taxi to Atlantis to check in.  My taxi driver was a Pakistani, and we had an amazing conversation about cultural differences, how learning happens in schools, and about economic disparities in Dubai.

Walking into the lobby to Atlantis was pretty amazing, and reinforced many of his points.

My room was ready, so I dropped off my bags and explored around a bit.  Wow. I'm not sure there are enough superlatives to describe this hotel.  I think that was kind of their hope when they built it. The aquarium is massive.

At 11AM, I met up with top-50 finalists from last year Melissa Morris (USA) and Souad Belcaid (Morocco), and top-10 finalist from last year Naomi Volain (USA). After checking out the Batmobile in the parking lot, we met our tour guide, Sameh, who led us to his Land Rover.

Our first stop on the tour was the Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa.  While in the mall we walked past the giant aquarium that Melissa and I had seen last night, the ice-skating rink, and through some other beautiful areas. Naomi and I took a picture at the Top-10 sign at the candy store, which we were told was the largest candy store in the world.  Everything here seems to be the biggest, tallest, most expensive, or most something-or-other in the world. 

We also stopped to take a few pictures of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. It was just as impressive in the daytime as it was last night. As we were leaving the mall, it started to rain.  Serious rain.  Thunderstorm, cats and dogs kind of rain.  Later we found out that this was a once in a 100 years storm. 

After leaving the Dubai Mall area, we decided to go to the gold and spice souks, even though it was raining.  We also, much to Sameh's amusement, decided to take the boat across the Dubai Creek to the souks in the torrential rain. 

We started at the Spice Souk, which was quite a unique experience for me. It was dark and alley-like with very few people due to the rain. We went into one of the little shops and got to learn about lots of different spices, and the three women each bought some spices to bring back home. I didn't buy anything because I figured that my wife, Lori, would end up coming here when she arrives, and that she'd know better than me what to buy. I did pick up a Dubai shot glass for my cousin. 

From there, we walked to the Gold Souk.  I didn't find this area nearly as impressive.  It looked a lot like a bunch of jewelry stores that you would find in New York City.  Some of the displays were gaudy and over the top, but it didn't do much for me. 

From there, we took the boat back across the creek and found a place nearby to get a bite to eat.  The food was good, but the conversation was even better. 

By the time we finished eating, the rain had just about stopped. We went to the Jumeirah Mosque. We could only see it from the outside since visits inside only are possible in the morning.  While we were there, the call to prayer started. That was a cool experience. 

Our final stop was "Little Venice", which consisted of a shopping area and a walk past a few nicely landscaped canals.  

After the tour, we each went to our rooms to rest a bit, and then met back in the lobby at 6:30 for dinner.  I took some time to Skype a few classes to share a bit about my day from beside the pool. 

Souad had some work to finish, but Stephen Ritz (USA), a top-10 finalist from last year, and Nancie Atwell (USA), last year's Global Teacher Prize winner joined us for dinner. The dinner conversation was amazing. It was exactly what you would expect if you stuck some of the world's best teachers at a dinner table.  Great discussions, debates, and insights into a variety of educational topics. I left feeling totally inspired.

On the way out I finally got to meet Joseph Fatheree, the other American top-10 finalist this year.  I'm looking forward to getting to know Joe better this week. 

Tomorrow we are meeting in the lobby at 7AM for the first day of the Varkey Teacher Ambassador Summit, so it's bed time for me - even though a stroll through the grounds at night looks like it would be amazing. 


  1. I enjoyed reading your posts! Also the 5 Clue challenge is really neat. Maybe I will try one with my students:) Can't wait to hear more about your amazing experience.

  2. 1st photo is a Dale Chihuly glass sculpture! I did not recognize it on the tiny phone photo last night, but here on school computer it was big enough to recognize. I'm digging the fabric patterns too from the markets. Art is everywhere! Thanks for sharing your adventures with us!

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