Matthew Hicks

Winnona Park Elementary School, Decatur GA

Interview craftspeople, farmers, and entrepreneurs in Otavalo, Ecuador, to develop a case study documenting the stages of production of various goods and create a non-fiction book and museum-in-a-box that enlivens economics and models primary source research.

Where I've Been

  • Otavalo, Ecuador
  • Quito, Ecuador

My Fellowship in Images

A local producer shows us how her family weaves tapestries, clothes, and other textiles.
Schools hold a parade in San Rafael to celebrate their learning at the end of the school year.
Booths in the Otavalo Market ready for a day of selling.
A local instrument maker shows and demonstrates is instruments. His entire family lives and works together to make and sell instruments.
Our group with one of our host mothers (Gladys) and our 2 Spanish teachers (Myra and Anita)
A local woman sewing beads onto a traditional Ecuadorian shirt to sell in her market.

Your Personal and Professional Growth

How have your knowledge, skills and capabilities grown?

This trip to Ecuador helped me better understand how a true market economy helps to sustain an entire community. Producers use natural resources and materials that are available to them to create goods that are sold in the market. The people in the market not only work to sell their goods, but they also help each other. Taking Spanish classes in another country was an amazing experience. Although I am not fluent, I am able to better understand Spanish and can have small conversations.

As a result, in what ways will your instructional practice change?

I think the biggest difference in my teaching will be when working with students from different cultures and backgrounds. While in Ecuador, I had to learn how to navigate and communicate in a language that I'm not necessarily good at. This was very challenging. I will approach these particular students differently and do my best to make sure they better understand what I'm teaching. I want ALL of my students to be able to make connections to people from other cultures as well.

What is the greatest personal accomplishment of your fellowship?

My greatest personal accomplishment was working outside of my "comfort zone." While in Ecuador, I was depending on my very limited Spanish to communicate with locals and when shopping in the market. Living with an Ecuadorian family helped me to practice listening and speaking in Spanish. I have a much better understanding of what people who are not native speakers in our country go through when trying to communicate.

Impact on Your Classroom, School and Community

How will your experiences positively impact student learning in new ways?

My experiences will help my students learn the similarities and differences between our culture and other cultures around the world. My students will learn how a market economy works by creating a market similar to the one I experienced in Otavalo. They will work together to create goods from available resources. They will also be able to sell these goods in a "market." Since our students learn Spanish, they will use Spanish when buying and selling in the market.

What are your plans for working collaboratively with colleagues?

I traveled to Ecuador with 3 of my colleagues, so we are already working together to plan our Economics Case Study and Market Day. We are working to make sure that we create an authentic learning experience for our students. We will also work with our Spanish teachers to make sure that the students know words and phrases that will be necessary for this experience. We have one new teacher who didn't go to Ecuador. We have created a Museum Box for her and will provide resources from our trip.

Imagining the Future

How do you envision celebrating of your students’ new learning?

I think that experiencing a successful Market Day with my students WILL be a celebration of my students' learning. Students will learn how to use available resources to create goods to sell. They will also learn the value of working together with their teammates. They will have to collaborate to make important decisions regarding their business. Students will rely on the Spanish in order to communicate with each other during this experience. I think Market Day will be the ultimate celebration.

Are there issues or challenges in your school, community or the greater world about which you and your students might try to make a difference?

While in Ecuador, we learned a lot about indigenous culture. Much like in the United States, there are struggles between indigenous people and other people living in Ecuador. I think this is a challenge that happens in all parts of the world, even our local community. I hope that our students can be the leaders that help close the negative gap that often occurs when cultures collide.

How would you describe to a friend or a grant funder the most fundamental ways in which your fellowship has changed your personal and/or professional perspective?

This experience was a great reminder that life is wonderfully different in other countries and cultures. The people that we encountered in Ecuador were so gracious. People who sold in the Otavalo Market were willing to talk to us and help us understand how goods are made and how they are sold. This experience also helped me understand the struggles that people who aren't native to a place have when they are trying to navigate and communicate with others. I want to pass this down to my students.