Monday, January 28, 2013

Play versus work

It took me a long time to learn the difference between play and work - Al Gore, 2005.

On the weekend I watched 'An Inconvenient Truth'. The above quote appeared about half way through and really stuck with me. I think most school's mission statements should be phrased in a similar way, but that's not what this post it about...

As I've mentioned before, my colleague and I are trialling our own Outdoor Learning program this year. We've based it off our highly successful Early Years model that has been running for two years now. In one of my previous posts I spoke about the benefits of getting out of the classroom. It has really helped us to further differentiate our teaching this year and we would definitely be advocates for continuing it in the future. An additional (and unexpected) bonus is that its also allowed us to bring greater authenticity to our work back inside the classroom. Last month we spent two and half hours on a Thursday afternoon working on mean, mode and median. Many teachers like to teach maths in the mornings because they believe that their students are more alert and receptive. We were very surprised to observe the kids' enthusiasm for their work for a long period of time on an afternoon at the end of the week. The reason is because they were using real data that they had collected from their outdoor learning experience earlier that week. The learning was all about them. And they were highly engaged.

This week we thought we'd take advantage of the snowy slopes out the back of our school and do some sledding. The plan was for the students to time themselves doing three sled runs down the slope and we would then use the information for our data handling work in class. We've been exploring measurement so there were obvious links there too. I also challenged them to think about any connections recognised throughout the activity. What was the relationship between sledding technique and time taken? Between the amount of snow and time taken? Between different students? What is this thing called friction?

The students knew last week that we would be doing this activity and two of them approached my colleague with this question: "If we're going to be sledding, then what will we be learning?" This is great for at least two reasons. One, they're thinking about the learning opportunities that might be happening in the things that they're doing. Ron Ritchhart would probably classify this as a learning-based environment, where the participants look for opportunities to develop understanding, instead of a work-based environment, where the participants only see activities to be completed. They know that they're at school to learn and when the learning isn't obvious to them then they feel like they have to dig a little deeper. What a great attitude to have. The second, and probably most exciting, reason is that the kids aren't finding it easy to determine between having fun and learning. Long may it continue.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Compassion, Acceptance, Tolerance.

I just watched this video and thought it would be nice to share. It highlights some key elements of education - it's not all about 'academics'. I think that's one fo the strengths of frameworks, such as the PYP. Focus on education of the whole child means that ideally students maintain an emotionally healthy mindeset - an important aspect of learning.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A lasting impact

 Last week one of my colleagues commented on a photo of me on Facebook. It was of me holding my daughter and she had a light-hearted dig at me by saying that it was a good thing that Kajori looked more like my wife than me. I thought it was quite funny and, to be honest, there's a fair element of truth in the statement! I returned fire by commenting that if she put as much work into her planning as she did to her cheap shots at colleagues then we'd all be a lot better off. Feeling quite pleased with my witty response, I then headed off home via the shops. It wasn't until several hours later that I realised the chain reaction that my reply had set off.

It turns out that my colleague had a bad experience with a staff member some years before. This staff member would say things similar to my reply with the difference being that he meant it in a very serious way. Things could easily turn from 'jovial banter' to 'uneasy confrontation' in a matter of seconds. My reply had immediately bought back those uncomfortable feelings and my colleague had spent all afternoon worrying that she'd upset me. She'd sent an email to check if everything was ok but I hadn't been on my computer all afternoon so didn't reply. The lack of response from my part only served to increase her worry at an exponential rate. Later on in the evening I received an sms from her offering a heartfelt apology and I was able to explain the whole situation. I never once took offense to her comment and was suitable shocked to see how much it had all spiralled out of control so fast. My colleague explained that although we know each other quite well, the experiences she'd had all those years ago still stuck with her and that's why she was so worried.

It's amazing that something like that can have such an impact and stay with someone for many years afterwards. It got me thinking about how this can relate to our relationships in the classroom. The things we say and attitudes we show to our students can impact on them much more than just in that moment. This could also apply to the teams that we work in or even for an entire faculty of staff. Certain workplace cultures can be difficult to create, yet can be brought crashing down so easily by one or two simple things. These things can then make it difficult, and in some cases impossible, to rebuild, reshape or improve. It certainly makes me think more carefully about how I approach certain situations.

Photo credit

My distraction - part 2

The second reason that I've been pressed for time is that my family and I have decided that it's time to leave Switzerland and head back to Asia. A couple of weeks ago I headed over to Bangkok for some interviews and as of August we'll be moving to Jeju Island, off the coast of Korea. The school we'll be working at is called Branksome Hall Asia and is part of the Global Education City that the Korean Government has set up in an effort to keep their nationals in Korea instead of looking overseas for an international education. The original Branksome Hall is located in Toronto and is renowned in North America as a successful all-girls school with over 100 years of history. This was recognised by the Korean Government, who approached them with an offer to set up a campus on Jeju.

The purpose built campus is co-desgined by Peter Kenny, who will also be serving as Director. Glen and JoAnn Radovich, along with Beverley von Zielonka lead the school on the ground. Whilst being designed to provide education for Koreans, students from other nations are also part of the community. Branksome Hall Asia offers co-education up until grade three, from which it becomes an all-girl school.

We've never lived in Korea so that alone will be an exciting adventure. Throw in the added bonuses of being involved in an (almost) start-up school, building the culture from the ground up, a respected leadership team, state of the art facilities all located in an environment that's been described as the Hawaii of Asia, and we think it will a special opportunity for us.

My distraction - part 1

Once again it's been far too long since I've posted in this space. This time, however, I feel like I've got legitimate reasons - not that I'm saying watching replays of my favourite AFL team's best games of 2012 isn't a legitimate excuse. The number one main reason is that my beautiful wife gave birth to our first child in December. We called her Kajori and, as you can imagine, she's pretty much the most amazing thing this world has ever seen.