Number Sentence Nowadays:

New city + new school + new students= new adventure

Non-English speaking students= 110% challenging

DSC_0150After 6 years of PYP Homeroom teaching, I wanted a different challenge, and I definitely got what I asked for. It’s true when they say be careful what you wish for. Last August 8, I moved to Astana, Kazakhstan. I now work in an IB World school in the said city, where I teach English and International Maths to students from Grades 1-3. Inquiry with non-English speakers is my current challenge. Am I loving it? Learning to. Do I know what I’m doing? Haha, good question. But I’m excited to get better.

I survived my first two weeks of teaching. That’s a great achievement. Everything seemed to fail: classroom management strategies and engagements. I was at the point where I didn’t even know what I was doing! I thought I knew what to do but I didn’t…not with my these kids. Suddenly, I was back to my 1st year of teaching. However, I also know in my heart that it is this continuous process of unlearning, revising and brand new learning that makes our craft meaningful.

Again, I was reminded to let go of control, work on my patience, listen more and collaboratively design lessons that are purposeful and relevant. On the brighter side of life, my past two weeks of confusion proved important developmental things about children:

  • Students teach themselves and make lots of effort to make connections (usually with their own language, environment and experiences) in order to figure things out. (I love this bit, it’s inquiry)
  • Children have this great ability to adapt and resolve uncomfortable situations.
  • Children have natural inclination to learning.
  • Children naturally connect with their teachers, or elders.
  • Children, no matter what their age, race or language is, will want to understand you.

I may not spend a lot of time with my students like how I used to as a homeroom teacher, but those lessons when I and my new students try our best to overcome language barrier and celebrate language are enough for us to bond and develop many crazy, learning moments together. Yes, this is indeed the beginning of a difficult-crazy-you-got-what-you-asked-for journey. But it’s humbling and if it doesn’t kill me, it can only make me stronger. As I said, I’m excited to get better.

Cheers to a new School Year. One world, one love. Never give up. Teach.

Global Peace Project Video

Together with 33 schools from 17 countries, we helped create a video to promote International Peace Day (September 21). Special thanks to Lisa Parisi (@LParisi) for initiating this project.

Cheers to Global Projects!  More to come!

For more information about the 2014 International Peace Day, visit: http://www.peaceoneday.org/

About the Musician and the Teacher

My sister works for a university and is also a photographer.  She couldn’t put a price on her talent and she talks more about her clients’ reactions when they see their photos more than her photography skills, technique and style.Image I find it both cute and admirable.  I get it: how can we set a price on something we love doing?  I think she enjoys photography because it gives her the amazing power to make people experience a momentary lapse of reason and sadness, making them feel genuine happiness and admiration…not for the photos, but for themselves.  And I think the more amazing thing is that she gives them something that can last forever…not the photos, but the memories.  On the same note, I just realized that I love what I do, which is teaching, because I feel that it gives me the amazing opportunity to do something to put these little people in awe….not about me, but of the world and themselves.  When we teachers give our students the avenue to question, to wonder, to argue, to voice out their opinions, to discover, to find out for answers and solutions, to help them act upon their learning, we utilize this great gift of creativity and goodness in us. All of us can teach. Gone are the days when teachers stand in front of the class to give information…for an hour or so.  Trends in education brought us to a higher level of teaching where teachers listen, provoke and establish relationship with learners.

It’s interesting how my crafts show two sides of my personality.  I’ve always felt that my love for music and performance are acts of self-indulgence,selfish.  I play the drums and make music to please myself, to express what I feel through rhythm, to make myself feel good.  I don’t care if my

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music has some following or not, I only care about how sacred the creative process and the piece itself are.  I take pride with the music and I’ll never apologize for being this kind of an artist.  But with teaching, it’s completely the other way around.  I find that the students are reasonable critics; I find wisdom in their random thoughts and humour.  They give valuable suggestions and I believe that they are the most credible people to judge what I do.  I listen to them, I believe them, and I take them seriously. I feel bad when I feel unproductive with them.  I apologize and I pray to have better days.  I think of ways to help them reach their potentials, help them enjoy something they may find difficult.  Nevertheless, both playing music and teaching bring me fulfillment and inspiration.  I guess selfless or not, when we do things that help us attain creativity, mastery and generosity, we ourselves are put in awe because we feel connected to something larger then we are: life, possibilities, hope, and creation.  It’s awesome.

One of my students is improving with her studies.  She asked me two days ago if she really improved and I said yes and that I’m proud of her.  She couldn’t believe it, she giggled and hugged my arm.  We just finished our unit on poetry and I read aloud some poems my kids wrote.  We laughed and laughed for like 15 minutes because of how hilarious our poems turned Imageout to be.  We re-visited their pre-assessments and I heard the kids say they’ve definitely improved.  They begged and begged me to read aloud their poems…even they couldn’t believe how funny they’ve become.  They’re learning about angles and points out every angle they see around them…the board, they necks, the letters of their names.  My student just shared to me that he met a family lawyer yesterday because his parents are getting divorced.  He told me it’s a very difficult moment for him.  I talked to him and told him to think about things very well because he is very much capable of making good decisions for himself and his family. I could go on and on about what’s going on in the classroom.  It’s a very exciting, dynamic, emotional, intellectual and fun place.

As a musician, an expat teacher and traveller, I may feel lonely at times living in a foreign country, and I do feel lost with new songs and genre coming out. But I know I’ve found my best friends in my students and I continuously experience the best relationships with grounded, passionate musicians, teachers and strangers I meet. I don’t know how long I’ll be playing music, how long I’d teach and travel, but I know I am doing something that gives me the opportunity for endless exploration and adventure.  And it’s awesome.

When the Feeling of Failure Strikes…

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We are about to finish our unit on Earth and Space, and here I am pouring my heart out.  Honestly, I have this ‘failure’ feeling inside me and this feeling is just making me…sad.  I learned that no amount of preparation could make one’s unit a success.  In fact, too much preparation can only lead us possibly blinded as the unit goes along. I knew somewhere along the way that I was stuck with my ideas thinking that ‘this could work, this would work…’ I guess one of the biggest mistakes we could make is being so assured that we ‘know’ the big picture. I should’ve been more observant and reflective along the way, listened more to the students and focused more on the understanding.  Nevertheless, there are things that I would really like to celebrate about the unit.  We integrated different subject areas meaningfully and beautifully, the students were really into their research, and we really saw the students thought hard and worked hard as a unit.

But it wasn’t a perfect unit…sometimes it bothers me how I get stuck with this.

Truly, it is an art to see the glass half full rather than half empty.

The reality is there’s hardly any unit that we can consider ‘perfect’ no matter how hard we try…like there’s hardly any perfect teacher or person or system in this world.  We could only makes things worthwhile.  I know we don’t want to be easily satisfied with our teaching and learning, but we shouldn’t also be drowned with negativity and pressure. It was a good time to remind myself that ‘failures’ are part of the process of being a good teacher, only if I see them as opportunities and not as shortcomings…or end of the world.  It was a good time to remind myself to be humble, to be more reflective and to listen more, especially to my students.  No ego, no ‘best teacher’ awards and no competitions in mind.  It was a good time to be reminded of our motives and our intentions as educators.

“The man with insight enough to admit his limitations comes nearest to perfection.”- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Rather than focusing on making a unit perfect, we need to refocus on what we are really striving for as teachers. Rather than focusing on perfection, we can focus on how we can make the unit successful for our students…or how the students can make the unit successful for themselves.  And I think that success for us teachers can be measured by how fulfilled we feel seeing our students grow during and after the units.  Success can be measured by how happy we are with ourselves and our growth; our capacity to endure, and how we value and act upon what we’ve learned and realized.

Little pep talk and thinking aloud.  And now I’m smiling.  Tomorrow is a new day.

Share Your Goals With Your Students!

We all know that goal setting is an integral part of our profession.  There are different ways of setting goals and different paths of reaching them.  I think however we do it, the first important step is to reflect where we are and understand why we are setting a particular goal.

Goal Setting Tool Im Currently Using:  What is Happening in Your PYP Classroom

So that’s what I do.  I choose one aspect that I want to improve on, set action plans and reflect again.  At some point, Id feel successful because I see myself improving.  However, I felt something was missing.

I thought- I make goals to improve my teaching, but how can it be just about me when I’m in class filled with these little people.  So this year, I tried a different approach.  I shared my professional goals with my students.   Of course, not all professional goals can be shared with the students, but why not do it with those goals that you can share? This time, it’s not just me working to reach my goals, it’s my whole class.  We started to have a more accurate picture of who we are and we all feel responsible moving toward the next level.   Doing this has more positive inputs for me and the class, like modelling how to set goals, reflecting and showing more cooperation.   There is more ownership for our learning and goals.

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Haha, the level of honesty of the kids is just too cute! But it’s a more accurate picture of our performance and the reflections showed how we are all willing to improve.  After all, their stars are my stars.

Are you a “Jugaad” in the Classroom?

I’m currently reading a book called Jugaad Innovation, authored by Radjou, Prabhu and Ahuja.  “Jugaad” in Hindi means ingenious solutions to problems or turn adversity into opportunities.  The six guiding principles behind the Jugaad Innovation are a)  seek opportunity in adversity, b)  do more with less, c)  Think and act flexible, d)  Keep it simple, e) Include the margin, f)  Follow your heart.  I’ve seen different jugaad-in-action classrooms and schools all over the world- from the biggest things like having a non-traditional approach to education and starting an education revolution, to the little things like using old mineral water bottles as pencil holders.     Big or small, they equally inspire me to be a classroom innovator.

As I read through the different stories of individuals and companies who succeeded through innovation, this line made an impact on me:

“When you listen to your customers, you merely react to needs; when you empathize with customers, you anticipate their needs; but when you truly love your customers, you surprise them by introducing them to products they can’t even fathom.”–  Mauro Porcini, 3M Head of Global Strategic Design

This made me ask:

  • How often do we surprise our students?
  • What do we do to make our students go ‘wow’?
  • What something new do we do in the classroom?
  • How often do we do something new in the class?
  • How is innovation celebrated in our class?
  • Are there any new ideas we are willing to fight for?
  • What ideas do we have that seem outrageous but are helpful?
  • Have you done anything risky for the betterment of the students?
  • Do we follow our hearts in the classroom?
  • How else do we show our love for our students?

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I think we educators should consider ourselves not only as people who facilitate the class, but as artists who are capable of designing and engineering to solve problems, to do something for the marginalized, and to do something…inspiring– not only for our students, but for everyone else who cares.

Maybe the true signs of love for students are not just measured by how much we listen and feel for them.  Love for students is also measured by how we apply creativity in the classroom- to think out of the box and go out of our comfort zone for solutions that will address the issues in the classroom despite limitations, risks and personal struggles.

Are you a ‘jugaad’ in the classroom?

Read aloud with a Twist!

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Last March 6, we celebrated the World’s Read Aloud Day with a twist!  My class celebrated it by reading aloud the Indian folktale “How the Summer Queen Came to Kashmir” to a Grade 4 class from an international school in Hong Kong.  The read aloud was done through Skype.  We thought that by reading aloud the said tale, it will help students from Hong Kong know more about the rich culture and places of India.  The other class read aloud poems from the book called Joyful Noise by Paul Fleischman.  We had a great time listening to the poems as they read it creatively.

It is the first time that my class had this engagement.  There were challenges like communication, arranging the schedule and the quality of the internet connection.  In the actual read aloud, it was hard to hear and understand each other, but somehow we got through the event smoothly.  Everyone seemed to enjoy, especially the part when my students and the other class were given the opportunity to say hi to each other.  I think in away, my class was amazed seeing other kids from another part of the world.

What I love the most about the engagement is that first of all, it promoted global mindedness by taking part on an event that is celebrated worldwide.  Tanja Galleti, a primary Librarian from an international school in Hong Kong, just twitted about the event.  I replied back as I was interested with it.  She had this wonderful idea of reading aloud through Skype, and I thought that was a good opportunity for my class.  Without her help and initiative, this event would have not been possible.  She was the one who arranged the schedule between me and Andrea Onken, the Grade 4 teacher from Hong Kong, despite her busy schedule.  Of course, much thanks to Andrea as well, as she was also open to do the read aloud with my class.  With this simple interactive activity, we know that we have encouraged reading around the world.

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Secondly, I like that we showed that education is border-less.  In that simple 30 minutes read aloud from both classes, my class learned how to observe and listen, how to model certain behaviour from other students from a different country, and how to use technology to help us learn.  That simple 30 minutes was an opportunity for my students to be communicators, to be open-minded, and a chance to develop self-management skills.  That simple 30 minutes gave us the opportunity to have new friends.

Thirdly, I like how the three of us- Tanja, Andrea and I- were all strangers to each other, yet are united by the same aim and love for collaboration, technology and a global approach to learning.  I don’t know them personally, and I’ve never even worked with them before, but this certainly showed that when there is a goal, openness and some sense of familiarity, strangers can be great company.  Thank you Tanja, Andrea and your wonderful students.  More and more educators are collaborating on-line and I believe that this is one of the best practices a teacher could ever take advantage of.  So thank you for all the selfless teachers out there who keep on sharing and sharing and sharing!  It’s a small world after all, and there is this simple girl in India who highly appreciates you all.

Like what I said, simple as the engagement may be, it brought things that are essential to teaching and learning.  Simple effort like this gives an opportunity for us and our students to be internationally minded.  I’m definitely looking forward to doing this again.

Literature Circle: A fun and surprising journey

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“Hot Seat”

Our Literature Circle journey continuous to be fun and surprising.  It’s a slow but sure process for all of us.  It is definitely a fun and meaningful way to learn reading!

The Beginning

For our first try, we started with one book- Charlotte’s Web, as all of them have purchased the books already. My purpose really is to introduce them to the routine, which included making reading as a habit, sharing of ideas and applying strategies to help us read.  Of course, I expected the first month to be challenging, but I know it will be a meaningful learning process for everyone.

Our major challenges were:  a) managing schedule, b)   adjusting to the routine, c) motivating each other to read and accomplish our assigned tasks,  d) being open with each other in sharing our ideas.

What did not work:  a)  making the routine, literally just a routine (it’s good to give something fresh to the students, like a new engagement we can do as a class, and not just in groups),  b)  failing to follow up with the students on their discussions and over all experience, c) not asking feedback from the students.

What worked:  a) collaborating the schedule and making sure that there is balance (stand alone, integration with the unit, literature circle time), b) trying to do things consistently, following the agreed schedule and consistently encouraging each other, c) students agree on their group goals and tasks,  d)  consistent conference with each group with clear expectations.

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The Egg Sac

The Egg Sac is one of my favorite chapters in the book.  At the beginning of the story, Charlotte introduced the wonders and strengths of a spider, but in this chapter, she started to reveal all her worries, her fragile side, and how she still struggles to be strong.  I can’t help but feel emotional about it, simply because this is a feeling I am able to relate to and understand.  During a discussion with a group of 5 students, they shared that Charlotte reminded them of the pain of their mothers- how their mothers try their best to help them, do as much things as they can to support them with their needs.  But it didn’t end there. They shared more intimate stories about their families, which I didn’t really expect to hear from them.  They shared about their cousins and specific hardships their families went through, the times when some of their family members were hospitalized, their feelings for them.  I felt some of them were even surprised about how honest they were with each other.  But that moment really helped all of us to relate with the book, to understand how we are all connected.  We further talked about the worries of Charlotte and I asked them to make connections by sharing their own worries.  While I was expecting to hear worries about school tasks and not being able to get the toys they want, they did share that sometimes they worry about death and the unknown.  What would happen to them, how scary it must be not to know what will happen next, the uncertainties of life.  Wow!  I thought this was pretty deep for my kids.  I had one of the best conversations of my life.

This Lit Circle discussion was one of the best I had so far.  It took time for my students to open up and appreciate the story, but I saw how they developed to be young readers.  They are learning to understand the characters in a deeper sense, showing some sense of empathy because they themselves know how the characters feel.  It didn’t just help them become readers.  It also helped them become risk-takers, communicators, open-minded and empathic.

Their success is my success

Right now, I feel successful because I can see that most of my students are aware of the different reading strategies that work for them.  We also have our class favorites such as making connections, comparing characters, hot seat, readers’ theater and visualization as reading strategies and engagements.  I feel successful because I see my students feel good about reading, because they can share their thoughts about what they’re reading, because deep down inside they have a story to tell.

What I’ve learned from the experience is that we can’t force children to read.  What we can do is show them that reading is fun and meaningful by giving them the opportunity to read.  By helping them read and by helping them feel that they shouldn’t feel pressured if they don’t read the same way as the others.  That reading will give them a sense of belonging and they’re not just merely a book of words that we decode. That reading is not just a tool to make them smarter, but a way to help them understand ourselves, others and the world.

So, how are you like Charlotte?  And how are you helping your students realize this?

If Teachers Design Their Own School Day 1

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It was very interesting to watch this video called “If Students Design Their Own Schools” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RElUmGI5gLc&sns=tw).  Watching it inspired me and made me wonder more.  Wonder about me as a learner.  About us as teachers. About my current school. If teachers, who support inquiry as a way of teaching and learning, will design their own schools, how would it be?  What will it look like?  What will it sound like?  How does it feel to be there?  We do spend a lot of time wondering what our students need, but how about us?  What do we really want in our schools?  Are we achieving them?

Quite frankly, I have a lot of things to say about my questions, but I also want other perspectives.

This prompted me to read and read and find out.  And starting tomorrow, I will talk to my coordinator and collaborate on this simple study:  If my co-teachers will design our school, what and how will it be?  I am very excited to hear their perspectives,  especially that my current school is in its journey toward the PYP authorization. Hopefully, this very simple research of mine can help us have the culture that will support each other’s needs and aspirations.  I am seeing the possibility that this can be a ranting session for them.  But just the same, they ought to be heard.

I think as a school community, it is important to look forward to the same direction, to be heard, to be valued and to be sincerely cared for, both on professional and personal levels.  So how should that look like in our school?

More insights on teachers designing their own schools:  Support teachers to develop their own school curriculum  (http://www.thersa.org/large-text/about-us/media/press-releases/support-teachers-to-develop-their-own-school-curriculum)

“87 percent of teachers agree that schools should be free to design substantial parts of their own school curriculum to meet the needs and interests of their children, according to a poll commissioned by the RSA and English Heritage.”

“The Department for Education should do more to ensure schools are making the most of their freedoms to design school curriculum, the report says. The national curriculum should be slimmed down, allowing schools to develop their own in partnership with local communities; local businesses, heritage and cultural organisations, voluntary groups, faith communities and parents.”

“Most debates about the curriculum start from the wrong place. Instead of asking ‘what should the curriculum include’, our starting question should always be ‘who should determine what the curriculum includes’? Such a question enables curriculum development to play a significant role in building and reshaping civil society.”

“Local knowledge needs local power. If this government t is serious about freeing all schools from central control, they will need to make sure that every school has the freedom, training and incentives to design their own curricula. This will need changes to accountability so that Ofsted inspect a school’s whole curriculum rather than the just the national curriculum; and so that schools have outward accountability to their communities rather than just upward accountability to Ofsted and government.”

“We should separate the school curriculum from the national curriculum. And we should work with our communities to build the school curriculum. It is, of course, not a replacement for the entitlement to useful knowledge captured by a national curriculum, but a vital complement to it. NAHT therefore welcome this timely, constructive and encouraging report.”

Visible Thinking

visible thinking

Visible Thinking is a flexible and systematic research-based approach to integrating the development of students’ thinking with content learning across subject matters. An extensive and adaptable collection of practices, Visible Thinking has a double goal: on the one hand, to cultivate students’ thinking skills and dispositions, and, on the other, to deepen content learning. By thinking dispositions, we mean curiosity, concern for truth and understanding, a creative mindset, not just being skilled but also alert to thinking and learning opportunities and eager to take them.

http://www.old-pz.gse.harvard.edu/vt/VisibleThinking_html_files/VisibleThinking1.html