Unit on Arts (and why we love it)

Unit on Arts is definitely a fun combination of thinking and working.  Whether one is into arts or not, it’s something everybody can enjoy.  There’s so much perspective, interpretation, talent and skills into it.  It seems simple, but it’s not;  it seems difficult, but it’s rewarding.  It’s amazing how inquiry can help us dig deeper about life through arts (see video for students’ insights).

Students inquire on Pre-historic art by observing different cave art and by making one. Materials:  charcoal on rough surface

Students inquire on Pre-historic art by observing different cave art and by making one.
By Grade 4, charcoal on rough surface

I love Arts unit because students get to work and develop two things that the world need today:  creativity and imagination.  I think nothing can be more powerful than a mind that has the power to imagine and a heart determined to create.  I love seeing my students work with different materials and express themselves in different ways- ways that reflect who they are.

Grade 4 understanding the realism and perfection of Renaissance art. By Grade 4, painting on paper

Grade 4 understanding the realism and perfection of Renaissance art.
By Grade 4, painting on paper

Art can teach us so many things about history, places, cultures and life in general. It teaches us to look closely at things, observe and interpret so well that you give people the privilege to see life through your eyes. Learning arts across different time periods and cultures is a great historical experience for us.  Through the years, we can see how we have used art, not only as a means of expression, but as an evidence of human evolution.  Through arts, we can see how our thinking, ideas and perspectives develop, together with the changes in the society.  Students’ investigation on art forms and history revealed the differences people have but also commonalities, like shared emotions, beliefs, values aspirations, issues and desire.  Art helps us understand each other and what it means to be human.

Students inquiry into Modern Art and how it challenged the seriousness of previous art periods.  Yes, Art is also meant to be fun. By Grade 4, paint on paper

Students inquiry into Modern Art and how it challenged the seriousness of previous art periods. Yes, Art is also meant to be fun.
By Grade 4, paint on paper

Inquiring on Modern Art. Grade 4, paint and cray pas on paper

Inquiring on Modern Art.
Grade 4, paint and cray pas on paper

Here’s a short clip of our Arts journey.

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Kids Share What Governments Should Do!

Predicting is a skill a teacher should possess.  Whenever we plan for an engagement, I always think how my kids would possible react to it, would it be fun, what to do when a group of kids find it difficult and the list of predictions goes on.  But there are always things that would surprise us about what they say, what they think, what they do.  I’m really happy that the students and I are part of a program where we are highly encouraged they speak their minds, to inquire, to be challenged, and most of all to act upon their learning.

We are currently having a unit on government systems and to learn about what governance is and its importance, we had ‘The Island’ engagement.  Students needed to imagine that they were stuck in an island and was given the chance to randomly pick characters to play.  And so there it was, five characters- children, grandparents, business people, priests and farmers- stuck in an island.  They had to put themselves in the position of the characters they picked and had to think of ways to a) survive, b) allocate resources, c) live happily for at least 10 years.  It was quite a challenge because they needed to apply dialectical thinking and at the same time, think of ways to achieve the goals given that there are challenges in the island. As expected, we had an interesting discussion as there were different plans but there were two things in common:  they all came up with a certain system and they all thought of assigning roles.  After the engagement, the students shared their realizations: without a sense of governance, it would be disorganized and that we need systems and cooperation to survive…which is by the way, so true.  It was a great start to learn about government systems.

Based on ‘The Island’ engagement, I asked the students to write what they think the top three powers or responsibilities a government should have in order to keep the country organized (this was just a way for us to introduce the three powers or branches of the government).  They came up with rather funny, radical answers like ‘the government should kill people who kill trees’…but most of the answers really impressed me. Here are some of them…

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With all the political and economical issues happening around the world- protests in Ukraine, Venezuela and Thailand, wars within and across countries, child labour, prostitution, human trafficking, TRAFFIC…I wonder: Did my kids say those things because they’re kids and they don’t know how complicated life can get?  Well if they said it, then it means they’ve thought of it.  And if kids can think of such bright ideas, I wonder why many of the smartest leaders in different societies couldn’t act upon such thoughts. Or maybe I was impressed with the answers because a lot of people in governments and politics (and adults in general) don’t seem to show that they’ve thought about those ideas. I’m sure politics, governments systems and all, in reality, are more complicated than what they seem.  The point is, it is helpful to be confronted and challenged by thoughts coming from young children, who we probably don’t expect to express such interesting points.  I just realized that it is such a mistake to think that young children would have no logical opinions about politics and governance.  Maybe it’s true that young people are idealistic, but they’re inspiring.  And we don’t want them to lose such because it’s beautiful, because it’s hopeful.  Because it is also their idealism that helps our world become a better place.

Let’s keep on helping our students express their views and expose them to what’s really happening around  world because one day, they  would experience for themselves how corruption works, what it really means to be discriminated, what kind of war we have out there and they’ll be ready for it.  But let’s also not forget that they can start to fight the worst issues our societies have as early as…now.

Trying to Teach for Understanding

Maybe it was due to my teaching experiences, or the amount of mistakes I make.  Continuous education and collaboration.  Reflecting every now and then.  Listening and observing. And taking risks.  I just feel like I’m finally ‘getting it.’

Throughout my teaching years, I had the tendency to design intricate formative assessments and have fun learning activities which were all engaging but deemed to be effortful, time consuming and confusing.  In the end, we have a room full of ‘colourful projects’ with a lot of teacher intervention.  Now I’m realizing that my practices before didn’t have enough space and effort for independence and learning.

Last September, I took an online course with Harvard Wide World.  The course was on Teaching for Understanding and they really helped me plan purposefully. I’ve been applying the Understanding by Design approach  but my experience with this course made me understand concretely what it really means.

Going through the course was a huge bulb light moment for me.  The course made me experience how engagements, formative assessments and summative assessments are linked.  I suddenly realized my mistakes in the past.  I knew that there were elements of inquiry in my teaching, but most of the time, I had the puzzle pieces but not the actual picture of the puzzle.  Or at times, I had the picture of the puzzle, but the puzzle pieces didn’t quite fit together.  I realized that when we teach for understanding, life is simpler yet experiences are more meaningful. Note that simplicity doesn’t mean things are easy.  Simplicity can be hard to design and requires creativity.  But one thing is for sure, simplicity brings clarity. Our teaching can be simple yet inquiry and understanding are there.  It’s like having a set of carefully designed beads, woven nicely to create an interesting bracelet that the whole class enjoyed making.  It’s not just about what the teachers can do to make the unit engaging.  It’s also about what the students do and understand for their learning to be successful.

 “Learning things backwards is usually simpler than learning them forwards.  If you have to learn a sequence of ABCD you would usually learn A first and then B and then C and then D.  This means that you are always moving from an area you know very well to an area you do not know…When you learn backwards, you learn D first and then C and then B and finally A.  In this way you are always moving forward into an area you already know.  At first learning things backwards may seem more complex but in practice turns out to be easier and simpler.”-  Edward De Bono

Applying what I’ve learned from the course, we prioritized D, which naturally led us to A, B & C.  We wanted the students to understand the concepts in the unit and apply their understanding in their own lives.  As it is a unit on beliefs and values, our goal was to help the students discover who they are by understanding what they believe and value (perspective), why their beliefs and values are important, what led them to believing such and the impact of their beliefs and values (causation).  We wanted them to become open-minded and respectful little people.  And of course along the way, develop thinking, communication, social and research skills.

For our pre-assessment, we asked questions bringing out the key concepts, the lines of inquiry, and of course their understanding of the central idea.

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As we went through our inquiry (finding out), we had different engagements such as interviews, analyzing articles, group research, making our rubric, etc., to help us answer the teacher and student questions.  Along the way, we shared our understanding in various ways (sorting out). We were continuously reflecting on our skills, learner profile and attitudes.

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We used reflection planners (formative assessments) to help them reflect on their beliefs and values- as this is the goal.  We slowly filled the planner, one box at a time, provided and discussed feedback to ensure students were able to make the connections.  We were allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.

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For their summative assessment, the students used their revised planners (student’s inputs + teacher’s feedback)  and independently shared what they believe and value, the cultural experiences that help shape such, the impact of their beliefs and values and their understanding of the central idea in different ways.  Some made videos, photo collages, books and some made stories- all leading to our goal.

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Was it a perfect unit?  NO. I don’t I’ll ever have one. However, I appreciate that this time, we have collaboratively designed the unit toward understanding.   The engagements, assessments and reflections clearly showed evidence of progress and growth.  The best part of all is that the students were aware of their own learning and development.  There was a lot of independence, choice and thinking in class.  Turns out it wasn’t only me who is ‘getting it’. 🙂

Their take on people’s challenges and opportunities

Vacation, vacation, vacation.  When you finally had enough of EATING AND EATING OUT, worrying about your increasing weight, telling the same stories to different sets of friends, sleeping, watching TV and being stress-free, you start missing work.

Yes, I miss working.  I miss having conversations with kids.  I miss my classroom.  I miss thinking and challenging my thoughts about our units.    I miss being surrounded by this healthy chaos.  I miss the hugs and the smiles.  I miss.  And I know I’ll regret thinking about work while I’m on vacation, but never mind.  And when I feel the want to work, or at least for my brains to work, I look at works of my kids, and immediately I get inspired!  I feel like I have a real purpose on earth, something to be really fulfilled about.

We had a unit on people’s challenges and opportunities.  The insights of my students about the unit are things that can’t just be learned from drill kill, memorization, or homework.  I am not the perfect teacher, nor Ms. 100% Positivity but whenever I read their work, my heart smiles knowing that the inquiry approach to learning gives students the opportunity to have a deeper understanding of the things that matter the most.

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Just some of the things I value about teaching. And this is why I miss working. 🙂

How did God come about?

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In our Wonderopolis Project Session last Friday, Thea’s question was “How did God come about?”  It’s a very interesting question and I was interested to know the answer, me coming from a different culture.  I said to myself that I will not intervene.  I just really wanted them to throw questions and thoughts.  I’m after igniting their curiosity. The best thing about this question was the confusion it caused, I love it.  In our heads.  Sooner of later, in our souls.

To cut the 10-minute-sharing short…

Thea:  Okay, I just want everyone to know that I may be wrong about my research and it’s still open for questions and answers.  (Reading her Powerpoint presentation)…Nobody knows how God was introduced in the world.  The best part is that God is a normal person, just like us, but he is capable enough to earn the position of God from human so he is named as God.  The new fact is that when he was a human, his thoughts and advice made him God.

In my head:  Oh okay, interesting. Sounds like a Buddhism.

Thea:  For example… Jesus Christ…

In my head:  Oh interesting, now we’re going for the Catholic perspective.  But the pictures in her presentation show Ganesh.

Thea:  In summary, at one point, you have to make yourself capable enough to earn the position of God…and all of this would only happen if you make a change in your life.

In my head:  Amen.

(A couple of hands raised)

Keya:  I have a question.  If God was really a human, how come he’s blue?  (Referring to Krishna)

In my head:  HAHAHAHAHAHA!

Looks like we’ve got the different religions mixed up! I pray every day, I read the Bible and I go to mass every Sunday.  But really, who am I to tell the answer?  In a country with more than 10,000 religions, who can really tell how God came about?  This is the beauty of being in a place with diverse culture, perspectives and experiences.  They make some questions best left…unanswered.

We all agreed to research more on the topic by talking to our parents, friends, and by reading more about it.  And maybe grow up a little bit.

Then perhaps one day, we will know.