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.

Students seated in a circle- what does it really mean?

Inquiry is collaborative/cooperative and we are proud of it.   They say ‘traditional’ schools don’t really practice cooperative learning, but competitive learning (I am not a fan of comparing schools, practices and philosophies but let me just quote to make a point).  At times, though, new students from trad schools work more collaboratively than other old-timer PYP students.  The fact is we trad students (yes I’m a product of a traditional convent school) are trained to work independently; consequences are more real to us as they are so lethal that we do what we have to do, whether tomorrow is the apocalypse or just another boring day; whether or not we understand what we are doing (and we do try our best to understand in order to avoid the lethal consequences).  I argue that learning to how work independently leads to a more successful collaboration- I guess trad schools are not that bad.  Depending on what the purpose of the group engagement, students must get that productive time to think, work and reflect independently then go for a structured group work kids would enjoy or learn from.  I think the biggest mistakes about collaborative learning are doing group work for the sake of doing it and assuming collaborative learning is happening just because the students are seated in a circle!

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What is cooperative learning?

Cooperative learning is not just group work nor team building activities.  It involves high quality of interaction, interdependence, individual accountability, collaborative skills and group processing.

“Face-to-face interaction is a bit counter-intuitive because it doesn’t necessarily mean face-to-face as in ‘in-person’. It actually just refers to direct interaction. So, it can be literally face-to-face, or it could be over the phone, on chat, via Skype, through email, etc. It’s just referring to the fact that group members have to actually interact in order to cooperate.  The second element is positive interdependence, which means that the group members rely on each other and can only succeed together. This goes hand-in-hand with the third element, which is individual accountability. As an interdependent group, each individual is responsible for his or her own work and can be held accountable for that work.  The fourth element of cooperative learning is collaborative skills. The group members must be able to work together, but the ability to do so doesn’t always come naturally; sometimes these skills need to be taught. And the final element is group processing, which refers to the fact that the group needs to monitor itself to ensure that the group, as a whole, is working together effectively.”  – Erin Long-Crowell

The ‘smart’ ones get frustrated because they do all the work then we tell them that they have to be more tolerant and open-minded.  Some students feel discouraged because the group simply won’t trust them do anything- so that they won’t ruin the work!  Then we tell them that they have to be more responsible and committed.  AND/OR the ‘smart’ ones dominate and develop more confidence and the ‘slower’ ones become chronic social loafers.   It’s sad, but I think every teacher who facilitated group work has observed these things happening.  And sometimes we accept it because kids are kids and they fight all the time, but it’s not okay.  Students have to understand that it’s not okay to be in a group and not do anything.  And that it is unfair for one student to just hog all the work.  Another thing- a mere discussion on ‘what makes a good discussion’ is a good start, but doesn’t guarantee a cooperative discussion.  Students need to have opportunities to independently organize their thoughts in order to contribute to a discussion.  There’s definitely a lot more to group work than just sitting with your group mates.

Aside from developing collaborative skills, cooperative learning emphasizes interdependence and individual accountability. We ‘prove’ that  individual accountability is happening because student have agreed on ‘group roles’ in their planners.  But are they skilled and willing enough to fulfill the roles?  Yes we discuss expectations, rubric or checklist developed with the students, yes they understand the purpose of working in groups, but are they skilled and determined to achieve the goal? Students should be given the support, achieve skills to learn how to work independently and do his/her part.  This way, they can count on themselves and on each other.  Then we can watch the quality of relationship, group dynamics and work grow.  Then we can watch them work happier within a group.  Then we can watch them…learn.  I guess the saying ‘you can’t help others if you can’t help yourself‘ is the gist of this article.

Players who know how to play football make a football team.  They may play differently, some better than the others, but they do know how to play football, they want to and they’re learning to.  However, the success of a football team lies on the fact that each plays better with another.  Likewise, let’s help our students become good team players by providing a good balance of quality independent and group tasks in order to make real collaboration happen.

 

 

Sources:

http://education-portal.com/academy/lesson/cooperative-and-collaborative-learning-in-the-classroom.html#lesson

http://asma-strivingforsuccess.blogspot.in/2008/12/15-common-mistakes-in-using-cooperative.html

How is your teaching, classroom or school positioned to help your community? 

Teachers and staff who are mostly new to the classroom have multiple goals to prioritize- classroom management, assessment, teaching strategies, differentiation and many more.  As the world changes and moving toward unpredictable and innovative directions, it is inevitable that we teachers add to the priorities, or even change the priorities we once had.  The world now demands for something greater and our skills and interests should also develop in such a way that we don’t just help solve issues in the classroom and school but also help address concerns of the society and the planet.  This is why I decided to have a new conviction- to Go Green.

Little things I take for granted:  I feel that for the past years, I haven’t been very practical about my teaching. My belief was to get whatever resources and whatever it takes to help the students and the teachers inquire.  Yes, I was into printing and photocopying numerous graphic organizers (both in A4 and A3 papers), articles, practice sheets, differentiated assessments and other classroom materials.  Am I a part of a culture or generation that can’t live without the 2 P’s- printing and photocopying? (Yes, I’m the type of teacher who panics when the photocopying machine and the printer are not working.)  I often asked myself how a low-budget school can afford this kind of teaching or how great teachers can teach without using so much paper or even electricity.

Yes, our world is experiencing rapid and disturbing political and environmental changes and here I am, unable to think long term.

A Unit on Energy: I and my Grade 4 class inquired on the different forms of energy, conservation and sustainability.  We got to learn about the alarming state of our planet, issues about renewable and non-renewable sources or energy, pollution and CO2 emissions, other consequences such as child labor and political wars and what organizations and individuals are doing about it.  What really inspired me to Go Green was learning about the different Green Schools especially in India and in Thailand.  These are local and international schools that truly care for their communities and the planet.  They truly act upon their learning— with or without sufficient or perhaps similar resources other international schools can afford. We don’t need to be super experienced teachers or be part of the world’s most respected schools or organizations to make a difference- we just really need to act.  The unit on Energy was very meaningful and inspiring for all of us; however, if we want to start making waves, it is not enough to just inquire and finish a unit.  Having a sense of social responsibility involves commitment, sustainable actions and inspiration.  I’m not saying we make radical changes in our teaching practices and in our lives (or maybe we do?). I’m merely calling for individuals to empathize for our society by making the conscious effort to do what we all can- big or small- to save and conserve. Small measures go a long way!

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I now believe that a part of becoming a great teacher is having the empathy and concern within and outside the classroom.  It’s also having a deep connection with others, with the past, present and the future.  How is your teaching, classroom or school positioned to help your community?  Or even the world?

The SY 2014-2015 challenge for me:

  • Educate myself further and others on why and how we could Go Green
  • Be mindful of my actions and decisions (no matter how small they may seem)
  • Help build a Green Classroom culture where students initiate actions
  • Initiate Global Green projects and collaborate with other classes and schools

 

 

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.

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.