Posts Tagged “education”

?a dark or sweet yeaR by 27147
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It’s not in my normal way of doing things, to review the year and sum up all I’ve done professionally, in a public manner. Nor do I usually follow The Rules of blogging and prepare a standard “looking back” post at the end of the calendar year. I’ve never done it before and really was not going to do it this time.

But…

But…

But…

2009 was not an easy year for me — one of the most difficult on record, actually — and sometimes it is the pain that helps you realize just where you are and where you might be going. Pain can be a powerful motivator.
Not that I am really motivated by pain to write this — it’s more accurate to say that the pain has allowed me to see more clearly. And so I felt it appropriate to do some public reflection, as a way of documenting this small but significant moment of clarity. We’ll see how it goes…

I began 2009 hoping for a fresh start from a tumultuous end to 2008. While 2008 was not a terrible year, it ended with much uncertainty and emotion — I had resigned my position at UNIS, but not yet submitted applications to grad schools, and had no idea if I would get in. I knew big changes were ahead, and was scared to death about what they would be. On this blog, that fresh start to 2009 meant a post about my visit to Green School in Bali, Indonesia. That post came about as I finished up my time in Ubud at an incredible yoga and meditation retreat with two of my favorite teachers (read more about Twee and Rebecca if you are interested). It was a magical time, refreshing, energetic, full of learning and personal awakenings. And my visit to Green School woke me up also to some of the realities of the dream of providing an ideal school. I only wish I could return to Green School in January 2010 to see how far it’s come since my last visit. Alas, that will have to wait.

The early part of 2009 was full of more reflection for me on some areas vital in being a good teacher: assessment, understanding arguments, and the importance of communication. In my case, the latter was focused somewhat on communication via Twitter, the main point of access into my PLN for me. I participated in the Great Tweets challenge and found myself opening up to new conversations with new people about issues I really cared about.

During the next few months, many changes occurred: I was accepted into NYU and began planning for a massive move from Hanoi to New York; I attended EARCOS Teachers’ Conference in Borneo and began implementing some professional development changes at the school I was leaving; Jeff over at U Tech Tips graciously invited me to join the blogging team there.

I began thinking quite carefully about changes still to happen in education — the kinds of changes that I believe are long overdue. I was becoming a bit soured in this education game, most likely because I was looking ahead, knowing that I was leaving the teaching side of it for a while. For several months, I felt discouraged and wondered if I should just leave the teaching profession altogether, because dammit — this revolution was taking way too long.

I took a rather long hiatus over the summer — from June to September, in fact. I took one last big trip around Asia — a very memorable one. I visited Hoi An, Bali, and Thailand on my own, visiting friends along the way but spending a lot of time alone. I was fearful of the changes ahead of me, as I tried not to allow that fear to overcome me. I distinctly remember a conversation with Gaby in Bali about The Next Chapter. I listened intently as Gaby coached me over coffee about the importance of writing the words on the blank pages ahead. I knew she was right, but knowing it and being ready for it are two different things.  The summer was difficult.  Leaving Hanoi was painful. Being in “no man’s land” without a home for 2 months was also difficult.  I was in transition, waiting for visa papers, one of my cats died, and I was in the process of moving my 3 bedroom house into a 250 sq foot apartment in Lower Manhattan.

i sprung forward way too fast by squacco
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Once in NYC, I also was struggling with the changes that come with going from having had a rather decent salary for the past 11 years, to now having no income and watching my bank account dwindle. That, ladies and gentleman, was one of the most difficult challenges for me in 2009. Not to mention the complete lifestyle change that accompanies it — and being a student again, to boot. Suddenly I had all this time on my hands, most of it unstructured, and had to read, annotate, highlight, submit, write, align, research, diagram, create, and present things I had never done before. This semester kicked my butt a little bit — and perhaps it needed some kicking. I can say now, though, that I’m quite proud of the progress I’ve made in my first semester as an M.A. student, and I am eagerly awaiting the next semester’s challenges. In the past 4 months I have learned an incredible amount about designing for education, using technology. In fact, I will write a separate post about my learning in that domain because there is so much for me to process and debrief on before the next semester begins that I think it warrants something distinct, and should not simply be lumped in with everything else in this post.

But while we’re on the topic of learning, here are the top 10 things I learned in 2009, in no particular order. Note that I am keeping this on a professional / academic level; my personal lessons will appear elsewhere, likely on my Posterous blog.

  1. Keynote is one damn fine piece of presentation and creation software.
  2. It is possible to teach yourself an application in a short period of time, and be functional with it, if you are a quick and dedicated self-learner.
  3. Change within educational organizations is slow, and my experience has taught me that this is because admin, teachers, parents, and other stakeholders are often skeptical, sometimes uncomfortable, and occasionally lazy. Find ways for the skeptics to remain, for the uncomfortable to be comfortable, and for the lazy to leave, and you have a recipe for a potentially innovative environment.
  4. My students have been — and I hope they will continue to be — the best teachers. Ever. They are real, down-to-earth, and much better at communicating than many adults I know.
  5. Assessment and Evaluation at the tertiary level still has a very long way to go to becoming fair, accurate, transparent, and equitable. I realize it does in many secondary and primary educational institutions as well, but I was rather shocked at how archaic it still is at university level, particularly in the Faculty of Education at a prestigious private college!
  6. All the best intentions in the world still do not create the ideal school. So many factors are necessary to good school design. I’ve learned this from observation, experience, and my attempts to Be The Change. I’ve not completely given up — no way — but I do feel now after 11 years in 6 different schools (and having worked with many colleagues from countless other schools) much more confident in my understanding of all the ingredients necessary to Create The Change.
  7. Good design is crucial to any one “thing” ‘s success — from a Starbucks travel mug to a school district, from software to salary structures. Design is a concept I think I previously underestimated. I now feel like it is an important and often overlooked aspect of education at all levels and layers.
  8. Technology can be a catalyst, but not the reason, for change in education. The world is the reason.
  9. Education in the USA is a political monster. In fact, most things in the USA are political monsters, and my still-evolving belief is that politics are a major factor impeding growth in social and humanitarian causes in the USA. This is also something I greatly underestimated before living here — and my parents have lived in the USA for a long time, so I thought I understood the issues. My current point of view is that until Americans are ready to put politics aside, real and genuine progress in the areas of education, health, immigration, and many many other areas will never happen.
  10. One of the best ways a person can learn about him or herself is to travel. Yep, it’s true. I always suspected this, and therefore my lifestyle reflected it, but now, having not traveled so much recently, I can certainly say it’s changed how I learn. Visiting other cultures, learning other languages, dealing with things outside of one’s comfort zone is the best education one can have. I can confidently say that nothing else is so mind-opening. I would like to see K-12 education acknowledge and integrate this philosophy somehow in a widespread manner. Dreaming? Perhaps. Worthwhile? Absolutely.
  11. (OK, so there are more than 10!) I miss teaching. I really, truly miss it. So I guess I won’t be leaving it altogether, because I have really missed those interactions with young people on a daily basis. In many ways, I feel as though teaching is something I am meant to be doing — it almost feels like a calling.

And I think that’s all I need to say for now. Oh — but no. There is one more important thing as I wrap up this post and this year:

THANK YOU.

My growth has not been in isolation. So many of you in my PLN have contributed to my learning, and I am so lucky to have found you all. For this, I am full of gratitude. My cup runneth over.

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We’ve been asked to critique the Sesame Workshop’s Panwapa site, a “global awareness curriculum site” for 4- to 7-year-olds, according to Sesame’s press pageScreen shot 2009-10-20 at 1.42.55 PM

When you first arrive on the site, one of the characters instructs you to click the globe to explore, and so I did. This led me to a place where I could create my own Panwapa kid, apparently. I did not know what this meant, but I signed up anyway. I created my own Panwapa kid and my own house, too. Both were pretty-customizable. However, even a 7-year-old would have had difficulty with all the choices, and most certainly would need guidance from an adult while doing this. (It turns out this thought would reappear throughout my short Panwapa experience.) I also was struck with the thought of how many of the customizable items — food, crafts, and clothing, for example — were rather stereotypical. And I further wondered about the value of these stereotypes in an interactive game for pre-schoolers. Do we want all 4-year-olds to think that everyone in Asia eats only rice? Perhaps I’m over-simplifying, but it is worth considering.

After creating my own Panwapa kid, I was shown the map of all other Panwapa kids. I did a bit of exploring, but that got boring really quickly and so I decided to click the “Treasure Hunt” button. This invited me to a game where I had to find other Panwapa kids who liked certain things. There were three rounds:

  1. Find a Panwapa kid who likes traditional American dolls.
  2. Find a Panwapa kid who likes sharks and ice cream.
  3. Find a Panwapa kid who likes sharks, ice cream, and tennis.

For each level, I had to click through many (like, more than 10) kids to see if they were a “match.” I am not sure if there was an easier way to do it, but I did so by clicking on the “Activities” and “food” buttons, and then scrolling through the kids to see what they liked. It took some time, and wasn’t all that engaging, except that I was praised by the character every time I got something correct, which was kinda nice. And at the end of it all, I got a Panwapa card for my collection. It wasn’t clear to me, however, what I could do with that card later.

I also viewed the movie game, as per Frank’s request (clicking on the little bug’s film projector). This was so confusing to me. I did not realize until the end of the film that the goal of the film was to garner appreciation for learning another language, and going to school. I thought, as I was watching, that the film was more about the marginalization of the Maasai people in Tanzania. After all, Moses says, “We are not allowed to speak our language in school” and he talks about how learning this second language was hard, but it got easier. Yet, the little bug character at the end says something to the effect of, “Did you see that? Moses learned another language to teach his community!” as if this is the coolest thing since sliced bread. What I was thinking was that obviously Moses was sent to school as a fortunate one in his village — I doubt all kids in Tanzania are going to school, especially minorities like the Maasai. And he was probably sent because he is a male, and there was probably an expectation for him to teach his community because he is probably one of only a few in the village who get to go to school.

At the end of the film, the “game” begins: watch the film again and whenever you hear Moses speak Swahili, click on the Panwapa button. What??? I gave it a shot. Apparently he does this 4 times, but I only heard / saw 3. And I am an adult who speaks 4 languages! How on earth would a 4-year-old be able to get that? If the goal of this section was to teach appreciation for other languages, I definitely think it could have been done differently.  Further, I wonder if this “appreciation” lesson is age-appropriate for 4- to 7-year-olds.

It was not until after I played these games and clicked around did I find out what Sesame Workshop’s goals were for this site, and I have to say I was really surprised. Apparently Panwapa is meant to :

[help] children gain empathy for others while encouraging a broader international perspective.

You can read more detailed information about Panwapa’s educational framework here [pdf].

Frank asks, “Does it hit the mark?” My answer, as an educator: No.

It does, however, do a few things well. I identified the following problem-solving features in my brief (20 minute) exploration:

  • question posing (these were peppered throughout the treasure hunt)
  • identifying relationships (implicit in the treasure hunt)
  • gathering information (definitely actively used in the treasure hunt)
  • interpreting data (at the end of the film there is a graph provided about where other Panwapa kids go to school)
  • scanning for clues (in the film game)
  • ability to explore (this is huge, especially on the home page — and it should be, as almost all learning for this age group should be exploratory, in my opinion)
  • identification of pattern and sequence (in the film game)
  • choices – multiple answers (in the question at the end of the film game)

Other things it does well: in terms of affordances of the interactive technology — this is quite good. It was almost always clear as to what the interactive features do. E.g. if I click on the globe I will go to a map; if I hover my mouse over a character, he will speak; etc. In this sense, I did not find it difficult to navigate. However, I am not sure I could say the same for a 4- to 7-year old. In particular, I wonder about the home page, as there is so much to look at and click on. I wonder if it is too much for a wee person of that age; it could be overwhelming and end up being disjunct with no lessons learned at all.

I guess I’m not saying that Panwapa is a total failure, but no, it does not hit the mark.

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Stay Warm by Erik Charlton
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Frank gives us a few web resources now and then that he wants us to look at; whether for inspiration or understanding, I’m unsure. Whatever the case, they are usually interesting reading / viewing, and probably things I would not find myself were I surfing around on the ‘net. Communication Arts magazine has reviewed many different kinds of interaction designs, and given awards to a few. They’re worth checking out, if for no other reason than just to see some of the new, cool, hot designs on the market these days — everything from web design to physical spaces. I’ve been bouncing around their site, looking at different designs and trying to understand what makes them “good.” While sometimes that is obvious, what I find even more fascinating than the designs themselves are the responses to the question CA mag asks of the designer:

What was the most challenging aspect of the project?

Some responses: (emphasis mine)

  • “The most challenging part of this project was keeping it simple, staying true to the core ideas and avoiding ‘feature creep.’ . . . I had to stay focused on the original goal—not reinventing the wheel but rather enhancing it.” Sebastian Bettencourt, art director/writer/interface designer/information architect/project design and development, Beyond The Fold
  • “One of the primary challenges to designing TokBox was understanding and embracing user interactions that are unique to live video calling.” Chris Fox, design director, TokBox
  • For the Loudspeaker team, the big challenge was caring for the original idea—amplifying the voice of a great cause—as we built the site.” Scott Brown, creative director, The LoudspeakerSite
  • It was a challenge to keep each individual story entertaining and short (there were many ideas that were thrown out because they were too long or just not fun to watch).” Trevor Van Meter, creative director; Luke Lutman, Flash programmer; and Brian McBrearty, composer, Crappy Cat

And this question:

Did you learn anything new during the process?

Responses:

  • “I learned that inspiration comes from experience. It comes from rethinking everyday activities and from reconsidering everyday interactions.” Sebastian Bettencourt, art director/writer/interface designer/information architect/project design and development of Beyond The Fold
  • “One of the first things we had to face was the huge risk of that transparency, and what it really meant. No approvals. No editing. In the end, it was actually freeing to give up all control to the audience.” Gary Koepke and Lance Jensen, executive creative directors, Modernista!

This has got me wondering about how design influences learning. How conscious are educators of keeping it simple, staying true to the original goals, giving students experiences (rather than instruction), and giving up control to the users? How would schools be different if we did all of this, all of the time? Would there still be schools? If so, what would they look like?

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Many of you who follow me on Twitter know that besides being an teacher dedicated to MYP and international education in general, I am a yogini. I have been studying yoga for only about 4 years, but in January 2008 I made a choice to get really serious about it (if you’re curious about the story behind that decision, IM me or Tweet me and I will share with you, as it was very much an “a-ha” moment). Since making that decision — only a little more than a year ago — I have learned so much about yoga, meditation, the human body, and myself — all dimensions of myself, including physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual.  To say that yoga has been transformational for me would be just beginning to describe the journey I’ve been on. It has been, and continues to be, a tremendously rewarding learning experience in the most holistic way imaginable. All aspects of myself are addressed through yoga. And believe me, this was not how I intended it to be. I began to take yoga seriously more or less because I wanted to do something physical and to feel strong. Yet, my practice has evolved into something so much deeper and more meaningful than just the physical asanas.

One of the many wonderful teachers I have had the pleasure of working with is Twee Merrigan. Twee is a dynamic and focused teacher whose openness and generosity is not only overflowing, but infectious. Her energy is genuine, and she wants her students to be genuine, too. I think this is what I appreciate most about Twee — that she expects you to be no one other than who you are. However, Twee recognizes that sometimes things get out of balance. And, let’s face it: things are often out of balance for various reasons.

Let’s look at education for a minute. (Not forgetting, of course, that this is an education blog, first and foremost!) One of the reasons I began this blog was an effort to balance some inequities I saw that were unaddressed in The System:

  • the unfairness of some prevalent methods of assessment and grading practices
  • the treatment of viewing and speaking skills as secondary to reading and writing
  • the lack of access to technology in schools, or — even worse — the use of abundantly available technology being used to “do” teaching and learning the way we did 15 or even 5 years ago, despite the fact that our world has changed
  • the lack of student choice in “standard” classrooms, being primarily driven by choices made by curriculum, teachers’ backgrounds, or admin decisions

 

Twee has recently written about how to, in the words of The Doors, “Break on through to the other side.” She suggests we re-name Global Warming and Economic Crisis to Global Balancing and Economic Re-alignment. Think about this for a minute. This is really what we are trying to do: we are trying to balance everything in the world.

 

 

 

So my question of the moment is this: How do we re-align education? 

My initial response is, “I have no idea.” My second response is, “I have a thousand ideas!” And then I get overwhelmed — out of balance again. 

Secondary questions, beneath the “How do we re-align education?” umbrella are:

  • Can we re-align education? or does it have to be completely re-designed — that is, do we have to throw it all away and start all over?
  • What parts of education need the most alignment attention? Is it the issues of academic vs. creative knowledge, as Ken Robinson emphasizes in Out of Our Minds? Or is it something else?
Thus ends my initial post on how I hope to approach education issues: with the hope of re-aligning and putting things in balance. I don’t profess to have any answers — only more questions. But please feel free to post your own ideas in comments. Or Tweet ‘em to me. :)

 

And stay tuned… 

 

Image Credits:

 

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If you’ve been following me on Twitter for any substantial length of time, you’ll know that I’ve been searching for, preparing documents for, and applying to graduate schools for the 2009-10 academic year. Well, after returning from a 4-day field trip in the jungle with 66 sixth-graders, I received this email (abridged) from the program director of NYU Steinhardt’s Educational Communication and Technology program:

Dear Adrienne,
The ECT Faculty Admissions Committee is pleased to inform you that you have been accepted into the Fall 2009 Master of Arts class in the Program in Educational Communication and Technology. This is our pre-notification to you. You will receive your official acceptance package from the Steinhardt Office of Graduate Admissions within the next week to 10 days.

The ECT faculty hope you continue to view the focus of our program — the design of technology-based learning environments, informed by theory in the learning sciences — an excellent match with your professional interests and goals.


You Can Go Your Own Way by andy in nyc
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I am thrilled! Although my first two schools did not accept me — I was initially very disappointed to receive rejection letters from both Stanford’s LDT program and Harvard’s TIE program — the idea of going to NYU is quite exciting! They have a very cool research area: C.R.E.A.T.E., which stands for Consortium for Research and Evaluation of Advanced Technologies in Education. And hey – New York! I have never even visited New York, let alone lived there. Big changes ahead…
And for those who might be going through something similar, I will include here my Statement of Purpose, which I submitted as part of my (very thorough) application to NYU Steinhardt.  But please note: unlike almost everything else on connect. create. question., this work is copyrighted — that is All Rights Reserved.

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I was reading a recent post on Bridging Differences about assessment, and in particular, testing. I respect Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch greatly, and will take a short minute first to say that if you’re an educator and you don’t follow their epistolary-style blog, you really should.  Anyway, the post is about testing and the need for data in schools.  Deborah talks about how to address the “data problem” and how teachers can (and should) avoid turning their classrooms into testing settings. 


070305 by COCOEN daily photos
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I always read posts like these with only half-interest, I must admit. Why? Because I am philsophically opposed to standardized testing, particularly as it is used in American schools. Where I am from (Canada), standardized tests are linked directly to curriculum and used in an entirely different manner. I had no idea what US-style standardized tests were about until I moved overseas and began having conversations with my American colleagues. They later took on a whole new meaning for me when I had to write one myself: the GRE was required for applying to my top choice graduate schools. Ugh! I learned very quickly in my preparation that these kinds of standardized tests have nothing whatsoever to do with teaching and learning.

I’ve been lucky, I guess, that I’ve also never had to teach in a school where standardized testing has been emphasized. In Canada, my students wrote mandatory government exams in grades 3, 6, 9, and 12 (or 4, 7, and 10, and 12 in B.C.) — but again, these are always connected to the provincial curriculum. And my students wrote the Canadian Achievement Tests in grade 7, but schools never used this to “pin” teachers. In fact, such tests (in my experience) were never about the teachers at all. Schools I taught in used the CAT to help identify students who might need learning support, or a gifted & talented program. And such is the way international schools I have worked in have used standardized tests like the ITBS and the ISA.


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Internationally, I have only ever taught at MYP schools. And this comment, left on the Bridging Differences post I mention above, is one of the reasons why:

To get the kind of reliabillity that a multiple choice test delivers, the kids would have to spend a week to answer all the open-ended response questions, rather than the hour or two that the multiple choice test takes.

The writer of this comment, ceolaf (who leaves no URL with his/her comment), wrote a lengthy explanation as to why we need, whether we like them or not, some kind of standardized test because of the reliability issue. He further states: 

The failure of THOSE tests that we hate does not in any way prove the superiority of our assessments. Our assessments have their own flaws.

I have two things to say in response to these two bits:

  1. I beg to differ.  And, 
  2. This is why I love MYP.
MYP assessment, while certainly not perfect, is doing exactly what the ceolaf’s first comment implies: they are project-based, for the most part, and so they DO have that kind of reliability. Our students are taking a week (if not longer) to “answer” (I prefer the word “respond to”) oodles of open-ended questions. Further, they are criterion-referenced, with specific descriptors for each criterion and each task so that the student knows exactly where s/he fits on the achievement level. And, as if that’s not enough — in MYP, no single assessment is an indicator of a student’s achievement! As teachers, we must see multiple pieces of evidence before we can report on a student’s achievement.
 

Image by in da mood
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Lest you start thinking, “Wait a minute. So the teachers are doing everything? Doesn’t that make it unreliable?” allow me to go on. In MYP, although teachers are adapting given criteria (set out in each subject guide) to be grade-specific and task-specific, we are not left to our own devices, so to speak, to assess our students randomly or unchecked. About two-thirds of the way through each school year, we send our Grade 10 work (Grade 10 is the last year of MYP, year 5 of MYP) to be moderated by a complete stranger, also an educator, somewhere else in the world. The moderator’s job: to make sure that the assessments we are doing, as teachers, is in-line with the standards set by the IBO world-wide.

 

Of course, all of what I’ve said above is really the nutshell version. It’s slightly more complicated than what I’ve described here (yes, there is paperwork and there are discussions, and more), but this is the quick-and-dirty explanation that basically emphasizes one of the many reasons I love MYP: We assess for learning, and of learning, and in ways that *are* reliable but don’t rely on tests!  And that is completely in-line with my philosophy.

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I simply cannot believe I have not posted since June.  June!  In case you hadn’t guessed, things have been rather nutty over in my neck of the Educational Woods.

Where I’ve been

Briefly — for those 3 “regular” readers who may have assumed that I’d “taken off, eh” in my true Canadian form — this is what I’ve been up to:

  • A wonderful summer of laughter, love, travel, family, and yoga.  Blissful vacation in my home province of Alberta, Canada, and my partner’s home state of California.
  • In June (shortly after my last post) I received a request to run an MYP Language A level 1 workshop in Hong Kong — my very first MYP workshop ever!  Of course I accepted, not quite realizing how much work would be involved.  The workshop dates: Sept 13-15, 2008.
  • Also in June, I began studying for my GRE (Graduate Record of Examination), as preliminary application prep for grad school in the fall of 2009.  My exam date:  Sept 26, 2008.

  • Photo by Dr Craig
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  • It then occurred to me that both preparing for my MYP workshop and studying for my exam were going to have to happen simultaneously.  No problem, right?
  • Wrong.
  • Back-to-school in mid-August.  Mayhem ensued.

You’ve probably already guessed that the MYP workshop prep took priority over my GRE study.  When I look back at the past two months, I still can’t quite believe I did all of this AND taught 4 different grade levels full time, coherently (OK, OK, semi-coherently).  So, you might say I’ve been insanely busy.

How it went

MYP workshop in Hong Kong: Wonderfully!  Far better than I had expected, and with plenty of positive feedback to boot.  It was well worth the two weeks of Hardly Any Sleep (yes, that deserves capital letters), and 3 nights of mediocre room service meals in my hotel room.

GRE: In a word — notsogood. Without going into too much detail, it sucked.  I hate standardized tests. Hate them.  Really, really hate them.  They have so very little educational value, and the very core of my Teacher Being wants to rebel and take a stand!  But dangit – some of the best technology / literacy / education programs in the USA require me to take them just to get my foot in the door.  So I have relented, and scheduled another exam at the end of November.  I promise this time I’ll study for the math section, though I might need some help.  Hey, if nothing else, it’s an excuse to go to Bangkok for another weekend, just in time to do some Christmas shopping.

What’s next: Affirmations

I’ve spent the past three weeks simply trying to catch up and get into a routine.  And now, suddenly, it’s Autumn Break!  What a great time for pause and reflection.


Photo by h.koppdelaney
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My goals this year (even though we’re a quarter through already) involve even more focus on the integration of technology into my English classes to best reflect MYP philosophy.

I admit it: I am MYP FanGirl #1.  That doesn’t mean I don’t think the programme has its drawbacks and weaknesses — it most certainly does.  But I believe so strongly in it because it reflects much of what I know to be true as a teacher and learner that I unabashedly put my support behind it.  I definitely see myself growing even more within this educational framework, and I’ve been with it already for 7+ years.  I do not see my MYPness (yes, I said it ;-) ) waning any time soon.

I also will admit that technology has its drawbacks and weaknesses.  But it, too, is something that I believe strongly in because I recognize that our world is changing before us, and our students need to think differently than we did.  Like Einstein said, “We cannot solve problems using the same thinking we used when we created them.”  And so, at the heart of it all, I still believe that it’s not about the technology.  It’s about thinking and learning in different ways to make sense of the ever-changing world, and technology is a big part of the thinking, the learning, and certainly the change.

Where I’m going: Aspirations

So what’s down the road?

The more often I speak to other like-minded educators, the more often I am struck with this realization: the “making sense” part of our job is the same in every “schooly” subject area, and it almost always comes down to communication.

An abridged defintion of “communicate“:*

–verb (used with object)

1. to impart knowledge of; make known: to communicate information; to communicate one’s happiness.
2. to give to another; impart; transmit: to communicate a disease.

–verb (used without object)

5. to give or interchange thoughts, feelings, information, or the like, by writing, speaking, etc.: They communicate with each other every day.
6. to express thoughts, feelings, or information easily or effectively.
7. to be joined or connected: The rooms communicated by means of a hallway.

Interestingly, the origin of this word is from the Latin, commūnicātus, ptp. of commūnicāre to impart, make common.


Photo by lumaxart
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What I’m dreaming of is this: a place where the finest, most important skills of communication — that is, those that involve the imparting of ideas and interchange of thoughts and feelings — are not only taught and fostered in an English (or Communications) course, but across every aspect of learning at every age, in every subject area.  (Will there even be a need for subject areas?  The world is so interconnected now; the idea of separating them feels so outdated to me.)

And that’s about as concrete as I can get at the moment.  It all starts with a vision, right?  I have no clear idea what this scenario would look like, sound like, or feel like, but I’m confident that if I continue down the path I’m currently on, the tangible will eventually accompany what is currently visceral.

I envision a time in the not-so-distant future where my current job (English teacher — that is, teacher of both English language and literature) is obsolete.  Instead, I see the language, literature, and tools of communication being delicate, abundant, and essential threads across learning of all kinds.

Where does it all leave me?

I’m just not sure yet!

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*I’ve left out some definitions here that refer to archaic uses or the partaking of the Eucharist.

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Having just returned from two back-to-back trips, I am now in contemplative mode before the craziness of the school week sets in. Trip 1: a conference for international educators in the East-Asia region. Trip 2: a vacation on the wonderful island of Bali, a paradise for so many reasons. (I will stop there lest I begin to wax lyrical about this inspiring land, as I realize plenty of others have already done this, so I really don’t need to. Plus, it could honestly take up another blog site altogether. Or a book, even.)

Trip 1 gave me plenty of insight into the world of education, particularly international education, and was a good “refresher” of both the positives and the negatives about being in this world.

Positives:

  • There are some super cool things going on out there, for lack of better wording (and, well, it’s late here in Hanoi, and I’m bone-tired). Cool things like Jeff Utecht‘s talk about the movement of connectivism and such. I hope lots of teachers — and administrators to boot — were paying attention to him, particularly to his bits focused on the philosophy and theory rather than the nuts-and-bolts of RSS. While both are useful and necessary, the former is more revolutionary to the world of education than the latter, I believe.
  • There are some super cool people out there, and lots of them happen to be educators. I know lots of other super cool people too, and have found myself wondering why they aren’t educators, too. Hmmm…
  • I’m happy to see a dynamic duo coming together, even if in name rather than philosophy. I’m talking here about the IBO and EARCOS. Too often organizations like EARCOS seem (to me, at least) so overly focused on American schools overseas, which most IB schools are not. Props to both organizations for coming together.

Negatives:

  • Sadly, there are still too many educators who are teaching in traditional classrooms. I went to at least 5-too-many sessions led by professionals (many who have been in education longer than I have been alive, and I’m 33) who think about school as a place where students sit within 4 walls and at desks. When can we move away from this?
  • There are also a number of educators, from all backgrounds, ages, and disciplines, who think that all this “IT stuff” is about technology. There were a few tense moments for me when I wanted to jump up and shout, amongst 45 or so of my peers, “It’s not about the technology!” but I refrained, mostly because I am just tired of explaining it to those who don’t get it.
  • The staff at the Shangri-La had a difficult time remembering that I was actually staying in room 303. I was beginning to think that no one ever stayed in that room, or that it did not exist, or perhaps only existed in some strange 5-star hotel bad-karma vortex. Long story, but it was a pain in the neck.

Trip 2 – oh, there is always plenty of insight to be had when one is on vacation, isn’t there? :-) I won’t share it all with you, as most of it is journalled anyway, but I will share one particularly intriguing and relevant find:

The Green School.

I am really intrigued by this school. I have to admit, at first I was skeptical, thinking it was just another international school start-up by some over-zealous businessman. My partner showed me the advertisement in an edition of the Bali Advertiser, and I kind of shrugged it off at first. But he persisted, and upon our return to Hanoi, urged me to check out their website.

WOW.

I am rather floored, to be honest. And I was so very wrong! What a wonderful, innovative, forward-thinking and un-school-ish idea they have for their sustainable, eco-conscious, whole-child oriented school. Their school is definitely on my watch list, and I daresay that I would love to stop by and visit the next time I am in Bali. They have a unique vision and philosophy, one that I dearly hope more schools latch on to, and not just by lip service. I imagine this school would be a wonderful place to work, learn, and experience all around. Props to the Hardys of Bali!

And on that note, I will end this post as I continue to contemplate the future, education, and my place within all of it. Hopefully it won’t keep me awake at night, as I have a busy first-day-back-post-Spring Break tomorrow…

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