Thursday, 20 September 2012

Encouraging Compassion

Our new Unit of Inquiry is called Feeding the Millions. 

The Enduring Understanding is: 
Farmers grow enough food for the world’s population and yet many people suffer chronic hunger or malnutrition.
The Essential Questions are:
If the world's farmers produce enough food to feed the world, how come so many people are hungry?
What are the main causes of hunger?
How do people make money for food, when they have few resources and little education?
How can local communities (like Pasirmukti) increase food production?
How do NGOs help people in need?

We have studied this unit in its present format for four years now. In that time, Feeding the Millions has been the unit that has engaged students the most and has aroused more passion than any other. 

We start the unit by watching a movie called "Hungry is the Tiger" a documentary film in Bahasa Indonesia with English subtitles. There is a travelling dhalang who tells a series of stories to children in a kampung in the country with wayang (shadow puppets). Each little story is followed by a look at aspects of hunger, malnutrition, farming and self-sufficiency in communities in rural Indonesian.  Part of the documentary is filmed in India also. Our children are enthralled by the experience. It's a wonderful hook of a film! (A school alumnus was involved in the production, gave us a copy and introduced the film to our students four years ago before it had its official premiere!)

As part of the unit there is a field trip where our students go to stay on a working farm at Pasirmukti seeing food production first hand and taking part in farming activities. We ask them to make connections with what they have seen in the film. They have another field trip to Kampung Kids, an organisation where children can have early years education but more importantly a nutritious meal once a day. Some local older children are sponsored by the organisation to attend the local school.

Feeding the Millions is a unit which requires students to really reflect on their own lives while they look at the lives of those less fortunate than themselves, often the people they see from their car windows as they are driven from place to place by their drivers. It is especially interesting for our students, who are for the most part expatriate or wealthy indonesians, all well-off compared with the majority of the population living around them. 

Some of our students are amazed that there are children living so close to them who don't go to school because their families can't afford for them to go. Some of our students bring great prior knowledge coming from families where mum or dad works for an NGO or Aid agency.

As well as looking at hunger and malnutrition locally, we have a decent quantity of great library books about feeding the world and websites gathered in a LiveBinder, Feeding the Millions - What's it all about? 

So many ways to provoke wondering and questioning.... and finally the action that comes from students themselves. This is what we most want to see in the service-learning area of our curriculum.

We've seen how engaged this unit is for kids and now we are seeing the research which explains what we've recognised. It's nice to read why this type of unit ignites such passion in our children. As a faculty we have watched videos of Mary Helen Immordino-Yang talking about her studies

And as it happens I just read an article last night called Three Insights from the Cutting Edge of Compassion Research by Emiliana R. Simon Thomas of the Greater Good Science Center, based at University of California, Berkeley, which talks about compassion and mindfulness. 

Compassion is one of our School Values. In this unit there is plenty of opportunity to encourage it. 

"Hungry is the Tiger"
Produser Eksekutif: Hashim Djojohadikusumo
Dibawakan oleh: Sudjiwo Tedjo dan Christine Hakim
Menampilkan: Prabowo Subianto Djojohadikusumo
Disutradarai oleh: Gary Hayes
Diproduksi oleh: PT. Media Desa Indonesia

Friday, 14 September 2012

Essential Questions

In a recent post, When a Unit Doesn't Go So Well..., I listed thoughts that were going through my mind about what reasons there might have been. I've been thinking about those on and off over the past week as we start our new unit. Our cross campus team debrief/reflection for the learning to learn unit is still a couple of weeks away.

It occurred to me that I didn't add the Essential Questions to my list of possible reasons why I felt the unit didn't go so well. Maybe they weren't engaging enough. Maybe they didn't point in a clear enough direction for thinking about answers.  So I looked again at the questions that our team decided on at our meeting way back in April.
Essential questions should be essential. 1. How does my brain work? - Is it essential that a 10 year old knows how the brain works?  The way it's written, I think that is way too big a question for grade 5 -  people spend years trying to find out. We only have a couple of weeks!

2. What does my brain have to do with learning? I know what we were aiming for but it's not a wildly exciting question....

3. What can I do to get the best out of my brain? It already got tweaked at our first planning meeting of this year. This is more along the lines of what we're wanting students to get from this unit.

4. What are my responsibilities as a learner? It's OK but it doesn't grab you! And maybe it is redundant if Q3 is really well understood by students. It IS what we want students to be thinking about.....

So now I'm wondering if we can do better... Below are my thoughts today which I'll share with my small campus team and see if we can improve on the originals. And then we'll share cross campus. A small group feeding off each other's suggestions is the way to go to get the best questions, I think. Wordsmithing is vital, too.

How can I show how amazing my brain is? - I like the word amazing. It does presumes our brains are amazing - but I think for grade 5s that's probably OK.

How amazing is my brain?  - I like this better
How awesome is my brain?

How can I change my lifestyle to help my brain work best? - Hmmm...

How can I make myself smarter? - This sounds good. I like "smarter."

What habits do smart people have? - Have to think. Could be good. How would students go about finding out? Would that be too hard...?

Can I make myself smarter? How? - Yes or no answer, but it does have a "How" so that's OK...

If you read this and have suggestions please let me know!

Photo is my own.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Asleep with my eyes open...

In helping students with the third EQ of our Learning to Learn Unit, "How do I get the best out of my brain," our EAL teacher Mrs Bell read a story called Moody Cow Meditates by  Kerry Lee McLean.  In the story the main character learns to manage his anger.

Margaret then had students practise an exercise that they could use to help them do the same.

She used a jar of sparkles suspended in a solution of half water and half hand sanitiser (as we can't easily buy glycerine). She created a jar with the children so they could see it and make their own if they liked. She had gold and silver glitter as well as colours which children suggested for anger (red) and sadness (blue).

She had them sit comfortably on the floor, sounded a little gong and shook the jar. Children had to concentrate and be very aware of their breathing and watch the sparkles in the jar settle to the bottom. She played the gong again and had them sit without talking until they could no longer hear it. 

After this exercise which lasted only a few minutes, she asked how they felt.

Here are some more responses:

  • Why does this thing make me calm?  And I felt that I was in no-where
  • When I heard the gong, it made me slow down my thoughts and I could control myself better
  • It helps me feel calm and also my body feels really relaxed and calm, it also gets all my bad thoughts.
  • It makes me feel calm and tired. It just makes me forget all my thoughts and think all about glitter.  It could help me in the beginning of the day. It helps me clear my mind.
  • I didn’t notice or remember anything, I thought I fell asleep with my eyes open.
  • I think this is good because it helps controlling you and you have a clear mind and it makes you calm
  • It was helpful because my mind just calmed down about thinking 100 different things.
  • It gave me relaxation and it is a little bit helpful for me at home because of my brother.
  • It helps me because all my stress was gone and I didn’t feel a thing.
Photos are my own.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

There is hope!

So I am about to start reading the blog posts my students wrote yesterday about what and how they have learned in the "Learning to Learn" unit,  and I am getting posts like, "i learned a lot of stuff about the brain." "I learned a lot of stuff about how to make my brain work better." " I learned a lot of stuff i didn't know about the brain...." and thinking I have my work cut out this year for sure!

Then I realised that my last year's class blogs are still listed and I suddenly realise that they wrote a last post the day before school finished and with everything that was going on at that time, I actually did not get around to reading them. Not good. I should have at the time. But anyway, I clicked the first on the list of last year's students ......... and what a great boost I got! Just what I needed after my week of worrying about my unit that didn't go so well.

Just what a body needed! There is hope!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

When a unit doesn't go so well...

In over 10 years of teaching through inquiry in PYP schools and at my current school in a team of inquiry trained teachers, I have never had such a lack of questions/wonderings....

I am asking myself...

  • Is it because we have so many other things we need to do at the start of the year and the inquiry took second place which meant there was not quality time?
  • Is it because we have so few suitable resources?
  • Is it because my class is low on inquiry skills because this is so new to them?
  • Is it because I am expecting too much?
  • Is it because I have not scaffolded enough?
  • Is it because we allocated 3 weeks and it's not long enough?
  • Is it because the unit has too difficult a concept?
  • Is it because half my team is at another campus and we last met to discuss and plan this unit last April?
  • Is it because changes cannot be made with out both campus teams deciding together so we end up not discussing them because it's too hard?
  • Is it because I still feel a bit fuzzy through lack of in depth planning meetings?
  • Is it because that April planning meeting had too many people? And some people weren't actually teaching the unit?
  • Is it because in my heart of hearts I suspected almost all of these problems would emerge and I am feeling frustrated with myself that I did not speak up more at the planning stage.... didn't like to put a damper on the excitement.... And what does that say about our large cross-campus team and the essential agreements of being clear, honest, speaking your mind, etc., etc.................)

I am asking myself these questions as I reflect on how things are going with 1 day to go. I will also be taking my questions to my next team meeting (just our campus). From chats in staffroom or in corridor, I know I am not alone in feeling that the unit has not gone as well as we'd liked.

The next unit is waiting in the wings. I know from 4 years of this study that it will be engaging and challenging and all the things a UOI should be.

I wish I felt better about this new unit...... I hope that we will make the time necessary to talk about what worked and what didn't and what to recommend for next year while it is all still fresh!