Posts Tagged ‘global education’

 

So I’ve been thinking about terminology. It doesn’t sound very exciting, but a lot of times we hear words and terms that we think we all understand in the same way, and we don’t. Two different experiences have made me think about this idea.

First, I have been leading a task force investigating interdisciplinary teaching and learning at my school. I don’t think anyone came to the group with no thoughts about what interdisciplinary work was, yet we did not come close to having a shared understanding of the term. This became our first task.

The summer before beginning our work we all read Heidi Hayes Jacobs’ Interdisciplinary Curriculum: Design and Implementation. Even though we all read the same book, we still didn’t all have the same idea. In interpreting literature it may be okay to have slightly different readings of the text; however, when we are trying to focus on a particular pedagogy and don’t all have the same understanding of what that is, those differences are not okay.

After spending the school year talking, reading, and visiting schools, we are clearly not the only ones who have not nailed down what we mean by the words we used to describe our program. This was a year of slow learning and slow looking, terms I learned at a Project Zero conference in the fall, as we worked our way towards an understanding and then a definition of what we will call interdisciplinary learning at our school. We did not want to reinvent the wheel. There are lots of wheels out there; lots of them work just fine. What we needed to do was tweak an existing wheel that would work for our cart.

This process ultimately led us to work on several documents. Using our Jacobs-based definition, we applied it to an Understanding by Design lesson plan template (it’s licensed for reuse and alteration) and adjusted it to stress qualities and ideas that we wanted to highlight. More importantly, we wrote a document that describes where we are and what we believe about interdisciplinary work at our school. Again there’s already a lot written about what interdisciplinary work is, and we have leaned heavily on all of that earlier work.

Finally, we integrated that with our own terminology about teaching methods, mission language, and strategic plan ideas so that the language itself connects to our own native language. As the majority writer of this document, I feel confident in saying it is not going to win any awards. However, I think when we as a group sat down to look at a draft, we realized how far we had come. We could not have written such a document when we started; we may have been saying the same words, but we did not mean the same things. However in April after working together for most of a school year, we were ready to speak a common language. I am really proud of this.

My second recent experience that has made me aware of terminology is an online course I am finishing (Educating Global Citizens through Harvard Graduate School of Education). This time the terminology in question is connected to global competencies and global education. The individual words (global, competency, education) are more common than interdisciplinary, and in some ways so common that it’s hard to imagine that putting two of them together would not create a universally understood term. It turns out that is not the case.

The course began as one might expect with readings and lectures explaining both what how to define global competencies and the importance of a global education. It then quickly moved to the participants practicing describing this to others. There was an assignment to talk to another stakeholder in the school community and in a few minutes make a case for global education. I found this assignment to be surprisingly challenging. Why? Terminology.

I chose to talk to a non-educator. I did this intentionally. What I found was that I started in the middle, when what I needed to do was start with the terminology before I could say why it was important. I also found that the person I was talking to, of course, had other ideas about what these words mean beyond a school setting, which gave me another way to explain the importance of this kind of work.

One of the final assignments for this class is to record an elevator pitch. I’m still working on it, but I do have a plan. Rather than focusing on convincing the Listener of the importance of whatever I’m talking about, I’m thinking about spending most of my allotted minute on clarifying what global competencies are. Suggesting that a global education, whatever that means, is important in 2017 does not seem like a very hard sell; fewer words are necessary. What seems more in doubt is ensuring that my listener has the same understanding of what I mean by global competencies. 

Terminology. Not necessarily exciting, but you can’t go anywhere without it.

(CCO Public domain image) My driftwood pile is already getting mixed in with my rocks and shells from elsewhere.

(CCO Public domain image) My driftwood pile is already getting mixed in with my rocks and shells from elsewhere.

So, I’ve been thinking more about the Project Zero conference (Learning Together: Leading Together) I attended a few weeks ago in Washington, DC. (I already wrote a brief post about this conference.) One of the final speakers,Project Zero researcher Tina Blythe, talked about finding your driftwood–that piece, that nugget to take back to your classroom and your practice. Well, I brought back a lot more than that. I will admit that I am a collector at heart and bring things back from pretty much anywhere.

Here’s a list of key ideas I am holding onto. The list got kind of long, once I started writing. That’s the way it is with a good conference.

A GLOBAL  PERSPECTIVE

The global outlook at the school and in discussions about art was noticeably different. I am thinking a lot about the potential for being more global, or maybe just more outward looking, as the ‘why’ for the interdisciplinary work my school is investigating. I’m not sure why it felt so different; it’s not as if we don’t discuss the world at my school. We do. I suspect that a lot of the difference was the international participants. Even though this is an area that is hard to quantify, I was struck by it almost immediately. Plus, I am definitely going to look into the Out of Eden Learn project where “walking parties” join journalist and National Geographic Fellow Paul Salopek as he walks 21,000 miles retracing the spread of humans across the planet.

SLOW LEARNING

There was a lot of talk about the need to slow down and recognize the time it takes to think and wrestle with ideas. (David Perkins from Project Zero spoke about this, but others also referenced this need to slow down to think.) Thinking critically about complex ideas is easier said than done; we need to recognize this and help students enter and identify parts of the thinking process. In addition, we need to be aware of when we are taking thinking shortcuts (which we will need to do sometimes in the interest of time and return on investment), and what those shortcuts mean. One of the things I am thinking about with this is homework and quantity of homework. Are we assigning thoughtful work or just work? If it’s just work, what’s the point? All it does is get in the way of spending time really wrestling with something that is substantive. 

UNDERCURRENT (in a good way, not in a creepy way) of USE OF TOPICAL WORLD EVENTS

While this wasn’t THE focus for any session I attended, it a given in a lot of the work showcased. This connects with the global piece above. I saw a lot of evidence of effective use of very current events (spread of Zika, refugee crisis, etc) to focus class investigation. This kind of study necessitates an interdisciplinary approach as well as slowing down to learn about the issue from many vantage points. Victory! In this area we also saw evidence of student directed learning. Maybe this was in connection to events that were being studied, but there seemed to be a lot of this. It dovetails nicely with a lot of conversations we have been at my school.

VISIBLE THINKING ROUTINES

This is a big Project Zero thing (Making Thinking Visible) and something that really interests me. As a former elementary/middle school teacher, using graphic organizers, color coding information, making charts and graphs is right up my alley. What I notice is that this kind of work often fades away in high school settings. These strategies are frequently seen as the supports that are used until students can just write about all of this in a paper. However, with complex ideas, it’s important, at any age, to break pieces apart, gather, group, and regroup information. The tyranny of text is real, in my opinion. Text is not always the best format or at least not the only format. The idea that we can support students in deep, slow critical thinking without helping to make thinking patterns visible is unrealistic. This works directly in support of deeper, more interdisciplinary, global study. 

STUDENT AND TEACHER DEMONSTRATIONS OF LEARNING

At conferences there is often a feeling of teachers as a learning community. The people who attend are there to learn. However, another thing that was on display at the conference was schools hosting Exhibitions of Learning. These might be students displays but also might be teacher displays. I loved this idea that learning was on display by all members of the school community. In the session on teacher displays, the format was that teachers made 3-fold science boards, just like students do for science fairs. Teachers share an idea that they tried to implement, their results, and reflections. Others give them feedback on their work as the tour the learning fair. This was a big take away for me. I love to talk with colleagues about teaching ideas. However, I have my regulars with whom I talk. This exhibition of learning is a great idea for sharing across disciplines and promoting a culture of continued growth.

Finally, I was impressed by the seriousness with which WISC (Washington International School) went about incorporating Project Zero ideas and work into their community. Once they decided this would important school-wide, they committed to spending serious money and time with PZ researchers in their school for 2 years. They view it as a significant commitment; one they acknowledge they are still working to realize. 

Phew. That’s a lot of drift wood.

So, I’ve been thinking about professional development. My partner in tech coaching crime, @TeacherDebra, and I have been on the look out for some new opportunities. (I wrote about our desire to “Escape our Bubble”.)

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-5-11-18-pmWell, I did it. I attended the Project Zero: Learning Together, Leading Together conference in Washington, DC last weekend. It made for a jam-packed weekend since the conference started bright and early on Friday and went through Sunday mid day. I will write about some of the specific sessions later in the month.

The two key things for me were going with colleagues (some different colleagues than I have attended workshops with before) and going to a conference that had a different focus and therefore different attendees (I don’t think I saw anyone of my ‘usual suspects’ from conferences.)

Attending conferences with conferences as a team is totally worth the multiple registration costs, in my opinion. (see here) All those new ideas at conferences are great, but it’s helpful to have a home team person to help filter the ideas. Amy Poehler has written about the way women can make each other feel bad about motherhood stuff, and her advice is this: “Good for her! Not for me. That is the motto women should constantly repeat over and over again.” I think this is a great mantra in so many areas of life. It’s great to hear about some amazing thing another school is doing, but it may not be right for my school. However, with the help of my trusty colleagues, I can think about how just about every session or workshop can offer up some nugget of wisdom. In fact one of the last speakers, Project Zero researcher Tina Blythe, mentioned just this idea when she suggested that we each needed to find our own “drift wood” to take home from the conference. Tina Blythe encouraged us to take this drift wood home, combine it with the other ideas at our own schools, and make something new. My traveling colleagues and I are planning a debriefing session or two over snacks–another thing I love.

I also loved having an entirely new group of people and ideas to think about. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing my regular PLN people at conferences and catching up with them in real life. But, it was exciting to find all sorts of new people to learn from. Of course, as an introvert, I didn’t meet a lot of them, but I made a few connections, and I’ve been adding people to my twitter lists. So, I’ll be getting to know them slowly and virtually. Plus,  finding this other community is awesome. The group was much more international than a lot of the events I attend and, given the topics, that fact added so much to the experience for me. Between the global piece and the thinking routines piece, there was so much to take away. Luck for me my Evernote notebook can accommodate a lot of drift wood.

On the ride home, I talked with one colleague. We were energized by our experience, even though it was a full weekend, and we were headed to school the next day for a day long professional development day on another topic. We were wondering why everyone doesn’t take advantage of the opportunity to do this kind of thing. Our school is very generous in funding professional development both during the school year and in the summer.

I am excited to become a part of this new-to-me community, to debrief over snacks, and to make good use of my drift wood.