What really matters?

What do you think is unfair?

We take some time to think individually and write each idea on a separate sticky note. One teacher finds it difficult to get started. Another finds it cathartic getting all the injustices she sees around her down on paper. Someone wrestles with the difference between annoying things and unfair things. Once we’re on a roll, most of us could keep going at this for ages!

What we find unfair ranges from trivial to extremely serious, from intensely personal to global….

  • playground bullying
  • that sweets are fattening
  • uneven distribution of wealth
  • favouritism
  • lack of access to education
  • the price of petrol
  • lack of accountability at work
  • racist comments

The next stage is to arrange these injustices on a diagram of concentric circles.  Does it relate to me personally?  To my family? Or is it a local, national or global issue? 

At first we take turns to place our notes and explain our reasoning, but soon everyone has something to say, opinions differ and there is vigorous debate. We discover that deciding where to place our injustices is not so easy. Some could go in several circles. Some could go in all. Sometimes it depends on the perspective of the writer. We realise that it doesn’t matter where we place them, it’s about the process.

In the process of the debate, different examples are presented, new issues are raised and a range of perspectives are explored. In a way, the process draws us closer together as we reveal what bothers us and find commonalities. We make connections between the different injustices and relate them to our own experiences. We shift back and forth between personal and global perspectives.

We discuss how global issues might affect us personally and how personal issues might be relevant in broader contexts. Visualising students sitting in groups having the same sorts of discussions, the  teachers are excited to try this with their classes.

This will be the first step in setting the scene and provoking thinking for our PYP exhibition unit.

The central idea is ‘Developing an awareness and understanding of inequity empowers us to act‘. Within this broad conceptual understanding, students will find what they are passionate about to explore in depth. 

Last year we focused on social inequities in the world. While the learning was rich and the exhibition highly successful, some students inquired into issues beyond their grasp and there was limited opportunity for really meaningful action. This time, everyone will have the opportunity to find something to which they can relate deeply. We hope to use tools and experiences such as the one above to help them find what really matters to them. 

As a learning community, my school is further down the track in our understanding of inquiry learning than we were at this time last year. Teachers talk about how much they have changed. There is a greater awareness of what’s possible when teachers let go and learning is more student owned.

Our exhibition will be a celebration, not just of our students’ learning and growth, but of our own. Watch this space to read about how the learning unfolds…

With thanks to our (virtual) friend, Sam Sherratt , not just for sharing the concentric circles idea, but for inspiring us to let go and really let the students lead. 

A tiny piece of education…

Once upon a time long ago, when I was 12, I sat in a classroom and copied from the board. I remember comparing different countries in terms of flags, capital cities and places of interest.  I learned history from a textbook which presented one perspective as if it were the truth.

Fast forward to 2011. Year 6 students at my school have just started a unit on social inequities. They will explore the kinds of action that can possibly make a difference. They will hear from primary sources at our coming social justice conference about issues such as poverty, gender inequality, refugees and access to education. They will choose their areas of interest for further independent inquiry.

As a PYP school, our approach encourages learners to engage with big ideas, to develop global awareness and to be caring, responsible citizens of the world. It’s a long way from copying off the board, studying superficial differences between countries or receiving a distorted view of history… to powerful learning like this.

A different piece…

The above was written on the plane on my way to India, where I am on a short visit to Pune. It’s my first face to face meeting with my friend Suneeta Kulkarni, who works (among other things!) with the SOLES and SOMES.  I have visited a local school, attended by very poor children from slums and I’ve been to the village of Yeoli to meet the rural kids with whom I will interact via Skype when I am back home. I’m constantly faced with reminders that my privileged school represents only a tiny piece of what comprises education in our world.

My blog series on learning in different contexts is a small attempt at creating awareness of other realities. If you’re involved in or have thoughts about education (or lack thereof) in a different context, would you like to share your piece via a guest post at this blog?

Let’s try to increase awareness among educators around the globe that ‘our reality’ is just a very tiny piece of the whole.

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