Unintentional lessons…

Today is the second time this class is making loans via the kiva.org website. I confess the money was donated by their teachers, but it is a learning experience, an opportunity to show how this kind of lending works, to learn about social inequity in the world, to find out about other countries and raise awareness of how other people live. And hopefully it’s a way to encourage the students to make similar donations or loans of their own in the future.

Here’s a post at their class blog last time:

In class we looked at Maimonedes eight levels of charity. The highest level is giving someone a loan or finding them a job, so that they can support themselves and won’t need charity at all. We explored the Kiva.org website and lent money to people in developing countries. This is called micro-lending because it is only a relatively small amount of money.

You can see students’ reflections on why they chose their loans how they made their decisions here on their blog.

There is great excitement when they log in today and see that some of their previous loans had been repaid and there’s even an interview with one recipient saying what the loan has enabled her to do. We’ve topped up the account so that each group can log in and make one more donation before the end of the school year.

The students gather excitedly around computers to explore the site again and choose the recipients of their loans. It’s interesting to see each group approach this differently. One group looks at the world map and chooses a country they would like to ‘invest’ in.  Another is determined to find an individual who needs the loan the most. You can hear the buzz as they discuss and make their decisions.

Then something unexpected happens…

A student calls me over to see why there isn’t enough balance for his group to make their $25 loan. There is a commotion on the other side of the room and it turns out that one student has made a joke of the whole thing and donated the entire $100, leaving no credit for the other groups to complete their loans. The group concerned is laughing and being silly – but only for a moment. They realise what they have done and everything grinds to a halt. The session is over for everyone and what started on a high note has ended acrimoniously.

It is not the end of the world. No-one has actually stolen anything and the money is, after all, still being loaned to a worthy cause. But trust has been broken and worse, there is some denial and much blaming.

Many lessons have been learned today, not only by the students. Most of them have nothing to do with the original intentions of the lesson.

Would you do an activity like this in your class? How would you deal with the unexpected outcome?

What does learning look like?

The PYP exhibition is the culmination of learning throughout the primary school years. The focus of our exhibition unit this year has been social inequities in the world and the need for action to be taken.

The process unfolded something like this…

  • A powerful provocation to get the learners thinking and feeling what inequity means. 
  • Tuning in activities to pique interest and create tension.
  • An all-day conference with a choice of speakers on social justice issues.
  • Students chose their areas of interest and were divided into groups of 2-4.
  • Each group was assigned a mentor to help them on their journeys of inquiry.
  • Questions were formulated and research began.
  • Lots of reading, searching, synthesising and organising information.
  • Some groups interacted with primary sources via Skype or in person.
  • Students took action by fundraising, visiting organisations, creating awareness.
  • Exploration of the topic through a choice of creative expression workshops in art, music, drama, web design, animation or poetry.
  • Students created movies to express the essence of their learning.
  • The process was recorded through journals, blogging, time-lines, recounts and reflections.
  • Groups considered how best to present and display their learning.
  • Stands were set up in readiness for the exhibition….
…which brings us to today! There was a buzz of excitement in the school as students set up their stands and put the final touches on their presentations. Tomorrow parents, guests and students from lower grades will visit the stands, where students will proudly share their learning.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The exhibition itself is not the point… It’s been a wonderful, meaningful collaboration between teachers and learners. It’s hugely rewarding to see the thinking and learning that has taken place. And we already have ideas for how to make it even better next year…

Exploring access to education…

“We sit in groups, work collaboratively, share our ideas, ask lots of questions and are encouraged to think. Is school the same in India?”

The question is asked by Taylor, 12, in an interview (via Skype) with Bhushan, who I met on my recent trip to Pune. He has promised to write me a guest post some time, so I won’t tell you his story now. Suffice to say he is one of a group of inspiring young people who wanted to make a difference and started their own NGO, Samhida, working with under-privileged children.

Taylor and Jay are members of a small group of Year 6 students exploring access to education for their PYP unit about social inequity. They chose to inquire into education in developing countries and are in the process of researching and gathering information via primary and secondary sources. They are keen to hear about Bhushan’s own school experience, and are interested in comparing rural areas with city schools, finding out about education for males vs females and opportunities for children living in poverty.

Bhushan describes classrooms in India which typically have 50-60 students in a class with one teacher, making group work unlikely, if not impossible. He tells them kids sit in lines facing the front while the teacher does the talking, that the focus is on writing and maths and that high exam results are viewed as the ultimate goal. The children are fascinated to hear that girls and boys sit separately in class and that, while there might be access to computers, this does not usually include the internet.

He tells them he was first exposed to the internet only when he finished school and began studying engineering and talks about the SOLE  project which gives disadvantaged students access to computers and the internet. (If only the project had more funding to enable greater access!) He, and his friends who work in IT, have set up some old computers, SOLE style, in Yeoli village, outside Pune, and go there every weekend to teach and play with the children.

Taylor, Jay and co. are looking forward to interviewing educators in several other countries in the next few weeks. If you’re in a developing country and would like to respond to their Voicethread, you can find it here on their class blog.


Good intentions…

The PYP encourages primary school  students to become aware of global issues, to develop a social conscience and to begin their journey towards becoming caring, responsible citizens of the world.

It’s exciting to see 8 year olds investigating environmental issues, 10 year olds becoming aware of the effects of their choices as consumers, 12 year olds exploring social inequities and the kinds of action taken to try to effect change. However, young learners dealing with big issues can be complicated. Our Year 6 inquiry into social inequity has revealed many misconceptions and a great deal of stereotyping by our students. Their conception of ‘action’ usually involves the ‘Whites in shining armour’ syndrome you can read about here at the thought provoking Good Intentions website.

Teachers will show the students these two videos to provoke their thinking and perhaps help break down some misconceptions. (They were brought to my attention by Ittay, who blogs here.) The discussion should be interesting. I look forward to hearing (and sharing) the students’ thoughts and reflections. And yours too…

A Day Without Shoes.

“I think sometimes we forget what we have, and occasionally it’s important to remind ourselves. Most people don’t even realize how many children in developing countries grow up barefoot and all the risks, infections and diseases they endure.” (Founder of TOMS shoes)

A Day Without Dignity.

“Every year millions of shoes and clothing are donated to various developing countries. This practice is expensive and competes with local business”.

Some further thoughts to consider: 

5 questions you should ask before donating goods overseas 

The Allure of the Quick Fix


New ways of learning…

People pay more attention to new ways of learning.  (Hayden, 12)

A hundred learners gathered at the start of the day to listen to a keynote presentation about KOTO, a not-for-profit restaurant and vocational training program that is changing the lives of disadvantaged youth in Vietnam.

It was the start of an excellent day of learning at an innovative Social Justice Conference, which included fifteen presentations spread over three sessions, providing a broad selection for participants to choose from. Between sessions there were small breakout groups for sharing and processing.

If this sounds like other conferences you have been to, the difference is that the participants were mostly 11 and 12 years old! The conference was organised to expose students to a range of speakers and workshops to raise awareness of social inequities and the kinds of action taken by individuals and organisations to try to make a difference. The  presenters included  high school students and staff, but mainly members of the local and global and communities. (with long distance presentations via Skype).

Teachers and students alike were excited by the learning opportunities and inspired by the stories they heard. We learned about youth homelessness from Bianca, at the Salvation Army, who was herself on the streets a few years ago. Suneeta from SOLES provoked the students to think about how they would get information if they had no computers, no books and their parents weren’t able to help them. Gabe and his daughter Mary-Margaret from Kids are Heroes inspired the students with stories of action that kids have taken to contribute to improving their world. Among other things, students learned about organisations which ensure fair treatment of workers, about working with indigenous Australians and about the plight of refugees. Click here to see the full program of speakers.

It was rewarding to see our young learners so engaged, taking notes, grappling with issues, asking thoughtful questions and reflecting on their learning.

Student reflections on the conference as a way to learn:

It was interactive and gave us many different views of things. (Elijah)

It was a good way to learn because we listened to inspirational people and stories and didn’t have to do stressing work. (Zac)

We could choose where we wanted to go and pursue what we wanted to learn. (Victoria)

It was a fun and interesting way to learn and you had a choice of what you listened to so you would not be bored. (Alex)

I got a chance to hear other people’s thoughts and deepen my understanding about social inequities. (Bella)

I was inspired and I have deepened my understanding by hearing what inspired others. (Tahni)

It was a good way of learning because we got to meet people we may never have got to meet and to learn in a different way. (Jasmine)

People pay more attention to new ways of learning. (Hayden)

You can read about how the idea was conceived and developed here. 

Click here for further reflections on one of the class blogs. They would love your comments.

A conference for kids…

It all started with an idle thought or two, when I had some spare time at the IB Conference in March. I’d walked out of the only boring keynote of the conference, presented, ironically, by the very people who teach teachers to teach at one of the big universities here in Melbourne. I began to mull about why a conference can’t be more like school and wrote a blog post right then and there. I followed up with  Why isn’t school like a conference? and I was thrilled to hear from Donna Morley that my post had inspired her to organise a conference day for students at her school!

Inspired in turn by Donna’s initiative, I tried (unsuccessfully!) to sell the idea at my own school to a couple of Year level teams. The responses were predictable: too complicated, too time consuming, too much work, too much trouble. When I finally got the opportunity to pitch the idea to our Year 6 team as a provocation for the PYP exhibition unit, I was prepared! I volunteered right away to take responsibility for the organisation of the whole thing myself, if necessary.(I have a supportive in -school PLN and I knew once the team were on board, they’d be more than happy to get involved.)

The central idea of the unit is ‘Social inequities create a need for action in the world’. Within this broad conceptual understanding, students will follow their areas of interest and decide on their own individual and small group inquiries.To begin with, they will be exposed to many provocations in order to give them an overview, pique their interest and provoke their thinking. The full day conference will be a provocation in itself, with a range of guest speakers, interactive workshops and small group breakout sessions in between for sharing, processing and reflection.

We’re in the planning stage now and it’s really exciting. We will have guest speakers from the community and overseas (via Skype) talking about social justice issues and action they have taken, as well as workshops facilitated by staff , high school students and past students.

I love the way an idle thought can lead to a blog post, which can inspire someone in another country to explore a new concept which, in turn, can encourage further development of the idea, back in the place where it began. Once again, it’s about the incredible power of social media to influence and instigate change…

Ethical dilemma: Can we have iPads?

I love my iPhone. I’ve experimented with iPads and think they would be excellent tools to enhance learning at our school.

We’re a PYP school. We promote global citizenship, intercultural understanding and international mindedness. We want our students to become socially conscious, mindful citizens working towards creating a better world. Through our units of inquiry, we try to develop awareness of issues such as child rights, sharing finite resources, social inequities and fair trade.

We encourage our students to take action as a result of their learning, to consider, among other things, their choices as consumers…

This morning I read this article in The Age.

A new report into conditions at Apple’s manufacturing partner, Foxconn, has found slave labour conditions remain, with staff complaining of being worked to tears, exposure to harmful disease, pay rates below those necessary to survive and military-style management that routinely humiliates workers.

Read the whole article here at The Age.


Can we have iPads?