Sunday, August 30, 2020

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

 Dear all,

This will be my last Food for Thought post as part of ISHCMC, as I leave for Thailand this Sunday (30th), and a change in career and lifestyle. I promise to keep it brief. 

I want to start by sharing this humorous and yet thought-provoking video, by one of the people who first started me seriously questioning my educational beliefs, Sir Ken Robinson. Sadly, he passed this week and all we have now are the memories of his provoking TED talks, books, and interviews to encourage us to keep questioning our role as educators. I know you will have seen this video before but it is worth taking 20 minutes to re-watch an outstanding public speaker and activist for educational change in action.

Although I am leaving ISHCMC it will always have an important place in my heart, hence the quote from Romeo and Juliet. I will not forget all the years we have spent together building our learning community and I confidently look forward to hearing about its future growth as a progressive and challenging education for students in HCMC. 

However, this would not be a Food for Thought without a final provocation. I have spent 38 years in education. The world has changed enormously in that time and is in many ways quite unrecognizable from the early 1980s when I started teaching. One of the most serious changes has been the shift in wealth and income distribution in favor of a very small minority, 1%. How this small group of businessmen is wielding their power and influencing all our lives, through the pursuit of their priorities rather than those of the majority, impacts us all. Although I regret little about my time in education, I do wonder whether I could have done more to ensure that I was not contributing to the rhetoric and mantras that support the thinking of this group.

Although you may not share my political beliefs I do feel you have a role to play in ensuring that ISHCMC students, who are very privileged, do not exploit their advantages, and do sincerely reach out and support others who are less fortunate, by taking action and thinking beyond themselves for the well being of all of society. Having lived and worked in developing countries for most of my career, Mexico, Kenya, Thailand, and Vietnam I do worry that I have been seeing a greater degree of entitlement and superiority amongst many international students and their parents.

Here is a good TED to end my final provocation.

"What accounts for our polarized public life, and how can we begin to heal it? Political philosopher Michael Sandel offers a surprising answer: those who have flourished need to look in the mirror. He explores how "meritocratic hubris" leads many to believe their success is their own doing and to look down on those who haven't made it, provoking resentment and inflaming the divide between "winners" and "losers" in the new economy. Hear why we need to reconsider the meaning of success and recognize the role of luck in order to create a less rancorous, more generous civic life."

To finish I would again like to thank you all for your support over the past seven years. For believing in our mission and working hard to make it come true. We have achieved so much in a relatively short time. I wish you all a wonderful future. 

To reassure you that I am leaving the country, and will not reappear on Monday, I have under the guardianship of Doug, Kate and Will, officially gonged out this morning. Here is the proof.

Best wishes, stay safe, healthy and happy,



Sunday, May 31, 2020

Food for Thought: Is there a case for more pessimism?

This Food for Thought is not meant to be negative or dark, it is as always to challenge some of our thinking and behaviors, as we prepare our students for the future. Yesterday at the Grade 12 Graduation I centered my closing remark around the opportunities that COVID 19 will present for the Class of 2020 and that they should be optimistic about the future and become involved in making a better world.

"The last four months have changed our world and the pathway that you, the Class of 2020, will walk. COVID 19 has raised many questions about our future as a species, the way we live our lives, and the future we will face. No-one here knows how it will end up. I believe it is important that when you, the Class of 2020, reflect upon these days it is not only with sadness for the things that you have missed; gratitude for the way you have been kept safe, happiness at not having to take the IB Diploma examinations, but also optimism for the opportunities that will now be presented to you to make this a better world."

But was I right? Should I have talked about a more cautious approach, balancing optimism with the need for pessimism? In these two videos, there is much Food for Thought as we prepare students of all ages for their future.

This first video explains, "Why Good Societies are Pessimistic." “It might be normal to imagine that a good society would be one in which a majority of people held optimistic views about themselves, their fellow citizens, and their prospects for their collective futures.
But, in fact, quite the opposite appears to be true: deep pessimism seems a key ingredient for the maintenance of any good society…”

The second video is given by "Yale World Fellow Alexander Evans OBE is a British diplomat, academic and expert on Pakistan in 2011. He is a counselor in the British diplomatic service and a visiting senior research fellow at King's College London. He is currently working in Washington DC as a senior advisor to Ambassador Marc Grossman, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (and formerly to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke until his death in December 2010). He has previously served as a British diplomat in Pakistan and India and as a member of the U.K.'s policy planning staff. Before joining the Foreign Office Alexander was research director at Policy Exchange and director of studies at the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation, both London think-tanks. He has contributed to books and periodicals including Foreign Affairs and from 2006-2010 held a fellowship at Nuffield College, Oxford. "

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Food for Thought: After COVID 19

This week's Food for Thought is two videos that look at life after COVID. The first is two leading journalists from the Economist answering a few questions that I'm sure you have thought about. The second is a conversation between Yuval Harari and the TV programme Hardtalk that touches on even deeper questions about humanity in the future.

The coronavirus pandemic has presented humanity with an almighty shock. Our evermore interconnected and technologically advanced societies are now in lockdown and we are fearful of our health and economic futures thanks to an invisible virus. HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur speaks to the Israeli historian and best-selling author Yuval Noah Harari. What 21st-century lesson can we draw from the spread of Covid-19?

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Food for Thought: COVID 19, control or freedom?

Although I don't particularly like the term 'new normal' it is very likely that as the world reopens after COVID19 there will be changes in the way we live our lives that even 6 months ago we may not have expected, or accepted. Many of my Food for Thoughts over the past few years have talked about AI its impact on us, and the next generation. I believe that the rate at which AI will enter our lives will have been accelerated by the COVID pandemic. 

The first video focuses on the different approaches to the pandemic situation taken by Chinese and US society and their acceptance of authority whilst the second discusses the dangers of the erosion of freedom that we are allowing to happen as systems like face recognition become more and more every day in our societies. Hopefully, you are thinking about this and where you will draw the line about allowing AI into your life or perhaps even into your body in the future, as pressure will mount to track us and our health for the 'greater good of society.'

"To combat COVID-19, countries have enforced city-wide shutdowns, stay-at-home orders, and mask mandates -- but the reaction (and adherence) to these rules have differed markedly in the East and West. In conversation with TED's head of curation Helen Walters, writer, and publisher Huang Hung sheds light on how Chinese and American cultural values shaped their responses to the outbreak -- and provides perspective on why everyone needs to come together to end the pandemic. (Recorded April 16, 2020)"

"Privacy isn't dead, but face surveillance technology might kill it, says civil rights advocate Kade Crockford. In an eye-opening talk, Kade outlines the startling reasons why this invasive technology -- powered by often-flawed facial recognition databases that track people without their knowledge -- poses unprecedented threats to your fundamental rights. Learn what can be done to ban government use before it's too late."

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Food for Thought: Albert Camus

Last week's food for Thought was deliberately provocative and I hope that those who read it and watched Michael Moore's new documentary film were left with questions that need answering. This week's Food for Thought will I hope, make you think and ask questions but if a different way.

Unfortunately, I have never been a reader of literary classics. I was put off reading early on in my secondary school education by an arrogant English teacher who was sarcastic and very egotistical. He took great pleasure in sarcasm and cynicism when embarrassing students for their mistakes. Hence, following an incident in class when I was picked on by this teacher, in the English equivalent to Grade 6, I stopped reading for almost 30 years. In the last 20 years, I regained an interest in reading about education, school, and today about what great minds think about the future. My interest in understanding through reading has returned. 
During this period of lockdown, I had time, as I will have when I retire this summer, and I was introduced to the thinking and work of Albert Camus through a Youtube video and this NY Times article that I was sent. I managed to find a copy of The Plague, and read it. I was amazed at how so many of the events and feelings in this book matched the way we have reacted to COVID 19. Here is the video that made me want to read Camus's book.

Having enjoyed his writing and it's scarily predictive nature, and in many ways accurate insight into human behaviour, I looked for more Camus to read and discovered this work that formed the substance for his lecture tour of the United States, The Human Crisis. Written following the 2ndWW it too contains thoughts that we would be wise to consider as we reshape our present world. Here is this Viggo Mortensen, of Lord of The Rings fame reading Camus's lecture as part of the 70 years celebration of that lecture tour.

As a school, we have focused on positive emotions. Following the crisis of COVID 19, there are many people both here in Vietnam and at home that we need to be grateful for their actions and work. Albert Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957 and his response was to write this to one of his elementary school teachers:

"I don't make too much of this sort of honour” but “at least it gives me the opportunity to tell you what you have been and still are for me, and to assure you that your efforts, your work, and the generous heart you put into it still live in one of your little schoolboys who, despite the years, has never stopped being your grateful pupil.”

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Food For Thought: Earth Day Provocation

Recently my posts have been quite tame so I thought that this one would be a bit more provocative. I didn't have time to post about Earth Day, other than the video that I shared with students. So this first video is a lovely ode to the Earth that expresses our gratitude for what we have and should be protecting.

Then I read this article about how the billionaires are getting richer and richer during COVID 19. You might say what has that got to do with Earth Day. Well, this is where it starts to become provocative. Is this the way of the world, the rich benefit from others' misfortunes whether it be health or environmental?

I have been a Michael Moore fan for years because he doesn't try to be politically correct. One could argue that political correctness is what has got us into such a mess politically around the world. Anyway, that is another story. On Earth Day Michael Moore released a documentary film, Planet Humans, and claimed that we should all watch it. So I did. This is the link to the rich getting richer. Guess what? The richest people in the world are now making money from the "green movement" and driving them in a direction that isn't particularly 'green' but makes money, eg biomass fuel. As always I leave it up to you to decide what you think.

"Michael Moore presents Planet of the Humans, a documentary that dares to say what no one else will this Earth Day — that we are losing the battle to stop climate change on planet earth because we are following leaders who have taken us down the wrong road — selling out the green movement to wealthy interests and corporate America. This film is the wake-up call to the reality we are afraid to face: that in the midst of a human-caused extinction event, the environmental movement’s answer is to push for techno-fixes and band-aids. It's too little, too late.
Removed from the debate is the only thing that MIGHT save us: getting a grip on our out-of-control human presence and consumption. Why is this not THE issue? Because that would be bad for profits, bad for business. Have we environmentalists fallen for illusions, “green” illusions, that are anything but green, because we’re scared that this is the end—and we’ve pinned all our hopes on biomass, wind turbines, and electric cars? No amount of batteries are going to save us, warns director Jeff Gibbs (lifelong environmentalist and co-producer of “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Bowling for Columbine"). This urgent, must-see movie, a full-frontal assault on our sacred cows, is guaranteed to generate anger, debate, and, hopefully, a willingness to see our survival in a new way—before it’s too late."

Finally, as I would have predicted because you can't criticize the rich, that's fake news, or politically incorrect, the "green movement" wants Michael Moores film banned and taken down as this Guardian article points out.

"Planet of the Humans has provoked a furious reaction from scientists and campaigners, however, who have called for it be taken down. Films for Action, an online library of videos, temporarily took down the film after describing it as “full of misinformation”, though they later reinstated it, saying they did not want accusations of censorship to give the film “more power and mystique than it deserves”. A free version on YouTube has been viewed more than 3m times.
letter written by Josh Fox, who made the documentary Gasland, and signed by various scientists and activists, has urged the removal of “shockingly misleading and absurd” film for making false claims about renewable energy. Planet of the Humans “trades in debunked fossil fuel industry talking points” that question the affordability and reliability of solar and wind energy, the letter states, pointing out that these alternatives are now cheaper to run than fossil fuels such as coal."

Sunday, April 19, 2020

This is the moment. Gary S Stager

I hope that anyone reading this is healthy and sane during this period of uncertainty. Teachers and kids alike are grieving over the loss of freedom, social interactions, and normalcy. Many families, even those never before considered at-risk, are terrified of the potential for financial ruin or catastrophic health risks. Since I’m all about the love and spreading optimism, I humbly share a silver-lining for teachers and the kids that they serve.

The fact that you are being told to “teach online” in some vague version of “look busy” may mean that teachers are finally being trusted. Districts large and small are abandoning grading as they recognize that education (at home) is inequitable. I guess it’s better late than never to discover the obvious.
Parents and superintendents are vanquishing the needless infliction of nonsense known as homework. Standardized testing is being canceled, an actual miracle. Colleges have recognized that enrolling students next Fall is more important than SAT or ACT scores. Each of these emergency measures has been advocated by sentient educators forever.
So, there is reason to celebrate (briefly), but then you must act! Use this time to remake schooling in a way that’s more humane, creative, meaningful, and learner-centered. This is your moment!
In the absence of compelling models of what’s possible, the forces of darkness will fill the void. Each of us needs to create models of possibility.
The fact that kids’ days are now unencumbered by school could mean that they finally have adequate time to work on projects that matter rather than being interrupted every 23 minutes. I recently wrote, What’s Your Hurry?, about teaching computer programming, but it’s applicable to other disciplines.
Project-based learning offers a context for learner-centered pedagogy. I was reminded that the new edition of our book, “Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom,” includes several chapters on effective prompt setting that may be useful in designing projects for kids at home. Invent To Learn also lays out the case for learning-by-doing. Use that information to guide your communication with administrators, parents, and the community.
The following are but a few suggestions for seizing the moment and reinventing education after this crisis is resolved so we may all return to a new, better, normal.
Practice “Less us, more them”
Anytime a teacher feels the impulse to intervene in an educational transaction, it is worth pausing, taking a breath, and asking, “Is there less that I can do and more that the student(s) can do?” The more agency shifted to the student, the more they will learn.
One exercise you can practice teaching online, as well as face-to-face, is talk less. If you typically lecture for 40 minutes, try 20. If you talk for 20 minutes, try 10. If you talk for 10, try 5. In my experience, there is rarely an instance in which a minute or two of instruction is insufficient before asking students to dosomething. While teaching online, try not to present content, but rather stimulate discussion or organize activities to maximize student participation. Piaget reminds us that “knowledge is a consequence of experience.”
Remember, less is more
My colleague Brian Harvey once said, “The key to school reform is throw out half the curriculum — any half.” This is wise advice during sudden shift to online teaching and the chaos caused by the interruption of the school year.
Focus on the big ideas. Make connections between topics and employ multiple skills simultaneously. Abandon the compulsion to “deliver” a morbidly obese curriculum. Simplify. Edit. Curate.
Launch students into open-ended learning adventures
Learning adventures are a technique I became known for when I began teaching online in the 1990s. This process is described in the 2008 paper, Learning Adventures: A new approach for transforming real and virtual classroom environments.
Inspire kids to read entire books
Since the bowdlerized and abridged basals are locked in school, encourage kids to luxuriate with real books! Imagine if kids had the freedom to select texts that interest them and to read them from cover-to-cover without a comprehension quiz or vocabulary lesson interrupting every paragraph! Suggest that kids post reviews on for an authentic audience rather than making a mobile or writing a five-paragraph essay. Use or Goodreads to find other books you might enjoy.
Tackle a new piece of software
Been meaning to learn Final Cut XLightroom, a new programming language, or any other piece of sophisticated software? Employ groups of kids to tackle the software alone or together and employ their knowledge once school returns. Let them share what they know and lead.
Contribute to something larger than yourself
This is the time for teachers to support kids in creating big creative projects. Write a newspaper, novel, poetry anthology, play, cookbook, or joke book. Make a movie and then make it better. Create a virtual museum. Share your work, engage in peer editing, and share to a potentially infinite audience.
Check out what Berklee College of Music students have already done!
Teach Well
Use this time to rev-up or revive sound pedagogical practices like genre study, author study, process writing, interdisciplinary projects and the other educative good stuff too often sacrificed due to a lack of sufficient time. You now have the time to teach well.
Take note of current events
Daily life offers a world of inspiration and learning invitations. Why not engage kids in developmentally appropriate current events or take advantage of opportunities like JSTOR being open to the public during the COVID-19 crisis? Here’s a possible student prompt.
“Go to JSTOR, figure out how it works, find an interesting article, and share what you learned with the class.”
Let Grow
Change the world by challenging students to learn something on their own by embracing the simple, yet profound, Let Grow school project. A simple assignment asks kids to do something on their own with their parent’s permission and share their experiences with their peers.
Stand on the shoulders of giants
Every problem in education has been solved and every imaginable idea has been implemented somewhere. Teachers should use this time to read books about education written by experts and learn the lessons of the masters.
Take time for some culture
There is no excuse to miss out on all of the cultural activities being shared online from free Shakespeare from the Globe TheatreBroadway showsoperasliving room concertspiano practice with Chick Corea, and exciting multimedia collaborations. Many of these streams are archived on social media, YouTube, or the Web. Bring some peace, beauty, and serenity into your home.
The following are some links, albeit incomplete and subjective, to free streaming cultural events.
Apprentice with the world’s greatest living mathematician
In A Personal Road to Reinventing Mathematics Education, I wrote about how I have been fortunate enough to know and spend time with some of the world’s most prominent mathematicians and that while not a single one of them ever made me feel stupid, plenty of math teachers did. Stephen Wolfram is arguably the world’s leading mathematician/scientist/computer scientist. Over the past few years, he has become interested in teachers, kids, and math education. Dr. Wolfram spoke at Constructing Modern Knowledge, runs an annual summer camp for high school mathematicians, and has made many of his company’s remarkable computational tools available for learners.
Acknowledging that many students are home do to the pandemic this week, Wolfram led a free online Ask Me Anything session about an array of math and science topics, ostensibly for kids, as well as a “follow-along” computation workshop. You, your children, or your students have unprecedented access to all sorts of expertise, just a click away! This is like Albert Einstein making house calls!
A bit of exploration will undoubtedly uncover experts in other disciplines sharing their knowledge and talents online as well.
Abandon hysterical internet policies
The immediate need for laptops, Internet access, student email, plus the expedient use of available technologies like YouTube, FaceTime, Skype, Twitter, Instagram, and Zoom has instantly dispelled the hysterical and paranoid centralized approach to the Internet schools have labored under for the past twenty-five years. The Internet has never been dependent on the policies of your school or your paraprofessional IT staff to succeed. Perhaps we will learn what digital citizenship actually looks like after teachers and children are treated like modern citizens.
Heed Seymour Papert’s advice
When I worked with Seymour Papert, he created a document titled, “Eight Big Ideas Behind the Constructionist Learning Lab.” This one sheet of paper challenges educators to create productive contexts for learning in the 21st Century. Can you aspire to make these recommendations a reality in your classroom(s)?
Do twenty things to do with a computer
In 1971, Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon published, Twenty Things to Do with a Computer. How does your school measure up a half-century later?
Program your own Gameboy
Yes, you read that correctly. Here is everything you need to know to write your own computer games, build an arcade, or program a handheld gaming device!
Teach reading and programming simultaneously
Upper elementary and middle school students could learn to program in Scratch and develop their reading fluency at the same time. Learn how in A Modest Proposal.
Share my sense of optimism
Shortly before the COVID-19 crisis, I published, Time for Optimism, in which I shared reasons why progressive education is on the march and how we might teach accordingly. We can do this!