Saturday, April 21, 2018

Food For Thought: Why we are building community gardens at ISHCMC

Dear all,

When I am taking tours of the new secondary campus I love showing visitors our community garden and green spaces because I believe these are so important for empowering ( giving students the skills to take control of their lives in the future. ISHCMC Visioning Document July 2014) our students in the future. This movement towards getting dirt under ones finger nails and knowing where food comes from is very deliberate and especially for students living in urban areas. One could paint a very pessimistic view of the future of food supplies given the recent mergers of Bayer and Monsanto but this would just add to the anxiety and stress that this generation of students are already feeling. So building green spaces and surrounding our students with plants and the opportunity to build gardens and grow their own food adds to their empowerment. Please encourage all of our students no matter how cool the think they are to get involved with their local environments at school.

Have a great weekend,


The best way to treat Nature Deficit Disorder

"Imagine 20 million Americans taking to the streets, rallying in parks and congregating in theaters, schools and universities to protest our treatment of the planet. It’s hard now to picture this, but on April 22, 1970, the date of the first Earth Day, this is exactly what happened. The radical feminist journal Off Our Backs summoned “ecology freaks” and “student militants” to “take to lecture platforms, sidewalks and the streets to demand America change her way of life.” That publication among dozens of others hoped the day would have a lasting effect, but none could have predicted that, an alignment of Earth Day activism with support from the government, would see the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and the passage of the Clean Air, Clear Water and Endangered Species Acts soon followed. Forty-eight years later, Earth Day is still an urgent reminder that our planet needs help facing the challenges of a growing population and our insatiable appetite for energy and resources.

When my daughter Eve turned three in 2010, Earth Day had become one of the largest secular observances in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people. She has grown up in an environment where recycling and taking public transport are the norm and, like many of her peers, has been plugged into the mindset that it’s crucial to look after our planet. She is ten now and her heightened awareness of the state of the world brings with it a new challenge: how do you talk to your child about ocean acidification, desertification, melting icecaps, plastic in the seas, extreme weather events, and the disappearance of polar bears, rhinos and elephants without filling them with grief and hopelessness. How does one navigate this fine line of teaching a child to respect the environment without passing on the fear of total climate apocalypse?

When she was two, the activity Eve enjoyed more than any other was pottering around our tiny patio in London making “soup” in an old yogurt pot. She would chuck soil, dead leaves, petals and anything else that may have blown in from the dirty streets around us and mix it all up with rainwater from flowerpots. Then she would stand on her tiptoes and pour the brown slop into the compost for the worms. They were her pets. When friends talked about their puppies and kittens, she would rave wildly about her worms.

It feels good digging in dirt! (Photo by Joanna Pocock)

But not all city-dwellers have a few square feet of soil in which to raise a bunch of worms. Urban children are the most likely to suffer from Nature Deficit Disorder—the term coined by Richard Louv, in his 2005 bestseller Last Child in the Woods. In the book, Louv argues passionately for the importance of nature in children’s lives and links a lack of outdoor time to childhood obesity, diabetes, mental illness, anxiety, anger and ADHD. Although the positive effects of nature on children seem obvious to most of us, policymakers and those who see land as something to be paved over, drilled into, mined, or fracked need studies and books to see the benefits of a childhood lived near forests, fields, or in the case of cities, small patches of scrubby, forgotten ground. Over the past half-century, children’s roaming areas have been vastly restricted, especially in cities, because parents fear that their offspring may be abducted, abused or injured. But now, researchers talk about the benefits of Forest Kindergartens in Finland and how deprived teenagers from inner cities thrive when they are handed a compass and a map, and sent off into the bush.

Louv’s points about our disassociation from the environment have been backed up by scientists, philosophers and scholars. A 2002 Cambridge University study found that 80 percent of British children between the ages of four and 11 could identify the names and species of Pokémon characters but only 53 percent of them could name common plants and animals like oak trees and badgers. And this was fifteen years before the release of Pokémon Go, which not only gets kids glued to their screens, but removes them completely from the real world.

In order to profoundly appreciate the natural world for all its beauty and mystery, we urbanites don’t necessarily have to jack it all in and move to the hills.

After the publication of Last Child in the Woods, Louv co-founded the Children and Nature Network, a non-profit organization with a mission to connect children with nature. Rewild Portland, a non-profit set up by Portland’s Peter Michael Bauer, is a brilliant template for city-dwellers elsewhere who want engage children and their parents with hands-on crafting, foraging and replanting. And the UK is starting to see a rise in Forest Schools, a body set up to increase “educational experiences in the natural world.”

Like many urban kids, my daughter has been lured by Dance Moms and the competitive hysteria of Britain’s Got Talent. But I try, as so many of us do, to let her run free and unsupervised. Where we live in East London, the park bushes hide hypodermic needles, the drunks congregate on benches, and the drug dealers roar up in their cars throwing baggies at the queue of junkies in return for crumpled ten-pound notes. Children, however, are incredibly adept at blocking out the din of adult-created madness in order to connect with the natural world even if for them it’s a patch of grass in a gritty dog-fouled park. As Robert Michael Pyle, the award-winning author of Wintergreen, and other books points out, “we need not tear our flesh in the Wide-Open Wild or gnash our teeth in the Big Bush” in order to come face to face with the power of the natural world. “It is with us almost everywhere,” he reassures us and then recounts how he was changing trains in Portland when he “spent an hour in the fully-artificial gardens outside Union Station, watching a nectaring cabbage butterfly ambushed by a handsome gray and yellow-spotted salticid jumping spider hiding among palm fronds.” He was “utterly transported in that anthropogenic confection no less than in a New Guinea jungle.”

Getting into “the cycle of nature.” (Photo by Joanna Pocock)

Pyle is perhaps connecting on a level many of us aren’t able to, but he does bring up something I have been thinking about a lot in my ten years as a parent. We should be making sure our children get dirt under their fingernails, mud inside their gum boots, and spiders in their hair, but we also need to somehow allow nature to seep inside them. We need to rewild them from the inside. This is a philosophical shift as much as a physical one. We can achieve this by teaching them not to fear nature, but to embrace it even if the wild for them is a gigantic puddle in a disused railway yard.

There was a time when there were no wild animals, because we ourselves were wild. Children instinctively know this. They have a wildness within that we do our best to civilise. And there’s the rub. We want our children to behave well, to achieve decent marks at school and to land a good job. But maybe we need to tune into another frequency alongside this. Maybe this backseat generation, the kids who are ferried in cars to cello, tae-kwon-do, ballet, and Mandarin classes need us, the adults in their orbit, to focus on something other than grades and achievements. They need us to encourage their connection with the natural world by trusting them to explore it on their own, to rewild themselves without us watching. That alley behind our house might look boring or potentially threatening to an adult, but to a child it could be a place of magic. Pyle is convinced, as I am, that in order to profoundly appreciate the natural world for all its beauty and mystery, we urbanites don’t necessarily have to jack it all in and move to the hills. We and our children can find “The wild, the Other—the stilling phenomena and numina … almost anywhere, from the wild sublime to the pastoral to the vacant lot, which is anything but vacant to a curious kid.”

This is the key to it all. We need to get our children out of the cycle of want and into the cycle of nature. On the days when my daughter watches hour upon hour of TV (usually so I can work), she’s a monster: She wants things and seems dissatisfied with what she has. On the days we wander through a forest or walk the banks of a river, she’s a being at one with herself and the world. I think of this Jekyll and Hyde as being the result of “screen time” versus “green time.”

I have come to realize that one of my jobs as a parent is to tap into the wide-eyed wonder that I once had for nature, so my daughter can find it for herself. In order for her generation to grow up as stewards of the planet, they have to know what’s at stake. I don’t want to fill her with fear of environmental collapse but with awe that so much of it still exists. Celebrating Earth Day is a way of bringing joy back into our connection with the planet. We can forget about the failures momentarily and engage the children in our midst with the movement towards sustainability. The worms in our compost are no longer her pets, but my daughter’s wonder is still there, buried inside and wanting always to be allowed out. It’s my job to let it. The Earth depends on it."


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Food for Thought: Play is for everyone

Dear all,

As we look to restructure Grade 6 for next year and then the rest of Secondary School I was thinking about where all the learning at school starts; Play Based Learning in Early Explorers. This is such a rich way of learning I started to think are we involving Secondary students in enough play based learning activities and games. Hence this week's Food for Thought pulls together a few articles about the importance of play for engagement and deeper learning. There are many good links in these articles that are worth exploring and connecting with in our thinking. 

As we continue to explore the way forward at ISHCMC, we should remember the words of Seymour Papert, "we must never forget that children are born great learners and that we, as adults, should, in fact, try much harder to be like them."

Image result for high school learning through play

In this article from Mindshift there are many different strategies to bring play based learning to the Secondary school, How to Bring Playfulness to High School Students.  Many of these are already in place but others are worth thinking about and ensuring that making and tactile experiences are not just for lesson time but can be fully accessed at breaks and free time.

"Teenagers need creative outlets, just like elementary school children. Those experiences helps open their brains in different ways, gets them excited about learning and allows them to have fun. Playful learning can in turn lead to deeper engagement with school, better retention of learning and a stronger motivation to persist all the way through school."

While researching this topic I discovered a wealth of material related to play emerging from the World Economic Forum. In 2017 it released the Human Capital Report with the subtitle “Preparing People for the Future of Work”. It points out that education systems today are disconnected from the needs of today's labour markets. It concludes that skills such as problem solving, creativity and collaboration are not being encouraged enough in schools and yet they are seen as being vitally important as we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Will Richardson referred on numerous occasions at World EduLead to the 
 Future of Jobs Report. Here is a article from the World Education Forum that promotes the use of play in classrooms, Children should be playing more games in the classroom. Here's the reason why?

"Recent studies have indicated it is not what we teach, but how we teach that enhances student learning, particularly as it pertains to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)[1]. A key component of using games in the classroom is that games can be used across content areas and over a variety of age ranges to support content and deepen learning.

In primary school, social studies teachers can use digital games like Stack the States to help pupils master important geography skills such as capitals, flags, and the locations of different states.

In middle school, science learners can play the analog version of our deck-building card game where they take on the role of a scientist racing to solve a peptide solution, recreating the palliative treatment from venomous marine snails.

In high school, social studies may be taught using the hands-on World Peace Game about global diplomacy and the interconnectedness of economic, social, and environmental impact on the world community. Similarly, in the US a teacher may choose to use the digital game iCivics to teach about the structure of the executive, judicial, and legislative branch of government, as well as what it takes to run an election at the local, state, and federal level."

Finally, this TIME article further points to the benefits of play in Middle and High Schools that can be linked to some of the essential elements of education that will be needed in the future such as creative thinking , problem solving and perseverance. There can be no doubt that play based learning should be apparent throughout ISHCMC the question is not why but what, when and how to ensure that it encourages deeper learning and thinking.

"Giving students occasions to learn through play not only fosters creative thinking, problem solving, independence, and perseverance, but also addresses teenagers’ developmental needs for greater independence and ownership in their learning, opportunities for physical activity and creative expression, and the ability to demonstrate competence. When classroom activities allow students to make choices relevant to their interests, direct their own learning, engage their imaginations, experiment with adult roles, and play physically, research shows that students become more motivated and interested, and they enjoy more positive school experiences.
To be sure, there are times to be serious in school. The complex study of genocide or racism in social studies classrooms, for example, warrant students’ thoughtful, ethical engagement, while crafting an evidence-based argument in support of a public policy calls upon another set of student skills and understandings. As with all good teaching, teachers must be deliberate about their aims. But, given that play allows for particular kinds of valuable learning and development, there should be room in school to cultivate all of these dimensions of adolescent potential."

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Food for Thought: A J Juliani on Learning and AI

This week’s Food for Thought includes a sharing of recent posts by AJ Juliani including a must watch documentary on AI. It does not surprise me that so many people who think about education are coming to the same conclusions and are beginning to speak out.  This is further evidence that we are not alone in our thinking and that the majority of teachers around the world, no matter what system they are working in, know what is right and want to do what is right for student learning.

A.J. Juliani posted:

"Ok, some real talk here. I was just in three different states last week talking with teachers about how powerful a statement our students are making on the world. Their voice is being heard in many different ways, in all kinds of forums, through a variety of platforms.
The one thing all these teachers said was the time for empowering students is here. Right now. And we cannot wait because of excuses, or complaints, or things not being perfect. Because they will never be the perfect conditions.
Let’s stop fighting change. Instead, let’s build on the best practices we’ve developed over centuries as learners, and embrace next practices that reflect our world.
Let’s stop fighting the tests. Instead, let’s build new measures that show student achievement at a much higher level that any test could demonstrate.
Let’s stop fighting each other on what platform or company is best. Instead, let’s build resources and tools that work across any and all platforms, in order to give all teachers a chance to work with another inspiring educator.
Let’s stop talking about what we can do to shape the future of education. Instead, let’s build it and inspire a generation of innovators."

Image result for AI 

At the World Edu Lead Conference, in the very first keynote, Will Richardson stated that it is essential that we teach students from KG to Grade 12 about Algorithmic Literacy. He referred to work from the Pew Research Center. Once you have watched this documentary film you will realize just how urgent this is right now and how important it will be for our students to understand their world. This documentary raises huge questions for us as educators. PLEASE WATCH, it is 1:18 minutes long but thoroughly worth it and will definitely raise questions and show the important role that we HAVE to play in preparing students for what is certainly an exciting future with AI and machine intelligence.

Have a relaxing Sunday,


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Food for Thought: World EduLead Conference

Dear all,

Hope you are all having a good Easter weekend. This not an April fool's day Food For Thought although there have been some great ones over the years. I think there are still people who believe this one from Google.

Last week I spent four days at the World Edu Learn conference listening to some of the leading Educational Thought Leaders in the world. The common theme from all speakers was that it is time for a revolution in education and that there is plenty of evidence that shows this needs to take place sooner rather than later.

This year rather than writing lots of notes about each speaker I have decided to write a sentence or two about what each of them spoke about at the conference and provided links to their work if you think you might like to learn more about them and their thinking.

Will Richardson: His big question revolved around this quote, “ Are we trying to do the wrong thing right in schools?” What is the cost of this? Finally, the ultimate and most worrying thought that originates from Russell Ackoff in his book Turning Learning Right Side Up, “ the righter you are at doing the wronger thing, the wronger you will become.” Does this thinking apply to exams, traditional grading systems and tracking through value added? The answer from the conference was a categorical, yes.

Ron Clark: Shared his story online about how he realized education was failing so many students. He wrote a successful book and used the royalties to build his own school, the Ron Clark Academy which is visited by 1,000’s of educators every year, to provide a platform for low income families to have their children educated in a way that will create opportunities for them to go to university and get good jobs.

Sylvia Martinez: She talked inspiringly about the maker movement and the need for a global community of people learning to solve problems with modern tools and technology. Her master class was attended by Libby and she has returned enthused by the things she learned. Sylvia certainly walks the talk and believes that educators can adopt the powerful technology that exists today and “can do” maker ethos to revitalize learner-centered teaching and learning in ALL subject areas. Here Sylvia talks about her book invent to Learn.

Dr Peter Gamwell: This session was very interesting because it reinforced the importance of allowing student inquiry to flourish in our classrooms. He talked about a Wonder wall in  a classroom and that encourages deeper learning through students following their interests.  Here is a 13 min video of Peter Gamwell talking about the concept of Wonder Walls at another conference exactly as he did in his 45 minutes at EduLead

Ian Gilbert: Ian’s work was around thinking. It was very similar to the work of Philosophy for Children that we have been working on this year. He believes that all classes should start with a mental limbering up exercise. Here is a link to a pdf that has  some questions and guidance that you might find interesting for incorporating Thunks into your classes.

Howard Gardner: This is a name that I’m sure you are all familiar with because of his work on Multiple Intelligences. In this video link speech he did not talk much about this work but his latest research on creativity, the big C as he calls it, and how it will be essential for the future. He stressed that creativity needs defining and that “ if we want to think outside the box, we need to understand the box first.” His interesting conclusion was that his research has shown that it is rare to find innovation/ creativity and entrepreneurship in the same person. In general creative people aren’t motivated by money and this is why many great ideas that become startup companies very often fail. He said that it generally needs a partnership/ teamwork to make a good idea flourish as a business.

Dr Douglas Reeves: His key question was why do schools make progress from good to great and then stop improving. A very good question for us at ISHCMC to ponder. His work is deeply enshrined in academic studies of schools from all over the world.   Much of the thinking that he shared in both his plenary speech and his masterclass is essential for the development of our Studio 5 and 6. Hoa attended his session and walked out deep in thought and brain challenged. His work will help us overcome pushback as we create institutional and organizational change through our thinking.

Dr Debbie Silver: The most animated and humorous speaker was left to the last. Debbie gave a hugely entertaining speech and workshop about how we can engage all our students in our classrooms. She shared her own teaching experiences and it was clear that she walked the talk in ensuring that all students should be given the chance of being successful. Much of what Debbie talked about was based around her book, Drumming to the Beat of Different Marchers-Finding the Rhythm for Differentiating Learning. He speech was humorous and very similar to this extract on youtube.

My biggest take a ways from the four days were that education is very complex, ISHCMC is definitely aligned with the thinking of educational thought leaders and researchers and that we need to read more deeply writers like Dewey, Montessori, Costa, Freire, Csikszentmihalyi and Piaget to search for a deeper understanding of learning that will help us navigate the years of change that lay ahead.

Have a lovely Easter Sunday,