Hopes and Dreams Part 2: Share Your Story

Last week when I wrote about hopes and dreams I shared my concern that our older students were burying their big dreams as they focused on grades/marks and short term possibilities.  I’ve spent the last week continuing to ponder this idea and speaking with some of our older students to help gain more insight into this phenomenon.  Last weekend, at an event hosted by one of our very own Year 10 students, I found what I think is the reality of the situation for our older students.  

Our older students still have plenty of big hopes and dreams, in fact they may even have more thought out and detailed versions of them than the younger students.  They, however, feel like they can’t share them for fear that they will be squashed or not accepted by peers or adults in their lives.  This is a big problem!

At MatchStiX, an event hosted by one of our Year 10 students as part of her Personal Project, I was fortunate to see short presentations by a few very impressive young Surabayans.  Emily, a 15 year old student at another school in town, shared her story of becoming a successful singer and songwriter.  She explained that it was her dream to write and sing her own songs and that she “sang often but always sang alone.”  This piece of her story, one of many from a very inspiring presentation, really hit home hard for me.   Emily had a passion and a dream but was fearful of sharing it with others because she was worried that it/she wouldn’t be accepted.  Fortunately she did, eventually, share her talent and it was warmly accepted by most everyone.  However, Emily had to go through this journey alone because she was scared to share her hopes and dreams, imagine if she would’ve been confident and supported throughout her journey.

Another speaker at MatchStiX was Jessica, a local entrepreneur who started her own baking business.  Jessica had hopes and dreams that were supported by her parents until one day they spoke with her teachers and principals at her school (not Sekolah Ciputra).  Jessica’s teachers and principals convinced her parents, who had already committed a lot of money toward her dream, that pursuing a career in fashion design was a terrible decision even though it was Jessica’s dream.  Her parents completely dropped all support of Jessica and her dream, she was crushed and totally lost all hope.  It took Jessica three more years before she found a new pursuit, another dream she was passionate about chasing.  She wanted to become a chef, with a particular interest in baking.  Unfortunately, her parents were not supportive of this idea at all and forced her, once again, away from her dream.  Jessica’s story has a happy ending, she found a way for her dream to come true.  As I mentioned, Jessica owns her own baking business.  However, hearing Jessica’s story of being pushed back time and again by the very people who are supposed to be supporting her dreams really gave me pause as an educator.  

What are we doing to support our students’ dreams and help them become reality?  There are definitely some things that we are doing as an institution to help our students reach these lofty goals, but what about individually?  As teachers we can be talking with our students and learning about their hopes and dreams, encouraging them to pursue their passions, and sharing our own stories of chasing our dreams.  Start today, take some time to think about your dreams that you’ve made come true and share a story or two with your students.  Inspire someone by sharing your story, and don’t ever stop pursuing your own dreams!

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Pursuing Passions

Last week we started our Pathways conversations with our Year 10 students.  At the beginning of this process, which will ultimately lead to their decision about whether to take Full IBDP, DP Courses, or SBDP, they are still wide-eyed and confused.  As Year 10 students, these kids are only 15 or 16 years old and many of them haven’t figured out what they’re going to do over the weekend, let alone what career path they want to follow.  Yet, as they begin to consider their Pathway for Year 11 and 12, they are being asked to simultaneously consider their field of study for university and what career they would like to pursue…yikes!

Personally, this is crazy to me!  I told these kids and their parents a little about myself as an introduction to this conversation:  When I was their age I knew I was going to be an architect, 100%.  Then, by the time I finished Year 11, I really had it figured out, I was going to be an accountant.  In fact, I was almost three years into my accounting degree when I realized I wanted to be an educator.  How could I have been so wrong and what changed for me to make such a huge jump?

I didn’t know it when I made the decision to walk into the College of Education at my university but that day, for the first time ever, I was pursuing my passion.  I can see it now in hindsight but at the time if you would’ve asked me why I was there, I would’ve had no answer for you.  I was there, however, because I was passionate about coaching.  I had begun coaching younger kids in basketball when I was in High School and had continued through university.  It was something I enjoyed and was something more than just a summer job.  It was, without even knowing it, my passion.  

I’m sharing this today because I want to ask you to do two things:

First off, take the time to step back and reflect about why you got into teaching in the first place.  I saw a great Twitter post the other day, “Said no teacher ever…’I became a teacher for the money and fame’.”  I’m guessing that money and fame weren’t your motivations, so what were your reasons?  Why are you an educator today?  

Secondly, I’m begging you, please, to take some time and share how you identified your passion(s) with your students.  Perhaps you knew when you were 15 years old, or perhaps you were more like me and had an epiphany later in life.  Whatever the case may be, take a few minutes and share that story with your kids.  Explain to them why you’re telling them this story, let them know that this process isn’t always easy and that at 15 it’s okay not to know their whole life plan.  

If you ask me, we’re lucky, we’re the wise ones who identified the passion for teaching in ourselves and were lucky enough to choose the greatest profession ever 🙂  Share that story with your students, and while you’re at it, share it with each other!  

Inspired Learners Growing from Inquiry

This week we’ve hosted the regional GIN conference and it couldn’t be more inspiring!  Seeing our students come together with over 80 kids from the region to explore, teach, and learn about different issues has sent a jolt of energy through the campus.  Exploring topics such as Carbon Footprints, Korean Smart Cities, and Socially Responsible Enterprises, these globally-minded advocates are working to create a better future for themselves and generations to come.  The best part of all of this learning…it’s all optional and totally voluntary!  IMG_6414.JPG

Global Issues Network is not a mandatory class, it is not a requirement, and it is not an obligation.  The students have chosen to get involved with these projects and dive into the process of making change because they are interested and dedicated.  They are digging deep to learn everything they can about certain topics; spending time researching, sharing, and then working for change because they are curious and caring.  The curiosity that our students have about these topics combined with the permission to be inquirers and ask questions has created a situation ideal for exploration…and they’re learning at an amazing rate!  

As I’ve discussed in the past, curiosity may have killed the cat, but thankfully we’re not cats!  Curiosity is considered by many to be a character “strength” (or “trait” depending which research you’re reading) that has a strong effect on learning.  Students who have a strong natural penchant to be curious and students who’ve learned to be curious both have a higher academic success rate than students who lack curiosity.  Those students who demonstrate IMG_6405.JPGcuriosity about a topic also tend to receive more attention from their teachers, potentially worsening the challenge for those students who may already be struggling in a particular subject.  All of this naturally begs the question, if curiosity is important and some kids aren’t “curiosity-inclined” then what can we do as educators to foster their interest in a subject?

Good question, glad you asked 🙂

In the lower grades our students have no homework except to pursue their passions and bring what they’ve learned to school in order to share with their peers.  These “passion projects” have sparked an interest in learning that previously may not have burned so brightly.  The smiles on the faces of these students as they pass by in the morning with their passion projects in hand is infectious, they are excited and proud of their learning.  What, however, are they learning?  Well, I’ve seen kids code their own video games, complete full research projects about crocodiles, and construct working volcanos out of chocolate and marshmallows (a couple different skills there!)  Just like our older students’ interest in Global Issues, these projects have been completely voluntary and self-directed.  These students are learning because they want to and because they enjoy the opportunity.

As our students grow older we tend to focus on the content that we “have to teach” and worry less about what the kids are actually interested in learning.  What about something like the Innovation Academy (IA) though?  As a number of us learned on our visit to the FDR school last year, this is a real thing and the students who are graduating from this program are doing so with an incredible range of skills.  The inclusion of inquiry in our academic programs need not be as drastic as creating a completely different track such as the IA has done, we can do this in a much more manageable and “bite-sized” way.  

Now, as I recently wrote, we need to give ourselves permission to stop.  I am certainly not asking you to do more.  What I am asking you to do is to stop and take a few minutes to reflect about your next unit or perhaps one that is still a couple units down the road.  Next, evaluate the priorities for learning and consider where student engagement in the material falls on that scale.  Where can you add opportunities for inquiry and exploring curiosities into the learning?  Would doing this increase student engagement?  Perhaps this looks like students choosing a character in Romeo and Juliet, comparing them to a real world person/celebrity, and developing a way to share their comparison with their classmates.  Maybe in Science class they can apply an equation or scientific process to a real world situation and create a simulation to share with their peers.  Student-driven doesn’t have to mean only student-driven, provide them with the guidelines and allow them the choice of inquiry within those guidelines.  Our students have passions, they’re human after all, let’s encourage them explore those passions and at the same time give them a glimpse into the real-world application of their school work.  

“What, of course, we want in a university is for people to learn the skills they’re going to need outside the classroom. So, having a system that had more emphasis on inquiry and exploration but also on learning and practicing specific skills would fit much better with how we know people learn.” – Alison Gopnik (professor of psychology and philosophy at UC-Berkeley)

“A subtle thought that is in error may yet give rise to fruitful inquiry that can establish truths of great value.” – Isaac Asimov (author and scientist)

“Educationists should build the capacities of the spirit of inquiry, creativity, entrepreneurial and moral leadership among students and become their role model.” – A. P. J. Abdul Kalam (former president of India)

 

The Freedom of Choice

Today I’m writing as I sit in the back of the advanced guitar rehearsal session at our awesome 2014 Music Festival and thinking about last year when I sat in the beginning guitar rehearsal with these very same kids…it’s amazing to see how much they’ve grown in so many aspects over the last year but particularly in their guitar skills (especially since my skills have gone backward over that same time!)  Their dedication and motivation to learn and grow is impressive…it got me to thinking.

Our music program here at SCIS is mandatory for all Middle School students but the fact that we provide so much ‘choice’ for our students has led to a music program that thrives.  Our students get to choose, not only their music class, but their instrument too.  The positive energy around campus during the Music Festival stems directly from the enjoyment our students get from learning and playing their instruments, awesome stuff!

Choice is extremely important in education for many reasons but, in my opinion, one of those reasons sticks out more than the others.  Last week I wrote about the importance of curiosity and I believe that choice is directly related, in that they both spark people’s intrinsic motivation to learn.  Every one of us has an innate desire to feel competent and at the same time have the freedom to do what we enjoy.  Choice lets our students pursue their passions while also putting them in the position to feel successful.  The intrinsic reward for achieving success with a self-selected goal is tremendous and spurs even further motivation to continue growing.

Another area in education that allows for choice is allowing students to demonstrate their learning by choosing a method that suits them.  Now, this doesn’t mean a complete free for all but no two students are identical and each has their own strengths (and weaknesses).  Allowing students to choose between a selection of options for demonstrating their learning can be an extremely effective way of engaging learners who may otherwise be disinterested.  Writing a song to demonstrate understanding of vocabulary words, designing a math game to show comprehension of algebraic concepts, or creating a melody to prove mastery of strumming techniques in guitar are all examples of ways that students could share their learning while also choosing their own path.

Give some thought to how you currently incorporate student choice into your classroom as well as how you could increase the amount of opportunities for choice.  Don’t forget to come out tomorrow and enjoy the fruits of all the motivation and skills that our kids have demonstrated over the last two days in their rehearsals and sectionals!  (I know the advanced guitar will rock!)

A great piece about student choice:  http://www.edutopia.org/lesson-engagement-student-choice

Curiosity May Have Killed The Cat, But Thankfully We’re Not Cats!

Over the summer I watched and played with my nephews (two and four years old) as they explored and played with their Legos and other newfangled toys.  I realized that there were two likely traits of a successful toy.  The first trait of a successful toy, for my nephews anyway, is that you can throw it, hit (with) it, or kick it.  The second, is that the toy sparks curiosity.  This is what I want to talk about today, maybe I’ll get to the throwing, hitting, and kicking another (more stressful) day 🙂

One of my favorite parts of working with young people is the opportunity to watch them be curious.  In time, I have come to strongly believe that curiosity is one of, if not the most important character strength in successful people.  Each day at break as I make my usual tour of the café, courtyard, and soccer field I keep an eye out for students who are lingering on the periphery.  When I first started I was concerned about these students, worried they weren’t making connections with their peers.  Over time, however, I’ve come to understand that many of these kids are just pursuing their curiosity of the world around them.

During China Trips last year it was wonderful to see the wide eyes and ‘ohs and ahs’ as kids explored the outdoors.  The opportunities for exploration of curiosities in that setting are almost endless.  Similarly, the chances for students to independently pursue curiosity exists here at school as well.  As an example, there was a sixth grader last year who took a direct route to the bushes near the field at lunch.  It took me a couple days to realize that this was a pattern and when I wandered over to see what had drawn her curiosity she explained that there was a spider who had spun a web and she was admiring the geometric patterns while hoping that it would trap something.  She was curious, she wanted to watch and wonder in awe about how this tiny creature had created something so seemingly perfect but at the same time she was concerned that it wasn’t “working” because nothing had yet been trapped.

Curiosity is a character strength that is, perhaps, more easily fostered than actually taught.  I couldn’t have paid some students to be interested in that spider web but others would have had the same sense of curiosity and awe if they had been exposed to that wonder.  They, however, hadn’t gone searching for it like this little girl had done – which is where we come in.  There is currently a lot of research going into character education and I think we’re still a ways away from any definitive answers as to how we could teach some of these character strengths.  However, we can facilitate them and foster their growth when the time is right.  So, how are you helping to encourage curiosity in your classroom and beyond?

Our students have incredibly curious and creative young minds.  Feel free to allow them the opportunity to open up and explore new ideas.  Some of the greatest minds in the world have been successful because they’ve been freed of restricted thinking and have been allowed to think openly about their ideas.  If curiosity really killed the cat then I guess we’re all lucky not to be cats…open yourselves to exploration and let’s do the same for our kids!!

“I have no special talents.  I am only passionately curious.” – Albert Einstein

“Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton asked why.” – Bernard Baruch

“Curiosity is the lust of the mind.” – Thomas Hobbes

There is a fast-growing movement in education right now around 20-Time.  It is based on a similar concept perviously used at Google and other companies to encourage the pursuit of passions during working hours.  I’m not asking you to turn over one class every five days to the pursuit of curiosity but I think there is definitely room for including pieces of this concept in our day-to-day lessons.

20-Time informational website:  http://www.20timeineducation.com/

An interesting article about Google and 20-Time:  http://www.wired.com/2013/08/20-percent-time-will-never-die/