Sunday, February 26, 2017

MS Critical Consciousness Building

Week Without Walls has been a mainstay of the ASD educational experience for many years. It is often signaled out as the most engaging learning experience for students in the middle school. The destinations are varied - ranging from South Africa to Greece to Tanzania to Cambodia to Nepal - but they are all intended to connect students to the development of "critical consciousness" and develop change making attitudes.  These trips are packed with powerful learning despite - or because - of the challenges involved in undertaking them. 

Students were seen integrating and sharing learning with local Massai communities, or planting trees in the outskirts of Athens, or participating in community development projects in Cambodia, Nepal or Tanzania. Whether in rice fields or classrooms their engagement was authentic and powerful. 

It's important to note that these trips should not - and often cannot - be about "helping others". Of course there is often a benefit to our presence there, but it is arguably more beneficial to our community to be in such diverse communities than it is for tho e with whom we are interacting. Still, in the continual ebb and flow of conversations, sharing, generating deeper understanding of culture and global issues, there is an ever growing growth - personal and collective - regarding the nature of the world and our place in it. 

Arriving back in Dubai brought with it the flurry of smiles and hugs and thank you's from parents, chaperones and children alike. But the cumulative growth in that one week - from a perspective of critical consciousness - cannot be overstated. Week Without Walls is, in simple terms - a personal broadening of worldview and a recognition that the world - for all its difficulties - is a beautiful place. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Behind the Scenes in Service Learning

Educational research indicates that learning is best when it receives formative feedback, meaning a somewhat continuous checking-in throughout the learning process. Applying that same logic to the development of our service learning structures we find it important for students, teachers, parents and the wider community to be exposed to conversations about how best to generate learning experiences to empower students to become contributors. This post is about examples of such conversations. 

Across the school, every month or so, faculty comes together for professional development days. Two weeks ago one such session, facilitated by our Service Learning Coordinator, took elementary school teachers through the definition of service learning, conversations related to critical consciousness, deliberation related to scenarios of learning experiences, documentation of service learning and team work time around service learning. All ES faculty were involved and the feedback was quite positive about the connections made to curriculum, prompting further conversations at team meetings. 

At the Middle School level conversations are already underway regarding the obvious connections to the Week Without Walls program, but also in utilizing service learning as a connective methodology to create integrated learning experiences. Soon enough team leads of MS will be jointly meeting to move forward conversations about how best to approach service learning in the classroom and beyond. 

In high school there is work underway in the Global Issues in Action course (grade 9 social studies) to focus on social entrepreneurship. In a slight shift toward more authentic connections the grade 9 students will view and ask questions to a panel of social entrepreneurs from the UAE. The focus, specifically, will be on their personal motivation and story, as well as the connections between their respective company and the social benefits that they provide. Curricular planning is also revolving around how to best focus student learning on the use of social entrepreneurship to address social, economic and environmental issues worldwide. 

In grade 4 faculty conversations revolve around the connections between service learning and global issues, the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, student inquiry, investigative methods and moving forward with practical learning experiences. The idea here will be to create "focus groups" or committees involved with a different strand of the global goals and putting some bite into the notion of think global, act local. 

Perhaps the highlight of how service learning takes on a life of its own, let us share a small story.  Our grade 3 students, motivated by young role model change maker vides seen in class, realized that our community knew little about the species of plants on campus (do you?) and beyond. After surveying our community and identifying the plant species they decided to create small informational plaques to support learning and awareness around campus. That, in turn, developed into an idea to include our grade 2 students who are also studying plants around the world. One thing led to another and the conversations now are revolving around the idea of our grade 3 students not only creating the plaques but also creating a tour route to support the learning of grade 2 students, with our 3s as tour guides! The grade 2 students, in turn, looked at the information generated by third grade and recognized that almost all species on our campus are non-native species. 

Could this lead to further conversations that develop the critical consciousness we'd love to see in our students?  We can't know for sure, but one might suspect that sometime down the line conversations could link up to issues of invasive species, water use in a desert ecosystem, water desalinization, energy use, coastal pollution, global sustainability and a whole world of contribution just waiting to happen. :-)