Place Based Learning

Chinatown is a bit empty these days

While my role has slightly shifted my focus on using place to enhance our learning has not. This unit we are looking into how artifacts can help us understand civilisations and societies. It’s pretty exciting because I’ve been telling all kinds of Singapore folk stories.

While we can’t go out to the sites, I’ve been using video, pictures and stories to connect people to the land. While most of my class (all but one) has been here for at least two years, so many students haven’t heard of any of Singapore’s stories. It’s always surprising (even though it shouldn’t be really).

So, the plan is, I’ve started with stories, pictures and video. Today we had a guest speaker who is an archaeologist video conference to tell us about the way archaeology is done here, and some of the findings they have discovered. For the next couple of weeks we will be looking at things that represent the individuals and to finish off the unit we want to think about the things that describe us as a class, here and now. I want them to be able to focus on who we are and where we are in place and time. I’m hoping we can make a little class civilisation that will focus our learning a little more as the year goes on.

Relationships through social distancing

First couple of weeks have been going pretty well. Being back in the classroom is pretty exciting (since I can’t go out and explore with the kids). I’ve been working and wondering on how to build positive relationships in this new world.

Normally, as humans we rely so much on non-verbal communication, and wearing a mask and keeping our distance makes things like this harder. As a class we’ve been wondering about how to create a community in this new world. We haven’t come to any conclusions yet but I’ll list some of our questions.

  • How can we understand how people are feeling when we can’t see their mouths.
  • How can we help if we can’t be so close.
  • How can we respect other people’s need to be in a quiet place if we have to be louder to talk through our masks.

Back in class

Wow, wild summer.

We’re back in class right now, working on social distancing, thinking about what learning looks like when we have to be a little further away from each other. It’s strange to go against instincts to get kids talking, learning together, wondering with each other. It’s strange not being able to go out right now, staying inside, wearing masks, but I guess this is just a strange time (until we get used to it).

The kids, as always, seem to be flexible and want to learn. They understand things are different and are looking to us for ways of being. So I’m trying to stay calm and model alternative ways of knowing and being, while always stressing that I’m still learning myself.

I wonder if that’s all we should be doing in these times anyway. Acknowledging that things are new, wondering and negotiating ways of being in this new world, and looking for ways to make things a little more better where we can.

The happiness lab podcast has really been helping. Thinking about the brain and how it works, helps us to deal with these situations a little better. Hopefully we can keep it going.

Opening back up?

Ramona isn’t really sure if she’s ready to go back out.

It’s been strange hey? We’ve been living this life for the last little while where we shouldn’t really interact with others. Now we’re slowly opening back up, and I think there’s still some uncertainty about how and who to reconnect.

School is strange because of this, I think more so for PYP teachers. We’ve been encouraged to have interactive lessons, lots of group work, thinking and sharing. My particular job is taking kids outside, exploring, asking questions to community members, and then we couldn’t and now… who knows?

I’m not sure how other people are coping with this. If schools are offering counselling for teachers about anxiety, if there is a solid plan in place, if there are options for different approaches. I know this situation has caught everyone off guard, but is anyone doing it really well? Are there big plans for going back into school? Are we all sure of how to handle more kids around? How do we convince kids it is safe now, when we said it wasn’t before? How do we prepare kids for a future that is more like what it is like now?

Anyway, lots of things to think about before we come back in August, lots of different things to prepare, lots of different things to wonder about.

Exploring with Grade 1

We’ve been trying to get some of our younger learners more involved outside while being stuck inside. It’s not super easy, but we’ve been looking at this idea of the world as our zoo. While we are stuck inside we can pretend that we are looking into wildlife preserves outside.

We are looking at different connections, having kids draw environments and discussing what they can see and how things are connected. The main thing I find is we have to work harder at making connections as teachers. While the kids aren’t near us, we have to check in a little more and make those connections more meaningful if possible. Stop worrying so much about the academic side and start thinking more about the personal side. I’ve received some awesome images from kids regarding their discoveries and it’s made my day.

The Power of Place

Two things for this week that I thought were pretty interesting. I’ve been working on some videos for the kids to learn from (who isn’t I guess) and it’s helped me become more connected with my block. I’m usually outside and walk the same paths, and I’m usually looking as closely as I can. But I haven’t gone out just to look. This time has given me the opportunity to really look at my place. To get to know it a bit better, and I definitely encountered some new ideas.

Secondly, I’ve just started reading The Power of Place: Authentic Learning through Place-based education. While I generally don’t really enjoy education books, perhaps because of my biases I am kind of into this one. I’m not really far into it, but there is a lot of overlap between this book and the IB. I can see me pitching a new type of Open Minds based on this book, so I’m pretty excited to get more into it. The idea of agency and how kids learn more when things are relevant and in their community means a lot to me, but my constant tension is how to do that in an international school, especially one that is in a pretty affluent area.

Anyway, it’s been a good couple of weeks doing some e-learning.

Looking at habitats

Saw a hornbill at Botanic Gardens

One of the more interesting aspects of a strong program is when we can’t go out and have to really rethink the learning that is happening. I finally had some time to meet with my colleague from the other campus yesterday and we had some talks about what we were going to do for the rest of the year.

Our next two units’ central ideas are “Survival of living things is connected to the environment in which they live” and “Plants are central to sustaining life on Earth”. We’ve been looking at how to do this without going to our national gardens and zoo. It’s been alright so far, but these next two units really need us to be outside.

Right now, I’m wondering about our ethical responsibility to other living things. We’re going to be checking water ecosystems near our school and look at how different living things are connected to their environments, and then how we can maybe create an environment that can sustain a living thing (and then maybe put that thing in the environment). What is our responsibility to these other living things. Is something dying worth the learning experience?

Hopefully we can see more things outside, more hornbills, more birds, more living things, and hopefully learn more about our place.

Engaging the senses

Mudskippers in the wild

I’ve been rereading all the articles, trying to add a critique and look more meaningfully at the research methods and purpose of the study. While doing this I’ve really come to rethink some of what I’ve taken from each article. It’s been a great ride so far, only 50 more articles to reread.

Anyway, Semken and Freeman (2008) have this interesting article about how science teachers and sense of place are connected. They talk about the importance of bringing sense back into the classroom and we have to start with connecting the teacher’s sense to increase the opportunity for students to access their senses.

One of the things that always causes tension for me when reading these articles is the desire to quantify a sense of place. Scientists love numbers right? So these two have used a scale to try to understand how a teacher’s attachment to place has grown. I wonder about this for my own work. I wonder how important it is to study a sense of place through a quantitative measure. Is it important to know how much it grows, or is it more important to know how the people feel about their attachment.

Anyway, since I’ve been taking the kids out to more local places I’m hoping that both teachers and students get more connected to places as we start to engage their emotions and physical senses.

Semken, S., & Freeman, C. B. (2008). Sense of Place in the Practice and Assessment of Place-Based Science Teaching. Science Education, 92(6), 1042-1057.

Kind of outside.

Measuring the soil.

As we continue to work with this virus and what it means for us and our learning, we’ve been able to be outside a little more often. While we still can’t leave the campus there are some opportunities for us to be learning with and for our environment.

We’ve started to explore our school’s person constructed ecosystems. We’ve been measuring the soil ph, moisture and the light that hits the soil. We’ve used these measurements along with data from species collection to start trying to understand the interconnections between living and non-living things.

So far, it’s been a bit of a stretch for the kids, but I think they are starting to understand ecosystem interconnection and how diversity is important. When we look at our field that barely has grass in some areas, look at the soil and the species diversity we can see that some “ecosystems” are badly damaged and we have to work in that system to make it better.

There hasn’t been a whole lot happening other than that, we’ve been working hard at making sure students have an opportunity to be outside and learn, we’re planning things in class for them to do to connect to their own research projects, it’s just a slow process, or so it feels, but hey, slow learning is good too.