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.

Exploring outside while inside

Exploring the River

I love being outside all day, honestly, it’s amazing. I get to be warm, exploring the different areas of Singapore, and just feel like I am in this place. Sadly, with the coronavirus outbreak, we’ve been forced to stay inside.

That means I have to change some of my programs, which isn’t ideal. The day we heard we had to change I went out to the park and took some videos (like the one above) to have the student experience the river without having to be in the river. With so many videos I was hoping that students could start making connections and exploring the environment.

This happened after some of the classes had been outside, so some kids won’t get to experience this, the videos have helped, but it’s not the same. So as a result we may have to change some of our unit.

It’s interesting how adaptable you have to be in a program like this, even though some things you would think would never have to change, at times they do.

What is a point of view?

Sang Kancil checking out a tree

Two articles this week have really grabbed my attention, well one article and one part of a book.
So, for the book, I’ve been drawn to this idea that a place is where you view the world from. I’m not always human centric, but I do believe I’m a product of where I’m from. If that’s true, then, I guess what helps me become that product, or what enables me to see the world in such a way, and while culture, social settings, power imbalances, environment, and upbringing all play a part, we see the world from a place, and this establises a “point of view”. A point of view is describing how we see the world from our vantage point, our place (Casey, 2013).
I’d never really thought about this before. Where we are from establishes how we see the world, I mean it makes sense when I think about it, but it hadn’t really crossed my mind. So, Casey, although a dense, difficult read, has been helpful (this week anyway).
The second article that really got me thinking this week was more a recording of a conversation between a group of teachers talking about “science” (although I’m not really sure they were ever really talking about science).
Tippins, Hammond and Hutchison (2006) were looking into how immigrant teachers, or transnational teachers kind of taught about science.
The key take aways for me from this article are these ideas of functionalism depends on environment, hybridization of teacher values, and what a globally competent teacher might be.
The first idea, is always kind of in the back of my mind, but was interesting to see in this conversation. As someone who grew up in a more conservative educational context, it is difficult at times to really change into an inquiry based teacher. Deep down we fall back into what we know, what we experienced because that feels comfortable. We need to really address the hows and whys of who we are in order to really get this “new” way of teaching going. In order to do that, maybe we need to think about the different function we play in a different place. This might be way it is difficult for people to change in the same place, we see the same environment, but if we move, we may be able to see a different reason for teaching, a different purpose for our actions, which may help us change. I’m not really sure, but it’s something I need to think about for the dissertation.
However, as we move towards this new place, and this new function, we are kind of a hybrid of cultures and hidden assumptions, we don’t really have a full grasp on what is happening, especially if we are new to a place, so for a time we are in a kind of limbo. We are also changing the system because we are bringing new values into an established system. This article was looking from an American point of view, and as more immigrants came in to be teachers the system was also changing because of mixed and different expectations.
Finally, and very briefly, the authors talk about how we have to change our concept of a globally competent teacher. This is one that has really stuck with me since the concepts of teaching and learning course I just finished. We have assumptions based on who we are and how we we raised or educated. If we move those assumptions might change or develop or be stuck in a hybrid state. But as more and more people move, we need to think a little more clearly about what a “globally competent” person or teacher is. Especially in an international school situation. While the IB has values that are clearly publicized and available, how do we as teacher embody or embrace those values, is it clear as to what those values are?
Both of these readings got me back in the mood for research which is a good step going forward.

Casey, E. (2013). The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History. California: University of California Press.
Tippins, D., Hammond, L., Hutchison, C. (2006). “International teachers negotiating 21st century science classrooms: a question of hybridized identities and pedagogical imaginaries.” Cultural Studies Of Science Education 1: 681-692.

Places establish narratives

These pups were hiding from the rain in Jeju.

I”m struggling through this idea of a conceptual framework right now. What is driving my study, what are my theoretical understandings? Sommerville (2010) talked about the different underpinnings that have defined her work, and the authors who helped her clarify her understanding.

Both of us have been moved by Gruenewald (2003) who challenges us to take part in a place responsive pedagogy. We need to deconstruct and decolonise our relationship with place, we need to know more about how things have developed, where the power lies and try to sort out what that means for us.

This is a challenge to most modern thinking that doesn’t believe or value the idea of a specific or special place. Schooling, Sommerville (2010) argues is the perfect placeless area. Schools want us to be standard, to be normal, to not have outside aspects influence our learning or our thinking. We should be able to apply anything to a global level, without thinking about place specifics. This deeply challenges ecosystems and most systems thinking (from an environmental perspective at least).

For me, so far, this always goes back to love, and how to love. We need to spend time in our places and really get to know them. We need to love them, see how they work and value the places for what they are (not what we want them to be). I’m wondering I guess, how do we get out of that way of thinking, how can we really deconstruct ourselves, is this even possible for international teachers?

Sommerville, M. (2010) A Place Pedagogy for “Global Contemporaneity”. Educational Philosophy and Theory 42(3)

Who is here?

Our grade 3 students are looking at how migration happens as a result of challenges, risks and opportunities. one of their activities we were working on was interviewing people in Chinatown.

At first the students were hesitant, they were a little shy and they didn’t know what to expect, but it worked out much better than I had anticipated. The adults around Chinatown were really curious about what the kids were up to and many waited in line to be interviewed. We wanted students to feel confident talking to others, but also learn how to collect data with purpose. Their biggest take away was people come from everywhere.

Sometimes when ex-pat students are living in a new country we have a tendency to think everyone is either from the places we are from or a local, this showed us how blurred those lines really were and the students loved it.
After we worked on the interviews we explored some reasons why people may have moved and how things have changed in Singapore over the past 700 years, but the reasons for migration are pretty much the same. It helps tie our present situations to other’s feeling throughout history and now.

Place and immigrant teachers

I’ve been reading over some more papers. And this paper by Elbaz-Luwisch has really intrigued me, she draws on Casey (1994), Orr (1992) and Clandinin and Connelly often, which may be why she intrigues me, but she wants to know more about immigrant teachers and their relationship with place. Not many people are exploring this, and while the teachers she has studied do not work at international schools, I feel they may experience the same sorts of tensions.

Teachers are often asked to represent cultures, or be an active (re) creator of the cultures we live in. However, when people are not “locals” I wonder how we can really focus on, or think about developing a culture we aren’t really a part of? Casey (1994) talks about about the tensions most people feel about not really feeling secure in a space, I wonder more about how people who are transient by nature can really feel at home. If we don’t feel at home, how can we work at developing the culture of the place?

It seems as though this paper suggests by spending more time in a place, any by co-culturing a place we can change it from a location to something more meaningful. I wonder how we can work with teachers to work on this co-construction. We have to remember though that the people in the community also co-construct place, and how they interact with a new person can also shape a person’s sense of place.

There’s a lot going on in this paper, but I really wonder about how we can work with teachers to make more of a sense of place, how do we help new comers feel welcome and share in our stories, how do we make global citizens and teachers more local?

Casey, E. (1993) Getting back into place: toward a renewed understanding of the place-world (Bloom- ington, Indiana University Press).

Elbaz‐Luwisch, F. (2004) Immigrant teachers: stories of self and place, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 17:3, 387-414, DOI: 10.1080/0951839042000204634

Orr, David (1992) Place and pedagogy, in: Ecological literacy: education and the transition to a post-modern world (Albany, SUNY Press), 125–131.