Wondering about sense of place at the museum

I took this photo at the NUS museum.

I’ve been in the museum this week, and in the back of my mind is my paper. The links I can see in the paintings, make sense to my understanding of chapter one, but it is so difficult to clearly articulate my thoughts. Below is an attempt at my opening paragraph.

The places where we reside and work influence our professional and personal lives. Where we live can shape how we live. A sense of place describes the interactions and feelings shared between a place, people and a community to bring forth an understanding of reality for an individual who is in that place. Places teach us how to be in the world and how the world works, moreover, places make us by shaping our identity and culture (Gruenewald 2003). Tuan (1977) was instrumental in shaping how we think about sense of place. Over the years other thinkers (Relph, Massey, Greenwood, and many others) have continued to develop this idea and our understanding of this complex concept is continuing to develop. We know that place impacts our identity in multiple ways, but little research is being conducted into how expatriate international school teachers understand.

I guess I’m wondering how to really put it all together, I wonder how to make it clear to others what I want to study, and how I plan to go about it, I’m worried no one really cares or it won’t matter (but I’ll put those thoughts aside for now).

So I guess, how is this connected to the learning going on in the museum? I’m trying to share stories of place, which I read is important. But in this specific museum is a painting of samui women working. Not many people know of the samsui women, not many people know how important they are for shaping our place (and our identity as a nation). So I’m just trying to help our teachers and students learn a little more about where we live.

What part(s) do I play in learning?

Ramona is as confused as I am

I can’t fathom learning being static. Learning can not be acquired and then finished, it is a process, a way of being, not something that can end. From a phenomenological perspective I’ve always (well as far as I can remember, or as I’ve always thought that I) corrected my thinking and changed what I believed to be true. For instance, when confronted with a new idea that fills me with tension, or that I want to explore, others have told me I can be argumentative. This is not my desire, but I want to deconstruct that idea, and sometimes I ask questions a little passionately, in order to make sure I fully understand their ideas. During my Master’s courses one of my fellow learners suggest I paid more attention to my “dark side”. She argued that by understanding the ideas I didn’t want to explore I would be able to more effectively argue what I believed. We had a passionate conversation where I tried to deconstruct her thought process in order to understand the benefits. After hearing her arguments, I decided that her way of thinking could be very beneficial to my work. When we talked about it afterwards she thought I was being far too aggressive in my arguments, so after that day I tried to change both my thinking and my practice. Just because I have a way of being now, my ontology is one that can change (and should change) in order for me to continue learning and growing. As this example illustrates, I believe I may be a constructivist with my thinking. When working with others, or on my own I reflect on my beliefs and why I believe something. After thought and conversations I am able to rebuild or remodel my thinking in order to become a (hopefully) more effective learner and person.

Going through this course has been an eye-opener for a number of reasons. While I’ve always considered myself more of a dynamic learner and a teacher, it was interesting for me to see what aspects of behaviourism, situated cognition and expert knowledge resonated with me. Certain aspects of constructivism have also irked me in some way, and as a result, I’ve been feeling this tension to be better able to describe my own epistemology and ontology as well as inquire into how this relates to my dissertation. 

As mentioned, Vygotsky’s ideas surrounding socio-constructivism have always resonated with me. I don’t believe (and I find it hard to understand that others believe) things are isolated.  As an environmental educator, I believe things are connected. I look for systems and wonder how they work. My undergraduate degree was in anthropology and history and from his perspective it is hard for me to understand how things can be constructed in a silo. 

In particular the “outside – in” (Lourenço 2012, p. 287) model is one I can relate to. As both an environmental educator, and someone who believes in God I see most knowledge being situated outside of myself. I try to pay close attention to the things going around me and work with others to create an understanding of what may be happening and what truths can be understood through our observations. Since the knowledge was and is never really mine, I don’t believe I can transmit it to someone else. I believe I can share my thinking and that may resonate with other people, or perhaps their thinking can influence or change mine. When I think of where most things are (physical, knowledge-based or meta-physical) I can’t see them as residing in me, or being at home in me. If this is true then, most knowledge must come from the outside and (briefly?) rest with me as I continue to wonder and wander.

Like both Piaget and Vygotsky I believe knowing is a way of organising your thinking and understanding the world around you. I do not believe that we can reduce knowledge to simple facts, or break learning down into specific chunks that we can transfer to others. We make sense of the world by understanding how things are working in a moment, we react differently to a variety of teaching styles, content and people. If learning were just items of knowledge to be delivered and we could find an optimal delivery method, then it would make sense if we were all able to learn most things. However our understandings of the world change how we approach the world. This means although we are all capable of learning, we don’t all learn the same way, or express our knowledge in the same fashion.  As teachers we need to make sure we are understanding what the students are expressing and providing opportunities to change how the classroom is working in order to meet the needs of all learners.

One of the tensions that I am exploring in this course is I can believe that knowledge comes from outside in, but real construction comes from the meaning making I do internally. If I really believed in social constructivism, I wonder if I would never have left Canada. What gave me the ability to walk away from my society and culture if I really am a product of the things around me? What developed my questioning ability if the people I grew up with seemed satisfied in my hometown? Exploring this difference in social construction is one aspect I need to explore. More than this I wonder what else is involved in social constructivism. I mean, where does motivation play a part, what about the content, how are more than humans involved? While I thought I believed fully in constructivism, I can’t figure out where these things play a part. 

I need to focus a little more on these tensions, the more I understand about my ontological view regarding these aspects, the more I am able to grow as a learner (and hopefully teacher and researcher).

Digging through our past.

Creating the dig

For our fifth grade Open Minds we are looking at how artefacts help us understand civilisations. So we go out on a dig. I have to get up early (almost too early) to go and dig a huge trench, then I place artefacts in the trench and then the kids come and dig them up.

It’s a pretty great process for them, when they find things they absolutely love it. We work the rest of the afternoon on looking at the form and possible function of the artefacts and start seeing how we can place them in a story. It’s all pretty interesting and the kids learn a lot.

For me one of the take aways is how we can socially construct our understanding of the world around us. When encountering new artefacts people draw on previous experiences and we’re not always sure how they get to certain conclusions. It’s always interesting to see what they think and why they think the way they do.

Toa Payoh and looking into community

This week we have been exploring Toa Payoh. I feel like I have more time (although I’m sure I’m missing something), so I’ve been more able to work on telling stories.

Toa Payoh is a really interesting place, and the history is worth looking into. The old Kampong was a tightly knit community (even the secret society gangs) and the people seemed to put pressure on the government to not close down their home. The government really wanted to develop the country and Toa Payoh was the one of the starting communities. There was some tension, and I thought the story of Sang Kancil and the Tiger king was a good way to illustrate how folk tales have showed us different ways to overcome some problems.

Sometimes with hard leaders we can show them a different problem to focus on, by giving them a different, “bigger” problem. If we are being (re)located then how can we deal with that? What do we have to do to keep our communities tight (and maybe make them tighter)?

Anyway, this was the first one where parents have really came up to me afterwards and said thanks. They learned a lot and didn’t know a lot about the places they were. So this has been my best outing so far.

Why aren’t they getting this?


I was reflecting on where we were in the dissertation process, and more specifically about my epistemology this week. While reading Davis and Sumara’s article. “Why aren’t they getting this”. So far in my studies, Place, being and resonance was one of my favourite reads. I’ve talked about it before, and I’ve read it more than once. I just find the ideas really resonate with me.  

“Ecohermeneutics means imploying language and attentive disciplines in education to remediate our “hyperseparation” from nourishing interconnections with the rest of life on the planet” (Derby, location 563). 

I’ve thought more about the importance of words, and the importance of communication more than anything during this doctoral journey so far. Some things from Davis and Sumara’s article really resonated with me. If we don’t use a common language, and a language that we all have a common understanding about, then as educators we can’t use the same types of learning and teaching. We need to have the same understanding of how to use the words around our practice, and the importance of contributing to the shared identity of our classrooms.

“Also, we wanted to learn more about how to help experienced teachers interpret current and new teaching methods in relation to theories of learning suggested by recent scholarly work” (Davis & Sumara, p. 123). As “experienced” teachers we feel we know the ground, while theorists only know ideas. We “live” in a different world and have a different way of communicating (which is why this program is kind of interesting). What we are really changing is the ontological idea of a teacher, not really what the teacher does. If we can’t all fully believe (as a society I guess) that the end of year test isn’t important, then it is always a teachers job to help students reach success, which might be that test.  So if success isn’t clear, if the learning path isn’t clearly understood by everyone, I wonder how we, as teachers, can ever really get it?

Constructivism is the lens that the researchers are looking through but I feel like the real problem “Why aren’t they getting it” goes beyond the idea of constructivism, why is it so hard for us to really understand who we are, why is it so hard for us to change our way of being? It’s not really about getting the knowledge, maybe it’s more about us “restructuring” our way of thinking, changing it up and not being afraid to take some things down or grow in different ways. 

Brent Davis & Dennis Sumara (2003) Why Aren’t They Getting This? Working through the regressive myths of constructivist pedagogy, Teaching Education, 14:2, 123-140, DOI: 10.1080/1047621032000092922

Derby, M (2015) Place Being Resonance, Peter Lang, New York

Exploring Telok Ayer


My new job involves me working outside and looking more out our community. This week we are in Telok Ayer. A friend set up the program and he has made it very easy to build upon. When we spend time looking at Telok Ayer, I am trying to starting developing a sense of place.

One important aspect of developing a sense of place according to Raffan (1993) is getting to know the names of places (although I’m not an elder, I do know some of the stories). We talked about how based on the names of places we can see how Singapore has changed. Although our physical geography can change based on our interactions with our place, our place names often stay the same. By knowing our places and their names we can start building deeper connections to our community.

After discovering more about place names, we looked into the places around our community and the people who lived there. It’s been two days, and four classes, but a very interesting experience so far.

Raffan, J. (1993). The Experience of Place: Exploring Land as Teacher. ERIC Online, 16(1), 39-45

How does diversity work at school?

What diversity are we hardwired to see?

I had a really interesting talk with my dissertation supervisor yesterday. We were talking (when we weren’t talking about my paper) about this idea of diversity in school. Her argument was that diversity in our local context is usually seen by teachers as academic readiness. So if you asked a local teacher about diversity in class, they would talk about how prepared a student was to take a new test, how academically ready they were and how they taught through differentiation.

They got me thinking about a couple of things. The first was an article I read recently. “What can diversity possibly mean when school curriculum is unabashedly standardized and managed as official knowledge? What becomes of diversity when schools isolate – by law and often by lock, key and sometimes barbed wire – teachers and learners from the wider community of which school are only a small and homogenous part? ” (Gruenewald 2010, p.142). Can we really only talk about diversity when we create a world where there is only one answer, one community, one solid identity.

This connected, through Gruenewald, how important sense of place is, and also how important diversity is in creating a sense of place. Place can create a shared identity, especially when looking at this through a human perspective. However, millions of living things take part in the development of most places. We need these things, they help form and shape where and who we are.

So I guess what I’m wondering is how do you see diversity in your school? Are you wondering about academic readiness, economic diversity, cultural diversity, religious diversity, social diversity, what other things do you see? And how do you teach for or to those different groups.

Gruenewald, D. A. (2010). Place Based Education: Grounding Culturally Responsive Teaching in Geographical Diversity In D. A. Gruenwald, Smith, G.A. (Ed.), Place Based Education in The Global Age: Local Diversity. New York, New York: Routledge.