IB History Workshop Review

Two weeks ago I finished an on-line IB History workshop. The workshop lasted six weeks and dozens of countries were represented. The aim of the workshop was to help teachers new to IB History learn how to put a course together.  Throughout the six weeks, collaboration among participants was encouraged, and often required. Regrettably, those of us who collaborated so intensely for six weeks, dissipated into the aether after the workshop was finished. I never had the chance to share thoughts, positive or otherwise, with my peers. So I have invited you all here to see what I thought of our workshop, to share your own thoughts with me, and to hopefully remain in contact as our careers evolve.

On the positive front, I learned a lot from you all, in terms of course materials and creative teaching strategies. I also found the essay marking exercises very useful. As there are no higher History authorities at my school, it was a relief to see my own marks were in the range of those who actually do the final marking. It was also nice to read and take part in discussions, whether parsing out the meaning of “analyze,” or grappling with the essence of the ‘Learner Profile.’ On the flip side, my biggest gripe has to do with the uneven pacing of the workshop. Some of us clearly have more free time on our hands, and were thus able to mow through the various stages. The regrettable upshot of this is that I often found myself having discussions with the same few people. However enlightening these discussions may have been, I would have liked more exposure to the other eighty percent of our cohort. In a perfect world I would have the time to casually peruse the posts made on previous stages, but I lacked the time to do so. I also would have liked to engage more closely with our facilitator. I realize the very title “facilitator” suggests the role will be sort of behind the scenes, encouraging and provoking when required. But I know our particular facilitator knows a ton of useful stuff about IB History, and if we were in a classroom based workshop, it would have been much easier to learn from her expertise. On balance, then, I did learn from the workshop more about “how to put a course together” than I knew before going in, and for this I’m thankful. In the future, however, I will avoid the on-line platform, as the three days of face-to-face is richer, quicker, and much more fun…    Please take a minute to comment, and please also check back here from time to time. I promise to keep this blog crackling with fresh materials, useful links, and sappy reflections on life in Hong Kong, and teaching at an International School…   HO HO HO!!

Term One Reflections

It’s December 20th, 2012. The first term is complete. The corks have been popped, the holiday chocolates consumed, but my mind has not yet adjusted to the freedom. It is still swimming with the triumphs and disappointments familiar to those in the trade. Though before I reflect on what worked and what did not, a tribute to Tony Danza is in order. For it was Danza who penned the magisterial confession titled: ‘ I Wish To Apologize To Every Teacher I’ve Ever Had.’ Yes, like Tony, I used to be a complete menace. A menace to my teachers, a menace to my peers, a menace to anyone who ‘didn’t get it,’ which included just about everyone. Alas, the wheel of karma has spun. Retribution is at hand. I am now confronted daily with the child I was, multiplied, and weirdly energized. Still, I enjoy what I do. And as I reflect upon my own adolescent distrust of institutional authority,  my own repulsion at the things I was forced to learn, I think my feelings were justified, though the expression was immature. Ditto for my karmic avengers.

So tonight I will address the first-term disappointments, as these weigh most heavily. First, I feel like my energy and creativity was unevenly distributed. In the future I hope to provide all grade-levels with an equal amount of energy, preparation, and care. My integration of technology into the classroom was unimpressive. We watched videos, experimented with different presentation platforms, performed collaborative projects using google docs., and used Evernote to document investigations. But there was still too much reliance on text, and way too much paper was consumed. I hope to leave the twentieth century behind, resolutely, in the coming terms. I would also have liked to be more “hands-on” and less theoretical, particularly when covering units on geography. Having the children “do” rather than “think.” But the disappointments I wish to touch on tonight are on the inter-personal level, and relate to two common, and commonly misunderstood personality types.

The first is the smart and lazy child. This child defies the ordinary teaching logic. In the teaching workshops and seminars we are told: If we could only make things interesting–more engaging, more stimulating,..more “student-centered”– the child will rise like a phoenix from the muck of apathy. But the issue, it seems to me, is one of will and identity. In many important respects, school reduces children to an undifferentiated mass. Identical uniforms, identical chairs and tables, identical food. To assert a unique identity against these forces of standardization requires a heroic act of the will. Unfortunately, the will to disobey, or to “un-learn”  are common manifestations. These children willfully repress the intelligence with which they have been blessed. They mock the anticipated “feed-back”:

” You have soo much potential”….  “if only you would apply yourself”…

These kids  know it, expect it, and are amused by the nauseating routine.

My role as a teacher is then to create an atmosphere where mind and identity can co-evolve, where learning is not a threat, or a “sell-out.” I think there was some progress made on this front, but much, much more remains to be done.

The second personality is the child who is simply out of place in a school environment. For many years I was one of these kids. I know about ‘Multiple Intelligences,’ and I believe Gardner is absolutely correct, and deserves a Nobel Prize for re-framing the discussion of intelligence. But let’s face it, schools are not designed for kids who think almost exclusively with their bodies. Their very physicality becomes enemy number one. Forced to “sit still” in hard, uncomfortable chairs for six hours a day, the active body revolts. In this case I don’t believe will-power is the issue. A healthy body demands to exist, and the mind and body are one. Another teacher once said she wants to tell these kids that if they can just make it through school, these strengths that now obstruct their success will very likely be a source of success. I agree. And this goes equally for the “class-clown,” whose devilishly outspoken nature is valued beyond the spartan walls of academia. In the coming term, I will therefore be more conscious of these “body-learners,” and will design collaborative activities that allow the body a chance to express its (in many ways superior) wisdom.

So much for Term Reflections. I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I did writing. See you soon!