Taking Climate Change Seriously in our Schools

I am one among the couple thousands of teachers sitting in awe as former US Vice president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore is passionately talking about climate change. We are at the Global Education & Skills Forum (GESF), just last week in Dubai. The theme of the conference is: How are we educating our children and young for 2030?

During the sessions, and lingering in the many hallway conversations, two themes keep standing out among the many issues facing education in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. One is technology. The other, climate change.

Will the world in 2030 be a better place for young people? This is the hot question at the GESF debate chamber just one day before Al Gore’s appearance. The main concern seems to be whether robots will eat up our jobs… and whether we will still have a planet to live on.

Is there a way to embrace technology to its greatest advantages, and still turn our eyes towards nature, environment and life? How do we make sure we do not deplete our resources before it is too late? These questions belong not only in political arenas or international summits: they must find their way to our classrooms. Here are some ideas on how to make it happen.

  1. Instill inspiration, not fear. One thing I learned from Al Gore is that, while the situation on climate change is serious, there are plenty of opportunities to take action and make a difference. Yes, it is crucial that our children get to know the facts – but only to understand the importance of intervention. Fear creates paralysis. Inspiration provokes change.
  2. Make climate change part of your curriculum. Otherwise it will not just pop in there. We incorporated the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals so they no longer are “special activities”, but a core part of our program. We even created our own textbooks, -just published- on Language and Communication, in which the SDGs –along with climate change- make a prominent appearance. You can always lean in great work already out there. In our case, we took Harvard Professor Fernando Reimers’ book on global citizenship “Empowering students to improve the world in 60 lessons” as a starting point.
  3. Take part in international projects. When kids find out there are many other classrooms and schools working towards the same goals, they will feel compelled to do their part – and gain a sense of belonging at the same time. Two great projects to consider are Koen Timmers’ Climate Action Project, and Aggeliki Pappa’s #SOS4LoveProject. Of course, you can also create your own!
  4. Make it personal, make it real. In other words, practice what you preach. Get your school – or at least your classroom!- to recycle. Explore the many things both adults and children can do (we like the resources from the American Museum of Natural History)
  5. Speak out. Change will only happen if we succeed in bringing along as many people as possible. Children can become the best climate change advocates: after all, they will be the ones inheriting the planet. Our school is preparing a TEDx event where our students will share many ideas about pressing issues – climate change being one of them. Students will get to develop public speaking skills – while defending the earth.

The best way to celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd is to know that we are already doing our share in nurturing the planet – inside and outside our schools.

 

As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: Taking Climate Change Seriously in our Schools.  What are your best Tips for Teaching About Climate Change in Your Classroom?

From Armand Doucet: Six things my students teach me

Armand Doucet is a Canadian teacher, Global Teacher Prize finalist and coauthor of the book “Teaching in the Fourth Industrial Revolution”. As a guest blogger, he writes for our series “Six Things my Students Teach ME”

All students are curious. It’s up to me to personalize the content and make the classroom a safe place for them to want to ask questions.

Passion will get any student to push outside of their comfort zone and try to reach new heights.

To be human, first and foremost, don’t take myself too seriously and make sure that every day I greet them at the door with a smile asking them how they are doing.

That I am not the smartest person in my classroom, at first this scared me, but growing from the sage on the stage to the guide that will help open the doors for each student, gives them the chance to reach their true potential.

Leadership is doing what is best for my students, no matter what.

Teaching is not and will never be just the transfer of curriculum content you are a teacher 24/7, 365 days of the year and you will wear a different hat (sometimes many hats) for every student in your classroom. Don’t underestimate the impact of a conversation in the hallways, checking up on the child who has been sick or giving some positive feedback on the students last extra-curricular activity. Sometimes you are the only one paying attention.

Promoting well-being in our schools

“Is this the place where you come when your heart hurts?”

Luisa was just 8 years old but she was well aware of the perils of emotional restlessness. She was standing at the door of Paty, our school counselor, a warm, caring grandmother with a PhD in psychology and a special way with children.

No school can do its job of educating youth without seriously taking student well-being into consideration. A heavy heart is rarely compatible with a focused mind. But, how can we reach the whole child? The exquisite complexity of human beings – and the overflowing of young ones at our schools – makes this a difficult task. At the same time, its relevance makes it impossible to dismiss.

Our school is far from perfect and there is still much to be done, but here are some of the things we do to promote happiness, well-being and health in our classrooms.

Create relationships. It seems obvious, but being able to form strong connections with our students is crucial. Only when there is a climate of trust will they be able to open up and let us in if they need help. Every child should have at least one adult at school that is close to him. Some years ago, I learned a strategy to make this happen. When there is a staff meeting at school and all teachers are reunited, write the name of each student in the school in a post-it. Display all post-its in a large wall. Give each teacher a colored felt pen, and ask them to mark their name in the post it of each student that they are particularly close to. Each kid should have at least one mark on her name. If that is not the case, find the children with no marks and make a plan to create the lacking connections. Very large schools could do this if they divide by sections.

Teacher’s well-being is important. Stress is contagious. If a teacher feels anxious, it will be almost impossible to keep a positive classroom environment. Schools are live, organic entities. If there is a problem somewhere, it will eventually hurt the whole system. Sean Bellamy, a UK based teacher and founder of Sands School, is currently working in partnership with The Well Being Project  to develop strategies that support teachers’ well being in schools – he believes this to be a pre-requisite for quality teaching and learning. “The programme is still in its early stages” -he says. “And the people at The Well Being Project have been extremely helpful”.  Sean’s forward-thinking TEDx talk about risk and the teenage brain is available at TEDx Talks YouTube Channel:

Mindfulness works. Back to our school counselor, Paty. Some years ago she began to have weekly mindfulness sessions with whole groups – especially those with troublesome issues, like bullying. She also works with teachers at our monthly staff meetings. The results have been encouraging. When issues are faced and treated, school climate improves, which decreases stress and improves well-being. The whole system thrives. But not all responsibility falls in the counselor. Teachers – and students need to learn the tools that will help them to self-regulate and de-stress.

Create a rich, stimulating and wide learning environment. No school day should be complete without daily exposure to arts and opportunities for physical movement. If possible, spend some time outside the classroom: sunlight is great for improving health – and mood. Exciting lessons from passionate teachers will chase away boredom and inertia, so strive to create fun, engaging experiences – for everyone, including parents!

Happiness and well being can’t happen by decree – they are part of a very personal journey for each one of us. However, the environments we create and the relationships we build will have a definitive impact on the way we experience life. So let’s make the most of it, for us and for our children. They deserve no less.

 

As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question:  How are you promoting well-being, health and happiness in your classrooms?

Six things my students teach me

Don’t think the kids do all the learning at school. Teachers get their very good share of it as well. These are some of the most important things my students have taught me.

1. Curiosity fuels learning (Passion can take you a long way)

It is extremely difficult to teach bored brains – but it is nearly impossible to keep aroused minds from learning. For too long I strived to make my lessons perfect, structured and uneventful. I’m a recovering control freak, and those carefully planned lessons made me feel safe. But it was the times when something wild happened – usually by accident – that my students enjoyed and learned the most. Eventually, I began to plan my lessons in a very different way. Instead of thinking by means delivering content, I asked myself: How can I make this lesson enlightening and irresistible?

2. Movement wires the brain

Just about every time I tried to arrange my tiny students in a quiet and peaceful circle for reading, 3 year old Carolina would decide to run around us, her little feet pounding as fast as her heart. I tried everything to get her to sit and join the group, but most of the time I failed terribly. I gave up to her, mostly out of tiredness and fear of losing the rest of the class. It was my first year as a teacher and I was struggling to survive.

As weeks and months went by, I realized that even if apparently distracted, Carolina had listened to every word of the stories and remembered many details that even I had forgotten. At the same time, I began to notice a surprising pattern: the kids who moved the most in my class not only had better motor skills but also seemed more articulate than their peers. Movement feeds, grows and organizes your brain.  And better brains allow for better learning.

3. Curriculum must meet the child (not the other way around)

Too many classrooms resemble a frantic race in which all students must meet the curriculum as fast and efficiently as possible. Children are judged upon their ability and compliance to do so. Teachers are measured against how quickly and how many of their students achieve that goal. Curriculum becomes the ultimate god: the reason for schools’ existence, the shrine of the enlightened few and the penance of the troubled many. We push our kids to meet the curriculum, when we should be harnessing the curriculum to meet the individual child.

Our students are alive and changing, each one exquisitely unique. Shouldn’t they have their own path and pace to experience learning and knowledge?

Teaching for the curriculum (or the test) is not only ethically wrong, it is also pedagogically inefficient. Children, and the relationships we form with them, are much more important than the curriculum. I am not saying that content is irrelevant, and I am not implying than schools are little more than social clubs. But, if we are willing to go slow to then go fast, as Armand Doucet describes in our book “Teaching in the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, the time spent developing relationships will pay off – and we may end up in much better terms with the curriculum as well.

4. School is Life

Have you ever noticed that we tend to speak to children in future tense – a lot? We tell them to eat well because then “you will grow healthy and strong”. We ask them to stop horsing around because “you will fall and hurt yourself”. We insist that they study because “school will prepare you for life”.

But school is life for our students -and they are living it right now.

I learned from my students that “now” is as important as “tomorrow”, if not more. Adults tend to live either howling the regrets of the past or shouldering the anxieties of the future. Children know better. So learn from your past and let it go. Allow your dreams and goals to propel you in motion. But live in the present, and be your very best today.

5.Teachers are still important. Technology is not a one-size-fits-all resource. Sometimes, plain old good paper, scissors, glue and tempera paint will awaken creativity more than any app could do. Screen time is no replacement for climbing a tree. And while technology surely empowers us to connect in many ways that were not possible before, there is still a world of unbeatable non-digital experiences – and no computer will ever replace teachers.

When I first designed my online History and Geography lessons for secondary school students, part of the plan was to eliminate classroom time completely for those subjects. Students would interact with me and among them exclusively online, much in the way I had completed my graduate degree. But very quickly I learned that my 12 to 15 year old students still needed live mentorship, and that they did better if they had it. My online course became a flipped classroom –technology is still big, but the teacher is still important.

6. Every child bears the seed of genius within. Each day I am reminded of just how amazing children are, and I marvel about the great privilege educators have in helping them achieve their dreams. And in doing so, we also grow into our own, never-ending human potential. In other words, learning makes us grow, but teaching makes us great.

The good, the bad and the best in EdTech tools for learning

These are amazing times for being a teacher. Our classrooms are no longer constrained to chalk or paper, our lessons no longer imprisoned in textbooks. Teaching in the Fourth Industrial Revolution takes passion and initiative, and along with the challenges come the exhilarating opportunities.

EdTech tools have literally exploded everywhere, so it would be impossible or at least impractical to list them all. However, here are some that we have tried at our school: the good, the bad, and the best.

The good

Edmodo – An effective social edu-platform that keeps us connected and organized

YouTube – Used it to flip the classroom

Duolingo– perfect for learning languages

Prezi – A way for both teachers and students to create engaging presentations

MakeyMakey – Maker kits that were a great addition to our MakerSpace

 

The bad

I really can’t mention any “bad” technologies. Yes, there were some we tried and eventually were not very excited about – but we realize that the very same tools could work wonders in other contexts. However, I must say I feel cautious about “one size fits all” EdTech classroom solutions – the kind that some companies try to push into schools. They offer you the skies of technological innovation –usually at a high cost- and promise you “effortless” integration. Materials are pre-done and ready to administer in the rented equipment. Two things worry me about these apparently brilliant solutions: One, with technology in the classroom, there is no such thing as effortless integration, ever. And if it is, then no one is really learning, at least as much as they could. We all need to stumble a little here and there to find a good match for our very diverse needs and interests – and those of our students’. Second, when you invest that much in something, you feel compelled to use it, even if it turns to be not what you expected. Out of economic guilt, you commit to your provider’s tech ideas, extinguishing your own.

Teachers and students should have the freedom to explore what works and what doesn’t in their unique environments. You can achieve the skies those companies offered you – and you don’t need to shed so much cash. Yes, you will work more, but the outcomes can be equal or larger.

Legos, cardboard and creativity play along with technology to create a stop motion animation movie

The best

These are the tools that have totally rocked our classrooms!

  1. Skype – we use it widely for connecting with schools around the globe, having virtual fieldtrips and inviting guest speakers to our classrooms. It’s easy to find partners in Microsoft Educator Community.
  2. Stop Motion Studio Creativity unleashed! My students created stop motion animation movies in a wide variety of themes- then we had a red-carpet premiere!
  3. Weebly – Easy and fun way to learn how to create websites and blogs. You can manage your students’ assignments from your educator profile.
  4. Paths to math: Created by fellow Top Global Teacher Blogger Maarit Rosi, it’s math teaching at its best. Students engage in real life problems to be solved – while having fun!
  5. PowToon – My kids absolutely love the animated videos you can create with this tool. Here is one example.

I am fully aware that there are so many more tools out there – and oh, we are so ready to welcome 2018 playing around with some of them!

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As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: What edtech tools have dramatically supported/improved learning in your classroom environment in the past few years?

Normalizing Struggle: Building our better self

Her fists were clenched. She tried to tame the tears that were so close from storming out. Maybe disguising her anguish as indifference would do the trick.

It didn’t.

She was staring at her unfinished work, drowning at the task at hand. What the task was doesn’t matter. How she felt does.

– “I just can’t do this” – she whispered to me as I approached her desk. “It’s too hard. I’m not smart enough”

– “Nobody gets it perfect the first time”, I said. But it did not convince her.

– “Oh, yes they do. Most of them. Just not me. I don’t want to do this anymore”

What was she afraid of? You name it. The giggles. The shame. The flunk. Maybe the biggest fear was to face, once more, the perceived confirmation that she was not good enough. Failure is painful, and we naturally reject what hurts.

How do we better instill an idea of risk taking and struggle in students? How can we better humanize success and show that it’s a matter of diligence rather than talent?

You have not failed until you give up

The first step in preserving a risk-taking mentality in our students is to take the “failure” out of the “struggle”. The world’s greatest scientists, inventors and artists reached the skies after years of sustained effort. However, they have been romanticized by history and media as born-that-way geniuses. The truth is, every child has the seed of genius within – dedication and hard work is what eventually will make them fly.

A supportive environment to thrive

You would not jump into the void without some sort of a safety net: that is called calculated risk. Our students will weigh in the possible outcomes for being daring and bold in their academic pursuits. If there is a big chance that they will fall prey to ridicule, most likely they will not go for it. Let’s promote a supportive school environment that values trying as well as achieving, and process as well as results.

We should also recognize and even cherish our own struggles: If, instead, we run away and hide them from our students, we are strengthening the idea that struggling is a shameful deviation from achievement, instead of a powerful opportunity for growth.

Yidan Prize winner Carol Dweck has extensive research showing that intelligent people are not just born smart: kids can identify their current achievements and then work towards improving, actually getting smarter.

When you teach about the great characters from history, science and art, be sure to portray the whole stories: the pains as well as the gains, the human side entwined with the brilliance, the challenges along with the glory.

It’s not about minimizing struggle, it’s about normalizing it. When we take failure out of the equation and embrace struggling as part of the journey, learning becomes again the joyous, stimulating gift it was always meant to be.

As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: How do we better instill an idea of risk taking and struggle in students? How can we better humanize success and show that it’s a matter of diligence rather than talent?

El currículo que se cambia a sí mismo

Más o menos cada diez años se publica un nuevo plan de estudios para la educación básica en mi país, México. Por lo general, el documento, cientos de páginas de largo, se anuncia con gran fanfarria.

Es difícil, si no imposible, mantenerse al día con el ritmo acelerado del mundo de hoy. Desafortunadamente, incluso antes de que se seque la tinta del más nuevo currículo, éste pudiera ya ser irrelevante, estar desactualizado, o ambos.

Si tuviera el improbable poder de crear el plan de estudios para las escuelas de educación básica, trataría de diseñar el currículo que se cambia a sí mismo.

Los currículos que he conocido están completamente secuenciados, son lineales y en su mayoría fijos. Hay muy poco espacio, si es que hay alguno, para tomar emocionantes desvíos hacia los intereses del estudiante.

Mi plan de estudios se basaría en “proyectos de pasión” dirigidos a adquirir conocimientos y habilidades, pero también a descubrir cualquier cosa que dispare el corazón de un alumno. Iluminar la mente iría de la mano con acariciar el espíritu. Cada niño o adolescente tendría la libertad y la responsabilidad de elegir su propio camino educativo. Los proyectos de pasión les darían los fundamentos, desde el lenguaje hasta las matemáticas, pasando por las artes y las ciencias, y los incitaría a venir por más. En vez de una escalera lineal, veríamos una red caprichosa con muchas líneas, diferentes para cada estudiante o, por lo menos, para cada grupo, guiados por el docente. Todo comenzaría en el centro, el núcleo de la telaraña, y avanzaría hacia fuera en muchas direcciones, incluso tomando giros y dando saltos.

El currículo sería enorme, pero sólo para acomodar la diversidad de los intereses de los estudiantes. No se esperaría, de nadie, cubrirlo todo. Uno podría fácilmente profundizar en un tema que le susurró al oído, y pasar por los que no lo hicieron de una manera más superficial.

Cuatro elementos básicos guiarían el flujo, pero no deberían confundirse con “materias”: Tecnología, Ciudadanía Global, Habilidades del Pensamiento y Lectura.

La tecnología sería la plataforma, el cohete que hace despegar al contenido. No sería el profesor ni el contenido mismo. La tecnología – incluso la gran tecnología – no reemplazará a los maestros, buenos o malos. Pero sin duda cambiará la forma en que enseñamos. La tecnología daría al currículo la habilidad de actualizarse con facilidad y transformase para cada niño. Además, pondría a disposición de maestros y alumnos el enorme acervo de recursos en el ciberespacio, orientándolos hacia el contenido pertinente y relevante de acuerdo a sus intereses. El currículo también daría la pauta para que los mismos estudiantes y maestros desarrollaran contenidos paralelos y los integraran a esta gran nebulosa, contribuyendo con su granito de “polvo cósmico”.

A medida que continuamos evolucionando hacia una especie de escuela mundial, la ciudadanía global es una necesidad para guiar a nuestros estudiantes por los vericuetos de la sociedad hiperconectada y multiexigente en la que ya estamos inmersos. La tolerancia religiosa, la igualdad de género, la inclusión, el respeto a la diversidad, el uso responsable de nuestros recursos y sí, el conocimiento y atención de los problemas más apremiantes del mundo -tanto globales como locales- son mucho más importantes que, digamos, memorizar la fecha en la que Colón llegó a América (un dato que muy fácilmente nos puede dar el Dr. Google).

Esto nos lleva a las habilidades de pensamiento crítico. El conocimiento sigue siendo extremadamente importante – pero junto con él, la capacidad de diferenciar lo veraz de lo inexacto. Google, ciertamente, tiene todas las respuestas: incluyendo muchas erróneas o sesgadas. No necesitamos saberlo todo, pero debemos saber dónde y cómo encontrar la información fiable que requerimos – y qué hacer con ella.

Mañana, los niños tendrán que reinventarse constantemente para mantenerse al día con los desafíos de esta cuarta revolución industrial. Por ello, hay una gran demanda de autodidactas. Si queremos personas que aprendan de por vida, necesitamos lectores de por vida. Nuestros sistemas escolares han tenido cierto éxito en el desarrollo de personas que pueden leer, pero no en desarrollar lectores. Hay algo completamente equivocado en esto – y necesitamos encontrar soluciones ahora.

¿Es este supuesto currículo una utopía? Bien podría serlo.

Pero bueno, yo

sólo soy una maestra.