Why should we teach public speaking skills in our schools?

Most traditional curriculums, focused on student’s passive reception of content, are also inadvertently teaching children not to have an opinion on what they are learning, and, therefore, not expressing their ideas and insights.

But being able to passionately and respectfully present a well-founded, well-organized idea is crucial in a world where information abounds, and long-held beliefs are challenged. It is not only about writing a good essay, but it is also about being able to defend your point of view orally and in front of an audience.

At our school, Colegio Valle de Filadelfia, children begin to train in the art of public speaking when they reach third grade. They are responsible for every part of the process: selecting a topic of their interest, conducting research, writing a script, crafting their presentation, learning to handle the technical equipment, working on their body language and stage presence, and, finally, delivering a convincing speech. They do this both in English and in Spanish.

Last year, we even went beyond or goals as seven of our kids, ages 11 to 14, became TEDx speakers!

Whatever our children decide to pursue in life, the ability to use spoken language to inspire and move to action will undoubtedly serve them well.  Words are powerful: let’s unleash their potential to change the world!

By Elisa Guerra

Making the Holidays a Learning Platform

Exchanging Christmas cards with students around the world – and connecting through Skype

Exchanging Christmas cards with students around the world – and connecting through Skype

There are so many things going on during the holidays that is hard for everyone at school -including teachers- to stay focused. So much of time is devoted to the preparation of the diverse events to take place during the holidays, that sometimes it feels like curriculum has taken a back-row seat. But still, for us, December means our second trimester tests. And for kids in high school, end of semester evaluations.

We teachers are usually perfectionists. We strive to make the very best of everything. We want kids to ace their midterms but also shine on the Christmas recital. If kids are already distracted by the holidays– as we all are- we should take advantage of that interest, instead of trying to work against it (believe me, no teacher is more powerful than Santa). How can we make these holiday events a powerful learning platform? Here are some tips.

Holiday Global Citizens

I teach social studies in a medium-size city in México, where more than 90% of the population is Catholic. There is also a growing number of non-Catholic Christians. Our community lacks diversity in many ways, but maybe faith is the place where we are most alike. I don’t think that, in the almost two decades since our school was founded, we have had a single student that does not celebrate Christmas. Specially for the little ones, it is easy to believe that the whole world is just like us – they have never seen different.

If we pair kids’ endless curiosity with their heightened holiday awareness, we can interest them in the many different ways people live their very own celebrations. The holidays can be a festive soup of cultures. Aside from reading and watching videos about other countries’ traditions, we like to engage in Skype conversations with classrooms from across the globe. Kids learn important lessons on diversity and respect. Even among the countries that share Christmas with us, there is still much to learn and teach. The Mexican tradition of “Pedir Posada” (“Ask for shelter”) for example, has been a hit with kids across the planet.

Giving time

If we listen to the media, it seems like the Holidays are all about the parties and the presents: the ones you give, the ones you get. Yet some high order thinking questions can help our students to reflect and keep learning. Let’s take the SDG (UN Sustainable Development Goals) in mind:

  • What kind of presents are really useful – and gentle to the planet? (SDG #12: Responsible production and consumption)
  • Much waste is created just for gift packaging. How could we be responsible with the Earth and still make our presents look pretty? (SDG #12: Responsible production and consumption)
  • Many families get together to feast over the Holidays -yet, in the world, many more are starving. Is there anything our families and communities could do to ease other’s suffering? (SDG #1: End of poverty, and #2: Zero Hunger)
  • If your family gets together for the holidays, who does most of the cooking and cleaning? Why? Is there a better way to distribute the work? How? What can you do about this? (SDG #5: Gender equality)

Every experience is a learning experience.

Our kids present an open Violin Christmas Concert every year at our local shopping mall -it’s one of our school’s highlights, and it is a big deal. Students prepare for months, and the last weeks before the big day are usually hectic. I love that we put so much into arts and music, but students get so much more beyond learning to play Christmas carols. They learn to collaborate. If you want to produce beautiful, inspiring music, it is not enough to be a good musician yourself. You must work with others to ensure that your voice -or your instrument’s voice- is in harmony with the rest. One single off-key violin can throw off the whole performance. The same could be said of theatre and dance: we must come together to make magic.

Coming together: Isn’t that the whole spirit of the Holidays?

 

As part of CM Rubin’s World Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my contribution for this month’s prompt: What are your best tips for using a holiday event as a learning platform?

Is there a problem?

Everybody hates to be tested – especially in public.

But almost anyone loves to solve a problem. That is why some of us spend so much time over the Sunday crossword puzzle (or the game of choice on your tablet). But when the problems we tackle are relevant, when the solutions we reach actually improve our life or somebody else’s, then the feeling of accomplishment is tenfold.

Schools were first designed as places where learning “for tomorrow” would happen. Tests were needed to make sure that the students had really acquired the knowledge that was being transferred into them. Once teachers could acknowledge, via the evidence of the written test, that students could at least reproduce on paper the concepts that had been drilled on their brains, their work was done.

It didn’t really mattered if just a couple of days later all those “learnings” had been utterly forgotten or disregarded.

In life, we learn by doing. We find out what works and what doesn’t. We need knowledge, of course, but we know that data must be used to be valuable. Unused knowledge is like unspoken words: they might be there but they need to get out to do their work.

If you want to play the violin, it is useful to get a hold on concepts and techniques – but unless you put your hands to the instrument, you will never produce music.

Problem (or project) based learning is much more like learning to play an instrument, only that it contemplates you as a part of an orchestra from the very beginning. You need to do your part but you must also work with others to create magic.

PBL takes its time, and, because it’s centered in the students and their interests, it can many times move away from the curriculum we are required to teach – which is not necessarily a bad thing.  PBL requires careful planning and lots of flexibility.

Recently, at our school, Colegio Valle de Filadelfia in Aguascalientes, México, we began to teach our students about the SDGs – the UN Sustainable Development Goals. When talking about goal #12, “Responsible consumption and production”, we challenged 7thto 9thgrade students to think about the things they use and consume every day and how they could be improved in a way that benefits the planet.  Students worked in groups to identify possible problematic products and to brainstorm for solutions.

Our team at the National Science and Technology week

One group looked closely at something each one of them used everyday, most of the day: a pencil.  They wondered how many trees were cut to produce the pencils they were using (about 82,000 a year, in the US alone). They wondered, could there be a better way? After trial and error, they came up with a pencil made with crushed, fallen tree leaves and other natural components. They submitted their project to a science contest and eventually the team was invited by the government of our state to present their idea at the National Science and Technology week. They spent five days presenting to authorities and visitors alike. Previously, one of the team members, a seventh grader called Natalia, spoke about their project in a TEDx talk – which of course was a new challenge on its own, one that required honing of other set of knowledge and skills, such as writing (for her script) and public speaking.

Our students had a stand where they presented their project to visitors

Not every day is a PBL day, but many are, in some way or another.

Here are the things you should keep in mind when working global project based learning in your classroom or school

  1. Kids should be part of identifying the problem – that way it will be relevant for them and will not feel like a script they must follow. Give the students some context, of course. When we asked our kids to identify things in everyday use that could be improved to benefit the planet, we gave them a very specific context from where to start. We did not just tell them, “Think about any problem you might want to solve”.
  2. Students should work in groups. PBL is mostly a collaborative model – being able to pick from many brains makes it much more engaging and productive. And of course, kids develop social skills as well.
  3. There should always be an outcome –even if it is just an idea that still needs to be implemented. It is OK if the problem is not entirely solved, but we should feel one step closer to finding solutions. Sometimes, just creating awareness about an issue is an improvement.

PBL is an opportunity to use knowledge and skills and put them in action towards a goal. Note that the key word here is “opportunity”, as opposed to obligation. PBL is not a test. It might very well be used to qualitatively evaluate how kids apply and create knowledge, but it is, above all, a new and engaging learning experience.

As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: What does a high quality, global PBL program look like in your classroom?

MEXICO: How much time should K-12 students spend at school during a calendar year?

Mexican students are beaming with happiness.

Well, at least that’s what OECD’s PISA found. In fact, in their report for Student Well Being, Mexico ranks at the top of OECD countries, with 58.5% of them claiming they are “very satisfied with life”.

But at the same time, Mexico has consistently ranked at the very bottomof academic achievement among OECD countries. In all three domains (Reading, Math and Science) less than 1% of students are top performers. There’s nothing here to be happy about.

Could Mexicans improve their education outcomes by lengthening the amount of time students spend learning, in and out of school? It is not likely.

We are already devoting a larger share of time studying, well above OECD’s average of 44 hours a week, but significatively below top performers like Korea.

Eduardo Andere, a Mexican researcher specializing in comparative education, strongly disagrees with making school days longer in order to improve performance.  What good could it come from increasing the dosage of bad education? That, by itself, will not turn a deficient education into a good one. In fact, it could be even worse.

Even more time of a good education will not necessarily result in better academic achievement. According to the OECD, “increasing learning time alone, such as by making school days or years longer, or shortening lunch breaks, is not enough to improve student outcomes. The question is whether more time leads to fatigue, boredom and burnout, or to productive and effective learning”(p. 2)

If more time spent at school is not the answer, then what to do? Every country is different, of course, but in the case of Mexico, poverty and inequity play a major role in academic achievement. Andere (2014) states that for too long we have believed that education will solve the problem of poverty, but it seems more likely to be the other way around. At the very least, it is a two-way road.

Erradicating poverty and inequity are goals well beyond the reach of any school teacher. Changing the education system to allow for better opportunites is too high a task for the everyday educator. But we have our classrooms and our students, and, at least there, we can make a difference.

At Colegio Valle de Filadelfia, where I teach, school days are longer that the Mexican average by about 7 hours per week. However, this time is not all spent in academic activities. We have a wide array of learning opportunities that range from music and art to coding, genius time and Maker Space. Students develop different skills and interact with peers and kids of other ages. And yes, they score well above the national average in standardized tests. Although we could not pinpoint the exact causes, I am sure they are not necessarily related to more time spent in school. I suspect it could have much more to do with how we spend that time and where do our students come from.

Let’s make the most of the time (however big or little) that we have at school. If we are able to promote joyous, engaging learning in (almost) every minute, our kids will fare much better – not only in PISA, but, most importantly, in life.

 

As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: How much time should K-12 students spend at school during a calendar year?

 

References:

Andere, E. (2014) La Escuela Rota: Sistema y Política en contra del Aprendizaje en México. Siglo XXI Editores.

OECD (2017), PISA 2015 Results (Volume III): Students’Well-Being, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264273856-en

OECD (2017) PISA Country Note, México. Retrieved on September 1st, 2018, from https://www.oecd.org/pisa/PISA-2015-Mexico.pdf

OECD (2017) Pisa in Focus #73 Do students spend enough time learning?

http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/744d881a-en

 

There’s a robot in my backpack

Kids today are armed with technological superpowers. If they own a cell phone – and many, if not most of them, do- they already have a mighty computer in their pockets. It will really not be too long before they also have a robot in their backpacks. And get along with it pretty well.

Will that robot become their teacher?

Not likely. It has been said widely enough that many jobs are in route to extinction at the Fourth Industrial Revolution – and it may very well be so. But the jobs that are most likely to disappear are the ones that can be automated. If our work as teachers was to put kids together at a huge assembly line called the “School Factory”, then maybe, yes, we should be worried.

But kids are not furniture, cars, toys, or any piece of merchandise, for that matter, that can be mass-produced to a standard. And a teacher’s job is not the repetitive task many believe it to be, as if we were just filling little brains one after the other. “First grade teachers put in reading and writing, second grade teachers cement addition and subtraction, third grade teachers put in the times tables…” and so on.

Education is a tailor-made suit. It must fit each child precisely – and adjust while she is growing.  It is not perfect – in fact it is usually unpredictable, messy and complex – but it is also beautiful and profoundly uplifting.

Every teacher that is true to his calling is an artist, every child, a collective masterpiece. One in which the creation is also creator.

But times are indeed changing, and teachers will need to adapt and grow, not for fear of being replaced by robots – that won’t happen, I am certain. However, as Trucano (2015) writes: teachers who don’t use technology will be replaced by teachers who do.

Too often we have been caught up in the discussions of what studentsneed to thrive in a challenging, ever changing world. That is a discussion worth having, of course, but let’s not forget about the teachers. What kind of teachers will continue to flourish in the Fourth Industrial Revolution?This is an important question.

 

 Dead man walking

Are you a teacher in need of strong survival skills? You are in good company. Here, some suggestions that might just keep us off the “job death row”:

  • Be willing to do more.Technology will do us the great favor of unburdening us from many boring and time consuming administrative tasks – but we should spend that extra time learning how to manage and create stimulating environments using that same technology – and how to be better teachers overall. Strong teaching and digital skills are your best bet against extinction.
  • Get out of the classroom and collaborate.Gone are the days of the solitary teacher with a classroom as her undisputable kingdom. Your colleagues are no longer the lords of neighboring castles, ready to go to war if their imaginary borders felt threatened. And more importantly, your students are not your subjects, condemned by divine right to be your loyal servants. Your word, my dear, is not law. So go ahead and open the frontiers of your mind, expand your reach and allow yourself to be invaded: by new ideas, practices, pedagogies, methodologies, unconventional courses and subjects. Let yourself free of the tyranny of teaching to the test.
  • Be human.This is, after all, your most important differentiator against robots! Take time to develop and nurture relationships – with students, parents and other teachers. Be loyal and humble. Show your feelings, as they don’t expose our weaknesses, but strengthen our ties. Grow alongside your students. You, too, have a potential that deserves to be fulfilled.

And about that robot peeking out from the backpack: welcome it to the classroom, the schoolyard and the hallways. Who knows? Maybe we will learn to co-exist and co-create.

 

References:

Trucano, M. (2015) “Will technology replace teachers? No, but…” World   Bank. Edutech.    http://blogs.worldbank.org/edutech/tech-and-teachers. Retrieved on May 21st, 2018.

As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: What kind of teachers will continue to flourish in the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

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.