I recently attended the ECIS (Educational Collaborative for International Schools) Educators Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, with the theme, Cultivating Curiosity.
The theme of cultivating curiosity reminded me of one of ISP‘s (International School of Prague) strategic goals,
“Curiosity drives what and how we learn.”
It is through curiosity and personal relevance (another ISP strategy!), that all students, young and old, will be deeply engaged in the learning process. For students to take their own personal paths to learning in school, teachers must create rich environments and multiple learning paths to encourage and nurture curiosity.
The first keynote speaker at the ECIS conference, Dr. William Rankin, highlighted the paradigm shift schools need to make: From teaching and learning as a linear activity, to contextualizing learning within an ecosystem.
In his talk, Rankin pointed out that the more educators and schools try to reduce information into easily “manageable” and discrete chunks, the more we actually reduce engagement, because this “goes against the way our brains were formed to work.” Rankin argues that learning requires an ecosystem, whichsimilar to the world of nature, is Diverse, Relational, Balanced, Torsional, Dynamic and Substantial. Such a learning ecosystem is where relevance serves as a catalyst to stimulate curiosity and engagement.
To illustrate how the lack of relevance can be a mind-numbing experience, Rankin demonstrates how not to teach cooking. Each week the class is informed that they will learn about a different cooking tool: Week one is spoons; week two is knives; week three is pots and pans etc. By the end of the semester students don’t have the time to actually cook. Rankin asks his audience, “How many of you have been in that course?” Sadly, many hands are raised.
So “How do you learn to cook?” Rankin asks, “By cooking! You learn all that information, not first but while you are doing it.”
As the school year begins, it is fitting and timely to call attention to an educational visionary and provocative thinker who recently passed away. For over a half century Seymour Papert led the call for schools to empower students to have greater control over their learning.
In the early 70s, long before laptops or even desktop computers, Papert saw the enormous potential and power of young people freely exploring and learning from and with this powerful new technology.
Beyond his advocacy for the integration of technology in schools, Papert vehemently believed that in any context, learning must firmly be in the hands of the learner.
The scandal of education is that every time you teach something, you deprive a student of the pleasure and benefit of discovery.
Papert was a visionary who had and continues to have a profound influence on the progressive direction schools have taken. The more we understand the workings of the brain and how learners learn best, the more Papert’s ideas about learning by doing and student empowerment take hold.
In the tradition of the great educational minds like John Dewey, Seymour Papert challenged educators to rethink the traditional school model, to “break away from the old patterns, where children were born as learners, they learned from their own energy until they went to school, and when they went to school, the first thing they had to learn was to stop learning and begin being taught.”
You can’t teach people everything they need to know. The best you can do is position them where they can find what they need to know when they need to know it.
Each year at this time, schools around the world celebrate their graduates achievements and wish them success as they venture out into the world. Last week’s blog highlighted the words of one of our graduate speakers and this week I leave you with my words to the graduates and their families, entitled “Youth is NOT Wasted on the Young.”
It is an honor for me to welcome you to the graduation ceremony for the class of 2016! We are all very proud of the young women and men sitting on this stage before us. They have worked hard to become ISP graduates and we are all proud of their achievements.
I have no doubt that the past few months have been a bit of a blur for our seniors. They’ve been in a sort of limbo, between finishing up their high school careers, and simultaneously getting ready for the next chapter in their lives. While a new life approaches each of you, and we hope we have prepared you well for your future, it’s fair to say that each of you will be venturing out into unknown territory.
Whether you are taking a gap year or immediately starting university, whether you’ll be living at home or in another country; even if you are not quite sure what you will be doing next year, you are heading into a new way of being. Whatever you will be doing or wherever you go next, your lives will fundamentally change because you are no longer children. You are young adult women and men who must take greater responsibility for yourselves, actually in a legal sense, you will take full responsibility for your actions. Isn’t it wonderful?… Isn’t it horrifying? Whatever you’re feeling about the future, giddy excitement or dread, it’s in your hands, more than it has ever been before. I think it’s fair to say that those of us who have been around a lot longer than you have, will enjoy living vicariously through your adventures and experiences. This is especially true of your parents, who will look on proudly and nervously as you venture out!
There’s an old saying, Youth is wasted on the young. It means that young people encounter all sorts of new situations and predicaments in life without the benefit of having learned life’s lessons. But that’s part of the fun and excitement isn’t it? Encountering new situations and attaining wisdom through your good judgement as well as your mis-steps?
What would it be like, I wonder, if somehow young people your age could begin life having already attained all the wisdom experience brings; with vivid memories of victories and defeats, successes and failures; with all the important lessons somehow already learned? Could the freshness and uniqueness of every new experience, every catchy song or captivating landscape, every compelling book or great love, possibly shake your soul the same way as it will do, when you encounter life’s twists and turns for the very first time? I think not. In order for you to absorb life and hopefully gain some wisdom along the way, you must take the time to live life, and that will take you a lifetime!
I actually looked into the origins of the phrase “Youth is wasted on the young”. In a slightly different form, it is attributed to the great Irish playwright, critic, polemicist and all around witty person George Bernard Shaw. Someone asked Shaw what, in his opinion, is the most wonderful thing in this world. “Youth,” he replied, “ Youth is the most wonderful thing in this world—and what a pity that it has to be wasted on children!”
We all get what he means, but I would argue that youth is a wonderful thing mainly because it involves the wonder and the delight of first times. Discovering a new culture or delighting in a great novel, or tasting a new cuisine for the very first time, can only be a surprise to the inexperienced or uninitiated. Making mistakes that you yourself have to own and learn from, are also defining moments which make us who we are.
In that sense, youth is not wasted on the young, any more than old age is wasted on the aged. In either case, life is wasted only if it is not lived with purpose. As Shaw himself said, “Lifeisn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” And that’s the whole point of the journey each of us makes in life, young or old. As you develop and grow, each of you, dear seniors, will be creating who you are. Your life is in your hands and not anyone else’s. What you do and what you become is of your making.
So on this special day, I ask our graduates, to take this unique and precious time in your lives to explore your world and yourselves. Learn from your mistakes and delight in all that you have not yet experienced. See your life from this time on as an opportunity to create who you are. How exciting!
The world has lost a great man, a fighter whose life optimized audacity and courage, not only because he was a brilliant and beautiful athlete, but because he stood up and spoke truth to power.
“I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong”
At the height of the civil rights movement in the United States in the mid 1960s, when large swathes of the country were deeply polarized and still largely segregated, Muhammad Ali, a world champion boxer, refused to fight in a war that he believed was profoundly unjust. He said this to the powers that be:
“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end.”
For taking this stand, Ali was banned from boxing for three and a half years until he finally won his day in court. When I was growing up and to this day, his presence deeply impacted my life.
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see.”
As is the tradition in countless schools and universities around the world, ISP recently convened its graduation ceremony for the class of 2016. We are fortunate indeed to have the opportunity to honor and celebrate with our graduates and their families in one of the most beautiful cities in the world Prague, in one its splendid landmark buildings, Zofin Palace.
Each year students, teachers and administrators have an opportunity to share our thoughts about the graduates and their futures. While there were many eloquent speeches to choose from, below I reprint Isabella Wilkinson’s address, which I will call, “Where is my home?”
Bella, speaks to the anticipation of our graduate’s bright futures and to the questions many are asking. Enjoy!
Kde domuv muj? Where is my home? – Isabella Wilkinson
Question everything. Remain curious. Strive to understand what you know, and what you don’t, and why. Perhaps these are the greatest and most profound lessons ISP has taught us over the past few years, as its students: to keep our eyes wide open to the changing world around us; to always have the curiosity to ask questions and to retain the energy to pursue their answers no matter what.
Today, the Class of 2016 stands on the edge of the rest of their lives, ready to go off into the world to find answers to the unanswered, to question the unquestionable. Seated before you today are the world’s future leaders, engineers, writers, doctors, artists, politicians, all of whom will strive to have unprecedented and unimaginable impact on the world around them. Each of us is prepared to go off into the world with open and questioning minds, prepared to ask our own questions and prepared to seek our own answers.
However, amidst the uniqueness of our graduating class as individuals, there is a single unanswered question that I believe truly defines us as a group and brings us all together: a question that should be recognized today as we are poised to step bravely into the future. To be honest, it’s one of the hardest questions we’ve faced yet…and this is said after taking this year’s IB exams! Whether it appears on a university application form, in an interview or even just in casual conversation, this is a question many of us will never be able to answer in just one word:
“So, where is home?” Or: “So, where are you from?”
ISP has given us the confidence to question everything. That’s how we know our identity can’t be defined just by the nationality and birthplace on our passports, or by the places our family lives, or by the languages we speak. Knowing who we are can be so much more complicated than that. Or, it was, until very recently.
As said earlier, the class seated before you today is standing before the rest of their lives. It’s inevitable: within the next few months, the Class of 2016 will have dispersed themselves all over the globe, to study, to work, to pursue new adventures, to meet new people, to grow and to learn, to ask questions and seek answers. Change is on the horizon. But before you take a leap of faith, you look down to see where your feet are. And on the edge of this great unknown, we can’t help but look down to see where we’re standing. It’s really true that you only know and appreciate what you have and what you’re a part of when it’s time to let it go, and move on.
So, today, as we graduate, we can ask the previously unanswerable question once again, a final time for now. “So. Where is home?” Now, when asked “where’s home?” we can think of days spent. We remember the morning breaks spent laughing about the weekend’s events in the cafeteria with our best friends, the lunchtimes spent cramming for tests together on the floor of the senior lounge, the evenings spent endlessly exploring the beautiful city we’re so lucky to be a part of with people we’re so lucky to have in our lives.
Now, when asked “where’s home?” we can think of people. We remember the ISP family; the teachers that have helped us become the people we are today with patience and encouragement, who have believed in us and inspired us beyond words; the families that have given us the love, support and motivation we’ve needed to achieve our goals; the friends that have made us cry with laughter along the way, with whom we’ve made unforgettable memories with. We remember the post-graduates who sat where we are seated today and the way they’ve become part of an enduring and special network that neither time nor distance will end.
Now, when asked “where’s home?” we can think of feelings. We remember the nervous excitement as we walked up the back stairs to the freshmen hallway for the first time; the exhilaration of moving up a grade; the growing unease about our final exams; and now, the nervous excitement as we move upwards once again.
Now, when asked “where’s home?” we can think of moments. We remember the moments of discovery, of realisation, of learning and of growth; we remember the moment we realised a long-awaited answer to a long-term question. We remember the moments that have made us who we are as people.
This is one of them. Over the past few months, as we have been prepared to let go of ISP, a lot of things have been labeled as their ‘last’: the last IB class, the last IB exam, the last cafeteria lunch with friends, the last goodbye to the senior lounge, and the last time walking through the halls of ISP as a student.
Well, as for last words, there isn’t much left to say but this: In the words of the Czech national anthem – words that have no doubt grown close to our hearts in the past few years:
Kde domuv muj? Translation: where is my home?
Now, all there is left to say is thank you. Thank you, ISP, for helping us answer that question. Thank you, ISP, for being a home.
I was recently invited to write an article for the RSA Journal on the topic of school change, innovation and creativity. The resulting article, The Nature of Nurture (RSA Journal, Issue 1, 2016) talks about the importance of bringing all stakeholders; teachers, students, parents and the broader community, into the school change process as well as present some of the concrete steps ISP is taking to move the school closer to its mission of Inspiring, Engaging and Empowering Learners for Life.
“A key step towards meaningful school transformation is a concerted effort to educate, not only teachers, but also parents and students, about why creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship and life-worthy learning must be an integral part of a child’s education. Beyond enlightening all stakeholders about why change is necessary, schools must find ways for interested individuals to try things out without, in the process, draining human and financial resources. “
Established in 1754, the RSA’s mission is “to enrich society through ideas and action.”
“We serve this mission by acting as a global hub, by enabling millions of people to access the most creative ideas, by nurturing networks of innovators, and through researching, testing and sharing practical interventions.“
Click below to learn more about RSA’s history and the influential role it plays on bringing about innovative change.
As Director of the International School of Prague (ISP), I like to believe that I work hard every day, but yesterday I gained a new perspective on hard work, having “shadowed” Grace, a grade 9 student at ISP, for a day.
While I often visit classrooms and observe kids learning and teachers teaching, spending a full day shadowing one student, from class to class, as well as lunch, is a very different experience and one I highly recommend, especially to other school decision makers.
I decided to shadow Grace as part of an initiative called Shadow a Student Challenge sponsored by SchoolRetool. Here’s how they describe what shadowing is: “Just like it sounds, shadowing a student is the process of following a student to gain empathy and insight into their experience. ” And that’s just what the day of shadowing gave me, some unique insights into the life of one of our students, as well as some real empathy for their experience.
Our day started at 8 am for an 80 minute block of Mathematics. The focus of this class was on factoring and I was impressed with the focused yet caring tone set by their teacher, Mr. Rops, and how physically active the class was. For the first 20 minutes, enthusiastic students worked on a variety of warm-ups and problems, standing throughout the room and writing on the various white walls, desks and even windows. There was a lot of cross discussion and kids checking and helping each other out throughout the class.
After Math, things really got physical, as I participated in a PE class in the school fitness center. While I didn’t come dressed or prepared for a work-out, I decided to join in at the invitation of PE teacher, Ms. Shaw. I think I got more than I bargained for! After some strenuous warm-ups, the students were given the task of creating their own workout regimen based on exercises they have been using over the past few weeks. I buddied up with another student, Alisa, who really took us through our paces with a regimen of plank walks, crunches, side squats, bicep curls and something I think was called the Bulgarian squat! Suffice it to say, I learned a lot through the pain, but felt kind of virtuous, if exhausted by the end of class. Again I was struck by hands on learning taking place and the willingness of our students to help each other throughout our time together.
After PE it was off to lunch with Grace and her friends. This was a chance to unwind, chat and laugh while enjoying some great food. I appreciated how Grace and her peers included me in the lunchtime conversation and banter.
After lunch and some welcome down time, it was back to it with social studies. This is a class in which lots of different things were happening at the same time. Students were working on their presentations, others went off to prepare for a theater production while others were involved in leading an activity with grade 3 students. Grace worked on her presentation whose topic focused on the impact of oil on WWII. During the class, students conferred with each other and social studies teacher, Ms. Fleming, about their individual presentations.
The final class of the day was grade 9 science with Mr. Morrison. We started off with an active warm-up, followed by a short lab experiment in which we explored the “specific heat capacity” of various metals. “The specific heat is the amount of heat per unit mass required to raise the temperature by one degree Celsius.” By placing a metal in boiling water, measuring the temperature with a probe and then placing the hot metal in room temperature water and recording the water temperature increase we used the data to apply the appropriate formula and compare our results for various metals.
As you can imagine, my retelling of my day of shadowing and the classes I attended only skim the surface, but I truly did come away from the experience with a deeper appreciation of what a school day is like for a grade 9 student. The life of a high school student is chock full every day and the range of learning activities required from students as they move from class to class is considerable. It’s also important to bear in mind, that while the school day schedule goes from 8 am to 3 pm, most students have after school activities and homework to contend with before their day is truly over.
What impressed me the most about our school was the overall welcoming and nurturing learning environment, how supportive our students are of each other and the way our teachers are able to develop an ethos, where students feel highly supported and safe to take risks, can work independently or collaboratively and truly have the opportunity to learn by doing.
I want to thank Grace for her willingness to share her day of learning with me, and I certainly plan on making shadowing a regular feature of my work in the future. I may have ended the school day a bit sore, but I learned a lot, and it was fun too!