Thursday, October 28, 2010

An Open Question

Knowledge about religions is not only characteristic of an educated person, but it is also absolutely necessary for understanding and living in a world of diversity.”
National Council for the Social Studies, Position Paper on Religion, 1998

Child Peeking Under Prayer Wheel, Ganden Sumtseling Monastery
One of the things I enjoy most about teaching young children is our daily morning meeting.  This is the moment in the day when we greet each other by name, share eye contact and a smile, and check in to see how life is going.  I try to practice and model active listening and encourage children to share what is on their minds, helping them to articulate complex ideas.  I always write a morning greeting and a note to get people’s minds going.  I know that many of my students begin their day with a television on, which often includes the morning’s headlines.  It is important for me to take a minute to look at the newspaper as a way to anticipate what might come up during our morning check-in.  I might include a photo with its caption as part of the morning note if I want to encourage conversation about a particular topic.

Blue Mosque, Istanbul
In this way, together, as a community of learners, we may generate larger social studies units, based on the interests of the group and the world in which we live.  What emerges from a genuine conversation is not necessarily what the teacher might have planned. For me, the best way to feel comfortable with difficult topics that may come up in my classroom is to remain responsive, and remember that I’m not supposed to have all the answers. Creating a positive classroom culture that encourages asking questions requires modeling for students the value in sitting with a question for some time. Always rewarding the quickest answer, or stopping the inquiry as soon as someone provides the answer I anticipated sends the message that questions are “in the way,” and must be resolved as soon as possible.  Instead, I hope to create the space needed to honor the person asking the question, and allow for a more considered response to difficult questions.  This often involves recommending resources for students to gather more information to answer the question for themselves. 
Zhiyunsi Tibetan Lamasery
Religion has been one of those difficult topics for me, and maybe for you.  Acknowledging what an important and significant topic it is has provided a starting place in my classroom, followed by gathering information about what the group knows by asking a few open ended questions:  How many different religions do we know of as a group?  Why do you think there are so many different religions?  Are there similarities?  What is religion?  As students begin to talk about what they know, more questions come up.   I write these down on a chart labeled “questions,” right next to the chart labeled “what we think we know.”

In the Distance, Basilica de Santo Domingo, Oaxaca, Mexico
How far you go with the topic is an individual decision.  You may not spend a month or two developing an integrated study of world religions the first year, but I do hope the door to inquiry will be left open, offering acknowledgement to students of every faith.  Students who are accepted and validated, also feel safe to grow and learn, becoming the true global citizens we know they can be. 

Take action within your school community. Make sure your principal supports your discussions in the classroom. Create a welcoming classroom that invites families to share their culture, providing an interpreter when appropriate, and add the topic of religion to a staff meeting agenda as a discussion item. To prepare for the conversation, encourage each participant to read Teaching About Religion a guide from the First Amendment Center and also Studies about Religions in the Social Studies Curriculum, A position statement of the National Council of the Social Studies. 

How do you approach challenging topics in your classroom?
Chongsheng Temple, Three Pagodas, Dali

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Helping Elementary Students Dig Deeper into the World of Art

Note:  If you were unable to attend the Global Classroom Workshop Picasso: Eyes on the World at the Seattle Art Museum on Saturday, October 16, you can access the teacher resource packet through the World Affairs Council Website.
Shanghai World Expo: Chinese Pavilion Student Exhibit, 
student artist, age 8
Are you wondering how to take what you have learned about Picasso and make it relevant to the 5 – 10 year olds in your classroom?  Why not consider an integrated curriculum that includes a study of Picasso.  For the last fifteen years I have used the heading “The Role of the Artist in the Community” as the title of a six to eight week integrated study, with a focus on visual art.  It is never the same year to year. As the students change, the local art exhibits change and the school community changes, so does a responsive curriculum.  What is consistent is the students’ ownership of their work, their motivation to learn and master new skills, and their increased self-esteem as they take risks and problem-solve within a safe community of learners.

When you keep a few essential ideas in mind, your students can be on the road to global competency, while practicing skills and learning new concepts in reading, writing and math.  Encourage curiosity; help students to investigate the world beyond their immediate environment.  Show an interest in multiple perspectives, model asking the question “whose perspective is that?”  Create a classroom environment where students have the opportunity to communicate their ideas effectively with diverse audiences.  Where students discover the need for change, help them take action.

Begin this study with a discussion about art.  What is art?  Who makes art?  Is art important?  Why or why not?  Most young students will have had some first hand experiences creating art, and I try to follow up a discussion with an opportunity to make art. 

Follow up the art project with a writing activity where students can write about the art they created.  As the weeks go on students can have a chance to write about each other’s artwork. Practice communication skills by pairing students and asking the first one to make a drawing and then describe the drawing to the partner, using only words to suggest shapes and lines or even colors, but not content. The listener will attempt to make the same drawing from the directions.

This is a great time to do some measurement and geometry during math time.  Picasso’s art and Cubism use geometry to transform reality.  The exploration of color and color mixing are science topics to include.

Visual art class at the Children's Palace, Shanghai
Begin to keep a portfolio of each student’s work.  As the month goes on students will want to exhibit their work and the prospect of a culminating art show for the families and school community will be on its way.  Research will be needed, perhaps a trip to a local gallery.  If you plan ahead the artist currently showing work may be able to meet you at the gallery and answer questions students prepared in advance.  If not, invite an artist into your classroom and conduct the interview there.  Many artists deal with complex world issues such as environmental sustainability, global conflict and cooperation, human rights, and cultural identity and diversity.  Picasso certainly did.  Your next outing may be to the Seattle Art Museum to see the Picasso exhibit.  You may introduce other artists who also dealt with complex world issues, such as Jacob Lawrence, Kara Walker or Diego Rivera.  Include artists who inspire you.

Ask your school librarian for help and visit your local public library to create a special resource section in your classroom for books about artists and making art.  Small reading groups can become class experts on different artists and make a presentation about them.  Be sure to include your school art teacher as well.

Self-portraits with writing 
Portraits and self-portraits are sure to become an important part of your class exhibit.  Students can write a personal narrative to accompany their work as an artist’s statement so they can share the importance of art to them and show what they have learned.  On the day your exhibit opens you may decide to include a slide show, providing each student artist with the opportunity to select one art piece to highlight. Given the opportunity to share with an audience the important message contained in their work and the reason they value art in their community, you may be surprised by their answers.

You are invited to participate in an exciting new project to transform the teaching and assessing of key skills in students of all ages. EdSteps is collecting samples of work that demonstrate global competence as part of a ground breaking effort to assess student performance using real examples of work done by students and professionals from across the nation and throughout the world. This site also provides a Global Competence Matrix to measure the global competency of students.  Note the EdSteps link under Helpful Links.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Welcome to Global Sandbox: helping students dig deeper as we learn to work things out together.

Child working, Purple Bamboo Park

In May 2010, at the International Leadership in Education dinner, several ideas came together for me, and I understood more fully the need to focus on early childhood and elementary level global education.  Here in Washington we have the most diverse school district in the nation located just a few miles south of Seattle.  The global community has truly come to us.

Young children see and are aware of differences and similarities in their classmates.  Their natural curiosity is the greatest asset available for teachers to provide a forum for learning about and discussing varied cultural perspectives. In a classroom environment where differences are not acknowledged, children naturally assume that their curiosity about their classmates is unwelcome or rude. Empathy is replaced by silence, which creates an elephant in the room.  Young children do not have the learned biases of older students and adults.  By providing accurate information and relevant education in the elementary grades I believe we can begin to replace biases with greater compassion and understanding. Working with young children to bring understanding often reaches not only the children but also the young parents involved in their children’s education in these early years.

Through Global Sandbox I hope to bring together elementary and early childhood teachers in a forum to gather ideas, identify needs, and help establish a community exchange post. I will research and write on topics related to the World Affairs Council Global Classroom programs, and offer essential questions, ideas for integrating social studies curriculum - critical in these early years - and online links and visual resources.  Some topics will touch on world problems and others on universal concepts.  Through Global Sandbox I hope to reach those working to prepare young people for middle school and high school.  Students from elementary classrooms with a focus on global education will arrive at the next level more receptive to each other and the world as a whole.

I am a National Board certified teacher committed to developmentally appropriate global education for young children.  I believe the integration of real world issues presented in relevant and respectful ways into the classroom curriculum will motivate young children to master the skills of reading and writing and thinking creatively to solve problems, better preparing them to enter the world as global citizens.   I welcome the opportunity to share ideas with other educators as we help students dig deeper into the world and learn to work things out together.
Purple Bamboo Park, children's sand area

Eileen Hynes