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Reflections

[REFLECTIONS] Knock down those walls and pave the way for collaboration

There is a 3D printer in our classroom that the students know the ins and outs of better than I do and, to be honest, it scares the heck out of me. But more so, I haven’t been so pumped to get started with such a unique experience like this in a VERY long time.

I’ve just survived the first unofficial day of professional experience at MEPS and it was in one word – AMAZING. Chuck three innovative and cohesive educators into a large room with 90 students, throw out your traditional teaching methods and throw out your desks and chairs. I’m over exaggerating a little here but this was the daunting sight that greeted us on this day at MEPS and what we’ll be immersed in over the next four weeks.

The first misconception that people will get about this learning environment is that explicit instruction in areas such as Literacy and Numeracy or handwriting will also be thrown out the door. But not at all – there is always time for important skills through explicit teaching in smaller groups which I will be privileged to be a part of next week. But this classroom (three classrooms without walls or dividers to be precise) from my first impressions can be summed up in the following three areas:

Engagement

There is very little need for behaviour management as students are settled and engaged in their tasks. Students are given 10-30 minutes of silent reading and I have not seen a group of children so immersed in reading their novels. With the use of a small repertoire of about two attention cues (Stand up and clapping), the teachers are able to settle the entire class after recess.

The focus of the teaching is around 21st Century Skills with a strong focus on creativity, ICT literacy and collaborative learning. We were shown a previous work sample of a student who designed a bolt using the 3D printer, which involved measuring the thread and dimensions so that it could fit firmly when screwed in – an application of learning that goes well beyond any syllabus dot point.

Passion

Students are given four to five hours each week to work on their own passions, known as Adventure Time, which can be seen as a simple adaptation of Google’s Genius Hour where Google employees spent 20% of their time on their own projects. For Adventure Time, students complete a simple project plan outlining their passions, resources required, and what their finished product might look like. This is completely hands-off with minimal teacher instruction (essentially none at all) and students appeared to walk seamlessly into their own groups and start work on their creations.

Some examples I observed were a blog about the origins of the Lycan Hypersport supercar, a group of students creating their own clay (including writing up their method and sourcing their ingredients) and from that designing their own sculptures and animation and game design using online animation tools such as PowToon.

Collaboration 

In a class of 90 kids, collaboration is key. It is one of the key concepts that should not only be explicitly taught but also intrinsically part in the DNA of the classroom practice. This was embodied in the team, co and alternate teaching strategies that each of the three classroom teachers used to complement each other in the classroom through guided instruction, classroom management and bouncing ideas off each other seamlessly.

Anyways, this is only day one (unofficially) at an innovative school where getting the principal over the phone is an onerous affair but #tweeting him gets a reply within 20 minutes. I’ve definitely been given the best possible opportunity to experience and learn from over 90 students and 3 seasoned mentors that are at the cusp of innovative practices.

I’m bursting with excitement and am ever so motivated to embrace this experience so more updates are to come! Time to learn more about Dr. Yong Zhao!

Follow me on #twitter for more regular updates @nathanyquan

Mr. Quan

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