Not much

As previously blogged, I’m doing Inquiry-based learning with my Year 11 Information Processes and Technology (IPT) class. Our topic now is Analysis and our focus question is “What price a dream?”.

The class has been working on this for a few lessons now and yesterday I asked if they felt they were learning. One responded with “Not much“. I didn’t take offence because it is literally better than “nothing” (what they used to say until I got them to reflect regularly, i.e. stop long enough to think of what they have learned). Besides, the relevant syllabus content really isn’t difficult; if I were to teach it lecture-style, I would cover in 1 lesson, what has taken us 4, so far.


I got thinking…..

and this is what came of it…..

I started the lesson with this on the board:

Inquiry-based learning

  1. contextual (inquiry)
  2. self-directed
  3. personalised

I told them that when I started, I found them unmotivated and disengaged (also mentioned in my Inquiry-based Learning post). I mentioned that doing Inquiry would perhaps get them engaging more with the content. So the first one was on Cloud Storage and this one now on a life dream for Analysis. Many students nod at this stage realising that indeed they engaged with the syllabus content within the said contexts as well as that their inquiry journeys were largely self-directed and personalised.

I then drew this, explaining as I went:

For all those examples, I named names. I identified students who were showing learning the syllabus, extending their learning, and even abstracting. Seeing individual faces light up as their little gems were acknowledged is priceless!!! (#youmatter) As it turned out, students loved these “shout-outs” (as they call it).

It’s probably best to just “quote” myself here:

If you think you haven’t learned much, it’s because you haven’t pushed yourself enough. My job as a teacher is not to just tell you about things but to give you contexts for learning, opportunities to learn, challenge you and give you feedback. Self-directed learning requires discipline and motivation.

I’m here. Are you asking enough questions? When you ask questions, I answer back – often with a question. But, I meet you where you’re at. Some of you work harder than others, and that’s ok. And those of you who’ve sought my feedback have learned more.

So, are you asking enough questions? Because really, if you’re curious enough, there is no limit to what you can learn.

To be honest, I lost a few along the way but many stayed with me through my mini speech cum reflection cum challenge. One even applauded. Not surprisingly, it was the one who said ‘not much’ yesterday; and today, he got more than he ever expected to learn in an IPT class. In fact, he even asked if I had different approaches for different classes (sounds familiar, yes?) I answered him and added, “Inquiry seems to be working best for me and that means this class“. One of these days, I will post about the “how” I’m doing this with my year 11s.


Listening diet: EAT

TeachMeets are fantastic events for teaching and learning. Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to be part of a big one at the ATP (TMWR2012); big enough to be featured in the Sydney Morning Herald: Lesson in Numbers.

The TMWR2012 journey began for me from the moment I volunteered to be part of the organising committee, a cross-sectoral team of dedicated educators who really want to celebrate teaching and learning TeachMeet style (Simon Crook tells a better and more complete story in his post).  It was a joy to be at the Registration desk and say hello to my edu friends, old and new. I am deliberately not mentioning names here as this would end up like the sign-on sheet! 🙂

This post is also to share my 2-minute pecha-kucha entitled, “Are you listening?”  It’s about how challenging it is to listen nowadays and yet when we do, we learn.  I shared a few stories where this was definitely true for me and what listening entailed, ie. the listening diet.

E – empathy – feel the other, their questions, their struggles

A – attention – focus on what they are saying, or not saying

Ttake the other seriously – what they are saying is true for them at that moment, in that context

The stories I shared are all in this blog – 2 minutes is not very long to share 3 stories and plant a seed; I don’t think I even stopped to breathe :).  These are:

  1. Claire’s art to express dyslexia
  2. Pedagogical shifts in teaching Algebra – Introduction via Rihanna, Big-Picture Style
  3. Crowd-sourcing “How do we teach empathy?

These are among my favourite blog posts because these experiences were moments of real learning for me; real examples of me employing the listening diet.

As an aside, I’m really glad I’m doing the 365+1 photo project this year as my Flickr stream provided (CC-licensed) photos for my presentation.

I also decided to join SlideShare and embed my presentation here, such as it is.

What makes people tick?

In a social world, real and virtual, it is likely that we’ve been baffled by how people behave or what motivates them.  As a teacher, one of the biggest challenges I find is to understand what motivates students.  Ditto figuring out colleagues.  And if I’m truly honest, it is something I wonder as a wife, mother, friend and generally, as a citizen.

When I recently chanced on a TV show that teased “people are irrational beings and we should be surprised when they act in a rational way“, I was hooked.  The show was a talk by Hugh Mackay at the Sydney University on his book, What makes people tick?  The Ten Desires That Drive Us (show/broadcast also available on the internet; as well, there is a transcript of a similar talk but tailored for business which only mentions 7 of the 10).  Mackay is a psychologist, social researcher and author.

The 10 desires that drive people:

  1. to be taken seriously
  2. for ‘my place’
  3. for something to believe in
  4. to connect
  5. to be useful
  6. to belong
  7. for control
  8. for more
  9. for things to happen
  10. to love and be loved

The desire to be taken seriously

According to Mackay these desires are connected, complicated and sometimes in conflict (think dilemma).   He said that what we do is often a mix of the desires but that the one often present, and thus perhaps the most relevant to know, is the desire to be taken seriously.

 It [the desire to be taken seriously] is all about the desire to be acknowledged as the unique individual each of us knows ourselves to be – the desire to be noticed, appreciated, valued, accepted … perhaps even remembered.

This really struck me as a wonderful articulation of the interdependence of the “I” and the “other”.   As I was mulling over this, days after watching the show, blog posts from my PLN seemingly conspired to emphasise the point.  They all came in seemingly rapid succession.

@mrsdkrebs wrote “My one word – Voice”, a manifesto for finding and sharing her voice as well as to help develop the voices of others.

@whatedsaid wrote “A little empathy”, a story of an orderly who showed empathy to a distressed elderly patient at the hospital, when others failed to do so.  This post was also a call for educators to teach empathy. (aside: How to teach empathy post is personal favourite).

@colekpharm wrote “Uninvited Gift”, a personal reflection on the dilemma of medical professionals to ‘see’ the patient, constantly reminded of the “fragility of life” and “humanity laid bare”.   On one hand, it provides a flipside of @whatedsaid’s post.  On the other hand, it calls for the same thing – more empathy.

@billgx wrote “Overcoming Techno-Distance”, a personal reflection that echoes most of the desires listed by Mackay, particularly the human desire to connect and love.   Bill wrote about the death of teen Ashley Duncan whose suicide was voiced via social media.  In this, Bill echoes my question of how can we better decode social media to help those crying for help.

All of these posts do confirm what Mackay has said about desires that drive people, particularly in the desire to be acknowledged.  Perhaps knowing this is one step to understanding people, improving relationships and helping individuals.   It helps me, too, to know that yes, this is one of my desires.  This comprises empathy, respect and appreciation.

The desire to be taken seriously….

We desire it.  So does everyone around us.  Let’s try to fill it for at least one person everyday and perhaps the world will be a better place. How? Be there. Listen. Ask. Hold the hand. Hug. Say nothing. Acknowledge something said. Really, whatever feels as necessary….even if it is irrational; after all, we are irrational beings.  

A note to teachers

Students (and kids) express this in many ways.  In a classroom, this may be tricky and perhaps impossible to do all the time.  However, I think it is possible to address everyone’s desire to be taken seriously in the course of the day, week, year.  It probably is good to discuss this primordial desire with them.  I think it is easier to conceptualise than “Respect”.  Besides, quite likely, they too are wondering what makes people tick.

Of hopes and dreams

Yesterday I read 2 dads blog about their daughters.  @MrWejr said his world changed a year ago. @damonayoung used Nietzsche’s view of happiness to frame his view of his 3-yr old (yes, Damon is a philosopher so that’s not so surprising.  What surprised me personally is that I never would have used Nietzsche on the same line as happiness…which is why I’m not a philosopher).  The love both dads have for their daughters are apparent, though expressed differently.

Beyond this articulated love, what also struck me was that both said they’ve learned from their kids. Isn’t that awesome?  Parenting is a 2-way learning street.  I am happy for both dads as well as their daughters – they are loved!

I have 2 daughters and, for the first time and with much mulling over, I will introduce them with names – not bub1 and bub2 or Ms14 and Ms10 but as Vanessa and Megan.  That’s who they are and I love them.  I’m blessed to have them both and I’m very proud of them.

But this post isn’t just about expressing that love.

This is about hopes and dreams, shaped by what I have learned from them, so far.


Like Damon’s daughter, Vanessa was born with an “intense, interrogative gaze”; pensive even.  She was very good with words  and articulating her thoughts in a relatively clear way.  We thought she would ace English as a subject….she finally got her first A in English in year 9.  For years, she didn’t think she’s  particularly good with words really.  So what happened?

I don’t know how it is that she has literally found her voice on stage instead – singing and dancing.  Perhaps it was her kindy teacher who picked her as the kindy soloist in the school Christmas concert.  Perhaps it was her stint in the musical Annie playing Pepper (now the story behind that is a tale in itself).  Perhaps it’s her growth to stardom in the Scouts Gang Show.  Perhaps its her Year 8 Music teacher who told her she’s good and encouraged her to become part of the choir, take up singing lessons and study Music as an elective. Perhaps it’s all that and more.

Vanessa is not the best singer or dancer but she has stage presence.  I am biased, yes; that’s a parent’s prerogative.  However, many have told us – strangers in the audience really – who have validated such bias.

We thought she would love to pursue a career on stage but really, Vanessa wants to be a primary school teacher.  She dreams of building a school in *insert a 3rd world country* and for her school to spread widely so all kids can be educated.  Oh, she indicated she intends to sing to her students. 🙂


Megan was a happy baby.  She hardly cried and settled easily.  She loved playing with and in boxes. She loved to draw.  If words escaped her – often – she would tell her story while drawing.   She was also shy.

Coming 4 1/2 years behind her big sister, she was exposed to the same things. Dance. Netball. School band. Her teachers have been known to call her Vanessa. (Truth is, though they looked alike as babies, they don’t really past the age of 3). Anyway…

We tell her she’s good at art and we’ve got tons of her artwork.  Her teachers tell her she’s good at drawing; someone even told her, I’m lucky to have known you before you’re famous and that’s when Megan was in year 1!  Her year 4 teacher now believed in her and challenged her to work and think harder than she’s ever had; Megan loves to cruise.

She’s given up dance in lieu of Tae-Kwon-Do. She’s also given up band which I’m a lot less happy about.  What she did pick up is #massivelyminecraft.  She’s a gamer! Who knew? Here she can build in digital boxes and tell her story as a 3D drawing, so-to-speak.  She is learning to ask for help because it’s a good way to learn (“if you don’t learn, you die”).  She is always keen to help.  She is showing some ambition (she wants to be a mod).  She is better at Skype than me.  She can tell us stories after stories about her adventures without having to draw it for us.  She has friends and mentors there.  It is her world and in there she is well and truly herself.   Megan is less shy now.  For this, I thank @vormamim and @jokay; they’re vision, dedication and skill are inspirational.

Meagn is only 10 and a little young to consider career choices.  At the moment, she is saying she wants to be an architect (yep, building!).

A note to parents

Many parents will say that all they want for their kids is to be happy.  I used to say that, too.  I’ve changed that now to …. all I want for my kids is to find their voice and be confident enough to express it.   “Happy” is vague. “Find and use your voice” is concrete; it’s practical and achievable.  It leads to happiness, in my opinion.   My kids are on the their way.  I am happy about that.

We expose our kids to many experiences in the hope that one of those will spark an interest, a burgeoning passion, a platform for self-expression.   Let’s not get caught up in the busy-ness of all that ferrying from one activity to the next. Let’s pay attention to what is really happening and give things a chance to grow and blossom.

Help kids find and use their voices. Listen.

A note to teachers

Never underestimate your (our) influence on children.  Really see them – where they’re at and where they want to be.   Know that most parents have hopes and dreams for their kids (quite likely to be happy, but you know  better now right?).  Know that some kids don’t have such parents.

Kids may look alike (there is a reason I used the photos I did), but they are not.  Kids are individuals.   It’s not about ‘being special’. It’s about holding one’s own – an individual in a sea of commonality.

Give kids a voice. Listen. 

To my kids’ inspirational teachers….THANK YOU!

How do we teach empathy?

Please watch this video first – it’s less than 2 minutes long and well worth your time.  I got on to this video via a tweet by @gcouros which led me to  Shawn Ram‘s blog and eventually this post: Do your words say what they should?”

The Power of Words

This video is an ad that capitalises on the power of words, particularly in evoking new meanings.  The ‘new words’ were obviously more able to evoke empathy from passers-by.

I hear ’empathy’ a lot lately.  Is it a new trend?  Why is it even important?

I’ve always valued empathy, particularly because I am so anti-apathy.  Empathy is generally understood as the ability to put oneself in someone else’s shoes.  Empathy is an act of sharing, understanding and connecting.  Being able to feel what someone feels, see what they see, be who they are, albeit temporarily – all help to build relationships.  Empathy allows us to say “You matter. I care.” with more depth and meaning.

Empathy is having perspectives other than one’s own. As social beings in an increasingly hyper-connected world, it is an important life-skill to have and nurture.

But how do we teach empathy?, asks @Brittgow.  How do we provide our students with more perspectives?

Here are my suggestions. Please add more.

  1. Modeling.  Teachers can and often do model empathy.  While making it explicit might seem ‘strange’ or ‘devalues the act’, it is important that kids understand that the act of empathy is a skill that can be learned.  Learning vicariously – or by osmosis – is an acquired skill in itself (I digress again).
  2. Role-playing.  Use imagination and/or research to build up ideas of what a particular character might think, feel, see in a particular context. I’ve done this as part of a pastoral care curriculum.  It can also be done in academic subjects other than English and Drama.  For example, I got my year 7 maths to imagine themselves as ancient Romans and operate with numbers using Roman Numerals – or even beyond that using tallies; they learned to appreciate Arabic numerals and even decimals (representation of fractions).
  3. Use different ways of expressing meaning.  Use different words, like in the video above. Use multi-media like Claire who expressed her Irlen Dyslexia through art .
  4.  Celebrate diversity. This has the pre-requisite of identifying our uniqueness and finding value in it.  This step may be confronting for kids, especially teen-agers when the need to belong seem strongest.  Being an individual yet somehow blend in is is one of the ironies of adolescence.   Classroom discussions are good opportunities to encourage and support different perspectives.  A line I often use is, “Who haven’t I heard from yet?”, which makes students feel their unique viewpoint matters. @edusum suggests in her comment below to watch this video:Love. Not Loss. It is a good example for celebrating bio-diversity, valuing what we have rather than what we’re losing is a shift in perspective; a concrete example of empathy.
  5. Change contexts. Admittedly, this is similar to (2 – role-playing) above but the emphasis for this is that the student remains who they are but the context is changed.  For example, I have asked students to be ‘the teacher’.  This was actually a revision exercise where students were asked to teach a particular topic of choice, given a list of choices.  I acted as one of the students, mostly attentive but sometimes not and one prone to ask questions.  Their reflections afterwards showed more empathy for the teacher.
  6. Immersion. A good way to present another perspective is to actually be in it – not pretend, imagine or research, actually BE in it.  Jeannette (@7Mrsjames) suggests below to take students to do community service and then reflect on the experience.  Reflection and discussion help students process the experience and manage the ‘do-charity-to-feel-good’ possibility.  I think this is closest to the activism espoused by social justice principles, i.e. empathy that leads to action.
  7. Guest speakers.  First-hand accounts are powerful and compelling.  @Brittgow mentions below how a paraplegic speaker was brought in to teach students to play wheelchair basketball.  Perhaps Britt is right that this strategy may be easier to arrange than Immersion.  I think it also allows a bigger audience and a de-brief session afterwards will help emphasise points and deepen understanding.
  8. Story-telling.  This is an extrapolation of idea #7 for really, the power of guest speakers is their personal story.  But don’t we all have our own?  Sharing one’s story is a powerful way to express individual perspectives and opportunity to celebrate diversity.  One time I asked a year 8 student what she did in her school holidays and she said plastering.  When another student piped in, “Was that fun?”, she answered, “I wouldn’t call building walls with gyprock (plasterboard) and plaster fun but it was ok; I was helping dad.”  There’s an insight into the life of a country girl, and I thought she was creating or painting crafty plaster molds.
  9. Acknowledge individuality.  Make it personal. Listen. Care. Tell them.  I said above Empathy allows us to say “You matter. I care.”, yet failed to add it as a strategy.   Let each student know that they matter and that you care.  Help students think and believe “I matter. I care.”, starting with themselves and on to others. @Lasic says all this perhaps more eloquently and passionately in his comment below and certainly in his website, Human. @Murcha suggests giving students opportunities to show their strengths.  Let them shine. When individual students are seen and valued for who they are, they are able to see and value others around them, too.
  10. Connect. There’s a whole world out there of individuals with different perspectives and connecting is easier now with technology/social media. Connect via video-conferencing (skype), blogs, micro-blogs, etc.  Learn about other cultures and countries from the locals.  Experience the cultural and language barrier and how these might be overcome.  This idea evolved from a Twitter conversation with @pickledtreats pondering on the difference between expats and immigrants as well as growing Xenophobia over at the Netherlands.
  11. Fiction, movies, games.  Research shows that fiction readers have greater empathy, possibly because they are able to relate with fictional characters (Research paper: The Science of Fiction via @whartonag).  Reading fiction, and possibly watching movies and playing computer games, facilitates entering the simulated world of the protagonist/s which evokes comparable emotions.  The research also said that better effects are gained via fiction than documentary.  Isn’t that interesting?
  12. Participate in events.  This idea came courtesy of @ktenkely who tweeted about a student’s empathy for orphans.  Their school participated in Orphan Sunday and obviously reflected on the experience too.  Find out what’s happening in the community (local and global) and see which ones fit in with your class or school.  Such events create awareness, and with reflection can be a powerful way to develop empathy.
I want to add more.  Can you help?
When I first published this post, I originally had 4 items in the list.  With each comment came another idea and the list is now sitting at 10 as I write this reflection.  I’m happy with that. very.
I read about crowdsourcing, liking the idea even and benefitting from it through works of others like @tombarrett and his Interesting Ways series.  I didn’t think I could pull it off but here is proof.  I’m amazed with all that. very.
I am richer for the many perspectives that my PLN have shared with me.  I’m grateful for that. very.
This is not to say I’m closing this post.  All input welcome.  More ideas. More examples. More learning.