Ripples & Reflections

"Learning is about living, and as such is lifelong." Elkjaer.

“The Grass Is Greener Where You Water It”: IBAP Conference 2013

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Back to work (well, catching up before the new stuff comes in on Monday), after a productive MYP: Next Chapter workshop, IB  Asia Pacific regional conference and a wonderful short holiday in Bali with the family. Here’s a quick reflection. 

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MYP Next Chapter: Subject-specific Seminar (Category 3 Workshop)

Screen Shot 2013-03-30 at 4.03.09 PMThis was an interesting few days well spent and well-facilitated by Liam Hammer (@Pak_Liam) and Sean Rankin (@Sean_Rankin). With about forty participants from around the region – mostly MYPCos and school leaders  -we had some lively discussions about the new directions of the MYP. The workshop was based mainly around stage-by-stage work through the (current draft of) the new planner, with discussion of how we might implement this in schools and where the key differences lie. As so much is still in draft we are still left with some gaps before the ‘pre-published’ guides are posted to the OCC in November, but there is plenty to work on in the meantime.

I’m a fan of the Next Chapter, and had been reading up on the changes over the last year for MA and school-based work, so there were few big surprises. I think the new guise of the MYP will suit this school well, with a stronger emphasis on concept-based learning and more valid and reliable assessment. The new planner, once you get to grips with it, should be easier to use and I am looking forward to having more helpful subject guides and coordinators’ documents.

One of  my big take-homes, as a result of hashing out some LitLang and PE planners with colleagues from diverse backgrounds, was that implementing the Next Chapter will be much more productive if we first build a sound culture of collaboration. There is a lot of power in collegial discussion and different perspectives, and we were able to produce some solid Stage 1 planners using butcher paper, markers and a growing understanding of concept-based curriculum. It might even be that we need to get back to paper and pens in the early stages of planning here – I do often wonder if laptops and ATLAS create unnecessary barriers (physical and mental) to collaboration and productivity.

As I digest the contents of the workshop over the next few weeks and discuss the next steps to take with the leadership here at CA, I’ll put together an action plan that should make it all work for us, in this context. We still need to get to the point of having our planners drafted out in all classes, and from there we’re at the starting line – a place we can take a critical look at the curriculum and develop further. We can use the Next Chapter as a tool to look carefully at the what, why and how we teach, as well as how to make it stronger and more relevant to the modern learner and our global society.

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IB Asia Pacific Conference 2013: Innovate, Educate, Create

Immediately following the workshop was the IBAP regional conference, the third I have attended , though my first as an MYPCo and my first as a presenter. I was excited to attend again, as it had been a few years, and to meet up with the ‘tribe’ of IB educators and friends I’ve picked up through Indonesia (and the internet).

One great thing about these events is that it reaffirms what we are doing in our own schools. For me it helps get over the ‘grass is greener’ feelings that come about when things are tougher than we’d like – I am confident that we are doing well here, that there are some good practices that we can build upon and that we can make a difference. The opening keynote by ‘futurist’* Professor Sohail Inayatullah, although otherwise weak, did include one useful quote from Neil Barringham:

“The grass is greener where you water it” Neil Barringham

It is easy to paint a rosier picture of other times, other places and other situations than is probably true – but positive outcomes takes positive effort. My current HOS’s take on the same proverb is “Grass is grass“. Some chats with former DPDunia colleagues helped reaffirm that we are doing good here in Japan, and there is plenty to develop.

While we were in the keynote and reception afterwards, the #MYPChat crew were busy discussing MYP-DP transitions – you can see the fruits of their labours here, and I thank them for keeping it going while I was busy!

For me the conference kicked off properly on Friday morning, with an excellent keynote by Ben Walden on visible leadership. I was skeptical to begin with, but he delivered a great session, tying the story of Shakespeare’s Henry V to leadership challenges and our role as educators. If you get a chance to see him (or book Contender Charlie for a student leadership workshop), I highly recommend it. Here is a wee clip from one of his sessions in the UK, though all the soundbites were there:

Saturday’s keynote by Paula Barrett was also inspirational and again went way beyond my expectations – with the focus on emotional resilience I was expecting it to be wishy-washy or touchy-feely. Instead it was powerful, evidence-based and actionable. She celebrated the ‘nerds who do meta-analyses’ and looked at positive interventions that can make the difference in mental health – the ‘protective factors’ that can head off anxiety and depression. She has become one of my favourite academics, and I am now very interested in the work of her organisation Pathways HRC. I loved this quote, from Rumi:

“The wound is the place where the light enters you.” Rumi.

Although it seems like a cliche, I also liked her discussion of positive thinking, in terms of the choices we make to frame things positively and the impact it can have on mental health. Maybe it’s the end of a long winter, or being away from the family, or work challenges, but I liked it enough to hunt down an image to illustrate it in my own session. I’d much rather be the kind of old person she describes – covered in smile-lines as evidence of a life well spent:

Image: 'This is Sujatmi' http://www.flickr.com/photos/95572727@N00/2726218408Found on flickrcc.net

Image: ‘This is Sujatmi’
http://www.flickr.com/photos/95572727@N00/2726218408
Found on flickrcc.net

There was a good selection of breakout sessions on offer, too. I attended a round-table discussion on blended learning in the IB (the IB’s developers looking for input on where to go next), a very thought-provoking session on SPIDER Web discussions by Alexis Wiggins and a fun race through 38 science lessons to teach scientific thinking by Jane Altemen. I was impressed by the huge body of research currently being undertaken by the IB and was inspired by James MacDonald’s stimulus on creativity in schools.

The final day was also my own presentation… but it gets its own post.

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*Maybe I just didn’t ‘get it’, but it seems to me one can make a living by predicting new niches for litigators and doing semi-coherent keynote presentations with copy-pasted images and questionable science. 

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Home is where the heart is

After the last session, it was a mad-dash to the airport, and a hop on Air Asia to Bali to see the family again. A week apart is nothing to some people, but I hate being away from them. I arrived at Sarinande, Seminyak, still in the clothes from my presentation, and had probably the best sleep in a year. A quick, healthy breakfast and then hit the surf for a couple of hours of neat lines:

Seminyak, 24 April. Early morning, neat lines. The swell picked up and was 5-star on the last day.

And then back to the airport to collect the family. True happiness is family. Home is where they are.

True happiness – seeing the family again at the airport.

A quick holiday in Bali was the perfect mental-health break: great surf (the last day was pumping!), great food, lots of family time, old friends, being able to speak the language and that feeling of being ‘home’.

We’re back in Japan now, feeling positive and seeing the sun shine on a new spring.

Life is good, and worth working for. Time to water that grass.

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Author: Stephen

Director of Learning & MYP Coordinator at Canadian Academy, Kobe, Japan. Formerly MYP HS Science & IBDP Bio teacher and missing it terribly. Twitterist (@sjtylr), dad and bloggerer.

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