Category: Teaching

Blog2Learn: Mano a Mano

No better way to meet a person than to meet their mind first. – Clay Burell

It’s really interesting to watch a conversation grow. Especially when you take part in it midway; not at the very beginning or the tail end but right smack in the middle of the complicated, swirly marinade of people’s differing perspectives, questions, assertions, speculation, preconceived notions, hopes and dreams. It has been on the table for a while, the discourse on student blogging. From its value, relevance, usefulness and purpose, the idea of using blogging to learn has received varying responses, both encouraging and dismissive. Out there, die hard believers and skeptics alike roam the same pedagogical hallways, crossing paths as they agree to disagree.

Last Sept 11, UWCSEA had the opportunity to create a space for more people to engage in this exciting conversation mano a mano. With a panel of three made up of UWCSEA East’s Jabiz Raisdana, the renowned Clay Burell from Singapore American School and one of his History students, Hayden, a group of teachers, administrators, students and parents sat together in the Kishore Mahbubani Library at the UWCSEA East Campus and continued the conversation I feel lucky enough to have been part of.

Four generations of white rabbits: Jeff, Clay, Hayden and Jabiz

The hour and a half long discussion was peppered with personal stories, insights, testimonies, admiration for the great work people are doing to push blogging to learn forward and profound responses to thought provoking, and challenging questions from the audience and #blog2learn tweets. Questions about privacy, purpose, value, authenticity, audience, safety, how and where to begin, assessment and systems were some of the few plaguing people’s minds.


In the end, here’s what most of us took away:

1. People’s blogging journeys usually begin with the pursuit of a “white rabbit.”  It’s a kind of indirect mentoring that takes place organically.  A younger Jabiz followed Clay for years before Jabiz learned to trust his own online voice.  Clay acknowledged Jeff Utecht, who was also in the room that day, as his white rabbit. Many people there looked toward Jabiz and thought or tweeted that he was theirs.  Well, you get the picture.  A lot of people I follow now followed someone else through the rabbit hole and have felt the same admiration, vulnerability, motivation and inspiration. And yes, the ripples are multiplying.  It’s an exciting leap of faith that has lead to amazing things happening.

2. Blogging is writing. And that means differently to different people. To Clay, it’s about rigor and preparing his students for university and the future. For Jabiz, it’s about giving his 15 year old self and other young people the space to feel safe to share what means a lot to them. Either way, it has been about a cultivation of voice, a discovering of self, and expression of ideas and creativity to an audience that’s out there. Victoria, a Gr 8 student from UWCSEA-East couldn’t have said it better in her student blog, “Recently I went to conference called “Blog to Learn”, where experienced bloggers would talk to people about how blogging could make education that much better. The conference was immensely interesting, and I felt that I gained a lot of knowledge about blogging. The most important message that I’ve gotten out of it was that to become a better blogger, you actually have to blog. This means, that you shouldn’t keep stalling or getting paranoid that somebody is a tremendously better blogger than you. Instead, you should be working to your upmost potential and possibly use that as motivation.”

3. Finally, the most amazing thing about blogging is the community building it enables. It doesn’t matter if it’s a class of 22 Grade 7 students reading a post on Sharks, a Middle School teacher in Singapore interested in the students’ blogs of a Robotics class in Bangkok, or a young blogger getting 27 comments from all over after posting this, the idea that people can authentically share, get immediate feedback, build relationships and cultivate conviction will keep that authentic conversation going. Discussions in the classroom will never be the same again. I believe when students find a way to carve a home in the online sphere, they expand and break down the four walls of any classroom.

What about you?  What questions are you asking about blogging to learn?  Where are you finding your answers?  Please, feel free to join the conversation.

To blog or not to blog, that is the question

More Student voices:

Blogging is like a giant piece of paper. Imagine. The paper goes on for as far as you can see in all directions, just a plain white sheet of paper. There is only tiny mark on it, right where you are standing. Your name.
In your hand, you realize that you’re holding a paint palette containing paints of every colour of the rainbow, thick and thin brushes, pens and crayons.Then you realize that this paper is yours. All yours. You can draw, paint, write, scribble, colour, decorate and splatter on your paper. You can rip it, stamp on it, stick it, flip it, tear it, poke it, cut it, and scrunch it up. You can get others to judge your paper, support you as you draw, and give you ideas. And the best part is that the paper will never ever run out.

When you look back after years of work on your paper, you realize how you drew what you loved, what you hated, what you wanted, what you felt, what you needed, what you had, where you were, what you were, when you were. You have made one beautiful piece of art that is unique and will always be unique. You have made yourself into art. Hazel, Gr 8

I really enjoy the blogging part of english as I find it my best and most fun way for me to expresses how I feel and what’s going on in my life. I think that all English classes should set up blogs because its just a site. A site that turns in to something immensely amazing and beautiful. But the most important thing about thing about blogs is that it come in an empty space I think. It’s like a sand box. You can build, houses, castle, dungeons, pyramids. You build from your background knowledge, you build from your experiences and you build about yourself that’s why I love blogging. It’s your sand box, let the building begin and so will I! – Kaymin, Gr 7
I love blogging now. I am not even sure if it is related to english. But I am loving it. It is like a journal, where you can share your thoughts, experiences, and ideas. It is a whole new world for me. I think that blogging is going to have a good future for me because later in my life, my teachers, my employers, my kids, will see this. – Dhruv, Gr 7
When I first found out that we were setting up blogs I cringed, I have had really bad experiences with blogging in the past but I realized that if you do it properly blogging isn’t all that bad. I have realized that you can share so many ideas whilst blogging. I have really found that it has helped with my writing, but really we have only scraped the surface of writing and the full extents of blogging. – George, Gr 8
With the introduction of blogs you’re allowed to go to the max and well show off your skills in English but still with some guidelines. With the ability to look at one another’s work you can inspire and share ideas of which could eventually finish the puzzle your work can be. From a good paragraph opener to a good finishing of a story or poem or any sort of English related work we do. As well as the ability of others to look at your work and you to look at others. I am not now just creating work of what seems useless to me besides gaining me a grade level at the end of the year and entertaining my teacher, instead I am creating something of which people around the world can view, family can view, teachers can view and class mates can view. – Blair, Gr 8

Weekly Photo Challenge: Opportunities

Show up. Pay attention. Do your absolute best and surely, they will come knocking.

I have favorites though.

Traveling (@ the Brisbane Airport)

The classroom @ The Beacon School

Asking the hard Questions during Meetings that matter (Prince Alfred College, Adelaide)

The accidental click of the camera (Rundle Mall, Adelaide)

Oprah says that there is no such thing as luck;

only preparation meeting the moment  of opportunity.

I think she is on to something.

grateful slice:  surrendering and opportunities

Ode to a mentor and on being inspired

I’ve been teaching at the same school for almost seven years now and these have been some of the best years of my life/teaching career.  Almost everything I know about being a teacher I learned from being at this school and because of that there is little I wouldn’t do for it.   It’s not perfect, mind you, but the people there are like family and the school, like a second home.

My second home for the past six (going on seven) years

So when I was told late last school year that I was going to get to work with MM to do the MYP Induction Workshop for the new teachers this coming school year, I was like, ohhhh yeee-aaah.  I thought, what a great way to give back again; to pay it forward. It also felt awesome to be given another chance to do the same workshop better (last year I was able to co-lead it with our headmaster, PR, which was cool but erm, it was far from ideal); plus wow, to be able to work closely with MM again on something we both feel passionate about, a real honor.

Actually, after analyzing the long and short of it, I just really missed her.  I mean sure we would see her during Parent Teacher Conferences (for T her son who was my student for two years and already graduated from Middle School) or share laughs and recycled jokes during the occasional reunion lunch or “sorryfood” dinner but it just wasn’t the same as seeing each other and being hams every single day.  She was my first friend at Beacon, the first person I bugged every hour for an entire term when I was leading the Night of the Notables project during my first year as a Grade 6 teacher and she was  the one I cried to with no shame when I wasn’t sure what the hell I was doing.  She tells the best stories, recommends the best books and laughs at my dumbest jokes.  She was also my MYP coordinator for three years and I miss her guidance and mentoring to bits.  From her wisdom, her counsel, her quick wit and sage advice, it meant a lot that she believed in me even when I was not sure how to believe in myself.

Early last year, we were fortunate enough to land a stint as workshop leaders in the same place (the IB regional workshop in Adelaide) and between the many layovers in  what seemed like a million airports from Manila to Australia, she told me exactly what I needed to hear right when I needed to hear it.  You know, like the oracle in The Matrix, but a younger and more fash-yon version.  LOL.  (She can knit like a ninja too.)

At a tapas bar with Amelie, Grant and Ros in between workshop days, Adelaide, Jan 2010.

This is MM.  We were being silly tourists trying to take a cheeky shot of someone to show the sorryfood peeps – inappropriate butt shot of man not here.  Adelaide, Jan 2010.

Anyway, she moved to teach at the high school last year and boy, did we all feel her absence in our telephone booth  cum faculty lounge. I know. I know.  Change is a good thing. But some of us have a slower pace at letting reality sink in.  We all process change differently.  And I had to go through many things before getting closer to fine. 🙂

So yeah, definitely, it was a real treat to be able to work with her at the tail end of the summer right before the teachers needed to come for in-service.  I learned so many things as we planned and collaborated, got to share and be inspired while co-teaching with one of the smartest teachers, I know.  It felt good to see how we’ve both grown so much in many ways and man, great to know that some things remain the same — like the ability to laugh at really inane things until we’re tearing and to make inappropriate comments with gumption, usually in faculty lounges. Apir.

I took a lot of photos along the way via Instagram. Here they are.  Goodbyes come in many forms and  I just don’t want to miss a thing.

Tired planning feet. Another productive day at the Beacon Academy

Taking a break


Planning and collaborating for weeks. This is Version 1 of 8 of our MYP Workshop planner

The sibling programs : BA’s session on the programme continuum and me being epal

Student work framed for the faculty lounge @BA; Road trip down South to get the juices flowing.  MM wasn’t even there.  

View from the Beacon Academy, 2nd floor.  Took this right before going back to working on our keynote

Sometimes we left early. 🙂  

Road trip shot with Laoshi. Tiltshift addiction

One time we left VERY late.  I have an effing picture of the moon!  

Finally, it was day one. Started with this: No such things as dumb questions

The Inquiry Cycle through their eyes. A few sessions in

Their version of the Inquiry Cycle … post watching the Fairy Scientist

On the second day, MM and I cam whored while they worked.

Tired workshop feet; vowed not to wear heels for day 3

Which brings us here, all questions addressed and on the highway. End of day 3

I will miss working on our workshop in BA.  Fresh air, the quiet and the calming drive there

 So again, here’s to a new school year.  I claim your greatness.   And finally, here’s to awesome begins and slow goodbyes. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
i thank You God for most this amazing 
by ee cummings (1894-1963)

i thank You God for most this amazing day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today, and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing breathing any–lifted from the no of all nothing–human merely being doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

grateful slice:  mentors, a successful workshop, learning and the friends we make along the way

Ode to Ishha

A couple of days ago, a good friend asked me if there was a particular point in time I’d like to return to (she was skimming through a book called, “The 8 Stages of Healing” as I nursed my migraine.) I thought about it and even if I really wouldn’t want to “go back” to any age because I am quite happy where I am, I said, “Maybe, high school or well,college. And not because it was the best years of my life, mind you, but because I want a do-over. Those were a lot of unhappy years I’d like to undo now that I know how to be happy.” Anyway, that question was okay, as most questions go but today when I found out that a very special person, a person really dear to me was moving away, abruptly and so soon, I couldn’t help but think of a question I would rather answer.

Who do I wish I were more like when I was going through many unhappy years as a youngster (read: might have spared me a lot of unnecessary drama and my own fifth of a quarter life identity crisis)? The answer? Well, that’s easy. Little bits from everyone in the Potluck Collective (that includes you, Kapitan). But since this is an Ode to Ish, here is what I wish…(see what I did there?)

GCAP Water You Waiting For Fair, Jan 2011

I wish I were as honest about my vulnerability and secure about my voice, my friendships, my writing, and myself. Just like her.

Vito's surprise birthday thing, Sagada February, 2011

I wish I were as smart and candid and well, as kind and generous.

St. Joseph's Inn, Sagada, February 2011

I wish I were sillier. Nuff said.

The rice fields, Sagada, February 2011

I wish I were one of the guys but not resented by the girls for being one of the guys. You know what I mean.

Commencement Ceremony, The B Auditorium, May 2011

I wish I chose better partners, made decisions based on love and not fear so these relationships lasted longer and listened to my mom more.

Post Commencement Ceremony Dinner, Blue Leaf, May 2011

I wish I were a better older sister. Just like her.

The Endless/Potluck Collective sans a few members

I wish Erik Mahusay here didn’t play his part so well. (Kidding.)

Anyway, I guess if We Are Here, Exactly Where We Need To Be, there’s no need to wish these things because we do reach a place where we can know and love ourselves (thank goodness); where there’s nothing but gratitude for who we’ve been and everything we’ve been through because it informs the wonderful We’s and Us’s we are right now. And I totally stand by that. Except today, this is what I wish for the young insecure me after having met this young person. I realize there are/were better ways to be, no matter who your dad is, no matter what you’ve been through, no matter what life throws at you, no matter what comes next. You can come out of it unscathed, quite cool, extremely intelligent and well, happy, like A.

You will be missed, Ishha14. Keep on writing. All of it can be fodder for your art. I am a big fan. 🙂

who are you,little i by ee cummings

who are you, little i

(five or six years old)
peering from some high

window;at the gold

of november sunset

(and feeling:that if day
has to become night

this is a beautiful way)

grateful slice: Anastasia

Inquiry and The Fairy Scientist

Preparing for workshops is a lot of work.  It’s stressful, collaborative, special, invigorating, fulfilling, nerve-wracking, life giving and humbling.  Which makes it a favorite thing to do (second to doing the actual workshop, of course.) Another thing too is, it’s a process that involves discovering a lot of really cool things to use.  Here is the latest one I found (through Ashish T. from the IB) while preparing for my assessment workshop.   I will use it to introduce the Inquiry Cycle.

This one totally reminded me of my students, especially the svelte individuals who are part of The Potluck Collective.  The little girl reminds me of Bob O Riley most of all.  (insert in a whisper: They are real…)

grateful slice:  discovering cool stuff

Poetic License

Poetry is the journal of the sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air. Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable. Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away.  Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance. 

-Carl Sandburg

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It began with Naomi Shihab Nye‘s Famous,  Dead Poets Society, and O Captain, My Captain.  These moments marked the beginnings of discovery, unraveling and unfolding. From ee cummings to Ani Di Franco, from Willliam Blake and William Shakespeare to William Carlos Williams, from Robert Frost to the Script, Coldplay and The Iliad,  I hoped a deep romance would develop between my Grade 7 students and words. It’s not an easy trek to travel from the literal to the figurative.  It’s a narrow and rocky path where they have to avoid jagged edges, bottomless ravines and bear traps because cliche’ is profanity and mixing awkward metaphors has a level in Dante’s Inferno. I recognize that it is challenging to describe a familiar feeling in a way that’s never been described before. To talk about love, loss, pain, fury, nature, identity, heritage, legacy, the future, relationships, family and forgiveness in an intimate and unique way, it can really leave one, at a loss for words. Well, I never said it was going to be a walk in the park (pardon the cliches).


the Grade 7 kids wowed me as they outdid themselves with their bodies of work.  Through their use of words and their original pieces, through free verse, the sonnet and the intimidating villanelle,  the kids dared to face who they are, reflected on the beauty that surrounds them, delved and danced with language to meaningfully articulate what’s in their young hearts and minds; what questions they are asking, the advice they want to give their future children, the idea of never ever giving up and providing an authentic voice to the fear and pain of failure and rejection.   It was a steep climb amidst a lot of prose trying to be poetry, phrases pretending desperately to pass off as verse.  But after their third poem (out of the seven they were to write for their portfolios), the kids were on a roll.

“Her beauty soothes a hostile beast,

his temper shatters a continent”

(winner couplet by A. Lilles from his poem, A Situation);

“There is no such thing as holy poop

we can say it a hundred times,

and still, we will not end up with poop that is holy

Bored isn’t a real word

there is only the inability to act

the decision to be dull

If we don’t have the daring to do something it will never be done,

it will become a ghost, and haunt you,

testing your backbone”

(an excerpt by N. Morris from her poem, Things I know to be true)

And another excerpt by S. Calubad from his poem, Revenge

“…revenge is far more rewarding than gold

Like nothing else in the world can bring.

Remember that


is not a victory or a loss but

It is worth every step of the way,

even if it is a long cold road.

And don’t listen to other people who say

revenge is not worth it

Those people don’t know what it is

Forgiveness is for the noble

Forgetting is for the weak

Hate is a coward’s form of revenge

and revenge,

revenge is a river made of sweet honey

that may only last for a second …”

Frankly, there were so many stellar pieces, I wish I could upload them all and drown myself in imagery,  alliteration,  similes and metaphors.  But of course that’s like a bazillion lines longer than the 24 Books of the Odyssey.  (Exag.)

But  really, that’s what I love about poetry.  It doesn’t choose any batch or race or age or gender or season.  So far, in the five years that I’ve taught this unit, the work the kids have produced never ceases to amaze everyone. What’s more important  though, are the conversations they start with themselves, and the world, and the page, and the themselves they find and learn to love in the process – now, that’s priceless.

To celebrate their hard work, the kids and I plan an ala Dead Poets Society Poetry Fest.  This batch’s poetry fest happened last Friday, early evening in the school auditorium.  With a lot of people’s help, we were able to create our own cave.  With twenty different types of blankets and pillows strewn on the auditorium floor, candles in glass containers and several emergency lamps wrapped in yellow cellophane, we set up a space fit for any aspiring poet to read his or her original work with pride.  Their parents were invited and like voyeurs, they sat on chairs surrounding the inner circle of hungry young poets, with little flashlights, quietly reading the poetry fest packet,  as the kids read their pieces aloud.  Guest teachers, unexpected, and some reluctant readers,  joined the inner circle on the floor and took their turn to read a verse close to their heart.  Some read about their country, others read lines about loneliness, an original written by a boyfriend, another, the best birthday poem I had ever heard written by her daughter. Neruda, a popular choice, graced our event with his words thrice.  It was awesome.

In the end, even if I had heard their poems a hundred times (during practice in class), that night it was like I was hearing them read their lines for the very first time. I cried when I heard “Eclipse” and ” Miscreation” and  laughed aloud when I heard “For People Who Don’t Have Babies” and “I Love You Like Everyday Things.” I could picture every image described in “Emotions Alive” and felt comfort as one of the kids saw the beauty of “Failure.”  I was moved by the different stories and ideas and dreams that slowly rose to the surface through the kids’ words and turn of phrase.   It was truly magical and new and awe inspiring. Once again, poetry above all, didn’t let me down.

I was really glad to have been exactly where I was at 4:30 pm, Friday the 13th of 2011.  It was exactly where I needed to be, enveloped by solemnity, surrounded by imagery and low light and the  beauty of the spoken word.  A perfect way to end a hard week. A perfect way to restore ones spirit to welcome two more.

grateful slice:  The Beacon School Grade 7 Poetry Fest and reading poetry aloud; surviving the end of another school year and report card season.

I dedicate this post to our headmaster, Mr. Patrick Ritter ( a future entry on this man very soon.) 

India Calling

Remember, send yourself a postcard this time, fo.

It’s official.  Am booked and will be heading back to India in a few weeks.  Ahmedabad, Gujarat and Mumbai this time around. Will fly out the day after the last day of school to first conduct a two-day in school MYP Assessment Workshop in Ahmedabad.  Then I get to visit S in her new home in Mumbai until the tenth of June.  It feels a little overwhelming right now with all the work that still needs to be done before the arrival of May 28 but am optimistic it will  all inevitably fall into place.   Like always.

Anyway, aside from a little healthy anxiety, there’s also the excitement and the feeling of immense gratitude coursing through my veins right now. I’ve said it before, I will say it again.  I am a lucky, well-loved schmuck. To be given these many opportunities to travel, teach, share, learn, experience and visit good friends in different parts of the world, has been a real treat from G who is ever faithful, generous and constant.  Thanks again for this, G.  You must really love S and I.  First, the 8 weeks in New York with my sister in 2009, now ten days in Mumbai!  Win.

There are a lot of plans in place.  A market tour.  The slum tour.  A missions thing. Prayer walks. Working out and running together again and visiting S’s school.  G definitely has big plans.  I am convinced that’s why He is making this happen.  🙂  Right now though, I need to focus on everything that needs to be done:  I have the Poetry Fest on Friday,  papers to mark, report card narratives to write, grades to finalize and workshop preparation to attend to.  It’s going to be a wild ride this May and damn boy, am hanging on real tight! Wohoo!

grateful slice:  traveling, India and awesome, humbling opportunities.