Tagged: Teaching

Learning 2.013 State of Mind: A CrossPost

“The trick to having good ideas is not to sit around in glorious isolation and try to think big thoughts. The trick is to get more parts on the table.” 

– Steve Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From:  The Natural History of Innovation

How to begin…and where? Um, I’ve been trying to write this post for days now and I can’t seem to get it off the ground. It keeps on wanting to turn into something else. From something straightforward like a list of things I don’t want to forget to something existential or ideological to a How to or like a Ten Things I learned piece to OMG, here’s evidence of my acute conference-worship. (Hi, I’m Paula and I believe in stories.)  Granted, I am jet lagged. Oh and distracted by New York City, my new nephew and just having free time with no agenda, no mini-lessons to plan or L2Talk to think of.   It does feel very weird not to be so busy. Did I mention I am in New York City in the fall?   Hanging out on Twitter has been great though. It’s been neat watching my colleagues eloquently articulate what they have learned through/by ‘Making Change’.  Sigh. Mired in my writer’s block, I admired them from afar and have been retweeting their musings all by the bleachers.
Bullet points
MoonShot Thinking 
Learning Spaces 
A Friday Moonshot

Giving it another shot now four days in, I realise that I just needed to rest, spend time with my nephew and gain some distance from this recent peak experience that has been Learning 2.013 held at our school in Singapore. I needed to let the gushing subside so I can be sober in writing about the things I’d learned sans the melodrama.  I mean, when something catches you off guard, touches your life in a very deep way, leaves you different and overwhelmed with gratitude (there must be a word for that, if not I need to invent one) – that deserves some space and time. To let things sink in, right?   So, yeah.  

 Anyway, maybe, I should start here – Oct, 2012 in Beijing.  Because that’s really where this journey began.
Learning 2.0 2012, WAB, Beijing China
A little over a year ago, I was fortunate enough to attend my very first Learning 2 Conference AND present a workshop AND see Beijing for the first time.  It was pretty epic. From very special reunions, intense learning, the luge at the Great Wall with good friends, an opportunity to meet new people and present my passion for discussion-based learning, it was definitely one  of the highlights of my first year at UWCSEA.  I learned a lot presenting for 45 minutes to 27 people. I realised that giving a workshop at Learning 2.0 is very different from doing a regional or in-school workshop for the IB. As much as I love giving MYP workshops, there was something about having complete freedom over content and delivery.  Even if I owe a lot of what I value as an educator to the IB MYP’s tenets , I felt challenged and fulfilled sharing pedagogy that aligned with best practice (which also includes the MYP), in general. Absolute autonomy over a workshop’s structure and flow taught me a great deal even if it freaked me out a little bit.  
Which brings me to today and this year’s Learning 2.0.  
Learning 2.013 Love
All these realisations became more important after needing to prepare two 3-hour extended sessions and a 5-minute keynote. I thought about what I wanted to do for months and took two weeks, a weekend with Nicki H and an hour with other amazing L2 Leaders to tighten the nuts and bolts (this is where you can find some of the resources I used to prepare). I applied what I learned from last year, like not talking too much and making sure I covered both learning spaces (physical and virtual) so that it could address as many of my participants’ queries as possible with the time allotted.  I knew there were going to be participants this year who’d ask about conversations in the classroom full stop or conversations online full stop and of course, those who might ask about the blend of both.   In the end, the sessions went well and from there we were able to produce this, our session’s own blog –  Learning 2.013 Conversations  and these …
Pretty cool, right?  I am pretty pleased with how it all turned out. Everyone had a chance to traverse a virtual space with ease and engage in an authentic conversation in the classroom whether they were observing/assessing the discussion or active at the table.   Hopefully, we were able to experience how both spaces collide because 
Okay, so let me end this mammoth blog post with my five Learning 2.013 take aways:  First, I need to trust myself and be fearless.  I will never forget what Jeff P told me as I walked off the stage during one of the last practice sessions of our Learning2 Talks. He said something along these lines…”That was great but why did you look so scared? Why were you hesitant/tentative?  You need to be fearless, Paula. You need to believe you belong here.” I was a little weepy after that and wasn’t sure what I was feeling but it struck a chord in my soul. That night, as I stood in front of a main hall full of impassioned educators,  I still felt scared of screwing up as I got up there.  But there was this calm and conviction in my voice.  I will never forget the silence and the faces of people the light bounced off of as I took my time saying what was in my heart.   Second, the L2Talk  ruled my life for awhile and that’s okay because it meant so much.  Corollary to that:  If you are lucky enough to be given an opportunity to push yourself to do a keynote in front of 450 people, make sure you get Jabiz and Kim to help you make it the best it can be.  And not having my notes when I practiced helped a lot no matter how uncomfortable it was. Letting go of the crutch sooner helped me jump off the cliff, hit the ice cold water face first, which then forced me to thrash around, then dog paddle, then do the breast stroke instead of well, drown.  The playlist of all the talks lives here. None of them are the same but there are veins that intersect and merge when it comes to their core ideas. They were all inspiring to watch and interesting to follow in their evolution from practice to final iteration.  


Third, I am glad I paid attention. Said thank you as often as I could. Took it all in no matter how surreal.  Sitting with some of the best, most innovative, progressive minds in education has been a real treat.  I didn’t take a moment of it for granted.  I remember entering the Think Tank in the library the day before the pre-conference feeling giddy and excited but I had NO idea how amazing it would feel being in that room,  listening to everyone share, collaborate, create and critique.  I feel honoured to be part of this amazing community.  Really.  I must have done something right to have earned this privilege to commune with the Learning 2.0 family. 

Post Conference Meet Up

Fourth, trust begets trust.  More than the resources on a page on my blog, the questions my participants asked and  the wealth of knowledge, experience and insight they brought with them needed to have many opportunities to emerge.  I really believe that empowering teachers and letting them see what already exists within them to make something work is more powerful than just presenting pedagogy.     Also,  all hell broke loose with the internet connection during my first session yet everyone took it all in stride, was totally chill and rose to the occasion. After feeling a little panicked at the situation and looking at how I was the most frustrated person in the room, I made a quick decision to just let it go and trust that WE would make it work. I realised very quickly that I wasn’t in it, alone in that room.  I let the trust instead of the panic dictate how the session was going to go and that made all the difference.    Because man, the degree of commitment, passion and integrity was awe inspiring and again, I felt lucky to have had an opportunity to share something I am passionate about and to be in a room filled with people who wanted the same thing — to talk about how we can make our learning spaces more vibrant, engaging, dynamic and authentic for our students.  The conversations saved the day regardless of the technology and at the heart of the success of the workshops were the participants.    


Second Session FTW!

Finally,  freaked out by it all?  Share anyway.  You never know who will be moved by something you’ve shared.  Even if it sounds silly or useless or obvious to you, bite the bullet and just share because … watch this.  

Obvious to you. Amazing to others. from Derek Sivers on Vimeo.

I was humbled by the number of kind people who came up to me during the conference– to say thank you for something I said in a session or the L2Talk or mention something that resonated with them during a conversation.  It taught me to listen and it also taught me to continue to believe in my story – inside and outside the classroom.   So many teachers during my session expressed their reluctance to blog or share their ideas with their own teaching & learning communities (which is what our students go through as well) and my hope is that I was able to inspire or encourage some of them to take the first step. Because really, that’s all it takes.  🙂  Well, here we are at the end. Appreciate your stopping by, staying and reaching this point.  I feel the seismic love, man.  So, to say thanks let me end with this.  A tribute to students’ autonomy, spring and poetry. 
THE HAND   by Mary Ruefle
The teacher asks a question.
You know the answer, you suspect
you are the only one in the classroom 
who knows the answer, because the person
in question is yourself, and on that 
you are the greatest living authority,
but you don’t raise your hand.
You raise the top of your desk
and take out an apple.
You look out the window.
You don’t raise your hand and there is
some essential beauty in your fingers,
which aren’t even drumming, but lie 
flat and peaceful.
The teacher repeats the question.   
Outside the window, on an overhanging branch,
a robin is ruffling its feathers and spring is in the air.
Part of the story now

Check out the original post here.


DPS post part 2: O Captain, My Captain


I watched Neil Perry take his life twice yesterday.  TWICE! And I wept as my heart broke in a million little pieces, two times over.  I tried to sniffle quietly so my students wouldn’t notice me crying but super fail in that department.  Before I knew it, I was a sniveling idiot.  I mean come on, right? I’ve seen this movie a thousand times and damn, it gets me every single time.  In the end though, after an inspiring week of watching “Dead Poets Society” in class,  the boys had an intense Carpe Diem look on their faces and the girls had puffy eyes and red noses from grief and shock.  Watch, it’ll get them every time too.

Anyway, today I pray that all  students at one point in time meet a Mr. Keating, and have all Mr. Keatings everywhere know that they deserve moments like this one (minus the part where he loses a student and his job, of course).

O captain, My Captain

Langston Hughes’  words kept running through my head as we watched the film.

Dream Deferred or Harlem by Langston Hughes
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Being part of the business of helping young people make their dreams come true  or at least  help make sure they don’t defer to anything but the voice they need to believe in, I thank my own o captain, my captain for bringing me here — every single day, even if there are moments, much like this one, when my heart breaks into tiny little pieces.

grateful slice:  being a teacher

Don’t you forget this

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.

What will your verse be?”

(John Keating from the “Dead Poets Society”)

I was in high school when I first saw this movie.  I’ll never forget it.  It made me fall in love with language, verse, voice, writing and teaching against the stream.  As a young woman, I was  inspired by the spirit of Carpe Diem, sucking the marrow of life and not choking on the bone, living deliberately and not being afraid to speak or write or think for myself.  I loved watching the boys change from amoeba to men.  I ripped pages too, closed my eyes, read poetry aloud and dared to do what I wanted to do when they did.

As a teacher in my  thirties, it is Mr. Keating who moves me.  His love for those boys, his passion for verse, his commitment to language and refusing to be ordinary — especially in his teaching — these are the things that resonate with me today.   It might be a cliche’ to some, showing “Dead Poets Society” to class for my poetry unit, but I really don’t care.  Whoever teacher or friend or sibling introduced this movie to me, I thank you today.  Because now,  like oral tradition, it’s my turn to share my experience with  Neil and Todd and Nuwanda and Knox Overstreet and Mr. Keating and Walt Whitman and Thoreau and Robert Frost and Carpe Diem with my 21st century kids.  🙂   Poetry may look and sound different today and that’s fine but the power of the verse and the stuff of epiphanies through the verse (strict or free) remain the same.   Thank you, Tom Schulman for writing the screenplay (which was nominated for an Academy Award and which won for Best Writing, (screenplay written directly for the screen) in 1989).

This is my favorite scene.  Mr. Keating and terrified Todd Anderson, having a go at reciting  Todd’s  own piece (which he composed on the spot, inspired by a picture of Walt Whitman) in front of the class.  It took everything from me to not tear up in class as we watched this morning.

The barbaric Yawp of Todd Anderson

I close my eyes and this image floats beside me
The sweaty-toothed madman with a stare that pounds my brains
His hands reach out and choke me
And all the time he’s mumbling
Truth, like a blanket that always leaves your feet cold.
You push it, stretch it, it will never be enough
Kick it beat it, it will never cover any of us.
From the moment we enter crying, to the moment we leave dying,
it will just cover your face
as you wail and cry and scream.

a teacher moved

grateful slice:  inspiration  and poetry

p.s. What inspired you today?  I’d love to hear about it.

The subjectivity of poetry

My feet are famous to this blog

Started my Poetry unit with the Grade 7 classes today. I really really love this unit. I love planning for it, I love teaching it, I love watching the kids be entranced by words and experience images through it. It does something to them. Brings out a voice, a conviction, some sort of commitment to language that surprises even themselves.

I didn’t always feel this way. In fact, the first year I taught poetry, I was a little freaked out. I was intimidated by interpretation, even if it was something I studied and by nature love to do (read:over-analyze). But, since I’ve been able to read some of the work these kids can produce, I’ve been converted. Not only that, I think I’ve rediscovered my love for words and figurative language through teaching poetry. It forced me to read poems and read them closely and yes, face an old old love. It took my accepting that it didn’t quite love me the same way as an “attempter” at it. I am hoping through writing fiction this time, it will find a way to love my back.

Really, I’d teach this poetry unit any day.

Anyway, here’s a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye. When I think of favorite poems, I think about this one. And since I start my unit with the subjectivity of poetry, I usually, unabashedly share some of the ones I love. (One Art by Elizabeth Bishop (my favorite of the villanelles), anything by Pablo Neruda and ee cummings, also, The Colonel by Carolyn Forché among others). I am sure to post more as the term progresses. Can’t wait for our Poetry Fest to be held some time March. 🙂 Those always fall under my list of life’s peak experiences.

For now, enjoy…


By Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,

which knew it would inherit the earth

before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds

watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom

is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,

more famous than the dress shoe,

which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it

and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

I want to be famous to shuffling men

who smile while crossing streets,

sticky children in grocery lines,

famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.

grateful slice: great poets and their work

Naomi Shihab Nye’s mixed heritage—her father is Palestinian, her mother is American—shapes the subjects of her poetry. Through mostly free verse, Nye often writes about everyday life while addressing cultural issues. Nye has traveled extensively, including to the Middle East and Asia to promote goodwill through the arts.

“Famous” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Portland, Oregon: Far Corner Books, 1995). Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used by permission of the author.