I recently attended a training workshop in Northampton, wearing a name badge showing my place of work. I usually attract attention for bearing a striking resemblance to Andy Murray (I have been asked to sign his autograph in the past) but this time the question was, “What is an International School doing in Sidmouth?!” It’s a perfectly valid question.
We are here, quite boldly put, trying to change the world; this is written in our Mission Statement as a school, and is a core part of the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme which we deliver instead of the National Curriculum. At its heart, our curriculum focuses on development of children as human beings who naturally want to know about the world, and have the confidence, independence and initiative to find ways to make a positive difference. We cannot allow our children to be underprepared for an increasingly international and complex world, which does not yet exist.
Within the past month, our Year 5 and 6 classes have spent a week in Spain. We contacted Eiris, a sister school within our network of 21 schools around the world and partnered our children with buddies there, living in their houses, with their families, eating their food and attending their school. By the time they came to leave, children were obviously excited to be going home but were actually in tears to be leaving their new friends and families.
How else can we prepare our children to be internationally minded? They now have a full and vibrant experience of how other people live and how other people can be so different and yet still, in their own way, right. The amazing thing about it all is that within that short period of 6 days in Spain we were bumping into a myriad of children who had been to our school in the past few years, if only for a year or even a single term. And this is only in the Junior school! Senior school students in the past few years have been to Hungary, Ecuador, Florida, South Africa… take a quick tour of our school and I’d bet you will hear at least 5 different languages being spoken by pupils and staff alike.
The conclusion I’ve drawn from this whole experience is that we need to change our aims; all the 9-11 year old children we stayed with (and who stayed with us the week after) could speak at least a decent level of English. Over the next few years, we at St John’s are going to look hard at how we can get closer to the standard the rest of the world has, to raise bilingual children. With native Spanish-speaking teachers and carefully designed programmes of study, I believe this is something we can achieve. Watch this space…
Whatever your feelings about this particular app, it serves as a perfect metaphor for the modern world we live in. Technology has always been a sort of bridge between reality and the imaginary, bringing us movies about creatures that don’t exist in places that aren’t there, but the lines are beginning to blur now. I’ve been using GPS for ages, even for places I know how to get to, because it helps me anticipate corners that are approaching.
This December my daughter, Millie, will turn 1 whilst my grandmother will turn 91. The differences between the world my grandmother was born into, and the one my daughter now inhabits, are incredible. Millie’s favourite toys are often electronic (particularly my phone and my car key, which I have found unlocked outside the house!)… my grandmother first saw a television when she was 20.
At St John’s we are preparing children to enter a world (and a workforce) that doesn’t yet exist, solving problems that aren’t problems yet. One of my friends is a “Cloud Storage Manager”- I have no idea what this means. Which other jobs will your children have which you don’t understand?
By focusing on developing children’s interpersonal skills (ensuring that they are communicators, confident, and collaborative) and have initiative (designing and leading their own projects in class, rather than seeing the teacher as “in charge” of everything) then we are doing far more for the future than handing out factual information all day, which is going to be available to them on Google via 4G (or 40G within a few years, I suppose).
This week alone in Year 6, I set each group a challenge to teach the rest of the class something new about our subject, “Symbolism”. One group found out about “Set Theory” and gave a quiz to everyone, another learnt about Zodiac symbols, and got everyone to design their own star signs, whilst another discovered about the history of family crests, where everyone ended up using symbols to represent their family. By placing this type of activity; open-ended and high challenge in nature, children learn to expect more from themselves and gain skills in self-management and perseverance. They also learn to reflect on their own performances in a task and how they could improve next time.
Please do get in touch if you would ever like to come in and see PYP in action in the classroom- I am sure I’ll be able to find a time when you can come and see it happening.
Andi DaviesRead More
Every year, we study 6 units of inquiry; one per each half term. For my class, the Central Idea we have just covered was:
“In a government, people share responsibility towards a common purpose.”
At first, I really wanted my children to have at least a basic, functional understanding of how our representative democracy works and so I began by describing MPs and the role of Parliament and the Prime Minister. They took this further by independently learning about members of the cabinet, key decisions being made at the moment (covering the EU referendum, academisation, junior doctor strikes, renewal of Trident and far more). With some guidance and support, I really wanted them to work on the attribute of open-mindedness, being able to hold an opinion whilst accepting that someone else might have a very different one.
Over the last two weeks my children organised themselves into political parties. We had five parties with their own leaders and distinct policies. I gave them a budget of £660 billion based on a 22% tax rate. I allowed them to raise or lower this with the oversimplified premise that a 1% change would yield a rise or fall of £30 billion available for spending.
- UK Equality held firm to their belief that taxes should stay the same, but we should change the way we spend our money. They swapped spending on Trident for more investment in schools and hospitals.
- UK Warriors wanted to raise the tax rate by 2%, giving them £60 billion extra to invest in helping the poor and improving pension payments.
- Joshua stood as an independent candidate, with the highest tax rate of all at 25%, and a complete revolution in spending. He wanted to remove all defense spending, and increase spending in all public services, with an overall emphasis on protecting the environment.
- Centre Ground stood on their claim to lower taxes to 20%, cutting spending on wasteful things and helping people spend money in hospitals and schools more wisely.
- UK Right were possibly the most extreme, with some parents only supporting them with gritted teeth. The dropped taxes down to 17% and vowed to privatise all health and education services.
Throughout, parties debated with each other, and campaigned for votes. They had 7 days to create and distribute manifestos, leaflets, posters, and to write speeches that would communicate the benefits of their plans. This involved several interruptions to lessons for children from Reception up to A-Level students with children learning to defend their opinions and explore ways to debate without alienating or upsetting those holding an alternative viewpoint.
The value these children have gained from this inquiry has been immense. I have had 6 emails from parents saying the level of engagement has been unreal and rather than asking “How do we get them to work?” the question has been, “How do we get them to stop working?” At St John’s we have a policy of setting no homework, but encourage children to extend their learning independently at home. In 7 weeks I have had children writing to MPs, the Prime Minister, the Queen, emailing Donald Trump, researching about Kim Jong Un, finding out about female leaders around the world and through history and far more. All in their own time and simply because they wanted to.
This is the real value of proper inquiry-based, constructivist learning; children gain a deeper and more organic understanding of the world around them, and their learning isn’t limited to the content of a textbook. I genuinely believe that their experiences in this short couple of months will change their feelings about politics and government for life and some may even go on to make a real difference themselves. Our aim, through teaching the IB PYP, is to fill the world with children who will make a difference to the world and units just like this one fill me with confidence that little by little, we are achieving this.
In the end, UK Equality won 46.2% of the votes and made a coalition with Centre Ground, who had won 24.5%. With such a huge majority, we role-played a parliamentary debate today and the government got its own way with everything!
Loads of fun, loads of great learning. I love my job.Read More