Category Archives: Academic Team Blogs

Parents as Partners – The Importance of Communication

At Innova Early Years Center we value the importance of connection. Through this collaboration between home and school we believe in each child’s success in learning and growing socially and emotionally. Home-school collaboration and communication is the key to supporting our families and plays a crucial role in understanding and supporting each child’s learning.

We learn by making connections between what we already know and what we are exploring. There is no-one more capable to help young learners make these connections than the significant others in their life: their parents and teachers. At Innova Early Years Center we see parents and teachers as partners in their child’s learning by communicating with each other to share observations, strategies and questions.

At Innova Early Years Center, we foster this home-school connection by recognizing the importance of community. We encourage families to ask questions and to listen to their child share their learning. One way of doing this is through the ‘app’ called ‘Seesaw: The Learning Journal’.  This tool is an effective communication between school and the family. Teachers can share authentic learning moments that inform parents of their child’s learning.  What is being taught, how it is being taught and it allows parents to see what learning looks like.

Service and Learning

So proud to see Innova’s Service & Action Coordinator, Margot Marks sharing our commitment to Service and Action and how important it is to develop this as a priority, starting in the Early Years.

Margot shared the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Service and Action in which our children are already taking part. Children need to learn young ‘to be part of the change they want to see in the world’ (Mahatma Ghandi) to protect and preserve the planet that they are inheriting.

Service and Action is a mindset that needs to be nurtured to help children to become responsible global citizens and develop strong character. Key to this is to empower children to understand the global issues and link their interests, inquiry and learning and provide children with real world opportunities to solve challenges and take action locally, that impacts the issues globally.

At Innova Academy our kids are fully engaged in the 5C’s of Action and Service – Connect, Collect, Collaborate, Create, Communicate. Service and Action provides real world opportunities to develop these powerful Future Ready Skills and develop leadership and project management skills.

Innova Early Years Center’s service projects focus on the following Sustainable Goals

IEYC have developed someof its own initiatives such as creating ‘turtle friendly’ shopping bags, andgiving to others through ‘The Giving Tree’. They have also begun to partner with community organizations, such as JindeNGO (Community Organization), Save the Pangolin (Wildlife China) and SeniorLiving L’Amore.

‘Save the Turtles’ Shopping bags designed by IEYC students (Goal 14)

Fair Trade Organic Coffee at the IEYC Coffee Shop (Goal 11)

‘Save the Pangolin’ Project (Goal 15)

Parent meeting learning about Service and Action and the UN Sustainable Goals at IEYC with Service and Action Cooridnator, Margot Marks

Inquiry Based Learning

The story of how modeling a lump of clay led to volcanoes, dinosaurs and conservation

Education is not the filling of a pailbut the lighting of a fire.– William Butler Yeats
Parents or visitors who visit Innova Early Years Center (EYC), are surprised by the open-style warm learning environment, amazing children’s works, and engaged learners. People may wonder how learning occurs in a child centered inquiry play based learning environment. How are knowledge, conceptual understanding and skills acquired?Lets take a look at a recent child centered inquiry that started off with a lmp of clay and took children into a journey of deep and complex learning.
The origin of the story – A Volcano

Shortly after the new school year started, some clay was introduced to children and Ivy started modeling with it –exploring its feel and texture.

Having heard something about volcanoes she shared with her teacher that she had made a volcano. Inspired by this, teachers introduced some household  products – including baking powder and vinegar and some children joined in to experiment what happens when they are mixed. A volcanic eruption was created and all the children couldn’t wait to explore more.

It was time to turn the volcano into an island and with plants and animals and surrounded by sea. A boy with keen interest in dinosaurs and a recent trip to the Blue Zoo led to their own Jurassic Park like environment full of discussions, explorations and creativity.

One day the volcano erupted, and the hot and thick ‘magma’ poured out of the crater, and the peaceful and beautiful environment began to change. After seeing the eruption of the volcano, our kind hearted Ivy was particularly worried that the dinosaurs would be hurt, so she moved them to a safe zone. Her classmate Dino, who has a keen interest and lots of knowledge about dinosaurs, explained to everyone that the dinosaurs became extinct just because of such a reason. Wonder, explore, create, connect – the childrens’ interest had been sparked and already had acquired deep learning in language, history and natural science – intense focus and deep learning.

The development – An Island

The volcanic eruption caused the change of the environment, the dinosaurs became extinct, and the children were very sad. In order to transfer this negative sentimental emotion, teachers went on to tell the story of the volcano. The eruption of the volcano is not necessarily a bad thing, because it makes a new environment. So the story of an island came into being. This is a small island in Australia. Long long time ago, this small island was made by a volcanic eruption. The magma of volcanic eruption flowed down to the foot of the mountain, and cooled down. From the smoke came ash that many plants started to grow in.

Interest shifted to the sea and animals living in it particularly sharks, jelly fish and turtles. Our director John McBryde visited the class and shared his first hand experiences of climbing volcanoes and seeing eruptions. Everyone clamoured onto a green screen set to experience a virtual eruption. He also shared his story about turtles from when he lived on a small tropical island and seeing turtles laying their eggs. He shared some pictures of the local islanders who lived there and pictures of them dancing. Next everyone was up learning and signing a traditional island dance. Through this sharing the children come into contact with another culture that is different from their own.

The Climax – About turtles

A teacher shared a video about turtles laying eggs and eating plastic bags in the sea which they thought were jelly fish. The children wondered what would happen if they ate a plastic bag and put some bags into an aquarium and quickly realized how easy it is for a turtle to mistake a plastic bag for a jelly fish and how dangerous they are to them.

The children wondered what they could do and decided it was time to let other people know about this problem and to think of an alternative to using plastic bags each time they went shopping.

The children designed a cloth bag and drew pictures of turtles to print on it. Their teacher produced a set of bags and parents bought the shopping bags with their strong ‘conservation’ message.  (United Nations Sustainable Goal 13 – Life beneath the Sea).  Learning empathy, responsibility and taking action.

The end thoughts

The volcano is still standing in the middle of the class classroom, and continues to remind children about their inquiry and continues to excite new conversations. The learning that has taken place has been based on “experience”, is because the learning here is more of a process of a “experience”: in a context of with children guiding the questions and constructing their own knowledge, from each other, discussions, books and videos and classroom guests.

Big concepts have been explored – the geology of a volcano, chemistry, biological diversity, dinosaurs, extinction, pollution, conservation, indigenous peoples, culture.

During the process, teachers play the role of a guide and provocateur. Respecting childrens’ curiosity, questions and creativity, teachers facilitated an exciting and engaging learning environment to excite their inquiry and enrich their learning. This type of learning has a far-reaching impact on young children with lifelong benefit.

Innova EYC incorporates a Reggio Emilla inspired approach to early years education. This approach believes that education should develop children’s creativity so that children can form a perfect personality. Its creator Loris Malaguzzi has written a famous book “One hundred languages of children ” which describes children as having……

‘one hundred languages,

one hundred hands,

one hundred thoughts,

one hundred ways of thinking, games and talk’

Innova Early Years Centre encourages this diversity of expression and learning to support children and their optimal development.

How to build the most magnificent thing

Can creativity, innovation and talents be taught?  How is school responsible for students’ success?

Study after study has shown the incredible capacity of brains to grow and change in a really short time. When we talk about early years education this capacity is significantly increased. At this developmental stage the plasticity of the human brain allows students to learn much easier and be very creative. Every student possesses talents; with the right support of the environment and with experience they will shape the type of personality that will allow them to be successful in their lives. The key in this process is the development of a specific type of mindset. A type of mindset that values obstacles and sees mistakes as a learning opportunity.

Anyone who needs advice on how to build magnificent things should visit a school that promotes creativity and embraces the culture of making. Being creative, being a maker is a mindset. The learning process, especially in Early years, offers great insight on the concept of creativity  and how grown-ups have abolished it for fear of failure. At some point we all have failed at something; for most people failure is a dead end, yet for others it is a guide that shows the way.

Developing a Growth Mindset 

Last week I took part in a teachers’ workshop with the title “Teaching with 21st century skills in mind”, led by Lance G. King. The facilitator has made an impact on education with his book “The importance of failing well”. In this book the author, based on his research, claims that, among other qualities, the successful students demonstrated acceptance of failure, while the underachievers tended to deny that failure existed for them or took steps to avoid the possibility of failure in their lives. Lance G King, claims that students with a growth mindset see failure as an opportunity for feedback, that they believe that personality and intelligence can change and grow, and that they also believe in continual improvement through adaptation. In other words, the mindset of successful students does not let failure get in their way to success!
Psychologist and Stanford Professor Carol Dweck, in her book: “Mindset:The New Psychology of Success” summarized the key findings from her research on the nature and impact of mindsets. Her decades long research showed that students with a growth mindset, who believe that intelligence and “smartness” can be learned, go on to higher levels of achievement, engagement, and persistence.

Growth Mindset VS. Fixed Mindset

Mathematician John Mason from the University of Oxford claims that all students have “natural powers” in problem solving. He claims that these powers are integral to human intelligence and are used across fields of human activity. When it comes to being a successful problem solver, it is really about learning to use these powers within the right context. Cognitive psychologist Lev Vygotsky used the example of mathematics to argue that learning is a scientific endeavour and that students need to be in the presence of a teacher, who will scaffold the process of learning. It is within that process that students make meaning and they eventually become aware of how  fundamental  is to human intelligence to follow that process.

Another influential educator and mathematician Jo Boaler,  in her book “The elephant in the classroom” claims that ” one of the most damaging mathematics myths propagated in classrooms and homes is that maths is a gift, that some people are naturally good at maths and some are not”

It is not only academics and mathematicians who are making the point that success is something you learn. Writers and artists as well are argue that what most people refer to as talent is the result of perseverance, resilience, self-awareness and systematic work, qualities that are at the core of 21st Century learning skills.

So, if we all have the power to be creative what’s getting in our way? Here lays the importance of  Early years education. It is at this developmental stage that kids shape their mindset and it is really vital to make positive connections about their abilities and build trust on themselves.

Problem solving in the life of young learners

As an early years teacher I see examples of pure creativity in my classroom every day and my role is to support the students’ “natural powers” . A book that I love to use as a reference when I  talk with my students about the beauty of making and the power of  perseverance and resilience is  “The Most Amazing Thing”.

Author and illustrator Ashley Spires in this book  writes about a little girl who, alongside her best friend, her lovely dog, has this wonderful idea of making the “most MAGNIFICENT thing!”.  The little girl starts with enthusiasm.

but when things don’t go as she has planned she feels such a disappointment that she decides to “QUIT”.   

The little girl didn’t know back then that this is a phase of problem solving which is called “Being STUCK”.  

If you are a maker you sure know how it feels! Writers and artists call this stage “creative block”. John Mason claims that “being STUCK” is a honorable and positive state from which much can be learned. There is a major physiological impact when we are creating something. Stress comes with creativity and creativity as well as stress are  physical, a matter of hormone secretion that produces that special feeling. In that stage, positive reinforcement is crucial.

And this is what our little heroine did.  After a long walk with her best friend and after she treats herself with a muffin, the mad gets pushed out of her head. It might take some time but, as all teachers know, with the right support makers will go back to work. It is that time where reflection turns “Stuck” into “AHA!”.

Dr. Ken Atchity, whose work is part of very prestigious creative writing curriculums in universities around the world, claims that in that stage of creative block our mind is testing us to see how serious we are about our desire to be disciplined and to get the best from reflection.

Understanding how the process works is what converts anxiety to elation. As a learner and a maker, the challenge of  been successful in pursuing your passion is not to avoid anxiety but to cope with it and turn it in positive energy.  

Back to our story, the girl, who is now calmer, starts ” to work carefully and slowly, tinkering, hammering, gluing and painting”, or in the problem solving language, she entered the ATTACK phase,

and in the end :  

The little girl in the story is a maker, she had the growth mindset to see the opportunity where others would have “failed bad”.

Her early failures enable her to gain control over her mood or the effective skill of emotional management. She also demonstrated perseverance and resilience. All these are part of the 21st century skills that modern education sets at the core of the teaching practice.

Once the environment supports the cognitive and physical growth of every child and learning is designed to scaffold learners capacity to be creative and develop their super powers Innovation happens in the classroom every day.We can see it as long as we know where to look and how to support it. If we don’t recognize it, we are the ones that are failing, not out students.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Start With The Child’

This was the title of inspiring PYP Coordinator, Edna Sackson’s, blog post. She used this statement to begin her schools’ staff orientation and to highlight their 2017 focus for learning. Her post, sharing the first day of this journey, is inspiring and thought provoking (https://whatedsaid.wordpress.com/2017/01/28/start-with-the-child/[https://whatedsaid.wordpress.com%29/). It made me think and ponder why this statement, ‘Start with the child’ is important and how I, as an educator, can strive to understand what this means.

For me as a teacher I feel compelled to smile when I think of the many young children I have had the joy to teach. Start with the child…..Yes, little Zac who could only say “no!” for the first 3 weeks at school. Start with his needs, was he being rude? No, he was just scared and proud. Did he need the same as the other children in the class? No, he needed something unique and different. He needed to feel safe and believed in. Start with the child…….Sophie who arrived with no established mother tongue for learning, she hit other children and cried in despair when her family left her. Was she being selfish and defiant by not trying to speak the language in the class? Was she a nasty child because she hit other children? No, she had already experienced failure and despair from being left in extreme circumstances and she had to develop her awareness of friendship and social connection. She knew loss and hurt. No, she was not a problem child. She was a child who needed a personal connection she could trust, she needed to feel success and she needed to learn specific social skills in a supportive environment. Was this the same as other children? No, Sophie needed something unique and personal to her. EVERY CHILD needs to be seen and recognized as themselves. The only way we can truly do this is by starting with the child.

But what does this mean in the context of developing programmes and bringing staff together with the same understanding? What does this mean when designing curriculum? Starting with the child impacts all elements of a school; reporting, curriculum structure, supporting student passions, staff professional development, policies, developing authentic connections and most importantly documentation. It means developing key shared understandings and terminology. There is a need to delve into what this statement means and how we as educators can articulate it personally and within an organization.

To start with the child, means a shift of understanding and a creativity in education as we no longer fit the child to the curriculum but instead fit the curriculum to the child. This is an important shift to occur and has the potential to allow children to more fully reach their potential whilst also developing their own innate skills to self manage, to explore, to create and direct their own learning.
This is an exciting conversation being had in education, and though there is much to be learned and understandings to develop, it marks an important shift. Educators need to develop shared understandings about how we maintain accountability and documentation, how we ensure children develop skills and how progress is communicated. However, this is a challenge I gladly take up and look forward to learning more about.


‘Start with the child.’

I thank the industry for putting this statement out there!

Power of the Environment

 

During my 20 plus years as an Early Years Educator I have seen many classrooms.

I love walking into an Early Years classroom where I see and hear students playing. They are engaged, energized and empowered! Well actually sometimes they are sound asleep and exhausted too! These students have been so busy exploring, creating and connecting with their environment.

When I think about environment I think of environment as another teacher that interacts purposefully with students, parents and teachers. In this environment we find beauty and intention, but there are also ‘knots and ping pongs’ (Shana Upiter @shanaupiter from Mt Scopius.)

“We value space because of its power to organize, promote pleasant relationships among people of different ages, create a handsome environment, provide changes, promotes choices and activity, and provide the potential for sparking all kinds of social, affective, and cognitive learning. (Loris Malaguzzi, personal communication 1984)

For the environment to act as the third teacher, the environment needs to be considered thoughtfully to promote wonder, movement, collaboration and to inspire and encourage children to respond and engage with learning by being creative and innovative.

It is important to design spaces that are not only warm, aesthetically beautiful, inquiry driven and rich in provocations but also accommodate large and small groups of students, the individual student and, parents and teachers. Spaces that are both engaging and evolving, spaces that are a part of our every day planning. Spaces that give students cues as to the what, why and how to use them. Spaces that allow teachers the time to ‘notice and name’ the learning.

The classroom will be the place in which students and teachers spend more of their time (awake) than any other place during the year. Does it not make sense for this space to be as engaging, beautiful, comfortable and appealing as possible.

When setting up a classroom consider how to simplify, how to create a “blank canvas” for students and how to make the classroom a place that students and teachers look forward to going to every day.

With careful thought and effort, teacher’s can create “lovely seductive places” that students will love to learn in.

playfullearning.net/designing-spaces-children-transparency/

playfullearning.net/designing-spaces-for-children-color/

Conquerors of Knowledge : The Case of Young Language Learners

Staying in contact with your former students is something that makes every teacher happy. If I receive an e-mail written in English from your 8-year-old, Korean student, this makes me even happier. Especially, when I remember his first day in Kindergarten when he did not speak English, his progress makes me really proud!

The progress that my students make in second language learning has fascinated me from the beginning of my teaching practice in international schools to this day. Of course, it is understandable that parents worry that it can be challenging for a young student to learn a second language.

It is very common in teacher-parents meetings for parents to voice their concern on language learning. Drawing from our experience, we find that for our adult minds learning a second language can be challenging. It takes commitment and, sometimes, it is very frustrating.

It is well documented by recent studies that learning a language in childhood is easier because of the plasticity of children’s developing brains; they can use both hemispheres while learning a new language, while for most adults language learning occurs in one hemisphere, usually the left. Research suggests that being bilingual can have a positive effect on a number of executive functions of the brain, including attention control, working memory, cognitive flexibility, reasoning, problem solving and planning.

I always advise parents to give space to their children and let them amaze them with their progress. Through interactive play, children explore language in ways that we, as adults, do not practise or even cannot practise and, therefore, at times, we do not understand.

Naturally, these learning environments do not just happen. It takes thoughtful planning, meaningful assessment for learning with every child’s different needs and talents in mind and, most importantly, collaboration between the school and home.

Being a teacher with experience in multicultural settings, I am always impressed by the ability of the human mind to adapt in complex settings and the effectiveness of learning through active engagement, especially in environments that promote inquiry and exploration. Young students conquer knowledge with the enthusiasm of the explorers!

“There is so much to learn in the early years, and learning is so complex, that perhaps it would be true to say that only young children are capable of it. Such capacity for uninterrupted, unthwartable, multidisciplinary learning deserves enormous respect from adults” – Nutbrown, C. 1996

I find this TED Ed video very informative, as it does not only focus on the benefits of a bilingual mind, but, also, on the ability that kids have to learn languages much easier than adults.

Click to watch the TED Ed presentation:

Bilingual Brain - TEDEd

Valuing Social Emotional Development to Support Learning

Social Emotional Learning

Why is the social emotional development of a child as important as their academic development?

This question considers the learner both from the outside perspective and from the inside needs of the child. A learner needs to know themselves, feel good about themselves to be able to respond to learning and take action. In order to capitalise on their academic learning they also need learning experiences that supports them in developing their ability to manage themselves socially and emotionally.

From the inside it is crucial that families and educators nurture and ensure their child’s sense of themselves internally. A learner full of fear, low self esteem, a negative sense of themselves is unable to reach their potential and access knowledge and use skills as they don’t feel worthy, or fearful or don’t trust themselves. It is our job to build them up and to help them feel confident and able to take risks with strategy and understanding. Otherwise, despite capabilities, they will struggle to reach their potential. No matter what documented competency tests a child has done to prove their potential, they can only achieve this if they have a strong sense of well being and connectedness. Hence, families and educators have a responsibility to nurture them and more importantly equip them with strategies for handling the challenging social emotional aspects of life.

In the school context it is important that educators and the school community can be creating an environment to support and teach children to develop their social and emotional skills. This support learners in developing tolerance and to recognise how they can develop essential skills to connect and manage their own well being. Therefore allowing them to pursue academic excellence with more freedom.

This is not only about supporting learners in their individual journey. This also refers to the social and global development of the world. The UN Sustainable Development Goals require our learners to develop these skills in order to take action and work collaboratively to find global solutions. In the same context the World Economic Forum has identified specific social emotional skills as key skills to be successful members of the future work force. This shows an individual purpose and social context for learners to have the ability to self manage and nurture as well as the social context of having empathy and being highly connected and collaborative.

Recognising the impact of social emotional learning experiences and understanding the need to acknowledge, support and teach strategies are as crucial as the knowledge and skills a child learns. Their social emotional traits are what allow them to use, respond and apply their knowledge and skills to learning. Hence we all need to value this aspect of a child’s development.

Additional links about social and emotional development and learning:

Comprehending the social emotional development of a child

When does profound learning occur?


Hard thinking about soft skills

Hard Thinking About Soft Skills