SPT Conferences: Lost & Found


Taken from: korbatwuhs.files.wordpress.com

Conferences have always represented a moment to emphasize the importance of the relationship that must exist between learners, teachers, and parents. Most importantly, I have always regarded these occasions as an opportunity to, collaboratively, move away from practices that destroy the learning spirit of a child; from ideas that cause us to lose a learner; from generalized agreements / assumptions of what causes false expectations, and causes us to ignore that children and all of us, for that matter, are not the same people we were in the last conference. Reflection is transformational and visualizing its impact should be the goal of all conferences.

Clearly, I love talking about learning and achievements, and about learning targets. Nonetheless, my favorite part of conferences is the human, socio-emotional aspect, because..

It’s important to remind parents that:

  • their children are kind.
  • their children arrive at school with a smile on their faces
  • words such as thank you, please, and would you mind, among others, are part of their everyday language.
  • their children can be the best kind of communicators as they exercise active listening.
  • their children see their peers as equal and support they wholeheartedly.
  • their children are brave when they take chances to explore learning opportunities that some find indomitable.
  • their children have a voice that makes others turn around and hear them.
  • their children constantly look for different ways of doing things.
  • learning with their children give us moments to reflect on what it means to learn for life.
  • all processes are learning opportunities for us teachers as well.

Most importantly, I feel, these occasions are important because parents need to be given a stimulus to extend the dialogue at home, to deepen the inquiry, and to make home feel like an extension of school: a safe space where the way one perceives the world matters; and where there is room for different perspectives.

In this past conferences at QAIS, not only was I impressed by how eloquently my MYP2 (grade 7) students spoke about their learning process, and explained to their parents how they perceive their growth. Needless to say, seeing the stories that were born in parents’ eyes as their witnessed how their children talk about learning was my biggest take away.

Las week, as I spoke to parents and students, I was happy to see how my advisees, their children, helped me sent their parents home knowing they had found a side of their children they may or may not have thought they’d lost or didn’t know existed.


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Pokemon Go is just the tip of the iceberg.


We can get creative and devise educational ways to use Pokémon, but if we are solely focusing on the App, and forgetting that there is more depth to this than just the Pokémon Go Version, we could be missing big opportunities to go beyond the fad. In order to “educationally weaponize” something like Pokémon, we need to know the background, who are the characters, what they do, how they are different, what they like and dislike about one another, what they look like, what they wish, and how they use their skills. Attempting to use Pokémon for educational purposes by solely looking at the geographical and statistical features the Pokémon Go App showcases will cause us to only scratch the surface of its potential.

I was about to become a University student when Pokémon was released. While I was not fascinated by the Game Boy version, I was certainly drawn to the manga version and the cards. Now, as I look back at the decks of cards I initially helped my cousins collect, I could only wish I had already started teaching languages so that I could use them. Fact of the matter is, back in 1996, the habit of looking for teaching ideas on the Internet or for Gamified activities was not so widespread. Luckily for me, I have a good memory.

I wonder if it’s a pity that Pokémon Go came out in the summer when schools (at least in the northern hemisphere) could not take advantage of the momentum and employ it at school, or whether it was a good thing so that players of all ages could enjoy it in its element. I am personally thankful that it came out in the summer, because it allowed me to learn about it with the people with who I would use it, and for whom I would create learning scenarios: children. Yes, I do feel that sometimes ignoring children’s contribution to a movement such as this, and depriving them from the opportunity to teach the adults, can turn learning experiences into insipid moments of fabricated pedagogy.

Thus, I spent a few days with my nephews and their friends sharing my Pokémon stories, asking and answering questions, and engaging in dialogue about our experience with this App that allowed our generations to have a meeting point for leisure and enjoyable learning. So here are the minutes from my Pokémon adventures with these young fellows, a summary of things they thought they would enjoy doing at school:

Please note that these ideas DO NOT refer to Pokémon Go, but can enrich the experience of using Pokémon Go in the classroom.

Ideas for Language:

a) Pokémon Trainer
– What are the skills a Pokémon trainer needs?
b) Pokémon Gym Leader:
– What are the skills a Pokémon Gym Leader needs?
– How is a Pokémon Gym Leader different from a Pokémon Learner?

c) Pokémon and their skills
(Pokémon is both used as singular and plural)
– What does X look like?
– Where can X be found?
– What does X Pokémon evolve from/into?
– Against which Pokémon can I use to battle?

Communication Skills:

  • Write a letter informing someone s/he is ready to become a Pokémon Trainer.
  • Write a letter of application explaining why you are suitable to become a Pokémon Gym Leader.
  • Devise a rubric to indicate the characteristic features and skills needed to become a Pokémon Gym Leader.
  • Write a response letter (acceptance or rejection) for applicants.
  • Participate with a classmate in a role play to simulate a interview for becoming a Pokémon Trainer / Gym Leader.
  • Create infomercials to sells items needed for Pokémon battles/ training.
  • What if Pokémon became criminals were caught and ran away from prison? Write wanted notices, and provide details for ransom.
  • Write speeches in favor or against Pokémon as pets?
  • Writing short stories using specific Pokémon in specific locations and circumstances.
  • Write or talk about comparisons of Pokémon and historical figures or mythological creatures.

Ideas for biology or geography.

  • Take a walk around the school and stop at different points (garden, fountain, park, etc.) and have students design a Pokémon considering the natural features of the place. Students make indicate the Pokémon’s skills, their strengths, and their weaknesses.
  1. The same thing can be done with biomes, as a result of chemical reactions (Hulk?)
  • Controlling Pokémon population in certain territories?
  • Alternative ways to classify Pokémon.
  • Would there be places on earth or the universe to mine stardust or Pokémon candies?

Ideas for ethics.

  • Could Pokémon powers be learned/acquired? Who should regulate this: government? Religion?
  • What would a Pokémon zoo look like? How would people experience it?
  • When would a Pokémon be an endangered species?
  • How could you combat Pokémon poaching?
  • What would initiatives against experimentation on Pokémon defend?
  • Could Pokémon cause people to develop adoration of fake Gods? (Quite debatable one)
  • What if humans attempted to use Pokémon stardust or candies? Would this be similar to using drugs?
  • What would a mix of humans and Pokémon look like? Like an evolution of MewTwo?

Ideas for Design Technology:

  • How to construct improved Poké balls? What would we need and why? What would the specifications be?
  • Constructing cages to capture the strongest Pokémon. What would we need and why? What would the specifications be?
  • Creative thinking- how to design Pokémon traps.

Ideas for Physical Education:

  • Design (fake) programs to become Pokémon trainers or Gym Leaders.
  • Designing training charts depending on the Pokémon one wants to train.
  • Use mathematics in a Pokémon Olympiads. Look at speed, force, etc.



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Memories of Transdisciplinary Learning

sabes quienAs a child, I remember browsing through one of my favorite encyclopedias called ¿Sabes Quién? (Do you know who?). I remember how ardently my cousins, friends and I discussed the skills and interest the greatest people in the past had. This is, I think, the closest thing to talking about Pokémon and their powers, in my childhood version.

While we would always indulge in wondering how Da Vinci’s life as a polymath was like since he was outstanding in invention, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and calligraphy; I still remember my fascination about imaging what it’d be like to have the Persian Al-Biruni as a teacher, and learn about everything he excelled at: physics, mathematics, astronomy, natural sciences, history, and language.

The word transdisciplinary may not have been spoken at that time, and I may not have been able to pronounce it if I had ever attempted to utter it, but my cousins, friends, and I knew that those people we talked about enjoyed having a slash career; that having multiple vocations at the same time made them remarkable. Clearly, if some of the greatest polymaths were not satisfied with having just one title in their career, acknowledging that we must be versatile learners today should not be so hard.

Later on, I had a brilliant science teacher in high school who was always talking about arts and language in every experiment she had us do. Once she was asked why she insisted in making us see how X and Y were related, and her answer is one of the sentences that has remained with me since: “because the more we know how things work together, the more we will not be blinded by confusion… Our knowledge needs to be explored and stored in order,” she concluded.

Now that I am an educator and have developed a deep passion for learning from and with others, I am aware of the way many teachers are working hard towards generating learning experiences that involve a focus on concepts, understandings, or processes through the marriage of various subjects. Authentic and relevant learning is rooted in real-world experiences in which learners need to use a variety of abilities and different information from various areas of knowledge to pose questions, and find answers to questions- not only and questions they might have about content, but also about the interaction of knowledge they perceive.

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 12.38.19 PM

Knowledge and learning do not happen in isolation, and are not confined by traditional subjects- they are supported and enriched by each of them. Thus, as it is commonly expressed, the idea of transdisciplinary essentially means connecting all the disciplines by a unifying issue or topic of inquiry, and going beyond all the disciplines through their links and relationships.

According to Greenwich Public Schools, the transdisciplinary approach promotes depth of understanding as well as adaptability to skills needed to allow students to solve real world problems, and to allow them to authentically create and build their own ideas. As a learner, visiting the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, was one of my strongest transdisciplinary experiences, and an example of what I am trying to explain.

I remember being at The Alhambra, listening to the tour guide’s explanation about the spiritual nature of mathematics. While I was busy and fascinated wondering ‘how many symmetries do these walls have?’, I could not help but wonder whether I had the language to classify and talk about the symmetries of the walls; and with tiny artist kicks, a third question emerged: ‘can different processes of transformation be applied to an object without changing its appearance?’ “The beauty of the Alhambra, the tour guide said, lies in the fact that we do not have individual shapes: the walls are hosting a dance of patterns repeating on a plan.” The Alhambra, built in the XIII and XIV centuries, is a symbol of the Arab conquest in Spain, an extraordinary piece of Muslim art that depicts how Muslims have abstained from painting figures of people and animals believing that the depiction of images can lead to idolatry, so they channel their artistic energy into the creation of beautiful and complex tile patterns. Remembering this experience always makes me think how the statement ‘when something is true mathematically, it is true forever’ would be a great central idea/statement of inquiry.

           [Mathematics, language, art, history]

In moments like this, Oscar Wilde’s words are perfect: “I can resist everything except [temptation] an opportunity for learning ”. Thus, every time that I confront the need of planning learning experiences, I think at how many connections the contexts I have chosen allows students to make. I like to ponder how may skills from multiple subjects they can employ. I enjoy thinking about how using the language as a forum and opportunity to use what they know to communicate ideas enhances the relationships we all can have in the classroom. I try hard to think how reaching out to other subjects to use their particular skills and information will help them express their ideas clearly. This is important for me as a language teacher, because, for language learners, there is nothing worse than feeling they do not have any ideas at all, and if I encourage students to dig into what they have learned in other subjects they will always have something to say.

This is one of the questions that are currently making me wonder about the transdisciplinary approach in the IB DP Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course:

What impact on inquiry would working an various *Ways of Knowing (WOK) at the same time when studying a specific **Area of Knowledge (AOK) to see how the relationships between the WAO interact as knowledge is appreciated through the lenses of each AOK?

Teachers now welcome curiosity and imagination in the learning experiences they generate; and they do because they are aware that the co-construction of knowledge begins with experiencing what one can do with the information and skills one possesses. As living beings that use their roots and branches to feed from past knowledge and reach out to future possibilities, our natural desire for acquiring and figuring out what to do with the knowledge should be a common habit in our journey.

*[WOK- Emotion, faith, imagination, intuition, language, memory, reason, sense perception]
**[AOK- The arts, ethics, history, human sciences, indigenous knowledge systems, mathematics, the natural sciences, religious knowledge systems]
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Shadows of the Last Day of School


On August 24, 2015 a new academic year at Qingdao Amerasia International School began. I wrote about it claiming that many worlds had been born that day. A few births and blossoming of ideas after, today this year came to an end.

As I walked the hallways in the school, I could hear the voices of the stories that were born in the classrooms; some of them were being put into boxes, and some were waiting to be locked inside cupboards in order for them to ‘summernate’ in preparation for the next academic year. Teachers looked equally busy, although the halo of their energy wore different colors. My footsteps cautious, my eyes curious, and my spirit receptive, I started to wonder how what will happen with everything that found its nest in the classroom; with the ideas and characters to which learners and teachers opened their arms.

How do we pack voices?
How will we know where the ideas shared will go?

IMG_9247What will the many characters played throughout the year be doing this summer? Reading one of the books someone mentioned? Watching one of the movies someone used to give an example? Traveling the stories that were written on the dozen pages that were produced? Whatever they do and wherever they go, they will certainly (and always) have a home in the hours between the day worlds were born and their closure.

Next week it will be my turn. I will be packing books and personal goods in my office to move to the 11th floor of the building, and I cannot help but wonder about the shadows of the days we leave behind; about how they were ears and eyes to moments; and how they were solid ground to movement and exploration.

A little bit bitter, but sweet at the very end- like a candy, that is how last days of school feel when the year has been intense, and one’s spirit needs to rest and let all learning sink and become an integral part of everything that means ‘us’ in essence.

This was the first year when I did not spend most of my time in a classroom of mine, but in classrooms that were shared spaces where I was either a co-teacher, a guest, or an observer. Nonetheless, this has been the first time that I have felt like I was juggling with balls of different energies and temperaments, and, conversely, this idea causes me to think about the experiences lived this year.

What to do with those experiences that defined moments, that challenged convictions, and that open doors to roads that are waiting for us to walk them?


I have decided to celebrate them this summer. I will savor them slowly as I do with the flavors that linger in my mouth after a good meal; I will treasure them like the drink from which I sip slowly; I will regard them as the photo that I contemplate; and I will talk about them as if they were the words that I receive as if they were a prayer. I will value each letter I wrote as I value each of the cents I spend. I will praise each good idea I produced like I value each new friend that I make. I will follow the wishes that were born in this year’s experience as faithfully as my shadow follows me.

As I think of the summer that lays between today and a new academic year, I see new mistakes dying to occur; new opportunities waiting to emerge; truncated stories waiting for the new page to turn so they can continue; and harsh journeys that were put on hold to contemplate and reflect statically looking forward to welcoming us with gentle arms.

For this reason, I urge you to pack your school spirits well. Those that keep you company when you learn and unlearn, make them rest comfortably, so that when you unpack them and they see your face after the summer they are ready to hear your stories and travel with you again.

Posted in IB DP, IB MYP, IB PYP, Reflection, Thoughts around the world | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Packing experiences in a unit

Man covered in cardboard boxes - moving concept

How do we pack what is worth keeping in life?

How do we prepare for a wedding?
We don’t want to be under or over dressed. We don’t want to outshine the bride or the groom, but if happens, I guess we just couldn’t help it: our taste and choices are just delightfully accurate!

How do we plan our units so that they are not under or overloaded?
We certainly should not want to be the center of attention and generate monotonous learning experience for learners. Likewise, we should not want to let the waves of learning without having a goal in mind for all learners- teachers included. In other words, when crafting units, we must make sure our taste, choices, stimulus, and provocations are delightfully accurate, relevant, enjoyable, impactful, and learning-centered. And since we, teachers are learners as well, the experience must be equally powerful for all participants. Teachers just happen to be the planners, but the journey is decided along with students.

This year, at my current school, we, language teachers, have immersed ourselves in an odyssey to define what we consider a well-packed unit; a well-designed collection of learning experiences; and, above all, quality learning. We have co-taught throughout the year, serving as lead teachers, observers and sharing the platform. We have devised an attitude through which the design of our curriculum responds to students’ needs, to a most desired challenge we want as educators, and to the idea of sustainable learning full of transfer and opportunities for learners to experience, taste and execute a varied set of skills.

As a result, we have been fortunate to craft a curriculum map that emulates the 8 key elements of the school’s mission statement and that resonates with a learning experience in which students are given the chance to use the skills and information they possess in a variety of ways. We have agreed that we are not just language teachers; our subject is a forum where learning through and about the language is our daily bread.

In this post, I would like to share our journey through an MYP unit, the 4th of a set of 5 in this academic year; a segue to a service-led unit which I described in my post titled ‘The Power of Local Context’; and one in which we wanted students to dwell in the realm creativity and problem solving with fairness and development in mind. While through this unit we were to consolidate our approach to designing inquiry-based units, we also wanted students to be more aware of the stages they must go through as they plan their explorations. Thus, the use of various inquiry cycle models was paramount.

As this unit was designed, not only was our intention to fulfill our subject objectives, but also to explicitly proclaim that Global and Local Contexts make it possible to include elements of service-learning, to utilize the intellectual resources in our community, to offer students opportunities for real world interactions, and engage learners in a variety of thinking experiences (creative, design, divergent, etc). Above all, we wanted to make sure that all outcomes of the work conducted in this unit could help pupils be proud of and own their achievements.

Emulating the farming and harvesting process, the following Thinglink will help you visualize our journey in this unit: an exploration into the way creative solutions for problems give way to cultural and linguistic adjustments related to social demands, processes, novel ways of doing things, and the purpose of knowledge. (Hover over the image to see links)

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The Wedding Dress Syndrome

There are some people like me who do not like to solely demonstrate affection on birthdays, because if we truly love somebody we show our love as often as possible, not only on one day. For this, I am happy to have Facebook to remind me about my friends’ birthday, because I never make it a point to remember dates.

I had no idea my reflection in my post ‘Don’t waste thinking, don’t waster skills’ would sensitize me so deeply about apprenticeship and understanding local contexts.


It’s a bridesmaid’s dress. Someone loved it intensely for one day, and then tossed it. Like a Christmas tree. So special. Then bam, it’s on the side of the road.

Opportunities for action and service as action in schools are now stirred by very specific
days like Earth Day, International Book Day, Peace Day and many other commemorations that inspire teachers to organize activities in which students do good deeds for one day. Is this the message we are sending as educators? That caring for others and the planet is something that can only last a day? This is what I have begun to call the wedding dress syndrome: things that are used one, and remembered through pictures taken, but never truly wondering whether its purchase has had an impact on us and the way we see life.


If service as action, community service or engagement in the community is not an inherent part our planning and does not add another layer of depth to the quality teaching and learning we should promote, then it is just decoration, a tick box, as event that is part of a cool global trend. Hence, with this reflection, my invitation is not to let what looks globally cool to blind us for what is locally right.

Why waiting until Earth Day to be good to earth? I am sure that if we looked around in our contexts, we would find problems that Mother Earth would be very happy if we attempted to solve them. Some common ones that I have observed in my journey as a teacher include and are not limited to: food waste; paper waste (how many times dozens of papers are printed without caution and then just stranded); energy use (some teacher leave their classroom’s lights or projectors on, etc); paper cups use for water fountains (something that can easily be solved by bringing a bottle!), among others.

The point is that while it is a fantastic idea to engage in global issues, it is not a good idea to oversee and ignore the opportunity take action and make a difference in a context that influences students’ everyday life; the extent to which they can collaborate and learn from one another. When students’ local context should is recognized as a significant part of their educational space, the connections they make with their local environment will last a lifetime and inform their outlook on many other areas of their lives.

Contextualized learning is effective because a context informs where is the place of the information we are handling is. Likewise, contextualized action enables us to employ the skills we posses in the improvements of the social, material, and cultural dimensions of daily life in the learning process in the place we call ‘our community.’

Then again, as I wondered in my post about the power of local contexts, ‘how blind can many International schools be?

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The Power of our Local Context

We might be part of learning communities that strive to develop innovative curriculum in which technology plays a central role; we might be part of learning communities in which teachers and students strive for excellence, but what is the point of all this if we, as a school, never inculcate the need of contributing to the community; if we never foster a proactive attitude to give back; and if, despite the 21st centrury attitude in our institution, we keep students from being an instrumental part in the understanding and improvement of their/our local context.

Walking the streets of Qingdao as I follow the colors of the cherry blossoms, I have recently been wondering about how blind many International schools can be: blind about the learning opportunities in their surroundings; bling about the possibilities for engaging students in their local context, and truly encourage them to become change making agents. I wonder how many time schools miss opportunities to take advantage of the play and learning opportunities their neighborhoods allow them to have. Clearly, a school address is more than a street with a zip code- it’s a playground and a laboratory.

The long cold nights of the winter invited me to explore and navigate the layer of my school’s curriculum as a voyager who explores unknown geographies. While we can claim ownership and be proud about the somewhat rich inquiry we can observe, I could also observe how the lack of connections with the local context made it look dry, illusionary, and beautified as if it were a damsel going to the opera. Thus, with the help of my local colleagues, we have gone scouting for venues where our students could put their skills to practice.

Every person has a role to play in the process of transforming the curriculum into a livable experience; a process in which learning experiences connect understandings from all subjects, and also make use of the city spaces for our students see that their skills are needed. Teachers, parents, administrators, policy makers, and practically everyone who comes into contact with the real lives of students are potential instruments to lead, accompany and provoke action in the learning that occurs in our community- we only need to understand that we acquire skills to understand and improve the community we live in, not to become isolated.

For a context like the one Mainland China provides us, every opportunity we have to foster emotional and social literacy in students must be taken in order to get learners to practice their critical and human skills. The size of the unknown and unexplored is so vast that there is room for testing how much we can do with what we know in various corners of a neighborhood, a city, and a province.

Yes, there is rigor in life; yes, it is important to learn as much as one can, but it is important to develop a sense of belonging in our context; and this is only done when we see ourselves as functional, and vital parts of it.

In our exploration we have walked streets that not even the locals born and brought up in Qingdao had walked; entered buildings with deceiving appearances that were actually ‘connections waiting to happen’; and it is like this how we have started to become aware the many experiences our context can provide us: it’s a learning matryoshka, an experience within an experience within an experience.

At school, as we openned the repertoir of possibilities and had students look at what the city allows us to do, the most fascinating thing was to see students’ interest focusing on home for the elderly as they wanted to explore what stories older people had to tell. They wondered whether there were unspoken heroes who contributed to what China is like now; and as they wondered about what these people thought of the youth of modern China. Clearly, witnessing this outlined our inquiry for the unit we were about to commence.

Thus, for over a month students went to a home for the elderly in order to hunt for stories worth telling and also to support the work the institution has been doing. This experience enriched the Language Acquisition class with dialogue; with opportunities for students to use language to communicate ideas that mattered to them; with scenarios that allowed us to engage in deep reflection and to witness how each other’s thoughts can change transform us.

I am happy to share a summary of students’ reflections, which they consistently did for the duration of the experience in a video journal, which is only one of the strategies used to support students’ language development. As I post this, students are getting ready to present a story in a school assembly.

As for me, my learning is clear: One of the worst enemies of effective and meaningful learning/curriculum is indifference.

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