Tuesday, January 23, 2018

ASD Joins the Green Schools Alliance!

They say that there is strength in numbers and we're sure hoping that, in making our community a better place, this rings true of our work as well. As of this past week, the American School of Dubai is a newly established member of the Green Schools Alliance!  We are delighted to start up this international relationship with over 8,000 like-minded schools across the world as a way to connect, be inspired, share experiences, learn and take informed action on sustainability. 

The process involved the signing and sharing of a Letter of Commitment by our school's administration (represented by Michelle Remington, Associate Superintendent and chair of our Sustainability Committee) to become a "Sustainability Steward". This includes a commitment "to set goals, take action, and monitor and share progress in the three sustainability leadership action tracks: reduce our climate and ecological impact, educate and engage our community and transform our culture". 

This move was the combined effort of the Sustainability Action Team and our Sustainability Committee and sets a more "formal" course toward a sustainable present and future for our community. Of course, a move like this does not heavily alter what we are already doing with regard to improving our collective impact. We are already deeply committed to people and planet. But in choosing to join this collaborative organization we are more formally paving the way to continuing our journey to sustainability. 


Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Nature of Learning

Every year at about this time the HS students in the stage craft class find a way to make our campus just a little bit more user-friendly. As a way of supporting our community this year the HS students are addressing a K1/K2 need for more nature-based outdoor learning and play spaces. Much research has shown that interaction with such spaces connects children to the outdoors, develops an appreciation for nature, stimulates creativity, enhances collaboration, increases mindfulness, increases enjoyment and develops positive attitudes toward people and planet. 

The project has involved conversations with the students, teachers and administration,  including brainstorming, a visit to the elementary school to observe the young students in their natural state of play and planning a nature-based, outdoor space that supports their growth and learning. It has also involved a good amount of research pertaining to natural play areas including examples of such spaces around the world. What is taking shape is a larger space that includes a "mud kitchen" where our younger (and not so young?) community members can, literally, get their hands dirty.  Nothing a hand wash can't get rid of before heading back to class, though. :-)

If last year's Maze garden is any indicator we have great things to look forward to as the project moves forward. HS students have already been spotted outside the K1/K2 classrooms, setting up the new space. With some feedback from our younger students the space is sure to provide great opportunities for individual and collective growth!

All great stuff!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Sustainability Best Practices for ASD Introduced

In December 2017 the launch of ASD "best practices" for sustainability were introduced. A joint initiative by the Office of Service Learning, the Sustainability Action Team and the Sustainability Committee, the best practices serve as expected behaviors with regard to ASD related events and initiatives. 

The information presented in the slides above was shared with the parent organizations the the administrative staff community as well as members of the student community. The thought behind the move is that sustainability has come of age at ASD. No longer are sustainable practices considered "optional" and in our quest to be the best school we can possibly be, it is also necessary to become an example for our community and the world at large. 

The best practices are intended to minimize our use of resources and to focus on the elimination of waste in appropriate ways. Perhaps more important than the best practices, are the conversations that we invite everyone to have with the families, children and colleagues. Whether in the classrooms, the offices, the hallways or our homes, the impact of our collective efforts is great if we consider how our actions affect the world and act accordingly. 

In addition to these recommendations, the Sustainability Action Team has initiated conversations to support membership in the Green Schools Alliance, an international collaborative of schools aimed at becoming more "green". It is hoped, of course, that international collaboration will make our impact even greater.

For ongoing information related to sustainability at ASD, feel free to visit the "GO" page here

Sunday, November 12, 2017

NESA Puts Service Learning on the Map

Two weekends ago NESA, the regional professional development association for international and American schools in the Near East and South Asia conducted its annual Fall Training Institute (FTI) for teachers. Among the many teachers in attendance - in a variety of strands - were a number of ASD teachers who were there to develop their skills and collaborate with professionals at other schools in meaningful ways. This year's FTI also marked the beginning of a new era of sorts for NESA through the creation of a NESA Collaborative on Service Learning, Sustainability Education and Global Citizenship aiming to engage schools in more meaningful, authentic learning as well as developing what we, at ASD, call critical consciousness. 

Following a great weekend institute with Mike Johnston (Head of School at Colegio Maya in Guatemala) on systems thinking, sustainability education and service learning, the six members of the newly formulated NESA Collaborative met to define the direction of these educational approaches regionally. Representing the American School of Dubai was Laurence Myers, K-12 Service Learning Coordinator. Generating a great deal of support from the NESA administration, the Collaborative's work resulted in a visionary statement of purpose and professional development recommendations for the coming academic year. 

Though this was a small step in terms of immediate impact, it was none-the-less an important one in re-defining educational opportunities for our students by promoting deeper understand of the world through systems thinking, connections between our curriculum and the world around us, and establishing a more direct learning for our children. By focusing on their ability to make change around them through systems thinking, especially as it related to Sustainable Development Goals, students can more meaningfully engage in "think global, act local". 

The larger 'take away' from both the institute and the Collaborative's work was the fact that service learning cannot be regarded as a niche educational process but, as a connector of curricula, outcomes and strategies, it can and should become a valuable tool in all schools across the region and around the world. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Behind the Scenes - Sharing Insights

Education isn't all about what you see... in fact it's often layer upon layer of planning, thinking, collaboration, redoing, failing and planning some more. Some of that is visible to students and parents, but often it's out of view. Regardless of whether or not something is visible or not, it's important to note that, as educators, we believe in the power of learning in all its forms. The excerpt below was shared by an ES teacher who is currently working on a service learning project involving food waste, linking it to data collection and analysis through mathematics. It is shared here with the hope that it sheds a small bit of light on the behind-the-scenes conversations and connections related to service learning... 

Just sharing insights:
  • Kids were thinking about food waste from their perspective--food they don't eat.
  • [The canteen vendor] was thinking about food waste from his preparation perspective--food he over makes that's not eaten.
As he was answering questions, I figured out what was happening with the answers and questions.  

He shared the math that happens on his side as he projects what he needs to make based on what kids have eaten; he shared that rice isn't wasted a lot because it only takes 10 minutes to prepare so they can keep preparing it as it is used so there's less waste, but vegetables are often wasted more on the prep side because they have to be made in advance so it's purely a guess based on history.

The kids were thinking that they get way too much rice and don't eat it so they were shocked that more wasn't wasted.  That's when I realized that the two (kids versus the cafeteria vendor) were talking about different perspectives of food waste.  

I thought it was interesting and wanted to share.

The beauty of service learning is that it's authentic. In so saying it allows us to challenge our own views toward a perceived "need". It allows students (and adults too) to engage in an investigation without knowing the answer, and sometimes without recognizing the connections. It is through the process that the power of service learning lies. In this case the connection was shared by the teacher involved. But students and vendors too make connections between perspectives, action plans, outcomes, successes and failures. It is in authentic learning moments like these that we can develop our "critical consciousness" and the fact that our perspective - as our life experience - is one of many and it's the totality that allows the deeper learning. 

All great conversations, connections and learning!

Monday, October 30, 2017

1st Dubai Civic Engagement Summit: A Collaborative Platform for Dubai-based Schools

Schools in Dubai are blessed with a diverse student population that is actively involved in a range of service organizations; however, few have the opportunity to venture past the confines of their school walls. There is a possibility for students to create a larger impact not only inside their individual school communities but also in the city as a whole. The force of change that could be created by students if they were to collaborate across schools would be unimaginable. 

On October 28, 2017, over 30 students representing service organizations from five different schools (Jumeirah College, Dubai College, GEMS World Academy, Dubai American Academy & the American School of Dubai) came together at ASD to participate in the Civic Engagement Summit. The Summit was a first-of-its-kind initiative to encourage students in service organizations from schools across Dubai to combine their passions and resources and collaborate on greater goals to make a meaningful impact on Dubai communities. 

Students were given opportunities to network and interact with each other through ice breakers before interacting with the co-founder of UAE's fist licensed youth organization, Step Up. Then, attendees split up into workshop groups, where they collaborated with students from different schools in service organizations with similar missions to brainstorm and develop ideas into potential projects for future collaborations. Students formulated a range of projects from a large-scale book fair promoting literacy to a boat race in which schools compete with each other by crating boats made from recycled materials. 

The Summit was an great success and most students were eager to pursue their projects after the event; however, this is only the beginning. Student must use this network to their advantage and reach out to other students and schools in order to build a long-lasting network. Now it's up to us and the opportunities that are to follow are endless. 

by Gayatri Babel
Civic Engagement Summit Founder & Lead Organizer
ASD Service Learning Mentorship Participant

CNN Hero, Aki Ra, Visits ASD!

A while back an ASD family (prior to their arrival in Dubai) was in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Walking into the Landmine Museum just outside the town they were greeted by a man by the name of Bill Morse. Bill has given up much to support the work of Aki Ra, who grew up as a Cambodian child soldier who, after years of war and killing, took it upon himself to de-mine as much of his region's countryside as he could. The ASD family was so impacted by the experience they they felt the story needed to be shared in our community. 

A true modern day hero, Aki Ra has found support through his family, local community and, as the word spread, numerous international organizations. In 2010 he was recognized as a CNN Hero. ASD was fortunate to have Aki Ra and Bill Morse visit to deepen social studies curriculum and an awareness of global issues through a series of conversations and Q & A sessions.  Students indicated that having a first hand account of war and subsequent events to support community has been hugely beneficial to the broadening of their "critical consciousness".

The visit took place over the course of a week and included two assembly addresses to the MS and HS as well as classroom visits to deepen learning in HS and MS social studies classrooms. They were also able to meet with the teacher sponsors of the MS Week Without Walls trips to Cambodia which resulted in a new collaboration between ASD and the Landmine Relief Fund. We are hopeful that the connections will last a long time and that ASD students will be able to visit over a number of years to support their work both with the museum and also with the numerous rural schools that they have build to support community development. 

While here Aki Ra and Bill Morse were also able to meet with parents, the Superintendent Dr. Richards as well as be interviewed by the HS broadcasting team. The team's interview can be seen below.