Saturday, December 3, 2016

Building Critical Consciousness Through Relevant Experiences

A couple weeks ago over 500 high school students boarded planes and headed out to all sorts of destinations. Some trips were academic in nature, others involved cultural experiences, and some focused on service related experiences. In all, eight service trips visited Bali, Cambodia, Ghana, Laos, Malawi, Malaysia, Thailand, Uganda and Vietnam. But given that cost, the carbon emissions involved, the time out of the classroom, etc. why would ASD initiate a program like INSPIRE, anyway?

Much research has been done with regard to service learning and experiential education. Time and time again such research will indicate that authentic connections with a community will allow participants to better understand and "internalize" a situation. Participants will also recognize the benefits and challenges of the areas where they visit. Often research (as well as anecdotal feedback) will reveal that students are surprised to recognize that people without much "stuff" are often happier than we expect. Many times they gain a good deal of insight into the local culture and are able to recognize the context in which people live, what they do, their community interactions, etc. No longer is learning related to some classroom discussion, or a video, a picture or textbook. It is now authentic, engaging, relevant. Nearly all research will point to the value of such educational experiences in the personal growth and learning of participants indicating, in particular, greater internal motivation to participate actively in their own communities. In short, such education is a powerful tool in developing world contributors. 

It is in finding connections that students begin their journey of broadening their world view and understanding the often complicated dynamics associated with development work. This broadening is what we, at ASD, refer to critical consciousness. So, does a service-related trip make us feel better about ourselves? It generally does. Does it make a positive impact on the local community? If done properly, through a solution-oriented approach that addresses a community need it will. 

Research also shows that the best service learning projects are on-going, involve constant community engagement and are less focused on "charity" and more focused on community engagement. In the end, the INSPIRE trips all returned with every student safely on the ground. In an ideal setting, your son/daughter would have returned a little bit different from when they left. Perhaps they talked about how they were surprised about something they saw. Perhaps they were proud of themselves in the support they gave to the service project. Perhaps they were tired. Perhaps there was a new found sense of appreciation for manual labour and the community within which they worked. Either way, one thing's for certain. They returned with a more complete view of the world's diversity and circumstances. 

Experiential education is a powerful tool. If it takes place in an authentic environment it becomes more powerful still. Add to that the involvement with a community and the conversations that revolve around development work and you have, in small or large part, a growing critical consciousness for our students. One never quite knows then the switch will be "clicked" and your son/daughter will go from couch potato video content recipient to a world change maker, but one thing is for sure... experiential programs like INSPIRE will certainly fill our children's hearts and minds with context and purpose to become contributors to a rapidly changing world.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Characteristics of Service Learning

At ASD there is an ever-developing understanding of service learning. Anecdotal evidence indicates that most members of our community recognize that service learning goes beyond basic elements of charity (e.g. fundraising) and volunteering. What is a bit more difficult is putting one's finger on what, exactly, service learning looks like. The core competencies of service learning were shared in an earlier blog post (here) but service learning is also defined by practical characteristics.   

The diagram above is currently being developed to support the understanding of service learning and what our children are involved in when they participate in it. The process is informally split into "internal" and "external" elements, meaning simply whether or not they are dealt with within a group of people (i.e. organization, class) or addressed by others (i.e. facilities and administration).   At the very center of the internal component of the diagram one will notice the learning objective. It is important that, no matter what the service is about, learning is at the forefront. 

The elements of investigation, planning and action imply a continuous cycle of action as it pertains to an authentic need, no matter whether that is dealing with waste on campus or dealing with poverty half way around the world.  Reflection and demonstration are, critically, an explicit part of the process as well.  

The external components are merely administrative necessities if students identify ways of addressing authentic needs through the use of events and/or fundraising. This extra level of accountability is used to ensure that events are appropriate and continue to make explicit connections to the learning. 

So why tell this to our non-student, non-teacher community?  Well, in building a communal "critical consciousness" it's important for us all to share common understanding and common vocabulary. In so doing we are able to move in unison in making our children and our entire community better able to contribute to a rapidly changing world.   

Monday, October 17, 2016

Highlights of a Great, Busy Week.

There are times when, looking around out campus, one cannot help but be impressed by the clear evidence of contribution that our students make on a daily basis. It really doesn't take long to see just how vested our students are. Take this past few days as an example.

On Friday SEENAH - both MS and HS - showed up in force to organize the annual Jumble Sale. By most accounts it went very well with hundreds of people visiting and a good amount both donated and purchased. They seem to have the system down as they arrive in the morning (following weeks of collection for our wonderful community) to set up, stick around to sell and support, and then, as if with surgical precision, they organize all the excess items to be donated to organizations so that they do not get thrown in landfill. Ms. Hickey was thrilled in what she described as the "most efficient" sale to date. But to make things even better, did you know that the proceeds of the event go to purchasing much needed products to create hundreds of care packages that are, later in the year, taken to those in need of such support?  The essence of service learning is both in the service itself and in the learning that goes with it, and both those were successfully exemplified on that day!

On Monday, MS science students, supported by Mr. Fox, were engaged in the creation of a new learning space. Proven practices show that the distance between learning spaces and the time spent learning in them is directly proportional. So why not set up a learning space for biological/ecological study up on the 3rd floor?  With the new space both MS and HS students will be able to access data and support learning related to the natural environment. Add to that the simple fact that interaction with gardens is proven to generate an appreciation for all things living, increase understanding of life systems and also increase empathy and mindfulness in students, this is surely a win-win for all!

And then there was World Food Day on October 17! The MS World Food Day flex group had been busily organizing the day and practicing facilitation of the event which highlighted the difficulties of subsistence food production and the multiple sustainability (nature, economy, society, wellbeing) elements that make eliminating world hunger a multi-dimensional problem with multidimensional solutions!  End7, a HS service organization focusing on the elimination of seven key illnesses worldwide, held an engaging class competition but took the time to highlight the importance of health promotion across the world and especially in the areas where these seven illnesses are most prevalent. 

If you're at home reading this please take the time to chat with your child about world hunger, about poverty, about how - apart from or in addition to the simple solution of financial support - these issues can be addressed. It is through conversations large and small that leaders are made, that learning takes place, and that contributor in all of us finds a way to look to a future with a solution mindset. 

Laurence Myers
K-12 Service Learning Coordinator

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Student Leaders Start Their Engines

As with the beginning of any school year so too this year;s has been a flurry of activity when it comes to student organizations. Most notable of these - from a service learning perspective - has been the kickoff of both HS and MS student organizations. A total of 43 organizations (14 of which are service based) were represented at the HS and six were ably introduced to the MS. The pictures below show a glimpse of our service organization presenters already contributing to their school community while building leadership skills along the way. 

Looking for learning, Mr. Laurence Myers, ASD's new Service Learning Coordinator, took a gander around the stalls in the HS, and asked questions at the MS presentations, to gauge the learning involved. Each time the questions were met with evidence of developmentally appropriate learning regarding the nature of the organization, the issues involved in it's mission, the activities that are undertaken as well as the connections between the organization's purpose and the world at large. 

Students were able to meaningfully present, create, analyze, persuade and engage their peers in ways that would have impressed even the most die hard critics. Their demeanor purposeful but approachable, their knowledge deep and their skills clearly evident they exemplified a great introduction to what student organizations are all about: Solid leadership, excellent communication, focused on their organization's mission. All great learning and the beginning of a what is already an inspiring year! 

HS Service Organizations for 2016-17:

  • Educating Girls Globally (girls' education) 
  • END7 (eradicating disease) 
  • Global Issues Network (addressing global concerns) 
  • High Tide (addressing marine ecosystems) 
  • Kids for Wish Kids (supporting children with life-threatening medical conditions) 
  • Little Wings (children suffering from physical injuries & deformities) 
  • PAWS (neglected animals) 
  • Room to Read (education for children) 
  • Save the Children (support children in extreme circumstances) 
  • SEENAH (supporting communities) 
  • SHINE (engaging with children with special needs) 
  • Sustain Our World (healthy lifestyle choices) 
  • The Children's Emergency Fund (children in humanitarian crises)

MS Service Organizations for 2016-17:

  • Kids for Wish Kids (supporting children with life-threatening medical conditions) 
  • National Junior Honor Society (varied service programs) 
  • Room to Read (education for children) 
  • SEENAH (supporting communities) 
  • Student Council (supporting school student body) 
  • Sustain Our World (healthy lifestyle choices)

Laurence Myers
K-12 Service Learning Coordinator

Monday, September 26, 2016

Samples of Service: September Garden Time

Before we move onto the details of service learning it's important to note just what it might look like at this point in time. This post, and the following two posts, will focus on the service related activities that exist at ASD in each division. This week's focus: Elementary (okay, with a tad of Middle school thrown in for good measure).   It's important to note that this particular post is not about the great things happening in the classroom (and there is lots!) but rather things that are being done in the garden under the enthusiastic leadership of Ms. Carden (dubbed by our elementary schoolers as "Carden in the Garden").   Just this month - a pretty hot one - the garden is already being utilized for awareness and hands-on projects. Let's take a look at a few...

Curiosity begins with a seed: In an effort to encourage whole food snacks and spark curiosity, a planter was placed in the K1 lunch area.  Students have been encouraged to plant any seeds from the veggies and fruits in their snacks.  Last week there was great excitement as the K1 students discovered their first sprout. The students are engaged in making predictions of what it might be... inquiry in action!

Moringa smoothies:  Did you know that this native tree from India is one of the most nutrient dense leaves on our planet?  Among its many amazing qualities is that it contains 7 times the Vitamin C of oranges, 3 times the potassium than bananas, and 4 times the calcium than milk.  Ms. De Leon’s grade two class and Ms. Olliffe's grade seven health class got to experience the health benefits of Moringa by making Moringa smoothies in the garden. Learning through the senses rocks!

Marigolds for the garden: Planting marigolds in the any organic garden is a must.  They aid in pest control and attract pollinators, both great ways to identify benefits of healthy ecosystems and, more practically, a perfect way to talk about practical gardening!  Grade 2H and 2D helped make marigold seed packets and tried a healthy snack of celery sticks, cream cheese and cranberries. Yum!

Bird Seed Adopters: One facet of organic gardening is to feed your predators.  As you might suspect from the name, this ensures both that we have a healthy population of birds around campus and also, and perhaps more importantly, it keeps the birds away from the garden. This small service is hugely helpful in ensuring a positive learning experience for our community, and it looks great too! Every year, classes volunteer to supply bird seed to the various feeders around campus.  It's quite a beautiful sight in the calm of the morning to see students meandering through our campus and taking brief moments to show caring for the natural environment.

What a great month it's been! As we reach September's end ,it's great to know just how much is already going on. And to think that this post is only focusing on one space in a one month period! Add to that the great many conversations that matter inside and outside classrooms, the hundreds of hours spend inquiring, investigating, planning, acting on issues and reflecting on it! These are some essential skills in developing world contributors. It seems like we're well on our way!  

Sunday, September 18, 2016

What is Service Learning Anyway?

It used to be that "community service" was all the rage. People would walk up to a beach, take out some bags and clean it. Conversations, if any, were short and anecdotal. After the beach was clean they walked away and, with their exit, the trash slowly collected on the beach once again. There is, in actuality, nothing wrong with this picture. After all, what can be better than students doing their part to support their community? But over the years an increasing amount of research has indicated that sometimes what is perceived as service is counterproductive to what it is originally intended for. Enter service learning. 

The true purpose of service learning is to develop an awareness of self relative to those around us, to develop skills related to becoming a change maker, and to address authentic needs in an authentic manner. it is, by its nature, a systematic approach to developing a service-minded community. 

Key to a service learning experience is the presence of certain characteristics. At ASD the past two years have been spent defining what those characteristics are. Under the leadership of my predecessor, Debra Buffton, these characteristics were identified and shared to the community. They are that:
  • Service learning flows from identified learning targets; generates new learning,
  • Service learning compels action to address a significant challenge, opportunity or situation,
  • Service learning develops understanding of ethical service, and
  • Service learning involves deep thinking and analysis of oneself and one's relationship to society
At ASD we have lots of great service learning going on and subsequent posts will focus on a variety of them.  Increasingly service learning is converging with best practices in teaching because it so well lends itself to inquiry and problem solving. It is excellent for the utilization and development of skills in collaboration, communication, multiple perspectives, creativity and the host of other "21st century skills" that are the focus of current international education. In a nutshell, service learning is a key tool in developing life-long contributors.  

But perhaps more importantly, it's necessary to recognize that service learning is a shift from service as it was previously practiced. The idea is to no longer simply ask students to clean a beach and leave it at that. The idea is to support student agency through an inquiry of what is on the beach, what that can tell us about the problem, what steps might be followed to address the issue. In short, service learning is real life, hands on, in-your-face learning of the authentic kind. 

If you look carefully you'll see the school's mission statement written all over that service learning stuff. It's a perfect fit!

Laurence Myers
K-12 Service Learning Coordinator

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Welcome to a World of Contribution!

Welcome to the new ASD Service Learning blog!  

They say that the eyes are the window to one's soul. This blog serves that very same purpose. But unlike the soul of one, this blog serves as the window to the soul of a school whose purpose it is to develop contributors "in a rapidly changing world". Contributors young and younger... from a three year old learning to care for a vegetable in the garden to the teenager building homes for the less fortunate, to an adult aiming at eliminating Polio, walk through the hallways of this school and you will see amazing things happen nearly every moment of every day. It is the purpose of this blog to shed a light on these, the conversations that take place, the learning that goes on, the personal and collective growth that takes place with every tick of the clock. 

They wonder if a tree falls in the woods with no one around, whether it makes any sound.  This too is a goal of this blog: To highlight the many many things that ASD does but is often missed as we focus on our own lives, on our interests, on our learning. For to take a step back and view this community from a broader view would certainly impress you with the sheer amount that is already taking place here.

They also talk about how education is aimed at preparing students for the real world. Here this is only part of the story. Here we educate with the future in mind, to be sure, but also with the recognition that the here and now provides great opportunities for authentic learning, solution-oriented thinking and future creating. Students here ought to - and most often do - learn so that they can build skills and make a contribution right now, right here. After all, in a rapidly changing world, they also say that the best way to predict the future is to invent it. 

Welcome to the ASD Service Learning Blog! A new home for on-going information, thoughts, activities, curricular conversations, action experiences, sustainable practices, world changing students, 21st century learning challenges and successes. Some small and some large, they are all meaningful in providing for a well-rounded education, second to none.  We hope you'll visit often to bear witness to the celebrations of the contributors of our own rapidly changing world!  

Laurence Myers

K-12 Service Learning Coordinator