Complexity in Education
Hello beautiful Serendip world!
My name is Briana Bellamy, I'm a BMC alum '11. Recently, I returned from an incredible year of living in Nepal, working on a project funded by the Davis Projects for Peace grant. The project was called Sharing Knowledge for Peace, and its basic structure and philosophy grew from something that may be very familiar to some of you: the Teaching and Learning Initiative (TLI). As a sophomore at Bryn Mawr, I became involved with the staff-student branch of the TLI as a student mentor with a wonderful man from transportation services. It completely transformed my experience at Bryn Mawr, and became a huge part of both my sense of community and personal development. The relationships I built through the reciprocal model of the TLI and the deep learning I experienced both in these relationships and in the reflection meeting had a deep impact on me. I went on to become a coordinator for the program, and even wrote my thesis about it, exploring the inner workings of friendship, community, and shared spaces. I knew there was something powerful about the dynamics at play, and I was curious as to how the model of intentional reciprocal teaching and learning relationships could be valuable in other settings.
Learning and Narrating Childhoods Retrospective: Learning from Our 360 Final Projects (Prezi format)
INTRODUCTION: What does it mean to visit an African country with a class from a US college in order to learn?
Alice Lesnick, Term Professor of Education, Bryn Mawr College
360: Learning and Narrating Childhoods (Spring, 2012) was a cluster of three courses, one in Education, one in Literature, and one in Psychology. 15 Students from a broad range of majors, years, and backgrounds undertook a cross-disciplinary, cross-cultural study of child development, with a particular focus on the role of language and literacy in forming and channeling personal and group identities.
After skyping with the founder of an NGO which provides libraries and Ghanaian children novels in Ghana (I forgot the name of the NGO but I believe Kathy Knowles is the name of the founder) and learning more about the history of formal education in Ghana, I became to reflect a lot about what could be done to improve the education system in Ghana. According to Ms. Knowles, literacy is a problem in Ghana because reading is not seen as a leisurable activity, and is only associated with academic work. Moreover, education there is based upon repetition and memorizatioon, thus school can be very boring and dry to students. Also, students are constantly anxious about being graded since the whole curriculum and attitude of the teachers is based upon doing well on the exams. Additionally, I personally feel that such a system does not cultivate appreciation for the art of learning. We've virtually discussed (via twitter) the importance of making mistakes for one's learning and education. However, such a system in Ghana appears to leave no room for mistakes, or creativity for that matter. These aspects along with many others compose Ghana's education system and consequently do not appear to be conducive towards a positive, fun, and interesting learning atmosphere for students (or the teachers).
I have three words: What. A. Week!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! There are so many things that I want to blog about but I will stick to my incredible experience at the Imagine Africa Exhibit at the UPenn Museum. I’ll do it in two parts:
Part I: I really enjoyed the field trip with the high school teenagers—I don’t think the trip would have been the same without them. My favorite part of the museum was the exhibit that allowed us to “create” Africa or, better yet, to reveal the many “stories” of Africa. Aside from the fact that the exhibit was limiting because you could only “imagine” Africa with the images/words/media clips available, I felt empowered. I felt empowered in the sense that I had the ability to determine whether or not I wanted Africa to be described as “beautiful” vs. “Unique” or “Modern” vs. “Rural.” Of course, Africa can embody both components but having a say in what Africa meant to me instead of having someone impose their views on Africa, particularly in education settings, on me was a powerful moment. My group happened to have the word, “healing.” And although, initially, we thought that there was no healing in the world, or very little, seeing the high school sophomores excited at the chance to define Africa and to make meaning out of her history was healing happening right before my eyes.
"...if our option is for (wo)man, education is cultural action for freedom..." ---Paulo Freire Saturday, I began my first day on the job as a MAST writing tutor to high school students excited at the chance to be a resource and mentor to four brilliant, students of color. Not wanting to impose, as Ivan Illich would say, my views around education, teaching, and, of course, literacy, I gave my students the freedom to design the writing curriculum and classroom space.I was very pleased with the outcome! My students wanted to learn how to write resumes, research papers, SAT prompts, and to write poetry! I was extremely impressed, not because their answers were not expected, but because I definitely did not worry so much about these things my freshman year of high school. Before the start of class, I had been instructed by my superiors to collect writing samples from my students. And so, on a topic of their choice, they each wrote a one page argumentative paper. However, when reading their writing samples, I became incredibly sad and discouraged as a tutor. My kids, who knew what was expected of them academically and even professionally, did not know how to write "well." It was more than grammar and spelling (these areas could be worked on easily), it was the style, the flow, the tone, the words used in their writing that I knew would be looked down upon in higher education. They had not mastered what one of my students had labeled as, "white writing."
Below is my response to a twitter convo that began with "What is a school?" and evolved into "How does a school bridge the gap between the classroom and external experiences?"
Last semester I finished a course on the culture of poverty. It blew my mind when I realized that every race had a group of people that shared a culture that stemmed from poverty---one of survival, hopelessness, resourcefulness, the value of hardwork,and sufferings from marginalization.
Excited to read about poverty and the people who lived it, I dived right into readings from Oscar Lewis, who was an "expert" on the cultural traits of poverty, and Judith Goode, who defended and understood poor communities in contrast to Lewis. And so, through class discussions and readings, I was under the impression that I was "learning" because I was reading from scholars who dedicated their careers to observing and analyzing poverty.
It wasn't until I was well into writing papers for the course using these sources did I finally stop and say to myself, "I know firsthand what poverty and its culture is like, why must I have old, white-privilaged scholars who never lived it validate my experiences in my paper?" To my frustration, I was learning things I had known all along. If anything, I was the expert.
Which brings me to an answer of the question: How can schools bridge the gap between the classroom and external experiences? Well, we must change the structure of our schools by making the external experiences of the students the focus of the classroom.
Gender and Sexuality in the High School Biology Classroom: Fostering Critical Thinking and Active Engagement
Gender and Sexuality in the High School Biology Classroom:
Fostering Critical Thinking and Active Engagement
Summary: This project was undertaken with the hope of changing the ways we think about teaching and engaging with science. This paper will discuss ways to help students recognize that science is interdisciplinary and can both affect and be affected by the social and/or political context it exists in.
By asking students to think about the way science is presented and conducted, and giving them the tools to think about science not as an isolated body of information, but as a dynamic and shifting discipline, we will not only be encouraging more engaged science scholarship, but will also help students begin to notice the ways science is used as evidence in different contexts and evaluate these uses.
The goals of this project are two-fold. I hope to suggest ways for biology teachers: