Wednesday, February 26, 2014

ISKL Eco-Schools Mini Conference: Collaborating & Future Shaping

Collaboration is a big word at ISKL. We talk about it all the time. Student projects require it and teachers are often utilizing it to engage their students in an exceptional education. But though collaboration is essential to our educational being, it has been challenging to walk outside that font gate of apply it externally. 

This coming weekend our school's Green Council executive - which has grown in size lately from eight to 15 members - will be organizing it's first true outreach program. The ISKL Eco-Schools Mini Conference is a bit of a two-in-one idea with both teachers and students engaged in workshops, collaborative activities and "greenstorming" sessions. 

The idea is simple. Bring in delegations from around the city and ask them to share what they're doing. Then, walking them through a process called Pyramid 2030 (, our Green Council executive members will facilitiate a number of sessions of brainstorming (a.k.a. "greenstorming") that will focus on true collaboration between the schools. At the same time, the teachers will be involved in their own professional development of sorts, by participating in a teachers-facilitating-teachers session dealing with issues of administrative and organizational matters. 

By and large we hope that the half-day event will be powerful enough for the nine participating schools that we can make it an annual (or semi-annual) event. The idea is that students can do more when they are united. Can you envision our youth greening the Ampang and making it the "greenest" suburb of the Klang Valley?  How about students leading a movement to eliminate plastic bags from KL?  Or perhaps they can work with architects and planners to increase "green" building practices in schools around the country? The students can envision so much more than our adult minds can muster.

Students can truly shine if given that tools and opportunity to do so. We see it every day on our two campuses. Now it's time to let them shine in the community as well. If our future is to be a great one, let us give them the chances to exhibit decision-making and leadership here, now. 
Go on. Make the world a better place.

Monday, February 10, 2014

On My Pedestal for Service Learning

So, this kid walks into a coffee shop and asks for a drink. A few minutes later, and after he's paid, he receives what he asked for and nestled cutting into his drink, peering out from the top of the glass is a plastic straw. Later in the same visit the experience is shared by others who have walked into the place. Which prompted our little friend to ask "why so many straws?"

Apparently that was the beginning of a service learning project developed by then-nine-year-old Milo Cress in Vermont. Since then Milo has done his research (did you know that in the US they use 500,000,000 straws a day?) and spread the word, starting with going back to that very same store and asking them - apparently with an angelic face - if they would mind not giving out straws unless requested and his placing table announcements educating his community about why straws aren't being handed out. 

Cathryn Berger Kaye, who visited this past weekend to conduct a service learning workshops to about 30 participants, noted that little Milo was able to reduce straw use in his town by over 80%. One kid did that!  More stories were shared too, the most notable of which is was called "In Our Village" and is the story of students in Africa writing a book about where they live. Similar books have now been made in a variety of places.

The weekend workshop concluded on Sunday afternoon and I found myself being filled with adrenaline and optimism and dreams. If it was up to me at that specific instant every teacher and kid at ISKL and beyond would start service learning immediately and never stop. In every class at every level we would give our students the opportunities to follow their own passions, answer their own questions, create their own solutions and make a change for the better now, here. The youth of the world would all become empowered and conscientious citizens and community, in any and all ways we define it, would be better off.   

In a simulation we did I found myself chatting with a teacher from IS Beijing. We started with "environmental disasters", moved quickly to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, moved toward similar local concerns, determined that there must be some plan for dealing with possible catastrophic events here in Malaysia, identified where we would get the necessary information from, devised a plan to train a small cohort of HS students who would act as educators for their community, but would also be on standby to be deployed in a quick response team in support of environmental clean up in affected areas when time is of essence. The twists and turns of our conversations was astounding. The engagement was awesome!  The wonderful thing is that any other combinations of individuals would have started in the same place, but ended up in a completely different direction. 

I cannot say where ISKL's future lies in regard to service learning, but I am hopeful that more and more of our teachers will utilize this process in their classrooms. The students would love it, I am sure. I don't know what I'll be saying after that rush of the workshop fades, but I am sure that, in there somewhere, there will be the knowledge and motivation I need to support my colleagues in ensuring that our students are actively becoming socially responsible global citizens. 

After the workshop was over, I revisited our school's vision statement. Developed a few years ago by students - long since graduated - I am convinced that it was written with service learning in mind: "learning is stimulated, curiosity is sparked, vision is cultivated and action is inspired". Wow.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

MS Eco Challenge Week Starts Up

In an earlier article we have a number of new eco clubs across the school. The clubs, by nature of their sustainability-related mission - are all automatically part of the Green Council and, by extension, part of our Eco-Schools program efforts. The MS Roots & Shoots Club, newly created, is moving forward with an Eco Challenge Week next week. Their slogan "Dare to Care" is apt as they hope to involve middle school students in a number of awareness-raising events:
  • Monday is Paperless Monday
    • One day without paper (better bring the laptops!)
  • Tuesday is Carbon Footprint Awareness Day
    • In their home groups students will participate in doing personal carbon footprint analysis of their lifestyle choices
    • If you want to take a look feel free to visit
  • Wednesday is Make A Pledge Day
    • Using home groups will participate in making pledges for the environment/health
  • Thursday is Swap Day 
    • MS students are encouraged to bring a gently-used item to swap for something different!)
  • Friday is "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and... Refuse Plastic!" Day
    • Drink things that don't come in that plastic bottle!
Apart from the obvious benefits of the day's reduction in waste related behaviors, we are hopeful that the MS will use the week to participate in important conversations regarding not just the world's resources but perhaps more importantly, discussions about the impact of personal choice in creating solutions for a sustainable future. Nicely done MS Roots & Shoots!

PS. Two seniors just made a great PSA video a week or so ago regarding recycling, specifically to address the issue of proper separation of recyclables at source. If you're interested take a look HERE.