Monday, September 15, 2014

Tying ESD, Service Learning & Eco-Schools Together

Often in chats and meetings the concepts of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and Service Learning seem to get blurred. Also confusing is the Eco Schools program which we are proud members of. Consider this article it an eco-education 101 for new and returning families.

Our ESD curricular framework was the first to be established at ISKL, four years ago. The idea behind it is that students who complete their studies at ISKL have a solid understanding of sustainable development, its dimensions and interconnections. To complement that, of course, are a host of skills that are essential for 21st century learning: Collaboration, multiple perspectives (what we call "lenses") systemic thinking, etc.  

Two years ago we took the extra step in making ESD more meaningful with the introduction of service learning. Service learning is a teaching approach that we utilize both in classroom and out-of-class learning. It complements ESD very well in terms of skills developed and understandings generated but can also be utilized independently, making it particularly effective. 

The use of service learning works very well in any capacity. Case in point: The Green Council which is largely the school-wide leadership group with regard to Eco-Schools initiatives. The Eco-Schools program has fit us "like a glove" in that it allows our students to work with local organizations, to form authentic links with the community and ensure that our internal programs go hand-in-hand with external ones. But it is also about focusing on community needs and addressing them in an authentic manner: Authentic learning by doing.  

For example, numerous IB CAS projects (which are sometimes counted as Eco-Schools projects) utilize the service learning approach. More times than not such projects also relate to the ESD curriculum either directly or indirectly, More importantly, they also increase the capacity for change making and community building, both pillars of molding global citizens. 

The versatility of these three elements - ESD, service learning and Eco-Schools - has created a win-win situation for student learning at ISKL. From gaining the knowledge of ESD to practicing authentic learning through service strategies, and extending themselves to out-of-school authentic collaboration the learning is quite exceptional.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Grade 6 Service Learning: The Gears are moving

ISKL is a dynamic place. In the classroom our students are exposed to hundreds of new concepts and ideas and theories and frameworks and discussions and, and, and... This 'buzz' however, continues even after they have gone home. It's the sound of a great school working on making education "exceptional". It was during those meetings that the idea of a service learning elective for grade six students was born.

16 students are taking service learning this trimester (and it's offered again next trimester as well).  I had the pleasure of joining the two classrooms last week as they deliberated what would be most appropriate fit for their interests, the needs of the community and the limitations given by the trimester. It needed to be authentic but also something that would allow them to have an impact. Conversations ebbed and flowed from issues of self esteem to waste to energy to respect for others to animal rights. Students had a number of questions for me - "where does our waste go?" or "why do we have so many plastic bottles?" - and the answers invariably led to more questions, slowly opening the door to the understanding of issues and their complexity. 

The power of conversation and analysis should not be lost here. Given time to deliberate, to discuss and to recognize the nature of addressing complex issues one can really see the learning clicking into high gear. The sixth graders have no lack of energy and they'll need it because they are ready to tackle the issues of nutrition, waste and energy use at Ampang!  Tall orders for 12 year olds but with such potential to be mini change makers.

I like to tell people that you can't build an NBA player by asking them to start playing basketball in college. Using the same logic, you can't expect kids to become change makers and future builders by asking them to understand theoretical constructs without also giving them the chance to put things into practice. I am not privy to the action plans of grade six yet, but given the depth of conversation and the interest of the students I am sure that they'll be great! 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Little Steps: Solar at Ampang

There's a Chinese proverb that says that a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. In it's essence this statement recognizes that even in enormous tasks the journey is often in small increments but purposeful. This is often how sustainability seeps into our school culture as well. 

Case in point: How many of you have, as you arrived at the Ampang campus, noticed the new solar panel that sits atop the guard house?  Have your children told you about the four new fans that are now placed there for their convenience as they wait for a ride in the afternoon?  Do they know that a small plug is now available for charging their phones/computers?  

The project - entirely "off grid" was made possible through an Annual Fund donation last year and was put into place as our first school days of the year were underway.  It also charges battery with enough energy to last for over five hours over the course of the night and, of course, during daylight as well.  

The project serves the purpose of intertwining the physical campus with the learning of our students, and providing an example of the use of alternative energy including its benefits and, of course, challenges. Already the structure is being studied by a group of IB students for their group four projects. 

So, whether you notice those types of things or not, little changes are being made to our campus due to the support and engagement of our community. It's the little steps that, added together, build on a journey well beyond 1,000 miles.