Sunday, March 29, 2015

Tip of the Hat

So after almost 9 blissfully adventurous months of scuba diving and traveling - without a job, without a home, and mostly without a care in the world - I have pulled the emergency brake and done an incredibly fast maneuver in a new direction.

I accepted a job. I agreed to relocate. I made a massive commitment. All in the span of about 2 weeks. In the realm of my career experiences, I'm used to preparing for a new job over the span of about 8 months (recruitment to actual start date) and then having an relaxing and rejuvenating Canadian summer to mentally prepare. Packing, shipping, moving and setting up shop all take a tremendous amount of energy. What has unfolded over the past 2 weeks and led me to this new role, is a very different process than I'm used to. It is all new territory for me - unlike anything I've ever done in the past - and yet so clearly something I have always wanted to do.

My new job is with an organization called the JUMP! Foundation. My first JUMP! experience was at UWCSEA teacher orientation week back in August 2012, where we participated in a community building day for a staff of 60+ people. It was like adult camp - icebreakers, get-to-know-each-other challenges, team bonding and visioning for the year ahead. Some people liked this more than others, but overall I found it quite engaging and was particularly interested in JUMP!'s social entrepreneurship angle. JUMP! is a non-profit organization that has established JUMP! Development, using a percentage of its income from running programs in International Schools to provide similar experiences for youth in areas that have been affected by economic, environmental or social turmoil in countries where partner schools and organizations have extensive experience. Pretty cool. The facilitators who ran the JUMP! program for us on that day were all very inspiring and interesting people. Little did I know that later that year, I would work with JUMP! again on 2 occasions. Once for the GIN-SING Conference outdoor education middle school welcome event hosted at the Dairy Farm in Singapore and then again for a Grade 6 Community Day. My path continued to cross with different members of the JUMP! team well into my second year at UWCSEA. From a second staff orientation day, Junior JUMP! Facilitator training for some of my students, another Grade 6 Community Day and then to the EARCOS Teacher's Conference in March 2014, which connected me with JUMP!'s executive director, Justin Bedard. I told him I was taking the following year off from teaching and that I had a background in Outdoor and Experiential Education and the rest is history!

No. Just kidding. A lot of stuff happened between then and now. Mostly, I got to know some pretty amazing and courageous people in the Gili Islands of Indonesia. Oh, and in October and November I did a couple one-off leadership development programs as a JUMP! facilitator in schools in Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. 

Back to this story. So a few weeks ago Justin asked me to consider applying for a very interesting role at JUMP! Recently, a new partnership has developed between JUMP! and an International School in Singapore with an aim of constructing a holistic Experiential Education Program, including curricular mapping, year-long lesson planning and off campus expeditions for Grades 6 through 12. This type of program building appeals to International Schools that do not have their own Outdoor Education department but would like to provide more than just "camp" experiences for their middle and senior grade levels. It also appeals to schools that strive to place value and emphasis on personal and community development, service learning, ecological literacy, sustainability education and global citizenship.

So off I went to Singapore to meet with the members of the school there and observe and help facilitate visioning stages of the project. The energy and enthusiasm for this project was high. Next, I followed the team up to Bangkok to continue my interview process, meet the Bangkok Hub members and see their working environment. A job offer was made after a community interview that included JUMP! team members in other countries via Skype. It was the first time I've ever been interviewed by an entire team of people. After a some emotional and careful deliberation, the week culminated with a signed contract on Friday. There promises to be a lot of learning and growth in the next few weeks and months, as the responsibilities of the role itself are not areas that I am particularly experienced or practiced in. As a Partnership Manager I will be based in Bangkok with some time spent on-site in Singapore. As well, there will be expedition planning throughout the South East Asia, conducting site inspections and building partnerships for the week-long expeditions that will run in the next academic year. Collaboratively, I will help hire a team of people to run each grade level program and manage and facilitate the relationships with teachers, administrators, service providers and organizations in numerous locations. I will travel to countries I have never been to, as well as revisit places that I know and love. I will meet amazing people and learn incredibly valuable skills. I will work with students and educators and global change-makers to explore a field of Education that I am passionate about, without a desk or a four-walled classroom (and without the luxury of an International School calendar).

After a tough week of decision-making and the start of accepting the major lifestyle changes to come, I am feeling pretty stoked about this new learning journey. A good friend and fellow OEE graduate responded yesterday with the following sentiment, "You really came into Outdoor Education from a different angle than everyone else I know, which is awesome!" 

So this is my tip of the hat to new adventures, taking risks and always learning. Wish me luck!

Friday, September 26, 2014

How I Became a Global Citizen

First, a shout out to Teresa Tung, whose recent return to blogging (a post with the same title) inspired me to revisit my own relic of a blog suite, a space and an activity that I have all but abandoned over the past 2 years.

Some context for those who don't know Teresa and why she wrote her post about global citizenship. We spent last weekend at a pretty rad conference in Bangkok called The Global Citizenship Summit II organized by the awesome people at The JUMP! Foundation, Kenny Peavy from Earth Matters and Teresa Tung, a teacher at NIST International School. The conference included 3 dynamic days spent with a small group of educators who are committed to developing Global Citizenship Education within their learning communities. From outdoor educators to classroom teachers to service learning coordinators, expedition leaders and development workers, people from diverse backgrounds with a wide range of expertise, united by a common interest and inquiry -

How do we empower others to make the world a better place?

To start, there was a lot of dialogue about what defines a global citizen. The fairly homogenous group had pretty similar perspectives and opinions and I reflected carefully on what it is, exactly, that I think makes a person a global citizen. I came to this conclusion. For me, it is a role and a responsibility that we choose to accept. It's not passive or as simple as just being born on this planet, as that only makes us human. A global citizen is a human who actively makes the world a better place through passions, pursuits, actions and commitments. A global citizen has a skill set, a value system, a foundation of knowledge and deep contextual understanding (of course it is also pretty sweet if they have strong community support, buckets of money, power of influence, and a globally accepted passport).

So back to Teresa's original question, how do we become a global citizens? Many life experiences that have brought me to consider myself a global citizen. Here are some broad descriptions of those experiences, which are quite specifically sequential and in order of importance.

All my life, I’ve been lucky enough to travel. Not just on holidays, but as a way of life.  Growing up, I lived outside of my native Canada. My playground was the beach, my school was in the jungle and on weekends my family often explored our surroundings by land and sea. We went off the beaten track. We were active. We discovered newness in every adventure, culture, food, activity, place and person we met. There was rarely a routine, minimal familiarity, very few constants, and a limited sense of attachment. I didn’t have to learn how to become comfortable with the unknown, I just learned that naturally, there is a lot I don’t know, and that's awesome. Travel as a way of life bred an innate curiosity in me.

Very few discussions at the Global Citizenship Summit II lead to true debate, which is interesting. Like I said, we were a fairly homogenous group. In the sessions I attended, one recurring difference of opinion did come up, though. It was the idea that travel may or may not be essential for fostering the profile or characteristics of a global citizen. It was proposed that since students in international schools tend to travel extensively with their families and/or come from multicultural or multinational backgrounds, they've got the ‘global’ part covered, right? With this in mind we could actually teach global citizenship skills, values and competencies entirely through local experiences. Why take kids on expensive trips with big ecological footprints when the same outcomes can be achieved in our own backyard? Why go to an orphanage in Africa, when we have orphanages in our own local/regional communities? While I love the idea of lowering our ecological impact whenever possible and I believe in the movement to ‘Think Global, Act Local’, I do not agree that humans can become global citizens without traveling. 

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” - Mark Twain

For me, travel has been the sharpest instigator, the strongest foundation and the most surprising wildcard in my journey of global citizenship. Leaving home, setting forth, being away from family and familiarity. Not knowing what is going to happen. Casting away the comforts and securities that I trust in order to explore a landscape that is yet unimaginable to my senses. Not being able to communicate, getting lost, being immersed in foreign tradition and history, learning experientially about communities, culture, nature, and society. Exhilarating, nerve-wracking and hold-your-breath-for-it kind of adventure. Being completely out of my comfort zone, discovering an openness within myself about not knowing the answer or understanding an opposing perspective. These experiences and learning opportunities are the ultimate gift of travel. In my opinion, they are they strongest promoters of peace, harmonizers for humanity and ultimately what unifies us on this planet. 

Something that has built my character and nurtured my spirit is time spent at camp or camping. Camp can be many things. It can be exploring your surrounding environment while focused on doing physically and mentally demanding activities. It can be a process of learning about your personal strengths and abilities, as well as those of a group, team or community. Working in the field of Outdoor Education and Experiential Learning (think canoe trips, high ropes courses, rock climbing, camping, wilderness trekking, etc.) has been very powerful for developing a deep understanding of group dynamics and leadership. Being part of a Canadian summer camp program taught me resilience and independence while teaching me that a community of committed citizens can effectively co-habitate, collaborate and care about each other a closely as family. Camp has also given me a staggering appreciation for the natural world, our intrinsic connection to the planet and the delicate relationships between all the communities that inhabit it.

“Nature has been for me, for as long as I remember, a source of solace, inspiration, adventure, and delight; a home, a teacher, a companion.” Lorraine Anderson

I’ve participated in many rigorous expeditions with children and adults, both as a child and as an adult. Often the final outcome and successes shared by the group can change people’s lives in profound ways. People are exposed to and confronted with the power of their own abilities in certain situations, for example, weathering an unexpected storm, solo-portaging a canoe, realizing self-sufficiency or the power of a truly cooperative group effort. People’s perceptions of what they think they can do and what they think the collective can do, are often challenged and exceeded. One of my most extreme trips was a 5-day winter wilderness camping expedition with 25 classmates in University (we were studying outdoor and experiential education). We were lucky enough to have mostly below zero degree weather (as warmer temperatures would have actually created a disastrously wet and dangerous mess), crossed frozen lakes on snowshoes, pulled massive sleds of food/gear and slept peacefully in quinzees made entirely of snow, by our own hands. Now you might be thinking I'm a little bit nuts and this girl grew up in the tropics, remember? On that winter expedition we went deep into the wilderness, had no access to civilization, no tents, no heaters, no driers, there was no cheating and no giving up. It might sound near impossible to some, but the core philosophy of Outdoor Education involves exploring the delicate balance between perceived risk and actual risk. This formula can be applied to our own abilities and the challenges we tackle.What sometimes seems impossible, it often achievable, especially when you understand the synergy and complexity of a highly functioning group. Living the journey, investing in the process and celebrating the destination or the goal is powerful esteem builder for individuals and for a community.  

As an adult I’ve been drawn to developing my career in education in an international setting. Yes, I was bitten by the travel-bug at a young age. Yes, I was following in the familiar footsteps of my family. Yes, I was strong and independent with an insatiable appetite for adventure and exploration. Interestingly enough, though, I think there was a more subtle undertow that pulled me towards international school teaching. When you sign a contract you know it’s for a substantial period of time. You know you are actively committing to much more than just a job. You are also joining an established community with a sense of purpose, you will become an important player in this team and invest in its sense of home and family. This satisfies and sustains one the strongest human desires, to be accepted by others and to have a sense of belonging and purpose. Some people spend their entire lives trying to find or create the perfect community with a balance or mixture of work, family, passions and interests. Teaching in international schools offers you this tailor-fit community in abundance (like on a silver platter) and, if you choose to, can continue to satisfy this constant desire for belonging (like fuelling an addiction), over and over, while also exploring different locations around the globe. Sounds pretty perfect, right?

The old emphasis upon superficial differences that separate peoples must give way to education for citizenship in the human community.” – Norman Cousins

I value education. I enjoy working with children. I love learning. These are the fundamental reasons that I enjoy teaching. I believe that global citizenship is not something that humans develop entirely naturally. It requires exposure, guidance, experience and the development of values, attitudes and abilities. Working towards developing these attributes myself and with others in an educational setting has contributed to me becoming a global citizen. My most recent teaching job was at a school that values and promotes global citizenship education in a massive way. It's not easy to weave these values, principles and attitudes into everything a school does. There is plenty of other things that also need focus and attention. But it is fantastically rewarding and transformative to be part of an educational community that truly values global citizenship education.

Working at UWCSEA for 2 years taught me a lot about compassion. The community demonstrated a new level of human compassion, dedication to positive change and connection to the planet through service and giving. I especially love the break down of the word compassion - com (meaning with) and passion (meaning strong and barely controllable emotion).

"I regard it as the foremost task of education to insure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self denial, and above all, compassion." - Kurt Hahn

This year I’ve stepped away from my role as a classroom teacher, in order to pursue and explore my own affinity for compassion. Giving my time, my resources, my talents and ideas, essentially, giving my blood, sweat and tears to something important to me. There was no lengthy deliberation or consideration for me to decide what, exactly, I wanted to contribute to and care for. I am eager to give back to an environment, a non-human community, an ecosystem has provided and facilitated some of the most beautiful, inspiring and meaningful experiences of my life. I want to give back to the one thing that gives me so much joy, the ocean. Being in the ocean is my nirvana. Scuba diving, as a hobby, challenges me mentally and physically, provides me with emotional nourishment and community of like-minded people. It ignites wonder, curiosity and a sense of awe, seeing and learning about something new, complex, unique and different. The marine environment is a biome that few humans are experientially familiar with. When you dive, you enter a new realm of our planet, one that is mostly undiscovered, barely understood, full of mysteries, beauty and possibilities. 

“In the end, we will only conserve what we love, we will only love what we understand, and we will only understand what we are taught.” - Baba Dioum

Through a series of connections and projects I have planned for this year, I will work in reef restoration, shark conservation, environmental protection and advocacy, travelling to areas of the world where I can scuba dive and share my passion with others. Through this adventure, I am demonstrating my compassion and becoming a contributing citizen of the planet, one who cares about making a positive difference. I am a global citizen.

In summary, I’ve throughly enjoyed this personal inquiry into my past, my experiences and my choices and ultimately asking myself what makes me a global citizen? The answer is travel, adventure, camp, education, a sense of belonging and the development of true compassion, based upon sharing my own passion. I wrote about these experiences in sequential order and also reflected upon the essence of why this order matters. Currently, compassion is the most profound reward of my life learning and experiences to date. I think it is the heart of global citizenship, but it doesn’t necessarily come naturally to humans. It can't be the starting point of global citizenship education. We are not all born as compassionate entities who want to make the world a better place. For me, compassion is a learned behaviour and it has a lot to do with what I’ve seen, where I’ve been and who I’ve interacted with. 

“The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action.” 
- John Dewey

My global citizen profile includes the following attributes which I believe are developed through the experiences described above.
Core Values (beliefs): respect, equality, justice, peace, human rights, social responsibility, accountability, environmental appreciation
Key Competencies (actions): embracing diversity, cultural awareness, international mindedness, independence, citizenship, being caring, responsible, sensitive, flexible, resilient, nurturing, curios, empathetic, open minded, trustworthy, patient, persistent
Skill Development (abilities): communication, collaboration, cooperation, problem solving, survival, community development, leadership, improvisation, conflict resolution, resourcefulness, negotiation, critical thinking
Knowledge Acquisition (understanding): Languages, History, Geography, Social Studies, Science, Math, Cultural Studies, Economics, The Arts, how the world works, etc.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why I LOVE My Vibram 5 Fingers!

This summer I got a pair of Vibrams 5 Fingers sports shoes for my birthday. I'd had my eyes on these for a little over a year, at first attracted to their potential as great water sports shoes and later for their benefits for trail hiking and running.

The day I chose my pair of Komodo Sports I tried on 6 styles of 5 Fingers in 3 different shops. I walked around the store for at least 5 minutes in each style, sometimes longer, really getting a feel for how they felt. And to be honest, they felt amazing. I didn't want to take them off. I couldn't believe how they made my entire body feel, not just my feet. I felt better than I ever have in shoes and also better than I feel in bare feet. The best description I can relate the feeling to is that of a super racing glove for my feet. I wanted to run and jump and climb the walls!

Each pair I tried was quite different and I liked different aspects of each variety. I tried on the Komodo Sports in the middle of the fitting session (before I went back to the first shop and re-tried the first 2 pairs). The Komodos have shorter toes, funky designs, all around support for various activites and a generally a strong feel to them. I knew they were the ones for me.

So what is it that I especially love about my Vibram Komodo Sports?

- When I put them on, I feel totally energized
- They make my entire bosy feel more alive and more tunned into what I am doing
- There is never a rub, pinch or a squeeze
- They are so versatile, they satisfy the function of 5 shoes combined
- My feet and ankles are stronger every time I wear them
- I don't need anything else when I'm travelling and they pack well
- They can be (and need to be) frequently washed, by hand or machine
- I feel completely protected and am comfortable running with them on rough trails
- Feeling of the textures under your feet (thick grass, sand, mud, etc.) are such a rich and fun sensations that help you reconnect with where you are

Since buying my 5 Fingers in July, I have successfully recruited 5 other people, convincing them to also invest in a style of 5 FIngers. It's funny how everyone loves a different style, which is proof that you should really try on as many different styles as you can until you find your perfect fit. Happy trails!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

There Is No More Standard Google Anymore

I watched a TED talk recently by Eli Pariser about filter bubbles, the sorting of information based on personalized criteria and how the internet is becoming less democratic. While the overall message was simple, he explains that online programs are deciding what information becomes available to us based on criteria we don't even know that we are providing about ourselves. On a similar strand, earlier this week I enjoyed learning about the new relationship between Bing, FaceBook and the 'Like' Button in the article And Now Let's See If This Social Search Stuff Actually Works by Jason Kincaid. The talk by Eli Pariser succeeded in grabbing my attention enough that I've reflected on it many times and been inspired to formulate and explain my own response. More than anything, this is because I want to challenge it and because the more and more I see other people referencing it as worth thinking about (at least 3 of my friends on FB have posted it), the more I am surprised at how routine and mainstream we have become in our online habits, our choices and conveniences.

I am always thinking about how I use the internet and the processes that have quickly become habitual for me as I spend more and more time connected to an online lifestyle. Over the past  15 years of discovering a online life, many of us have flowed uniformly into the narrow channel of the internet's mainstream, all using the same programs and applications. In Eli's talk, he explains how he felt about the internet in its emergence as something that was designed for its users, for the public and something that promoted democracy. The internet, to him, was a place that opened up equal access to information. He goes on to explain how the internet is changing. An invisible shift where the information that we consume is sorted based on relevance to criteria about us that we don't even define. Scary thought to some, sure. It's scary because some of us connect strongly to the ideas of exploration and discovery. We want to learn from the unknown and surprise ourselves with revelations. The idea of everything being tailored to our preferences and personalized characteristics scares us because even though we like what we like, we still really like to learn about the things we don't even know we like yet. Also, what defines us now might not define us later, so the sorted relevance could induce a boring consistency instead of promoting growth and development. It whispers monoculture and conformity and suddenly we're all afraid of turning into the same person, or remaining exactly the same indefinitely. Most of us want the serendipidous experience of learning new things in unexpected ways. At the same time, I identify strongly with the opposite side of this argument as well. To some, algorithmic sorting is the best thing to ever happen to our time and our energy expenditure. Sorting the billions of bytes of information that we might be faced with in response to a query, these sorting systems provide a huge advance in productivity and general efficiency for finding what we need when we need it. Interestingly enough serendipity even comes in an algorithmic form these days. For more on this fun topic of personal relevance vs. serendipity read The Myth of Senrendipity by Henry Nothhaft Jr.

As I listened to the rest of Eli's talk, I realized that he kept referring to how the internet is changing, while he only used key examples of the big shots, namely FaceBook, Google and Yahoo. Are these now the primary elements that define the internet? The obvious answer is yes, no matter how badly we don't want it to be true.

What? Wait a minute..... let's pull the brakes on that train of thought for a second.

Does our internet usage really have that much control over who we are and what we do? Does the information we garner online have that much impact on our development and learning? Maybe... If you're a student in a 1:1 school, most definitely. Has the general public become helpless and detached in terms of determining and understanding exactly how we use and interact with the internet? If we have, then it is our responsibility to makes some serious changes. It is our responsibility to educate and model for younger generations the fundamentals of how the internet works and how it is changing. Predominantly in schools, we are teaching kids to search using Google. Are we doing a good enough job of it? Should we be spending more time examining with them the richness and diversity that can be found with other search engines? I believe that our students can grasp the sorting features and their implications if we help them to understand the mechanisms behind them.

So for all of the people out there who consider themselves independent and critical thinkers, deviants from the norm, risk takers, social outcasts, etc. I ask you this, does your online lifestyle and relevant choices regarding technology applications really reflect that philosophy? Do you take the time to source the right sources, search the right searches and utilize the best utilities? Or do you simply follow the flow of the mainstream? Has the internet's status quo snuck into your daily life and defined you as just as normal as everyone else? And if it has, if you're using these mainstream programs and services like I am, then I challenge you to think about how complacent you may be about how they work and what control they have over your internet experience.

At the end of his talk, Eli Pariser challenges Google and FaceBook to consider their use of algorithms to sort the information we consume based on personalization and relevance to who we are what we do. He lays down a sequence of statements beginning with "We need you to..."
"We need the new gatekeepers to encode that kind of responsibility into the code they're writing... We really need you to make sure that these algorithms have encoded in them a sense of the public life, a sense of civic responsibility. We need you to make sure that they are transparent enough that we can see what the rules are that determines what gets through your filters. And we need you to give us some control. So that we can decide what gets through and what doesn't."
And I counter to this, "What do we need from ourselves?" We need to challenge our own responsibility to become more educated about the tools and programs that we use in our daily online lives. We need to seek out the underdogs, the alternatives, the non-conformists who might have something better to offer us. We need to make our own relevant and informed choices, with an awareness and sense of ownership over not just what we're consuming but also how it is delivered to us. We need to stop being so indifferently complacent to all things that are easy, immediate and convenient. Most of all, we need to acknowledge that asking the super powers to change their algorithms and marketing strategies in order to bolster the public's sense of democracy and equal access to all information is not a reasonable tactic towards this goal. What needs to happen is that the public starts taking control over it's own habits, online choices and internet use to the point where we've recreated or at least salvaged what it is that we're looking to preserve.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm still going to use those wonderfully filtered and sorted mainstream programs for the multitude of reasons that I love about exactly what they do. For certain searches, I like that Google sorts my search results based on where I am and potentially who (it thinks) I am. What I want to become better at is using the appropriate tools for the appropriate means. I also want to learn how to help my students understand this and its relevance to their own lives. What we need is to find a balance between using the tailored searches and discovering newness. A balance between fostering our social circle of common interests and community in online places like FaceBook and still going out to meet unexpected people in the real world. A balance between personalized filtering for efficiency and filtering that breeds conformity.

On a side note, I'd want to share another thing I've noticed about TED. During my recent 24 hour spell of heavy rains and lack of commitments, I indulged in a few hours of straight TED talks. I haven't done this for ages, so there was loads of material for me to catch up on. This was wonderfully rich time to spend on a random assortment of topics. One thing I always like (often even more than the TED talks themselves) is reading the commentary which follows the release of the talk. I was surprised to see that not one single newly released talk was free of numerous removed by the admin. messages. Countless comments have been deleted, deemed by the admin. to be offensive or inappropriate for the TED audience. Who is this TED admin. I wonder? What did those commenters say? Wouldn't it ultimately be better to let all peoples' voices be heard, in whatever fashion that they want to express themselves, and accordingly be judged by the global audience as each individual chooses to interpret it? The other thing that I noticed was that almost all the removals came following someone expressing the opinion that the talk was not 'good enough' to be a TED talk. Arguments about what the T.E.D. acronym stands for (Technology, Entertainment (not Education) and Design) and what standards people expect from TED lead to comments about certain talks being less than adequate. This negativity, born out of someone's sense of the status quo or intellectual bar, seemed to have led to most of the negative or offensive comments. And I can't help but ask, "Are people seriously arguing over the merits or inherent value of TED talks?"

If you're also in the mood for a TED catch-up - here is a list of recent talks that I really enjoyed:

Paul Nicklen: Tales of ice-bound wonderlands
Terri Moore: How to tie your shoes
Carlo Ratti: Architecture that senses and responds
Michael Pawlyn: Using nature's genius in architecture
Deb Roy: The birth of a word (although it's argued that they're nothing more than flashy and hyped, I still loved seeing these amazing analytics!)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Redesigning Learning Environments

I work in a place where professional development is taken very seriously. Teachers are encouraged to seek out opportunities for growth and are almost always supported in their own endeavors, whether it be in terms of time away from school, in-school training or funding for a trip. I have found that in international schools in Asia, educators are constantly considering the 21st century learning landscape. Most teachers I meet in this region want to embrace and promote the ideas of a new educational framework, constantly feeling inspired by people like Stephen Heppell, Marco Tores and Ken Robinson. We've been told that Schools Kill Creativity and Shift Happens (even in education) and we need to Pay Attention. We’ve also aligned our motives and intentions with the ideas and direction found in clips like the 21st Century Pedagogy, Changing Educational Paradigms and Learn to Change, Change to Learn. If you haven't seen these clips, I recommend watching them, not only because they're great, but also they will give you a feel for where the rest of this post is coming from.

While these videos abound at professional development workshops and training sessions making educators oooh and ahhh in support of their revolutionary ideas, educators often don’t feel very empowered to initiate change, let alone even jump on board when we see changes happening in our own schools. Too often we are left frustrated by these ideas because, while we agree with them and believe in their message, we just can’t put them into practice within the settings where we teach. We commit ourselves to what we strongly value and what we think should be possible, only to find ourselves feeling like were stuck at a dead end because we can’t put it into practice in our very own classrooms. It’s not only frustrating; it’s also demoralizing and inhibitive.

So I’ve started to think about what it means to be a teacher with a vibrantly new outlook on education, while still stuck in a traditionally walled, desked, chaired, poster-boarded, cubic classroom.

Recently I visited the Google HeadQuarters in Mountain View, California. Having not done any homework (and not knowing anyone else's personal account) on which to build expectations about the company’s facility structure and design, I was pretty blown-away by what I encountered and discovered.

Everything you need is provided - free full-service cafeterias, coffee bars, snack stations, laundry service, shoe repair, exercise facilities, interest classes, social outlets, sports facilities, fully stocked bathrooms, etc. You could live here, easily.
Everything is inspiring and fun - boldly colourful, quirky and innovative, strangely unusual and awesomely interactive stuff is everywhere.
Everything is open and comfortable - open cubicles adorned with comfort items, windowed and/or open project and resource rooms which let you see what people are doing. the campus is open to public visitors, created a feeling of transparency and trust.
Everything is connected - staff on-site can connect with each other through an internal network, allowing them to see who is available and who is working on what projects
Everything is accessible – Google bikes are scattered around the campus to allow anyone to grab one to scoot to where they need to be.
Everything is realistic – people at Google are really productive. they're working hard and collaborating on projects, designs, innovations, etc. this is a place that tugs at your sense of work vs. home vs. life vs. school.

So recently I keep coming back to this question...
What would happen if schools were modeled after Google HQ?

What would happen if there weren't classes to attend, rather just things to try and stuff to learn. Project-based learning, spanning across age-levels but specified to student interest and, most importantly, applied to real life? Places, not rooms, where research happens, experimentation is rampant and innovations are encouraged and supported by both students and teachers.

What would happen if the only test in school was, "does it work?' or "did it achieve y/our purpose?" leading into "how can we make it better?" and "what would happen if....?"

What would happen if kids were able to hang-out with and learn from the teachers and other students - the ones with whom they connect really well and share common interests with? Would this change their learning?

Giving people, even very young people, a sense of choice instills accountability for their own decisions, encouraging them to mature and allowing them to believe in themselves. It promotes confidence and reliability. It requires a grandiose amount of trust. Many of the small jobs and tasks that schools outsource, can actually be done by learners themselves and often in a more authentic and meaningful way. Which leads me to think even further away from my classroom box and I start to imagine...

What would happen if students and teachers collectively run the entire show? Design the curriculum? Paint the walls? Plan the field trips? Cook the food? Balance the budget? Manage the schedule? Clean the bathrooms? Hire the teachers? Decide what's important? Pay the bills? It could happen...

I was first inspired by reform in educational spaces design by a man named Stephen Heppell who spoke at the Apple Leadership Summit in Hong Kong (2009) hosted by my school, CDNIS. Stephen talked about redesigning the new landscape of education. At the time, I took in his ideas as nice little added extras and not much more. I was not overly impressed because what I saw/heard seemed like basically interior design decorating ideas. I thought to myself, ‘Sure… lovely… wouldn’t it be great if we could model creative/fun learning environments to inspire teachers and learners? Let's give everybody comfort and accessibility while they’re learning! Awesome. It would be nice… but can't be the main focus. What really matters is getting people to change their pedagogy and their philosophy. Physical spaces do not play a key role in this and should probably only be considered only once changes in thinking and practice have been adopted by people at the school.” At the time, I also became a bit hung-up on the idea that only very rich schools would ever be able to afford such added cushy benefits and bonuses of Heppell's 21st century designed learning spaces.

Now, after my visit to Google HQ, I see the errors in my thinking and prioritizing. What if learning spaces design is the fundamental key to promoting changes to our current models of education? I wonder if the traditional learning environments (that we are trying to create fundamental changes within) simply can’t support such changes. Maybe the design of the physical space is the critical component (to a mixture that requires a multitude of interactive parts, of course)… or let's say, not an element on its own, but rather a catalyst, one that will encourage and facilitate authentic educational reform. Maybe 21st century learning just can't happen in 20th century classrooms and school buildings. What if  the setting is where changes need to begin?

"Now we're looking at a whole different range of schools. We're looking at a schools that produce ingenious, collaborative, gregarious, brave children... who care about stuff, like their culture. And to build schools like that is a whole nuther challenge. And around the world, you know, people are testing the ingredients about what makes that work. And those ingredients are being assembled into some just stunning recipes in different places. It's a very exciting time for learning. It's the death of education, but the dawn of learning." - Stephen Heppell

Notes & Resources

The Best Question in the World, What Would Happen If…

About Stephen Heppell
Stephen pioneered, and was the guiding "father" of, early social networking with seminal projects including *ESW in the 1980s, Schools OnLine for the UK Department of Trade and Industry in 1995/6, Tesco Schoolnet 2000 from 1999 - the then Guinness Book of Record's largest internet learning project in the world. with Oracle from 1999, Talking Heads linking every UK headteacher into a community of practice
Stephen lobbied for the creation of (in 1997) and then created in 1998, guiding for ten years, at the time a uniquely effective project to re-engage children excluded from school by behaviour or circumstances.
In recognition of all this work, along with just 51 others including Damien Hirst, Jarvis Cocker, Harrison Ford, Lauren Bacall, Muhammad Ali; Stephen became an Apple Master in the 1990s.
Stephen is at the heart of a global revolution in learning space design, with a string of major new building projects worldwide including a 0-21+ academy in the UK and a complete makeover of a national education system in the Caribbean.
From -

About the Google Head Quarters
Google is infamous in the industry for treating its employees to not just free drinks and snacks on tap, but full-on gourmet meals, three times a day at a plethora of on-site cafes and eateries, as well as regular BBQs during the summer. Brin and Page have been quoted in the past as saying no Googler should have to go more than 100 feet for food, leading to snack-filled “microkitchens” that are liberally dotted around the Google offices.
From -

Our corporate headquarters, fondly nicknamed the Googleplex, is located in Mountain View, California. Today it’s one of our many offices around the globe. While our offices are not identical, they tend to share some essential elements. Here are a few things you might see in a Google workspace:
  • Local expressions of each location, from a mural in Buenos Aires to ski gondolas in Zurich, showcasing each office’s region and personality.
  • Bicycles or scooters for efficient travel between meetings; dogs; lava lamps; massage chairs; large inflatable balls.
  • Googlers sharing cubes, yurts and huddle rooms – and very few solo offices.
  • Laptops everywhere – standard issue for mobile coding, email on the go and note-taking.
  • Foosball, pool tables, volleyball courts, assorted video games, pianos, ping pong tables, and gyms that offer yoga and dance classes.
  • Grassroots employee groups for all interests, like meditation, film, wine tasting and salsa dancing.
  • Healthy lunches and dinners for all staff at a variety of cafés.
  • Break rooms packed with a variety of snacks and drinks to keep Googlers going.
From -
Life at the Googleplex

Friday, January 14, 2011

Letting Kids be Kids.... All Over The World

There is a discussion hurricane currently swirling around Amy Chua's article, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior from the Wall Street Journal last week. For examples of interesting follow-up and reaction to the piece see Christine Lu's post on Quora and the more recent response from Amy Chua herself in the article Mother, Superior?   I am intrigued by people's extreme perspectives on parenting, although I am not yet at liberty to weigh in on that exact realm, I am of course, more intrigued with people's perspectives as they relate to teaching, growth, development and learning - something I do know a bit about.

I want to share with you, a connection I made this week between what I do and this discussion surrounding cultural differences in parenting. I teach in an IB World School. We follow the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP) curriculum framework and instructional design model. The PYY is inquiry-based, student-centered, trans-disciplinary and concept-driven.

I teach Grade 5 and we recently put on a grade level concert, one night of the entire year when the students get our state-of-the-art theatre facility all to themselves to show their parents what they've been learning in their units of inquiry and the performing arts. This year we asked the students to create their own skits/dances/poems/songs about our current unit of inquiry and our amazing performing arts teacher tied it all together with a rockin' soundtrack of songs that connected seamlessly with the ideas we were learning. Our unit was about how humans manage solid waste and it falls within the theme of how we organize ourselves. The students took the information and concepts that had become most pertinent to them in their 5-week unit of inquiry and began to develop their performances. The teachers then allotted approximately 4 weeks for intermittent practices and rehearsal times, followed by 2 solid days of stage rehearsals the day before the show. In those critical two days, the teachers helped by giving advice and feedback as we watched their acts  - 32 in total - which were combinations of small groups and mixed class clusters. The teachers assisted with technical requirements and helped them become familiar with the theater, the equipment, and the time structure, but we never suggested that they change anything about the content or delivery of their performances. For two solid days we all worked collaboratively in the theater, 135 ten-year olds, seven teachers and three theater staff. An amazing thing I noticed, was that their performances did change as they practiced. They took our feedback and mixed it with their own intentions and then applied it to their work to make it better. They were definitely in charge, every step of the way.

What came together on the night of the show absolutely knocked the socks off of the parents and school administrators who sat, happily entertained, in the audience for 90 minutes. It was amazing. The one thing that many people noticed and appreciated was that this was obviously the authentic work of the students. No longer are our annual school concerts the polished performances of robot students who learned to follow a teacher's instructions, monotonously repeating a performance piece that they have zero connection to. No longer is our annual school concert the result of a teacher's hard work, a teacher's expertise and/or a teacher's dedication to education! Why was it ever about that in the first place? Now we boast an annual school concert (in every grade level) that shows 100% of the hard work, expertise and dedication of the star performers themselves - the students! And they know it. They get it. And they love it. So far, from the responses I've heard, so do their parents.

Did I mention that these students (and of course their parents) are mostly Chinese?

Thinking about this school performance and the students' sense of  ownership, collaboration and responsibility has helped me articulate my own responses to the array of perspectives on parenting strategies that have been voiced in response to Amy Chua's article. Here's what I've been digesting.

Ownership A person must have ownership over their own growth and development in order to find authentic value in what they do. People can arrive at a level of ownership by way of numerous pathways, both self-directed and also directed to it by others. There is something to be said, however, for the individual who learns how to direct and navigate their own life journeys independently, to come to an understanding about how the world around them works on their own terms. It is important to have pride and self-worth that is rooted in our own ambitions and desires. Not to say that this can't stem into the joy of fulfilling someone else's ambitions and desires, but the roots must belong to the individual.

Collaboration I feel that this is another important life-lesson and a developmental necessity. Knowing when to be competitive, when to be collaborative, and how to balance the two, is a key to success in the 21st century. Unfortunately, too often we teach our students to be competitive through testing, grading and ranking mechanisms that are embedded deeply into K-12 and post-secondary education. (These may also be influences felt at home, especially if your mother is Amy Chua!). Once these individuals enter the 'real word' - the 21st century world - we expect them to be strong collaborators, effective team players and cooperative contributors. We are not preparing them for this 'real world' if we're insisting that they must always be # 1. Harmony is described as the consistent, orderly and pleasing arrangement of many different parts. A deep understanding of all aspects of human nature - social, physical, intellectual and emotional -  is required to be successful in the world we live in.  When a parent or a teacher removes some of this balance or tips the scales to focus heavily on a certain aspect of development, the resulting inequity begins to dismantle stability. I believe that such a collapse is most often seen as a result of neglecting the social or the emotional. A lack of personal self-efficacy can create a void in an person's metacognition, which is the understanding of their own growth and stages of developmental awareness. Learning about how we learn is most effective in collaborative and safe environments. Children need to be supported holistically in order to begin unpacking their own learning. I wonder if this can ever happen in a household like Amy Chua's.

Responsibility A sense of responsibility for one's own actions, awareness of cause and effect, and experiencing the inherent value of making mistakes, are vital to creating the balance and harmony needed to cope with the world we live in. I believe that we need to focus less on challenging children to learn skills and memorize content (because these develop naturally with each individual's specific interests), and move towards teaching children to understand, and evaluate exactly how they understand, how the world around us works and how to successfully work within it. They need to become responsible for themselves at an early age.

In terms of Amy Chua's written article, I had a hard time respecting what she wrote. I have subsequently had a hard time respecting many of the responses I hear or read because everyone keeps perpetuating the stereotypes described in the article. Here are my thoughts on respect and the perspective Amy Chua chose to share with the world.

Respect I am amazed by commenter support and confirmation of stereotypes that were distastefully scattered throughout Chua's article. Why are we establishing and substantiating these generalizations and blanket summaries of Chinese parents vs American parents? Staging a competition about 'who is better' or 'who is right' based on national or cultural identity is.... blatant discrimination, plain and simple. I am happy to see blogs like The Good Chinese Mother and articles like, In China, Not All Practice Tough Love which explain a fresh look at parenting in the 21st century in China. Presumably it should have been obvious that within any nation and within any culture, variations in perspectives on parenting strategies are as diverse as any other perspectives on issues such as politics, religion, the environment or education. We know that stereotypes can dominate the perception of a country or a race. We've seen it all too often in our lifetime. But I think it's important to note the rate of change that we are living in right now. Those stereotypes we know are evolving so quickly and over time I think it's fair to say that the lines which once defined them are becoming blurred by the global pallet of multiculturalism and the influence of communication technology to connect big cities.

This discussion is fascinating. The world of parenting and teaching is also the most dynamic place to be! Imagine knowing that your influence is going to shape the generations of our collective future. Ultimately, I have an investment in the notion that humans will always do things very differently and from these differences, we will continue to challenge ourselves, explore the unknown and learn about the world around us from each (and every different) other.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My M.Ed Application

Here is a fun Wordle of my statement of purpose and my resume which I recently used to apply to the Learning, Design & Technology Masters of Education program at Stanford University's School of Education. Writing a statement such as this one and hammering out a modern resume was a fabulously challenging experience for me. Getting my statement down from 5 pages to a measly 1000 words, meant that I scrapped a lot of my favorite fun adjectives. Therefore, you will not see such an abundance of eloquently poignant and illustratively descriptive words as you probably would expect to see in my regular writing.
No real surprises here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Case Against the Graduate Record Examination

Ahhhhh! I despise exams. Particularly multiple-choice ones. And particularly ones that have a magnitude of importance.  I recently had the torturous pleasure of taking the GRE, a standardized test which is required for entrance to most post-graduate programs of study in the US. I didn't do very well and subsequently became quite defeated by the process of the test itself. It had been 8 years since I'd written an exam of this calibre. I didn't put an adequate amount of effort into studying. I am not an effective test taker when it comes to multiple choice exams. I don't deal well with failure or exam anxiety or timers. The computer adaptive testing (CAT) format is completely frustrating. I could go on and on about the multitudinous reasons for my failure to perform as I had hoped, detailing why my poor performance wasn't a fair judgement or an accurate depiction of my abilities. The truth is I did poorly, period. I'm not trying to avoid or excuse that fact, but I do want to share some insights and ideas with you about why I feel that standardized testing is completely ridiculous.

At a time and in a place where K-8 educational standards and practices reflect a general, albeit slow, move away from standardized testing, traditional assessments and formal reporting practices (ok, maybe not in the US, but definitely in settings like the International Baccalaureate's Primary Years Programme), how is it that universities and colleges still form the basis of their acceptance policies on ranking applicants in terms of their test scores? The GRE is required for almost all fields of graduate study in the US, including Education. I want to learn, grow and invest my future into reforming pedagogy and reevaluating practices that impede our current generations of learners and learning styles. I want to have an undeniable impact on the way teachers teach and the way learners learn and I have the impetus to do it (and do it well, in my opinion). Yet I probably can't get myself into a highly-ranked, well-recognized department of Education to pursue a Masters degree because I don't perform well on standardized tests.

Young learners of today, especially in the IB PYP programme, aren't often exposed the world of standardized testing and we've seen vast improvements in skill development and real-world understandings that will empower young people in a furutre of critical and creative problem solving and innovative design. But will they still have to pass a test to get into university in 10 years? It is likely. Will they have to pass a test to get a job? Hopefully not.

The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising Scores, Ruining Schools by Alfie Kohn was published in 2000 with outstanding evidence about how standardized testing is detrimental to learning and an inaccurate assessment of student understanding or academic ability. From Alfie Kohn's website, News & Comments, January 2010 he states: "As for the research studies: Collectively, they make it clear that students who are graded tend to differ from those who aren’t in three basic ways. They’re more likely to lose interest in the learning itself. They’re more likely to prefer the easiest possible task. And they’re more likely to think in a superficial fashion as well as to forget what they were taught." 

Most teachers and schools that I am familiar with, through my short career, focus on promoting an authentic interest in learning, actively engaging students and helping them invest in their own development while providing an environment which fosters life long learning for learning's sake. Authentic assessment is essential and formative feedback is fundamental. We must begin to accept that grading, ranking and comparing of students to one another, goes completely against the intuitions of learning and promotion of growth.

So (if) it's true that within International K-8 education, we are beginning to change, to move away from standardized testing and traditional forms of student evaluation, where will that leave the future generations when it is time for them to pursue post-secondary level education? How will they cope with the levels of scoring, summative assessments and testing regimes? How will they fare when all critical and creative thinking abilities, collaborative and cooperative learning habits, and so-called 21st century learning skills are thrown out the window during an undergraduate degree? We are slowly beginning to model our K-8 learning environments to reflect what the working force will demand in the future, but most universities and colleges haven't fallen in line. How will students navigate this unknown realm of mid-terms and final exams? How will they even get accepted into these institutions?

So back to the GRE and me. Why do I fail so miserably at multiple choice questions? For my undergrad degree, I studied Biological Sciences and many of my courses were evaluated almost entirely by multiple-choice testing. And I managed. Here's a perspective on multiple-choice questions and deep thinkers by Banesh Hoffman, a mathematics professor who worked with Albert Einstein and wrote a book in 1962 titled The Tyranny of Testing. He particularly discredits multiple-choice testing, stating in an interview: "Multiple choice tests penalize the deep student, dampen creativity, foster intellectual dishonesty, and undermine the very foundations of education". (Source: The Myth of Measurability, edited by Paul Houts, (Hart Publishing Company, 1977), page 202.) Hoffman continues, "It is not the presence of defective questions that makes multiple-choice tests bad. Such questions merely make them worse. Even if all the questions were impeccable, the deep student would see more in a question than his more superficial competitors would ever dream was in it, and would expend more time and mental energy than they in answering it. That is the way his mind works. That is, indeed, his special merit. But the multiple-choice tests are concerned solely with the candidates choice of answer, and not with the reasons for his choice. Thus they ignore that elusive yet crucial thing we call quality." (Source: The Tyranny of Testing,(Collier Books, 1962), page 92.)

In my undergrad, I managed to get myself through exams with a few techniques and strategies, all of which were useless in the GREs computer adaptive testing format, where you can't see the questions ahead and/or go back to the ones you've completed. I have zero time management abilities when I can't tell what is coming up. For example, in the verbal section you must answer 30 questions in 30 minutes. I couldn't quite master the 1 minute per question approach and was frequently stressing about the time I was taking on selecting my answers. Near the end, I had managed to catch up and was happy to see that I had exactly 4 minutes remaining to complete the final 4 questions. Seemed like I was on top of things. I hit the continue button, just to see that the final 4 questions were based on a 5-paragraph text laid out on the screen. It would have taken me 4 minutes just to read it once thoroughly (I am a slow and careful reader). So I had to skim the article and then race through the last 4 questions, basically throwing out guesses. You can imagine how great that felt.

Well the GRE is now behind me. I can chalk it up to an interesting and experiential learning activity. It definitely helped me reflect deeply and question my own philosophy of assessment and evaluation. I might try to write the GRE again in a few months. I might not. I still plan to apply to pursue my Masters degree and hopefully I will not be judged entirely on my testing ability, because ultimately, it is not a skill set that I am seeking to Master.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

IDEO - The Future of the Book

What's your idea for the future of books?

The digital world can bring us reading that is:
- Informative with less bias
- Personalized to who we are
- Interactive, engaging, and rich

The Future of the Book. from IDEO on Vimeo.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Green School, Bali, Indonesia

Today I visited the The Green School of Bali, Indonesia. I have watched developments at this school unfold online since it’s conception in 2007, and always daydreamed that someday this would be a place where I would spend some of my career. I am drawn to both Bali and the school; Bali is an island of stunning cultural, historical and natural beauty and The Green School is a school of outstanding principles built on solid foundations of sustainability and global stewardship. The school is also dedicated to providing numerous scholarship opportunities to local Balinese children. The school is open for public tours on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3pm. The Green School has received a lot of international media coverage because of its educational philosophy, its experiential teaching and learning practices and is awe-inspiring structural design. Many famous people have come across the threshold bamboo bridge, a little like tumbling down the rabbit hole, entering into the magical school setting in the middle of the Balinese jungle.

Our tour guide, Ben, has been a part of the Green School team since 2008. Originally from the United States, I quickly learn that he is well travelled and even more aptly versed, in many languages.  He greets and welcomes all members of the tour in their native language, from English to Mandarin to Japanese to French to Malay to Indonesian.

The tour begins on the bridge above the Ayung River, but soon we are walking through a very tall rice paddy. One of the visitors asks, "Why the rice is so tall?" and Ben explains that the rice, which is grown organically and cared for by the students, is a native Balinese rice, a variety that almost no one grows anymore, even in Bali. Ben elaborates with a descriptive explanation of an integrated inquiry that all grades at the school participate in where the students grow rice, learn the history and cultural significance of rice in Bali, host rice ceremonies with local villagers and then eventually harvest and eat their rice.

We continue on to the edge of the river where we observe a pretty large water vortex. Built by the school and supposedly the second of its size in the world, this electricity-generating vortex is a fish friendly way to harness kinetic energy from a river or stream. This system was originally designed by Austrian engineer Franz Zotlöterer. It channels a small portion water from the side of the stream, where it enters a toilet-bowl shaped funnel containing a large, slow-moving water wheel. Unlike traditional hydroelectric power generation, this system does not work on a pressure differential, it draws the energy simply form the dynamic force of the spiraling water which exits the vortex back into the stream. Awesome!

Moving on along a lava rock pathway (one of many on campus), we pass the senior student-built 3-story clubhouse (part of a hands-on design lesson focused on integrating math, physics and architecture). Further up the hillside, we see the student support center and head into a high school classroom overlooking the river. Here we learn the origins of the Green School. For the quick version please check out the history section of the Green School website which explains how its founders, Jon Hardy and his wife Cynthia, created the Green School. The Hardys were inspired to give something back to the people of  Bali, a paradise which they have called home for 35 years, and an island which inspired and supported them along their road to success creating the globally successful John Hardy Jewelry empire. The school was created with a passion for everything local, and it is the local environment which most obviously informed thier decisions along the way. Holistic education consultant, Alan Wagstaff as well as Jurgen Zimmer, a professor at the Free University in Berlin, helped develop the educational philosophy and curriculum design of the school in tits beginning stages. The Hardys also set up a bamboo construction company just down the river from the Green School site which was commissioned to design and build all structural features of the school. You can tell this place was conceived by a union by artists and skilled tradesmen. The bamboo furniture throughout the school captures the intricate insides of bamboo design with careful lines and attention to textures, creating a simple and natural beauty.

The tour guide then takes us into a few homeroom classrooms, which were much larger than I'd imagined. I love the reused car windshields, painted white and used as white boards throughout the school. Each lower school classroom, with a cap of 25 students, has its own cool-down area for days when the jungle just gets too hot and sweaty. It turns out that Jon Hardy, in the early 70's, graduated from art college in Canada and had a passion for inflatable architecture. Inside each completely open-air classroom there is an inflatable canvas dome set on top of a miniature classroom pit, well equipped with an air conditioner, bench seating and performance/teaching space for an entire class. Very neat.

Over the course of the next 2 hours we are guided though the rest of the campus which includes the recreational sports area, with kids playing on a field with bamboo soccer goals as well as under a large thatched complex with bamboo basketball hoops, and a we take peak into the Performing Arts center where an after school African drumming workshop is taking place and the large African Mariba and Gamelan ensemble is displayed to one side. We learn about the traditional mud pit and spectator area used for Indonesian ceremonies, school performances as well as practicing other international forms of martial arts. We walk through the healing center of the school, designated as such by an authentic dowser from Astralia who also found water for all of the school's wells. The healing circle is marked with a giant brown crystal from Brazil embedded in the earth (think the size of a dog house). We look in on the endangered bird breeding cages and Green Camp gardens before arriving at the "Heart of School" in the glow of late afternoon light. The Heart of School is a stunning 3-story tripple building comprising offices, students study areas, the library, computer lab and resource area, fine arts studios and open lounging space where an afternoon yoga class is happening as we arrive. The Heart is the largest bamboo building in Asia, and possibly the world. It is breathtaking to stand in the center, climb up and down the 3 staircases in your bare feet and be encompassed by a human-made building that so distinctly resembles a bamboo forest with all the perfect lines and angles.

Among the things we didn't see, but learned about nonetheless, were the school's composting toilets of which students have been experimenting with methane extraction as a renewable energy source, an on-site recycling program, Balinese black sows that digest all the school's organic waste, as well as countless bio-intensive gardens which are managed by staff and students to create food for the entire school. The school is also serviced, campus-wide, with wifi. 

The Green School has had its share of ups and downs. Far from being financially sound, even with the support from their founders and the general visiting public, they continue to struggle to make ends meet. From starting out a few months before the economic meltdown in 2008, ironing out the kinks that are inevitable in starting a brand new school in the middle of the Balinese jungle, to constantly changing staff and changing student body, it is a wonder that they have gotten to where they are already. The school has received its share of global attention, both for its innovative ideas, its core values and educational philosophy, and its unique place in our world, creating global citizens and leaders of the future. John Hardy spoke about the school at TEDGlobal in England this past summer and many people have been, seen and reported on the fascinating and inspiring school culture that is emerging from within the magical jungle paradise. What a place! If you ever have the chance to see it in person, I highly recommend checking it out.

This is a photoset of pictures by Build Back Better on Flickr