Category Archives: Curriculum

Working Together!

By Emily Parker (Bishop’s)

Curriculum building

Curriculum building

The second grade curriculum was in full swing today! It was the first time the four of us (2 Education students from McGill: Lia & Kimberley, 2 Education students from Bishop’s: Clare & I… Go Gaiters Go!!!) actually sat down together since our curriculum “Bootcamp” at Bishop’s with Melanie and Dr. Stonebanks the weekend before our departure. Here in Malawi, we have the opportunity to work with two men from the village. This not only allows us to assure our ideas and activities are culturally relevant, but also that we keep the people here involved in the entire process. One of the Malawian’s we are working with very closely is named Francis and the other is Maxwell. Francis was also a part of the development of the grade 1 curriculum last May 2013. As for Maxwell, he recently graduated from teacher’s college. Between the six of us, in one day, we managed to get close to two full Units done, excluding the process of editing. The first hour or so of work was the toughest. We were all trying to figure out the best way to go about the whole process, but eventually ideas started to bounce off each other more naturally and the ball eventually started to roll much more smoothly.We had already worked to together back home, like I mentioned earlier, however I still really enjoyed the process as well as being surrounded by the people and children that can benefit from our work directly.

In a week hopefully, we will be emerged even deeper in the environment by working directly in the soon to be finished Grade 1 classroom building, which was unfortunately supposed to have been finished on time for the students to have started school September 2013, though neither the classroom nor the teacher house were entirely constructed. Therefore, the aim is to have students coming to our school at least for Grade 1 if not even Grade 2, all depending on our work and the construction by Fall September 2014. In the meantime, we will continue our efforts to create the finest and culturally significant Grade 2 curriculum using local resources. In addition, we are working hard at integrating the locally defined problem areas of existing schools, being: creativity, entrepreneurship and critical thinking which we will keep in mind during the entire process of curriculum development. Lastly and most importantly, as our ultimate goal, we will work to better the future of the children!

Race Against Time

By Annabelle Lafrechoux

Concentrated me

Concentrated me

After our weekend trips, we are often drained and tired from the excitement and the traveling. Mondays are often our most slow day of the week since we try to organize ourselves and get back into work mode. This week we felt an extra pressure to be effective since we were conscious that we only had two days of work which concluded the end of the first phase. As a matter of fact, these were Jae’s and Linden’s last days of work.

By the end of this miniscule work week we wanted to have finished all the units including the extra ones and separately go over them to make sure that every subject area was well covered throughout the year. In my case, mathematics is my secondary focus so I had to make sure that every topic included in the progression of learning was taught and that a certain progression of skills and knowledge were respected. It was interesting to go through all the units and see what the other groups had come up with in terms of topics and teachable ideas. It was the first time that I was seeing the whole year in such detail since we had worked in alternating teams and worked on three or four units each. As I read through them, I realized that there were either some mathematical concepts that were over used or that some were ignored. I needed to go back and change some of the mathematical topics while trying to make sure that they fitted well within the unit or to find a way to do so. Luckily it wasn’t too difficult and I managed to make changes that everyone seemed to agree to.

The whole thing was a race against the clock, in reality we didn’t even have those two whole days since we had a traditional dance to attend. It was an interesting experience but I felt that for some of us it just made the level of stress go higher realizing that we had en even slimmer window of time in which to be productive.

I am happy to share that with everyone working exceedingly hard, we managed to meet all of our objectives. We successfully completed phase one and were able to leave the hostel to go to Zambia and enjoy our last weekend trip.

Phase One Done! Yay!

By Amy Simpson

Working on the units

Working on the units

We have now completed fourteen units for the standard one school year, which include; the theme, universal concepts, big idea, relations to the Q.E.P competencies, topics and teachable ideas. I think we all deserve a pat on the back because as a group we worked well and brought some great ideas together. We had separated into smaller groups so we could each work on different units and use our time efficiently. Although some at some points there were stand still moments where we would discuss and focus, for perhaps longer than we should have, on finding “the right word” to use in our writing, the rest ran smoothly.

I found the procedure that we followed to create the units, starting with a theme and then choosing one or two concepts and creating the big idea, helped us to focus in on what exactly we wanted the students to learn within the given time frame of the unit. Especially making so many, it helped to reinforce, at least one method of creating a strong and supported unit. This will be particularly useful in my own future classroom.

Thomas will be the grade one teacher for the new school. We worked alongside him as well as Cynthia, who is currently studying in university to become a teacher. They had lots of interesting insights to share on the local culture as well as what the students may or may not be interested in learning. They were also a big help in organizing the unit timeline. They provided us with information as to what was happening around the village each month, the weather for that time of year, holidays and any other special events. We were then able to place our units to a time that was contextually relevant to what would be occurring in the local area. For example, we placed the farming unit during the harvest season, the health unit during the rainy season (increase in mosquito population and disease) and the celebrations unit around Mother’s Day. There are twelve units throughout the school year but we also created two more in case some of the units are shorter than expected or if Thomas decides to make changes based on the students’ and his personal interests.

The nest step to follow in the curriculum project will be to create a number of lesson plans for each unit. This will give Thomas some ideas/examples of activities or lessons and how they can be carried out in the classroom. Overall it is an exciting process and I am quite anxious not only to see the end product but also, in time, to see how it all turns out in action next year.

Just Another Perfect Day

By Jae Oh

Making breakfast mandazi

Making breakfast mandazi

I open my eyes with the sounds of roosters and distant church bells letting me know it is 6 am. I stretch a little inside the warmth of my sleeping bag and take a peek at the daylight coming through a window. ‘Another exciting day is about to start!’ I struggle with the bug net as I get down from my bed and step out though a creaking door. Only some dim sunlight fills in the hostel but that is enough for me to start reminiscing about yesterday in my journal. One of the kitchen ladies brings in hot water bottles for tea or coffee, fresh fruit which are mostly bananas, and hot steaming mandazi, local donuts, for breakfast. The smell of fresh brewed tea and sweet bread wakes people up one by one and soon the breakfast table is bursting with conversations about last night’s dreams or plans for the days to come. A typical morning in Makupo Village begins.

Hard at work

Hard at work

The curriculum development crew, eight passionate Canadian university students with Francis, Thomas, the new teacher at the new school, and a prospective high school teacher, Cynthia, get together from 9 to 4 at our working room in Chilanga High School. There, we gather our brains to build unit plans for a grade one curriculum merging with the Quebec Education Program to suit the culture and needs of the local people. The new school site has been decided and foundations are already set in place encouraging us to catch up. At first, the task in front of us seemed so big and impossible to finish in time; however, once the crew got into the rhythm, the momentum started to build. Two weeks went by like a flash and we are already looking into editing and finalizing what we have accomplished. We separate into smaller groups and work on several units at a time and share ideas and suggestions when problems arise as a big crew. Any ideas and parts I overlook, others will lend helping hands and vice versa; we became the real example of entrepreneurship, creativity, and critical thinking that we aim to portray through the new curriculum.

Mouthwatering nsima and sides dishes

Mouthwatering nsima and sides dishes

After a hard day’s work comes a delicious meal. For lunch or dinner, either rice or nsima is served with various side dishes, such as beans, green mustard leaves, peas, cabbages, eggs, goat or beef meat, and the new addition, soya pieces fried in tomato, onion, and curry base. Some are similar to Korean cuisine, but much greasier, which is understandable considering meat is not a part of the daily food for many locals and they need an alternative source of fat. I helped out in the kitchen a few times, making mandazi or cutting vegetables and the ladies are always glad to have extra hands and stories to share. The only rule is to never touch rice because it has been a problem where people occasionally find rocks breaking their teeth.

De-stressing is another important part of the day to get replenished and energized for the work ahead. After dinner, people gather around the sofa, checking up on each other and sharing light conversations and jokes. Some break away from the group to have a relaxing time on their own, by writing journals and blogs, reading books, or listening to music. Once in a while, we get to reconnect with the outside world through internet and phone calls. Whenever I receive calls or emails from the beloved ones, my heart warms up the way it never did and I appreciate the memories we share. Funny thing is that I’m describing a typical day but for three weeks, not a single day went by the same as other days. Each day has been a special day. One night, we all danced around a bonfire and built closer ties with the Makupo villagers. By a lucky chance, we had a rainy day which is very rare during this dry season. It looked more like mist than rain but the sudden weather change and drop of temperature reminded us that it was, in fact, winter in Africa. When the day comes to an end with the moon rising among millions of starts, another perfect night in Malawi starts with wishes of good night and snuggling back into the sleeping bag, drifting off into adventurous dreams. Usiku Wabwino! Good night!

The Power of Happy Pants

By Corinne Marcoux

Happy pants

Happy pants

Happy pants (adj.+ N): I. Loose, one-size-fits-all pants made of the colorful Malawian fabrics; II. Pants that bring joy and happiness to the person wearing them and the people around; III. Piece of clothing that has the power to make the person wearing it believe in what he/she does or can do.

Is there any need to say that I was feeling really happy and feeling on top of the world today? I had my happy pants on.

I was feeling the power of happy pants since I bought them in Cape Maclear on Sunday, but their magic really started influencing our lives as soon as I jumped into them this morning. In fact, I did not have to worry about what to wear for the day—happy pants and t-shirt and here you go. (This made me super happy, considering that choosing clothes in the morning often causes me unnecessary anxiety.) Also, Naomi`s breakfast smiled at her; the two donuts and the banana in her plate were forming a smiley face.

On top of these multiple joyful events, we were lucky enough to enjoy a story from Dr. Stonebanks when we got to our happy room at the Chilanga secondary school (for work purposes). It was the story of a development project: an experiential elementary school (Praxis Malawi, of course!). It is not sure yet if the classroom will be ready for September or not. It all depends on the main character of the story, the community. The community members are the only ones who can make the school project work in a sustainable way. The effort must come from them in order to create independence for the future. Giving more money than needed will not help in reaching the common goal of development. The moral of the story is thus that people tend to aim for a tangible product so that they have the satisfying impression that something has been done, and that we have to resist and focus on our work. Although invisible, curriculum development is really what is going to make a difference, probably more than the building of the classroom itself. So this is when happy pants come into play; wearing them helps us keep going and believing in the potential of what we do.

The rest of the day went wonderfully! We worked productively on creating the units—I worked on the Seasons and the My Senses ones. It all was positive, except at that moment when I felt that I did not have enough hours in the day to do everything that I wish to do… So I did what I now do when I feel a little worried: I go talk to Barbara. Indeed, her answer made me feel very happy again! She suggested to me to do a little bit of everything, and this is exactly what I did. With the help of happy pants, I found the time to play Bowa with Ruth (one of my Malawian friends in the village) and Amy. The pants gave me the force to believe in all the things that I could do to make me feel happy.

All to say that happy pants are indeed truly powerful because they make me realize that all the happiness and confidence they bring actually come from the person wearing them and believing a little more than usual in what she can achieve. We are building a pedagogy of hope. There is so much more we can do when we believe. Viva happy pants!