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.
I got up even earlier today as I couldn’t stop thinking about work. I finished up the editing and typing up the unit plans to be used for today. I then checked LEARN and emailed Mel as usual. This brought me to about 5AM and so I decided to catch up on writing blogs. By 6:30 I had finished those and was completely up to date so I thought I would write in my journal. By the time I had finished people were up and we had breakfast. I then went to visit Dr. Stonebanks and Arshad to keep them posted on the plan of action and we were off to the school once again.
Today was one of the less exciting days in the sense of workload. We had to go through the Progression of Learning to ensure we have everything we need in the curriculum. This took the whole morning but it was something that needed to be done. After lunch I spent the afternoon typing up all of the notes from the morning and preparing the documents for LEARN once again. I then sent the off and completed my work for the day. While I was doing that the others were formulating 2 other units to add as backups for Thomas when he is teaching. They did a great job and got the two done. While we were all working Roxy and Elise began the interview process with us Praxis Malawi folk. They asked insightful questions and were professional but fun about the situation. I was the first one to be interviewed and didn’t know how in depth I should go in my answers so I was the shortest interview, but hopefully they got something out of it.
When I went to send everything to Mel in the evening I found out how much work she has been doing back in Canada. She has got all sorts of media attention and awareness growing. Apparently we might have a Skype interview with McGill social media relations next week to talk about the project. It is great to have such an active person back in Canada to be doing such awesome work there; it really helps the process here in Malawi. We went to the school site once again and a 3 foot wall had been built with the pile of bricks we previously saw. I obviously used this time to run around the soon to be school while Dr. Stonebanks jokingly yelled at me to ‘sit down young lady’. I was so happy with everyone’s work I couldn’t help but be a goof with the kids that were there as well. We then saw where Thomas may be living next year and the general layout of the houses ECCOPS will be building! It is all very exciting!! Plus, Zambia tomorrow! I cannot wait!
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.
Critical thinking, creativity and entrepreneurship
Today was an awesome day of curriculum development. We started the morning off with Dr. Stonebanks with us again guiding the process and pitching in a few ideas (that he stole from my mind). Everyone was working well and enjoying the process of creative lesson planning. We were all so impressed with each others ideas and naturally wanting to adopt them in our own classrooms. It is an amazing process to observe as well as be a part of. Seeing individual faces as they think of a great lesson or they hear a group member’s suggestion and their mind forms a picture of it is just awesome. It is great to see teachers so excited about their profession! Dr. Stonebanks was unable to come in the afternoon but the work ploughed on. I wouldn’t have thought I would get so excited about curriculum development but I can’t wait to do more! The critical thinking and creativity that go hand in hand with this process is enticing and always asking for more. I can’t express how grateful I am to be here and doing this project. We managed to finish the bases of 4 unit plans which brings us to half of the year. Tomorrow I will only be spending the first hour with the team as I will then be working with Dr. Stonebanks on creating a template in order to be able put the units in the PLC on LEARN so that the professionals in the field who are part of the Praxis Malawi professional learning community can view them and offer feedback and suggestions. Needless to say I cannot wait for tomorrow.
This evening I lay in my room listening to music and thinking about the consistent questions that have been running through my head about my place here. After seeing our work today and how involved Thomas, Cynthia (pre-service Malawian teachers) as well as Francis (our organizer for our advance work) all are in the project I feel that we are not out of place developing the curriculum here. I have come to the conclusion that it is no different than going up to Cree territory and teaching there. It is a place and culture I don’t know and have never been exposed to in my own country yet I wouldn’t doubt myself or others for teaching up north. If you do advance work and gain an understanding of the people and geography/history of the area and you’re willing to adapt, you can teach. We have not come to Malawi to disrespect the system here, but rather enhance education opportunities for a rural area. The people have been so welcoming of the project and I think it is time that I actually accept their welcome with a Malawian handshake and “zikomo”.
Considering that we returned from our adventure at one am on Monday, I must admit we all had some difficulty getting up. We made it a late morning and arrived at our work place, at the local high school, around 9:30 am. We were lucky to have Dr. Stonebanks come in and help us organize ourselves on this slow morning. We set an objective for ourselves this work week: find and develop all of the unit themes for a whole school year. We developed an effective working method to optimize our work productivity.
For the whole week we worked from 9:00 am to 5 pm on the curriculum development and sometimes in the evenings to transfer our work to the computer and work on our blogs. I am amazed to see how much we have accomplished within the time span of a week. We produced at least three units a day and I must tell you that today, Thursday June 13th, we have completed developing the outline of twelve units. It has been a unique experience for me to get the opportunity to work with all of these individuals who have a variety of experiences related to teaching which does indeed make this project so rich.
We also got the opportunity to go and see the school site and observe the progression of the construction. We saw the foundations of the school. It was particularly motivating; a concrete display of our objectives for this trip. It was a really good ending to this week’s work.