November 18, 2011

Welcome to Imagination Island

"Me in my island outfit"
 Aloha and welcome to my blog!

Since I am new to this, I am not certain about how this will go; but I am willing to take a risk and put a few ideas out there for discussion - which is what I hope will be inspired by my posts.

I have been teaching grade four and five for thirteen years now, and I keep looking for new ways to engage my students with the content of the curriculum. I just completed my Master's of Education degree from SFU in curriculum and instruction: Imaginative Education. Kieran Egan is a professor of Education at SFU, who is known internationally for his work in Education and specifically for his Imaginative Education Theory. You may be familiar with some of his books such as: The Educated Mind, Teaching as Storytelling, An Imaginative Approach to Teaching, The Future of Education: Reimagining Our Schools From the Ground Up, to name a few.

So why the outfit? Well this year I have an island theme flowing throughout the entire year which ties many pieces of the curriculum together into a meaningful study. My students have an ongoing research project about their own islands which requires them to apply what they are learning in LA, Math, Science, Socials, HCE, Art and French (did I miss any?) to their island at various points throughout the year. I am using the novel: The Cay by Theodore Taylor as my main inspiration at the beginning to connect students with what it might be like to end up stranded on a deserted island. I have set up my classroom like an island to further engage their senses and emotions with this topic.

Not to get too heavy into theory at this point, I would like to say that changing the context of the classroom is one of the tools that Egan proposes in his IE theory as a way to engage students' imaginations in their learning. So I have had some fun with altering the design of my classroom - and the main idea is that it provides an unexpected, fun, wonderous place to learn and explore new ideas (hence the title of my blog!)

"My window covered in blue celophane"

"My cupboard painting with a nice view"
The sign on my door reads, "Welcome to Imagination Island". I greeted my students at the beginning of this school year with an "Aloha" and a passport. I told them they were about to go on an adventure of a it is my job to live up to that!

"The view into my room with my painted rustic door"
I will certainly talk more about this idea of using IE and specifically the change of context tool in future posts, because it has become one the most powerful tools for learning that I use. Using the Imaginative Education Theory in my teaching over the past two years has radically changed my perception and understanding of how we all learn; and more importantly it has opened me up to the true potential that my students have when I step into my role as an innovator and curriculum designer. I am beginning to see the deep significance of how I build, present and implement new ideas in my classroom as a teacher. When I say "new" ideas - well, I am really talking about the ideas that have been part of our human history - culturally inspired, developed and passed along from generation to generation. What is "new" perhaps is how these ideas are framed and presented to the students.

So the island!? I believe that giving students their own island projects with the same theme as their classmates will encourage them to talk more to each other and share ideas about what they are including in their projects. They will also be making a collection of their ideas on their wiki pages, for all to view and comment on. Ultimately I know they will find that there are endless variations about the same topic, because they are all individuals with unique ideas and expressions.

So there are a few layers to this island thing.
1. I hope that my students are transported to a new place - not necessarily physically, but more somatically and yes even philosophically. Doing something unusual with the space we work in is a boredom buster!
2. The students have their own "mini" island research projects that they can take individual ownership over. While we are studying about a particular topic in Science or Socials, they can be thinking about what they might add or what might be needed for their island.
3. We have a collective island in our room that we can talk about and continue to plan together. For example I recently simply asked them what we should add to the centre space of the room. The responses from the "tribes" were: waterfall, palm trees, hammock, volcano! You know what...these are all possible!

Something I am coming to realize quite strongly is that there are no limits to what we can conceive with our imaginations engaged, and this is a collective construction of knowledge. I have borrowed this idea of doing an in depth project over a long time, and changed it in a way, from Kieran Egan's Learning in Depth model. He proposes that students are given a topic (each one a different one) and they continue to research this topic throughout their schooling. His idea is that there is no end to what can be found out about any topic, including things such as apples or dust! This collaborative element of knowledge construction and the use of cognitive tools in learning is where Lev Vygotsky's Socio-Cultural theory and Kieran Egan's IE theory come together. I will leave that thread to continue in my next post:)

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