iSTEMed Conference Doha

Take aways from last weekends iSTEMed conference in Doha…

From Cesar Harada, “Imagination is the most precious stuff the children have.”  Many of the conversations and workshops focused on stimulating students creativity through empathy.

At the conference I attended a workshop with Suzanne Presinal and we were challenged with creating a playground for animals.  We first brainstormed different animals we were interested in and then once the group decided on an animal we began to create the playground from paper and recycle bits.  As we were building the playground we began to think about what the characteristics of our animal, a meerkat, were and what they would like best.  Our playground eventually included a widescreen TV that would play videos of meerkats, because meerkats like to mimic each other as well as hammocks and slides and places for them to climb.  Everyone was in charge of different areas and we worked as a team to build a playground that meerkats would enjoy.

There were other workshops that I attended that gave some useful information but the overarching theme from all of them was to begin with empathy to engage the children.  I will definitely be paying more attention to appealing to the students empathy side in the future when asking them to design.

Reflecting on the Reggio Emilia Philosophy

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In preparing to attend the “Integrating the Reggio Emilia Principals and Philosophy in the Early Years Classroom,”  I brushed up on some reading about the philosophy and came across an article by the Scandinavian School in San Francisco republished with permission on Education.com.  The article focuses on these five aspects of the Reggio Emilia Philosophy:  the child, the teacher, documentation, curriculum and the environment.  While reading, I thought of my students and the teachers I work with as well as my own practice.  Here are a few things I took from the article.

1.  When discussing the child, it states that the Emilio Reggio Philosophy believes in a “listening pedagogy.”  If I am to practice a listening pedagogy then when my students don’t understand something I need to teach them.  This is not limited to art skills but also life skills.  For example, teaching in Qatar, the many of the students at my school have nannies who clean after them.  When asked to clean their stations and they don’t do the job that I expect then I need to show them.  This “direct interaction with the environment and social groups” helps them understand how I think the station should be cleaned.

2. The teacher is an educated learner in that they are observing and reflecting on how best to provoke and inspire the child’s learning.  In “listening” to and observing the child, the teacher is able to use personal knowledge and pedagogy set to up and guide the learning process.  As I listen to and observe students while working through a provocation I can learn about their interests and prior knowledge to motivate them to move from the comfortable and familiar into the unknown.

3.  Documentation is also an important part of the Reggio Emilia Philosophy.  Documentation can take many forms such as photography, audio and video, transcription, and student work.  Through documentation both teachers and students are able to reflect on the education journey.  This is also important for guiding the curriculum.  When reflecting on documentation I can develop a plan for working with my students as well as reflect on what was successful and what needs improvement.

4.  Curriculum should be child led and driven.  I don’t think, however, that this means students should be expected to know what they want to learn about.  It’s through the process of giving the students provocations and then listening to and documenting the child’s response to the stimuli that the teacher can then develop curriculum catered to the child’s interests.  As the expert, the teacher can then weave into the curriculum language, maths, social skills, arts and sciences accordingly.

5.  Finally, the environment is also an important aspect of the Emilio Reggio Philosophy.  Referring to it as the “third teacher,” this physical space should be a place where students are comfortable to work and take ownership of.  This space should be set up according to the needs of the child and the teacher.  There should be spaces for clean work as well as a space to be messy.  There should also be spaces for students to work individually and in small and large groups.  It should be an organic space that is lived in.

After attending the workshop, “Integrating the Reggio Emilia Principles and Philosophy in the Early Years Classroom,” led by Dr. Nkechy Ezeh at SEK International School, Qatar, I was reaffirmed that the Reggio Emilia Philosophy is not a cookie cutter approach to teaching.  As Dr. Ezeh led us through practical strategies of learning through this philosophy and gave examples of documentation, I reflected on my own practice further.  For me, the Reggio Emilia Philosophy is the opportunity to take ownership in an engaging learning process for both myself and my students, using provocations to jump start lessons and guide the curriculum and encourage life long learning through exploration.