IERG News & Updates January 2015

IERG News & Updates is our way to keep you informed about activities of the IERG, examples of Imaginative Education in action, interviews with practitioners, as well as short pieces giving in-depth insights into various aspects and programs of the Imaginative Education Research Group.

We welcome your feedback, and as always, please feel free to share this with your colleagues and students, so that everyone can stay connected.

Spotlight on IE educator: Lindy Sims

Corbett Charter School, Portland, Oregon, USA

What is your teaching assignment like?

I teach 5th and 6th grade at Corbett Charter School in Oregon. At our school, teachers use the IE framework to create curriculum based on a three year content cycle. Our curriculum focuses on the Columbia River Gorge, the awe-inspiring natural wonder where we live. My coworkers and I have the opportunity to create all of our own units, and are not asked to use anything boxed. Because of this, we are intellectually and emotionally engaged with the content we teach.

How would you characterize what it is like being an imaginative educator?

Being an imaginative educator is exciting and interesting and challenges me to constantly be learning about the topics I teach. It’s hard for me to describe how personally and intellectually satisfying it is to be able to engage content emotionally and become a storyteller for my students. As I broach a new topic, I anticipate a heroic quality that will inspire my students and help them make meaning out of this piece of the world.

My experience of Imaginative Education has changed greatly over the years. When I was first hired at Corbett Charter School, I was in my 2nd year of teaching. I was dissatisfied with the curriculum I had seen, but didn’t know how to structure a unit based on anything other than objectives. The IE framework gave me a structure that took objectives and made them meaningful through heroic qualities and a narrative structure. Over the last six years of my practice, I have learned to research with heroic qualities in mind, so that I can pick the most engaging quality. I have learned to choose content and a narrative that help my students transcend the limits they feel, and cognitive tools that will best pack their brains with information. As an educator, learning and thinking in this way has helped me see stories in everything and become an avid reader of non-fiction.

How has your IE approach to teaching changed your students’ learning experiences?

I would use a few words to describe my students: bright-eyed, knowledgeable and hardworking. My students are joyful and lovely. Their engagement, funny stories and amazing brains full of facts inspire me every day.

When I get a new student, parents tell me that their child has potential, but has yet to really try. Or maybe, the parents say that the child acts out or talks out of turn. One student kept reading his book under the table while the teacher was talking! I tell these parents not to worry, and to give me some time. Management problems and student boredom almost always disappear when I teach about the resilient, flexible and organized brain with the gruesome story of Phineas Gage. When I pop out of the closet, dressed as famous geologist, J Harlen Bretz, I am determined, resourceful and curious! I help students uncover the clues that will reveal the geologic history of the Columbia River Gorge. Using these stories and other cognitive tools help my students learn, remember and make meaning out of an enormous amount of information. Parents are always stunned by how excited their children are about school and how many details their kids are able to relay when discussing our units of study.

Do you have an anecdote or favourite lesson you could share?

My favorite story to tell, out of our three years of content curriculum, is the story of Napoleon and his great vision for the world, no contest. There are certain characters throughout history that seem to speak and pose for pictures purely to help me design the perfect IE unit. Napoleon is one of them. My kids love Napoleon.

Spotlight on IE educator: Regina Murphy

St Patrick’s College, Dublin City University

What milestones have shaped your educational interests?

Philosophies of child-centred education really inspired me as a student teacher, but in reality, I did not fully appreciate the complexities of the concept until I found myself teaching overseas, struggling to understand approaches to children’s learning through a different cultural lens. When I returned to Ireland the altered perspective prompted curiosity about matters of curriculum—how it is constructed, enacted and experienced—and, following very rich periods of teaching, research, secondment, and school principalship, my path eventually led to teacher education. The act of teaching is a highly privileged endeavour, of course, and teacher education even moreso. That said, the agency and autonomy of higher education has enabled me to develop courses and programmes that sustain my interests—and I hope that of my students too. An elective course for year 3 BEd students on Creativity and Imagination in Teaching and Learning has been most satisfying on many levels. We have taken much of our inspiration from the IERG, and theoretical underpinnings from Kieran Egan’s works. Students find these both refreshing and sustaining in terms of their personal and professional development. Despite the positive feedback from students, I am keen to push boundaries and not become too complacent in my teaching.

What are your hopes for education in the 21st century?

First and foremost that it will be better than the 20th century! My own primary schooling days were quite grim in many ways, and children with special education needs were almost completely overlooked. On the other hand, there were no tests of any type, no report cards, and homework was not required consistently. A lot of schooling revolved around the ‘3 Rs’, but there was great freedom to experiment, to play, to read and explore in the spaces between. Our village community was very vibrant from an arts perspective and the sense of creativity was palpable and valued. I would hope that 21st century education could find the ultimate balance between freedom and constraint in schooling, such that the child’s imagination is fuelled and sustained.

What direction(s) would you like to see the IERG taking in the future?

Continuing to develop the global network. Imagination reaches into every aspect of education – but we have plenty of unimaginative approaches to policy. We should not be afraid to forge alliances and tackle big issues. Imagination is about holism, fulfillment and life itself. In this respect, it is very much a social justice issue.

What questions/projects are you currently pursuing?

Always far too many questions in incubation…But for now, I’m concentrating on developing new courses and modules at undergraduate and postgraduate levels with strong Imaginative Education elements. The Master of Teaching programme, which I coordinate, focuses on teachers as reflective practitioners, engaging in practitioner inquiry and action in their own classrooms. I think I’ll begin there.

Spotlight on IE educator: Kate Ireland

What is your teaching assignment like?

I am a PhD student, researcher, and instructor at the University of New Brunswick UNB). I have taught Elementary Social Studies Methods, History and Philosophy in Education, and Geography in Education. I have developed and delivered teacher workshops at UNB and for the local school district, as well as lessons and units framed by IE principles for teachers.

How would you characterize what it is like being an imaginative educator?

Last June I received an email from my supervisor regarding an online article he had read about scientists experiencing “moments of science”—moments in which one is so captivated by some aspect of the discipline that it fuels the desire to become a professional in that discipline. He raised the question of whether or not this might also be the case in history: whether we could create “moments of history” for students and then find out what these moments tell us about how they think historically. For me, being an imaginative educator involves understanding what captivates students so that they can experience these moments. Not necessarily to prompt them onto a certain career path, but so that they see what is wonderful about the topic, and are motivated to learn more.

How has your IE approach to teaching changed your students’ learning experiences?

It has prompted me to think a lot about what we as elementary teachers do. Because elementary teachers don’t usually self-identify as subject area experts, I have been thinking about how to create “moments of teaching” for elementary educators so that they in turn can create “moments” of science, of history, of art, etc. for their students. I would argue that the elementary school teacher’s specialty is not simply “literacy” in the traditional sense of learning to read and write, but encompasses a far greater scope that includes cultural literacy, something Kieran Egan’s work has led me to understand. The role of the teacher will shift depending on the cognitive tools the students in the class are using to make sense of the world, and this role, as the research suggests, will have a significant impact on teacher identity. I now frame my classes and workshops, even informal meetings with teachers doing IE in their classrooms (primarily LiD), by taking a few steps back and focusing on the teacher, and how they are seeing their role and where they fit into the discipline.

Do you have an anecdote or favourite lesson you could share?

My answer shifts gears a bit from post-secondary to elementary teaching. I think one of the most powerful moments for me was when I was teaching a 2-week unit on Canada’s Immigration Boom in a Grade One classroom. The unit was framed using the tools in the Mythic toolkit, as the students were not yet fluently reading and writing. The three main activities were based on a role-playing game that Kieran (1989) outlines in the book Teaching as Storytelling; I used these as a way for the students to explore some of the decision-making by the Canadian government regarding the Mennonites as well as treaties with First Nations peoples. Here are a few snapshots of the students’ statements (*names have been changed):

The Prime Minister said to all the teachers, this land needs to be farmed, so if you want to make this land a better country then you have to farm it and put food in it, and have a better place. So other people in other countries, they think peace was good, and they fighted war and war wasn’t so good so they wanted to have their own schools. (Angel)

John A. MacDonald made a poster and they looked at Canada’s poster, and it says there you can do farming, so they all went on a boat, it’s kind of a Titanic but it’s not really a Titanic, and they rided to Canada for lots of money. (Jake P.)

Some of them the government wanted them to come, to help them farm. So they could help that land that was all blank. But the First Nations were in it, so they made them move. They had treaties. (Jake D.)

They didn’t want the Chinese people to come, cause they didn’t want them in Canada. But it’s their fault that they kept coming, because they wanted them to come to do the railroad. (Aiden)

Why did you give better deals to the Mennonites than [to] the First Nations people? (Izzie)

I was truly amazed at how framing the content and teaching methods using the Mythic toolkit allowed for the students to find entry points into relatively complex content, express in their own words how they understood the story, and make their own judgments about the events. IE made it easier for me to explore the “Big Six” historical thinking concepts with younger students, and I was better able to understand their thinking.

IERG Joke

Q: What’s another name for Santa’s elves?
A: Subordinate Clauses.

Spotlight on 2 LiDKids: University Highlands Elementary, Canada

Hi LiD kids! What are your names?

 Santi (11) & Kian (9)

Where do you go to school?

 We both go to University Elementary School, Burnaby, BC, Canada

What are your LiD topics?

 Santi: Mine is ‘Worms’

Kian: And my LiD topic is ‘Soil’

What is one thing that you think is amazing about your topic?

 Santi: That there are more then 2700 different kind of worms. It will take me a while before I get to know them all.

Kian: I think it is amazing that it takes more then 500 years to form just 2 cm of topsoil. That is a really long time!

Can you share with others something about your topic that you think they probably don’t know?

 Santi: Did you know that Charles Darwin studied worms for more then 39 years? You could say he had the same LiD topic as I do.

Kian: Maybe they don’t know that nearly all antibiotics are obtained from soil organisms. Cool, right?

What do you think of LiD?

 Santi: Love it! We should have it at least twice a week.

Kian: I am always happy when it is LiD time, then I can make stuff.

Joke:

Why did the Archaeopteryx catch the worm?
Because it was an early bird!

What do you get if you cross a worm and an elephant?
Very big wormholes in your garden.

What do you call it, when worms take over the world?
Global WORM-ing.

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