Bio: Designing a classroom experience centered around creativity and innovation is an exciting topic for this educator with a background in plant ecology and corpus linguistics.
A Little History
I came to Japan in late 2005 and started doing the eikaiwa stuff, GABA mainly, and although I have some issues with the company and how they treat their “non-workers,” I had a positive experience because of all the connections I made there, both personal and professional.
Over time I found my way into a national high school teaching higher-level English to returnees. This was a nice jump as I was tasked with creating and implementing my own curriculum for the first time.
This was more of teaching something ‘in’ English, instead of teaching English as a language or second language.
I would later learn proper terms for this, PBL, CLIL, etc.
That school was at the beginning of a transition from a 3 + 3 (junior and senior high school) to a 6-year school, and more importantly, a switch to an International Baccalaureate (IB) school. This is usually done by introducing a cohort on the new plan while the older grades are still in the old system. Every year you add a new cohort as another grade graduates and slowly the school is transitioned. I became part of both schools and there was some learning involved with the IB methodology.
Yes, I teach sewing and cooking.
But, I do it in a design thinking sort of way, where I provide problems and challenges and they have to solve them by making something.
- Design a locker shelf that will make the classroom a better learning environment for you and your peers (1st-year JHS wood processing project). Students use SketchUp to 3D design their shelf and planning models then make the real thing.
- Design a Japanese inspired healthy breakfast cookie (2nd-year JHS nutrition project). Many people skip breakfast and a cookie is a hand-held solution to that problem. But, a cookie is a little strange for breakfast…hence the Japanese culture addition.
- Design a product that will make elderly people healthier … using only the parts from an old umbrella! (3rd-year JHS community/society project). There are too many elderly people in Japan (contentious!) and too many umbrellas. Let’s create something that solves both problems.
One thing I try to do as we go from 1st year to 3rd year is to try to make my projects less and less Googleable.
This is to force them to be creative.
Kids are naturally creative, but in high school they are busy and the whole system seems to reinforce the idea that creativity is not as important as test scores and finals.
When I Google the students’ ideas, I want to see nothing in the results.
How can I implement lessons that push for maximum creativity?
The goal is to make quick and dirty solutions to the problem and then iterate and expand.
Navigating the material at their level is a challenge but the complex nuances of IB assessment is also very complicated (in Japanese too) for their young minds.
Here are some pictures of students working:
I love books, but I am not a trained librarian, I had to learn/guess a lot of stuff, and it is a learning process.
- Correspond to the taught curriculum in both Japanese and English
- Inspire a love of reading
- Should be part of all libraries (I don’t know if anyone will read War and Peace, Marcel Proust, or Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations…but they are there as an antilibrary)
- Facilitate academic research for the end of junior high and senior high school projects
- Progress students through the extensive reading program
Here is our (English) library
For the extensive reading program, I need to provide materials that will allow for a transition from a basic beginner escalating up to native, or near-native, high school level. We try to do this in 4 years, junior 1 to senior 2. The minimum they need to achieve is CEFR B2 in all 4 skills, but even at that level, the DP course will be quite a challenge.
Another thing my school does and I am directly involved with is native speaker homeroom teachers (HRTs).
It is a lot of work but mostly, very enjoyable.
I am now in my 4th year at this school, happy and content, but wondering how to keep adding creativity to my life and where the next changes will happen. I have always found that my favorite age to teach is junior high, but it takes a lot of energy and I am not sure I can do that until retirement (although I could as this position is permanent). Change is approaching…but when, where and what…TBD.
Don’t have any ideas? We have a list of topics to write about that need a writer. Email in your interest to write and we can set you up.
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