Beans & Rice for the Soul

teaching, learning and living around the world

Project Zero: Thinking Outside the CHALK!

Although I try pretty hard to stay positive, I am not always Susie Sunshine… and before I set foot on Harvard’s beautiful campus, I had a lot of NOTIONS about what my experience there would be like. “Nobody there will understand Congo,” I thought.  And if it was anything like the IB training I went to last summer… this teaching institute would be full of American teachers who were sooo used to feeling restricted… and confined… unlike ME. I’ve always been so free to do whatever I want in my classroom.  Well my goodness, I was WAY off regarding my fellow teachers!!

Day one I found out that my study group facilitator grew up in KINSHASA and during INDEPENDENCE! Insane. Also, this conference was not full of inside-the-box teachers- it was just the opposite! There were WILD teachers from all over the world.  In my study group alone we had teachers from: Argentina, Mexico, China, Japan, Belgium, Germany, Nigeria and St. Thomas.

So what was this institute all about? The Project Zero website says,

Project Zero is an educational research group at the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University. Project Zero’s mission is to understand and enhance learning, thinking, and creativity in the arts, as well as humanistic and scientific disciplines, at the individual and institutional levels.

In other words… you learn how to be a better/amazing teacher. I’ve been to several professional development workshops over the past few years and this one was WAY above and beyond awesome. Every aspect of it was so thoughtfully planned and executed… you get large, medium and small group time… opportunities not just to learn but also to reflect on how bits and pieces can support you and your immediate needs/wants/dreams for your classroom. You follow an inquiry strand throughout the week that allows you to stay focused and manage that always-overwhelming-feeling of “Oh my gosh I just learned 10,000 brilliant ideas so how do I decide which ones will work best for me and my kids and my school?”

When I began the week, we documented our “entry point” by choosing a postcard and using it as a metaphor for why we wanted to come to this conference. The cards were paintings from 16th Century Belgium and I thought, “Oh no, none of these are going to connect to Congo…” Wrong again! Check mine out:

I chose this card because it represents some of the issues that my new students and colleagues might be facing in Eastern Congo. I wanted to go to this conference to learn ways to thread thinking and big understandings into my teaching, and more specifically I wanted WAYS that didn’t require any MATERIALS so that I may explore these methods with teachers in Goma.  As you can see below, I was initially obsessed with this idea of “ONLY using chalk and a chalkboard.”

As the week went on, I continued to revisit my original inquiry, and quickly realized that I needed to lay off the “ONLY A CHALKBOARD” concern and begin THINKING OUTSIDE THE CHALK!

My study group told me to “Chill out! What else will you have, really, that could inspire thinking?” Once I started listing all of the potential things, I had a good laugh at myself.  (I love it when I catch myself- when I think “Oh I am SOOooOOoOoo open-minded,” and there I go falling right into the trap of… trapping myself, thinking small, thinking inside the box.)  Goma might not have art galleries or smart boards, but right outside our classrooms we’ll have access to trees, leaves, gardens, goats, rabbits, music, and my favorite- tshukudus!… All of which could certainly spark thinking if we asked the right questions.

Throughout the week, my inquiry continued to grow, shrink, evolve, and expand…

I hope that I will continue to ask questions like this.

I hope that I will continue to value exploring the dilemma that is education in Eastern Congo.  I guess I should say more on that.

Public education in any country will always be a dilemma- it is a complex issue- there will always be a multitude of problems within it, and multiple paths toward managing that dilemma. It never has been and never will be a simple problem with a simple solution.

My friend Emily Fall told me I should study development theory. I probably should, but I think I might prefer to just make things up for now, and test it all out on myself.  Anyhow, more than anything I hope that I will revisit the following passage everyday. Tina Blythe (amazing, look her up) read it aloud at the end of a mini-course and I totally got teary eyed!!!!

As always, this is getting rather long. I’ll close by saying- Thanks Project Zero, for reminding me not only to think outside the chalk, but also to seek out puzzles, explore dilemmas, and value the journey of learning and not just the all too often RUSH toward answers, solutions and results.

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2 comments on “Project Zero: Thinking Outside the CHALK!

  1. Lonnie Rich (dad)
    August 4, 2010

    Well done.

    About 30 years ago, I had a similar experience at Harvard with a two-week institute for attorneys. As a Southern boy, I had all my defenses up about northeastern, intellectual snobs; but quickly found that I couldn’t sustain my prejudices. They pull their pants down to ___ just like everyone else.

    I also think you have hit on something really basic about all professionals — we have to love what it is we are supposed to be doing; we can only be successful if we get to know and understand our clients/patients/students/penitents; and in the end, it is never “the” answer we give, but “an” answer that works for them.

  2. ritaroberts
    August 14, 2010

    I say well done,you sound a determined young lady anxious to get things right which no doubt as a teacher you need to be just that.I myself admire the teaching profession without you where would our knowledge come from. Good luck.

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