For two years, teachers from Woodrow First School have worked in Palestine, teaching in kindergartens and elementary schools during the Easter Holidays as part of a teacher exchange program. This is arranged and facilitated with the tremendous support of the AM Qattan foundation (www.qattanfoundation.org) – visionary thinkers and fabulous people.
Dina Abdel Karim worked as one of the translation team this year with our staff and was kind enough to send us her own reflections on the work.
Reflection: Mantle of the Expert
I always believed my childhood was perfect. I’ve never thought it was missing anything until I was given the opportunity to work in kindergartens. Suddenly, I was jealous. The kids I worked with were having fun, a word I never could relate to with any of my school experiences. Working on Mantle of the Expert as an interpreter with British and local Palestinian kindergarten teachers was refreshing, exciting, and very educational. As an adult, I was mind blown by the kids’ knowledge and creativity. Although I worked for a short period of time, I was fortunate to observe the implementation of four projects carried out by four different teachers. Each project was unique and inspiring. Each project taught me an important lesson.
For the first project, the teacher put together an expert team of farmers. Students, with their teacher’s assistance, set up the farm by drawing it on a huge roll of paper on the floor and divided it into sections. The students designed the farm to contain houses for animals of different sizes, a playground, a clinic, a fence, a gate, a well and pipes. All the students were active in creating the farm. One of the students laid on a piece of paper while others drew his figure to design the uniform. Later on, each student drew and coloured their own uniforms and checked whether they got all pieces of clothes farmers need: overalls, caps, masks, gloves, and boots. In turn, students approached the model of uniform and made sure that they are not missing any piece. Then, they acted getting dressed and wore the uniform.
The tension began to build when the students entered their classroom after the break to find something at the gate. It was a map. They recognised all the features on the map. “Look, there is a message written here.” The teacher got the students attention to wonder about the folded part of the map. “What does it say?” the teacher asked. The students were struggling a little to pronounce the word, but one of them said: “help”. Many footprints were found on the map, to which the students thought that some animals might need their help. The map was hanged on the wall and the teacher and her students got ready to take a walk to discover the area. Students were divided into three groups and each group made the journey, leaving their farm to explore the mysterious area.
“This road leads to nowhere” one student said. “There is a stop sign, we shouldn’t go there” another student objected. “Maybe it’s dangerous to go from this road, let’s go back to the main street” another student suggested. Standing in the middle of the classroom, the students acted walking and stopped to notice the features on the map; the school, the houses and the bridge. “Is it safe to walk on this bridge,” the teacher asked. Some students said “yes,” while others replied with “no”. “This bridge might be dangerous, our safety is important, we need to cross the bridge without getting hurt” the teacher said to which the students gave solutions in excitement:
– Let’s cross it one by one.
– We must make sure the screws are tightened.
– We have to walk one step at a time.
– Boats, we can use boats to cross to the other side.
The students tightened the screws on the wooden blocks, and one by one they slowly and carefully crossed to the other side and continued their journey. Their exchanges reveal quite a bit about the significance of the exercise:
T: look, there is a tunnel. Did you go through a tunnel before? S: Yes, on the way to Ramallah. T: How is it like? Can you see everything in the tunnel? S: No, it’s dark. T: I wonder if we have tools that will help us see better there. S: Flashlights. T: Did you all bring your flashlights with you? S: Yes, we did. T: Did you make sure they’re working? Do you have new batteries? S: Yes, we do. T: Okay, let’s get ready. Turn on your flashlights and let’s walk through the tunnel. (Students got the flashlights out of their pockets, switched them on, and started walking) T: What do you see? S: A dead dog. T: How do you think the dog died? S: A car driver hit it and kept driving. (The students got out of the tunnel, turned off their flashlights, and put them in their pockets.)
The exchange demonstrates how the exercise provided students with the opportunity to collaborate together and think things through together as a team. “Look, we reached our destination,” the teacher said “we shouldn’t get closer; we don’t know what we’ll find there.” “We can’t see well from here, what do we need to explore that area when we are far away?” the teacher asked. “Binoculars,” the students answered. The teacher asked them to describe what they saw through the binoculars and the students’ imagination ran wild. The students saw different kinds of animals; chickens, roosters, dogs, donkeys, lions, tigers, and elephants.
After going back to their farm, the students were presented with a video. Two of the teachers took the roles of two animals in different states; one was happy and playing while the other was sad and standing still. A remote control was used to pause the video and the students interacted with animals by asking them questions. A student hit the play button and the video continued, at that point one animal was eating and the other animal had no food. The hungry animal snatched the sandwich and ran away, but at the end it felt guilty and shared the sandwich. The students understood that the animals were unhappy and they did not have enough food. So, they decided to talk to the farmer. The students drew the farmer on a piece of paper and the teacher hanged that drawing on a shelf, giving her a space to stand behind the drawing and take the role of the farmer. “Farmer, why are the animals unhappy?” one student asked. “Because I don’t have enough food in my store to feed them all,” the farmer replied. “Farmer, why did you lock the animals in the farm?” another student asked to which the farmer replied “because I worry they might leave the farm and get lost.” “Farmer, why are the animals unhappy?” another student asked. “Because I’m old and can’t take care of my animals or play with them,” the farmer answered. The students gave many suggestions to help the farmer; giving him money, buying food and water for the animals, going to the other farm and assist the farmer, bringing the animals to their farm and take care of them. This activity allowed the students to practice problem-solving techniques as a group.
When the students and teachers were discussing the two options; going to the other farm or bringing the animals to their farm, the majority of students seemed to support the second option. Before making a vote, the students were divided into two groups and in two corners each teacher asked the students to give reasons to support her option, then the groups were switched. So, each student gave a reason to support the two options.
“We don’t have enough space.” “Our animals might not want to share their toys and houses with them.” “The roads are dangerous, the animals might get hurt.” “They are used to their homes.” “If we leave our farm, who will take care of our animals?” “If they leave their home, they’ll be unhappy like the Syrian kids.” “My father is in prison, he’d be better if he was with us at home. The animals should stay in their farm.”
Hence, the students were able to reflect, subconsciously, about their own private lives and connect their realities with that of the animals. They were able to relate every day issues in their own lives with the game they were engaging in class in regards to the managements of the farm. When they finally were asked to make a decision and choose a side, most of the students decided to go to the other farm and help the animals.
The second project has a farm as well, but with a different problem. All the animals are laying on the ground and the students should determine whether the animals are dead, sick, or sleeping. The students were asked to draw the animals and describe them. “The rooster is dead, because its comb is brown,” one student said, an info none of the teachers have known before. “My goat is sleeping,” another student said “you can hear its heartbeat.” “My dog is sick, it needs medicine,” another student told us. “We need to take care of the animals and separate them,” the teacher suggested. “It’s not healthy to leave the dead animals like this, what should we do?” the teacher wondered. “We must burry them,” the students replied.” “Do you think it’s okay to leave the sleepy animals with the sick ones?” the teacher asked. “No,” the students answered “They’ll get sick, too.” So, the students separated the sick animals from the healthy ones and decided to take care of them. Beside the drawing of their animals they drew all the tools needed to treat them; needles, pills, and stethoscopes. They also wrote specific prescriptions and decided how many pills the animals should take, at what times, and for how long. This exercise presented the students with themes of life, death and illness. Again here, they were able to relate their every day lives with solutions to the problems at hand.
The animals were treated successfully, but the farmers encountered a new problem. The Mayor received many complaints from the villagers stating that the animals are making a lot of noise at night, which scares their little children. One of the teachers took the role of a dream expert and met the students to explain this phenomenon. “The animals are having bad dreams at night,” the expert revealed “they get scared and that’s why they make noise.” “Have you heard about dreamcatchers?” the teacher asked. “No,” the students replied.
When the night is dark, and the moon is bright,
all kinds of dreams; good and bad will fly.
You can’t control them or chose which dream you’ll have.
You want the good dreams, but the bad dreams are fast.
So you must make a dreamcatcher and hang it above your head.
It will catch all the dreams in the net.
The bad dreams will freeze,
while the good dreams will slide through the feathers,
giving you a good night sleep.
After the dreamcatcher story, all students wanted to make a dreamcatcher for their animals. Using a plastic plate, ball of wool, scissors, tape, wheat, and a paper puncher, the teacher was able to create a simple yet beautiful dreamcatcher. “First you make small cuts around the plastic plate, stick a string through one cut and put it in another making a web, tape the strings on the back, use the paper puncher to make three holes; one on the top for the string that will help you hang the dreamcatcher above your bed on the wall, and two on the bottom that have strings attached with wheat that will let the good dreams slide down.” After the teacher gave detailed instruction on how to make a dreamcatcher, the students collected all the items they needed and preceded in creating their own dreamcatcher. They were so proud and happy with their dreamcatcher that they wanted to take them home.
As for the third and fourth projects, the main theme and problem was the strange disappearance of the sun. The third project had an expert team of professional photographers. They had many activities outside the classroom; they took a walk in the village, took photos of nature, used magnifying glasses and a microscope in a near clinic to comprehend how our eyes and lenses work. The students built a big model of a professional camera on a tripod and cut the shape of camera on small cards and placed their own photos on the lenses. The tension was built when the students received a message from a penguin that lived in Antarctica asking for help. Alongside the teachers, the students created the icy area through taping an unevenly shape in middle of the classroom, drawing ice rocks, snow mountains, penguins, fish, and lakes. “Antarctica is really cold and you need special outfits and tools,” the teacher said. “We’ll bring coats,” “we’ll get warm boots,” “we’ll bring scarfs and hats,” “gloves,” “long socks,” the students said. “It’s going to be a long journey,” the teacher added “we’ll be hungry.” “We’ll bring food and water,” the students stated. Later on, the students drew the clothes they need, food, and equipment and they acted getting dressed and packing everything they need.
Teacher: “It’s going to be a really long journey, how will we go there fast?”
Students: “We’ll fly in a plane.”
Teacher: “Do you have tickets?
Students: “We’ll buy them.”
Teacher: “You must be careful. Did you check the time of the flight? If you are late, the plane will leave without you.”
Students: “We’ll be there on time.”
(The students give their tickets at the gate, enter the plane, and sit in their seats.)
Teacher in a role of pilot and said in a loud manly voice: “Dear passengers, it’s time for the plane to take off. Fasten your seatbelts and turn off your phones.”
(All the students fastened their seatbelts and turned off their phones.)
Teacher: “This is going to be a long journey, you won’t be sitting still, some of you might talk, read, eat, drink, or even sleep.” Hearing this, the students did different activities in the plane.When the students finally reached their destination, the teacher gave them an important information, “penguins get scared. You must be five meters away from them.” Some of the students suggested getting disguised as penguins or polar bears to get closer to the penguins and help them. This exercise showcased the sensitivity of the students towards the elements they were observing. They had to put themselves in the animals skin and try to see how they can get close to it without make it feel afraid.
In the fourth project, the teacher created an expert team of astronauts. The tension was built during a still image activity in which the students talked to an unhappy star. The star lost her friends and asked the astronauts to find them for her. Because their rocket was hit by a meteor, the astronauts needed to build a new one. They taped the shape of the rocket on the floor and divided it into different sections; control room, kitchen, bedroom, and restroom. On small pieces of paper, each student drew different items and placed them on the correct section; food, water, glasses and plates in the kitchen, beds in the bedroom, soap and toilet paper in the restroom and so on.
Teacher: “What else do we need in space?”
Students: “We are ready.”
Teacher: “When you land on the moon you won’t be able to breathe.”
Students: “We’ll bring oxygen.”
Teacher: “Yes, each one of you will need his and her own oxygen supply.”
Students: “We are ready, let’s go and find the stars.”
Teacher: “Before we leave we must wear our astronaut suits, helmets and oxygen supplies. We must help each other in wearing the oxygen supplies.”
(The students wore their suits and helped each other carry the oxygen supply)
Teacher: “Are you all ready, did you wear your helmets also?”
A student: “No, I forgot my helmet.”
Teacher: “We’ll have to wait then, go find it.”
The student: “I found it, I found it.”
Before the launch, the teacher explained to the students that a loud sound will happen and that the power of the launch will push their seats a bit to the back. The kids found that exciting. “You see this button?” the teacher asked, “when we hit the rocket will take off, but we must press the button together after we finish the countdown. “Five, four, three, two, one.” The students pressed the button, made the launching sound and they acted being pulled back by the pressure.
Teacher: “I’m sleepy, but I have a problem.”
Students: “What is it?”
Teacher: “I can’t sleep on the bed, I keep floating.”
Students: “Lay on the bed, put your head on the pillow and you’ll sleep.”
Teacher: “We are in the space now. The gravity will keep us floating in the rocket.”
Students: “We can sleep while floating.”
Teacher: “No, what if you hit something, you’ll get hurt. I have an idea, let’s put all the beds on the wall and when we want to sleep, we’ll use a belt to keep us on the bed.”
(The astronauts got tired and decided to sleep. They lined against the walls where their beds are placed and used the seatbelts to keep them from floating.)
Later on, a teacher made the sound of a smash. “Something hit us,” the teacher said “look through the windows, what do you see?”
“It was a meteor.”
“We hit the sun.”
“An alien spaceship hit us.”
At that point the students started drawing what they saw through the window and described the accident to their teachers. This project was special because a trip to space is not borrowed from their daily life routines. They were able to unleash their creativity to have an unordinary experience.
For me, watching the implementation of these projects was unforgettable, not only because I love kids, but because I witnessed them loving school and all the activities they had. Each day of that week, I was excited to wake up early in the morning to go see the kids and be part of their projects. There were many funny moments. I don’t usually sit on my knees on the floor, but I did it like the other teachers and students. After 30 minutes, the British teacher stood up and walked towards the students drawings on the wall, but I couldn’t follow her, pins and needles were hitting my legs, an embarrassing moment in my career. Another embarrassing moment was when instead of saying rocket in Arabic, I said spaceship and I was corrected by a little kid. To me, they meant the same thing, but spaceship seemed more peaceful. When I think of rockets, I think of weapons of mass destruction. For the children though, they did not want to allow an outsider to make changes to their creation, they were protective of their work.
Those projects made me realize that we are born with so much creativity and potentials. We are born intelligent. The experiences we have through our lives have the power to either let us meet our potentials or kill them. Before starting this project, one of the students used to hate school and couldn’t wait to go home. She did not want to participate and was always quiet. Through this project she was always active and excited about what will she do next. Another student was violent at the beginning, but through this project, he became less aggressive. Through Drama and problem solving all the students were active and interested in the different activities. No one was sitting alone and quiet. All of the students had opinions and they shared them even when they heard what they wanted to say or ask uttered by somebody else. By using drama, the teachers were able to create a stress-free, fun environment. Planning the activities was not easy. The teachers set up a plan for each day, but it was flexible, children’s opinions mattered and in many times, teachers didn’t follow their plans. The videos, still images, and the different tones the teacher used were able to catch the students’ attention each time. Using drama is fun. It should be used in other grades as well; it may help the students change their negative view of school. We can’t force students to learn, it is a waste of time, and a waste of two lives; the student’s and the teacher’s. Instead, we should push forward activities that provide a venue to work the students’ intellect, body and soul by allowing them to relate their real lives with school work.