World Peace… and other 4th grade achievements

As an adult, I’ve been involved with an inter-agency simulation, here in the Washington, DC area sponsored by the United States Institute for Peace called Strategic Economic Needs and Security Exercise (SENSE). SENSE has been used in peace talks across the world and is a great resource and training tool for governmental leaders and public servants who wish to understand the complexities of war and building sustainable peace in a conflict, or post-conflict country.

This all sounds very boring (yawn), right? To be honest, it’s the most fun I’ve ever had in my (adult) life. Over a three day period, these often well-known and extremely intelligent adults are brought back to their basics: scheming, negotiating, collaborating and finding creative solutions to current world issues. We’ve done simulations for inter-agency adults who are ruthless, to Conflict Analysis and Peace Operation students who are actually too collaborative and sometimes unrealistic; but I’ve always wondered, how would children react?

Little did I know, an educator named John Hunter has been playing this simulation with his 4th grade classes for more than 25 years and loving every surprising and challenging moment along the way. Here he is speaking about his experiences on Ted Talks in 2011:

What I find most amazing about the idea of holding ‘World Peace Games’ for classrooms of children is that they have the opportunity to face struggles, frustrations, and conflict with peers head on while finding creative solutions through negotiation, collaboration, effective communication, and most importantly- without violence. These are traits I wish I had learned at any level before college, which is sadly when and where I’ve learned most of them. Additionally, it gives children the idea that they are intelligent, realistic, and smart individuals who can find the solution to relevant and world-wide issues; and hopefully, the confidence to solve any other problems that evolve in their day-to-day life. Plus, it’s fun!

This is probably why John Hunter was named in Time Magazine as one of the 12 Education Activists of 2012, and was also featured in a documentary based around his experiences with 4th graders and the World Peace Games; which you can see the trailer.

Personally, I think this model is highly applicable at any level of school. John Hunter’s website World Peace Game features details on what the game is and how to play it although unfortunately, it appears as though they don’t give exact instructions; only the ability to contact John Hunter and have him teach your class the game. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t implement your own similar simulation with the same basic formula: 5 countries, specific resources, a driving issue, and a board in which they can actively witness the consequences or benefits of their actions…

For teachers, administrators, and school systems who are unsure, can watch the movie and judge for themselves; or better yet, show it to their students and gauge their interest in playing the game themselves…

High Hopes on High Ropes

Running around a track has its place, but what if your P.E. class got a facelift? High 5 Adventure Learning Center has challenged the way traditional physical education classes operate by introducing team building challenge courses that are appropriate for students k – 12. The courses can range from “low ropes” elements that engage a whole group of kids to “high ropes” elements that lift students high up into the air with a harness.  The elements that students face together are designed to bring them closer to each other as well as learn about themselves individually.

So often students are in competition to receive high grades in order to gain admission into selective universities. Rather than defaulting onto typical sports that often still allow for individuals to take the spotlight, the different elements require individuals to come together. These courses help to develop and stretch students by pushing them to rely on one another and working as a united team. An added benefit to these elements is that there often is not a single correct way to accomplish a task. Because of this, teams have to engage their creative problem solving skills. In a setting that so often has a single correct answer, this setting puts the student in the educational drivers seat.

Perhaps high adventure courses have previously been limited to those that are gutsy enough to spend a week at a summer camp, but High 5 has challenged this notion. On their website, High 5 boasts several testimonials including the NHL’s Boston Bruins team, AmeriCorps, and the Alaska National Guard. Most privy though, are the Bridgeport Public Schools. High school P.E. classes have been radically changed in Bridgeport Ct. Over 12,500 students of all ages have gone through the challenge course to date, and the schools have noticed as significant change in their students.

Ways to Use this Resource

The elements available for purchase are individually, though they suggest that groups of schools invest in a challenge course. Course building is a 2 or 3-year process and can be an expensive investment. Though there are certain benefits from investing in a specific challenge course, there are also ways to develop a teambuilding program without breaking the bank. The site offers a vast amount of reading materials and game/program bags that help teachers to hone their teambuilding skills. These books and bags are a bit more feasible for teachers that have a budget to keep in mind.

high5adventure.org

Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots

POSTED ON BEHALF OF MAGGIE MEENEHAN

One of my hero’s growing up was Dr. Jane Goodall.  Here  was a woman,  in the 1960’s, going alone into the jungles of Tanzania with a notebook and binoculars to study and save chimpanzees.    Though she met with extraordinary difficulties and  fierce adversaries,  she has managed to become a world renown authority on chimpanzees, conservation and the plight of endangered species world wide.  She is a  leading, passionate force for change  through her Jane Goodall Institute and now has “branched out” to schools and youth with her Roots and Shoots Foundation.

Dr. Jane Goodall, a UN Messenger of Peace, is the founder of the Roots and Shoots Program,  which aims to connect students to real life service learning projects of THEIR OWN choosing.   Dr. Jane began this project in 1991, when she felt that she was meeting so many children who lacked hope for the future.  She wanted to provide them with an opportunity to “think about the world’s problems and to roll up their sleeves and tackle them”.

The projects are curriculum based and encourage youth (elementary through college) to make positive changes in their own communities.  The projects have three components, which intertwine and depend upon one another.  These components are: the animal community, the human community and the environment.  The students are encouraged to identify problems and to take concrete actions.  In working together students gain a sense of empowerment that comes from helping others.

The service projects are looked upon as campaigns.   Students act as participants but also as leaders.  The web site gives examples of past campaigns but encourages students to create meaningful projects for their own communities.   The site has lesson plans to access,  Professional Development Opportunities, Career Explorations, Projects of the Month, Extension Activities,  and Family Activities.

The web site helps students and teachers plan, organize, coordinate and report/register their campaigns.  An important aspect of the projects is engaging the communities.  Dr. Jane believes that community centered conservation programs are critical to the survival of endangered species and conservation projects.

This is a fantastic, well designed and well supported,  global environmental humanitarian youth program that relies on the participants to “work for peace”.  Currently operating in  120 countries with 150,000 members, www.rootsandshoots.org  is an amazing example of a peaceable skill building and community building organization.  As we “Peacelearners” say…..check it out!

DCPS Goes Green: Peace through Sustainability

District of Columbia Public Schools is participating in the Be Water Wise DC project as part of its initiative to go GREEN.

“Be Water Wise DC was established by the nonprofit National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) and includes lesson plans and activities such as measuring water flow rates and determining total water use in school buildings and grounds. The program is made possible through the support of companies such as lead sponsor HSBC Bank, as well as local agencies and nonprofit organizations committed to protecting the region’s natural resources.

Managing stormwater is a challenge for D.C. and the region. When it rains, water flows across streets, sidewalks and parking lots. Along the way, the rainwater picks up oil, trash and other contaminants, carrying them to streams and rivers including the Anacostia and Potomac and, ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay.”

Check out this link for a detailed explanation of the project by Kaya Henderson, Chancellor of DC Public Schools: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=_vVDhQfajvI

The video gives a very good summary and it’s impressive that they have so many schools participating and that it involves students of different ages.  I really like that students get  very hands-on with this project with the types of activities that they do in their schools and the local communities to help with water conservation in DC, and the concluding activity where they get to present their solutions to DC officials is definitely something students would look forward to.  This projects supports community building as it involves students and officials collaborating to create solutions for a problem that affects the DC area and also is a skill building activity because students are using critical thinking for problem solving, interpersonal skills by working together, and it’s an extension of the classroom space into the community.

For more information about Be Water Wise, please visit the National Environmental Education Foundation.

MindUP- A Social and Emotional Learning Curriculum

POSTED ON BEHALF OF MAGGIE MEENEHAN

In these days of celebrity excesses and their often and very public demonstrations of questionable/objectionable behaviors;  it is refreshing to see that one celebrity is throwing her weight towards children’s success in school.

Goldie Hawn has started a foundation that focuses on the social and emotional learning of children.  She wanted to “bring children back to a sense of well-being”, and was distraught over the high dropout rates, violence in schools, the culture of bullying and was looking for a way to improve kid’s focus, energy and to help teachers to build classroom community.   Her program called MindUP has conducted research into “mindfulness” in the classroom, provides mentors for participating schools and has developed a book and curriculum to give teachers the tools to use in their classrooms.  These lessons fit into any schedule and require minimal prep time; they are geared towards grades 3 through 5.

I was most struck by the children and their reactions to MindUP.  As you can see in the video, the students really felt the benefits of mindfulness.  It helped them to calm down, to focus and to evaluate situations more clearly. They even taught the practices to their siblings and parents. Now that is true learning!

In learning “mindfulness” the children were learning about HOW they think.  They took “brain breaks” to breath and to relax, to quiet down their emotions and focus (3 or 4 times a day for two to five minutes).   In quieting down, the prefrontal cortex lights up and this is where executive functioning (creating, innovating, retaining information, and making connections) takes place.   Truly, this type of focusing is important for learning.

MindUP is currently being used in schools in the US, in Canada, Britain and Venezuela.  The research has shown so far that bullying and aggression has gone down on the playgrounds of participating schools.

There are four tenets of the MindUP program.  The first is “Let’s Get Focused” which helps the children learn about brain functionality.  The second is “Pay Attention to Our Senses” which prepares and teaches the students about mindful listening and exploring the senses.  The third is “It’s All About Attitude” helping the students choose optimism and lastly the fourth is “Taking Action Mindfully” which includes lessons on acting with gratitude.  (Recently, there have been several articles in the Washington Post on Happiness or the Pursuit of Happiness, which strongly link happiness with gratefulness).  This all sounds a bit preachy but I found it to be quite down to earth and doable.  The lessons can easily segue into language arts, science, social studies and math curriculums.

My favorite example was of a teacher who placed a huge water bottle full of water in front of her students and had them practice their “mindfulness” while she added drops of food coloring to the water.  She gradually worked this lesson into a lesson of the color chart and what happens to and how colors mix.  She let the children explain how watching the color disperses made them feel, or what it looked like to them.  It gave the students wonderful images to call upon during their daily mindfulness sessions.

The MindUP program addresses at least two pillars of peace.  Certainly, this methodology is develops Community Building by directing attention to the classroom as a place of safety and support and by going beyond the classroom to teach children concrete means of dealing with emotions and feelings.  Also, this program acts to Nurture our Emotional Intelligences by recognizing that everyone needs to take breaks during the day, to breath, to reflect, and to listen to his or her hearts.

Note:  The book MindUP Curriculum is for sale for $18.74 through Scholastic Books.  The website www.thehawnfoundation.org/mindup  outlines the process for becoming a MindUP school.

Dance4Peace

POSTED ON BEHALF OF EDEN MESGHENNA

All teachers can appreciate that learning takes place through multiple intelligence and movement is fundamental source of expression for, most if not all, young students. Unfortunately, most curriculums do not incorporate physical motion as a means to the learning process. So when I came upon this site, I was excited to witness the interconnected themes of community building, cultural exploration, and self-discipline through focused energetic movement.

From the Dance4Peace website:

“Dance 4 Peace is a conflict resolution, civic education program that promotes empathy, understanding, mediation skills, anger management, emotional and civic engagement through dance in youth around the world. Through exercises and activities utilizing our bodies, music, emotions, experiences, and thoughts, we build emotional and social competencies for peace. “

Dance 4 Peace facilitators create curriculums that are specific to the grade and community by utilizing four key principles of social, emotional and civic competences in youth.

Dance 4 Emotional awareness

Dance 4 Active communication and dialogue

Dance 4 Diversity, cooperation and empathy

Dance 4 Anger management and mediation

“Dance 4 Peace began as Danza para la Convivencia en Bogotá, Colombia as part of Sara Potler’s Fulbright Scholarship project in 2007. In conjunction with Aulas en Paz (Peaceable Classrooms), a multi-component pedagogical project designed to promote social and civic competencies and conflict resolution among primary-school students, Dance 4 Peace was designed, implemented, and evaluated in public schools in the outskirts of Bogotá.”

Here is a sample of a project in Columbia:

“Today, the program is being implemented in Washington, D.C.; New York City; Baltimore; Colombia; the Philippines; and Nepal. We work through grassroots, local community and international-scale academic, public, and private partnerships to bring Dance 4 Peace programming to varying cultural contexts.”

Check out there work at Malcolm X public school in Washington DC:

For more info go to www.dance4peace.org

Teaching for Change: Tellin Stories

POSTED ON BEHALF OF EDEN MESGHENNA

Teaching for Change is a non-profit organization that supplies parents, teachers, and students with tools and resources that mobilize school reform by building literacy skills. Located in the Washington DC area Teaching for Change works with local schools by offering professional development, parent support connections and publication recourses for all ages that focus on building critical thought and reflection of the world inside and outside of the classroom.

Check them out at: www.teachingforchange.org

Tellin Stories is a project that aims at building parent involvement in the schools. The focus of the project is to create opportunities for parents to connect with schools by encouraging parents to come into the classroom and share their stories.  Allowing parents to share their experiences within the classroom begins a process that bridges a cultural and socioeconomic gap between schools and community. In the Telling Stories project parents have opportunities to read to students or tell personal stories about who they are in the classroom. Parents then join together with other parents to build a story quilt that binds pieces of who they are together.

I found the idea of story telling to be a very natural way of beginning the process of strengthening parent involvement in the school and was encouraged by the high level of response parents from different cultural backgrounds had towards investing in there new community.  Included is a link to a short video on the Tellin Stories project: