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.

DCPEACE: Cultivating Peace in D.C. Schools

DCPEACE is a program supported by the US Association for the UN University for Peace. The goal of DCPEACE is to teach conflict resolution and peace building in elementary classrooms through teachable moments and other classroom techniques. Their focus is on younger students to help them develop non-violent skills to combat violence at the earliest ages possible. The hope is that these non-violent skills will be developed before the tendencies towards violence. They host educator trainings, parent workshops, and hold Peace Clubs after school hours to further supplement their in-class programs.

Most effective, though, have been their Skills for Understanding Workshops and the Curriculum Enhancement they have been able to have teachers implement. In the workshops, they use theater, art, physical activities, and bring in outside facilitators to teach students effective skills to choose non-violent conflict resolution.

As one of the teachers in the video said, the goal of the program is to “give students the tools to solve their own problems.” Through these workshops and peace clubs, they have transformed student attitudes at Malcolm X Elementary School. Their confidence levels and self-esteem of students have increased, and they are focused on their own and others success. There has been a transition to a more community-based environment where students look out for one another.

Their website houses a program evaluation after the 2008-2009 school year at Malcolm X Elementary School. After the initial year of programming, 100% of teachers and administrators reported an increase in the students’ abilities to manage conflict. The program itself is reported to have decreased violence at the school by an average of 53%. This evaluation has great information in it, and I encourage you all to check it out. It can be found here on the main DCPEACE website.

There are not a lot of recent articles or blogs about what DCPEACE has been doing in the past year or so, as it was only a pilot program housed at Malcolm X. However, their results are promising and their data is accessible so the programs could be replicated or supported in a new setting. Their most recent updates are from the middle of 2010. I’m not sure why this program has not caught on in more high-risk DC schools. It has proven results and focuses on violence prevention and conflict resolution, which help classrooms and entire schools run more smoothly. Their evaluation does not state where funding comes from, but a lack of funding could be why the program is not expanding.

The Happy Planet Index

What a great presentation by Nic Marks of the Happy Planet Index.  There is so much learning to be gleaned from this work.

First, the presentation does a great job taking statistical rankings and measurements that have guided so many economic, social, and development initiatives for the past 70 years and challenging their most basic assumptions – that being, economic growth and levels of production are appropriate ways to measure a country’s well-being.  In so doing, this challenge forces humans to recognize what it is that we might actually measure that will allow us to set goals that actually lead to healthier, happier lives and a healthier, happier planet.

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World Humanitarian Day

Ever wonder who ventures into areas so rife with conflict that basic services and protection have completely broken down?  Where events have been so catastrophic that heroic acts are required for people to survive?  Well, those who work in the field of humanitarian aid and relief are just those people and today is World Humanitarian Day – honoring those whose work saves lives every single day.

As educators, we often talk about acts of heroism that have occurred throughout history.  Those acts of heroism are often granted to those who have engaged in some type of violent conflict.  But there are many heroes, as this video shows above, whose work to save and protect lives, reduce conflict and suffering, and who mission is not for an ideology, economic gain, or control, but rather honoring and cherishing human life.

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Peace Tech in the Middle East

 

The Tech Change Blog featured a story on a new hand held teaching device created by Stanford PhD student, Elizabeth Buckner.  The device is designed to teach students in Israel and Palestine about what life is like “on the other side.”  See her talk about it in the video above.

Sure, there is sometimes an over emphasis on how much technology can actually do in breaking down barriers between groups in conflict, or even educating about real life situations, but I think its better than nothing.  That’s the way I feel about a lot of technology…I rarely see it as the silver bullet in addressing an issue, but certain technological tools are just that…tools.  And the more we have in our box the better equipped we will be in meeting certain needs, especially when we need to adapt to different learning environments and different learning styles.

I am curious what technological tools other peace educators are using in their classrooms.  How can computers and internet services like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube and others be used to aid in the peacemaking process or in teaching about peace?

The Bi-Polar Ape

This is a great film put together by the Department of Expansion.  In it scholars talk about human’s evolutionary connection with both the chimp and the bonobo, two primates that have come to embody the violent and peaceful tendencies of humans.  The film could incorporate the study of peace into science classes that are teaching about evolution.

I would also recommend pairing this film with readings such as Sigmund Freud’s, Why War, and Margaret Mead’s, War Is Only an Invention – Not a Biological Necessity.

Children Full of Life

“In the award-winning documentary Children Full of Life, a fourth-grade class in a primary school in Kanazawa, northwest of Tokyo, learn lessons about compassion from their homeroom teacher, Toshiro Kanamori. He instructs each to write their true inner feelings in a letter, and read it aloud in front of the class. By sharing their lives, the children begin to realize the importance of caring for their classmates.”

Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5