Sharing Our Story of Change in Action - Mid-Pacific Institute

Elementary School Principal's Blog

Sharing Our Story of Change in Action

Posted on October 17, 2010

by Dr. Edna Hussey on October 17, 2010

In last week's posting, I addressed the investment of time and resources in professional development to support instructional improvement. This past Thursday, a team of eight teachers and administrators shared Mid-Pacific's process for embracing a 21st century mindset to better prepare students for future work demands and living in a global community. Sponsored by the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools and the Hawaii Community Foundation, the first Schools-of-the-Future conference held at the Hilton Hawaiian Village featured the world-renown keynoter Sir Ken Robinson and several schools identified as a school of the future. As one of several recipients of this five-year grant initiative funded by the Black Foundation, MPI has been working intentionally to better support student learning. In MPI's breakout session, the principals highlighted several key factors, which are contributing to our school's change process:

a shared vision among all MPI community members for what we want we want students to experience and be able to do; a positive image of all learners as capable, thoughtful, and intelligent; strong school leadership among teachers and administrators; a long-term strategic plan with specific yearly goals; professional development that is linked directly to MPI's vision; and the availability of faculty and staff expertise and technology. But the stars of our well-attended presentation (approximately 200 in the session) were five MPI teachers and their stories of innovative change. The learning in each of these teachers' classrooms illustrate the 21st century skills we want to support in every classroom -- collaboration, interdisciplinary teaching, technology integration, teaming, creativity, and student voice and choice.

Preschool lead teacher and curriculum specialist Leslie Gleim shared the incredible inquiry project of three-and-four-year-olds who began an investigation of the winds in Manoa and in their neighborhoods. Their theoretical drawings of 18 different winds (one for every student) led to an expedition over several weeks in search of their winds. The children also became the clients for a high school animation class; the high school student was "commissioned" to bring the child's wind theory to life through animation. These animations, posted on YouTube (go to Mid Pac Wind Project), were viewed by many children and teachers across the globe, including a group of children in South Africa who were also just beginning their own investigation of the wind. In May, our preschoolers Skyped with their new-found friends from South Africa, to share their wind explorations. Leslie explained that an inquiry approach to teaching and learning far surpasses the limited, one-dimensional, typical preschool curriculum where children learn about the seasons, shapes, and colors.

Donna Revard, who teaches a multiage first-and-second grade classroom, spoke about the passionate learning of her students. In a unit on marine animals last year, a photo they discovered in a book appalled students. It showed the belly of a seagull cut wide open, the contents of which were pieces of trash such as bottle caps, plastic bags, and Mylar balloons. This photo and others about the "Great Garbage Patch" in the Pacific Ocean so deeply moved the children that they began further research into the causes for this massive accumulation of trash. Their learning led to advocacy. They decided to embark on a beach and campus clean-up days and created posters to raise public awareness (students held up their posters a few mornings on Kaala St. and posted them across the campus). With the help of their teacher-candidate from the University of Hawaii, the students created a public service video to further raise public awareness. They have since shown their PSA at the chapel services for the middle school and high school. Three students from the class prepared a poster session and shared their learning at the Schools-of-the-Future conference. They spoke confidently and passionately about this issue -- clearly demonstrating a level of learning that exceeds a paper and pencil test.

Middle-school Japanese language teacher Melvina Kurashige explained how she has grown from the drill and memorization techniques for language learning to more meaningful, context-based, and technology-infused teaching strategies. Through her own resourcefulness, Melvina connected with a language professor at Harvard University who was hoping to collaborate with her students on a video project that would include both language and cultural aspects. Melvina's students produced several short videos, each explaining the kanji, then contextualizing the vocabulary term in a cultural setting. One of the videos has become the template for other videos being produced by students in the U.S. and in Japan.

Alison Ashford teaches environmental studies in the high school. Her students' project, "Walk on the Wild Side," is a Google Earth Project. By her own admission, Alison's fear and trepidation about the use of technology dissipated because she discovered that her own students were learning resources. Since they often knew more about certain computer applications, she was better able to guide the students on the aspects of the project that required more teacher support. Beginning with a Google Earth map of Mid-Pacific, the students catalogued every tree on our expansive campus. Students identified and measured each tree and also described tree damage. Their project serves a real purpose -- MPI's maintenance department now has a document and reference that can be periodically updated to monitor tree upkeep.

Raleigh Werberger, Director of the International Baccalaureate Program at MPI, also teaches a World History course for ninth graders. Rather than the typical, didactive approach to teaching history, he asked students to investigate the effects of World War I on the people of Europe and how postwar Europe was shaped by those experiences. Students held exhibitions of their research, which included their own artistic responses to World War I in the style of Dadaists and Expressionists.

You'll be hearing more about teachers throughout the campus who are adopting more progressive, student-centered instructional approaches. If you still have time to do more online reading on our website, I encourage you to visit the most recent blogs by Tiffany Byrne and Donna Revard. After reading their entries, you can't help but feel proud to be MPI!

For our children,

Edna L. Hussey