Sunday, March 13, 2016

International Mindedness: A Key Component in IB Curriculum Frameworks

by Benjamin Hebebrand, Head of School, Madison Country Day School

Madison Country Day School adopted the InternationalBaccalaureate Diploma Programme (DP) in grades 11 and 12 six years ago. We are now considering adopting the International Baccalaureate’s curriculum frameworks of Primary Years Programme (PYP at MCDS would be pre-school through grade 5), and the Middle Years Programme (MYP at MCDS would be grades 6 through 10).

Such a sequence of curriculum frameworks would of course make sense for our school as all teachers, parents, and most importantly students would begin to focus conversations, ideas, and professional development (parent education as well) around the central ideas that span all three frameworks.

International mindedness is one such central idea. What is it? “International mindedness is an attitude of openness to, and curiosity about, the world and different cultures. It is concerned with developing a deep understanding of the complexity, diversity and motives that underpin human actions and interactions,” according to the International Baccalaureate.

It is important to note that this definition includes both an “attitude” and an “understanding.” When asked to define the essence of each curriculum framework, I usually equate 1) the PYP to an inquiry-laden curriculum framework (This is an attitudinal process of taking joy in questioning everything and learning how to find answers); 2) the MYP as a transdisciplinary curriculum framework (This is both an attitude and an understanding with taking joy in comparing and contrasting ideas from one domain to the next and beginning to understand the inter-relatedness of our world); and 3) the DP as an analytical curriculum framework (This is understanding the complexity of our world).

Broadly put, children first train in and celebrate a spirit of inquiry; then adolescents make connections among academic domains; and lastly the emerging adults analyze how and why ideas are different in an effort to understand our world. In a 2013 IB position paper entitled “International Mindedness in the 21st Century,” we learn that “in the 21st century, internationally minded learners need the skill to be “comfortable with tensions, complexity, contradiction and overlaps.” The IB Diploma Programme was the first curriculum framework introduced by the IB in 1968 with the idea that students need “to understand and manage the complexities of our world and (then we) provide them with skills and attitudes for taking responsible action for the future…in the belief that people who are equipped to make a more just and peaceful world need an education that crosses disciplinary, cultural, national and geographical boundaries.”

The IB in 2013 has enhanced its thinking on international mindedness by defining characteristics of international mindedness. They are 1) global engagement; 2) multilingualism; and 3) intercultural understanding. These three characteristics are entrenched in the ten IB Learner traits.

A good communicator (this being an IB Learner trait) in the 21st Century can communicate in a variety of ways in more than one language (multi-lingual); an exemplary open-minded person (another IB Learner trait) can identify and think about one’s own perspective and perspectives that are different than one’s own (intercultural understanding) ; and a knowledgeable person (another IB Learner trait) has developed awareness, appreciation and commitment necessary for both local and global engagement. It is interesting to note that multilingualism enhances intercultural understanding and global engagement promotes intercultural understanding.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Constructing Meaning in a Global Context

An underlying belief in education is that learning – broadly defined as the acquisition of knowledge and understanding -- is constructed; it is actively built. The mere image of a construction site conjures images of action – there is a sequence of actions that involves planning, digging, pouring a foundation, framing and reinforcing, adjusting, enhancing and also focusing. Stretching the analogy of the construction site, we may be wise to think of our construction site as complex landscape featuring different topographies – to construct at such a site is challenging in that it will require of the architect and builder a deep understanding of the factors and circumstances of the site.

All of us, including our youngest learners, have built an understanding of how our world works. This building of an understanding of how one’s world works requires action -- all learning must be active rather than passive. When designing valuable learning experiences for students, the focus must be on the student and his or her actions as he or she constructs meaning.

The International Baccalaureate Organization stresses “constructivism” as it relates to its three K-12 learning programs, the Primary Years Program (K-5), the Middle Years Program grades 6 – 10), and the Diploma Program (grades 11 and 12). The IBO states that “constructivism is a theory of cognition that asserts that knowledge is not passively learned but actively built and refers to approaches that recognize the importance of engaging and challenging existing mental models in learners in order to improve understanding and performance.”

This construction of meaning results in making sense of one's world. It is this notion of how one’s world works that makes international education – an education grounded in a global context – intriguing and compelling. To construct sense of one’s own world certainly is enhanced when one actively builds an understanding of different worlds – much like architect and builder understanding the complex and varied topography on which they are building. The teacher as the designer of curriculum is the architect, while the student is the builder. But not only is the learning enhanced by the global perspective, but more importantly, the learning within a global context is real and necessary in the 21st century.

“Sharp distinctions between the “local”, “national” and “global” are blurring in the face of emerging institutions and technologies that transcend modern nation states. New challenges that are not defined by traditional boundaries call for students to develop the agility and imagination they need for living productively in a complex world,” according to IB literature.

“Globally competent individuals are aware, curious, and interested in learning about the world and how it works. They can use the big ideas, tools, methods, and languages that are central to any discipline (mathematics, literature, history, science, and the arts) to engage the pressing issues of our time. They deploy and develop this expertise as they investigate such issues, recognizing multiple perspectives, communicating their views effectively, and taking action to improve conditions,” according to “Preparing Our Youth To Engage In The World,” published by the Asia Society and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

So what does global education look and feel like in a K-12 continuum? International or global education has many definitions, but at its most basic level, it is a student’s (trans)construction from “self” to “other.” In other words, students build an understanding of their world based on the world around them -- and I would argue that the world around them is indeed the world -- the globe.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

What is International Education?

By Benjamin Hebebrand, Head of School, Madison Country Day School

Growing up, my mother always told me the story of using the “world-class” or “world-best” descriptor. She told me about the three tailors on the same street with the first one proclaiming “World’s best Tailor,” the second one stating “Best in the Village,” and the third simply announcing his shop as “Best on the Street.”

Anytime, we reference the terminology of “world” or “global,” we are wise to keep in mind the local perspective vis-à-vis the global perspective. This certainly applies to how we educate our students here at Madison Country Day School. Our mission includes a component that clearly strives to place our school in a global context. “We measure the curriculum and student achievement against the finest programs in the world,” according to our mission. This component of our mission is evidenced by our Singapore Math curriculum, adoption of the InternationalBaccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program and its associated examinations, or our commitment to international exchange programs. Most importantly, Madison Country Day School has committed itself to grounding its character education program in the traits outlined in the IB Learner Profile. See my previous blogpost for further information on the IB Learner Profile traits.

What actually are our understandings of the term “global” or “international” education?” A basic distinction is between a) the idea of giving students the opportunity to transcend one’s own borders – ideally achieved by a reciprocal exchange program; and b) exposing students to an intentional curriculum designed to prepare students to become active and contributing members of an interconnected world.

In 1974, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization or sometimes referred to as the “intellectual” arm of the United Nations) broadly defined international education as the type of learning that promotes international understanding. “This understanding must impregnate all of its educational system’s actions and materials. It is not a separate course. Instead, it must be present in all courses. International education or education for international understanding is the entire program, the motivation behind any teaching or learning process,” according to a 2004 UNESCO publication. UNESCO outlined the following objectives, many of which – in my opinion – relate to character education:

1.     a curriculum with a global perspective
2.     understanding and respect for other peoples and cultures (character education)
3.     human rights and obligations (character education)
4.     communication skills (preferably in more than one language)
5.     awareness of human interdependence (character education)
6.     necessity for international teamwork
7.     engagement by the individual in the local, national and global scale

The International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) views international education “as the development of citizens of the world in accordance to culture, language, and social cohesion, building a sense of identity and cultural awareness, encrypting recognition and development of universal human values, encourage discovery and enjoyment of learning, equip students with collectivist or individualistic skills and knowledge that can be applied broadly, encourage global thinking when responding to local situations, encourage diversity and flexibility in teaching pedagogies and supply appropriate forms of assessment and international benchmarking.

There are of course other perspectives to understanding “international” or “global” education. As concerns the Midwest United States perspective, please take note of these leading Midwest universities:

Here in Madison, the University of Wisconsin offers graduate-level education programs in global education. This program, according to UW,” will prepare individuals with the capacities for critical thinking, problem-solving, and global competence that will enable them to engage in educational innovations, as leaders and as researchers, on a regional, national, and international scale.

Most universities have of course embraced the notion of study-abroad experiences. Northwestern University of Chicago, for example, promotes the study abroad idea as the following: “Northwestern has always ventured beyond the horizon because this is where future leaders tread boldly—in the global community. As any educator or student will tell you, real education, self-education, isn’t limited to the classroom. The classroom is just the catalyst, the starting point.

As a multi-lingual and bi-cultural person and having worked in the field of education for the past 25 years, I see the main benefit of international education as fostering one of cognitive development’s most elementary functions – the ability to contrast and compare. Asking students to identify similarities and differences through careful analysis always has been and will continue to be a cornerstone in raising student achievement. Opportunities for such thinking abound in a school and curriculum committed to the idea of “global” or "international" education.

So, which of the three tailors on the same street was the most astute global thinker? Feel free to post your answer.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Ten Traits of the IB Learner Profile

By Benjamin Hebebrand, Head of School, Madison Country Day School

Welcome to this first blog post of “The Global Educator From The Midwest Perspective.” This blog will consist of blog posts designed to help students, teachers, and parents throughout the Midwestern part of the United States consider and evaluate various aspects of “international” or “global education.”

As the Head of School at Madison Country Day School, an IB (International Baccalaureate) World School in Wisconsin’s state capital, our school and its teachers indeed exemplify a commitment to international education -- this commitment may also be evident in the school’s mission that “we measure the curriculum and student achievement against the finest programs in the world.” Having lived for the 13 past years in the Midwestern states of Indiana, Illinois, and now Wisconsin and having been raised and educated in both Germany and the United States, I believe I have personal experiences and knowledge that may pertain to this Midwest perspective of international or global education.

In this first blog post, I thought it appropriate to introduce the International Baccalaureate Learner Profile, a set of values and characteristics first introduced in 2007 in an effort to integrate common beliefs for a student experiencing the gamut of an IB education which spans from early childhood to the end of high school. The reader not familiar with the IB should know that its educational programs of the Early Years (up to 5th grade), Middle Years (6th through 10th) and Diploma Program (11th and 12th) aim to “develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.” More specifically, IB would describe the Learner Profile as its “mission in action.”

The IB Learner Profile is as follows. I have defined them in ways that may connote to Midwestern values -- with the exception being that kids are stretched to apply these values in an international context:

Inquirers: This implies a teacher’s effort to sustain a child’s curiosity. Learning should always include questions. As children get older, there will be more emphasis on students researching their own questions. This implies that we need to invest time and efforts to help children navigate the Internet; teaching students how to evaluate any given information source as credible is more important than ever.

Knowledgeable: The IB especially stresses the notion of being knowledgeable across various academic disciplines, making integration of academic domains a worthwhile endeavor (i.e. to facilitate cross-curricular lessons or units to help students make connections). This same idea applies to applying issues of local concern to global issues. Student should know how local issues relate to a global outlook.

Thinkers: Fostering a child’s critical and analytical thinking is a pursuit that can start early. The IB emphasizes that thinking is a prerequisite to responsible action, which, in turn, leads to reasoned and ethical decisions.

Communicators: The IB stresses that students should learn to communicate in more than one language. Because communicating effectively requires careful listening, the IB stresses that one consider many perspectives.

Principled: This IB trait requires integrity and honesty coupled with a sense of fairness and justice so that “people everywhere” can be treated with dignity and have rights.

Open-Minded: The IB encourages students to understand their own cultures and nationalities so that they can appreciate the values and traditions of others. Students are encouraged to “seek a range of views.”

Caring: Empathy, compassion, and respect are the core values of caring. Students should be called to serve, making a positive impact for their own and global communities.

Risk-Takers: Resilience is the core value. “We approach uncertainty with forethought and determination; we work independently and cooperatively to explore new ideas and innovative strategies. We are resourceful and resilient in the face of challenges and change,” according to the IB.

Balanced: The IB encourages students to understand the balance of mind, body, and spirit. This balance is important so that kids can achieve well-being for themselves and others.

Reflective: The IB stresses that students should consider the world and one’s own decisions and experiences.