Author Archives: Mirren Aird

A September to remember

Wow, what a month! It’s been a busy Summer preparing for the month just past but I have to say it has been one of the most amazing months.

First, its back to the grind with my Second Year at Dundee studying Primary Education, yes you heard right, I passed first year! First year was quite a jump from first to second semester as we were thrown into preparation for our Professional placement. It was a lot to cover in 3 months, but something must’ve clicked for me to have come out of the other end. My placement was a fantastic experience, and nothing can fully prepare you for that first lesson! I learned so much about classroom management, the pupils and myself over the course of the six weeks and I can’t wait to get back into in next year!

MA2 is an exciting one as well! Our placements this year will not take place in a traditional Scottish School setting, we’re being let loose on the world! Most of the year group will be taking part in a placement completely different to a standard school and will be exploring education in other areas and the rest of us are being given a unique opportunity to teach in an International Baccalaureate (IB) school. Studying this curriculum which is both very different and similar to the Scottish CfE is really interesting. While we shouldn’t compare the two curricula too much they had such a different outlook and structure on education and I’m looking forward to expanding my knowledge on these different principles and all the new ‘jargon’ we need to understand!

But university has not been my only opportunity of teaching and education this month! On the 13th September OpSoc (Dundee University Amateur Operatic and Musical Theatre Society) began auditions for their annual weekend show, Popstars! The 90’s Musical, which is brought together in 72 hours!

I took on the role of choreographer for the production and its quite a change from teaching 20 Primary 7’s to 30 University students! It was a jam-packed weekend full of 90’s shenanigans and fun and it really made me aware of how I handle myself under stress (The answer is not well, it’s a skill I am now actively working on!). I always think its such good experience to branch out and teach something not in a classroom setting to be able to work on those basic, transferable skills. I believe that this weekend has given me different elements teaching that you would normally see in a traditional setting. It was a weekend of long days, little sleep and not a lot of time to eat but it was worth it when I saw what we’d managed to produce go up on stage on Sunday at 7pm.  Big thanks to our amazing cast and my fellow production team member for making that weekend so phenomenally exciting, fun and worth it.

But the fun didn’t stop there! Roll on the next weekend and I found myself helping lead a Brownie Camp Holiday in Fife for 2 days!

What better way to recover from a long sleepless weekend than with another long sleepless weekend! I tagged along on a fellow Brownie Packs Camp to take charge of their first aid for the weekend and it was another experience to work on my management skills, while out of school clubs should be nothing like school, behaviour management is still called for with this particular role. I find guiding a great place to try out new techniques I’ve learned in class and a great way to work on that tricky balance between being approachable but still having authority when working with kids. Our theme for the weekend was Robin Hood so we had a chance to take part in some archery, themed crafts and even had time for a medieval banquet in the middle!

My next adventure (which also happened to be with Girlguiding) involved working with University of St Andrews on their #Explorathon18 in conjunction with Dundee Science Centre.

I am an advocate for promoting STEM with girls as I believe it is so important to encourage girls to excel whatever they choose to. The Guide group I volunteer with had an excellent opportunity to work with University of St Andrews to find out about research happening at the university, take part in activities relating to sea monsters and we even found out why M&Ms are banned on the International Space Station! This all happening while staying overnight in The Byre Theatre in St Andrews. It was great to see a university being approachable to youngsters who might not have the opportunity usually and see how research can be used to find out so many different things. Dundee Science Centre hosted the event on the Saturday which saw the girls vote on their favourite research project in ‘The XX Factor’ and explore different elements of STEM. A big shout out to Calum, the Public Engagement Team at the University and the researchers that made this event into a fantastic opportunity for all involved.

Finally, September saw me leave my job with the National Trust for Scotland this Summer.

I spent my Summer working in Barry Mill in Carnoustie, Angus helping people engage with local history and amazing feet of engineering. For those that aren’t aware, Barry Mill is a 19th working (oat)meal mill on the outskirts of Carnoustie. The site is 800 years old but the mill standing there today was built in 1814 and is a snapshot in time of the lives we used to live.

While it’s not the most conventional job, every day was a learning day and the conversation I would end up having with people were fascinating while they told me about their childhood or professions or just genuine interest in Scottish heritage. I took this job to also help Barry Mill expand on an educational programme for its site and rich history. While I spent most of my time giving tours and stocking our small shop. we found sometime to start developing a more interactive experience for children to come and engage with and look at where in the Curriculum for Excellence the mill could slot into. My favourite tours where always ones that had children on them as I could gauge the tour towards them and keep them engage (which the adults were more than happy with). Many comments made about me were regarding my engagement with children and how I kept the content interesting and relevant to them (lovely comments to get when I’m heading towards a career in education!).

So that was my September. My plans for October are far less adventurous but I do (hopefully) plan to engage with this e-portfolio more and reflect on my work within and out with university. There are lots of exciting things to come out of this year and the cogs are being set into motion now. While this month has been a busy one, I truly believe it has helped me work on my professional practice especially in developing my teaching technique and my confidence, I can’t wait to continue my reflections to further explore this.

 

 

 

International Baccalaureate Introduction Module

This post includes my reflections from the International Baccalaureate Introduction module which I am very excited to be starting this semester!

Reflective Activity 1

The International Baccalaureate identifies one of its main characteristics as centring on the learner which I feel is also prevalent in the Curriculum for Excellence which I have no become more comfortable in teaching. Focussing on the individual learner appears to be a strong theme with both programmes as well as using and developing effective teaching techniques to achieve it. Another clear link between the two is the aim of significance/relevance. Both programme outline the importance of relevance in their curriculums in their aims and is clearly an important element for both.

While on my teaching placement earlier this year I did experience aspects of the IB aims during my practice. One that sticks out for me is the aim regarding creating a challenging programme for the learners. As I was in the Upper stages for my placement I quickly learned that the learners responded better to more challenging tasks than simple ones as they were able to use different strategies to overcome the challenges and gain a deeper understanding of whatever I happened to be focussing on that day. Another that I noticed in the CfE classroom was the focus on creating lifelong learners. While teaching you want to equip the learners with the skills they need throughout life and to ensure their learning experience is positive so they continue to learn and develop in their later lives.

Reflective Activity 2

The wording between the IB and CfE programme may differ but it appears their core values have the same goal, to create well balanced, responsible and confident learners. Both curriculum strive towards helping a learner become as equipped for the world as they can be. I became to automatically sort the 10 core values of the IB programme into the 4 capacities of the CfE curriculum and quickly came to the confusion that while there are clear links between then (e.g. thinkers & successful learners, principled & responsible citizens) I found that a lot of the core values fitted into more than one capacity showing that both programmes are almost parallel to each other.

The IB programme, to me, seems like it has the kind of outlook in that endeavours to prepare its learners for the outside world. This is something that is in the CfE but seems to be more emphasised in the IB. I have certainly observed areas of the IB learner profile when working with children and how important they are in ensuring the children enjoy their learning. Helping them discover skills they need for later life and giving them life experiences that will shape them into who they will be is a big part of the work I do with kids outside of teaching and elements of that can be found in the IB programme.

Reflective Activity 3

A range of the progressive trends align with the CfE. The one to jump out at me first was the trend of student choice as personalisation and choice is one of the principles for curriculum design within CfE, aligning perfectly with these trends. Open plan classrooms are also a trend in many schools (my primary school included) however this is not printed within the curriculum itself. Transdisciplinary relates to the emphasis on interdisciplinary in CfE and encourages a lot of learning to be put into context for the learners this way. Lastly the emphasis on being child centred is prevalent throughout the CfE as well as being pushed by the Scottish Government with GIRFEC. Education should of course be child centred to make sure the learning is tailored to the needs of every child.

Reflective Activity 4

The subject areas of the IB PYP and the curricular areas of CfE are not much different. The only difference is that the CfE Curriculum also identifies technologies and religious and moral education as subject areas. However, the IB programme focuses on transdisciplinary learning which would account for the missing curricular areas. The IB programme also focuses on international learning and culture so I believe this accounts for their version of RME. In addition to the subject areas, IB also have 6 disciplinary areas which support the PYP. Personally, I think these act like the Experiences and Outcomes of the CfE as each subject area needs to relate to a disciplinary theme. The aims of the IB programme are strong throughout the PYP as there is a real focus on international learning and preparing the learner for the world we live in. This is the main difference between CfE and IB as the CfE has more of a focus on each subject whereas the IB seems to have more of an overview of their subjects. The IB programme have 4 clear concise aims while the CfE has a more in depth explanation of how its goals. A lot of the themes introduced in the IB aims come up in the principles of curriculum design so both curriculums are built on the same morals it seems. Each one needs to be tailored to its learners but upon doing the reading for this module it seems that the curriculums have more similarities than differences.

 

Boys will be boys?

There’s so much talk nowadays about gender. Binary, non-binary, fluid, female, male, the list seems never ending especially when the majority of us have been brought up knowing only two and those two have been so separated that we find it difficult to see how they can merge.

A few weeks ago there was an incredibly interesting programme on BBC One investigating if a gender neutral classroom would aid a child’s learning, the clip above is taken from this programme.Now I won’t lie and say I wasn’t sceptical about this to begin with as it’s so ingrained into our attitudes towards gender that they should be separate and even as quite an open minded 19 year old I still think that.  Spoiler Alert; my mind was changed.

This programmes showed how making small changes in a classroom can increase confidence, help children express emotions and breakdown gender stereotypes all in a one-r! Our society is full of little niggles of discrimination and its not until you think about them that you notice them. The pupils in the Primary 3 class took a short test to evaluate their thoughts and abilities to be able to track their progression throughout the experiment. The first thing that was “abolished” so to speak was the teacher using separate pet names for boys and girls to encourage the children to stop seeing each other as different, something so simple made a huge difference on the children’s mind set. One of the actions to be taken that really interested me was that positive slogan were put up around the round further embedding the fact that boys and girls are the same into the everyday lives of the children. “Boys are funny”, “Girls are clever”, “Boys are sensitive” and “Girls are strong” were just a few of the positive messages but this was done with the aim of improving the confidence of the girls in the classroom. During the initial test they found that the girls in the class were underestimating themselves about their performances and achievements while the boys managed to accurately predict their performances. I just found this so interesting as I couldn’t think of their upbringings being much different between boys and girls but through media and the world around us girls as young as 7 thought so lowly of themselves.

In our workshop we were shown the clip above and I just think this clip really encapsulates how our society views gender. Whether or the not the adults meant it, they automatically were drawn towards the stereotypical choice of toys and even in some cases they were deciding the children liked these better. It was so interesting to see how the adults unconsciously made these decisions even though they were actually playing with a child of the opposite gender.

Slowly but surely our society is beginning to see the problems that these gender stereotypes have created and while it won’t happen tomorrow, we are on the way to a more equal world referring to gender.

It makes you think…

The Values: Self, Society and the professions module is not one I thought I’d ever find myself doing. At school I mainly studied scientific subjects as I found myself on the numerical side of the 50:50 Maths vs. English divide. I truly believed that this was because I was better at Maths and Science than I was at having to write a story but as I work through this module (which ends with a 2000 word essay that I am far too intimidated by) I think that might not be the case.

We were asked this week during our Values workshop to discuss if we had had any thoughts during the module so far that where difficult or posed questions to us that our lecturer could maybe help with. The only thing that came to my mind then was that I’d never actually thought about how I was feeling when discussing sensitive issues, why? Because I don’t like thinking about myself. I’ve come to realise that the reason I’ve always preferred maths over English is because I couldn’t bring myself to write about anything personal (something I’m slowly trying to rectify with this blog). Being able to reflect your own thoughts and views in writing and putting it out the world is difficult but I think is certainly something I can build on.

I walked into our first lecture of this module and had no idea what to expect. We kept being made aware to the fact that this module can be quite personal, depending on how much you want to share, and to be respectful of others. I think as this module continues we will all find it a bit easier to open up to each other and reflect on our views and it challenges us.

For example, we were shown a clip of a speech the Irish drag queen Panti Noble wrote in response to some homophobic comments during the run up to the marriage equality vote in Ireland. In this clip Noble says that everyone in that room is homophobic as well as herself, an extremely controversial opinion but one I agree with. Noble makes her case by saying that none of us have fully accepted the LGBT+ community as there is still a stigma around it, we all see it as different. While some of us may see it as good difference and others bad we still see it that way and Noble proposes that is what makes us homophobic. This statement really challenges you to think about how you see the world as after a brief discussion with a few peers around me  we discovered that even while not meaning to we treat people differently by either noticing them more or making base judgements before thinking them through. What I found really interesting was the way Noble called herself homophobic as she proposes that because she tries to ‘butch up’ or act differently around certain people to please them she is homophobic. Its definitely an interesting discussion and one I might look further into in the future.

During the workshop last week when we were asked if any questions had been raised due to the module our whole group went silent and no one really gave any input. I believe that this input is challenging us more than we know and hopefully, with time, we will be able to talk more openly about these issues society has with itself.

I’m not racist

I, like most people I hope, don’t think of myself as a racist. I define a racist as someone who makes decisions or judgements based on their preconceptions of someone and I don’t put myself in that category.

However, during a lecture the other week we spoke about conscious and unconscious bias and I really like these terms. I think we all do possess an unconscious bias and to an extent a conscious hidden bias as I certainly catch myself making a comment to either a friend or just thinking something that if said to the wrong person could be offensive. I believe that thinking these things doesn’t necessarily mean I’m a racist. In our society we are surrounded by sayings, attitudes and behaviours that can alter our perspective on topics such as race and ethnicity. I’m sure we all had grandparents that would use a term that certainly wasn’t politically correct but you would know that they wouldn’t mean it as a derogatory term, or if they did it would most likely be because that’s what they were brought up saying. We all possess this unconscious bias that we accept as normal but other may not.

Nowadays we are much more open and that is a fact. The next generation seem to have really embraced every walk of life you’ve heard of and probably some you haven’t. At the beginning of our lecture covering this topic we were asked to note down a few words that showed our understanding of Racism, ethnicity and discrimination, my words were

colour         country        pride       preconception       nationality         community

bias             sexuality       gender       bigotry                    hurtful                self doubt

After a some thought and considering the ideas covered in our lectured I stand by my initial thoughts but would add a few more in such as fear, embarrassment and suspicion. I feel I have a further understanding of racism but not enough to truly understand it and I don’t think anyone really can. One thing I can say a that I took away from these lessons was a sense of confusion. I don’t know if I will ever be able to understand how people can treat other people with such disgrace. We are all human after all. While I may have a few rogue thoughts every now and then I really do believe everyone is equal which apparently is not everyone’s thoughts if we refer to recent events around the world.

To end on a light note, there is a song from the musical Avenue Q that I feel really encapsulates everyday bias. It touches on unconscious bias and I think, no matter open minded you are, everyone can relate to this.

 

The First Workshop

This past Tuesday was our first experience of a university style workshop and what an experience it was. As we walked into the teaching room, with excited chatter and nervousness (even if we didn’t want to admit it), we had no idea what to expect. After only having a short introduction to the Values: Self, Society and the professions module we knew we would be tackling difficult topics so, when we were spilt into 5 groups I thought we would be participating in some kind of group discussion. The academic who took the module was one we had never met before so we had no preconceptions of her which made the following task all the more realistic.

In each of our groups we were given a sealed envelope containing materials we then had to use to create something that would be useful for a student starting at the University of Dundee. Our envelope contained:

3 sheets of coloured paper
1 pencil
3 felt-tip pens
4 coloured elastic bands
Blu-tak
3 Post-it notes
1 binder clip

After throwing a few ideas around the table of what we would’ve found useful a couple of weeks back we decided upon a map of our main university building. Before constructing the product, we were asked to present our ideas to the class. The first group had come up with a great idea about a pin board with the basic essentials and they received much praise from our academic. The second group had a similar idea and also received praise, then it came to us. Our idea wasn’t quite as polished as the two previous groups but when we presented it we got a mere shrug from our academic and then the next few groups received the same.

At this point our team start to take a dislike to our academic but we brush it off and make a start on creating our product. Once made we present to the class again receiving the same responses again which we believe to be a bit unfair but then we start to notice the two groups before us have more materials, how is that fair? We then get our scores and the two groups before us both get 9’s and 10’s but we get a 4. A 4?!?! Our product wasn’t brilliant but we felt we’d certainly done the best we could do with the materials we had and the groups after us also felt the same.

Then it is revealed. Its all a lesson. Our academic is a lovely woman who felt horrible about neglected some of us but the point was still made. Why were some people given more and get more attention than others? We then discussed the importance of being inclusive in the classroom and making sure everyone is treated the same. It was funny how the people who had more materials didn’t notice that the rest had less as why would it even cross their minds that we would have less? It was definitely an eye opening exercise that made us all think about how we treat different people but also how we can use this lesson in our profession of teaching. Education is a right for everyone in this country and that means we will be faced with all kinds of children how have different home circumstances, learning abilities etc. and we have to start thinking now not to have prejudice before we walk into a classroom. What an afternoon!