Author Archives: Waarom

Where is Syria?

The simple question “Where is Syria?” can lead to a whole world of related questions. It implies that the questioner does not know physical details about the Middle East and it could possibly imply they are unaware of the geo-political situation there, as well as socio-historical reasons for the civil war there.
Ted-Ed made a very informative site about the situation in Syria.


I believe that being interested in where places/cities/countries are, is one of the first steps in becoming a geo-literate ‘global citizen’. But how do we teach this most effectively to our students? When I was a kid, I was given endless Geography quizzes at school, and to be honest, I quite enjoyed them. Now, as a teacher and Head of Department, I have come to the conclusion that Geography quizzes still have a role to play, but only as a fun activity, a challenge or a game. I see them in addition to many other strategies of increasing students’ Geographic literacy.

Geographic literacy is a very important concept which goes so much further than ‘knowing where countries are’.  This is a must-see video, created by the National Geographic Societies on Geo-literacy (4 minutes):

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Concepts in MYP

Work in progress.

MYP Concepts_relevant pages

From the MYP Guide, translated by me in plain English: (it’s an attempt anyway)

A concept is a ”big idea”.  Concepts are like categories which students can use to frame their ideas about personal, local and global issues.
Concepts can help students to generalise, but also to make connections and to think more deeply about facts and topics. Concepts can help develop principles, generalizations and theories.
Here is the MYP version:

A concept is a ”big idea”—a principle or notion that is enduring, the significance of which goes beyond particular origins, subject matter or place in time. Concepts represent the vehicle for students’ inquiry into the issues and ideas of personal, local and global significance, providing the means by which they can explore the essence individuals and societies.
Concepts have an important place in the structure of knowledge that requires students and teachers to think with increasing complexity as they organize and relate facts and topics.
Concepts express understanding that students take with them into lifelong adventures of learning. They help students to develop principles, generalizations and theories. Students use conceptual understanding as they solve problems, analyse issues, and evaluate decisions that can have an impact on themselves, their communities and the wider world.


Click on the image below for an interactive and searchable version of the wordcloud:

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Creating a graph of foreign relations + Google Tour Builder

Just sharing some materials from a lesson which worked well today. It’s on Italian Foreign Policy 1919 – 1940 but the activities can be tailored to any other topic.

I split the students in two groups. Group 1 created one graph to plot the German – Italian relationship and the other group created one graph for the French/UK – Italian relationship.

I also used Google Tour Builder to create a location based overview of the key events. Continue reading

Thesis / Antithesis / Synthesis for essay writing

While researching Marxist ideology for revision lessons on the Russian Revolution, I came across the idea of thesis/antithesis/synthesis as an argumentative framework.

I have since used it successfully in my classes. I think the notion of Dialectics and thesis/antithesis/synthesis fits in well with my other ideas about essay writing (they are nothing new, I’ve just recast them in my own way: TEAC).


What is dialectics?

Dialectics of any sort is a means of trying to resolve a paradox.

It’s important first of all to understand the difference between a paradox and a contradiction. Two things contradict if they CANNOT co-exist. A person cannot be male AND not-male. That is a contradiction. A paradox is something that SEEMS to contradict but which may possibly have some middle ground. A person might be male and female, for example, if they are a hermaphrodite (they have both sets of sex organs).

That, in a nutshell, is what dialectics does. To learn about something, it considers something that is almost its opposite, and then tries to figure out what the compromise is between the two. So perhaps you’d figure out the meaning of life by comparing it to the meaning of death. But that’s getting off-topic. a

What is dialectical materialism?

Marx was a materialist. To him, the only things worth considering were real, physical things that you could see and lay your hands on. So ideas and knowledge were pointless, unless those idea were put to work and produced results. This is why most of Marx’s work has to do with money and work, instead of some of the more airy ideas that are usually associated with philosophy.

So if you’re tasa materialist, one of the dialectics you are going to be really interested in is the contrast between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. How is it that some people have lots of material stuff and some people don’t? And what is the inevitable outcome of such a situation? Marx even went so far as to describe all of human history in the terms of this materialist dialectic.

Feudalism, to Marx, was a struggle between the aristocrats (haves) and the peasants (have-nots). Slave labour works to produce things to an extent, but skilled labour produces things better. A capitalist system recognises and rewards skilled workers more highly than unskilled ones, so in his view all feudal systems were doomed to eventually become capitalist ones.

But a capitalist system still has a dialectic. There are haves (the owners of the factories, which he called ‘bourgeoisie’) and the have-nots (the workers). So how will this inevitably be resolved? Marx thought that eventually the workers would simply stop working for the bourgeoisie and work only for themselves. All workers would then be owners, and there would be no more dialectic – a permanent, stable system that he called ‘socialism’.

To him, this was inevitable. Trying to resist this transition would only make the transition harder. There are, however, many criticism of dialectics as a whole and Marx’s conclusions in specific, so exactly how inevitable it really is can still be a matter of protracted debate. b

What is thesis/antithesis/synthesis?

In our case, we are going to use thesis, antithesis and synthesis as an argumentative tool, and it can be used very effectively as an essay writing framework:

  • Thesis – a statement or theory that is put forward as a premise to be maintained or proved
  • Antithesis – the negation or contradiction of the thesis
  • Synthesis – the resolution of the conflict between thesis and antithesis

Student activity:

Pick a thesis.  Use your knowledge, handouts, your notes and the internet to do the following:

  • Support your thesis with two or three key points, quotes or explanations.
  • Write a credible antithesis and support it with two or three key points, quotes or explanations.
  • Write a synthesis which expresses your reasoned conclusion.

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Some resources for a Socratic Seminar

I have used the Socratic Seminar method to increase students’ talk time and reduce the amount of time that I talk. In researching the Socratic Seminar, I have found that there are many ways to ‘skin this cat’. I don’t think there is any single ‘right’ way, as long as the students talk through a difficult question or text themselves and respect certain ground rules of discussion.

The more you do this activity with your students, the better everyone will get at it and the more powerful it becomes. The feedback from my students was really positive and I found it an excellent way to get them to think through their own and each other’s points of view.

The principle of the Socratic Seminar goes by other names too: Socratic Circle, Fish Bowl Discussion and The Leaderless Discussion (by Ron Ritchhart).

Below are some resources I have used, and some of the instructions I wrote on the white board.



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IB History IA workshop, Day 3

Work in progress! These are my notes from a three day workshop for the IB History IA (New course), held at Wesley College Melbourne, on June 25, 26, 27, 2016.

Day 3, Session 9, Designing an effective IA process, ideas, skills and strategies.give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the four hours sharpening the axe

No name, no school names, no city name, no student number on the front page, the IA has to be uploaded completely anonymous. Only have the title on the front page.

We discussed our current IA practices and the ways in which we’d like to change those in the future. For me, I’d like to start earlier with finding a good research question. Formulating a good question is very challenging, so as soon as this workshop finalises the online student resource, I will introduce the students to it and will use some lessons to work on the RQ.

PDF version of the poster here: Poster PDF

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IB History IA workshop, Day 2

Work in progress! These are my notes from a three day workshop for the IB History IA (New course), held at Wesley College Melbourne, on June 25, 26, 27, 2016.

My notes for Day 2 will be shorter because there was far more reading of sections and more discussion about marks awarded.

Day 2, Session 5: Section 3 – Reflection

The reflection is not in terms of content, but in terms of process. The student is the historian.


Section 3: Reflection

This section of the internal assessment task requires students to reflect on what undertaking their investigation highlighted to them about the methods used by, and the challenges facing, the historian. Examples of discussion questions that may help to encourage reflection include the following.  Continue reading

IB History IA workshop, Day 1

These are my notes from a three day workshop for the IB History IA (New course), held at Wesley College Melbourne, on June 25, 26, 27, 2016.

Day 1, Session 1: Introduction and overview

It’s a full room, about 25 people, mostly Australian but also a few people from the Asia Pacific region. The workshop is led by Rajesh Kripalani, a highly experienced IB educator and an invaluable member of the IB and history teacher community, both online and offline.

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The Quality Teaching Model, Jenny Gore

Today Professor Jenny Gore came to our school to teach us about the Quality Teacher Model she has developed.  The QT model emphasises  “the importance of a strong pedagogical framework and adherence to effective professional development principles in systematically improving the quality of teaching”. a

Cc-rgy3W0AAj1E7It was interesting to listen to Jenny and I am in no doubt that the QT model is very effective. The QT model provides 18 (!) elements of “quality teaching” and provides a method of scoring/ quantifying these. It means that a teacher’s practice is observed by other teachers and the lesson is then scored using the QT model’s coding scale. Continue reading

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Coping or staying organised

I listened to a great podcast about organising yourself: Note to Self, A Neuroscientist’s Guide to Getting Organized. It’s only 16 minutes long and it’s a must-listen for any busy person.

images I have tried many ways of staying organised, many efforts not to drown, to cope, to manage, to keep everything going, to meet all my targets/requirements, to not go insane etc. There is no foolproof method, and each human being needs their own tailored system. I’ve tried Evernote, I’ve tried Pomodoro, I’ve tried pen and paper, the “4 hour workweek” and quite a few other ‘systems’ that people wrote books about but I’ve forgotten what they were called.

My current system is using the full power of Outlook and Outlook tasks. It’s been working pretty well for the last 3 years, but I still get side-tracked, overwhelmed, distracted, snowed-under etc. I’ll keep on plugging on though, and will slowly try to get better.

Things I do in Outlook:

  • I have my timetable in Outlook
  • As soon as I get an email with a due date, a meeting time or some other time in it, I make it into a meeting and put it in my diary.
  • I use categories for Calendar appointments and Emails
  • I use email rules, great tool.
  • I use Outlook tasks and prioritise by using those little flags (today, tomorrow etc etc)

Below are the key take-aways from the Note to Self, A Neuroscientist’s Guide to Getting Organized podcast website:

1. Write down everything you need to do. Everything! Then prioritize what really needs to be first. Basically: brain dump with bullet points, then go through and number in order of importance. a Continue reading

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Cultures of Thinking PD program, with Ron Ritchhart

I have become part of a semester long professional development project called “Cultures of Thinking”. It is lead by Visible Thinking and Harvard Project Zero researcher Ron Ritchhart. It focusses on creating an environment where “a group’s collective as well as individual thinking is valued, visible, and actively promoted as part of the regular, day-to-day experience of all group members.” a.

One of the key components of this program is class observation – not to evaluate the teacher but to learn and become more aware of your own habits, cultures and teaching strategies. Our first day consisted of two sessions, in the morning we were introduced to the cultures of thinking program and questioning techniques. The second was a plenary session in which teachers from four schools came together to learn about how to objectively and non-judgmentally observe a lesson and how to record data so that it is useful for the person/school being observed.

My notes and relevant resources are below.

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