Education for Life @ ISU – International School Uganda by Lucy Allsopp, IB Middle Years Programme Coordinator | Photo Credits – ISU archive
I am sitting surrounded by lush grass, trees and bushes, children chattering, playing tetherball and swinging on swings.The air is filled with bird song and monkeys jump through the trees. You would be forgiven if you were thinking that I was sitting in a resort but I’m not. I count myself lucky because this is where I work. I work surrounded by laughter, creativity and some of the most genuine human beings on the planet. I am a teacher and I work at The International School of Uganda. The picture I have painted sounds like I am a Junior School teacher but again I would have deceived you! Every day I work with teenagers which, at times, can be challenging due to their increasing sense of self and testing of boundaries. However, the way that we care for our students, the relationships we build with them and the curriculum we teach allows them to grow into independent, internationally minded and reflective lifelong learners.
This type of learning allows us to make personal connections with the material and understand its relevance and this is the type of learning that we uphold in the Senior School at ISU.If you are a parent of a teenager you know that they say little yet at the same time question everything! Students at any age learn when they get the answers to the questions they pose. At ISU we teach using the IB (International Baccalaureate) curriculum which is set up to use an inquiry-based teaching and learning style. Inquiry means that students are asked to explore ideas and topics by asking, investigating and answering questions. They are presented with problems or challenges and they need to use and develop their skills and knowledge base in order to solve them. This makes the learning more relevant, more engaging and more interesting. Think back to your time at Senior School and remember a time when you were truly engaged with what the teacher was presenting. I would be quite confident in saying that it was not when you had to sit and listen to a lecture on Pythagoras Theorem – although being a maths teacher I have fond memories of that day! I suspect that the times when you were really focused on what you were doing was when you were building something, getting to the bottom of a problem or finding out about a particular issue.
Creative and challenging
Students understand how the principles of science allow people to be creative and keep doing the things they love. Students in Grades 6 to 10 learn through the IB’s Middle Years Programme (MYP). The programme has a strong grounding in traditional disciplines and the big ideas that each subject area has to offer. By studying these big ideas or concepts then the students are able to make links between the subject areas and transfer their knowledge. This is strengthened through our interdisciplinary units of work. It is usual to learn about the inner workings of the ear at school but what is not so common is linking this to the works of Beethoven and how he was still able to compose music even though he grew steadily deaf throughout his 30’s.
Skills are central to the MYP curriculum
All assessment is based on skills the students develop rather than solely on the knowledge they can memorise. Let’s return to the mathematics class to help understand what I mean. Traditional classrooms ask students to sit at desks, listen to the teacher, memorise the formula and then apply the formula to increasingly difficult questions and then the students sit a test at the end. The MYP approach is different. Yes, students will, at times, be tested on the knowledge that they possess but they also have to be able to investigate patterns and mathematical models as well as solve real-life problems such as designing packaging that minimises the resources being used or using statistics to raise awareness of a sustainability issue. In this way, students are challenged to use their knowledge in more creative ways.
A strong grounding in traditional disciplines
Students finish the MYP by taking eAssessments where the students have a choice over how they showcase their creativity. This year, Arts students are asked to analyse the statement of inquiry “Art has the power to impact the world”. This general statement has allowed the students to take global issues which are important to them – no repetition of the Berlin Wall, being able to advocate for ideas of change, the refugee crisis, The Black Lives Matter movement, global warming and climate change – and realise these through visual, musical and dramatic artworks. At the end of the MYP, students also complete the Personal Project which is a 10-month long project of the students choosing. The students create a product based upon a goal which would have an impact on a community of their choosing.
Students finish the MYP by taking eAssessments where the students have choice over how they showcase their creativity
An integral part of the IB curriculum is action. The reason we teach students all this knowledge and these skills is so that they can go and do something with it. We believe that students should experience this through committing to service activities that benefit the community. Students continue working on their understanding of action from the PYP (Primary Years Programme) in the Junior School into Grade 6 by undertaking new skills or working collaboratively with others whilst developing their intercultural understanding and international mindedness. They complete activities which range from joining the basketball team to helping out with language lessons or learning sign language. Service continues throughout the MYP with students taking on increased responsibility with activities such as leading the Student Council (STUCO) activities. This year the Middle School STUCO have organised a bonfire night with games, popcorn, pizza and a HUGE bonfire. They have also worked with the FoodSteps organisation in Entebbe and have collected stationary and school supplies for them.
In the culminating years of the MYP the students are involved in activities such as Ugandan MUN and take ownership by planning their own service activities to benefit the wider community. Ugandan MUN is a completely student led initiative that invites schools from around Kampala to come and debate global issues and learn about diplomacy, international relations and the work of the United Nations. Students at ISU used to travel internationally to take part in the MUN however they thought it would be much more beneficial to bring this structure here so that a greater audience of students could experience it. In the later years of the MYP students are asked to always consider what is ethically right when completing service activities. Students should not assume what communities want but rather ask them and respond to their needs.
This is exemplified through one of our current Grade 10 student, Paige, who for her Personal Project this year, worked closely with the USPCA to organise a raffle to help them buy a plot of land so that they could continue the work they do for animals in Uganda. Paige managed to raise in excess of 16,000,000 UGX through an excellent raffle with superb prizes. Paige had to use excellent communication skills, organisation skills and problem solve throughout the whole project.
Grade 10 Personal Project – Paige raised UGX16m for USPCA
Our main goal is to instil a love of learning into our students.Through self-directed learning where curiosity is encouraged and students are equipped with skills and strategies to access opportunities in an ever-changing world, we hope that students leave education wanting to know more about the world, questioning what they read or observe and ready to act in an ethical way. We hope that they leave as lifelong learners.
Uganda Model United Nations (UGMUN)