Final Reflection

When I began this course I didn’t really know what to expect. I didn’t really know what technology was available or what I was supposed to do with it in a classroom situation. I was apprehensive, lacking in confidence and, I have to admit, rather skeptical. Only 3 months later and I’m reformed from my natural state of  ‘complete luddite’ to someone who is growing in confidence daily and is willing to experiment and change old habits. The skepticism has gone too as the assignments we have worked on as part of the course can clearly be easily transferred into a classroom situation and they will make mine and my students’  lives easier. That’s not to say I intend to use everything I’ve learned. Some technologies are clearly more user friendly than others and some will be too time consuming for students to use regularly. However I already have some favourites which I’ve outlined below;

My number one is the wiki. Our wiki assignment for collaborative teaching is one that a colleague and I are going to develop. It will involve the creation of a bank of information and evaluations of online historical sources. It will be particularly geared towards IB history students. We are presently setting this up within our own school and hope to invite colleagues from other schools at the beginning of the next academic year. We’re hoping that this could grow into something far bigger and that a range of sources, articles and discussions could feature on the wiki. Inspired by another colleagues I also plan to establish another wiki specifically for my next IB1 history class. They will be able contribute to this my adding notes and pages and I will post my unit plans, notes, assignments and grading rubrics. At present I do much of this on the school portal but this does not enable interaction between students.

Next favourite is probably the blog. While I have found regular personal blogging rather burdensome I do like the use of the blog as a means of getting students to reflect. My department is using a blog for student reflections in Theory of Knowledge and we find that students writing is of a higher quality as a result. We hope to encourage them to reflect more on their peers blogs next academic year.

Pecha Kucha was fun and something which I have used with my students and had them use as a means of  briefly presenting an essay plan to the rest of the class. In the run up to the final IB exams they found this extremely useful and it enabled us to cover alot of material quickly and effectively.

I am still considering whether podcasts have a place in my classroom. I can imagine that if I taught younger grades I would be more inclined to use them but with the pressure of time in IB HL subjects I would be reluctant. Perhaps when I have practiced using the technology more I will be comfortable in experimenting.

So all in all this course has been very useful and inspiring. My thanks to Ståle Brokvam for his patience and encouragement!

April 22, 2009 at 5:26 am 1 comment

Reflecting on EARCOS 2009

My attendance at EARCOS Conference earned me 3 credits for my Masters degree so reflecting on the experience  has been a lengthy process involving a fair bit of writing already so forgive me for not completing this blog post sooner! All in all the conferences was extremely valuable. The Keynote speakers I found professional and entertaining and for once environmental concerns were not all gloom and doom. I attended several workshops over the 3 days and chose to focus largely on pastoral issues, this being one of my main areas of interest in education.

Most fascinating was probably Dr Josephine Kim’s workshop on the unique characteristics of Korean students. Josephine Kim is a Lecturer on Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is Korean by birth and was educated partly in the US and partly in Korea. One of her specialist areas is multi-cultural education and she frequently speaks to parents, students and teachers on understanding of different cultural perspectives.

My interest in attending this workshop was because I work in an international school with many Korean students. At present there are approximately 18 % in the whole school (K-12) and every one of my High School classes has at least one Korean student. Korean students are the 3rd biggest nationality after US and Philippines. Korean students in my school are typically hard working, quiet, and respectful; they can be obsessed with the grades and often they stick within their own cultural group. I was interested to find out firstly, if this was typical of Korean students in all international schools, secondly, why this is the case and thirdly, how can I as a teacher use this understanding to help my Korean students?

Josephine Kim first outlined the stereotypical view of Koreans which is held by non-Koreans in the international setting. They are highly educated and are particularly good at Maths, they are wealthy and they strive for excellence. They do not experience mental illness; they do not need counseling services. In reality however, Koreans, according to Kim, have more mental health issues than any other Asian American group and because of the cultural expectations Korean teenagers often feel angry and abnormal. Many emotional disorders in the Korean community are apparently often expressed through physical symptoms because physical illness is less of a social stigma than admitting to an emotional problem. Parents often are overprotective of physical symptoms because this is an area where it is appropriate to give support. In contrast emotional problems are more likely to be swept under the carpet. Koreans typically suffer from ‘anger syndrome’ which is a belief that they are being possessed by their ancestors. However this is not openly discussed because of the associated guilt and shame.

Josephine Kim explained the importance of Confucianism in forming some of the cultural values of Koreans. Society is traditionally patriarchal and the role of the child is to bring honour to the family. Parents see children as an extension of themselves and so if the child fails it is their failure too. Education is seen as a way of climbing the social ladder and so success is crucial. Lastly stoicism is expected which often leads to an unbalanced development. The typical Asian family system also plays a role. The father is often an outside financial provider while the mother and the oldest child are the practical day to day providers. The father is emotionally distant and the mother often relies of the oldest child for support. Mothers are often oppressed and bored.


Given then that emotional issues are taboo and high performance is an expectation (98% is an Asian fail!) it is not surprising that Korean students feel under immense pressure to achieve.  Underachievement is often embarrassing for parents and Kim spoke of the growing tendency of Koreans to send their underachieving children overseas to international schools in order for them to learn English and thus acquire an extra string to their bow. Often these children are sent to live with a ‘guardian’ but often such guardians are simply agents and the children can end up living alone without adult supervision. This is certainly the case with some of Korean students who attend my school. The name which has been coined for such cases is ‘parachute children’. These children, as well as those who are resident with their families overseas, will then be exposed to a westernized culture which has very different values to the Korean culture; individualism, independence the importance of self as opposed to collectivism, interdependence and the importance of family.  Often parents will not like the child to adopt western ways and will encourage the child to maintain their traditional values and practices. Frequently children rebel at this point which leads for demands for submission. Children in this situation often feel they are living in different worlds neither of which they belong to, and so they have to juggle their identities. All of this can result in mental health issues which of course are not to be acknowledged, and intergenerational conflicts.

Manifestation of mental health issues

This is an outline of some of the resulting mental health issues and their manifestations in Korean students in particular. Knowing what to take note of may alert teachers to emerging problems in their Korean students.


1.      Depression – particularly amongst males and often not manifested until after high school. Often young Korean men find physical ways of fulfilling their emotional needs and suicide is not uncommon. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in Korean Americans and particularly growing in the 15-24 year old female population

2.      Perfectionism – this can be suggested by anxiety, procrastination and lack of confidence. Perfectionism can lead to low self esteem, anxiety, depression and even suicide.

3.      Eating disorders – Bulimia, Anorexia and Body Dimorphic Disorder (the belief that a particular part of the body is deformed)

4.      Alcoholism – Korea has a high level of alcoholism. According to Kim 25% of Koreans have an alcohol problem which can be viewed as a physical response to an emotional problem.

 Supporting our Korean students and their parents

Being none Korean, I would obviously have to tread very lightly when addressing any problem resulting from cultural and family circumstances. Josephine Kim clearly has an advantage there. However she also suggested that formally inviting specific Korean parents in to school to contribute to workshops on Korean culture can be very successful. Students and teachers could attend such workshops and it would be a way for students to listen to their parents’ and other Korean parents’ perspectives on their culture. Students could also contribute their own perspectives in a safe environment. In the school I work in we are lucky enough to have a Korean counselor on the Elementary School staff and Korean language teachers in the High School. Having Korean nationals act as facilitators would certainly eliminate any suggestion of criticism of the culture.

More difficult however would be the issue of getting to what Josephine Kim believes to be the fundamental problem; the neglect of the emotional aspect of personality which tends to be the norm in Korean society. Encouraging Korean students to work with counselors on this is challenging as Kim maintains that Korean students often don’t have the vocabulary (even in their own language) to express their emotions. Mainstream teachers need to be alert to the signs of trauma in their Korean students and counselors need to be kept informed so that students can be summoned on an academic pretext.

Another opportunity to educate Korean students on the importance of paying attention to ones emotional needs can be found in the Theory of Knowledge course which is an IB Diploma requirement. Emotion as a way of knowing is discussed as being a benefit in many situations and activities can be developed to illustrate this in practice. Theory of Knowledge stresses the need to share views and cultural differences and Korean students’ desire to do well can be channeled into encouraging them to discuss their cultural perspectives and biases. This is challenging but by making the environment safe and comfortable and by having a multicultural class, students from other cultures who are often comfortable with open discussion can act as models.








April 21, 2009 at 4:46 am 2 comments

EARCOS Anticipation

Two days to go before I fly of to Kota Kinabalu for this years EARCOS conference. Being new to Asia and therefore to EARCOS I’m full of anticipation as to the  level of quality of the various workshops. And not because I’m a nature cynic, but because I’ve been to many a regional conferences before and have left feeling sorely disappointed. Some of the workshops offered can be really quite surprising to say the least; I have a  vague recollection of ‘Zen in Admin’ or something similar…it’s with relief that I haven’t spotted anything along those lines on this years’ EARCOS schedule. The schedule looks stimulating and diverse. There seems to be something for everyone, from conflict resolution and dealing with bullying management tactics to more everyday international teacher issues such as assessment and ESL. Technology features big time too, as it should do in every educational PD programme nowadays. This brings me to wonder about technology being treated as a separate issue and begs the question, how long will it take for technology to cease to be a separate topic and to just be part of all other educational practices? When will technology, and in particular IT, disappear as a subject in its own right and be incorporated in other parts of the curriculum? I believe that is the way things should progress and the course I am taking at the moment certainly has been leading me to that conclusion. I have a feeling that there are there who are taking the bull by the horns on this one but the problem is that it is going to be good 10 years or so (and probably longer) before these people are in a position to influence international curriculum development. Why do I say this? Experience and friends in industry tell me that international schools are generally behind the times compared to industry – partly because many international schools are limited by their location no doubt, but not all are. Those that aren’t are probably limited by other factors; expense for one, but more so, I think, by expertise. PD has to be at the forefront of moving forward – what’s the point of investing in the infrastructure if teachers can’t use it to enhance learning?  And that is the point of technology workshops as stand alones in this period of development. On a personal note,  the positive side of this is that as I move into the mid-career stage I’m still learning and developing, rather than stagnating, as so many of my own teachers did…

March 23, 2009 at 12:11 pm 3 comments

Half way through

Half way through the instructional technologies course and it’s all getting easier!  How positive you may think, but that’s not to say that it has all been plain sailing…Nadine and Melodee, my co-workers on the podcast session will attest to the fact that technology can fail for no apparent reason. Sometimes what you think you are telling a particular machine to do, and what you are actually telling it to do are two very different things. But, what is really important is that we learned from our mistakes. The experience of having to start from scratch and having to repeat the whole process of making a podcast made us think about what we had done wrong, how we could use our time more efficiently and how we could improve our performance. I don’t think we ended up with a perfect podcast but the second attempt which took 2 hours, was a vast improvement on the first, which took 5 hours, and was then mysteriously lost! In some ways I’m glad it was. Repeating the whole performance gave me a better understanding of the task and a greater confidence in using the technology.

March 8, 2009 at 11:34 am Leave a comment

A New Potteresque Name

Spurred on by my colleague’s name for his blog,  ‘The Thinkabouter’ which can be found at, I decided that I wasn’t totally happy with the name with which I’d christened this blog. I want something more eye catching, more individual, more me. One idea came my way while I was working with colleagues on a podcast – a task for our masters course. While looking for free music on we came across a track by Patrick Smith called ‘Witches Approaching’.  As we were three women it seemed appropriate. Alas the mood wasn’t quite right for our podcast so we didn’t use it. But I did like the sound of Witch Approaching though, and ran the idea by a couple of male colleagues as way of attracting attention to  my blog. They upped the ante – ‘How about Naked Witch Approaching” one suggested, ‘You can’t ignore that….!” I’m not sure I’ll use it but it made me laugh..

March 2, 2009 at 12:05 pm Leave a comment

Pick up a pen now and again

As I sit hear at my computer watching my Grade 12 students write a practice IB paper I am aware that only 30 minutes in they are silently groaning and shaking their hands in pain. A wander around the class reveals about 1 side of writing per student. Every year I teach Grade 12 students who find it increasingly difficult to write legibly, quickly and painlessly! Although the IB does allow some schools to take final IB  diploma exams online this service is not widely available and so most students are  probably disadvantaged by having to handwrite their answers. It seems this is another example of the system being at odds with reality. Web 2.0 technology supposedly helps to prepares students for life after school where collaboration and technological literacy are musts in the modern world. Yet practically all national and international examinations are individual and handwritten. As teachers we have the difficult job of getting them through the exams and preparing students for professional life. The gulf between the two seems to be getting wider.

February 27, 2009 at 2:58 am 5 comments

My aims for this course – revisited!

Two weeks in and I now have a clearer idea of what is going on and why I’m here. I’ve more or less got the hang of blogging and can definitely see some professional benefits. What I would really like to focus on is making contacts with other history teachers in international schools and sharing ideas for use of technology with students. So far most history teachers on the blogosphere seem to be working in their own national systems rather than internationally – Clay Burell’s blog being the obvious exception to this. Working with podcasts looks fascinating but I did have a slight sensation of panic as the whole notion of it was introduced. That brings to my main reason for doing this course – becoming more comfortable with technology and acquiring the confidence to experiment with it. I am not a natural technophile and I don’t suppose I ever will be but I do not want to get left behind – this course can help!

February 27, 2009 at 2:35 am Leave a comment

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