Halloween is always my favourite time of year, and it’s even better when I get to see all of the students joining in on it. There was so much happening that I had to work after-hours in order to keep up (especially one night before an Open Day because my room looked like an Amazon warehouse that was hit by a tornado with all the boxes and random items everywhere), but it was so much fun!

Halloween Baking and Pumpkin Carving

Top: A carved pumpkin (inspired by anime cats);
Bottom Right: A cookie in the shape of a witch’s broom;
Middle and Bottom Left: Students cutting out cookies (and dealing with sticky dough). All pictures are my own.

On the morning of 25 October, my students were able to participate in an event that some of them had initially created: baking Halloween cookies for the Halloween Party. The school canteen helped to provide everything that we needed, including all of the ingredients for their cookie dough (as per the recipe that my students had decided upon) and already prepared dough (for other students to work with while the others were making dough).

The day before the baking event, our school manager surprised us with a delivery of pumpkins (including one very large pumpkin). Since we had them, we added a station for carving them with the assistance of another teacher. They were used in our other project, the Haunted Hallway (see below), as decorations with small electric candles inside of them.

Along with our MYP students in Grades 6, 7, and 9, we were also visited by a few interested students from the other school that we (currently) share a building with. Everyone who participated really seemed to enjoy themselves, and it was so wonderful to see everyone working together, learning some new skills or experiencing something they may not have done before, and just enjoying themselves. (Plus, the kids were all super cute in their aprons and goofy hats.)

This is definitely something that I’d like to try to do again next year (especially the pumpkin carving part because all of them were so good).

Haunted Hallway

Bottom: The hallway looked like a mess, but it was so cool to see it designed;
Top Right: A skeleton watches over everyone from the lockers;
Top Left: A cute bat and some candy with an eyeball. All pictures are my own.

One of the biggest challenges to this year’s Halloween events (and one of the most fun to do) was the Haunted Hallway. A large, mixed group of students from Grades 7 and 9 worked together to create a haunted experience for our PYP (Early Years to Grade 5) classmates. For weeks they worked on different parts of the hallway, ranging from decorations to ideas for how to scare the children; everyone came in a costume (sort of) or wore only black so that they wouldn’t stand out too much in the totally dark Hallway of Horrors.

For the scary part, we turned off all of the lights to make something like a haunted house. The students had been preparing different ways to scare the students. Starting with Early Years, the students had to adjust the ‘scare factor’ in order to make sure that the students weren’t too scared to come back to school. They did so well with considering the age of the students going through the Haunted Hallway and how scary to be (but when Grades 4 and 5 came through, they went all out with a terrifying entry story, popping balloons, and blood-curdling screams).

The feedback they got from teachers and students alike was phenomenal. Everyone was pleasantly surprised with it, and I was so happy because nearly everything in the hallway was a student-creation (and those that weren’t were student-concepts that were given life through teacher-advice).

There was so much teamwork and so much consideration for all students; I was so happy to see how brilliant turned out to be and how enthusiastic they were.

As I’m still preparing my Halloween Wrap-Up post (I’ve been so busy at work during this time), I want to leave this awesome video that talks about the history of cemeteries throughout the world. We don’t often want to think about these things, but it’s actually really good and pretty healthy to acknowledge death and its many aspects. This time of year has so many rituals that surround the celebration and remembrance of those who’ve died, aligning quite well with the season of autumn.

Enjoy and happy holidays!

EDIT: While you’re at it, here’s a video about Belphegor’s Prime! I’m not really a huge maths nerd, but I’ve been finding it more interesting as I’ve gotten older (and away from the traditional school model of learning it).

One of the things that gets on my nerves is that we often don’t consider disabilities. This is something that I’m actually really happy with in my current school. As a person with learning disabilities (audio processing disorder, ADHD, and dyslexia) who is also a teacher, it’s nice to be in an environment where my voice is (frequently) heard. However, the community at large still has a lot to learn about people with physical disabilities.

Which is why I love this series by Mark Brown of the Game Maker’s Toolkit. Partnering with or interviewing people who are actually impacted by this, he’s been working on a series of designing video games to be better for people with different disabilities. But these are ideas that can be incorporated everywhere, so it’s definitely a channel that I just love (especially because they have so many videos that just fit a lot of teachable moments and make me wonder how to incorporate them in class).

How do I make students more aware of designing their projects for people with hearing-related disabilities? How do I make sure they pay attention to colours that might impact people with colourblindness or low vision? These are questions that I often wonder as a teacher. Am I designing my classroom in functional ways to meet student needs? Are my assessments accessible for all of the students? How can I scaffold them to make them more accessible, either for students who also have learning disabilities or to make sure that they’re easy to understand and have explicit instructions?

I love these videos, though. They make me think a lot about what I teach and how I teach, and I’m definitely looking forward to designing for individuals for cognitive disabilities.

Donna Strickland recently became the first woman in 55 years to win the Nobel Prize in Physics, which is amazing news! She deserves to be acknowledged for the work that she’s done, and it’s one more glimmer of hope in a world where women have been working but are often ignored or overlooked.

Yet, Wikipedia initially decided that a submission for her didn’t meet their standards because the “references [did] not show that the subject qualifies for a Wikipedia article.” Interestingly, you can find a number of absurd articles on Wikipedia that are socially amusing but are not absolutely relevant. You know, things like calculator spelling.

Anyway, due to the dearth of women scientists on Wikipedia, people have put forth a lot of collective work to fix that problem. Many of the people working on this project are doing so in order to help us realise that there are more women scientists than the handful that we know while also ensuring that these popular women are known on their own terms.

What this shows is that we have a lot of work to do. As educators, we need to ensure that we’re making our classes more diverse (even if our demographics are not). We need to make sure that we encourage all of our students to do what they enjoy and are good at, even in subjects that might not interest them. We have to show more of the world, more reality, and given them the guidance to critically analyse their thoughts and the messages that others present.

Though, all of this is also despite my distaste for the way that the Nobel Prizes are designed; there are no doubt other scientists, particularly women or people of colour, working behind the scenes who will never receive enough credit for any of the work they ever do, while the person leading the project will be remembered for all of recorded history. This is all despite the fact that this just isn’t how science is really done; one person, on their own, is not making those contributions.

So we also need to make sure that we properly credit groups and teach students that, within groups, the contributions of other can be meaningful (while also teaching them how to constructively criticise their peers, especially those who may not engage with the work as much).

One of the things that I really want to get my students to be able to do, especially when I start working with them on Community Projects, is to get them to be able to write their own units on topics that they care about. One of the people that I credit with this is someone who I follow on Twitter: Prisonculture. They’re super involved in projects related to education, prison reform, shifting views on crime and violence, and many more. I’ve seen a lot of unit plans or educational plans come from their related projects, but I recently saw one that was made for Survived and Punished, a group that aims to help stop the criminalisation of survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

Now, I’m not planning to bring that exact unit plan into my classroom (because the target audience for it isn’t meant to be for students of my age range), but it made me think: What if they took topics that they really cared about and were pushed to create a lesson about them? What if they became the teacher, even for one lesson? For students who will be doing Community Projects (Grade 8 next year, possibly Grade 9 this year to prepare them for next year’s Personal Projects), I feel like this would be a really good component to their work because it will force them to present it in an engaging way (and also, maybe hopefully, teach them what it’s like to be on my side of the equation).

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started appreciating the intersections of philosophy and film but not as a way to “understand a deeper meaning” in a film (which implies that the creators had that specific intent, and I’ve always disliked doing more than speculating on that in terms of philosophical intent). I like seeing it in the way that we try to understand the choices that a character makes and why they make those choices; it’s a skill that works out nicely for becoming more understanding of the decisions that others make in the real world and in the study of history.

In the Matrix series, there’s a strong focus on the importance of causality (“action… reaction, cause and effect,” as The Merovingian puts it). There’s a huge focus on whether or not our lives are based on free will or self-determination, which are concepts that we’re constantly applying in so many ways (economics, current events, historical events, etc); seeing these in fiction, particularly in visual media, help to explain them in a broader context (and, maybe, help us to understand our own beliefs and why we believe them).

A small warning for (censored) language on this video, though it’s really quite minor.

In social sciences, this is a huge focus for a lot of topics. We discuss the causality of different events, though this is most often done with units about wars (and less often found in units that revolve around civil rights movements or belief systems). Sometimes, it’s easier to see the links that connect events, helping us to understand them. Yet, it’s still worth asking one question: Is that event really what triggered that one?

For example, in American history, we often believe that the United States attacked Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to force Japan to surrender earllier. This is printed in every single history textbook that I’ve ever read as a student or used as a teacher. But there are a few glitches with that story. Namely, Japan had already surrendered before the bombs were even dropped. Their military was already beaten, while there are also arguments that the Soviet invasion was potentially a bigger cause for their surrender because they would’ve assassinated the Japanese royal family. In reality, many historians disagree with the often cited belief — that dropping the bomb forced an early surrender — is far too simplistic and misleading.

So will we choose door that opens onto what appears to be the easiest to understand? Or will we choose the door that allows us to see a more complex world and to gain a better understanding of it, thus learning what is closer to the truth?

One of the things that I really want to get my students to be able to do, especially when I start working with them on Community Projects, is to get them to be able to write their own units on topics that they care about. One of the people that I credit with this is someone who I follow on Twitter: Prisonculture. They’re super involved in projects related to education, prison reform, shifting views on crime and violence, and many more. I’ve seen a lot of unit plans or educational plans come from their related projects, but I recently saw one that was made for Survived and Punished, a group that aims to help stop the criminalisation of survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

Now, I’m not planning to bring that exact unit plan into my classroom (because the target audience for it isn’t meant to be for students of my age range), but it made me think: What if they took topics that they really cared about and were pushed to create a lesson about them? What if they became the teacher, even for one lesson? For students who will be doing Community Projects (Grade 8 next year, possibly Grade 9 this year to prepare them for next year’s Personal Projects), I feel like this would be a really good component to their work because it will force them to present it in an engaging way (and also, maybe hopefully, teach them what it’s like to be on my side of the equation).

Also, more than with a presentation, they might find that it is much more enjoyable and interactive, finding ways for them to exhibit what they know while trying to be inclusive of learners who may be unfamiliar with it. For my students who are very proficient in English but also get annoyed by language learners in their classes, it might be a helpful way to teach them patience and empathy while also helping them to understand the work that their English-learning peers are working to both understand language and content; hopefully, it’d work as a bridge to make them more become more understanding and less frustrated, especially if they worked with multiple teachers in order to learn strategies for students who have different needs (language, learning difficulties and disabilities, etc).

Plus, it might open more avenues to explicitly including the IB learner profile attributes that we’re supposed to be mentioning as we teach our curriculum: caring, open-minded, and risk-taking.

When my students find out that I, too, like video games, it always sends them into asking the same handful of questions. Do you like Fortnite? (Not particularly.) Have you played Overwatch? (No, MOBAs aren’t my style because I really prefer single-player games or co-op with my friends.) Can we play Minecraft in class? (Not until I find a way to include it in class and make sure that you’re doing things well and respectfully while also learning something related to our units.) How many games do you own? (Way too many for my own good.)

But they never ask how they can be used as educational tools, even outside of the classroom.

Some of my favourite YouTube channels are about games and focus on design elements, mechanics, and narrative. They also focus on how social issues are made more obvious through the way a game is played, options that are available, or messages that the game gives in its story elements. For example, Chris Franklin (of Errant Signal) often produces video essays about different games, which are incredibly enjoyable to watch or listen to; they’re often reviews of games, but he also talks about poignant topics: specific portrayals of violence in video games, politics and the art of video games, and the sexism and racism in the types of characters included (or excluded).

But one that I’ve noticed hitting a lot of notes that are relevant to my classes is Mark Brown‘s Game Maker’s Toolkit. He’s been working recently on a series about making games more inclusive to people with a variety of disabilities (so far hearing-related disabilities and colourblindness or low vision), and he even made a video about how Overcooked really forces people to engage in teamwork and communication. But another recent video about playing past your mistakes caught my eye.

This kind of mentality is something that I want to bring into my classroom because it’s something I wish more of my students felt comfortable doing in real life: making mistakes. Far too often, I see my students trying to make everything absolutely perfect (or not even trying because they’re afraid to make that mistake), even though I try to build an environment that encourages experimenting with different ideas and strategies to learn something. It’s one of the few lessons that, really, a video game might be able to help teach everyone on how to be more risk-taking, even in more minor and every day actions (like asking questions or feeling like they can speak up about how they feel).

But it does, as he says, require learning a bit about feedback loops and how they might impact the ways that people respond to events. And all of that? Is really cool to think about in terms of school life and education.

One of the units that I’m planning to do for my ninth graders is Conflict, Disagreements, and Solutions. Because I’m not sure what direction I want to take with that unit right now (because it’s happening in March, and I’m collecting resources), I wanted to post this video that I found on the YouTube channel Philosophy Tube. In it, Oliver Thorn discusses how different airports were pre-2001 and after 2001 (and some changes in 2006, resulting in tiny liquid bottles in transparent bags); he also discusses how we perceive airport security and how it makes us feel. Another major issue is who we perceive as being criminal is a huge issue, and he explains the kind of ways in which we perform at the airport (the ‘performance of belonging’) and how there are some state groups that provoke people to commit crimes in order to arrest them.

It’s still an interesting watch, but I’m not sure that it’s something I’d want to include. For me, as someone who also remembers when airports were easier to get through, when the security checks were minimal, and there was less hassle and time wasted in an airport, it’s weird to think about.

Occasionally, I run into things that are actually pretty interesting but can’t find a use for in class. Some slang terms and etymology of words fall into that category, since my units don’t always fit that context.

Today, I ran into a video that discusses why English speakers — and, really, anyone who had to deal with us, thanks to colonialism and imperialism — use the phrase ‘OK’ (though, my students will definitely see me using ‘okay’ because that’s more my style). It’s such a harmless phrase that we probably don’t even think about it at all.

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