How Covid-19 fast forwarded us into the future

The World of Work

As mentioned in my previous post, during the first month of the school year I took my students on a voyage of self-discovery. With it, I implicitly communicate the importance of learning taking place beyond the boundaries of the classroom and the school building. In our attempt to let students take ownership of their learning, we help them see themselves as active agents in the quest for knowledge and construction of understanding. With the very first series of sharing activities, learners tap into family background and history as a primary resources of information and a source of inspiration. Somewhat analogous to the way coronavirus accelerated the future, young learners’ leaning can be significantly accelerated if educators condition students to “look for” information, to identify useful and relevant information, and to communicate their “findings”.

Preparation

Setting homework that involves students finding information and “brining” it to class along with stimulus and artifacts is very motivating. According to Luke Meddings and Scot Thornburry, authors of Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Language Teaching, and advocates of the conversation-driven and learner-centered approach, the process sets up expectations in the learner about the outcome – about what is going to happen when they share the information with other people. When students assume the role of active creators, collectors and communicators of information, they see for themselves how the process of knowledge and information sharing takes place and what it rests upon – social interaction, inquiry, ability to put yourself in the position of your audience, and anticipation of feedback.

Presentation

Originally, the delivery of presentations was eased by organizing it as a discussion carried out around questions. The presenter displays artifacts and stimuli and invites their peers to observe those. In groups, children think of questions they want to ask in response to their observations.

This format of the presentation didn’t last long and soon students started taking the lead and speaking before anyone could ask a question. Therefore, we reversed the order – observation of stimuli and artifacts, well-prepared presentation, question and open discussion time. It is incredible to see Learners of English as a Second Language at the age of 5 standing up in front of an audience with the words “Listen everyone. I want to tell you about my parents. My father works in Beijing. He often goes on business trips around China. My mother is a housewife. She takes care of me and my baby brother.” and “My mother works for the government. My mommy works for the Olympics Skateboard team”.

On a side note, I would recommend adding a sense of formality to the presentation over holding it as a casual and relaxed Show and Tell time. The formality of the activity prompts students into taking it seriously and investing time and effort into preparing and practicing.

Reflection

This kind of experience helps children gain confidence and gives them a genuine sense of achievement. On returning home and reflecting on the experience, many reported to their parents a feeling of great sense of pride in what they have accomplished and expressed it with the words “Today I did a really good job!” while parents followed-up with us expressing their words of appreciation for the opportunity.

As human beings, we are naturally driven to communicate, converse, and share with one another. Since early age we need language to get our needs met. Gradually, we recognize the value of language for social interaction. Children approach me with glowing eyes when their turn to present arrives. They look forward to the moment when they will stand up front, face their friends, silence the chatter and leave everyone in owe. They count down the days to their presentation, independently check the schedule to make sure when their turn is and on the day, first thing in the morning they remind me vigorously that their turn has come. They bring and store their items diligently, invite me to take a look at them and to practice together in private.

If teachers allow young learners the opportunity to speak in front of an audience with confidence and ease, before they enter the phase of being cautious about the perception and judgement of others, this might reduce the chances of them feeling shy or socially anxious later on in life.

The whole process of children gaining understanding of their abilities and interests is facilitated by their exploration of the world of work. Each student is encouraged to “dive” into their parents’ profession and deliver informative presentation with the use of artifacts and props.

The topic literally broadened the horizons of everyone. Entering the world of grown-ups filled kids’ hearts with awe and wonder. From scientists to traditional Japanese wedding GPS (Groom’s Personal Stylist), the wide variety of jobs inspired kids and fueled their curiosity.

The idea was not only to get a glimpse of different aspects of our parents’ lives but also to understand how the career one chooses to pursue reflects the individual’s interests. Only through self-awareness and self-knowledge, can we benefit from choosing a job that is in sync with who we are.

We open up every Show & Tell time with the song “Work” from Our World, National Geographic Learning, Level 2, Unit 8 dedicated to the topic. Then, we move onto role-play activities which are designed in such a way as to help children come to the realization of how people choose their career – by the things we are naturally good at or enjoy doing. The presentations represent the culmination of each session and are followed by heated Q&A round.

Contextual and Project-based Learning

Naturally, we transitioned into the world of technology and the ever-present reality of technological change and machines taking over. Covid-19 reinforced the idea of employing robots to perform certain tasks that might put people’s health at risk amidst the pandemics.

IMG_0258

We watched carefully-selected educational videos on Coronavirus and how to combat it, on some of the best jobs ever, on the DARPA trials, the trailer of Wall-E, read a marvelous adventure book and further put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Weena had no clue what he was saying. Fro the story, Miguel knew that 80,000 years into the future, human beings had changed and split into two groups. Weena was an Eli, the people who lived aboveground. Over time, their easy life had made them weaker and less intelligent than the Morlocks, who were the primitive worker-class who lived underground and built machinery.

“Time is short. You never know how bright or dark the future will be” He (Miguel) dusted the books. “And hard work keeps you strong and smart.” He smiled at Teresa.

Not only that but the hybrid lessons we were having with the kids whose parents opted for restraining themselves serve as the ultimate reminder of the ever-growing presence of technology into our lives. We are witnessing a rapid, technology-driven transformation which calls for educators’ prompt actions on re-designing our teaching methods in order to meet the changing needs of our students. Now, the future is brought into the present by Covid-19 itself and we need to come to terms with the change.

From the world of work to the unfolding pandemics, committed to saving the lives of community helpers, we started working on a project to design robots that can augment human workers or perform an impossible or dangerous for a human task.

Action is where the demonstration of knowledge occurs. Students are encouraged to reflect on the topic, choose wisely a course of action, and act responsibly, in this case in the ‘wider community’.

Through such problem-solving activities, students not only grow personally and socially by developing skills such as reasoning and creative and critical thinking but they also start perceiving themselves as active agents in their community.

The idea is to create and use robots that would hopefully complement the workforce as opposed to replacing it. Arguably, this would open up opportunities for people to learn new skills, no matter how difficult it is, and engage in a workforce that requires higher-order creative-thinking skills.

I am pleased that I could build our unit on community helpers around the topic of Covid-19 which would hopefully further inspire children to pursue work that would add value to the humanity.

The experience turned out to be a catalyst that sparked children’s fascination with technology, as they often mention the words “robots” and “machines” in the middle of whatever they are doing. My only hope is that I have empowered them in their exploration and use of technology for good.

IMG_8835
Such as the time when, during our Amazing Plants unit, one of the kids came up with an idea of a robotic watering can.

Introducing Cutter, a fellow of Pepper, whose hair-dressing skills are exceptional and unmatched by those of other robots in the hair-style industry.

Contextual learning which allows students to get engaged with real-life issues and ideas that have local and global significance, is the cornerstone to understanding.

The robot dentist

What’s cool about it – it cleans your teeth even with your mask on.

The make-up robot

Choose a color from the menu, stick your head in, wait 10 seconds and this robot performs a complete makeover on you, turning you into a glamorous movie star.

The robot artist

The Hand Robot

The Pet Robot

For all those allergic to animals, the pet robot can satisfy your need for a cuddly fellow.

The Firefighter Robot

Built with fire-resistant materials, the firefighter robot with an in-built smoke detector and a water tank safely and autonomously gets close to the fire and puts it out in no time.

And here is where the paradox began to emerge – should these kids continue dreaming of being firefighters and dentists or should they shift gears and assume the role of the creators of those robots meant to perform the desired by them jobs.

5 thoughts on “How Covid-19 fast forwarded us into the future

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s