IB Week: An alternative to Trip Week

Last spring, after a year of incubation, an idea was hatched: Specifically set aside days for IB students to have focused time on IB related mindset, skills, and activities. Our IB and CAS coordinators have persevered in making the idea a reality that came to fruition a week ago during our scheduled secondary school trip week.

Grade 6-10 students gathered with suitcases, daypacks, snacks, and much eagerness and departed on their anticipated trips to different locations in western Europe. The building quickly emptied out leaving the hallways of the secondary school empty and quiet.  However, staggering in for normal school hours were the Year 11 and Year 12 students.  Though they arrived for “school”, normal activities weren’t exactly what faced them.

Sounds of hammering, the aroma of soil, the discussions of learner profiles, coaching on life after high school, chopping knives, and Internal Assessment workshops emanated from the classrooms. Furthermore there were seniors working independently on extended essays and internal assessments, consulting with teachers, and participating in CAS activities.  There was vibrancy, productivity, and energy.

The internal assessment (IA) workshops centered on math, history and science, giving students a cohesive, focused overview of the IA process, expectations, and criteria. The post-high school work shop helped students to think about where they should be in the university application process and the considerations they should be pondering about what they want to do after graduation.

My duties included mentoring students participating in CAS activities that supported the Going Green Initiative at the school.  Specifically, students built mug racks, made a green wall pallet, and volunteered at an organic farm.

Students lined themselves up according to self-designated responsibilities.  Their heads bent with intensity and focused on their individual task.   They measured, cut, hammered, stapled, drilled and screwed.  Gradually the windowsill filled with beautiful mug racks for the staff room.  Their project will aid in reducing plastic waste in the teacher lounge.

Another group has prepared a recycled pallet (retrieved from the rubbish bin) with landscaping material to transform it into a green wall.  Giggling erupts as they press their hands into the dark aromatic soil and disperse it throughout the pallet.  They plan their planting and carefully set the selected flowers.  Slowly they raise their garden and are pleased that it holds and clearly adds beauty to the roof.

Our Going Green members were bussed to an organic farm to harvest carrots, weed tomatoes, clean hydroponic gear, sort chickens, and plant young lettuce seedlings.  Physical labor yielded exhausted but satisfied participants. As one student remarked, “It feels really good to help out a worthy business that relies so heavily on volunteers.  We did a good service here today”

Another projects conducted that week included a high tea with the elderly and a trip to the soup kitchen. 

A set of students met with a chef who guided them through the process of baking cupcakes, biscuits, and cookies.  They mastered skills of yolk separation, sifting flour, and allocating the right amount of dough for the perfectly sized cupcake. Theirs was definitely the tastiest of our week’s projects.  With completed delicacies they departed for a nearby Alzheimer’s center and shared a high tea with some of the residents there.

Students gathered late one afternoon to chop the vegetables and then assembled themselves early the next morning to cook the soup.  Through the steam they stirred and flavored their soup, patiently awaiting its readiness.  With carefully wrapped pots they departed for the Soup Kitchen.

All of these activities were balanced with a self defence class that taught some good skills and brought on laughter and a great release of energy.

Following their workshops and service projects, the students participated in a 2-day trip to Ypres, Belgium where they completed a guided bike tour through battlefields, cemeteries and monuments of the area.  They visited the Flanders Field Museum.  Together, these activities provided the students with physical exercise and greater historical insight not necessarily obtained through curriculum delivered in the classroom.

In all, our IB week was successful and definitely helped our students become more focused and mature as IB students. It clearly sent the message “This is serious. You are an IB student.”  It seems to have set the tone for the 11th and 12th graders this year and put them on a path of having greater understanding of the program, being better equipped to meet deadlines and being prepared to be successful IB students. I highly recommend an IB week for all IB students.

An IB Learner is ....Caring.

How do we foster caring in our students?

They show empathy, compassion and respect towards the needs and feelings of others.  They have a personal commitment to service, and act to make a positive difference to the lives of others and to the environment.    (from the IB Learner Profile)

“Is there anything else Dr. Markham?” 

“No, thank you so much, that was a huge help”

“I mean, can I help you with that?” He gestures towards my unplanted plant and the huge bag of soil.  “My hands are already dirty,” he continues.

He has already descended and climbed the three flights of stairs twice on this errand.  On the first journey down, he extracted the dead tree from the huge, heavy clay pot, returning with the soil still in the pot.  After hearing the explanation that the soil lacked necessary nutrients for my new plant, he repeated his steps in order to dump the dirt.  Small beads of sweat drip from his temples.  He smiles.  He genuinely wants to help, to finish the task.  He cares.

We tenderly transplant the small tree from its temporary container.  The earthy smell of the soil wafts into the room and it feels good to handle the dirt as we center the plant in the clay pot. My student asks me about the Going Green Group at the school.  He’s sincere in his desire to become part of it, including putting in extra time after school to work on setting up a non-for-profit foundation for the initiative.

Seriously, I’m touched.  It’s so great to see a young man sincerely caring about something.  He is clearly developing this attribute as an IB Learner.

This is in stark contrast to the student who earlier in the week sat on one of the tables in the classroom gazing at the turtle (as many students enjoy doing) and remarked,   “I figure I’ve done my part.  I’ve filled in all the blanks for applications.  I’m going to do the minimum now, you know?” 

How do we foster caring in our students?  How do we help them realize that our part in this world is never actually “done”? 

In an effort to expose our student population to the Going Green initiative of the school, we have begun showing students the short video clip on eco-schools of which our school is a member.  Some students have responded with a sense of caring.  My South Africa trip reached another segment of learners.  That trip fostered a burgeoning sense of caring for the world and environment.   Global Issues Network and Mini United Nations attract the “caring” characteristic in yet other groups of students.  CAS projects can put students into a situation of actually serving others, instilling a sense of care.  Our job as educators isn’t simply about teaching content and helping students acquire skills.  It is so much more.  Hopefully we can also provide exposure to different worthwhile “causes” so that students begin to develop this important learning characteristic, that of caring.  We want them to leave our institutions of learning eager and prepared to invest in truly making the world a better place through their social and environmental influences. How do you foster a sense of caring in teenagers?

High School Expedition to South Africa!

It all started over a year ago.  I was brainstorming some ideas on how I could organize some really cool field trips for more mature science students.  I desired them to participate in fieldwork and real research.  My ideas grew and I realized it would be an even more valuable experience if there was service and/or conservation involved.  My research led me to the Operation Wallacea group ( that conducts conservation research through academic partnerships.  Comparisons with a host of other organizations resulted in me selecting the Wallacea group with which to pursue an expedition.

A representative came to our school last April to speak with students and parents.  To my surprise there was enough interest expressed to warrant commencing the process of scheduling and planning an expedition.

Thus was my inauguration into arranging such a journey for a group.  Decisions regarding collecting, tracking, and distributing funds descended upon me.  Thankfully, even though this isn’t a school-sponsored trip, the school accountant has helped me with this process.  Next, expedition booking and flight arrangements were of precedence.  Then we had additional students and a chaperone join the group and I had to coordinate adding them in to the process mid-stream.  

Countless emails, discussions, and phone calls later, I reflect back on this past year and am amazed at how I managed to squeeze the time in outside of school hours to attend to the necessities for organizing this trip.  This afternoon I printed out the packing list for the expedition and documents for parents to sign in preparation for a parent/student informational meeting on the trip.  Upon placing these items in a folder for each student I felt a surge of excitement and realization settled into my mind: this trip (June 21 – July 4) is happening!

The students and parents filed into the classroom tonight eager for information.  During the course of the 2-hour meeting I see flickers of excitement from both students and parents.  Now I am consumed with a sense of adventure and thrilled to be accompanying these wonderful youth and my super colleague on an experience of a lifetime.  We will be collecting conservation data that will be submitted to the UN in an effort to seek funds for the community to establish conservation programs.  The work will benefit not only the organisms of that area but the local people as well since they will staff the conservation efforts.  The last part of the trip will be spent on the coast scuba diving and completing coral reef studies.

We haven’t even departed yet and I am sensing that this will definitely be worth my efforts.  Here is the crazy thing; I emailed my contact at Wallacea tonight to find out about scheduling a 2015 expedition.  Anyone want to join?