For some time now, I’ve been dreading my first blog post. Folks like Kenny Pieper and Fearghal Kelly have been doing this stuff for years – and what would I be able to add to their rich and varied posts? Classroom practice for me comes down to personalities and aspirations. As a teacher, you’re expected to take the lead, plan the lessons, define the learning outcomes, assess progress and so on. You dominate the classroom, whether you want to or not. But this can be stifling for both the practitioner and the students – where are the opportunities for learning to be driven by student needs and wants rather than by the curriculum’s artificial clock? At the same time, you need to create an atmosphere of higher expectations – where hard work, initiative and ideas are rewarded rather than simply getting the answers right. As a control freak, how do I give up some control, but keep aspirations high? Recently, I’ve been experimenting with Model UN as a standalone activity which may be of interest to many others. We’ve started on a small scale, meeting on Tuesday lunchtimes, having attended an open afternoon at nearby Inveralmond CHS at the end of October. The group is open to any S3 and S4 students, as I have S5 and S6 students attending an Amnesty International group on Wednesday lunchtimes. But I had high hopes that Model UN could match Duke of Edinburgh as an extra-curricular development opportunity for students. And so we became Chile for a day! We attended this week’s Model UN conference at Inveralmond CHS (called MUNICH14 – nice one Andy Pender) with apprehension and no little excitement for the seven students involved. They were blown away – and so was I. The committee sessions required only a little influence from any of the teachers from more than 15 schools from all over central and eastern Scotland, and the afternoon General Assembly sessions were even more impressive: at one point, as pieces of paper shuffled between the different delegations, the whole operation – amendments, proposals, resolutions – was managed with firmness and humour by a few seniors from ICHS. The teachers sat near the back of the hall – largely spectators at their own game. Motivation and enthusiasm were palpable from all the national delegations as desperate attempts were made to form or break alliances: but at the same time, fruit and sweets were exchanged as unmistakable bribes to influence and schmooze different groups. I’m sure a few Twitter names and Facebook walls were shared too. For ‘Team Chile’, friendships were formed, confidence and fun replaced fear and embarrassment: the team are now desperate to follow up on this experience by attending a weekend conference at George Watson’s next month. And we’ll need to meet more than one lunchtime a week before then to improve our participation against school delegations from all over the world. If classroom engagement represents students fitting in with teacher expectations about what a learning experience is about, then this was closer to student empowerment. Pupils taking the lead? Tick. Raising aspirations? Tick. Teacher happy to lose control? Tick. CfE writ large? Tick.
Model UN and CfE
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