Earlier this year I described the three-pronged approach that MAK has toward education: Know, Be, and Do. In the first semester this space was largely dedicated to Being at MAK; namely kindness, decision-making, and the Three Bs. For the next few entries, I’d like to focus on Doing.
Action is a crucial component of learning. I attended upper elementary school in Kowloon, Hong Kong, near the old Kai Tak airport that used to extend into the Hong Kong harbor. I remember my teachers having to pause mid-lesson while airplanes roared just overhead. I remember cheering on my club soccer coach as he tried to punt balls into landing aircraft above our soccer field. (Fortunately, the planes were beyond his reach!) For me and the other students in our school, the prospect of a new international airport at faraway Chek Lap Kok was exciting to say the least, but it wasn’t until my elementary teacher artfully transformed one of his social studies units into research and presentations on the new airport that I began to truly learn about the events. When the new airport connected to the doing of research and working with a team of peers to discover statistics on passenger volume, timelines for landfill projects, and the intricacies of air traffic control, the construction suddenly took on new meaning. Looking down on the massive airport project in Tung Chung from our family camping spot in the mountains Lantau Island and explaining things to my dad, it was clear that the doing had made the learning personal for me.
We’ve all had those moments when action suddenly helps us realize what skills we need, and want, transforming extrinsic motivation into personal inspiration. Two such moments profoundly influenced my teaching career. The first was a largely unsuccessful paper presentation at an undergraduate philosophy conference at the University of Minnesota. My ideas were torn to shreds by two professors after I read my paper, but it made me realize that there is always so much more to learn and that failure is an opportunity for growth. The second was an undergraduate presentation on my senior thesis. My research and my presentation were great, but my content was about three times too much for the time given. Once again, I wasn’t particularly successful. But it fostered in me a passion to learn how to clearly communicate something complex in a short amount of time. Because of doing, not just passively learning, all three of those vital lessons inspired me to teach.
Two of our “Teaching Commandments” for staff at MAK are to provide an authentic audience for student work and to move beyond memorization & busy work: collaborate, create, & apply! There are many ways these ideas are carried out at MAK, but I’d like to start by highlighting two.
This fall I was delighted to hear Ms. Block’s plans of (a) focusing our Christmas project on local ministries and (b) involving students and families in the process by doing more than raising cash. By the end of planning, our project had turned into an Angel Tree-style gift-giving fest. Hundreds of individuals and families were blessed by our community as they received gifts they had requested and needed, from bikes to shoes to underwear to desk lamps. Four ministries were blessed by our school: Joy House, working with kids in rural communities near Chia Yi; Co-Life, a homeless shelter in Kaohsiung; Love & Hope Bilingual Church, a Kaohsiung church ministering to Syrian refugees in Turkey; and Nan Zi Youth Outreach, ministering to families near MAK. Importantly, our students were involved, shopping for gifts with their families, assembling and labeling gifts in service clubs, and hand-delivering gifts to organizations. Service here wasn’t just a lesson; it was action. Hopefully, as a result, it can also become a lifestyle! Click here for our Chrismas Project celebration video.
Research for Action
Each of our secondary Language Arts curriculum guides include research in their benchmarks. Academic research is a crucial skill, not only for most professions but also for culture as a whole. But its value is often lost on students in the midst of notecards, bibliographies, and MLA format. Our middle school and high school English faculty has been working to enhance skill development in research by connecting it to action. Before the break, the 7th graders emulated the model of the popular TV show Shark Tank by presenting researched ideas, including upright wheelchairs and stray dog shelters, to a panel of “millionaire investors” (one of whom was Superintendent Tim McGill!). 8th graders formally presented proposals to me and to other teachers for various MAK school improvement projects. 9th graders have been connecting research to important ethical considerations in social media. And this week the junior class is finishing their Solutions Project in which they argue for real solutions to real Taiwan problems to a fictional foundation called the Mercy Foundation. On Monday I was able to listen to junior research on plastic surgery and body dysmorphic disorder, solutions to problems with NHI, and an argument for the legalization of surrogacy in Taiwan.
Our hope is that by doing, MAK students can get the most out of their education by being equipped with skills that will allow them to have a true, positive, Christlike impact on the world.