Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Ditch That Textbook!

Ditch That Textbook is the brainchild of US Spanish teacher Matt Miller. Although the 'ditch' approach, as the name suggests, obviously advocates moving away from a dependence on textbooks, it involves much more than that - it is about ditching a textbook approach to teaching and learning. Matt's website is full of useful blog posts that suggest many different ways to approach ditching. 

The 'DITCH' part of Ditch That Textbook is in fact an acronym which stands for:
  • D - Different - trying out different approaches to pedagogy in the classroom
  • I - Innovative - coming up with new ideas, or modifying great ideas from other teachers, without being afraid to fail now and again
  • T - Tech-laden - making use of the latest digital technology and incorporating it where appropriate for the material
  • C - Creative - giving students the opportunity to explore their own creative potential
  • H - Hands-on - giving students more opportunities to engage in active learning

Ditching is a great way to customize materials for classes to make them more relevant for your own particular students. For example, if we are studying invasive species in my biology class, instead of using examples given in the textbook, I can provide my students with case studies based on invasive species here in Thailand, such as water hyacinth. In our evolution topic, I can draw on the most recent research into the evolution of resistance to antimalarial drugs on the Thai-Cambodian border. 

As can be seen from the acronym, the use of tech tools forms an important strand of the ditch philosophy, the 'T' standing for Tech-laden. The use of learning management systems like Moodle, and more recently Google Apps for Education (GAFE) tools, like Google Classroom, lend themselves perfectly to a ditching approach. Another great way to ditch using tech is through Hyperdocs.

I was already moving away from a reliance on textbooks in my classes when I discovered the weekly #DitchBook chat on Twitter. By participating regularly in this chat, I rapidly accelerated my ditching journey. Although I still find the need to use textbooks in class occasionally - plus students find it useful to have reference materials in one place in our exam-heavy system - I am using them less and less. 

A new 6-week Ditch That Textbook study group will be starting soon on Twitter, using the hashtag #DitchBook. The Team Ditchbook stalwarts, including Sandy OttoKarly MouraChantell ManahanRachel MarkerSean Fahey, and of course Matt, are always happy for new ditchers to join the chat! The first chat is on June 23rd 10pm EST / June 24th 9am Bangkok time.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Sex Ed - an appropriate topic for high school?

I am currently teaching human reproduction to my Matayom 2 students (Grade 8 / Year 9). This is part of a science class so there is some focus on anatomical aspects of reproduction, but there are also classes where we look at contraception, aspects of sexuality, safe sex, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). 

One of the things I like to do at the start of this topic is to ask students to call out words or phrases they know that are associated with sex and sexual reproduction, and write them on the board. The aim is to try and get the inevitable giggles and snickering at least partly out of their systems! This is also quite a fun activity to begin the topic, and hopefully lets my students feel that they are free to raise any topics or ask any questions that they may be curious about. 

As I was building up their list of words on the board, one student jokingly proposed 'inappropriate topic' as her phrase. I asked what she meant and she said that the activity was appropriate 'scientifically' but not for a classroom of 13-year olds. This raised an interesting discussion point, and led me to explain that research suggests that earlier sex education does not, as some would have it, lead to kids having sex earlier, but that when they do start becoming sexually active they do so in such a way that STIs and unwanted pregnancies are less likely to be the outcome. Of course, the topics and content of sex education should be age appropriate, and there are some great resources for age appropriate curriculum materials to be found here.   

I can't speak for other schools in Thailand, but my school at least is fairly progressive in terms of sex education, and it crops up in both the science and the health curriculum. In the past my health teacher colleague has invited guest speakers from a local NGO, The Population and Community Development Association (PDA), to talk to students about various aspects of sexual health. (The PDA are also known for their popular, sexual health awareness-raising Thai restaurant, Cabbages and Condoms).

For me personally, I think it is both irresponsible and negligent to not give our students the best possible advice, with age appropriate content, when it comes to education around sex, sexuality, and sexual health.