rediscovering heritage.

学而不思则罔,思而不学则殆.

Learning without thought is labor lost, thought without learning is perilous.

Heritage can be defined as what past generations choose to leave behind as history: stories of glory, tomes of traditions, epics of grandeur and heroes of yore.

If so, what are the things that are not passed down? How does it clash with what we currently know about our own heritage? Does it even matter?

The focus of this unit on ancient Chinese way of life is for students to unlearn aspects of heritage they think they know, and to rediscover the truths behind ancient China: essentially, a tripartite dialogue between one’s thoughts, unlearnings and relearnings about ancient China and the heritage left behind.

Firstly, students displayed their extensive knowledge (or at least they think it so) of ancient China through ‘Show & Tell’ items with perspectives consolidating into a statement: “Ancient China was an extremely powerful and mighty country.”

That’s when things got fun…


Through a “See, Think, Wonder” thinking routine, students analysed and provided explanations of a Tang dynasty painting. Mostly, students converged unto the interpretation of a “humble foreign ambassador of a different ethnic wear paying tribute to a mighty Chinese emperor”.

Correct, if it wasn’t so wrong.

Querying into the painter’s purpose behind the painting revealed an otherwise elusive truth: that China was not always the “extremely powerful and mighty country” it was, even during its zenith, the Tang dynasty.

Students questioned into the possibility of the painting being propaganda – connecting their prior knowledge of analysing WWII propaganda posters – painted to promote a false impression of the situation to one’s advantage.

Perhaps they were right.

As seen from the map, the Tibetan Empire during the Tang dynasty was a military juggernaut that even eclipsed the Chinese at times. In fact, they could make a ‘request’ (in fact a demand) for a Chinese princess; occupy the Tang capital Chang’an in 763, and even have the capacity to ‘request’ for Chinese state secrets: paper and silk technology (Twitchett, 2000).

Hence, students unlearnt the hegemony that was ancient China, and learnt that history really is, written by the victors.


Next, students explored the entrenched idea that China was the Emperor and the Emperor was China; the leader is the nation, and the nation is the leader: a story that has been ingrained into the masses by popular media nowadays.

The result was a dissonant dive into the “history from below”:

With their new perspectives of history as not only “a story of great men”, students paid tribute to the different social groups that contributed to the ancient Chinese civilisation.

Hence, students learnt that a rise of a civilisation does not depend on one sole man, but a chorus of collective contribution by every section within the orchestra called society.

To wrap up the unlearnings, more unlearnings!

Students dug deeper, and compared ancient Chinese social structure and family life to modern China’s.

Students discovered that unlike the modern society where businessmen are on the high parapets of society, ancient Chinese merchants were considered to be the scum of society because they do not produce anything, but merely make a living off others’ produce! How much you had in your wallet didn’t count as much as how much your farm yielded for the country!

Also unlike modern China, girls were looked down upon in ancient times, even murdered at birth (the girls in class went berserk at this point!) due to the high priority ancient Chinese placed on male predecessors!

Nefarious! Or just… different? Are we to judge?

At the end of the day, after the labor of learning and the toil of thought, it was the things that made one go “hmmm…” that shone through the students’ eyes and furrowed brows. It showed that heritage had been indeed unlearnt, and relearnt. Students will never see ‘heritage’ the same again, or ever take it for granted, for they have rediscovered their own.

How would you rediscover yours?


Reference:
Twitchett, Denis (2000). “Tibet in Tang’s grand strategy”. In Van Derven, H. J. Warfare in Chinese History. BRILL. pp. 106–179.

in the spirit of eunoia

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Beauty. Thinking.

For most students, these two words don’t usually go together, kind of like maple syrup and bacon. But placed on a platform of pancakes, it is surprisingly exquisite.

And that is what this unit on Ancient Greece is all about – providing platforms for students to allow delightful notions of beauty and the hardened rigour of thinking to embrace: an ideal that the Grecian people of yore would favour for.

Firstly, to understand the nature of the diversity within ancient Greek people, students chose to be emissaries of either the courtly state of Athens or the brutal warriors of Sparta.

Their task?

To end the Spartan and Athenian-led Peloponnesian War with a Peace Treaty between the two belligerent states. After reading up on their new identities, emissaries negotiated the choppy waters between the cliffs of dignity and sacrifice, exchanging ideas on what the Peace Treaty that both sides would agree on.

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Inevitably, pandemonium ensued, to the delight of the teacher.

The polarity between the identities and ideals of the Athenians and Spartans led to conflicts of interest, to the point where our young Grecians (especially the Spartans) took up arms!

But peace was needed.

“We began to see each others’ strengths as our own weaknesses, and vice-versa”, most groups reflected after persevering for peace, as the Talks began to include ideas of capitalising on the Athenian expertise to refine the culture of a united Greece, and Spartan strength for the defence of it.

A win-win situation. A thing of beauty.

The following lesson on Greek Achievements placed students in another role: Designers in the Ancient Greece Tourism Board (fictional, of course, or is it?).

Using their skills in media literacy and creative thinking, students set out to promote Greece to the ancient world! Student groups researched on the Greek culture, innovation and architecture, and created tourism posters to promote ancient Greece as a hub for flourishing ideas and inspiring works.

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As students participated in a Gallery Walk to view all the posters, they learnt about the vast array of achievements owed to the ancient Greeks: Grecian architecture, mathematical theorems, technological breakthroughs, ideas for direct democracy…

…and of course, philosophy.

In the true spirit of the ancient Greek philosophers, students participated in a Socratic Discussion about the question, “Is civilisation a blessing or a curse?”

To acquire a different perspective to the one they are used to (legacies of civilisations benefiting us and hence a blessing) a song, ‘Pompeii’ by Bastille, was used to ignite the critical thinking of students:

I was left to my own devices / Many days fell away with nothing to show

And the walls kept tumbling down / In the city that we love
Great clouds roll over the hills / Bringing darkness from above

But if you close your eyes / Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes / Does it almost feel like
You’ve been here before?

How am I gonna be an optimist about this? 

Oh where do we begin / The rubble or our sins?

Analysis of the poignant lyrics allowed students to see the other side of the concept of civilisation beyond the legacies that past civilisations blessed us with: the rubble of futility found in the endless, repetitive cycle of empires’ rise and fall; the unwillingness (or inability?) of humans to avoid falling into the mistakes of civilisations past; the sin, darkness and vices caused by ‘advancement’ in different aspects in society…

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Then, the main event!

With fervent urgency, a student-facilitated inquiry into the question, “Is civilisation a blessing or a curse?” burst forth, with contrasting ideas from all angles exchanged as students pursued a collective truth to the problem:

Human nature: “Human always find a way to destroy” versus “People can learn from civilisations of the past.”

Government: “Ideas like democracy are passed down to benefit us today” versus “Hitler also got his ideas from what people before him passed down”

Logic: “All civilisations inevitably fall, and anything that falls is not a good thing” versus “Every civilisation falls so that the next one can learn, and learning is good”

Technology: “Civilisations allow for inventions to make our lives easier, e.g. airplanes” versus “The same airplanes are used for bombers to kill people in WWII”…

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In the end, despite personal stands still divergent, students agreed on one point:

“the idea of civilisation is a tool; whether it is considered a blessing or curse depends on how us humans use that tool”.

Beautiful thinking.

values in action 2014.

“The point is not to pay back kindness, but to pass it on.”

The message of making a difference by paying it forward resonated with Grade 5 2014 students as they took up the baton of service learning to pass on the gift of learning they have been blessed with.

Students took ownership of the entire process, from generating ideas to contacting their beneficiaries, from fund raising to gift making.

Equipped with their personal devices, students research on organisations as a target audience to spread their kindness to, and collaborate for ideas with their sister class on an Edmodo online classroom.

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Students led their own discussions to brainstorm ideas, developing not only ideas for fund raising and activities, but even more so criteria to select and finalise ideas for implementation: feasibility, impact and participation. Things got tough, but with grit, students persevered on to see the planning through!

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Employing their awesome handicraft talents for the cause, students held a garage sale fund raising with loom bands, origami products and a photo booth. In just a massively hectic 2 hours, students raised more than $400 for their Values In Action efforts for their beneficiaries!

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With the funds raised, mini-terrariums were made by the students, to allow children who are neglected to have a learning experience through the mini-ecological system. As students reflected on the their gifts, they hope that the children who receive the terrariums and accompanying resources will be edified by the learning, and that education will empower their beneficiaries to dream big!

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“CIVIS ROMANUS SUM!”

“I am a Roman citizen!”

Two millennia ago, the propensity to boast this Latin phrase was a coveted gem in the entire ancient world – the pride of belonging to arguably the greatest ancient empire in the world.

Fast forward to 2015 A.D., this ancient Roman pride – in war and in relative peace – becomes a crucial learning objective for our Grade 5 students. Through aesthetic crafts and cutting-edge technology, students delve into the psyche of the ancient legionnaire amongst the ranks of the thunderous Roman army and immerse themselves into the vainglorious, excessive civil life of Pax Romana.

On shards of grass the morning dew settles, soon to be replaced by blood from the enemies of the Roman Empire. Over the fields, the enemy sees red. The crimson plumes of the Roman galea (war helmet) paint the horizon as the legionnaires march united and proud onto the battleground, the shimmering gold of their headgear accentuated by the arresting spread of the sunrise glow.

The legionnaires halt.

As their eyes meet their enemies’, there is but one thing on each legionnaire’s mind: Rome has already won.

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Crafting and donning their very own galea, students infer the psyche of the ancient Roman warrior through kinaesthetic mini-activities such as warcries and visual ones such as inferring the significance of symbols and features of the galea, capturing the essence of the legionnaire pride in an experience of senses…

“We can’t bring you to ancient Rome, but we can bring ancient Rome to you!”

Next, students utilised the geospatial technology of Google Earth to transport themselves to the magnificent sites of the Colosseum, Pantheon, Pont du Gard and the Baths of Caracalla, locales that represented the superfluous lifestyles of Romans. Using their inferential skills, students hypothesised the function of these sites and inferred the nature of Roman life from the monuments they left behind: one of excess, extravagance and entertainment.

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The Roman civilisation is not just a source of abstract, ancient fascination, but a current, concrete imprint on modern-day Singapore in tangible ways.

Using Google Earth’s Street View, students hunt for visages of Roman legacies along St. Andrew’s Road in Singapore, proving that even along a single stretch of road in Singapore, the Romans have made their mark!

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Not satisfied with just an exercise in observation and interpretation, it was time to work the wits and words!

Students took sides and argued the question of, “Which Roman legacy influenced modern-day Singapore the most?” – a four-way debate for the Roman-inspired concept most crucial for our city-state: cleanliness, identity, governance, or connectivity.

There was little resolution, obviously. As per many things in life, students learnt that it was all about perspective: the voice with no sound which whispers convincingly to one, of what one is to value.

Furthermore, more than just conceptual understanding, students also learnt a tad more about themselves as they agreed that their choices reflected their personalities, i.e. a student who chose connectivity as the most important concept values and prioritises relationships.

At the end of the day, when the dust settled under the flurry of warcries, monuments and debates, students took pride that they were now part of an empire that stretches far greater and wider than the Roman Empire…

This is the empire of thoughts.

Thinking became our ruler and us its willing, proud subjects.

the changemakers’ journey begins.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – M. Gandhi

This phrase took on a whole new meaning for our Grade 4 students.

In Singapore, we pride ourselves to be expert problem-solvers, equipped with the skills, rigour and values required to delve into the depths of a problem to search for the luminescence at the end of the tunnel. And we get there.

We are definitely problem-solvers. But are we problem-finders?

We will definitely be capable of solving the problems of the future, but we would have to depend on others to identify the problems first. As such, in the larger picture of things, we will always be followers, never leaders.

Change starts from seeing areas that need change in the first place. The lens of purposeful observation is often given up for the sake of skills-based mastery. How many times have students just stopped to look for themselves at the lingering issues within our society, instead of being told about them from books and newspapers?

But looking for problems is not part of the curriculum, learning about them is.”

So let’s make looking part of the curriculum as much as learning is.

Students were inspired by the story of Craig Keilburger, just 12 years old when he saw the problem of international child labour through the murder of Pakistani child labour victim and activist Iqbal Masih, and decided to make a difference by setting up “Free the Children”, a charity organisation that seeks to end global child labour:

Seeing the problem. That’s the first step in the changemaker’s journey.

Armed with the thinking lens of “See, Think, Wonder” (See Harvard Project Zero’s “Thinking Routines” – http://www.visiblethinkingpz.com), caps and clipboards, students ventured forth into their neighbourhood at Tampines West, seeing areas where change is needed which they will formulate a research question around.

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These areas of changes are not just limited to tangible aspects such as litter, as students soon found out, but abstract, unseen ones as well. One adventurous student began to conduct her own interviews with residents on their level of happiness living in their neighbourhood.

Once students caught on to this change in paradigm, there was no stopping them! They flocked to passers-by, eager to inquire into areas that change is needed: first two or three, then like bees to honey, they swarmed.

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A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Follow us in our quest to ignite change in our community through social research, as we bloom for others where we are planted!

papyrus, pyramids and pharaohs.

“Gutenmorgen wunderkinds!”

The sight that greeted the class was one met with incredulity. As the hobbling strides of one Dr. Arnold Schrondinger rustled against the classroom floor toward the centre of the room, so did chatterings of confusion waft in his wake.

Today, it was not Mr Andy Ng that stepped into the class for the first lesson on Ancient Egypt. He had gone for a course, and had invited his Austrian friend who was a professor in Egyptology… Or did he? Who was this man? Where was Mr Ng?

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It doesn’t really matter, as the eccentric Egyptologist guest had a task for our young learners: to decode an ancient painting on papyrus he had carted precariously all the way from Cairo, one that has confounded Egyptologists for decades…

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It was up to our aspiring Egyptologists to decode the meaning behind the painting, using their deductive reasoning skills from resources from the Net and their knowledge on ancient Egypt.

After persevering through, students draw the conclusion that the Egyptians believed that in the afterlife, the heart of the dead was measured against the feather of Ma’at, which represented justice. If the heart is lighter than the feather, representing that one had led a life of righteousness, one would be able to pass into the afterlife.

Our young learners also deduced that this belief ensured that people would be wary of their deeds while they were alive – perhaps a religious governing technique to ensure social stability that in turned, defined aspects of the Egyptian way of life.

In Singapore there is also a tendency to view subjects as separate, exclusive disciplines. Math and Science do not cross paths with the Social Studies.

Students unlearnt this mindset as they used modern science experiments to find out how the Egyptian sundial and water clock worked 5000 years ago, and Mathematics to appreciate the profound accuracies of the Pyramids of Giza and the exquisite skill of its architects and builders!

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Of course, like the true identity of Dr. Arnold Schrodinger, the mysteries of Ancient Egypt had only just begun…

How did the Egyptians deliver two-tonne Pyramid stone blocks to their destination at 5 stones per minute? How is it that the four sides of the Pyramids align precisely to the four cardinal directions? How is it that the latitude of the Pyramids tally with the numeric value of the speed of light up to 4 decimal points?

By coincidence? Or by design? Let the intrigue begin.

features of civilisation.

This is not an arts and craft lesson.

And the above are not origami stars.

This lesson illuminates the ideas that herald and hallmark any great civilisation on earth: surplus of food, division and specialisation of labour, trade, alliances and sophisticated arts.

In absolute, painful silence, student groups pit each other in a competition for the number of ‘stars’ they can create from origami ‘spikes’. Groups are awarded by the both the quality and quantity of the stars, which in order to be created, require groups to acquire enough “pumpkin cut-outs”. Surplus of food. Groups are also given exclusive items, some glue, and others coloured markers. Let the games begin!

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As groups proceeded, they discovered that it would be more efficient if one person specialised in one single aspect of the task: folding, joining, colouring, or cutting. Division and specialisation of labour.

Ambition then set in. Eyeing the adjacent groups’ precious exclusive items – glue or markers – teams began sending emissaries to request for an exchange of products to bring their own ‘stars’ to the next level of awesomeness. Trade.

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At the halfway marked, an announcement: “You will now join forces! Two groups merge into one. Four groups will now be two!” With this merger, some prevailed, increasing their production; some faltered, crumbling under their civil disputes. Alliances.

In the end, the winning groups with numerous brilliantly decorated stars were ones that could deploy their members to their strengths, trade efficiently with other groups, and create effective alliances with others.

Much like the great civilisations of millennia past.

a little adventure into knowing.

“Did you know Saudi Arabia imports camels from Australia?”

“Did you know that if Denmark and Sweden play a football match, it’s SWE-DEN, and the letters that are not used are DEN-MARK?”

“Did you know that I know how to recite the first 50 digits of pi?”

Kids pride themselves on being able to recall facts of every discipline, varying in degree from the microscopically trivial to the earth-shatteringly mind-blowing.

However, what does it mean when one says one knows something? Is knowing all the facts in the world same as knowing everything in the world? In this introductory unit to Grade 5 Social Studies, before knowing anything about ancient civilisations, we delve into the big question, “What constitutes knowledge?”

Using the Structure of Knowledge as a guide, students put on a conceptual lens to see the world. What does this lens look like?

One can see a piece of fruit as a piece of fruit. One can see a bug as a bug. Or one can see the fruit as nutrition, and the bug as a living thing.

Drawing connections between the concepts of nutrition and living things, one can craft a generalisation that “Living things depend on nutrition”-  a statement that is generally true through time and space.

Boom. All from an unassuming piece of fruit and an innocent little bug.

The difference in perspective is the lens one puts on to see the world: a superficial one, or a conceptual one.

However, this is not just an exercise in theory! Nah, that would be lame.

Students headed out to the school grounds, making generalisations from concepts from the things they see all around the school, seeing that everything has a conceptual meaning, and everything can become that much meaningful, only if we seek meaning.

Students then seek meaning in the places where voices are lowered and minds are lifted: the library. Information in books are not just information anymore. With the Structure of Knowledge as a map, students venture forth into the world of big ideas.

No longer are words just words, and things just things. They are keys to greater ideas, and ideas, unlike words or things, are bulletproof.

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