Tag Archives: project based learning

What is Pedalgogy?


Hello! We are Matthew and Niamh, two new bloggers for TIE.

Bicycle touring
Photo Credit: Erik Peterson Photography

Working hard in international schools definitely has its rewards. We are spending our savings on a life-long dream of combining a bicycle ride around the world with an education project. We are enjoying the daily physical challenge of pedalling across all kinds of terrain in all types of weather while raising awareness of Prader Willi Syndrome. The people that we meet and cultures that we learn about along the way give further meaning to this endeavour. Our desire to travel was fuelled by a shared interest in global citizenship. We have previously run a Global Citizens after-school club which enabled us to build the foundations of a story sharing website for children around the world. Our hope is to visit schools along our route to gather more stories and transform this website into a valuable, interactive resource for teachers. Lots more detail can be found at www.pedalgogy.net and www.tedweb.org.Ted Web

We will be blogging about a range of topics including:

1. Tales from the Road

2. Education Project

3. An Economists Take

4. Selected Ramblings

5. Beautiful Places and Moments

6. Lovely Mapping

7. Biking Stuff

8. Hacks and Recipes

9. The Reasons

Bicycle touring

Follow us on our Facebook page: Pedalgogy

Videos from our bicycle travels can be found on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsG7n5CjPz3zj-muSezAWuA

Looking forward to being part of the TIE community!

Chaos Theory

“A mathematic theory that deals with complex systems whose behavior is highly sensitive to slight changes in conditions, so that small alterations can give rise to strikingly great consequences.”


This is also called the ‘butterfly effect’ where if you can imagine a puff of air from a butterfly’s wings causing a hurricane on the other side of the world.

What I love about this theory is that is starts off as a small, almost unnoticeable shift and ends up being astronomical. It’s not throwing everything up in the air and starting from scratch. But it gets there, eventually.

Innovation doesn’t work in schools because as a rule they are extremely risk averse and break out in hives when you even mention the word chaos. Not with my kids you don’t! Take the cafeteria, for instance. (I know, I’m on duty every day). It’s the one place where things are allowed (sort of) to be chaotic. And the adults cannot handle it. They cringe at the noise, the kids cutting line, the ones who don’t clean up after themselves, and the hats. The hats, the hats the hats.

It’s chaos. I have a theory.

I have a theory that a child has an idea in the chaos of the cafeteria. He puts his sandwich down and stares into space, reaching underneath the table to text a friend (because cell phones are not allowed) to meet him in the library.

The friend meets him in the library, wondering what’s going on. There’s still some time for lunch but it’s going to spill into the next period. “I gotta go,” the friend says, wondering what it’s all about. “I’ve got math.”
“Not yet,” the boy says. “Math can wait.”

“You remember that thing we were reading about Singapore having to import most of its water? I have an idea about what to do.”
“Really?” the friend asked. “Is that really what you called me up here for?”
“Sort of. I was at the design expo at Nanyang School of Art this weekend and they were talking about sustainability. I thought it was really cool and it gave me some ideas about the water thing.”

“Right,” the friend says. “Well, I gotta go before I’m late.”
The boy watches his friend walk away.

A teacher (on his prep period) comes by and observes the boy in the library, by himself. Rather than ask where he should be, he looks over his shoulder, noticing several tabs open on water sustainability projects, environment, and three universities.

“What are you working on?” the teacher asked. “Oh, sorry,” the boy says, shutting his laptop case. “No, it’s okay,” the teacher answers. “I’m not going to get you in trouble. You’re a sixth grader, right? My diploma class is doing some things on the environment and maybe you could join the conversation. We’re supposed to Skype with this scientist from Alaska who’s working on some water sustainability theories. You might find it interesting.”

The boy goes to the class and misses math, then English, then Spanish. He makes his way to art at the end of the day because it’s the one place where he liked to rejuvinate his brain when it got overloaded. Something about working with pottery.

Even though the time zones didn’t line up exactly, he managed to find a few water projects in Kuwait and Texas that shared his ideas about what to do in Singapore, and he found a way to connect with them. He also texts his older sister in the 10th grade to see if any of her classes are talking about anything to do with water and the environment. “Dunno,” she replies. “Leave me alone, I’m in the middle of a test.”

At the end of the day, he finds himself back in the science teacher’s class. “Oh, there you are,” the teacher says. “Look, I’m sorry I didn’t tell anyone, but the office has been looking for you all afternoon. I think you’re in trouble. Do you want me to write them a note? Did you miss classes the rest of the day?”

“Yeah, I’m sorry, the boy says. But can I show you what I was doing?” When the boy is finished, the teacher looks at his watch and takes out his cell phone.

“What are you doing?” the boy asks. “I’m calling Alaska,” the teacher says. “They need to talk to you.”

Chaos. But it’s just a theory.

Trash Talk


Dharavi, Mumbai Quick Facts:

1) One of the largest slums on the planet (approximately 1,000,000 inhabitants).
2) Created by British colonials in 1882.
3) Estimated value of exported, yes EXPORTED goods is $500-600 million a year.
4) Covers 217 hectares (535 acres).
5) 60% Hindu, 33% Muslim, 6% Christian.

There were a million ways for me to approach this writing, none of them unique: Dignity of man against great odds, such as this picture of my guide, Hashim, with his family who live in an 8’x 6′ single room…


Or celebration of the human spirit amidst so much drudgery and suffering such as this wedding march…


Or the ingenuity of people who create their own industry out of the rest of the world’s garbage…


Or the joy and hope of young schoolchildren hungry to learn against all odds…(Yes, that’s the indefatigable Don Bergmann with me!)


But instead, I’m going to focus on this:


Yes, it looks like a “count your blessings/perspective” article, but please bear with me…

Imagine for one second the person who went through the trouble to find/buy/build this box, hang a complaint sign on it, then HANG it up on a building in the world’s largest slum. And then, what in the world would the person do with the complaints when they opened the box? On what scale of insurmountable problems could the receiver of said complaints possibly cope? (I imagined some government agent sitting at an old wooden desk crying with his head in hands next to a gigantic pile of crumpled messages).

That didn’t seem to be a problem…the box was empty. Now, there could be a variety of reasons for that. People weren’t interested, couldn’t write (or find paper/pencil), didn’t feel anything would change, didn’t understand what ‘complaints’ meant, etc. etc. But regardless, the box was there. And it was EMPTY.

I’ve been to a number of countries in which as a white stranger I was mobbed by people asking for things, chased by children calling after me, and surrounded by folks who made me feel very privileged and quite uncomfortable. The kinds of places that you never want to visit again.

In Dharavi, I walked down narrow passageways, over puddles and open sewers, past rows of fetid animal skins, men sorting mountains of plastic, and scores of children. Except for quizzical stares and a number of children who wanted to “high five,” I hardly got a look and walked past an empty complaint box. This was a place that teetered on the edge of catastrophe every day, where cholera and tuberculosis were rampant, sewers were filled with toxic chemicals, and people struggled every single day. Yes, it’s possible that the route of my ‘tour’ was the same route that all the tourists were brought down and the locals had grown accustomed. I thought of that. But that still wouldn’t have stopped a million people if they were desperate enough.

What I walked away with was that these people weren’t waiting.

They weren’t waiting for handouts from tourists, helicopters with aide packages, or, someone to respond to things put into a complaint box. Instead, they were responding to what their environment had given them and seemed to be acting upon it. Men ripped rubber casings from long metal wires to recycle the copper and steel inside, boys smelted aluminum on an ancient machine that recast parts for western blending machines, and girls sewed, dyed, and distributed plastic parts into bins, barrels and crates.

In a lot of schools I’ve seen in my 22 year career, there’s a plethora of two things that I didn’t observe in the world’s largest slum…complaining and waiting. Hmmmm.

We do a LOT of both in schools. We wait for better results, the bell to ring, the directions to come, the meeting to start, the leadership to change, the letter to arrive in the mail (seniors). We wait. We complain. They are both passive experiences in which someone else is expected to do something.

Dharavi isn’t waiting. I don’t want to wait. I don’t want my students to wait to turn 17 or 18 before they start impacting their world. I don’t want them to complain either.

I want them to be able to take a mountain of trash, a stack of insurmountable odds against them, and make something beautiful out of it. NOW.

This picture was taken in a tiny room next to five kids trying to teach each other to read.


Anyone Can Cook…

…But only the fearless can be great.” Chef Auguste Gusteau. (‘Ratatouille.’2007. Pixar Films).

I watched this film for the umpteenth time with my daughter the other night. (Yes, the one featured in the Rainbow Loom entry and the one who is still mad at me for posting her photo without official permission. That’s a violation of some digital likeness policy, right?)


In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.Anton Ego, “The Grim Eater.”

There a so many debates going on in education right now it is almost impossible to categorize them, but one that has caught my attention as of late is the argument over the ‘gate-keepers’ of quality. We are doing a lot of hand-wringing over the lack of “rigor” in innovation. Will student centered learning water down standards and make kids dumb again? (I still chuckle at that phrase…it’s like Domino’s pizza saying that they are going to be more pizza focused). What will happen to quality? I recently read a scathing review of High Tech High’s project-based learning by a parent that basically stated his child was falling way behind math and other subjects while they were “playing around.”

But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the *new*. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends. -Anton Ego

The genius of this film is not that the inspiration comes from an unlikely source, but that it comes from the most unlikeliest of sources…a culinary RAT. However, it’s not as simple as the rat showing he can cook (“Anyone can cook, that doesn’t mean anyone SHOULD”). He has to mask his genius behind a bumbling human who happens to be the illegitimate child of the deceased Gusteau.

Collette, the love interest of the bumbling boy, says repeatedly to “follow the recipe,” a piece of advice she shares while jealously guarding her precarious position in a male-dominated culture. To get along you need to go along, with discipline, focus and attention to detail. There is no love in her work. You have to work hard and follow convention to get ahead.

Gusteau didn’t just say anyone could cook. He added “only the fearless could be great.” His book made cooking accessible. Anton Ego and the sous chef, resented that. They were the gatekeepers, the protectors of quality resisting the dismantling of standards and the death of haute cuisine.

Last night, I experienced something new: an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto, “Anyone can cook.” But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist; but a great artist *can* come from *anywhere*. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more. -Anton Ego

The film doesn’t make it easy for “the rat” to succeed. He struggles against every convention and notion of what a great chef needs to be. But the rat persists because it’s his passion. Innovation does not mean giving every child a trophy or a gold star. It does not mean the death of standards or classical based education. It does not mean that because we believe that ‘anyone can cook’ that anyone can be the best. It does not mean because our children are learning in different ways that they won’t get into college or have a future.

What it means is that it is our job as educators to open that possibility, not deny it. After all, it was no coincidence that Anton’s last name was ‘Ego.’

Of course, there’s only one suitable 80’s video for this one…Enjoy Eat It and Anton Ego’s final speech

Good morning class, today we cure cancer

What are you waiting for?

There are millions of words that have been written about how the floodgates have opened on the information age, the conceptual age, and now what is being termed the ‘golden age of education.’

But we keep doing the same thing.

Environmental catastrophes, wars, political upheaval, cancer. I have a feeling that I am not the only one who has said to one of our students that they are going to save the world someday. So, what are you waiting for?

If a bathing kitten can get millions of hits, why can’t a student looking for tissue samples for cancer research?

This truly is the golden age of education. We have by now all seen the results of crowdsourcing, kickstarting and so on and it really is exciting. It is inspirational. It is the world we now live in.

We all have such lofty missions at our schools. But they seem more of a hopeful promise than a practical reality. Now of course it is our job to teach students how to interact with the world. They cannot “just do it,” and the world can be a confusing, complex, even dangerous place. That’s where we come in as educators. Of course, we are not just getting out of the way. In fact, to quote the old adage of the bad teacher being “one page ahead of the kids,” we have to be at least three pages ahead because they move so fast. It is also in some respects our job to protect the children from the world and prepare them for it. You only have to see the difference between what’s inside the gates of some international schools and what lies outside of them to get a visual of this. We can’t just throw them out there! It’s irresponsible! It’s scary! They won’t understand!

Worst of all, we may fail. I don’t believe that schools embrace failure, or even accept it. And that’s a large part of risk and learning. It’s a large part of what we need to be doing. But how do you grade that?

Today class, we cure cancer. Or we may not. It’s okay, at least we tried.