GME Goes to CHINA!

GME Founding Partner Dr. Marj Henningsen travelled to Shanghai in June to participate as the Keynote Plenary speaker at a 3-Day seminar for teachers and coordinators interested in the IB-PYP and MYP programs.  The Seminar was organised by Hong Kong-based International Bilingual Education Experts (IBExperts) and hosted by the KangChiao International School in Shanghai.

Dr. Marj loved the experience and really appreciated all the hospitality shown by Kate Lin and her team at KCIS, as well as Wesley Han and John Sperandio from IBExperts/GlobalSchoolManagement.

As a result of that initial trip to China, GME is now getting more involved in Chinese schools.  In September Dr Marj and GME co-founder Mary Henningsen visited Weifang High Tech International School in Shandong province in order to conduct a readiness assessment for IB-PYP implementation as well as an introductory workshop for teachers and school leaders on Inquiry Pedagogy (bilingual English/Chinese).


GME is proud to have expanded our bilingual horizons!

The same week they also travelled south to Zhejiang province to Huayuan Village city where the Garden Group is collaborating with Zhejiang Normal University Overseas Study Centre to build a beautiful new K-12 school campus.  GME is part of the team led by GSM that has been contracted to design and manage the International Division of the new school, which plans to seek authorisation for IB programs as it opens and grows.  The school is slated to open Fall 2017 officially.

Also in December our other founding partner Ghinwa Itani Malas will join Dr. Marj to offer our GME Student-Led Inquiry Institute at two different locations in southern China.

We couldn’t be more excited about this new path for us!

School as we know it

TEDx School as we know it needs a revolution if it is to retain any relevance in the modern world.

This morning I was reading an article published online at Huff Post by Will Richardson about the 9 Elephants in the Classroom that we are unwilling to face or even sometimes to discuss. I have to admit that kind of work we do at GME sometimes can feel rather futile as we wonder whether it’s even possible to have any long term impact on institutions where no one is really talking openly about at least some of these 9 Elephants, which include:  our knowledge that most children will forget most of what they learn, most children are bored and disengaged in school, the curriculum is an historical tradition (mostly Western) rather than a universal imperative and is very outdated, the way time is organised and spent serves efficiency more than learning, obsession with grades, testing and homework does not lead to better outcomes, and the most effective and lasting learning usually happens informally and often NOT in school.  One of my dear friends and colleagues said she would also add that we know school is not a place that doesn’t bring about children’s happiness and does not build the kind of community that protects children.  The institution more often works to protect itself and preserve those long-held practices that are now really holding us back from realising all our potential as individuals and as communities.  And even though we know all of this, we still keep finding ways to justify why we can’t do things differently, doubling down on the same old practices–sometimes holding on to them for dear life.   How do we get out of this dysfunctional space that on some level I think we all know we are living in?

Recently I was asked to give a keynote session at a conference for mathematics teachers.  The organisers requested that I focus on teaching practices that are responsive to learners.  As I worked to prepare the talk I realised that apart from things related to technology– there is very little I would say or emphasize now in 2016 that I would not have also said back in 1996–or that I have not also given numerous lectures, workshops and courses on during the past 20+ years.  Some ideas might be more nuanced now or organised differently, but our collective knowledge about what we should be doing in the classroom has not really changed much in all the time.  So the gnawing question is, “If we know what we are supposed to be doing (we do know a lot!!), why aren’t we doing it?”  And furthermore, “if we want to do it, how can we get ourselves to take real action and do it?

I believe that a fundamental step is to start talking more openly about these 9 Elephants and others and acknowledging our responsibility in all of it.  We adults involved in education as policy  makers, proprietors, board members, consultants, school leaders, teachers, parents, and so on–we adults have to own our responsibility in allowing these 9 elephants not just to exist, but to grow and flourish on our watch.  We have to stop making excuses for why we fall so short of our very good intentions.  We have to stop protecting ourselves from blame in the inadequacies of what is happening to our children in schools due to the choices and decisions we make for them as adults.  If we allow ourselves to dedicate time and resources to talking honestly about these issues, we might have a chance to actually change school as we know it.

Just “good enough” is not good enough in education.




I was recently talking to a primary school teacher who prides herself on being innovative and striving to engage her students in transdisciplinary inquiry on a regular basis.  She no longer uses textbooks as a main basis for instruction, but opts instead to engage students with more primary sources and to learn skills more in the context of doing inquiry.   Her supervisor approached her recently and asked her to stop “over working,” to lighten up a bit and maybe take up textbooks again.  The argument given to her was that if they ever had to replace her they would not be able to make the new person work as hard.  It was all too much effort, she was told,  no need to try so hard to get it right.

Her story reminded me of a personal experience years ago when I started a new University teaching job.  I was called in one day by a supervisor and told that some students were complaining that my course was too challenging and I was expecting too much from them in some of the assignments.  Without hesitating, I said, “So what I hear you saying is that you would like me to give the students a mediocre course experience.”  My supervisor immediately protested, “No no, of course I am not asking you to do that!”  I never heard about that complaint again.

The forces of conformity and mediocrity are strong indeed–in his wonderful blog, marketing guru Seth Godin referred to them as The Merchants of Average–but the funny thing is no one really wants to BE thought of as mediocre, right?   Does anyone really believe that mediocre learning environments are better?

My feeling is that when it comes to educating children we cannot afford “just good enough” anymore.  The great Italian Educator, Loris Malaguzzi once remarked that children are miracles and that we educators have to make learning environments worthy of miracles.  There is no place for mediocrity in the pursuit of building excellent learning environments.

The idea of getting away with “just good enough” may be a seductive one, but it is simply NEVER good enough when it comes to education.  I want to salute all those educators I know, both young and old, who realize this fact and who consistently see obstacles as opportunities to do more, not less.


Good Inquiry=Good Content




by Marjorie Henningsen, Grey Matters Education

I’ll begin this post by stating up front that I do believe that an inquiry approach to learning and teaching in which students are protagonists in defining their own learning agenda offers the best hope for schools to continue to have relevance in today’s world.  So when people talk about inquiry learning I often take notice.   A colleague was recently overheard making the following statement:

“I do believe in inquiry, but I also care about content.”

My colleague certainly has a right to her own beliefs and opinions and many people out there might find a great deal of resonance with that statement.  However—and I know this may sound harsh –I firmly believe the above sentiment is used consciously and unconsciously on a regular basis to justify complacency and cowardice or worse in education.

The underlying assumption in my colleague’s statement seems to be that inquiry lovers don’t care about content or that you cannot have strong content learned in the context of inquiry.  I must reject these assumptions wholeheartedly in either case.   I would actually argue that when anyone engages in an authentic inquiry learning experience that person is absolutely guaranteed to learn something of great value.  My colleague would probably agree as long as the content learned is what is supposed to be learned.   What IS supposed to be learned anyway?  And who gets to decide?

I believe we all care about content, but I’m just not sure that the content in question needs to be thought of in such a rigid way or whether it is even useful at all to think about curriculum in such terms anymore.   Hasn’t “what we need to know” become kind of a moving target these days?   Why should “what kids need to know” remain so unchanged or unchangeable through generations—as if frozen in time.   That doesn’t make any sense to me in today’s world.  I believe the obsession with defining and covering standardized “content” is a simple artifact of a living inside a system that has given over intellectual authority to the corporate textbook and testing industries, or some other centralized authority.   I am sure in the past I fell prey to the same obsession, but thank goodness I got over it.

Lilian Katz (2010) suggested that perhaps rather than content standards we should be more concerned about having Standards of Experience, a suggestion that I think is on the right track in terms of defining what we should be worrying about in schools.  The preponderance of evidence from educational research tells us that we really do need to be far more concerned with how kids are learning than with trying to pin down, define (or limit) what is being covered at a given point in time.  I believe we tend to gravitate toward the latter because it is much easier to deal with and can be talked about without actually ever getting involved in the messiness of a real life classroom.   The idea that we can just settle on a narrowed list of content objectives and hand them to teachers and then test the outcome later on to know what has (or more often has not) been learned is a seductive one to be sure.  But it’s a well-documented trap.  We cannot “student-proof” the curriculum (or “teacher-proof” it either!)  So why do we all keep falling into that trap over and over again?

Certainly we do have to acknowledge that even inquiry lovers are not all the same.  The two broad categories are those who believe the process ought to be determined more by the a priori curricular agenda (as understood by teachers and/or parents) versus those who believe students should primarily determine the inquiry agenda.  Not to be judgmental, but rather just to be realistic…I would argue that those in the first category ought to admit that they are control freaks and work harder at learning how to cope with the uncertainty and the need for  “on the spot” professional problem solving that comes from engaging with students in authentic student-led inquiry.  Because in the end, the truth is that the less say students have in their own learning agenda, the less relevant school is to their lives and there is no way around that truth.  We adults just kind of tacitly agree on a certain level of boredom and irrelevance kids must tolerate in order for us to “get our work done” or for the so-called greater good.

In the past 25 years I have observed an estimated 1200+ preK-12 classroom lessons in several different countries.  I used to be able to sit through an entire lesson taking copious field notes and collecting all sorts of data.  In fact I am highly skilled at that activity.  But lately, in the past couple of years I find myself barely able to sit still in most classrooms for the entire period as I try to imagine how the children are experiencing what I am observing.  In general it’s boring and uninspired at best and intellect and curiosity crushing at worst.   And it’s not because anyone wants it to be that way.  That’s just how it is.   It makes me profoundly sad to observe sometimes because I feel as if I can actually see the natural enthusiasm for learning literally oozing out of kids onto the floor to be mopped up by the end of the period and forever gone.  Of course I paint this bleak picture with all optimism that it doesn’t really have to be this way.  My dad always said that “if it matters to you, you’ll be there, you’ll do it—or at least you’ll give it your best shot.”

In other words, if it really matters to us, then maybe we have to have the courage to face the unknown and start making some new choices about what happens in school.

Partnering with students is our best bet for a meaningful integration of technology in education!









Guest Blogger:  Ghinwa Itani Malas

Technological revolution is a fact, it’s been around long enough for a whole generation to embrace it as an integral part of who they are, how they choose to use it and how to express themselves through it. We are mistaken if we think that we should, or even can, control it because it is simply beyond anyone’s control.  The technology isn’t going to disappear.  So how we choose to deal with it is really up to us.

As educators, educational leaders and parents we have to admit that no matter how tech savvy we are, we will always be the digital immigrants who are adapting with different degrees of difficulty (and resistance!) to this technological age. We have a decision to make. We can either view technology as this monster that we need to fight because we can’t control it or we are afraid it will shake the way we are used to doing things or we don’t understand how to use it or it can be misused by children, OR we can be realistic, proactive and humbly admit that the train has long left the tracks and if we want any chance to be on it, we need help from the digital natives, who almost innately know how to use technology in its various forms. It’s time for us to review our role, the students’ role and the whole educational framework that we are interacting within.

It’s true that many children use technology for chatting, social media, or playing games, and perhaps too few of them use it to do research or share school projects. The fact is that adults (parents, teachers, administrators, policy makers) have limited the use of technology to extracurricular activities for free time by keeping it out of school and university programs.  The first interactive whiteboard was brought to Lebanon in 2007 and those are more common now, but there are still only a handful of schools in Lebanon allowing students to use computers and mobile devices for regular school work.  Children know they can do much more with technology, but they are rarely given the opportunity to do so.  Our role therefore is to create new learning opportunities for all our students (from preschool and up) to use technology for purposeful and meaningful learning.

We need to review the educational programs and curricula keeping in mind that students’ voice should be heard. We need their input and their ideas of what makes sense to them. This won’t be easy to do because of our own fears of losing control of children, but it is the only way!