Qattan-Jericho Mantle of the Expert Science Programme 2012
Purposes and rationale of the programme
The team of science educators under the Helen and Walid Kattan benefaction has set out to change the teaching of science throughout Palestine, in order to enable Palestinian students to take part in a world-class science programme. The challenges are considerable bearing in mind that teaching practices designed in the last century to create knowledgeable artisans and farmers has been superseded by the need to create learners with the potential to lead the country into the future it so rightly deserves. With this in mind, the Qattan Foundation is sponsoring professionals in a range of fields from across the globe to support the development of a science curriculum suitable for nurturing a new generation of world-class scientists for a new future.
The programme is designed to shift the emphasis away from the current system based on superficial factual knowledge found in the lists of the textbook culture of classrooms. This new era is to tackle science through ‘big picture’ scientific concepts, emphasizing the divergent nature of science and the essential concepts of scientific investigations, scientific thinking, recognition of implications, development of high order inference, deductive analysis and evaluations, as well as understanding in depth scientific responsibility.
A major shift away from the textbook approach currently in place in most schools across Palestine is based on building actual, modeled or imaginary contexts within a classroom or learning environment where multiple meaning making can occur. This shift requires teachers to challenge the current orthodoxy of instruction styles of pedagogy and adopt new practices requiring an emphasis on learning rather than teaching through instruction. To date the results of experiments in Jericho with over 50 teachers have been very encouraging.
However, one of the most radical approaches to the new era learning programme has been the inclusion of the dramatic imagination and the associated practices of the medium. It has been the case for many years that finding contexts for basing knowledge skills and understanding is a holy grail in teaching. With the accelerated insights and applications throughout the world in the understanding and use of specialized dramatic pedagogies such as Process Drama (D4L) and later Mantle of the Expert (MoE) it has become clear that such pedagogies allow deep access into learning and teaching through context as part of a teacher’s tool kit for learning, particularly in science education.
Our first experiments were in the region of Jericho close to the Dead Sea resorts and rich farming areas. One has only to scratch the surface of the region to understand the host of scientific investigations that can be achieved in so small an area. The people who live in the Jericho areas have their roots in the Bedouin traditions of nomadic existence, a close relationship with the land and a deep inner standing of the coexistence of flora and fauna associated with human habitation. The area is also steeped in ancient history with all the incredible benefits of biblical testimony and other ancient Apocrypha in Hebrew and Arabic texts. Clearly, from a science educator’s point of view the contexts for investigations are almost endless given the diversity of the wild life and the existence of one of the greatest mysteries of our planet-The Dead Sea.
Programme plan for Grade 1-4 Students (6-9 year olds)
The science team, comprising of highly experienced science educators, researchers, archivists and technical support as well as an experienced educator in the drama for learning field came together with the support of the locality head teachers and Ministry Supervisors (our equivalent of School Support Advisers) on a four day residential experience tightly planned for science investigatory experiments. We also included the first of a series of workshops within the imaginary contexts of dramatic inquiry using the device known as Mantle of the Expert. (1) This device was to serve the purposes of enabling learning in a context as well as introducing the system to teachers very used to instruction based text book approaches to learning. (2)
From the feedback and feedforwards received from all parties it was clear that significant interventions in the arts, inquiry methods and inventing contexts for learning was needed to enable teachers to move away from a single paradigm of learning through instruction into one of multi-layered pedagogy. We must also remember that children have a shortened day in Palestine allowing them and their adult community to continue in the agrarian life styles. Additionally teachers are more and more to be found travelling the road from Jerusalem or other areas to Jericho and many have no roots in the area to speak of. This causes some tensions between the schools and the community. At the time of the build up of the programme, huge tensions further afield between the occupational forces and Palestinian people were surfacing resulting in a blockade of payments to government workers for 2 months. Tensions around this matter were at times explosive for some teachers who were trapped in several layers of cash flow issues. However, our cohort of teachers rose above this situation and tenaciously continued their work with us despite the financial setbacks they were facing.
With this backdrop, the work of the science team was focused on several factors to gain momentum for change and development. (3 Piaget concept in appendices). With several workshops on incorporating arts and science and with the developments of contextual learning frames the new group of teachers embarked on a journey with the blessing of the schools leadership and the School Supervisors in Jericho who are keen to instigate the practices of inquiry based learning and Critical Pedagogy (4). My work within this framework concerned the construction of context using Mantle of the Expert structures. We had concluded that the group of teachers was very committed to change though hard pressed to work in a vision that the current Palestinian schooling paradigm has not caught up with. Their trust in the process though delicately poised between growth and breaking nevertheless held fast throughout the three days. Tenacious and brave teachers tried all they knew to sustain their understandings of the methods as well as trying to fathom the skills they needed to trial them with linked with a need for new knowledge of teaching pedagogy such as questioning and language construction during the teaching encounter with classes of learners from Grades 1-4.
The context for investigation: Abu Ahmed and his Jericho retirement plan.
Rami and Abu Ahmad, live in Jerusalem. Rami is a public servant in one of the governmental offices. His father passed away 4 years ago, however, he left a small house on one donum of land in Jericho in his will. His father was a fine farmer and much of the family food, including fresh eggs, chicken, lamb, cheese and milk from goats that Rami ate in his childhood, came from the smallholding in Jericho.
During the last 4 years, after his father’s death, Rami has done nothing with the land, being very tied to his job and young family in the city of Jerusalem.
As his children have grown up, got married and left home, Rami and his wife have had more and more time to themselves. The Ahmad’s are now at the age of retirement. In the past few years however, he and his wife have taken up growing vegetables and plants. As they live in a flat now, there is not much space for their gardening activity. They have become increasingly skilled over the last few years of growing, so are very keen to have more space to grow for themselves.
This has led them to reconsidering their property in Jericho. They have been asking themselves: what could be interesting and of value in their later stages of life, if the Jericho property was revived? After all, Jerusalem is cold in winter and Jericho is warm…
As a task, the teachers were invited to read the context and critique the text above. The outcomes were very powerful as the participants began to review the implications of the ‘hidden text’. Teachers immediately recognized the truth in the context and made analytical comments on the internal structure the context generated. This in itself was a major learning development. The group also began to identify the inquiry questions that would carry the work forwards. Often Dr Heathcoat explained her Mantle of the Expert method as one where the curriculum attached to a context could be likened to an air balloon basket where the curriculum learning content was given a lift and therefore a reason for the curriculum focus. The closeness to reality was very attractive to the teachers who saw the immediacy of the context and what it could teach even in a fictional setting we had planned.