Genocide Museum

This post forms part of the Rwanda Series after attending the Rwanda Education Summit in Musanze from 21st – 26th May 2012.  Read further posts in the series here.

On my bucket list for sometime has been the Genocide Museum in Kigali.  Today I got the chance to spend a couple of hours reading and reflecting on this tragic event and wander the gardens of the mass graves for the 250,o00 buried here.

The museum followed a circular route around the building, beginning with the history of Rwanda and the division of the country during colonial rule with the introduction of the identity card in 1932. The colonial power identified anyone with ten cows in 1932 as Tutsi and anyone with less than ten cows as Hutu, beginning the division of a nation.

As I continued through the museum learning of the rehearsing of genocide, the building itself was playing tricks on me.  At one stage I came back to the place where I thought I had started, only to realise it was continuing.  A feeling I am sure was felt by many Rwandans.

“When the genocide was underway, Radio Television Libre des Millie Collines was used to incite hatred, to give instructions and justify the killings.  The population were being conditioned to accept and to join the plan to act before it was too late.”

I began to reflect on my role as an educator in something like this. What values can I instill in kids worldwide which will ensure an event like this is kept in our history? Would tolerance alone be enough to stop something like this?

I fought back tears as I entered a room full of family pictures of those whose lives were lost, leaving their families displaced and the future of a nation balancing on a ledge. I deliberately spent time looking at each one and confronting the past.

“Education has become our way forward.  The main memorial sites all have education programmes to ensure that coming generations understand the mistakes of their forebears, so that they are given the chance to think about their own values and actions.  We need to learn about the past…..we also need to learn about it.” Kigali Genocide Memorial in partnership with Aegis Trust, 2004.

By the time I reached the children’s memorial I could no longer hold back the tears. Dedicated to the memory of many thousands of children whose lives were cut short, it gave details of the life and deaths of 14 children lost to the genocide.

Francine Murengezi Inagabire
Favourite Sport:Swimming
Favourite Food:Eggs and chips
Favourite Drink:Milk and Fanta tropical
Best Friend:Her elder sister Claudette
Cause of Death:Hacked by machete

It was certainly a sobering trip to the museum and I left thinking that we can never underestimate the power of education in creating a world of unity, forgiveness and tolerance.

“A tree can only be straightened when it is young.” Traditional.


Initial Conversations

This post forms part of the Rwanda Series after attending the Rwanda Education Summit in Musanze from 21st – 26th May 2012.  Read further posts in the series here.

On day one I arrived in Kigali, excited, nervous and full of anticipation for the Education Summit I was participating in.

I was lucky enough to sit in on a conversation with John Rutaysire, the Director General of the Rwandan Education Board.

The Director General was firstly congratulated by the group on the recent completion of his PHD on professional learning in Education. I must admit I instantly had more respect for him knowing he had a background in Education.

He went on to talk about the current state of education in Rwanda, “In the last 18 years since Genocide, access has been the main priority of Education. Now it must be about engagement.”


He continued to share his vision of confident children who have problem solving and entrepreneurial skills and can work collaboratively.

He believes teacher training needs to be at the forefront in reforming education and dreams of demonstrations schools and classrooms leading the way.

I was impressed by his vision as I sat and listened to what he wants for Education and look forward to seeing Rwandan Education in context as I visit schools in the next few days.


This post forms part of the Rwanda Series after attending the Rwanda Education Summit in Musanze from 21st – 26th May 2012.  Read further posts in the series here.

This week I will be a participant of the SCIL Rwanda Summit and sit here at the airport, anxious, excited and a little scared. For a long time now I have had a small place in my heart for Rwanda. The 1994 genocide came at a time in my life when I was really growing up. As I looked for universities and thought about the future I wanted, I was also well aware of this African nation and it’s despair. It was the first time in my life social justice had played a part and I recall sending a letter to our government urging them to help. Not much I know, but now as I look back on that letter I see it as a time when I really grew up and saw myself as part of a bigger picture and a global citizen. As it turned out I would never go back to do anymore than my letter. But Rwanda has remained in my dreams since and I always knew one day I would go, whether to visit or stay for a while.

So my interest was certainly peaked when I came across a tweet about an education summit in Rwanda earlier in the year. At first I thought I wouldn’t be what they were looking for but the more I thought about it the more I realized I could not let an opportunity like this go by.

The summit begins in Kigali as we visit a school and meet each other. We then travel to Musanze, where we will visit more schools. It all culminates as we strategize a future for education in Rwanda, a country well aware of needing to provide a future for students who are a generation once removed from genocide.

I have tried not think about Rwanda or their education as I really want an open mind when I arrive, a clean slate to really see and feel this experience. I am certainly looking forward to writing about my experiences over the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned!

Dear students, I respect you.

I woke to the buzz on twitter this morning of an article about teachers and how they are becoming makeshift parents in the Herald Sun. The article supplied a lot of data from the 800 or so surveyed teachers and loosely examined the role of teachers and parents in a child’s upbringing. There was one piece of data which really peaked my interest – 3 out of 5 teachers felt students did not respect them.  Wow! But this alone was not what got my heart rate going.  It was when I read the comments from readers!  There were very few chastising teachers like you might expect, but many reflecting on the youth of today and how disrespectful, undisciplined and disgracefully behaved they are.

Image: ‘Grandpa’ 
I, on the other hand, have a very different view of the youth of today.  I feel I am completely respected by the students I teach and more importantly I respect them.The article did get me thinking about what I believe are the characteristics of youth today and I came up with these few:

Honesty: I recently took part in a day preparing students for the transition to Secondary College, organised by the Reach Foundation and was in awe at the way the staff (most around 20 years old) were able to articulate and share feelings.  Students were sharing how they felt, fears they had and describing experiences without hesitation.  And no topic was swept under the carpet or skimmed over. Everything was talked about, out in the open, because an experience shared by one, will have a message for others. I find this is true in my classroom and am often surprised by how mature students are about what is going on around them and how it makes them feel.

Resilience: If you think about what the youth of today experience at any given time you may be surprised at how they get through a day. Each day they see more pain, loss and heartbreak on the news, in the newspaper or on their phones, more so than any other generation. We definitely feel more globally responsible than ever before and with this comes  a heavy emotional toll, which I believe our younger generations deal with very well.

Socially Strong: I know, we have all heard it, ‘Children today have no social skills, all they do is sit on the computer.’ But before you judge them think of how much more difficult it is to juggle 4 or 5 conversations, type, read SMS speak and understand what people mean without the help of voice and facial gestures, all at the same time. And that is not to mention the number of social circles they are part of.

Adaptable: The world and society is changing at such a rapid speed these days and our youth has adapted quickly to this.  Yes, they are making mistakes and learning as they go but they are certainly not giving up. A impostor on facebook would cause me to shut down my account forever but for the students I teach it is an opportunity for them to learn how to fix and and ensure it doesn’t happen again. Rather than giving up they adapt their lives and actions to ensure they survive.

I could continue to go on here but I guess the real question is how do I earn the respect of students?  I understand that respect doesn’t come to me just because they call me Miss Cashen, because I am a teacher or because I am older.  I must earn it. I listen to what they have to say.  I treat them like an equal because they are an equal.  I value their ideas and trust they can accomplish anything, even if they go about it differently than I do. Their ideas, thoughts and experiences are no less important than mine because they are younger. I do not judge them.

Let’s show the youth of today a little respect, not put them down.  They are the key to our future.

Image: ‘one, one, one’ 

Draw a Stickman

This week I came across a tweet from @willie42 sharing the website “Draw a Stickman.”  On this website you draw a stickman which then fights a dragon, puts out a fire and saves itself from a shark.  You really need to visit the site to see what I am talking about but as it finishes, the letters – BE CREATIVE, are left behind from the flooding water.  After spending some time ‘playing’ with the stick man I then sent it on to my sister, who in turn sent it on to her kids.

Today, during a conversation with my niece, the topic of the stickman came up.  We spoke of how we had come to try the website a few times over and that it was always  the same.  That got me thinking that, in fact, both of us had gone back to play it again. Why?  Well at first it was to see if the story would change.  Maybe this comes from our inner belief that there aways to be something else, something more!

We did soon discover, however, that each of us had also gone back to improve our drawings.  Not because we were going to display our work.  Not for a sticker to wear on our shirts.  Not even for bragging rights of having a great stick man.  We did it purely from wanting to improving ourselves.  To do something better.

After a few more laughs of our similarities we then entered my nephew into the recount.  Not only had he gone back to improve his drawing but also to bend the rules.  “I made my sword a flower but it still killed the dragon!”


And it didn’t stop there.  Having a friend visiting we encouraged her to try the website and watched with anticipation to see what she would draw.

“It is not what I imagined.” she exclaimed!

“It is called draw a stickman.  What were you expecting?”

Even the simple part of drawing a key was interesting.  “Oh – I drew my key on the other hand.”

“Really?  I drew mine there because it had more room.”

“No.  I put mine closest to the box.  It is a stickman you know!”

The Draw a stickman website certainly showed me something about the way we learn and motivate ourselves.  So what was it that got us attempting the game more than once?

  • Inquisitive and curious nature.
  • Inner competitiveness.
  • Stretching the boundaries of the world as we know it.
  • Creativity.

And the learning didn’t stop there.  We then reflected on what we had done and out thinking around it.  Finally we went back and tried it again.  And yes, the next time I did draw the key in a different hand!

This is true learning.  Innocent, authentic, creative, non judgmental.  And it wasn’t about the stickman.  Shouldn’t this be what learning looks like in our classrooms?  Where students:

  • Don’t feel confined by boundaries or worried about what others are thinking
  • Are reflecting on what they are learning
  • Feeling confident and comfortable to take risks
  • Are willing to push the boundaries of society’s beliefs
  • Are intrinsically motivated, not just trying to impress others
  • Sharing their learning
  • Are comfortable to have a different opinion to others

Wow – All this from a stickman!

Me as a learner

I have been participating in the PLPConnectU project and I am having a fabulous time learning!

The project is based around building a network to bring about new learning specifically based around passion based, 21st Century learning.  Our project began when we met face to face in March and since then we have developed a group of teachers working as a network to converse around a specific question (What is creativity?)

"Creative Hands" - Mindy

We are currently about half way through the project and already my ideas and beliefs have taken a huge turn.  I guess one of my highlights of the project so far is how powerful a network is for forcing you to question what you believe in and more importantly why you believe in it.  Just as I begin to be clear in my thoughts about what creativity is someone throws in a new question which takes me back to the drawing board.

I have also enjoyed the chance to sit in the shoes of my students.  For each step of this project I have compared myself and my learning to that in my classroom, from how I chose the group I worked in to how I reflect on my learning.

I didn’t actually choose my group based on a passion of mine but the people I would be working with.   I have seen the students in my class choose their teams based on similar reasoning.  In fact we discussed this in my class recently with students choosing their groups based on their friends, groups most likely to succeed and based on what there passions are.  All valid reasons in specific situations.

The topic choice was pretty much irrelevant in my decision to join this group which may be the reason I was completely on a different path to others in the group.  With cretaivity given to the group as a beginning topic my mind first went to art and being artistic.  But the power of the network soon changed my thinking to creativity as something I should be adding to all aspects of my classroom.

Many readings and discussion later I now have these questions I am reflecting on;

How do I encourage creativity in my classroom?

Do students feel creativively nurtured and supported in my classroom?

Does my teaching give opportunities for students to take their own initiative?

How can I be more creative in how I teach?

Inquiring minds

I have recently read Nigel Holloway’s great post on the, Art and Power of Reflection. I am a very reflective person by nature and I guess you would say I am a bit of a self learner too. I often reflect on how I have contributed to, or behaved, in a particular situation. For example if the kids are not on task during a lesson, I think first about what I could have done differently.

One thing I don’t always do is reflect on the positive things I do.  But today I had good reason to.  I had one of those moments that I work hard to acheive.  Well not achieve per say but to see occur in my classroom.  First I need to give you a bit of background.

For the last ten years I have taught using an inquiry approach.  Well at least I thought I was. Like many others I use the topic headings to plan all of my unit – tuning in, finding out, sorting out etc.  But what I wasn’t doing was actually giving students any opportunity to inquire or think for themselves.


Last year I was lucky enough to spend a few days learning from Nadine Le Mescam, an educator who is passionate about inquiry based learning and is an amazing wealth of knowledge.  From those few days, with Nadine,  I learnt so much and now work very hard to give students opportunities to direct their own learning and lead inquiries.

With this in mind I planned, along side my colleagues, the beginnings of an inquiry unit on electricity.  Our inquiry question was – How does electricity affect our lives?  I say ‘was’, as this is where it started but it has evolved since then.

As a school we were using the Primary Connections as the basis of our planning and although I found it a little too prescribing for what I wanted to achieve,  I used elements of it to frame the question, such as finding out how a circuit works.

Now back to the change in question.  We watched an episode of Mythbusters about electricity and the kids came up with loads of questions.  I couldn’t let the opportunity be wasted so we started getting into groups to investigate them.

The questions included; How much electricity does it take to kill someone?  Can electricity jump out of a power point?  Does a conductor have to contain metal?  Of course we decided that some of the questions couldn’t be tested by ourselves and would rely on researching.

Today we had a group of kids working on a question about static electricity.  The question had changed a couple of times as they researched and found new information but they settled on – Can static electricity move water?  Together as a group they did some research and designed an experiment where they would create static electricity by rubbing a balloon on their hair and placing this near a running tap.

If I am to be honest, I doubted (in my obvious lack of science knowledge) that it would happen.  But sure enough I could see the water move.

The great thing was that the learning didn’t stop there.  They then wanted to know the science behind it and did more researching.  They have also altered their experiment to test if all objects will transfer the static energy – like a comb.  Or if they rub the balloon against their hair more will the water move even more.

Watching the kids with huge smiles on their faces from their inquiring and being so eager to share their learning for others was a great moment today.  It was a time where I definitely reflected on how I had set up this learning experience and allowed them to inquire in such a way.  A moment that I am very proud of. I love that I was so far off the mark with what I thought the kids would learn but because they led the learning and used the problem solving and researching skills I had taught them, the learning was so much more meaningful.

And by the way – the kids are now writing out story boards to make their own films based on the Mythbuster theme, which we will enter in the 60 Second Science Video Competition.

What great teaching moments are you proud of?

How do you use inquiry in your classroom?

Who Needs a Philosophy? – I do!

I often reflect on myself as a teacher and the journey I have taken over the years.  I sometimes feel like I have only become a ‘real’ teacher in the last couple of years but I guess it is really that my teaching has taken the shift I am most proud of during this time.

I am currently participating the PLPConnectU program in Victoria and have thoroughly enjoyed the conversations and inspiring educators who I am now immersed with daily.  On our first face to face session and again during a recent elluminate session we were asked to share our philosophy on education.

Interestingly enough I have rarely been asked this question.  I think the last time was when I was at university.  Actually, it may have been the last essay I submitted, explaining my philiosphy in education.  Sadly I fear it was a regurgatation of theorists we had read about.  But it was percieved as being one of the most important aspects of an educator and certainly a requirement of every teacher.

It then took 10 years before I was asked about my philosophy again…. Not in a job interview, not in my performance review and certainly not in the staffroom.

Although I never shared it, I have always had a philosophy and it has always been changing.  Transforming my beliefs as I learned and experienced more. Taking what I saw and forming a new belief or being inspired by what I read and heard from others. Often it would blend around what I was told by my leaders as being important.

So what has changed in the last two years that has allowed me to develop and share  my own philosophy?  I guess blogging and twitter would have to be the main reasons.  I was introduced to amazing educators who could think for themselves, form beliefs and work towards them.  Through reading other’s work and hearing inspiring educators on twitter I started to question my own ideals and what education means to me. And then share them.

I guess by now you are wondering what my philosophy is!  It revolves around anywhere, anytime learning not based solely on content but on developing life long learners who can communicate, collaborate and create in today’s and future societies. I could go into great detail here but I think you get the picture!

So is a philosophy necessary to be an educator?  Do you think we need to talk about it more, in the staffroom, or with our leaders? How do we ensure we are being true to our philosophy whilst being held back by red tape? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Are you teaching for the 22nd Century?

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to meet up with some amazing educators to kick off our PLP ConnectU project.  This is a project funded by DEECD (Dept of Education in Victoria) is an opportunity for teachers to challenge the traditional view of teaching and learning.  Sheryl Nussbaum–Beach and Will Richardson, two educators who I highly respect and admire, kicked off the project yesterday.  We had many wonderful discussions about education and what we believe it should look like in the 21st century.


In one discussion we were asked to answer the following questions

What about the world and society has changed since you went to school?

What about students has changed since you went to school?

What about schools has changed since you went to school?

What should school 2.0 look like to accommodate learners of the 21st century.

These questions were actually questions I had asked myself in the last couple of weeks as I was reading ‘The New Rules of Engagement – A guide to understanding and connecting with generation Y,’ by Michael McQueen. If you get a chance this is a great book and as it is not too long so it makes for a great weekend read.

The book begins by looking at the different types of generations and the worldly events, which have moulded each generation and concludes with strategies for educators and parents to engage different generations.

It addresses the fact that one generation can never be better than another, but each generation reflects the world of its time and is a production of the generations before it.

One thing that amazes me is that teaching has had limited change, where as learning has changed considerably.  Why, when we are teaching a generation of the ‘How and Why’, do we we continue to teach them the ‘When and Where?’   We are teaching a generation of children who have the content at their fingertips, understand the notion of lifelong learning, anytime, anywhere.

I was told last week that children who have a birth date post 2010 have a a fair chance of making the 22nd century.  To me this is a very powerful as I am not now just teaching for the 21st century but the 22nd century as well!

How will you teach students in the 21st century so they are still learning in the 22nd century?

How do you think the world, students and school have changed since you were a child?

Please leave a comment.