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Reinventing education: when unusual methods make the only sense

Reinventing education: when unusual methods make the only sense
By Robert Hackwill
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Teaching's one-size-fits-all approach is inadapted for many, especially pupils in critical situations or failing. This edition of Learning World looks at some remarkable teachers and their remarkable


There is much debate about which teaching methods are the most effective. But one thing that many experts agree on is the need for innovation and creativity in the classroom. Two teachers have thrown out the rule book when it comes to learning, and it works.

Gaza strip: healing trauma through play

The second winner of a one-million-dollar teaching prize, Hanan Al-Hroub has grabbed the world’s attention. Her methods were specifically developed for traumatised Palestinian children and today she is a model for many educators. We went to meet her to find out more.

Hanan al-Hroub’s world is a classroom in a small village school close to Ramallah, Al-Bireh. For the Palestinian teacher school should be a place of happiness, peace and security. Children have to be happy to learn well, she thinks.

Games without frontiers

“We just had mathematics. But the lesson was too difficult so we needed some activities to recharge the kids’ batteries,” she says.

They include a sort of “Simon says” game. One cocky lad tells Hanan that the children know everything and they won’t be caught out. Much laughter ensues as the wily teacher sets her traps.

Hanan’s methods are based on stories and games, also when it comes to science.

“The socks game is about concentrating on subtraction and addition. The students take a clothes peg. On the clothes peg is written a mathematical problem. For example 2+5, which equals 7. Then, the students have to look for a sock with the number 7, and clip on the right peg.

While playing the game they helped each other even if they didn’t have to and after that they had to run and hang it on the clothes line. It’s a competition that develops counting skills.”

One thing is particularly important to her. Children who have been traumatised need to play. That is what she discovered when her family was injured by the Israeli army.

Fear is the mind-killer

“They were stressed, they were traumatized and I had to find ways of getting rid of this trauma that my children were going through.

As a child I also went through traumas and had difficult times. I never felt protected as a child. I never even had a childhood.”

Hanan concludes with a telling observation:
“Now, I play with the children in the classroom, it’s as if I were a child again and I really enjoy it.”

These teaching methods really please seven-year-old Hala Saladin. We went to visit her and her mother at their home in Ramallah. Shy and sensitive as Hala is, it was not easy for this little girl to go to school in the beginning. But things have changed.


“I love school because there are lots of games and I study while playing.”

Her mother, Hane, says the transformation has been profound:

“Thanks to Hanan she’s happy to get up in the morning because she wants to learn and play. She
didn’t like school. Her academic scores were below the class average. Now her state of mind has changed.”

Hane also likes Hanan’s psychological approach towards her pupils:


“She made the negative energy inside them disappear. The world they’ll be facing will be different. It’s not only about war, destruction and hatred. They will look at life with another point of view.”

Teacher of the Year

Hanan’s Global Teacher prize’s million dollars will help her create an academy for teachers.

“Through this win I send a message to all the teachers of the world. We can together achieve the change, we together create a power and make the change that we want and affect the coming generations, if we unite together.


This prize offers power and global unity for everyone that this forum represents.”

USA: from failure to creativity

When he started teaching 25 years ago Joe Fatheree quickly realised that his students were not responding. Instead of quitting, he overhauled his approach using music and media. In this report we go to the US to see the impact of his project-based teaching.

In one small American town one teacher, Joe Fatheree, dares to dream big, and is ready to go that extra mile from classroom to classroom to help his students, bearing an unusual message; embrace failure as a way of unlocking your creativity.

“I can’t think of teaching any other way. I’m in class and I’m watching these epiphanies fire off all day long,” he exults.


Dropping the grammar hammer

Fatheree had his own epiphany several years ago, nearly quitting teaching after his grammar lessons bombed.

“I said – first of all, I can just apologize. I’m the problem. We’re going to fix this, starting today. So we’re going to find things that connect you to the real world. So you’re going to help me co-design projects,” he says, remembering the experience.

He began with music. Students would write their own songs on themes they had found in classical poetry.


Today that has expanded to 3D printing, writing, performing and engineering. Students have maximum freedom to create.

“Learning how to budget your time, learning how to manage a project, learning how to collaborate with one another, how to handle constructive or even destructive criticism. Those are all life skills kids need to be successful in life. But unfortunately for a lot of them they hadn’t had a lot of access to that.”

Many hands make fun work

Teamwork is a core teaching method; the video crew chips in to film the singer’s cowboy clip, while the computer effects people do the backgrounds and an artist does wild west illustrations for the video.


“It’s finding what you want to do and what you’re passionate about, and then turning it into something,” says student Oliver Passalacqua.

“I have gotten so much fulfillment out of this, both emotionally, and just being able to do something like this – it’s amazing,” agrees classmate Jessica Starrett.

Fatheree’s methods were sniffed at at first. Now his school turns out more and more of these student-centred teachers.

Jason Fox is Effingham High School Principal, Fatheree’s boss:


“Failure’s a huge part of his class. Kids understand they’re going to fail and understand how to go from there. That’s why they accomplish such great things.”

Success breeds success

One former student now runs an auto repair shop and says the teaching helped him succeed in business.

“It was almost a sense of, ‘Try, because even if you fail you’re still going to learn something for your next endeavour.’ And that’s what business is all about
in general. Take a problem, navigate around a problem, and still come out with a positive solution,” says Jake Buhnerkempe.


For Fatheree’s community he has helped reverse a brain drain, keeping smart local kids from leaving town to get on with careers.

“He’s connecting the world to Effingham every day, and that’s such a valuable thing for this community,” says the Effingham County Chamber of Commerce’s
Norma Lansing.

The student projects are not only artistic, and often have global ambitions. Groups helped design efficient portable stoves that are going to African schools.

If you are a teacher and have tried any innovative teaching methods Learning World wants to hear from you. Please feel free to get in touch with us on social media.

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