Education Insights| Positive Psychology & Enquiry-Based Learning

Harvard University’s ‘Wellbeing Programme’ is popular all over the world. Professor Tal Ben-Shahar, who previously taught two of the largest classes in Harvard University’s history, Positive Psychology and The Psychology of Leadership believes that education can make people happy, and that happiness itself is derived from believing that your life is purposeful; and in recognising both the downsides and the upsides to life. True education, therefore, should provide children with critical thinking skills, the ability to engage in constant self-reflection and a love of lifelong learning. A growing number of educators advocate that true education does not just impart knowledge, but instead also provides the skills that make a pupil capable of being competent in any subject or profession.

There are so many things to explore in the world, especially for children to whom the world is a new and exciting place like those who have finished kindergarten and progressed through the early primary school years, or children in the third grade, halfway through their primary school life who have already obtained their preliminary learning. They have established good study habits and accumulated basic subject-knowledge. This is the critical time at which they can begin to go beyond the basics, to enhance the depth of their learning and refine their thinking patterns to become successful 21st century citizens. While obtaining academic information remains important, it is the successful patterns of thinking and ways of approaching problems that are the key to future success.

A marathon could be regarded as a metaphor for learning. The interests that children gain from rich learning experiences, and the joys that are associated with academic success, further motivate children to continue working hard and pushing for even greater success. To generate rich learning experiences, that children enjoy and which results in regular feelings on success, Huili School Hangzhou adopts a curriculum which is delivered through enquiry-based education. That is, we use a themed approach to cross-curricula topics, which are taught in a way that enhances every child’s understanding of the content. This understanding is further enriched, because the children learn in two languages. Rather than simply being taught and receiving the knowledge, children are instead encouraged to put forward their own questions and ideas, taking ownership of their learning and pushing forward the curriculum in each thematic unit. To this end, the study process includes plenty of discussion, research and data analysis. At the culmination of units, the children are required to present and express their ideas through a range of means, whether that is via class presentations, role-plays or other means.

For example, in a unit where the theme is “food”, the children may study the sourcing, processing, nutrition and other elements of knowledge relating to food. They can do this through reading books, watching relevant videos, conducting their own research and discussing their findings among the group. In this way, the children will plan and design together as a group. They are then required to bring images, toys and various related materials to school to further enhance their learning. To demonstrate their understanding of knowledge for the topic, children will use professional software to make dynamic presentations. As you can see, a simple topic such as food can be a means to bringing together many different subject matters, including Science, ICT, Language Arts, Mathematics, Social Studies and more.

In Maths class, children learn how to calculate currency conversions, cost budgeting and settling accounts. After comprehending these math skills, the children will then be required to create a 5-minute video, which includes buying food according to their budget and making healthy meals according to a recipe. This kind of interdisciplinary thematic learning is a means of ensuring that every child is excited about the topic and willing to actively take part. This not only stimulates their enthusiasm for learning and positive thinking, but also fosters and enhances a team spirit of cooperation.

At the same time, teachers will be continually assessing pupil progress through formative and summative assessments, according to the rigorous Huili assessment standards. Before assigning homework, not only will the assignment content be clearly explained to the children, the teacher will also explain assessment indicators, provide examples of successful results and guide pupils with suggestions and feedback. Above all, there is no single, standard answer for this type of project-based homework, which encourages children to think for themselves, to do their best, and to achieve brilliant and distinctive learning outcomes.

Every child is unique. Supported by our strong pastoral care programme, children need to face challenges with courage. They need to persist, try hard, and solve problems repeatedly. Then they will achieve success. At Huili School Hangzhou, enquiry-based learning and thematic units of study will help children to achieve intrinsic motivation and the skills that they need not only to succeed in school, but to think critically and be happier in life.