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Alternative Ways of Teaching, or Why World Arts and Cultures is the best subject

13 June 2019

by Nikoleta Nagyová, student at UWC Maastricht

So, I wanted to write a blog about World Arts and Cultures (WAC) (that little known school-based syllabus), but didn’t want to be seen to be too biased, given my wife teaches it! And then this article by one of her students popped up in the latest edition of the The Flying Dutchman (student newspaper). The article comments both on why WAC is a great UWC subject (it’s all about identity, understanding and human connections, plus it is an inquiry and arts based approach with empathy at the heart of practice – what is not to love?!). It also picks up points about how skilled teachers curate and design experiential education and why that is effective for learning (back to our UWC roots). And so, with her permission, I am commandeering it for the education blog. Also to note, Niko, like many UWC students, came to UWC with quite limited English 20 months ago – so impressed at her progress! 

Rebecca, Warren, Senior Education Programme Coordinator at UWC International

Alternative Ways of Teaching

Why WAC is the best subject

by Nikoleta Nagyová, student at UWC Maastricht

When I was applying to UWC, it was hope for a better education what drove me to leave my friends and family for 2 years. I didn’t dream about the IB, I didn’t even know what it was. I didn’t dream about extremely heavy content, sleepless nights full of studying or “internationally recognized curriculum”.

Although I knew this experience was going to be academically very challenging, what I was really looking for was a new way of teaching and learning. I was tired of “traditional education”, meaning sitting in the class, writing notes and memorising the entire book. I was looking forward to creative ways of teaching, interactive presentations, crazy exploding chemistry experiments and studying by listening to songs which summarise 1 chapter in a three-minute long funny video. Now, after 2 years of IB, with graduation quickly approaching, I do realize how naive I was. However, I am convinced that my wishes were not completely unrealistic.

I can confidently say that it is possible to apply alternative ways of teaching even in this challenging academic program because I had the chance to take my favourite subject, World Arts and Cultures (WAC). WAC is an amazing subject, very underrated and in my opinion, absolutely necessary to be taught in a UWC school. It not only teaches students art, history and cultures but most importantly, it teaches us to understand human interactions and identity as well as the impact of cross-cultural links on our own cultural identity.

I could talk for hours about why WAC is the coolest subject but that’s not why I am writing this article. I am here to explain that WAC would have never been as cool as it is if it would have been taught in a different way. My father always says that whether you like a subject or not depends mostly on your teacher. I am not sure to what extent is this statement true, but I have learnt that teachers and particularly their teaching techniques have a great impact on our perception of the subject.

So, other than the content we learn, why do I think that WAC is the best subject? We don’t study from a book. We get many resources and readings from our teacher but a large part of studying for WAC is research. Finding our own information, being able to assess its reliability and extracting what’s relevant for class. Most of the time spent in class is based on discussions. The information is not given to us directly. We get an image of an art object we have never seen before and we first spend time brainstorming and trying to figure out the materials, use, meaning, who made it, where and why. Sometimes we can get close and others we really don’t.

The main goal of our classes is thinking and understanding rather than memorising. The assessment of our test consists of colours and specific feedback based on the development of our skills. Instead of defining our knowledge through a number from 1 to 7, we truly get to understand what we need to work on. Our teacher made us memorise what is necessary through a countless number of creative and awesome activities, including acting out a situation portrayed on an Egyptian Stella as if we were the pharaohs or the sun god Aten himself, preparing our own ritual to worship spirits, coming up with a worship rap song, creating our own artworks from Pacific Northwest Coast, trying to understand the IB requirements through making Buddha statue from candy and vegetables or making T-shirts with the Seven Samurai flag.

Sometimes I try to encourage my other teachers to do similar things in my other classes, however, I often get a response within the lines of “you can only do this on WAC because it’s easy, many subjects like sciences are too content heavy, we don’t have time to play during classes! Well, I said it many times and I will say it again: WAC is NOT an easy subject. Humanities are not easy subjects. We also need to know places, names, years, difficult terms and many other facts. We also have to truly understand our syllabus. We also have IB requirements.

I do believe that chemistry, history and arts can’t be taught in the same way as they consist of very different type of content. However, I am convinced that every subject can be taught in a creative and interactive way which will help students to avoid endless memorising of textbooks and will help them to meaningfully learn and understand a big part of the content subconsciously, through more fun, cooler and less stressful and boring techniques.

With that being said, I truly hope that the newly developing UWC curriculum will keep this effort in its very bases, regardless of the path it will take.