After writing about Design Thinking and the Perfect Wallet exercise, I am featuring one of the founders of the featured education lab last week. Gerson Abesamis, co-counder of Habi Education Lab, describes their non-profit organization as one that “seeks to bring innovation to Philippine schools through design thinking workshops and grassroots partnerships with design and technology groups. It is based on the beliefs that education can always get better, reforming it is a process, and engaging the end users–teachers and students–is essential.”

Trained at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Gerson is passionate about user-centered design, digital media, and educational technology. He has worked in projects for Pearson, Harvard University and Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. To learn more about Gerson’s efforts in design and education, you can visit the official site of Habi Education Lab and his personal website.

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School: Philippine Science High School (PSHS)/ University of the Philippines Diliman (UP Diliman)
Current Position: Teacher (PSHS) / Lecturer (UP Diliman)
Country: Philippines
One word that describes your teaching style: Human
What mobile devices and computers are you currently using?
For my high school class, we use laptops. We’re privileged that our school gets government support and some donations from the private sector–enough to supply our laboratories with decent equipment. For my college class, it’s a different story.

Are there any apps for education you can’t stop talking about lately?
I teach Computer Science and Design so I go crazy about sites and apps that are geared more towards that: Codecademy, Mozilla Webmaker, Codepen, JS Fiddle, Balsamiq. They really made web design more accessible to beginners. As for LMS’s, I use Edmodo for my high school class and NeoLMS for my college classes. I’m pretty happy with them.

If you can tweak or add a function to your favorite app, what would it be?
Just make it really lightweight and quick to load, internet connection is always a problem with web-based apps!

What is the best time for you to write and generate ideas?
I’m the type of person that embraces new ideas, I just take out my phone and save it immediately. It comes in strange times: when I wake up, when I’m deep in conversation with another person, when I’m watching a movie, when I’m stuck in traffic…

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Habi Education Lab offers exercises such as Design Thinking, Deeper Learning and Mindfulness in the Classroom. (image taken from habieducationlab.org)

 

How do you manage your to-do lists?
I read them everyday, and do my best to keep the tasks descriptive as possible (so I won’t forget what I need to do when I get back to them.) I also divide complex tasks into doable chunks; makes the tasks less overwhelming.

What’s the best advice on teaching that you received?
That I am not the same with my students, that I shouldn’t design the class according to MY preferences, experiences, and knowledge alone. I have to recognize that my students have different backgrounds that inform and influence how they learn and experience the world.

What do you learn from your students?
A lot! It’s hard to pinpoint specific ones since I feel like everytime I talk to my students I pick up something new. I’m a relatively young teacher (27), but I’ve accepted the fact that there’s a big generation gap between me and my students: music, pop culture, hobbies, Internet lingo and slang are completely different now from when I was growing up. I try to get to know them as much as possible so that the class would fit their needs and interests. What’s really important though is that I treat them as people–smart, inventive, optimistic, driven individuals. These characteristics are really refreshing and infectious, which is one of the best things about working with young people.

You are currently part of the Habi Education Lab, what inspired you to create and be part of this startup?
I realized that as a teacher, it’s hard to find extra time to learn and pick up new knowledge. But the problem wasn’t simply about money, resources, or time management. Based on experience, I think it’s a cultural thing–we don’t value “learning” as much once we’re teaching, learning for ourselves, learning to improve our practice. What if we changed how schools look at the professional development of teachers, and invest more in cultivating a culture of lifelong learning among the faculty and staff? Thinking about that inspired me to form Habi, to rethink how teachers learn new ideas, share insights, collaborate on projects, and solve problems. It’s about empowering teachers to learn, and take part in actual reform at a grassroots level, starting with their classrooms and colleagues.

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Participants at the Habi Education Lab workshops. (image taken from habieducationlab.org)

 

What is your role in Habi Education Lab? Can you explain further your functions in this role?
I am the co-founder and the lead for design and innovation. Basically, I take an active role in designing our innovation workshops for teachers, as well as looking for problems that we can experiment and design solutions for. We’re trying to be more like a lab where teachers not only learn through workshops, but learn by collaborating on projects with other individuals from different specializations. Some initiatives we’re starting: a survey instrument to measure how much learning is happening among teachers and staff, an online web resource to bridge scientific literacy to educators and the general public, and a series of workshops that hope to reinvent typical teacher training seminars by mashing it up with somewhat different topics (for example: theater and empathy, games and bullying).

Fostering Flight is about how teachers can guide their students in following their dreams. As an educator, how do you prepare your students for the future?
I try to veer away from teaching them facts, and instead I teach them to be aware of how they learn instead. Metacognition, how to look for problems, how to collaborate with people, how to evaluate information. Those skills I think are more valuable, as it prepares students for whatever industry they find themselves in. If a student of mine decides to become a classical musician, what good will random plant facts bring? But understanding where to look for information if they need to know about plants, that might be useful.

Give an educator’s name: I would like to see ____ answer these same questions.
Cris Tanjutco! (Teach for the Philippines Fellow, Elementary school teacher)

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