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May 29, 2018

Winning More Than Just First Place

Students and a volunteer enjoying English class.
Students and a volunteer enjoying English class.

This session at TYO marked my first-time teaching 5th and 6th graders English, and with it the introduction to a huge group of students who seemed to have boundless enthusiasm and limitless amounts of energy. In the spirit of TYO, I looked for ways to redirect and focus this energy, rather than trying to suppress it and control it, and ended up introducing my favorite personal teaching style into the classroom: Competition.

I am hardly the first teacher to harness the benefits of competition. Its effects have often provided positive results. The use of team competition in education has been documented in psychology before, including the 1981 study Effects of Cooperative, Competitive, and Individualistic Goal Structures on Achievement. The study tested how students preformed when they competed against each other individually or as a team working in a cooperative effort. The study concluded that, “Cooperation with intergroup competition is also superior to interpersonal competition and individualistic efforts,” (Johnson, W., Maruyama, G., Johnson, R, 47). By adding a teamwork element to competitive learning, students were able to remove themselves from their insecurities and play together, learning the lesson material without realizing they were studying through play.

The study supports the claim that team competition can help students academically, but that’s not all competition can provide students. Competitions help to meet students half way by using the energy that they naturally bring to class and redirect it in positive directions. Energy in a classroom can cause disruptions and distractions during class, but it’s not an inherently negative thing and can be used in a positive way. If students supply the energy, teachers should supply the means to use it in constructive ways and change how students view learning.

Confidence can be cultivated during activities when students recognize their abilities and overall contribution to their team getting points. During an intense moment of competition, students will try to help their team however they can. Win or lose, the sense of contributing to a shared goal can often boost the confidence of even the shiest students.

The positive impact of competition in the classroom became obvious through my own anecdotal experience with one of my older students as the class participated in a competitive activity in 4 teams. The subject was spelling, one of the less engaging subjects, yet when points were on the line, my students scrambled to find the necessary letters out of a pile. The student, who is normally the most reluctant to answer any question and tries his best to sit in the corner, was now completely hunched over the table, sorting through letters with his teammates and excitedly yelling that he had found the necessary vowel. This complete transformation wasn’t merely limited to the spelling challenge. He continued to amaze as he encouraged his teammates, excitedly pumped his fist when his team scored and was the first to throw his hand up in the air when his team had completed their task first. As an individual, he was unsure and timid in his answers, but surrounded by his teammates and the chance of victory, he was a completely different student. The student now shows his confidence outside of competitions and is more likely to engage in lessons when he knows that he might have an opportunity later to use that same knowledge to gain some much-coveted points.

Games and activities allow students to grow academically, gain confidence in their abilities, and express themselves through play. Education that is effective, fun, and leads to personal growth is what TYO is all about, and what distinguishes it as an education center rather than a traditional school. The goal isn’t merely to have students leave our doors with a little bit more knowledge in their heads, but to create a personal love of knowledge and to grow as individuals.


Johnson, D. W., Maruyama, G., Johnson, R., Nelson, D., & Skon, L. (1981). Effects of cooperative, competitive, and individualistic goal structures on achievement: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 89(1), 47-62.
Apr 16, 2018

From Pharmacist to Businesswoman - Ma'ali's Story!

Introducing Ma
Introducing Ma'ali!

Ma’ali is a pharmacist who studied at An-Najah National University. She is married and has two children. Despite her studies, Ma’ali does not work in pharmaceuticals and has been working at a money exchange store for 9 years. As Ma’ali’s eldest son began to grow up, she realized that he was incredibly intelligent and that his cognitive abilities far exceeded any educational tools available in Palestine. Both Ma’ali and her son endured a very difficult period, as her son was not challenged in school and developed behavioural problems. Conversely, it was evident early in his development that Ma’ali’s second son had a learning disability. Ultimately, Ma’ali was confronted with the same problem as with her eldest son; there were no educational tools for her second son that would address his cognitive needs. Ma’ali decided to find a solution to meet the educational needs of her children. She began attending conferences and workshops to meet teachers, psychologists, and social workers to inquire about the types of educational tools required for both disabled and advanced students. Ma’ali began to develop multi-level books and games for children who fall on a wide range of the learning spectrum.

Ma’ali first learned about the Advancing Palestinian Women Entrepreneurs project (APWE) at the Tulkarem Rural Women’s Association. Ma’ali joined APWE because she is a new entrepreneur and wants to learn how to operate her business well and widen her business networks. Because Ma’ali studied pharmacy, she had no experience creating a business or financial plan. Through APWE, she learned how to price products correctly, how to balance income and expenses, and how to use business and financial plans to create new business connections. Additionally, she learned how to create a market research study and how to target customers and identify market needs. Through marketing and branding training, Ma’ali better understood the importance of an authentic logo and how it can be fundamental to business success.

Ma'ali greatly benefited from the business plan she developed with APWE and used it both to introduce her business to new partners and to participate in competitions. She participated in the Pioneers of Palestine program with non-profit organization Synergos and had the opportunity to attend a number of additional business training focused on fundraising, legal advice, and human development. In October 2017, Ma'ali registered her business with the Chamber of Commerce after learning how important this was to expand her business further!

In the future, Ma'ali hopes to produce hard copies of her educational tools, including kits for science and a series of educational books and puzzles for children with learning disabilities. She also wishes to open a learning centre for children to help them understand school curricula using different approaches.

Mar 1, 2018

It's Not Goodbye. It's See You Later!

Ali gives a thumbs-up for the first day at TYO!
Ali gives a thumbs-up for the first day at TYO!

After a wonderful session with the children at TYO, the end of the session brings the challenge of saying goodbye. Saying goodbye to the students is never easy, especially after creating such a unique bond with them. As the end of each session comes closer, students start to reveal different emotions from attachment to the place and people including sadness from not being able to see each other every day. These feelings are quickly reversed once the teachers inform their students that they will see each other next session!

During our Winter 2018 session, we were able to open two classrooms for returning Core students. The parents were excited because they knew how deeply their children were attached to TYO and the teachers and how eager the children were to return to TYO! As for the Core teachers, they were incredibly happy to know that they would be seeing so many familiar faces.

On the first day of the session, it was no surprise to see the returning four and five year olds with big smiles and opened arms! To celebrate the first day, TYO arranged a day full of fun by bringing in inflatable bouncy games! Upon seeing these games, the children were surprised, thrilled, and excited to start playing!

Core teacher Shireen shared her thoughts and feelings on having the students return for another session at TYO. Shireen stated, "One of the best experiences in life is being able to give to others and draw a smile on their faces, particularly children. Through numerous experiences with children you always discover that everyday gives you a chance to not only teach, but also learn from the children surrounding you. Children always start off feeling nervous and scared when coming to a new place they have never been exposed to. Day after day, they become more comfortable and connected as this new place becomes a part of their lives. It feels amazing when we have returning students as it allows you to see the impact you left on them. They come back following the same set of rules you taught them from the first encounter with them. I strongly believe that children constantly require strong mentors to guide them in a proper and healthy manner which allows them to strive."

As TYO is a safe space for children to learn, grow, and explore who they are and what makes them special. It is with no doubt that giving children a place that is steady and positive in their lives plays an essential and positive role on their mental and emotional wellness. That's why at TYO it never really is goodbye, it's see you later!

Futoon is reaching the top with TYO!
Futoon is reaching the top with TYO!
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