Month: October 2016

Teachers are Students too

Teachers are Students too

stressfulI was startled by Dylan William’s research which suggested that teachers’ pedagogical growth and openness to professional development begins to wane after 3 years of classroom practice. I found that incredibly interesting; however as I recall my own journey,  it took me about 3 years to develop my classroom management style and get a handle of the paperwork and other demands of the profession. Perhaps these educational housekeeping items get confused for “good practice” and teachers can stagnant professionally once their comfort zone becomes established. Of course, the current boom in project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, STEM, flipped classrooms, design thinking and educational technology have disrupted a lot of teachers’ around the world. It may seem overwhelming at times to keep evolving.

Whether or not you adopt these principles and trends or not, I think there are some “basic needs” that educators have to master.

Here are some essentials elements of a quality classroom: (Must DOs)

  • Be intentional and set learning goals for students.
  • Laughter and humor are really important in learning –whether it is laughing AT the learning process or DURING the learning.
  • Hard Fun: challenging and engaging projects always trump didactic teacher directed lessons. (ie: Ditch that textbook and create meaningful work tasks for students.)
  • Get every student answering questions through better formative assessment practices.
  • Create blended learning experiences, in which technology is integrated as a component of learning.
  • Communicate with families and share the learning!
  • Growth Mindset isn’t a theory–it’s a fact and intelligence is malleable. Allow mistakes and failure to be fodder for deeper learning.

Here are ways to extend the quality of pedagogical approaches: (May DOs)

  • Keep a teacher reflection journal that documents what worked/bombed in the class.
  • Read educational books, blogs or take MOOCs/Online training so you can extend your pedagogical knowledge.
  • Develop a professional learning network, which could be inside your district or virtually, through Twitter, Facebook or Google+ communities.

And remember, the best teachers are the best LEARNERS! If you feel listless, then NOW is the time to inject some energy into your practice. You don’t have to wait for a school leader to drop a training into your lap, take charge and develop your craft–you are really the only one who can do that.

Teaching with Intention: 4 Ways for Improving Formative Assessment

Teaching with Intention: 4 Ways for Improving Formative Assessment

I’ve been binge watching webinars by Dr. Dylan Williams, and if you don’t know who that is, well am I glad you came to my blog because I am going to share of some of his techniques for embedded formative assessment. His ideas have really made me take pause when it comes to assessment for learning in my classroom. There’s no way I could distil all his wisdom into this blog post but I will offer you 4 techniques that he has shared in one of his recent books on assessment.

  1. Plan your questions!  Questions should be clearly focused and link to the key concepts of the lesson. The questions should be worth asking and answering. Those questions should “hinge” on the direction that the learning needs to go next.
  2. No hands up, except to ask a question. This can be a powerful technique in improving student engagement. With this strategy, you ask the question first, then pick a student at random. Picking students at random can be as simple as using Popsicle sticks with student names on it (put the names BACK into the container though so they don’t think that their turn is over and they disengage), or using a tool like Class Dojo which can randomly select students (although awarding points for their answer is not necessarily encouraged).
  3.  Wait! And Wait AGAIN! After posing a question, give it a 3-5 second pause. Dr. Williams suggests that you let the students know that you are providing them more time to think so that students don’t rush and give more thoughtful answers. And then after a student answers, give wait time again so that students can reflect on the idea given. As teachers we shouldn’t be in a hurry to validate or correct answers. We should allow students the opportunity to respond to the idea shared.
  4. Avoid questions altogether. It has been suggested that asking questions shuts down discussion because there is a “right” and “wrong” answer. So, if you have reluctant learners, sometimes its best to provide a statement and have students evaluate the idea and give justifications for their response. For example: “Donald Trump claims that the election is rigged.”  Right now, especially if you are an American, you began to think whether you agree or disagree with that statement. You can imagine how discussion could ensue from this statement, right?!

So hopefully these ideas will elicit some inspired action in your classroom this week. And if you can’t do them all, then what can you do? What is one small step, one idea, that you can take to improve how your generate and use formative assessment in your classroom?


From Mind into Matter: 5 Ways to cultivate the Mindset of the MakerSpace

From Mind into Matter: 5 Ways to cultivate the Mindset of the MakerSpace

There is a Zen saying, “to know and not do is to not yet know.”  This seems relevant in today’s shifting views about learning, and I recognize my own struggle as an educator in preparing students for the unknown of the future. One of the skills that seem most intangible for me is teaching students to be more discerning in their learning-how to get them to love the journey and not the destination, so they want to ask more questions and dig deeper.

Lately, I’ve been inspired by the book, Invent to Learn. I think it really speaks to this disposition of curiosity as the impetus for extended learning, in which the child’s mind becomes the essential “makerspace”; our classrooms merely become the concrete representation of this immaterial world of their ideas. Experimenting and creating something is an act of discovering that a thought can be made solid.

It acknowledges that the power of making something comes from a question or impulse that the learner has, and is not imposed from the outside. Questions like “How can my car go faster?” or “I like the way this looks, can I make it prettier?” are treated as valid, and in fact, potentially more valid than criteria imposed by anyone else, including a teacher. Learners are empowered to connect with everything they know, feel, and wonder to stretch themselves into learning new things. We seek to liberate learners from their dependency on being taught.

Sylvia Libow Martinez, Invent to Learn.

As I reflect on the quote above, I think about how important it is to catch students in the act of curiosity so that I can implore them to engage in their ideas. In this way, I am no longer the guide but their champion. I wonder if this encouragement can compensate for the attitudes in our societies, in which quick fixes are highly valued. I believe it’s important to have students develop their stamina and see failure as an important element for their inevitable success.

Making things has changed the way they look at the world around them, opening new doors and presenting new opportunities to get deeply involved in processes that require knowledge, skill building, creativity, critical thinking, decision making, risk taking, social interaction, and resourcefulness. They understand that when you do something yourself, the thing that changes most profoundly is you. (Frauenfelder, 2011)

There are several units in our POI (programme of inquiry) that could incorporate many of ideals of the makers mindset. I know in the Early Years, this is easiest to do because students at this age have the permission to play. This seems a bit unfair when you think of it. “Play is called recreation because it makes us new again, it re-creates us and our world.” (Brown & Vaughan, 2010). I think this process of re-creation is ongoing and the foundation of life-long learner. Implanting design-processthis mindset into classrooms could not only empower students, but also teachers. Moving out of our instructional comfort-zones then becomes an act of faith, because we have to be trust that students can learn on their own. As soon as I write that sentence, it seems self-evident–of course students can learn on their own–that is their natural inclination!! But how can we nudge them to taking their discoveries from thoughts into doings? How can we translate the ideas of the minds into real learning.

Here are 5 strategies that might help teachers render the MindSpace of the Learner into a reality:

  1. Be curious about what students are curious about. Not all students will present their curiosities as questions–in fact many young students present their ideas as statements. Write and track them, even if anecdotally.
  2. Use self-evaluation for students to reflect and assess their attitudes towards the design mindset. This could be as formal or informal as you like, such as a discussion with a 1-3 finger self-assessment or a journal entry.
  3. Advertise problems and promote solutions, even if they are silly.
  4. Set up a classroom “creation station” with some”junk” to be repurposed.
  5. Share inspirational stories as exemplars. You can connect with other classrooms either in your school or virtually through a resource like ePals.

I know that I will take my own advice as I strive to make my classroom more engaging and student-centered. I wonder what suggestions others might have about shifting our classrooms into laboratories of the mind. Perhaps you can share below what other ideas or strategies you might have.

Until then, stay in Joy!


How to Spell Transdisciplanary Learning in the Early Years

How to Spell Transdisciplanary Learning in the Early Years


Seriously, how long will I have to write transdisciplanary before my spell check program acknowledges that it’s a real word. No matter how many times I ask it to “add it to the dictionary”, it still gives me the red line.  Doesn’t my computer know I am a PYP teacher. What nerve, I tell you! lol

As any Early Years teacher knows, there can be a fine line between topic and concept.

Look at my next unit:

People can help our communities by working in different ways.

  • People play different roles in a community. (responsibility)
  • How helpers impact a community. (connection)
  • How tools help people to do their jobs. (function)

What comes to your mind?–Community Helpers, right? –A bunch of lovely centers/corners. We can have police, fire fighters, nurses, doctors, construction workers, etc…..Lots of role play- Fun Early Years unit, right?

Not to me. I find this unit a challenge because now I am asking myself how can I steer this inquiry away from being a topic to developing those concepts of our roles and responsibilities in a community. I’m thinking about what approaches  I can use to embed multiple disciplines so that students can explore and create in contexts that are authentic for them. Preschool STEAM– Of course!

STEAM, in case you don’t know is an acronym that stands for:

S. cience

T. echnology



M. ath

Aha, I can hear you say how can ” doing nifty projects” make it transdisciplanary? Fair retort. Point taken. So I’ve decided to up the ante and instead of centers or corners during this unit, we will have PROBLEMS In the beginning, I will have to provide them through literature links and set up these provocations with my main teacher question: HOW COULD SOMEONE IN THE COMMUNITY HELP HIM/HER? Later, however, I expect students to generate them.

As I am in the planning stages of this unit, I will have to report back with our progress, but my head is spinning with so many ideas. I can’t wait to see what the students come up with!



Supporting Inquiry with Apps

Supporting Inquiry with Apps

Our school does a BYOD  iPad program for grades 3-5, and then we have sets of iPads that are shared with EY-P2. Using iPads for learning has been really beneficial but it’s not all rainbows and flowers. It takes experience and thoughtfulness when using apps because sometimes you spend more time on learning the technology vs. actually doing the project you intended. This happened twice last year for me while using Padlet to do a collaborative mindmap as a part of a formative assessment and then keeping a digital journal using Microsoft’s OneNote.  It was a love-hate relationship, and I learned a lot from the experience.

So now as I support teachers with using apps in their classroom I have to think about how long it might take to teach a new application and if the benefits of the learning outweigh this loss of instruction. Here are some apps that I like that I think can support some of our upcoming Units of Inquiry:

EY 4: People can help our communities by working in different ways.

  • Inventioneers and Busy Water. I love these apps because they have a great STEM link for little ones as they learn how to design and build structures in order to solve problems. Busy water is less challenging, in my opinion, but both games are engaging.inventioneers

KG:  Living things have specific needs in order to grow and stay healthy.

  • Virry: This is a great interactive game with “live” animals (I presume in a zoo setting), in which you get to feed animals like lions or meerkats. The free version just lets the kids do limited basic things whereas if you get a subscription, you have more engagement and learn more about the animals. I don’t mind paying for subscriptions when more content is added, but I haven’t seen that yet. However, it is a very unique game and it is worth the .99 USD for a month of its use.


P1: Personal histories help us to reflect on who we are and where we’ve come from.

  • Aging Booth or Old Fart Booth: The kids LOVE these! This apps give them the impression of what they could look like as an elderly person. And the apps are FREE–my favorite word!


P2: Maps can be used to help people locate places.

 Google Maps and Google Earth are the most obvious choices. And although there are other great apps out there , after reading this website, I think that Google Maps is so rich, there is no reason why other apps are really needed. Quality over quantity! However, teachers could recommend other apps like National Girrafic and Tiny Countries for home learning.


P3: Understanding movement enhances our creativity.

We have had a lot of conversation about which way this inquiry could go. The Arts teachers will obviously focus on dance and expressing movement visually. The last unit was about covered content like body systems and nutrition so I thought Grade 3 could consider movement in terms of exercise and think about apps like Charity Miles to link creative ways to encourage movement. But if you consider movement with a perspective as a scientist or engineer, then that opens up a variety of other applications. Here are some ideas:

  • Scratch JrHopscotch , or Logotacular: coding comes to mind as a neat way to think about programming movement. However, it really depends upon the teacher and their skill level in order to guide students, but there are a myriad of coding apps (more than I listed here), so it would be easy to differentiate for learners.
  • Simple Machines: I am a fan of the Tinybop developer apps. This one is quite nice but I do think Inventioneers could more engaging for this age group; although the Amazing Alex app would be my first choice–if only it was offered for iPads. Sigh..


I’ve already blogged about using technology in the upcoming P4 unit: Getting Modern about Ancient Times. And P5’s next unit (Humans express their ideas and use persuasion to influence others.) focusing on using surveys, which they use Excel for their results; so their technology concentration is on using spreadsheets and converting data into graphical representations with that program.

But hopefully sharing these ideas will help inspire you about what and how you can use apps in your classroom. I really interested in others’ ideas if any other apps come to mind when looking at our Central Ideas for our inquiries. Please share in the comments below!

Happy Apping!




Stranger in a Strange Land: Research in the Digital Age

Stranger in a Strange Land: Research in the Digital Age

During one of our collaborative planning meetings,  we were discussing how students are keen to grab their iPads rather than a book when they are doing research. Some of us remarked how we have to make students aware of the books in our classrooms as a primary source of information, rather than going down the rabbit hole of internet research. It became clear that integrating technology with research skills really brings up our “digital divide” with our students. And perhaps one of the greatest challenges is to teach what we, ourselves, have limited experience or expertise in. How can teachers move from being digital voyeurs (people who recognize the shift to digital, but reluctant to embrace it)  to digital immigrants (people who have crossed the chasm to the digital world, and learned how to engage with it)?


So the teacher becomes the student!  How can we help students conduct online research whilst developing our own understanding of the blindspots involved in internet research?


Because I teach in the Early Years, I could not really rely on my own experience and had to do my own digging around on how to research online in order to support fellow teachers.  I started on Edutopia and was relieved to read about the approaches to teaching research skills  by Mary Beth Hertz that provided a good starting place when arming students with tools and strategies. Also, I found these lessons that support online research for students and felt like it could be a good place to begin for direct instruction during our technology time. And then the ideas in this website could be used for a more inquiry-based approach to teaching these skills.

I learned a lot actually in this query into how to teach research skills and I am excited to hear the reflections of our teachers as they negotiate digital learning in their classrooms.

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Judy Imamudeen

Judy Imamudeen

Developing learners as leaders is my joy! As a highly qualified International Baccaluearate (IB) teacher and educational leader, I am committed and passionate about executing its framework and empowering students in creating a future world that works for everyone.

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