Month: February 2018

#SOL: Looking Through a Window of An Open House

#SOL: Looking Through a Window of An Open House

As I locked the door and closed all the curtains, I wondered what emotions were stirring in the children – were they excited, were they nervous, or were they blase to share their learning?

Where is MY planning sheet?

Today was their opportunity to present their knowledge and efforts in our unit, how did that make them feel?


At three o’clock, another door swings open and a head of a beaming student pops in, “Can I come in, Ms. Judy? Can I show my mom?”. I look up at the clock. “It’s 3pm.  Time to get started! Come on in!-What are you going to present to your mom first? Can you find your planning sheet?”


Showing how to use Book Creator app. 


Before you know it,  students start piling in with their loved ones: moms, dads, brothers, aunts, and grandmas–they all show up to see what their child has been up to in 1st Grade.The noise of the activity is fun to observe. We start grabbing iPads to document the interactions.  We want the parents to remember this moment, this moment of wonder and curiosity; hopefully a proud moment, a moment when they realize that their baby is growing up, a moment when pride wells up inside.

As we look on, some of the interactions are gorgeous. “C’mon”, squeaks one girl. “I want to show you how to play this game. It’s called BANG!”

Playing a Word Game.

Enthusiasm has flooded the room. It is four o’clock and a desire to show off their favorite things in class has yet to cease after an hour.


We asked students to choose five things to present to their families–touching a bit on math, language, technology, and unit. One girl has checked off the entire list. We tried to avoid this from happening since we know that the adult’s time is busy. One mother struggles to get her daughter to stop playing a game.

thomas and charlotte
Playing the “Sound Detective” Game.

“This is the last round, okay?”, she beseeches.


Over in the corner, a sort of game of tug-of-war seems to be in process, in which there is a tension between their interaction, as a loved one is challenging and pulling out the learning from their child, questioning and critical. The child pulls back with counter arguments and claims, then relents. These interactions are difficult to watch from the eyes of a child, but the teacher in me also feels a bit grateful for the pressure that is being applied, hoping that it will make the student more focused in their work. (Today I will find out who has really won this game–has this really changed any habits or behaviors?)

kathyIt’s 4:30. Students start to come back to me to report that they have finished.  As they hand me their planning sheets, I direct a question towards them, “How do you feel about presenting your learning?” Most smile and reply, “Good!”.  I give a high five. I want them to have some small acknowledgeable that what they did today mattered. That the learning they have done up until now and the effort they put into presenting it was important. As I look up to say my goodbyes and thank yous to loved ones, in my head I am wondering and hoping that this experience opened a window into the lives of the learners; that the parents and family members gained some valuable insight and perspective into their unique and wonder-filled child. In my heart, I am hoping that the learners left feeling a sense of pride and recognition; that this has further developed their confidence and self-esteem.

It’s nearly six o’clock before I leave school, exhausted yet content.

#PYP : 5 Things You Should See in a Successful Unit of Inquiry

#PYP : 5 Things You Should See in a Successful Unit of Inquiry

Sometimes I wonder why we spend so much time discussing and deliberating Central Ideas and the nit-picky debates over the conceptual understandings. Why not just copy the sample Programme Of Inquiry that is inside the Making the PYP Happen document or other go-to places to find tried and true units of inquiry? We would be done and dusted, right?  But then we would lose the magic of the PYP–the ability to shape our curriculum based on the students’ interests and culture of our schools! That’s the challenge of every school–Who are WE and what defines our community of learning?

Well, as we wrap up our current How the World Works unit, we are reflecting on how much time and energy we put into creating our Central Idea. As teachers, we brainstormed ideas based on scientific concepts that the students need developing and cross-referenced science standards from a variety of sources (like national and independent curriculums other than the PYP Scope and Sequence for Science). We then pitched the ideas to the students with a general interest survey using a Design Thinking approach and then did some pre-packing of the Central Idea. We knew after all of that effort that we had a solid unit of inquiry ahead. What we ended up with was:

Understanding light and sound can transform experience

  • How animals hear sound and see light
  • Transformation of Energy
  • Ways we use the scientific process

Although our central idea was ironically very similar to a unit at NIS, the lines of inquiry and adding the word “transform” made it unique to our students because of what we had been learning about in performing arts and visual art classes. We really wanted to make a strong link to go beyond this being a “science unit” and make it transdisciplinary. This sort of intention really showed in the learning.

In the Enhanced PYP,   there is a shift in developing learner agency, and I can appreciate how it might build upon the idea of Action as we reflect our the design of our school’s Programmes of Inquiry.We spent a few lessons on gauging student interest and “pre-packing” the Central Idea of our unit before we even launched it to capture student voice and choice involved.

So really it shouldn’t be a surprise that when we examined whether students were really engaged and invested in their learning, we found several tell-tale signs. This was some of the evidence we saw:

  1. Students challenging each other’s ideas, particularly when they were generating their scientific questions and hypothesis.
  2. Students bringing in outside resources that added to the conceptual understanding of the unit.
  3. Parents reporting that students are reading and researching the concepts at home.
  4. Students wanting to extend their learning, either at home or at school.
  5. Students asking deep questions and a compulsion to test out their conjectures.

These are just 5 things that we observed throughout the unit. I hope others can add to the list because I think identifying what success of a unit is an important component of every school’s Programme of Inquiry. We need to take a look at our Central Ideas and begin to wonder who is this unit for? And will student action naturally and authentically develop? And when you think about it, the word inquiry means “a search for knowledge” and “a request for truth” so student initiative isn’t really the high bar we should expect in learning, but truly the bare minimum of a successfully designed unit. If we touch a nerve and truly spark interest, then a commitment and motivation to learning should ensue. If I was to be truly critical of whether or not we nailed student agency in this unit, I would say that tuning in and shaping units around their needs and interests were only the tip of the iceberg and we need to challenge our team a bit more to develop this feature in our community of learning.

However, I hope sharing this experience will help ignite some deeper thinking and reflection about designing units of inquiry. If you have any more “symptoms” of a successful unit, please share below. The more conversation we can have around this, the stronger our school programmes will become because we put our learners first. Please add your perspective in the comments below.

#SOL: 2 Minutes is All You Need to “Catch a Bubble”

#SOL: 2 Minutes is All You Need to “Catch a Bubble”

“Think about it– we (teachers/educators) have never left school. What does that say about us?”, Chad Walsh leans in to tell me. Chad is always asking provocative questions, and his curious idea lingers in my head all day long as we explore collaboration during our professional development days.

I’ve never heard of the work done by Neil Farrelly but after we had a week-long visit from him, he’s hard to forget. He got our PYP team to playfully share our stories, explore the boundaries of our imaginations,  investigate uncomfortable places and consider different perspectives. We did this through a variety of drama tasks, which, unto itself is an unusual way to explore collaboration. This was not a passive act. We were full-on the whole time.neil

During our reflection about the week, we all had to go around quickly to discuss how we might apply some of our learning into our classrooms. Although we had lots of ideas, what “bubbled up” for my Grade 1 partner and I was to share in the “big group” a simple idea of using the “black box” to create a tuning in activity as we inquire into our line inquiry about what makes a home a home. Because we had such a short amount of time to explain, we were brief and concise.

After we shared our gleanings, the performing arts teacher excitedly comes over to tell the other Grade 1 teacher and I that she “caught our bubble” and has a bunch of lovely ideas for our upcoming unit on homes and journeys. Our presentation was maybe 2 minutes long, but Julie’s hand had ideas scrawled from the top of her palm, reaching below her wrists. It made me think about how important 2 minutes can be when sparking imagination and collaboration. How simple it can be to connect when we are listening and open to each other’s ideas.

When I reflect back to Chad’s question about what it means to “never left school”, it makes me think that we are still eager to learn, that we acknowledge that there is a fine line between ignorance and expertise and we are always exploring that edge to deepen our understanding.



Kick in the Pants: Slice of Life Challenge

Kick in the Pants: Slice of Life Challenge

Everyone needs a kick in the pants sometimes. Recently I went on a Writer’s Workshop professional development training in Yangon, Myanmar. Since I’ve been in the Early Years for such a long time, it was fantastic to get a refresher course on this unique philosophy and approach to teaching writing and reading. I love it because it really has a lovely inquiry-based approach to examining texts and using those craft moves in our writing.  But honestly, I took for granted the cornerstone piece of being an effective writing teacher is to be a writer yourself–to read materials from that perspective of a writer (whether for professional or personal reasons)  and dedicate yourself to a life of writing.

slice-of-life_individual.jpgIt was during this time that I was reminded of the blog, Two Writing Teachers, and I immediately fell back in love with all the helpful and insightful posts in there. I noticed that they have a Slice of Life challenge coming up, which is another wonderful nudge to write consistently, if not daily. Being an authentic Writer’s Workshop teacher is probably less about the method and more about a lifestyle of close reading and practicing the craft of writing; so if I am to take this on seriously, then I need to stay committed to developing habits around writing.

So with that in mind, I am accepting this kick in the pants and publicly announcing that I am going to take this challenge personally.  However, since this is my professional blog, I reckon that I will make my “slices of life” come from my classroom.

writing quote.jpg

The truth is that I have been a writer all my life, from the moment I could form my ABCs until this very moment here with you. Now in my 44th year of life, I am finally acknowledging this fact. It’s quite liberating and invigorating really.

And I hope you will join me in this quest to turn what may seem like a mundane task into an exciting turning point in your career, moreover your life. We can hold each other’s hands as we enter into the writing life together.

writing quote.jpg


writing quote.jpg

Oh to Capture Thoughts and Ideas: The Writing Life!

Oh to Capture Thoughts and Ideas: The Writing Life!


Recently I had someone grilling me about writing journals, and I was deeply surprised and amused since we have so many notebooks and journals for our students that they can’t even fit into their cubbies. And yes, sure, it’s a common practice to have students hold their ideas in a journal, but I believe writing is thinking; and sometimes our thoughts are trivial and sometimes they are elaborate, they come into the mind through questions, phrases, lists, arguments, epiphanies, and regrets. Our writing life is a bit like that too and a journal is only one way to get a hold of these ideas. writer world

As a 1st grade teacher, I feel incredibly anxious ensuring that our students feel confident as readers and writers. I want them to stare at a blank sheet of paper and be able to imagine how it might be filled with words, taking the pencil into their hands and devouring the empty space with their ideas. I want them to stand back and experience reverence for words when they look at a poem or examine the pages of a book. But sometimes I feel incredibly challenged by how daunting the task is: to not only make students competent with reading and writing skills but develop these attitudes towards literacy that motivate them to choose writing. I want them to have agency, not shove writing down their throat, demanding that they create so many perfectly spelled and punctuated sentences a day, a week, a month. I want them to be true writers: reacting to life and wanting to capture its joys and downturns with words and pictures so that they may communicate their experience with others.

Also, I want them to make connections between our literacy block and our time spent in Math and Inquiry. I want them to know that lines on a paper are an invitation to share their thinking, whether it be with words or numbers or both.

Maths is a subject of words and pictures not just numbers. -Lana Fleitzeig-

I want them to write down a question on their paper and stare at it, considering the reading and writingvarious ways that one might approach its answer. I want them to think, then reach for a book, a website, a magazine or ask someone so that their curiosity can be nourished by the support of other human beings. And then realize that they too have something to share, which makes them reach for the pencil or tap on a keyboard. I want their minds overcome by the desire to write.

So, just like in real life, students may create lists or books, use sticky notes or scraps of paper, whatever they can get their hands on, including their writing journal to document their ideas and moods. Today it may be a sign-up sheet for a game of tag, but tomorrow it may be a wonderful tome on Cheetahs. Who knows what the heart of a child wants to share with others!  But for them to see themselves as writers, no matter how prolific they may be inside their journals, is more important than any spelling and grammar lesson that I may give them. Perhaps it is more important to ask students not how much or how well you wrote today, but did you write today?–not because I am your teacher and I have educational aims that you must reach to be “meeting expectations” but because your soul demands expression and I am here to support you answer its call.

So, although the mechanics of syntax and grammar are my learning goals for the day, my real overarching goal is for students to naturally and organically write, to feel the pull and lure of an empty space that can be filled with their ideas.

I want them to live a writer’s life.


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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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