Category: 21st century learning

Clues that Apps in the Classroom are Actually Educational

Clues that Apps in the Classroom are Actually Educational

Lately, I’ve been having a lot of conversation about the use of technology in the classroom. At our school, we have to put app selection through the lens of the SAMR model before it can be purchased for classroom use.

Naturally, it got me thinking about what IS really an educational app. Is using SAMR as a filter really the best approach? Since I’ve been diving into different perspectives and strategies that make the biggest impact on literacy skills, I’ve been researching Ereading and online programs that are hailed as “effective”. After reading the report, Getting a Read on Apps, these researchers really got me thinking about the role of technology in our literacy programs and explained some of the challenges of sorting through the App Store. My biggest takeaways are the fodder for this blog post and I hope these clues unveil the mystery behind app selection for learning.

Clue #1: Does it contain the 3 Cs?

It’s hard to get a full understanding of the app’s design in its summary on iTunes, but teachers and parents have to consider how the app through the 3 C’s:

  1. Content: What is the knowledge base that is being developed?
  2. Context: How are teachers and parents talking about the media they are using?
  3. The Child: What are the interests and needs of the individual child?

Clue #2: Is there purposeful and successive curriculum embedded in the gameplay?

Educational apps that develop content knowledge should contain foundational skills and build upon it. For example, a “flash card” app of number facts is very one dimensional even if you add a story to it like Operation Math, but math apps like Dragonbox Big Numbers or Land of Venn include more advanced gameplay along with more complex skills in a sequential way. This engages more thinking skills so they get more “bang” for their brain cells. When playing, not only do the conceptual understandings grow but also the skills that they must employ to solve challenges.

Clue #3: Encourages joint media engagement or co-use

If you can add this on top of the other features, then an app gets a gold star. In fact, there is an increasing amount of research that suggests that reading ebooks with children can be more powerful than a paper book because of the parent/adult interaction amplifies the learning. Putting a child on an iPad and leaving them alone has no benefits but when you have reading partners and good app design, then that means more engagement for the child. An increasing number of apps are trying to embed “relationship-based” technology to improve learning outcomes. For example, an app like Martha Speaks Word Spinner is more fun with more people, while developing reading and vocabulary all the while. It gets a gold star, for sure!

I believe that as educators we need to be media mentors, not only to parents but to each other. Learning apps that are well-designed can help boost student skills but we must research how they support the curriculum we teach. Hopefully, this post will help you to evaluate apps more effectively and consider new ways that you can encourage co-use/joint participation.

What are your favorite learning apps? Did you notice any of these “clues” in their design?

#PYP The Sound and Light of Using Design Thinking To Write a Unit of Inquiry

#PYP The Sound and Light of Using Design Thinking To Write a Unit of Inquiry

I’ve opened a can of worms. After our last Sharing the Planet unit, I felt exasperated and wanted to shift some units around so we could develop more conceptual understandings in science. We have 3 units left since it’s the end of the term, so the choices were: Where We Are in Place and Time, How We Express Ourselves, and How The World Works. We thought that How The World Works would be the best fit for meeting those goals. The Central Idea was: Thinking scientifically helps us to make sense of the world. A lively debate ensued between my co-teaching partner and I–is this the unit that students need?? What other options might we have? So we decided to dig up “old units” to evaluate what was “best fit” for our students–the old vs. the “new” UOI. This didn’t feel very satisfying either. We had to write a new unit.

 

ben franklinSince we had a planning retreat we started wordsmithing some new central ideas so we could “get down to business” when our team is all together but then I experienced a perfect storm of inspiration after reading “Agency” and the UOI and Being a PYP Teacher: Collaborate with Your Students.These perspectives got me thinking that I really need to ignite student interest by tuning into what scientific concepts fascinate them and putting them at the forefront of our planning of this upcoming unit.   I find that design thinking is a creative and effective way to problem solve, so I thought I would take the opportunity to apply this process to crafting a Central Idea because student interest would take center stage naturally.

So even before we had our planning retreat, I created a poll using Plickers to have students express what their level of curiosity around 5 scientific concepts that would be new to students and are developmentally appropriate:

  1. The purpose of physical structures of animals and plants (adaption).
  2. The properties of materials and states of matter.
  3. Growth and care of living things.
  4. Natural Cycles of the Earth and Weather.
  5. Light and Sound Energy.

We discussed what each one of these “big ideas” might entail as we explored it during a unit of inquiry. Students made comments and asked questions about what sort of things we’d be learning about. After the poll, the students had to put these concepts into a list of learning priorities that I represented visually, just to make sure I captured their interests accurately.

 

learning priorities
The English language learner-friendly rating system

 

design slideI was very surprised that light and sound came in first place with 12 students indicating it as their first choice, with materials and matter coming in 2nd with 8 students picking it as their main interest.  Armed with these results, I felt confident enough that this basic knowledge of our 1st graders was enough to begin using Design Thinking to draft a unit. Although there are different approaches to Design Thinking, I decided to go with the d.school’s model.

Empathize: We began with thinking about how we perceive our students and discussing what we know about them as learners.  I shared the survey results and we considered how this unit could develop scientific thinking and experimentation.

Define: Then we began discussing the challenge of writing a transdisciplinary unit around light and sound that complemented a nearly equal student interest in materials and matter. This landed conversation us smack dab

Ideation: There are different ways to ideate but I chose to explore ‘prototyping’ as our framework for creating a unit of inquiry. We worked on our own and then collectively to come up with a “prototype” of what this unit could inquire into. Because we hadn’t designated a transdisciplinary theme indicator (ie: the natural world and its laws; the interaction between the natural world (physical and biological) and human societies; how humans use their understanding of scientific principles; the impact of scientific and technological advances on society and on the environment.), this broadened our swath of possibility.

“Ideation is the mode of the design process in which you concentrate on idea generation. Mentally it represents a process of “going wide” in terms of concepts and outcomes. Ideation provides both the fuel and also the source material for building prototypes and getting innovative solutions into the hands of your users.”
– d.school, An Introduction to Design Thinking PROCESS GUIDE

As we explored related concepts in various domains, we collated what could be “driving” transdisciplinary ideas in a How the World Works unit in order to “build” a central idea around. What emerged from the ideation process was the conceptual understandings of :

  1. transformation
  2. energy
  3. data
  4. communication
  5. process
  6. classification
  7. movement
  8. diversity
  9. discovery
  10. behavior
  11. properties

Prototype: After deliberating and scribbling out all the perspectives that could make this a powerful learning experience, we settled on the central idea:

Understanding energy helps us predict behavior and can lead to new discoveries. 

  • Types of energy (Form)
  • Transformation of energy (Change)
  • Ways of knowing (Reflection)

Energy=science (light and sound)

Predict= math/science skills

Behavior=PSPE (personal social and physical education)

Discovery=Social Studies

We started digging into the curriculum documents, thinking that we had “nailed it”. But one of our team members sort of sat there blankly as we started choosing the conceptual understandings and learning outcomes. Our PYP coordinator said, “now aren’t you excited to teach this?” And she clearly articulated that she had no idea what this unit was about, which stung a bit because we had sat there discussing ideas for so long. Then she added that the “kids wanted to learn about sound and light and do experiments and we’ve written a unit about energy”.  We’d spent an hour on writing this so there was justification–“light and sound are forms of energy” in which she retorted, “But if I am a teacher who hadn’t been involved in this planning, I would have no idea how I might approach this.” She was right. She was right on both accounts. We had designed a prototype which hadn’t met the needs of the “users”–the students AND the teachers.  She echoed a feeling I’ve written about before in Central Ideas: The Good, The Bad and The Messy. How the Primary Years Program Can Rethink and Define Them. We’d been too clever, too adult and created something close to gobbly gook. We needed to go back to developing a central idea based on honoring the students’ curiosities.

After our meeting, we homeroom teachers continued this discussion and spent an hour debating if “sound and light” were topics vs. concepts. (Good lord, you know you’re a PYP teacher when you care so much about nuances.), examining curriculum documents.  We created a refined version that would require less “unpacking”:

Exploring how light and sound works can lead to discoveries and open up new possibilities.

  • Light and sound as forms of energy (form)
  • Transformation of energy (change)
  • The use scientific thinking in everyday life. (reflection)

Because I have never considered so thoughtfully the interests of our students, it is hard to say if this central idea meets the prototype criteria from d.school’s Design Thinking PROCESS GUIDE:

  • the most likely to delight
  • the rational choice
  • the most unexpected

Nevertheless, I am going to push these versions of the UOI through to the students and move onto the next step of the process.

Test: On Monday, we will present both prototypes of the unit to the students and observe their reactions and collect their responses. Hopefully, this will provide greater clarity of how this unit could be shaped. I reckon that we will continue to refine this unit and engage in more pedagogical conversations.


So, this is what might be considered “first thinking” when it comes to “designing” a unit vs. “writing” a unit of inquiry. I feel very grateful to be a school that allows us to challenge how we approach our curriculum. Sometimes people in leadership can be more focused on efficiency vs. innovation in planning and implementation of our curriculum, desiring to tick off boxes rather than dig deep into what and, more importantly, WHO we teach.

“To create meaningful innovations, you need to know your users and care about their lives.” , d.school’s Design Thinking PROCESS GUIDE

There is an award-winning designer, Onur Cobanli, who says that “great design comes from interaction, conflict, argument, competition, and debate”.  As a team, we are definitely in the throes of some of this. But I’m wondering if anyone has any suggestions or comments that might help enhance our approach.

Mathematics in the Primary Years Program (PYP): Negotiating Transdisciplanary Vs. Stand Alone

Mathematics in the Primary Years Program (PYP): Negotiating Transdisciplanary Vs. Stand Alone

In the purest sense of the PYP, everything is the Unit of Inquiry (UOI), right? One of the greatest suppositions of transdisciplinary learning is to try to create enduring understandings that connect as many dots with the discrete subject areas. For example, when we think about how young children learn, when they play with blocks, they never think that they are “doing math” or “creating art” or “testing hypotheses”.  So it is our duty to match their curiosity and creativity which curriculum that is relevant, meaningful and engaging. However, as children develop and their thinking matures, we need to challenge them with more complex ideas in our inquiry-based and concept-driven approach to learning. But with Math, it is probably the one subject area that can be the most difficult to naturally incorporate into UOI and make transdisciplinary due to the demands of the mathematical concepts. 

For example, here is a How We Organize Ourselves UOI for students age 5-6 years old that works great for math:

Systems help us to make meaning and communicate.

  • systems in our community
  • ways we use systems
  • our responsibility within systems

Now, this is probably a great unit to develop the conceptual understanding that numbers are a naming system and, for a set of objects, the number name of the last object counted describes the quantity of the whole set; which can then help students to connect number names and numerals to the quantities they represent. (Phase 1, Number Strand of the IB Math Scope and Sequence).

 But then, in this same year group, you have a How We Express Ourselves unit like this:

Creating and responding to art develops an understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

  • what art is
  • how the arts communicate different messages
  • ways we respond and react to art
  • the different ways that can express ourselves through art

At first glance, you are probably thinking, duh!–this is an “art” unit, it’s gotta be Pattern…….or maybe Shape and Space for Transdisciplinary Math (TD)? I could do both, right?

Well, you could, but then you would be “exposing” students to these ideas but not necessarily really developing their conceptual understandings. To further demonstrate how challenging this decision is, think about this conceptual understanding: Shape and Space Strand: Shapes can be described and organized according to their properties;  Pattern: understand that patterns can be found in everyday situations, for example, sounds, actions, objects, nature. So now I am wondering which what part of the central idea or lines of inquiry supports either one of those strands?

You can see that unless you write central ideas and lines of inquiry that consciously make an effort to incorporate math, it can easily get nudged aside during UOI

Now, this example is in the early grades, imagine how difficult it gets in the upper grades! How would you write a UOI that could be a “good fit” for teaching decimals, the conversations of fractions and understanding exponents? You could, but you’d have to have a POI that leaned toward STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and have staff that is incredibly skillful at writing this curriculum so that Social Studies, the Arts, and PSPE don’t get sacrificed in the process. Most schools don’t go to such efforts. 

So thus we create “Stand Alones”, which are separate subject-specific units of inquiry, that we put into the PYP planner. There are many schools that do this for Math. Some schools do one-off or piecemeal planners for certain mathematical concepts that don’t fit into the transdisciplinary units while other schools just do this for upper year groups, yet others create a whole school Programme of Inquiry for math. (I won’t open up the conversation of how you might create a scope and sequence for math for these stand alones but please check out this blog post that details one school’s struggle to do so.)

In our school’s case, it was decided to create a POI that focused merely on Number and Pattern & Function Strands since these are the most difficult to incorporate into UOIs. With that in mind, most grade levels have TD maths running simultaneously with our Number/Pattern POI. As a disclaimer, it’s our first thinking on how we might approach improving mathematical thinking and learning at our school, so be gentle in your judgment. To create a POI for math is a daunting task, and there is no doubt that we will reflect and revise on ours.

In Grade 1, we are starting to encounter challenges when we look through the number of conceptual understandings and learning outcomes that need to be developed so we stopped and had a whole planning retreat to delve into this. As we looked through the IB Scope and Sequence and referenced the learning outcomes from other national standards, we wondered how much classroom time would it take to accomplish both Stand Alone AND TD Math?  Furthermore, is having essentially “2 Maths” (2 Math Strands) going co-currently a sensible idea-and how might we make it fit better? At the end of our discussions and debates, we mapped out the rest of the year’s TD Math. In one UOI (Where We Are in Place and Time, CI: Homes reflect cultural influences and local conditions.), we decided to not make a TD Math link because it might be “a stretch” to do so and instead to just focus on Number. Here is the Number central idea and lines of inquiry that we will cover during that time: 

Numbers often tell how many or how much
1. The amount of a number determines its position in a numeral
2. How we know when to regroup
3. How grouping numbers into parts can help us find solutions.

CONCEPTS – Function, Change, Reflection
ATTITUDES – Integrity, Confidence
LEARNER PROFILE: Knowledgeable

You can see that this unit has place value and regrouping strategies for addition and subtraction–one of the foundational conceptual understandings that must be well developed in Grade 1 and so needs more attention and time devoted to it. 

Likewise, we decided that we would make one of our units (How the World Works, whose CI we are rewriting), heavy on the TD Maths and a little lighter on the Number POI because we needed to really spend more time on developing the conceptual understandings within the Data and Measurement Strands. This is the Number UOI during that time:

Patterns repeat or grow
1. The ways patterns can be represented.
2. We use pattern to infer and to make predictions.

CONCEPTS – Form, Connection
ATTITUDES – Creativity
LEARNER PROFILE: Thinker

As you can see, our examination and reflection process is just beginning when it comes to negotiating classtime with TD Math and our Number POI. Sharing our grade level’s experience in this blog does not only reveal a bit of our thinking process but perhaps you are contemplating your school’s struggle with striking a balance between Stand Alone Math and TD Math and have an idea that would help navigate this challenge.

I’m deeply curious what kinds of conversations your school has regarding Math and what have you done to address “coverage” of concepts. Since our school is in the early days of developing and refining our Number POI, sharing perspectives and theories about using the PYP framework would be helpful to discuss and debate in our larger IB community because all of us are striving to create the best learning experiences and outcomes for our learners.  No pressure, but I’m hoping you will comment below. 🙂

 

Does your school have UOIs that were particularly successful at incorporating Math so that it was transdisciplinary?

How does your school balance TD Math and Stand Alone Math in the curriculum?

#IMMOOC Wondering about “Shock vs. Awe”

#IMMOOC Wondering about “Shock vs. Awe”

In our last planning retreat, we spent a lot of time discussing provocations so that students would develop a genuine appreciation and care for the blessed planet we live on instead of retreating indoors to their “screens” and engaging in a “virtual reality” that our digital lives seem to provide.  We pondered what was more important–to begin our Sharing the Planet unit enveloped in “shock” or in “awe” of different environments found on Earth. For example, do we show them all the ways in which human progress is devastating our ecosystems, destroying animal habitats and polluting our drinking water supplies-the shock? Or do we go out into nature, listen to birds and find “the cheap showiness of nature” that surrounds us every day?  Of course, it is debatable if just taking kids into nature will cultivate “awe”; is it a natural instinct or are this attitudes of wonderment and pleasant surprise something that we learn socially and is imbued by our cultures?  (Perhaps right now, you might be deliberating this idea as well. I know this idea will be a subtext in our reflections of this unit.)

Recently, in our Innovator’s Mindset’s Flipgrid, Becky McDowell related her experience with creating a culture of problem finders and problem solvers. A little light bulb went off in my head and made me consider this unit whose central idea is:

Our actions can make a difference to the environment we share.

Thinking about what Becky said, I felt it was important to evaluate whether or not students actually saw the problems with our actions and choices as humans. Through our pre-assessment and initial tuning in provocations, it became clear that students had a lot of “book knowledge” of the relationships that animals and plants have in the environment, but made little to no connection to how we contribute to the pollution that spoils life on earth. They literally did NOT see it. You can’t imagine the pangs in our chests when the students were indifferent. If they cannot FIND the problem, they cannot SOLVE the problem. This has become so problematic and disheartening, to say the least.

I always say that “if I do all the work, I do all the learning”. This is actually a reminder for me to stay aware that I need to make sure I don’t steal the children’s learning just by telling them information or how to do something. But there is something about the word “teacher” that implies a transfer of knowledge and skill, and the lack of student action has really made me question the very foundation of my “best practice”–how am I missing the mark with this unit,  a unit that seems more and more critical for our future generation to understand and act upon if there is to be any quality of life on our planet? We have applied every principle of SUCCESs to create “stickiness” of our central idea and yet, as we go into our final week, I keep wondering what we could have done differently.  We’ve done a wonderful job, I feel, of finding a balance between “shock” and “awe” in our unit, but the fruits of our effort have yet to be revealed. The jury is still out on this case.

As we go into the final week of our unit, I look forward to seeing how this unit might still come together. Children are always full of surprises, so I can’t do anything beyond anticipate that they will make connections, even if those connections might be different than I expected. I hope that, although I have been going through a bit of “shock” when it comes to their conceptual understandings, perhaps this unit will reveal the “awe” in how their thinking has changed and been developed.

 

Creating A Community of Mindful Learners

Creating A Community of Mindful Learners

Sometimes you teach what you know well, and sometimes you teach what you want to know better. Mindfulness is definitely a skill that is under development and I am learning right along with the students.  As a digital immigrant, my life has transitioned from simple face-to-face interactions and long conversations on the telephone to pop-up notifications and the buzzing dings that demand my attention. For me, mindfulness is not about meditation, it is about awareness; of inhabiting my body and my mind in a healthy and mature way.  As I think about the precious learners in our class, I think about their futures and how they might handle stress and relationships in this digital age that is ever evolving at such a rapid pace, a pace that makes it difficult to manage at times. That is why I wholeheartedly agree that mindfulness is not something you teach kids to “calm them down” but to teach them how to do as part of their daily habits, which I think of as mental hygiene.

Because I feel so strongly that this is a life skill, I have been more consistent in cultivating a practice in our classroom. It all started as experimentation and a curiosity into a line of inquiry (how we learn best) when we began our Who We Are unit, but then, due to the illness and fluctuation in our teaching team, the routine seemed important and necessary to send “well wishes” to people struggling with health issues. I feel quite fortunate because, at my school, I am not seen as the “kooky hippie”, but a fellow practitioner of mindfulness and receive support in teaching lessons. Members of our counseling team come to class 2 times a week to provide support lessons based on the work of the Mindful Schools program.And what I find most interesting was, in our recent student surveys, students put learning about their brain (which is something that I do as a component of the practice) as one of their favorite activities. So clearly, they are curious about how the mind works and want to develop this awareness of themselves and others. In our recent One World Day assembly, classes were invited to present ideas related to the United Nations’ Global Goals. We reflected on the goal of health and well-being and I interviewed a few of our students about mindfulness and who are the people they have compassion for, which I refer to as “well wishes”.  It was a supremely sweet and telling moment when I did this, as I learned a lot about what my students value and care about. You can see the video here in this post.

We also demonstrated a bit of our practice with the audience, as the ringing of the brass bell signaled a moment to breathe and reflect on who or what we want to send well-wishes to. Then we took turns sharing our well-wishes.

One thing that is both wonderful and terrible about mindfulness is that it is never “learned”. You can’t have book knowledge about this topic. It is a practice, a skill, a habit which is ongoing and evolving. I do believe that the residual effects of this practice may not be seen immediately, but I feel hopeful that this intention to have a culture of mindfulness will have a lasting impact. Becoming more mindful, creating space between thoughts, developing focus and awareness, and cultivating compassion for others and oneself is, I believe, something that all our students, young or old, can benefit from and need in order to cope with the transitions and challenges that their future holds.

Perhaps you too have been curious about implementing this sort of habit into your classroom. I strongly encourage you! And if others would like to share their experience in the comments below, I welcome your ideas and suggestions.

May you be happy.
May you be peaceful.
May you be safe.
May you be healthy.
May you be love.
And my students love to throw in…
May you be smart.
#IMMOOC: Manna From Heaven

#IMMOOC: Manna From Heaven

It’s hard to imagine that the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC is coming to a close.   I’m ever so grateful for this IMMOOC community as this came at just the right time when I was going through a rough patch in my teaching career when our 1st-grade team was falling apart due to illness and these blog posts have sustained me, keeping me focused on the students and moving me forward in my practice–even if it felt like running through peanut butter. There are people who I’ve never met before that have touched my heart or provoked my thinking in a such a way that made me shift a bit in my approaches to teaching and learning. I’d like to share a sample of some of the great educator’s out there who have come along on this journey and supported me (even though they didn’t quite know it).

 

When all is said and done, innovation is not only crucial to education…it is essential. Our students need us to stay- up on our game.  It is our responsibility to build learning experiences that they will enjoy, and will benefit them in the months and years to come.  Heidi Solway

Yep, that comment from Solway’s Class 11 reminded me of not wasting time to feel disappointed or upset by the disruption. “It is our responsibility” kicked me right out of sour attitude;  even though I may not have the collaboration I wish I had to get the Grade 1 combined classes going, I felt an urgency to move forward and figure things out.  She talks in another blog post that innovation is a cure for perfectionism,  that she thinks of teaching like a sport, That idea, was a game-changer for me. No pun intended. Sports are fun and, even if my team players were “on the bench”, it was my duty to “win the game for them” by blocking out all the “noise” and keep focused on the kids. Thank you, Heidi!

 

Stay determined when things don’t look like they are working out. But also be open to changing how you approach your goal. In order to reach your goals, you need to be flexible. Opportunities may not always come in the way we expect them. 

Well, this Teacher in Motion blog post was another inspirational one that got me thinking about how I could think about this situation as an opportunity, I dare say, a gift. I started to think about the different ways I could approach some of the challenges that I was facing. I dug in and started doing some research into New Zealand’s initiative into Modern Learning Environments (MLEs) and started to think about how I can frame this challenge, which I blogged about A Journey into Design Thinking to Tackle Classroom Challenges. But it is amazing how a few sentences can get your mind reeling and off in a new direction. Thank you, Kate!

 

My worst nightmare was realized when I heard a student say, “I don’t want to work in groups, I just want to work alone”.  I didn’t know what to do. I knew that my classroom culture was set up so that students could learn from each other, build positive relationships, and work cooperatively and collaboratively. So what do you do with the student that wants to work in isolation? Michelle Schade

This blog post made a different sort of impact on me.  It reminded me that the challenges I face are not unique–even if we didn’t have open-concept type learning environments, in a “normal” learning environment, some students work best alone. Michelle describes how she uses technology to help solve this challenge. I haven’t gone the technology route yet like Michelle, but the desire to meet the needs of our learners is a struggle that we can face together.  The blog post did get me thinking how I might designate one of our classrooms as the “independent” room (aka “quiet room”) and one room the “collaborative” (aka “noisy room”) so that the students who wanted to work alone had the opportunity to go into that space and escape from conversation to focus.  Now that I have a new full-time teaching partner, I’m thinking about how we can create some  “quiet” spaces and some “huddle rooms” within the two classrooms so we can balance out the noise distribution.

Nevertheless, if it hadn’t been for Michelle’s post, I wouldn’t have reflected and started to develop an iteration of our learning environment. Thank you, Michelle!

Even though this is my 2nd time engaging in this MOOC, I’ve gleaned more insights and felt challenged. It has been a time of personal reflection, evaluation of mindset and school culture and a time of developing connections with other like-minded individuals. Probably this latter part has been my favorite and what makes this so impactful and why I keep coming back to the IMMOOC. Thank you, George Curous, for writing the book and for cultivating such a great community. This has felt like manna from heaven–the ideas and virtual connections have been powerful and life-giving!

 

 

#IMMOOC: Prototyping the Classroom to Reflect Values and Guiding Principles of our IB Culture

#IMMOOC: Prototyping the Classroom to Reflect Values and Guiding Principles of our IB Culture

 

Our attitudes steer our decisions and build momentum in everything we do. A space is at its most sublime when it reinforces and encourages desired values. The first step in designing a space to support particular attitudes is to define those attitudes. – From the book, Make Space, by d.School

I have come to realize that our learning space is more like a living breathing organism, which changes and evolves. It’s always going to be a prototype of the changing learning needs of students. In one of our last IMMOOC ,Kayla Delzer, a flexible seating expert, discusses the importance of cultivating “workspaces” that provide students with opportunities to learn best.  Anyone who has worked with me knows that my classroom setup changes at least ten times a year. However, instead of shifting a table or bookcase, I decided to take all of the classroom furniture out of the rooms and start all over to get a fresh start and churn up different energy in the learning space.  I’ve been looking at the student data that I have gotten from surveys and student sketches of their design ideas, as well as reflections on our timetable to get an idea of their interests and feelings towards different grouping strategies. I understand that the data that I get from those surveys and diagrams are just a snapshot because the learning environment will shift as our culture of learning shifts.

So then I’ve decided to think about how I could use our classroom as a provocation and context of our current Sharing the Planet unit. I’ve been working on “natural vs man-made” and wondering how I can elevate their love of nature and our environment. In one classroom, I took as much of the plastic and industrial looking furniture and replaced it with wooden furniture that we use for outdoor seating in our corridors.  However, I left one of our classroom spaces with all the normal school furniture in it. I wanted to see how the students responded to the change of environment.

This is our first prototype, but it has been fun to see how the students behave and respond to the changes, even if they cannot articulate it. I have to say that is incredibly hard to take the “man-made” out of our learning environment and so this idea will have to continue to grow and be refined. But when I think back to the original quote from the book Make Space, I want the next prototype to really support the value and love of our environment–what makes our Blue Planet worth appreciating and how can we still be “human”, with our deep desire towards progress and yet honor the other conscious living organisms and their plight to survive? In our IB programmes, we have a strong emphasis on how humans must negotiate our roles and responsibilities in sharing finite resources with other living things.

The aim of all IB programmes is to develop internationally minded people who, recognizing their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful world. -From, What is an IB Education

I wonder how I might continue to create this awareness in our students and how I can use our classroom environment as the context to develop this appreciation. Although this is the first prototype, taking cues from the flexible seating playbook is helpful, but trying to bring nature back into the classroom is not an easy task, yet this challenge is a fun one. If you have any ideas or suggestions, I am keenly open to it, as collaboration really helps to make an idea stronger. So I welcome your comments below.

#IMMOOC: My Students’ Strengths, Time for a Mid-Week Check-in

#IMMOOC: My Students’ Strengths, Time for a Mid-Week Check-in

It’s only Wednesday, and the week has been full of highs and lows. And the funny thing is that it’s not with the students, it’s within me. I have just come off an incredibly proud moment for the students in which they built a city which was incredibly creative and collaborative. They did such an awesome job and I really regretted that I hadn’t gotten started on it sooner to do another iteration through the design cycle so we could really do more research and prototyping because the learning had been so rich and they were so highly focused. It seemed obvious to me how important it is to create a “mini-makerspace” (their words) in our classroom which we are in the process of setting up. So, although, the unit is finished and onto the next one, I can only hope will be as meaningful and perhaps more powerful as this one.   

“Unfortunately, we dangle students interests in front of them like a carrot. We say, ‘You can only do what you love when you finish what you hate.’ ” -George Curous, Innovator’s Mindset-

During this Week 5 of our Innovator’s Mindset MOOC, George Curous has asked, Do I know and build upon the strengths of who I serve? He shares that the research suggests that ‘people who do have the opportunity to focus on their strengths every day, are six times as like to be engaged in” in their work and “three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general”. Now, seriously, who doesn’t want that? It got me thinking, how well do I know what the students’ individual strengths are, beyond running records, spelling tests and JAM (Junior Assessment of Mathematics)? Do I really have enough insight into their perception of themselves to know what they think are their strengths so I can build upon it? And what about their “weaknesses”–how do they view those: through a fixed or a growth mindset? And am I framing those in such a way that they can recognize how temporary those can be when we commit to improvement? Do they love the challenge of learning or do they see these things are necessary because they are on the schedule? It’s the idea of passion vs. participation that Curous talks about that I am most keen to tease out of my students. As I move into the 2nd half of my week, I am setting the intention to dig a little deeper into what the students’ strengths are.

Taking Action: The Challenge of the Central Idea in the Primary Years Program (PYP)

Taking Action: The Challenge of the Central Idea in the Primary Years Program (PYP)

The Sharing the Planet theme is usually one of the most difficult to teach because the topics are so heavy and there’s quite a lot of knowledge base that needs to be developed as we inquire into the rights and responsibilities in the struggle to share finite resources with other people and living things. Think of all the science concepts, vocabulary, and skills that need to get unpacked during our inquiry. In this next unit, whose central idea is: Our actions can make a difference to the environment we share, one of the key assessment pieces will be student action. This is definitely a unit in which students must take what they know and run with it. And, I must find the ways and means to make even the smallest contribution incredibly meaningful and encourage student agency. So there are 3 main challenges, as I see it, that I must overcome as I embark upon this unit. 

#1: Assessing Student Action

You cannot recognize that action has taken place unless you document it in some way. I am coming up with a pre and post assessment that captures 10 key behaviors that are the basis of student action, incorporating the different aspects of “action” that are found in this image.

actionposter (1)
Image from https://pypatspicewood.wordpress.com/2015/09/28/promoting-and-celebrating-student-action/

 

This list of behaviors represents my “first thinking” when it comes to possible expected behaviors that might emerge as a result of their learning. If you had other ideas or suggestions, I am keen to hear them–Please comment below!

#2: Personal and Authentic Inquiry

Of course, as in every inquiry, I have to balance what we have designed as “learning outcomes” with what the students want to learn about and the ways in which they want to express their learning. What I Want Them to Learn vs. What They Want to Learn always shows up in every unit. Since I do a lot of team teaching, I feel a bit compelled to stay on track with the structure of our timetable instead of allowing students the opportunity to go deeper into what they care about. I rarely stray for the weekly planner. We have a block of “personal inquiry” time but that often gets minimalized as we use it to catch up on classroom work. As I think about this upcoming unit, I want to work on honoring this personal inquiry time more and structuring our timetable to ensure that students can explore and experiment with the ideas that are meaningful to them. I am curious about how they might schedule their learning just as I had done with my daughter in my post Homework vs. Deep Work.  I believe that when we honor students and permit them the time to make their own discoveries, the learning gained is magnified. I am going to really challenge myself and our team to add more student voice and choice into our structuring our day.

 

 

#3: True Learning=A Change (in all of US)

I have often complained about how units like this often create a temporary shift in our behaviors but then we forget and revert to the “status quo”. How can we cultivate sustainable habits and make a lasting change? This is something that I really want to explore during this unit.

There’s this great quote from Stephen Convey based on Zen wisdom:

“to learn and not to do is really not to learn. To know and not to do is really not to know.”

Sometimes, because I am a teacher, there is an understanding and expectation that I really “know” what I am teaching. When I reflect on my personal action, am I really modeling how my actions can make a difference to the environment we share. What have I done for the planet lately, you know what I mean? During this unit, I plan to be side by side with my students and finding ways that I can make a bigger dent and a lighter footprint on our planet. I’ve already lined up some learning materials that may challenge my thinking about living things. For example, I want to challenge my thinking and am beginning to read, The Hidden Life of Trees   and The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I trying to think about how I might challenge my lifestyle of convenience and comfort by making different choices like a meatless Monday or turning on the air conditioner less. Or how about getting off my screen more and sitting outside in nature?  As my students compile their lists of actions and survey what they can do to make a difference, I will need to evaluate myself right along with them. This is what makes being an IB educator so special because I learn right along with my students, as my understanding and appreciation of the content are deepened throughout the unit. Perhaps my own personal exploration and modeling will help create everlasting change and cultivate student action.

 

What do you think? How might students shift into higher gears of action and be the change we hope to see in our future world?  What strategies and ideas have worked well for you?

#IMMOOC Growth Mindset vs. Innovator’s Mindset: 3 Ways to Amplify Your Professional Development

#IMMOOC Growth Mindset vs. Innovator’s Mindset: 3 Ways to Amplify Your Professional Development

During week 3 of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC), Tara Martin shared her ideas about challenging ourselves professionally. It’s not enough to have a growth mindset because it’s still a passive form of professional growth. When you have a growth mindset, although you know you can learn and change, you’re still just a “consumer of learning” and not adding something to the landscape of education until you become a “contributor of learning”, which, in Tara’s definition, is what is the key distinguishing factor of an “innovator’s mindset”.  When I heard her say that, it really resonated with me and made me think about how educators can make the shift from a growth mindset to an innovator’s mindset.

These are 3 ways that you can start making the transition from learning to becoming an innovator in education.

Develop Competance: Take your professional development seriously: 

Stop waiting for your administrators to send you to a workshop or sign you up for a course. If you’re going to be a leader of learning, then you have to set professional goals for yourself and develop your own “course” of learning. I created a whole podcast around developing a personalized professional learning plan and wrote an ebook around it because I know how impactful it can be to take charge of your professional development.  Challenge yourself to cancel your Netflix subscription or cable service for 1 month and just take that “down time” to create personal learning time. You’ll be amazed what can happen in your classroom when you go from “mindless” activities to “mindfull” activities when you begin to dedicate yourself to lifelong learning. Then take those learnings and put them into practice in the classroom.

Develop Confidence: Start a blog/vlog/podcast:

Recently our PYP coordinator shared The Profile of a Modern Teacher which encapsulates so much of what we talk about during our Innovator’s Mindset MOOC, in which it’s not about our use of technology but it’s our “habits of the mind” that determines the impact we make in our classroom. And the 1st Habit of the Mind that a Modern Teacher has is to choose to be vulnerable. I found that interesting and poignant of the state of where we are in education. As educators, we need to expose our thinking and practices so that we can be a contributing “digital citizen” and help our students appreciate and navigate their roles in the digital landscape that they will be a part of (if they are not already). I’ve written about this before: if you’re not struggling and embarrassed, then you’re not teaching digital natives.   At the bare minimum, you have to experiment with one if not all of these forms of media. But more importantly, you need to start taking your role as a digital citizen seriously and find a way to contribute to the larger discussion about education. I know you have wonderful and compelling ideas–start sharing them!! A blog is probably the easiest and requires the least amount of tech saavy to start but videos are also amazingly easy to do too with all the software we have out there. And, yes, your first attempts are going to be lame–that’s just a part of the process. And it doesn’t even have to be about education–maybe your passion is golf or making homemade peanut butter–do that then. But do something. You will never get better if you don’t get started. If you aren’t exploring one of these platforms, today is the day! (No pressure….. but pressure!!)

 

Dialogue Digitally: Share and connect with others:

If I’m being honest (and vulnerable), this is something that I am working on developing.  I’m a person who likes to connect with people face to face and find it awkward with sending a message or reaching out to someone digitally to discuss an idea or ask a question if I haven’t met them in “real” life. I’m really good at looking at the Twitter feeds or joining Facebook groups to get some inspiration, but I rarely share my “learning moments” in the classroom or add to the discussion. If you met me in person, I have a strong voice (a little on the loud side) and I am a bit self-conscious about it. So, in my digital social life, I am rather quiet. Are you like that too?

I know being a “connected educator” is hugely important. Again, because we have to embrace and practice the skills of a digital citizen; however, there’s an incredible amount of power in connecting with educators or thought leaders outside your 4 walls. And when I read in the Innovator’s Mindset that quote about the difference between a “school teacher” vs. a “classroom teacher”, it got me thinking about how I might impact students outside of my grade level. As I think about the power of collaboration, my silence is not adding value to my practice nor to the landscape of education. I really should be reaching out to other educators, not only because it is helpful for MY students but ALL the students at our school, as well as the ideas I share or the conversations I have that can impact students at OTHER schools. The ripple effect is possible with social media, isn’t it?

So, I am making a commitment to make baby steps towards developing myself as a “school teacher” as well as participating in larger conversations through online chats. At our school, we have started displaying Tweet Beams using our hashtag #ourvis. Besides trying to stay active in this wonderful IMMOOC community, I also want to contribute to my school’s digital identity by trying to make tweets about what we are up to in our grade 1 classroom. I’m also trying to make a point to make comment on the blogs that I read so that I can engage in a discussion with people whose ideas I find challenging or interesting. I may have a small number of ways that I am connecting and developing my professional learning network (PLN), but it’s something that I am creating an intention around for my professional growth. Maybe you might feel compelled to do the same.

I hope these ideas have planted a seed in how you can go from being a “consumer” to being a “contributor” in our educational landscape. I’m deeply curious what other suggestions you might have about ways in which we can challenge ourselves into becoming more innovative. Please comment below.

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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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