Category: Action

Post Mortem Reflection: Autopsy of a Failed PYP Unit (Sharing the Planet)

Post Mortem Reflection: Autopsy of a Failed PYP Unit (Sharing the Planet)

It doesn’t matter if you have been teaching for 8 months or 18 years, you will experience a bombed lesson from time to time. But a bombed unit-well, that I have yet to experience until now. And it has been the most frustrating 6 weeks of my life, as I have worked relentlessly to cultivate their conceptual understanding. Most teachers don’t share their failures, they only blog or tweet about all the “cool learning” that’s going on but I think it’s equally important to reveal and reflect on our failings. So in an effort to be vulnerable, I humbly submit that this unit has yet to meet its central idea and only narrowly developed its lines of inquiry. And I can’t stop asking why.

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

  • how we use resources (function)
  • the impact of people’s actions on the environment (causation)
  • choices we make to care for our environment (responsibility)

I hold some very strong beliefs when it comes to creating curriculum in the PYP, one of which is having a solid central idea that a teacher can anchor the learning in.  If you pulled out the keywords–what would they be? I chose to focus on “actions”, “environment” and “share”. Other key ideas were from the lines of inquiry: resources, impact, and choices. The assessment is really quite simple–we document student action that has occurred over the unit. And herein lies the problem: student action. Students are not taking action because they don’t have enough conceptual understanding to appreciate a need to act. They literally do not see pollution-even if a coke bottle flew out of the sky and bonked them on the head, they wouldn’t notice. Oh, and if that same coke bottle then got buried in the ground, one of the students said it would sprout a Coke Tree. No, I’m not lying–this was an actual prediction during one of our engagements.

At first, this put me in a panic and I went in the wrong direction. I thought, oh my gosh, this future generation, they are either absolutely oblivious or litter and pollution (particularly in Asia) are so endemic that it’s like wallpaper and thus hardly take notice. So we began inquiring into endangered animals and the impact on habitats. We worked through key vocabulary and food chains. The kids put together wonderful ChatterPix presentations which summarized their library research on the animals. But during another provocation when I showed a picture of a turtle that had been deformed due to garbage in the water, I had 3 kids tell me that it looked like that because it was farting, clearly articulating (with a straight face) that gas can make you bloated and you feel bubbles are in your belly. I could see his thinking but I felt deeply concerned and it was at this point that our unit started to take a turn for the worse.

One of the Segel pictures that the students examined. They thought they were just “having a picnic at the beach.”

So then, to make a stronger link about humans and how we use resources, we explored the work of Gregg Segal,  which started as a provocation but since the students made no connection between the garbage and the people who were lying in it, we examined our “home” garbage and collected our classroom garbage, including snacks, for a week to analyze. I had also gotten one of our Secondary Art and Design teachers who is an avid photographer on board to help us orchestrate an attempt to do a photoshoot with our students in this garbage. It was going to be awesome, right?! –They were finally going to “get it” so we can move into learning about the 3 R’s–Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Nope–the day before the photoshoot, our cleaners emptied our bins. Deflated, we decided that we would “follow the garbage”, trying to pull together this idea of how individual and collective choices can add up to make a difference in the burden that ecosystems might have to shoulder. So we went down to our school’s dump area and examined our rubbish. Next, we made a day of it and went down to the Vientiane Landfill.  Although they were absolutely disgusted by it, they had seemed unchanged.  This week we are going to meet people whose “choices” to care for our environment are having a  positive impact on our Vientiane community. We are still hopeful that a handful of them will be moved into action but I know now that it’s a foolhardy job to try to assess them on this central idea. We will have to create unit grades based on their academic skills in language and math that have been developed alongside these conceptual understandings.  

The moral of the learning debacle boils down to these things:

  • Doing a bunch of “cool stuff” is not as important to properly pre-assessing basic knowledge and skills. Sometimes we get so preoccupied with launching a unit with instant student engagement, that we forgo necessary assessment which can be documented and examined. I think in heavy science-based units, it’s important to probe into common misconceptions and vocabulary that may be misunderstood. I did some of it, but I missed some big ideas–simple stuff like living vs. non-living because I had assumed it had been “covered” in previous years.
  • Furthermore, provocations that reveal severe inadequacies in student knowledge means that the unit probably needed to be scrubbed and rewritten immediately instead of trudging through the painful experience of trying to get students to arrive at mastery and develop knowledge that is beyond their experience or developmental appropriateness is asinine.
  • And the third thing is that the sequence of units matters A LOT. In our case, we were asking that students take their knowledge and apply it by taking action. We should have had a How The World Works Unit beforehand that developed the key information and scientific principles to really appreciate the need to act. Our unit implied that kids should “reduce, reuse, recycle” without understanding why it’s important to do so.
  • Also, a unit whose central idea demands that students assimilate knowledge and then adapt it to behaviors needs to reconcile with the developmental stage that they are at. Most of the students are at the cognitive stage in which they are transitioning from concrete to abstract thinking and operational thought. This unit would have been better served when most, if not all the kids, were 7 years old because cognitively they would have understood the concept of conservation. This was a second term unit. It was too early in the school year to introduce these ideas.
  • And of course, the old PYP coordinator in me wondered why I didn’t go back into last year’s POI to see what scientific ideas that they had been exploring when I first saw warning signs. Although I had interviewed past teachers who did the unit, I should have dug deeper into the curriculum that my current classes had been working on in the past years. I needed to research my learners more. I would have seen the gaps and been able to re-route the unit sooner instead of “following the garbage”.

So, I would suggest that educators ask themselves a couple of important questions before embarking on units of inquiry in which student action should be the hallmark of successful learning outcomes:

  1. What previous knowledge and skills should we look for? What was their most recent learning (last grade level’s POI)? What conceptual understandings will students need to understand in order to really apply knowledge? (Go deep on Box #3 on the PYP planner)
  2. What misconceptions do you predict students may come with? How will we know if they have them?
  3. What is the age of the majority of the students? Will they have access cognitively to the concepts and related concepts in the units?
  4. What action is already taking place? What can we expect young children to be doing, feeling and thinking?

 

I can see now that words like “action” and “choices” are too subjective to be put into a central idea for this Sharing the Planet Theme. They are great in the lines of inquiry, but if you take the stance that you assess the central idea in your summative and formative assessments, then you are setting students up for failure. Although student action is the proof that real learning has occurred, this unit would have been better served with related concepts in the central idea. (Here is a great blog that demonstrates how units can be analyzed in this way.) With that in mind, I would suggest rewriting the unit to look like this, with the related concepts in bold:

Human interaction with living things can have consequences on the environment.

 

Although this unit is going to be seared into my mind and will haunt me all year, I will remember the lessons learned here when it comes to analyzing my grade level’s units of inquiry. Perhaps this will also help you to reflect and consider how your units are structured and be more critical in your understanding of your learners.

So I ask you, dear reader, what other suggestions would you make regarding this failure? What takeaways did you get from this? Please comment below.

#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.

 

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?

Why the PYP Exhibition Brings You to Tears

Why the PYP Exhibition Brings You to Tears

This past month was an explosion of students who completed their PYP Exhibition. It was fantastic to see on Facebook and Twitter all the pictures and videos of the kids. For those people who live outside of the International Baccalaureate (IB) bubble, The Exhibition is the mother of all projects for the primary program and is a culminating event of the Primary Years Programme (PYP). Students, in grades 5 or 6  have to literally become their own teachers and plan and conduct a personal inquiry and then present their research using the arts and technology. Anyone who is familiar with the IB will understand that this is no ordinary project as the kids have to incorporate all 5 elements of the PYP into this inquiry, creating a central idea and lines of inquiry based on conceptual understandings they want to explore, all the while demonstrating the learner profile and attitudes. The major emphasis is to “do something” now that they “know something”, so the students are expected to act upon their new found knowledge in a way that is meaningful to them. Needless to say, it is an exciting 6-8 weeks of learning, and it is a lot of work to guide the students as they are pushed to go deeper and are challenged to become independent learners.

At the end of April, we completed our own school’s P5 exhibition and it was really powerful. For 7 weeks, the typical school timetable collapsed and they only met with mentors and specialists who help guide their research, as well as stand-alone math lessons. It’s hard to really articulate what a transformative experience this is for the students, but it is definitely one of my favorite parts of the PYP and why I am such a staunch believer in the IB framework. During our opening ceremony, the students performed this song and there wasn’t a dry eye in the whole room, everyone was moved to tears.

Say something, I’m giving up on you I’ll be the one, if you want me to/ No one’s been there when we ask them to. Anywhere, I would’ve followed you/ Ignoring the problems that you knew Say something, I’m giving up on you

And I am feeling so small It was over my head I know nothing at all

And I will stumble and fall/ When we stumble and fall I’m still learning to love/ The way we treat others Just starting to crawl/ It makes them feel small

Say something, I’m giving up on you I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you/ no one’s been there when we ask them to Anywhere, I would’ve followed you/ ignoring the problems that you knew Say something, I’m giving up on you

And I will swallow my pride/ And you, are using your might You’re the one that I love/ The power you have And I’m saying goodbye/ To take other’s rights

Say something, I’m giving up on you And I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you/ I’m sorry that I didn’t fight for you And anywhere, I would have followed you Oh, oh, oh, oh say something, I’m giving up on you

Say something, I’m giving up on you/ Say Something, you have the power to Say something

Created by Ms. Overby’s P5 students, 2017

Parents and teachers were in awe and other students were inspired, as our students inquired into the “access to equal opportunity” in the Sharing the Planet theme.  On the day of the Exhibition, students gave workshops and shared their art, as they explored issues such as family problems, human rights, money’s impact relationships, gender inequality and the Syrian refugee crisis. We had a giant “reflection” canvas that students, teachers, and parents wrote or doodled on to express their reactions to the presentations and ask questions to the students. The students got a lot of feedback from this process and enjoyed engaging with an authentic audience.

But even leading up the day of Exhibition, students were promoting awareness of their topics during school-wide events such as assembly and International Day. Their research wasn’t hidden in the 4 walls of their classroom but was shared with all of the students, and many of the younger students’ curiosity was sparked.

I think because of this, it made the opening ceremony and the workshops even more potent, as finally, the unveiling was taking place. Because all the artwork was put on display all over the school, students were still commented on the ideas presented and the topics still lingered on their minds. It was obvious to us teachers, that other students had impacted and uplifted just by proxy of the Exhibition.  I was glad that we did Exhibition earlier than other schools because there was still a buzz for weeks afterward and it inspired the Grade 4 class to want to do a mini-X for their final unit.  The Grade 5 students then became mentors for this mini-X, which further empowered them.

 

One of the group’s artworks on display, demonstrating the basic human rights which government must uphold.

There is absolutely no doubt that these Grade 5 students are prepared for our Middle Year’s Programme, as the seeds of life-long learning have been planted and they have the skills necessary to be successful. As a teacher and PYP coordinator, I wish this experience for all students, as they discover that they can take charge of their learning and can create their own path in life, making a difference through community service, raising public awareness and art. As a parent, it gives me great hope in what this empowered generation can bring to our world. It is for this reason why I have tears of joy and not sadness when I look upon the accomplishment of these students.

 

 

So What? Now What?

So What? Now What?

I’ve been engaged in the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC lately (#IMMOOC) and the topic came up: engagement vs. empowerment.  George Couros asks a compelling question: If you had to choose between compliant, engaged, or empowered, which word would you want to define your students?

If engagement is the ceiling–the highest bar–we may be missing the point. Think about it: Would you rather hear about changing the world, or do you want the opportunity to do so?

As someone who teaches at an IB school, I know it is our ultimate goal to get students to move beyond the content and into action.  As a PYP coordinator, it is largely my role to ensure that we have horizontal and vertical alignment of curriculum that is significant, relevant, engaging and challenging to ensure that the IB’s mission is being pursued. (below is a snippet of the IB’s Mission statement)

….develop the individual talents of young people and teach them to relate the experience of the classroom to the realities of the world outside. Beyond intellectual rigour and high academic standards, strong emphasis is placed on the ideals of international understanding and responsible citizenship, to the end that IB students may become critical and compassionate thinkers, lifelong learners and informed participants in local and world affairs, conscious of the shared humanity that binds all people together while respecting the variety of cultures and attitudes that makes for the richness of life.

I think we’ve done a terrific job at cultivating a school Programme Of Inquiry that is really engaging but I wonder if it really empowers students. For example, as I walk onto the playground, I see plastic water bottles left carelessly from recess or lunch break. I think about how in every Sharing the Planet unit, students are reminded that we are stewards of the Earth. We’ve collected trash and measured it, made art with it, wrote about it, had assemblies and school announcements to raise awareness about it and YET, I see students walk by these water bottles and not pick them up to put them into the recycling bin. All those great units with all the fantastic projects that go along with it!–and I say to them: SO WHAT???! If students don’t feel compelled to change, then somehow we have failed to really educate them.

source

Those ideas of George Couros really burn in my mind: If engagement is the ceiling–the highest bar–we may be missing the point. Yep, clearly, we have evidence of that here because we must be missing the point if, after all that great learning, kids still leave rubbish and neglect to pick it up in our own schoolyard.

So NOW what?

It has got me thinking: all these student “actions” were probably teacher generated and not student ideas. If an idea belongs to you, then there is an incentive to develop it and sustain it.  I think that is true even for children. They haven’t bought into the concept that our human action matters and they are ones who can make the difference; the idea of responsible citizenship.

I know I’m not the only educator who suffers from this disconnect at their school. In our next staff meeting, I’m bringing this topic so we can inquire into how we can move kids into action, that comes from THEM and not US.  I wonder if others had this problem and what they did to overcome it. How did they move from engaged to empowered? If you have a success story, please share it with me–I’m all ears!

 

My Challenge with Inquiry-Based Learning

My Challenge with Inquiry-Based Learning

The longer I teach in the PYP, the more I recognize how much learning I have to do, especially since I am coming from an American educational background, in which my own student learning experiences did not include inquiry-based learning, let alone my professional teaching training. I’ve had little framework in my personal life experience. So I often find that I have to step away from national standards and think about how I can best construct meaning of the central idea. Most of the time it feels exciting, but sometimes it feels overwhelming–there’s so much unknown as I am a guide on my student’s learning journey. And I’m often wondering to myself: Am I doing this right?

I’ve decided that my that the only way I know I am moving in the right direction is if I see that student action is taking place. Are students taking personal responsibility in their learning? Are they inspired into action?–do they need a nudge or a push to get them moving?

student-action-motivator
Taken from Jessica O’Hanley’s webpage

Granted not all action will be a project or consist of a product. I love how Sonya Terborg’s blog lays out 6 ways in which action can be demonstrated by:

  1. Having-more knowledge, more care, more determination and more respect.
  2. Thinking differently-wondering and/or changing your opinion.
  3. Feeling differently-empathizing, loving, admiring, worrying or feeling inspired to make a change.
  4. Doing something or NOT doing something like giving time, money and effort to a cause or stoping a behavior.
  5. Saying-explaining, discussing, debating, asking or thanking.
  6. Being-changing one’s behavior as to be more patient and respectful

I think when I use these ideas as guideposts, I can reflect better on the inquiry and determine what worked and what didn’t work. And, like all things, I need to remain patient with my learning journey, staying open to the process of discovery and growth in this professional area of mine.

I wonder how other educators determine if they are successful in their practice of inquiry based learning. Please share what you consider as your markers of success!

 

 

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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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