Category: collaboration

#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.

A Journey into Design Thinking to Tackle Classroom Challenges

A Journey into Design Thinking to Tackle Classroom Challenges

Design thinking isn’t a subject, topic or class. It’s more of a way of solving problems that encourage positive risk-taking and creativity.

-From LAUNCH by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani-

I am not proud to say this but I am really struggling with our school’s initiative to tear down classroom walls and combine classes to increase collaboration. I’m usually keen to try out new ideas but it’s made me question so many things about what is trending in education and has really made me “sharpen my stone” when it comes to classroom management.  But here’s the thing, I don’t want to ‘manage’ the students, I want to empower them. So I wonder what I am missing –how can I use this structure and type of learning to fulfill the needs of our 21st-century learners? How will this better prepare them for their future?  George Curous says “Change is an opportunity to do something amazing“. So I’ve taken on my innovator’s mindset and have begun to apply design-thinking to build a better functioning learning environment.

In Design Thinking, initially, you seek to understand your “audience” or the “user” and define the problems that they may have.  Currently, we have two perspectives to consider: our students and our team of teachers. Collectively we are a community of learners, but it’s important to put the needs of the children first–they are the reason why we are here anyway, right?!  But as teachers, we are the facilitators of this change, so I think our focus will ultimately be on the big WE, and cannot carve ourselves out of the equation when developing a flourishing community of learning.

user experience.jpg
The journey begins! What does our community of learners need? Why? How does it make them feel?!

Because this is the research and discovery phase, I am really digging into books and articles to find ways to make this work–not that we survive but to thrive in such an environment, and turn this challenge into an opportunity.

So I’ve begun to approach our situation through the lens of curiosity and ask questions about the challenges that are most immediate and pressing. As teachers, we have three main areas of concern: time for learning, the organization of the learning space, and conducting effective and engaging classroom discussion (in the large group and in small groups with our noisy space). Here is a list of just some of the questions I have begun to formulate about our collaborating Grade 1 classes:

  1. How can we structure our timetable to ensure that we have enough stand-alone literacy, maths and then transdisciplinary unit time?
  2. Of those transdisciplinary subject areas, how best do we need to develop the knowledge and skills in that areas?-in the “large group” (both classes combined) or in “split groups” (separated grade 1 classes) or through a carousel of activities.
  3. How do individual voices get heard in all the “noise”? What tools and strategies do we need to employ to make sure that there is a diversity of ideas being shared, especially our English Language Learners?
  4. How can we use our space to design areas, not just for literacy and maths, but for genuine collaboration, creativity, and quiet?
  5. What gets the kids not just “doing stuff” but actually thinking and reflecting?
  6. And how do we develop strong relationships with our students, knowing about who they are and how they learn best? What feedback systems can we create to help them go from learning passively to actively engaging and ultimately being empowered?

Although I know that we have already begun a rough “prototype” with how we tackle these challenge areas, I recognize that we need more time to understand our learners, our constraints and what the research says about developing more collaborative learning environments, which some have dubbed as Modern Learning Environments (MLE). 

desing evolved
From the wonderful website: http://corbercreative.com/the-ux-process/

So as I layer the designer mindset to frame our challenges, I recognize that we will need to actually get more data. If I am to rewind and start again, then our discovery phase requires a deeper analysis into the complexities of our learners and the needs of our community. Other than our co-planning meetings and daily reflections, I have 2 other ideas for mining some data:

  1. Student survey: we need to find other ways to include their student ideas so they are co-designers of our learning community. In the book, The Space: A Guide for Educators  , the authors encourage including student voice to create a purpose for the learning spaces and cultivate behaviors that support their emotional and mental growth. I am thinking of using the formative assessment app Plickers for a general climate survey and then work on interviewing students either individually or in small groups to get their feedback and input on how we can improve the learning.
  2. Fly on the Wall-I would like to ask some staff members, including administrators, to just pop in and make objective observations. I am thinking about making a questionnaire as a framework for their drop-ins, but I’m also really curious about them just capturing some conversations that they hear–what is the “talk” in the classroom?

As I begin to dive into our data, I will be sure to share some of the results. Truthfully, I’ve always thought about design thinking as something that you introduce when doing project-based learning and never thought to use it in this context, so I’m exploring new territory.  I am really keen to hear other people’s stories and ideas about how I can go deeper. What am I missing? What suggestions do you have?

When “Me” Changes to “We”: 6 Things to Consider With Teacher Collaboration

When “Me” Changes to “We”: 6 Things to Consider With Teacher Collaboration

When I arrived at Vientiane International School, the primary school classroom walls were taken down either altogether or partially during the summer. This left no choice for teachers to figure out how they might manage this open concept idea. Would teachers coexist, cooperate or collaborate? How would they approach this new initiative by admin and how would they manage this new relationship to sharing their “teacher territory” with their peers? These were looming questions that began our teacher prep week at VIS and the context for the ideas I share.

Let’s be clear, there is a big difference between “coexisting”, “cooperating” and “collaboration”,  so I’d like to dissect these terms.

collaborateCoexisting in a space means that you both “live” there and tolerate each other and are friendly, but you are doing your own thing. Cooperating means that you are developing a relationship with another person because it is mutually beneficial to do so;  on occasion, you plan something together or share resources on a needs-based basis. Collaborating means that you co-labor together, working together toward a common goal, which could be done in parallel with each other, in supporting roles or as a tag team. It is a very powerful model for learning but it’s not an easy one to pull off and takes some time to develop a strong working relationship with the team of teachers.

According to the work of Ochan and Bill Powell,  there are 6 things that need to be considered and agreed upon before teachers begin to embark upon this professional journey:

  1. Roles and responsibilities: Figure out who is going to take the lead in what learning area. What systems and routines do you want to use in the classroom?
  2. Attitudes:  Assess what philosophies and practices you share in common. What can you agree upon?  How can you share joint-ownership for the students and the learning space?
  3. Planning: What are you going to plan together? What are you going to plan on your own? How will you share your planning with each other?
  4. Delivery of Instruction: How is the learning going to look? Will it be done in large or small groups? What will the groupings be based upon and what model of collaboration will you employ?
  5. Assessment of Student Learning: What tools and procedures will be in place to evaluate student progress? Who is assessing what students and how frequently will this be done? Where will these assessments be kept and how can team members access them?
  6. Evaluation and Reflection on the Learning:  How can teachers provide feedback on the effectiveness of the learning? How frequently will this be done and in what format? What norms must be established so that feedback is seen as a positive habit of reflection?

Looking at these 6 areas for collaboration, you can imagine the level of candidness and trust that is involved with teachers. You have to think collaboratively so you must find ways in which your ideas intersect with one another in order for mutual respect to be developed. You may not agree with everything but if you can articulate what is non-negotiable and develop shared values, then your team can rally around that.  You have to find the opportunities to connect and identify with each other so that a positive working relationship can start to form, as you begin to see the classroom as “ours” and not “my”.

As I start to begin this process with an unfamiliar group of teachers, it does seem a bit daunting to “nail this” straightaway. Our PYP Coordinator, Chad Walsh,  has really challenged us to examine our willingness towards collaboration. Just today my Grade 1 partner reminded me to not call one side of our space as “my” and “your” room and instead refer to it as “literacy” area and “maths” area.  I appreciated this gesture but it made me very aware that my thinking and language will definitely need to refine as we undergo this transformation. But the willingness and eagerness to try something new are shared by all the members, which makes this effort so much easier. As long as we work on these 6 areas, I know that we will reach the highest levels of collaboration.

What do you think is the most important area to focus on first as you develop collaboration between staff?

How to Avoid Being Napolean Bonaparte

How to Avoid Being Napolean Bonaparte

I’ve long held a suspicion that there is a difference between an administrator and a leader, but now I know it is the truth. My current school has suffered through major changes several times since I’ve been here and now it looks to restructure again with its expanded campus. Needless to say, this has provided a lot of fodder for me to consider what is my role at the school and made me reflect on what is the distinction between someone who sees themselves as a someone who “ticks off the boxes”, my definition of an administrator,  or someone who is in fact in command of the school, my definition of a leader. As I see, you can’t lead people who don’t want to follow you, but you still can be an administrator who manages things lovelessly.

Music Genre

And the difference between the two is what are the values of the person in charge: completing paperwork or developing trust. Whether or not someone at the top is an administrator or is a leader, they influence the culture of a school, but the outcomes of their decisions permeate all areas of school life. The perspectives they hold about education plays a major part in how school policies and procedures are shaped and implemented.

Some of the fault in exercising power comes from the fact that the higher you climb in a hierarchical structure (which most schools ascribe to), the more you are the target of criticism and complaints. How you handle being the target of these remarks and gossip makes a huge difference. You have to ask yourself: Do I want to be liked or do I want to be trusted. The nuances in this perspective cannot be underscored enough. To put simply, if you think of your title like winning a popularity contest then you will always be defending your title. If you think of your title as earning a vote of confidence, then you continue to work toward maintaining and developing the strengths of your organization.  When you are in a “title”, there is hubris and then there is humility that becomes the norms of a school.  You get to decide which will define your use of power.  Douglas MacArthur said it best:

A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.

As I wrap up my school year and prepare to move to another school, I will store away the memories of these experiences. Although I will not be in a leadership title next year, I have come to understand that “words without actions” are meaningless, so I feel strongly that titles without real leadership qualities are void of any value. I am a bit disenchanted with any grabs at power at the moment because I have witnesseleadershipd first hand at how detrimental it can be when people thirst to be given power or maintain control over others. I have come to feel relief in taking some time to redefine what I am and how I can best serve my new school community and the field of education at large. Alas, that will be my new focus–out beyond the 4 walls of my school–and look to how I might contribute to making a difference, not just in the International Baccalaureate, but in the larger conversation that is taking place in education: What really matters for our learners as we look to the future?

What about you? What are your thoughts about school leadership? What perspectives am I missing?

Why Design Thinking is the Secret Ingredient to Student Agency

Why Design Thinking is the Secret Ingredient to Student Agency

Not that long ago, the International Baccalaureate (IB) issued a reflective “cheat sheet” of how schools can examine learner agency in the Primary Years Programme (PYP). Some of the key indicators include exploring the frequency and depth that learners are…

  • Actively engaged in various stages of learning, including thinking about, planning, modifying and creating 
  • Actively involved in discussion, questioning and by being self-directed in their creating (as opposed to passive receiving)
  • Apply their understanding of concepts through the construction of their projects/play
  • Make connections to the real world by taking past experiences into their play worlds
  • Have an active voice and stake in the classroom/community
  • Face challenges and are given the freedom to independently overcome these or fail through trial and error or experimentation
  • Are risk-takers
  • Express their theories of the world and these are honored in the environment
  • Reflect on their actions and self-regulate.

When I superimposed this framework over my classroom, I scrutinized my own practices and the culture in my classroom. Who was doing the leading in the classroom? Was I giving them freedom to learn and the space to lead?

These were the questions that played in the “background music” of my mind as I went into the planning of our last unit for the year. I know that this time of year can be a convenient time to take things easy and maintain the status quo of the established routines of the classroom, but I decided that I wanted to squeeze more out of the year by introducing design thinking into our classroom. I felt that this would be the secret ingredient to learner agency as design thinking organically gives them choice and voice, provided that I do not micromanage their learning.

My current unit is from the theme, Sharing the Planet whose central idea is: We grow and use plants in many ways. The central idea is accessible and easy for the 3-5 years old grasp and the lines of inquiry are straightforward: Growth of a plant (change); ways that plant parts are used in human life (connection); care of plants (responsibility). I’m still mid-unit, but I can share the process so far.

From there, I introduced the design thinking process, which I’ve obviously had to simplify for the Early Years. I stole ideas from American STEM schools like the  Benjamin Banneker School as a model for my class. To begin with, I wanted the students to choose what they wanted to grow. When we began the unit, I asked parents to go out shopping or bring in plant seeds that the students personally chose. (If I had chosen the seeds, I would normally have picked beans or radishes–something that is very easy to grow and would sprout quickly.) Of course, that’s not what the kids picked. They brought in a variety of flowers and vegetables such as broccoli and bak choy. In this small change to my “normal”, I had already shifted the dynamic significantly to cultivate greater agency, enthusiasm, and depth of the inquiry–it all started with the seeds.

design and scienceThe design-thinking process language I am using is:

  1. Understand
  2. Focus
  3. Imagine
  4. Prototype
  5. Try

Understand: What do we need to know about plants? And who are the “users” of plants? (the “we” in our central idea)

FullSizeRender 86

These were the first series of questions that the students wondered about and began our jumping off point for our project: To design a garden for an end user.  In the beginning, the students weren’t really thinking about a “user”, but through daily questioning prompts in our morning meetings and investigating what lived inside the homes provided by plants, sIMG_4623tudents began to grasp the concept of the relationship between plants and animals. I decided to also create some compost with the students so that they may appreciate the symbiosis of plants with one another and how humans can support the growth of plants by turning our rubbish into food. We used food scraps from the school kitchen like egg shells and banana peels and blended it into our dirt. We then used this enriched soil to plant our seeds in recycled toilet paper tubes, which would later transplant into the gardens we created.

 

 

 

Focus: How is the care of our specific plant different from each other and what considerations will we need when building our gardens? 

At this point,  2 groups had emerged: the vegetables and the flowers, and the students decided that the end users would be different. 1 group was going to focus on people (vegetables) and the other group wanted to focus on butterflies (flowers). If we were successful, then the end users would appreciate our gardens by eating the vegetables and getting nectar from the flowers.

IMG_4804

Before we could build the gardens, we had to consider the needs of those plants–no plants meant no happy end users! So the students had to research the basic requirements of their particular plant and this was definitely guided as we Googled and perused through books. Not a great deal of independence here, but the understandings of this greatly influenced the ideas of their garden design’s first renderings.

Imagine: Where might we put this garden and what would the structure of this garden look like?

So now we began to examine different types of gardens. We visited the wetlands park to and will go to a working farm. The students have made their first sketches of their gardens. What really surprised me was the thoughtful considerations the students made. They absolutely thought about the level of sunshine that the plants would need, and they put those details into those drawings. For example,  the “pink flower” group wants to make a heart-shaped garden near a tree, but not under a tree. While the “purple flower” group wants to be near the vegetables because that garden needs to be in a sunny area.

FullSizeRender 87 We will have a morning meeting to think about their designs and come up with questions for the farmers. (Going back to the “understand and focus” part of the process) After the farm visit this week, the students will review their designs to see if they feel they are on the right track.

Next week, they will create models of their designs out of cardboard and have the students put these prototypes in the area of our school where they think the plants will grow best. That will be the “try” part of the process before they actually go and build the real model and officially plant the plants. I will have to update their progress on this project later, as I reckon they will make changes in their designs

But I can say that so much of this unit’s inquiry has been given over to the students, as design thinking has allowed this project to be more personalized and focused on what they think is important. It’s sort of an odd feeling, especially as an early childhood teacher, to move out of their way and just be the “helper” in fulfilling their imaginings. I look forward to posting the end results later in a future blog post.

To be continued….

And I am curious how other teachers or schools have used design thinking to shift into a more student-centered culture and approach to the learner. What am I missing? What ideas might you have to extend my approach?

 

 

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How to Escape the Trauma of a Door Closing (#IMMOOC)

How to Escape the Trauma of a Door Closing (#IMMOOC)

The door has closed. It was the last Twitter Chat for the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC). A part of me feels empty while at the same time incredibly full. I learned a lot through our engagement online and was surprised at how much fun it was to do a “virtual book study”, all the while improving upon my consistency with my blog, using Twitter to connect with like-minded professionals and expanding my horizon when it comes to thinking about innovation in schools.  It wasn’t like any other professional development that I have ever done, which in and of itself was innovative–how genius!

Final thoughts on #IMMOC. So much shared and supported in the process.
As someone who teaches internationally, I live in an expat bubble in which most of our schools are incredibly competitive in our area. Contact with other educators outside my school is very limited and rarely inspiring–not that educators at other schools aren’t doing great things, but the collaboration relies on face to face interactions and maybe some email tag.  Outside of attending workshops, I go onto forums, read and comment on blogs and go onto FaceBook groups, but the level of responsiveness and interaction is limited. If you challenge or question someone’s idea, for example, they can ignore you rather than respond, which kind of defeats the point of posting things online–if you didn’t want to share and engage with others, than why did you bothering posting in the first place? (Just sayn’)

Innovation (and enjoyment) flourishes when teachers collaborate to learn and practice new strategies. Isolation is often the enemy of innovation. George Couros, Innovator’s Mindset

Up until now, it’s been a lonely process-especially when you go into leadership (more judgment/less support) -and sometimes it often feels like I’m peddling uphill. I’ve really felt limited by my circumstances so it’s easy to make an excuse and shrug off growth.  It was fantastic to be with other educators who were willing to struggle and could maintain the level of commitment that was demanded in our engagement. When George asked us to “innovate inside the box”, it was a relief to feel okay with where we were at, not just in our professional journeys but also where our school was in the bigger scheme of things. Collectively we had a common purpose: we questioned, we tried, we reflected and we were vulnerable. We were learners. As something that happened virtually, it sure felt real and authentic. But, sigh, it’s over now. I will miss these shared challenges with fellow educators, but does it have to end? How will I manage the trauma I feel when a special experience like this comes to an end?

Well, truth be told, it doesn’t have to be over!  It is my choice to let the journey begin rather than end. I can consolidate the changes in my mindset and yet continue to build upon this new perspective. I can stay connected with these fellow IMMOOCers in our FB group and on Twitter. I have become followers of them on Twitter and I’ve subscribed to many of their blogs so I can continue to engage with their ideas and continue to encourage their great work. The support doesn’t have to end just because the MOOC did. And I hope that they too stay connected to me and continue to challenge my effort and ideas. I’d love that! Because, as George Couros reminds us, “Change is an opportunity to do something amazing“.

The desire to be innovative and awesome at what we do is likely right under our noises.
And if there is one change that I’ve made throughout these past 5 weeks, it is recognizing that I am not really destitute and languishing.  I don’t need permission to be innovative. I can start where I am, and honor that people may be at other stages in their willingness to innovate.  Moreover, instead of seeing my “box” as a closed door to opportunity, I need to find those windows in which I can crawl through–to reach and inspire my students and support the teachers who I know want to be the best version of themselves. There’s a lot of great stuff that may seem hidden from plain view but it’s there, and for the next 2 months, I can do the best I can and finish the year strong.

So with that in mind, I decided to stay committed to the process and signed up for a 6-month course with AJ Juliani in his Innovative Teaching Academy (#ita17). I’m so excited to go deeper and really put this mindset to work–sharpen the stone, sort of speaking. I know that there are other IMMOOCers who are along the journey with me, which makes it even more exciting.

I don’t know where you are at as an educator right now, but I swear to you that you are not alone and if you are diligent and patient, your tribe will emerge. You can jump on this crazy train if you like. I invite you to connect with me @judyimamudeen or shoot me an email. There is no need to wait for tomorrow to be awesome today.

One last parting quote from George Couros Innovator’s Mindset:

We forget that if students leave school less curious than when they started, we have failed them.

Let’s stay curious, find the YES in the no, and be problem solvers. Together we can be the change that we wish to see in education.

 

 Attention Deficient

 Attention Deficient

It’s no secret. I have an earnest desire to see my students become happy and capable people who make a difference in this world, so I feel it is my duty to find their “Awesome” and cultivate it. In Week 4 of our Innovator’s Mindset MOOC  (#IMMOOC), George Couros encourages us to stop operating on a “deficit model that focuses on a learner’s weaknesses and start operating on a strengths-based model that build on the learning’s strengths.” Amen to that, but how exactly can you do that? hmm…

The other day my daughter invited me into her “world” in Minecraft. Let me tell you, I did NOT want to play Minecraft with her. Really, I didn’t. As a busy adult, I have plenty of stuff to do. But she was really proud of what she created and she wanted me to see it virtually. So I downloaded the app on my iPhone, created a character and added her as a friend. Suddenly I was in her “Love World”. She had made me my own house and she taught me how to fly, tame a horse, feed the pigs and drink invisibility potion. It was a strange sort of tender moment between us. Learner-Centred

But this was a lesson for me, and  I thought about my students–what are they trying to show me that is important to them?  What are they eager to talk about with me? What is it that I am too busy doing as an adult and teacher to notice about my students? I know we make a big deal about students having attention deficient disorders, but I think that could also be true about us teachers. Are we really focused on the learner?

I know that if I pay more attention to my students’ tangents I can probably locate some treasure in there if I just go digging around. Most of the time, it’s probably right there in front of me, in broad daylight. If students are interested in something, there’s a strong possibility that there is a strength waiting to be unearthed and shared with our learning community. And I think finding the time to show students that their ideas matter and are valued will probably be the best time spent this year anyhow.

 

Opening Doors to Open Minds

Opening Doors to Open Minds

During this week’s Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC) YouTube live session, George Couros talked about the impact a Chick-Fil-A Stuck in a Rut Commercial made on him. Here’s the scene: an employee is dug deep into the floor and a colleague observes that “you are really stuck in that rut”, to which he replies, “Really?, I thought I was in a grove.”, to which the colleague says, “Classic, Rut-Thinking”.  I too was impressed by the message of the commercial and how we easy it can be to think that “good” is good enough when it comes to teaching and learning.

As someone who works in an International Baccalaureate  PYP school, there’s a lot of planning that goes into creating a unit of inquiry, and it’s easy to think that what I did last year should be okay this year. However, it’s not the WHAT, it’s the WHO that matters. And the unit shouldn’t be about me, it should be about the kids going deep with their conceptual understandings. And when you put planning into that perspective, then it’s easy to see that units of inquiry area tale of 2 classrooms going to shift and be updated to the current group of students that you have. I’ve heard it said it before, “if it ain’t broke, IMPROVE it”, and I think that is the essence of innovation as we evolve in our understanding of excellence, inviting kids to the party, with more voice, choice, and reflection.

In our PD, we looked at some of the ideas in Switch by Chip and Dan Heath, and discussed the “elephant in the room”–the emotional system of our brain that likes to keep things the way they are. And I think as educators have been conditioned in a lot of ways to be in isolation, keeping our classrooms doors closed to others, which has created systemic reluctance to be vulnerable and let people in to observe our teaching and learning.  I’ve been working on shifting that and having more peer observation. I think this has been a positive experience overall, but still, there’s a passivity because everyone wants to be friendly.  However, with time, more difficult conversations will emerge–and what I mean by that is not conflict on staff, but more like colleagues asking the right questions in order to push the limit line of one’s potential. It’s not the “great advice” of another teacher that will change the teaching of another, instead, I think it will be the great questions that provoke one’s thinking and inspire them into action. And I feel that these questions will be the antidote to that “classic rut thinking” that we all face in our schools. Nevertheless, it is the opening of doors that is helping others to open their minds to the possibility of what they might be able to do with their students.

 

 

 

 

Literacy Amplified: Using Technology Tools Effectively

Literacy Amplified: Using Technology Tools Effectively

Technology has the ability to enhance learning with positive results. That said, we need to be careful not to assume all technology is good technology or that just having access to technology automatically equates to higher learning outcomes. Strong leaders in education carefully select technology tools and implement strategies so that the tool will not distract or take away from the learning goals, which can easily happen.  -Elizabeth Moje-

I can completely relate to that piece of wisdom, as we have explored 1:1 iPads in our primary classes. Sometimes classrooms can be overzealous in the use of technology, and the point of its use gets lost in using this “shiny tool”. We’ve had to reflect, is it the app/tool that drives our instruction or is it the curriculum? And I think to refine our choices through this filter (the curriculum) is helping us to make better decisions when selecting technology tools.

Studies by Harold Wenglinsky and other researchers from the US Department of Education have indicated that there are criteria that we must consider in our decisions with effective technology use in the classroom. Educators have to ask themselves the following:

  1. Does it elicit higher-order thinking around the contenttechnology-in-class or just an over consumption of content?
  2. Are their social interactions between students, which help build student knowledge. Collaboration is a key skill in developing digital literacies, so keep that in mind when selecting tools.
  3. Does it provide quality over quantity when it comes to practicing skills so that critical thinking is being developed?
  4. What is the “value-added” element of the tool?  Is instruction more personalized and/or differentiated; and can the students develop a more sophisticated understanding of the content?

 

When it comes to developing literacy skills, we have to remember that whatever the tool we choose, it should augment what we already know is critical in developing good readers. So what do we know about good readers?

  • They are active, with clear goals in mind and a purpose for reading.
  • They are constantly evaluating the text, asking questions and making predictions.
  • They can peruse the text carefully, noticing the importance of text features and structure.
  • As they read, they are engaged in making meaning of the text, constructing and revising their understanding.
  • They are making decisions as they read, reflecting on what to read carefully, what to read quickly, what not to read, what to reread, and so on.

When it comes to good writing, we want to make sure the tool reinforces what we know is vital to cultivate in our learners:

  • Writing that is focused, with an obvious topic or idea.
  • Ideas that are detailed and flow clearly.
  • The student engages in a process of revision, elaboration, and editing so that the writing improves.
  • The student sees themselves as an author and is aware that their writing is meant to be shared and appreciated.

Keeping in mind, what we know about good literacy instruction, then we can use technology to amplify the learning in our classrooms. I love what Eric Johnson says about using technology in his instruction, as he explains how teachers can discern what makes for enhanced literacy teaching and learning with technology.

fullsizerender-50
These four-year-olds work together to create a simple story. Each selected a character and then recorded their characters’ expressions to create a dialogue between them.

Considering this, when we want to amplify the results of our literacy programs, we need to make sure that students aren’t sitting alone, swiping mindlessly through an app or game, but instead, we have a clearly defined purpose for using the tool, and then demonstrate how to use these tools through a Think Aloud or Read-aloud. We may have to model how to work collaboratively in order to apply certain literacy strategies and/or complete a project.  This could include even how students should be sharing their knowledge, and reflecting how well they are doing in meeting the standards of the task.

In our classrooms, we want our students engaged and their learning enhanced as they work with technology. Even at home, I’m a huge advocate for showing students and their families how iPads are tools and not toys so that there is more thought put into the use of this technology. We want our students to be empowered and innovative so that there is a shift from consumption to creation when it comes to content.

So before you start app smashing or sit your student down to a website, ask yourself what impact will this technology REALLY make in the overall learning? And if you can’t identify that, then move away from the “shiny tool” syndrome and take more time to either find a more appropriate tool or use a time-tested traditional method to meet the learning goals.

 

I am the Force, and the Force is Within Me.

I am the Force, and the Force is Within Me.

If you have seen Rogue 1, the latest Star Wars movie, then you know what my title is all about. As I interpret it, it means tapping into the field of our inner potential to overcome challenges and obstacles. I think, as educators, we grapple with this all the time, especially when we contemplate whether or not we are making a positive impact in our classrooms and in our school community.

Recently I reread Ron Ritchart’s Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools. In case you don’t know the 8 forces that shape a school’s culture of teaching and learning, let me give you a cheat:

  1. Expectations (of learning)
  2. Language (teacher and student talk)
  3. Time
  4. Modeling
  5. Opportunities (powerful learning moments)
  6. Routines (Visible Thinking routines)
  7. Interactions
  8. Environment

As I was rereading the parts I had highlighted and bookmarked, it got me thinking about the 2nd term. We have quite a few staff members leaving, myself included, and there is the danger of coasting instead of pushing the boundaries. I recognize that as a leader I have the choice to either uphold the status quo or to compel myself and others out of our comfort zone and demand more of ourselves and our kids. After watching an episode of Impact Theory with Dr. Moran Cerf, it got me thinking even more deeply about the need to move outside comfort levels:

It all comes down to the narrative that you tell yourself… Because the narrative you tell yourself, about yourself, is the most important thing you have; and if you tell yourself a story about struggle and inadequacy, not being good enough then that is going to reinforce your literal identity. The day I stopped thinking of myself as smart, and I started thinking of myself as a learner-that changed everything…it became this identity that is anti-fragile because if you told me I was stupid, it didn’t matter, it just compelled me to learn more.

Tom Bilyeu

I loved that! And as I listened to the interview, it really inspired me to alter our staff meeting. I felt that we all relate to this idea of “the learner” and that the love of teaching and learning could drive our practice to the next level.

During omindset-outline-graphicur staff PD session, we spoke candidly and asked questions about the concept of “YET”; how we can embrace those parts of us that professionally are “fixed” and encourage the growth mindset in our practice and most importantly in our students. What was funny is that inadvertently every aspect of the Ron Richart’s cultural forces came up in our discussions and reflections today. When we got into our collaborative groups to share and rework our professional goals, there was a greater sense of synergy, purpose, and creativity.

I really look forward to hearing what ideas emerge as we go through this process of achieving our professional goals,  as well as the collaboration and peer support that we can offer each other as we engage in more risk-taking in our classroom practice.

Just as “I am the Force, and the Force is within me”, I know that it is also true for the great teachers that I work with, and moreover, our students. Now I  just can’t wait to see what amazing things come out our second term.

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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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