Category: concept based learning

#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.

Designing a Classroom of Writers: An Inquiry-Based Approach To Writer’s Workshop

Designing a Classroom of Writers: An Inquiry-Based Approach To Writer’s Workshop

I have a desire to be the teacher that I always wish I had and to have a classroom whose energy and enthusiasm for learning is palpable. I don’t care if my students remember me when they are older but I certainly wish that who they became as writers might be because of me.

This week was the first full week of school and like many classrooms, the early days of learning are full of cultivating our learning culture and assessing children. However, since we are a PYP (Primary Years Programme) school, we are also trying to determine what they know about our central idea Our choices and actions as individuals define who we become as a community while looking through our lines of inquiry:

  • Ourselves as learners (reflection)
  • How our mindset impacts our behavior (change)

So this week, as we inquired why people write, students examined old exemplars of writing. And when I say old, I mean REALLY old, as in ancient, such as these.

ancient

We did the See, Think, Wonder Visible Thinking routine, and the students came up with lots of wonderful ideas like “words are like codes that have secret messages”, “old humans had different things that they wrote about”, “writing looks different today”. Then their questions began to emerge, with the most poignant being  “what message do they want to tell us”. From there, we decided to create a “message” about something that is important to them. They could write about anything, which would help me assess a bit into the line of inquiry-who we are as learners, and most importantly, who we are as writers. What ideas do they have? Would they use pictures AND words to express their ideas? What words would they use?

So with no other prompt, they began to “write”. All of them drew pictures, none of them wrote words beyond their name on top of the paper. I thought this was very interesting and it was great data. At that point, I decided to stop the class, and have them share their pictures with a buddy. While they partnered up, the partner who drew the picture was silent while the other described what they thought the picture was about. Then they switched roles. When we did a whole group reflection, the students began to articulate what they needed to add to their picture so that its message was clearer: more details in the picture, more color, and add WORDS! Then they set off to work on their writing and the words started to come onto the page naturally. This showed me that they were beginning to understand the purpose of words in our writing and motivated them to use labels and captions.

During our next lesson, students explored books with the learning intention of determining what the author was trying to tell us–what was their message. When the students came back and shared, the purpose of writing began to come into focus: to entertain or to inform us about a certain topic. Then I gave them back their original sample of writing, I asked them if they were “done” with this idea of if they needed more paper to explain what happened before and after the page that I had in my hand. All of them agreed that they had more work to do, and within 30 minutes, their books began to emerge. Students ideas for book making began to spill out and they started to think about their purpose of writing: “When I am done with this book, I want to write about mermaids”, “Next time Batman is going to fight another bad guy.”, “I want to do a different kind of I-Spy book”.  Later students asked when it was writing time and if they could take their books out on break so they could share them with a friend. But my happiest moment of this week came when a student who felt overwhelmed and exasperated about reading came to me and asked if he could do more writing during our classroom ‘personal inquiry time”. I couldn’t help but beam with my joy–Yes!, I thought, they will become genuine writers!

I firmly believe that when students get the “why” of writing and the “how” will come naturally because they are motivated to do the heavy lifting in their learning. So as we work through this unit of inquiry, I intend to find mentor texts to help support them and to “tune into” their voice so they develop their skills as writers.

I am wondering what others have done that has sparked a love of writing. What strategies and provocations have you used that got students motivated and energized about their work? Please share because it elevates teaching, not just in my classroom, but in other’s who read this blog. Sharing is caring! (:

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!

 

I Think, therefore I Math

I Think, therefore I Math

I remember the first time I fell in love with math. I was enrolled in Mr. MacFarlene’s DP Math class. He often told jokes and odd stories about mathematicians but one day he did this lesson proving Pythagoras’ theorem using origami–that changed my life! After that lesson, I began to enjoy thinking mathematically. Math suddenly became real to me and I started to see it in my everyday life.

square-numbers Recently, during a conversation about math standards with a fellow primary school teacher,  we talked about how math symbols and algorithms can be very off-putting for students when they don’t understand the conceptual basis of an idea. We had a  love rant over using inquiry-based approaches in order to conceptualize problems and build models in order to show visual representations. When done in this way, math can become suddenly interesting, even “beautiful”.

Have you ever seen this TED Talk by Jo Boaler? (If not, watch it now–seriously it’s awesome!) As someone who once struggled with math, and later “got it”, minoring in it in university, I can appreciate the research that demonstrates how mindset is everything in overcoming barriers to problem-solving.

 

Most of the math taught in schools is over 400 years old and is not actually the mathetmatics that students need. -Jo Boaler-

When I reflect on my own experience as a learner and ponder this educational research, I wholeheartedly agree that inquiry-based learning naturally cultivates a joy in the struggle as students actively engage in problems that are relevant and interesting. Boaler calls this a multi-dimensional approach to teaching math, which would include the following:

  1. Posing  stimulating questions
  2. Providing multiple approaches to problem-solving
  3. Communicating student thinking
  4. Representing ideas in a variety of ways
  5. Using reasoning in order to justify the validity of a solution.

When engaged in this way, students begin to grasp ideas extensively, making connections to other mathematical concepts and applying them in a range of different contexts. The best part is that students become fascinated by math problems and solving them can be fun.

What I love most about the comparative research of inquiry-based math and traditional approaches to teaching is that this multi-dimensional approach not only closes the achievement gap but increases achievement, especially in more diverse socioeconomic schools like this group ; in fact, in more linguistically diverse populations, this approach not only improves math scores but also reading and science. As someone whose IB school population is mostly ELLs (English Language Learners), I have witnessed how transdisciplanary learning accelerates learning in so many subject areas. It feels like a no-brainer to teach this way, yet so many schools still rely on textbooks and worksheets. It’s a shame that those students miss out on all the juicy thinking.

However, I believe with all the focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education, the trend towards favoring slow and deep mathematical thinking (vs. fast yet shallow problem-solving) will be inevitable. With 21st century learning, there’s a greater demand for integration of disciplines. Creating authentic situations in which real and compelling questions naturally develop, with a sublime amount of mystery lurking in it so that students can imagine and debate ideas during their problem-solving process, is becoming more universally accepted as effective math teaching, even in non-IB schools.

As a lover of math, the transition into these approaches gives me hope that my daughter might not have to wait until high school before she can relish the effort and be absorbed in a math task. I dream that one day she fumbles the words of Descartes and whispers into my ear, I think, therefore I math.

 

Eat, Sleep and Learn: In A State of Perpetual Practice

Eat, Sleep and Learn: In A State of Perpetual Practice

Practice is a kind of severe devotion… This kind of discipline creates muscle memory, but even more so, this internal sensitivity andfamiliarity with the craft opens up and sparks invention and improvisation. Any kind of regular practice makes way for discovery and subtlety, and imaginative nuance will follow. -Gail  Swanlund-

I’m starting a new unit: How We Express Ourselves- We appreciate both the patterns that occur in the natural world and the ones that we create. During my first week of pre-assessment my mind says “No, no, no–these plastic toys and manipulatives, they are eye catching and helping them to develop the concept of pattern, but I want them to observe the natural world and get inspired by the lines, shapes, and colors they see!”

I can’t begin to tell you how mixed my emotions were–most of my students are on target, as they seem to understand the basics, copying, extending  and creating models, but this unit is supposed to be about the appreciation of the aesthetic, I have to dig digger and find ways to induce a state of curiosity and wonder in order to develop creativity and expose the limits of their imagination!!

If any early years teachers accustomed to teaching 3-5 years old were to look at these photos, they would be content with the approximations and, in some cases, clear understandings of the concept of pattern in our first week of our unit.  I think these learning tools are excellent ways to develop the structure of how we can manipulate shape and color, and it also gives them practice at creating repetition in forming patterns. However, as much as I love these little people’s effort, I know if I am to continue in this vein for this unit, I am totally missing the mark of the transdisciplinary theme.

I grabbed my laminated line drawing cards and dragged our lovely art teacher into my room to help me think about my classroom design and how I can organically teach pattern in lessons. I knew as soon as I began collaborating, I was out of my depth–I am not an artist, or at least that is how I perceive myself. (God help me when I sit down with the music teacher.) Panic began to set in….

So I  have begun to convert my classroom into different “environments”. One will be “water world”, “forest world” and “human world”, respectively.  And, if I was to really nail this unit, I was going to have to work on developing my craft so I could faithfully explore the idea of the aesthetic so the kids would demonstrate higher forms of creativity and irules-coritanventiveness.

With that in mind, I have decided to embark upon a learning journey, to jump into this inquiry as if I was the student and not necessarily the teacher. I’ve signed myself up for an Introduction to Image Making MOOC  from a graphic design perspective, and start to explore how I can incorporate some of these class assignments into my classroom. As I think about this endeavor the “rules” by Sister Corita Kent really speaks to how I can approach areas of my practice which are not as I am no as comfortable and familiar with.

Since I have decided to use the context of different environments to observe patterns, I have begun to consider how I might devise different provocations in which we can look at animals and their markings. Here are just a few ideas I have for the unit during our exploration and finding out phase of the inquiry.

  • Animal tails: I was thinking about a “cover and peek” activity. Using some of the language from the Visible Thinking strategy, I See, I Think, I Wonder, we can look at pictures of animals with only their tails showing. Later, the students would be offered the use of materials like string and felt to create wavy, spotted and swirly tails.
  • Thunderstorm: I was thinking of listening to sounds of different types of storms and have the students give me words to describe what they hear.
    • Then I would give them some instruments and let them try to model what they hear. Later I would offer some drums, but I was thinking that I might cover the drum with some white paper and tape some different color crayons on it. In that way, when they are making their sounds, there would be markings on the paper.
    • Also, I plan on offering the colored water and droppers. I  was thinking that we could make rain drops using those materials, and they could watch the concentric circles form, as they drop the colored water into a tub of clear water.

These are just a couple of ideas that I was inspired with after 1 week from that MOOC. The longer I teach, the more I come to understand how important to do things that stretch me so that I not only cultivate a classroom rich in learning but that I model the growth mindset in my classroom–even if these ideas fail, at least I developed some opportunities to show the creative process over product. I want to endeavor to experience this inquiry as a participant, as much as I am the facilitator, so I am equally excited about what the students will come up with once the reins are taken off their imagination.

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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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