Category: inquiry

Kick in the Pants: Slice of Life Challenge

Kick in the Pants: Slice of Life Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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#Inquiry: Transforming Learning Objectives and Intentions.

#Inquiry: Transforming Learning Objectives and Intentions.

I had an Aha-Moment this week and I am bursting to share it! You see I grew up and was trained in the American school system so most of my pedagogical schema is steeped in a Standards-Based Approach to teaching and learning. Lessons must have learning objectives, which usually are framed around the State’s curriculum or nowadays there is the Common Core. When I write or state the objective on the board, there is a magnetic pull that drives the learning towards meeting that goal. I get tunnel vision and achieving this standard becomes a primary focus, if not for the day, then for the week. But can we still attain the skills and knowledge in the curriculum without letting the learning intention be the end-all/be-all in our lessons?

Let me just set the stage for my lightbulb moment:

One of my colleagues had said earlier this year that she feels like when you do inquiry it seems like you have to always make the students guess what they are learning about. It’s as if learning intention is a mystery. And so herein lies the challenge with inquiry-based learning when it meets the standards-based curriculum training. Is there a happy medium? And I think I found the answer and the answer is YES!

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Compliments of the wonderful teachers at VIS, Mr. David, and Mr. John!

Did you catch that? In the example above, they just open up the lesson  with a question and it naturally covered standards that would be typically on the board or stated as you tell your students what they would be learning about in that 4th-grade lesson:

  • Use the four operations with whole numbers to solve problems. (Common Core)
  • 4.1.2.1.f checking reasonableness of answers. ( Singapore Mathematics Syllabi)
  • Know multiplication and division facts for the 2× to 10× tables (Cambridge)

If you’re a PYP teacher then we are always packing our unit planners with “teacher questions”.  I already was well aware that questions are vital for inquiry teaching and learning. But it never occurred to me that I could or should turn the learning intention/objective into a question. It totally changes the dynamic of the lesson, in which a clear path of learning is set yet there is still enough space for curiosity and divergent thinking.

So I’m going to start transforming my WALT (W.hat we A.re L.earning T.oday) into questions so that students have a goal and purpose for learning. And then I’d like to end with a student reflection: Did we answer the question? Why or why not?

I think when we shift from Telling To Asking, we start moving away from didactic approaches and move into curiosity and student agency. I’m going to test out this tweak and I invite others to do the same so that more student interest and inquiry can be sparked.

#PYP: What is a Provocation?

#PYP: What is a Provocation?

I love the International Baccalaureate but the jargon really can get you jumbled up, especially when you are new to the program. In the PYP, we use a lot of terminologies that others would just call “best practice”.  However, there is a word that pops up quite a lot: provocation.

Now someone might call it the “hook”, something that draws student’s attention into a lesson. But when I say “hook”, I don’t mean an attention grabber like a joke or cute anecdote or a routine of some sort that gets students on task. No, that’s not a provocation!   A provocation is thoughtfully constructed activity to get students excited and engaged, but a really powerful provocation creates cognitive dissonance that throws kids into the Learning Pit (of inquiry).  Students should be examining their beliefs and ideas as a result of the provocation.

Here is a list of questions that were shared by our PYP coordinator Chad Walsh which can help filter activities and perhaps refine them in order to transform them into provocations:

  • Is the provocation likely to leave a lasting impression?
  • Is there a degree of complexity?
  • Might the provocation invite debate?
  • Might the provocation begin a conversation?
  • Might the provocation extend thinking?
  • Might the provocation reveal prior knowledge?
  • Is the provocation likely to uncover misconceptions?
  • Does the provocation transfer the ‘energy’ in the room from the teacher to the students?
  • Does the provocation have multiple entry points?
  • Can the provocation be revisited throughout the unit?
  • Might the provocation lead learners into a zone of confusion and discomfort?
  • Does the provocation relate to real life/their world?
  • Is the provocation inconspicuous and a little mysterious?
  • Might the provocation lead learners to broader concepts that tend to carry more relevance and universalitMight the provocation be best during the inquiry, rather than at the beginning?
  • Does this provocation elicit feelings?

That is a very extensive list, isn’t it?

Well, let me share a  few examples of provocations:

How We Organize Itself, The Central Idea: Governments make decisions that impact the broader community.

Students come to class that morning and are treated according to the government system that is being highlighted. (Example, Totalitarian) This goes on for a week and each day students have to reflect on what it was like to be a citizen of this type of government.

Where We Are In Place and Time, The Central Idea: Personal histories help us to reflect on who we are and where we’ve come from.

The “mystery box” (which I think originated from the work of Kath Murdoch): inside a box (or a suitcase, in this example) there is a bunch of seemingly unrelated items that students have to guess what the unit might be about. This is a “tuning in” activity. And since this is a central idea about personal histories, it might include a family photo, an old toy, some cultural artifacts or relics of things we enjoy doing, a clock, a map.

Math Stand Alone, The Central Idea: Mathematical problems can be solved in a variety of ways 

The  “sealed solution“: there are 5 envelopes that have the sum of two numbers “sealed” inside them. Students have to use the digits 0-9 only once to create those sums. What could be the sums inside?


Hopefully, this is helping you to discern what a provocation might be. Even if you are an experienced PYP teacher, reflecting and refining our provocations is something that is critical to developing our student’s learning and sparking curiosity.  A well-designed provocation will not only make it to the family dinner table conversation that night but will have a longer shelf life in a child’s mind and ultimately develops important conceptual understandings.

What have been some of your favorite provocations? What questions or engagements have led to deeper learning? Please share in the comments below so we can all benefit from your experience! (Thanks!)

My Flawed Thinking: Confessions of A Digital Immigrant

My Flawed Thinking: Confessions of A Digital Immigrant

Perhaps you haven’t considered lately how far we’ve come in the journey with computers in the classroom. I recently was watching an interview with Hal Abelson about the history of Logo, the first computer programming language that was taught to kids. In it, he shares the philosophy of Logo and the determination that the father of constructionism, Seymour Papert, had in bringing computers into the classroom:

Well, one thing I learned from Seymour Papert is that he used to talk about developing technology with a low floor and a high ceiling, meaning it’s easy to get started, the low floor, and you can do more and more sophisticated things over time, a high ceiling. We sometimes also talk about having wide walls, meaning you can have many different pathways. It’s not enough just to have everyone doing the same thing and doing more complex things, but people doing different types of things.

I know Hal is talking about computer programming, but that is only one aspect of how we use computers and devices in our learning environments. It is fascinating to think about what an impact these pioneers have had in creating a generation of “digital natives”. Once a computer was a huge expensive noisy machine, but now it ubiquitous. Our young learners have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computer video games, digital MP3 players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other tools of the digital age. As an enthusiastic educator,  it’s hard not be inspired by where technology has taken us and where it will take us in our students’ learning.  I am always searching for how we might cultivate deeper thinking and creativity in our use of iPads in the learning to demonstrate this “high ceiling”. However, I recently discovered that I have some preconceived notions about my digital natives. The cartoon really summarizes my error in thinking and that I need to appreciate that, although technology can provide this low ceiling, I have to still lead them into the “learning environment”–even if I am a Digital Immigrant.  

During this last week of learning, we have been working through the transdisciplinary theme, How We Organize Ourselves, inquiring into the central idea: Community Spaces provide people with opportunities to connect. We have developed “expert” groups for different community spaces at our school and it came up that we may need some signs to help us know about the appropriate behavior in different areas. So we considered how technology can help us to augment or extend the learning by this project and decided to use Adobe Spark Post to explore how we might create the visual message.  However, I noticed that the students are accustomed to using iPads just for consumption purposes instead of using them for creativity or collaboration. Before we can shift into higher levels of purposeful use in the classroom, they need to get into habits of taken active roles as learners of technology. They required a lot of handholding to start the project and I began to think how I might have given them more support in orientating to the app before beginning. Even though it wasn’t a total flop, I wanted a lesson “do-over” so that students could make better connections and be empowered. With this in mind, I recognized my faulty logic in assuming that because they are digital natives, they are naturally orientated to using apps. I started to think about what my next steps need to be and how might I approach it differently.

After reflecting, I see these as the basic concepts and ideas that they need further development in:

Learn….

  • What do different icons mean?
  • How to problem solve when they can’t spell a word?

Understand….

  • How their projects are seen and can be shared on the device (co-use and collaborate).
  • How that double tapping is an editing command.
  • That changes made on a project happen in real time.
  • A design can be improved upon and their current model or idea is just one iteration.

In hindsight, these outcomes seem like a natural starting point and should have been obvious in the lesson design;  but as a digital immigrant, I think they implicitly know how to get started with technology. I assumed that so much of their experience has exposed them to these things and thought that the app could teach itself. My design checklist and quick demonstration of the app was simply not enough to draw out the nuances that students needed to develop when creating a product. If I want them to go into higher levels of their learning and creativity, I have to remember that, although I am not a digital native, I am their teacher and I need to make sure they have a clear picture of the power of the tool before them. There’s a careful balance of making sure that students are finding problems that they can solve, and that they have the skills to use technology to solve these problems.

I am sure my confession resonates with many educators, as they think back to a lesson that should have gone better than it did. But sometimes you do the teaching and sometimes you do the learning. (:

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.

 

 

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)

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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.

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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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Central Ideas: The Good, The Bad and The Messy. How the Primary Years Program Can Rethink and Define Them

Central Ideas: The Good, The Bad and The Messy. How the Primary Years Program Can Rethink and Define Them

The Primary Years Program is a challenging curriculum. As you work in this framework, it forces you to put all of your educational values under the microscope and really analyze what you truly believe about how children learn best.  Often the ideas sound good on paper but can really be a struggle in practice, especially depending upon the constraints their school puts upon them with math and literacy programs. As a coordinator who works with new-to-IB staff, getting them to “drink the Kool-Aid” isn’t always an easy sell, especially at first because all the jargon overwhelms them. But I think that the first step to convincing new PYP teachers that this is the best approach to learning out there is the central idea. Well written central capture students interest and make for powerful inquiries.

So how do you know if your central ideas are “bad”?  Here’s the main clue: Your teachers say “huh, what does this mean?” when they look at it.  I’ll share an example to clarify:

Natural materials are used to inspire and express ideas. (How We Express Ourselves)

This is bad for all sorts of reasons–it’s ambiguous yet narrow focus on “natural materials” and the words “inspire” and “express” seem to be subjective in this context. These are two things that jump out at you. But what did you say after reading this? Let me guess:  “huh, what does this mean?”    Yep, that’s the hallmark of a failed attempt at a central idea.

What about messy? Well, I love this handy-dandy guide to developing a central idea that I’m pretty sure ever PYP school references at some point in their review of their Programme of Inquiry (POI). It’s well-intentioned and tries to be thorough, but when you put pen to paper, you can really get some gobbly-gook.  This part, below, is what causes some major mumbo-jumbo in our fabrication of central ideas:

How do I know if I have written a good Central Idea?

 Did you include two or more concepts in your statement?

 Have you used an active, present-tense verb?

 Did you avoid using proper and personal nouns?

 Did you avoid the use of to be (is, are) and have verbs?

 Did you write a complete sentence

You couple this with the advice in the Developing a Transdisciplanary Programme of Inquiry, and you can really have some creative wordsmithing. I say this all respectfully, especially since the PYP is undergoing a big review at the moment, but put yourself in the shoes of a new IB educator.

developing a transdisciplanr
From the publication: Developing a Transdisciplanary Programme of Inquiry

It takes a sharp eye to see the delineation between the 2 versions and you got to remember that this is a central idea for a 1st grader/Primary 1 student–words like organization, endeavor, and enterprise take a week (at least) to unpack before you get to those 4 lines of inquiry. You can totally appreciate why new IB teachers are absolutely overwhelmed with the notion of writing or revising a central idea. Furthermore, you can understand why a candidate school would just copy a sample POI that is either posted on the Online Curriculum Centre or on another IB school’s website.  Just the other day I was having a coffee with a candidate’s school appointed PYP coordinator. At first, I didn’t quite understand her intention- her school’s POI looked fine, decent central ideas- but after an hour I came to understand that what she actually wanted me to help her with writing lesson plans for her teachers. Her teachers needed help with lesson planning because they personally hadn’t gone through the process, they had no skin in the game and definitely no understanding of what it means to do an “inquiry into…..

But this goes back to the point I was making–a good central idea should generate more possibilities. If a teacher can’t look at a central idea and come up with a place to start, then the inquiry is going to get messy.  Just look at that central idea above: People create organizations that solve problems and support human endeavor. They will probably just fumble around for at least a week instead of hitting the ground running doing a bonafide inquiry because they can’t get past those words. The words–the ones that the summative task is supposed to be built around–is a major stumbling block, especially for a 1st-grade teacher. Let’s be honest, right?If the central idea is messy than it typically demands that we put a stake in the ground at some point and say, “ok kids, this is where you need to go with your inquiry–it’s nearly summative time!” I know IB understands these challenges, which is why it is painfully taking a knife to the PYP and rethinking how we can approach central ideas.

Let me give you another example from a 2nd-grade unit at our school:

The population of a community can determine the structure of its organizations within it.

When we wrote that central idea under How We Organize Ourselves theme, we followed the handy-dandy aforementioned guide. I’ve highlighted the concepts that we pulled out the IB Social Studies Scope and Sequence. The purpose of this unit was to help students start gaining an understanding of government and economics that was lacking in some of the future P4 and P5 units. The summative task is to have the students form a “city council” and create a community with a given population, using a budget to provide for its goods and services. So that was the intention of this wordy central idea. This year, when a new 2nd-grade teacher came in and looked and looked at this unit, her response to the central idea indicated that it was messy. In our last meeting, we discussed how well the kids, who LOVED this unit, understood the central idea. She said that she spent more time focusing on the lines of inquiry because of the wording of the central idea, but that ultimately yes they understood the relationship between population and community design. The fact that she circumvented the Central Idea is definitely a symptom of a messy central idea. So we thought about ditching all those big words and simplifying the central idea to reflect a more kid-accessible central idea:

People design communities to fit the needs of its population.  

(I think we have transformed it into a “good” central idea–or at least a better iteration.)

So, a perfect central idea isn’t so wordy and nebulous that you can’t find a place to start, nor creates an exhausting level of teacher content delivery or misguided student research. What do I mean about this? Look at this:

Signs and Symbols can be used to communicate messages through different media.

Screams transdisciplinary right?–Instantly specialists want to jump in and connect with the ideas of signs and symbols, and it’s an easy link with literacy, social studies, technology, and math. Not to mention that it’s got friendlier language so we can dive right into the inquiry. And assessment organically emerges, with the kids being able to contribute to what a summative task might look like. It’s interesting, it’s engaging and student action is prominent.

So let me summarize my definition of a “good” central idea:

  • Transdisciplinarity ( I don’t know if that’s a word, but it is now!) can happen organically.
  • It is easily understood by the teacher so they know how to start the inquiry.
  • The students can access its language.
  • A clear summative task naturally arises and students can provide input into how it can be assessed.
  • It connects students to concepts that will be needed in future units of inquiry.

Now, perhaps you share my opinion about central ideas or you may want to lambaste me. This is a hotly contested area between educators. Fair enough. But as a coordinator, I make a good stab at being knowledgeable and reflective, however, the only thing that I am certain of is my experience as an educator with this framework.  Perhaps your experience matches mine or maybe you think I’m speaking blasphemy–fantastic! Let’s debate! I’d love to hear your definitions–what are the attributes of a “good” central idea?

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How to Spell Transdisciplanary Learning in the Early Years

How to Spell Transdisciplanary Learning in the Early Years

 

Seriously, how long will I have to write transdisciplanary before my spell check program acknowledges that it’s a real word. No matter how many times I ask it to “add it to the dictionary”, it still gives me the red line.  Doesn’t my computer know I am a PYP teacher. What nerve, I tell you! lol

As any Early Years teacher knows, there can be a fine line between topic and concept.

Look at my next unit:

People can help our communities by working in different ways.

  • People play different roles in a community. (responsibility)
  • How helpers impact a community. (connection)
  • How tools help people to do their jobs. (function)

What comes to your mind?–Community Helpers, right? –A bunch of lovely centers/corners. We can have police, fire fighters, nurses, doctors, construction workers, etc…..Lots of role play- Fun Early Years unit, right?

Not to me. I find this unit a challenge because now I am asking myself how can I steer this inquiry away from being a topic to developing those concepts of our roles and responsibilities in a community. I’m thinking about what approaches  I can use to embed multiple disciplines so that students can explore and create in contexts that are authentic for them. Preschool STEAM– Of course!

STEAM, in case you don’t know is an acronym that stands for:

S. cience

T. echnology

E.ngineering

A.rt

M. ath

Aha, I can hear you say how can ” doing nifty projects” make it transdisciplanary? Fair retort. Point taken. So I’ve decided to up the ante and instead of centers or corners during this unit, we will have PROBLEMS In the beginning, I will have to provide them through literature links and set up these provocations with my main teacher question: HOW COULD SOMEONE IN THE COMMUNITY HELP HIM/HER? Later, however, I expect students to generate them.

As I am in the planning stages of this unit, I will have to report back with our progress, but my head is spinning with so many ideas. I can’t wait to see what the students come up with!

 

 

Stranger in a Strange Land: Research in the Digital Age

Stranger in a Strange Land: Research in the Digital Age

During one of our collaborative planning meetings,  we were discussing how students are keen to grab their iPads rather than a book when they are doing research. Some of us remarked how we have to make students aware of the books in our classrooms as a primary source of information, rather than going down the rabbit hole of internet research. It became clear that integrating technology with research skills really brings up our “digital divide” with our students. And perhaps one of the greatest challenges is to teach what we, ourselves, have limited experience or expertise in. How can teachers move from being digital voyeurs (people who recognize the shift to digital, but reluctant to embrace it)  to digital immigrants (people who have crossed the chasm to the digital world, and learned how to engage with it)?

digitial-landscape

So the teacher becomes the student!  How can we help students conduct online research whilst developing our own understanding of the blindspots involved in internet research?

becomebetteronlineresearchers

Because I teach in the Early Years, I could not really rely on my own experience and had to do my own digging around on how to research online in order to support fellow teachers.  I started on Edutopia and was relieved to read about the approaches to teaching research skills  by Mary Beth Hertz that provided a good starting place when arming students with tools and strategies. Also, I found these lessons that support online research for students and felt like it could be a good place to begin for direct instruction during our technology time. And then the ideas in this website could be used for a more inquiry-based approach to teaching these skills.

I learned a lot actually in this query into how to teach research skills and I am excited to hear the reflections of our teachers as they negotiate digital learning in their classrooms.

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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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