Category: inquiry

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)

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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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.

Push back or Pull up?

Push back or Pull up?

Several years ago I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book,Outliers, during a long layover in Las Vegas. (Yes, I’m so geeky that I choose books over slot machines). This was the 1st time I was exposed to the 10,000 hour rule, which actually comes from the work of Anders Ericsson, who is considered the expert on peak performance. He details how someone moves from accepting to be “good enough” to reaching extraordinary results through deliberate practice. Working at the boundary of our comfort zone isteacher-inquiry-group one of the most important aspects of shifting from goodness to GREATNESS.

So as I was reflecting on this information, I began to think about the structure that I’d like to see for the collaborative learning groups for my staff’s professional development–how I can cultivate this deliberate practice in our PD on developing the writer skills and attitudes in our learners. So I’ve been trying to find a way to connect the dots between Arthur Costa’s ideas on reflective practice and Ericcson’s idea of deliberate practice.  During this rainy holiday week I decided that I would create a collaborative guide for teachers  that would help move them in a direction that sponsored reflection on their comfort zones during these sessions. This is my first iteration with this effort so I’m looking forward to feedback and I’m really excited to get started. I’m hopeful that teachers will “pull up” each other with thoughtful discussion and deep reflection that promotes another level of sophistication and effectiveness in developing their craft, rather than giving me “push back” on how teachers’ self-directed inquiry doesn’t work.

I feel a bit anxious and vulnerable, but I trust that the teachers’ inner desire to be awesome, coupled with my charisma, will overcome any barriers and they will be open to peer coaching and collaborative planning.

 

Life is Play

Life is Play

It really wasn’t until I had my own child that I deeply understood the quote from Fred Rogers, “Play is often talked about as if it was a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”

 As I have watched not only my own child grow, but also the immense amount of growth that goes on with my students, it becomes more obvious to me the need to honor that Life is Play for the young.

Students construct such deep meaning of their world by finding ways to relate to it through enriching their understanding of:

  • Relationships: through shared experience and connection with others.
  • Environment: awareness of beauty and the ability to create their own private world of imagination and thinking.
  • Systems: understanding how the world works in their lives and in the lives of others.
  • Decision making: determining what is important to them and for others; making choices that develop their self-esteem.

As I step back into the Early Years this year, I wonder how as a teacher I may guide play better through provocations, asking questions and expanding their thinking. Not only do I wish for them to practice foundational numeracy and literacy skills, but I want to engage and challenge them so that they can create and build deeper conceptual understandings and open up their view of the world.

 

I look forward to the year ahead, and the wonderful complexity of how young children develop their ideas through imagination and creative action. This is the joy of my “work”-to be the observer and provocateur of children involved in play, as play is now my life’s work as well.

 

 

Trandisciplanary Learning

Trandisciplanary Learning

Transdiciplanary -that sure is a mouthful to say and I think it might take me a lifetime to master but I love the process. I think of it as trying to link as many subject perspectives into a single learning context. A bottle neck of connections. In this case, it was the Central Idea: Humans have values and belief systems that can impact their actions.

As we embarked upon this inquiry, I wanted the students to ponder:

  • How do we know what people believe in? (key concept: form)
  • How do we know if the opinions we have about things are truly accurate (key concept: perspective)

So we began with our literacy link, investigating facts vs. opinions in the books that we had pulled from the library for this unit.  I asked them to do some close reading (and yes, I used the magnifying glasses to illustrate this point), thinking of themselves as “data detectives”digging for clues. Students had to record this information in their journals. Later on we discussed what kind of data was commonly found, and if this was fact or opinion–how can we tell the difference in books, which they recognized as numbers, figures and dates.

After tuning in, I posed them how we might find out what our school community believes in.So now enters the math link, looking at the data management strand of our standards.The students agreed on a survey, in which we spent a couple of lessons developing their understanding of the mathematical principles of collecting and organizing data. We talked about 3 important elements to accuracy in our survey results:

  1. Good survey questions yield accurate data.
  2. We can’t assume answers, we must ask for clarification if we are unsure of their answers.
  3. The larger the survey sample, the more reliable our results.

The students then designed simple, yes/no/maybe questions about various beliefs, which mostly focused on supernatural elements like Do you believe in God?  Do you believe in ghosts?

Students all agreed on a sample size of 30 respondents for their surveys, and started roving the corridors to ask their questions. Afterwards, we analyzed our data, and the students reflected on their results, which then circled back to literacy, in which they had to write these reflections. The students had no idea that they were doing “math” or “literacy” of course. They just knew it was “unit” time, and I think this is the key to what it means to this crazy word that I can hardly spell: TRANSDISCIPLANARY.

 

So now we segue way to how we can communicate our findings to our school community. Many ideas were suggested but we decided to use graphs. I toyed with teaching them the Excel program, but I determined that they really needed to focus more concretely on the math vs the technology–at least for now. So then began a couple serious math lessons on creating pie charts, in which we reviewed fractions and angles before we even began making the pie charts. When we made the pie charts, discussion arose about whether or not we should color them, and if we should use the same colors or different colors. Also, whether certain colors represented certain ideas; for example Yes should be green or yellow.  At the end, the students agreed to let students represent their findings individually, and be open-minded to displaying their results in the way they wanted. I thought this was an interesting discussion, and it was a natural link to what they not only knew about each other socially and culturally but their beliefs about artistry. img_0397

What I loved about this project, which grew out of a couple of questions, was that the students were highly engaged and involved–not in math, not in literacy, not in art–but in LEARNING!  And although this unit is still underway, the thinking hasn’t ended because the project did; it continues on.

Concept Based Learning in the Early Years

Concept Based Learning in the Early Years

Have you ever seen this “picture of practice” on the Visible Thinking webpage:  Concept Keys Strategies ?

I remember the first time I saw this Kindergarten teacher demonstrate how she explicitly used concept-based learning in her classroom, I was really in awe and secretly jealous–mostly because her students could articulate ideas in English since my students could barely respond to “hello”.  It provoked me and posed a challenge;  and like a piece of dirt that got into my oyster shell, by Jove, I was going to make something beautiful out of this irritation!

So began the drive in me to pull off explicitly teaching the key concepts that drive the PYP. As an Early Years teacher, it’s easy to use “play-based learning” as my shield to avoid teacher directed lessons, having a morning meeting/circle time to have teacher-directed lessons. So I decided that I would do a math-literacy integration instead that would develop using the key concepts in our unit. It would be a pseudo stand alone unit and  I wanted to scaffold the big understandings, introducing the key concepts in a systematic way.

So  I decided to explore this connection as a part of our Where We Are in Place in Time unit which was actually focused on Transportation : Different types of transportation help people move from place to place.  The lines of inquiry were as follows:

  • Different forms of transportation (form)
  • How transportation has changed over time (change)
  • Where you live affects the transportation you use (connection)

I focused on shapes as a part of looking at the first line of inquiry (shapes found in different parts of transportation), using those same concepts as the lens in which we could think about shapes. As I thought about it, I couldn’t resist coming up with another Central Idea that I would use to assess their understanding: People can find shapes everywhere and we can become more aware of them in our environment. 

As a teacher whose 3-5 year olds are in the pre-emergent English stage, my first thought was about the key vocabulary that they would need to describe shapes, not to mention finding shapes in their environment. Of course the names of shapes are obvious key words, but I also wanted them to know words like line, corner, curved, round, straight, short, long. I had several morning meetings,  dedicated to developing their conceptual understandings.

During this time I brought the 3 key concepts for our unit: Form, Change and Connection. I talked about how the Key Concepts unlock our thinking and I “opened” everyone’s brain before we began lessons. The kids loved it! Also, to encourage their language skills, I had sentences starters to help articulate ideas, such as “This is a….” or “I see a…”  and “I think that..” I also had the negation of those phrases so there could be some debate, such as “This is not a ….”.  I used a “marble jar” to encourage them speaking English (since the go to language in my classroom is Mandarin); I would drop a marble in the big jar every time they used those phrases in their speaking. It was very effective and I found that several students made growth, initiating more conversations in English during playtime and requiring less prompting from me to speak in English.

Sorry, I digress…

We probably spent a week easily on just the key concept Form so I could introduce and develop their language skills. The children were always hunting around looking for these shapes, eager to point them out and intentionally creating them.

The following weeks we looked at how shapes can change. For example if you “stretch” a square, it becomes a rectangle. I used wooden blocks and popsicle sticks to demonstrate these ideas. During circle time we played “Guess the Change” game, in which I would make a shape and then have them close their eyes while I changed it; students then had to tell me how it changed.

Then I introduced the key concept of Connection. First I used literature to inspire them to think about the connection between shapes and letters. Books like Alphabet City by  Johnson and  The Turn-Around Upside Down Alphabet Book by Lisa Campbell Earnst were fun favorites of the kids. Later in the week I brought out blocks and popsickle sticks and asked the kids to show me what they know about shapes to make letters. Before I knew it, they were making connections with the key concept of connection and expressing what they knew about letters: “This big B, two circles. Little b, one circle.”

Since play=inquiry in the Early Years, I created many opportunities that allowed them to think about what they learned and show me that they were thinking about the shapes within letters and how we can form them. Some were spontaneous and some were “suggestions”.  I also worked diligently on engaging them in questioning  (“what if I ….”) and encouraging them to express their ideas in complete sentences.

 

 

After 2 weeks of this, I introduced a T-chart and Venn Diagram (curved vs. straight lines was my example) activity in which the students sorted the letters based on shapes. It was an assessment, but they didn’t know that. However,  because I offered these as a choice rather than an obligation, only some students wanted to do it at first. I used all sorts of materials to inspire them to do the sorting activity and then I did games like “hide and seek letters” to “hide” these letters inside the charts. Oh my goodness, what I wouldn’t do for concrete data! I wish I had pics of this but I was too busy playing with the students to snap any of them.

Well, this was really my first  attempt to test if I could go deeper with teaching young students conceptual understandings in a systematic way. I think the kids got a lot out of it and I definitely noticed that more acts of inquiry arose, particularly experimenting with how to draw lines. I’m still in the midst of assessing and reflecting on my approaches to teaching and learning.

What about you- How have you taught the Key Concepts to young learners? Please share in the comments below.

 

 

 

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Judy Imamudeen

Judy Imamudeen

Developing learners as leaders is my joy! As a highly qualified International Baccaluearate (IB) teacher and educational leader, I am committed and passionate about executing its framework and empowering students in creating a future world that works for everyone.

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