Category: International Baccalaureate

Mathematics in the Primary Years Program (PYP): Negotiating Transdisciplanary Vs. Stand Alone

Mathematics in the Primary Years Program (PYP): Negotiating Transdisciplanary Vs. Stand Alone

In the purest sense of the PYP, everything is the Unit of Inquiry (UOI), right? One of the greatest suppositions of transdisciplinary learning is to try to create enduring understandings that connect as many dots with the discrete subject areas. For example, when we think about how young children learn, when they play with blocks, they never think that they are “doing math” or “creating art” or “testing hypotheses”.  So it is our duty to match their curiosity and creativity which curriculum that is relevant, meaningful and engaging. However, as children develop and their thinking matures, we need to challenge them with more complex ideas in our inquiry-based and concept-driven approach to learning. But with Math, it is probably the one subject area that can be the most difficult to naturally incorporate into UOI and make transdisciplinary due to the demands of the mathematical concepts. 

For example, here is a How We Organize Ourselves UOI for students age 5-6 years old that works great for math:

Systems help us to make meaning and communicate.

  • systems in our community
  • ways we use systems
  • our responsibility within systems

Now, this is probably a great unit to develop the conceptual understanding that numbers are a naming system and, for a set of objects, the number name of the last object counted describes the quantity of the whole set; which can then help students to connect number names and numerals to the quantities they represent. (Phase 1, Number Strand of the IB Math Scope and Sequence).

 But then, in this same year group, you have a How We Express Ourselves unit like this:

Creating and responding to art develops an understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

  • what art is
  • how the arts communicate different messages
  • ways we respond and react to art
  • the different ways that can express ourselves through art

At first glance, you are probably thinking, duh!–this is an “art” unit, it’s gotta be Pattern…….or maybe Shape and Space for Transdisciplinary Math (TD)? I could do both, right?

Well, you could, but then you would be “exposing” students to these ideas but not necessarily really developing their conceptual understandings. To further demonstrate how challenging this decision is, think about this conceptual understanding: Shape and Space Strand: Shapes can be described and organized according to their properties;  Pattern: understand that patterns can be found in everyday situations, for example, sounds, actions, objects, nature. So now I am wondering which what part of the central idea or lines of inquiry supports either one of those strands?

You can see that unless you write central ideas and lines of inquiry that consciously make an effort to incorporate math, it can easily get nudged aside during UOI

Now, this example is in the early grades, imagine how difficult it gets in the upper grades! How would you write a UOI that could be a “good fit” for teaching decimals, the conversations of fractions and understanding exponents? You could, but you’d have to have a POI that leaned toward STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and have staff that is incredibly skillful at writing this curriculum so that Social Studies, the Arts, and PSPE don’t get sacrificed in the process. Most schools don’t go to such efforts. 

So thus we create “Stand Alones”, which are separate subject-specific units of inquiry, that we put into the PYP planner. There are many schools that do this for Math. Some schools do one-off or piecemeal planners for certain mathematical concepts that don’t fit into the transdisciplinary units while other schools just do this for upper year groups, yet others create a whole school Programme of Inquiry for math. (I won’t open up the conversation of how you might create a scope and sequence for math for these stand alones but please check out this blog post that details one school’s struggle to do so.)

In our school’s case, it was decided to create a POI that focused merely on Number and Pattern & Function Strands since these are the most difficult to incorporate into UOIs. With that in mind, most grade levels have TD maths running simultaneously with our Number/Pattern POI. As a disclaimer, it’s our first thinking on how we might approach improving mathematical thinking and learning at our school, so be gentle in your judgment. To create a POI for math is a daunting task, and there is no doubt that we will reflect and revise on ours.

In Grade 1, we are starting to encounter challenges when we look through the number of conceptual understandings and learning outcomes that need to be developed so we stopped and had a whole planning retreat to delve into this. As we looked through the IB Scope and Sequence and referenced the learning outcomes from other national standards, we wondered how much classroom time would it take to accomplish both Stand Alone AND TD Math?  Furthermore, is having essentially “2 Maths” (2 Math Strands) going co-currently a sensible idea-and how might we make it fit better? At the end of our discussions and debates, we mapped out the rest of the year’s TD Math. In one UOI (Where We Are in Place and Time, CI: Homes reflect cultural influences and local conditions.), we decided to not make a TD Math link because it might be “a stretch” to do so and instead to just focus on Number. Here is the Number central idea and lines of inquiry that we will cover during that time: 

Numbers often tell how many or how much
1. The amount of a number determines its position in a numeral
2. How we know when to regroup
3. How grouping numbers into parts can help us find solutions.

CONCEPTS – Function, Change, Reflection
ATTITUDES – Integrity, Confidence
LEARNER PROFILE: Knowledgeable

You can see that this unit has place value and regrouping strategies for addition and subtraction–one of the foundational conceptual understandings that must be well developed in Grade 1 and so needs more attention and time devoted to it. 

Likewise, we decided that we would make one of our units (How the World Works, whose CI we are rewriting), heavy on the TD Maths and a little lighter on the Number POI because we needed to really spend more time on developing the conceptual understandings within the Data and Measurement Strands. This is the Number UOI during that time:

Patterns repeat or grow
1. The ways patterns can be represented.
2. We use pattern to infer and to make predictions.

CONCEPTS – Form, Connection
ATTITUDES – Creativity
LEARNER PROFILE: Thinker

As you can see, our examination and reflection process is just beginning when it comes to negotiating classtime with TD Math and our Number POI. Sharing our grade level’s experience in this blog does not only reveal a bit of our thinking process but perhaps you are contemplating your school’s struggle with striking a balance between Stand Alone Math and TD Math and have an idea that would help navigate this challenge.

I’m deeply curious what kinds of conversations your school has regarding Math and what have you done to address “coverage” of concepts. Since our school is in the early days of developing and refining our Number POI, sharing perspectives and theories about using the PYP framework would be helpful to discuss and debate in our larger IB community because all of us are striving to create the best learning experiences and outcomes for our learners.  No pressure, but I’m hoping you will comment below. 🙂

 

Does your school have UOIs that were particularly successful at incorporating Math so that it was transdisciplinary?

How does your school balance TD Math and Stand Alone Math in the curriculum?

#IMMOOC: Prototyping the Classroom to Reflect Values and Guiding Principles of our IB Culture

#IMMOOC: Prototyping the Classroom to Reflect Values and Guiding Principles of our IB Culture

 

Our attitudes steer our decisions and build momentum in everything we do. A space is at its most sublime when it reinforces and encourages desired values. The first step in designing a space to support particular attitudes is to define those attitudes. – From the book, Make Space, by d.School

I have come to realize that our learning space is more like a living breathing organism, which changes and evolves. It’s always going to be a prototype of the changing learning needs of students. In one of our last IMMOOC ,Kayla Delzer, a flexible seating expert, discusses the importance of cultivating “workspaces” that provide students with opportunities to learn best.  Anyone who has worked with me knows that my classroom setup changes at least ten times a year. However, instead of shifting a table or bookcase, I decided to take all of the classroom furniture out of the rooms and start all over to get a fresh start and churn up different energy in the learning space.  I’ve been looking at the student data that I have gotten from surveys and student sketches of their design ideas, as well as reflections on our timetable to get an idea of their interests and feelings towards different grouping strategies. I understand that the data that I get from those surveys and diagrams are just a snapshot because the learning environment will shift as our culture of learning shifts.

So then I’ve decided to think about how I could use our classroom as a provocation and context of our current Sharing the Planet unit. I’ve been working on “natural vs man-made” and wondering how I can elevate their love of nature and our environment. In one classroom, I took as much of the plastic and industrial looking furniture and replaced it with wooden furniture that we use for outdoor seating in our corridors.  However, I left one of our classroom spaces with all the normal school furniture in it. I wanted to see how the students responded to the change of environment.

This is our first prototype, but it has been fun to see how the students behave and respond to the changes, even if they cannot articulate it. I have to say that is incredibly hard to take the “man-made” out of our learning environment and so this idea will have to continue to grow and be refined. But when I think back to the original quote from the book Make Space, I want the next prototype to really support the value and love of our environment–what makes our Blue Planet worth appreciating and how can we still be “human”, with our deep desire towards progress and yet honor the other conscious living organisms and their plight to survive? In our IB programmes, we have a strong emphasis on how humans must negotiate our roles and responsibilities in sharing finite resources with other living things.

The aim of all IB programmes is to develop internationally minded people who, recognizing their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful world. -From, What is an IB Education

I wonder how I might continue to create this awareness in our students and how I can use our classroom environment as the context to develop this appreciation. Although this is the first prototype, taking cues from the flexible seating playbook is helpful, but trying to bring nature back into the classroom is not an easy task, yet this challenge is a fun one. If you have any ideas or suggestions, I am keenly open to it, as collaboration really helps to make an idea stronger. So I welcome your comments below.

Taking Action: The Challenge of the Central Idea in the Primary Years Program (PYP)

Taking Action: The Challenge of the Central Idea in the Primary Years Program (PYP)

The Sharing the Planet theme is usually one of the most difficult to teach because the topics are so heavy and there’s quite a lot of knowledge base that needs to be developed as we inquire into the rights and responsibilities in the struggle to share finite resources with other people and living things. Think of all the science concepts, vocabulary, and skills that need to get unpacked during our inquiry. In this next unit, whose central idea is: Our actions can make a difference to the environment we share, one of the key assessment pieces will be student action. This is definitely a unit in which students must take what they know and run with it. And, I must find the ways and means to make even the smallest contribution incredibly meaningful and encourage student agency. So there are 3 main challenges, as I see it, that I must overcome as I embark upon this unit. 

#1: Assessing Student Action

You cannot recognize that action has taken place unless you document it in some way. I am coming up with a pre and post assessment that captures 10 key behaviors that are the basis of student action, incorporating the different aspects of “action” that are found in this image.

actionposter (1)
Image from https://pypatspicewood.wordpress.com/2015/09/28/promoting-and-celebrating-student-action/

 

This list of behaviors represents my “first thinking” when it comes to possible expected behaviors that might emerge as a result of their learning. If you had other ideas or suggestions, I am keen to hear them–Please comment below!

#2: Personal and Authentic Inquiry

Of course, as in every inquiry, I have to balance what we have designed as “learning outcomes” with what the students want to learn about and the ways in which they want to express their learning. What I Want Them to Learn vs. What They Want to Learn always shows up in every unit. Since I do a lot of team teaching, I feel a bit compelled to stay on track with the structure of our timetable instead of allowing students the opportunity to go deeper into what they care about. I rarely stray for the weekly planner. We have a block of “personal inquiry” time but that often gets minimalized as we use it to catch up on classroom work. As I think about this upcoming unit, I want to work on honoring this personal inquiry time more and structuring our timetable to ensure that students can explore and experiment with the ideas that are meaningful to them. I am curious about how they might schedule their learning just as I had done with my daughter in my post Homework vs. Deep Work.  I believe that when we honor students and permit them the time to make their own discoveries, the learning gained is magnified. I am going to really challenge myself and our team to add more student voice and choice into our structuring our day.

 

 

#3: True Learning=A Change (in all of US)

I have often complained about how units like this often create a temporary shift in our behaviors but then we forget and revert to the “status quo”. How can we cultivate sustainable habits and make a lasting change? This is something that I really want to explore during this unit.

There’s this great quote from Stephen Convey based on Zen wisdom:

“to learn and not to do is really not to learn. To know and not to do is really not to know.”

Sometimes, because I am a teacher, there is an understanding and expectation that I really “know” what I am teaching. When I reflect on my personal action, am I really modeling how my actions can make a difference to the environment we share. What have I done for the planet lately, you know what I mean? During this unit, I plan to be side by side with my students and finding ways that I can make a bigger dent and a lighter footprint on our planet. I’ve already lined up some learning materials that may challenge my thinking about living things. For example, I want to challenge my thinking and am beginning to read, The Hidden Life of Trees   and The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I trying to think about how I might challenge my lifestyle of convenience and comfort by making different choices like a meatless Monday or turning on the air conditioner less. Or how about getting off my screen more and sitting outside in nature?  As my students compile their lists of actions and survey what they can do to make a difference, I will need to evaluate myself right along with them. This is what makes being an IB educator so special because I learn right along with my students, as my understanding and appreciation of the content are deepened throughout the unit. Perhaps my own personal exploration and modeling will help create everlasting change and cultivate student action.

 

What do you think? How might students shift into higher gears of action and be the change we hope to see in our future world?  What strategies and ideas have worked well for you?

#IMMOOC: I Used to Think, but Now I Think…Shifts in My Teaching Practice

#IMMOOC: I Used to Think, but Now I Think…Shifts in My Teaching Practice

In one of my first professional development sessions, I  remember we had to read and reflect on the book Who Moved My Cheese?: An A-Mazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life  by Spencer Johnson. At the time, American schools were embarking on a major shift in their methods of teaching by using cooperative groups instead of desks lined up in rows. I was chatting with an Australian colleague about it, sharing a laugh about how “innovative” cooperative learning groups were early in our careers– it’s hard to imagine that there was a time that putting desks together to form a group was once an edgy idea in education. Desks seem like an ancient artifact of our former educational paradigm. My how far we have come in such a short period of time.

During this week of the IMMOOC, we are exploring our beliefs about learning, taking a stroll down memory lane and considering the question:

What is one thing that you used to do in education that you no longer do or believe in? Why the change?

That question is actually quite provocative because I’ve changed so much as an educator, and I would say that being an IB educator continues to transform my thinking, as we are on a mission to develop student agency so they can co-create a world that works for everyone.

1

So as I put students front and center of their learning, who I was as an educator has radically changed from when I first began teaching and it continues to be in flux.

As I review the major shifts in my mindset, I thought I would use this Visible Thinking Routine , that encourages reflection. Just like cooperative learning, I remember this whole idea of wanting the students to share their ideas openly as quite a fresh approach to teaching and learning not all that long ago. It’s rather funny how much has changed in a remarkably small expanse of time in education, huh?!

But anyhow, I digress:

Here are 10 beliefs that have been changed over the years of being a teacher

I used to think that….

  1. it was the students’ job to get along with me and my rules, but now I know, there are no rules, just expectations of decency which are reciprocal and I must respect students in order for them to respect me.
  2. tests and quizzes were true and accurate measures of a child’s capabilities, but now I think, those are “snapshots” of their learning journeys and rarely define the true depth of their understanding and knowledge.
  3. I was the only expert in the room but now I know that there is more intelligence and talent in the room than mine alone.
  4. “good students” were obedient ones, but now I know that all students are “good” and have unique ways of showing it.
  5. my voice was the most important one to listen to, but now I know, that it’s the student’s voice.
  6. I was the teacher, but now I know, I am the learner as well.
  7. “special needs” were only for students who had “learning disabilities” but now I know, everyone has special needs because we are all unique learners; this is just good teaching practice to recognize and adjust the learning to accommodate our learning styles.
  8. labeling a child defined who they would become, but now I know, these labels are temporary and mostly unhelpful in cultivating their confidence as learners. Those labels are to help me more than them in identifying their needs as a learner.
  9. kids couldn’t be “trusted” to be in charge of their learning, but now I know, we are born deeply curious and students remain that way if we permit this curiosity to flourish in our classroom culture. We should trust their instinct for learning.
  10. ideas in education are stagnant and fixed, but now I know, with the research coming out on our brains, the best of teaching and learning is yet to come–and I hope to be a part of that shift.

Here is one belief that I think will always be unrevised in education: Teachers who spend time building relationships with their students will always stand out as exceptional in a child’s life and push students beyond their boundaries.

 

What do you think? What is something that you used to think, but now you know it to be different?–and what idea do you think is timeless and will always be preserved in the teaching profession? Share in the comments below.

 

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. (:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shouldn’t the Madhatter be a Girl? He’s Having a Tea Party After All!

Shouldn’t the Madhatter be a Girl? He’s Having a Tea Party After All!

I have really been grappling with the idea of “girl stuff” vs. “boy stuff” lately and it’s a conversation that I have had with many of my friends who are likewise trying to navigate the concept of gender with their children in our modern age. In an effort to make sense of this, I reached out to fellow International Baccalaureate educator and creativity wizard, Tim Fletcher to help me explore this idea in a guest blog post. Tim is an avid dancer and Middle Years Programme (MYP) performing arts teacher at The Inter-Community School in Zurich, Switzerland. I am excited to share his ideas and I hope they are as thought-provoking and insightful for you as they were for me. Enjoy!

 


 

I knew I was different. I thought that I might be gay or something because I couldn’t identify with any of the guys at all. None of them liked art or music. They just wanted to fight and get laid. – Kurt Cobain

There is something incredibly sad with this quote from Cobain, a guy that went on to make music that defined a generation and most likely resonated strongly with those that he could not identify with growing up. What it does show is the huge disparity between the perception of gender role play and the reality. What Cobain found interesting was disregarded by his peers as not being ‘masculine enough’, yet his through his own path he became a revered figure. It is a complex subject which I can reflect on from a personal perspective, having started ballet in a small rural city at the age of six, but it has many wider implications about how our brains are wired, how society reinforces that wiring and what we can do to change those perceptions.

What gave me the desire to ask my mother to start ballet so early? Why was I driven to dance, that it became such a driving factor in my life that it turned into a career? To be perfectly honest I have no idea, I must have seen it – and that was it, I had to dance. It is a decision that shaped my life, took me travelling, introduced me to my wife, etc. My whole being was attracted to movement and moving, and still is.

Not to say I didn’t like doing the boy things too. I ran around with toy guns and built spaceships, I just did ballet as well. Now I got lucky, my friends accepted that ‘Tim just did ballet’ and never questioned it or its masculinity. But in lots of situations it is questioned, take this anecdote, for example, the given starting point for this blog post: During a recent sleepover, my daughter creeps over to me and whispers “I think when I grow up, I’m going to be a boy”. My eyebrows raised and a curious grin comes to meet her gaze. “Really, what makes you say that?” She confesses, “Well, I like boy stuff like robots and remote control cars”.  “Ah, I see”. “and I don’t think it’s fair that boys get to have all the fun, why can’t us girls play with those things? And furthermore, I don’t think it’s fair that us girls only get to play with Barbies. Maybe boys would like to play dress up as well. What do you think?” My 7-year-old explains what prompted this revelation–her girlfriends prefer to play with Barbies all day and she gets bored with them after a while. So she feels like she’s not “girl enough”. The socialisation of this situation is frightening in that seven year old questions herself and feels she may not be “girl enough”, like Cobain, when we don’t fit – we feel ‘unnormal’.

As soon as young children figure out the difference between being boy or girl (we’ll stay with the binary for sake of not exploring another theme) they start to play out roles. Although, the exact cause of gender identity remains unknown, biological, psychological and social variables clearly influence the process1. These are reinforced by older siblings, peers, education, media, toys, marketing and most of all parents. Very quickly children fall into what they hear in the playground, like ‘boys are dumb’, ‘girls aren’t strong’, etc… and let’s not start with the parents who bolster these attitudes.  

We are quick to jump on the bandwagon today and blame marketers, toy manufacturers and tv producers that create gender specific products and content for today’s youth, not to mention the sickening phenomenon of pink for girls, blue for boys (which only took hold in the early eighties). In fact, we have been going in reverse with gender neutral toys, so much so, that when you wade through the mass selection in a toy store it represents more a vision of the 1950’s than the 21st century.  Surprisingly, it’s only the last three decades though that the toy industry has made massive strides backward, making a buck and greed has driven this trend. But it wasn’t always this way, check out this letter from Lego that came with a set of bricks in 1974.

lego to parent

Marketers and our environment contribute to this problem of gender identity and what is “normal” or not. All that being said, there is now some growing evidence to suggest that we may actually be predisposed to certain types of toys based on our gender. Recent studies with rhesus monkeys showed how female and male bias may be biological in what types of toys they preferred to interact with. In this study, male monkeys took to the trucks and females to the dolls. And there is a lot of historical reasons to support this, men hunted and built the shelters, woman cooked and bore children. Then these roles were repeated and repeated, and repeated, until very recently. It provides us with a framework of why the world is constructed as it is and why some people have trouble surrendering to modern structures.

This creates what we call ‘norms’. Most males probably have a predisposition to building and most females to nurturing, within a bell curve of sorts. Most people fit into (more or less) this type of behaviour, which is fine. Although, these norms can be twisted. We know through psychology that we categorise and compartmentalise as a coping mechanism. It is impossible for me to think of every person as an individual, with uniques traits, likes and dislikes, etc. So my brain groups them by their ethnicity, nationality, gender, clothing, etc. These rough categorisations have associated attributes from my specific environmental socialisation, i.e. my opinion, based on my experience, to a particular ethnic group, gender, etc – determines that… and violà I have a sweeping inaccurate impression of someone I saw for a second on the street. Although it is inaccurate, our impressions of others defined by this categorising, creates cognitive comfort.

What is not fine is giving into it and judging people for not fitting into the stereotypes we have built of the world, like when a girl prefers to play with robots and a boy prefers to do ballet. Even worse berating them for being different. Many parents who insist and tell their child that they are an individual, special and can do anything often struggle when the child falls from the realms of normal gender play. This cognitive dissonance must also cause some discomfort for the child “Mum says I’m special and can do anything… except, as long as I don’t play with dolls and stick with trucks”.

This is why we have a responsibility to educate, establish acceptance and shape a new set of norms, which is the responsibility of all those I listed above that contribute to this predicament. So, what can we adopt to remedy this perception problem?

Asking children why they think one way to challenge the stereotypes is a good place to start. Why is it stupid to brush and stylise the doll’s hair? What could you learn from doing it? Could the plaiting of hair give them ideas to build in different ways? This could be supported by showing innovative building designs but also showcasing successful male hairdressers. Breaking down false stereotypes can be done rationally, and emotionally. There can be an appeal to the emotions in the context of a game or competition. Children facing gender opposite tasks during a game will often “get on with it” because of the nature of competition and through doing, their actions may appeal to their emotions – that actually, it feels alright.

What can happen by observing different toy vehicles in action? The tyres make different patterns which could be the formation of an eventual print on the material. There are an unlimited amount of ways we can look at using gender specific toys in a variety of ways if we allow ourselves. In terms of creativity, it is a well-documented technique that putting odd things together can have very productive and unique outcomes, as I have covered in this post. It could be introduced as a rule of playing with gender opposite toys at home or in the classroom. How can I apply this toy, or playing with this toy, to an area of interest for me?

But most importantly we must be installing a new ‘norm’ of acceptance with what children are drawn to and indeed prefer to engage in. If that interest manifests it could shape their lives, so we have more female physicists and male midwives. I hate to think what would have happened if I had not been allowed, and indeed encouraged, to follow my passion for movement and attend ballet classes.

  1. https://www.cliffsnotes.com/study-guides/psychology/development-psychology/psychosocial-development-age-02/gender-development

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If you would like to read more from Tim and his research more specifically into creativity and education, check out his blog, Learn Creatively. He has a lot of interesting ideas about the intersection of art, learning, and inspiration.

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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Why Classrooms Must Have Daily Habits of Mental Hygeine

Why Classrooms Must Have Daily Habits of Mental Hygeine

I think most of us can barely remember a time in which computers and the internet weren’t a part of our lives. We would have to go to libraries and read encyclopedias to gain knowledge on a topic. When internet search engines first appeared, information was at the tip of our fingertips, and I believe most of us have witnessed how the internet has become the go-to place for fact finding, replacing book learning at an alarming rate. However, for our digital natives, they don’t really know where the information ends and an opinion begins, as I have written about in Critical Consumption, however, there is a value of expressing an opinion as a source of identity and purpose for our students. In particular, how constructing less myopic viewpoints and developing broader perspectives are a becoming a necessity as we evolve in the workforce, of which education is supposed to prepare students for.

Listening to all the voices around them, streams of opinion. not information overload but opinion overload-that’s what social media has brought us. Everyone has a point of view and everyone gets a vote in my life.

Greg McKweon, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

If you can harken back to a time in which the main influences on our children were limited to mostlythe listener our families and close-knit members of our community, primarily in schools, churches, and other organizations that families participated in. In the past, they just had to manage the pressure and influences of a smaller group of people, but now that has really expanded to include so many ideas of pop culture. Nowadays the World Wide Web has the opportunity to expose students to a variety of ideas and theories, particularly on social media, in which ideas are narrowed into sound bites and memes; it’s easy for kids to get swept away by the flood of emotion and beliefs. I think it’s not so much finding our voice but hearing our voice in the midst of the deluge of ideologies and our culture’s status quo. They are being drawn into belonging to the larger world in which students might find themselves acting in ways in ways that are not really true to their nature. In other words, they don’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with this onslaught of energy and emotion that is bombarding them, in the physical world and in the virtual world that they experience in their on-screen life. So we must help them to calm their minds and begin to trust their intuition, instead of impulsive reactions. But in order to do that, students must begin to develop habits of mental hygiene, in which they are clearing up the debris left behind from an experience (on or off-screen) or a conversation with a teacher, family member or friend, and the resulting feeling from that interaction.

Mindfulness in schools is one of those movements that are empowering students to create that space in their thoughts and in their emotions which can really make a positive impact over time. It is like “brushing one’s teeth” for the mind, and there have been several documentaries made about the transformation of students when they engage in this practice. Some schools are replacing detention with meditation and dramatic shifts are taking place in the culture of those schools. It’s like an emotional reset button and a powerful tool to use in our classroom. The 15 minutes you spend on watching this video below will really help you recognize why mindfulness is so vital and critical to bringing into our classrooms.

As someone who practices mindfulness and can speak first hand to its benefits, I know that it takes courage and effort to bring it into schools. There are a lot of myths about it, however, it is becoming less fringe and more mainstream in our cultures.

There are 5 main areas in which our attention can be focused upon which will yield the neurological benefits of mindfulness practice. You can do one or more of these in a session with students, and it can take anywhere from 2-20 minutes, depending on age and your willingness to develop these habits with students.

Concentrating on:

  1. Our breath: where we are breathing and the quality of that breath.
  2. Sensations in body parts: scanning our body, finding areas of tension and relaxation.
  3. Sensations of our emotion: where our emotion arises from and how does it make us feel.
  4. Thoughts:  our thought based on time, so is the thought that we are thinking on from a moment in the past or a possibility of what will happen in the future.
  5. Attention to details: noticing and appreciating smells, sounds, and sights.

Full disclosure here: I’d like to tell you that I fully implement daily meditation practice with my students, but I only do it half-heartedly for a myriad of reasons, least being the amount of interruption that I get from having my classroom be a hallway for others.  (Yes, my classroom is a hallway.) However, I do try to incorporate mindful acts in our day with brief moments of focus on our bodies, minds, and thoughts. I usually do 3 belly breaths, a mindful stretch when we line up, and a reflective question of the day. Sometimes we go on “listening walks”, and lately we’ve been trying to look more closely at nature in order to find patterns.  I’d like to do more, but that is where I am at in my journey to create mindfulness in my classroom. I do make attempts at carving out mindful moments in my day in a variety of ways, and I think this is a good first step.

As an IB educator, there is a desire to develop mindfulness and wellbeing in our students. As the Primary Years Programme (PYP) begins to embrace the ATLs (Approaches to Learning) that we see in Middle Years Programme (MYP), I know that more schools will begin integrating mindfulness into their school communities. Next year, I’ve been thinking about how I might do a proper routine incorporating mindfulness so I can make an earnest effort in this movement. I’ve been thinking about making a simple tool like a spinner that shows our emotions and having students rate how they feel before we begin our exercise and how we feel afterward by moving the hand of the spinner. Focusing in on our current state of emotion and evaluating where we are at the beginning of this journey and where we end up at the end of the practice is so important because it cultivates self-reflection and provides personal feedback of our experience.

I don’t know how others might have experimented with mindfulness and meditation in their classrooms, but I’d love to hear stories and share experiences. I know that these skills are actually as important, if not more important, than academic skills that we teach our students. And I think if more of us shared our struggles, then that could increase the willingness of other educators to try to create “an oasis of calm” and a culture of compassion in our schools and in the lives of our students.

I encourage you to leave a comment.  I’d love to hear how you teach “mental hygiene” to students.  Also feel free to connect with me @judyimamudeen or through this website.

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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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