Category: International Baccalaureate

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

nela_painted_1

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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Homework Vs. Deep Work

Homework Vs. Deep Work

We had an open house this week, and as I sat down to answer parent questions about our Primary Years Programme, I opened up my Powerpoint, prepared to refer to my laundry list of all the ways the International Baccalaureate is wonderful. But then questions came and my presentation took care of itself. I began to get a clear picture of how truly different we are and how rigid so many schools are in China. One mother pined for her 3rd-grade son’s happiness and felt awful that she had to battle him daily to do 2 hours or more of homework a night. Having 2 hours or more of homework?–a parent’s free time also gets demolished as I’m sure they have to sit there with their student to complete the worksheets. You can imagine that both parties suffer burnout and do not enjoy these nightly sessions. So parents feel equally imprisoned by the idea of doing homework, as what they see as a necessary evil.

Yet, this is endemic of living in Asia–so many of the countries here, with their large populations and competitive job markets, staunchly value education as the only means to have a decent life. School is life for young people, and it is also very normal that children, beginning in Kindergarten, get tutors or attend “academy”–a night school that teachers next year’s math or other content knowledge.

Ever since this meeting, my mind is wandering, thinking about my own child.  I love my little person and I want her to come home eager to tell me her tales of school that day. I don’t want to berate her about doing homework.  So earlier this year, I had her think about creating a homework schedule, which obviously has a fair amount of parent input (my daughter never would put in IXL willingly). You can see the final schedule in this post, which amusingly you can notice that the weekend is “Hannah’s to do list”–meaning that mom and dad leave her to her own devices.

However, I am starting to rethink this concept of homework, which is essentially practicing what the skills that they are in the midst of learning that week. I do think this is important and of value, but I’d also like to cultivate her interests, which lately has been coding and Minecrafting. I’m a big fan of Cal Newport and his treatise on Deep Work which can be summarized here (although I recommend you read the book since there are more nuggets inside). cal newport

In particular,  Cal recommends that one “drains the shallows” and create focused, uninterrupted attention on developing a skill, working on a project or task that is challenging and demands ideation to promote innovation in your area of interest. When looking over one’s schedule, it is vital to quantify the depth of every activity–is it moving you towards a goal or achievement? Is it really helping you to cultivate depth of knowledge and expertise? Once you evaluate your schedule, then you recreate it and reallocate your time to doing this “deep work”. The end goal of these accumulated hours is to bring into fruition new and better ways of doing something, solving a problem or producing a product which will have an overall greater benefit on humanity.

With this idea in mind, I asked my daughter if she had to get rid of something on her schedule, what would it be, draining the shallows, sort of speaking. She told me that she’d get rid of the writing on Tuesday. When I probed to know why she told me that she didn’t like writing, she told me that she likes to draw and she never gets to do that in her writing prompts. She’s in 1st grade, the year when drawings are replaced with words to convey ideas, but I could appreciate her struggle with the transition. (Through this conversation, I gleaned some insights and it gave me an idea for next year to try when I teach 1st grade, as I motivate students into using better word choice rather than pictures to describe their ideas.) I told her to redo her schedule and she readily replaced writing with coding. As you look at her schedule below, it was obvious to me that her interests are emerging.

 

Although I’d like her schedule to be refined to maybe 1 or 2 focused items a day, it is a first step towards managing one’s time and developing readiness for “deep work”.
It got me thinking if all students were to be asked to do this task–creating their own after school schedule, what would it be? How could we instill within our students a desire to pursue their interests?–to redirect their attention to work that is meaningful to them. This idea of time management is one of the Transdisciplinary Skills or Approaches to Learning (ATL) that we seek to create in our IB learners. So as much as I want students to practice skills that they are in the midst of developing, I also want them hungry to learn so that they independently and organically augment their abilities. This is a key distinction of learning in the IB. So, I am just wondering if we were to tweak the idea of homework and teach parents to be partners in their student’s passions if that would make for more fulfilled families, overall. Perhaps introducing this concept of “deep work”, reframing homework in a new light, could not only shift the dynamics of home learning but could also inspire greater student selected inquiries into their passions.

 

I’m definitely interested in anyone else’s experiences with transforming homework into a joy rather than a drudgery. Please connect with me @judyimamudeen or leave comments below.

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9 Reasons Why You Need to Teach Digital Citizenship

9 Reasons Why You Need to Teach Digital Citizenship

Nowadays everyone is on a mobile device of some sort–kids included. Thanks to technology, we are more connected than ever. Oh bless, isn’t it wonderful?! But as keen as schools are to use technology, the concept of digital citizenship is often left untouched. It’s almost as if by virtue of using technology that acquiring the habits of digital citizenship just happens like osmosis or something. Well, I’d like to challenge that because I don’t think social habits can be learned by proxy; I think they have to be ingrained in us so that we are acculturated to act appropriately, in our physical world or in the online world. Here is some food for thought, the 9 reasons why you should explicitly teach digital citizenship:

  1. Students spend an enormous amount of their waking hours on their devices. Shouldn’t that time be well spent?
  2. Digital technology is progressing at an exponential rate, therefore the norms of its use are always expanding. We need to evolve with it.
  3. Digital citizenship is more relevant and meaningful than learning the dates of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Lewis and Clark, yes that’s interesting but not as germane to the future that our students will live in.
  4. Speaking of the future, your students now have to concern themselves with leaving a digital footprint-don’t you think they should know what that is?
  5. If you don’t address their digital activities, then it will waste precious learning time on dealing with behavior that happened online (and not necessarily DURING class time). Moreover, we now have to worry about cyber-bullying. As adults, we have a responsibility to cut that off at the pass by addressing it early on in their digital lives and not as an afterthought when a student attempts suicide.
  6. Because sharing without citing is NOT caring, it’s stealing. Kids need to understand and develop empathy for the content creator that they might otherwise plagiarize.
  7. Safety is more than not talking to strangers at the park, but also online. Kids need to learn how to develop boundaries and stay safe in the virtual world as well.
  8. Moreover, about boundaries, the impact of screen time is yet to really be known. What is a healthy balance? Kids need to appreciate putting limits on this and cultivating a life offline as well.
  9. Young people need to understand what is internet security and how do they keep their passcodes and identity safe from hackers. Kids are even more vulnerable than adults, so it’s our duty to protect them through educating them.

As a BYOiPad school, sometimes it’s easy to assume that just because we use this technology daily means that the students always use it in the highest ways for their learning.  Even though we are an International Baccalaureate school, we fall into the same trap as many other schools do and take teaching digital citizenship for granted. As educators, I think we are still evolving in our understanding, not just in how we can use it as a tool but how we can personalize the learning and make it more dynamic. But thinking of awesome ways to use technology is only one dimension of learning, we need to broaden the scope of its impact, not just on the learning but the learner.

What is Digital Citizenship? Here it is, in a nutshell.

I have weekly collaborative meetings with my intermediate teachers, however mostly in 1:1 situations and I’ve been considering how these isolated conversations are helpful but that we need to have a larger scale meeting in which we discuss our use of the iPads and how we develop digital citizenship with our students. In particular, is developing the key skills that they need in their digital life enough in the context of occasional class meetings or embedded in some of the technology or literacy lessons really enough?  And are we failing to address their needs due to our own shortcomings as digital citizens because it’s hard to teach what we ourselves don’t know?  As Sarah Brown Wessling says, “The change begins in a culture happens when everyone is elevated to the status of a learner.” I think recognizing that we are all learners here, having the capacity to admit that we don’t know everything about everything, especially when it comes to technology and digital citizenship is the first step.

As a result of these conversations, my 3rd-grade teacher admitted that it’s necessary to have a unit of inquiry that addresses some of these issues. 3rd grade is when we begin the BYOiPad policy. We have created a unit under the transdisciplanary theme of Where We Are in Place in Time that he will teach this year so that we have time to reflect and revise for next year. Here is the Central Idea and the lines of inquiry:

The use of mobile technology has changed the way we work and play.

Lines of Inquiry:

  • How digital technology works (function)
  • Changes in society and culture (change)
  • Digital citizenship (responsibility)

I’m excited that he was open to taking a risk and willing to explore the topic of digital citizenship. I know that this inquiry will only be the beginning and not the end of the students’ learning and I am looking forward to seeing what emerges from the perspective of the students.

If other schools and teachers have attempted to delve into this topic in their classrooms, I’d love to learn more about how you approached it. Please share ideas in the comments below. We are all learners here and your experience teaches me as well as other readers of this post.

Thank you for your contribution to education!

 

 

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Reflect and the “How” will Come

Reflect and the “How” will Come

It’s the final stretch of our Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC) and I thought about how much of these ideas I have put into personal practice. George Couros reminds us that ” without reflection time and having the opportunity to connect your own ideas and personal learning, it is harder to go deep into the ideas or retain and share them.”

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“I reflect, therefore I learn”.  George Couros, The Innovator’s Mindset

 

I’ve been trying to implement D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Reflect), with some days better than others, so it’s a practice that will require practicing. I’ve decided to use my Way of Life App to make me more conscientious by tracking this habit. But outside of formally tracking it, it has begun an inner mantra within me when it comes to my classroom: Next steps……

If we only teach students the curriculum, we have failed them. #InnovatorsMindset

As I read that passage, it got lodged in my mind and made me wonder how I could move out of my comfort zone–not just for the sake of doing so, but because it was important for my students. My students are my WHY, even if I have a limited compacity of figuring out how to empower them. And in the case of the Early Years, it’s very easy to discredit little children because they are small, egocentric, with limited skills and life experience. But they are voracious learners who genuinely enjoy challenges in the quest to be “big”. Shouldn’t I capitalize on that?  I wanted them to experience the feeling of engaging and impacting others through sharing. As soon as I made that intention, the HOW organically began to emerge.


It is commonplace in a Primary Years Programme (PYP)  IB school that classroom teachers hold an end of unit activity with parents in order to showcase the learning and create connections with our families. However, it is not a mandate at our school, because some units lend themselves nicely to sharing while others do not.  In my own classroom, I always find some way for parents to come and engage, but not always as an end of the unit celebration. Yet, I rarely invite other classrooms into my classroom. When I taught upper grades, sharing the learning was more easily done because students do more projects. But when you teach younger kids, these events are more teacher contrived and directed. I wondered if I could actually do this with 4-5-year-olds–could these students actually lead others in presenting their learning?  I know the answer to this question is YES, even if I didn’t know the HOW to empower them.

During this unit, one of our key concepts was Reflection, so I often would do a powerpoint of pictures of the ways we’ve been learning about our central idea, which in this case was: We appreciate the patterns in the natural world and the ones that we create. (It was under the How We Express Ourselves Transdisciplinary Theme). These provide “check points” in their understanding, and allows me to see their reactions and engage them in a discussion. During our final reflection (last week), it occurred to me that this was a unit that naturally lent itself to an end of a unit parent presentation. However, I wanted to try an end of the unit presentation that involved a larger community and invited classrooms as well. I felt in this way, my students could start seeing themselves as leaders in learning, even if they are “little kids”.  I knew they needed to have the experience of leading others, and I believed that it was possible for them to do so.

People never learn anything by being told; they have to find out for themselves.

-Paulo Coelho-

So, I had to get this out of my brain and into their hands. During morning meetings, I asked the students, and they all agreed–let’s invite our friends from other classrooms. Game on! So we listed all the different ways we learned using a modified version of this Visible Thinking Routine. In these discussions, they generated the ways they “liked learning about patterns” and then I guided them in the sorting process into subject areas, which we have been referring to perspectives (another one of the Key Concepts during this unit). This was the Connection part of the routine. (I didn’t draw lines, I circled them in different colors and then reorganized them based upon these perspectives). Then from these groupings, students voted on what they liked best in that category and why they liked it–the Elaboration part. This took a couple of meetings before we determined the “winners” in these categories. Once we had streamlined the activities, I offered some ways that we might share these activities with them and they had to give me agree/disagree with thumbs up/thumbs down, which then became the activities for our end of the unit presentation.  Some students added their thoughts as well, which made us choose to use boxes for organizing the activities. This was the final “guide” that was created for the event and was given to parents and other teachers:

 

guide
If I had more time, I would have made this more student-friendly with pictures and less text.

 

We had 2 group sessions: the first was with parents and 1st graders and the second one was with the 3-4-year-old class and KG class. The groups saw a very brief powerpoint about the overview of the unit of inquiry. Then my students grabbed 2 visitors (ex: a parent and a buddy) and showed them one of the activities listed. I didn’t demand that they do rotations, nor did I give them time limits as our visitors explored the different activities with them. I really wanted to keep this event open-ended so that I could observe and consider how my class was interacting and engaging with others. For example, were they genuinely sharing their learning or were they just doing the activities with these adults and peers shadowing them?–In other words, how active or passive were they in their presentations?

Here are some photos of the event.

Obviously, this is version 1.0 of creating a student-led end of unit presentation but overall it was very successful. Although I set up the activities, they choose them and my EY4s led the visitors around without prompting. I was actually quite proud of their level of independence, especially since I did not prepare them for their roles with any instructions. So I was surprised that most of the visitors got to explore a multitude of activities and could accurately rate their favorite on our graph–I really thought that my students would just stick to their favorite of favorites and not move them along into the other activities.  The visitors seemed genuinely interested in the activities and my kiddos felt a sense of pride in their selections. On our graph, the “art prints” were the least favorite activity and when I asked them why they thought it was rated so low, they all agreed it was because it was “too messy”.  This really made me chuckle out loud, as well as ponder how much aversion there is to “messy” play. Something I am going to think about more deeply as we entered into our next unit.

I don’t think that this event would have been as successful if I hadn’t spent the time reflecting on my students’ learning, thinking of their “next steps” and giving them the opportunity to develop the mindset of being leaders in their learning. I wonder what impact this will have on my students, as well as the classes who were invited. However, I think small steps, made often enough can make a big impact in the learning within a classroom. I wonder what will be the overall result of this event–will my students began to see themselves differently? Has this helped them to demonstrate another level of maturity as they develop agency in their learning? As I pose these questions, I will observe and continue to reflect on the impact student-led events like this have on my learners.

 

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So What? Now What?

So What? Now What?

I’ve been engaged in the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC lately (#IMMOOC) and the topic came up: engagement vs. empowerment.  George Couros asks a compelling question: If you had to choose between compliant, engaged, or empowered, which word would you want to define your students?

If engagement is the ceiling–the highest bar–we may be missing the point. Think about it: Would you rather hear about changing the world, or do you want the opportunity to do so?

As someone who teaches at an IB school, I know it is our ultimate goal to get students to move beyond the content and into action.  As a PYP coordinator, it is largely my role to ensure that we have horizontal and vertical alignment of curriculum that is significant, relevant, engaging and challenging to ensure that the IB’s mission is being pursued. (below is a snippet of the IB’s Mission statement)

….develop the individual talents of young people and teach them to relate the experience of the classroom to the realities of the world outside. Beyond intellectual rigour and high academic standards, strong emphasis is placed on the ideals of international understanding and responsible citizenship, to the end that IB students may become critical and compassionate thinkers, lifelong learners and informed participants in local and world affairs, conscious of the shared humanity that binds all people together while respecting the variety of cultures and attitudes that makes for the richness of life.

I think we’ve done a terrific job at cultivating a school Programme Of Inquiry that is really engaging but I wonder if it really empowers students. For example, as I walk onto the playground, I see plastic water bottles left carelessly from recess or lunch break. I think about how in every Sharing the Planet unit, students are reminded that we are stewards of the Earth. We’ve collected trash and measured it, made art with it, wrote about it, had assemblies and school announcements to raise awareness about it and YET, I see students walk by these water bottles and not pick them up to put them into the recycling bin. All those great units with all the fantastic projects that go along with it!–and I say to them: SO WHAT???! If students don’t feel compelled to change, then somehow we have failed to really educate them.

source

Those ideas of George Couros really burn in my mind: If engagement is the ceiling–the highest bar–we may be missing the point. Yep, clearly, we have evidence of that here because we must be missing the point if, after all that great learning, kids still leave rubbish and neglect to pick it up in our own schoolyard.

So NOW what?

It has got me thinking: all these student “actions” were probably teacher generated and not student ideas. If an idea belongs to you, then there is an incentive to develop it and sustain it.  I think that is true even for children. They haven’t bought into the concept that our human action matters and they are ones who can make the difference; the idea of responsible citizenship.

I know I’m not the only educator who suffers from this disconnect at their school. In our next staff meeting, I’m bringing this topic so we can inquire into how we can move kids into action, that comes from THEM and not US.  I wonder if others had this problem and what they did to overcome it. How did they move from engaged to empowered? If you have a success story, please share it with me–I’m all ears!

 

Opening Doors to Open Minds

Opening Doors to Open Minds

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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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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