Category: Teaching and Learning

#IMMOOC: Finding Opportunites for Innovation

#IMMOOC: Finding Opportunites for Innovation

I was recently reading Dave Burgess’ blog about how change is built and not announced. He used this beautiful analogy of building a snowball that really resonated with me and how I think about innovation:

No matter what your position, you can create change. If you are struggling to do so, maybe you’re trying to pick up all the snow at once. Just grab a handful, pack it tight, and then start pushing. Change is a lot easier when you’re rolling snowballs downhill.

-Dave Burgess-

In this week’s IMMOOC, we are exploring our definitions of innovation and what they can look like in our school’s context. Change is an inherent part of innovation. In the book, Innovator’s Mindset, George Curous shares some of the challenges he faced with defining it as he took on his role as the Divisional Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning. He contemplated Simon Sinek’s ideas on leadership, ruminating on how impactful organizations are when they dig into and articulate a clear “why” behind their existence and then move toward changing the what and designing their system of how to match their cultural values. Cultivating an innovative culture doesn’t require transformation -it requires information on what is ideal for our unique group of learners and school context, refining the current practices and classroom spaces so that it is optimal for learning. “Change for the sake of change” is not the point of innovation. George explains that “Innovation is a way of thinking that creates something new and better“, as we consider what would help spur the intellectual and emotional growth of our learners. When we keep the focus on the kids, innovation happens organically and with purpose.Anytime teachers think differently about.png

As I step into the classroom this week, I have the intention to think differently about our learning community and find the opportunities for innovation. If I think back to Dave’s snowball analogy, I’ll need to keep my awareness on the “small handfuls of snow” that I can pick up and build upon so that I can create some momentum with the innovative ideas that will best serve our students.

The Future of Homework

The Future of Homework

HOMEWORK!-There is probably not an area of education that is more hotly debated than this. It doesn’t matter if you are a parent or an educator, opinions will vary. There is the 10-minute rule that a lot of schools use that comes out of the research done by Harris Cooper due to the positive correlation between student achievement and homework. Following this rule of thumb, a child in the first grade would be assigned 10 minutes of homework, while a secondary student would be assigned no more than 90 minutes of homework. However, this principle is not helpful in differentiating based on the needs a child because not all children take the same amount of time on each assignment. So this complexity makes it difficult to make generalizations about how much homework should be given. And, quantity is not the same as quality. There’s been a huge trend towards “Flipped Learning” in which teachers assign a video for students to watch at home and then they do the practice problems at school. Math is a particularly popular subject for this type of homework. In the latest season of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC,  George Curous interviews Jo Boaler,  a personal math hero of mine, who surprisingly dismissed this approach to math learning.

She explains that, at the end of the day, all this fuss over homework doesn’t matter. In fact, according to research done, it has a negative impact when you look at access to the internet, meaning that disadvantaged families or families without technology in their homes suffer from a “digital divide”. The research on this rather reminds me of the book Future Shock by Alvin Toffler in which one of his main ideas was how technology will create a post-industrial age revolution that will create an economic and psychological chasm. Although back in 1970, these ideas were radical, now in 2017, it has come to past with the era of the “knowledge worker”. And so one has to wonder if our traditional approach to homework is actually serving our students in preparing them for their future, especially as I ponder one of Toffler’s infamous quotes from this book:

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. -Alvin Toffler  

At many PYP schools, there has been a shift toward reframing homework as home learning, and parents who have had more traditional educational backgrounds have mixed opinion on this. In a place like Asia, in which students usually take classes after school or attend academies, parents really cringe to hear that there isn’t homework being assigned. And in many ways, sending home worksheets or assignments really helps communicate the learning that is being done in the classroom to families; because parents can see that their child is doing 10 homework problems with expanded notation, they have an obvious idea of the learning that is going on in the classroom. At our school, we send home “learning overviews” that detail the conceptual understanding and learning outcomes of the units of inquiry, adding ways that parents can support the learning at home. Also, since we use we use the app SeeSaw, we post a lot of photos of what we are doing in class. And I wonder if this fills the void that parents feel while meanwhile achieving the aims of preparing students for this “future shock”, that, in many ways, is already underway. At the end of the day, both teachers and parents just want the children to feel successful and equipped for their unknown careers ahead.

What I found most interesting about Boaler’s interview is how she articulates the importance of cultivating students’ genius. More homework? No!-more brain connections!  Jo explains that “when you have a piece of knowledge that you see in different ways”, you can be more of a creative problem solver. And how can homework really achieve that unless it is a passion project or conducting personal research that fosters divergent ways of thinking? More importantly, valuing their ideas helps children to develop confidence, autonomy, and a work ethic. And it can be gymnastics, baking a cake or playing a game. Doing this, rather than a page of math problems, surely will pay higher dividends in the long run. That’s the problem with homework–it’s rarely authentic or inspiring. And if students don’t have an intrinsic drive to learn more, there is absolutely no way that forcing a student to conjugate verbs or memorize the rivers in the world will improve that situation. Getting kids to be deeply curious and willing to try and fail at something is loads better-  that is the only learning that needs to happen, inside or outside the classroom.

So I think that the future of “homework” might just be extinction.

What do you think? Post 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. (:

Leveled Reading Vs. Love of Reading–The Struggle is Real!

Leveled Reading Vs. Love of Reading–The Struggle is Real!

Since I’ve taught in a variety of school settings, both in America and overseas, what is “best practice” when it comes to reading can be a bone of contention for educators. I’ve worked in some settings whose leaders think guided reading has become blasé and we should do more conferencing with student selected texts, others who feel that “independent” reading is not really reading at all and we should give them leveled texts so that students understand what is a “just right” book for them. It’s hard to argue with either side because each have their points. Although student selected texts show real agency, student chosen texts don’t often expose them to new ideas and challenges which make it difficult to develop strategies to conquer increased demands in an instructional level text. On the other hand, there aren’t too many leveled readers that win book awards and really engage readers to the point that they can’t put the book down. So trying to both instill a love of reading and yet have learning intentions that encourage the growth of skills is a balancing act.

Lately, I’ve been reading Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris’ book, Who’s Doing the Work? : How to Say Less So Your Readers Can Do More,  and they tell a story of an enthusiastic reader who gets deflated by leveled reading, citing the kind of message it sends our learners:

Accompanying these instructional choices are subtle and obvious messages to students. Think about what …book selection communicates..

• I think of you as a reader almost exclusively in terms of your reading level.

• I trust reading levels absolutely and generally don’t consider the nuances of your reading process, the text, or your motivation to read.

• Although you think you know how to select a book for yourself, you really don’t.

• You are not as good at selecting books for yourself as the others.

• The confidence you have in yourself is misguided.

• Don’t get excited about the books you want to read until you check with me.

• I’m in charge of your “independent” reading.

Burkins, Jan, and Kim Yaris. Who’s Doing the Work? : How to Say Less So Your Readers Can Do More, Stenhouse Publishers, 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central, .
Created from vientiane on 2017-09-08 20:11:57.

 

Ouch!-Right?  As I ponder the hidden message that leveled texts send, it’s driven my head into a frenzy. How can I do both?–help cultivate the identity of a learner, seeing themselves as “readers” while at the same time, pushing them out of their comfort zone and into the “learning zone”, where their skills are enhanced and extended. Knowing that my school is committed to guided reading, I am thinking about how this concept of “best practice” can be developed in the classroom. Here are 5 ways that I intend to merge what is great about these approaches to teaching in a guided reading group:

  1. Pick texts that reflect the reading interests of the students in the guided reading group.  In the beginning, when we are developing trust in our teacher-student relationship, I think it’s important to honor their interests. I have started off with a reading interest inventory and had a discussion about what their favorite genres might be. It doesn’t always have to be the next book in the DRA or PM reader series (or other level texts series), instead, I can draw from other sources like online magazines or online reading sources like  ReadWorks,  RAZ Kids, and Epic.
  2. Their ability “level” is none of their business. It’s not that I don’t want students to make good informed choices about selecting texts, but all they are not a letter, a number a color or a name. They are a reader. That’s all they need to know. Those levels are for me, the teacher, to ensure that they grow into more challenging and sophisticated texts.
  3. Tool and strategies over pre-reading and post-reading “activities”. When I first read Edgar Allen Poe, I had to sit there with a dictionary. I struggled with all the “big words” but I loved his ideas so I dug in and did the work. I had to go back and reread, but at the end of the story, I felt fulfilled. So during guided reading, I want to expose them to a strategy or introduce them to a tool that can help them solve problems with meaning and print that they encounter in the text.
  4. Encourage them to get a life– a reading life- beyond the group! As an end of week reflection, I want to spend some time discussing some great books that they might have read independently. I don’t want students to choose books because they think they are easy but instead, I want them to really want to find books that excite and interest them. Taking the time to talk about books why we like a book not only gives me data but also shows that I value their choices.
  5. Value questions over answers. A sign of a good book is that it lingers in your mind a while. It leaves you thinking and asking questions about the concepts and ideas in it. I want my readers to apply critical thinking skills when encountering texts and having them evaluating the characters and the information in the book/article closely.  This develops the mindset of a true reader, which I am sure will show up on their running records later.

For any of you who teach reading in the primary/elementary grades, the struggle is real, as we grapple with what is really “best practice” for our unique group of learners. Hopefully, my 5 ideas will give you some pause for reflection as you consider what it is that you believe is paramount to developing your readers. Please share any ideas or take aways, as it helps all of us grow as professionals.

The Educator’s Companion to Professional Development

The Educator’s Companion to Professional Development

Anyone who knows me realizes that I am ridiculously committed to my craft and am always looking at how I can improve teaching and learning. For the last year, I’ve been hemming and hawing about doing a podcast, partly as a challenge since it gets me to step out of my comfort zone and partly for a fun exploration experience so  I can bring this media format into classroom learning. It took me ages to come up with a topic, learn the basic skills, record and launch it. I didn’t want it to be some meaningless content that was clogging up the internet. I wanted it to be useful for fellow educators. As someone who easily spends $200 USD a month on professional development, I began looking for free and inexpensive ways to increase my professional learning. The resources and insights I have gained in my quest to uplevel my practice is the basis of the podcast.

So without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to the Educator’s Companion to PD podcast! Its whole purpose is to provide ideas for personalizing your professional development so that you can master the concepts and skills that can make the impact that you want to make in your school communities.  The resources are free and my commentary is my own. I have 5 episodes recorded and ready for your ears with much more on the way.

To help facilitate personalized professional development, I made an infographic to help people through the process. I am hoping that this will get people to consider how they might structure and begin a learning journey in pursuit of updating and expanding their skills.  I have nearly completed the ebook that expands upon personalizing your professional development but for now, consider this little cheat sheet a taste of what to come.

 

 

Your Cheat Sheet to Personalized Professional Learning. (2)

Also, I have created a guestbook for you to share your favorite professional learning resources. It’s incredibly helpful for fellow educators to learn more about these fantastic opportunities and it lifts up the whole profession when you do so. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience!

Share a tip: What's one free professional learning resource that has impacted your teaching and learning?

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Fields marked with * are required.
Your E-mail address won't be published.
For security reasons, we save the IP address 54.224.197.251.
It's possible that your entry will only be visible in the guestbook after reviewing it.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas!
(no entries yet)
The 14 Gifts of Design Thinking

The 14 Gifts of Design Thinking

Last month I finished up the MITX Design Thinking for Leading and Learning course, and I’m still assimilating the profundity of these ideas and the impact they can have in classrooms. It’s actually really hard for me to articulate since I’m in the midst of a paradigm shift as ideas are colliding between developing empathy, creativity, and critical thinking in students. It’s been a “perfect storm” in my mind and I’m still trying to erase my former notions about design as a cycle instead of it as a creative process–which was probably my key take away. When I learned about how schools of poverty and underachievement are transformed by using it, I was impressed, to say mildly.  And I have been chewing on how this is possible when it occurred to me that it wasn’t all the great knowledge that was gained, it was the mindset that was cultivated. In particular, it made me think about the work of Brene Brown and her research on shame and vulnerability.

The REVOLUTION will not be televised. It will be in your classroom! You are working on the hardest edges of love.

Do not ever question the power you have with the people you teach!

Learning is inherently vulnerable and it’s like you got a classroom full of turtles without shells.  The minute they put their shells back on, they are protected–from their peers, from their teachers, from whoever–no learning can come in…so we really have to develop ‘shame resilent’ classrooms.

-Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly

I agree with Brene Brown about developing “shame resilience” and have found the usual tug of war between with teaching and mistake making diminishes when we introduce students to a mindset in which they appreciate the importance of recognizing our errors and strive for constant improvement. When I think about design thinking, I believe it could beinnovation a powerful way for students to experience their vulnerability and develop perspective taking, all the while creating real cool stuff–whether it is a piece of writing, a t-shirt, a rollercoaster, an app or, in my Early Year’s classroom, a garden. They learn how to fail forward and create another prototype. This design sprint is not a destructive but constructive element because, although they spent a lot of time developing their idea, the focus shifts from the product itself to the user–who will reap the benefits of this redesign. It gets the kids to detach from what they are making to who they are making it for. This nuance has a relatively big impact on the process of improvement.

So, it’s been in the midst of implementing it at a deeper level, that I had a moment of clarity in which I connected Brown’s ideas to that of design-thinking. Design-based learning creates a space in your classroom in which different “gifts” from the students’ learning can emerge:

  1. Love Of Ideas
  2. Belonging (in their collaborative groups)
  3. The Joy of creating something and learning new ideas.
  4. Courage to try new things
  5. Problem-finding by thinking future forward and considering what the possible issues might be with their design.
  6. Innovation by using different strategies and materials to solve a challenge.
  7. Ethical decision making by considering the different perspectives and considering if their solutions will be harmful to the environment or hurtful to others.
  8. Trust in each other and themselves
  9. Empathy for the users.
  10. Accountability to finish the job
  11. Flexibility with our time table and dealing with challenges.
  12. Creativity in designing.
  13. Listening to Feedback from others
  14. Hard conversations with each other

As my class is still in the midst of this design-based unit, I continue to be fascinated by their growth as the process reveals another level of their thinking and feeling about issues and ideas related to our current unit. I’m enjoying observing this process and love how it fits so well with the inquiry-based learning model of the Primary Years Programme (PYP). I definitely look forward to implementing this approach in future.

I’m wondering if others who have more experience with design thinking would agree with the “gifts” and/or add different ones to the list. Please share. I’m genuinely interested in your perspective.

How to Avoid Being Napolean Bonaparte

How to Avoid Being Napolean Bonaparte

I’ve long held a suspicion that there is a difference between an administrator and a leader, but now I know it is the truth. My current school has suffered through major changes several times since I’ve been here and now it looks to restructure again with its expanded campus. Needless to say, this has provided a lot of fodder for me to consider what is my role at the school and made me reflect on what is the distinction between someone who sees themselves as a someone who “ticks off the boxes”, my definition of an administrator,  or someone who is in fact in command of the school, my definition of a leader. As I see, you can’t lead people who don’t want to follow you, but you still can be an administrator who manages things lovelessly.

Music Genre

And the difference between the two is what are the values of the person in charge: completing paperwork or developing trust. Whether or not someone at the top is an administrator or is a leader, they influence the culture of a school, but the outcomes of their decisions permeate all areas of school life. The perspectives they hold about education plays a major part in how school policies and procedures are shaped and implemented.

Some of the fault in exercising power comes from the fact that the higher you climb in a hierarchical structure (which most schools ascribe to), the more you are the target of criticism and complaints. How you handle being the target of these remarks and gossip makes a huge difference. You have to ask yourself: Do I want to be liked or do I want to be trusted. The nuances in this perspective cannot be underscored enough. To put simply, if you think of your title like winning a popularity contest then you will always be defending your title. If you think of your title as earning a vote of confidence, then you continue to work toward maintaining and developing the strengths of your organization.  When you are in a “title”, there is hubris and then there is humility that becomes the norms of a school.  You get to decide which will define your use of power.  Douglas MacArthur said it best:

A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.

As I wrap up my school year and prepare to move to another school, I will store away the memories of these experiences. Although I will not be in a leadership title next year, I have come to understand that “words without actions” are meaningless, so I feel strongly that titles without real leadership qualities are void of any value. I am a bit disenchanted with any grabs at power at the moment because I have witnesseleadershipd first hand at how detrimental it can be when people thirst to be given power or maintain control over others. I have come to feel relief in taking some time to redefine what I am and how I can best serve my new school community and the field of education at large. Alas, that will be my new focus–out beyond the 4 walls of my school–and look to how I might contribute to making a difference, not just in the International Baccalaureate, but in the larger conversation that is taking place in education: What really matters for our learners as we look to the future?

What about you? What are your thoughts about school leadership? What perspectives am I missing?

2 Questions Worth Asking To Determine Your Professional Fantasy?

2 Questions Worth Asking To Determine Your Professional Fantasy?

Have you ever been asked by an administrator a question like Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Well, a close colleague and school leader posed a different flavor of the question to me: What is your professional fantasy? I was absolutely startled by the question and fumbled through my answer, mostly because of the word fantasy- something that is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as:

a pleasant situation that you enjoy thinking about but is unlikely to happen.

So now that I have had a few days to really process this question, and it got me really thinking 2 things:

  1. What ridiculous thing would I like to do in education?
  2. And does it have to be “unlikely to happen”?

 

Before I go into a state of mind wandering,  let me provide the current context of most educational systems around the world:

In the past, we heard about the “digital divide” between those who had access to technology and those who didn’t. We are now seeing a new divide emerge–a Creative Chasm between those who actively create…Our current model of schooling amplifies this Creative Chasm. From the bell schedule to the grading system to the lesson planning and pedagogy, our students inhabit factory-style schools. Phrases like  “content delivery” and “delivering a lesson” treat education as a commodity to be collected and then used in the future. This model might have worked in developing compliant factory workers. So here are now, well into the twenty-first century. The factories are gone … Yet, this industrial model remains.

Excerpt taken from LAUNCH: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student by A.J. Juliani and John Spencer

So how do I, as an educator who has been raised and trained in a factory-model system of education lead students into the future whose workplace values has shifted? This is highly personal–will I cling to the past or participate in the future? Well, this is where my fantasy begins, as  I cannot stand by and stagnate in my practice and continue to leave technology to the “kids”.

To answer my first question (What ridiculous thing would I like to do in education?), I’d like to be involved in a revolution in education–in which paradigms are shattered and we rip into the sacred cows of education. What sacred cows do I speak of? Mainly, that, as an educator, I am the knower of all things and I hoard that knowledge wisely and dispense it in time through a scope and sequence or a curriculum map.

Some of you might have gasped aloud–if that responsibility of our profession was downsized or completely eliminated, then what? Well, don’t be silly. The universe abhors a vacuum, something innovative and necessary would undoubtedly emerge to replace it. I daresay it already is. Read The Future of Professions  or gain insight through this video:

 

In my former career as a scientific researcher, I used to experiment on animals. I have sometimes joked that my students are like my “lab rats” with whom I manipulate and observe the results of my prodding (aka, “the black box of best practices”). But now I have come to see them, not as “animals” that I “experiment” with, but as fellow researchers. They are right along siding me, poking at reality and questioning its very nature. That’s the paradigm I wish to infuse in our educational systems: Students are Teachers; students can recognize what is worth knowing and develop effective ways in which these ideas can be transferred and shared.

I  understand that many of our students grow up immersed in a consumer culture and then attend schools where they consume rather than create knowledge. In my professional fantasy, I enlist an army of educators who plot and scheme an offensive to drive out students’ resignation and apathy towards their learning. Instead, these students join us and become generals themselves, crippling this very infrastructure of this archaic industrial age model.

Truthfully I believe that this revolution is presently underway and this army is already amassing with innovative and passionate educators. Educators like you.  And so I have to wonder if this is really a fantasy at all? Maybe through this blog and other ways and means, I can connect and engage with fellow concerned and diligent educators who do not wish to stand by and allow the old to become new again; but instead will we engage and empower our students, who may very well rewrite our job descriptions and redesign the frameworks and goals of our institutions.

Say you will join me!

 

Subscribe for weekly blog updates.

* indicates required


10 Reasons Why I Can’t Wait to Teach 1st Grade Next Year

10 Reasons Why I Can’t Wait to Teach 1st Grade Next Year

My school year is winding down–4 more weeks left of school! (but not that I’m counting) And instead of thinking about all the great adventures we will have this summer, all I can think about is how much fun I am going to have to teach 1st grade next year. Teacher Nerd ALERT!next year After bobbing back and forth between the Early Years and 4th grade for the last couple years, I will be happy to settle in 1st grade for a while, where you get the best of the Early Years mindset (unfettered creativity and imagination) and yet starting to gain confidence and competence in Literacy and Numeracy skills, making it possible to go deep with developing their knowledge and thinking skills. Plus their minds aren’t as sullied with “can’ts” as the older grades are, making them so wonderfully teachable. Oh, the joy of learning!-for both me and them.

Here are the 10 things that are keeping me up at night that I am so dang excited to do with 1st graders:

  1. Meditation: Cultivating calm in one’s mind should be a skill taught early in life. If I was being honest, I have been a bit chicken to really make it a part of my classroom routine in a serious way. But I really intend to push myself and introduce mindfulness and meditation in a more intentional way. I think 6-7 years old can manage a brief moment of calm.   
  2. Book Snaps: Although I am not sure about introducing SnapChat to little ones, how I do love this idea by Tara Martin, in which kids take a “snap” of the book they are reading and post the questions, ideas, and quotes from the book as annotations. I think the excitement of posting these “book snaps” are a unique way to cultivate an interest in close reading when you share them in a public forum. Love of close reading–oh yeah, let’s do that!
  3. Podcasting: I dabbled with podcasting before but for the last couple months, I have taken a serious interest in it and have been working on my a personal podcast for a while. Audio content is a whole other art form so this project has really made me think a lot about creativity, word choice, and voice (literally). Which is preciously why I want to do with little kids, and I was inspired by an idea that the music teacher shared with me about read alouds. So I’m hoping to do read alouds of books and their writing and publish it to an authentic audience, all the while nailing fluency in the process.
  4. Blogging: The online world is where most of my digital natives will be probably making their greatest impact as they grow into adults. I’ve always admired the philosophy of the Writer’s Workshop as it develops the mindset of a writer. What could be more authentic and meaningful as a blog, as they articulate their ideas online?
  5. SeeSaw: I have been dying to seriously mess around with digital portfolios. Currently, we use Class Dojo, which is focused more on classroom management, but SeeSaw has oh so much more going on and has a lot more opportunity for engagement and interaction.
  6. Math Workshop: Did I mention that I like the workshop model? Ah, yes, and it works for math too! Workshop + Talk Moves + Math Tools = a deeper exploration of number concepts.
  7. Math as Art: Okay, I’m a math geek, but through a series of serendipitous events, I’ve come to see art as an integral way to show the “beauty” of math. I don’t consider myself arty, at all, but I’m super interested in how we can represent math (and science) in artistic ways.
  8. Number Talks: This is probably one of my favorite things, ever, in developing mathematical mindsets, in which students get to explore a myriad of perspectives as they look at solving a problem.  So, it creates a bank of strategies for mental math and develops mathematical fluency.  If you don’t know about it, check out the video below.

9. Design Thinking: Have you ever found that you thought you knew something but then as you start really working through it and researching it, you realize how absolutely ignorant you are. Well, design thinking has done that to me, and I want to use it more often in my classroom, not as a one-off in a STEM-like unit, but I think it can be superimposed into so many aspects of learning, even writing. I want to launch it early in my class and use it often, whether we are going through the design process or doing design sprints.

10. Writer’s Workshop: Although I am not a die-hard Lucy Calkins fan, I so do love this approach to writing because it creates “authors” with writing that is worth sharing and publishing. They get to study good writing, practice these devices, go through the writing process and get peer feedback. I think it cultivates a practice of deep reading of a text and cultivates a positive mindset about writing, dare I say a buzz about their writing. I want to remix this model a bit, with the use of technology and design-based learning through. So I reckon that this experiment will be the fodder for blogs later.

If you are a 1st-grade teacher, I’m wondering what you really love challenging your students with. What am I missing? What have you done that you think is the bee’s knees? I’d love some insight!!

Nevertheless, it is fun to sit upon the precipice of something and feel the exhilaration of possibility.

Subscribe for weekly blog updates.

* indicates required


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Did you avoid using proper and personal nouns?

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

 Did you write a complete sentence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People design communities to fit the needs of its population.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subscribe for weekly blog updates.

* indicates required


Like Minded? Let's Stay Connected!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 671 other subscribers

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.

Personal Links

View Full Profile →