Category: Teaching and Learning

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!

 

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Did you avoid using proper and personal nouns?

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

 Did you write a complete sentence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People design communities to fit the needs of its population.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.”

giphy-downsized.gif
“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!

 

Online Fire Drill and Lockdown Procedures

Online Fire Drill and Lockdown Procedures

 

The more I embrace 21st-century skills as a learner, the more I recognize how much I inadvertently underserve my digital natives. And that became plain to me in the latest YouTube Live Chat with Jennifer Casa-Todd during the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC). These educators discuss how students need mentoring in their online life just as much as in their physical life. Some of their conversations included:

  • The impact of teaching students how to create a positive online digital image.
  • Fire drills and lockdowns–can we do that online?

As I listened to Jennifer Casa-Todd, it really got my head reeling a bit, thinking about how one’s digital footprint matters as much to what we do in our real life. As soon as they spoke about it, it seemed intuitive and easy to take for granted, but I know how much our digital and physical worlds can collide 1m234cand affect the learning in a classroom.

And although platforms like Google Classroom, Edmodo and SeeSaw offer wonderful “training wheel” experiences, it pales in comparison with the interactions that one may encounter on YouTube, Facebook, blogs, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, WeChat and other sites in which comments are made and ideas are shared.  So what happens when something goes wrong online?

Jennifer reminded us that schools often prepare students for emergencies with having fire and lockdown drills, and she suggests that we also practice that in the online environment as well. Having an action plan for when someone comes in hijacks your post with smutty language or disparaging remarks can be really helpful and it is a benchmark skill for our digital natives because at some point in their lives, someone is going to say something hurtful or they themselves might behave badly on social media. In the digital world, those sorts of things can be tracked down, and they need to consider the repercussions of those interactions.

In the event of spam or a nasty or negative comment, how one responds can either determine whether things go out of control or gets “locked down”.  One thing that is important to remember that your site or your post is technically your responsibility to manage. So here are just some ideas that I’ve curated from other sources like this one that others can use to moderate their posts:

  1. Delete or hide the post if it’s spammy. Leaving it there delegitimizes the value of your content.
  2. Have members of your online community respond to the negative comment.
  3. Respond to the commenter in a private message, preferably in a compassionate tone that is equal to the respect that you wish to have online.
  4. Ignore it but keep posting other great ideas.
  5. Address it, but with lightness, humility and/or humor. Intend to diffuse the situation.
  6. If it really spirals out of control, and you have the opportunity to delete the post, then do so.
  7. If other attempts to make peace with the hater fails, you can block or ban the person from commenting.

Hopefully, these give some good food for thought as to how to approach online interactions. However, one thing that they didn’t discuss in the session, but I think it’s worth noting here, is also preparing students if they post something that is ignored. Yes, in these learner management systems like Edmodo and SeeSaw, we have parents and other community members coming on and giving it a “like” or a positive remark, but more often than not, when you create content, it might rarely be viewed, let alone commented on or shared. Take, for example, a YouTube video that a student creates–EVERYONE wants their stuff to go viral, right? But what if it doesn’t-what if only your mom and dad and your best friend watch it? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen kids disappointed that their content was ignored or under appreciated by an audience. And I totally get the feeling of that because I blog. If no one reads or comments on a post, I wonder if my ideas are of value and worth sharing. Because of the high level of exposure that goes with digital media, this vulnerability can create self-doubt and anxiety, lowering one’s self-esteem. Since our children do not have the maturity and resilience that us adults have to not take this personal, we also have to develop their mindset when it comes to this factor as well, recognizing that the WHO consuming it isn’t as important as the WHY we create online.

I think approaching these aspects are critical to our digital natives and I’m grateful that I was able to reflect on how I might make a positive impact on teaching and learning that is relevant and meaningful.

 

 Attention Deficient

 Attention Deficient

It’s no secret. I have an earnest desire to see my students become happy and capable people who make a difference in this world, so I feel it is my duty to find their “Awesome” and cultivate it. In Week 4 of our Innovator’s Mindset MOOC  (#IMMOOC), George Couros encourages us to stop operating on a “deficit model that focuses on a learner’s weaknesses and start operating on a strengths-based model that build on the learning’s strengths.” Amen to that, but how exactly can you do that? hmm…

The other day my daughter invited me into her “world” in Minecraft. Let me tell you, I did NOT want to play Minecraft with her. Really, I didn’t. As a busy adult, I have plenty of stuff to do. But she was really proud of what she created and she wanted me to see it virtually. So I downloaded the app on my iPhone, created a character and added her as a friend. Suddenly I was in her “Love World”. She had made me my own house and she taught me how to fly, tame a horse, feed the pigs and drink invisibility potion. It was a strange sort of tender moment between us. Learner-Centred

But this was a lesson for me, and  I thought about my students–what are they trying to show me that is important to them?  What are they eager to talk about with me? What is it that I am too busy doing as an adult and teacher to notice about my students? I know we make a big deal about students having attention deficient disorders, but I think that could also be true about us teachers. Are we really focused on the learner?

I know that if I pay more attention to my students’ tangents I can probably locate some treasure in there if I just go digging around. Most of the time, it’s probably right there in front of me, in broad daylight. If students are interested in something, there’s a strong possibility that there is a strength waiting to be unearthed and shared with our learning community. And I think finding the time to show students that their ideas matter and are valued will probably be the best time spent this year anyhow.

 

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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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