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Why the PYP Exhibition Brings You to Tears

Why the PYP Exhibition Brings You to Tears

This past month was an explosion of students who completed their PYP Exhibition. It was fantastic to see on Facebook and Twitter all the pictures and videos of the kids. For those people who live outside of the International Baccalaureate (IB) bubble, The Exhibition is the mother of all projects for the primary program and is a culminating event of the Primary Years Programme (PYP). Students, in grades 5 or 6  have to literally become their own teachers and plan and conduct a personal inquiry and then present their research using the arts and technology. Anyone who is familiar with the IB will understand that this is no ordinary project as the kids have to incorporate all 5 elements of the PYP into this inquiry, creating a central idea and lines of inquiry based on conceptual understandings they want to explore, all the while demonstrating the learner profile and attitudes. The major emphasis is to “do something” now that they “know something”, so the students are expected to act upon their new found knowledge in a way that is meaningful to them. Needless to say, it is an exciting 6-8 weeks of learning, and it is a lot of work to guide the students as they are pushed to go deeper and are challenged to become independent learners.

At the end of April, we completed our own school’s P5 exhibition and it was really powerful. For 7 weeks, the typical school timetable collapsed and they only met with mentors and specialists who help guide their research, as well as stand-alone math lessons. It’s hard to really articulate what a transformative experience this is for the students, but it is definitely one of my favorite parts of the PYP and why I am such a staunch believer in the IB framework. During our opening ceremony, the students performed this song and there wasn’t a dry eye in the whole room, everyone was moved to tears.

Say something, I’m giving up on you I’ll be the one, if you want me to/ No one’s been there when we ask them to. Anywhere, I would’ve followed you/ Ignoring the problems that you knew Say something, I’m giving up on you

And I am feeling so small It was over my head I know nothing at all

And I will stumble and fall/ When we stumble and fall I’m still learning to love/ The way we treat others Just starting to crawl/ It makes them feel small

Say something, I’m giving up on you I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you/ no one’s been there when we ask them to Anywhere, I would’ve followed you/ ignoring the problems that you knew Say something, I’m giving up on you

And I will swallow my pride/ And you, are using your might You’re the one that I love/ The power you have And I’m saying goodbye/ To take other’s rights

Say something, I’m giving up on you And I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you/ I’m sorry that I didn’t fight for you And anywhere, I would have followed you Oh, oh, oh, oh say something, I’m giving up on you

Say something, I’m giving up on you/ Say Something, you have the power to Say something

Created by Ms. Overby’s P5 students, 2017

Parents and teachers were in awe and other students were inspired, as our students inquired into the “access to equal opportunity” in the Sharing the Planet theme.  On the day of the Exhibition, students gave workshops and shared their art, as they explored issues such as family problems, human rights, money’s impact relationships, gender inequality and the Syrian refugee crisis. We had a giant “reflection” canvas that students, teachers, and parents wrote or doodled on to express their reactions to the presentations and ask questions to the students. The students got a lot of feedback from this process and enjoyed engaging with an authentic audience.

But even leading up the day of Exhibition, students were promoting awareness of their topics during school-wide events such as assembly and International Day. Their research wasn’t hidden in the 4 walls of their classroom but was shared with all of the students, and many of the younger students’ curiosity was sparked.

I think because of this, it made the opening ceremony and the workshops even more potent, as finally, the unveiling was taking place. Because all the artwork was put on display all over the school, students were still commented on the ideas presented and the topics still lingered on their minds. It was obvious to us teachers, that other students had impacted and uplifted just by proxy of the Exhibition.  I was glad that we did Exhibition earlier than other schools because there was still a buzz for weeks afterward and it inspired the Grade 4 class to want to do a mini-X for their final unit.  The Grade 5 students then became mentors for this mini-X, which further empowered them.

 

One of the group’s artworks on display, demonstrating the basic human rights which government must uphold.

There is absolutely no doubt that these Grade 5 students are prepared for our Middle Year’s Programme, as the seeds of life-long learning have been planted and they have the skills necessary to be successful. As a teacher and PYP coordinator, I wish this experience for all students, as they discover that they can take charge of their learning and can create their own path in life, making a difference through community service, raising public awareness and art. As a parent, it gives me great hope in what this empowered generation can bring to our world. It is for this reason why I have tears of joy and not sadness when I look upon the accomplishment of these students.

 

 

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.

If You’re Not Struggling and Embarrassed, then You’re Not Teaching Digital Natives.

If You’re Not Struggling and Embarrassed, then You’re Not Teaching Digital Natives.

Back in 2006, my 4th-grade colleague, Mr. Glenn patiently tutored me in using wikis and blogs. I gave it a whirl with my students but I really wasn’t very competent in my tech know-how to pull it off. Honestly, it took me YEARS before I’d get back on the horse again. Perhaps you can relate-As a teacher, you always feel like you are racing against the clock, trying to get all the standards taught and using tech just seemed so frivolous, so you forgo its use. I definitely suffered from technophobia as my awkward attempts caused more frustration than bore fruit. However, I didn’t stay marooned on this island for too long, as seeing my daughter engage with technology really compelled me to take a closer look at its use in learning. This blog actually is the outcome of this realization and it has evolved from an exploration and curiosity to my digital professional portfolio to being a reflective tool of my educational interests and practices.

I remember early in my teaching career a well-intentioned high school administrator told me that a “good teacher” can teach anything. I felt like a really terrible teacher for a long while, thinking that I was somehow grossly incompetent because I couldn’t successfully coach volleyball (never played it competitively) or teach Spanish (I studied French). It took me changing schools to see what ridiculous advice this was. But c’mon– Like who can teach cross-stitch or linear algebra without any previous knowledge or training?  Well, let’s just call bulls@#$t on that! And that is why this “good teacher” is a student rather than trying to wing it with a textbook. You cannot teach what you don’t have any experience in, let alone knowledge of.

So, later when I went back to 4th grade I realized that I had been digging up dinosaur bones for too long and avoiding technology. Yes, I could app smash and flip my lessons, but I really wasn’t moving my students from being “consumers” idare to teachnto “creators”, which is what I now define as the purpose of using technology in our classrooms. Plus, I really wanted to move them to the highest use of technology–Connection!-sharing their ideas and finding others in their “tribe” in the digital landscape. How could I possibly teach kids about stuff that I wasn’t actively doing myself? If I was going to get these kids prepared for their future, I had to be a 21st-century learner right along with them. I couldn’t possibly blindly ask them to create something unless I could somehow mentor them. That’s exactly when I started to get serious about blogging.

You see blogging is about one of the most humiliating things you can do, other than getting really smashed at a party and stripping down to your undies. Your ideas and thinking are “naked” and it has the potential to be seen by tons of people. You can sound like an idiot and these online ramblings leave a digital footprint. So, not only can your current boss and colleagues see what kind of fool you are, but your future boss and co-workers can too. But I have to do it because I want to teach to the future and not to the past. The expectations of my students to be creators are going to be higher since being “googleable” is a prerequisite for their job search. There’s no way I can teach them about digital citizenship and managing their online life if all I ever do is post an occasional Facebook update and never become a contributor to the World Wide Web myself. Seriously, how could I actually help them navigate these waters?

Now I’m teaching myself about podcasting. It’s not hard, but it ain’t easy. In case you were thinking about it, there’s all this stuff that you need to know about creating quality sound, editing tracks, uploading it onto feeds and publishing it. Plus you need to have graphic art for your podcast and I have to design a logo and description for it.  Geez! I haven’t used GarageBand in years and it is a heck of a lot more complicated than I remember. I’m harassing our music teacher to tutor me in making audio tracks and how licensing works in the recording world. There’s a lot about copyright that I don’t know about. And writing a script is not the same as writing blog posts, let me tell you. (As an avid podcast listener, it’s annoying to hear aimless talking. My time is precious, so if the podcast is a bunch of blah-blah-blah, then why bother?-right?!) I worked on my podcast this weekend and I sound like such a boob. But it’s my first step. I have to remind myself that everything is hard at first but eventually it gets easier and more fun. However, I’m hopeful that I can take this experience into the classroom. I really want to have my students create podcasts for kids. I think that would be so fun.

So, what about you?–are you rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty with all this digital awesomeness or are you hiding behind your whiteboard and 3-ring binder? (No offense, but I see you.) I don’t think our children can afford to have Luddite teachers. Our world needs more courageous and tech-curious educators to not only help prepare them for their future but to help them create the future that they will live in.

 

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.

 

Opening Doors to Open Minds

Opening Doors to Open Minds

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Equal is Not Fair

Equal is Not Fair

In some ways, I am lucky to be a small school. We don’t have grade level teams that demand that we all do the “same” thing in our classrooms. However, homework and communication are areas that are fraught with disagreement, as teachers feel compelled to do what is the “norm” and may not strive to be creative. Conformity kills innovation. I’ve been in many a staff meeting in which we have to reach a consensus, and decisions may not be what’s best for their student’s needs but may be the whims of parents or what is easiest for teachers. We end up settling on “good enough” so that we can strike a “middle ground”.  As a teacher who feels that I got one shot with the kids I got this year, I cringe when we create a status quo school culture and, ultimately, I feel that makes teachers less than who they want to be.

George Couros points out why administrators impose these constraints in the Innovator’s Mindset:

The fear that drives leaders is not always about failure. Sometimes, the real fear is of success. If something works, other educators in the building would be expected to do it, thus creating more work for everyone…innovative intiatives ..might create superiour learning opportunities–opportunities  that aren’t offered in another learning environment. If what’s best for learners is our primary concern, equity of opportunities will be created at the highest levels, not the lowest.

I hope that in the future, school leaders choose to raise the bar and not lower it, in an effort to be democratic.  Because what may be equal is not fair, especially when one wants to inspire teachers and students

Critical Consumption

Critical Consumption

I remember gazing through the pages of tabloid magazines while waiting in the check-out aisle like the National Enquirer or (my favorite) World Weekly News. I knew that these glossy zines were not exactly reputable sources of information and were likened to frivolous amusement. Nowadays it seems to be more confusing deciphering what is fact or fiction;  in the age of the internet, it is easy to write and publish with little recourse, avoiding libel and at minimum cost (as opposed to the cost of hard copy publications). And, as such, the value of information is diminishing, as people lack faith that the people who write these stories have little interest in the truth, but instead in their profits.  How do you know what is the truth today? Do you believe these headlines:

  • “Smelling Farts May Prevent Cancer”.
  • “Yoko Ono Had an Affair with Hilary Clinton in the ’70s”
  • “Tupac is Alive”
  • “Trump Offering Free 1-way Tickets To Africa and Mexico for Those Who Want to Leave America”.

Can you guess which one of these headlines actually came from a legitimate journalistic source? (I’ll tell you at later in this blog post.) News has become entertainment instead of actually adding value to the understanding of what is going on in the world. Perhaps what has emerged lately in America is a fear that the media are creating a diversion while some more dubious things are underway in the new government. Consider this:

The results of a BuzzFeed News analysis found that in the three months before the (American) election the top performing fake news stories generated more engagement than top stories from major news outlets.

The 20 top performing fake news stories generated 8,711,0000 shares reactions and comments. The top 20 genuine news stories generated 7,367,000. –The Sun

So, with all of this in mind, how do we sift through the news and detect what is bonafide information let alone teach students to become discerning when they are doing research or engaged in social media? As educators and adults, we must master the skills of evaluation and be able to scrutinize our sources.  But even when we find information from a credible source, the online world is driven to write headlines that create click bait vs.reporting legitimate information. Remember those headlines above. Well, the one that came from a real publication, Time Magazine, was”Smelling Farts May Prevent Cancer”.  You can learn more about what the scientific study actually showed by watching this Jon Oliver segment below, but spoiler alert, bottling up the gas from our arse is NOT aromatherapy for cancer patients. Suffice to say, a credible source like Time Magazine is not always a guarantee that the information is true.

 

fake news.png

So, as we educate our digital natives, we too must learn and practice discernment. I think in this digital age, it is imperative to impart the skills of critical analysis of the information that they consume so we set up students to be engaged and thoughtful citizens in our nations.  I think one of the most important aspects is outright teaching them how to locate false information. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg as we consider how important it is to not only spot false information parading as fact but also an action piece, in which, as digital citizens, we require higher standards from our news agencies and journalists. If demand follows supply, then there needs to be a shift towards what is important vs. what is popular–insisting that content makes us think critically. To me, teaching this is just as vital as being able to sift through the content that we are being bombarded with.

As I continue through the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC), this week we are discussing the idea of trust in relationships. George Couros enters into Chapter 4 with this quote, which I find connects to the idea  I share today:

We need to build more organizations that priortize the care of human beings. As leaders it is our sole repsonbility to protect our people and, in turn, our people will protect each other and advance the organization together. As employees or members of the group, we need the courage to take care of each other when our leaders don’t. And in doing so, we become the leaders we wish we had. -Simon Sinek-

In education, there is a deep need to empower our students with, not only the knowledge, but the skills to analyze our current issues and the motivation to transform their futures. I think about this quote and ponder the notion of courage, as we shift from the status quo in our classrooms, and integrate these sorts of digital literacies into our program. I wonder how can I, as an educational leader, alter our curriculum so that it encompasses these aspects of digital citizenship so that teachers feel like they have permission to explore these new territories? In my opinion, I feel like we owe it to our future generations to cultivate mindful and engaged consumers through the appropriate and intelligent teaching of these skills. Moreover, it is my duty to draw attention to this topic and establish the environment in which taking these risks in our classrooms are celebrated.

At the end of the day, it is our individual efforts that drive the change that we wish to see in the world. And I wish to see more critical consumption. Do I hear an Amen?

(Come join the conversation at #IMMOOC. You can contact me @judyimamudeen on Twitter)

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D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Reflect)

D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Reflect)

Have you ever read the book, Tools of the Titans by Tim Ferris?  In the foreword, Arnold Schwarzenegger reminds us that  “The worst thing you can ever do is think that you know enough. Never stop learning. Ever.” And I think that this idea is the basis of so much of the book that I am currently reading now: Innovator’s Mindset by George Curous.

Drop Everything and Read (DEAR), a concept that encourages students to read and consume information. But few schools focus on encouraging students or educators to “Drop Everything and Reflect. How might we all be impacted if we took time out of each day to think about what we have learned and how it impacts our next steps?

George Curous, Innovator’s Mindset

I’m in the midst of Week 2 of #IMMOOC (Innovator’s Mindset MOOC) and when I read that idea, I took pause. I teachcharacteristics-im and lead an IB program in which reflection is a concept and skill that is developed in our curriculum. But when I read that sentence, I wondered, how often am I REALLY getting the kids to reflect on a daily basis? And, furthermore, how often am I really taking stock of the learning? I think I may take this for granted and I want to assess how and in what ways is reflection happening at our school.

I totally agree with George Curous: “As leaders, we cannot tell others they should be innovative while we continue to do the same thing. The characteristics we look for in our teachers and our students-empathizing, problem finding and solving, risk-taking, networking, observing, creating bouncing back and reflecting-should be embodied in our work as well.”  One has to walk the talk to talk the walk. So I’ll focus on being more observant and reflective, which I know will lead me to problem-finding/problem-solving, another key characteristic of the innovator’s mindset.

In particular, this week I am seriously looking at how frequently we reflect on learning and the quality of that reflection. Things that I am going to be reviewing this week include:

  1. The language I use–my teacher talk. What types of questions and responses am I giving students? How are they responding to me?
  2. The dialogue between students. What types of conversations are they having? Do they talk about their learning outside of the classroom?
  3. The discussions amongst teachers? What do those conversations reveal?

I have a little notebook that I keep to write down planning ideas and I will use this notebook to make these observations. In particular, I’ve set a timer on my phone for my DEAR time, in which I will Drop Everything and Reflect in this notebook regarding the learning for the day. Although I do find myself to be a reflective person, I do not have a daily habit like this so I’m curious to how this might change my practice. As I look over at my notebook now, I’m thinking that I might need a new one after this week–not a lot of pages left. lol

Perhaps you might want to explore this idea as well. What if you had a set time in which you reflected? What impact do you think this might make for your teaching, let alone your life?

 

 

 

Making a Base Camp near the Summit

Making a Base Camp near the Summit

Lately, I’ve engaged in Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC) with George Curous and a variety of leading edge educators. As an aspect of this MOOC, we have opportunities to blog about different topics and this week the question has been raised:  What do you see as the purpose of education?  Why might innovation be crucial in education?

There was an American NFL football coach whose philosophy about winning was that you need to make “a basecamp near the summit”, meaning that having a culture of high performance and personal character is paramount to success. As PYP coordinator, I feel strongly that the International Baccalaureate framework does this. I think as teachers, we strive to do this daily, in every moment of our day. But this notion, engaging our students in their idea of “besbill-walsht selves” in how I would define the purpose of education. I think it’s not enough to “know stuff” but also to “do stuff”. And when I say “do stuff”, I mean to cultivate classrooms and schools in which students are empowered to take action and initiatives in areas of high interest and impact. Ultimately we can no longer produce students who show indifference but are passionate and involved in life. When students are inspired and eager, it’s amazing what they can do. In the words of Bill Walsh, “the score takes care of itself”.

George Curous also makes a strong case that it’s not enough for educators to “know stuff” either, but they need to be fully engaged as well. As educators, we cannot be waiting for our schools or districts to drop innovation into our laps–we must roll up our own sleeves with the resources we have and engage in the emerging curriculum of the 21st century so that we can refine and evolve our practices. For example, if we want kids to blog–we need to blog. How can we seriously teach what we do not know?

At the end of the day, this is my litmus test—are we walking the talk of the innovation? Have we really “drank the kool-aide” or are we just trying to fit our old paradigms about education into the “new” framework? The future of our students has yet to even been created. When we consider the amount of change that has taken place in just the last 10 years, it seems obvious that we are being beckoned to become more pliable and creative in our approaches to teaching and learning. We can no longer sit in our comfort zone, passing out worksheets, expecting students to be attentive yet passive in their learning. As I see it, kids are more curious than ever because of how connected we are with technology–we need to tap into this energy and interest. And this is exactly why I feel so earnestly that we need to “make a base camp near the summit”–developing classrooms that look towards the future, not repeat what was of yesterday. In this way,  we can empower and ignite the next generation of students by evaluating if our classrooms and schools against this benchmark, so that they can go further, faster, in ethical and practical ways.

Here is what I see as critical areas that can drive innovation in our schools:

  • Classroom cultures in which expectations are high and opportunities to create are often.
  • Having well-planned projects and activities that move their thinking into divergent paths.
  • We as educators reflect, redo or remix our teaching ideas, and be willing to adapt to suit the students’ needs, not ours.
  • Let the students voice in and provide them with choices.
  • Process over product is valued, in which design thinking is the norm.
  • Be willing to experiment and discuss openly mistakes and how we can learn from them.
  • We as educators engage in the technology that our students would be expected to use now and in the future–and I’m not talking about a powerpoint–anything from Minecraft to Twitter to using Evernote.
  • Also, give them a break from routine. All work and no play really do make one dull. Research shows that mind wandering creates diffused states of thinking, in which different parts of the brain start talking to each other and connect ideas.

I feel heartened by the fact that there is a serious movement abrew here, in which educators like the ones engaged in this MOOC, aren’t waiting for policy makers to create classrooms of the future. But we are driving the change that we wish to see in our schools, and hopefully, it will ultimately be the students who take an active interest. If we, as educators can get the students to do that, well then, I think the summit is within reach indeed.

 

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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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