Tag: early childhood

Why Design Thinking is the Secret Ingredient to Student Agency

Why Design Thinking is the Secret Ingredient to Student Agency

Not that long ago, the International Baccalaureate (IB) issued a reflective “cheat sheet” of how schools can examine learner agency in the Primary Years Programme (PYP). Some of the key indicators include exploring the frequency and depth that learners are…

  • Actively engaged in various stages of learning, including thinking about, planning, modifying and creating 
  • Actively involved in discussion, questioning and by being self-directed in their creating (as opposed to passive receiving)
  • Apply their understanding of concepts through the construction of their projects/play
  • Make connections to the real world by taking past experiences into their play worlds
  • Have an active voice and stake in the classroom/community
  • Face challenges and are given the freedom to independently overcome these or fail through trial and error or experimentation
  • Are risk-takers
  • Express their theories of the world and these are honored in the environment
  • Reflect on their actions and self-regulate.

When I superimposed this framework over my classroom, I scrutinized my own practices and the culture in my classroom. Who was doing the leading in the classroom? Was I giving them freedom to learn and the space to lead?

These were the questions that played in the “background music” of my mind as I went into the planning of our last unit for the year. I know that this time of year can be a convenient time to take things easy and maintain the status quo of the established routines of the classroom, but I decided that I wanted to squeeze more out of the year by introducing design thinking into our classroom. I felt that this would be the secret ingredient to learner agency as design thinking organically gives them choice and voice, provided that I do not micromanage their learning.

My current unit is from the theme, Sharing the Planet whose central idea is: We grow and use plants in many ways. The central idea is accessible and easy for the 3-5 years old grasp and the lines of inquiry are straightforward: Growth of a plant (change); ways that plant parts are used in human life (connection); care of plants (responsibility). I’m still mid-unit, but I can share the process so far.

From there, I introduced the design thinking process, which I’ve obviously had to simplify for the Early Years. I stole ideas from American STEM schools like the  Benjamin Banneker School as a model for my class. To begin with, I wanted the students to choose what they wanted to grow. When we began the unit, I asked parents to go out shopping or bring in plant seeds that the students personally chose. (If I had chosen the seeds, I would normally have picked beans or radishes–something that is very easy to grow and would sprout quickly.) Of course, that’s not what the kids picked. They brought in a variety of flowers and vegetables such as broccoli and bak choy. In this small change to my “normal”, I had already shifted the dynamic significantly to cultivate greater agency, enthusiasm, and depth of the inquiry–it all started with the seeds.

design and scienceThe design-thinking process language I am using is:

  1. Understand
  2. Focus
  3. Imagine
  4. Prototype
  5. Try

Understand: What do we need to know about plants? And who are the “users” of plants? (the “we” in our central idea)

FullSizeRender 86

These were the first series of questions that the students wondered about and began our jumping off point for our project: To design a garden for an end user.  In the beginning, the students weren’t really thinking about a “user”, but through daily questioning prompts in our morning meetings and investigating what lived inside the homes provided by plants, sIMG_4623tudents began to grasp the concept of the relationship between plants and animals. I decided to also create some compost with the students so that they may appreciate the symbiosis of plants with one another and how humans can support the growth of plants by turning our rubbish into food. We used food scraps from the school kitchen like egg shells and banana peels and blended it into our dirt. We then used this enriched soil to plant our seeds in recycled toilet paper tubes, which would later transplant into the gardens we created.

 

 

 

Focus: How is the care of our specific plant different from each other and what considerations will we need when building our gardens? 

At this point,  2 groups had emerged: the vegetables and the flowers, and the students decided that the end users would be different. 1 group was going to focus on people (vegetables) and the other group wanted to focus on butterflies (flowers). If we were successful, then the end users would appreciate our gardens by eating the vegetables and getting nectar from the flowers.

IMG_4804

Before we could build the gardens, we had to consider the needs of those plants–no plants meant no happy end users! So the students had to research the basic requirements of their particular plant and this was definitely guided as we Googled and perused through books. Not a great deal of independence here, but the understandings of this greatly influenced the ideas of their garden design’s first renderings.

Imagine: Where might we put this garden and what would the structure of this garden look like?

So now we began to examine different types of gardens. We visited the wetlands park to and will go to a working farm. The students have made their first sketches of their gardens. What really surprised me was the thoughtful considerations the students made. They absolutely thought about the level of sunshine that the plants would need, and they put those details into those drawings. For example,  the “pink flower” group wants to make a heart-shaped garden near a tree, but not under a tree. While the “purple flower” group wants to be near the vegetables because that garden needs to be in a sunny area.

FullSizeRender 87 We will have a morning meeting to think about their designs and come up with questions for the farmers. (Going back to the “understand and focus” part of the process) After the farm visit this week, the students will review their designs to see if they feel they are on the right track.

Next week, they will create models of their designs out of cardboard and have the students put these prototypes in the area of our school where they think the plants will grow best. That will be the “try” part of the process before they actually go and build the real model and officially plant the plants. I will have to update their progress on this project later, as I reckon they will make changes in their designs

But I can say that so much of this unit’s inquiry has been given over to the students, as design thinking has allowed this project to be more personalized and focused on what they think is important. It’s sort of an odd feeling, especially as an early childhood teacher, to move out of their way and just be the “helper” in fulfilling their imaginings. I look forward to posting the end results later in a future blog post.

To be continued….

And I am curious how other teachers or schools have used design thinking to shift into a more student-centered culture and approach to the learner. What am I missing? What ideas might you have to extend my approach?

 

 

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How to Spell Transdisciplanary Learning in the Early Years

How to Spell Transdisciplanary Learning in the Early Years

 

Seriously, how long will I have to write transdisciplanary before my spell check program acknowledges that it’s a real word. No matter how many times I ask it to “add it to the dictionary”, it still gives me the red line.  Doesn’t my computer know I am a PYP teacher. What nerve, I tell you! lol

As any Early Years teacher knows, there can be a fine line between topic and concept.

Look at my next unit:

People can help our communities by working in different ways.

  • People play different roles in a community. (responsibility)
  • How helpers impact a community. (connection)
  • How tools help people to do their jobs. (function)

What comes to your mind?–Community Helpers, right? –A bunch of lovely centers/corners. We can have police, fire fighters, nurses, doctors, construction workers, etc…..Lots of role play- Fun Early Years unit, right?

Not to me. I find this unit a challenge because now I am asking myself how can I steer this inquiry away from being a topic to developing those concepts of our roles and responsibilities in a community. I’m thinking about what approaches  I can use to embed multiple disciplines so that students can explore and create in contexts that are authentic for them. Preschool STEAM– Of course!

STEAM, in case you don’t know is an acronym that stands for:

S. cience

T. echnology

E.ngineering

A.rt

M. ath

Aha, I can hear you say how can ” doing nifty projects” make it transdisciplanary? Fair retort. Point taken. So I’ve decided to up the ante and instead of centers or corners during this unit, we will have PROBLEMS In the beginning, I will have to provide them through literature links and set up these provocations with my main teacher question: HOW COULD SOMEONE IN THE COMMUNITY HELP HIM/HER? Later, however, I expect students to generate them.

As I am in the planning stages of this unit, I will have to report back with our progress, but my head is spinning with so many ideas. I can’t wait to see what the students come up with!

 

 

Sing, Smile, and give "The Look"

Sing, Smile, and give "The Look"

I was recently asked what behavioral management strategies I use in my classroom which would be helpful for a new classroom teacher. Of course there are the typical things that most teachers use like sticker charts, behavior management boards, and student of the week or some other way to acknowledge positive behavior in class.  But the things that I use which are the bread and butter of my classroom is song and consistently focusing on what I want.

I have a song for everything–for sitting on the carpet, for cleaning up, for writing, for lining up, for reading, for washing hands, for EVERYTHING! Really I do.  Most early childhood teachers wouldn’t survive without a few songs or finger plays in their bag of tricks because it is the easiest way to get the group focused.

Examples of Songs For Transitions and  Focusing Attention

And the second thing I do is to keep laser sharp focus on students doing the right thing. Even when it seems that the children are absolutely nutty, there is always one if not more that are doing what you want. Many teachers, especially new ones, are so keen to try to stop bad behavior that they can really miss out on the  students who are doing what you want them to do.  When you are “praizy” (praise-crazy), you have more kids who fall into line because EVERYONE–young and old– loves to be admired and appreciated. Here’s an example of what I sound like during whole group instruction:

“Wow, look at Basmala!  Do you see how she is sitting on her bottom with her legs criss-crossed?  She is looking at me, eyes focused and ready to learn. Look, she even has a smile on her face. Oh, my beautiful friend, Basmala, thank you so much for being ready to learn. Who else is ready to learn like Basmala?….Ah yes, Sema is ready now. Thank you, Sema!  Oh and look at Shayma. Thank you, Shayma. Oh great, Ahmed is ready now. Thank you Ahmed. ” This little round of genuine praise does wonders to get everyone on task, meanwhile my energy has remained positive and light. No frustration, no anger. I am smiling, the children are smiling. The group is focused now. You just have to practice on focusing on the good stuff that happens, remain calm, and be “praizy”. 

Easy, right?

Oh wait, I hear you say–what about that one kid who won’t fall into line, who is still talking or walking around the room?

You have options: ignore him/her if they are not are not being loud or disruptive; continue teaching but go over and quietly lead them to a chair or area that is outside the group but still giving a chance to participate; or give them “THE LOOK”. Every teacher must have this skill. Most teachers consider it a look of death, a stern ugly stare that puts the fear into a child, signaling that you mean serious business. However, for myself, this look has evolved into something more meaningful.

I believe that most students who are the “trouble makers” in class just really need attention, and negative attention is still attention. True?-yes! So, my look is no longer the kind in which fire shoots out of my eyes, but more of a piercing stare that I aim at their heart. It’s a stare which means “I SEE WHO YOU REALLY ARE!” –a genius, a poet, an athlete, an artist, a comedian, etc… In my mind, I repeat to myself “I love who you really are. I love who you really are. I love who you really are.” And within seconds, when my look penetrates them,  they begin to feel safe & accepted, and like magic they fall into line and I give them a silent smile. So much better than yelling or giving a lecture or putting them in time out or calling their parent, or what ever typical negative response they could get from you!! And the best part is that you don’t lose the focus of the group.

I recognize that as an early childhood teacher I help form a child’s first understanding of themselves as a learner, and I play a pivotal role in building their confidence and self-esteem. So I work hard to remain open and compassionate to all the silly and upsetting behavior that a child may engage in. Therefore,  the most important thing, I think, is to keep students aware and focused on how wonderful they are becoming, and to let them know that I accept them no matter what.

I hope this brief sharing has benefited you. May your classrooms be full of peace. -Judy

Sing, Smile, and give “The Look”

Sing, Smile, and give “The Look”

I was recently asked what behavioral management strategies I use in my classroom which would be helpful for a new classroom teacher. Of course there are the typical things that most teachers use like sticker charts, behavior management boards, and student of the week or some other way to acknowledge positive behavior in class.  But the things that I use which are the bread and butter of my classroom is song and consistently focusing on what I want.

I have a song for everything–for sitting on the carpet, for cleaning up, for writing, for lining up, for reading, for washing hands, for EVERYTHING! Really I do.  Most early childhood teachers wouldn’t survive without a few songs or finger plays in their bag of tricks because it is the easiest way to get the group focused.

Examples of Songs For Transitions and  Focusing Attention

And the second thing I do is to keep laser sharp focus on students doing the right thing. Even when it seems that the children are absolutely nutty, there is always one if not more that are doing what you want. Many teachers, especially new ones, are so keen to try to stop bad behavior that they can really miss out on the  students who are doing what you want them to do.  When you are “praizy” (praise-crazy), you have more kids who fall into line because EVERYONE–young and old– loves to be admired and appreciated. Here’s an example of what I sound like during whole group instruction:

“Wow, look at Basmala!  Do you see how she is sitting on her bottom with her legs criss-crossed?  She is looking at me, eyes focused and ready to learn. Look, she even has a smile on her face. Oh, my beautiful friend, Basmala, thank you so much for being ready to learn. Who else is ready to learn like Basmala?….Ah yes, Sema is ready now. Thank you, Sema!  Oh and look at Shayma. Thank you, Shayma. Oh great, Ahmed is ready now. Thank you Ahmed. ” This little round of genuine praise does wonders to get everyone on task, meanwhile my energy has remained positive and light. No frustration, no anger. I am smiling, the children are smiling. The group is focused now. You just have to practice on focusing on the good stuff that happens, remain calm, and be “praizy”. 

Easy, right?

Oh wait, I hear you say–what about that one kid who won’t fall into line, who is still talking or walking around the room?

You have options: ignore him/her if they are not are not being loud or disruptive; continue teaching but go over and quietly lead them to a chair or area that is outside the group but still giving a chance to participate; or give them “THE LOOK”. Every teacher must have this skill. Most teachers consider it a look of death, a stern ugly stare that puts the fear into a child, signaling that you mean serious business. However, for myself, this look has evolved into something more meaningful.

I believe that most students who are the “trouble makers” in class just really need attention, and negative attention is still attention. True?-yes! So, my look is no longer the kind in which fire shoots out of my eyes, but more of a piercing stare that I aim at their heart. It’s a stare which means “I SEE WHO YOU REALLY ARE!” –a genius, a poet, an athlete, an artist, a comedian, etc… In my mind, I repeat to myself “I love who you really are. I love who you really are. I love who you really are.” And within seconds, when my look penetrates them,  they begin to feel safe & accepted, and like magic they fall into line and I give them a silent smile. So much better than yelling or giving a lecture or putting them in time out or calling their parent, or what ever typical negative response they could get from you!! And the best part is that you don’t lose the focus of the group.

I recognize that as an early childhood teacher I help form a child’s first understanding of themselves as a learner, and I play a pivotal role in building their confidence and self-esteem. So I work hard to remain open and compassionate to all the silly and upsetting behavior that a child may engage in. Therefore,  the most important thing, I think, is to keep students aware and focused on how wonderful they are becoming, and to let them know that I accept them no matter what.

I hope this brief sharing has benefited you. May your classrooms be full of peace. -Judy

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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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