Tag: PYP

#PYP The Sound and Light of Using Design Thinking To Write a Unit of Inquiry

#PYP The Sound and Light of Using Design Thinking To Write a Unit of Inquiry

I’ve opened a can of worms. After our last Sharing the Planet unit, I felt exasperated and wanted to shift some units around so we could develop more conceptual understandings in science. We have 3 units left since it’s the end of the term, so the choices were: Where We Are in Place and Time, How We Express Ourselves, and How The World Works. We thought that How The World Works would be the best fit for meeting those goals. The Central Idea was: Thinking scientifically helps us to make sense of the world. A lively debate ensued between my co-teaching partner and I–is this the unit that students need?? What other options might we have? So we decided to dig up “old units” to evaluate what was “best fit” for our students–the old vs. the “new” UOI. This didn’t feel very satisfying either. We had to write a new unit.

 

ben franklinSince we had a planning retreat we started wordsmithing some new central ideas so we could “get down to business” when our team is all together but then I experienced a perfect storm of inspiration after reading “Agency” and the UOI and Being a PYP Teacher: Collaborate with Your Students.These perspectives got me thinking that I really need to ignite student interest by tuning into what scientific concepts fascinate them and putting them at the forefront of our planning of this upcoming unit.   I find that design thinking is a creative and effective way to problem solve, so I thought I would take the opportunity to apply this process to crafting a Central Idea because student interest would take center stage naturally.

So even before we had our planning retreat, I created a poll using Plickers to have students express what their level of curiosity around 5 scientific concepts that would be new to students and are developmentally appropriate:

  1. The purpose of physical structures of animals and plants (adaption).
  2. The properties of materials and states of matter.
  3. Growth and care of living things.
  4. Natural Cycles of the Earth and Weather.
  5. Light and Sound Energy.

We discussed what each one of these “big ideas” might entail as we explored it during a unit of inquiry. Students made comments and asked questions about what sort of things we’d be learning about. After the poll, the students had to put these concepts into a list of learning priorities that I represented visually, just to make sure I captured their interests accurately.

 

learning priorities
The English language learner-friendly rating system

 

design slideI was very surprised that light and sound came in first place with 12 students indicating it as their first choice, with materials and matter coming in 2nd with 8 students picking it as their main interest.  Armed with these results, I felt confident enough that this basic knowledge of our 1st graders was enough to begin using Design Thinking to draft a unit. Although there are different approaches to Design Thinking, I decided to go with the d.school’s model.

Empathize: We began with thinking about how we perceive our students and discussing what we know about them as learners.  I shared the survey results and we considered how this unit could develop scientific thinking and experimentation.

Define: Then we began discussing the challenge of writing a transdisciplinary unit around light and sound that complemented a nearly equal student interest in materials and matter. This landed conversation us smack dab

Ideation: There are different ways to ideate but I chose to explore ‘prototyping’ as our framework for creating a unit of inquiry. We worked on our own and then collectively to come up with a “prototype” of what this unit could inquire into. Because we hadn’t designated a transdisciplinary theme indicator (ie: the natural world and its laws; the interaction between the natural world (physical and biological) and human societies; how humans use their understanding of scientific principles; the impact of scientific and technological advances on society and on the environment.), this broadened our swath of possibility.

“Ideation is the mode of the design process in which you concentrate on idea generation. Mentally it represents a process of “going wide” in terms of concepts and outcomes. Ideation provides both the fuel and also the source material for building prototypes and getting innovative solutions into the hands of your users.”
– d.school, An Introduction to Design Thinking PROCESS GUIDE

As we explored related concepts in various domains, we collated what could be “driving” transdisciplinary ideas in a How the World Works unit in order to “build” a central idea around. What emerged from the ideation process was the conceptual understandings of :

  1. transformation
  2. energy
  3. data
  4. communication
  5. process
  6. classification
  7. movement
  8. diversity
  9. discovery
  10. behavior
  11. properties

Prototype: After deliberating and scribbling out all the perspectives that could make this a powerful learning experience, we settled on the central idea:

Understanding energy helps us predict behavior and can lead to new discoveries. 

  • Types of energy (Form)
  • Transformation of energy (Change)
  • Ways of knowing (Reflection)

Energy=science (light and sound)

Predict= math/science skills

Behavior=PSPE (personal social and physical education)

Discovery=Social Studies

We started digging into the curriculum documents, thinking that we had “nailed it”. But one of our team members sort of sat there blankly as we started choosing the conceptual understandings and learning outcomes. Our PYP coordinator said, “now aren’t you excited to teach this?” And she clearly articulated that she had no idea what this unit was about, which stung a bit because we had sat there discussing ideas for so long. Then she added that the “kids wanted to learn about sound and light and do experiments and we’ve written a unit about energy”.  We’d spent an hour on writing this so there was justification–“light and sound are forms of energy” in which she retorted, “But if I am a teacher who hadn’t been involved in this planning, I would have no idea how I might approach this.” She was right. She was right on both accounts. We had designed a prototype which hadn’t met the needs of the “users”–the students AND the teachers.  She echoed a feeling I’ve written about before in Central Ideas: The Good, The Bad and The Messy. How the Primary Years Program Can Rethink and Define Them. We’d been too clever, too adult and created something close to gobbly gook. We needed to go back to developing a central idea based on honoring the students’ curiosities.

After our meeting, we homeroom teachers continued this discussion and spent an hour debating if “sound and light” were topics vs. concepts. (Good lord, you know you’re a PYP teacher when you care so much about nuances.), examining curriculum documents.  We created a refined version that would require less “unpacking”:

Exploring how light and sound works can lead to discoveries and open up new possibilities.

  • Light and sound as forms of energy (form)
  • Transformation of energy (change)
  • The use scientific thinking in everyday life. (reflection)

Because I have never considered so thoughtfully the interests of our students, it is hard to say if this central idea meets the prototype criteria from d.school’s Design Thinking PROCESS GUIDE:

  • the most likely to delight
  • the rational choice
  • the most unexpected

Nevertheless, I am going to push these versions of the UOI through to the students and move onto the next step of the process.

Test: On Monday, we will present both prototypes of the unit to the students and observe their reactions and collect their responses. Hopefully, this will provide greater clarity of how this unit could be shaped. I reckon that we will continue to refine this unit and engage in more pedagogical conversations.


So, this is what might be considered “first thinking” when it comes to “designing” a unit vs. “writing” a unit of inquiry. I feel very grateful to be a school that allows us to challenge how we approach our curriculum. Sometimes people in leadership can be more focused on efficiency vs. innovation in planning and implementation of our curriculum, desiring to tick off boxes rather than dig deep into what and, more importantly, WHO we teach.

“To create meaningful innovations, you need to know your users and care about their lives.” , d.school’s Design Thinking PROCESS GUIDE

There is an award-winning designer, Onur Cobanli, who says that “great design comes from interaction, conflict, argument, competition, and debate”.  As a team, we are definitely in the throes of some of this. But I’m wondering if anyone has any suggestions or comments that might help enhance our approach.

Mathematics in the Primary Years Program (PYP): Negotiating Transdisciplanary Vs. Stand Alone

Mathematics in the Primary Years Program (PYP): Negotiating Transdisciplanary Vs. Stand Alone

In the purest sense of the PYP, everything is the Unit of Inquiry (UOI), right? One of the greatest suppositions of transdisciplinary learning is to try to create enduring understandings that connect as many dots with the discrete subject areas. For example, when we think about how young children learn, when they play with blocks, they never think that they are “doing math” or “creating art” or “testing hypotheses”.  So it is our duty to match their curiosity and creativity which curriculum that is relevant, meaningful and engaging. However, as children develop and their thinking matures, we need to challenge them with more complex ideas in our inquiry-based and concept-driven approach to learning. But with Math, it is probably the one subject area that can be the most difficult to naturally incorporate into UOI and make transdisciplinary due to the demands of the mathematical concepts. 

For example, here is a How We Organize Ourselves UOI for students age 5-6 years old that works great for math:

Systems help us to make meaning and communicate.

  • systems in our community
  • ways we use systems
  • our responsibility within systems

Now, this is probably a great unit to develop the conceptual understanding that numbers are a naming system and, for a set of objects, the number name of the last object counted describes the quantity of the whole set; which can then help students to connect number names and numerals to the quantities they represent. (Phase 1, Number Strand of the IB Math Scope and Sequence).

 But then, in this same year group, you have a How We Express Ourselves unit like this:

Creating and responding to art develops an understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

  • what art is
  • how the arts communicate different messages
  • ways we respond and react to art
  • the different ways that can express ourselves through art

At first glance, you are probably thinking, duh!–this is an “art” unit, it’s gotta be Pattern…….or maybe Shape and Space for Transdisciplinary Math (TD)? I could do both, right?

Well, you could, but then you would be “exposing” students to these ideas but not necessarily really developing their conceptual understandings. To further demonstrate how challenging this decision is, think about this conceptual understanding: Shape and Space Strand: Shapes can be described and organized according to their properties;  Pattern: understand that patterns can be found in everyday situations, for example, sounds, actions, objects, nature. So now I am wondering which what part of the central idea or lines of inquiry supports either one of those strands?

You can see that unless you write central ideas and lines of inquiry that consciously make an effort to incorporate math, it can easily get nudged aside during UOI

Now, this example is in the early grades, imagine how difficult it gets in the upper grades! How would you write a UOI that could be a “good fit” for teaching decimals, the conversations of fractions and understanding exponents? You could, but you’d have to have a POI that leaned toward STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and have staff that is incredibly skillful at writing this curriculum so that Social Studies, the Arts, and PSPE don’t get sacrificed in the process. Most schools don’t go to such efforts. 

So thus we create “Stand Alones”, which are separate subject-specific units of inquiry, that we put into the PYP planner. There are many schools that do this for Math. Some schools do one-off or piecemeal planners for certain mathematical concepts that don’t fit into the transdisciplinary units while other schools just do this for upper year groups, yet others create a whole school Programme of Inquiry for math. (I won’t open up the conversation of how you might create a scope and sequence for math for these stand alones but please check out this blog post that details one school’s struggle to do so.)

In our school’s case, it was decided to create a POI that focused merely on Number and Pattern & Function Strands since these are the most difficult to incorporate into UOIs. With that in mind, most grade levels have TD maths running simultaneously with our Number/Pattern POI. As a disclaimer, it’s our first thinking on how we might approach improving mathematical thinking and learning at our school, so be gentle in your judgment. To create a POI for math is a daunting task, and there is no doubt that we will reflect and revise on ours.

In Grade 1, we are starting to encounter challenges when we look through the number of conceptual understandings and learning outcomes that need to be developed so we stopped and had a whole planning retreat to delve into this. As we looked through the IB Scope and Sequence and referenced the learning outcomes from other national standards, we wondered how much classroom time would it take to accomplish both Stand Alone AND TD Math?  Furthermore, is having essentially “2 Maths” (2 Math Strands) going co-currently a sensible idea-and how might we make it fit better? At the end of our discussions and debates, we mapped out the rest of the year’s TD Math. In one UOI (Where We Are in Place and Time, CI: Homes reflect cultural influences and local conditions.), we decided to not make a TD Math link because it might be “a stretch” to do so and instead to just focus on Number. Here is the Number central idea and lines of inquiry that we will cover during that time: 

Numbers often tell how many or how much
1. The amount of a number determines its position in a numeral
2. How we know when to regroup
3. How grouping numbers into parts can help us find solutions.

CONCEPTS – Function, Change, Reflection
ATTITUDES – Integrity, Confidence
LEARNER PROFILE: Knowledgeable

You can see that this unit has place value and regrouping strategies for addition and subtraction–one of the foundational conceptual understandings that must be well developed in Grade 1 and so needs more attention and time devoted to it. 

Likewise, we decided that we would make one of our units (How the World Works, whose CI we are rewriting), heavy on the TD Maths and a little lighter on the Number POI because we needed to really spend more time on developing the conceptual understandings within the Data and Measurement Strands. This is the Number UOI during that time:

Patterns repeat or grow
1. The ways patterns can be represented.
2. We use pattern to infer and to make predictions.

CONCEPTS – Form, Connection
ATTITUDES – Creativity
LEARNER PROFILE: Thinker

As you can see, our examination and reflection process is just beginning when it comes to negotiating classtime with TD Math and our Number POI. Sharing our grade level’s experience in this blog does not only reveal a bit of our thinking process but perhaps you are contemplating your school’s struggle with striking a balance between Stand Alone Math and TD Math and have an idea that would help navigate this challenge.

I’m deeply curious what kinds of conversations your school has regarding Math and what have you done to address “coverage” of concepts. Since our school is in the early days of developing and refining our Number POI, sharing perspectives and theories about using the PYP framework would be helpful to discuss and debate in our larger IB community because all of us are striving to create the best learning experiences and outcomes for our learners.  No pressure, but I’m hoping you will comment below. 🙂

 

Does your school have UOIs that were particularly successful at incorporating Math so that it was transdisciplinary?

How does your school balance TD Math and Stand Alone Math in the curriculum?

Post Mortem Reflection: Autopsy of a Failed PYP Unit (Sharing the Planet)

Post Mortem Reflection: Autopsy of a Failed PYP Unit (Sharing the Planet)

It doesn’t matter if you have been teaching for 8 months or 18 years, you will experience a bombed lesson from time to time. But a bombed unit-well, that I have yet to experience until now. And it has been the most frustrating 6 weeks of my life, as I have worked relentlessly to cultivate their conceptual understanding. Most teachers don’t share their failures, they only blog or tweet about all the “cool learning” that’s going on but I think it’s equally important to reveal and reflect on our failings. So in an effort to be vulnerable, I humbly submit that this unit has yet to meet its central idea and only narrowly developed its lines of inquiry. And I can’t stop asking why.

Our actions can make a difference to the environment we share.

  • how we use resources (function)
  • the impact of people’s actions on the environment (causation)
  • choices we make to care for our environment (responsibility)

I hold some very strong beliefs when it comes to creating curriculum in the PYP, one of which is having a solid central idea that a teacher can anchor the learning in.  If you pulled out the keywords–what would they be? I chose to focus on “actions”, “environment” and “share”. Other key ideas were from the lines of inquiry: resources, impact, and choices. The assessment is really quite simple–we document student action that has occurred over the unit. And herein lies the problem: student action. Students are not taking action because they don’t have enough conceptual understanding to appreciate a need to act. They literally do not see pollution-even if a coke bottle flew out of the sky and bonked them on the head, they wouldn’t notice. Oh, and if that same coke bottle then got buried in the ground, one of the students said it would sprout a Coke Tree. No, I’m not lying–this was an actual prediction during one of our engagements.

At first, this put me in a panic and I went in the wrong direction. I thought, oh my gosh, this future generation, they are either absolutely oblivious or litter and pollution (particularly in Asia) are so endemic that it’s like wallpaper and thus hardly take notice. So we began inquiring into endangered animals and the impact on habitats. We worked through key vocabulary and food chains. The kids put together wonderful ChatterPix presentations which summarized their library research on the animals. But during another provocation when I showed a picture of a turtle that had been deformed due to garbage in the water, I had 3 kids tell me that it looked like that because it was farting, clearly articulating (with a straight face) that gas can make you bloated and you feel bubbles are in your belly. I could see his thinking but I felt deeply concerned and it was at this point that our unit started to take a turn for the worse.

One of the Segel pictures that the students examined. They thought they were just “having a picnic at the beach.”

So then, to make a stronger link about humans and how we use resources, we explored the work of Gregg Segal,  which started as a provocation but since the students made no connection between the garbage and the people who were lying in it, we examined our “home” garbage and collected our classroom garbage, including snacks, for a week to analyze. I had also gotten one of our Secondary Art and Design teachers who is an avid photographer on board to help us orchestrate an attempt to do a photoshoot with our students in this garbage. It was going to be awesome, right?! –They were finally going to “get it” so we can move into learning about the 3 R’s–Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Nope–the day before the photoshoot, our cleaners emptied our bins. Deflated, we decided that we would “follow the garbage”, trying to pull together this idea of how individual and collective choices can add up to make a difference in the burden that ecosystems might have to shoulder. So we went down to our school’s dump area and examined our rubbish. Next, we made a day of it and went down to the Vientiane Landfill.  Although they were absolutely disgusted by it, they had seemed unchanged.  This week we are going to meet people whose “choices” to care for our environment are having a  positive impact on our Vientiane community. We are still hopeful that a handful of them will be moved into action but I know now that it’s a foolhardy job to try to assess them on this central idea. We will have to create unit grades based on their academic skills in language and math that have been developed alongside these conceptual understandings.  

The moral of the learning debacle boils down to these things:

  • Doing a bunch of “cool stuff” is not as important to properly pre-assessing basic knowledge and skills. Sometimes we get so preoccupied with launching a unit with instant student engagement, that we forgo necessary assessment which can be documented and examined. I think in heavy science-based units, it’s important to probe into common misconceptions and vocabulary that may be misunderstood. I did some of it, but I missed some big ideas–simple stuff like living vs. non-living because I had assumed it had been “covered” in previous years.
  • Furthermore, provocations that reveal severe inadequacies in student knowledge means that the unit probably needed to be scrubbed and rewritten immediately instead of trudging through the painful experience of trying to get students to arrive at mastery and develop knowledge that is beyond their experience or developmental appropriateness is asinine.
  • And the third thing is that the sequence of units matters A LOT. In our case, we were asking that students take their knowledge and apply it by taking action. We should have had a How The World Works Unit beforehand that developed the key information and scientific principles to really appreciate the need to act. Our unit implied that kids should “reduce, reuse, recycle” without understanding why it’s important to do so.
  • Also, a unit whose central idea demands that students assimilate knowledge and then adapt it to behaviors needs to reconcile with the developmental stage that they are at. Most of the students are at the cognitive stage in which they are transitioning from concrete to abstract thinking and operational thought. This unit would have been better served when most, if not all the kids, were 7 years old because cognitively they would have understood the concept of conservation. This was a second term unit. It was too early in the school year to introduce these ideas.
  • And of course, the old PYP coordinator in me wondered why I didn’t go back into last year’s POI to see what scientific ideas that they had been exploring when I first saw warning signs. Although I had interviewed past teachers who did the unit, I should have dug deeper into the curriculum that my current classes had been working on in the past years. I needed to research my learners more. I would have seen the gaps and been able to re-route the unit sooner instead of “following the garbage”.

So, I would suggest that educators ask themselves a couple of important questions before embarking on units of inquiry in which student action should be the hallmark of successful learning outcomes:

  1. What previous knowledge and skills should we look for? What was their most recent learning (last grade level’s POI)? What conceptual understandings will students need to understand in order to really apply knowledge? (Go deep on Box #3 on the PYP planner)
  2. What misconceptions do you predict students may come with? How will we know if they have them?
  3. What is the age of the majority of the students? Will they have access cognitively to the concepts and related concepts in the units?
  4. What action is already taking place? What can we expect young children to be doing, feeling and thinking?

 

I can see now that words like “action” and “choices” are too subjective to be put into a central idea for this Sharing the Planet Theme. They are great in the lines of inquiry, but if you take the stance that you assess the central idea in your summative and formative assessments, then you are setting students up for failure. Although student action is the proof that real learning has occurred, this unit would have been better served with related concepts in the central idea. (Here is a great blog that demonstrates how units can be analyzed in this way.) With that in mind, I would suggest rewriting the unit to look like this, with the related concepts in bold:

Human interaction with living things can have consequences on the environment.

 

Although this unit is going to be seared into my mind and will haunt me all year, I will remember the lessons learned here when it comes to analyzing my grade level’s units of inquiry. Perhaps this will also help you to reflect and consider how your units are structured and be more critical in your understanding of your learners.

So I ask you, dear reader, what other suggestions would you make regarding this failure? What takeaways did you get from this? Please comment below.

Why the PYP Exhibition Brings You to Tears

Why the PYP Exhibition Brings You to Tears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Created by Ms. Overby’s P5 students, 2017

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

Why Design Thinking is the Secret Ingredient to Student Agency

Why Design Thinking is the Secret Ingredient to Student Agency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FullSizeRender 86

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

 

 

 

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

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

IMG_4804

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued….

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

 

 

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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.

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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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Why Classrooms Must Have Daily Habits of Mental Hygeine

Why Classrooms Must Have Daily Habits of Mental Hygeine

I think most of us can barely remember a time in which computers and the internet weren’t a part of our lives. We would have to go to libraries and read encyclopedias to gain knowledge on a topic. When internet search engines first appeared, information was at the tip of our fingertips, and I believe most of us have witnessed how the internet has become the go-to place for fact finding, replacing book learning at an alarming rate. However, for our digital natives, they don’t really know where the information ends and an opinion begins, as I have written about in Critical Consumption, however, there is a value of expressing an opinion as a source of identity and purpose for our students. In particular, how constructing less myopic viewpoints and developing broader perspectives are a becoming a necessity as we evolve in the workforce, of which education is supposed to prepare students for.

Listening to all the voices around them, streams of opinion. not information overload but opinion overload-that’s what social media has brought us. Everyone has a point of view and everyone gets a vote in my life.

Greg McKweon, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

If you can harken back to a time in which the main influences on our children were limited to mostlythe listener our families and close-knit members of our community, primarily in schools, churches, and other organizations that families participated in. In the past, they just had to manage the pressure and influences of a smaller group of people, but now that has really expanded to include so many ideas of pop culture. Nowadays the World Wide Web has the opportunity to expose students to a variety of ideas and theories, particularly on social media, in which ideas are narrowed into sound bites and memes; it’s easy for kids to get swept away by the flood of emotion and beliefs. I think it’s not so much finding our voice but hearing our voice in the midst of the deluge of ideologies and our culture’s status quo. They are being drawn into belonging to the larger world in which students might find themselves acting in ways in ways that are not really true to their nature. In other words, they don’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with this onslaught of energy and emotion that is bombarding them, in the physical world and in the virtual world that they experience in their on-screen life. So we must help them to calm their minds and begin to trust their intuition, instead of impulsive reactions. But in order to do that, students must begin to develop habits of mental hygiene, in which they are clearing up the debris left behind from an experience (on or off-screen) or a conversation with a teacher, family member or friend, and the resulting feeling from that interaction.

Mindfulness in schools is one of those movements that are empowering students to create that space in their thoughts and in their emotions which can really make a positive impact over time. It is like “brushing one’s teeth” for the mind, and there have been several documentaries made about the transformation of students when they engage in this practice. Some schools are replacing detention with meditation and dramatic shifts are taking place in the culture of those schools. It’s like an emotional reset button and a powerful tool to use in our classroom. The 15 minutes you spend on watching this video below will really help you recognize why mindfulness is so vital and critical to bringing into our classrooms.

As someone who practices mindfulness and can speak first hand to its benefits, I know that it takes courage and effort to bring it into schools. There are a lot of myths about it, however, it is becoming less fringe and more mainstream in our cultures.

There are 5 main areas in which our attention can be focused upon which will yield the neurological benefits of mindfulness practice. You can do one or more of these in a session with students, and it can take anywhere from 2-20 minutes, depending on age and your willingness to develop these habits with students.

Concentrating on:

  1. Our breath: where we are breathing and the quality of that breath.
  2. Sensations in body parts: scanning our body, finding areas of tension and relaxation.
  3. Sensations of our emotion: where our emotion arises from and how does it make us feel.
  4. Thoughts:  our thought based on time, so is the thought that we are thinking on from a moment in the past or a possibility of what will happen in the future.
  5. Attention to details: noticing and appreciating smells, sounds, and sights.

Full disclosure here: I’d like to tell you that I fully implement daily meditation practice with my students, but I only do it half-heartedly for a myriad of reasons, least being the amount of interruption that I get from having my classroom be a hallway for others.  (Yes, my classroom is a hallway.) However, I do try to incorporate mindful acts in our day with brief moments of focus on our bodies, minds, and thoughts. I usually do 3 belly breaths, a mindful stretch when we line up, and a reflective question of the day. Sometimes we go on “listening walks”, and lately we’ve been trying to look more closely at nature in order to find patterns.  I’d like to do more, but that is where I am at in my journey to create mindfulness in my classroom. I do make attempts at carving out mindful moments in my day in a variety of ways, and I think this is a good first step.

As an IB educator, there is a desire to develop mindfulness and wellbeing in our students. As the Primary Years Programme (PYP) begins to embrace the ATLs (Approaches to Learning) that we see in Middle Years Programme (MYP), I know that more schools will begin integrating mindfulness into their school communities. Next year, I’ve been thinking about how I might do a proper routine incorporating mindfulness so I can make an earnest effort in this movement. I’ve been thinking about making a simple tool like a spinner that shows our emotions and having students rate how they feel before we begin our exercise and how we feel afterward by moving the hand of the spinner. Focusing in on our current state of emotion and evaluating where we are at the beginning of this journey and where we end up at the end of the practice is so important because it cultivates self-reflection and provides personal feedback of our experience.

I don’t know how others might have experimented with mindfulness and meditation in their classrooms, but I’d love to hear stories and share experiences. I know that these skills are actually as important, if not more important, than academic skills that we teach our students. And I think if more of us shared our struggles, then that could increase the willingness of other educators to try to create “an oasis of calm” and a culture of compassion in our schools and in the lives of our students.

I encourage you to leave a comment.  I’d love to hear how you teach “mental hygiene” to students.  Also feel free to connect with me @judyimamudeen or through this website.

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Homework Vs. Deep Work

Homework Vs. Deep Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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9 Reasons Why You Need to Teach Digital Citizenship

9 Reasons Why You Need to Teach Digital Citizenship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lines of Inquiry:

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

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

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

Thank you for your contribution to education!

 

 

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Reflect and the “How” will Come

Reflect and the “How” will Come

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

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

 

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

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

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


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

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

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

-Paulo Coelho-

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

 

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

 

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

Here are some photos of the event.

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

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

 

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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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