An inquiry into how the world works -2

It’s the first time our Year 6 students are exploring the trans-disciplinary theme ‘How the World Works’ for their PYP ‘exhibition‘ inquiries.

We initially have some concerns…

How will we ensure it goes beyond a science fair?
Will all students engage with science in a meaningful way?
How will we make sure the learning is rich and deep, with opportunities for every learner to find something about which they are passionate?

We develop a few conceptual understandings which we’d like the learners to reach…

  • Science provides a lens through which to look at the world.
  • People apply their understanding of science to solve problems and meet needs.
  • Scientific and technological advances have an impact on society and the environment.

And some strong provocations to hook them in and get them thinking…

They are inspired by Louie Schwartzberg’s TED talk – Hidden Miracles of the Natural World, in particular this, which provokes them to think about science in new ways…

What is the intersection between technology, art and science? Curiosity and wonder, because it drives us to explore, because we’re surrounded by things we can’t see.

After unpacking the trans-disciplinary theme, students enjoy a ‘Science Exploration Day’ during which they explore all areas of the school – the garden, the cafeteria, the nurses station and more – taking photos which they later connect to the various strands of science.

Visitors Sam and Jethro, a couple of young inventors, expose the students to the design process. The children need to come up with an idea and  go through the design process to create something new from what is already known.

Prototype for a creature created through the design process, which will move via electrical circuit

Prototype for a creature created through the design process, which will move via electrical circuit

Our learners quickly show an awareness of science in our world, further enhanced by an excursion to the city, where they choose to visit either the museum or the art gallery as well as various parks and buildings. Taking purposeful photos helps them NOTICE and NAME science everywhere and heightens awareness of how humans apply their knowledge of science too.

This week they they also begin their explorations of science through a choice of creative media – art, music, dance, animation, photography, poetry or design (electronics and coding).

Comparing the sounds made by different instruments

Comparing the sounds made by different instruments

Photographing the natural world with macro lenses

Photographing the natural world with macro lenses

Creating movements that replicate nature

Creating movements that replicate nature

Excitement is high.

It’s already apparent that our early concerns were unnecessary.

The children are totally immersed in their learning, already considering what interests them most, what they are passionate about and why, what they might like to explore further and how… They will have plenty of time to think, experiment, investigate and ask themselves not just WHAT? but SO WHAT? and NOW WHAT? before deciding on their chosen inquiries.

This is a far cry from offering a range of topics for students to choose between and creating random groups in which they will work, an approach often used in classrooms and even PYP exhibition units.

This is all about choice and student voice and learners taking ownership of their learning. It’s about learners having opportunities to find and solve problems and explore real issues that matter.

It’s an opportunity for rich, meaningful learning. I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds…

10 ways to make meetings (and lessons) meaningful…

Does every meeting in your school relate to or result in learning?
If not, is the meeting worth having?

Does every lesson in your classroom contribute to meaningful learning, rather than completion of work?
If not, is the lesson worth having?

So far, I’ve read Chapter 1 of ‘Meeting Wise’ by Kathryn Parker Boudett and Elizabeth City, and I’m taken with it, right from the first two questions, with which I totally identify…

‘Have you ever had to sit through a whole hour when you felt like the substance of the meeting could have been handled in five minutes?’

and

‘Have you planned a thoughtful meeting only to have it derailed by a couple of rogues participants who have their own agendas?’

The authors highlight four aspects for careful consideration when planning successful meetings:

Purpose
Process
Preparation
Pacing

The meeting checklist they suggest includes twelve probing questions relating to the above, of which I have selected ten. The questions are theirs, the applications to the classroom are mine:

1. Have we identified clear and important meeting objectives that contribute to the goal of improving learning?
Do we know the purpose of every learning engagement in our classroom? Do the students? Is every single thing that happens in your learning space thoughtful and international?

2. Have we established the connection between the work of this and other meetings in the series?
Is it clear how today’s learning relates to other learning that has and will take place? Do students have opportunities to make connections with prior learning, construct meaning and apply learning in different contexts?

3 Have we incorporated feedback from previous meetings?
Do you seek feedback from your students about what they got out of learning experiences? Do you observe and listen to the learning and plan responsively?

4. Have we chosen challenging activities that advance the meeting objectives and engage all participants?
Are the learning engagements challenging, purposeful and engaging? Will they advance not just knowledge, but the growth of skills and attitudes that will matter in future learning?

5. Have we built in time to identify and commit to next steps?
Have we provided learners with time for thoughtful reflection and consideration of how to take their learning forward? Have we offered meaningful feedback, or rather feed forward that might guide them?

6. Have we built in time for assessment of what worked and what didn’t in the meeting?
I’m fond of the saying ‘everything is an assessment’. Have we observed and listened thoughtfully to what the learners say (and don’t say) as evidence of the development of skills and understanding? Have we identified misconceptions and highlighted further needs?

7. Have we gathered or developed materials that will help to focus and advance the meeting objectives?
Have we planned and developed provocations that will provoke thinking and engage learners with the intended issues, concepts and beyond? Have we carefully thought about the desired understandings then encouraged creative ways for students to embark on their own journeys to get to them?

8. Have we put time allocations to each activity on the agenda?
If you plan what will happen throughout your lessons, this one will make sense to you. As an inquiry teacher, it doesn’t apply in my context! We need to be ready to abandon the plan, if the learning takes us in a new direction. We need to plan in response to the learning.

9. Have we ensured that we will address the primary objective early in the meeting? 
Do we ensure we don’t waste time on activities that won’t lead to learning, but get right into the learning from the start? Can we take the role, hand out the books etc in a more efficient manner that doesn’t waste prime learning time? Have you read ‘The 5 Minute Teacher’ in which Mark Barnes highlights the idea of talking less and letting the learning happen?

10. Is it realistic that we could get through our agenda in the time allocated?
Have we filled a lesson plan with activities or have we allowed time to let the learning unfold? Will students be so busy competing tasks, they don’t have time to construct meaning? Have we ensured there will be time for depth of understanding?

10 alternatives to goal setting…

My friend Jason Graham is a passionate educator with a massive amount of energy and enthusiasm for learning. You can find him on any given day planning great learning for his kids, supporting other educators, developing and delivering workshops or engaging in learning conversations via Twitter, blogs or face to face. He’s an inquirer, always posing problems, exploring possibilities and dreaming up new ideas. He’s a change agent who doesn’t accept the status quo, constantly questioning and seeking ways to do things better. He loves his students and strives to be the best teacher he can.

Yet (like me) he finds it frustrating when he’s asked to write down specific goals. This exchange on Twitter got me thinking:

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I often wonder about the value of teachers asking their students to write down their goals (and admin expecting their teachers to.) I’m sure most respond the way Jay does. (See his post here)

Rather than asking students or teachers to set specific goals, consider some of these options…

1. How do you learn best? What hinders your learning? How can this knowledge help you with future learning?
2. What are you proud of in your teaching or learning and what do you wish you could do better? How might you go about it? Who might support you?
3. What do you really care about? How might you make a difference? What steps could you take to start the process?
4. What are you fascinated by? How might you find out more about it? Who else is interested? Can you collaborate?
5. What do you dream of doing? How might you work towards that dream? Who might you share it with? What kind of support do you need?
6. What do you wish you could change? What small steps could you take towards making it happen?
7. What excites you? How might you make that part of your learning? Who might you collaborate with who shares your passion?
8. Who do you admire? What can you learn from them?
9. What are your strengths? How might you develop them further? How might you be able to support others in their teaching or learning?
10. Instead of asking someone to ‘set goals’, what would you ask them to think about that might take them beyond where they currently are?

Wouldn’t these sorts of questions promote real, valuable reflection?

And I rather like this idea from Kath Murdoch-
Choose a single word that represents something you’d like to focus on. Put it in a place where you can see it every day as a reminder to keep that focus in mind.

Or would you rather write down your ‘smart’ goals?

No secret teacher business…

One of the things I enjoy most, now that I no longer have my own class, is when teachers excitedly share examples of student thinking and learning with me.

Here is a lovely learning reflection by 12 year old Sassi (with her permission)…

At the beginning of this year, our teacher sent us an ibook called ‘Making The PYP Happen.’ This book has so much information on different ways of learning, how to look at different big ideas, this book explains concepts, explains attitudes, clarifies learner profiles and gives me great ideas on how to look at a big chunk of information.

At the start of Term 1 in Mrs. B’s class, I didnt really understand how I could go deeper in my learning and wasn’t sure how to take the information and learn in this different way. Now, half way into Term 3, I can’t imagine learning in the other way that I used to.

A big word that Mrs. B taught us at the beginning of the year was ‘metacognition’ and that means thinking about thinking. I now realize that to really be successful in your learning (in 2014) you first have to make sure that the way you look at your learning is the best way of doing so.

I am now a reflective learner who gets more out of the activity by looking back and also observing as I go. I really like having my own Weebly blog and I love adding posts to the ‘Learning Journey’ page, where I look back at what skills I have used in the last week. I take into account how those skills helped me so that I can use them and improve when I do another activity. I have become a critical thinker and I look at each side of any story or fact.

I used to think that learning would stop when I went out of the classroom. I now know that if one wants, one can be a life long learner and always learn and be a thinker in any situation.

This way of learning definitely suits me and I can definitely see how much I have developed as a learner – from just doing work and making sure I understand the formula, into a learner who inquires and clarifies how it works to understand why it is like it is.

I will take all of my metacognitive skills with me throughout my life in school and outside of school. Because I have developed so much as a learner, I feel that I can pick up on things faster and learn in a better way.

My observations about learning in this class:

  • Learners have access to the ‘handbook’ which details the desired knowledge framework, conceptual lenses, skills and attitudes we hope they will develop. No ‘secret teacher business’!
  • Learners use the language of learning, without the teacher being concerned about difficult vocabulary. She has faith in her students’ ability to learn.
  • Learners are empowered to take ownership of their learning and given the tools with which to do so.
  • Learners are encouraged to think deeply, not just just about WHAT they learn but about HOW they learn. They consciously observe themselves as learners and reflect on their learning.
  • Documenting their own learning supports students in the reflection process. Doing so on a blog means others beyond their classroom can participate and comment. (This class also has bubble catchers in which they capture their thinking through writing, mind mapping or illustration, taking care to ‘tag’ their reflections with the big ideas.)
  • Learning isn’t viewed as class work, but as an ongoing, indeed lifelong process. Our learning principles are alive and evident in this learning space!
  • Learning how to learn, think critically, see different perspectives and understand themselves as learners takes students far beyond content or curriculum.

Unfortunately, it seems that some learners see this as a different ‘way of learning’. Isn’t this what learning should always be like?

Shared photo streams – Imagining more connected learning…

Creating shared iPad photo streams was a brainwave – so simple and obvious, yet so effective!

They provide a space to gather evidence of learning, share practice and celebrate the learning taking place across the three campuses of our school. It’s an opportunity for members of our learning community to find out what’s happening in other grade levels, the kitchen garden, the art and music rooms… We’re encouraging more comments and conversation around what’s posted to make this even more meaningful.

We’ve come a long way in the past few years in terms of flattening classroom walls and connecting with the world. Today, the images I see in our shared photo streams suggest new possibilities…

Our art teacher posted a series of beautiful artworks by our 5 year olds. Beyond sending them home to be stuck on the fridge… imagine if photographs of these creations were published in an online book, along with captions written by the children and photos of them at work creating them?

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There is some powerful thinking happening in Year 6 as their awareness of inequity is raised. Imagine if they were collaborating with learners globally, sharing their tough questions, exploring different perspectives, comparing and contrasting action taken in different countries and deepening their understanding together.

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Year 5 learners revisited and reflected on their class agreement, halfway through the school year. What if they compared their agreements with those established by classes in other parts of the world? Imagine how communicating with other classes, discussing commonalities and differences might heighten awareness and strengthen learning communities within and beyond their own classrooms.

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I love the photos from the Year 1 inquiry into how we express ours ideas and feelings through performance. Imagine if these performances were filmed and posted online for children in other places to see and our children received feedback from all over the world.

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And, as I was writing this post, a fresh idea just struck me.

Imagine if two or more classes of similar age in different parts of the world created a shared photo stream and posted images, shared learning experiences and wrote comments to each other. Are you in?!

Our access to digital technologies make all of this, not just possible, but easy.

Just imagine… and then we can make it happen.

Personalised learning for teachers…

Our strong beliefs about what comprises effective professional learning underpin the planning for our up-coming professional learning day, BY the teachers FOR the teachers…

We have so much knowledge, expertise and passion within – It’s not always necessary to depend on outside presenters to take our learning forward.

We begin by surveying the teacher-learners to find out what sort of learning opportunities they would prefer. The results indicate they’d like a combination of time to pursue their own interests independently and facilitated workshops addressing relevant topics of their choice.

So, our student- free day next Monday will look like this-

Session1 – Teachmeet.

In the traditional Teachmeet style, teachers will present for 2 or 7 minutes, sharing a tool, a strategy, an idea or an example of practice. Without the need for coercion, we have volunteers from every single grade level (and several from some!) on a range of topics, such as:

  • Team teaching
  • Effective search strategies
  • Capturing student thinking
  • Reading ideas
  • A variety of apps eg Book Creator and Explain Everything
  • An approach to home learning
  • Purposeful groupings
  • And more…

Session 2 – Workshops

Teachers choose to facilitate and/or participate in two out of eight one-hour workshops on topics of interest, identified through the survey. Workshops will be hands on, encouraging active group participation and opportunities for participants to construct meaning for themselves, on the following topics:

  • Twitter for global learning
  • Supporting kids with Dyslexia
  • Encouraging creative thinking
  • Provoking inquiry through great picture books
  • Open ended iPad apps for learning
  • Promoting social cohesion in the classroom
  • Exploring ePortfolios
  • Using data to inform teaching and learning

Session 3 – Personal learning 

Teachers choose to collaborate in teams or work individually on anything they like. For many, this is a continuation of previous personal learning time but some have chosen new areas for inquiry and others will use the time to apply their learning from the morning sessions. Ideas are as diverse as:

  • Positive psychology and student wellbeing
  • Using animation to express learning
  • Harvard research into thinking and learning
  • Vocabulary enrichment
  • Augmented reality
  • Building resources for Maths inquiry
  • How to encourage ownership of learning and student voice

As always, we have dismissed the notion that one size fits all, and ensured that our learning principles underpin, not just student learning at our school, but our own professional learning too.

Our learning principles -

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, preferences and interests.
  • Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.
  • Learning occurs by acquiring skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transfer to other contexts.
  • Learning is active and social and best takes place through collaboration and interaction.
  • Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
  • Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, and requires learners to take ownership of their learning.

We’ll ask everyone to reflect at the end of day, not just on what they have learned, but on what they notice about themselves as learners and on the process of learning itself.

If you’re in Melbourne and excited by the potential to be a part of this vibrant learning community, see my previous post.

Looking for passionate educators…

We’re looking for a few new teachers to start in 2015 and the Primary Head says he’d like us to word an ad that really reflects who we are and the kind of educators we hope to attract.

This is what we come up with -

Are you looking for an opportunity to grow as a teacher and a learner?  Do you set the bar high and constantly seek to improve your practice?  Do you have ideas and experience to contribute to our vibrant learning community?  

We are looking for energetic educators with strong beliefs about learning, not afraid to embrace change and innovate…

One of the teachers looks at it and says ‘ I wonder if WE (existing staff) would get the job’!

So I take the ad to our Learning Team Leaders meeting and ask everyone to reflect on it individually from a personal point of view. The ensuing conversation is great, as always in this group of passionate educators. The discussion includes -

  • how much we have grown as educators and continue to do so
  • how confident each of us might be, applying for a job worded this way
  • different degrees of willingness to embrace change
  • ways of reflecting on and evaluating our own practice
  • the kinds of experience people feel they bring to our learning community
  • reflections on changing attitudes over time
  • what kinds of teachers set the bar high and judge themselves harshly
  • the challenge of getting other team members to embrace change
  • ways to encourage others to focus on improving practice
  • how exciting it is to be part of this vibrant learning community
  • what dynamic new teachers we hope to have next year!

If you live in Melbourne, or plan to in 2015, and this sounds like your kind of working learning environment, let me know below.