Planning for an inquiry into digital citizenship…

Today’s collaborative planning session with the Year 5 team is both challenging and invigorating. There are 7 of us in the room and one digital participant. The conversation is impassioned and (mostly) focused as we debate, disagree and eventually reach some common understandings.

It takes over an hour to ensure our conceptual understandings are sound and to consider the evidence that will demonstrate these understandings in our learners. This part is the crux.

It doesn’t bother us that most of the planner is still blank and we have barely thought about the learning engagements. We know (now) that if this part is established, we only need a few good provocations, then (almost) sit back and see how the learning unfolds.

Observing and listening to the learning, will determine what happens… that’s how inquiry works, so how can you plan it in advance?

The unit is about digital citizenship, which could easily fit into any of the PYP trans disciplinary themes and end up looking quite different. We want ours to be in ‘How We Express Ourselves’, because, as Silvia Tolisano says, ‘We are preparing students for a time when what they know is not as important as what they can do with what they know…’

It quickly becomes apparent that

  • we can never rehash an old unit, because we are always learning.
  • some of the understandings from last year are no longer relevant and we need to shift the focus from consumption to creation.
  • having 1:1 iPads has changed the way students do things and teachers see things.
  • our approaches to teaching literacy and literature require some radical new thinking, as might our definitions of both.
  • we need to ensure our students are learning ‘now literacies‘, (Silvia Tolisano) so they can engage effectively in a world very different from when their parents and teachers went to school. (So why does so much of school still look the same?)
  • there is endless potential for global collaboration to enhance authentic learning within this unit and the teachers are finally ready. (See my first ever blog post FIVE years ago! We have been chipping away, but there is so much more we can do…)
  • the teachers will need to pursue their own inquiries if this unit of inquiry is to be a success… but then, that is what inquiry teachers do.

So how do I tag this post? Is it about planning? Digital citizenship? Inquiry? Concept driven learning?

Or is it about change?

 

Effective School Teams

There are hoops on the floor and cards with each staff member’s name on them. The task is to silently place the cards into the hoops indicating existing teams in the school.

In the first round we are not permitted to move cards placed by others. It’s an interesting, yet frustrating process! How can I place some of the cards assigned to me if others have already created teams with which I don’t agree?

Once everyone has had a turn to explain their placements, we move on to the second round, silently again, now with the freedom to move and replace names in different configurations.

By the third round, there are overlapping hoops, string has been added to demonstrate connections across hoops and some names have been written on more than one card…

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The process reveals that:

  • Hoops are restrictive in exploring teams because they are closed circles and teams overlap.
  • We have many teams within our three campus school, some cross campus, some within. No-one works in isolation.
  • Everyone belongs to more than one team, some to many.
  • There are different perspectives on which teams people belong to.
  • Where you see yourself might be different from where others see you.
  • Some teams exist because of circumstance, some teams are imposed, some teams are chosen.
  • There are possibilities for new teams, which have not yet been considered.

The process is part of a discussion by our leadership team and the next steps will include all teachers examining the existing teams, defining their purpose, identifying the teams they belong to and would like to join…

Are all our teams effective?

  • Does every meeting of every team relate to learning?
  • Does every team have a shared sense of purpose?
  • Does every team have an essential agreement or shared norms?
  • Who steers the ship? Does every team have a leader or rotate leadership?
  • Does belonging to several teams give members broader knowledge and understanding?
  • Does belonging to too many teams mean you attend too many meetings and are spread to thinly?
  • What about informal teams? Unofficial groups who choose to collaborate?
  • Are all teams built on trust?
  • Do participants in every team learn from each other?
  • Does every team include healthy conflict and welcome different voices?
  • Are meetings well planned with clear learning related objectives?

and another question…

  • What teams do you belong to beyond the walls of the school?

Reflections:

  • One of the best teams to which I belong is an unofficial alliance, where ideas and thoughts are safely shared, analysed, criticised and developed.
  • Some of my most valuable learning comes from beyond the school walls – my global PLN.

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.