Join the School in the Cloud…

Have you watched Sugata Mitra’s TED talk about his dream to build a ‘School in the Cloud’?

It’s now a reality. There are five new School in the Cloud labs in different settings in India, three in schools and the latest two in remote areas, where kids walk from the local villages to access the computers and interact with emediators, who we refer to as the ‘granny cloud‘.

We’re not all grannies, many volunteers are male and age isn’t relevant!


There are currently not enough ‘grannies’ to meet the needs of the new centres.

Would you like to…

  • Give 30-60 minutes per week?
  • Interact with kids in India?
  • See the light in kids’ eyes as they learn to to communicate with you?
  • Learn about another country, culture, education system… and yourself?
  • Connect with other volunteers?
  • Do something new?

Are you willing to…

  • Converse in English
  • Tell stories or discuss pictures
  • Introduce ideas
  • Ask questions
  • Provoke curiosity
  • Share culture
  • Build confidence
  • Praise and encourage

To learn more about the granny cloud and register your interest, go to the School in the Cloud website and you can read about some of my experiences here, here and here. If interested, let me know and I can help you with the process, or simply sign up on the site.



Technology and carelessness…

Have you ever accidentally hit ‘reply’ instead of ‘forward’ and sent an email intended for someone else?

Have you ever unintentionally included the person you were talking about in an email?

Have you accidentally posted a draft to your blog before it was ready for posting?

Have you ever posted something personal, not intended for your public audience, to your professional blog?

I’ve done all of those, the last one just this morning, but I’ve deleted it now.

The advantages of picking up even a tiny a device and being able to easily create and publish content come with the need for care and caution…

What does inquiry learning look like?

Our PYP evaluation went really well and it was gratifying to hear the evaluators’ positive observations of our school.

They talked about our dynamic learning spaces, the energy of our teachers and learners and the respect that is evident between staff and students. They were impressed by how articulate our students are and the openness of our teachers. It was clear to them that the entire school community has a deep understanding of the PYP philosophy and that we have a strong culture of learning.

Almost all their recommendations are things on which we are either working already or have identified for action through the self study.

There’s only one thing I found jarring in their feedback and it relates to my beliefs about inquiry learning. They noted that neither students nor teachers seem able to identify what particular inquiry cycles we follow. They said the children to whom they spoke didn’t seem to be aware of the specific ‘stages’ of inquiry and that most teachers couldn’t articulate how an inquiry cycle directs our planning.

To be honest, I’m glad.

If it’s something we need to clarify, we will, of course, and perhaps it will be helpful for newer teachers to be aware of some of the inquiry cycles we have visited along the way. Over time, we have worked with both Kath Murdoch’s and Kathy Short’s inquiry cycles and examined some others. But I’m proud of the fact that most of us no longer need to use a specific inquiry model to guide our planning for inquiry – our planning looks more like this and this.

We’ve worked hard to develop an understanding that inquiry learning is messy and NOT limited to a step by step approach. True inquiry learning is neither linear nor cyclical, but rather moves back and forth between the different stages identified by most of the inquiry models.

Kath Murdoch herself, whose inquiry cycle is slavishly followed in many schools writes this – ‘ It’s hard to do justice to the complexities and nuances of inquiry in writing. So much gets lost. Something that is rich, layered and multidimensional can come across as flat, linear and recipe-like. Over the years, I have published several books that share a ‘cycle of inquiry’ and the kinds of learning engagements that we might design within a cycle. I have seen hundreds of interpretations of this idea in classrooms. Many have been gratifying and exciting. Teachers who really ‘get’ the intention, understand the complexity and invite their students into the learning have blown me away with what they have done. And I have also seen (and heard) many bewildering versions or iterations of the cycle that are such a long way off the original conceptualization and intent! Ironically, I have seen slavish adherence to a cycle actually impede rather than enhance inquiry.’ (Read the whole post here.)

Interestingly, I remember that educators who did the IB workshop leader training with me, when engaging in our own inquiries, all noticed that our learning journeys did not follow the inquiry models on which we were supposed to base our inquiries. Participants realised that the inquiry process moves back and forth between asking, investigating, reflecting, connecting and constructing meaning. Some groups found they even shifted between more than one ‘model’. I recall that some of the high school teachers in particular, less familiar with this kind of learning, admitted to feeling a degree of discomfort. But it’s the kind of positive tension that leads to authentic learning.

If anything, I rather like the star shaped model, based on the work of Barbara Stripling, which Dave Truss of the Inquiry Hub wrote about a while ago. I like the idea of ‘inquiry points’ much more than the more common models of ‘inquiry cycles’. Inquiry can start at any of the points and bounce between them, rather than moving in a defined order. Too often in (so called) inquiry learning contexts, teaching and learning follow a prescribed order, as per one or another inquiry model.

I’m proud to work in a school where inquiry is a natural, non-linear process and teachers are encouraged to listen to the children’s learning and plan responsively, rather than follow a prescribed path that has been set in advance. This is true inquiry. It has no map, no set pattern and it can be messy…

Always learning…

Picture a hairdressing salon, with clients reclining in comfy chairs, reading, working on devices, being served tea, chatting and relaxing, while their requirements are being met by professionals.

Welcome to ‘Day Oncology.

It turns out my impression of people receiving chemo-therapy was a distorted version of reality, based on ignorance, imagination and possibly Hollywood movies. Since this is a blog about learning, I thought I’d enlighten those of you who shared my misconceptions.

It’s true that the side effects can be anywhere between mildly unpleasant and extremely harsh (every chemo drug is different and people are affected in different ways), but the treatment itself can involve the kind of experience described above.

I had my second visit to the ‘salon’ today, during which I read several chapters of a new book, played scrabble with my daughter, exchanged messages with friends and family in various parts of the world, all while the lovely nurse connected me up and monitored the infusion. For me, the side effects don’t kick in immediately (and only last a few days), so I stopped on the way home to have coffee with a friend, with my slow release infusion pump in tow. (Check out the image – it looks like a baby’s bottle!)

I’m lucky…

  • My side effects are manageable.
  • I’m fit and healthy (apart from a bit of cancer) and I feel great during the non-chemo weeks.
  • It’s curable.
  • I live in a time and place where high quality care and treatment are readily accessible (to me).
  • My supportive family, friends and work colleagues understand that I don’t want to be viewed as a ‘poor sick person’.

That’s it. Next week’s post will be when I’m (mostly) back at school actively engaged in learning (not just about how chemo destroys cells, although all that new learning is interesting too.) It might relate to an exciting day of professional learning we’ll be experiencing on Monday, promoting creativity and developing media literacy for both teachers and students. Or possibly be about the new learning and goals generated by our PYP evaluation. Or some new idea for provoking thinking and learning within our learning community...

I’m looking forward to using the ‘salon’ as a place to dream up some new quixotry. (At least 77 points in Scrabble, a lot more if placed over two triple word tiles. Not sure if I’m using it correctly, but I learned the word this week and it sounds good!)

Always building our learning community…

Do you wish you had more time for your own learning? Would you like to have time to explore new ideas and reflect on things you have learned?

Over the past few years, we’ve abandoned the one-size-fits-hardly-anyone approach to PD and experimented with a range of other approaches to professional learning. I’ve written before about focus groups, choosing our own people, teacher led inquiries, teachers directing their own learning etc

Now we are adding another layer. We already have regular twice a week after school sessions, which sometimes include whole staff requirements and, more often, year-level teams deciding for themselves how they need to spend their time, be it planning, reflecting, moderating student work or calling parents.

We are now setting aside two or three of these afternoons per term for personal learning groups. Teachers have the opportunity to choose an area of interest to explore independently or in groups. For many, the choice is something they’ve been meaning to look into but haven’t found the time for. New groups have formed and teachers are learning with people outside of their usual teams. Some have chosen to broaden their knowledge by exploring topics outside of their usual teaching areas.

The approach is less formal than it was the first time we experimented with self-organised professional learning. A rough list was created on a google doc so that people could find others with common interests and, for the rest, teachers are guiding their own learning, making decisions, gathering resources and selecting their chosen paths.

Last week’s sessions had teachers engaged in reading, discussing and thinking about the following:

  • Matt Glover’s approach to engaging young writers
  • How to enrich vocabulary
  • Using data to inform teaching and learning
  • Visible thinking
  • Open ended iPad apps to develop oral language
  • Effective school timetables
  • Student wellbeing
  • and more…

We’re always seeking ways to build our learning community. 

Isn’t that what school should be about?

Too many iPads…

In a shift from laptops to iPads, for more mobility, easier use, fewer maintenance issues and lower cost, all our students now bring their own devices. I know it’s a luxury and I am always conscious of how students in less fortunate contexts could benefit from a small fraction of the resources we have at our fingertips.

Yesterday we had an informal visit from Sugata Mitra, educational researcher, proponent of minimally invasive education, creator of the School in the Cloud, dreamer, provocateur…

The Year 5 children tell Sugata they are currently learning about energy. He throws them the inevitable ‘big question’, his signature approach to self organised learning. ‘I’ll give you 20 minutes to find out what you can, in any way you like, about dynamic equilibrium.’

Due to limited space on the whiteboard, the two words appear one below the other and some children ask whether it’s a phrase. He gives his standard response ‘I have no idea’… encouraging students to figure things out for themselves.

Interestingly, the children initially stay in their own seats and investigate on their individual devices. No-one has told them not to move or converse. In fact Sugata spent some time before the question chatting with them about how often and why they move seats.

There is so little talk or collaboration at first that we wonder if they are inhibited by the group of teachers observing in the room or the presence of the eminent stranger.

Eventually, with a bit of encouragement, they begin to move around and interact,  the noise level goes up and the learning is closer to what Sugata calls the ‘edge of chaos‘ as they share their discoveries and develop their understanding collaboratively.

There are too many iPads,‘ Sugata says.

‘Limiting the number of devices ensures that the children move naturally into groups to share and discuss their findings and questions.’

We hadn’t really considered the possibility that 1:1 access could be a disadvantage in some learning situations…

Planning for concept driven learning…

Cross-posted at Inquire within, following on from Inquiry: to what end? by Cristina Milos.

In a concept driven, inquiry based learning environment, we do NOT plan a series of activities to ensure coverage of the requirements of our national curriculum.

Instead we spend our planning time reflecting collaboratively, exploring which conceptual lenses will produce the deepest learning and designing a few powerful provocations to generate student thinking and inquiry.

The Australian curriculum expects us to ‘cover’ a large amount of geographical knowledge in Year 6 including, among other things -

  • The location of the major countries of the Asia region in relation to Australia and the geographical diversity within the region.
  • Differences in the economic, demographic and social characteristics between countries across the world.
  • The various connections Australia has with other countries and how these connections change people and places.
  • The effects that people’s connections with, and proximity to, places throughout the world have on shaping their awareness and opinion of those places.

We start our planning session by revisiting the reflections at the end of last year’s planner. Some of the teachers who taught the unit last year share what went well and what can be improved. Joc is concerned by the lack of depth and we realise that we had too many different lines of inquiry. Michelle feels the students had many misconceptions and generalisations…

There’s no point in trying to include too many aspects of the Australian Curriculum if the learning is superficial as a result. As Cristina suggests in her post, we need to ask ourselves ‘To what end?’

We revisit the big ideas and consider which conceptual lenses will help our learners break down misconceptions and result in deeper learning.

As we develop the rubric for conceptual understandings, we go back and forth, change our own and each others’ minds and realise that we need to change one of the concepts to better achieve the desired end. This part of the planning takes time, but it’s well worth the investment. Planning learning engagements will be simple once we know where we are heading and why.

Using ‘reflection‘ (How do we know?) as one of our conceptual lenses will provide opportunities for our learners to reflect on preconceived generalisations and stereotypes. At the start of the unit of inquiry they will be able to say what they THINK they know about different countries and HOW they know. By the end, we hope they can explain how some of their preconceptions have changed as a result of acquiring new knowledge and developing understanding.

Once we are satisfied with that, the central idea needs rewriting …

‘Deepening our knowledge about the world takes us beyond generalisations and stereotypes’

With this big idea as the through-line, learners will have a clear sense of purpose, as they interact with people in other countries, find out more about the factors that influence how they live (causation) and explore how countries are interconnected (connection).

They will have opportunities to focus on their own areas of interest, to question and wonder, read, view and talk to primary sources… all the while increasing their knowledge, deepening their understandings and making sure they go beyond stereotypes and generalisations.

(At the time of facilitating the collaborative planning session, this seems like a good direction, but I’m never certain. Feedback, questions and challenges welcomed…)