Learning in the cloud…

‘Where do our families live?’ ‘Where do we go after school?’ ‘Where do we play and do homework?’

Aditya, Diya, Jayesh, Vishaka, Sairaj and the other children with whom I connect weekly via Skype in Granny Cloud sessions, are generating questions, the answer to which is ‘home’. I’ve written before about this Grade 6 class and their school and about the special opportunity I had to meet them in person. This session is a follow-up from last week’s introduction to children’s rights, for which I have googled a Marathi translation, before checking the accuracy with them – मुलांचे हक्क.

Are homes the same everywhere in the world? We look at images of homes, an igloo, a mud hut, a house on the water, a tree house and an underground house (Coober Pedy, Australia) and the children wonder who built these houses, where they are, who lives in them, what materials were used, how they are accessed. Aditya wonders if there is oxygen in the underground house. Atharva asks what would happen if the tree (in which the house is bulit) fell down. Gaurauv asks if I live in an underground house (it’s in Australia, after all) and I take my laptop to the window to show them the garden.

As always, I delight in the fact that the children who once stared blankly back at me from the screen, a strange looking woman talking a foreign language they did not understand, now chat confidently, ask questions, make jokes, think and laugh with me.

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The other group with whom I currently engage is at a government girls high school in urban Delhi, relatively close to the original office from which Sugata Mitra began his Hole in the Wall experiments, a school that has been involved in his experiments ever since.

Anshika, Priya, Shivani and the others choose the song ‘I have a Dream’ to sing for me and I ask what dreams they have. ‘I want to be a politician so that I can reduce poverty’, one girl says confidently.  One girl dreams of being a doctor, another wants to be a soldier to protect her people and a third hopes to teach the poor who don’t have access to education. Nazreen dreams of being a singer but her parents have forbidden it for religious reasons. Nikita dreams of being a famous singer too… so that she can make money and buy her parents a house and help other less fortunate people.

In the middle of one such session recently, I receive an unexpected call from a Skype number that’s been in my contacts for years. I’m incredulous to see Gouri, whom I have not seen for six years, since she engaged in Granny Cloud sessions as a lively teenager, in the rural village of Shirgaon, in Maharashtra.

Gouri has been selected by the BBC as one of 2016’s 100 inspiring women and camera men lurk discreetly in the background for a news piece as she and I re-engage after all this time. We talk about what we’re doing now and what we remember from the old days, in particular a series of interactions in which she and her classmates talked and sang with a group of Grade 6 students at my school in Australia. (I still recall their wonderful reflections from 2010!) This lovely, poised young woman is an impressive ambassador for the Granny Cloud project.

I marvel at the simplicity of an idea that is so powerful in its implementation. I wonder what Jayesh and Digvijay, Anshika and Farheen will be doing six years from now. And I imagine who they might become in the future…

Beautiful questions… and a whole school unit of inquiry

 ‘A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something—and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.’ Warren Berger ~ A More Beautiful Question.

This generally starts with a ‘why?‘ question which identifies the need for change, followed by ‘what if?‘ which imagines new possibilities, and moving onto the ‘how?‘ which leads to action.

A couple of years ago we asked ourselves: Why do we spend the first few weeks ‘setting the tone’ in the classroom and then start the first unit of inquiry? What if the first unit of inquiry at every year level helped create classroom culture and set the tone for the learning to take place? How might we go about that?

A recent visit to ISHCMC provoked us to ask: Why do we need a separate central idea for each grade level? What if we tried one overarching central idea for the whole school? How might a whole school approach influence school culture?

And then: Why reinvent the wheel? What if we adapted the central idea we saw at ISHCMC and tweaked the lines of inquiry from our previous units? How might feedback from other educators support the development of this idea?

And now…

PYP Trans-disciplinary Theme: WHO WE ARE

An inquiry into the nature of the self; beliefs and values; personal, physical, mental, social and spiritual health; human relationships including families, friends, communities, and cultures; rights and responsibilities; what it means to be human. (IB Primary Years Program)

Central Idea: Our choices define who we are as individuals and as a community.

Possible lines of Inquiry:

These are still to be refined with input from teachers, students and the world. (As our junior school learning spaces will be redesigned over the summer, all grades have a line of inquiry about how the new spaces will be used.)

Prep

  • How our choices help us build a learning community (responsibility)
  • Choices in how we express our learning (reflection)
  • How we choose to use our environment to support our learning  (function)

Year 1

  • Choices that help us learn (reflection)
  • Choices in how we we interact with others (reflection)
  • How we choose to use our environment to support our learning (function)

Year 2

  • How humans learn (function)
  • Choices we make as learners, individually and collaboratively (reflection)
  • How we choose to use our environment to support our learning  (change)

Year 3

  • Choices that affect our learning community (causation)
  • How diversity enriches a community (change)
  • How we use our learning environment to support our learning community  (connection)

Year 4

  • How communication affects relationships (connection)
  • Choices in how we communicate – audience, purpose, context (causation)
  • How effective groups function (reflection)

Year 5

  • Personal values (perspective)
  • How our values influence the choices we make (connection)
  • The choices we make as learners (reflection)

Year 6

  • Active citizenship
  • Decision making strategies (reflection)
  • Our choices as individuals – personal interests and passions (perspective)
  • The impact of choices/decisions on other people, our community, the world (responsibility)

The central idea provides possibilities for authentic trans-disciplinary inquiry too. They might inquire into how our health and exercise choices affect us, how our choices affect others in games and sports, artistic and musical choices…

Teachers might inquire into how our choices define us human beings and as educators; the impact of our  choices as educators on the social, emotional and academic learning of our students; ways to increase opportunities for student ownership and agency…

And a few more beautiful questions of my own:

What if this was a year-long unit of inquiry?

What if, instead of a central idea, we had an overarching big question?

What if, instead of lines of inquiry, the learners came up with their own why, what if and how questions?

What if everything we did was about real learning instead of ‘doing school’?

10 ways to make learning meaningful…

Whether your students are completing assignments, inquiring into areas of their interest, covering curriculum or exploring their passions, to what extent does it feel (to you, as much as to them) as if they are simply complying and ‘doing school’?

How can we extend learning ‘beyond the project’ and ensure it’s a powerful learning experience, rather than a task for school? (Hint: the answer does not lie in assessment criteria, rubrics or grades.)

1. Do you LISTEN more than you talk?

2. Are the learners really inquiring, in the broadest sense of the word?

Look at the description of inquiry from Making the PYP Happen. Are they doing most of these things? Or just researching?

  • exploring, wondering and questioning
  • experimenting and playing with possibilities
  • making connections between previous learning and current learning
  • making predictions and acting purposefully to see what happens
  • collecting data and reporting findings
  • clarifying existing ideas and reappraising perceptions of events
  • deepening understanding through the application of a concept
  • making and testing theories
  • researching and seeking information
  • taking and defending a position
  • solving problems in a variety of ways.

3. Will this inquiry be worthwhile? Will the learners experience challenges and figure out how to overcome them?

Support them in feeling comfortable in the ‘learning pit’?

4. Is the inquiry concept driven? Are the learners doing more than just finding facts and information?

  • Are they exploring and developing an understanding of big conceptual ideas.  
  • Are they looking through the lens of one or more key concepts?
  • Can they identify big ideas and apply them in other contexts?
  • Can they articulate conceptual understandings developed along the way?

5.  Do the learners have ownership? Will this inquiry help them grow, not just in knowledge of content, but as learners?

Some questions to support their ongoing reflection:

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6. Are the learners thinking critically and creatively about the content they explore?

A variety of less common thinking routines that can extend their thinking:

Think Puzzle Explore
Circle of viewpoints
Generate Sort Connect Elaborate
Tug for Truth
Parts Purposes and Complexities
People Parts Interactions
Think Feel Care
Imagine if…

7. Are the learners able to think about how their inquiries impact on other people? Will they be motivated to take action?

8. Will they explore ways of extending the learning beyond the classroom?

  • Look for opportunities for collaboration across the year level.
  • Extend it to other year levels. (Can older learners create for an audience in lower grades? Can learners seek feedback or support from another class or year level?)
  • Encourage interactions with primary sources within and outside outside of school.
  • Use your network and theirs to help extend the learning to the broader community and the world.
  • Use Google docs, Twitter and blog posts to reach out globally. (click links for examples)
  • Connect with experts face to face or via Skype. (eg Skype in the Classroom)

9. Will there be opportunities to identify problems and issues and develop solutions?

For some learners, the design thinking process might be useful:

10. Will learners have opportunities to express their  learning meaningfully and creatively?

How will learners present, represent and/or share their learning? Will they choose to express their learning through a creative medium such as art or film? Will they paint or sculpt? Will they write poetry? Set it to music? Do an expressive dance? Create a stop motion animation? Build a model? Develop an app? Design a website? Write a book? Organise a debate? Start a blog? Make a speech? Create a campaign? Lead a workshop? 

Will they do, say, think, feel, want… or be something different as a result of this learning? 

An opportunity for powerful learning…

‘J is beyond excited for the conference!’ according to a message from her mother. She’ll be sharing her passion for baking with some of her peers on Tuesday at our Year 6 #PassionsMatter conference.  An update says: ‘My kitchen is a hive of activity in preparation for Tuesday. The girls have been shopping independently this morning with their shopping list and budget (prepared by themselves). They are now preparing and packing all that they need for their workshop. Totally self directed! THIS is learning!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’ 

L is excited too, as expressed in an email to her teacher, discussing the purchase of materials for her sewing workshop.  A has prepared an inspirational talk about how books capture her imagination and transport her to other worlds.  T is writing his own book and will tell his peers about that.  J’s talk uses take off and flight as a metaphor for achieving goals…

In the lead up to the conference, our learners have been involved in authentic opportunities to write, speak, research, think, calculate, make decisions, collaborate… and learn. Students have written inquiry emails, made phone calls, worked out costs for catering, placed orders, designed the logo and certificates, written speeches, given constructive feedback, planned and re-planned workshops.

The program includes some external presenters , who are all passionate, young role models some of whom have mentored the children in planning their sessions. Their workshops will provide opportunities for students to explore areas of passion such as song writing, story telling and sport coaching, as well as to engage with the big ideas of finding your passion, self belief, learning from failure and overcoming obstacles. 

On Tuesday at Passions Matter 2016, students will be speakers, workshop presenters, photographers, caterers, tweeters, bloggers and reflection group leaders. 

Emailing presenters
Meeting with mentor
Planning and re-planning workshop
Practising inspirational speech

This is powerful learning. 

Why only once a year? What if we had days like this once a month? Once a week?

How can we make this kind of meaningful, purposeful learning part of regular, daily school life?

 

The back story…

From doing school to Learning 2 day

Unleashing Learning

Learning Unleashed

The Story Within

And even further back…

Why isn’t school like a conference?

A conference for kids

10 questions in pursuit of learner agency…

Claire Amos inspired the audience with her ‘Free Range Learning‘ talk at Learning 2 last year and I found her recent post on learner agency thought-provoking:

So what does Learner Agency actually mean. … In the context of a school this might involve students taking action, whether it be through reading, researching, discussing, debating, experimenting, making or tinkering and as a result, gain (through their own efforts) new understanding and new learnings. This being a shift from the notion of teachers, teaching at the student and fundamentally providing all of the knowledge and content which they then transfer to the empty vessel.

Of course this notion is not new, in fact, it’s positively ancient. I sometimes think Socrates must be turning in his grave.

So if this notion has been bandied about since the time of Socrates, why the hell are we considering it as cutting edge now? I’m guessing the honest answer is that education started off pretty sweet, then got a bit crap in the last 100 years or so.

 

In her post Claire suggests 10 ways you might provide learner agency in your classroom or school. I note with interest that almost every one of them includes the word ‘give’ and/or the notion of teachers or leaders ‘providing’ or ‘allowing’ learner agency.’ 

Can we create a culture of agency, where decision-making, choice and voice, reflection and metacognition, exploration and inquiry, risk taking and resilience empower our students to live their learning, rather than ‘doing school‘?  Below are some key questions that need to be considered in developing a culture of agency.

10 questions in pursuit of learner agency…

1. What is your ‘image of the child’? How do you view the learners in your class? Do you believe children are inherently intelligent, curious and creative? Do you recognise their rights and their capabilities? Do you trust them?

2. Do you know every learner’s story? Are you tempted to refer to the class as ‘they‘ or are you always conscious that each learner brings her own interests and abilities, strengths and challenges? Do you think about each individual’s personal history? Are you aware of the factors that influence each one’s learning?

3. What do you believe about learning? Knowing what and how to teach is not enough. Have you, individually and as a school, thought deeply about how you believe learning takes place? Have you carefully examined the extent to which your practice aligns with your beliefs?

4. Do your learners believe in themselves?  Do you group your learners on perceived ability or do they have opportunities to learn with and from others with varying strengths, challenges and interests? Is a growth mindset fostered? Are learners motivated by learning itself, rather than extrinsic rewards that encourage winners and losers in the game of school?

5. Who holds the power? Is your token nod to agency allowing the learners a choice when you decide it’s the time? How much of what your students say and do has to be channeled through the teacher? Do you make most of the decisions? Or can the learners really lead the learning? Is initiative valued over compliance?

6. Who does the heavy lifting? How long do you spend making sure students know what they are supposed to do? Do you explain everything in detail several times in different ways? Or do the learners have a go at experimenting and tackling problems first and you step in at point of need? Are you able to release control so that the heavy lifting is done by the learners?

7. Who owns the curriculum? Do you have secret teacher business? Do you check the curriculum and decide what to cover and how to teach it? Or are students empowered to explore curriculum requirements in their own ways? Are there opportunities for engaging, relevant learning that addresses trans-disciplinary learning across curriculum areas?

8. How important is measurement of achievement? Do you teach to the test? How much weight is placed on grading? Do you think everything has to be formally assessed and what can’t be measured is less valuable? Or is the process of learning perceived as more significant than the outcome? Is process valued over product?

9. What is the language of your classroom? Do you talk about work and tasks or does everyone speak the language of learning? Is how we learn as much a part of the conversation as what we learn? Are students aware of who they are as learners? Are learning dispositions noticed and named? Are reflection and metacognition integral parts of learning? 

10. Is there a safe space for risk- taking and failure?  Does the culture encourage students to take risks and make mistakes? Is the exploratory aspect of learning stifled by expectations? Do learners seek and grapple with challenging problems and unanswerable questions? Is failure viewed as an opportunity to learn and grow?

 

Playing the game of school…

Grab a dice and play the game of school…

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This was the provocation for my Unleashing Learning workshop, entitled ‘From Doing School to Real Learning‘.

How did playing the game make people feel? It seemed pointless. You could win without doing anything meaningful.

What was missing?  Purpose, fun, discovery, feeling, thinking and, indeed… learning!

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This was not a workshop about answers, its intention was to provoke thinking, to unsettle and to push. Hopefully, it left participants wondering about these questions and more…

  • What are the conditions for powerful learning?
  • How much time do we spend on things that do not lead to powerful learning?
  • What do you believe about learning?
  • Does your practice align with your beliefs?
  • To what extent do children create their own learning opportunities way beyond what school can offer? 
  • Does school slow down learning?
  • Is it easier to do something the same way than to rethink learning from scratch?
  • What’s one change I can make, starting tomorrow?
  • Is your planning time spent thinking about what and how you will teach?
  • Do you think about how best each student will learn?
  • Are old pedagogies suited to a rapidly changing world? 
  • How might we unleash learning rather than doing school?

What does student ownership look like?

‘Imagine if we did this with kids’… I said in my previous post and, within a few days, some teachers have!

The learners work in mixed groups across two Year 6 classes and respond to the same question that we gave the teachers last week: ‘What does student ownership of learning look like’? 

The teachers move between the groups, asking probing questions, encouraging the learners to think more deeply.

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IMG_4826Responses are quite revealing!

  • Teachers tell students where to go, but they choose their own route to get there.
  • Teachers tell the students what to do, but they decide how to do it.
  • People can have their own opinions and points of view.
  • Freedom to learn and independence.
  • Taking pride in your own learning.
  • Thinking and reflecting about what and how you learn.
  • Doing your work without letting yourself be distracted.
  • We are all unique in our learning and thinking styles.
  • Teacher opens the door, but only we can walk through.
  • Choosing wisely where to sit and who to work with.

It’s only Day 2 of the school year and I know things will develop as the year unfolds. These young learners have teachers who value student ownership and will work at establishing a culture where this is real. They are part of a learning community where ownership of learning is valued and beliefs about how this takes place have been articulated and agreed upon.

Yet I can’t help but wonder:

  • Have our learners really experienced ownership of their learning within a school context?
  • Are the children saying the sorts of things they think teachers are looking for?
  • Can our learners imagine what really owning your learning looks and feels like?
  • Do adults really believe that children can be the owners of their learning?
  • Is ownership of learning compatible with traditional models of school?
  • How can we help children (and teachers) separate the notion of learning from that of ‘doing school’?
  • Does our practice align with our beliefs?

 

 

Student ownership of learning…

“I think teachers should not be telling the students exactly what they should be doing. They should be finding their own path and figuring out the ways that they learn best.”    ~ Georgia, Year 6.

The Year 6 PYP exhibition is a prime example of the kind of learning that is unleashed when students own their learning. The confidence and understanding with which Georgia and the other learners shared this learning experience are evidence of the power of student ownership…

Looking forward to increasing opportunities for student ownership in 2016!

Listening to student voice…

Enthusiastic students from Years 4, 5 and 6 sit in a circle at the end of the day and share reflections on our Program of Inquiry. I tell them the teachers are considering which units to keep and which need changing and they are eager to have their say. As always, the children’s insightfulness delights me!

I ask them to write down what makes a unit of inquiry worthwhile.  They put their initial thoughts to one side and spend some time examining the K-6 curriculum document, expressing their opinions of the units into which they have inquired this year. Green stickers for the ones they have loved and felt they learned a lot. Red for the ones they didn’t enjoy at all. Yellow for the ones in between. (No sticker at all if you can’t even remember the unit!) They discuss the units in pairs, paste their stickers and record their reasons for these ratings. Next I ask them to think about all the units from the preceding years , share the ones they still remember well and consider why they remember those. One girl remembers a unit she explored six years ago because ‘It had  strong personal connections. I like units that are about me.’

Finally, they return to their original statements and refine them, now that they have reflected more closely on the units of inquiry. Here are their thoughts on what makes a good unit of inquiry:

A worthwhile unit of inquiry has/is…

  • Lots of options so kids can choose what interests them (Mischa)
  • Activities that engage you and take your freedom to another level (Brodie)
  • Ways that kids can connect to the inquiry (Jesse)
  • Excursions, incursions, projects, building things, freedom to learn. (Zac)
  • One that students have connections to. Relevance to everyday life. (Mia)
  • Fun, interactive, different materials, getting your hands dirty. (Mia)
  • Freedom for students to inquire into what interests them (Tammi)
  • Enough for kids to explore. Not too small. 
  • Open ended, so we can figure it out for ourselves. 
  • Skills and knowledge that will help for the future.
  • Freedom to lead your own inquiry. Hands on experiences beyond the classroom. (Benji)
  • Complex questions you can pursue without running out of material. (Yoshi)
  • Enough time to go deep into your questions. (Yoshi)

Reflections

Their reflections about the specific units of inquiry turn out to be less valuable than the bigger picture. Ask yourself these questions about ALL the learning in your class?

  • Are there options for the learners to investigate what interests them?
  • Are there possibilities for everyone to connect to the learning?
  • Do the learners have freedom to explore?
  • Is the learning relevant to their lives?
  • Is the learning engaging and challenging?
  • Are there opportunities for play?
  • Is it open-ended so learners can figure things out for themselves?
  • Are there opportunities for development of skills and knowledge for the future?
  • Does the learning extend beyond the classroom?
  • Is there enough time to for deep learning?