The biography of a central idea…

Building community creates a sense of belonging.

This is the ‘central idea’ that will form the basis of our whole school inquiry in 2020. As teachers work on building cohesion, learners will inquire into different aspects of this conceptual idea. I’m hopeful to facilitate a parent inquiry group too.

Each IB PYP unit of inquiry is based on a meaningful, transferable, conceptual idea that offers possibilities for trans-disciplinary inquiry. Sometimes a central idea comes easily, once we know our conceptual lenses. Sometimes it’s the result of sustained collaborative play with words. Sometimes we know a central idea isn’t perfect, but it’s the best we can do. On occasion, we know it isn’t perfect but we don’t mind, because it expresses the right message and we care more about the sentiment than the rules.

This particular central idea has a story…

Part of the story was written by Helen Street, the author of Contextual Wellbeing, a book which has resonated for many of us in our learning community. So much of what she says is common sense, once you think about it. Much of it builds on ideas we’ve been thinking about for years. We’ve had early morning book discussions and planned meetings and parent sessions around some of the ideas. Some of our Year 6 students have read parts of the book and were grateful for an opportunity to connect virtually and chat with Helen last week.

As the ideas from the book began to take hold in our Year 6 community, students explored the notion of Ubuntu, an African concept which translates approximately as ‘I am because we are’, and the learning began to look less and less like traditional school and more of a transformative experience for learners and teachers alike. Seeing how the learning was unfolding, one of the teachers suggested an idea for a whole school inquiry for next year: ‘A community collaborates to create change’. Teachers of the lower grades suggested that a more appropriate version for the younger learners might be ‘Individuals collaborate to build community’.

Analysing the data gathered from teachers’ reflections for our self study, the Teaching and Learning team noticed a pattern. Many of the suggestions and wonderings revealed the idea of building cohesion as an opportunity for growth, be this in terms of encouraging connections between early years and primary, increasing flow of learning time, building a stronger sense of belonging or improving our partnerships with parents. Perhaps the whole school central idea might be ‘Cohesion empowers community’ or ‘Building cohesion strengthens community’, strong possibilities and yet, while we are not afraid to introduce difficult vocabulary to our youngest learners, not quite child friendly enough…

We gathered a group of teachers to work on reviewing our program of inquiry, representatives of every grade from preschool to Year 6. Our POI reflection began with people sharing their responses to this provocation: ‘My favourite unit of inquiry ever was… because…’ and we identified common themes. The best units were organically trans-disciplinary, based on real life learning, evolved as they unfolded, included authentic action, involved self discovery, allowed for the development of the whole child, were often led by the learners and focused on process, rather than content. Based on these themes, this group came up with further suggestions for our new central idea.

We knew what we wanted, but the wording that would capture the essence remained elusive. Various individuals and groups collaborated to play with the words and, as commitment to the idea became embedded (alongside yet another reading group discussing Contextual Wellbeing) there was a sense of being part of something bigger, of contributing to  the development of our learning community. What we were doing was a small example of what we wanted to achieve!

A group of students invited to the discussion spoke a lot about the idea of belonging needing to be in the central idea. They suggested ‘Belonging to a community helps us grow’ pointing out that the growth might refer to learning as individuals and as a community. It could refer to going out of our comfort zones or growing socially or academically.  If the focus is on community, belonging and cohesion, then the central idea should reflect that, they said. In their words: “Let’s be honest, the central idea is what we look at and what brings us together”.

A moment of jubilation followed, not just because we were excited by the insights of children and delighted by their valuable input, but because it felt so right. And then some doubt crept in… Might there be those for whom ‘belonging to a community’ could be perceived as passive? We had added the layer of belonging but lost the component of action. We needed an active verb in the central idea!

And finally, as a group of teachers pondered around the staffroom table one morning, one teacher sat quietly, seemingly answering his emails, while others conversed. And then, ‘How about this?’ he asked, ‘Building community creates a sense of belonging.’ Bingo!

It might not follow some of the so called rules for writing central ideas, but it fulfils our needs and we are excited by the possibilities. And its biography reflects the very thing we are aiming towards…

Documenting the planning process…

In the enhanced PYP, schools will have agency to decide on their own format for documenting planning, as long as collaborative planning follows the PYP guidelines. We’ll no longer be obliged to fill in the traditional boxes or follow the linear design of Managebac.

It was an honour to be invited by the IBO to submit an example of a school designed planner. It seemed like an exciting opportunity to collaborate with teams of teachers on developing something fresh, new and, above all, user friendly. So I was disappointed to read the terms and conditions that accompanied the invitation. Due to copyright restrictions, the IBO would own the planner design and we would not be allowed to share or change it without their permission.

Although I appreciated the invitation and understood their need for copyright restrictions (sort of), I declined.

In the spirit of collaboration, how much more valuable would it be to share drafts and designs both within the school and with the wider, global PYP community? How much more interesting could it be to seek and apply constructive feedback from educators all over the world? How much more exciting might it be if we took an inquiry stance, explored possibilities, had a go, reflected and made adjustments along the way?

Still. The process of considering and documenting new ways of planning is alive and well!

Every team in our school is enjoying experimenting with new planning formats and adapting them to their needs. Members of our online global PYP community have shared their own initial models, suggested ideas and given feedback on our drafts.

We always start with the child at the centre.

We have moved from the table

to the beginnings of a draft planner…

We’ve shifted into Google Slides and added everything to the same deck. Teams have been experimenting with what to include and how to record it. Some have started adding documentation and reflections along the way, which is allowing it to be  a living document that encourages emergent curriculum.

Some questions that have been considered along the way:

  • How best might we record the thinking that takes place during collaborative planning sessions?
  • What needs to be recorded and how? (And why?)
  • What is the purpose of documenting planning?
  • Who is the documentation of planning for? (The IB? The teachers?)
  • How do we visualise all the elements simultaneously?
  • To what extent do learning experiences need to be planned and recorded in advance?
  • How might we record the data that’s revealed by the provocation, so that we can decide where to go next?
  • How do we integrate literacy planning into the same document?
  • How might teams make this their own?
  • How best will reflections be recorded?
  • How might our learners participate in the planning process?

You’re welcome to join us on our journey!

A (technology) vision for inspiring learning…

Technology can inspire and enhance learning through innovation, collaboration & creativity.

This is the tech vision statement for VIS in Laos, where I had the pleasure of working with a lovely group of educators for several days last week. It is also the central idea for their inquiry into the use of technology for innovation in learning.

Our provocations included, among other things:

  • an exploration of the difference between enhancing and inspiring, which stimulated interesting conversation, not just about technology (which isn’t really the point) but about learning.
  • looking at examples of collaboration and creativity to inspire possibilities.
  • investigation of the 2016 ISTE standards for students.
  • creating stop motion clips to encapsulate the big ideas within the standards.
  • consideration of how the characteristics of the innovator’s mindset might influence teachers’ approach to technology integration.
  • individual and team meetings exchanging ideas and thinking collaboratively.

 

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Their ongoing inquiry involves putting ideas into practice, making connections, experimenting, investigating, exploring further… bringing the vision to life.

Graham was inspired to start a blog. His first post challenges us to consider whether the PYP exhibition is actually an expedition. Year 6s in Australia have already been inspired to pursue the question. Some of them might like to connect with Graham’s students in Laos…

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Linda sent out a tweet asking for photos of learning spaces around the world to help her Preps gather data for their inquiry into learning environments and received, among other global contributions, images of the early years learning spaces at my school.

Olwen’s class created stop motion animations of their own migrations and put out a request for people to share their migration stories via these google slides. My school community will be invited to add theirs – would anyone in my network network like to contribute?

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Some of the take-aways:

  • It’s not about the technology, it’s ALWAYS about the learning.
  • The tools have to work for us, we don’t work for them.
  • Try one new thing.. but not just for the sake of it.
  • Know your purpose!
  • Extend the learning into the wider world.
  • You don’t have to know everything. Let the learners take the lead.
  • Collaboration and creativity don’t depend on technology…
  • but technology can take them to another level.
  • Innovation is a mindset 🙂

I already love the flow on from connecting with these teachers and the way their tech vision statement is embodied in our ongoing collaboration.

 

Workshop workshop…

The joys of preparing for our Unleashing Learning conference lie in the collaboration, opportunities for growth, teacher involvement, the sense of shared purpose, the risk taking, the willingness to help…

This morning’s ‘workshop workshop’ is a session for teachers who are not yet experienced presenters. For our check-in, we discuss how we like to feel when we participate in a workshop…

What makes a workshop successful?

  • Being challenged.
  • Learning something new.
  • Changing something about the way I think.
  • Constructing meaning actively.
  • An interesting, meaningful process.
  • Something practical or a take-away that stays with you.
  • An engaging presenter who make things personal.
  • It has to make me want to take action.
  • Clear expectations, purpose and flow.
  • Variety and active engagement.

How will we ensure participants leave our workshops feeling these things?

We start by sharing concerns:

  • What if nobody comes?
  • What if it’s not engaging for participants?
  • Does my workshop have enough depth and complexity?
  • How do I turn ideas into an interactive workshop?
  • What if the technology crashes?

We encourage our presenters to start by being clear on their objectives . What understandings do you want the participants to leave with? What do you want to achieve?

Next we unpack a structure for a successful workshop (although we agree that it need not be a linear approach) and we brainstorm ideas under the headings of:

  • Introduction – What will you do to warm the participants up and tune them in?
  • Provocation – How will you provoke their thinking from the start?
  • Constructing meaning – How will you get participants involved in engaging with each other and with the big ideas?
  • Connection – How will you/they pull it all together?
  • Reflection – What protocols will you use to encourage participants to reflect and plan ahead?

By the end of the session we are buzzing. People have offered their intentions, shared creative ideas and resources and are ready to “take the workshop from inside their heads to something concrete” (Hailey).

So much learning has already been unleashed and we haven’t even got to the conference yet!

Have you registered???

A sense of loss…

Layla, my colleague and friend, has retired very suddenly for personal reasons. Processing my sense of loss, I have this to say…

Would you like to work in a place where you have time to absorb and process one idea before racing on to the next? I’d rather work with Layla.

Would you like to work in a place where you have the space to just be, without disagreement and constantly being challenged? I’d rather work with Layla.

Would you like to work in a place where things are always crystal clear, precise and well mapped out for you? I’d rather work with Layla.

It’s easy to work with people who think in the same way as you do (or don’t think much at all) – You make a suggestion, they agree. They make a suggestion, you take it up. No argument, no raised voices… no progress?

New staff witnessing dialogue between Layla and me are often taken aback. We argue, we disagree, we force each other to examine our beliefs, clarify our goals and adapt our thinking. This is real collaboration and what grows out of it, is dynamic and exciting … often leading to meaningful change.

It’s easy to relax and go with the status quo, accept things because they are good enough or because they have always been done a particular way. It takes courage to constantly question and to fight for what you believe in, even if you upset people along the way.

I’ll miss my thinking partner. I’ll miss pushing her into a corner and making her explain her thought process, examine her motivation and justify her thinking. I’ll be looking out for someone passionate with strong beliefs about learning, who’s not afraid of change… because I need to be pushed in exactly the same way myself.

If you’re someone who doesn’t like being challenged, who doesn’t value debate, who isn’t able to take the seed of a creative idea and use your imagination to grow it yourself into something flourishing… then you might not miss Layla.

I know I will.

Leave a message…

What messages do you get from this great little clip?

Here’s the kind of responses that came from teachers in our Learning Team Leaders group…

  • Anyone can be a leader.
  • Collaboration leads to success.
  • Set an example and others will follow.
  • Find a solution, rather than complaining about a problem.

The clip elicited different responses from 6th grade students, asked to make connections with themselves and their learning…

  • It makes me feel that I have a strong power inside me that can allow me to do anything.
  • It tells me a lot about learning, it tells me to be a risk taker and never be scared…
  • Everyone can be a leader and do what ever they want, if they have a lot of determination.
  • Team work is very important in and out of school.
  • We need to learn to help people even though you haven’t been asked.
  • This video tells me that even though I’m a small kid doesn’t mean I can’t do big things.
  • One small act can infect a lot of people.
  • I think this video will inspire children that think they can not do anything.
  • Everyone can learn something from someone, no matter what age or gender.
  • Anyone, doesn’t matter what size, can help the community and be an active citizen.

You can read the whole delightful conversation, including responses from kids in other schools, here. (It highlights the possibilities of blogging as a tool for authentic reading, writing and conversation beyond the classroom walls, but that’s another story!)

Often the best clips to stimulate thinking are not directly related to the subject at hand and can be used in a range of contexts. Do you have any other ideas for using this one? Have you come across any great, short videos that provoke thinking and inspire conversation?

Learning spaces…

As a veteran educator, I remember how I used to approach setting up my classroom, years ago. I thought more about the ‘what‘ and the ‘how‘ than the ‘why‘…

In preparation for the new school year, we start today’s session in groups, discussing our learning principles and unpacking how they might be supported by the learning environment. It’s all about the ‘why‘. The teachers keep our beliefs about learning in mind, as they purposefully create engaging learning spaces. 

We’ve come a long way. Walls have been (physically or metaphorically) taken down to enhance collaboration. The conversation is thoughtful and focused, as intentional learning spaces are established. New ways of thinking replace the old, as teachers consider what furniture to remove, allowing for more flexibility to support diverse learners and different kinds of learning. Everyone is grateful for the time allotted to make this a meaningful undertaking.

Here are some ‘six word stories’ the teachers created to express their thoughts about the learning environment.

  • Stimulating space to share and learn.
  • Student-centred, flexible, collaborative, the third teacher.
  • Safe, inviting atmosphere where all contribute meaningfully.
  • Challenging, comfortable setting with teacher guidance.
  • Learning happens everywhere in our school.
  • Feeling anxious, made welcome, feel secure.
  • Working together, sharing ideas and learning.
  • Apprehension, nerves, lead to laughter. Relax.
  • Welcoming, inclusive. Exploring in different ways.
  • Third teacher, filled with inquiring minds.
  • Playing and inquiring leads to learning.

and this one –

  • So… where shall I sit today?

Don’t be fooled by its simplicity. It indicates a shift from the one-size-fits-all approach, in which every child had a permanent seat at a table (see previous post re compliance!), reflecting instead a growing understanding of student-centred learning. It allows for student choice and voice, for different possibilities and new opportunities….

What is Digital Citizenship?

What is digital citizenship? That’s the driving question behind our current Year 5 unit of inquiry.

It’s the start of the school year here in Australia, so the unit begins with the establishment of a learning community in the classroom. Students will explore what citizenship comprises in the context of the class community, ‘a sense of belonging, rights and responsibilities, duties and privileges, agreed values and mutual obligations required for active participation in the group.’ (Australian Civics and Citizenship Curriculum)

From there, it should be an easy jump to considering digital citizenship, through the conceptual lenses of responsibility , reflection and connection. Our learners will explore these questions…

  • How do we analyse and evaluate digital content?
  • What are our responsibilities when creating digital content?
  • How can we communicate our ideas creatively and effectively online?
  • What can we learn by connecting and collaborating with others in the world?

We’re hoping to help connect our learners with other learners, both locally and globally and, in the process, develop and consolidate these understandings…

  • People are consumers and creators in a digital world.
  • We need to think critically about digital content.
  • Everyone needs to be responsible for digital content they create.
  • The internet enables us to connect,communicate and collaborate with people all over the world.

The Year 5s would like to hear from teachers and classes interested in collaborating via Skype, blogs, Twitter, Voicethread, email or other media they have not yet thought of. They are keen to connect with classes anywhere who are eager to broaden their horizons, collaborate on an inquiry into digital citizenship or simply share and compare learning. They’re looking for once-off as well as ongoing collaborations.

WORLD CLASS

Are you interested?

Extra-ordinary learning…

Despite help from her teacher, a student is finding it difficult to organise the information in her head. Another teacher is disappointed that a bright student has relied on pre-existing knowledge and suggests he research his topic more diligently. A girl gets teary when she has to compromise with others in her drama group who prefer their ideas to hers. A video clip that a boy has posted to the class blog is too explicit and has to be taken down in case it upsets other students. A group of children who have  been painting with rollers have left paint on the floor and are sent to clean up…

Ordinary learning for 12 year-olds?

It is, however, a joy to be involved in the learning, as these Year 6 students develop an awareness and understanding of inequity, pursue individual inquiries and prepare  for sharing their learning with the wider school community at their PYP exhibition this coming week.

At any given time, if you walk through the building, there is evidence of real learning taking place. There are groups of children collaborating in the open space between the classrooms. Students are inquiring by researching on laptops, interviewing people, creating surveys and contacting organisations. They communicate their learning to children and teachers from other grades across the school. There are opportunities to explore the big ideas creatively through drama, music, art, poetry, photography or animation. Every student has time in between to reflect on the learning process, through conversation, in their journals or on their class blogs. Engagement is high, especially as they have chosen what to explore , thought deeply about why and planned how. Learners have ownership of their learning and they feel empowered…

Extra-ordinary learning for 12 year olds?

In last few days before the exhibition, everyone is relaxed. It’s because the focus has been on the learning process and not on the exhibition, which will simply be a celebration of the learning that has taken place. Students are excitedly putting the final touches on their presentations, but that’s not what is important. What matters is that on the day, every one of our 85 students will be able to talk confidently about the knowledge they have acquired and the skills they have mastered, how their thinking has changed and their understanding has deepened, and what they have learned about themselves as learners. (The teachers too.)

The story so far…

What really matters

What would you do if you could change the world?

A different kind of conference

A different kind of conference -2

Student Voices

Talking about learning

And more on the class blogs here, here, here and here.