Creativity benefits from constraints…

The generosity of educators, authors, artists, businesses and all manner of other unexpected sources, currently sharing their time and ideas via social media, is phenomenal… yet overwhelming. One can drown in the ocean of views on remote learning, examples of schedules, suggested activities, tools and platforms, ways of staying connected, tips for being mindful, advice for checking in with children, etc etc

Stepping away from it all gives me time and space to be creative and generate ideas.

Creativity benefits from constraints.

What if that was the focus of the learning? What if, instead of trying to replicate or reinvent school, we allowed this to be a time of creativity? What if we took advantage of the way limitations can encourage innovation?

What if these sorts of guiding questions were offered as provocations for teachers and students alike?

    • What might I design/ invent/ create that would entertain or help others?
    • What useful or aesthetically pleasing item might I create by recycling or reusing things that are no longer needed at home?
    • How might I record and share my own and others’ feelings during this time, in a creative way?
    • What am I fascinated by? How might I investigate it further through the lens of creativity?
    • What do I care deeply about? How might I make a difference to others right now?
    • What are my strengths? How might I use them to support others?
    • Who do I admire? What can I learn from them? How might I go about connecting with them?
    • What might I learn about that could change me? How might I use my learning to change others?
    • How might I document this moment in history in an interesting and creative way? How might I adapt this for different audiences?
    • If I could reimagine school, what would it be like?
    • If I could reimagine my class, what would it be like?
    • If I could reimagine anything, what would it be like? (a library, shoes, a sport, a kitchen, a museum, a book, a toy…)
    • What have I learned during this time? How might life be better as a result? Can I create a manifesto for my future?

What if the above questions were supported and extended by ones like these?

    • Who is my audience?
    • What is my purpose?
    • What questions do I need answered before I start?
    • What materials might I use that are readily available?
    • Which skills and dispositions will I need to work on?
    • What new things will I need to learn in order to achieve my purpose?
    • What experts might I turn to? How might I contact them?
    • What do I notice about myself as a learner?

What if we all viewed the limitations of our current context as an opportunity for creativity and innovation?

The way we present ideas influences how they are received…

I was surprised by the number of slides tweeted from a recent literacy conference that lacked a sense of visual literacy. Even the most seasoned presenters sometimes seem unaware of the negative impact their slides have on the delivery of their messages and ideas.

Visual literacy has been described as ‘the ability to interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from information presented in the form of (still or moving) images, extending the meaning of literacy, which commonly signifies interpretation of a written or printed text’. (Bristol and Drake 1994). It’s not just about consuming though. This definition is missing the ability to create meaning through visual media too.

It is this literacy that underpins our new Year 5 PYP unit of inquiry in the trans-disciplinary theme How We Express Ourselves. 

Central idea: The way we present ideas influences how they are received.

Learners will explore examples of animation, short film, images and presentations to see what makes the delivery of ideas and messages effective. Through their exploration, they will deepen their understanding of techniques and develop criteria that they can apply to their own use of visual media for presenting ideas and messages.

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‘We are a visually illiterate society. Three R’s are no longer enough. Our world is changing fast—faster than we can keep up with our historical modes of thinking and communicating. Visual literacy—the ability to both read and write visual information; the ability to learn visually; to think and solve problems in the visual domain—will, as the information revolution evolves, become a requirement for success in business and in life’. – Dave Gray, founder of visual thinking company XPLANE.


Self challenge: A post a day for a week. #4

Common Sense: Required for Innovation

I noticed this poster being tweeted by educators recently…
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I disagree.

Common sense is (commonly) defined as – ‘Sound practical judgement that is independent of specialised knowledge, training or the like; normal, native intelligence.’ (

My favourite definition comes from the online Urban Dictionary – ‘Common sense is what think others should know.’

Who says you can’t have common sense and be creative?

Some synonyms – acumen, practicality, wit, intelligence, gumption, sound judgement, sharpness, wisdom, intuitiveness, perceptiveness, vision … (

Aren’t these precisely the qualities innovators require for coming up with creative ideas and implementing them?

(Part of a train of thought instigated by teachers’ discussion in one of our voluntary learning groups, currently exploring creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship – one of the themes from the IB PYP review.)

What is creativity?

What do you think creativity is? What inspires you to be creative?

I asked these question to some random kids from Year 4, 5 and 6. Watch the video to hear what they said, totally unscripted…

Here’s what struck me:

  • Their ability to express their ideas, unrehearsed.
  • How willingly they participated, despite being approached out of the blue.
  • The diversity of their responses.
  • How articulate they were.
  • The culture of reflection and thinking we have created in our school.

and, well… how creative they are!

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.

Almost there…

“There is currently no theatre in Baños .”

That was the opening line of the ‘Please Help us to Build our Theatre’ video created by the administrators, volunteers and kids at Fundacion Arte del Mundo, a non-profit organisation which promotes literacy and the arts in the Andes town of Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador.

Well, there is a theatre now… almost.

A year ago, almost to the day, I received an email from Mazz saying ‘I want to raise funds for a theatre project at the bib …’ . The concept of a community theatre in Baños had been raised in the past but it had never been anything more than the grain of an idea. And it remained just that for a while….

This year a campaign on Indiegogo raised enough funds to put a roof on the garage and get the project started. Further efforts, donations and hard work by the foundation, its volunteers and members of the community have helped make the dream into reality… almost.

Here’s what the volunteers say on the Fundacion’s blog…

Three weeks ago we tumbled into the gorgeous town of Baños as volunteer theatre builders. What a mighty task we had ahead of us. When we arrived the theatre had a brand new water tight roof and side wall with sliding door. The rest however was desperately needing some TLC.

Filing, sanding and painting commenced and it wasn’t long before the fruits of everyone’s hard work was becoming clear. Light and sound proofing came next and what used to be an empty garage was quickly becoming a blank canvas ready for the actors, dancers and artists of Baños to take the stage.

The progress has been fantastic and everyone is working together to make this as successful as they can.

The bricks most generously donated by people from all over the world are being printed, the entrance has been erected and everything feels as if it’s coming together. The opening night is in just a week and the excitement is building.

Watch this space!!!

The theatre will open with a community performance, circus performers, a dance group and dramatic book readings… exciting new experiences for many of the people of Baños.

It’s going to happen with or without a floor in the entrance, wireless microphones and a lighting box.

If you care about bringing performing arts to people for whom this is not a given…

If it inspires you to see young people pouring time and effort into making dreams come true…

If you value initiative, creativity and tenacity…



Concept driven learning…

Some ‘big ideas’ about concept driven learning:

(From this week’s little #pypchat on Twitter)

  • The world is changing. Knowledge is changing. The ability to view the world with a more flexible mind is invaluable. (Steve)
  • Concept based learning is about big transferable ideas that transcend time, place, situation. (Ed)
  • Content just focuses on facts while concept focuses on making sense of those facts and the world around us (Christianne)
  • Content based teaching may not get beyond information transmission/superficial learning (Gillian)
  • Concepts are a way to organize and make sense of learning. Connect disciplinary knowledge.  (Miranda)
  • We can’t possibly teach everything that is important, but we can teach the big ideas. (Alexandra)
  • Concept based learning is a framework to study everything. So much information. Content can change, concepts stay the same. (Mega)
  • Information is useless unless you can do something with it. (Lynne Erickson)
Big Ideas in the classroom.

Since I no longer have my own class, I relish opportunities to get into classrooms. This week I’m team teaching in Year 5 with Rubi… and team learning. We bounce ideas before class, observe and listen to the kids and change the plan as the learning unfolds. The ‘topic’ is energy, but it’s inquiry learning and it’s concept driven. 

The first provocation is a video showing the effects of an electricity blackout. The students’ questions are quite specific to the incident, and we realize we need to change the plan already. We ask the kids to revisit their questions and ‘grow’ them, this time considering big ideas, transferable through time and place. It only takes one example from a different context to get the idea and they are away! This round of questions is about electricity and alternative power sources, not just the blackout they saw.

Rubi introduces a second provocation to further develop their thinking. She puts on music and asks the kids to dance and jump around. There is lots of noise and energetic movement, kids remove their sweaters as they warm up and a good time is had by all (except the class next door.)  We ask the kids to discuss in groups how this activity connects to the first provocation and then come up with further questions.  This round of questions is about different forms of energy, where they come from and how they are used.

Sorting Questions.

With each question on an individual sticky note, the groups sort the questions in any way they like. Before they start I ask them what they see as the purpose this activity. Mia says it will make them read everyone’s questions and think about them. Liam says it will help them organize their thoughts. Amanda says it will  help them check their understanding. Josh says they will have to justify their thinking.

Some groups sort the questions by topic, others by big ideas. One sorts them according to the PYP key concepts. Some groups sort and re-sort in different ways. Some sort them into deep and shallow questions, open and closed questions. I’ve seen Rubi encourage this this kind of thinking by having kids analyse questions through the question quadrant. They use the language: ‘That’s a closed question,’ ‘You could just google that,’ ‘ That’s too narrow, how do we make it a bigger idea’? ‘That’s just about facts, it’s not deep enough.’  We gather the questions, type the whole lot and cut them up, ready for sorting the next day.

To sum up the lesson, we ask students to give it a title. I ask what a title does and they tell me ‘It sums up what’s important,’ ‘It tells you the main idea’, ‘It tells you what it’s all about’. ‘It makes you want to know more’. Their titles fit the bill!

A conceptual central idea.

We introduce the central idea: ‘Our use of energy has an impact on the planet.’

Each group now gets the whole class’s questions and the task is to sort the pile into two groups… Those that relate to the central idea (the overarching conceptual understanding.) and those that don’t. The students are totally engaged as we move between groups and listen to the rich conversation. There is much debate and it doesn’t take long before they decide they need three groups or even four, because it isn’t as simple as that! Through the process, questions are further developed and refined.

Key concepts.

The key concepts which will be our lens for the inquiry are function ( how does it work?) and responsibility. We ask the students to get the laptops and create a quick cartoon using Toondoo to show their understanding of one of the two concepts in a clever way. Some create cartoons that connect to our central idea, others show examples that connect to their personal lives. The choice is theirs – the results are creative and thought-provoking! Back in groups, the students now pick out questions relating to each of these  key concepts….

Big ideas about the learning:

Officially, there has been no teaching yet. A few video clips, some ideas on the class blog to think about and the time described above spent provoking and developing thinking.

Yet, already…

  • Students have risen above the facts and are thinking on a conceptual level.
  • They are making connections with prior knowledge and constructing meaning for themselves.
  • They are asking and answering questions, organizing ideas and justifying their thinking.
  • The so-called ’21st century skills’ of creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration are all evident.
  • A host of other trans-disciplinary skills are being practised.
  • Curiosity has been sparked and there is excitement about taking the learning further.
  • Every single one of our school’s learning principles is evident.
Images: Responsibility by Amelia, Function by Gabi

What are your beliefs about learning?

Do you just go in there and teach or do you think about the ways in which your students learn best?

Just mention the periodic table and my daughter bursts into song  ‘Hydrogen, Helium…’

She has little if any interest in things scientific or mathematical. She hated maths at school and I recall a science teacher once reporting to me that she had fallen asleep during class. It was a race to see whether maths and science teachers gave up on her or she stopped trying first. She spent her final years at a school that specialized in the arts, where she focused on drama, theatre, art and music. These days, at 26, she is fluent in Spanish and runs a children’s arts and literacy foundation in Ecuador.

So how is it that she recalls the periodic tables fifteen years after learning them?

As part of a 6th grade performance, the music teacher set the elements to music. The catchy tune and the elements of the periodic table have stuck in my daughter’s head ever since.

What does this tell us about how learning works?

What does it tell us about the ‘one size fits all’ model of school?

What are your beliefs about learning?

Why was You Tube invented?

What Ed and Linda said... A collaborative post about teaching media literacy.

Media literacy is the ability to analyse, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms.

This is the central idea behind our latest unit of inquiry in Year 5. It’s a new unit and some of the teachers are still feeling their way, as it’s an area in which their 11-year-old students might be slightly more comfortable than they are.

By the end of the unit we hope students (and teachers) will understand…

  • what literacy means today (more than reading and writing!)
  • that media literacy is the ability to access, analyse, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms.
  • that there is always a message, sometimes obvious sometimes hidden.
  • that we  are influenced in many ways which we might not even be aware of.
  • the need to critically analyse and evaluate the messages in different media forms.
  • that we need to be responsible in creating content that others can see.
  • that we can get our own message across creatively.
  • that there are consequences to the messages we create.
  • that we should always be aware of the digital footprint we are creating.
  • that being informed can empower us.

The teachers designed a great provocation to tune students in. As well as class teachers, all the specialists were involved – ICT, library, art and music. We wanted to start the students thinking by bombarding them with an array of different kinds of media. The classrooms and our adjacent Learning Resource Centre were set up with laptop computers, interactive whiteboards, iPods and iPads. Included were videos, advertisements (video and still), excerpts from TV shows, music videos, books, QR codes, artwork, websites, text messages, blogs, cartoons, newspapers, magazines and emails.

The kids had to go to a range of types of media, which were colour coded to make sure they visited a few in each category. In pairs they discussed and made notes on what they saw, and what it made them think. Lots of excited chat – ‘Why is this all here?’

Back in their classrooms students reflected on what had made an impression on them, and why.

How did the provocation make you feel?

  • Overwhelmed because of the quantity and the variety of things. (Julian and Bailey)
  • Excited about the new information. (Jared and Benji)
  • Surprised how educational all the info was. (Jamie and Ethan)
  • Complex, confused but amazed (Taya)
  • Mixed emotions because there were so many messages going around (Jade and Lexi)
  • Interested as everything was different and interesting in its own way. (Chloe)
  • Fascinated by so many facts (Joel and Izzy.)
  • Appreciative because we see and use so many different forms of communication. (Alyshia)

The Year 5 team met yesterday, a few weeks into the unit, to discuss how the learning is unfolding and what direction it might take next. We looked at some of the students’ questions to assess where their understandings and interests currently lie. We were quite taken with this one:

Why was You Tube invented? (Mia)

It will be interesting to have the students unpack that particular question further. It should provide a stimulus for some wonderful thinking and discussion. What is the purpose of You Tube? How is it used? How has it evolved? What are the advantages and disadvantages? Why is it blocked in some places?

A year ago You Tube was unblocked in our school for the first time. Our students quickly became not only consumers but creators, learning to upload their own videos and embed them in class blogs. How exciting to move from consuming to creating and now to to analysing.

Would you like to participate in their inquiry? What’s your opinion? Why was YouTube invented?