Where do great ideas come from?

Reflecting on 2011, we have done some amazing things to create engaging learning opportunities in our school.

Where did the ideas come from? Watch the video…

Ignite, Engage, Inspire

Greatly inspired by Marco Torres‘ presentation entitled ‘Ignite, Engage, Inspire’, my colleague Jocelyn left saying, “I am going to try something new tomorrow.” Undeterred by the fact that she is not an experienced film-maker and had never touched an iPad, the plan was to have her students create films, using iPads.


Create a film to express the essence of the social inequity that you have explored for your personal inquiry.


  • Write a key sentence for your social inequity that has  possibilities for a story.
  • Highlight key ideas in the sentence that you will use in your story.
  • Create a story-board by telling the story in words.
  • Include directions for camera angles such as: Wide establishing shot to set the scene, medium shot to draw you into the character and story, close-up to show emotion, over the shoulder shot to show someone’s point of view, bird’s eye view for effect.
  • Create a story-board in pictures, showing exactly who stands where and does what. 
  • No more than 6 frames. At the top of each box write the camera angle.
  • Camera, lights, action with an i-pad of course!
  • Edit in i-movie and insert text and music.
  • Get excited by what you have achieved!
I stood alongside Hannah, Oliver and Bianca as they filmed. I learned a great deal as I watched these 12 year-olds create a film, scene by scene, from their well thought out story-board…. not just about film making, but about engaging and meaningful learning. The only practical thing I did to help, was to stand in a particular place to block the sunlight, in order to enable a better shot. Always nice to feel useful!

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Here’s an example of what kids can create in just a few hours:

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  • All the so called 21st century skills in action: creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking.
  • A huge range of trans-disciplinary skills, including planning, decision making, writing, filming, organisation, time management, cooperation….
  • Seamless integration of technology into learning.
  • Authentic involvement of the ICT Facilitator and Teacher Librarian (Ours is so much more than that!), unlike the isolated weekly lessons they used to give a year or so ago.
  • Meaningful use of our new iPads to enhance the learning and achieve an end.
  • True inquiry, as students experimented with the iPads and iMovie and figured out for themselves how to achieve the results they wanted.
  • A learning community, in which several teachers were involved in learning along with the students.
  • An unbelievable level of engagement and excitement about learning… for students and teachers alike.
  • Letting go of control and handing over the learning to the students can have outstanding results.
  • If you have an idea, run with it. Don’t wait for a better time, particular conditions or permission to try. What’s the worst that can happen? (If you read this blog, you will recognise that mantra).
Ignite, engage, inspire? I think so!


Opportunities for creativity…

How can we provide better opportunities for learning to be expressed creatively?  Do students have choice or does everyone have to do the same thing in the same way? What possibilities are there for students to explore different media for creative expression? How is creativity encouraged and developed?

During our Year 6 PYP exhibition unit next term, students will explore how ‘Social inequities create a need for action in the world’.  Within this broad conceptual understanding, students will follow their areas of interest and decide on their own individual and small group inquiries. They will research and investigate their chosen areas independently, with support from teachers and mentors as required.

Instead of their usual weekly art and music classes, this year for the first time, students will further explore the central idea through a choice of art, drama, music, film, poetry or technology. While some of these will already naturally be incorporated into the students’ presentation of their learning, there will be a two hour block each week, devoted to a deeper exploration of their elected medium.

I was really excited by the possibilities of this when the idea was first conceived in collaboration with Elena and Dani, our art and music teachers. They were keen to work with kids exploring their preferred medium, rather than all 95 Year 6  students.  The idea was further developed in a chat with Jeremy McDonald on the other side of the world, who asked provocative questions to help me clarify both the rationale and the details. There was enthusiastic support from the Year 6 teachers and I’m well on the way to finding volunteers keen to facilitate each of the groups.

Yesterday I shared this idea  with a couple of young educators I know.  One suggested a range of creative ideas to deepen the students’ understanding of social inequity through creative exploration. I think if she was in Year 6 herself, she might struggle to choose which of the groups to participate in.

The other provoked me to think about kids who might not be interested in any of the options.  Will they choose film or technology simply because they are less interested in the arts, rather than because they find those options exciting? Will there be students who don’t like any of the options? Should we be offering something additional?

I know this plan is an improvement on the way things used to be, because

  • Students will choose their preferred creative medium.
  • They will have more time to explore it in a dedicated weekly two hour block.
  • There are some new options which are not part of their regular program.
  • They will collaborate with different people, rather than their usual class group and teacher.
  • They will gain a broader perspective  on the central idea and deepen their understandings through exploring it in other ways.
  • The exhibition will include performance and display of their creative expression.
But I’m still wondering how it can be further improved and refined.  So what do you think? Creative ideas, comments, advice, provocative questions and potential solutions will be welcomed!
Why plan with a small group in your own school, when there’s a whole world of creative people out there?

Leadership day…

We sat on the grass in silence and waited. A few kids saw us and sat down too. Eventually the others noticed and joined us in the circle. I drew a square on the large piece of paper in the middle. My colleagues Joc and Motti drew a roof and a door respectively. A pause… Tania was the first child to take the pen and add to the picture and then the kids each took a turn to draw something. The teachers had not yet said a word!

It was part of a leadership day for our primary school captains and the message of this particular activity was  that one can lead by example without actually telling anyone to do anything. When we discussed it afterwards, they got the point quickly, as I knew they would.

But what surprised me was the conversation during the time the teachers were silent…

Tania: ‘We’re supposed to add to the drawing’.

Others: ‘I want to draw the windows’.

‘I’m drawing a tree’.

‘Give me the pen.’

‘No, don’t push, we should be taking turns’.

‘Yes, they want to see if we will take turns’.

‘Let’s go round the circle and each draw one thing.’

‘Maybe it’s supposed to be the school.’

‘We have people in it, it’s a community.’

‘It represents a community of learners….’

I think I got more pleasure out of the spontaneous conversation than the planned discussion.


Glass half full…

This morning I read @davidwees’s well written, sad but true, post entitled A Day in the Life of a Student. From that child’s perspective, school is a pointless and unrewarding experience. And yes, we need to work hard to change that model of school. But school doesn’t have to look like that. My inspiration for this post comes from some of the wonderful bloggers who share their practice generously with the world…

A ( different) day in the life of a student…

I wake up in the morning earlier than I want to. I’d rather stay in bed… but wouldn’t everyone? Once fully awake though, I remember some of the  exciting things happening at school and feel more positive about the day ahead.

I arrive at school and jostle through the over crowded hallway to get to Mr Rice’s science class. I  look forward to science because Mr Rice has a way of hooking me in with a provocation that gets my imagination going. He asks questions that get me thinking of even more questions, rather than answers. I love the way he gives us plenty of time to gather materials and find things out for ourselves, but helps us figure out stuff if we need him. I always know if I’m on the right track because he gives me constructive, explicit feedback. Today we’re playing with cornstarch and water to see what happens and I’m so engaged in my learning that I don’t even notice when the bell goes!

You wouldn’t believe it, but my next class is ‘show and tell’. I haven’t done that since I was 7! Mr Spencer is an awesome writer and genuinely caring person, not just a teacher. He really listens to what we say, but more than that, he hears what I don’t say too. Bringing something personal for today’s class is an opportunity to give something of myself in a secure setting. I can tell that Mr Spencer cares about what I’ve brought and wants to know more about why I’ve chosen it, which makes it a little easier to open up and share something so personal with the whole class. I know it’s helping him see me as a whole person with a story of my own.

I have a math test in my next class. I usually hate tests because learning is collaborative and suddenly they expect you to do everything on your own. Sometimes I panic because they say the grades are important and so I forget things I actually knew how to do. It’s different in Mr Lee’s class because of the Twitter back-channel. I look forward to tests! We use our handheld devices to communicate with each other if we need some support. Sounds like cheating doesn’t it? But it isn’t really, because math is not about getting an answer, it’s about a process. Collaboration is a key part of functioning in society today after all, and memorization isn’t.

I’m taking my lunch to Ms Miller’s Bloggers Cafe. She knows I have better things to do after school, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to write. Blogging helps me reflect on my learning and Ms Miller says I’m developing my writing skills. Reading blogs by students around the world gives me a better understanding of other people and other cultures.  But the most motivating thing of all is to find comments on my posts, written by people I don’t even know yet. Knowing I have a real live audience makes me want to write more and more.

It’s easy to forget that my next class takes place in a room with four walls. We use Skype with Ms Tolisano to learn from and with other teachers and learners around the world. This makes learning really meaningful. I mean, it’s not like teachers know everything there is to know and this is the 21st century, so why not communicate with people out there in every way that’s possible? For our research into Christopher Columbus, she called for ‘experts’ worldwide to Skype with us,  teachers and classes of all ages and backgrounds, to help us gain the broadest perspective possible. Who would have thought learning could be so cool?

I could go on and on. There are enough innovative teachers out there doing brilliant things to fill thousands of blog posts every day.

Educational reform? One passionate teacher at a time.

On creativity…

This week’s #edchat discussion focused on what we are doing to encourage creativity in schools. It was one of those topics that makes me wish I didn’t live in Australia!  The time difference precludes me from participating in #edchat other than during school holidays.  On the few occasions that I have, I found the conversation stimulating and thought-provoking… and fun too, because of the sheer speed and intensity of it!

I asked my class of 10-11 year olds what they thought about creativity.  They know that teachers are learners too as we value lifelong learning and I often tell them about things I have learned in different contexts.  On this ocassion I shared that teachers were having a discussion online about creativity in schools and I wondered what their thoughts would be so that I could see the student perspective too.

What is creativity?

  • It’s a strange solution to a problem, different ideas, different thinking (Matthew)
  • Imagination, thinking outside the box. (Gemma)
  • A fun and different way to express yourself. (Lele)
  • Having a dream and having imagination during a discussion. (Zac)
  • Making another way to learn something (Amy)
  • Drawing, having fun, doing it your own way. (Loren)
  • Doing something a unique way, different to others’ ideas. (Jay)
  • Getting out of your comfort zone and thinking outside the box. (Jasmine)

What were some opportunities you had in the past week to be creative (at school)?

  • Thinking creatively in class discussions.
  • When we had to think which concepts were relevant to a story.
  • Using Museum Box for our inquiry.
  • When we came up with  our own questions to explore for our unit of inquiry
  • Using ToonDoo for a Hebrew story.
  • Building a wall of information out of sticky notes to show our knowledge in a creative way.
  • Writing stories on our own topics,  at art, in maths … all the time really.
  • We are always being told to come up with different things.
  • For our book response, we created a Wallwisher out of sticky notes.
  • Using different resources eg books, computer, thinking in general.
  • Thinking of different approaches for cross country run.
  • Art, music, writing and enrichment activities.
  • At playtime.
  • All the time!

We’re doing OK! Our school provides plenty of opportunities for creativity through enrichment activities across a range of areas such as photography and jewelery making, a whole school musical, a kitchen garden and a rock band. So I was rather pleased that many of the students’ comments related to opportunities for creative thinking and inquiry as well as use of technology, rather than the more obvious possibilities like music and art.

I think that to foster creativity, teachers need to be creative themselves.  Our students need to feel that initiative is valued above compliance. They need to have choices in their learning, opportunities to try new things and encouragement to explore different possibilities. They need to know that they own their learning and be aware that it can be expressed in many different ways.  They need to know that there is not only one right answer or one right way.  We need to encourage them to use their imagination and express themselves through the arts, language, creative thinking and technology.  We need to be open to their differences and value their diverse contributions.

Series of posts related to the  PYP Attitudes:  Creativity