Reciprocal connections…

Which image represents who you are an educator?

It’s a check-in I often use in workshops as an ice breaker and a window into the beliefs of the people with whom I’m working.

I always choose the image of paper clips. There are multiple possible explanations but, most often, I talk about the value of being a connected educator, about how much I have learned through connecting globally with others to exchange ideas, collaborate, support and be supported.

No matter what workshop I lead, there will almost always be a time included for some or all of the participants to connect virtually with educators in the world beyond. Sometimes it’s because participants have questions about areas in which I don’t have expertise. Sometimes it’s to meet the needs of specific participants and give them opportunities to pursue their own inquiries. And, sometimes it’s to demonstrate the power of global connections.

I’m always extremely grateful to the educators who give of their time, often on weekends, to join in virtually and share so freely with others. Usually they are ‘my people’, the incredible leaders and teachers with whom I work at my own school. Often they are ‘my other people’ – the generous educators who are part of my online professional learning network, many of whom I have never met face to face, with whom I have a reciprocal relationship. But sometimes, they are people I don’t know at all, recommended by others or identified through my online networks. To those contributors, I am especially grateful.

And here’s the surprise… While I’ve always seen it as others doing me a favour, in particular the people whom I don’t even know, it turns out that they see it as an opportunity! They appreciate being asked. They are delighted to have the chance to talk about what they do. They like making new connections and extending their own learning. The fact that they need to share pushes them to clarify their own thinking and identify what matters. I hadn’t really thought about it in this way till I received messages like these:

“That would be a treat. Thank you so much for thinking of me. I love sharing what we do here in this corner of the world… For me, this is a wonderful opportunity.”

” I really enjoy those discussions and am happy to help again… The practice I get in situations like this could only possibly help me to come out of my shell more and share more about what I do.”

And now, the drama teacher whom I met at my previous workshop in India, who so enjoyed his virtual conversations with teachers in Brazil, Korea and China (the first time he’d had such experiences) has jumped at the opportunity to pay it forward by connecting with a drama teacher in a coming Australian workshop…

The power of being connected…

I was convinced the school had chosen the wrong workshop.

The pre-workshop survey indicated that teachers’ needs included things as disparate as drama teaching, physical education and inquiry in the early years. Their requests appeared to have little connection to the objectives of the PYP workshop I would be leading for them – ‘Get Connected: Engaging in authentic global learning practices.’

I confess to a degree of panic and several exchanges with the school’s coordinator in Mumbai to check if she was sure they had chosen the appropriate workshop. How would I possibly be able to cater for the diverse needs of drama and PE teachers, a counsellor, a French teacher, primary and pre-school teachers?

In the end, it was simple. Instead of trying to address all of those requests and instead of learning about getting connected, I made the decision to immerse them in global connections. All I needed to do, was to draw on my own network to demonstrate the power of global connections and networked learning. The Mumbai teachers would have access to a range of educators from different countries and fields… and agency to design their own learning experience.

Considering dispositions required both for the workshop and as global citizens
Reading blogs from educators around the world
Exploring early years inquiry with Mandy in Australia. (And Shana. And later Jennifer in China)
Discussing maths with Lana in Australia
Chatting about agency with Sonya in China
Connecting with Jina in Australia regarding differentiation and inclusion
Generating questions to ask the world…

We posted the teachers’ questions on a Padlet called ‘Ask the World’. By morning we had a broad range of responses from generous PYP educators around the globe! (Check it out.)

PE teachers – so excited to connect with Joel in Laos and Sandijs in China.
Deepak Sir exchanges ideas about Drama teaching with Vanessa in Brazil, Jolene in Korea and Freda in China.
Hearing about ‘Making writing’ and other literacy ideas from Jocelyn in Australia.
Finding out about the impact of global collaborations from Tali and Grade 2 children
Discussing how technology can enrich learning in younger years, with Pana in Taiwan
A Granny Cloud experience with Monika and Grade 8 at Diksha near Delhi
Mystery Skype with Grade 3s in Australia was a highlight!
Thoughtful educators considering what action they will take.

With tremendous appreciation for my local and global network (mostly PYP educators, in this case), many of whom I have never met in person, for generously sharing their time, ideas, experience, vulnerabilities and expertise so that others may learn and grow.

Moving learning forward…

When I was a child, my parents kept a ‘theme box’  where the family collected magazine pictures, newspaper articles and pamphlets, so that my brothers and I had resources at our fingertips for school projects.

I remember I once had to research a country in Europe for a geography project and I chose France, because there was appropriate material in the ‘theme box’! On every page of my ‘theme book’ I traced an outline of the map of France, inside which I wrote information about the population, sights, climate and industry. While I loved how my pages looked, I don’t recall caring about the content or wondering about its relevance. I certainly wouldn’t have thought to question the value of this supposed learning experience but I assume my teacher could tick some curriculum boxes.

These are memories that spring to mind, as I work with Year 6 teachers, planning their current unit of inquiry.

In its first incarnation, a few years back, the focus of the unit was on understanding more about our geographical neighbours in the Asia-Pacific region. Students inquired into a country of their choice, then shared and compared their findings with their class mates. Unlike the ‘theme box’ of my days, it was exciting to have the opportunity to connect via Skype to find out about other people and other places via primary sources.

In its current version the unit is based on our understanding of geo-literacy…


The central idea is: Understanding the interconnectedness of the world empowers people to make informed decisions for now and the future.

We’re not sure if it’s perfect, but it’s a sound starting point. As with all good inquiry units, the teachers are not entirely sure where the learning will go or how it will get there. They have, however, articulated some desired conceptual understandings for students to reach, as they explore the big idea through the lenses of connection and reflection

  • A wide range of  factors shape the way people live.
  • Individuals and countries are interconnected in many ways.
  • Engaging with and learning from people in other places helps us understand our interconnectedness.
  • Decisions made today have an impact on other places and times.

We still need to focus on the Asia-Pacific, due to the requirements of the Australian curriculum, but we have come a long way since we first planned this unit.

  • Learning principles. Our articulated beliefs about learning  are becoming more and more embedded in our planning.
  • Concept driven learning. The desired conceptual understandings are articulated in advance.
  • Intention. We start from the ‘why’.  No learning experience is planned without sound reasoning as to its purpose.
  • Evidence. We know what evidence we will look for to assess the learners’ understanding, to inform further teaching and learning.
  • Direction. We consider what the unit is not about. We decide on one (conceptual) word that sums up the essence of the unit. In this case, the unit is about ‘interconnectedness’ not about ‘Asia’.
  • Inquiry. We understand that true inquiry is more than ‘doing a project’ on something in which you are interested…
  • Differentiation. The planner no longer contains a series of pre-planned activities, but rather a bank of potential provocations from which teachers might select, depending on how the learning unfolds in each class.
  • Technology. The use of technology is an integral part of planning and learning.
  •  21st century skills (as they used to be called) Creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking are integrated naturally into the way we plan for learning.


If you or your class (or an expert you know), in the Asia-Pacific region, would like to engage with our Year 6 students, via their blogs, Twitter or Skype to help them explore the ways we are interconnected, ranging from individual to international level, please let us know.

Twitter in the classroom…

A group of Jina’s Year 4 students sit on the floor and I show them Twitter. She is fairly new to Twitter herself, so I love that she has set up a class account and is keen to get them started, especially as this is the first class Twitter account in our school.

For now, the account can only be accessed if the teacher logs in. She plans to keep it logged in in the classroom, so that students can share their learning and gather data via their questions. Several articles in the past few weeks have covered dozens of ways to use Twitter for learning and we need to start somewhere to see where this takes us.

I start with a brief explanation of how it works and its purpose, then show them some Twitter streams from classes at other schools to give them a better idea. I had planned to have them practice expressing their thoughts in 140 characters first, but it turns out to be unnecessary. I model a couple of tweets with their input and, within a few minutes, we have a volunteer up at the board, typing a tweet about their Skype experience the day before.

To my surprise, the rest of the group spontaneously supports the Tweeter, with spelling and punctuation corrections as well as suggestions for content. There is some discussion about what aspects of the Skype experience to include and a few questions, most of which they answer themselves simply by watching. They quickly head to their seats to compile some tweets of their own about other learning experiences in the past few days.

Frankly, I’m amazed at how many skills are being applied here! These 9 year-olds are quite spontaneously…

  • Writing for an authentic audience.
  • Communicating with purpose.
  • Reflecting on their learning.
  • Making choices about what to share.
  • Distilling the essence of each learning experience.
  • Expressing themselves concisely.
  • Applying their knowledge of spelling and punctuation.

I tweet from my own account for people to say hi from other countries and they receive responses from all over the world.

It’s the end of the day and they miss most of them as they rush off to pack up and go home. We have a few days off school, but I’m sure next week Jina will follow up and have them respond to the global tweets. It would be great if they spent some time looking up the places on the map.

It’s just the beginning…

A family connection…

When our Year 6 kids first Skyped with Raj in Chennai, India, for an inquiry into our Asian neighbours, it was a something out of the ordinary. Raj dressed in a special shirt for the occasion and the children sat politely in their seats, venturing to the microphone when it was their turn to speak.

A couple of years later, this is nothing unusual any more. Various classes have communicated via Skype with individuals and classes in other countries. Students and teachers alike have learned a great deal about different people, countries and cultures through these personal connections.

From 4G’s room in Melbourne to the living-room in Chennai.

Today Year 4G is interacting with Raj for an inquiry into cultural beliefs and traditions. It’s completely relaxed. There are groups of Aussie kids moving around, chatting about what Raj is saying, a core group is on the floor at the front lapping up every word and some serious inquirers sit at their tables taking notes. It doesn’t matter that some kids drift in and out of out of the conversation… so does Raj. It’s a holiday and he’s talking from home, with his son Aditya chiming in from time to time. It’s not the first time Adi has joined a session, but this time Raj is in the living-room and we can see the rest of the family going about their business in the background.

This is the week of Raj’s father’s Sadhabhishekam, a Hindu commemoration of the 80th birthday. The Year 4s explored photos from the occasion, before the session, and have loads of questions about the clothing, the food, the rituals… and about the values and beliefs underlying these. They are familiar with the iceberg model of culture and know that there’s much more to explore than what you can see above the surface. They have even classified their questions in this way, and one class has a paper model of an iceberg, with sand at the bottom, where they place their ‘very deep’ questions!

The engaging thing is that Raj draws in whichever family member the question relates to. The children meet his father, in traditional Brahmin dress. He demonstrates the application of the holy ash on his forehead and shows them the thread he has worn since his coming of age. His mother brings the box of vermillion, used to apply her bindee and she opens her hands to reveal the henna patterns applied for the birthday celebration. Raj’s wife Radha, demonstrates how she draws the kolam, a welcome pattern symbolizing ‘no end no beginning’, usually drawn on the floor outside the house.

They show the children ritual items and artefacts and almost share some traditional Indian sweets… It’s a shame we’re more than 8000 Km away! I have to say… it feels as if we are in the living-room in Chennai.

What does it mean to be a global citizen?

Our Year 6 students have been inquiring into a range of countries in the Asia Pacific as part of their exploration of what it means to be a global citizen. The central idea is that to be a global citizen, we need to understand and engage with our neighbours. They prepared a range of questions to help them understand our neighbours and then they engaged!

Here’s an example…

What’s the story? (Edna)

The session was planned for 2.30pm Melbourne time, but I reached the library a bit earlier to find a group of kids already chatting excitedly. Tahni, Alex, Ronnie, Ruby, Jaimie and Elijah were about to connect with Craig and his Year 4 class in Saigon to further their inquiry into Vietnam.

Craig’s Year 4s were quite delightful, as was the entire session! Craig fielded the tougher questions and encouraged his students to respond to the ones they could. Theirs is an international school, but they explained that their life and school are not typically Vietnamese. It was great to hear the authentic Vietnamese voice of NguyenU Phuong, the Vietnamese Teacher’s Assistant providing her perspective too. Craig seemed a bit surprised at his students’ ability to identify and describe difficulties faced in their country, such as Dengue Fever, flooding and traffic congestion.

The Aussies talked quietly amongst themselves in between, comparing the responses with their own lives here. Their questions showed that they had already done some research and they connected what they heard with prior learning. As well as wanting to know about school, festivals and daily life, their deeper questions related to government and social inequities, big ideas from earlier units of inquiry.

The session went on longer than expected and the Year 6s loved every minute of it. As they gathered their belongings to go back to their classes, I heard their comments:
‘I got so much out of that’, ‘All my questions were answered’, ‘I didn’t even know there were PYP schools all over the world’, ‘The kids were sooo cute’, ‘You learn so much more this way, than from just looking stuff up’….

What’s the other story? (Craig)

As with many students attending international schools, our students come from upper middle class to upper class homes. The students see what they have and their lives as being ‘normal’. It is quite common for families at our school to have housekeepers, nannies, drivers, security guards and the like. Other children come to school on the back of a motorbike, which is the most common form of transport used in Vietnam.

To prepare for the session with the Year 6 students in Australia, my students were asked to think about the questions over the weekend so we could brainstorm and share ideas prior to the Skype conference. I was quite pleasantly surprised by the thought the students had put in and some of the contributions that they’d made. My students reminded me of the mosquito borne virus, Dengue Fever, which has affected the families of at least 7 of my students, including my wife. They also came up with the flooding that we deal with on a monthly basis due to king high tides on the Saigon River. I wish I was that switched on to the world around me when I was 9 years old.

While my students recently completed and video recorded many personal interviews as part of  their current unit of inquiry, the Skype conference with Year 6  students from Edna’s school has given me the inspiration to try something similar when we’re inquiring into cultures and religions. I have former colleagues teaching all over the world who might be willing to support my students as they continue accessing primary sources. Instead of reading books about religions in February,  the students inquiring into Judaism can Skype with students at Edna’s school, those inquiring into Islam can talk with students from my former school in the Middle East.

I think by the time the conference had come to an end, everyone had taken away something positive – what could be better than that?

Refining questions…

The whole of Year 6 (100 students) gathered in the open space to prepare for their coming Skype interactions with teachers and classes next week.

They are inquiring into a range of countries in the Asia Pacific as part of their exploration of what it means to be a global citizen. The central idea is that to be a global citizen, we need to understand and engage with our neighbours. So they will!

We started by viewing a few clips to highlight some drawbacks from previous sessions, so that we can learn from our mistakes…

More here, here and here.

We moved on to a famous quote ‘Too hot, too cold, just right’ (Goldilocks) and discussed examples of  how to refine our questions to make them ‘just right’ … relevant, appropriate and engaging.

Students split into groups based on which country they have chosen, and applied their new understandings to refining and prioritising the questions they had already prepared.

The questions they shared at the end demonstrated the thinking and learning that had taken place in most groups.  We’re looking forward to some great Skype sessions with India, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, China, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Korea and the Philipines!

Do you know anyone in Burma, Papua New Guinea, Laos or Timor that could help us?

Global Education Conference 2011

Preparing for my Global Education Conference presentation is an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come and to imagine where else we might go.

I first dreamed of global interactions when I saw this video conference posted on The Fischbowl a couple of years ago…

I’d used Skype to connect with family but the idea of connecting students with the world in that way simply hadn’t occurred  to me.

It led to my first blog post

‘ A teacher’s job is to calm the disturbed and to disturb the calm’ (unknown author)

Disturbing the calm is definitely my preference!

My current goal is to disturb the  status quo of classroom teaching.  After a great deal of reading  and a few encouraging successes,  I am excited about the concept of the ‘flat classroom’  as a meaningful way to  enhance learning.   I want to explore ways to collapse the walls of the classroom and find possibilities for taking learning outside of the conventional structure.

You’re  invited to join me on my journey! Let’s create opportunities for our students to connect and collaborate with others outside of the classroom.

That led to the first ever Skype interaction between kids at my school and someone in the world (Raj in India)…

And subsequent global connections to enhance learning about…

different cultures

other religions…

different places…

world issues…

Not just for students, but for teachers too…

My Global Education Conference presentation (with Rajendran Dandapani sharing perspectives from India) will be on Thursday 17th November at 9pm Melbourne time, 3.30pm Chennai time, 10am GMT. Check for your time on the full schedule here and come and join us. It’s an opportunity to establish global connections, share ideas and imagine what’s possible in the future…

Taking learning forward…

What do our students know about the countries around us?  Not that much, apparently.

Our Year 6 classes have kicked off their new unit of inquiry by thinking about what it means to be a good neighbour and then discussing which of the requirements apply to being good global citizens too. They know we need to work towards understanding our geographical neighbours, engaging with and learning from them, but it seems that many aren’t quite sure who our neighbours are!

By the end of the unit they will know a great deal more. They will inquire into Australia’s interconnectedness with countries in the Asia Pacific, explore the region through Google Maps and a range of other resources and, best of all, they will interact with real people to find out about the countries in which they live.

“Learning  from someone is much more real than learning about them.”  (Year 6 student)

In my very first post on this blog, I stated that my goal was to flatten the walls, take the learning beyond the classroom out into the world, and bring the world inside. Not long after that, the first time Year 6 explored this topic, I persuaded the teachers to have the kids interview a friend in India via Skype. It was an experience that opened new doors and highlighted what was possible.

A year later, for the same unit of inquiry, student’s created a Voicethread with their questions and were able to pursue their personal inquiries via Skype too. They interacted with people in Japan, India, Singapore, Thailand, Bali and Sri Lanka.

This year, we would like to find even more primary sources in every country that our learners choose to investigate. Rather than a formal class structure, it would be great to see them in small groups talking via Skype to as many people as possible. We’d love to have them engaging with students in other countries and continuing to connect with them after the initial interviews.  It would be great to see them work collaboratively on Google Maps to which they add photos, information, questions and new learning. Hopefully they will use their class blogs to reflect on what they learn and to record their wonderings, so that people ‘out there’ can respond.

Do you want to help us learn?

Do you live in the Asia Pacific Region? You don’t need to be an expert. We’d be happy to send you some questions in advance, if that helps. We don’t mind using Skype, Voicethread, email or any other collaborative tool we know or have yet to learn (if it’s not blocked in our school…). We’d love you to include some students, preferably Year 6 or older, as we sometimes ask tough questions, but we’re just as happy to talk to adults. We’re willing to tell you a bit about Australia, in return.

If you’d like to join our learning community and can spare us a little time in the coming weeks, please let us know.

social media

Update: My PLN has delivered willing people or classes in India, China, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Phillipines, NZ and Indonesia! Still looking for Thailand, PNG, East Timor, Malaysia, Burma and Laos…

Final update: We got Malysia, Laos, Thailand.. and a few came too late, as our school year is just about over, but we’ll save them for future collaborations. Thank you!