Past, present, future of education…

Scene 1:  The past

Students learned from the teacher.  Facts were learned from text books. Learning took place in the classroom.  Teachers asked questions and students answered them. Information about far away places was found in books.

Scene 2: The present

Students learn from the teacher, each other, the internet, books, movies, people inside the school, people outside the school, people in other countries.  Students learn through inquiry. They ask questions, wonder, explore, experiment and investigate new ideas. They make online global connections and learn about far away places directly from people who live in them! Here’s an example, where one thing lead to another…

  • Our school has recently established a kitchen garden program. Our students in Year 4 and 5 explore related issues in their units of inquiry.  On alternate fortnights, the children either have lessons in the garden or in the kitchen.
  • A TED talk by Jamie Oliver prompted me to blog about our kitchen garden program.
  • One of the comments on my post was from Bernadette, who’s school in Kansas, USA has a similar sort of kitchen garden program.
  • We engaged in conversation via Twitter and email and considered the possibility of a collaboration. This one hasn’t happened yet, but it will! We hope to start an ongoing collaboration about how our gardens grow and change during the year.
  • However, we have established a connection between our prep children (they call it kindergarten) . Our little ones  learned that there are children just like them far away in another country. They answered the questions sent to them by their new friends in Kansas via Voicethread and thereby began an ongoing conversation…

Scene 3:  The Future

Teachers from Scene 1 could never have envisioned what’s happening in Scene 2.  I can imagine the immediate future, since there are many inspiring educators who are already way ahead of our school in creating global connections and collaborating across the world in all sorts of exciting ways.  They are motivating us to flatten our classroom walls still more.  And after that…the possibilities are endless!

Inquiry learning…

I posted recently 3 reasons to be a teacher.  The post itself was quick and a bit tongue in cheek, but the response was wonderful!   Teachers all over the world shared why they are teachers and I couldn’t help but think how lucky we are to be in such a satisfying profession, where each day brings something new and exciting and challenging.  I have just come from the staffroom where 3 teachers, as they made their morning coffee, spontaneously shared successful learning that had taken place in their classes and their excitement was contagious!  One story at least is worth sharing here…

Rubi’s Year 4 students (9 year olds) were having difficulty grasping the concept of sustainability, as in this model.

Her solution was to bring several simple jigsaw puzzles to the class. Each group was given a puzzle, with a key piece missing.  She told them the task was connected to their unit of inquiry and they should think about how this might be.

As they talked amongst themselves, Rubi recording their thinking…

  • I think it’s about about cooperation
  • How we are connected to the world and together
  • I think the puzzle has something to do with the Venn diagram on sustainability.

They soon got the idea that the puzzle could not come together if there was a piece missing.  Once they had this practical  hands-on example, it didn’t take long before they made the connection with the sustainability diagram and how each piece is a key part of the whole.

Further student thinking…

  • What happens if a piece is missing? The whole thing falls apart.
  • I understand that we need a balance, but should we not take care of the environment more now?
  • What if people were more concerned about economy and society and not the environment?
  • How can we organise our society in a way that will help us to keep the balance?

Every child was engaged. They were thinking and collaborating and learning. They were excited to make connections. And Rubi herself experienced one of those moments where we think how great it is to be a teacher!

Here’s my Venn diagram to represent the lesson!

If you’re interested in reading more about  inquiry as a stance, read Maggie’s  post about different types of inquiry at Tech Transformation.

Establishing a culture of thinking…

Ron Ritchhart, in his book Intellectual Character, talks about teaching children to think and the importance of creating a culture of thinking in the classroom.  His work with David Perkins, Howard Gardner and others at Harvard University on Project Zero and Visible Thinking is well worth exploring.

He describes eight ‘cultural forces’ that define a thinking classroom. These forces foster thinking, and hence deeper understanding and more meaningful learning:

Time for thinking
Expectations for thinking and learning
Opportunities for engaging in thinking
Routines & Structures that scaffold thinking and learning
Language & Conversations that name, notice, and highlight thinking
Modeling of thinking
Interactions & Relationships that show respect for students’ thinking
Physical Environment in which the process of thinking is made visible

I’ll start with the easiest one.  Time for thinking.  It’s easy to talk about.. not always so easy to ensure in the classroom.

How often do teachers ask a question, then rephrase it if no-one answers in the first few seconds?
It’s easy to call on the same child who always raises his hand, yet again, if no-one else volunteers.
Do you ever answer the question yourself if no-one else seems ready to?

Sometimes it’s difficult to allow waiting time, if there’s no response right away, but we need to allow time for thinking if we want our students to think!  One possibility  is to give students time to think and to write down their thoughts, before calling on anyone to respond. That way, everyone has enough time to formulate thoughtful responses and there is much greater participation.  Another is to allow time for students to share their thinking in pairs or groups, before calling on individuals to answer.
Time for thinking’ also implies time for in depth exploration of topics.  The PYP encourages higher order thinking and engagement with conceptual ideas through units of inquiry.  We have definitely seen a difference in the way our students think, since our school introduced the PYP  a few years ago!

Cultural forces in a thinking classroom: Part 1: Time

You are what you eat…

In this new Ted Talk, Jamie Oliver talks about the importance of educating children about nutrition.  In one startling scene he shows various common vegetables to school children  and they have no idea what they are! Definitely worth watching…

Let me share what’s happening at my school, an initiative of Greg, our visionary head! We have established a kitchen garden under the guidance of Sue, our hands-on gardening expert.  Last year she worked with voluntary groups of kids who came at lunchtimes to build the garden, learn about growing things and plant a wonderful array of vegetables, fruit and herbs.

This year, in addition to the voluntary lunchtime groups (which are now oversubscribed!), the kitchen garden will be built into the curriculum.  All the Year 4’s and 5’s will spend time in the kitchen garden as part of their units of inquiry.  Year 5’s have already begun their inquiry into the biological and environmental considerations to be taken into account when growing plants, and the Year 4’s will explore the roles different people play in the the production of food.

In the near future, with the help of volunteers and donations, we will have a kitchen and dining room nearby too.  Students will learn about nutrition, healthy eating and cooking skills, using the produce grown in their very own garden.  And it eat it too!

Key Concepts…

As teacher and learner in the IBO Primary Years Program, I believe that inquiry is a powerful vehicle for learning which challenges students to engage with significant ideas.
The PYP curriculum is driven by key concepts which give the inquiries direction and meaning. The concepts deepen an understanding of the subject areas while providing further opportunities to make connections throughout the learning, from one subject to another, and between disciplinary and transdisciplinary learning. (IBO Making the PYP Happen )

My next few posts will be a series based on these key concepts.  The previous one on perspective was the first, although I hadn’t decided so at the time of writing! It was inspired by my reading about discrimination against Dalit children in India.  The next will be about change.