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.

Who controls the learning?

This post grew out of a conversation with my personal learning network the other night. I was chatting about inquiry learning with a group of educators  in Australia, Ghana, Chile, Japan, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Canada and Bulgaria. Maggie was on her lunch break in Switzerland, Jen was on a ferry in Hong Kong, @Mallocup was at an automatic car-wash in Abu Dhabi  … Join us next time for #pypchat, wherever you are.

The conversation turned towards how much we plan ahead and how much unfolds naturally along the way. I’m wondering…

Do you prepare a range of teaching activities in advance?
Or do you plan a strong provocation  and then see how the learning unfolds naturally?

Is your plan a checklist, on which you cross off each activity you’ve ‘done’?
Or do you change your plan every day depending on the needs and interests of the students?

Do you know exactly what will happen in your classes?
Or do you really listen to students’ questions, answers and thoughts, allowing those to direct the learning?

Does every student do the same thing in your class?
Or do learners have choice where they take their learning and how they might share it?

Do you focus on covering the material and how best to teach it?
Or do you spark curiosity so that learners are inspired to question, explore and discover?

Is this you…?

Image: Eneko

Some thoughts from the chat participants:

  •  I have seen big differences among our teachers here, some plan in detail, others let unfold – but all plan summative first @tgalletti
  • We’re moving to planning much less. Well planned provocation essential. And ways to assess prior knowledge/current understanding. @gedmis
  • Tune in, have a few workshops and hand it all over to the kids and facilitate them in their myriad of directions @emmalinesports
  • That is where the battle is always. The balance between end in mind and mind the end. @wholeboxndice
  •  I’ve just crossed so many activities off my current planner so there is time 4 student inquiry – trying to step back @Saigon_Eldred
  • There is a difference between prescribing and planning. @wholeboxndice
  • Plan a framework with which the Ss can inquire within, needs some boundaries which are negotiable @jasongraham99
  • Try not to but PYP coord insists!! Pure based/problem based inquiry not much at all. @travisattis
  • @travisattis the planner should be a narrative of what happened, not a prescribed list of what will happen @DwyerTeacher
  • Record the route as it unfolds. One eye on map and compass to steer back towards destination when necessary @gedmis
  • We can’t learn anything about what children think if we signal to them what we hope they will say @cpaterso

The discussion continued later with Craig Dwyer in Japan. He shared an article he has written on this topic, in which he says:

I am never at ease with myself before I start a new unit. I worry
about how much I am projecting my view of a topic onto my students. I
worry about how their interpretations will be linked to my
interpretations. I want them to create their own meaning, but at the
same time, I want to tell them a story.

and later this…

As a general rule for myself, I never plan anything more than one
day in advance.  The story and the learning objectives are working in
tandem with the students curiosity, questions and understandings; and
together they are forming the shape of the unit.

Watch out for the  full article, published soon on Teaching Paradox.


Who controls the learning in your class?

What’s a connected educator?

I know it’s nothing new any more. If you’re reading this blog you are probably part of a community of connected educators. We read blogs. We write blogs. We share resources and ideas via Twitter. We meet at online conferences. We collaborate via Googledocs and wikis and Skype.

It still seems like magic to me…

In just a few tweets, five  PYP educators, two in different parts of Australia, one in Hong Kong, one in Indonesia and one in Japan form a team without ever meeting. Within a couple of days we are exchanging ideas on a Googledoc and working collaboratively on a wiki. Connections are made. Learning is shared. Friendships are formed.

A week or so later, we have created a buzz amongst other PYP educators around the world. #pypchat is born, a fortnightly live Twitter conversation, by IB PYP  educators, about issues related to teaching and learning. PYP is the Primary Years Program of the International Baccalaureate, but the chat is open to anyone who’s interested.

The inaugural #pypchat has close to 50 participants from all over the globe. It’s early evening in Jakarta and Jay has his 4 year old with him. Hannah is kicking back on the couch after dinner in Melbourne. Tanja and Miranda in Accra have been given time out in the middle of the school day to participate. In Hong Kong, it’s Jen’s birthday and her family is waiting for a celebration dinner. Stephanie in Ohio and Alexandra in Santiago are up in the early hours to join us before work. Craig has just left a staff meeting in Saigon…

Like all such Twitter chats, the conversation is fast and furious. It helps that as PYP educators, we have a common language. There is barely time to breathe as ideas are exchanged, beliefs are challenged and questions are raised.

Sarah tweets from Hong Kong in the morning that her head is still buzzing.

I can’t wait to see how the chat is depicted by reflective illustrator, Mega in Batam….


Potential for learning…

Dear Heads and Co-ordinators,

Thanks for being such an appreciative audience at the PYP network meeting. I’m glad you enjoyed my presentation about what it means to be a connected educator.

It didn’t matter that it was the end of a long day and a long meeting or that we were all tired before I even started to speak.

It didn’t matter that Twitter is blocked at the host school and I couldn’t even show you a live Twitter interaction.

It didn’t matter that the internet stopped working and I had to talk my way round images of blogs and nings instead of showing them to you.

It didn’t matter that most people were taking pen and paper notes in a session about the use of technology.

It didn’t matter that some of you have yet to take the first step into this world of perpetual learning.

We are all educators and we care deeply about learning.

As soon as you saw what’s possible in terms of learning, both our own and our students’, I saw the light in your eyes.

I liked how you smiled when you saw I had borrowed some of my lines  from Steven Anderson’s video, which I showed at the end. It gave you a glimpse into the sharing and collaboration that is so much part of being a connected educator.

You seemed to enjoy being introduced to individual members of my PLN (most of whom I have yet to meet myself!) and hearing about how they have inspired me. I wish I’d had time to tell you what I have learned from each of them.

I was delighted by your enthusiastic response to our global plant inquiry and the way we use Skype to connect our students with the world. It was great to see you talking amongst yourselves about how you could apply some of the ideas I shared.

I liked the fact that you laughed at the image of the toe in the water because you could relate to it. Either because you’ve already put yours in and seen the result, or because you felt that making  just a small start isn’t too intimidating.

I loved that people came up to me afterwards to say that they were ready to put their toes in the water for the first time and begin their exploration. They were inspired, not by my presentation itself, but by their understanding of the enormous potential for learning.

Looking forward to welcoming you to my personal learning network….


Amazon Peru photos by Mazz Sackson.

Thanks @klbeasely for the inspiration.

DIY Professional Learning

Does your school run compulsory, one-size-fits-all PD? Are you ever bored, disinterested or unmotivated when attending?  Have you ever been to a conference where the presenter was dull, the audience passive and the content unengaging?

Fortunately, we have the power to create our own more effective professional learning opportunities. What’s yours? Daily connection with other educators via social media? Online workshops and webinars by educators for educators? Teachmeets, where educators meet and share practice informally? One of the many Twitter chats dedicated to different areas of learning?

Keen responses to a tweet from @wholeboxndice a few days ago motivated us to try and establish #pypchat, a Twitter chat for IB PYP educators. While the discussion will be PYP related, it’s all about learning and anyone will be welcome to participate.

A preliminary survey to assess the level of interest quickly attracted responses from every continent. It’s unlikely we can find a suitable time to accommodate people in all the time zones, but it’s encouraging to have so much interest expressed so quickly.

It’s interesting to note that nearly half the responders so far indicated that they would like to be part of the team of moderators. It’s an opportunity to create our own professional learning.

DIY. Why not?

(Survey here. Details soon)

10 ways Twitter has added value…

Dear Teacher who is still not on Twitter,

Maybe you didn’t receive my previous mail. Just in case it didn’t convince you, here are a few more examples of the benefits of Twitter… 

1. Continuous learning with and from a global community of educators, via countless links to interesting posts and articles, tools and websites, conferences and workshops. thoughts and ideas.

2. Year 5 students at my school are learning about Aboriginal culture. Twitter led me to @jessica_dubois, as a result of which classes at our schools were able to interact via Skype last week. It was an incredible learning experience for both sides!

3. Ongoing connections with PYP educators like @jessievaz in Chile, @maggiswitz in Switzerland, @sherratsam in Thailand and @garethjacobson  in Bangladesh (among others!), to whom I can turn for advice and ideas relating to learning in the PYP.

4. #Elemchat is a weekly Twitter chat for primary school teachers to discuss issues and share practice. It’s great to get different perspectives from all over the world and the connection with talented organisers @tcash in Morocco and @gret in Argentina is an added bonus.

5. Year 1 teachers at my school have recently started blogging and are keen to make global connections for their students. Via Twitter, I’ve found them a number of interested teachers and classes in Colombia, Switzerland, Canada, Indonesia, Chile and the US and inspired them further with the work of @grade1 to see what is possible.

6. Inquire Within, a collaborative blog about inquiry learning, has a range of contributors from twelve countries across six continents… all via Twitter. (Join us!)

7. Upper Primary teachers at my school were inspired by a Skype session on literacy and class blogging with @kathleen_morris and @kellyjordan82 a few months ago and the dynamic duo has agreed to do another session next term to inspire teachers in the lower grades too.

8. @toughLoveforX is a retired printer and design teacher in NY, who comments with interest on my blog and our school class blogs, giving valuable insights and asking tough questions about education that make me think (and act). 

9.  It was great to have @henriettaMi, who I know through blogs and Twitter, visit our school when she was recently in Melbourne to present at a conference. She graciously agreed to present an after-school session to further inspire teachers at my school with their class blogs.

10. Endless advice, assistance, support, collaboration, encouragement, inspiration, motivation … and friendship.

Why wouldn’t you want to be part of it? 

Let me know if you want help getting started.


PLN By whatedsaid | View this Toon at ToonDoo | Create your own Toon

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?

Are you in Africa?


I was born in South Africa, although I haven’t been back for more than 30 years. Blogging about teaching and learning, I find myself recalling my school days, enjoying the view of Table Mountain through the window, instead of paying attention in class. My first job as an enthusiastic, young teacher was in Cape Town, a lifetime ago. I sometimes wonder how my old school is progressing. I wonder what teaching and learning are like in South Africa today. And I wonder a great deal about access to education in all of Africa…

My global PLN (personal learning network) has expanded in the past year and I have established meaningful connections with educators in so many countries, on every continent, except for Africa. Yet, looking at the clustrmap which records visitors to my blog, I am aware that people not just in South Africa, but in Nigeria, Namibia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Algeria, Morocco, Ghana, Tunisia and Egypt have visited!

I would love to hear from you and about you. It would be great to connect with you. Leave me a comment, if you will…


Dear Teacher who wasn’t on Twitter…

Partially inspired by Scott McLeod’s post  If You Were on Twitter.

Dear Teacher,

I know you don’t see the point of Twitter. I know you think people should have a balanced life and not be online too much. I know you think a great deal of time is required to find resources and create connections.

Last Sunday was a lovely, sunny day. Among other things, I went for a walk in the city, spent time with family, went out for breakfast with friends, cooked a pot of lentil soup, finished Seth Godin’s Poke the Box and read several chapters of A Man of Parts by David Lodge.

I also spent 30 minutes on Twitter participating in #elemchat, where primary school teachers around the world exchange ideas and share their challenges. Here’s some of what I got out of that half hour:

  • A variety of new web 2.0 story book creators to explore and share with my colleagues.
  • Inspiration and ideas from @dogtrax, like his environment project.
  • The idea of using Edmodo for reading discussions.
  • A promising collaboration with Tania Ash  in Morocco to start a world reading group for primary school students!
  • The start of a connection with @plnaugle who shares my interest in inquiry learning.
  • Discovery of another PYP educator @ctrlaltdeliver to add to my contact list.
  • Potential collaborators for our unit about cultural beliefs.
  • A comforting sense that educators worldwide encounter the same challenges that we do at our school.
  • New contacts in several countries for future global collaborations.
  • A reminder that there is no professional learning quite like half an hour on Twitter!
You should give it a try. I’ll help you get started if you like.
PS. There was a great #edchat session today on the role of blogging in 21st century learning, it’s value and the challenges, both for students and teachers. But that’s another story…