Unit planning isn’t linear (either)…

Following on from our  non-linear consideration of curriculum, we approached collaborative unit planning in a similarly holistic way, with the child at the centre, to ensure a focus on our goal of developing the whole child.

As teachers considered the desired conceptual understandings and the content requirements of our curriculum, the potential to develop skills and dispositions in an authentic context were revealed…

Following this process with different year level teams and different units of inquiry led to a number of insights:

  • Making thinking visible is an important part of the collaborative planning process.
  • Considering all the elements simultaneously makes it easy to visualise the potential big picture.
  • The visual process allows for collaborative construction of meaning.
  • While always conceptual, some units are more knowledge based, others more skills based, and that’s ok!
  • A holistic vision of the unit highlights  opportunties for natural connections that strengthen learning.
  • Opportunities are illuminated for split screen teaching (inquiring into content and developing skills & dispositions simultaneously).
  • Standing around a table might trump sitting behind computers for collaborative thinking!

The ‘so what’ of learning…

Action is the ‘so what’ of learning…

“PYP schools can and should meet the challenge of offering all learners the opportunity and the power to choose to act; to decide on their actions; and to reflect on these actions in order to make a difference in and to the world.” (Making the PYP Happen)

At the start of our PYP journey, we used to think…

  • Action was a separate ‘thing’.
  • Action usually happened towards the end or after the unit.
  • Action needed to be visible.
  • Action was only about what students ‘did’.
  • Action needed to go beyond the self in order to be valuable.
  • Student initiated action was the most desirable kind.

Now we think…

  • If learning is active, relevant and meaningful, action will be integral.
  • Learner agency implies ongoing action of all kinds.
  • Some of the most valuable forms of action are not overtly visible – shifts in thinking, deepening feelings, development of dispositions.
  • Action might be shifts in what learners think, say, feel, have, believe and become… not just what they do.
  • Action often begins with shifts in the self.
  • Shifts in thinking can lead to visible action. Action can lead to shifts in thinking.
  • Demonstrating attitudes and skills can be a form of action.
  • Sometimes an idea isn’t initiated by students, but they can take it and run with it resulting in highly meaningful action.

Do you consider these to be examples of action? Try placing them on an iceberg, depending on whether they are overtly visible or not and see what new ideas emerge?

The PYP review update suggests the following lenses through which to view the demonstration of action: social justice, advocacy, participation, lifestyle choices and entrepreneurship. We have applied the model of action below (shifts in thinking, having, saying, feeling, being as well as doing) to unpack what each of the new lenses might look like… in action.


When viewed in this way, it becomes apparent that concepts like social justice can apply just as much to 5 year olds as to older students and that any one of the lenses can be just as relevant in the classroom context, the school, the local community or globally.

What action will you be taking next?

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.

Talking about learning…

Our approach to the PYP exhibition unit is very different this year. 

The focus is on students talking about their learning… 

The central idea is ‘Developing an awareness and understanding of inequity empowers us to act’. Within the context of this broad conceptual understanding, students choose to inquire into a variety of inequities, ranging from racial stereotyping to school bullying, homelessness, animal cruelty, support for people with disabilities, and more.

After our opening conference day and other provocations to encourage engagement with the big ideas, students are provided with many opportunities to unpack the issues and think deeply about what matters to them, by talking… amongst themselves, with their own and other teachers, with students from other classes, with their own and other parents. 

One-on-one conversations…

Having the support of the entire upper primary teaching staff (and others!) for at least one lesson a week, allows time for every student to discuss what interests them and why, one-on-one with an adult . In some cases it takes several such conversations before students discover what they care deeply about and would like to explore. It’s a safe, supportive forum in which to explain the reasons behind their choice and the connection to their own life. As their inquiries unfold, these conversations serve to encourage, guide and validate. Some questioning and probing help them articulate their learning and plan how to proceed.


Students post up sticky notes indicating what they would like to discuss. By the afternoon these are sorted and like-minded groups are formed, across the four Year 6 classes. With a teacher to facilitate if required, the students share what they have learned so far, generate ideas, raise questions and concerns. They use a Google doc to record the conversation and share resources. It’s an opportunity to find  learners outside their own classes with whom to collaborate.


At several points along the way, an audience is invited in, providing another one-on-one opportunity for learners to share and take stock of new learning, respond to questions and reflect on the process so far. On one occasion it is parents who volunteer, on another it’s a Year 5 class. The students’ reflections indicate that the checkpoints are beneficial in keeping them on track, building confidence, receiving authentic feedback and helping them consider where to head next. 

The exhibition…

Last year, every group had a booth, backboard and table and a great deal of time was spent making these look attractive. There were posters, signs, presentations, games, cards and decorations. This year students are recording and reflecting on their learning journey in notebooks or on blogs, but for the exhibition itself each student will choose one mode of presentation only. It might be a poster, a movie, a painting, a photograph or a song. Whatever they choose needs to be a powerful and effective hook to engage the guests in conversation.

The focus is on students talking about their learning… 

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

Beautiful cello music track in the video played by Michael Goldschlager.


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