10 ways to make learning meaningful…

Whether your students are completing assignments, inquiring into areas of their interest, covering curriculum or exploring their passions, to what extent does it feel (to you, as much as to them) as if they are simply complying and ‘doing school’?

How can we extend learning ‘beyond the project’ and ensure it’s a powerful learning experience, rather than a task for school? (Hint: the answer does not lie in assessment criteria, rubrics or grades.)

1. Do you LISTEN more than you talk?

2. Are the learners really inquiring, in the broadest sense of the word?

Look at the description of inquiry from Making the PYP Happen. Are they doing most of these things? Or just researching?

  • exploring, wondering and questioning
  • experimenting and playing with possibilities
  • making connections between previous learning and current learning
  • making predictions and acting purposefully to see what happens
  • collecting data and reporting findings
  • clarifying existing ideas and reappraising perceptions of events
  • deepening understanding through the application of a concept
  • making and testing theories
  • researching and seeking information
  • taking and defending a position
  • solving problems in a variety of ways.

3. Will this inquiry be worthwhile? Will the learners experience challenges and figure out how to overcome them?

Support them in feeling comfortable in the ‘learning pit’?

4. Is the inquiry concept driven? Are the learners doing more than just finding facts and information?

  • Are they exploring and developing an understanding of big conceptual ideas.  
  • Are they looking through the lens of one or more key concepts?
  • Can they identify big ideas and apply them in other contexts?
  • Can they articulate conceptual understandings developed along the way?

5.  Do the learners have ownership? Will this inquiry help them grow, not just in knowledge of content, but as learners?

Some questions to support their ongoing reflection:

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6. Are the learners thinking critically and creatively about the content they explore?

A variety of less common thinking routines that can extend their thinking:

Think Puzzle Explore
Circle of viewpoints
Generate Sort Connect Elaborate
Tug for Truth
Parts Purposes and Complexities
People Parts Interactions
Think Feel Care
Imagine if…

7. Are the learners able to think about how their inquiries impact on other people? Will they be motivated to take action?

8. Will they explore ways of extending the learning beyond the classroom?

  • Look for opportunities for collaboration across the year level.
  • Extend it to other year levels. (Can older learners create for an audience in lower grades? Can learners seek feedback or support from another class or year level?)
  • Encourage interactions with primary sources within and outside outside of school.
  • Use your network and theirs to help extend the learning to the broader community and the world.
  • Use Google docs, Twitter and blog posts to reach out globally. (click links for examples)
  • Connect with experts face to face or via Skype. (eg Skype in the Classroom)

9. Will there be opportunities to identify problems and issues and develop solutions?

For some learners, the design thinking process might be useful:

10. Will learners have opportunities to express their  learning meaningfully and creatively?

How will learners present, represent and/or share their learning? Will they choose to express their learning through a creative medium such as art or film? Will they paint or sculpt? Will they write poetry? Set it to music? Do an expressive dance? Create a stop motion animation? Build a model? Develop an app? Design a website? Write a book? Organise a debate? Start a blog? Make a speech? Create a campaign? Lead a workshop? 

Will they do, say, think, feel, want… or be something different as a result of this learning? 

Planning for concept driven learning…

Cross-posted at Inquire within, following on from Inquiry: to what end? by Cristina Milos.

In a concept driven, inquiry based learning environment, we do NOT plan a series of activities to ensure coverage of the requirements of our national curriculum.

Instead we spend our planning time reflecting collaboratively, exploring which conceptual lenses will produce the deepest learning and designing a few powerful provocations to generate student thinking and inquiry.

The Australian curriculum expects us to ‘cover’ a large amount of geographical knowledge in Year 6 including, among other things 

  • The location of the major countries of the Asia region in relation to Australia and the geographical diversity within the region.
  • Differences in the economic, demographic and social characteristics between countries across the world.
  • The various connections Australia has with other countries and how these connections change people and places.
  • The effects that people’s connections with, and proximity to, places throughout the world have on shaping their awareness and opinion of those places.

We start our planning session by revisiting the reflections at the end of last year’s planner. Some of the teachers who taught the unit last year share what went well and what can be improved. Joc is concerned by the lack of depth and we realise that we had too many different lines of inquiry. Michelle feels the students had many misconceptions and generalisations…

There’s no point in trying to include too many aspects of the Australian Curriculum if the learning is superficial as a result. As Cristina suggests in her post, we need to ask ourselves ‘To what end?’

We revisit the big ideas and consider which conceptual lenses will help our learners break down misconceptions and result in deeper learning.

As we develop the rubric for conceptual understandings, we go back and forth, change our own and each others’ minds and realise that we need to change one of the concepts to better achieve the desired end. This part of the planning takes time, but it’s well worth the investment. Planning learning engagements will be simple once we know where we are heading and why.

Using ‘reflection‘ (How do we know?) as one of our conceptual lenses will provide opportunities for our learners to reflect on preconceived generalisations and stereotypes. At the start of the unit of inquiry they will be able to say what they THINK they know about different countries and HOW they know. By the end, we hope they can explain how some of their preconceptions have changed as a result of acquiring new knowledge and developing understanding.

Once we are satisfied with that, the central idea needs rewriting …

‘Deepening our knowledge about the world takes us beyond generalisations and stereotypes’

With this big idea as the through-line, learners will have a clear sense of purpose, as they interact with people in other countries, find out more about the factors that influence how they live (causation) and explore how countries are interconnected (connection).

They will have opportunities to focus on their own areas of interest, to question and wonder, read, view and talk to primary sources… all the while increasing their knowledge, deepening their understandings and making sure they go beyond stereotypes and generalisations.

(At the time of facilitating the collaborative planning session, this seems like a good direction, but I’m never certain. Feedback, questions and challenges welcomed…)

Building an understanding of digital citizenship…

What do these two words mean?

consume           create

Everyone in the class knows what ‘create’ means but only a few are familiar with the word ‘consume’. mostly in the context of eating, although one girl says ‘It’s when you take something in, for instance information’.

We use breakfast as our example and they get the idea that making the eggs could be seen as creating and eating them as consuming. We deliberately do not use a dictionary, so that they construct meaning for themselves, rather than narrow down their understanding with a fixed definition at the start.

In groups, the children then brainstorm all the things they do in a day, making sure every item includes a verb – watch TV, play Minecraft, eat lunch, write a story…

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Using two colours, they highlight which of these are consuming and which are creating. The conversations are rich, as they build their understanding and discover that it’s not either/or, that some are both and some are neither… maybe.

Which of their daily activities are digital? In new groups, they now brainstorm their digital activities, taking care to include verbs, so that, for instance, ’email’ becomes ‘read email’ and ‘write email’…

They are already discussing consuming vs creating before we even ask the question. They are totally engaged and, apart from building their understanding of the desired concepts, so many trans-disciplinary skills are evident – communication, thinking and social skills – and, quite incidentally, a host of outcomes from the English scope and sequence.

At the end they write down what they understand about creating and consuming now…

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They’re clearly ready to move ahead in developing the desired conceptual understandings in this unit of inquiry…

CONCEPTUAL UNDERSTANDING BEGINNING DEVELOPING ESTABLISHED
We need to think critically about digital content that we view and create.

Reflection

I don’t think critically about digital content.I believe what I read on the internet.

I don’t think critically about what I post online.

 

I understand that not everything on the internet might be valid or true and can explain why.I can give some some examples of how I consider audience and purpose when I create digital content online.

 

I can explain how to assess if a website is reliable or not.I can identify and analyse techniques used to influence consumers.

I choose appropriate techniques to communicate creatively and  effectively online and can give examples.

People are responsible for digital content they create.

Responsibility

I can give some examples of how I can be responsible online.  I can explain how things I post online can affect my own reputation.I can explain how things I post online can affect the wellbeing of others. I take responsibility for my digital footprint and can explain how and why I do this.I can demonstrate my positive digital footprint.

(action)

The internet enables us to communicate and collaborate with people all over the world.

Connection

I can identify ways that I communicate with others online.  I can compare and evaluate different tools for online communication and collaboration. I connect, communicate and collaborate with people online and can say what I have learned from my interactions.

Our learners are gearing up to connect with kids in other parts of Australia as well as India, Japan, Thailand, New Zealand, Canada and other countries via Skype, Twitter and blogs. And they are already asking a range of interesting questions into which they might inquire!

In addition to refining this unit of inquiry with the Year 5 teachers at my school, I’ll be leading an IB workshop on Digital Citizenship in Melbourne in May, so feedback, resources, ideas and other perspectives are invited.  Please leave a comment!

Concept based learning…

‘Hands up if you often forget the things you learn in class.’

‘Hands up if you’re sometimes overwhelmed by information overload.’

Both times, all hands go up, including mine and Jocelyn’s. I’m in her Year 6 class to help them consider the big ideas in their learning and develop their understanding of concepts. This will assist them to organise information in future, explore significant ideas, promote higher order thinking and deepen inquiry.

I show them the avocado model…

They quickly get the idea that the big ideas we remember, long after we have forgotten the details, become the seeds from which new learning grows.

What is a ‘big idea’?

In considering what such ‘big ideas’ might look like, we talk about the fight Ellie had with her brother this morning. Ellie’s incident is specific to time, place and situation, but the children all have similar experiences to share. I ask if they think sibling rivalry exists in other countries and cultures and they say of course. Will it still exist in the future? Definitely. Did it exist long ago in the past? They have examples as far back as Cain and Abel! It is clear then that the ‘big idea’ of sibling rivalry is transferable, timeless and universal.

Once they get the idea, they are quickly able to express the big ideas behind a range of topics they have explored in the past. They’re even able to grasp the Lyn Erickson ‘Structure of Knowledge’ diagram. I tell them I learned this at a workshop for teachers but I’m sure they will get it. I ask for a show of hands if anyone thinks kids are as smart as teachers. Lots of hands, some giggling. They do get it …and they give examples from their own learning.

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Yesterday Joc had them look at their class learning community through the lenses of the PYP key concepts.

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Today we ask them to reflect on everything they have done in these first few weeks of the school year and extrapolate the ‘big ideas‘. They move into groups to discuss the learning experiences so far and come up with things like: attitudes, community, rights, responsibility, initiative, communication, questioning, democracy, citizenship, decision-making…

My observations:

– Joc has succeeded in building a thoughtful learning community.

– The learners are already on their way to the desired conceptual understandings for their unit:

  • Citizenship carries with it a sense of belonging or identity which includes rights and responsibilities, duties and privileges.
  • Different decision-making strategies can be effective in different situations.
  • In a democracy, citizens have a say in decision-making.
  • The impact of decisions can be personal, local, global.

– By the time they visit Canberra for their inquiry into government, they will have plenty of big ideas to which they can connect.

– There’s no reason kids can’t be exposed to the same ideas as adults. Maybe next time they can explore concepts using the Frayer model, as we did at IB workshop leader training training...

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Concept driven learning…

Some ‘big ideas’ about concept driven learning:

(From this week’s little #pypchat on Twitter)

  • The world is changing. Knowledge is changing. The ability to view the world with a more flexible mind is invaluable. (Steve)
  • Concept based learning is about big transferable ideas that transcend time, place, situation. (Ed)
  • Content just focuses on facts while concept focuses on making sense of those facts and the world around us (Christianne)
  • Content based teaching may not get beyond information transmission/superficial learning (Gillian)
  • Concepts are a way to organize and make sense of learning. Connect disciplinary knowledge.  (Miranda)
  • We can’t possibly teach everything that is important, but we can teach the big ideas. (Alexandra)
  • Concept based learning is a framework to study everything. So much information. Content can change, concepts stay the same. (Mega)
  • Information is useless unless you can do something with it. (Lynne Erickson)
Big Ideas in the classroom.

Since I no longer have my own class, I relish opportunities to get into classrooms. This week I’m team teaching in Year 5 with Rubi… and team learning. We bounce ideas before class, observe and listen to the kids and change the plan as the learning unfolds. The ‘topic’ is energy, but it’s inquiry learning and it’s concept driven. 

The first provocation is a video showing the effects of an electricity blackout. The students’ questions are quite specific to the incident, and we realize we need to change the plan already. We ask the kids to revisit their questions and ‘grow’ them, this time considering big ideas, transferable through time and place. It only takes one example from a different context to get the idea and they are away! This round of questions is about electricity and alternative power sources, not just the blackout they saw.

Rubi introduces a second provocation to further develop their thinking. She puts on music and asks the kids to dance and jump around. There is lots of noise and energetic movement, kids remove their sweaters as they warm up and a good time is had by all (except the class next door.)  We ask the kids to discuss in groups how this activity connects to the first provocation and then come up with further questions.  This round of questions is about different forms of energy, where they come from and how they are used.

Sorting Questions.

With each question on an individual sticky note, the groups sort the questions in any way they like. Before they start I ask them what they see as the purpose this activity. Mia says it will make them read everyone’s questions and think about them. Liam says it will help them organize their thoughts. Amanda says it will  help them check their understanding. Josh says they will have to justify their thinking.

Some groups sort the questions by topic, others by big ideas. One sorts them according to the PYP key concepts. Some groups sort and re-sort in different ways. Some sort them into deep and shallow questions, open and closed questions. I’ve seen Rubi encourage this this kind of thinking by having kids analyse questions through the question quadrant. They use the language: ‘That’s a closed question,’ ‘You could just google that,’ ‘ That’s too narrow, how do we make it a bigger idea’? ‘That’s just about facts, it’s not deep enough.’  We gather the questions, type the whole lot and cut them up, ready for sorting the next day.

To sum up the lesson, we ask students to give it a title. I ask what a title does and they tell me ‘It sums up what’s important,’ ‘It tells you the main idea’, ‘It tells you what it’s all about’. ‘It makes you want to know more’. Their titles fit the bill!

A conceptual central idea.

We introduce the central idea: ‘Our use of energy has an impact on the planet.’

Each group now gets the whole class’s questions and the task is to sort the pile into two groups… Those that relate to the central idea (the overarching conceptual understanding.) and those that don’t. The students are totally engaged as we move between groups and listen to the rich conversation. There is much debate and it doesn’t take long before they decide they need three groups or even four, because it isn’t as simple as that! Through the process, questions are further developed and refined.

Key concepts.

The key concepts which will be our lens for the inquiry are function ( how does it work?) and responsibility. We ask the students to get the laptops and create a quick cartoon using Toondoo to show their understanding of one of the two concepts in a clever way. Some create cartoons that connect to our central idea, others show examples that connect to their personal lives. The choice is theirs – the results are creative and thought-provoking! Back in groups, the students now pick out questions relating to each of these  key concepts….

Big ideas about the learning:

Officially, there has been no teaching yet. A few video clips, some ideas on the class blog to think about and the time described above spent provoking and developing thinking.

Yet, already…

  • Students have risen above the facts and are thinking on a conceptual level.
  • They are making connections with prior knowledge and constructing meaning for themselves.
  • They are asking and answering questions, organizing ideas and justifying their thinking.
  • The so-called ’21st century skills’ of creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration are all evident.
  • A host of other trans-disciplinary skills are being practised.
  • Curiosity has been sparked and there is excitement about taking the learning further.
  • Every single one of our school’s learning principles is evident.
Images: Responsibility by Amelia, Function by Gabi

Asking good questions…

Cross-posted at Inquire Within

What questions do you have about this artifact? It doesn’t matter what it is. We don’t know and we don’t (as yet) need to try to find out…

Our job is simply to create questions. We are each assigned a different lens through which to view the object and ask our questions. We are artists, mathematicians, scientists, inventors and historians.

We are encouraged to frame our questions conceptually. Considering the key concepts of form, function, causation, change, connection, perspective, reflection and responsibility (key concepts in the IB PYP) helps us to ask deeper and more interesting questions.

Give it a try!

I loved this activity, facilitated by Helen Morschelour workshop leader last Tuesday, for a number of reasons:

  • We could approach the task in different ways – it was naturally differentiated.
  • It was inquiry based, encouraging us to question, wonder and explore possibilities.
  • We were honing our questioning skills, while constructing meaning about the object and its possibilities.
  • We collaborated in groups and it was active and social (and fun!)
  • There were no wrong answers (or questions) and it didn’t matter what the object really was, so everyone was happy to have a go.
  • It was challenging and engaging and we saw at once how it could be used in our classrooms.
  • There was valuable individual and shared reflection about the process itself.

No wonder it was so successful. Take a look at our school’s learning principes

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, learning styles, preferences and interests.
  • Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.
  • Learning occurs by acquiring skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transfer to other contexts.
  • Learning is active and social and best takes place through collaboration and interaction.
  • Learning takes place when we feel secure, valued and are able to take risks.
  • Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
  • Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, and requires learners to take ownership of their learning.

PS. It’s a quipu. Go and do your own inquiry…

A personal learning reflection…

We’ve come a long way from…

… to this…

For me, the journey started when I read an extract from ‘Navigating through the Storm, Education in Postmodern Democratic Society’ by Ron Aviram, head of The Center for Futurism in Education, in Israel.

Then I attended an IBO conference.  It wasn’t so much the content, but the opportunity to network with educators from around the world and see the things that teachers have done in their classrooms and schools, that motivated me.

I started looking online for web 2.0 tools and began to discover some of the inspirational education blogs out there.  Soon I had subscribed to quite a number and was reading regularly online about educational issues and how others were integrating technology into their classrooms

The next step was to start implementing tech myself.  I introduced my class to ToonDoo and Voicethread and Wallwisher to enhance their learning. We learned together.  As I discovered new and useful tools, I shared them with my class and with other interested teachers at school.  I set up a class wiki and before long every child had their own page and they were finding ways to share their learning through this medium.

Next we started a voluntary tech group for interested teachers to experiment together every fortnight before school. Our ‘Thinking group‘ which meets on the alternate week had been sharing readings and implementing Visible Thinking and soon the 2 groups began to merge as a 21st century learning group.  Discussions centered on making learning relevant and authentic, including incorporating technology. This is my in-school PLN.

I joined nings, such as Classroom 2.0 and Educators PLN and PYP Threads and began to participate.  The next step was  when a friend encouraged me to start writing my own blog. At first I didn’t think I had anything to say. Then I didn’t think I would have any readers. But I pushed forward and was soon addicted.  I had more things to write than time to write them.  I didn’t care if I had an audience or not, the process was part of my own learning.  My early readers were my colleagues at my own school and I saw them as my target audience.

And then, by far the best thing happened.. . I had dabbled in Twitter but not yet seen the point. But,once I figured out the benefits of following educators and discovered the #edchat hashtag, I was on the road to the best learning yet!  I have developed an amazing worldwide PLN. I think I have discovered and uncovered more through Twitter than any other way.  Interacting with educators worldwide and sharing resources in this way has been my most powerful learning experience this year.

And finally (only so far!)  I have joined Kelly Tenkely’s blogging alliance. I have discovered some excellent blogs this way and connected with other educators through commenting on each others’ blogposts.  This has turned out to be another great way to network and has opened yet another channel for learning and collaboration.

What next? 🙂

PYP Key Concept: Reflection. Series of posts through the lens of  key concepts of PYP.

Posts relating to other key concepts:  FormChangeConnectionPerspectiveResponsibility, Function.

Essential agreement…

In a PYP school, every working group (teachers or students) starts off by creating an ‘essential agreement’.  In the classroom, this means that, rather than teachers imposing rules, everyone works collaboratively to establish an agreement of how the class will function.

Today Jocelyn and I developed our class essential agreement.  We started by asking the children to consider carefully and then write down what helps them learn and what hinders their learning. The next step was to share with a partner and find the things they had in common. Later we brought back a  list of all the things they had written and, in groups, the students highlighted those they saw as most important for a class essential agreement which will maximise learning for everyone.  This will be collated, brought back one more time to make sure everyone agrees and then we’ll have our class essential agreement!

The wordle shows the key words from the students’ original list of what helps them to learn.  We believe it’s important to have an essential agreement that’s based on creating an environment conducive to learning, rather than rules and regulations.


PYP Key Concept: Function. Series of posts through the lens of  key concepts of PYP. Posts relating to other concepts so far: Form, Change, Connection, Perspective, Responsibility.


Believe in me…

Back at school for the start of the new school year.  Students start on Monday.  So much to do… I think I’ll procrastinate and write a blog post instead 🙂

What kind of students will I be teaching?  I’ve had a ‘handover’ from last year’s teachers, but I generally prefer to give every child the opportunity for a fresh start, and not form any opinions till I get to know them.  There is (of course) a direct correlation between the teacher’s perception of a child and the way the child learns, acts and achieves.  If she knows the teacher believes in her, she will usually live up to expectations. This seems like a great video for the start of the new school year here in Australia…

The clip reminds me of the beautiful Hindi film Taare Zameen Par, (called Every Child is Special in English), which I recently watched.  It was a gift from a friend who appreciates the uniqueness of every child and places a high value on teachers, teaching and learning.  The movie is about a dyslexic boy and the teacher who believed in him,  but also about perceptions, issues in education, competitivesness, teacher/student relationships and parental expectations.  Every teacher should see it!


PYP Key Concept: Connection. Series of posts through the lens of key concepts of PYP.