Learning stories…

Me: What did you learn about yourself as a learner?

Student: I learn much more when I’m inquiring into something I choose for myself and am really interested in.

Me: What message do you have for teachers?

Student: We need more opportunities to explore things we care about. Having a choice and working independently makes us learn more.

Me: So it’s better than ‘school subjects’?

Student: My inquiry had lots of school subjects! Maths, Science, English, Art.

I had many such reflective conversations about learning with Year 6 students at the end of their PYP exhibition (expedition) process.  Each inquiry was unique, every journey different and their passion shone through in the ways they chose to tell their learning stories…
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Some focused more on what they had learned, others on how they had learned. They spoke of skills acquired and knowledge gained, about what had benefited their learning, who had influenced them, how they overcame challenges and action they had taken. In many cases, they referred to sketch notes of their journeys, as they talked…

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It was fitting to end the school year with such a powerful example of student ownership.
Our Year 6 learners had agency in what they chose to explore and how they chose to explore it. They chose with whom to collaborate and how to support each other. They chose how to express their learning creatively through art, film, dance, model-making…

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They chose how they might make a difference, what impact they want to make and what kind of action to take…
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What if education was about improving the world?

12-year-old E is passionate about changing the world. While some of her peers struggle to extend their personal interests into deeper or broader explorations for the PYP expedition, E wrestles with how to narrow her focus down.

She cares deeply about everything. Her ‘top 10 list’ includes a range of human rights and environmental issues and she can’t decide which to explore further first. I ask if she’d like to begin by identifying a change she could work on that could make a difference at school, before taking on the world, and she likes the idea.

E quickly sees a way to take this further. She will ask the children of the world (well, those she can get access to!) how they would change their schools and how they would change the world. Analysing the data will answer a range of questions about which she’s wondering and might help her decide on her next move.

Can you spread the word to help her reach a broader audience? Here’s her survey, if you can share it with young people you know. This is E’s investigation, but I’m looking forward to seeing the responses too.

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I’m intrigued by an idea in the first paragraph of Marc Prensky’s book:

Our current education is wrong for the future not because we haven’t added enough technology, or because we haven’t added enough so-called 21st century skills, or because we don’t offer it to everyone equally, or even because we haven’t tried hard to incrementally improve it. Our current K– 12 education is wrong for the future because it has— and we have— the wrong ends or goals, in mind. Up until now, education has been about improving individuals. What education should be about in the future is improving the world – and having individuals improve in the process. ~ Education to Better Their World by Marc Prensky.

It seems that while encouraging E in her exploration, I’ll be pursuing my own parallel inquiry…

An opportunity for powerful learning…

‘J is beyond excited for the conference!’ according to a message from her mother. She’ll be sharing her passion for baking with some of her peers on Tuesday at our Year 6 #PassionsMatter conference.  An update says: ‘My kitchen is a hive of activity in preparation for Tuesday. The girls have been shopping independently this morning with their shopping list and budget (prepared by themselves). They are now preparing and packing all that they need for their workshop. Totally self directed! THIS is learning!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’ 

L is excited too, as expressed in an email to her teacher, discussing the purchase of materials for her sewing workshop.  A has prepared an inspirational talk about how books capture her imagination and transport her to other worlds.  T is writing his own book and will tell his peers about that.  J’s talk uses take off and flight as a metaphor for achieving goals…

In the lead up to the conference, our learners have been involved in authentic opportunities to write, speak, research, think, calculate, make decisions, collaborate… and learn. Students have written inquiry emails, made phone calls, worked out costs for catering, placed orders, designed the logo and certificates, written speeches, given constructive feedback, planned and re-planned workshops.

The program includes some external presenters , who are all passionate, young role models some of whom have mentored the children in planning their sessions. Their workshops will provide opportunities for students to explore areas of passion such as song writing, story telling and sport coaching, as well as to engage with the big ideas of finding your passion, self belief, learning from failure and overcoming obstacles. 

On Tuesday at Passions Matter 2016, students will be speakers, workshop presenters, photographers, caterers, tweeters, bloggers and reflection group leaders. 

Emailing presenters
Meeting with mentor
Planning and re-planning workshop
Practising inspirational speech

This is powerful learning. 

Why only once a year? What if we had days like this once a month? Once a week?

How can we make this kind of meaningful, purposeful learning part of regular, daily school life?

 

The back story…

From doing school to Learning 2 day

Unleashing Learning

Learning Unleashed

The Story Within

And even further back…

Why isn’t school like a conference?

A conference for kids

#Passions Matter- a dynamic student conference!

Our Year 6 students are currently finding and exploring what they are passionate about as they head towards the culmination of their primary school learning in PYP exhibition.

The central idea for the exhibition is ‘Exploration of interests and passions inspires learning and action.’ Within this broad conceptual understanding, students are following their own areas of interest and deciding on their individual and collaborative inquiries.

On Tuesday 13 September, we will have a full day student conference with guest and student speakers as well as workshops led by guests and students. Our students will be involved in the planning, organisation and facilitation of this conference – a manifestation of this year’s focus on student ownership and our belief in our learners. 

We are looking for young people (up to 30 ish – not too far removed from our students!)  in Melbourne, Australia, who would be willing to participate in our Year 6 conference and inspire our learners by sharing their own passions.

Possible ways to be involved might include:

  • Giving a 5 minute inspirational talk.

  • Running an interactive workshop about exploration of passion

  • Running an interactive workshop in your area of passion

  • Partnering with students to lead a workshop

  • Facilitating a reflection session of some kind

  • One off or ongoing mentoring of/supporting students with their inquiries in Term 4.

Content might include such things as:

  • What sparked your interest or curiosity

  • How your passion developed

  • Your journey in exploring  your passion

  • How your journey has helped learn about who you are

  • Action or experiences related to your passion

  • Evolution of your passion

  • How your passion may have changed your life

If you are interested in being involved in a dynamic student led event and supporting our learners in developing their passions,  please fill in this form by 19 August.

The back story…

From doing school to Learning 2 day

Unleashing Learning

Learning Unleashed

The Story Within

And even further back…

Why isn’t school like a conference?

A conference for kids

Student ownership of learning…

“I think teachers should not be telling the students exactly what they should be doing. They should be finding their own path and figuring out the ways that they learn best.”    ~ Georgia, Year 6.

The Year 6 PYP exhibition is a prime example of the kind of learning that is unleashed when students own their learning. The confidence and understanding with which Georgia and the other learners shared this learning experience are evidence of the power of student ownership…

Looking forward to increasing opportunities for student ownership in 2016!

An inquiry into how the world works -2

It’s the first time our Year 6 students are exploring the trans-disciplinary theme ‘How the World Works’ for their PYP ‘exhibition‘ inquiries.

We initially have some concerns…

How will we ensure it goes beyond a science fair?
Will all students engage with science in a meaningful way?
How will we make sure the learning is rich and deep, with opportunities for every learner to find something about which they are passionate?

We develop a few conceptual understandings which we’d like the learners to reach…

  • Science provides a lens through which to look at the world.
  • People apply their understanding of science to solve problems and meet needs.
  • Scientific and technological advances have an impact on society and the environment.

And some strong provocations to hook them in and get them thinking…

They are inspired by Louie Schwartzberg’s TED talk – Hidden Miracles of the Natural World, in particular this, which provokes them to think about science in new ways…

What is the intersection between technology, art and science? Curiosity and wonder, because it drives us to explore, because we’re surrounded by things we can’t see.

After unpacking the trans-disciplinary theme, students enjoy a ‘Science Exploration Day’ during which they explore all areas of the school – the garden, the cafeteria, the nurses station and more – taking photos which they later connect to the various strands of science.

Visitors Sam and Jethro, a couple of young inventors, expose the students to the design process. The children need to come up with an idea and  go through the design process to create something new from what is already known.

Prototype for a creature created through the design process, which will move via electrical circuit
Prototype for a creature created through the design process, which will move via electrical circuit

Our learners quickly show an awareness of science in our world, further enhanced by an excursion to the city, where they choose to visit either the museum or the art gallery as well as various parks and buildings. Taking purposeful photos helps them NOTICE and NAME science everywhere and heightens awareness of how humans apply their knowledge of science too.

This week they they also begin their explorations of science through a choice of creative media – art, music, dance, animation, photography, poetry or design (electronics and coding).

Comparing the sounds made by different instruments
Comparing the sounds made by different instruments
Photographing the natural world with macro lenses
Photographing the natural world with macro lenses
Creating movements that replicate nature
Creating movements that replicate nature

Excitement is high.

It’s already apparent that our early concerns were unnecessary.

The children are totally immersed in their learning, already considering what interests them most, what they are passionate about and why, what they might like to explore further and how… They will have plenty of time to think, experiment, investigate and ask themselves not just WHAT? but SO WHAT? and NOW WHAT? before deciding on their chosen inquiries.

This is a far cry from offering a range of topics for students to choose between and creating random groups in which they will work, an approach often used in classrooms and even PYP exhibition units.

This is all about choice and student voice and learners taking ownership of their learning. It’s about learners having opportunities to find and solve problems and explore real issues that matter.

It’s an opportunity for rich, meaningful learning. I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds…

An inquiry into how the world works…

Headphones on, each member of the group watches their assigned video and considers how it fits into the PYP trans disciplinary theme ‘How the World Works’…

Inquiry into the natural world and its laws, the interaction between the natural world (physical and biological) and human societies; how humans use their understanding of scientific principles; the impact of scientific and technological advances on society and on the environment.

We’re watching things as diverse as the longest pedestrian suspension bridge, how fish breathe, a poo powered flame thrower, a man-made forest on a river island in India and ice cream that doesn’t melt

Sharing back with the group provokes discussion about what excites us, connections we see, problems solved and issues raised and the varied aspects each of us might find interesting to explore further. We look at the ways people apply scientific knowledge to solve problems, meet needs, create art…

We check which of the science strands are addressed by the videos and highlight the relevant concepts in each.

This is not a classroom, it’s a collaborative planning session.

The goals are as follows-

  • To get the teachers excited about what’s possible
  • To highlight the fact that science is everywhere
  • To encourage us to observe and notice science around us
  • To provoke thinking about the ways humans apply scientific knowledge
  • To create a context in which to plan for student learning and inquiry.

We’re planning for our PYP exhibition* unit and it’s the first time we’re exploring it in the theme of ‘How the World Works’.

The teachers are already excited about…

  • provoking our learners’ curiosity
  • inquiry that is real, relevant and engaging
  • opportunities for exploring passions
  • the possibilities for creativity and innovation
  • observing and really noticing the world
  • the potential to change perspectives
  • opportunities for learners to use a broad range of skills
  • scope for hands-on making and doing
  • bringing all the learning from previous years together
  • the potential to include the natural world, art, technology, ethics…

And concerned about…

  • ensuring it goes beyond being ‘just a science fair’
  • opportunities for action as a result of the learning

We’re keen to hear from other PYP practitioners who have explored ‘How the World Works’ for their exhibition units, in particular if it was a dynamic, student centred, passion driven, authentic learning experience for all.

* I hope in the IB PYP review, they decide to replace the term ‘exhibition’. It makes it sound as if the focus is on the product, when the most important aspect should be the process of meaningful, in-depth, personal and collaborative inquiry, drawing together all the skills and attitudes they have developed over time – Learners taking responsibility for their own learning. 

 

Student Ownership…

‘It was great last year’… 

‘The kids loved it’… 

‘No need for change’… 

‘Why fix what isn’t broken?’

It’s exciting to note that we rarely hear these comments in our planning sessions any more!

Change and growth are embedded in the way we plan for learning. We prefer to start afresh and reinvent, in light of our current understandings, new teams collaborating, different students…

And every time we plan,  we try to ensure more opportunities for students to take ownership of the learning.

Two years ago we had our first social justice conference for Year 6 students. The event grew from a random idea, blogged and picked up by a teacher on the other side of the world, who breathed life into the vision. We developed her ideas further and the conference was a great introduction to the PYP exhibition process.

The aims were-

  • To expose students to a range of issues relating to ‘inequity’, raise awareness and provoke thinking on related issues.
  • To provide the opportunity to hear from people who have worked in areas that are taking action to help right inequities.
  • To help students develop convictions about what is right, what is wrong, and what needs to change.

Last year the Year 6 team improved the structure of the conference, adding time for the kids to reflect in small groups after each speaker and opportunities to express their learning creatively at the end of the day.

While the conference was outstanding, with  kids choosing what sessions to attend and actively engaged in learning on the day, essentially it was still organised for them.

This year, it’s obvious what needs upgrading. The kids need more ownership.

So we’ve called for volunteers who will write to the speakers, organise groups, make programs, welcome and thank the speakers, take photographs, film, tweet, blog… and whatever else they decide!

I’m on leave at the moment, but delighted to find emails such as these in my inbox this morning:

My name is Jared and I am in Mrs B’s class and she told me that you were looking for volunteers to help with the conference next term. I would be very happy help with all the organizing that needs to be done. Jared

I would love to volunteer to help organise anything. I enjoy writing so I could make a blog post about the speakers, and I am very organised so I can organise anything. I could make programs or welcome the speakers too. I don’t really mind, I’m just happy to help. Thank you. Liora

Dear Morah Sackson, I am very interested in this project. Any jobs available will be fine for me! Thanks a million! David.

Hi Morah Sackson, I would love to volunteer to be an organizer for the conference. If I could I would like to write messages to the speakers with information. Thanks, Taylor

I would love to cooperate! I would love to do anything… I am passionate to help out! Mia

I would like to volunteer to work at lunchtimes. I would like to help create the program if I can. I am a great organiser and I really enjoy when things are in place. Ellie

Next year the kids can do the whole thing!

Process vs Product

In a PYP school, the culmination of primary school learning is the exhibition unit, in which students carry out an extended, collaborative inquiry. The exhibition synthesizes the essential elements of the program: knowledge, trans-disciplinary skills, concepts, attitudes and action. It’s an opportunity to celebrate their learning and share it with the whole school community.

As leader of a PYP workshop on the exhibition recently, I wanted to ensure that participants thought deeply about the purpose of the exhibition, to support them in formulating their opinions and developing concrete plans for how it would look in their own schools.

Participants shared their what, how and why questions in groups and we set these aside to be addressed during the coming three days, including this one:

‘What should we avoid?’

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Simon Sinek’s golden circle served as a trigger for initial thinking. It’s worth watching his TED talk, if you haven’t seen it, but the essence is that great leaders and organisations (teachers and schools!) start with ‘why’.

The participants expressed their ideas on the purpose of the exhibition, we discussed the IB guidelines and we called on the global community to add their thoughts.

I shared my school’s journey: Our first PYP exhibition three years ago, focused on the ‘what’ (forms, sheets, protocols and guides to support us)… and we thought it was wonderful! Our most recent exhibition started from the ‘why’ and was all about the learning.  The process became much more important than the product. The exhibition itself was an opportunity for students to really talk about their learning, with a choice of one means of presentation (a painting, a poster, a movie, an artifact…) replacing the mass of paper we used to have on display and discard the following day.

Then and Now

Keeping the ‘why in mind throughout the workshop, the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ fell into place and the three days flew by. We explored possibilities, deepened understandings, aired concerns, shared experiences, discussed issues and made plans…

On the last day, I asked the participants to answer their own question-

What should we avoid?

  • over complicating
  • anything that isn’t purposeful
  • teachers controlling the learning
  • focusing on product and polish at the expense of learning

While it’s clear that the teachers will have to deal with the demands and expectations of their specific school contexts, I could see that my dual messages of ‘keep it simple‘ and ‘start from why‘ had been internalised.

Back at my own school, the Year 6 Learning Team Leader and I have prepared a proposal to move our own exhibition to the end of the school year as a trial. We would like to replace the traditional, contrived graduation ceremony with a celebration of authentic learning. Graduation would consist of a simple student-created opening ceremony, followed by the exhibition: our students presenting all that they have learned, displaying the attributes of the learner profile, demonstrating their skills and sharing their knowledge with pride.

Are the powers that be ready to shift the graduation focus away from product and polish?