A (massive) collaborative curriculum review…

How (and why?!) would we involve over a hundred teachers in a curriculum review? What could we hope to achieve? Wouldn’t it be easier to have a small focus group reviewing our PYP program of inquiry?  How could we make this IB requirement into a meaningful learning exercise? How would we make it a valuable experience for all staff?

According to feedback from staff, we certainly achieved our goals last Monday, despite our reservations…



  • To gain an overview of the big picture of the whole school Program of Inquiry and see how it works.
  • To interact with different people, across campuses, across disciplines, and engage in educational dialogue.
  • To share observations and questions that might assist in tightening the Program of Inquiry.

Group roles: (A choice of the following)

  • Facilitator – Facilitate the discussion, making sure everyone in the group has a voice.
  • Recorder #1 – Record big ideas and important thinking on your group’s Google doc.
  • Recorder #2 – Record questions and wonderings.
  • Tweeter – Tweet key ideas as the discussion unfolds.
  • Back Channeller – Share and discuss with other groups via the back channel in TodaysMeet
  • Time keeper – Keep an eye on the time to make sure tasks are accomplished.
  • Observer – Observe and record what you notice about the how the group collaborates.
  • Spy – Visit other groups to hear their conversation and get ideas.


  • See Think Wonder – Get a sense of the big picture of the POI.
    • What do you notice?
    • What are your initial thoughts, overall?
    • What are you wondering?
  • Horizontal review – Check the units across one year level (not your own).
    • Will the unit invite student inquiry?
    • Will it be globally significant addressing the commonalities of human experience?
    • Will there be opportunities to develop understanding through multiple perspectives?
    • And several other questions from the IB guide.
  • Vertical review – Check the units from K-6 through one trans-disciplinary theme
    • Are all aspects of the trans-disciplinary themes explored at some point in the programme of inquiry?
    • Will the units in this theme challenge and extend students’ understanding?
    • Is there is a balance of key concepts used throughout this trans-disciplinary theme.
    • And several other questions from the IB guide.
  • Personal reflection – Add your thoughts via the Google survey.
    • Place yourself on a scale of 1-10 to represent your knowledge and understanding of the whole school program of inquiry.
    • Sum up your overall understanding of the POI in one sentence.
    • What does the POI have to do with YOU?
    • What did you notice about yourself as a learner during the session?


Comments from some of the participants:

  • There is always more to learn and collaboration is crucial.
  • I was able to gain more of an understanding through the discussion and asking challenging questions helped us dig deeper into the POI.
  • I was part of a temporary community of learners and we went on a journey together.
  • I felt supported and it felt good that my ideas were included although I know very little about PYP.
  • I noticed that I’m still a learner – I was able to expand my thinking and to look at the POI from a learner’s point of view and not just from my subject area.
  • It helped me feel part of a bigger thing and that I’m not alone in my line of thoughts.
  • I feel more confident to express my views and listen to others in an open-minded manner.
  • It was great to realise how my learning continues to grow and I could make a contribution even though my area of teaching isn’t mainstream.
  • I can ask too many questions and I love critically analysing things but it can be irritating for others.
  • I was able to discuss and share concerns with my colleagues and discovered that colleagues had similar concerns.
  • Having a clear role to play supported my active participation.
  • I noticed how valuable it is to work collaboratively with people across different teaching areas. The different perspectives were really fascinating.
  • As a facilitator I noticed myself being a much better listener. I asked questions to keep the the conversation flowing and invited everyone to share their thinking.


  • Great to see the entire teaching community actively engaged in educational dialogue.
  • Everyone has something to contribute. Fresh perspectives can be valuable.
  • Teachers appreciate protected time for collaborative discussion, exchange of learning and airing concerns.


It’s valuable to see everything as an opportunity for learning!

Students as innovators…

Guest post by Claire, one of our Grade 5 teachers, discovering the power of letting go. The headings are my commentary…

Opportunities for creativity and innovation…

Over the last week, my team of Year 5 teachers, together with Edna, have been planning a unit of inquiry into energy. We had already established the rubric for conceptual understandings that was to guide our inquiry but were looking for ways to allow for more creativity.

Provocation to encourage thinking and action…

The opportunity arose in my class when, after an initial provocation and some personal research into energy, a student declared that he would like to create something electronic. This caused a flurry of excitement as other students started contributing their ideas about things that they would like to create.

Student generated thinking and inquiry…

They realised that in order to make their inventions they would have to research the scientific principles behind them. They wondered whether their inventions would be helpful or harmful to the environment.

Connections with prior learning…

In order to find the required information, the children felt that the internet was the obvious first source. As we had recently inquired into digital citizenship, it was heartening when a student reminded us that we would have to check for authenticity.

Student ownership and decision-making…

Some students felt that we still needed people to help clarify information and assist us in the process of creation. After brainstorming a variety of people ranging from parents and grandparents to scientific experts, I smiled internally when I saw that my name was not on the list. Was it because they thought that I was hopeless at science or has owning their own iPads enabled them to take more control over their own learning, increasingly leaving me in the role of facilitator?

Attitudes required for innovation…

Not all students were so excited about this idea and felt that it was ‘hard’ to create something and they were afraid of failing. After much discussion they decided that they would have to be risk-takers and show commitment if they were to embark on this process.

Letting go…

I am now ready to introduce the central idea, ‘Humans use their understanding of scientific principles to create a more sustainable world’ and I’m really look forward to seeing what will evolve.

Me too. ~ Ed 

What do parents think of student centred learning?

Educators at my school have worked hard during the past few years at deepening our understanding of inquiry learning, developing learner-centred practices, encouraging our learners to take ownership of their learning and building communities of learners which include the teachers as much as students.

But what do the parents think?

While most of our parents are overwhelmingly positive, at least one parent (so far) thinks this it’s a terrible idea…

“The concept of a ‘community of learners’ is terrific in theory, but in practice it:
1) creates a blurred line between those who are supposed to be in positions of authority (teachers, parents etc..) and those who are not (students); and has taught my children to have a voice without teaching them that it is not always appropriate to have a voice and that sometimes their views are not being sought.
2) results in the breakdown of classroom structure, with children treating teachers as they would peers and failing to show an understanding of, or respect for, the status and authority of the teacher.”

So now I am wondering…

  • Why would this parent send their children to a PYP school?
  • What do the children say at home to give parents this impression?
  • Have we failed to help some of our parents understand our beliefs about learning?
  • How do we educate parents whose vision of learning is based on when they went to school themselves?

A whole school collaborative reflection…


Clusters of teachers are scattered in different areas of the school talking about learning… It’s a student free day and we’re discussing the IB standards, reflecting in groups on our practice and recording evidence as part of our self-study process. 


We start the day with a brief mindfulness exercise followed by a meditation  session, led by Fiona, our Head of Learning Resources. She’s modelling a focus on wellbeing and encouraging teachers to use these approaches with their students.


We view the first few minutes of the Apple recruitment video, mentally replacing Apple with Our School’s Name. The messages include –

Main ideas


We’re a three campus school and our teachers rarely have a chance for inter-campus interactions, so this a great opportunity to establish connections and collaborate with different people.



There are printouts on the tables of each of the four curriculum standards (Collaborative Planning, Written Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, Assessment) as well as our school’s Learning Principles. The task is to make connections between all the above.


Making connections in this way encourages teachers to carefully read and consider the various practices, analyse and discuss them. Experienced practitioners work with some who are brand new to the PYP, drawing on examples and deepening understanding collaboratively.


Time for creativity. Teachers work in small groups, sharing photos of great learning from their classes, finding suitable illustrations of the various practices analysed and discussed in the previous session. Peer support and encouragement are at hand for those still mastering the tools on recently acquired ipads.


Here’s an example, connecting practices across the four standards, including living evidence!

Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 11.21.42 pm Reflection…

Clusters of teachers are scattered in different areas of the school talking about learning… For the final session, the teachers break into their assigned teams (in which they have been working since last year) to reflect collaboratively on the standards and practices and record evidence from across the school.


It’s exciting –

  • to see the high level of engagement and participation.
  • to notice teachers (some of whom haven’t before) taking the lead and driving important conversations.
  • to observe new members of staff making valuable contributions.
  • to listen to over a hundred voices engaged in educational dialogue.
  • to hear teachers say they will apply some of the strategies modelled today in their classrooms.
  • to receive so many ‘thank you’s for organising this day of learning.
  • to realise how far we have come in the past few years…

10 tips for creating a class agreement…

Do a quick google image search for ‘classroom rules’ and ‘classroom agreements’ (or ‘essential agreements’ as they’re called in the PYP) and see if anything surprises you…

What I noticed is that, despite the heading, many classroom agreements are still lists of rules.

Do teachers value compliance above learning?

These are amongst the most common elements I found, none of which seem to relate to learning...

  • Work quietly.
  • Raise your hand to speak.
  • Listen carefully.
  • Follow instructions.
  • Do your best work.
  • Don’t speak until called on.
  • Be punctual.

Have our students’ training and experience set them up to believe that these are are the appropriate expectations for a learning environment?

Some are even more extreme and less related to learning…

  • Sit correctly on chairs. (big kids?)
  • We sit still on the carpet. (little kids)
  • Keep your hands to yourself.
  • Don’t throw things.
  • Talk to your classmates only when the activity requires you to.
  • Stay in your seat unless you have permission to leave.

Does this set the tone for engaging learning?

Here are some of the more appealing inclusions I found, which are more likely to support an environment conducive to learning… and isn’t that the purpose of school?

  • Be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them.
  • Try new things even if they scare us.
  • Think before you act.
  • Respect yourself and others.
  • Make wise choices to support your learning.
  • Include people if they look excluded.
  • Be open-minded – Listen to, consider and value other perspectives.
  • Take ownership of our learning.
  • Dream big.

10 ways to create a meaningful class agreement…

  1. Don’t start till you’ve spent some time establishing your own beliefs about learning.
  2. Have the kids consider what helps them learn and what hinders their learning. (Details here)
  3. Begin with what the learners value or the school values. (Example here)
  4. Have kids unpack your school’s learning principles as a starting point. (I haven’t tried that yet, but here are ours.)
  5. Base it on a common set of qualities, such as the IB Learner Profile. (Staff example here)
  6. Use a ‘place mat’ activity so students have time to think individually, before seeking consensus. (Details here)
  7. Have kids think about what learning ‘looks like‘, sounds like‘ and ‘feels like’.
  8. Take your time. Build the agreement gradually, to ensure understanding and ownership.
  9. Include photos and descriptions for younger learners, to elaborate on the words.
  10. Live it, don’t laminate it. Revisit the agreement often and adjust as required.

What’s in your class agreement?

Concept driven inquiry learning…

There’s a buzz in the room as 11 year olds sit in groups around large sheets of butcher paper, talking animatedly. I like visiting this classroom, seeing how the two teachers collaborate and the children engage in their learning.

Today they are brainstorming the ‘big ideas’ in ‘Sharing the Planet’, one of the trans disciplinary themes in the PYP curriculum framework.

In the build-up to this, students have watched David Attenborough’s Wonderful World and made connections with the trans disciplinary theme –

‘Inquiry into rights and responsibilities in the struggle to share finite resources with other people and other living things; communities and the relationship within and between them; access to equal opportunities; peace and conflict resolution.’ (IB Primary Years Program)


Their ideas include concepts such as environment, sustainability, pollution, responsibility, nature, society, economics, lifestyle, consequences… I’m impressed by the depth of their thinking, their ability to extract the conceptual ideas and the way they make connections with prior learning.

The teachers introduce the idea of biodiversity, a concept to which they haven’t been exposed before, without explaining it or doing any ‘teaching’. The students get the iPads and do their own exploration, in any way they like. They are encouraged to read, look at images, watch videos – the choice is theirs.

Later in the day I go back to ask how the learning unfolded…

At the moment people are only thinking about what they should do, but not doing it. As this generation, it is our responsibility to take care of the planet for further generations. (Michelle)

I would like to inquire into all living beings’ rights.I want to know why different people/animals are treated differently and what the consequences are. (Zara)

I want to know how the loss of animals and plants affects the world and our life because if I don’t know what difference it makes, I won’t know how to change my habits. (Noa)

I should be aware that a little mistake can make a big difference. I would like to inquire into how we can make the world equal and fair so everyone has a home/habitat. (Zoe)

I want to know what will happen to the animals if we keep polluting the earth and taking the land because if there are no animals it will affect human life. (Stella)

And this one…

If we don’t share the planet and make a difference, there won’t be a future for us to live in… (Josh)

In the picture…


What does this image reveal?

One of my colleagues sent it to me, in response to a request I sent teachers for photos of kids learning, for a presentation to parents. It shows a group of 4th grade students applying their skills and knowledge in Hebrew creatively, using iPads. I’ve had fun with it!

To begin with the Learning Team Leaders examined it for evidence of the IB PYP standard and practices in Teaching and Learning. They felt it might show these-

  • Teaching and learning engages students as inquirers and thinkers.
  • Teaching and learning builds on what students know and can do.
  • Teaching and learning supports students to become actively responsible for their own learning.
  • Teaching and learning addresses the diversity of student language needs, including those for students learning in a language(s) other than mother tongue.
  • Teaching and learning uses a range and variety of strategies.
  • Teaching and learning incorporates a range of resources, including information technologies.
  • Teaching and learning engages students in reflecting on how, what and why they are learning.

Next, I tried to decide which of our school’s learning principles it best depicted so I could place it appropriately in my presentation. The scene could easily represent all of these –

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, 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 needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
  • Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, and requires learners to take ownership of their learning.

If we wanted to, we could probably unpack the trans disciplinary skills that are evident and the attitudes being demonstrated. Or we could check the scene against the so-called 21st century skills. It’s interesting how much we can see in one simple image (with minimal explanation from the teacher). Examining classroom photos to see what they reveal is a great way to refocus on beliefs about learning and a host of other big ideas.

What might this image reveal?


Planning for inquiry…

Language is a vehicle for communication and self expression.

It’s a starting point for a central idea for a new inquiry unit in How We Express Ourselves and no-one in the room is excited. The draft central idea seems like a statement of the obvious and teachers are concerned that it might not have the potential to invite student inquiry. We can see opportunities for the development of skills and outcomes in our English scope and sequence, exposure to Aboriginal culture, obvious links with second language learning and wonderful ways to incorporate the arts. If we can come up with possible directions and some great provocations, we’ll be happy to let the learners lead the way…

… Inquiry teachers are not afraid to let go.

It’s the pre-thinking stage and we have yet to explore the potential by investing some time in our own inquiries. An interesting way to provoke initial thinking is via google images. A quick search for ‘language’ generates pictures of different kinds of scripts, people communicating, sign language charts, ancient writing, translations, symbols and signs. We’re off on our own tangents, considering different perspectives, exploring in different directions. My personal inquiry has already taken me to Steven Pinker, Mark Pagel and the National Geographic Enduring Voices project…

… Inquiry teachers are inquirers themselves.

The range of questions teachers generate themselves is an indication of what’s possible… What is language? How can we communicate without language? How do writers use language effectively? How is spoken language different from written language? How would the world be different if everyone spoke the same language? How has language evolved over time? How does slang develop and evolve? How does body language impact on communication? How do gestures communicate meaning in different cultures? Why do some languages not have words for concepts we have in English? How does language shape culture? How does culture shape language? Why are many languages becoming extinct?

… Inquiry teachers are more interested in questions than answers.

We consider the conceptual focus. We might explore language through the lenses of function, connection and change. The big ideas (related concepts) might include communication, expression, culture, systems, relationships, adaptation, literature…

A tentative articulation of the desired conceptual understandings looks like this:

  • We use language to communicate and express thoughts, ideas and feelings. (function)
  • Language is a dynamic system that evolves over time. (change)
  • Language and culture are interdependent. (connection)

… Inquiry teachers focus on conceptual understandings, not just facts.

A range of provocations that involve slang and text speak should pique students’ interest, before taking the learning further…

… Inquiry teachers help learners make personal connections, so that learning is relevant and engaging.

Not everyone is excited (yet). We’re on the lookout for some inspiration relating to the big ideas so let me know if you have anything to share!

Exploring issues…

Have you ever used drama to explore issues and deepen understanding in your classroom?

I don’t mean having students watch plays about the topic they are studying. Nor do I mean dramatizing what they have learned. While I believe that creating a play can be an effective way to demonstrate and even assess learning, that’s not what I am referring to either.

You can read here about how we first decided to provide opportunities for creativity through a choice of workshops, to enrich the learning during our inquiry into social inequity. I worked with the drama group because the sessions were facilitated via Skype by Mazz in Ecuador, and it was necessary to have a teacher present in the room. Not only was it a different way for kids to engage with their learning, it was a journey of discovery for me.

Drawing on the Playback style of theatre, the group explored issues relating to social inequity, through improvisation, narrative vignettes, frozen stories and fluid sculptures.

Learning included:

  • Collaborating in groups to explore issues and develop ideas.
  • Using newspaper stories, articles and powerful images to stimulate thinking.
  • Writing four sentence stories to encapsulate the big ideas.
  • Considering social inequity from other perspectives.
  • Empathising with others and portraying different aspects of their emotions.
  • Using voices and bodies to express feelings and  communicate ideas.
  • Experimenting with symbolism and metaphor to invoke emotion and provoke thinking.
  • Giving constructive feedback to peers on how to make their performances more effective.
  • Reflecting individually and collaboratively to refine their techniques.
At the opening of our PYP exhibition last year, students talked about their learning and shared some examples on stage. It was a low-key performance that focused more on process than product, but it was incredible to see these 12-year-olds pull together all their learning to create provocative, emotive pieces, in a remarkably short time.


One student commented that “I never realised that you could use drama in this way to think more deeply about issues.” Me neither. And reading a post the other day about improv and inquiry got me thinking further.

Mazz is back in Australia and currently available to facilitate such workshops for your students or to lead workshops for teachers in how to use drama this way themselves. You can contact her here: