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

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.

So…

Who controls the learning in your class?

Profile of a lifelong learner…

This collaborative post was written with Miranda Rose, a PYP co-ordinator, in Accra, Ghana. We had fun working, crafting, building, hacking away … and learning together. It made me want to write a post about the power of collaboration. Miranda, are you in?

What does a lifelong learner look like?

“The IB promotes the education of the whole person, emphasizing intellectual, personal, emotional and social growth through all domains of knowledge… The Learner Profile is a profile of the whole person as a lifelong learner.”  (IBO Learner Profile )

Do you help your students strive to be thinkers, inquirers, knowledgeable, reflective, caring, balanced, open-minded, principled, communicators and risk-takers? Are you?

The  Learner Profile is not a list. It’s a whole school vision.  The attributes of the profile are the habits of mind that allow students to act in meaningful ways (Davy, 2005). We need to plan learning engagements to develop, discover and accentuate these habits of mind.

The Learner Profile is not a sign to laminate and post on the wall. It’s something every member of the school community should aspire to be. It is the value system that transcends learning and should be found at every turn in the school.

The Learner Profile is not another ‘thing’ to cover in class. It’s embedded in all our teaching and learning. We need to develop a culture, where the attributes of the learner profile are noticed, nurtured, modeled and expected.

Ron Ritchhart, in his book Intellectual Character identifies eight cultural forces that define a thinking classroom. These forces include : time, opportunities, routines & structures, language, modelling, interactions & relationships, physical environment and expectations (8 Cultural Forces by Ron Ritchhart). These ‘forces’ within the classroom environment can facilitate meaningful practice of all the attributes of the Learner Profile..

Some of our thoughts on how to make the ‘forces’ work to develop the Learner Profile in our classrooms:

  • Explore the attributes through the characteristics of world leaders, members of our local community and literary characters to help us identify what the Learner Profile might look like.
  • Help students take personal pride in demonstrating the attributes without extrinsically motivated awards.
  • Encourage students and teachers to set and reflect on personal goals based on the attributes of the Learner Profile.
  • Create essential agreements for effective functioning of groups and classes using the Learner Profile as a starting point.
  • Catch the students in the act of exhibiting the attributes of the Learner Profile. Display labeled photos of the Learner Profile in action.

And some further ideas via #pypchat, educators from all over the world sharing ideas…

  • We can model it through our actions. Make the language an organic feature of your pedagogy. Make it authentic.@wholeboxndice
  • Read stories in assembly showing LP. Be explicit about the traits. @LindyBuckley1
  • LP terminology is part of my daily language use. Library space makes reference to LP through posters and books lists @tgaletti
  • Use the language when discussing world news @CapitanoAmazing
  • Maybe the students can lead the community – teach the other stakeholders about the LP @jennysfen
  • Use language that relates to them. Students can display the LP even if they don’t use the ‘words’ @carlamarschall
  • What LP looks like as a parent-great way to intro it to them and gave good feedback to teachers @kassandraboyd
  • I think it has to inform everything you do as a teacher. Planning starts with it, instead of your standards or objective @PDin140orLESS
  • I like multi lingual / mother tongue displays & descriptions written by kids, often with parent help for translation @Saigon_Eldred
  • Students use them in literature circles for character analysis  @shaza33
  • All staff in school need to be involved in LP discussion, not just teaching staff @SarahHHK

We came to this post seeing ourselves as two knowledgeable PYP educators willing to take a risk and create a collaborative reflection. By communicating from different parts of globe, we began to think together. As we shared and processed our own ideas and the tweets from the first #pypchat, we became more open-minded about how the Learner Profile may look, feel and be developed in our schools. As a result, we now have more questions than we had before and our own inquiries into the Learner Profile have been inspired!