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:


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? 

How best do little kids learn?

How best do little kids learn?

It’s not a question generally asked by only slightly bigger kids!

A. is an unusual student (aren’t they all?) in Grade 2 with a passion for teaching and learning. His teacher understands him well and, rather than demanding compliance (not his forte), has tapped into his interests, encouraging him to explore possibilities by going down to teach the Prep children. Apparently he meets with the Prep teacher to understand their needs and discusses with his teacher his ideas for his lessons. 

When Kath Murdoch visited the school, his teacher introduced A. and got Kath to explain the notion of inquiry learning. She’s working indirectly on helping him regulate his own learning through his understanding of learning in the bigger picture.

Today I have the pleasure of spending half an hour with him, in my favourite pastime… educational dialogue! He tells me about his experience so far with the Preps and asks me about effective teaching and learning. I suggest he start by thinking about his own learning and the approach of his own teacher, whom he clearly admires. He opens his notebook and thoughtfully starts a list:


  • it has to be interesting
  • it has to be active
  • you need to encourage the children to think
  • you need to connect to them
  • start with something curious

I show him some of our learning principles and he is instantly engaged. by these three:


‘So… I need to get them curious’, he says, ‘and encourage them to be risk takers and try different things. They need to work together and talk to each other. And I need to make sure it is challenging… slightly bigger than where they start so they have to be extended and keep going…’. He pauses for a moment ‘And if not, it’s giving me a clue that the lesson might not be suitable or interesting’. 

As A. starts copying from the cards, I tell him he can have the one he’s focusing on. He looks longingly at the rest of the pile and I encourage him to take them all. ‘They might help me further along’ he says and heads happily back to class, notebook in one hand, learning principles in the other… on a mission to explore how kids learn best.

Just give kids the opportunity and encouragement… and magic happens.

#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

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?

It’s not about making learning happen, it’s about letting it happen…

“It’s not about making learning happen, it’s about letting it happen”… This is the crux of Sugata Mitra’s message, whether he is talking about minimally invasive education, self organised learning environments or the School in the Cloud.

It’s very different from traditional approaches to education, but not so far removed from the student centred, inquiry driven learning that takes place at my school.

My colleague Jocelyn, with the task of teaching her spelling group Latin and Greek derivations, decides to let go even more than usual and use the SOLE approach.

She begins with Sugata’s ‘Child Driven Education’ TED talk as an introduction to provoke their thinking. All she does is show the video and ask her eleven/twelve-year-old learners to make observations and connections…

  • You don’t need a teacher to teach you If you want to learn.
  • It’s like a process – we learn from each other just like the kids in India at the hole in the wall.
  • If we do our own exploration, we will learn more skills.
  • If we find out and understand for ourselves where spelling comes from, we are more likely to learn it and remember.
  • We can choose what we want to learn and we learn more when we are passionate about it.
  • When you set your mind to something you can do it.
  • Sometimes we just need someone to look over and tell us we are good.
  • You need curiosity to learn.
  • Kids learn by themselves. If they have an interest they will learn.
  • Learn how kids want to learn and they will learn.

In the next lesson, Joc introduces the ‘big question’ – How have other languages influenced English words?  She explains that in self organised learning environments, learners are free to choose their own groups and to move freely between groups. They will need to present their learning to others in an engaging way at the end.

And then… she lets the learning happen!

Marty forms a group of six and suggests they go through each step of the information process -define, locate, select, organise, present. By the end of the lesson, they have broken the big questions down into three inquiry questions and begun to explore. They will consider many ways to present but only choose later, so that they will be able to see the mode of presentation that suits best.

Raf’s group realises they need some background knowledge as they only know a little about Greek and Latin roots. They immediately start researching and are very excited to find out that the English language has developed over time from so many different sources. They are intrigued to discover the extent to which wars have influenced the language.

Each of the groups decides how they want to approach the learning and every group is different.

Every one of our learning principles underpins this inquiry

  • 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.

The learners are highly engaged and motivated. The teacher sits back and observes the learning unfold…

The need for choice…

I really like Chobani Greek yoghurt, but I am tired of the three or four flavours sold at my local supermarket. A bit of research further afield has revealed no less than twenty flavours available. Apparently, if customers request, my local supermarket might stock a bigger variety.

My choice was limited by what I was offered and what I knew.

It reminds me of schools…

Parents‘ expectations and demands tend to be based on school as they know it, on impressions formed when they themselves went to school. They choose homework and grades for the same reasons that I chose mango or strawberry. I didn’t know what else there was. It’s up to us to show them other possibilities.

Many teachers continue to teach the way they always have, because they haven’t tried the blueberry and have never been exposed to pomegranate. Their schools, like my supermarket, provide limited choice for professional learning and it hasn’t struck them that they can explore further afield. Have they tried requesting other options or initiating their own explorations?

Most importantly… How much choice do students have in their learning? Do they have opportunities to explore and discover what’s out there, follow their passions and direct their own learning? Or do they only get to choose between the options their teachers present, in the same way that I was limited by my local supermarket? Have they discovered the honey flavour? What do they think of the lemon? Have they considered mixing flavours?

Can they make their own yoghurt?

I choose...

Inquiring into inquiry…

How would you define inquiry learning? What are the characteristics? Can you give examples and non-examples?

Are the responses below similar or different to yours?


Our Learning Team Leaders are revisiting inquiry in this month’s meetings. We organise our thinking individually first, using the Frayer Model, before discussing our ideas as a group. Despite the fact that we work, learn and plan together, everyone responds in different ways and the perspectives are interesting.

Next, we view the beautiful video ‘The Potter’ (again!) and reflect on the ideas it portrays.

The discussion:

  • Curiosity drives learning.
  • It’s important to have opportunities to try and fail.
  • You need to understand the principles before applying them to make the magic.
  • Learning is enhanced by persistence, enthusiasm and resilience.
  • The teacher’s role is sometimes to guide and inspire, rather than instruct.
  • Teachers need to know when to let go and when to step in.
  • Creating a safe, secure environment supports the learning process.
  • Empower the learners to own their own learning.
  • The teachers role is to support the learner in finding his own way.
  • It’s not always necessary to teach skills first. Allow the learner time to experiment before the teacher steps in.

Follow up – We’ll each read a blog post related to inquiry and unpack the big ideas at our next meeting. Inquire Within will probably be sufficient inspiration, but would you like to share your favourite post about inquiry?

What surprised me?

A group of teachers inquirers, who have been working together for years, can still learn from each other and offer different perspectives, as we continue our never-ending inquiry into what inquiry learning can be…

How do you plan?

We met this week for collaborative planning of a new unit of inquiry for the start of the new school year…

Times have changed. We have changed.
Planning is not coming up with a range of activities or developing a series of lesson plans. It’s a time to consider the rationale behind the unit and discuss conceptual ideas. A time to create a range of possible provocations which engage learners in the big ideas. A time to plan opportunities in which authentic student-directed learning can occur.

Pre thinking includes…

Our process…

Brainstorm the big ideas – respect, diversity, belonging, co-existence, contribution, community, relationships, interactions, culture, rights, citizenship, values, cooperation.

Decide collaboratively on the desired conceptual understandings

  • A community is made up of people who have common purpose or shared values.
  • Diversity within a community enriches the community.
  • Being part of a community comes with rights and responsibilities, duties and privileges.

Come up with one conceptual word that defines the essence of the unit – Community

Write the central idea – This needs to be a broad conceptual understanding, globally significant, relevant and engaging, which invites inquiry. We take some quiet time to write it individually, then discuss, adjust and adapt until we have consensus.

Central idea – Communities are enriched by the contributions of individuals and groups.

Is it perfect? We’re not sure. Nor are we sure of the paths the learning might take, what the learners might discover and uncover along the way, where exactly the inquiry might lead for different individuals and classes…

We are sure that…

  • Our desired conceptual understandings are achievable and worthwhile.
  • The unit will help build a community of learners to set the tone for the entire year’s learning.
  • It will help cement the relationships between two groups of learners coming together for the first time from different campuses of our school and create an awareness that each group brings something to the whole.
  • It will expose learners to the necessary focus of the Australian curriculum to support the development of their knowledge and understandings, without teachers resorting to mere ‘covering’ of facts.
  • It will foster the passions, interests and talents of individuals and raise awareness of the fact that they each have something valuable to contribute.
  • There will be opportunities to develop a huge range of trans-disciplinary skills and attitudes, and promote creativity, collaboration and critical thinking.

In a way, our collaborative planning session has been an embodiment of our central idea: The Year 3 teachers, teaching and learning facilitators, teacher librarian and the ICT facilitator have spent several hours working and thinking together. The music and PE teachers have dropped in for a while too to share their ideas. We have built a sense of community within the group and been enriched by the contributions of every member…