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What messages do you get from this great little clip?

Here’s the kind of responses that came from teachers in our Learning Team Leaders group…

  • Anyone can be a leader.
  • Collaboration leads to success.
  • Set an example and others will follow.
  • Find a solution, rather than complaining about a problem.

The clip elicited different responses from 6th grade students, asked to make connections with themselves and their learning…

  • It makes me feel that I have a strong power inside me that can allow me to do anything.
  • It tells me a lot about learning, it tells me to be a risk taker and never be scared…
  • Everyone can be a leader and do what ever they want, if they have a lot of determination.
  • Team work is very important in and out of school.
  • We need to learn to help people even though you haven’t been asked.
  • This video tells me that even though I’m a small kid doesn’t mean I can’t do big things.
  • One small act can infect a lot of people.
  • I think this video will inspire children that think they can not do anything.
  • Everyone can learn something from someone, no matter what age or gender.
  • Anyone, doesn’t matter what size, can help the community and be an active citizen.

You can read the whole delightful conversation, including responses from kids in other schools, here. (It highlights the possibilities of blogging as a tool for authentic reading, writing and conversation beyond the classroom walls, but that’s another story!)

Often the best clips to stimulate thinking are not directly related to the subject at hand and can be used in a range of contexts. Do you have any other ideas for using this one? Have you come across any great, short videos that provoke thinking and inspire conversation?

What would you do if you could change the world?

Do you ever wish you were eleven again?

Melbourne film maker Genevieve Bailey looks back fondly on that age as a time of simplicity and hope. So much so, that she chose to interview eleven year old children on her travels around the world and make a documentary. We saw the film yesterday with Year 6 students (mostly aged 11) and loved it.


What would you do if you could change the world?

This was my favourite of the questions Year 6 teachers asked the students to consider before seeing the film. It was one of a series of questions Genevieve asked all kinds of eleven year olds she encountered in fifteen countries over a period of several years.

Responses from Year 6 at my school…


  • The first thing I would do if I could change the world is distribute money evenly to all the countries so no one would be in poverty.
  • The thing I would do to change the world is to give everyone a house and an education or occupation. I would also put a cheap supermarket near every village or city.
  • Make sure that every one got on with each other.
  • Give everyone the same rights.
  • Make everything free!
  • I would stop homelessness and build wells so people could have clean water.
  • I would ban cigarettes but do it in a way that nobody will get angry or sad.
  • If I could change the world I would have world peace and there would be no war.
  • Make Australian footy a world wide sport.


Other questions included ‘What do you like most and least about being eleven?’, ‘What do you worry about?’, ‘Would you rather be clever or good looking?’ How could we take better care of the environment?’ and ‘What do you think will happen in the future?’ (You can see the remaining questions and responses here on their blog.)

After the showing, the students met Genevieive for a Q and A session. She seemed delighted to have an eleven year old audience share their wonderings about the eleven year olds in her film. As a non eleven year old in the audience, I was taken with both the thoughtfulness of the questions and the unaffected enthusiasm of Genevieve’s answers.

Back at school, the students reflected on the film…

‘I was really was blown away when the girl in India said that if she could have anything she would want money to build a house, and then the girl in the USA said she would want a four day weekend’.

‘People may look and sound different but we always have something in common…People who have more want more but people who don’t have a lot want everyone to be happy. People who don’t have as much as me still think the same as me.’

‘I now think that how you feel at a certain age depends on where you live and who you are. I think that someone who lives in an orphanage at 11 and someone who live in America or Australia with a family and a big house will think differently.’

‘People with a lot of things don’t think about what they have they just want more while people with nothing only want what they need to survive. I think that we should be grateful for what we have and not always wanting more. I think that the orphans enjoyed there life the same as the people with stuff’.

When I was eleven, I doubt I had the capacity to express my thinking in this way. If I thought at all about important issues, it certainly didn’t happen at school. Learning about the world consisted of knowing the names of capital cities and recognising flags. I remember learning historical ‘facts’ by heart without evaluating their truth or considering different perspectives. And I don’t recall ever being encouraged to think about changing the world…

I am often struck by the depth of thinking witnessed in many of our students today. Is it because through concept driven learning and an inquiry approach, students engage with big ideas from a young age? Watching, and thinking deeply about, this film is just the beginning for these students, about to explore the notion of inequity for their PYP exhibition unit.

Their central idea is: Developing an awareness and understanding of inequity empowers us to act. Thinking about who you are, your place in the world and what you’d like to change seems like an excellent start.

Thinking about thinking…

In a recent Huffington Post essay, Eric Maisels presented an argument for ‘adding thinking to the school day’ . I totally agree with this sentiment:

If your intention is to have students manifest their potential, you need to do more than stuff their heads with facts on the one hand, or provide them with unstructured freedom on the other. You need to provide students with appropriate guidance that motivates them to think and motivates them to create — an environment that supports their intellectual and creative efforts.

He talks about encouraging students to ‘think big’, which I agree is essential. But I do not agree with his suggestion to set aside 45 minutes each day for students to ponder big questions, write down their thoughts, and present them if they wish.

I don’t believe that thinking is something you can do for one period a day. If students are to develop the habit of thinking deeply, they will need to be exposed to big ideas and given opportunities to ponder big questions throughout the day. Ron Ritchhart, in his workshops and in his book ‘Intellectual Character’, talks about creating a culture of thinking ‘in which thinking is valued,visible, and actively promoted as part of theregular, day-to-day experience of all group members’. I’ve suggested some ways to engender a culture of thinking in the classroom, in a previous post. If you haven’t explored the Project Zero Visible Thinking website, I highly recommend it.

I used the ‘Diamond Ranking’ thinking routine this week, to stimulate thinking  and get students to prioritise their ideas. DIAMOND RANKING

Start with your question, topic, or provocation. Each student gets nine sticky notes and writes one idea on each. In pairs or groups, they pool their ideas and negotiate them down to a total of nine. This requires the ability to provide supporting evidence for keeping your suggestions in. Finally, prioritise the ideas according to the ‘diamond ranking’ …the most important goes at the top, the least important at the bottom and so on.

The kids were totally engaged and their discussion was meaningful and relevant. They are used to thinking about big ideas and evaluating issues … they don’t only do it for 45 minutes a day.

It was only after the lesson that I thought we should have grabbed some laptops and done the activity in linoit, rather than on paper. This would have allowed inclusion of images, embedding in a wiki or blog, sharing and commenting.

I just wasn’t thinking…

10 ways to think about your learning space…

We’re moving into a brand new school building in 2011, which will mean exciting opportunities for change. (More about that later). Meanwhile I have started to think about what to take. Here’s my current thinking…

Moving on

The latest in the series isn’t quite 10 ways, but rather 10 questions to ask yourself when setting up your class:

1.  Who owns the learning?

If the teacher controls all learning in this room, the desks will need to face the front. If you want your students to take responsibility for their own learning, they won’t need to face the teacher.

2. What’s more important, collaboration or quiet?

If you value real collaboration above silence, the students will need to sit in groups (ideally not more than four to each group), to facilitate conversation, cooperation and collaboration.

3. Does every learner have to do the same thing at the same time?

If not, your learning space will have areas for different kinds of learning to take place simultaneously. Places for a small group to sit. Place to gather round a computer or sit with laptops. Places to share learning. A place to work on your own.

4. How is meaning constructed?

If you believe that people need to talk through things, bounce ideas off each other, ask and answer provocative questions in order to construct meaning, your students will need to sit in groups.

5.  Do I value a culture of thinking?

Again, tables will need to be grouped. You’ll need a display space to make the process and development of thinking visible. Powerful central ideas and essential questions will need to be visible to promote and sustain higher order thinking and engagement.

6.  How can I promote inquiry?

Early years teachers do this best. They have tables with objects and artifacts that get kids interested. We can do it with older learners too. Use powerful pictures. Create a ‘Wonder Wall’ where students’ wonderings are on display. Post kids’ questions on the wall for others to think about.

7. Why is this on the wall?

Anything on your display boards or walls should be there for a reason related to the learning.  Don’t hang it up just because it’s pretty, or because you always have or to fill a space. Take it down if it’s old and no longer relevant. Keep it up if students can refer back to it, to make connections between new and prior learning.

8. Do I need it?

Clutter can hinder learning. If you haven’t looked at it in the past year, you probably don’t need it! Less stuff means more learning space. Less furniture means more flexibility, more space to move around. Throw it out!

9. Does learning only happen in the classroom?

If you don’t believe learning is limited to the classroom, you can  ‘flatten the classroom walls’ and bring the world in. Download Skype so that your class can communicate with people around the globe.

10. This one’s yours…

When I first started blogging, a friend warned me to take care not to write in a know-it-all style. Readers don’t like preachers, he told me. It sounded reasonable to me. And now here I am writing the 10 ways series, in which it might sound as if I am doing exactly what he cautioned against. I hope not! In reality, I am putting forward my ideas, pulled together from experience, my own learning, sharing with colleagues, reading and thinking about what others write. What I really want is for others to add their own thinking and challenge mine, collaborate with me on creating something bigger and better, each time…

It’s not too late to add to these:

Series of posts on ’10 Ways …’ #6

10 ways to encourage students to take responsibility for their learning

10 ways to foster a love of learning

10 ways to create a culture of thinking

10 ways to grow as an educator

10 ways my thinking has changed


10 ways my thinking has changed…


1. I used to think it was about the teaching. Now I think it’s all about the learning.

2. I used to think my students learned best sitting facing the front of the classroom. Now I think they need to sit in groups, in order to collaborate and construct meaning together.

3. I used to think the classroom needed to be quiet and I needed to be in control. Now I think noisy lessons where the kids are engaged often reflect learning at its most vibrant.

4. I used to think silence had to be filled by repeating the question or asking a different question. Now I think silence means every student has enough time to think.

5. I used to think differentiation meant setting different tasks for different abilities. Now I think digital tools often  provide natural differentiation for different levels, abilities and interests.

6. I used to think every student had to put up his hand before he spoke and all conversation had to go through me. Now I think the best discussions are ones where the kids are responding to each other and I’m out of the picture.

7. I used to think that praising kids was necessary positive reinforcement. Now I think that feedback needs to be constructive and specific and praise on its own isn’t helpful.

8. I used to think exercise books had to be neat, with a margin drawn at the side. Now I think exercise books are for thinking, reflecting, scribbling ideas and working things out, so it doesn’t matter what they look like.

9. I used to think finished work should be hung on the wall so the class could see it. Now I think the best place for samples of learning is on the class blog or wiki where an authentic audience can read/listen and comment.

10. I used to think that assessment was to find out whether students had mastered a topic or a skill, and took the form of tests for which I gave grades. Now I think assessment should inform teaching /learning and can occur through any learning experience, including listening to what students say.

11. I used to think PD was through conferences and workshops. Now I think some of my best professional learning has been through Twitter and blogs.

12. I used to think the teacher was the teacher and the students were the learners. Now I think we’re all part of a community of learners… Oops, there are 12 😉

Please add your thinking to the list…

Series of posts on ’10 Ways …’ #4 10 ways to encourage students to take responsibility for their learning 10 ways to foster a love of learning 10 ways to create a culture of thinking

Who dares to teach…

I managed to participate in ten minutes of #edchat before going to teach this morning. When I am able to participate, I always find the conversation stimulating and thought provoking. This time the topic was best practice in teacher professional development.

My best PD in the past year has undoubtedly been through my online PLN (professional learning network). This includes writing my own blog, reading and commenting on other blogs and the worldwide teachers’ lounge that is Twitter. At any time of day, I can go in and engage with other educators, learn from them, be exposed to new ideas and tools, seek help, follow interesting links or be inspired by quotes.  I have made global connections with people who think the way I do and poeople who think differently than I do and people who push my thinking further. This is ongoing professional development at its best.

As far as ‘offline’ PD is concerned, here’s my thinking:

The least effective PD is the sort involving whole school, compulsory, one off sessions, with no follow-up. For PD to be effective, I think it works best in smallish groups, when people attend voluntarily with a common focus and it’s ongoing.

A few years ago at my school, we started a small voluntary group meeting every few weeks for an hour before school. We  discussed readings about current trends and best practice,  thought together about what and how to implement the things we had read, tried things out in our classes and came back to share our experiences.   At the start, we had outside facilitators who recommended readings and guided the sessions.  The initial focus was on questioning… how to improve our own questioning and how to get students to ask better questions. Later we moved on to creating a culture of thinking. Then  effective feedback and assessment. After a while,we didn’t need outside facilitators any longer. Little by little, we integrated all the parts into our whole understanding of how learning works best. Gradually other teachers wanted to join in too.

About a year ago, we started a second group introducing web 2.0 tools. At first the 2 groups alternated but after a while we realised that looking at the technology separately isn’t meaningful. The two groups have now merged.  Sometimes we discuss the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ sometimes we play around with the tools. Teachers who participate in other PD share their learning in this forum too. The focus is always on the learning, our own and that of our students.

Teachers who regularly participate in this group constantly  reflect on their practice. We’re open to new thinking and ready to learn from each other. We share ideas and discuss what works and what doesn’t. We have built up trust and we support each other. Our head attends nearly every session. I know I am incredibly lucky to be part of this community of learners.


Constructing meaning…

I’ve been at an Understanding by Design workshop with Jay McTighe.

Here are a few thoughts that appealed to me:

The AMT frame. Acquire knowledge, Make meaning, Transfer to other contexts. Nothing new in that but I liked the way he gave examples which started from the M, rather than the A, which is where most teachers naturally tend to start.  Given a real life problem to explore first, students are more motivated to learn the skills required to solve it! As the diagram shows, it should be fluid.

I think this could be great reflection tool for both teachers and students.  Ask yourself… Was the learning activity you just engaged in A, M or T?

Following on from that, he suggests turning Bloom’s taxonomy on its head.  Or jumping in at the different levels at different times as required.  It’s the same principle as the one above.  Provide opportunities for higher order thinking and creating meaning, through authentic learning tasks and situations, even if the basic skills haven’t been perfectly mastered.  His analogy involves playing football. You can’t expect kids to just do the drill and never play the game. They need to have some drill, then have a go at the game, then be coached in the skills they need to work on, then play the game again! Otherwise, as McTighe says, some kids spend their whole school life in an endless series of sideline drills and never get to play the game…

Establishing a culture of thinking…

Ron Ritchhart, in his book Intellectual Character, talks about teaching children to think and the importance of creating a culture of thinking in the classroom.  His work with David Perkins, Howard Gardner and others at Harvard University on Project Zero and Visible Thinking is well worth exploring.

He describes eight ‘cultural forces’ that define a thinking classroom. These forces foster thinking, and hence deeper understanding and more meaningful learning:

Time for thinking
Expectations for thinking and learning
Opportunities for engaging in thinking
Routines & Structures that scaffold thinking and learning
Language & Conversations that name, notice, and highlight thinking
Modeling of thinking
Interactions & Relationships that show respect for students’ thinking
Physical Environment in which the process of thinking is made visible

I’ll start with the easiest one.  Time for thinking.  It’s easy to talk about.. not always so easy to ensure in the classroom.

How often do teachers ask a question, then rephrase it if no-one answers in the first few seconds?
It’s easy to call on the same child who always raises his hand, yet again, if no-one else volunteers.
Do you ever answer the question yourself if no-one else seems ready to?

Sometimes it’s difficult to allow waiting time, if there’s no response right away, but we need to allow time for thinking if we want our students to think!  One possibility  is to give students time to think and to write down their thoughts, before calling on anyone to respond. That way, everyone has enough time to formulate thoughtful responses and there is much greater participation.  Another is to allow time for students to share their thinking in pairs or groups, before calling on individuals to answer.
Time for thinking’ also implies time for in depth exploration of topics.  The PYP encourages higher order thinking and engagement with conceptual ideas through units of inquiry.  We have definitely seen a difference in the way our students think, since our school introduced the PYP  a few years ago!

Cultural forces in a thinking classroom: Part 1: Time