See You On The Flipside!

So it might seem premature to start talking of “life after COVID19” but here in Nanjing, this is where we are heading – albeit slowly. Nothing about this situation is normal. It is unprecedented. Exceptional. Out of the ordinary. And our return to school deserves to be nothing short of the same.

When schools, including my own, get the green light from all the various governing bodies to reopen campus to students, I hope we see this as an opportunity embrace the changes that were thrust upon us and to leverage these as an opportunity to do something special and amazing.

I have said before that I am looking to see which schools rise from this more innovative, able to think about core structural changes, stronger in their commitment to personalizing learning – and I am wondering which schools will heave a sigh, say “thank goodness THAT is over” and resume business as usual. (*full disclosure: I want to do this on a pretty regular basis! The uncertainty that is embedded in all of this has been beyond stressful at times and to return to the comfortable, the familiar is totally valid -even if I can see that it doesn’t fit as well as it should or used to)

If you have read my blog for a while or if you know me, I like to think in problems, but also solutions. I am good at identifying areas for improvement and then suggesting things that may (or may not) meet the need and move things forward. What might that look like in this situation? Well, I also think in pictures and love the rhythm of three’s so here I have for you a P.S.A (if you will) on how a return to school might look:

Pods, Skills, Action

Icons made by Nikita Golubev from


When students return to school, they will be coming in staggered grade levels. Some will be in quarantine, some will be in other parts of the world. All of them likely will be looking to connect with others. (*Side note: while not typically an anxious person, the thought of being around large groups of people after months in my ‘bubble’ does leave me feeling anxious. I am guessing some students may feel the same). We could support students in their last few weeks of the school year by creating learning pods. Mixed grade level groups staffed by teachers from different disciplines with a shared interest in a common theme. A deep dive into literature, art history, and design. A close-up of science, art, and math. What if we used this as a chance to see how mixed age group learning works inside a brick and mortar school house institution? How might we pool our teaching talents and our love for our subject areas and cross pollinate them in a way that goes beyond the standard inter-disciplinary unit? How might these pods of learners (teachers and students) support each other? How might they thrive? How might we build connections beyond checking off curriculum objectives and filling in report cards?

What if we showed our students that what we learned from this pandemic is that connection to and personal investment in an idea is what motivates and sustains learning?

And then, what if we give them the opportunity to experience all this, all the time?


The framework for our system of pods could be built from the plethora of skills that reside with the Approaches to Learning (ATL). This robust bank of skills that schools have the ability to customize and add to, could well be the foundation for learning. Through the mapping and articulation of skills, learners could work together to strengthen and diversify thinking, research, social, self-management, and communication skills within authentic, personalized contexts.

Educators such as Suzanne Kitto and Rebecca Madrid have already done the hard yards on showing us what this skill framework might look like. It is now up to us to put it to use. How might we use the Approaches to Learning in a way that shows we are supporting the learning of the whole child? How might using the Approaches to Learning support personalized learning? Schools are already embedding Approaches to Learning in their classes – I have even made sets of ATL skill cards for Early Years learners to self-regulate their skill awareness and acquisition – so why not try it in mixed-age groups as a foundation for learning?


One of the hallmarks of an excellent school is that they strive for students to advocate for their own learning. They also want to help students grow in the understanding that they have the capacity to take action to make a difference. Student initiated action might look like this:

On a more practical level, it could involve students asking themselves one or more of the following questions and acting accordingly:

Working in pods, with the Approaches to Learning as their foundation, learners could develop an action plan that compliments the work they are exploring.

We could begin to view our students as capable, problem finders. Young people with the capacity to bring about change. Innovators who are capable of posing and answering their own questions.

These are just three ideas – but there are, of course, loads more:

  • Establishing breakout groups online and IRL, within and across grade levels
  • Regularly scheduled office hours built into the timetable in order to provide personalized learning opportunities and additional support without overwhelming student workloads
  • The development of a robust blended learning program to support the learning of all students
  • Greater student voice in choosing what and how and where to learn – and with whom
  • Developing flexible learning spaces that provide different ways for students to connect and engage

Schools could choose to do all of this – or none. They could go half-in and adapt these ideas or come up with something completely different. These ideas are an attempt to start thinking in terms of possibilities. I can hear the chorus of “but…” and “what about…” and for now, I tune them out despite how loud and overwhelming they get. I think more about what we might gain from trying rather than what we will lose. I think about what our attempts to innovate say to communities who are used to hearing how we pride ourselves on innovation in education.

I think ahead to when someone says, “What did your school do on the flip side of COVID19?” and I want to be proud of the answer I give.


In Sync…or not so much?

My week began today with Office Hours – a Teams meeting in which students could ‘join’ and there they would find me, ready to chat and discuss all things Design and then some! In between scooping out a batch of oatmeal cookies and supervising a game of Chess, a student stopped in. I decided to use the opportunity to pick her brain about how things were going with continuing school online.

Here are 5 things we discussed that could help you in making the decision around balancing a synchronous -vs- asynchronous schedule:

Icons made by Icon Pond from

Don’t Dump!

teachers really overdid it in the first week with what seemed like a mega dump of homework instead of actual ‘school’.

Our first week in, we were tasked with posting assignments online. We did not meet online with our students but were asked to use our online platforms to assign work. While we had a collaborative document that all teachers populated with their tasks, this didn’t seem to help students from feeling like they were being dumped a load of ‘homework’. My student sang the praises of her teachers who are “really getting it now” and can easily see the changes that have occurred over the six weeks we have been online.

Show Up!

…it is really nice to see the teacher and hear their voiceseven if we are not going to turn our cameras on!

This is likely going to be one of the few times that the students see us inside our natural habitats! Embrace it! Let them see your kids zoom across the screen, your collections, your artwork, your book stack. Maybe move the things you don’t want them to see (!) but it is really nice for the kids to see your face and hear your voice – even if you think both look/sound weird on camera!


…the kids are talking about who records their lessons as short 10 minute chunks and publishes these prior to scheduled online time, as part of the assignment

This is a big plus from her peer group who love that they can listen to and rewind this instructional stuff in their own time. We are more than makers of assignments. We help our students figure out what they haven’t considered yet. We expose them to new ideas. We help them connect rather than simply collect the dots. One way to do this is to prepare a short video that kids can watch in their own time and come to you with further questions. If you operate with Chrome, Screencastify is a great option for recording these types of videos.

Flex Time

Having flexibility is important to me. I like to be able to create my own schedule especially as I figure out when the best times are for me to get my work done.

One-size rarely fits anyone well – and the same goes for school schedules. My student’s current plan is to work really hard on Monday and Tuesday on given assignments, seek feedback and add to her work on Wednesday and Thursday by asking questions during online meetings, and cruise into the weekend on Friday. She’s figured out she needs to get more done during the day rather than stay up at night working. She knows she needs to make time while there’s daylight to get outside. She values time with her friends who are still all not in her timezone. I was really impressed with her ability to advocate for herself and to remain flexible – knowing that this may need to change based on any number of circumstances.

Fixed Time

A fixed meeting time can be a good thing. Its even better when the teacher doesn’t keep you there for the whole time. The best is when they give you time to work on whatever they assigned.

This student has asked me if she should wait for Office Hours/Design Meetings to ask her questions, or if she should email me, because “I know you’re really busy too”. Having a fixed time releases some of that anxiety for students who don’t want to bother you or don’t want to ask questions in front of their friends. I ran mixed grade office hours last week and that was really fun to be discussing graphic design, photography, and game design with a small group of kids from three different grade levels. Don’t feel the pressure to keep the meeting going for the full hour though. I find setting an agenda helps and posting this to the class before the lesson so they can come prepared. If you do want them to ask or answer questions, prep them for this. Give them cues to look for in your lesson as a way in for them to contribute.

I go back again to Seth Godin’s post about The Conversation. I was in a Teams meeting the other day when input was being sought from faculty around online learning successes and overcoming obstacles. We started with “Amy”, then “Andy”….and 34 contributors later…”Sonya”. It was really hard to stay focused. And the tech wasn’t great. And most people didn’t turn their cameras on. As we met we were also filling in a shared document. What I was solid about when I came out of that call, was that I was:

  • going to shorten my synchronous class meetings
  • give access to EVERYTHING I wanted to discuss in a syncronous meeting to the participants BEFORE the meeting
  • explore ways to get students talking in breakout groups

As it stands for us, we are following our typical 8 Day school schedule. At the end of the week, we look ahead to our allocated class times and we choose two of them: one is going to be office hours, and one a synchronous class (recorded for those who can not attend). This gives our kids a mix of face-to-face time and independent work time with the option of teacher help.

As a mom and a teacher, I am finding that pre-pandemic, I did an excellent job of using my prep blocks at school to prep for school. Now, my prep blocks are taken up with playing chase, walking to the mailboxes, baking muffins, prepping snacks, lunch, and dinner, doing laundry, building lego, and navigating all the G1 activities on SeeSaw for my daughter. Anything else is left for well after my kids are in bed.

To continue with the same pace of regular school is not sustainable in this environment. It makes me wonder if it ever really WAS sustainable sans-pandemic? My biggest hope is that we use this as an opportunity to rethink the way we “do school”. If we return “business as usual” when all restrictions are lifted, we have wasted an opportunity for ourselves and our kids. I am looking to see which schools rise up from this as true innovators and creators when all is said and done.

Will it be your school? Will you be leading the charge for change?



Fire Chief Harry, off to save the world!

In the first days of “the virus” we were up in Beijing on our Chinese New Year holiday. We were expecting to see the sights, climb the Great Wall, ride ice bikes on frozen lakes, and explore the Hutongs. Instead, we spent most of the time running scenarios about what we should do and how best to serve the needs of our family.

We returned home a little earlier than planned and, for a number of reasons, decided to stay put in Nanjing. With that decision (somewhat) solid in our minds, we turned our attention to ‘survival’. Did we have food? Sanitizers? Cleaning products? Face masks? How could we make sure we did more than just ‘exist’ over the next few weeks? Life is for living, right? It took a minute, but we soon (somewhat) figured out our new normal. And then came school. And we weren’t ready.

This new normal wasn’t normal enough yet. We still were not sure about anything and had no idea when we WOULD be sure. The mental load of ‘surviving’ was taking up most of the bandwidth in my brain. Now I had to teach my own classes AND work with my own children. I could do one or the other, but not both.

After a week or so of making sure my Design students were ok, I turned attention back to my own children and their school work. The content of what they were doing – I can save for another post. What I want to share is what I consider “the gold standard” in communicating with parents.

Our son’s PreK teacher is our good friend Tasha Cowdy. All of her communication with us as parents of Harry has been calm, reassuring, caring, and has demonstrated her connection with our son. This is her latest communication with us as an example:

Dear terBorg family, I am just checking in to see how you are all doing. I am wondering how the online learning is working for you and Harry, and how I can help you. Please see the questions below. Your answers will help me think about how to support Harry’s learning. Please remember, there it is not an expectation that Harry is doing the Seesaw activities. He may prefer to do his own things with his family. This is absolutely fine. I also understand your time may be taken up with Lizzy. On-line learning can be challenging for families with several children in different grade levels. Where are you now? Do you have reliable internet? Do you have VPN? Is Harry interested in the Seesaw activities or does he prefer to do his own thing? If Harry is interested in the Seesaw activities, which activities work best for Harry? What would you like to see more of on Seesaw? What would you like to see less of on Seesaw? Other ideas for how I can help you and Harry. Thank you!

Tasha Cowdy

Here’s what I notice:

  • she uses Harry’s name frequently and it reminds us that we are not making decisions for his class or grade level but for HARRY.
  • she mentions Harry’s sister and demonstrates she knows Harry’s family and empathizes with the sibling dynamic adding another layer of complexity
  • she checks on our whereabouts and connectivity as an acknowledgement that everyone’s circumstances are different
  • she asks (when all other bases are covered) about Harry’s learning needs and looks for ways to support our family without unnecessary burdens

Icons made by Freepik from

Child – Family – Environment – Learning. And all done with love and empathy.

Wherever you are in your COVID-19 journey, I encourage you to think about these things as a pathway to learning. And this is nothing new. Educators everywhere acknowledge that students need a secure home and family situation in order to flourish with their learning. This situation is no different.

More than ever before families will remember how you made them feel during this time of uncertainty – not how good your math packet download was*.

*I do not endorse math packet downloads or downloads of any kind TBH – more of that in a future post!


You’ve. Got. This.

My grade 1 Warrior taking her daily yoga practice to the top of “Pagoda Hill” near our house.

COVID-19. The talk of the town. Any town.

Right now, there is a groundswell of anxiety as people prepare for the unknown: online schooling, stay-at-home parenting, maintaining connection and community in a time of global pandemic.

Here in Nanjing, China, we have been off campus since we broke for Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations on January 24th. We are mid-way through Week 5 of online learning thanks to the leeway afforded us through a planned week of Professional Development, and the movement of our April Spring Break. 5 Weeks. And I have learned a lot. About myself as an educator, about what I need and want in school leadership, about my children, about friendship, community, and what school is really for.

My intention is to start a series of blog posts that touch on these findings from the experience I have had. I want to celebrate some successes and point out what I need, what my kids need, and yes, what I would do differently. To those reading from my own school, don’t expect finger pointing and a list of “should have’s” because you won’t find them.

These are unprecedented times and we are all bound to make mistakes and blunders. It’s how we acknowledge them, learn from them, and move on from them that will shape who we all are when all is well again.

In the spirit of the great, late, Grant Wiggins, let me start with the end in mind – and ask you to do the same. As your school prepares to close or has recently closed, what is your end game? What do you want your kids and families to come away with? You have the opportunity and a challenge ahead of you – what will success look like? And in the spirit of the insightful (and very much alive) Seth Godin, go ahead and claim that victory – write yourself a note of congratulations detailing how magnificently you handled this situation.

I know, it might sound lame, but at least take a moment to think about it.

As educators, we have an opportunity like no other to dig into authentic, conceptually-based learning like never before so, if nothing else, I emplore you to resist the pull of the craptivity. What we are embarking on needs to be as rich as the inquiry-driven, conceptually-based, global context/transdisciplinary theme curricula from which many of us draw from at school-school. What’s the big idea? How might we make this visible to our class community?

Today I had the good fortune to discuss a number of these ideas – and more – with my good friend and former colleague, Marina Gijzen. Marina’s school in Ghana is heading the way of school’s globally and she wants to be prepared and she wants to do it right. If you know her at all, she already has both of those traits nailed down. Her community is in excellent hands. Marina has always been a strong sounding board for me ever since we were 2nd and 3rd grade teachers in Bonn. She helped me come up with a list of future posts and suggested I turn it over to you, the readers, to offer suggestions on which posts rise up first. Here’s the list:

  • building community
  • communicating with parents
  • involving specialist teachers
  • setting schedules and new routines
  • engaging older students
  • rethinking middle school
  • synchronous vs. asynchronous learning

An hour or so after our conversation, Marina forwarded Seth Godin’s daily blog post: The Conversation – A Short Manifesto about the future of online education. I am not going to lie, I think he was listening in our call! Here’s a short excerpt that resonated loudly:

if you want to create transformative online learning, then allow people to learn together with each other. Connect them. Create conversations.

Seth Godin

We can use every flash-bang tool in our IT Toolbox to virtually collect our children and place them all in groups/pods/teams/classes – but what are we doing to connect them with each other in meaningful, authentic ways, and how are we supporting and planning for the same opportunities for student agency that have become so revered in the classroom?

You have the opportunity to do amazing things.

Take a breath.

You’ve got this.

Here are two graphics I created at the beginning of our journey – one for students and one for educators. Please share these with your community, your parents, your students. A PDF file is attached.


Why I Quit Blogging – And Why I’m Back

The past year and a half has been intense for me. After 21 years of elementary teaching, I traded in PYP for MYP and became one of three Design teachers at my school. Just prior to this, I applied for the assistant principal (Primary) position. I didn’t get it. Just recently, I applied for the deputy principal (Primary) position. I didn’t get that either. I thought I was ready for another rejection. Turns out, not so much.

As much as I would love to be a solid subscriber to Seth Godin’s “pick yourself” philosophy, I lean more toward imposter syndrome. And I love a little external validation. So why quit blogging?

I started to waiver in why I was doing it. It takes time and for what? My primary reason was as a reflective tool – it always has been that for me. A chance to process my thinking and to reflect on my practice. Turns out, when you stop reflecting, your practice can stagnate too. I also began to question if I had anything worth sharing. Turns out, I do, and that engagement with the community I have worked hard to help build, is something I have grown to miss.

So what does this all mean? It means I am going to follow the same advice that I give my daughter: “Be Brave. Speak Up. Persist”. I can wear the shirt but I have to do what it says! The combination of International Women’s Day (IWD) and Elizabeth Warren stepping out of the race for Democratic nominee for president was a bitter pill. Women everywhere need to keep rising up, choosing to stand out, putting themselves out there. Even when it feels like it is all for nothing.

I have seen many people quote “Strong Women: May we know them, be them, raise them” in light of IWD and I want that to be more than a slogan in my house and in this blog. So I am back. Back to writing my thoughts, sharing my ideas, stating my beliefs. Even when they’re not perfect. Even when I am not picked. And especially when my daughter is watching.

It’s good to be back.


PYP Exhibition

I was invited by the Faria Group to lead a webinar on the PYP Exhibition. This is one of my most favorite things to talk about so it was an easy ‘yes’. The enhancements to the PYP have brought about a lot of clarity (in my opinion) as to what the Exhibition is and what it can be. Here is a summary of the ideas shared in the webinar:

This is the ‘one word’ that I kept thinking of as I was prepping for the webinar. The degree to which agency is present in the Exhibition will likely correlate with the degree to which it exists in all of your learning spaces. If you want students to be agents of their own learning, start now – don’t wait for Exhibition! And if you don’t know where to start, tap into this holy grail of all things agency as curated by Taryn Bond Clegg.

These are two films I suggested sharing to all members of the learning community as the journey begins. The first one, Alike, will help people see why we want kids thinking for themselves and moving independently about the world. The second one, by John Spencer, will help remind us that it all might be a total failure – but that it doesn’t mean WE are total failures. Play them back-to-back to get best effect. 🙂

NOTE: John has a great follow-on video called When Projects Fail which may/may not also come in handy!

The IB Principles to Practice are DEFINITELY worth reading – in particular in relation to the Exhibition. Figuring out the purpose of the exhibition, how it will look in your context, what roles each member of the learning community will play, and the degree of release toward a student-led exhibition, are key factors to consider before getting started.

Collaboration is one of the key components of the exhibition and again, this won’t just happen unless we are intentional about it. Destination Imagination has some great resources to help both develop team relationships and then reflect on how they might be made even stronger.

Figuring out what you think/hope the exhibition will look like is a great start. I think most of us have visions of a straight, uncomplicated, but long path. Reality, it looks a bit like spaghetti junction, most of the time. Having a plan before you start is great. Your plan could look something like this:

  • Identify a global issue or opportunity that has meaning to the student(s) and connects to the school or local context
  • Collaborate to develop central idea(s)
  • Identify group or individual lines of inquiry and student questions
  • Connect with mentors and use class time to focus on ongoing Exhibition inquiries
  • Designate ‘check-in’ times with mentors to monitor and document progress, and to provide feedback and feedforward.
  • Decide on the culmination of the exhibition to share the learning process. Consider the environmental impact of the culminating event when looking for ways to make the learning visible. 
  • Reflect on the Exhibition process

You will then want to think about assessment. What I like about this is that students are asked to have a strong hand in creating their own success criteria. What does that mean or look like? I took the main features of the exhibition and the assessment guidelines and then created a few question to guide students in assessing their learning. Great to share these with the students and to get their input on them too.

Start with the end in mind…

On the topic of assessing, or thinking ahead to what is coming, I like to have students take a leaf from Seth Godin’s “Ship It” manual and speak into the future about their own success and achievements before they begin. A powerful way to take a moment to think about what they hope to get out of this process.

Exhibition is not meant to be a solo experience for kids or teachers. Key to the success of the exhibition are mentors. I wrote a post about different ways of including adult support for the exhibition in a post called We(Chat) Are The Champions. It has some good stuff on different ways of making the most out of mentors.

Step by step…

I am not a fan of checklists but I do understand that having some sort of framework when undertaking such a big project is absolutely necessary. Here is my six step version of a checklist. I just implore you to not think of it as written in stone. It’s just a guide so when you and/or your kids are wound up in spaghetti junction, you have some idea of which way is up.

Let’s get ready…

So, we are now (almost) ready to go! But here’s one last-ish word on what that means. It can be really easy to get bogged down with ‘research’. I encourage you to consider a bias toward action – a phrase that comes from Design Thinking and the Stanford d.School. Equally, consider developing a Producer Mindset – different from a consumer mindset. Raising Producer Kids by Philip Guo is a great read.

Great questions are the key to a great exhibition and if you want to brush up on your skills in relation to helping kids pose and pursue great questions, look no further than The Right Question Institute.

A tool you might want to consider is the Post-it App. I love this app. It is not a ‘must have’ but it does make this process fun and there are so many ways to use the kids thinking to build their understanding of the questions they are asking and to help them figure out which questions they REALLY want to go for. Here are some other ways of organizing and categorizing questions:

This visible thinking routine: question sorts, is probably one of my favorites. Questions that end up in the bottom right quadrant are the ones most likely to generate engagement, insights, creative action, deep understanding, or new possibilities, while also being questions that one really cares deeply about investigating. After you have these questions, you could take them and sort them again into concept categories:

Everything you need to know about these cards is on this blog. Check out this post to get started.

A new edition to my Exhibition toolkit (and one I have not tried with PYPX students but use regularly with our XBlock students) is a project summary. This is a one-pager that students can use to summarize their thinking, free from jargon, and with their voice at the front of everything. This would be a tool I would use to conference with students and help them to put a voice to the nature of the project they are about to undertake.

Conceptually thinking…

When students have created lines of inquiry based on concepts, I have found some of them will often get this ‘now what?’ look about them. What do I do now? The following chart would be a great tool to guide conversations with students about what they might be doing if they were pursuing a line of inquiry connected to one of these concepts. This idea of connecting verbs with concepts was first shared by Cristina Milos and I took her idea and added these prompts.

Action is a key component of the exhibition. Under the PYP Enhancements, action is broken down into a number of categories. These next two images show what those categories are and then the second, what students might find themselves doing depending on what they are trying to achieve:

Link to full post

Learner Profile and ATLs

The following cards are under construction. I am working on the icons in collaboration with our Early Years teachers and I want to work on the language of the guiding/reflective questions. If you have any advice, I would love to hear it!

Suzanne Kitto has generously shared her work on ATLs via her Twitter account. Rebekah Madrid has bounced off this work to create ATLs for MYP students. I was inspired by both educators and made a set of EY ATL cards. You can’t go wrong.

In the webinar I pulled math as an example and shared some information about three different ways that three different educators have used to bring math into the PYP. All the details about this can be found in this post.

Documenting the journey

I think most people have ways that they enjoy using (adults and kids alike) to document learning. This might depend on access to technology or student interest, but for the most part, taking the time to document what is going on is a key part of the Exhibition journey. The night before the webinar I had a slide prepped with bullet points about documenting. Then I put my daughter to bed and read “Ish” by Peter H. Reynolds. In that book, Ramon (and Peter) reminded me that it really is ok to NOT document everything – the learning still exists. Love it.

Staging the Exhibition…

When you and your students are getting ready to share, I offer these three things to remember:

  1. It is a celebration! Be joyful! Have fun! And remember to celebrate the process, the failures, the false starts, the milestones, the massive achievements. It is all part of the journey.
  2. Be kind to the environment. Consider the message your physical products are sending to your audience.
  3. Keep asking yourself, “Who’s fingerprints are on the work?” – this is a phrase my friend and fellow design teacher uses to remind us that at the end of the day, it’s the kid’s work. Let their academic voice shine through.

And to the students, I would say:

I will post a link to the webinar when it becomes available. I want to make sure I thank all the educators who so generously share their work with the rest of us. I also want to thank Leila Holmyard from Managebac who helped me think through the process of exhibition and was so open to helping me synthesise and expand on my wonderings based on the PYP Enhancements, and Kelby Zenor of Faria Education for inviting me to the Webinar.


PYP Early Years ATLs

I keep coming back to the ATL’s that run across all the IBO programs as an opportunity for discussions with learners about learning, a way to differentiate learning, a way to plan for new learning to occur.

My most recent discussion was with my daughter’s K2 teacher. She wanted a way to communicate the ATL skills to her learners in a clear, simple way. Looking through the Early Years document under the Principles into Practice, we tried to pick out one skill in each of the five areas. I later went back to the document and created a second set of skill cards to cover other ideas under each skill category.

This is a work in progress and two of our early years classes are trialing ways to use these cards to see if they are useful or if there is a better way of working with them. One teacher has containers with small 2-inch black and white cards that the children will select and tac to their work. Another teacher has large posters with one skill on each poster that children will write on/place sticky notes on.

Here are the images and the PDF download.

Icons made by Freepik from is licensed by CC 3.0 BY

Millennials?! Who Needs ‘Em?

Ah….we do. The six millennial Co-Chairs of this year’s Annual Meeting have delivered a strong call to action to participants in Davos. Their stories ask us to consider:

  • refugees
  • climate change
  • sustainable development
  • circular economies
  • reimagining education
  • global food crisis

Mohammed Hassan Mohamud is a Somalian refugee who has spent the last 20 years living as a displaced person in Kenya. His speech (which is appropriate for elementary students) is passionate, quiet, and real. He says to the leaders in Davos:

My story is inspiring, I get that….but what will it inspire you to do?

Mohammed Hassan Mohamud

What will it inspire you to do?

Mohammed’s speech is about 4 minutes long. It is about as long at the “viral” video of a group of catholic school boys and a Native American elder. I would suggest that if you ask in the break room if your colleagues have heard about the “catholic kids” or the “Davos refugee”, one will rise quickly above the other in the “most viewed” list. However, to both videos, I would say, “What will it inspire you to do?”.

For me, the response is: build empathy to inspire action. Empathy on it’s own is not enough. Consider this:

“Empathy is not endorsement. Empathizing with someone you profoundly disagree with does not compromise your own deeply held beliefs and endorse theirs. It just means acknowledging the humanity of someone who was raised to think differently.”

Dylan Marron

Dylan explains this further in his TED talk (below) and was inspired to create a podcast “Conversations With People Who Hate Me” in order to understand those who, well, hate him.

And then, take action. What will that look like? Will start a campaign, change your own behaviors, advocate for others, raise awareness, include challenging scenarios in your teaching to promote those difficult conversations?

Here are some ideas from the TED Ed Blog:

4 Ways to Promote Empathy

How to teach Empathy through STEM

What Does It Mean to Be a Refugee?

Last week I happened to be on Twitter at the right time and saw a tweet about a unit planning game to support the SDG’s. I tried it out and it looks really useful. I can see students being supported to use this to plan inquiries with purpose.

How might we take what we have learned from 8 minutes of video this week and turn it into something for good, something that demonstrates that through empathy we can take action to bring about sustainable change? I plan on asking my kids and look forward to seeing how they might use our units on game design and sustainability to create change.


Imagination and Designs

We did a reshuffle of our kids for semester two Design today. We introduced our provocation and shared the basic premise of what would be happening in each of our classes. Then kids chose where to go.

As I sat with my new class of kids, I decided to use the rest of the lesson to just get to know them and for them to get to know me. I also wanted to get a head start on organizing our written communication/file sharing so I had everyone create and start adding to an introductory document. I shared three prompts:

  1. Things you should know about me.
  2. What I learned about Design from Semester 1
  3. My goals for Design in Semester 2

We sat and talked while we were working, sharing stories about who we are and what is important to us. I learned that Kai’s fourth grade teacher was Mrs. Gijzen (“She was so kind!” – ahh, what a legacy!) and that all my kids are fluent Mandarin speakers (I see opportunities to engage with our local community in our future!). Tonight I came home and in opening each student’s document and reading what they wrote, I came across this:

“Design was completely different than I thought it would be. I thought it was a class that was full of imagination and designs, but what I have learned was that Design class is full of essays and writings and I need to work on my writing to be better at Design”

Grade 9 Student


Because I thought it was a class full of imagination and designs, too! 

In Design, we are guided by the MYP Design cycle and the MYP Criterion. And what I realize I have done is approach this in a very, very traditional way that results in a bias toward those who are capable of writing well in English. When I think about last semester, the image that comes to mind is students hunched over computers, tapping away. Is that what Design is?

I had lunch with a colleague today in which I was sharing ways I wanted to simplify and scaffold the written portion of Design and this has only amplified that goal. Imagination and Designs – that’s what’s on the menu in my class this semester. What I have realized is that my practice hasn’t supported my ideals. I have wanted one thing but have shown I value something very different by the way I both structure the class and reward participation.

This feedback was a gift. Now to ensure I put the learning into practice. We are moving into our unit about our impact on the planet and what we can do about it and I keep thinking of this quote:

“If not now, when?”

And then in browsing Terri Eichholz’s Video Board on Pinterest, I saw this:

“The difference between what we are doing and what we are capable of doing
would solve most of the world’s problems.”
Mahatma Gandhi

How do you ENGAGE your students? How do you ease the written burden that we sometimes saddle our students with?


Parasite on the Planet

By @tersonya on Keynote with Apple Pencil

For semester two, our provocation in MYP Design, Grade 9, is “Parasite on the Planet”. We want to challenge our designers to use design to make less of an impact on the planet.

For my part, I am going to look at how we might repurpose, reuse, and generate new ideas for fashion related items. I am hopeful that there is enough scope to this provocation to make it engaging and meaningful for all learners.

For the most part, we will be driven by the concepts of sustainability, culture and fashion. Do we live in a disposable culture? How does one determine if something is fashionable? How can we develop a sustainable and fashionable culture?

Here is the overview I want to share with our kids:

Made on Keynote

There is a lot of other material out there with regard to this topic that inspired this choice of unit:

Thanks, Mitch, for sharing this one!
Can fashion be a source for social change?

What might you add? Have you done a unit like this before? Any ideas are welcome!