Inspiration, PYP, Reflection

Be The Change-Maker

I was continuing to reflect on the learning that occurred yesterday and in doing so, I had my kids line up in a human continuum.  I know these are used for lots of things but I wanted to use them as a reflective tool and a tool for self-regulated action.  Once the kids were lined up on the continuum from “I must have the manuals for the lego kits and a friend to do it with and I am still freaking out somewhat” to “Just throw the manuals out and unleash the kit on me – I want to create!” I had them take a good look around the room.  I then asked them to consider the following questions:

  • How could you help someone else?
  • Where do you plan on being on this continuum in two weeks time?
  • What will you do when you need help?
  • How will you move forward from where you are at?

My purpose in doing this?  To empower the kids in the class to choose to act.  Making explicit the notion of action is one of the five essential elements of the PYP.

Stated quite simply, the action cycle asks students to reflect, choose and act. As they stood and looked around the room, my aim was:

  • To help them see that there are options within our room to offer help and to be helped and to seek help.
  • To provide them with like-minded colleagues to work with and also give them the opportunity to see who was out there that they could improve their understanding by working with.
  • To provide an opportunity for those with greater experience to be gracious in the sharing of that knowledge in order to move the whole group forward.
  • To remind them that choosing NOT to act was also taking action – the ball is in their court.

Now, I do know that these sound like lofty goals.  BUT….there are times when it is good to be reminded that to experience change, you can wait for circumstances to be different, the season to turn, or the wind to blow, OR you can be a change maker in yourself. Will it work? Will I see an immediate, overnight transformation of 10 and 11 year olds choosing to “Be the Change”? Maybe not.  Doesn’t stop me hammering that option home every chance I can get though!

Creativity, Design, Innovation, PYP

It’s All In Your Attitude

Last week, I flew to the Netherlands for a meeting.  I travelled with United.  Somewhat notoriously known for poor or lack of service, I had very low expectations for my flights.  Both there and back, my expectations were wildly exceeded.  I wasn’t upgraded, the food was no better, the seats no wider or delivering more legroom – everything was ‘standard’ for the class of service I was flying.  The thing that was different, was the attitude of the flight attendants. Friendly, chatty, attentive, thoughtful, humorous, kind, inquisitive, helpful.  They were all fantastic.  So much so that I told them personally and sent a little shout-out to the group via the United contact page – I hope they were recognized by their supervisors!

It is amazing what a difference an attitude can make.  I think this is part of the reason why the attitudes are a part of a PYP Curriculum.


As teachers, we see a lot of attitude in our classrooms – some great, some less than stellar, but all interesting and pointing us toward a better understanding of our children.  Today, my kids explored Lego Education Simple and Motorized Mechanisms  set. For some, this was like entering the promised land.  It was Christmas, Easter, Birthdays – all rolled into one.  I saw kids bursting with appreciation that they had been given this fabulous opportunity to explore and create.  They were committed to pitching in and challenging themselves to succeed.  There was courage, cooperation, creativity, curiosity, empath, enthusiasm, independence, integrity, respect and tolerance all sandwiched in between a Lego-Palooza!

In addition to the curriculum skills in math, science and technology, I was loving seeing the development of the social skills and attitudes that went along with successful Lego construction.  Some kids struggled.  Some kids flourished.  Some wandered in between the two.  For some kids, this was their moment.  A chance for them to become the expert, the teacher, the go-to-genius, the one who only needed to look at the Lego and have it jump into formation!  For some kids, this was their nemesis.  The pieces wouldn’t fit, the instructions didn’t work, the whole thing was a hot mess.

So what did I do?  I observed.  I guided.  I looked for ways to invite students to help students. And I loved seeing the kids who find their challenges elsewhere, have a chance to shine and showcase their talents. This is what I love about my job.  I spend a lot of time researching the best “this” or the lastest “that” and I know some people might consider it all too much, not worthwhile.  To me, finding a balance in my classroom and opening up avenues of success to all students so that everyone gets a chance to be the superhero, is my job.  I know I haven’t done that for all of my kids yet – but I’m working on it!


How do you encourage an attitude of enthusiasm within your classroom?  How do you look for ways to serve the needs of all students?

PYP, Teaching

Teaching Without A Plan….What??

Earlier this week, I read an article by Eric Barker: 6 Rules That Should Be Guiding Your Career. Barker shares “the rules” as developed by Daniel Pink.

The Rules:

  1. There is no plan
  2. Think strengths, not weaknesses
  3. It’s not about you
  4. Persistance trumps talent
  5. Make excellent mistakes
  6. Leave an imprint

I know it says rules for career development, but what about classroom development? The first ‘rule’ might have some teachers breaking out in a sweat.  No plan?  What about the Planner for each unit of inquiry?

Rule One: There is no plan

Pink shares the number one thing people regretted on their death bed:

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me

It is true that as teachers we need to have a plan. But there is nothing in the PYP that says that plan has to be a rigid one or doesn’t have to take into account all those “x-factors” that come into play when you are dealing with the human dynamic of inquisitve little people each day. When I first began teaching in a PYP school I quickly became confused by the use of a Planner. How could it be child-centered inquiry if teachers were planning out every minute of the six week unit? We began to use Design Thinking to plan ‘backwards’ – starting with the end in the mind.  As a group, we would think about the unit’s central idea – the big idea that was globally transferable, timeless, interesting, challenging and engaging.  With this idea in mind, we would then think conceptually about the lines of inquiry which we would use to begin to open this idea up to our children.  We would pick three concepts and create lines of inquiry based on a different concept. We would then move on to create an assessment task that would help students showcase their understanding of the central idea.

But what happened in between beginning the unit and the assessment?

In 2003, I was teaching in Bonn, Germany. We had an Inquiry Workshop at our school. During that time we examined loads of inquiry cycles and ways of ‘doing’ inquiry.  We then created our own.  The cycle I made has since been modified to include reference to ACTION – a part of the PYP that sometimes gets a little left out. I use this cycle with my class as a group, to show them collectively where we are in the life of the unit.  I have also used it individually and allowed students to guide themselves back and forth through the cycle over the course of the unit.

Inquiry Cycle (PDF= Click to download)

This is different to teaching without a plan, but it is a way to free the children up to inquire where they are drawn to.  It also frees the teacher up to observe, to help when needed, to question in order to move the inquiry forward. Tasha Cowdy, kindergarten teacher at Yokohama International School has a way of doing just this with her students.  Whilst some (myself) would consider her an expert, she would most likely disagree.  Her recent post on the shared inquiry blog, Inquire Within, paints a detailed story on what it can look like to create a classroom where student-led inquiry really does reign supreme and the challenges associated with balancing open, guided, or structured inquiry.

A more simple plan might be to tell students that based on the central idea, you are interested in learning more from each of them about:

  • What do you Know?
  • What do you Understand?
  • What can you Do?
  • What will you Say?

And then supporting them on their journey of learning.  The more we expose children to this line of thinking, rather than pushing them through the cookie cutter shapes of lessons we have planned for them, the more they will be able to really feel that school is a place for inquiry, not compliance.

How can you be more relaxed in your approach to following your plans?

How can you move your role as teacher from ‘sage on the stage’ to ‘guide on the side’?

21st Century, Creativity

A World Class Education in Idaho

Over the last 12 months, I have been fortunate to hear Sir Ken Robinson, Mike Rowe and Sal Khan speak in Boise thanks to the J&KAlbertson Foundation.  The Foundation is passionate about education and has been helping to fund education initiatives in Idaho for quite some time.  They do so to pay homage to the Albertson family values and to help grow the great state of Idaho.


One of the ways they are hoping to bring about this change is through the ID21 Awards.

On behalf of my school, Riverstone International, my colleague and I entered our Passion Project ( the Fifth Grade PYP Exhibition Unit) for consideration for the following award:

In addition to the questions asked by the Foundation, we shared our Passion Project website with them. We have moved through to the final round of nominees and are among the top 24 of entries submitted for consideration across the three award categories.

Next week, I will be working on establishing the Passion Project for Adults.  We want to experiment with the idea of pursuing our passions as adults.  For more information on what this might look like, take a look at the Passion Project website.  If you are interested in joining with members of the Riverstone community to pursue your passion in a supportive environment we would love for you to join us.  It would be fabulous to have people from outside our local community join in too = and thanks to the power of technology, this would be entirely possible! If you are interested, leave a comment below or email me.  More information will come next week!

In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed for The Passion Project!


Oozing With Love For the Printed Word

Yesterday, I was outside in my reading hammock, with my dog at my feet, and a cool drink resting nearby and I polished off Sharon M. Draper’s “Out of My Mind” in just under two hours. 295 pages. Loved it. By contrast, I spent about half that time on the short stories and bubble format questions of the benchmark assessment my kids are given at the beginning of the year (I took the test too – if they have to, I figure I should too) and even I was questioning my love of reading at the end of it. But I digress…I have been thinking a lot about Reading.  In particular, in establishing a classroom environment that oozes with love for the printed word.

In setting up my reading classroom, I want to build on what seems to be a fairly well established love of books amongst my students.  They are very well read, very reflective of what they have read and very keen to read more.  I know…I am super lucky.  I also have the author of the fabulous book blog One Page To The Next as a parent in my class.  On Friday, we met to throw around ideas for growing a class of readers and writers.  Last year, all of my kids kept blogs as a way of sharing their reading reflections.  This year, I want to open things up.  Here are some ideas we plan on pursuing:

Book Time Line

I came across My Life Through Books via my Twitter network.  Developed by Phil Sharp, it is a very cool visual way to share what you have read. This is hot off the press and not ready for public consumption just yet – which is a shame because when you go to the site and check it out, it is slick and cool and just the ticket for showcasing your reading prowess.  Until it becomes avaliable, I like the idea and think it could be transferred to a platform like Dipity by students so that they can track their reading history from the beginning to the end of fifth grade. If you like the look of seeing “________ (insert your name) Life Through Books”, be sure to let Phil know!

Newberry (or Other Award Winning Books) Challenges

Mr. Shu, a pretty awesome librarian and mega-lover of literature, is on a quest to read award winning books (among the million other books he reads – seriously, this guy is a machine!).  We loved the way he was sharing his progress with his students via posters of award winning books that he then gives a gold sticker to, upon reading.  A great way to introduce a selection of books and to share your own reading with the students or to encourage them to challenge themselves in their own reading. There are lots of lists of top books you could do this with.  I like the look of the NPR Top 100 Teen Books – despite the fact that Wonder doesn’t feature 😦

Here is Mr. Shu explaining why he decided to do this challenge:

Wonder Wall

Wonder by RJ Palacio was the only book I assigned as summer reading for my incoming class. Starting tomorrow we are going to take a leaf out of the book – or more accurately Mr. Browne, the English teacher’s book – and begin with precepts.  On the first day of school, Mr. Browne writes the word PRECEPTS on the board and asks if anyone knows what it means. Among his 5th graders, the answer is crickets. (I am curious to hear what my kids will say!) So he writes on the board “Precepts = Rules About Really Important Things!” After asking the children what some really important things might be (he gets “rules,” “homework,” “schoolwork,” “parents,” “family,” “pets,” “friends,” “sharks” — that sort of thing), he writes on the board “WHO WE ARE!”

“Who we are,” he said, underlining each word as he said it. “Who we are! Us! Right? What kind of people are we? What kind of person are you? Isn’t that the most important thing of all? Isn’t that the kind of question we should be asking ourselves all the time? ‘What kind of person am I?’” (47)

From here, Mr. Browne launches into his yearly ritual. It starts with one final inscription on the chalkboard: “Mr Browne’s September Precept: When Given the Choice Between Being Right or Being Kind, Choose Kind.” From there, the instructions unfold like so:

  1. Students create a section in their English notebooks dedicated to monthly precepts.
  2. At the beginning of each month, the teacher will write a new precept on the board for students to copy.
  3. Students will then discuss the precept and what it means.
  4. At the end of the month, students will write a brief essay on that month’s precept, what it means to them personally, and how they managed in their attempts to “live it out” over the past four weeks.
  5. Students will have these precepts to take home in June. In the summer, they are required to mail the teacher a precept of their own on a postcard.

Today, I made a space for the precept of the month.  I wanted there to be somewhere for the kids to focus their attention on with regard to this idea from the book.  I hope to see them add to it with quotes along the same theme, examples of “choose kind” in their lives or around the world, other books that share a similar theme to the precept…or anything!

Reading Graffiti Wall

Whilst I am still looking for a great title, I am pretty much in love with how the wall turned out.  I had read about graffiti walls for sharing about books and I think it could be fun.  I also want to experiment with a plain paper that can be written on, but I thought, given that I happened to have brick colored paper, that I would start there.  I can’t wait to see what ends up on it!  If you have a suggestion for a heading, I’m all ears!

Reading Square

As I mentioned, my kids last year had book blogs.  While my kids this year will soon also have blogs, I am interested in giving them a physical space to “sell” what they are reading from.  To that extent, I am leaving everything up to them.  My husband measured and taped off the board outside our room for me so that everyone has a space.  Starting tomorrow, how they decorate and display their reading will be up to them.  I look forward to seeing how thoughtfully creative they will be!

This is just the beginning to the development and transformation of reading in fifth grade! There are plans afoot for the incorporation of Book Trailers (viewing, sharing, creating and critiquing), possibilities for Author interactions via Skype or in person, Illustrator studies (starting with my personal all-time favorite, Peter H. Reynolds) and using QR codes  to link to digital content that we post on our blogs.

How do you develop a love for reading in your class?  What new ways of doing are you trying this year?

If you also have literary love for Peter H. Reynolds, join me in celebrating Dot Day – it’s going to be awesome!  I have some ideas to help your celebration here.