Great Conversations – Great Achievements

“The quality of our conversations matter. Great achievements only come after great conversations.”

—John O’Leary, communications advocate 

Someone I respect and admire sent me a TEDx talk and told me it was worth my time to watch it.  She wasn’t wrong.  John O’Leary’s talk is a great reminder of the power our words can have, either spoken or not. His talk outlines the massive connection between conversations and the success (or failure) of your endeavours.

According to John, the quality of conversations influences the quality of our decisions which dictates the quality of our outcomes.

While this is not entirely new information to anyone, he shares examples of very high profile incidents in which conversations lacked the quality they needed to ensure good decisions were made.  So why are we not constantly engaged in quality conversations in which people speak their mind?

John speaks about three myths that keep people silent when they are asked to ‘share their thoughts’ to new ideas in meetings:

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Saying “I really want to know what you think” is not enough to overcome the barriers that many people have when it comes to sharing their thoughts in a conversation so John offers up these techniques to change the context of a conversation:

Independent deliberation. (Asking people to come prepared with their ideas written down and a rationale for them). Result: Either a natural consensus which builds confidence that the direction to be taken is a good one, or people will bring very different ideas to the table – offering exciting opportunities for exploration and change.

Devils Advocate/Red Team. The leader assigns a group to poke holes in an idea.  The task is to see all the failings and lay them out. O’Leary says that by giving people permission to do the things we wouldn’t typically expect from a group discussion, you are testing the strength of the idea before launching it ‘live’. (Think “putting on the black hat” aka Edward DeBono’s Thinking Hats).

“Conversation is used to draw out the pitfalls but conversation can also be used to inspire, and to engage and to bring people into an ambitious endeavour.”  As I watched John’s video I thought how effective it would be to “assign” this TED talk to a group or team before a meeting in which big decisions needed to be made.  How empowering it would be for a team to know their leader valued and appreciated their voice and how the only thing that was important was everyone’s ability to engage in the conversation.

While we are not launching rockets or starting wars as teachers, we are dealing with educating children which is certainly worth having a conversation about. What is the quality of your meeting conversations? Are you setting  up yourselves, your school, and most importantly, your students, for quality outcomes?  What do you need to change in the way you facilitate meetings in order to be the best team of teachers you can be?

If I could add anything to John’s talk, it would be to conclude with this image from Hugh MacLeod of Gapingvoid:

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Exhibition, Math, Visible Thinking

Pictures Pack A Punch

If you are ever in the market for an infographic for kids, go to Pinterest and do a search for “infographics” “kids”.  Find one to use was no easy task – there were so many great ones to choose from!

I am a little one-track minded at the moment with the PYP Exhibition about to start at our school. With that in mind, I decided to pick out a few infographics to support the Exhibition – but for different reasons.

1.To showcase what might be going on with our students

The exhibition can be stressful for us as teachers, but also for kids.  I liked this infographic because it identifies potential stressors, offers kid-tested solutions for resolving the stress (and reminding teachers to integrate opportunities for things such as movement, music, and time outside during the school day), and it gives parents some tips on supporting their child.  It is fairly accessible, graphically, although still contains a lot of text which could be challenging for those without English as a first language. 

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2. To show how infographics can be created in “real life”:

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This is from a Portuguese website in which ‘real life’ photographs are taken and edited to become infographics.  I really like this idea of mixing the concrete materials with the data visualisation.  This is accessible for kids and a great way for them to showcase statistics that they have gathered over the course of their inquiries. 

3. To show how two things can be compared

Many times, the students will end up comparing two different things. I really liked this infographic that uses direct comparison and photography to showcase the data.  Again, I think that the ideas in this infographic are ones that could be replicated by our students in order to share their own data.  I liked that for this example (owning a cat or a dog) it was an idea that was accessible to the kids at their level while still be sophisticated in design and depth of information shared. 

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4. To show how to use everyday objects to visualize data

I really like this idea of taking something like Lego or other toys and using them to convey a message.  The possibilities for arranging legos and photographing them (or just displaying them during the exhibition) are endless.  This is definitely something that I think if you shared this picture with kids, they would very quickly and very easily make up their own designs with the information they have from their research. And they look cool too! 

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5. To show the key points of Infographic design in an infographic.

This little set wouldn’t be complete if there wasn’t a ‘how to’ infographic! I like this one for the clear and simple way that it outlines the key features of a good infographic and gives a few pointers about fonts and colors.  I also like that it references adding the sources from where you got your information.  This isn’t perhaps the MOST kid-friendly but I think it does a good job of outlining some of the key points – until you get one of your expert infographic groups to make their own Infographic on Infographics! 

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Inquiry, PYP

Math + Exhibition = Opportunity for Inquiry!


There is a great opportunity for students to showcase their learning in math through the Exhibition.  For some classes during this time, “math class” is often a welcome relief in all the busy scheduling of Exhibition.  Many school keep a constant math period and continue to work through their curriculum while also working on math related to the Exhibition.

Three sources of internet-found brilliance are definitely worth taking a look at if you are interested in seeing how an inquiry approach can be taken to the integration of math in the Exhibition.

Authentic Inquiry Maths is a blog by Bruce Ferrington. He is interested in making “the kids do the thinking”. A teacher in Australia, Bruce’s blog has a number of posts related to the Exhibition that show how students have integrated their mathematical knowledge with their inquiry topic.  He has some great examples of interactive graphs, using balance scales for participants to voice their opinion, and graphing data pictorially.  The posts related to Exhibition are great but his whole blog is worth taking a look at for some great ideas about math inquiries.

Rebekah Madrid is a teacher at Yokohama International School. She has written an excellent, detailed post supported by real-life examples of the work of her students on the topic of Infographics – making numbers sing.  In this post she details how she has her kids make infographics using found household objects to convey their data points. The post is well documented and supported by loads of additional resources should you wish to recreate her lessons with your own students.

Would You Rather? is a great math blog that asks students to choose their own path and justify it using math.  Written by John Stevens, WYR? poses questions such as:

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This blog would be a great place to get inspiration for kids to write their own WYR questions based on the knowledge they acquire throughout the Exhibition process.

How do you showcase Math in the PYP Exhibition?


Design Thinking: Innovation Lab

I love the concept of Design Thinking.

I was researching the topic of Understanding by Design and wanted to break it down: Understanding and Design.  In doing so, I came across a presentation about Design Thinking – the one thing that will transform the way you think.  With a byline like that, I had to dig deeper – and it was well worth my time from a design standpoint and a virtual feast of ideas.

Embedded in this presentation was a remarkable video.  The ideas that are put in place to solve a problem are great, the concept of how they went about ‘pressure cooking’ their ideas is fascinating, and the close proximity to their target market was inspired.
I can think of loads of scenarios in which I would share this video in schools.  The thing I like the most is that shows the connection between learning and technology. I love that they made an analogue “app” from paper that people moved depending on which part of the paper the tester pushed.  Their lab is a great example of how technology can transform learning – with the focus being less on ‘lets make an app’ and so much more on ‘lets solve a problem’. (And yes, it is not lost on me that needing to find the “perfect” sunglasses does not warrant the category “problem”).
How do you share the idea that technology can transform learning, with your colleagues?

Ask Great Questions

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I seem to write a lot about questions. The more I look into them, the more I see the massive potential they have to revolutionize the way we teach and the way students learn.

In preparing to share some ideas on questions at our faculty meeting, I came across an article about questions.  The article reflected on the results of a study in which they found that mothers are the people in the world who are asked the most questions each day.  And that the most inquisitive of question askers are four year old girls, who seek answers to an incredible 390 questions per day – averaging a question every 1 minute 56 seconds of their waking day.

I began the meeting by sharing the five most difficult questions kids ask – an interesting mix of curiosities (check out the presentation to see them).

All this was to lead into Essential Questions for math.  I spoke again about Wiggins and McTighe and the different kinds of questions we tend to ask:

Questions that lead:  e.g. What is 4 x 3?

  • Asked to be answered
  • Have a “correct” answer
  • Support recall and information finding
  • Asked once (or until the answer is given)
  • Require no (or minimal) support

Questions that guide: e.g. How do we know the answer is zero?

  • Asked to encourage and guide exploration of a topic
  • Point toward desired knowledge and skill (but not necessarily to a single answer)
  • May be asked over time (e.g., throughout a unit)
  • Generally require some explanation and support

Questions that hook: e.g. Could we go through the whole day without using math?

  • Asked to interest learners around a new topic
  • May spark curiosity, questions, or debate
  • Often framed in engaging “kid language”
  • Asked once or twice, but not revisited

We were looking at essential questions: ones that are “essential for students to continuously examine so as to ‘come to an understanding’ of key ideas and processes.” (Wiggins and McTighe).

In math, these could look like:

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Grade level teams are now in the process of adding essential questions to their math planners.  To support this work are the following resources:

Essential Questions by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe

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Ultimately, it is all about the quality of the questions we ask.  When I was working in Boise, I was fortunate to work with an outstanding parent community. During the Exhibition, two of these parents, Marty and Lydia Baird, spent a lot of time working in my class with students on engaging their audience in a presentation.  How do you create engagement?  You get people thinking.  How do you get people thinking?  You ask great questions.


Creative Problem Solving

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You may have seen examples of using entertainment or gamification for positive social outcomes demonstrated as part of Volkswagen’s Fun Theory campaign. These included a Piano Staircase that encouraged people to take the stairs instead of the escalator and a Bottle Bank Arcade machine that encouraged people to recycle.

As part of SMART’s What Are You For? campaign, the car manufacturer created an experiment to see if it could improve safety at traffic lights by incentivizing pedestrians to wait for the green man:

Smart says that the Dancing Traffic Light caused 81 percent more pedestrians to stop and wait for the green light than previously.

How could you challenge your students to solve problems and create solutions in a creative, game-based way? 

21st Century, Digital Life

2 Websites Worth Sharing

In preparing for the PYP Exhibition, I came across two websites that look like they could be really interesting to pursue with students:

The Wonderment

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The Wonderment, created by the non-profit Kidnected World, is a global co-creative platform that connects kids to make a difference and meet the world through the shared magic of imagination. Using the common language of wonder, kids and educators around the world can collaborate on creative challenges in an engaging and purposeful app environment that encourages self-directed creativity, global community and social-emotional learning.

The Wonderment: How it Works from The Wonderment on Vimeo.

The Kid Should See This

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The Kid Should See This is a growing library of smart & super-cool, “not-made-for-kids, but perfect for them” videos that can be watched in the classroom or together at home. 8-12 new videos are added each week, or you can search 1,800+ videos in the archives, curated by Rion Nakaya, with help from her 4 & 6 year olds. The video selections are driven by wonder, enthusiasm, and “wow!” moments and cover all topics under and beyond our sun, with a special focus on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, & math) topics.

This site would be a great ‘safe search’ place for kids to just go and explore.


The Why Guy

Simon Sinek is the “why” guy. He advocates that we should ‘start with why‘ and in doing so, will discover our purpose.

His advice: find out what you like to do, how you do it and then consider why you do what you do, the way that  you do it.

Simon has a Golden Circle that you can learn more about by watching his TED talk on the subject – one that has been viewed over 21 million times!

Simon generously shares his art. Click here to view a folder of free resources that will help you to help your kids uncover their ‘why’. One of my favorites from this folder of resources is Speak to Inspire Action which gives you tips to help you speak and present in a way that will inspire others to join your cause.  For working with kids, The Friends Exercise is great for helping kids discover their why.

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Failure Is An Option

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So often, the sentiment above is what echoes in our minds when we start something new. But what if it wasn’t? What if instead we focused on the idea that failure was an option – as long as we fail well?

The keynote speaker at the AGIS (Association of German International Schools) Conference was Lance G. King: a fellow New Zealander with a dry sense of humor and a passion for failure. His keynote often referenced the work of Carol Dweck with regard to establishing a growth mindset over a fixed mindset.

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His talk, however, primarily focused on the ideas of failure and resilience. In his research he noted that the key difference in the success of students was not that one group failed and one was successful, it was that one group failed well and the other failed badly:

*All slides are from Lance King’s Website: The Art of Learning

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So, how do we encourage students to fail well? King shared the following ‘Failure Cycle’ in which teachers actively guide students in the process of considering their actions, taking responsibility for what was done (or not done), and setting in place a plan for doing something differently the next time around:

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Lance is an advocate of skills based teaching and has taken a lead role in the re-development of Approaches to Learning for the new MYP curriculum. In addition to content acquisition,  he demands a focus on skill acquisition with the role of the teacher being one of guiding students through the process of successful failure.  He (ironically? sarcastically?) asks the following of teachers:

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Well? This is the reality for many people, yet has our teaching changed? Like Sal Khan, I believe Lance King is not suggesting that we replace teachers with computers.  What they are both suggesting is that we embrace the power of technology and elevate the role of the teacher from content deliverer to skills guide or even failure coach.

Some questioned Lance as to wether the notion of supporting failure amongst students would not simply lead to apathy and lack of effort on their part: “My teacher says it is ok to fail”. If this mindset were to develop, we have done the students a disservice in not putting emphasis where it belongs.  It is not ‘just’ failure we are embracing but failing well. If you were to review the cycle (above), you will see that it actually takes quite a bit of work to fail well. We are in an age when we are seeing ideas, innovation, solutions to problems that don’t even exist yet. We won’t get where we need to be without first embracing, accepting, and even celebrating our failures, first.

Like most things, this approach of embracing failure is going to take some educating amongst parents, teachers, and students in order to be successful. There seems to be such an emphasis on success that is direct, clean, linear.  But rarely is this the case:

Last year, I shared this video with my fourth graders and had them draw their own version of success.  I asked them to think about a time they were successful at something and then to think back as to how they got that way.  Did they just wake up and be a brilliant skier? An amazing artist? A super reader? What did the journey look like from not knowing to being successful?

All of the twists and turns and bumps and gaps along the way point to the resilience each student developed in order to make their way to ‘success’.

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Not giving up, looking for new solutions, believing in yourself, pushing yourself beyond what you think you know.  These are all characteristics of resilience that can be summed up in this humorous clip that your students will get a kick out of:

So how do we get here?  As Lance said in his presentation at the IB Conference in Madrid, “The most motivated learning is self-regulated”. This is something we have all seen to be true: passion, interest, and curiosity driving learning. As teachers, we would need to develop a classroom culture that supports self-regulated learning (SLR):

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So, what now?

My suggestion would be to look at the Approaches to Learning and start thinking about how these skills can play a more prominent role in your classroom.  One way of doing this (or easing in to this if this is totally new to you) would be to take a look at this reflective blog post from Mags Faber, in which she tries out split screen teaching in order to draw attention to the skills she is trying to focus on.

How do you build resilience, allow students to self-regulate, and teach your kids to fail well?


3 Brilliant Resources from Wiggins & McTighe

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Many people may be familiar with the Understanding by Design work of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. I was first introduced to their work in 2003 when teaching at Bonn International School. I have continued to adhere to their philosophy but it wasn’t until recently that I picked up their book and re-read it.  And in doing so, I experienced renewed surprise at how in-depth and thorough their work is and how ‘watered down’ it seems to have gotten where it matters the most – in the classroom.

Some people love to throw buzz words around and ‘backward design’ appears to have suffered in the overuse of edu-speak. When you read the book, the way in which the planning process is laid out is so detailed and thorough with such a strong emphasis on understanding (versus simple knowledge acquisition). The blueprint for deriving authentic assessments is also incredible thorough and the whole process really helps you to stop thinking like an activity planner and start thinking like an assessor with your goal being to provide a meaningful context in which kids can develop their understanding.

So, what are the three brilliant resources?


1. UbD Design Guide Worksheets – This is a series of examples of what UbD performance tasks look like. It is really helpful for me to see a ‘worked example’ and this file does a great job of walking you, step-by-step through the process with examples of a myriad of assessment possibilities to determine understanding.


2. Techniques to Check for Understanding – From pp.166/167 of their book, this file is 2 pages of 8 techniques that you can use to check for understanding from your students. These could be used anytime but in particular would be good to modify as needed for exit tickets to give your students at the conclusion of lessons.


3. Essential Questions – This is probably my favorite of the three resources. As teachers, we ask so many questions – but are they essential? This is a longer read than the other two resources but very thorough and detailed and will definitely give you a lot to work with when designing questions to ask in your classroom.