Stand Up for Something Different

 

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I think we have all had students in our class that “suffer” a bad case of the “can not’s”. The kids who can’t cut that, can’t find that, can’t put that away, can’t get that out. And we are busy, and the class is waiting, so we grab it for them, cut it for them, put it away for them. I am guilty of it. You?

The thing is, their helplessness is where the learning starts. If that is the hurdle they are facing, that is the first one to practice jumping over.

As a Design teacher in a PYP environment, my role has evolved to its current focus on developing and building upon skills within a design thinking context. Some of the focus is on skills building: can you cut? drill? saw? code? program? construct? Some of the focus is on developing a progression of understanding based on trial and error following our Think-Make-Improve cycle. Kids are in and out in 60 minutes or less, twice every 8 days. So how do I structure our time to plan for:

  • inquiry
  • agency
  • efficacy
  • choice
  • skill building
  • and inclusion?

Here’s one idea:

We have an upcoming unit in which G2 students are shoe designers, designing the perfect shoe based on their client’s needs. Students need to find out what these needs are, design a pair of shoes, get feedback on their design, iterate, create a prototype, feedback/iterate, present final sample and receive feedback. As it is written, the unit is pretty structured with each new part being revealed to the students as we move along together.

Logistically, it is a good(ish) idea but I am not sold on it. I can already picture the bottlenecks, the processes that need big hands helping, the stress (for kids and teachers!). Skills wise, the kids will get to cut with the coping saw, pattern, construct, tape. Process wise, they will learn to interact with a ‘client’ and put their needs ahead of their own as the designer.  How can this be achieved in a different way?

Honestly, I am not sure. I want kids to be autonomous. I want them to do more than “feel like” they have choice and voice. I also want to honor the work that was done before me in getting our design program where it is at, while at the same time helping to move it forward.

For this unit, I am going to focus on PROCESS over PRODUCT – something I have always been a big fan of (since 2012!)

I want to introduce the roles of client and designer.

I want to re-introduce the cyclical nature of design (Think – Make – Improve).

I want to include a new element to our cycle: SHARE

I want to offer a “play day” where the kids have time to play with the tools and materials we will use for prototyping.

(It has not escaped my attention that the above is all my thinking, my choosing).

 

SO…

What about the kids? What do they want? Where is their agency? Where is their voice in this? And, to come back to the beginning of this post, am I reinforcing the idea of the helpless student by deciding so much of what goes on, for them?

How can I rework this unit so it is worthy of our time together?

I feel that I may be on the edge of organizing a way of thinking, making, improving, sharing, that is empowering. But I am not there, yet.  Do I need to ditch the “shoes” and focus on the client/designer roles? History tells me, that the prototyping can become challenging/messy when opened up to different product prototypes, but we can do challenging and messy, right? Even writing this has me thinking of the benefits of sharing the relationship roles, the prototyping tools and materials, and the iteration cycle, and then stepping back, sans overarching banner of “Shoes”. I don’t know…yet.

Watch this space.

Maybe, to honor my students I will avoid the habit of falling for what is already in place, and instead, stand up for something that is different? I just have to figure out what that ‘something different’ is.

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It’s About Giving Some Dignity

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Four years ago, I started this blog post. At the time, I was inspired by the story of the Canadian coach coming to the aid of a Russian athlete with a broken ski, unable to finish his race. When asked about the incident, the coach, Justin Wadsworth, said:

“I went over and gave him one of Alex’s spare skis. It was about giving Gafarov some dignity so he didn’t have to walk to the finish area.”

-Justin Wadsworth

Dignity.

How much is in your classroom? How much do you give your kids? How often do you go out of your way to reach a student where they’re at and support them in a way that dignifies them as people?

Treating people with dignity implies being sensitive to people’s needs and doing one’s best for them, but it also means:
  1. Involving them in decision-making.
  2. Respecting their individuality.
  3. Allowing them to do what they can for themselves.
  4. Giving them space to learn.

Broken down into these areas, it becomes easy to see how you could cultivate a dignified learning space for students. Easy to see, but not always easy to do. It is hard (and messy) to have kids make decisions. It is hard to plan for the different needs of all the kids (much easier to pitch to the middle!). It is hard to step back and let them have at it. It is hard to remember that they need their own space to think, to process, to reflect.

So how do we convey these ideas to our students? The idea that we need to build a culture of dignity amongst our students and teachers and community? One option might be to invite David Flood to your school. (Disclaimer: I don’t know David Flood nor have I seen him in real life but this video is great and his message, inspired).

David takes the concept of dignity and distills it into three points that students can connect with:

Challenge 1: Look on the inside

Everyone is the same on the inside regardless of how they might look on the outside. We all have a heart, feelings, needs.

Challenge 2: Reach out and give thanks

Look people in the eye and let them know why you appreciate them. Look for ways to help others and let other people see you being helpful.

Challenge 3: No one eats alone

Compassion and kindness = dignity.

David shares the idea with students that “your life is not about you: your life is about what you can do for others”. When we all live in this way, we build a culture of dignity in our classrooms and communities. The more our students see this in us, the more we will see it in them.

That’s what Coach Wadsworth was thinking that day on the snow: WHAT CAN I DO?

WHAT ABOUT YOU? WHAT WILL YOU DO?

As for me, I want to look into my use of grouping and how I group kids in the Design Pit. I want to see how I can change what I do to the best effect for the kids I teach. I want to be guided by the concept of dignity when I start to change things up. I don’t know how this will look (yet!) but it will include or at least be inspired by, these ideas:

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Sketchnotes 101

A number of people have asked about my sketch notes. I have given a few workshops at school for teachers and for students and now, am putting a few thoughts down here for those who are interested.

So, here we go! My top five tips for sketch notes!

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  1. Steal Everything – Be on the lookout for ideas. They are everywhere. Specifically: take a look at Pinterest. I have a board dedicated to Sketchnotes and I am not the only one! There are loads of examples of excellent work to get you started and keep you motivated. Search for: sketchnotes, visual notes, sketch noting, visual language.
  2. Go Digital – I would have never said this until I started exclusively taking notes with my Apple Pencil on the iPad Pro. Game changer. What I love about digital notes is the ease with which you can add color, erase mistakes, re-order content. I have done notes in notebooks with pen and while I love that, I love digital even more. Apple pencil is outstanding.
  3. Get ‘Appy – All who sketch note will likely have an app that they LOVE above all other apps. For me, my app of choice is Paper by Fifty Three. Now, they have upgraded the (Free!) app recently and I am not in love with some of the changes, but I am learning to adjust and it is still, by far, my favourite. If you prefer the idea of layers, Adobe Photoshop Sketch would be a good choice, and if you are also arty or like to dabble in the artistic realm (and want to pay for your app), Procreate would be another good choice.
  4. Practice – Yep, all the Apple Pencils in the world won’t mean much if you don’t practice. Visual dictionaries are a good idea. But it is also a good idea to sketch in all your meetings. Being able to listen, process, and translate words into pictures in a short amount of time is something that you need to practice. Choose ‘low stakes’ opportunities to practice like your faculty meeting before heading off to sketchnote a live TED talk or international keynote speaker.
  5. Think Visually – A great place to do this is with the Noun Project. It is one of my favorite websites. With over a million icons, NP is a great way to get your brain thinking visually. A quick search of any word will bring up suggested icons that you can be inspired by or spin your own sketch from. If you are taking a break from sketching, you can use all icons (royalty free) in your presentations (including Google add-ons for Docs and Slides). In our last PD, I had my laptop open to the site and would frequently type in words to get ideas for ways to represent words visually.

 

Like everything, sketchnoting is a journey. If you click on my blog header, you can scroll through my posts and many will have a sketch note or two attached. Some I put together on the fly and others are a result of trying to visually represent an idea (so I had more time). Everything is a progression. Some ideas are easier to represent than others.

One of my colleagues asked me, “What do you do with these (sketchnotes) once you are done?” Great question. I keep them here. I flick through them on my iPad to remind myself of ideas I deemed important enough to draw. They are my notes and the ideas represented by pictures help me recall what I listened to or read. More recently, I have started drawing them ‘live’ during lessons. They aren’t as perfect as something I have prepared prior to the lesson but they let the kids in the room ‘see behind the curtain’ at how I can put things from ideas and words into pictures.

Mostly, I just have fun! I like the challenge of distilling information into a visual format without diluting the message.

HOW DO YOU REFLECT ON THE THINGS YOU ARE LEARNING ABOUT?

Action and Agency

I was going through my digital sketch book and came across two graphics on Agency that I created a few weeks ago. The first looks at the relationship between agency and action. The second asks you to look at how your decisions support agency in the PYP.

Agency isn’t a new concept. It is linked to choice and to self-efficacy – the belief in one’s effectiveness in performing specific tasks. And it isn’t something we as teachers need to give but rather, create room for.

These graphics illustrate WHAT a dynamic outcome of agency could look like and offer reflective questions for educators on the path to creating opportunity for learner agency, but HOW do we put it all into practice? Cue #studio5 at ISHCMC and a very thorough post on how agency is approached with students, thanks to Taryn BondClegg : Student-Planned UOIs.  Regardless of where you are in your journey toward agency, this blog post will give you an idea of how one school are putting into practice what they believe about student agency.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON STUDENT AGENCY?

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We Need More X Students

At the end of last year I read “Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passions, Peers, and Play” by Mitchel Resnick. It is a brilliant read and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

A few pages in, the author, a professor at MIT, meets with the President of Tsinghua University in China – known at “the Chinese MIT”. Chen Jinging describes his students as “A” Students – good grades, compliant, smart. But when he visits MIT and sees the playful way in which these students grapple with ideas, seek solutions, and create innovative pathways in their learning. He calls these students “X” students. And he wants to change the way learning happens at Tsinghua to cultivate more of them.

This is what an X student does:

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What are we doing to cultivate X students in our schools?

At Nanjing International School, we offer CNU (Creative New Undertakings) and X-Block to our grade 4 and grade 6-8 students. Both of these are derivatives of a “genius hour’ type mindset in which students are guided to learn through contexts of their own choosing. Having read the description of the X student and how this was the creation of a Chinese university president, I wonder if the ‘placeholder’ name of X-Block wasn’t meant to be, for our students, in China? Perhaps this is our way of responding to this need for more creative, innovative, X-learners? We have to do more than just call them X students though. We have to be like Jining and seek to change the way we learn.

Take a look at this video and then think about what it would look like to video your students as they LEARN. What can we do to embed authentic experiences in order to develop the creative innovators the world needs – and our kids deserve to be?

LEARN from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.