Diversity, Equality

International Women’s Day

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“Why isn’t there an International Men’s Day?”

I hope you don’t hear this question today. But, if you do, here is what I would say in reply:

When women (and girls) have the same access as men (and boys) to

health care


positions of leadership

economic freedom

speaking roles in films and plays

seats on boards

jobs in tech

paid parental leave

When there are only leaders, executives, bus drivers, fire fighters, pilots, electricians, and scientists.

NOT women leaders, female executives, lady bus drivers, women fire fighters, female pilots, female electricians, and women scientists.

When we have pay parity.

When we have protection against sexual discrimination.

When we stop calling girls “bossy” and boys “leaders”.

When this list

of things to say

is considered ridiculous because

“of course” is the standard response.

THEN we can have a day in which we celebrate humanity and hu(wo)manity in equal partnership with each other.

Until then, let’s use today to #pressforprogress and to keep moving forward to #makewomenvisible

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced $170 million in funding for women. It will be used over the next four years to help women exercise their economic power through managing their own businesses and bank accounts. As Melinda Gates writes for Quartz:

“When money flows into the hands of women, everything changes.”

Melinda Gates

Please support women globally.

Click here to loan $25 to a woman seeking financial independence and a better way of life for her and her family, through KIVA

Please support women locally.

Look for opportunities to support entrepreneurs, business owners, and people seeking money to make a life-changing difference in their lives, right in your own community.

Please support young women in education.

Young women and girls need to be visible in education. How are you ensuring gender parity in the way we represent women in sciences, math, economics, design, computing, sports, and the arts? We need to make it easy for all kids to see that things are man-made and WOman-made.


I am grateful to work in a school that values inclusion and enjoyed the opportunity this morning to share breakfast and think together about the role of women in our curriculum and the importance of ensuring equal voice in decision making and ideation.




Be Like A Tour Guide

My fifth graders are currently knee deep in their projects of their own choosing. As we started today, I reminded the class to write a goal for today’s session (small, achievable, focused). There was a bit of murmuring and we started to chat.

“I don’t like it when the teacher doesn’t tell us what to do.”


“Me too.”


I asked the students to tell me more about that.

“I like the teacher to be like a tour guide. Someone who shows you all the places to go. Tells you what you are going to do that day. Stuff like that.”

Me: “But what if the tour guide says you are visiting Paris and you get excited because you really want to go to the Eiffel Tower, but the tour guide walks right past the Eiffel Tower without stopping and you don’t get to go there?”

Student: “If the tour guide was a good tour guide, they would know that I wanted to stop there and they would find out where other people wanted to stop too.”

Student: “The Eiffel Tower is famous so it would be worth stopping there. We should stop there.”

Then there was some whispering. And so I asked the student to speak up.

“Well, you could just be letting us choose our own projects because it is easier for you. You get to tell us to come up with the ideas and then you can sit back and get on with your own work.”

The discussion continued and ultimately, we talked about TRUST. I explained that I was taking a risk in letting the kids choose their own path. That I had to trust that they would use the time wisely. That they would choose to do things they were interested in. That they would ask for help. I reminded them that in every lesson, I asked each student, “How can I help you?” and that I trusted them to answer me in a way that would help us both know what to do next.

There was still somewhat of an underlying grumble about “not knowing” and “it’s really hard” – there were definitely kids in their stretch zones, bordering on panic.

I don’t see this in my four year old when I tell her to play. When I tell her she can make something. In fact, I barely ever tell her that she CAN play or make something – she just does. At what point did we make kids such passive participants in their own education?

When I was a Learning Technology teacher (similar role to a tech coach) in Germany, I was working with a 5/6 year old class who were doing an investigation into work and jobs. As we were sitting together, about to go interview various people in the school about their jobs, I asked the students “Do you have a job?”. Super quick, one student responded, “Our job is to sit quietly and wait for the teacher to tell us what to do.”

Sit quietly.

Wait for the teacher.

To tell us what to do.

5 years old. And that is what they think their JOB is?


What are we doing to change the way we structure our classrooms so this is not the first thing that pops out of a child’s mouth when asked what their job is? I have shared this graphic before, but it has a lot of reflective questions that every teacher could ask themselves in relation to voice, choice, ownership, and agency.


And what about the second comment about the Eiffel Tower:

“The Eiffel Tower is famous so it would be worth stopping there. We should stop there.”

How do we decide what is ‘worth knowing’ or ‘worth stopping at’? What role does knowledge play in the quest for student agency? (starts digging through Wiggins and McTigue and Erickson and Wagner to revisit previous understandings about knowledge and learning). (Thanks, Simon, for bringing this up on the weekend! Good to talk about the place of knowledge in an agency-centered learning environment).

Where are you at in your quest for student agency?

Agency, Design, Inquiry

Stand Up for Something Different



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).



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.



Dignity, Inspiration

It’s About Giving Some Dignity


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


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?


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:




Creativity, Digital Life, iPad, Technology, Visible Thinking

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!


  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.


Action, Agency, PYP

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.


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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:


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.



Project Planning Paralysis

I have a love/hate affair with projects.

I love them because students get to choose what they do.

I hate them because students get to choose what they do.


It boils down to three things for me: judgement, control, and fear.

I find myself checking if I think this project choice is worthy of our class time. I wonder if the project they choose is going to be something I know anything about. I am fearful that even if I overcome both these hurdles, there is still the judgement of teachers or parents who may not see the value in the project choice.

I have a long history with student choice. I won’t call it agency because, for much of the time, I found myself setting the parameters for the choices. Ultimately, I want kids to have a voice, I want them to learn through something they love to do.

My fifth grade Design students have been eager to have more say in what we do. I wanted to respect that so we started looking at what “Design” was and I opened up the floor for them to choose their next design project. But I couldn’t help myself and I started throwing in “rules” to hamper their freedom of choice. Before I knew it, I had created a framework for their projects of my making. It looks like this (and I still am not sure if I like it or not):


I created this, if I am to be honest, out of fear that should my kids stop at step one, “PLAY”, other people may judge the worthiness of them doing so. Who are these “others” that have so much control over my instinct to let my kids play, that I would go and create four more hoops for them to jump through?

This is where I am struggling at the moment in my quest for agency. Where do scaffolds come in? How can we help our students with things like authentic empathy or exposure to the Global Goals as a springboard for design? Who is to say what is purposeful and what is not?

Here is an example from one student:

After doing a “tournament of champions” with all the ideas of things that could be done in Design (similar to this one below) a student chose: Minecraft. 

Grade 5 Design.001
Example of how the kids each chose the thing they wanted to “Play” with in Design.

Students were then re-introduced to the Sustainable Development Goals (something they were already familiar with). This is where they would connect “Play” with “Problem”.

They then needed to “Pitch” an idea: what were they going to make? Do? Create? And then I wanted them to think about why? What was their “Purpose”?

Here’s one example:

Grade 5 Design1.001

“Plan” made it’s way in when I saw that many kids didn’t quite know where to get started. Or, to be fair, they did know (they started to Play!) but I wanted something more concrete.

Even as I write this I am questioning the whole thing. How much interference is too much? How much freedom is too much?

How do you make this work in your school?


Do You Know My Name?

Just before I went to our faculty meeting yesterday, I saw this graphic in my Twitter feed:

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Image by: Trevor MacKenzieBlog Post with more ideas about data collecting we should do.


I went off to our meeting to find we were about to engage in a grade level protocol based on an Edutopia post titled “The Power of Being Seen”.  As a team, we were given a page with three photos of our kids down the left side. The rest of the page was blank. We were to start writing and write everything you knew about that child.

Do you know their face?

Do you know their name?

Do you know something personal about them?

Do you know their family story?

Do you know their academic standing?


It was really interesting to see who we had lots to write about and who the 8-10 teachers had very little to write about. It also made me think about the data we collect about students. So often we talk about how learning is about connecting with other people and that kids will learn from people they trust and like. I was reminded of this TED Talk by Rita Pierson: Every Kid Needs A Champion:


I was reminded that developing relationships with our students are key to moving them forward in their learning. And I sat asking myself, “Who am I championing?” But, so what?  So what do we do with the data we have now gathered? Now what? Where to from here?

These questions will be up to each grade level to respond to but I know for me, it was a call to action to get to know the kids I teach a lot better than I do now. I teach all Grade 1 – 5 students or about 45 kids per grade level so that is a lot of information to know. But aren’t they worth it? As grade level teams respond to this data, my hope is that we are supported to move forward in our understanding and connection with students. We are really lucky to have a very permissive and open culture in which “grassroots” uprisings of ideas are encouraged, if not expected. What can we do to truly connect with our kids?

What would your next steps be?

My TA and I are doing a couple of things. Firstly, we have created similar photo pages and I have put these in my iPad to make notes on during or straight after class. We spend a very short time of each design lesson talking to the whole group and the rest of the time working with individuals or small groups. Often there is time to talk about things other than the project we are working on. We know that we don’t get to talk to everyone and that we also tend to gravitate toward those kids who are perhaps louder or more assertive. We want to collect some data to see who we are missing.

As I was thinking over this protocol, I was reminded of a similar protocol suggested by the Responsive Classroom.  This one is a little more simple but equally powerful. In summary, you need a piece of paper folded into three columns. In the first column, write the names of your students – any order. (That in itself may lead to some understandings about your relationships in the classroom.) In the second column write one thing that you think is cool about that child, the child is passionate about, or something they really care about.  And in the third column, make a star if you are sure that the child knows that you know this about them.


What would you do next after one of these protocols?



UPDATED: Related Concepts on Concept-Question Cards

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The IB recently sent out this tweet which has sparked renewed interest in the Concept-Question cards that I first put together when working as the Grade 3-5 Coordinator and Grade 3 teacher at Yokohama International School in 2008.

I have used them for teacher workshops, PYP Exhibition, parent workshops, and most planning meetings I go to.

Recently, Sam Sherratt wrote a blog post: Being A PYP Teacher Part 1: Carry the Book. The “book” he referred to is Making the PYP Happen.  All of the concepts, descriptors, questions and now related concepts that are on the cards, are from this book.  I am in agreement with Sam that we need to be so familiar with “the book”.  There is a wealth of information about the PYP in there that I think often gets overlooked in favor of other things from other sources. I am all for diversity in ideas but as PYP educators, we do need to make sure we are not passing over some really great ideas in our own program guide.

In the comments that followed on Twitter, the suggestion to add related concepts came up. These are also in the book and some users said that they have added these to the cards themselves.  I have now made a quick edit and added them too. Please download and use for good!

Happy conceptual thinking and questioning!

Concept-Question Cards with Related Concepts