Agency, Change, Design, Inspiration, Leadership

If The Shoe Doesn’t Fit…?

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Bringing about choice in the classroom via John Spencer. 

If you had a pair of shoes that didn’t fit – too small, too tight, too loose, too high – what would you do with them? Put a bow on them and a row of sparkles and wear them anyway? Cram your feet in and mash up your toes, bloody your heels, and suffer?

No. You would put them in a recycle box, trash bin, or donate them and move on to something that worked.

Why don’t we apply this analogy to school? So many of the embellishments we are slapping on: iTime, differentiation, personalized learning, flexible seating, choice boards, passion projects – are the bows and sequins that don’t make the shoe any more comfortable or any closer to fitting.

What if instead of focusing on building agency, we focused on building a school that is radically different to the production-line-based factory model we are currently saddled with? Agency already exists. We are born with it. It is not something you give someone. But schools and the structures we have created, do a great job of taking that agency away and out of the hands of the learner.

So, what do we do? 

While we work on the audacious goal of revolutionizing school as we know it, there are small things we can do now, to make a shift. Here are five things every teacher could do to start the journey of change:

  1. Stop making decisions 
    • Take a tally of all the decisions you make for your students. Better yet, write them all down – you’ll be exhausted. How can you switch so that more decisions are made by each child for themselves?
  2. Unplug the photocopier
    • Kids don’t think in A4 or legal shaped boxes of paper! And they don’t need us to pre-think on this paper for them. Try ditching the grids and templates and cookie-cutter forms and see what your kids come up with.
  3. Teach like a designer
    • I just retweeted this image. How can you use your observational powers to see where the paths need to be laid instead of rolling out the concrete where it fits best? Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 5.06.22 PM
  4. Go behind the curtain
    • This one stems from a phrase we used a lot at the Learning2Asia conference this past week. Think of freeing kids from the checklists and criteria and just let them play, create, explore, make, do! YOUR job (behind the metaphorical curtain) is to be tracking their learning and watching for what they can do independently, with support, or haven’t gotten to just yet. Guide. Observe. Ask. Or even just say nothing and keep quiet while they get on with the real work!
  5. Bring back boredom
    • You don’t need to entertain your students. That doesn’t mean you can’t be entertaining, but it does mean your job isn’t to ensure that every second is packed with – wait for it – ACTIVITIES! Let them play, them them iterate, let them be bored. They’ll soon find something to do.

As John Spencer has pointed out, we need to move from entertaining our students (“The kids love this activity!”) to engaging them by connecting them with real ideas that matter, and then go further to empowering them to seek out the learning for themselves instead of waiting for it to be delivered.

john spencer

 

These ideas have been percolating for a while and the perfect place for them to synthesize a little more clearly in my mind was over the last three days in Shanghai at the Learning2 Asia Conference.

In addition to some excellent practical tips and ideas from Jamie Stevens and Nici Foote in the realm of Makerspaces, Tinkering, Playing, and STEAM, I was incredibly inspired by what I am calling my “Unconference Fung-Kee-Fung” Sandwich.

First layer: Unconference Session #1 in which a group of 20+ passionate educators discussed the idea of student agency and in which I got to meet (in real life!) Taryn Bond-Clegg, the educator extraordinaire behind the blog Making Good Humans.

Sandwich Filling: Lisa Fung-Kee-Fung (Best. Name. Ever) and an extended session on Launching Student Learning with a focus on who we are really here for – the students. Coupled with a really interesting discussion with the Deputy Director of WAB, John D’Arcy on the concept of Flow21 and WAB’s 2021 vision for the future of learning.

Top it all off: Unconference Session #2 in which 20+ shrinks to 7 and we have yet another focused, inspiring, and fast-paced discussion on agency and beyond.

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“Nothing’s more powerful than a group of committed educators who believe they can solve any problem together.” –

In sketchnotes, the Unconference Fung-Kee-Fung sandwich looks like this:

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This is a huge thing to think about and it can seem overwhelming to know where to start. In addition the ideas mentioned above, I would recommend exploring the Global Goals and seeing where these might take you and your students. These goals encompass a wealth of understanding and knowledge – and “it’s hard to change the world if you don’t know much about it.” –.

school

 

 

Agency, Design, Inquiry

Agency by Design

I have been re-visiting the Agency by Design website over the past few days. One of the things I was reading about was a “Big Rocks/Little Rocks” task which was designed as a way to have teachers  prioritize their values related to teaching and learning. The idea is to think about what you want your kids to be like when they leave your classroom. What is important to you as a teacher? What do you value? The premise is, that articulating what we value will shape what we assess. I would add that it will likely also change the way we teach.

Here are my rocks:

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My big rocks are things I value AND things I really want kids to experience in our learning space. I notice that “listen to me talk” is not one of my big rocks. I am working on cutting down on talk time in place of having conversations that simply start with “What are you learning?” or “Do you need anything?”.

I am trying to build in time for “fix or make better” – the IMPROVE part of our design cycle, so children have a chance to make iterations of their initial ideas. Ideas - 12

I want my kids to have to learn to share and engage and interact. For me, learning is a social activity. I also notice that I haven’t put ‘reflect’ or ‘process’ or ‘work on my own’ as my rocks. These are valuable too and are things I need to consider for those students who shine in the quiet spaces of our classrooms.

I look at all these and then I think about how I plan my lessons. And I think about Agency. It doesn’t appear on a rock. Not because I don’t value it, but for me, the entire bowl holding ALL the rocks is learner agency. But do I teach in a way that reflects that?

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Who makes the decisions in my room? How are the choices made? Do the kids really get a say in what they are doing or have the parameters for their choices been so narrowly focused that the choice they have is really just a token one?

My last post on Agency and the questions I have regarding it are very much on my mind. If I want to show that I value agency, what am I doing on a daily basis that reflects that? And what does agency in the grade 1-5 Design classroom actually look like?

In order for agency to authentically exist, do we need to rethink the way we do school in its entirety? 

#grapplingwiththeconcept #agencyadvocates #help

Creativity, Design, Learning

#cultivate your learning spaces

My feed is full of great stories from fellow teachers beginning a new school year. Many are inspiring me with the depth of thought that goes into starting a new school year. I especially liked this post from my new 2nd grade colleague, Nora, who reminded me in her post to take a minute to appreciate the special, clean start of a new year before everything levels up.

Today I read a post I have been waiting a year for. My friend Jocelyn in Singapore did amazing things with her learning space this time last year. She is not the type of person to sit with the status quo so I was super intrigued to see where she would head this year. She did not disappoint. Jocelyn has refined her thinking and continued her research all in the name of best supporting her students. She herself even says of her new learning spaces:

I also know that removing the 1 desk & chair per child will encourage me to adapt and broaden my teaching practice to move beyond ‘desk work’ activities.

Jocelyn Sutherland

I really respect the way she is leaning in on the third teacher to help her kids learn best. Jocelyn’s entire post which includes links to last year’s learning environment post, is definitely worth reading in its entirety. My biggest takeaway was the need for a variety of spaces in your classroom. Spaces known as: the cave, the watering hole, and the campfire:

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As per Jocelyn’s post, these spaces are described as:

CAVES: This is a space where students can reflect independently, journal or read. It allows students to process what they’ve learned and allows students private quiet time.

WATERING HOLES: This is the social space where students collaborate, share thinking and can work in small groups. Watering holes foster relationships in the classroom and encourage students to expand their friendship circles through mixed grouping opportunities.

CAMPFIRES: This space is used for whole class gatherings for morning meetings, storytelling, celebrations and presentations by experts. It stands as a ritual for bringing the entire classroom community together in one friendly space.

 

It’s never too late to change. Take a look at your room. Do you have these types of spaces in your learning environment? Could you? How might you #cultivate your learning spaces?

Design, Inquiry, iPad, Thinking, Visible Thinking

TMI

One of the resources that I’m using a lot in my new role as a design teacher, is the book called Invent to Learn by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary S. Stager. This book details an inquiry type cycle simply called TMI: Think, Make, Improve. This is very accessible language for students and most of the kids who have been in our school are very familiar with this terminology and how to put it into practice.

Here are each of the stages in a little more detail:




I particularly like the “improve” section. Once kids have made something they are challenged to ask themselves are they stuck or are they satisfied? Can I fix it or can I make it better?

Today I was working with Grade 3. Their challenge was to use what they had learned from previous lessons to create a balloon powered vehicle. We talked about TMI and as we talked about the first stage, I sat with the students and modeled how I might document my thinking. Using the Paper 53 app and my iPad Pro with Apple Pencil I was able to think aloud while drawing and projecting on our screen. This was my second time doing this lesson and I didn’t do the same kind of modeling of this documentation process with the first group. We really noticed a difference in quality when the kids were shown how it is possible to plan out their designs. 


I get to do this lesson for a third time tomorrow. I want to make sure that we refer back to the image of all the things that “thinking” entails and identify the elements that we touch on so the kids see that there is not just one way of thinking. Edit

How do you help your children to make their thinking visible?

Approaches to Learning, Design

Partner Frenzy

Today, I was introducing Little Bits to one of my classes. Here’s their tag line:

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Great! I thought. This will be awesome! I thought. I like mixing up teams and partners for working groups, so for this initial task of sorting the kit and then “making something that does something” (free exploration) for the 60 minute lesson, I thought I would just pair off down the register, students 1 and 2 together, 3 and 4, and so on. Total lucky dip.

During lunch I had taken a minute to open the new YouCubed posters:

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I think if you took the words “maths” and “mathematical” these norms could apply to many things students are challenged to do every day. In particular:

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Great! I thought. I will have a lesson in which the kids are challenged to use electronics (something they may not think they can do), they will struggle and grow their brains, and all this will be done under the umbrella of collaborative team work.

Or not.

The class was not impressed with my random pairings. Feet stomped, hands thrown in the air, students started suggesting other pairs, some said nothing, some said they were fine with their partner, one said, “NOBODY likes the person they have been partnered with!”  I had forgotten how dramatic fourth graders could be!

I let them go for a minute and then I stepped in. And in a firm, clear voice, I explained that we can do anything for 45 minutes. And we can certainly work with a classmate for that time on this task. And if you didn’t want to work with your assigned partner, that was your choice, but you would also be choosing to not work at all. All kids were heads down in the kits within 30 seconds.

We ended with a reflection. Short and sweet: “We can do anything for 45 minutes and we can always learn from and with each other or at the least, learn something about ourselves and who we are as learners.”

I want the kids to be challenged. I want them to try new things and do things they haven’t done before. I know this is already super challenging for some and the added dynamic of not choosing a partner adds another layer of stress for some. But how to overcome this when resources are limited and need to be shared? Earlier in the day on a different task for which we have an abundance of resources, the class could choose to work alone, pairs, threes, or fours. I loathe the hierarchy of “being picked” and like to avoid this as much as possible. But I also want kids to put all their energy into designing and making, tinkering, and improving, and I wonder if they don’t need to be in self-selected groups to do this at their best.

How do you group kids for learning groups?

Design, Play

Yes or No?

In a meeting yesterday we talked about the idea of saying no. Specifically saying no to technology when it is not needed, not appropriate, or time for something else. It was a good message of balance and of responsibility and of boundaries.

Today I read an article about saying yes. Specifically saying yes when saying no won’t kill you or harm you, when it will allow choice, when it gives kids the option to try something they have been thinking about, and when saying yes just makes things more fun.

Let Your Child Make Mistakes is a great read in how to help your child develop skills and behaviors that will serve them well as they grow into adulthood. It isn’t about being entitled or spoiling but about learning through being given the option to try something.

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My AMAZING new work space!

We are about to start a new school year. I am sitting in a gorgeous new workspace that is filled with all kinds of things kids are going to want to touch and play with. I am reading Responsive Classroom for Music, Art, PE, and other special areas and I am working on how to frame my introductory explorations in a way that includes more can’s than can not’s and more yes’s than no’s. The urge to touch is real! I want to embrace that.

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“Let’s do this!”

 

How do you empower?

How will you begin the school year in a way that actively involves your students?

Coetail, Design

Telling My Story In An Infographic Resume

As part of my COETAIL course, I took on the assignment to redesign my resume in an infographic style. I already had a fairly unique looking resume (it is still up on my Resume page but will be archived soon) but I wanted to get it down to a single page. After many revisions, here is the latest version:

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Sonya terBorg – Resume (PDF)

My thoughts on this version:

  • I like the little icons (thanks Noun Project!) as I think they add a clean visual to the document
  • I like the photo of me and my daughter as it shows a very important part of who I am without me having to articulate that I am a mom
  • I like the QR code link to my personal blog
  • Creating the ‘bar graph’ of things I believe in was actually really hard – the ranking of items – and I liked that this gave me the opportunity to reflect on what was important to me, philosophically
  • I am on the fence with the L/R Brain although I do like the idea of this. I just took an online quiz and that was the result and so I took the key words from the test analysis and created the little graphic.
  • I really like the “Let me help you” and “Hire me” titles (this idea ‘remixed from #23 on this list) and these titles helped me to focus on what I wanted to say about my skills and my purpose
  • I thought the timeline was an easy way to see where I have been although it does make it clear how much I jump around!
  • I really wanted to keep the concentric circles but I modified the wordiness of them and refined my purpose.

I have spent so long looking at elements of good design that it really was hard to narrow this down.  I think the resume looks good (it is entirely done in Pages, btw, as I wanted to try not using anything ‘fancy’ but to see if I could create something in a fairly standard program).  I do think I will also create a ‘slick professional’ resume that is less infographic-ish.

I think this would stand out in a pile of resumes – I just hope for the right reasons and not because the recruiter wanted to be sure to not take a second look!  I think I would like to partner this resume with an online profile such as the one I am working on at about.me  and I updated a previous one that I had created at re.vu

Thoughts?

Creativity, Design, Inspiration

Don’t Wait For The World To Whack It To You

I am tired. And I should be in bed. But I am reading my email because the tiny human, furry human, and loving husband are in bed and the house is quiet.

And just delivered from GapingVoid is this little gem, hot off the press:

Shine Your Light

It comes with this explanation from Hugh:

Instead of waiting to be hit by the light, I decided to become the light instead.

It was my decision.

It was also one of the happiest and most profound moments of my life.

To use a familiar tennis metaphor, you’re spiritually better off once you teach yourself to always keep the ball inside your own court. Don’t wait for the world to whack it to you. A-men.

~Hugh MacLeod

I have had a lot of work to do with my students pastorally the last few weeks. I think we have reached the tipping point and things are now on the rise.  I hope this is true.  One of the things that changed my outlook on the situation was when I stopped and remembered one of those lists that I had read once – you know, the “things that you need to remember to live a happy and fulfilled life” lists. It was this one.

And part of that list read:

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Never take things personally.  Let me repeat that: NEVER TAKE THINGS PERSONALLY.

I really started questioning what I was doing as a teacher – or more specifically, what I was (or wasn’t) doing that was resulting in the behavior I was seeing.  How had I gone wrong?  What had I done?  Why am I so terrible at what I am supposed to love doing?

Then I remembered #8 and I remembered #10 and I remembered that according to #7 the Universe (which at the time meant a very supportive and proactive Principal) had my back.  And I decided to take a different tack. I decided to be the light. I decided to take the ball instead of waiting to be whacked – repeatedly – in the head with it.

I did all these things and then Hugh, bless, made me my own cartoon to commemorate my somewhat disastrous but ultimately insightful week.

A-men.

Design

Awesome Website: Canva

Canva-Logo

I was introduced to a new (beta-stage) website that is a design platform for those who find programs like InDesign and Photoshop a little wieldy. It is called Canva.  It is free with email or Facebook signup and has loads of possibilities for school use – the most prominent being to provide students with templates that can be customized to produce really slick presentations, infographics, posters and more. Their blog has lots of design ideas and I personally found the site very intuitive and easy to use. A lot of the features are free but some of the more ‘premium’ graphics and backgrounds are available for purchase. 

The introduction came via a blog I follow, written by a woman with a passion for writing and a desire to see children flourish as writers. I have posted before about Patricia Zaballos and her Writers Workshop and I really enjoyed her take in her latest post on using tools such as Canva for students to create their own infographics as a way of representing the research they have done. Take a look at her full post here. 

In honor of Patricia, I used her blog to try out one of the templates:

WONDER FARM

 

 

Our current unit is on How We Express Ourselves and the different reasons Artists create art.  I want my kids to take a look at some TED talks that highlight different art forms so I then went ahead and made the following graphic to share with my class tomorrow.  Clicking on the names takes you to the website. 

MY TOP 4 FILMS (1)

 

Simple.  Beautiful. Worth your time. 

Go check it out!