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



Ask And You Will Receive

Last night I posted about Single Subject teachers and I asked the question:

How might we all move toward a more open system of schooling in which the boundaries and delineations that divide us, did not exist?

This morning, the single subject teachers at my school got an email from our head of primary:

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Everything is a two way street. If single subject or integrating teachers want to be included and more than an “add on” they also have to do their part in making this happen. What I appreciate is that the need for holistic inclusion has been considered and is already part of “what we do”.

What systems do you have in place that show all teachers are a vital part of each child’s day? How do you purposefully plan for collaboration?


Reflection: LEGOs

My previous post, Start With Kindness…And Then Legos outlined the plan for the first lesson with students in the Design Pit. I have done this lesson nine times now. Six to go. And it has been really interesting.

Here is what I have learned:

  • Kids don’t mind working on their own but some will almost always ask if they can work with a partner

  • Kids form really strong attachments to things that they make even when that “thing” is from a cup of lego randomly scooped from a box

  • If kids don’t want to work together or in a group, they won’t

  • Kids are seriously creative

I thought this challenge would be more about the creation of the thing – and to a degree it was when kids would tell animated stories about why they built the thing they built – but it was definitely more about the how kids work rather than the what kids can make. I learned a lot very quickly about the kids in each class and the dynamic of the class as a group. I heard some very clear statements from people both pro and anti working cooperatively, and I saw the power in keeping hands busy with little need for talking when it comes to having a large group of English language learners in the class.

This was a successful starting lesson despite it not heading entirely in the direction I had anticipated. I hope it set the groundwork for a little insight in the wondering, risk-taking, making, working together and having fun that will be Design Class this year.

Would I recommend this: yes. It definitely gets kids active, engaged, talking, and it is self directed enough to allow you the freedom to join in or roam at your leisure. I didn’t push the thinking routine as a “let’s stop and do a thinking routine” but just embedded the ideas into the questions I asked during the lesson.  Overall, a successful intro lesson for the year and would be an equally successful hour in a homeroom class too.


Producer Mindset


Recently I posted about a Maker Mindset. My friend, Darcy, shared an article with me today about a Producer Mindset – specifically, Raising Producer Kids. Written by Assistant Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), Philip Guo, this is a great piece with loads of ideas about the concept that we need our kids to be more actively producing ideas/products/songs/plays/art/games than they perhaps are at the moment.

Here are some of the best parts from the post:

Encourage your kids to become producers. To the extent possible, have them strive to consistently produce something new rather than consuming all the time.

Producing isn’t limited to creating tangible artifacts.

…engaging in creative activities can give them a deeper sense of personal satisfaction than the superficial fun that comes with passive consumption.

Fostering a producer mindset isn’t hard.

You can still let them spend the vast majority of their free time consuming media like all of their friends are doing; as long as you encourage them to spend at least some time producing

…kids (at least in America) desire both conformance and uniqueness: Consuming the same media as their peers allows them to conform and fit in with the mainstream crowd, and producing gives them a legitimate sense of uniqueness, which can make them happy regardless of what their friends like.

The key here is intrinsic motivation—doing things for their own sake rather than for the promise of external recognition or reward.

…observe what your kids naturally like doing and then figure out ways to get those activities to involve producing rather than just consuming.

Modifying existing works—taking the constraints of an existing book, game, or activity, and then being creative within those constraints—is often the first step toward developing a producer mindset. It also teaches your kids that the things they buy aren’t sacred—they can feel free to alter or remix them.

Exactly what they’re producing isn’t important; what’s more important is the fact that they’re getting into a habit of producing regularly.

Here comes the part that I just LOVE:

Reading and school learning are also forms of consumption. Yes, they’re healthier than ad-ridden mass media, but they still involve passively absorbing, memorizing, and regurgitating information. I’d go as far to claim that if your kids have hobbies they’re passionate about concentrating on for long periods of time, then that’s better preparation for being a happy and productive adult than studying more and possibly getting better grades.

Whenever people ask me about apps for the iPad, I talk about consumption -vs- production apps. It is no secret that Book Creator, Adobe Spark, Stop Motion Studio, Doceri, Draw and Tell, iMovie, Hopscotch and Garageband are among my favorite apps. Games and apps that are task specific (solve these problems, drag these words, fill in these boxes) are really just a substitution for a worksheet, and while they may be “fun” and “the kids really like them”, they are not building a producer or maker mindset.

So what? What can I do now with this information?

Excellent question! This is why you need Darcy at your school! Cue an email she sent this morning to a small group of us, currently exploring Makerspaces and the Maker Mindset. This email was about a new global event on May 2nd (which happens to be DARCY’S BIRTHDAY – coincidence? I think not!). Check it out:

Global Day of Design

I have signed up and the email confirmation comes with a file of goodies that are absolutely worth your time in downloading and looking through. I also bought the book (all in the name of education as part of my Masters course on creativity, of course!) But don’t JUST look at the resources! Share them, print them, doodle on them, remix them, leave them out for the kids to see, loop the videos on your Smartboard. Part of our job as educators is to “light a spark” – kids are going to be curious about things we pay attention to so make sure the things you are spending your time on are worth it!

How does this link to the PYP Exhibition?

If I were in charge of the world, I would have kids work through as many Launch Cycles as possible leading up to the exhibition. Traditionally, most PYPX groups follow an inquiry cycle. While these are great, many teachers use them in a very sequential manner that is theory heavy and research heavy and takes a lot of cognitive processing time rather than tinkering/doing/making time. In many cases, kids don’t move toward the messy, making, action, doing part of exhibition until well into week three or four of the six to eight week process. I would love to see iteration become one of the buzzwords of Exhibition. Instead of coming up with one way, come up with ten ways, twenty ways. Try eight or nine different ideas out. Be bold!

Embrace the Bias.

Bias exists. Everywhere. We all lean toward one thing or another which inherently means we lean away from something else. We read one more chapter which means ten less math problems. The PYP is HUGE. There are many components, each jockeying for attention in our day. Ideally, we would slice the day up into fractional perfection: Knowledge, ATLs, Concepts, Attitudes, Action. But life isn’t a perfect pie chart. So why not embrace a Bias Toward Action? (Thanks, Patty!)

According to the d.School, here is the What/Why/How on Bias Toward Action:

Bias Toward Action

How amazing does this sound? We promote action-oriented behavior. We see action as a way to get a group unstuck. Action inspires new thinking. Action promotes group agreement. Action helps make decisions.

Why would we NOT want more tinkering, producing, and action in our classrooms?


What else can I read about tinkering & producing?

For further reading on the subject of tinkering, have a look at these posts previously published with links to loads more ideas to bring a Producer Mindset to your classroom:

21st Century, Change, Creativity, Innovation, Inspiration

Imagine A Teacher


Imagine you are a teacher.

The school year is about to begin – it’s the first day for teachers to arrive at school.

You walk into your classroom and there is a letter for you. From your students.

Dear Teacher,

The most important thing you can do for us this year is to teach creativity. Consider yourself no longer our teacher but be our ‘Captain Creative’ and we, your eager cohort of innovators, curators, makers, and thinkers.

To teach creativity is to equip us with the skills to think critically. To examine, debate, discuss, agree, argue, dissent, come to a consensus, and to think.

To teach creativity is to question. To make sure you ask questions you don’t know the answer to and let us ask questions too. Let’s solve them together in short, frantic bursts of excitement and long, drawn-out wondering that go far beyond the lesson plan.

To teach creativity is to teach us that ideas are treasures, to be gathered and cherished with pirate-like pleasure! We need to come to school each day more curious than the day before and should know that our actions have an impact that goes beyond our classroom walls.

To teach creativity, one can start with empathy. When we know that to empathize is to arrive at the starting point for change and possibility, that to try and to trial and to test and to try again are all part of process, and that there is never a ‘one way’ of doing (but always your guiding hand should we get stuck down a wrong way), you will be a teacher of creativity.

To teach creativity, is to allow us to bloom. To nurture each of us through the learning process at a different pace and in a different space, feeding our quest for knowledge so that new ideas can flourish. Teach us to connect rather than simply collect the dots.

To teach creativity one does not need to be creative (but you are). To teach creativity one does need to rethink ‘school’ (and you will). To teach creativity is to respect us as individuals, to seek the ‘so what?’, and to be authentic in all that you do.

What are you waiting for? The creativity revolution begins with you. And with us. And it starts now.


Your students

What would this inspire you to do? What does it tell you about your school leadership team? And where does this school exist?


MakerSpace or MakerMindset?


Trendy? Needed? Overused? Underused? Lots of discussion in our school – and many others – about this ‘new thing’. Sometimes I find it exhausting that we have to form a committee to come to the shared understanding that kids making stuff, tinkering, thinking, designing, prototyping ideas, and playing, is a good thing!

Nonetheless, what if you have already decided it is a good thing? Where to from there? My suggestion: differentiate between a MakerSpace and a MakerMindset.  These are similar but very different at the same time. Don’t get hung up on how many hot glue guns you are going to buy, start by getting buy-in on what it means to be a maker and part of the maker movement.

If you are not sure what this would look like, take a look at the NIST Makerspace website. They do a great job of spelling out the things you see in a Maker Mindset and a Maker Space.  I liked the idea so much I started drawing out my own idea of a maker mindset:


I would then suggest that you Start With WHY. Why do you want a Makerspace? Why is this an important thing to you? You could try framing your thinking by filling in the gaps:

“Because we believe…………………………………….. we have a Makerspace.”

Move on to HOW. How will a Makerspace work in your school? Within the curriculum? Parallel to the curriculum? Embedded in the curriculum? Totally optional and separate to the curriculum?  How will teachers know it is valued? How will parents share in your vision? How do kids have input?

Finally, WHAT. Now is when you can get the glue gun catalog out and spend! But you can also gather (hoard?) and collect and put out specific requests for those egg cartons, buttons, fabric offcuts, plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, and the like. One thing I think would be useful at this point is for teachers to spend twenty minutes in their rooms. Mentally divide the room into four quadrants and spend five minutes looking at each section, asking yourself:

  • what is useful for making and tinkering?
  • what storage do I have?
  • what could I take out of my room to make more space?
  • are there outlets in this part of the room?
  • is there ventilation in this part of the room?

I subscribe to SmartBrief on Education and in today’s edition, they had a piece on Tips For Meaningful Making. This advice section concluded with links to free resources that may be of interest to anyone in the process of beginning a Makerspace.

  • Wicked Decent Learning blog. Check out Dan Ryder’s “Design Thinking” section to get insights on making and reflection.
  • Agency by Design. Visit the Educator Resources section to see different ways to approach the thinking behind making. This is a phenomenal resource from Project Zero. If you love Visible Thinking Routines, you will love AbD. 

Do you have a Maker Mindset?



Summatively Speaking…

It always seems to be the way – start thinking about assessment (or any other topic) and ideas abound on that topic, literally without even trying.

Assessment is on my mind at the moment. The first thing that popped into my feed was this amazing post on assessment and Makerspaces.  What Does Assessment Look Like in Makerspaces is PACKED with information. Seriously, if you have a Makerspace or want one or are just thinking of how to add more making, thinking, and tinkering into your school or classroom, this is an excellent place to start.

In working with teams at my own school, I returned to the work of Wiggins and McTighe. This gave me three things to share with colleagues – and now with you. I was firstly reminded of GRASPS as it relates to a summative assessment task:


I was introduced to this when I began teaching at Bonn International School in 2003. It is still my ‘gold standard’ when it comes to thinking about summative assessment tasks.

From here, I was reminded of a newer document. A checklist for performance assessment. The printed version is below. Below that, the short animated slideshow on checking the health of your summative assessment task, made with Adobe Spark Video.


Finally, I subscribe to Time Space Education blog. Today there was a new post on Learning Continuums. It is really interesting to see how this process of summative assessment is being tackled by different educators in different parts of the world. The author, Chad Walsh is seeking feedback on the ideas within this post. If you are at all interested in summative assessments and rethinking the way we create and analyse these, drop him a line or leave a comment on his post.