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.



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:


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?

Ideas - 29

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

Design, Inquiry, iPad, Thinking, Visible Thinking


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?

Inquiry, Learning

Find Your Water

I read a great post by Kath Murdoch on Getting Into The Habit Of Inquiry. The post has so much to offer that you should read it in its entirety if you are or aspire to be an inquiry focused teacher. As I read it, I couldn’t help but connect Kath’s ideas with those of David Foster Wallace. I believe Kath has “found her water”. Living life through inquiry is something as natural to her as living in water is to a fish.

This is Water-David Foster Wallace from alexander correll on Vimeo.

What I particularly appreciate about Kath’s post is that she doesn’t just say, “Oh, I couldn’t teach any other way – lucky me!” and that’s it. She gives some great advice on how to develop your own skills and strategies to becoming a stronger teacher.

My favorite advice? Include your students in your learning process. Can you imagine yourself saying this to your class:

Hi everyone! I was doing some reading over the last few days about questions and asking good questions, and about giving you time to think about and answer questions. I have learned about this thing called “wait time” which means I have to stop talking and let you talk! I have written down some reminders to myself to help me learn and I would love your help too in reminding me to let you talk!

Maybe that is a bit cheesy? I don’t know. But I do know that we expect our kids to articulate their learning goals. Why not show them authentically what this looks like? Why not also show them that you are learning too? That in this classroom, we are all learners – and actually show them what that means.  What if we dared to let our kids know that we don’t know it all, that we are always learning and changing our perspective on what good teaching and learning looks and sounds like? What if we acknowledge when we slip back into old ways and share our struggles with learning?

What if we were all learners?

Creativity, Inquiry, Thinking

Informed Thinking

In a course I am doing at the moment on Creativity, we were asked to do some Informed Thinking. 

This is the task we were given:

You will inform your thinking about the scholarship of creativity studies through historical and contemporary resources.  Afterwards, you will share on the blackboard some key concepts, definitions, models, theories and information that is particularly important in your eyes.  This should be in the form of bulleted list of at least ten items. Each item should have a 1-2 sentence description to explain it.

We were given a curated list of videos, studies, research projects, Keynotes, visuals, documents to read/watch and then had to create our own ‘top ten’.

About half of the class have done the assignment and it is really interesting to see what others pulled out as ‘important’ or stand-out ideas. It is also really interesting to think about yourself as a reader/viewer when ideas you never heard of appear in someone else’s list. And it is a great way to summarize and inform your thinking in preparation for the follow-up task (which is to apply the new learning).

This would be a great way to guide students through the research phase of a unit that is heavy in names/dates, theories/ideas. One of the group said she is planning on using this during her G5 Governance unit.

I chose to add pictures to the mix in addition to the one or two sentences. I love icons (shout out to the Noun Project) and it helped me to consolidate my chosen ideas into a visual image.

Can you use this in your classroom?


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:

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 19.28.07

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?

Inquiry, Technology

Technology is a Tool

I really like Smore – a website for designing beautiful flyers. Tonight I doubled the number of Smore Flyers that I have made in my life to make a grand total of 2 flyers.  The first one has been viewed over 6000 times.  We’ll see if this one is as popular!

I was thinking about both the COETAIL course I am currently working on and the unit of inquiry I am integrating on with the fourth grade team at my school.  I had a lot of links to videos that I was adding to an email but these get lost easily.  Instead of a few emails with a bunch of links, I have embedded videos into a Smore Flyer for the teachers to share with their classes.

Their unit falls under the theme How We Organize Ourselves.  The central idea: Technology is a tool that impacts our lives.

If you have any ideas (this is a new unit this year) or have links I could add to my flyer, please let me know!

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 00.10.11
Click on image to go to full Smore page.
Inquiry, Presentations

Adobe Voice meets Powerful Provocations in PYP

The inquiry team at school is working on a series of staff meetings devoted to inquiry and building inquiry into our planning of units of work to allow students to grow individual inquiries.  It is our nod to Genius Hour and we want to see it embedded into units of inquiry in a way that lets students see that they can follow their passions and curiosities through the lens of an inquiry unit.

We are starting later this week with a look at our provocations. In preparing for this meeting, we started thinking about the criteria for a great provocation.  Very timely was the PYP chat on Sept 11th which was about….Provocations!  There are loads of great resources on the PYP Chat Wiki that you should check out.

As life would have it, I was ‘stuck’ (I will never complain about this part of being a mom) reading to and snuggling with my daughter so I missed the first 45 minutes of the Europe PYP Chat.  A quick read back indicated that there wasn’t a real tie in to what we were doing  in terms of creating provocation guidelines for teachers.  So I shared ours.  It looked like this:


Some good ideas but the presentation? Not my cup of tea at all.  So, what to do?  I tend to think in pictures so started sketching out some ideas.  I shared these with our art teacher and we were on to something but then life and time (or lack thereof) got in the way and I knew I wasn’t giving her enough time to work her magic.  And then I remembered Adobe Voice.

I had shared this with our German teachers and I loved how easy it was to use.  It was perfect for the job at hand and in about 13 minutes, I had created this:

What do you consider when creating provocations?

What makes your provocations powerful?

Brain Research, Inquiry, Mindset, Play

Let Them Explore Their Passions!

Passion.  It is one of my favorite topics when it comes to education.  I know that there are people who will say that asking kids about their passion is a fruitless task – they are kids, what do they know about passion?  I tend to move away from those people and ask anyway.  I think kids are DEEPLY passionate about things.  As teachers (and as parents) one of our biggest challenges is to not get in the way and to allow for their passions, their curiosity, their sense of wonder, and their natural inquisitiveness rise to the surface. 

Last year, I worked with a small team at school on exploring the concept of authentic inquiry through Genius Hour.  Ultimately we decided an hour wasn’t enough and as a school, we will be looking into the idea of incorporating Genius Hour into every hour, every unit.  I have no idea how it will work, but I am excited to work with teachers to give it a go and see what we can come up with. 

To that end, I was intrigued when I read an article tonight titled, “Four Skills to Teach Students in the first Five Days of School” via Mind/Shift.  Here is one of the points from the article:

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 21.08.45


This is a different take on the idea we grappled with all last year, but I like it.  I think like anything different, it will take some getting used to and some won’t know what to do, where to begin…but they will.  And in doing so, they will learn.  Lots.  About being self motivated, setting their own goals, or even learn how to ask for help when they need it.  

I love structure but I also love the freedom of an idea like this. As I throw around all of my beliefs about the importance of play, of collaborative learning, of cooperative learning, of finding your passion, the more I am becoming convinced that learning comes not as a result of pre-determined criteria and one way of showing what you know via an electronic flip-book or 3D sculpture.  

Learning is messy.  Learning sometimes is when things don’t work.  Learning is hard work. 

Thankfully, we were born to learn. 

Born to Learn

I know some people will argue that putting up posters,  or creating these sorts of posters with kids, or adding self affirming statements to papers or posters, and discussing the idea of a growth mindset with your kids will not do a thing.  Some people will even go so far to say that it feels fake, forced, artificial.  I disagree.  The idea that individuals can shape their destiny and that learning is real work are important things kids need to know to help them through the parts of their passion journey that aren’t so smooth.  

It will be tough.  You may want to quit.  Don’t do that. Today is just the first day….

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 21.35.54

Inquiry, Leadership

Always Pick Yourself

Pick Yourself. It is a phrase coined (or popularized perhaps is a more apt description) by Seth Godin.  At his NYC day event that I was fortunate enough to attend two years ago, he gave out guitar picks with this written on them.

Pick yourself

I grabbed a handful of these at the event and they will often appear randomly around our house.  We just moved and whilst unpacking, I came across a purple Pick Yourself pick in a box. It now sits on my daughter’s bottle drying rack in our kitchen.

Pick Yourself.  Pick Yourself.  Pick Yourself.

This is a good reminder for me on a number of levels and yet I still often value other people picking me (external validation) over my own belief in myself.

Since I started sharing my thinking via this blog I have been approached by people asking for help with getting into international teaching, by people who would like to repost my posts, by publications wanting to publish my posts as articles, by the IBO to lead initiatives in sharing practice and in technology education. I have been validated by these people: “We pick you!” “We choose you!” I also am a sucker for the stats that are generated by WordPress.  How many pageviews?  From how many countries? These external motivators do just that: they motivate me to keep publishing, keep posting. They are not my only motivation but I am suckered in when I see other people “picking me”.

Today, I met with my principal to have, essentially, a “Pick Me” conversation. I want to be picked to continue on next year with some work I have started in my role as Curriculum Coordinator. The conversation was good and whilst I do not know the outcome of our discussion in terms of me continuing in the role, it has had me thinking all day: am I picking myself or waiting to be picked?  What if I am not picked? Do I pick myself anyway?  Do I do the work for free, in my own time? Do I show that titles don’t matter, having a heart for change is what is important?

I know what Seth would say:

It’s a cultural instinct to wait to get picked. To seek out the permission and authority that comes from a publisher or talk show host or even a blogger saying, “I pick you.” Once you reject that impulse and realize that no one is going to select you–that Prince Charming has chosen another house–then you can actually get to work.

If you’re hoping that the HR people you sent your resume to are about to pick you, it’s going to be a long wait. Once you understand that there are problems just waiting to be solved, once you realize that you have all the tools and all the permission you need, then opportunities to contribute abound.

No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.

~Seth Godin, Reject the Tyranny of Being Picked: Pick Yourself


So I started to do this.  I wrote what is essentially my own “job description” and I have a plan for what I would like to do. There is still a part of me that questions: How do I know that the opportunities I see and the problems I want to solve, match the vision and purpose of my school? Do I wait for our paths to align or do I pull them together? This is where the permission-seeker in me dwells: in that place between ruckus-maker and rule-follower.  Between employee and innovator.

The whole process has been thought-provoking. The outcome, unknown.