Approaches to Learning, Communication, PYP

Needs-Based Planning

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I recently saw this graphic on Twitter. Posted by Bethany Hill , it was retweeted 48 times and liked 71 times, so obviously it was resonating with an audience.

I have been thinking a lot about communication and how we communicate. I was also thinking about how we communicate through things like our unit planners and the ideas we choose to focus on in our classroom.

Over lunch today, a colleague and I were discussing the idea of planning units based on observed needs of the students at our school. It just seemed to make sense to us. What if we were to observe our kids and identify things that stand out to us (both positive and negative) and build units of inquiry with those things embedded in them? What if we were to consciously plan to help kids address issues that continually arise within and across grade levels?

Sometimes it can seem like the issues that arise have to be put aside because of time or other things that need ‘covering’ but what if the issues were the thing? How might we plan differently if we started with the needs of our kids in mind?

In reviewing the Program of Inquiry, I would suggest we answer these sorts of questions:

  1. Are there needs not being met?
  2. What social skills do our kids lack?
  3. Do our kids have multiple ways to communicate?

What other questions should we be asking? Lets move beyond “vertical and horizontal articulation” and ensure the things we are choosing to focus on in our classrooms are reflective of the students in front of us.

Inquiry, PYP

Math + Exhibition = Opportunity for Inquiry!

Euclid

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:

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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?

PYP

PYP Exhibition Website

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I mentioned in my last post that I had recently been introduced to Weebly as a website creation tool.  It is very intuitive, incredibly easy to customise, and utilizes the best of sites such as WordPress with an extensive theme library, and Wix with it’s drag and drop functionality. I really liked it and while I was initially planning on using Google Sites, I am pleased that I went with Weebly for this piece of work.

Here is a quick video tour that gives an overview of what’s included in the Exhibition website:

I would love to add other resources to this site.  I linked to some great resources on Action by Ed-ucation, a curated library of motivational videos by Terri Eichholz, and the library of Visible Thinking routines by Project Zero. If you have a favorite resource, video, app, idea, or download that you would like to share, please contact me and I can add it to the resources on the site.

I think one of the things I enjoyed the most about curating this website was reminding myself of the amazing resources that are out there to support our students as they go through this process. Two of my favorites are The Playbook and Ship It.  Both of these I have blogged about previously here and here (and are available in the Downloads section of the Exhibition Website).

As we progress through the journey as a school this year, I want to add in Weekly Checklists and other organizational tools for students and teachers. I also want to add to the websites, videos, and apps as we come across new things to support student learning.

PYP

Sharing The Planet

I want to share three videos that could be really good to use in your classroom.  All three focus on human interaction with our planet. They are short, interesting, and most of all, contain an important message that we can be sharing with our students.

Our Biggest Challenge

The first video is a melodic offering from Symphony of Science.  The gentlemen you see and/or hear in this video are Bill Nye, Sir David Attenborough, Richard Alley, and Isaac Asimov. Their words have been masterfully mixed together to create a dynamic video on Climate Change.

The Axis of Awesome – Make the Change (Not the Climate Change)

This is a great video made by Australians!  My former neighbors are raising awareness about The Reef and how one of the world’s greatest natural wonders is about to be destroyed because there is money to be made.  The video urges us to make a change (not a climate change).

From Toilet to Table – Overcoming the Yuk Factor

My friend and inspirational human being Erica Lloyd works for SOIL in Haiti.  She and her colleagues were recently featured on the BBC website for their work in restoring sanitation to thousands of Haitians following the devastating earthquake in 2010. The video explains how providing clean sanitation is also providing nutrient rich soil for Haitian vegetable farmers.
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This last video is particularly meaningful to me because of Erica’s involvement in and passion for, the organization for which she works.  When my kids last year began their PYP Exhibition journey, Erica took the time to Skype with a group of students who were also interested in humanitarian causes.  Our friend Beth, shared the following about Erica when she posted a link to the BBC piece on her newsfeed:

For some time now, I’ve been in awe of my sweet friend Erica Lloyd (who appears in the video at 0:44 -a BBC star!). She gave up a very comfortable life in the metro D.C. area to go to Haiti and work with a program called SOIL, helping to combat diseases such as cholera while educating the community on proper hygiene and sanitation. They have created a system that not only controls human waste, and offers simple necessities such as toilets to those who do not have them, but also recycles the waste as fertilizer to enable the people to grow their own crops in an otherwise stubborn environment. They are saving lives, and making it possible for these residents to live a more dignified, self-sufficient, and clean existence. I’m not sure I would have that kind of resilience, frankly; which is why I thought it was time to ask all of my FB friends to take a moment to watch this video, read the story, and recognize the efforts of Erica and the folks like her who truly do dedicate their lives to helping folks better their own.

How could these videos work in your classroom?

Creativity, Inspiration, PYP

The Sound of Silence

Clint Smith is a teacher, poet, and a doctoral candidate in Education at Harvard University.  In July of this year, he shared a TED talk that was just over four minutes long. It is a spoken word poem that I listened to three times and could easily watch again…and again.

Chris talks about “your silence” and how it is important to start giving a voice to those things you never say.  Your voice is one of the most powerful things you have.

How do you create a classroom in which your students are free to express their silence, to say what has previously be left unsaid?  How do school administrators create an environment in which faculty feel the same way too?

As a teacher in a PYP school, we talk about cultivating an attitude of empathy.  But how? I think one way is to start having the conversations that are a little uncomfortable – but perhaps not as a first step.  Like most things that you want to see flourish and grow on their own, building empathy can take a little ground work. 

An article posted on Edutopia fits the bill well: Empathy – The Most Important Back to School Supply.  

Mostly, I think we will find the silence will end when our students start to realize that what they have to say matters and that their silence actually speaks volumes. 

Inquiry, PYP

PYP Exhibition – Video Inspiration to take Action Six Different Ways

The following information is a direct cut and paste from my classroom blog.  The blog is used as a communication tool between home and school.  I also post homework, ideas, polls, and all things related to life in 4D. Over the course of the year, we have gone from “What is a blog?” to “Can you please put it on the blog?” and now “I wrote my first blog post last night!” as we start our own journey into blogging in our Exhibition groups.

In the process of unpacking our Central Idea, I shared a number of videos that opened up amazing discussions. Some were oldies but goodies, some were hot off the internet, all of them were inspiring. If you are looking for a longer list than the five I am sharing below, take a look at the playlists created by Terri Eichholz of Engage Their Minds.  They are for students and teachers via Pinterest (which, thankfully is unblocked at my school now!) and I plan on sharing the link with my students to peruse the library of inspiration!

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“Taking Action” is a big part of the PYP and also a big part in our Exhibition.  Before we even began, I was hearing the deafening roar of, “We are going to hold a sale…”.  In reading the idea behind action as a key component of the PYP, I wasn’t getting the connection to the selling of stuff. I reached out to my friend Marina who put me in touch with the work of Richard Black, whom I had visited (virtually) before. He had a great way of explaining a much more fleshed out picture of what action was. I turned his words into cute cards, but they are all his thinking. We have them up as a permanent visual that in reality, we are taking action at all times which I actually think is freeing the kids up from the ‘bake sale’ idea and potentially (I will keep you posted) opening them up to a more diverse path of action.

What inspires your kids?

How do you encourage authentic action?

On to the class blog post….

Today we looked at the central idea for our Exhibition unit:

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We discussed as a class what this meant:

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We then watched some videos to support our understanding of the central idea and the Exhibition process:

Follow the Frog – This video is all about what the Exhibition is NOT about.  It is not about going over the top with wild, crazy expectations.  It is about inquiring into topics that you are passionate about and finding out what action you can take to make an impact.  Take a BIG issue and think about taking action on a SMALL scale. It doesn’t have to stop there, however it is often the smallest of actions that can make the biggest impact. 

Kindness Boomerang – This video highlights how one small action can make an impact that can grow exponentially.  You might not ever know the impact of your actions and one action is never too small in the eyes of the person it impacts. 

Emily’s Hair – Some people say “but I’m just a kid, what can I do to make an impact?”…those people need to hear 3 year old Emily’s story.  She shows that through the simple action of cutting her hair, she is making an impact.  It doesn’t matter how old you are, it matters how much you care. 

The Race – The Exhibition is like this race.  We have been ‘training’ for it all through our years in the Junior School.  We are prepared.  We can do it!  BUT….we might fall.  It doesn’t matter when, where, why, or how hard we fall, what matters is what we do AFTER we fall.  That will be a determining factor in the success of our Exhibition journey. 

Sarah’s Softball Story – This is one of my favorite stories.  To me, it highlights what life is all about – helping others to achieve greatness, doing the right thing, paying it forward, and always choosing kind. The students who helps Sarah, Mallory and Liz embody what it means to a PYP student and to be an inspirational human. 

Tomorrow we will be digging deeper into what it means to take action.  Today we looked briefly at six different ways of taking action (with thanks to Richard Black, PYP teacher in Canberra, Australia – his words, my layout):

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Inquiry, Inspiration, PYP

Dear Future…

I am pretty much always looking to connect what I curate to my students in my classroom. I think it opens a window to the bigger picture, brings in different perspectives, and makes us feel – happy, sad, mad, excited, inspired.  I want to spark the possibility that they CAN.  Do more, be more, say more, lead more.

After watching Kid President today I heard a few tentative, “Could we make our ideas into a video?” from a couple of voices.  YES, YES, YES!  I don’t know if they will or not – I will certainly support them – but I love that they are making that connection.

After Skyping with my friend, Erica Lloyd, a humanitarian from the US, living in Haiti and working for SOIL, I noticed one of the kids had drawn a circular diagram in his book that read: THINK – LEARN – DO. He listened to Erica explain that she thought a lot about what she wanted to do, then how she researched, visited, talked with, observed, listened, and asked questions to educate herself, and then put her ideas, knowledge, heart, and soul into action to go out and do something to make a difference.  I loved that she was able to explain this to my kids and that they picked up on it.  Inspired!

I see in my daughter this same kind of thinking.  She is a sponge.  It is staggering the things she can do and how quickly she thinks, learns, does. We offer our support, she eats it up. I think about her when I am offering options to my kids. I want them to be introduced to as much as possible and for them to think, learn, and do at their pace (or maybe with a gentle push?!).

I watched a really beautiful video in celebration of World Down Syndrome Day.  Titled, “Dear Future Mom…” it is an inspired piece of work that challenges stereotypes and celebrates life. I keep watching it because it just seems so hopeful, so strong….and then the moms come into shot to hug their kids and the love is palpable. It is….just watch it, you’ll see for yourself:

We celebrate lots of different days at school so World Down Syndrome day will be shared in my class tomorrow, along with this video. I am curious to see their reaction. As well as thinking about why this video was created, I also want them to think about the idea behind the video: sending a message into the future.

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In his brilliant work, Ship It, a guide to Linchpin, Seth Godin calls you to pause before beginning your big project and asks you to evaluate the outcome now.  To write your feelings down about how you did, how you felt when your work was done, what made you successful, how you feel about yourself, and any other messages of congratulations or support to your future self. It is the epitome of Starting with the end in mind. I love it.  (SIDE NOTE: I often start the PYP Exhibition by using the majority of  pages from SHIP IT to get kids thinking and discussing – it is awesome, try it!).

The past two years, I have done this when starting the PYP Exhibition.  We write letters, we seal them, we put them in a safe place.  We open them after all is said and done and we laugh, share, giggle, hug, and celebrate our victory all over again. That’s on tomorrow’s agenda and I can’t wait.

What does your “Dear Future…” look like?

Inspiration, PYP

Choose To Be Passionate

I saw a post on a blog about being passionate, and it really resonated with me.  Check it out yourself, but in a nutshell it proposes the idea that instead of waiting to be filled with passion (putting you in the passive role), you actively pursue passion.  Approach your work, your “art” with great passion and enthusiasm and ‘bring it’ – you ARE passion.

I keep rolling this idea around in my head. There are lots of ways to think about this and I think the reason it resonates so loudly with me is because I have continually come up against (but not in a really negative way) students (or parents) who declare that they “don’t have a passion” or “aren’t passionate about anything” and those statements really put up road-blocks when you are embarking on a Passion Project!

For those embarking on Passion Projects, Genius Hour, or the PYP Exhibition, I say to you, keep pushing on! I believe that we all have in us the passion to live a fulfilling life and I think that starts with 1. Loving what you are doing. 2. Doing it wholeheartedly. 3. Helping others realize their passion too. So you might not know what you are passionate about but you can work with passion. I have been posting a lot about starting with questions built from concepts, but maybe some of our students just need to start by helping others who are already on track with their passion? Perhaps passion is born from inspiration, from the sharing of ideas, from seeing the fires other people have lit?

In my dream world, such projects look like this:

Be Inspired!

 

A never-ending process of giving and receiving inspiration from each other – the ‘other’ being those in the room, down the hall, in the school, in the community, or out in the connected, internet-world! Show up. Be passionate. Learn from each other. Repeat. Like love, passion shouldn’t be a chore, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t involve work.

If you haven’t seen this gem, take 2 minutes.  If the message doesn’t inspire you, the gorgeous lettering surely will!

Inspired to Inspire from Nathan Yoder on Vimeo.

 

And if you are still looking for inspiration to get you really passionate take a look at this blog post.  Pennies of Time is a blog dedicated to ‘teaching kids to serve’ and has a post highlighting other blogs with a similar message.  Mostly on the topic of random acts of kindness and ways to be giving, these are all very child focused ideas that could provide a springboard for inspiration and the development of passion. Click on the image below for more:

BloggersInspires Collage

Inquiry, PYP

More Conceptual Questions

One of the things I “dread” is the report or research project in which students simply regurgitate a website on a tri-fold board or a Keynote filled with (stolen) text. I think the key to avoiding such things, is good questions. And, the better the question, the better the project.

As a teacher in a PYP school, I teach a concept driven curriculum.  Our focus is on Key Concepts and I often use this framework to help children frame their thinking.

In our current unit, How We Express Ourselves  we are looking at the central idea: Artists create for a variety of reasons. I began yesterday with the following news article, photos and slideshow of the painted stairs in Turkey. (Nutshell: Man paints stairs to make people happy.  People happy.  City not happy.  City paints stairs grey. Twitter is on fire with news of grey-mageddon. People all over Turkey start painting their stairs in bright colors as a sign of support and solidarity.  Stairs are repainted bright colors).

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This led us to a discussion about public art and vandalism.  We had loads of questions:

  • Is this man an artist or a vandal?
  • When is it art and when is it vandalism?
  • Who owns public art?
  • Can it be art and vandalism?
  • Is street art, vandalism?
  • Is Banksy an artist or a vandal?
  • Who decides if it is art?

We have our PYP Exhibition coming up and I really want the kids in my class to be exposed to thinking conceptually about their questions.  We discussed the concepts in groups using a set of concept cards that I made years ago and use in workshops with teachers. Students looked at our questions, looked at the concept and thought of a question that would fit the concept.

Here’s what they came up with (in purple). They then thought about other questions they might have and added these (pink).  They are now off on mini research projects to look into their questions.

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I was impressed with how easily they were able to think conceptually and frame their questions within the parameters of the concept.

For more information on establishing the routine of Questioning Conceptually, take a look at my previous post which also contains links to additional ways of generating and sorting questions for research and inquiry.

Innovation, Leadership, PYP

The Big C

I read this post on Inquire Within a couple of weeks ago and it has been sitting with me ever since.  Such good ideas in it! Please go and read it.

The post talks about all the ‘c’ words that are often used to describe education and learning in the 21st Century:

C Words 1

 

 

The author goes on to suggest that all of these very important C words could all be ‘ruled’ by one BIG C:

C Words 2

 

 

CONTROL

“Control in the sense of ownership, investment and engagement, degree of agency and autonomy. Control to exercise choice. Control to pursue curiosity.”

And here is where I am really won over:

…in the giving of control, I believe we provide student learners with more opportunities to practice the skills organically and authentically than if we assign them work organized into the seven “Cs.” Through the autonomy of control – motivated by the control of choice – we naturally invest ourselves in those seven “Cs.” When we feel in control, we learn to take control, and we develop our capacities to maintain good control.

 

This is brilliant – and at the same time, can be really hard for adults to do.

We are in the middle of our PYP Exhibition and it is all about the kids being in control of their own learning.  There are guidelines and supports in the form of checklists, workshops, and mentors, but ultimately, the kids are in control. And that can be hard for teachers and parents to deal with but so worth it for everyone if we can learn to back off a little and trust in the process, trust in the child, and be mindful of where they are at and how we can best support their learning.

Giving control of learning to the child doesn’t mean sitting in the corner with your feet up and letting them flounder.  It means becoming an observer, a guide, a road map of sorts – ready to be referenced.  It means being attuned to what is going on in your classroom and being prepared to ask for clarification from the children in your class.  It means posing the right questions, sharing the right provocations, providing the appropriate amount of time for them to work their magic.

It also means modeling the characteristics we expect in our children:

  • We have to take risks even (or especially!) when we don’t know what the outcome will be.  
  • We have to believe in our mission and vision and make sure we are not just talking the talk.
  • We have to be a beacon of change if we are expecting our kids to do school differently.
  • And we have to be prepared to let go of control ourselves, so that our kids can see what that looks like.

What kind of educator are you?

One that thrives on being in control or one that is prepared to let go, even in the face of possible failure?

One of the people I look to in terms of someone who reimagines education is Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy. In his book, The One World Schoolhouse, he says the following:

Sal Khan

 

To me, this is what CONTROL is all about.  Creating a nurturing and supportive classroom environment in which children are actively engaged in their own learning.