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).

rainbow_stairs_Turkey-Gürol_Demirutku-Twitter

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.

photo

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.

Also, look at this post for updated Question-Concept cards which include the related concepts. 

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.

 

PYP, Teaching

Questioning Conceptually

We are two weeks into our Passion Project and my kids have pretty much narrowed down their area of focus for their passion: travel, gardening, healthy living, animals, music….the list goes on.  These are all big, broad areas of interest, so how do we begin on our passion journey?

Our ‘way in’ was through the PYP concepts. We thought about these in two ways: as lenses and as keys. Some kids really bought into the idea that they were picking up and putting on different glasses with different colored lenses through which they would look at their topic.  Some kids bought into the idea that they were standing in a room with eight colored doors and each key in their hand unlocked a different door to step through to their passion. I was pretty impressed with the speed at which they figured this out, actually!

Download the cards below, updated to include related concepts, here. 

concept cards 2 concept cards 1

Each child made a set of concept cards using the following information.  A descriptor of the concept on one side, and curriculum area sample questions on the reverse. These were mounted on different colored cards and bound together with a ring. We were ready to begin!

picture-15 picture-16

I started with the whole class and a topic close to my own heart and one they could relate to: dogs. We started going through the concepts and thinking of questions that would fit that lens:

FORM: What are the distintive characteristics of a dog?

FUNCTION: How do the lungs of a dog work?

CHANGE: What are the newest medical advances that are now in place to help injured dogs?  

Each child was given a large concept question planner and, armed with their passion topic and their concept-question cards, were asked to think of questions for each concept.  PDF Concept Question Planner

Concept Question Planner

We discussed that some concepts may lend themselves to more questions and some to fewer questions. As we continue with this on Monday, my hope is that we can help each other focus our inquiries through the use of concepts. I also want to make sure that their time is spent on relevant, engaging and worthwhile questions.  I want their questions to be deep and open. But how?

I came across the idea of a Question Quadrant to help see if where your questions ‘fit’: The Quadrant can be used to distinguish closed and open questions that relate specifically to a text; or closed and open questions that stimulate intellectual curiosity.

Question Quadrant

I also really like the Visible Thinking routine Question Starts.

Question Starts

Once they have generated questions, I am thinking of using the Visible Thinking Routine, “Question Sorts” to help my students ensure they are really focusing on questions they care about:

Question Sorts

A question sort, would be similar looking to the question quadrant:

Question Sort

I am still thinking about how best to help them make the most of their inquiries.  I think we are off to a good start! I know a lot of the focus still remains on ‘producing a product’ which is not the goal of this project but is something that I think people are more comfortable with given that is how we were educated: to produce ‘something’.  My goal is to keep putting the tools out there and hoping that the more product oriented ideas arise from the deeper inquiry, rather than become the sole purpose of the project.

PYP, Teaching

Rising Above

On Friday morning, I met with about half of my class parents to share with them about the upcoming PYP exhibition, to answer their questions, and to get a feel for where they were at in their understanding of the work ahead. I shared the following slideshow with them:

For detailed notes about each slide, take a look at the post on my class blog.

In addition, I shared a number of documents with my parents: an eight week tentative plan, single subject integration, language arts integration, exhibition rubric, weekly reflection criteria, and student contract. I also gave everyone a copy of the 16 Rules that I posted about earlier in the week.

After the meeting, I went back to my classroom and when my kids came in from recess, I told them that they would be working on the tasks we had discussed the previous afternoon, focused on our exhibition.  This is what “work” looks like in my classroom:

I was asked a lot of questions from my parents about final products, accountability, level of involvement, and how to “know” if kids are working and/or learning anything.  Here is what I know to be true:

  • if you set high expectations, kids will rise to meet them (and then exceed them)
  • kids are inspired by kids and will feed off each other (in a good way!)
  • kids know when they are working hard and when they are hardly working
  • kids don’t want to waste their time any more than we want them wasting their time
  • what looks like “wasting time” to us, is often a valuable learning experience for kids
  • kids have a way of viewing the world that often exceeds our world view

I think we all have kids in our class who struggle.  Their struggles may be with confidence, time-management, organization, academic skills, social interactions….the list goes on. Undertaking a unit of inquiry of the magnitude of the exhibition is a real challenge – for any 10 or 11 year old. But does that mean that because it is hard, we shouldn’t do it?  No.  Because:

Source: seesawdesigns.blogspot.com via Sonya on Pinterest

When I asked my kids “Who is ultimately responsible for your Exhibition journey?” I got a resounding and unanimous “We are!!” from my kids.  And I trust them, so I trust that this is true.  They know they have the support of their teachers, mentors, parents and myself, and now they just have to trust in their own abilities.  It is really hard to let go of some of that control.  To sit back and to watch where the journey takes each child without constantly wanting to move the rudder and steer them where we think they should go.  

I am learning that the Exhibition is a great learning ground for students: it is a chance for them to shine, to showcase their skills, to develop new skills, to become independent, and to experience hard work, failure, success and learning. As adults, it is also a great learning ground for us: a chance for us to trust we have prepared them well, to take a bigger step back, to guide without overshadowing, and to trust in the process and the journey.

What I know to be true is that I am seeing, already, kids rising. Rising to the challenge.  Rising above my expectations.

More than ever, I believe that children learn best when personally invested in what they are learning about.  And it is a pretty awesome thing to watch.  

Creativity, PYP, Writing

Sharing Your Story

Recently, a friend sent me a link to Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling.  I loved them – for a number of reasons, primarily that Pixar is clearly a company that knows how to tell a story, so when they share, I listen!

My first thought upon reading through them however, was not the application to ‘storytelling’ in the traditional sense of the word (telling a fairy story) but in the application of these rules to the journey my students are about to take as part of the PYP Exhibition. 

The highlight of our exhibition evening last year was sitting and listening to student after student get up and tell their story. They shared their journey through the process: where they started, where they went, where they currently were at and where they were heading.  Their stories were compelling, engaging, entertaining, interesting and a true reflection of their growth and development over the course of the Exhibition.

As I read Pixar’s rules, I can’t help but convert to advice for my current fifth grade students as they embark on their journey with the idea of telling their story.

Here are my 16 rules for my kids to guide them as they tell their learning stories:

  1. We admire you for trying more than for your successes. 
  2. Once you reach the end of your story, look back and share the theme that has driven your learning.
  3. Simplify
  4. Focus
  5. Tell us how you dealt with challenges.
  6. Write your ending now, before we begin.  Speak into existence what you want to be your reality!
  7. Be ready to not be perfect.
  8. When you get stuck, make a list of what you are NOT going to do next and hope the material to get you unstuck shows up.
  9. Put your ideas in writing, all the time, even in the middle of the night.
  10. Discount the obvious ideas.  Keep thinking.  Surprise yourself.
  11. Share your opinions – be bold!
  12. Ask yourself: “Why this passion?”  Why MUST this be the thing for you.  Build off this burning belief within you.
  13. Be honest!  We admire you for it!
  14. No work is ever wasted.  If it is not working, let it go and move on – it will come back around to be useful later.
  15. Do your best.
  16. What is the essence – the guts – of your story?  Start there and go!

Planning for these stories can be done digitally.  Digital storytelling simply means using computer based tools to tell stories. Click on the image below to check out five digital storytelling tools for kids.  Three of them (Voicethread, Show Me, and Toontastic) are familiar to me.  The other two, Sock Puppets and Puppet Pals are new to me.  All look like great tools for encouraging students to get their ideas down.

Which have you used? Which are you willing to try?

Digital Storytelling

These rules were originally tweeted by Emma Coats, Pixar’s Story Artist.

PYP, Teaching

Getting Deeper

One of the things I keep pressing my kids to do, is to go deeper in their thinking and in their responses to questions.  Rewardingly, my persistence appears to be paying off as I am increasingly getting work of an incredibly high caliber from many of my students.

As we prepare for the Exhibition, I am wanting to drill this home even more. Which led me to digging around and finding a couple of resources to help me out:

Blooms Taxonomy Question Stems

These look great to me. Just by looking at them from Remember to Create you can see the level of thought required to “list four….” and “compose a…”. I am learning that making this information explicit to kids isn’t going to ensure success (you can lead a horse to water…). I am also learning that just because they all aren’t going to buy in, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t share in the first place.

Source: helloliteracy.blogspot.com via Sonya on Pinterest

Being An Explorer Of The World

This is another piece of awesome that I will be sharing with my class before we head out on our Passion Tour next week to kick off our Exhibition.  The tour consists of us visiting with six passionate people in our home town: a vet, the CEO of the YMCA, a doctor, an athlete mechanic, a financier, and a restaurant head. We have an agenda but there also the importance of an unwritten agenda – or at least, an unassigned agenda. In addition to their notes I also want to make sure they remember to be an explorer of their world:

EVERYBODY!

“Going Deeper” is sometimes hard work!  Everybody needs a little reset switch pushed once in a while. This is a 60 second brain break for you and your students. I used to have a ‘reading gong’ in my class that kids would take turns (one kid per day) ringing to signify 10 minutes of reading.  During Exhibition, I can see the need for the odd ‘brain break’ and this could be a fun addition to the program:

 

What do you do to “go deeper”?

How do you provide opportunities for your kids to take a break?

PYP, Reflection

A Joint Effort

 

One thing we learned last year during the Exhibition is that it really does help for the parents to be ‘in the know’ and supportive of their child.  It also helps when those unwritten expectations of fifth grade  (being timely, organzied, thoughful, perserverant) are made explicit to students and parents so that we are all on the same page.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be working on the following prep sheets with my class and their families.

Click on each image to enlarge.  Click to download a PDF copy. 

We will do the student portion at school and the sheet will go home to be shared with families and for parents to offer their input.  My main goal?  To create conversation. To get students and parents and their teachers talking and sharing and supporting one another.

We say it is a team effort – now let’s work like we really mean it.

PYP, Teaching

Research Hub

Research Hub

 

I recently came across a fantastic website for research skills.  It has everything you would want in one spot.  Almost everything.  As I read through each section of UWCSEA Junior Research Hub, I did consider two things I would add:

EASY BIB

Last week I shared a new site with my class: EasyBib  It is accessible through the students’  Riverstone gMail accounts which allows their work to be synced through Google Docs. In our current project, students have been asked to compare the fictional creature  they are creating with creatures that already exist.  They are to be specific in their comparisons.  This requires them to research information about animal adaptations and use this information in their project.

For example:

They might say: The kangaroo is known as the largest marsupial, measuring over 6 feet tall. My creature mimics the height of the kangaroo and in fact, has been recorded at heights of up to 7 feet tall, thus propelling it to the top of the record books for largest known marsupial. This piece of information about the height of the kangaroo, clearly came from some kind of information source: website, book, journal, magazine or paper.  EasyBib provides a simple to use, online way of keeping a bibliography of all sites sourced.

We were really impressed by the way in which we could:

  • just paste in a web address and it would reference it for you
  • type in the title of a magazine and the name of the article and it would find all the information about the issue number, year and author
  • punch in the ISBN number of a book and all the title, author, illustrator and publisher information would pop up.

Here is what an example of a finished bibliography looks like.

 

READ WRITE THINK – INQUIRY

When gathering information from a collection of sources, I like the idea of this chart from READ-WRITE-THINK:

Screen Shot 2013-02-22 at 5.43.25 PM

 

From the RWT website:

The Inquiry Chart (I-Chart) strategy is one that allows students to examine a topic through integrating prior knowledge on the topic with additional information found from a variety of sources.  The I-Chart strategy is organized into three steps, each of which consists of activities meant to engage and aid students in evaluating a given topic: 1) Planning, 2) Interacting, and 3) Integrating/Evaluating.

I-Charts can be used with individuals, small groups, or the entire class, and are meant to strengthen reading skills and foster critical thinking.  This strategy can be used to differentiate instruction for each student’s needs, and can also be used as an assessment tool to measure student understanding of a given topic.

 

If the Junior Research Hub is more than perhaps your students need, consider using the simplified Infant Research Hub with it’s three step guide to researching:

Screen Shot 2013-02-22 at 5.48.15 PM

Inspiration, PYP

More on Passion!

I was playing around today with the idea of evaluation for the Passion Project.  I am not the biggest fan of rubrics, but I am interested in providing meaningful indicators of success for my students.  To that end, I want to share two items I am thinking of using as evaluative tools:

RUBRIC

I was greatly inspired by the work coming out of my former place of work, NIST (New International School of Thailand, in Bangkok).  There is a blog for Exhibition teachers and through that, I came across a simple post: How Do We Assess the Exhibition?  I really liked the style of the rubric and have used this as a platform for tailoring one to our Passion Project.  It is still a work in progress – I have a couple more weeks before the big kick-off – but I want to put it out there in the hope of making it better.  Click on image for larger view.  Click to download PDF.    Click to access Pages file.

PYPX Rubric

 

REFLECTION

We had the students reflect in a variety of ways last year.  While I like this, I also like giving them some kind of structure to guide their reflection, should they need it.  To that end, I created a student reflection sheet based on the Learner Profile.  Click on images to enlarge – the first is a set of guiding questions for the student to consider during the weekly reflection.  The second provides space for notes.  Click to download a PDF copy.

Reflection - Guiding Questions

 

Reflection - Student Responses

 

21st Century, Creativity, Inspiration, PYP

Gearing up for Passion!

In a few weeks, we will kick off our fifth grade Exhibition unit: The Passion Project. It was our first year doing this last year and over the summer, I put a lot of work into the Passion Project – it was (and is) my passion. In addition to pulling out the ‘tried and true’ of last year, I have been looking for ways to connect this project with my new class of students.  They are different to my kids last year and I am different to how I was last year and the world as we know it is different to last year – so it only makes sense that the Passion Project be different too.

We are keeping our Passion Tour – a day trip around our city in which we meet people who love what they do and love how what they do, connects them to their community. Here are some other resources that we will be taking a look at:

The Future Project: Playbook

The Playbook

This became known to me this week (yesterday!) and I love it.  The playbook is designed to be used over a couple of months which is perfect for our project.  Every kid will have one and I will encourage them to take one for their family members as well – the more the merrier! What I like about the Playbook is that it is a way to inspire thinking about yourself, your passions, your possibilities.  It looks at things from a different perspective and gives you multiple ways of tapping into what makes you uniquely you.  Download the 60 page Playbook.   Follow The Future Project on Twitter or check out their website for more information.

Inspirational Videos – Inspire My Kids

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is priceless.  If you are looking for really great videos that show awesome kids doing awesome things, you really can’t go past the amazing website, Inspire My Kids.  I can’t say enough about this site.  Over the years I have seen it expand its content and the teaching materials/ideas/question starters that they offer are great. It is inspiring, well organized, current and uplifting.  I was reminded of this website when a friend sent me the following video which I had first seen through Inspire My Kids.  This website is packed with videos like this one that are perfect for showing kids what kids can do.

Short and Powerful

Another great resource is the Zen Habits Short but Powerful Guide to Finding Your Passion.  It is great.  Last year, I found it about two weeks after we started and I wished I had found it sooner.  This guide won’t be comprehensive, and it won’t find your passion for you. But it will help you in your journey to find it. It does so by asking 10 questions. Read the full post to have these ten points explained:

  1. What are you good at?
  2. What excites you?
  3. What do you read about?
  4. What have you secretly dreamed of?
  5. Learn, Ask, Take Notes.
  6. Experiment, Try.
  7. Narrow things down.
  8. Banish your fears.
  9. Find the time.
  10. How to make a living doing it.

Oflow – App

Oflow is a combination Playbook and Zen Guide – it offers over 120 tips for having more ideas and being more creative. From creating a mind map and drawing in the dark, to re-organizing your thinking and utilizing help from strangers, Oflow has enough creative methods to make sure you’ll be thinking like a creative genius. When you first open the app you’re presented with a random idea – a new random idea every time you open the app. From there you can browse the other creative methods, bookmark your favorites to use again later, email any of the creative methods to yourself or anyone in your address book, and create a note to store ideas or random thoughts. The app is created by Tanner Christensen, a creativity expert, entrepreneur, and author. He currently writes for the  creative inspiration blog, Creative Something, and founded the creative ebook publishing house Aspindle. You can follow him on Twitter @tannerc or learn more about him and his work by visiting TannerChristensen.com

A quick browse of Creative Something, led me to this gem, “What Makes A Genius?”

What Makes a Genius

There is a lot more buzzing inside my head with regard to what is arguably my favorite part of the year.  I will endeavor to keep posting as we move forward! Until then, one final gem:

Rules of a Creator's Life