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?

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?


Reading, Thinking

Growing A Reader



Our daughter is almost 2 and a half years old. I never read to her when I was pregnant (sorry research, but that just seemed weird) but we did start reading to her  from a pretty early age – maybe 4 months old? We have a stuffed bookshelves of books, a book box by her bed and another in the window of the living room, more in a drawer beside our bed, and others stacked around in piles. In addition to books, her dad likes to bring her catalogs for farm equipment, lego toys, toy tractors…and so these are part of her library too.

Recently I have been noticing more about her behaviour as a reader. 

In “The Bear Snores On” we now pause at the page (below) where the bear wakes up and sneezes so that Lizzy can point out that “The bear has ABCDBCBCBDBCD’s coming out of his mouth! That’s funny!”


When we read one of the Usborne books from a boxed set, we have to start with her point to each piece of text on the cover and asking “What is this?” (The answers being: The people who printed the book, the name of the book, the person who wrote the book, the person who drew the pictures). The book is turned over and we talk about the writing on the back too.  Inside the book, she’ll point to the words and I’ll tell her that they are the words that make up the story. When we’ve gone over this, the story can begin.


And after looking at a “First Words” book, I asked her to tell me what all the pictures on the front cover were and to my surprise, she could name them all. Likewise, she will often ask for books to be re-read multiple times (“Read it again! Read it again!) and will now laugh in the funny parts and respond more to what is actually happening in the story.

All this got me thinking.

We have been reading some of the same books for 2 years now so it is not surprising that she knows the stories by now.  What I am surprised by – or maybe more curious about – is how her behaviours as a reader are changing. She will ask for a book to be read to her as soon as she wakes up. She will pack a book in her little backpack if we’re going out for the day. She definitely goes to sleep pretty easily if we first read books to her.And she has started pointing to the words (albeit randomly) while I am reading. So, do we have a reader? And, why should we care?

So I watched some TV…

Bill Clinton was on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and he talked about the “Too Small To Fail” initiative of the Clinton Foundation, designed to support parents and children in closing the 30 million word gap.  Essentially children of higher socio-economic parents who have the time and the resources to read to their children will have enabled their child to hear 30 million more words than his or her lower socio-economic peers.

More on the 30 million word gap from Rice University.

And more on the Language Gap from Stanford University.


And then I bought a book…


Raising Kids Who Read – What Parents and Teachers Can Do by Daniel T. Willingham. (Here is a great NPR Q&A with the author).

This book poses some really great questions and focuses your attention on three components of reading:

  1. Decoding
  2. Comprehension
  3. Motivation

There is a lot of ‘chicken or the egg’ type thinking going on as you examine these three points. I would argue that our daughter is motivated to read, and is beginning to comprehend what she is reading, but is unable to decode. In schools, we often start with a desire for students to decode words and then they are ‘readers’. We then drill them on comprehension and by the time they are 11 or 12 (or maybe earlier, sadly) we are focused on how to motivate them to read in the first place.

Willingham talks about comprehension being born out of experience. He gives an example of a sentence in which it is mentioned that surprisingly, the sails of the boat were made of kevlar. A student may be able to decode ‘kevlar’ and comprehend that if something is ‘surprising’ it is atypical, but unless they have come across kevlar in a previous experience, they are unlikely to make the connection as to why this is surprising.

So, how do kids gain this experience? By reading, sure, but by speaking and listening and experiencing. And by talking. Harvard Graduate School of Education professor, Catherine Snow – one of the world’s leading experts on language and literacy has conducted research which shows that talking with children leads to a larger vocabulary, and that leveraging this broader vocabulary through further discussion and storytelling leads to improved literacy outcomes.

Bari Walsh wrote a great article, How To Raise A Voracious Reader. Consider the implications from this extract of his article:

A large body of research — much of which arises from the pioneering literacy work of HGSE Professor Catherine Snow — has shown that rare or sophisticated words are the building blocks of a robust vocabulary in children. And it turns out that rare words — those that don’t appear on an age-defined list of 3,000 common words — show up more often at the dinner table than they do in the picture books we read to our children, says Fishel, an associate clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.

A 2006 paper by Snow and Diane Beals found that children between the ages of three and five heard about 140 rare words when caregivers read aloud to them from picture books. At the dinner table, they heard about a thousand rare words. “That was the real jackpot,” Fishel says. “Kids who have bigger vocabularies learn to read more easily and earlier, because they can decipher the meaning of more words when they’re reading.”

And it’s not just listening to words – it’s using them to explain, remember, and tell stories. Research shows that “kids who know how to tell stories are better readers,” says Fishel, whose recent book on the topic is Home for Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun, and Conversation for a Happier Family and Healthier Kids. “The dinner table is a place where we encourage our kids to tell us stories. When you ask your children open-ended, ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions, or when you ask them to reminisce with you, you’re helping them build their narrative skills.”


Kids who know how to tell stories are better readers.

Consider the implications of this in your classroom. How much time is dedicated to story telling? How often are children given the opportunity to talk? What are your kids doing when they are eating their lunch and how could you support language development and the building of robust vocabulary during this time?

The Family Dinner Project offers some practical tips for parents who want to use dinner time to build these skills with their children. This is great place to start if you have questions about why and how the FDP works.

The solution to ‘Growing A Reader’ is not in buying flashcards or comprehension workbooks. The solution is spending more time talking with your children. Sharing your stories. Encouraging them to share theirs. Talking and listening. And having experiences that promote talking and open the door to conversations.

Change, Mindset, Thinking

(Un)Professional Development

I recently saw this heading somewhere (Facebook? Twitter?) and was naturally intrigued. And then I was in love. Here’s why.  First, take a look at the premise for this organization that offers training for teachers:


But professional development rarely acknowledges – or inspires – the courage and curiosity that educators bring to their own classrooms. Unprofessional Development is based on the belief that teachers must be celebrated as professional learners who find truth in discovery and joy in taking bold risks. It is a call to ignite a rigorous and personal creative habit. It is a challenge to resist judgment, perfectionism, discomfort and procrastination, and to put creativity at the root of all learning. Unprofessional Development is a charge to write, weld, cook, construct, jury-rig, sketch, stitch, bend and build both in and out of our classrooms.

Pretty cool, huh?

And then it got better when I scrolled further to their credo:


So who is behind all this?  Unprofessional Development is an initiative of the non-profit Project H Design and is led by Emily Pilloton and Christina Jenkins. If you live in NYC, Oakland or Berkeley, CA then, lucky you! They have courses in your area that you can sign up for.

But what about those of us in Munich – or elsewhere? (Un)Professional Development offers a tailored service to your school (contact them for further information).

But what if you can’t afford that right now? Well, start with yourself. Take a look again about what they said about traditional professional development and what they do differently.  Ask yourself what it would look like if you were:

  • celebrated as a professional learner
  • finding joy in taking bold risks
  • resisting judgement, procrastination, perfectionism and discomfort
  • putting creativity in the root of all learning

How would you be a different teacher? How would your classroom change? What if you said “yes” more often? What if you disrupted the status quo?

One of my favorite thinkers had this to say about disruption:

The journey to disruption may be lonely but fundamental to our ability to serve and add value.

-Will Northrop

What are you doing to disrupt, to serve, to add value in your classroom?

Tech, Thinking

Making Thinking Visible

I love the visible thinking routines from Project Zero. They are stunning and give amazing insights into the things children know. If you have not used them before to help your students express themselves, now is a good time to start!

Need more encouragement than that? Check out this post by MYP teacher Rebekah Madrid. Ironically, Rebekah used to teacher at Munich International School (where I am now) and now teaches at Yokohama International School (where I used to teach).  She was inspired by the elementary teachers at YIS school who were successfully using thinking routines to draw out student learning, and she explains what happens in her class as a result of her bringing thinking routines to her classroom.

Our colleague, Frank Curkovic, (who has since left YIS for Singapore) created these stunning guides to both the Making Thinking Visible routines and the Artful Thinking routines.  Check them out:


Click for link to Issuu

Artful Thinking





If you are at all interested in tech integration, transformational learning, the future of learning, design thinking, and visible thinking, get comfy with a cup of tea and Rebekah’s blog and you won’t be disappointed.