Inquiry

Concept-Question Cards

concept cards 2

concept cards 1

Last year, I wrote a post about Questioning Conceptually.  The basic premise of this post was a look at how teachers and students could use the PYP concepts to deepen their inquiries through the generation of a wider range of questions. The post goes on to help narrow the focus of the inquiry into an area of interest that one is really passionate about, that you care about, and that is worthwhile spending time on.

I followed this up with another post about the same topic: More Conceptual Questions.

Both of these posts make reference to a set of Concept-Question Cards.  These cards have one side with a PYP concept, guiding question, and explanation and another side with sample questions from different subject areas.

I have had sets of these cards in my ‘toolbox’ for some time now.  They are great.

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To download a PDF set of cards, click here.

Let me know what you use them for!

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Leadership, Teaching

The Parent Trap

Any excuse to get in another photo of my cute little girl.
Any excuse to get in another photo of my cute little girl.

I have always said that the beginning of a new school year is one of my favorite times as a teacher.  Aside from the school supplies (come on – who doesn’t love new school supplies!) there is that option for things to be different – better, stronger, more thoughtful, more personalized….better. I think the day I start a school year without wondering how it can be better is the day I need to stop teaching.

Last year I began my year with massive intentions. I penned a letter to my incoming students and their families and I was so ready for an awesome year. While the year did not pan out as I had anticipated, it was a learning experience nonetheless and as I begin this year, here are five things I have learned with particular regard to parents:

  1. Be straight up with parents from the beginning. This can be hard but it is worth it. If you notice something in their child, see if they notice it too.  Don’t be quick to ‘fix’ the child, but let the parents know that you know.
  2. Stop unproductive parent interactions immediately.  I had the unfortunate experience of a couple of sets of very negative parents who would randomly bombard me with emails that didn’t move conversations forward or seek to solve problems. I am sure this will happen again at some point. When it does, I will ask to meet with these people so that we can solve the issue in a timely manner. I know this sounds logical but you know the type of parents I am talking about and for me anyway, it can be tough to initiate such a conversation.
  3. Tap into your parent body and share your why with them. In as much as I was more challenged in a negative way by parents last year than ever before, I was also more challenged in a positive way by parents too. Our parents are smart, educated, thoughtful, caring people. In the past three years, they have provided me with some of the best PD I have had through the sharing of resources, books, websites, and the conversations we have had back and forth. Thankfully technology means these conversations will continue, and I hope will be enhanced by interactions with my new parent body too.
  4. Be clear in your expectations. I find when parents know what you expect, they are more comfortable with what you ask of their children. Again, I think this goes back to explaining why you are doing what you are doing, not just outlining the nuts and bolts of a task.
  5. Thank your parents. A lot. For everything. Always.

I was reading an article titled 19 Meaningful Questions You Should Ask Your Child’s Teacher. The list is thorough, challenging, and as the title states, meaningful.  It would also be quite overwhelming as a teacher to be asked all 19 in one session – the author suggests parents opt for one or two to start and work their way through them as the year progresses.

Here is the list:

19 Questions Your Child’s Teacher Would (Probably) Love to Answer

  1. What academic standards do you use, and what do I need to know about them?
  2. How will you respond if or when my child struggles in class?
  3. What are the most important and complex (content-related) ideas my child needs to understand by the end of the year?
  4. Do you focus on strengths or weaknesses?
  5. How are creativity and innovative thinking used on a daily basis in your classroom?
  6. How is critical thinking used on a daily basis in your classroom?
  7. How are assessments designed to promote learning rather than simple measurement?
  8. What can I do to support literacy in my home?
  9. What kinds of questions do you suggest that I ask my children on a daily basis about your class?
  10. How exactly is learning personalized in your classroom? In the school?
  11. How do you measure academic progress?
  12. What are the most common instructional or literacy strategies you will use this year?
  13. What learning models do you use (e.g., project-based learning, mobile learning, game-based learning, etc.), and what do you see as the primary benefits of that approach?
  14. What are the best school or district resources for students and/or families that no one uses?
  15. Is there technology you’d recommend that can help support my child in self-directed learning?
  16. What are the most common barriers you see to academic progress in your classroom?
  17. How is education changing?
  18. How do you see the role of the teacher in the learning process?
  19. What am I not asking but should be?

 

As teachers, we often lament the lack of interest or involvement of our parents.  I wonder what we would do if these questions were asked of us?  Would we be able to answer them in a smart, eloquent way?

As a new parent, I am a long way off from my first parent-teacher conference in the role of the parent. My husband has already vetoed my right to speak with my child’s teacher as he thinks I will be too scary. I think hearing the answers to some of these questions would be really interesting and offer insight into the type of person my child will be spending so much time with.

Questions 4,7 and 11 are grounded in the idea of assessment and progress and would be ones I would both want to know about as a parent, but also ones I want to be able to give really clear, honest answers about as a teacher.  Anyone who answers question 17 by referencing Seth Godin would rocket straight to the top of my ‘best teacher ever’ list 🙂

How do you initiate or encourage these types of questions from your parents?

How do you ensure there really is a partnership between parents and teachers at your school?

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!

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!

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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.

Innovation, PYP

“Mine is good. Is yours?”

 

I love – no, adore – my dog.  Seriously.  We hang out together a lot.  She is perfect in every way (not at all biased).  Thing is, she doesn’t like other dogs.  We don’t know her history having adopted her from the Humane Society, but we do know there was evidence of abuse in her past.  Why she doesn’t like other dogs is a mystery. Protecting me? Scared of them? Bad experience? Probably.

We spend a lot of time with Abby on off-leash trails.  So do a lot of other people in Boise. Whenever we see another “incoming” off-leash dog, we make a show of stopping, calling her in, and leashing her. This is often met with a familiar phrase from the approaching dog-owner: “Ours is good! Is yours?”.

Is Abby “good”?

She is better than good.  She is perfect! But every time, I have to answer, “No”. I usually follow this up with “She’s not a fan of other dogs” but it gets to me that I have to answer no when describing the world’s “good-est” dog.

Today on our walk, we didn’t encounter anyone but I was thinking about it for the duration and wondering how what we say and the generalizations we can make as teachers, impact our students.  Again, it comes down to asking good questions.  It got me thinking about being more specific in my questions and asking questions in a way that allows kids to form an answer that most accurately describes their situation.  Now, I know this is not rocket science, but it was definitely a good “tip for the coming year” reminder to myself.

I came across an article that described the purpose of different questions. Who knew there were so many!? More brain food to ingest as the new school year approaches.

 

The Role of Questions

Deep questions drive our thought underneath the surface of things, force us to deal with complexity.

Questions of purpose force us to define our task.

Questions of information force us to look at our sources of information as well as at the quality of our information.

Questions of interpretation force us to examine how we are organizing or giving meaning to information.

Questions of assumption force us to examine what we are taking for granted.

Questions of implication force us to follow out where our thinking is going.

Questions of point of view force us to examine our point of view and to consider other relevant points of view.

Questions of relevance force us to discriminate what does and what does not bear on a question.

Questions of accuracy force us to evaluate and test for truth and correctness.

Questions of precision force us to give details and be specific.

Questions of consistency force us to examine our thinking for contradictions.

Questions of logic force us to consider how we are putting the whole of our thought together, to make sure that it all adds up and makes sense within a reasonable system of some kind.

Creativity, Innovation

When Was Your Last Great Nearling?

In all this talk of experiencing failure and the power of failure to move you to a place of success, I came across a term that was new to me: nearling. What is a nearling?

According to this website:

A nearling is a positive word for something new that you did with the right intentions, which has not (yet) led to the right result.

The reasons for nearlings not to succeed can be diverse, the circumstances have changed; a better option has been chosen; you made an error; faith decided differently; there suddenly were other priorities, etc.

Until this moment there was no right English word for this phenomenum. There is the word ‘failure’, yet that sounded negative. You only recognize a nearling when you look back. You can always learn from a nearling. The nearling fills a gap in the international innovation language.

You can be proud of nearlings because:
1. You started an initiative
2. You may have moved others
3. Maybe it led you to something that was successful
4. You need many nearlings, for a few successes
5. You learned from it
6. …

The part I like about this the most is “something new that you did with the right intentions”.

That made me think of Seth Godin.  In his book “Linchpin”, Seth talks about being fearless – and the difference between being fearless, reckless and feckless:

Fearless doesn’t really mean “without fear.” What it means in practice is, “unafraid of things that one shouldn’t be afraid of.” Being fearless means giving a presentation to an important customer without losing a night’s sleep. It means being willing to take intellectual risks and to forge a new path. The fear is about an imagined threat, so avoiding the fear allows you to actually accomplish something.

Reckless, on the other hand, means rushing into places that only a fool would go. Reckless leads to huge problems, usually on the boss’s dime. Reckless is what led us to the mortgage and liquidity crisis. Reckless is way out of style.

Feckless? Feckless is the worst of all. Ineffective, indifferent, and lazy.

I am sure, like many of you, you have experienced moments when you have given your kids choice in project work and watched them choose a ‘safe’ topic.  In one of our first projects of the year, I experienced the following:

  • I watched one child build his solar powered car in about 45 minutes.  He had two weeks to work on it.  When I talked with him – for about an hour – we eventually figured out that what he had wanted to do was build a boat but with more panels, more motors and more propellers.  Problem?  He eventually admitted when I asked him why this wasn’t his project: “I know the car works.  I don’t know if the boat will work.”
  • Another student found instructions online for a solar powered charging device.  She asked if she could print them off and do that as her project.  I said she could use those instructions and make that device as research but that she would then need to ask her own questions and investigate something new and different – how to charge two devices, how to shorten the charge time etc.  The next day she came in with a completely different topic requiring no hands-on component and nothing more complex than a ‘what is a…’ question.

What is holding these super smart kids back?  I think it is a fear of being fearless.  On his website, Brain Rules, John Medina asks “At what point do children stop asking questions in schools?”  Here is his answer:

Elementary School.  Kids learn very quickly that teachers value the right answer more than a provocative question.Consider a whopping six-year study with more than 3,000 innovative executives, from chemists to software engineers, published in 2009. The biggest common denominator of these entrepreneurs? Inquisitiveness. Lead author Hal Gregersen, interviewed in Harvard Business Review, talks about children:

“If you look at 4-year-olds, they are constantly asking questions. But by the time they are 6 ½ years old, they stop asking questions because they quickly learn that teachers value the right answers more than provocative questions. High school students rarely show inquisitiveness. And by the time they’re grown up and are in corporate settings, they have already had the curiosity drummed out of them. Eighty percent of executives spend less than 20 percent of their time on discovering new ideas.”

So, what do we do?

Well, we could start by sharing the following words from writer, Neil Gaiman, that he penned to welcome in the new year:

And then we could all put this up in our rooms:

Most importantly, start listening more, talking less and encouraging our kids to be in charge of their own questions.