Slow Looking = Deep Learning

Slow eating, slow reading, slow looking, slow learning. Children do this naturally.

Paul Salopek, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, started a seven year around the world walk in 2013. Slow journalism was introduced.

Harvard’s Project Zero created an online learning community to accompany Paul Solopek’s walk around the world. It is called Out of Eden.  (Youtube channel: Out of Eden Learn Project Zero). Check it out.

Their goals:

  • To connect young people with other young people from around the globe.
  • To expose young people to new cultures and perspective.
  • To encourage young people to slow down to observe the world around them.

Children have it figured out. Slow looking = Deep learning.

Close your eyes and imagine the school you would build.

Last week I was fortunate to meet and listen to Takaharu Tezuka who was an architect for the World’s Best Kindergarten. The reasons behind the circular building are many, including, physical activity (running in circles), a sense of family and belonging, equality: no segregation, simplicity, visibility, indoor/outdoor and creating relationships.

Other speakers at the conference compared school buildings to prisons. Square. Hallways. Classrooms with square furniture. Routines. Bells. Timetabled outdoor time. Fenced in.

In reference to the title of this blog, we were challenged by one speaker to ask ourselves, “Should we build a school? Are schools (as we know them) the best way to learn?”

I’m Back!


Throughout the year I write different quotations up on the white board in my office which relate to what I am thinking of at the moment. These words from Maya Angelou have been up there twice this year.

I am returning to this blog after a long hiatus. I have decided to try something different – quick snapshots of what I am learning or thinking about.

Let’s see how it plays out!


Love what you do

“Opportunity is often disguised as hard work.”

– Latrese Moffitt, Olympic high jumper and recent guest speaker at our school


This school year is one of change, learning, excitement, hard work, and opportunity for me.

I have taken on a new role. I am Head of Primary Years and it is all about learning, listening, sharing, planning, inspiring, coaching, supporting, inquiring, reflecting and hard work. Sounds very much like the job of a teacher, doesn’t it? And a student. And a parent. And a friend. And an Olympic high jumper. And…(fill in the blank).

It is hard work, a great opportunity and  I love what I do. 

As Seth Godin said in his post, Turning passion on its head:

Instead of, “do what you love,” perhaps the more effective mantra for the maker of change might be,love what you do.”

Is this a possible cycle?  Hard work, Opportunity, Passion


I intend to…because…

As teachers we hear questions like this all day long…

“Can I work on writing?”

“Can I read a book?”

“Can I sketch in my art journal?”

“Can I use markers?”

“Can I go to the library?”

“Can I go get a set of headphones?”

We, the teachers, are constantly evaluating and making decisions for the students. We are doing all of the work and answering the questions with only part of the information. What if, instead, we taught our students to use,  “I intend to…because…”

What difference would it make? Keep reading. It is powerful.

“I intend to work on writing because I am almost finished my book and I really want to get it done to show my mom. I’ve been telling her about it every day.”

“I intend to read a book because I am really nervous about the swimming competition after school today and reading will calm me down.”

“I intend to sketch in my art journal because I want to practice drawing a mouth before I draw the mouth on my portrait. Every time I draw mouths I don’t like them. I need to figure out how to draw them.”

“I intend to use markers because the colours will stand out. The light in space is so bright, I think markers will  be better than pastels for this picture.”

“I intend to go to the library to get the next book in the series because the librarian told me it just arrived and I am so excited! I’ve been waiting a month for it!”

“I intend to get a set of headphones to listen to this video and I don’t want to disturb anyone else. Jack told me that this video had a lot of information about Kepler 186f, and I really want to know more about why it might be habitable.”


“I intend to…because…” is so powerful for many reasons. Here are a few:

  • The students are pro-active and take ownership of their learning, totally engaged
  • The students, not the teacher, think through and assess the reasons why they are choosing to do something
  • The teacher learns a lot about each student as they give their reasons for choosing a learning intention, their reasons are a segue into what they are thinking about and what is important to them
  • The students develop skills of self-management, critical thinking, evaluation, informed choices, and speaking with confidence

I intend to...

 “I intend to…” does not give a free ticket to do whatever.  For example, here is a possible scenario:

student: “I intend to play this Maths game because it is fun and I like it.”

teacher: “Tell me about what you are learning in the game.”

student: “I have to answer multiplication questions.”

teacher: “Is this a skill that you need to work on some more?”

student:”No, I know all the multiplication facts to 100 already! The game is easy! I always win!”

teacher: “So tell me about what you are learning in the game.”

student: “Hmm. I think I would learn more in the game about division. I still need practice with that.”

teacher: “Okay.”

If you, the teacher, are not convinced with the intention, probe (and guide) some more…

“Tell me more about the learning you will be doing.”

“Tell me about your plans to be safe.”

“Tell me about your plans to finish the assignment by tomorrow.”

“Tell me about your plans to…”

“Did you know that you could find out more about X by asking/by reading/by looking at Y?”

Asking the students to state their intentions sends the powerful message that we assume they are capable to make learning decisions. (see previous related post here)

We can teach our students to take control, contribute their full intellectual capacity and become healthy and happy leaders.

What do you intend to do?

(This post was inspired by David Marquet in his book Turn the Ship Around!)

(All examples of ‘intentions’ above were taken from the students in my Grade 4 class.)


What if…?

“Can we do more research and work on our boards now?” asks any student in the class at 8:01 each morning. The enthusiasm to jump into their independent learning projects is unmistakeable.

The central idea of our new unit is:

Life on Earth is dependent on how the Solar System works.


Step One: Immersion…We assume…

We decided to begin the unit with an immersion. Immerse the students with information about the Solar System so they could quickly reach a point of being able to ask relevant questions. Instead of the teachers leading the immersion, we wanted the students to lead it. Thanks to Ewan McIntosh for the inspiration.

We started with a 4 minute Brainpop movie about the Solar System and then we told the students: 

  1. We assume you know a lot already about the Solar System.
  2. We assume you can learn quickly.
  3. We assume you can share your knowledge. 
  4. Choose a planet/sun/moon to research and share your knowledge on a board (called the ‘Project Nest’).


The teacher-led introduction took less than 10 minutes. The students were pumped! We acknowledged their ability to be self-motivated, interested and independent learners and they took up the challenge.

We guided their research by supplying books, pre-viewed videos and Internet sites (the teachers created folders full of appropriate resources on the class laptops).

The Project Nests (class pin boards and white boards) started filling up quickly, knowledge and questions were being passed around from group to group. The class begin a true ‘nest’ of shared learning.

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Step Two: What If…? Provocations

Our plan was to introduce some provocations as the unit progressed. We planned to ask some “What if…?” questions. The students preempted us and inherently started asking these questions to each other. We should have known!


“What if the sun exploded?”

“What if there was water on Mars?”

“What if didn’t have a moon?”

“What if we could walk on Saturn?”

“What if our day was 243 Earth days long, like it is on Venus?”

They had begun their own significant inquiries. The student experts (those that researched particular aspects of the Solar System) supply the facts and drive the discussions forward. Concepts and misconceptions are being challenged. Informed questions are being asked. The students are collaborating and connecting with each other to extend their learning.

My job? Listen to the discussions, ask different provocative questions, and point students in the direction of resources that will help answer their questions. 

“…inquiry is a collaborative process of connecting to and reaching beyond current understanding to explore tensions significant to learners.” – Kathy Short, in Taking the PYP Forward

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Should you cooperate or collaborate?

Wall of Knowledge at IB Asia, 2014
Wall of Knowledge at IB Asia, 2014

I just spent six days at the IB Asia 2014 Conference, Ways of Knowing. You know how it is, so many great ideas, so much to think about, and all of it can be easily be forgotten if not continually called back into discussion. I wondered how I could keep these ideas spinning and create conversations about them.

I decided to condense some of the Big Ideas that I took away from the sessions and post them here. I would love discussions to develop from them. If anything ‘sparks’ a thought or provokes you, write a comment. Thanks!

1. Heard throughout the conference in different sessions:

Cooperation = being nice

Collaboration = being honest

If you are cooperating you are doing. If you are collaborating you are creating.

2. Heard at Richard Gerver’s session, keynote speaker.

“We need closer links between the world of work and education. Real collaboration would mean interaction between schools and businesses. For example, teachers could go and spend time in the work places of others in their community. Invite people other than teachers to unit planning meetings.” – R.G.

Steve Job introduced this mantra to Apple:

“Never employ anyone who needs managing.”

“We want a culture of staff and students that don’t need managing,” Richard Gerver

Richard Gerver

Agile Learning

I just finished a fabulous PYP Coordinators’ workshop at the IB Asia-Pacific Annual Conference in Singapore. As usual, one of the great bonuses of taking a course like is meeting interesting and incredible educators from around the world and sharing their favourite resources. I was inspired by a workshop colleague’s blog entry entitled Who Owns Your Classroom? This is my response…

This year I have worked hard at creating an agile learning environment where the students come, ready to take on the responsibility of learning. They own their learning therefore they own their learning space (classroom).

Not only do the students choose where they will sit throughout the day but they also choose how to rearrange the furniture for each learning engagement. So, after the instructions are given, I always end with:

“Think about what space you will need and where you will work. Move the tables and chairs to create the best learning space for yourselves. Also, decide if you want to work alone or with someone – who might you work and learn best with for this activity?”

The challenges have been:

1. Getting kids out of the habit of always returning to the same spot to work (“Hey! You’re in my spot!” was heard a lot at the beginning of the year. I never hear that anymore. Success!)

2. Getting kids to think about the space they might need and to move furniture around (“What?! We can move the furniture? Really? How many times a day? Really?”). I would sometimes find the students squishing themselves between and into tables that had previously been pushed together. The thought of moving the tables hadn’t occurred to them!

3. Choosing effective learning partners. Everyone caught on to this idea quite quickly. It was easy! They all regularly choose someone with whom they will learn except for one set of three boys. They know they usually don’t get a lot accomplished when sitting together but they are not courageous enough to chose other classmates to work with (essentially, they have to not choose each other, and that is hard). They really need me, each time, to say, “I know you are great friends and will have fun together but are you sure you are each other’s best choice for deep thinking right now?” That’s all it takes, they switch places. (We have had private talks together about this, so my input is just the trigger, or the excuse, to make different choices). There are, of course, times when they do work best together (e.g. drama activities, writing a combined comic strip).

The rewards have been:

1. The students are becoming agile learners – taking responsibility for their own learning, making decisions and creating their own space, and making decisions about collaborative learning.

2. The students ‘hack’ the classroom – this an agile learning space which needs to be created  for each unique learning engagement (even I don’t have a desk – my space is as agile as their space is).

3. There seems to be so many possibilities in the room now. Sometimes we move all the tables to the edges and we have a whole room for drama or dancing or building! Often colleagues walk in and say, “There is so much space in here! How did you do it?”

Display Boards →Agile Project Boards
In the past I found that the only person who looked at and admired the beautiful display boards that I put up was me! This year I have changed the pin boards from ‘display boards’ to ‘project boards’ (or ‘project nests’) where the students hang their work in progress. It may not be pretty, it may not be finished, but it visual evidence of the students’ thinking. This work can be looked at by others, questioned and given feedback on. It becomes a place to store, share, learn from and ruminate. Another agile learning space.

artworkmoving around the roomdrama

art on carpet

Using Diagnostic Questions in Maths

We were lucky to have Craig Barton visit our school last week. He introduced a wonderful and simple diagnostic tool, Diagnostic Questions. At the start of a lesson a teacher can quickly diagnose misconceptions and address them easily.

This is an example of how it works:

In my Grade 4 class I was re-introducing squared numbers  (last seen in Grade 3). I wanted to know who remembered the written format and who had misconceptions.

I showed the following slide:

Square Root Diagnostic Question

The students voted on the answer they thought was best. They needed to be prepared to explain their answer.

After the vote, I asked one representative from each answer to explain their thinking. Everyone heard each others’ explanation. (The teacher has no reaction.)

Spot the misconceptions!

10 – “Because 5 x 2 =10” (misconception: the squared sign is seen as “times 2”)

7 – “Because 5 + 2 = 7” (misconception: add the 5 and the 2)

25 – “Because 5 x 5 = 25” (these students understand the squared sign)

52 – “Because the ‘2’ was just written small” (misconception: superscript has no meaning in Maths)

Once all answers had been explained, we re-voted. By listening to each other, most students changed their vote to the correct answer. They were either reminded of the concept of squared numbers or they were convinced by a classmate.

The correct answer was discussed and a few examples given. As a teacher, I was now confident that my students would go into their Maths inquiries of squared numbers with no misconceptions. It is a very powerful tool.

Talk less. Ask more. (Taken from Kath Murdoch’s blog titled “How do inquiry teachers….teach?” I recommend it.)