– 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 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…” 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.”
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.
“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:
We assume you know a lot already about the Solar System.
We assume you can learn quickly.
We assume you can share your knowledge.
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.
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
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.
“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
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.
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:
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.
This image of the Design Cycle is taken from the D.School at Stanford University.
After a visit to our school from Ewan McIntosh, my co-teacher, Neila, and I decided to take our Grade 4 students through the Design Cycle to begin our unit of inquiry about persuasion. See if you can identify the Design Cycle stages in the following plan.
Goal: Less teacher talk
Assume that the students already know and/or can learn quickly.
Provocative Discussion/Generative Topic
Goal: Engaging students
Engage your students with a topic related to your unit that they can easily talk about.
e.g. “What annoys you most?”
(The examples I give are taken from my Grade 4 class.)
“I hate it when my brother always says ‘no’ when I ask him to play with me.”
“It annoys me when I have to spend so much time memorizing Mandarin vocabulary.”
“I don’t like when my sisters always bother me at bed time. They won’t leave me alone.”
Interviews and Digging Deeper
Goal: Why does this matter to you?
In partners, one person speaks on the topic for 2 minutes. The listener only listens (jot notes allowed). You might need to role play the attributes of a good listener as it is a VERY difficult skill.
Digging Deeper: The listener asks probing questions, referring to things that the speaker mentioned in the first interview. Listen for 4 minutes.
How might I (we)…
Goal: Defining what is really important.
“The solutions are easy to find. Finding the worthy problem is difficult.” – Ewan McIntosh
Together, review the information and come up with a “How might I …” statement. The statement should be important enough to the student to put time and energy into solving it.
e.g. “How might I persuade my brother to play with me?”
“How might I convince my sister to respect me?”
“How might I persuade my sisters to stop jumping on me at bed time?”
“How might I convince myself to not be afraid to do a trick on my scooter?”
“How might I convince my Mandarin teacher to give me less homework?”
Goal: Be visual and build on the ideas of others.
Once the “How might I…”statements were written, the students went around and sketched out possible solutions to each others’ problems. The sketching allowed us to quickly imagine and record solutions. It was also easy to grasp the ideas of others and then build on them. It was a good start but we needed something to help us broaden our scope.
e.g. We soon heard, “I’ve tried all those solutions, none of them work!” “I can’t think of anything else.”
Goal: To encourage crazy ideas and lots of them!
Nudge the students out of their boxes by adding a constraint (see a blog post about that here). Each solution must now contain a random word or object.
e.g. My co-teacher brought in a teepee and set it up in the middle of the room. Now every solution had to include a teepee (or part of). The focussed energy and the excitement in the room was amazing! One idea led to another. Crazy solutions inspired possible solutions. Problems got turned on their head. (e.g. Was it too much homework or was it difficult to do the homework ?) Here are some of the ideas:
“Invite your brother to camp out one night in the teepee with you.”
“Lock her in the teepee and don’t let her out until she agrees to be nice to you.”
“Make a mini-trampoline out of the teepee and have your sisters jump on that instead.”
“Sit in the teepee and visualize yourself doing the trick on the scooter over and over.”
“Stick your Mandarin words to the inside of the teepee, take a flashlight inside and focus on learning them for ten minutes each night.”
Resources and Prototyping
Goal: To gather more information and try out the idea.
e.g. Resources: Throughout the first week we immersed the students with examples of persuasive strategies (they are very evident in advertising). Examples of strategies are Bandwagon (“Everyone is doing it!), Repetition, Research, Claim, Facts, Trust, The Big Lie, The One Time Offer, etc.
Prototype: In our case, we decided to dramatize the solutions: “Pick a solution from the Project Board that you think might work. With your friends, dramatize it. Use persuasive strategies. Gather feedback from classmates and teachers.”
If the prototype didn’t work, cycle back and try something else.
This is the stage that we are at the moment.
Goal: To put the solution into action.
At this stage the students test their solution. If it doesn’t work, reflect, research and prototype another solution.
Our Conclusions (so far)
The students immediately immersed themselves in the unit.
The teachers did little talk, we offered provocations that led to learning.
Finding a worthy problem took some tweaking and revisiting (this is a difficult skill).
Because the students are emotionally attached to these problems, they are highly engaged.
They quickly learned to recognize, choose, and use persuasive strategies to help them solve their problems.
Critical thinking skills are needed to determine persuasive techniques.
A variety of language skills are been developed (visual, dramatic, listening, speaking, reading, writing).
If you like a quick video, here is good one from “Engineer Your Life” featuring Judy Lee from IDEO talking about brainstorming for solutions. She says there are ‘rules to the madness’ and they are:
Build on the ideas of others
Encourage wild ideas
Go for quantity
How have you used Design Thinking in your unit planning?