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’).

Go!

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!

e.g.

“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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Driving the Teachers

Passion-based learning, Genius Hour (or Google ‘80/20’ time), project based learning and design thinking, all autonomous learning models, are creating a wave around the world in schools, allowing students time to decide what they explore, what they create and what they share.

If variations of this model are proven effective in developing creative thinking and innovations both in businesses and with students, what about implementing this model with our teachers?

Without worrying about the logistics of it at this moment, imagine having a day a week to explore, create and share whatever you wanted to.

In Daniel H. Pink’s book, Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, he gives examples of businesses (e.g. 3M, Google, Herman Miller, Atlassian, Best Buy, Hewlett-Packard, Yahoo!, Georgetown University Hospital) that have successfully used the autonomy over task motivational approach to work. Some of the most innovative and successful ideas have emerged from these periods of experimental learning. Examples are: Post-it notes, Gmail, Google News, Google Translate.Drive, p.95

If a school’s definition of success is the positive effect on student learning, how could we measure the ‘success’ of teacher 80/20 time?

Perhaps we wouldn’t be able to measure it immediately in student test results.

Perhaps the research projects undertaken by teachers would change a number of school programs and policies.

Perhaps teachers would read and write blogs, make something, participate in discussions and video chats, and innovative practices would be shared around the world.

Perhaps teachers would become models of intrinsic motivation and creative and clear thinking.

Perhaps, think about this one, perhaps very privileged schools have a responsibility to take a lead role in innovative educational practices to develop the post-industrialization educational model.

Perhaps, to lead the students, we must start with the teachers.

innovation is not expensive

What We Already Know

Play is the answer to how anything new comes about. – Jean Piaget

Where do we get our ideas? Jonathan Drori (TED Talk “What We Think We Know“) says:

Children get their ideas not from teachers, as teachers often think, but actually from common sense, from experience of the world around them, from all the things that go on between them and their peers, and their carers, and their parents, and all of that. Experience.

Our Grade 3 students are inquiring into forces. As they experiment with inclined planes and friction, gravity and inertia, pushes and pulls, I realize that the students already inherently ‘know’ all about Newton’s 3 Laws of Motion because, for the last 9 years of their lives, they have being playing with cars, balls, buckets of water, and engaging in running games with each other.

We don’t need to teach them these laws.   They are already applying and proving these laws daily. They are experts. So, what is it that we want to get into the students’ heads about the laws of motion? I am not a physics teacher. I am learning with the students as we experiment and play with the laws. So, I need to be careful what I plan to ‘get into their heads.’

Drori warns us, paraphrased from Cardinal Wolsey,:

Be very careful what you get into people’s heads because it’s virtually impossible to shift it afterwards.

Maybe we don’t need to teach them. Maybe we can, instead,  provide them the opportunity to consider what they already know and provoke them with the question:

What cool things can you do using Newton’s Laws of Motion?

Show me.

And let them fly.

May 2013 update: During Grade 3 unit on forces we introduced Rube Goldberg machines to the students. My colleague, John Rinker, blogged about the success of allowing kids to create ‘cool things’ like Rube Goldberg machines here.

Inspiring Schools

Our school is planning to open a Design Centre in 2014. The architectural plans are fabulous. The concept is exciting. In order to learn more about design schools, NIS invited Ewan McIntosh to consult. Learning from Ewan and the Design Team at our school, I have been enthusiastically discovering and thinking about different ways of running a school.

Recently I came across Brightworks School in San Francisco. It’s an innovative and extraordinary school just opened this year.

It was founded by Gever Tully of  The Tinkering School.

These educators are stepping outside of what our traditional schools look like. They are changing the face of education.

Turning my thoughts into a dent in the world

As with everyone, many, many ideas float through my head. Lately, during a typical day, I will be thinking about:

    • digital citizenship (more info here)
    • blogs (personal and educational)
    • wikis (class website) and what they should offer
    • becoming a “Green School” (more info here)
    • habits and the power of habits (more info here)
    • introverts and extroverts and the habit of putting extroverts on pedestals (more info here)
    • special needs and how we include and celebrate them (more info here)
    • teaching reading to support critical thinking (predicting, clarifying, questioning, summarizing) (more info here)
    • inspiring personal inquiries (here), igniting passions
    • being a ‘balcony’ person (encouraging and helping others)
    • making a dent in the world (more info here)
    • ‘shipping it’ (more info here) and fear (more info here)
    • time: how we can do everything we want to do in one day

I am craving time to think about so many things. Then I read a blog by Seth Godin asking me if I am making a dent in the world or if I am just making lots of random pokes. Hmm. How can I combine what I am thinking about into one larger poke?

How do I combine all these thoughts into a dent?

I will borrow a line from the movie “Iron Lady” where the character of Margaret Thatcher quotes:

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.

Watch your words, for they become actions.

Watch your actions, for they become habits.

Watch your habits, for they become your character.

Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

Here is hoping that all these thoughts and words will become a habit, then my character and then my destiny and then one big dent!