Wayfinder Learning Lab

"Learning is about living, and as such is lifelong." Elkjaer.


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Let’s All Meet Up In The Year 2000… (on #Factfulness)

… won’t it be strange when we’re all fully grown? 

November 1995: I’d just turned 15, Britpop was at its peak (who did you prefer, Oasis or Blur?) and Pulp released this singalong anthem. We loved it.

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I couldn’t predict the year 2000, even in 1995. I had no idea I’d be ringing in the new year behind a bar in Belfast while studying to be a marine biologist. The thought of living in Indonesia, Japan or China had never entered my mind, never mind the notion that I’d be raising a cross-culture family in international schools, or that so much of our lives would be shaped by travel and the internet. My barely-myelinated teen brain was busy enough navigating embarrassment-avoidance, dodgy hair and GCSE’s.

51kmdnvzmsl-_sx324_bo1204203200_Disco 2000 popped back into my head (and wouldn’t move, thank-you), as I was reading Hans Rosling’s wonderful #Factfulness. As we form our worldview, it is often shaped by early experience; genuine conceptual change takes some effort and cognitive dissonance.  I wondered how the world has changed since my own worldview had first formed, and how the countries I have lived in compare now to the UK back in 1995 or 2000.

The world we are in now is far from my 15 year-old reality and the future is possibly even more uncertain now than it was when I was singing along to Pulp: make sure you read Aloha’s post on the agile learner in the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world. As the Roslings state in their book, “the world can be both bad and better“. We can educate for hope, not despair, but we need to ensure that through factfulness, our programme frameworks and position of privilege we can help create the conditions for knowledge-rich inquiry that connects the Global Goals to sophisticated learning. We didn’t need to worry about this in 1995, did we?

Now we’re approaching 2020 these aren’t 21st Century skills, they are now skills. We can’t accurately predict the future, but we can temper our learners, developing wayfinding global citizens that maintain a positive outlook. Take the Global Ignorance Test here.

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Shifting Perspectives: The Four Levels

This is important learning from the Roslings’ work, helping to break the us/them, west/rest view of “otherness” that we can tend to in our world view. See also Dollar Street, an interactive way to develop IMaGE through peeking into the lives of others like us.

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Learning Forwards: #Factfulness in an international inquiry context.

I’m really looking forward to connecting with more IB educators on discussing this book. The presence of the word “fact” can cause a knee-jerk reaction in some, a misconception on the title perhaps, but this book is more about high-quality inquiry than many I have read.

In our positions of great privilege in international schools, we owe it to our learners to ensure they are not ignorant of the world. We can achieve this through factful inquiry: lines of inquiry that rely on data, real perspectives and avoiding the danger of the single story. We can move beyond stereotypes,

I want my own children to be empowered as knowledgable investigators, creative problem-solvers and open-minded wayfinders. We’re already using Dollar Street at home to look into lives aroud the world (comparing our “halves” of Indonesia and the UK, for example).

Check out Rosling’s statements on education at the end of the book. If you have read it and want to chat more, come on over to #Factfulness.


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Updated: The Challenge of Interdisciplinary Learning

Since the original post in early 2016, we’ve made some progress, experienced some great successes and uncovered some further challenges. Enthusiasm is building behind Interdisciplinary Units (IDU’s), though there is still work to be done. I’ve updated the flowchart below to show some other “ways in” to IDU planning, and for potential inclusion in MYP IDU support materials. The pdf version has live links to supporting documents.

Click through to read the full post (1,500 words).

IDU Planning @sjtylr

A sample flowchart for working through the IDU process, distilled from “Fostering interdisciplinary teaching & learning” and MYP Coordinator Support Materials. Click to download as pdf, with active links. Updated April 2018.


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Curriculum as a Compass?

Over the last few years as a science teacher and coordinator I’ve been thinking a lot about how we might create a culture of thinking that balances vigorous and challenging outcomes with student co-creation (or navigation) of inquiry, particularly where there might be high-stakes terminal assessments looming. The “Curriculum as a compass, not a calendar” metaphor* helps me wrestle with these ideas. 

This one has been brewing a while and is still pretty drafty, so I reserve the right to edit ;> With so much written about inquiry and edtech in recent years, there is likely little new in here, but writing helps clarify thinking. Also, my kids and I love Moana, hence the images and gifs. 

*See the “Heritage of the Idea” at the bottom of the post. 

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Inquiry as a Quest (or Journey)

The Japanese term Tankyuu ( 究), meaning inquiry, journey, quest or investigation, is a nice fit for this idea. It aligns with a pragmatic definition of inquiry, suggesting that there is a journey worth taking, knowledge worth learning and many paths worth exploring.

It suggests depth and vigour, a level of sophistication that empowers learning, building on (and feeding back into) a solid foundation for the future.

questforlearning-530_1This is no new idea, and has been written about in many different ways. Most recently, in Quest for Learning by Marie Alcock, Alison Zmuda and Michael Fisher, inquiry is presented as a part of a “quest” that is enhanced by effective networks and elements of “gaming” that drive learners. Hop on over here for a review of their book.

Curriculum as a Compass, not a Calendar

@sjtylrCurriculumCompassIf we think of inquiry as a voyage, then we might think of curriculum as a compass –  map and compass set. As a map the curriculum outlines the destinations and checkpoints, obstacles and viewpoints. The curriculum outlines the “need to knows” in context (national/international standards), but doesn’t dictate the route to take – or the schedule for the learning. There may be well-trodden paths to lead us to tourist hotspots but there might also be areas uncharted, adventures waiting to happen where the questing learner (co-)creates new knowledge, ideas or outcomes.

The compass holds “true north”, ensuring that whatever the path taken, learners can find themselves back on track, relatively unscathed. The compass can help the tempered self-regulating learner decide “If I’m here, and I want/need to get there, then I have to ______ .” In the PYP context, you might want to read the ever-great Edna Sackson’s post on “curriculum shouldn’t be linear“.

With curriculum as a map and compass, teachers and learners can navigate the “need to knows and where to go’s” with some confidence. They might even be ready to set sail into the blue yonder…

Just in case & just in time:  the navigator’s toolkit

MoanaSail

Just enough to get going… [source]

What are the roles of knowledge and skills in an inquiry context? Under this metaphor, we might think of them as the “need to knows” to start the journey: the contents of the voyager’s backpack.

  • What does the explorer need to know and be able to do to set the course? What experiences and provocations can inspire the journey and create the moving force to get going?
  • What do they need to know and be able to do to get going? How will they know they’re making progress and how will they generate feedback to take action on the journey? What are the most effective ways to learn this foundational knowledge, misconception-free, so that they are prepared for the journey ahead?
  • What are the “just in case” lessons or resources that the teacher might have to hand (or workshop with), in prediction for challenges ahead? “Ah, I can see you’re heading up the mountain…. do you have the right rope?“.
  • What are the “just in time” lessons that the teacher might need to prepare, or have at their fingertips, as the journey progresses? How can we spot and take appropriate actions on the little nudges that get the lost wanderer out of the bog?

The Teacher and Learner as Wayfinders

grandma-tala-advice

Moana’s Grandma Tala: Inspiration, Provocateur, Wayfinder. [gif source]

Through all these decisions the teacher makes (or helps the student make), we can hold the following in mind:

  • What knowledge might help here, and are they on track?
  • What disciplinary skills are useful here and do they know them well?
  • What approaches to learning skills can drive this forwards?
  • What tools – physical, digital and strategic – might be needed and how will they access them? How much of this is just in case or just in time?
  • How can this connect to other learning, in this quest, other classes or outside?
  • TalaMoanaWho can help as journey-mates, experts or co-navigators?
  • Are they holding “true north” and how far off course is OK until we need to step in?

So what is the role of the elder in the hero’s quest?

Inspiration? Co-creator? Director? The holder of cultural knowledge (curriculum)? Guide? Instructor? Coach? Confidante? Expert?

As the adults in the room, with a great weight of responsibility, it is likely to be all of the above. The challenge is knowing who needs what and when, helping our own learners find the joy in uncertainty and the fulfilment of doing the hard work of learning to find our way.

Perhaps sometimes, like Moana’s Grandma Tala, we need to transform ourselves, to become Wayfinders and join them on their journey [gif source].

Technology can help bring the magic…

With potentially transformative technologies in our voyagers’ backpacks, our quests have the potential for charting new territories, creating new outcomes and connecting across the map.

MauiHookFrom productivity to efficiency, creativity to critical thinking, wellbeing to connection, the potential for technologies to really elevate learning is endless, and can amplify (or transform) a knowledge-rich, student-owned learning adventure.

Reach out and connect: it’s a rich world of shared learning and collaboration that can give the voyagers access to learning that might not have been possible otherwise.

…but don’t let SatNav ruin the adventure

SatNav, as wonderful as it can be, has two main flaws. First, it gives “the answer” quickly, even though it might not be the answer we need (and may sometimes lead down a dodgy path). Second, it can be annoyingly fiddly, dominating your thinking when you should be driving the car. As the teacher it can be hard to resist jumping in with the answer (or an assumption) that steals the opportunity for thought, like a satnav giving shortcuts that miss out on the best part of the journey. Similarly, edtech is not always the solution and even in the age of Google our students need to be masters of valuable knowledge.

I like to think about these “get out of the ways” (and I’m sure will add more):

  • If surface-level enquiry (looking up simple stuff) is wasting mental energy that could be better put to work on true thinking (inquiry with an “I”), find a more efficient way to teach the basics and move on to better questions.
  • If the adult is getting in the way of the real thinking, step back and listen.MoanaShiny
  • If the tech is just a “shiny” distraction, reconsider its worth. Do we really need this side-plot in our adventure?
  • If the tech tool is creating an unproductive struggle (a “clicky-clicky timesuck”), ditch it for something more truly interactive and/or effective.
  • If grades are getting in the way of learning, find ways to separate them from feedback (feedback first, feed-forwards and so on).
  • If the navigators are lost (or antagonistic), teach the teamwork skills that are needed to move on.
  • … (can you add more?)

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“It’s not just sails and knots…”

… it’s seeing where you’re going (in your mind). It’s knowing where you’re going by knowing where you’ve been.

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So there you go. My two cents on curriculum as a compass, inquiry as a quest and ATL skills, edtech and more as navigation tools, using Moana gifs. If you have any thoughts, please add them in the comments below or find me on Twitter.

MoanaMaui

The apprentice becomes a wayfinder in her own right. [gif source]

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*The Heritage of an Idea

When I heard the phrase “curriculum is a compass, not a calendar“, years ago, it resonated, but I couldn’t remember where I heard it, Found it: it was Aaron Duff  (in 2014) – and I’d even made (and forgotten about) a graphorism when this account was on my old handle (@iBiologyStephen), a symptom of years of output littered across the web.

In a Twitter exchange on #PubPDAsia I tracked down an even earlier use of it (2008), and found a quote in Research on Second Language Teacher Education: A Sociocultural Perspectiveedited by Karen E. Johnson, Paula R. Golombek. It’s amazing what focused search strategies can turn up in the context of a rapidly-moving live twitter-chat! 

Now, as I think more about curriculum development and future adventures in high-quality, learner-driven, vigorous (and knowledge-founded) inquiry, I think about the toolkits and strategies we might put in place. Connecting the pieces of the the programmes (MYP, DP, NGSS etc), along with big ideas and frameworks from Bold Moves, Quest for Learning, Cultures of Thinking, Making Thinking Visible, I move closer to the image of the learner (adult or student) as a Wayfinder.

Aue Aue! 

Aue, aue, we are explorers reading every sign
We tell the stories of our elders
In the never ending chain

 


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Reflecting on the Impacts of Science: IMaGE, Global Goals & Connections in MYP Sciences.

I’ve added a new page to i-Biology.net to post resources and ideas for MYP Science Crit. D: Reflecting on the Impacts of Science. Some slides are below, but to see the full page, click here.

[IMaGE = International Mindedness and Global Engagment. To see my dissertation & resources on this, click here.]


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Is this an inquiry with an ‘I’ or an enquiry with an ‘e’?

This post has been sitting in my drafts for a while, and I was reminded to complete it after a question from a student when I was covering a TOK class: “What’s the difference between inquiry and enquiry?”

[tL:dR: Definitions matter in education, especially when a topic is misunderstood or controversial. Using traditional definitions allows for a distinction between purposeful inquiries and surface enquiries. This can help choose the right tools for the best learning and most appropriate time. We can have the best of both.] 

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Defining Inquiry: A Pragmatic Approach

I’ve been thinking and writing about this a lot over the last few years, tinkering with and testing definitions that try to capture what makes powerful, pragmatic inquiry learning. He’s my current best effort and if you pick it apart you should be able to recognise the best elements of the classical with an aspiration towards the contemporary (in the Bold Moves sense).

Inquiry iscreative, critical, reflective thought. It builds on a solid foundation of accessible, well-learned knowledge, skills and conceptual understandings, inviting learners to take action on their learning and ask “what if…?”  

Although it opens with higher-order aspirations, and closes with an invitation to action, it is anchored by a solid foundation of knowledge, skills and concepts. Knowledge is the stuff we think with: the more we know, the better our questions and stronger our conceptual understandings. This does not dictate a linear approach. It highlights the critical role of the expert teacher who, with subject mastery and pedagogical mastery, can create a true culture of thinking in their class, (co-)creating the moving forces of experience that pull a community of learners through the hard work of building understanding.

An expert inquiry teacher inspires learners to learn lots, learn well and want to learn more. They know what needs to be taught, what has been learned and how to use this as a launching pad for exciting exploration.

Defining Inquiry

Defining Inquiry: A Pragmatic Approach

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So what about inquiry vs enquiry?

Beyond some regional variation*, I find this OUP contrast really useful in developing curriculum, collaborating with teachers and working with students. I suspect that the two terms are conflated in the minds of many (educators and non-educators). Could a clear distinction help?

“The traditional distinction between the verbs enquire and inquire is that enquire is to be used for general senses of ‘ask’, while inquire is reserved for uses meaning ‘make a formal investigation’.”   [Oxford Living Dictionaries]*

It helps evaluate the depth of an inquiry in terms of moving into investigation, creation and research, rather than the simple act of “looking stuff up”. Enquiry gives inquiry a poor reputation when inordinate amounts of time are spent on (perceived) “fluff”, squeezing out the opportunities for truly engaging experiences. There is a time and place for enquiry, and I’ve labelled it as “enabling” in the image below.

Quick questions and known answers that have little need to expend mental energy (or valuable time): there are more efficient ways to learn about or find out simple content. The expert inquiry teacher knows which tools to select for the job.

So here’s a little planning mantra I like to hold in my head:

“Is this an inquiry with an ‘I’ or an enquiry with an ‘e’?”

How could you use/adapt some of these questions/provocations to classify your inquiries? (I’ll add/edit over time, I’m still tinkering with these ideas):

  • Does it require significant new learning to me, or is is re-presenting known content? Am I really learning?
  • Am I truly engaging with the content, skills and concepts or am I transcribing items from one place to another? Am I really learning?
  • Am I building tenacious new understanding or storing temporary thoughts? Am I really learning?
  • If I learn this this way, will I learn this best for its purpose? Am I really learning?
  • Am I “just Googling” or am I sorting, evaluating, synthesising? Am I really learning?
  • Is this the equivalent of a deep investigation (or creation), or a “helpdesk enquiry”?
  • Will I be spending my time on thinking, investigating or creating, or will I be clicking, copying or pseudo-creating? Am I really learning?
  • If I’m working with a group, are we in dialogue, discussion and collaboration or chatting, partitioning and time-wasting? Am I really learning?
  • If I’m using technology is it amplifying or transforming the learning, or replacing a simpler (possibly more efficient) process? (RAT model) Am I really learning?
  • Am I learning authentically in the discipline (e.g. “as a scientist”) or about the topic (e.g “about science”)? [Thinking from the perspective of supervising extended essays, developing inquiries, etc)]
  • Could my learning give rise to newer, stronger questions, or will it end there?
  • What am I doing in this inquiry that is more sophisticated than a student younger than me? For example, if I’m an MYP student, how am I asking a question that is more sophisticated than in PYP?
  • Is this experience a moving force that will create a drive to know, leading me into learning more, or is it a gimmick that gives the illusion of learning? Am I really learning?

InquiryEnquiry@sjtylr

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Shifting the Questions

making20thinking20visible

Project Zero: MTV Routines

Some strategies for taking a question from enquiry to inquiry:

  • Question Starts (Making Thinking Visible) is a very simple set of question stems that can force a student to think about a topic from different perspectives. Importantly, students need to classify and evaluate the questions.
  • Think, Puzzle, Explore (Making Thinking Visible)… but insist on quality. Similarly with See, Think, Wonder, run the routine until the observations and ideas are exhausted. This can take questions beyond the surface.
  • Creative Questions (Making Thinking Visible). A simple routine for interrogating proposed questions for quality and depth.
    • Similarly, Options Explosion can be used: students list all obvious options, questions or ideas and then find the hidden options or new questions that arise.
  • Predict, Observe, Explain (NSTA). Great for working with data of any kind, or thinking about cause/effect and correlation. This can generate many points of questioning, and can be extended into Predict, Observe, Explain, Investigate.
  • “How else can this be used?” Visual organizer for accessing Webb’s DOK4 from different domains.

Enquire, Inquire, Perspire, Inspire: a distillation of many ideas:

Generate ideas, get the easy stuff out of the way and used it to create better inquiries. If something needs to be learned, learn (teach) it well and check it is understood. Use it to inform stronger lines of inquiry. Put in the hard work of inquiry authentic to the disciplinary/interdisciplinary investigation. Evaluate the learning, communicate and put it to meaningful action.

EnquireInquirePerspireInspire

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Post-script: The Journey of a Thought

ADayAtThePark

“A Day At The Park” (excerpt), by Kostas Kiriakakis. Read the whole strip, it’s great.

In the ‘enquiry’ sense, one could just look up a definition and be done with it, but I’ve been wrestling with ideas around purposeful, pragmatic inquiry for a long time (since ULL at Bath), connecting it to recent posts about DOK4 and Transfer, the ‘buoyant force’ of continuum learning and the “quest for learning”.  More fundamentally it builds from the pragmatic definition of inquiry (IS Magazine) and investigating effective teaching and learning practices that allow for students to become knowledgeable, reflective, open-minded thinkers and clear communicators.

There is no need for an ‘either-or’ approach to inquiry learning (in the progressive vs traditional sense); a strong inquiry experience develops the modern trivium of grammar (knowledge), dialectic (questioning) and rhetoric (communication).

Trivium21C_iBiologyStephen

Diagram by me, based on Martin Robinson’s Trivium21C

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If you’ve been thinking about this too, let me know in the comments below or find me on Twitter.

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Edits/Clarifications

*The British vs American usage in the general sense might hold to enquiry vs inquiry (thanks Des O’Sullivan on Twitter), though here I’m trying to distinguish ‘weak’ vs ‘strong’ question-driven learning. Where enquiry might be more common in general use in the UK (Oxford), the ‘i’ form is still used for ‘a formal investigation’ and this is closer to the heart of what we’re trying to achieve in deep learning, authentic to our disciplines. British media will still tend towards ‘inquiry’ for investigation (examples at the Guardian), with ‘enquiry’ for simpler questions (examples at the Guardian). An “inquiry into…” vs “helpdesk enquiries“, if you will. To me, ‘enquiry learning’ is looser, less purposeful and (possibly) ineffective. ‘Inquiry’ in this sense is focused, purposeful and powerful, as intended the IB context (all IB docs use the ‘i’).

 

 


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What does this look like in the classroom?

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John Catt has a two-fer offer with Tom Sherrington’s “Learning Rainforest

This post is a quick recommendation for a very practical resource for teachers, coordinators & learning coaches. “What Does This Look Like in the Classroom? Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practice”, by Carl Hendrick & Robin MacPherson, with illustrations by Oliver Caviglioli, is available in paperback from John Catt (and Kindle). This review is written from the perspective of an international school educator and coordinator.

Make sure you visit the “What Does This Look Like?” website for more posts on these topics, colour images and discussions. It’s a great resource.

The authors have designed a very useful text that can be read in a single sitting and/or dipped into as a reference. I would recommend it in teacher training, and it should be read by anyone responsible for professional learning. Each chapter is written in a Q&A style, with introductory key points, and practical questions each answered by two experts in the field of the chapter (it’s an impressive and credible lineup). They wrap up with a summary of the ‘streamlined classroom‘, with six key practices to create flow. More on this below.

Overall, I found this text accessible, conversational and practical. I really like the format of the chapters and there is a strong focus on what teachers really need to know (away from fluff and distraction). I hope they continue to develop their blog, and look forward to a future edition in a few years’ time. It would be good to see more on international/multicultural classrooms, or even additional chapters for different disciplines.

I’ve listed the chapter and contributors below, with a few of the key issues addressed in the chapter and links to the authors’ Twitter profiles. This book in itself is a great example of the power of Twitter as a PD tool – I have followed many of these contributors for a long time and have a learned a lot from them as a result.

Feedback Summary: Wiliam & Christodoulou

Sample Summary (click to enlarge)

Assessment, marking & feedback: Dylan Wiliam & Daisy Christodoulou

  • Student ownership of and engagement with feedback
  • The testing effect, past papers and strategies
  • Efficient marking & feedback practices
  • Using student data

Behaviour: Tom Bennett & Jill Berry

  • Classroom culture: relationships, expectations, communication
  • Managing low-level disruption and poor behaviour
  • Engaging students (and keeping them engaged)

Reading and literacy: Alex Quigley & Dianne Murphy

  • Reading comprehension and sustained ‘deep reading’ (in a technological society)
  • Building vocabulary and shared roles in developing literacy
  • Reading for pleasure

SEN: Jarlath O’Brien & Maggie Snowling

  • Supporting students with behavioural and learning difficulties (including the role of tech)
  • Challenging students who find it ‘too easy’
  • Supporting EAL learners

Motivation: Nick Rose & Lucy Crehan

  • Extrinsic vs intrinsic, and motivating non-academic students
  • Growth mindset & independent learning
  • Testing anxiety, resilience
Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 10.40.47

Learning Scientists Site

Psychology and memory: Paul Kirschner & Yana Weinstein

This whole section is packed with fantastic stuff, and I highly recommend leaping out to the Learning Scientists’ website, with some printable resources (also illustrated by Caviglioli).

  • Strategies for effective learning (spacing, interleaving)
  • Remembering, forgetting and strategies for developing long-term memory
  • Working memory and cognitive load theory (as “the single most important thing” for teachers to know (Wiliam))

Classroom talk and questioning: Martin Robinson* & Doug Lemov

  • Student-active vs didactic techniques (and teacher talk)
  • Questioning styles and encouraging quality conversation
  • Generating balanced, quality discussions where all students contribute

From here, I’d recommend teachers also have a look at Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart and The Best Class You Never Taught, by Alexis Wiggins.

Learning myths: David Didau & Pedro de Bruyckere

  • Multiple intelligences vs learning styles
  • Creativity, critical thinking and 21C skills
  • Taxonomies
  • Learning in the digital age (Google & remembering**)

Technology: Jose Picardo & Neelam Parmar

  • Impacts of mobile technology and balance
  • Academic honesty
  • Making the most of available tech

Independent Learning: All contributors

Perspectives on developing independent learners from various contributors. Worth reading and comparing to your own experiences. Creating independent learners through strong development of the approaches to learning skills (in conjunction with solid disciplinary an interdisciplinary knowledge) is a touchstone of a strong IB education.

Conclusion: The Streamlined Classroom (Carl Hendrick & Robin MacPherson)

Distilling their findings into the ‘honeycomb conjecture‘ below, the authors present an idea for an effective classroom to ensure solid foundations of learning and progress. This in itself would make a great introduction to the book as a PD resource, giving multiple entry points for teacher discussion.

I’ve written a lot on here about meaningful, effective, pragmatic inquiry, defining it as “Creative, critical reflective thought, built on a solid foundation of well taught/learned knowledge, skills and concepts that invites learners to take action on their learning and ask “what if…?” . This book and its advice aligns with this definition, giving more concrete practices that help enhance a high-quality IB education. ***

In thinking about how to integrate effective tech use into teaching and learning, I can see potential applications for a streamlined classroom tech toolkit.

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Footnotes & Blog Posts

* I reviewed Robinson’s very interesting “Trivium 21C” for International School Magazine, here.

** No, Google will not replace knowing: Content & Inquiry in a Google World.

*** International School Magazine article on defining inquiry here.

If you’ve read the book, continue the discussion in the comments below, or find me on Twitter:

 


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The Buoyant Force of Continuum Learning

There are no new ideas in this post, yet as I work on curriculum development across the subjects, I reflect on how easy it is for us to fall into the trap of backward mapping without considering the buoyant force of learners as they move up the continuum. 

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Starting with the end in mind – backward design (Wiggins & McTighe) – is critically important in making curriculum decisions. What are we aiming for at the end of this great journey? What do our learners need from us? This helps us design schemes, units, assessments and instructional resources that meet whatever standards or outcomes we need to address. A great backwards-designed curriculum is powerful and engaging. By knowing the desired outcomes we can see the pathways for differentiation, interest and flexibility; the learner’s journey is rich and varied and the learner becomes more than the sum of the (instructional) parts.

Backward Design, Not Backwashed Demands

Rubrics@sjtlyrInterpreting backwards design too inflexibly, however, runs the risk of stripping out the soul of the subject through a laser-focused aim on a narrow selection of terminal performance tasks:  “we need to get them ready for (exam/essay/other) by doing lots of (exam/essay/other) at every stage.”  Well-intentioned, though often stifling, “get them ready for…” creates the spectre of a future to worry about. As large-scale terminal assessments necessitate reliable (standardised) operations, they measure what can be measured easily – but do they get to its true heart? If we strip a subject down to the items on a list, what happens to disciplinary authenticity and deep inquiry over time?

Whilst keeping the end in mind, how can we really harness the present enthusiasm and inquiry and build on past excitement and learning to create the moving force of experience that carries learners upwards?

The Buoyant Force

The learners that walk into our schools are not blank slates. When they step into MYP from PYP, they are energised by PYPx and their many exciting experiences. If they step up from a strong PYP, they are already knowledgeable, enthusiastic inquirers. Similarly in the transition from MYP to DP, the tempered learner enters DP with a toolkit of ATL skills, disciplinary and interdisciplinary foundations. None of this is frivolous or superficial and they are not fixed empty vessels, waiting to be filled with a set amount of content.

bubblesThey are more like air bubbles racing to the surface of the water, expanding and accelerating as they go. When they hit the surface, they transition into the next phase: we launch them from school to the world. Along the way, however, there is the buoyant force, an upwards push that we can harness in curriculum design. It might sound cheesy, but run with it.

What are the opportunities and experiences that nucleate those bubbles? How can we catch the bubbles and keep those moving forces pushing upwards? When I reflect on things happening in our own context I think of a few examples:

  • The rapid evolution of our Design classes in many ways. Introducing 3D printers and Tinkercad was great – but even greater is that once the PYP kids got a hold of it, those initial MYP lessons have become redundant already. Now the young MYP designers are doing amazing things, with purpose and audience. The buoyant force of the early experience allowed for even more awesome things to happen later.
  • The revolution of PHE in MYP and the obvious and exciting enthusiasm of the learners as they move up the course. I’m stoked to see how they introduce more authentic data analysis and as a department they have created fantastic learning opportunities.
  • The young PYP writers, coming out of a workshop model into MYP are already equipped for mini-lessons, conferencing and lots of active output in authentic genres. They are ready to write, read and produce work for real audiences.

In every discipline, in all sections of the continuum, I see examples like this, and it is amazing. The buoyant force creates pressure on a backward-mapped curriculum. There is no surer way to burst a kid’s bubble than to approach curriculum with the view that “I know you can do [amazing thing], but we need to do [less amazing, but seemingly more ‘valid’ thing].

So as we develop vertically articulated curriculum, are we spending the care to think about the very best of what these learners know and can do already, and about how a rapidly evolving curriculum in the years below might precipitate a need for (r)evolution and reinvention in the years above? Do we think about it as a spiral, so that even if they encounter similar topics or concepts, they are truly building a stronger understanding through inquiring more deeply and with greater sophistication? Are we looking left and right for connections and experiences that can enhance the experience?

In the younger years are we thinking about how these bubbles nucleate, and how they connect to (and inspire) experiences in later years? When we teach a topic, are we taking care not to inflate the learner with misconceptions that rise with them?

When we deal with transitions, do we focus on communicating the very best of the learners’ experiences? Do we ask the teachers before us “how do we keep them excited?” Are we creating exhilaration for what comes next, rather than anxiety?

What are the buoyant forces in your continuum?

If your learners were to “live fully, now” how would that create a moving force that drives them through the next stage?

……….o0O0o…………

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