Wayfinder Learning Lab

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


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The Buoyant Force of Continuum Learning

If you’re new to this blog – welcome! Ideas on here often build on previous posts or conversations, so I hope this make sense. To find out more, please visit my about page, with posts by topic.

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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. 

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

Ireductiverubrics_sjtylrnterpreting 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?

In the older years, as we make changes or introduce new ways of thinking, are we surprised when it hits bumps? Or are we mindful of the possibility that that change might be a jarring experience for learners whose previous experiences have been very different? Do we expect the same to happen year after year or are we preparing for the younger learners to come up with a new energy, a buoyant force?

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?

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Animations:

Older version of the reductive rubrics gif:

Rubrics@sjtlyr


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The Tempered Learner (on self-regulation)

Going all the way back to my “MYP: Mind The Gap” session at IBAP 2013, I’ve been thinking about defining effective self-directed inquiry, the role of the MYP in “preparing” kids for DP, the approaches to learning and (more recently) building in ideas of Bold Moves curriculum, the Quest for Learning and Wayfinding (curriculum as a compass).

How far can we go with our frameworks to create truly self-directed, knowledgable and effective learners?

As always, the Twitter PLN is full of ideas and questions, and this question by Alison Yang got me thinking:

My first thought was that these learners are “in control”. They demonstrate the learner profile with calmness and balance. In my class of DP biologists, there was a full range of approaches to the challenge and workload, so what set apart the highly self-regulated (and most successful) students?

I started to list characteristics of learners I know from past experience have been “in control” of their learning, thinking about their mastery of the ATL skills and (from Cognitive Coaching training), how they reflect holonomy and the five states of mind (efficacy, consciousness, craftsmanship, interdependence and flexibility).

Ever the sucker for a nice acronym and positive imagery, I sorted them out to yield “TEMPER”. Defined as a state of mind between anger and calm (that works), or the balance between hardness and elasticity in a metal (I like that too). Flexible, calm, tempered students in a state of flow can be highly self-regulating. Conversely, what’s in low resource in a student who is demonstrating inflexible, stressed or angry behaviour?

So, here goes. Cod-psychology at its finest, but an intellectual toy for me and a starting point think about how we might identify and develop traits of self-regulation.

TemperedLearner@sjtylr

 

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The TEMPERed Learner is Highly Self-Regulating


T
ime Mastery

The tempered learner is in control of use of time. They are less stressed by deadlines, but “ship” the goods on time. They have autonomy of their use of time in class and outside, but are disciplined in their approaches.

Could a strong self-regulated learner be in control of their own schedule and learn more effectively and efficiently than our regular timetable allows?

Edit (April 2018): I switched this from time management to time mastery, in the Cultures of Thinking sense: where we and our students become the masters of, not slaves to, time and in which we make purposeful choices on how we invest our time as a statement of learning values. 

Emotional Resources

The tempered learner is in control of their affective skills and aware of their emotional responses. They understand how emotion interacts with the other ways of knowinghow their emotion might affect their learning and relationships and how to plan or respond accordingly. They “fail forwards” and bounce back from challenges with positivity.

Mindset/Motivation/Mastery

The tempered learner is in control of their own drive to succeed, valuing the process that leads to a quality product. The most self-regulating students in my own classes tend to be those that see feedback (in any form) as a step towards success, can see the gap between where they are and where they need to be and know how to close that gap through mastery.

Physical & Mental Wellbeing

The tempered learner is in control of their physical & mental wellbeing. They eat well, move lots, sleep plenty and seem to enjoy life even in stressful times. They maintain balance with physical and creative pursuits, family and connection. It’s tough to see students succumb to stress, evidenced by visible changes in wellness, and signals issues in our systems and/or their self-regulation that need to be addressed. What are their avenues to physical health and talking about (and taking action on) mental wellbeing?

Educational Goals

The tempered learner is driven by a purpose beyond chasing grades. They demonstrate clarity of purpose in the course, programme or pathway even if their own career outcome is not clear. They set and achieve challenging, realistic and meaningful goals and demonstrate effective strategies (such as use of feedback) that will get them there.

Reflection

The tempered learner is effectively reflective, generating their own cycles of feedback, planning and action. They are highly metacognitive, learning well from their experiences, building on success, avoiding repeating mistakes in the future and making connections across contexts through transfer.

What happens to the ill-tempered learner? 

Reflect for a moment on what might go wrong if a student is not self-reliant in one more of the TEMPER traits. What are the causes and effects, and what has been our role as a the expert (or system) in leading them to that place? What needs to be fixed and what does that learner need in order to become more self-regulating?

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Forging Steel: A Teacher’s Tempering

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Kate in “A Knight’s Tale” developed a stronger, light armour. (Article: KissMyWonderWoman.com)

Let’s push the image to breaking with thinking about the role of the teacher in developing truly self-regulating learners. Iron alloys, like steel, are made stronger and less brittle (more flexible) through tempering, a process of careful heating and cooling.

How is this analogous to the role of the teacher in developing the tempered learner? What are the repeated processes we use to help create, strong, flexible young adults who can guide their own development and take on the world?

Each of the TEMPER traits are teachable, practicable and observable through the approaches to learning and many effective strategies. This is where the role of the teacher as an activator (rather than facilitator) of learning is critically important: to explicitly use and evaluate effective methods.

The learners themselves become experts in learning: the tempered learner can set their own path to success through self-regulation.

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The Temper Trap

I love this band, with their Indonesian lead singer, soaring choruses and interesting lyrics. Trembling Hands is a favourite: laced with aspiration, filmed in Cuba and showing the triumphant tempering of an acrobat’s mettle.

 


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Webb’s DOK4 & Transfer

115013bI recently took part in a fabulous Bold Moves Curriculum Mapping Bootcamp, by Dr. Marie Alcock at ISKL. I was there to think about next steps for curriculum planning at CA, and it was a great opportunity to pick the brains of a true expert (and get lots done). I like the bootcamp model for PD: short, focused and with the opportunity to take immediate action with great feedback from colleagues in similar positions.

DOK is not a wheel of command terms

dokwheel

Not a Wheel. [John R. Walkup]

Through one of the discussions about high-quality assessment, Marie dug into Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) framework. She asserted that it’s not a “wheel” of command terms as is often presented, but a way of framing how deeply students need to know and use information, skills and concepts.

Similarly, DOK is not the same as Bloom’s Taxonomy, and is not a pyramid or a hierarchy of knowledge that “peaks” at DOK4. DOK4 can be accessed from any of the other three levels, and effectively sits in parallel. For a decent explainer of how DOK levels work, see this by Erik Francis for ASCD Edge – I used his DOK descriptors in my rough teacher plansheet tool below.

In practical terms, as explained by Marie, students should be able to access DOK4 from any one of the other DOK levels. This means that DOK4 can act as a filter for transfer.

How else can the student use the knowledge, skills and content at this level? 

So… in curriculum and task design and differentiation, teachers can set up situations for all students to pull their learning (even if only at a recall/DOK1 level) through to DOK4 by applying it in a new context – as long as it is the same skill/target. For example, this might mean taking a scientific skill and applying to a new experiment, or a writing technique applied to a new genre. This is knowledge augmentation.

MYP Teachers will see the immediate connections here to level 7-8 objective descriptors in the criteria (“correctly applying x in unfamiliar contexts”). This calls for some careful task design.

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Teacher Plansheet: A Practical Use

Transfer is a notoriously difficult skill to teach, even though it is included in the ATL framework, and so I sketched up this planning tool (pdf) in the hope that it can visualise how DOK4 can be used as a filter to make transfer explicit. Follow the arrows as you think about putting a target standard or learning outcome to work. What level (DOK1-2-3) is expected of the student? How else (DOK4) could it be used? For some excellent, practical resources on applying DOK in the various disciplines, check out Dr. Karin Hess’s Cognitive Rigor and DOK rubrics and resources.

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Transferring the Transfer: Thinking Collaboratively

How else might this tool be put to use? Here are some quick thoughts on how this might work with the collaboration of the relevant experts or coaches in the school.

  • Technology Integration: using the DOK4 filter as an opportunity to amplify and transform (RAT model) the learning task (but still meet objectives).
  • Service Learning: In moving from “doing service” to service learning, could this be used to help frame students’ focus on planning, or post-service reflection? As students learn about issues of significance, how can they put it work through transfer to meaningful action? As they reflect on their learning, can they connect new and existing disciplinary knowledge?
  • Interdisciplinary Learning: How can students take their learning and use it meaningfully in a context that requires transfer between disciplines?

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Taking on the Challenges of Interdisciplinary Learning (Updated 2018)

Reflections: April 2018

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. The pdf version has live links to supporting documents.

Some successes

Although we’re still working towards solid IDU’s in all grade levels, there are some which are working well. In MYP3, the “Keen Machines” IDU evolved from a “nifty lifter” design challenge into a more authentic Design-Science connection, generating mechanical solutions to client-based problems around the school, with many creative products. Three years in, this is already ready for the next step in its development, and the teaching team there have done a great job. This quickly spun off into more client-driven Design projects, including a project to redesign school spaces.

Another great example in MYP4 connects LangLit with I&S. Evolving from a long-standing history unit (pre-MYP authorisation, I take no credit at all), involving a Hiroshima trip and bomb-survivor guest-speaker, this connects historical contexts and Hersey’s book. It resulted this year in “A Noiseless Flash” an exhibition of responses to the bomb, empowered by a month of interactions with a professional curator artist-in-residence and attended by the survivor. This authentic, experience-driven unit led to some amazing outcomes, and some participating students told me that her presence at the exhibition increased the quality of their work; the power of the authentic audience. This is an example of a unit that connects to a significant local and historical context.

These two examples contrast in their use of the coordinator. Although the teachers will lead the way in designing all IDU’s, I was more hands-on in the design of the Keen Machines unit, whereas in the Hiroshima unit my role has been “clear (and stay out of) the way” (they would be doing this anyway).

In both cases I am inspired by the passion of the contributing teachers. And in both cases, the coordinator role has included minimising as much administrivia for teachers as possible. Before I leave CA this summer, I need to make sure that the work these teachers have completed is faithfully captured in ATLAS – something I’ll do in conference with them.

Some Challenges

The biggest challenge to successful IDU implementation is the weight of documentation that seems to be expected; the reason for the creation of the flowchart below. Similarly, we are reluctant to formally assess the students’ work and put it on a report card – we’d rather reduce the number of grades given to students. We are experimenting with alternative ways to capture student reflection against the IDU criteria, outlined below, and some EdTech solutions might help.

Another challenge is for partial participation subjects – such as language and arts options – and how they can effectively engage with IDU’s. Two workarounds so far have been to use the subject expertise of some members of a team to support others, and to work towards some smaller “satellite” IDU’s in grade-levels that already have a strong “everyone in” unit. There is still some work to be done here.

Another challenge in IDU implementation is sustainability of projects. With a public showcase of products, it becomes quickly apparent to the upcoming classes what “success” looks like. The challenge of keeping it fresh.

Future Developments

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Developing a new IDU

As momentum gains behind IDU’s, the enthusiasm to connect subjects and build new units increases. In recent meetings, we’ve used Spiderweb discussions (tracked using Equity Maps as a technoid for teachers), to emerge new units. Moving from this into the flowchart helps keep us off screens and in the conversation, and I’m looking forward to helping develop a new MYP2 unit to connect science, PHE and food design; a slightly-asynchronous experience based around nutrition, data analysis and sustainable development.

As subjects roll through curriculum review, new developments and connections (such as the SDG’s/ Global Goals) can inspire action and design of new IDU’s. As a school working towards Creating a Culture of Thinking, developing IDU’s helps energize the force of Opportunities.

Where once we were planning IDU’s to meet a requirement, I’m now trying to keep up with the requests to help create new experiences. It’s an exciting time for IDU development.

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Original Post: January 2016

April 2018: This post is unedited, save for the image.

Here’s a quick post of some work we’ve been doing over the last couple of weeks. Now that the foundations of MYP: Next Chapter are bedded in, with teachers using the guides, working well with the assessment criteria and coming up with some interesting inquiries, it’s time to tackle interdisciplinary units (IDU’s).

Although the school had some IDU’s before, these tended towards more thematic connections; the publication of the IB’s”Fostering interdisciplinary teaching and learning in the MYP guide demands a higher level of sophistication and planning, as well as the use of a separate set of assessment criteria. In the interim period before MYP:NC, we disconnected a few IDU’s to focus on strengthening disciplinary practices, so that when we re-connected, they would be stronger and more authentic to those involved. As a result, more teachers are asking for ways to connect, some of the IDU ideas are evolving and becoming more adventurous and a keen group of teachers have attended (or are about to attend) IDU workshops.

The challenge as coordinator? How to manage and encourage this, whilst ensuring the energy remains in the connections without being diminished by the added burden of a new planner, criteria and restrictions. My solution (for now) is to take on the formal documentation of the new IDU’s and build some support resources, so that the teachers can get on with it. In these prototyping years for the new IDU’s there will be plenty to test and evaluate. One of the key differences in this approach compared to our normal unit planning is that I manage the IDU ATLAS planners: while teachers discuss and plan together, I observe, question and clarify and record the results into the planner. The planner itself won’t be ‘complete’ until at least the second cycle through as we reflect and tinker, but at least we get to test the unit in ‘beta mode’ and see how it grows.

I’ve tried to capture the flow of the IDU in this poster (updated 2018): a visual supplement to the IDU guide that will help us through the process and reduce the amount of pages that teachers need to read. As usual, it’s made in GoogleDrawings, so that I can embed, refine and include links where needed. I’d love to read your feedback in the comments below or on Twitter.

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.

Continue reading


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Personal Project Cycle Diagram

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Simple animated version, made in gifmaker.me

To add to the Cycle Diagram frenzy of my last few months, here’s one for the Personal Project. Although the MYP Projects Guide has one that covers the Community and Personal Projects combined, I wanted to make one to focus on PP alone, and which could be used as a process guide for the Project.

It needed to be immediately recognizable as a type of Design Cycle and to be in line with the experimental cycle (and other disciplinary cycles). This is a deliberate effort to promote a design-thinking approach through the programme, as well as to visualize elements of inquiry in different contexts without having to use too many forms, sheet or texty documents. I also wanted to connect it as closely as possible with the Service Learning Cycle, to highlight how well suited a good service learning project would be for a Personal Project.

To highlight the central nature of the Approaches to Learning to the success of the Project, I’ve taken the “demonstrate [named ATL skill” strands and collected them in the middle, adding reflection for symmetry. The command term-based statements around the outside represent observable outcomes or checkpoints, most of which are taken from the objective strands.

Some outcomes have been added or edited, based on our experiences, to make the actions more explicit. These include adding ‘meaningful’ to the goal, and a focus on the Process Journal in planning. To connect more closely to the Service Learning Cycle, and to recognize the importance of the student-mentor relationship, I added ‘establish a relationship with your supervisor’ to the start of the Planning phase. In order to emphasize a focus on quality of Projects, I split up the Taking Action phase into three actions, ensuring an interim opportunity for reflection and improvement. The Reflecting phase is largely untouched.

If you have any suggestions or feedback, please leave them in the comments below, or reply to this thread on Twitter.

EDITS

  • 12 March: Based on a second-look and feedback from Twitter (thanks Martin Jones), Draft 2 has Process Journal take a more central role, with ‘rigorous’ added to the success criteria and ‘organize materials’ added to the planning phase.

Final Version (for now)

This one’s the final version for now – my plan was to get the sections to link to supporting resources, but it doesn’t embed on WordPress and keep the links, as you see in the centre (as far as I know).

A little extra…

  • Here’s the GoogleDrawing file, so you can have a fiddle. Please attribute appropriately.
  • Here are some images that focus on each section in turn.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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Ready, Steady, Flow: #GAFESummit Presentation

This weekend we had the good fortune to host a Google Apps for Education Summit (#GAFESummit) at the school. With a range of keynotes from the EdTech Team and a couple of day of interesting (and useful) breakout sessions, we had a good time, learned a lot and got to meet some new people.

On the second day, I presented a session entitled “Ready, Steady, Flow!” aimed at showcasing a workflow that gives us more active time in class, reduced clicks and stress and makes use of high-impact practices when we’re working on assignments. In essence, we make the best possible use of the tools we have to change our relationship from giver and doer of work to writer and editor. I refer to some of Hattie’s ideas, define inquiry, and look at some of the issues that hold teachers in harmful old practices (such as clinging to the time-suck of Word docs).

Some big take-homes (the tL;dR version): 

  1. Design good tasks, and communicate this clearly to students.
  2. Don’t cause others to click around unnecessarily. If you want a certain formatting, do it on the task-sheet and share it out!
  3. Don’t send out emails with word docs that you then have to collect, save, rename…
  4. Do value the task with enough class time – but keep that time as active as you can
  5. Force early drafting/commenting on work so that we can all see – and take action on – the ‘gap’ as soon as possible.
  6. Give up marking; the sea of red wastes your time and puts the student in the wrong mindset to receive it. Instead go for the three-levels of feedback (task, process, self-regulation) and make it clear.
  7. Separate the grade from the feedback to have a higher impact.

There’s quite a bit more on the GoogleSite I created for the session here: Ready, Steady, Flow. This includes resources, links, the slides and details of the two “Demo Slams” I did on the main stage at the end of the first day.

The experience was fun and nerve-wracking, as always when you present to an unknown group of adults. The talky bit took longer than I expected, but it ended up being appreciated as there were lots of opportunities to discuss, think and challenge our thoughts. At the end, participants had access to the template document and other resources to take home and play with.

It was a good experience to have the GoogleSummit here at CA, from a number of perspectives. Personally I enjoy these things, but am not a huge fan of being away from the family. As a school I think we’re doing some interesting things and it’s good for others to see those – and add their ideas and perspectives. And thinking about my role for next year, it’s great to see that CA can pull it off, and do it effectively. Kudos to all the CA-based organisers, they did a great job.

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Here are the slides:


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Educate for hope, not despair, for a fair and sustainable world.

I wrote this post in 2014, but come back to it often. See edits and additions below the main body. We tread a delicate line between hope and despair; between student action for change and not overwhelming our young learners with the pressure of a future that was shaped by others.  

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We’ve wrecked the world.

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Californian Blue Whales are almost back to historical levels after whaling bans in their range [Image: Getty, free for education].

Inequality, environmental destruction, outbreaks of disease, terrorism and economic collapse. We are (we think) aware of the problems we face – and the message can be one of hopelessness. Do we risk passing on global ignorance to our students – a connected, compassionate generation who are plugged into a media-rich stream of (mis)information?

As we try to bring global issues into the classroom, there is a danger that we promote a message that all is lost; a message reinforced by media reporting on the same issues and clouded by prejudices and emotion? This is something I worry about in international curriculum design and often think about how a globally-informed curriculum can also be a hopeful one.

We can fix it.

We can choose to educate for hope. The solutions to many of problems are out there, or on the cusp of being realised – the technological age is well established and we are reaping the rewards. Now it’s time to recognise the importance of the psychological age. George Monbiot writes that if we terrify people, they will focus on saving themselves, not others; a feeling of hopelessness that accompanies awareness of global issues is unhelpful. Yet if the focus is on the concrete and the hopeful – the actions that we can take to make a difference – then we might affect a more positive outcome.

I would love to see an international school curriculum that produces graduates who are globally literate (as in Hans Rosling’s Ignorance Project) and who are hopeful, compassionate and active ‘fixers of the future‘. With the IB Programmes we have the framework – the ‘heavy lifting’ of the elements of an excellent education has been done for us. As schools we can choose to use that framework to build an inspirational experience.

Edit 2018: Rosling’s posthumously-published book (Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think) is out. Here is an excerpt in the Guardian.

We can start with simple actions

Blue whales are recovering and we can re-grow rainforests – so we can reclaim hope in the curriculum with simple actions:

  1. Design units that connect to Global Contexts in authentic ways.
  2. Evaluate our own understandings of the global issues we’re addressing before we teach them.
  3. Use student research and examples to highlight both the reality of of the situation and the actions that can (and are) being taken to make a positive difference.
    • MYP Sciences, Criterion D – I’m looking at you. And you too while we’re at it, and Design Cycle.
  4. Discuss how these actions and our knowledge can be connected to meaningful action.

We want to create a realistic hope – not ignorance, boredom or hopelessness.

We can do it.

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Update Dec 2017: Blue Planet’s Back! 

“We want children to love nature so that they protect it in the future.”

(Patagonia “Family Business” Raising the Next Generation)

Read this post from June 2017 on the Patagonia blog, about the Great Pacific Child Development Center and their studies and efforts to connect kids to nature. Similarly, we can reflect on the kinds of experiences and media that promote positive feelings towards environmental stewardship in our kids. Shows like Blue Planet II and Planet Earth stimulate fantastic conversations in our house and inspire our kids whilst also informing them of the human impacts. They’re not afraid, but they care.

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Update April 2018: International Contexts

“We do not see ecological grief as submitting to despair, and neither does it justify ‘switching off’ from the many environmental problems that confront humanity. Instead, we find great hope in the responses ecological grief is likely to invoke.”

Read this excellent post from the TheConversation/TerraMar Project,Ecological Grief: Understanding Hope & Despair in the Anthropocene.” As you read the piece, think about the psychological impacts of environmental change. What can we do about them? How might you use “Why Them? Why There? Why Then?” in connection with the article to develop IMaGE?

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Update January 2019: #Factfulness & Global Ignorance

Screen Shot 2019-04-21 at 8.05.01 AMAnyone who follows me on Twitter will know how much I love Factfulness by Hans Rosling & family. I have a growing LibGuide full of connected resources for the global ignorance project and data-informed inquiry here. I presented it recently at ACAMIS Tech 2018, and will run an extended session at Learning 2.019 in Nanjing in November.

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Update March 2019: Global Thinking Toolkit

PZ Global Competence Model A3 Portrait Graphics (@sjtylr)The Global Thinking Routines from Veronica Boix-Mansilla’s (@VBoixMansillaGlobal Thinking Bundle, are a set of project zero resources that can help focus classroom action and inquiry. Click here to read the full Global Thinking guide, and here for her piece in Educational Leadership Magazine on How To Be A Global Thinker. I also love her IB blog post on “bringing international mindedness to life” with portraiture.

See this post for more graphics and links.

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Update April 2019: #OurPlanet!

Attenborough & team are back… on Netflix. The new series, Our Planet, does a great job of teaching for hope, not despair, without white-washing the issues. After George Monbiot’s scathing criticism of the more recent series, Our Planet shares the beauty, highlights the issues and show real and inspiring examples of how human actions are already making a positive impact. They have a great website of resources & clips here.

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Links: 


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A pragmatic approach to inquiry: my article in IS magazine

Click to read.

Click to read.

This article, “(Re)defining inquiry for international education,” is based on a thread of thought started with my “MYP: Mind the Gapconference presentation and continued with an MA assignment. It was published in the most recent issue (Autumn | Spring 2014) of International School Magazine, edited by University of Bath tutors and international education gurus Mary Hayden and Jeff Thompson.

In the article “(re)defining” refers to clarifying the meaning of the term inquiry, so that we can give access to high-quality inquiry learning to students through the whole continuum. It builds on anecdotal experiences in discussions that ‘inquiry’ has been framed from one end as a weak, free-for-all alternative to teaching and critical reasoning. This is a misinterpretation, and the article advocates for a reminder of what inquiry is and a working definition of inquiry as critical reflective thought (after Elkjaer & Dewey) that is future-oriented, but based on strong foundation of effectively-taught skills and knowledge (after Vygotsky, Hattie…). From the other end, it is important to understand that inquiry looks and feels very different as disciplinary studies become deeper and more authentic.

This is of particular importance to IB schools. Stakeholders need to understand that an inquiry-based framework is not a knowledge-free curriculum, and that a high-stakes test-based assessment at one end is no excuse to crush the exploration out of the learning process.

In essence: we create an outstanding curriculum that gives students knowledge and skills to work with and has lots of room for them to put them to use in critical, creative and reflective problem-solving. Use high-impact strategies to teach those skills and that knowledge, to avoid misconception and to ensure that these critical thinkers have a solid foundation of raw materials for future learning.

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Read the full article on IS Magazine’s website here, or download the magazine (pdf) here (or just the article pdf here).

Click to read my article on Inquiry in the Autumn | Spring issue of International School magazine.

Click to read my article on Inquiry in the Autumn | Spring issue of International School magazine.


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Are IB Schools Trivium21C Schools?

Update (Dec 2018): This is a really old post now, but something I reflect on regularly. I have some related posts at the bottom. Since this review in 2014, Edutwitter seems more divided, which is a shame; we all want the very best learning for our kids, and our contexts can be dramatically different. The more I see this, the more I’m convinced that truly creating a culture of thinking is what can unite contrasting viewpoints, transcend programmes and help focus on quality implementation. 

Since this post was originally written, a lot of new resources have come out around learning science, which are also really useful. There is a greater push in the IB world towards learner agency and I’m now working in a school making some really bold moves towards the future of learning. These ideas are not mutually exclusive and they have a lot to complement each other. It is our privileged position to build models of what they could be and share the journey as we go. 

The body text is unedited from 2014, except where strikethroughs indicate change. 

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I was lucky enough to get this for a pound on Amazon, but it is worth more. Trivium 21C by Martin Robinson.

I recently finished Martin Robinson’s (@SurrealAnarchy – now @Trivium21C) excellent Trivium 21C: Preparing young people for the future with lessons from the past, the author’s journey through the history of education to find the inspiration for the education he wants for his young daughter. As I read I became more and more convinced that he was essentially describing a high-performing International Baccalaureate education, combining a well-taught, high-quality curriculum (the Grammar), with the development of skills and wisdom to really inquire through critical reflective thought (the Dialectic). With the grammar aligning with a more traditionalist view of education and the dialectic with a more progressive set of methods, Robinson’s book hits very close to my own views and ideals on education and where I want it to go: a set of principles and practices that combine the best of both worlds. The third element of the Trivium, the Rhetoric, is the capacity and engagement of the student in performance, communication, discussion, presentation and participation in authentic and meaningful (global) communities.

Along the way, Robinson takes us through the history of education, from the ancient Greeks to now, at each step highlighting the competing paradigms of learning. It seems as though the progressive vs traditional debate mud-fight has been raging since long before the written word! He interviews leading educational thinkers on both sides of the progressive/traditional divide and my thoughts on Ken Robinson’s TED Talks agree generally with his – we do need content in our curriculum, but we need to ensure it is the right stuff, taught well. What is the culture we want to preserve into the future?

What does a Trivium 21C education look like?

Robinson describes the grammar and dialectic as cyclic in nature, the grammar (content) giving the raw materials for the dialectic (inquiry). The rhetoric is ongoing, connecting the student’s learning to the wider world through communication. The diagram below is my attempt to summarize Trivium 21C in one graphic.

My attempt to represent Martin Robinson’s Trivium 21C in a graphic. Can you see the connections here between the Trivium and a well-implemented IB continuum of programmes?

 

Is an IB Education a Trivium Education?

Robinson’s descriptions of his Trivium 21C align very closely with the principles and practices of a well-implemented continuum of an IB education. Although an IB education is inquiry-based, we need to be careful to define this inquiry as critical reflective thought; guided inquiry based on a strong curricular and pedagogical foundation. Inquiry in the PYP may well be open-ended and student-directed, but the rigorous planning and careful, responsive teaching that takes place are exemplary to all teachers. The assessment descriptors of the MYP, as well as the broad and balanced, concept-based approach to the student’s total curriculum give a rounded and challenging experience. Founded on strong unit planning and vertical and horizontal articulation of curriculum, there should be room for inquiry, as well as effective preparation for the higher-tension IB Diploma. In the Diploma itself we see the broad and balanced approach remain as students study not only six subjects, but really exercise their dialectic and rhetoric muscles through the Theory of Knowledge, 4,000-word Extended Essay and challenging learning outcomes of Service (MYP) and Creativity, Action and Service (IBDP).

IB Learner Profile

The IB Learner Profile – or the Philosopher Kid? Click through to read more.

IB Learner ProfileThe philosopher kid of Robinson’s Trivium21C is the embodiment of the IB’s Learner Profile. Towards the end of the book, Robinson makes mention of the IB’s programmes, referring to the dialectic and rhetorical nature of the Theory of Knowledge course in IBDP, the criterion-related assessment of the MYP and the rhetorical (participatory) elements of Creativity Action and Service.

The hierarchical nature of assessment descriptors in the MYP and DP highlights the content-first (Grammar) approach to teaching, learning and assessment. Students can experience success with a good level of content knowledge, but to really excel they must put it to action, with the higher-order command terms driving the higher achievement levels (explain, analyse, evaluate, design, for example).

On paper, an IB education would seem to have all that Robinson seeks in the Trivium 21C, but even within this globalized framework for an international education there is a high degree of variability. This is key – a well-implemented IB continuum of programmes has it all. A poorly-implemented programme may lack in one or more elements of the Trivium; however the frequent and constructive programme evaluation processes in place with the IB should help schools improve.

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Recommending the Book

I highly recommend reading this book, though it is not a quick read by any means; you may well need a note-pad. It has a cast of characters greater than Game of Thrones, yet you’ll feel less soiled once finishing (and none of the ideas are killed off in such gruesome ways as GRRM does his creations). It is quite high-altitude, and though I’d like to recommend it to new teachers, it might not be the practical volume they need to survive. It is an excellent provocation for school leaders and coordinators, as well as those studying curriculum development and educational policy at a more academic level. I would certainly recommend it to anyone who places themself on either side of the progressive/traditional education debate.

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Personal Reflection

Both Robinson and I share many values and ideas on the education we want for our children. I have the deep privilege of not only being able to choose it for my own kids, but of being in a position where I can help shape it through an IB education. I want my kids and the learners in my school to be excited, globally aware and motivated to learn more, following purposeful lines of inquiry, built on solid foundations.

Over the last couple of many years, my thinking on education has matured, largely as a result of experience in teaching coordination and curriculum development, but also as a result of taking a more academic approach to learning through my MA studies.

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The following selection of blog posts are related: 

 

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Some alternative versions of the graphic

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Defining Inquiry: A Pragmatic Approach


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Content & Inquiry in a Google World

Edit (March 2018): This is an old post (2014) now, but the meme below keeps running. A lot has been written about inquiry and technology in the last four years, so I’ll leave some notes in [green]. Some related posts, if you’re coming new to this blog. For context, I work in international education.  

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Content & Inquiry in a Google World

If you’re an educator on Twitter, you have seen this graphorism doing the rounds, included in this post on Larry Ferlazzo’s blog, which in turn reproduces brain-based education guru Eric Jensen’s Education Week Teacher article Boosting Student Learning. 

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There’s nothing quite like a cute graphorism to get people chucking stones on Twitter. Click for Larry Ferlazzo’s post.

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Sweet. We’ve got 1:1 and access to Google and a bunch of hyperlinks. Job done. Well, not quite. Within context I agree with the other four of Jensen’s responses, but this image has been bugging me a bit, being tweeted and retweeted without the full article or argument attached.

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Before going ahead*, I recommend reading Larry Ferlazzo’s (@LarryFerlazzoResponses series on the ‘five best practices’ that teachers can do to help their students become better learners’. There are some really useful quotes in there, representing a range of perspectives on what makes ‘effective’ student learning and what builds effective learners.

*As always on this blog, the links are way better than the post ;> 

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tL;dr Version

I don’t know anyone who can successfully teach ‘content-free’ in middle-high school, even when students are in charge of the learning. We do need to ensure that we teach good content: relevant, current, useful, interesting. We need to teach that content well, using effective methods for our own students, knowing our impact and ensuring as much as we can that we don’t reinforce misconception. Google is a tool, not a teacher, and a teacher who could be replaced by a search engine should be. At the same time, we can’t crowd out the opportunities for creative, critical reflective thought (inquiry). We need to help students make connections and the selection (and teaching) of content is crucial in building conceptual and transferable understandings. We need to ensure that students know enough to be able to ask good questions. 

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 Content’s role in an inquiry-focused, connected education

This list represented my  mindset regarding content, curriculum and pedagogy in 2014. They are written from the perspective of an international IB practitioner in a secondary science classroom (MYP & DP), and as a programme coordinator (MYP) and MA International Education nerd. Some of this treads similar ground to my MA assignment on MYP: Mind the Gap, much has been covered by others.

1. Strong inquiry teachers DO teach content. All teachers teach content. When we teach a student a fact or a skill – whether it’s just in time or just in case – and think it’s worth teaching to others, and then we make a note of it and save it for later… it’s content. Yet these same strong teachers recognise that not all content is equal, and that students come first – they’re the reason we’re employed.

[2018: I think that teacher content mastery – which is not the same as “knowing everything” – is critically important in a student-driven inquiry curriculum.]

2. Strong inquiry teachers put curriculum before pedagogy, making sure that – to the best of their ability – the content, skills and concepts of the unit are worth learning in the first place. They then focus on how to best cause learning in their own students, in the ways that work best for them. It can be hard to let go of favourite content (or to adapt to new circumstances), but there is little point in honing excellent pedagogy founded on weak curriculum. Otherwise our students will know less valuable (or dangerously wrong) stuff – but they’ll know it really well.

[2018: This becomes ever more important in the move to greater student agency and control of the curriculum. How do we keep the productive struggle going, for each student (or team) as they navigate the many options open to them? A command of the “need to knows and where to go’s” moves curriculum from calendar to compass, which requires a teacher to have a lot at their fingertips.]

3. Strong inquiry teachers check the understandings of their students with regard to conceptual and factual accuracy – and then take explicit action on this information. This aims to reduce the interference effect on future learning of misconceptions formed from poor prior learning. If it is content worth teaching it is content worth remembering – and using to build future schema. If we want students to grasp a concept, we will explicitly plan to teach it using factually accurate content. This doesn’t mean and exhausting list of facts, but a rock-solid foundation of knowledge and skills, based on solid formative assessment principles and vigilance for misconception. [2018: This may well prove to be harder in an student-owned classroom than a standardised one, as the differing paths reach different content checkpoints at different times as a result of different experiences. There may be an opportunity here for some worthwhile edtech development. I highly recommend “What does this look like in the classroom” for up-to-date research-to-practice for secure foundations.]

And so…

Lynn Erickson’s 3D Model of Concept-based Learning – founded on facts and skills.

4. Strong inquiry teaching recognises that a concept-based curriculum is still a content-founded curriculum. The effective selection of skills and content (facts), combined with strong pedagogy and metacognition, allow students to build the over-arching ‘concepts’ that should be more transferable. Although transfer is hard, we have Transfer skills in the ATL Framework. See Ilja van Weringh’s recent posts on a PD weekend with Lynn Erickson for more useful quotes & tips.

5. Strong inquiry teaching activates inquiry as creative, critical reflective thought – and this needs high-quality raw materials. A strong educational experience uses a foundation of good content knowledge and skills and doesn’t just allow students to develop their learning from there – it forces them to engage, think critically and evaluate their own learning. This is critical pedagogy, and it causes inquiry. Students need to know enough to be able to ask good questions, otherwise it is enquiry in the weak simple-questions sense, not inquiry in the critical and reflective sense.

[2018: Just take a look at the MYP descriptors for Levels 7-8 in the subjects or 6-7 for overall grades. They are very aspirational, impossible to achieve without age-appropriate subject-level (and ATL) mastery, and require sophisticated thinking.]

6. All strong teachers DO connect learning; content-focused and inquiry-focused teachers alike.  Strong teachers know what the connections are between the content and emphasise these with students. Strong teachers love and recognise it when students make these – or entirely new – connections by themselves. See this post by Harry Webb on ‘who exactly is going around ‘disconnecting’ the facts?‘. [2018: In a modern, connected, inquiry-driven curriculum, does this make it more important for the teacher to be a connected learner in their own right?]

7. Strong teaching takes place within your own academic, social, political or cultural context. Almost all middle and high-school teacher have an outside curriculum influence that guides or dictates contentthis is curriculum as the snapshot of our culture. With this set of standards, benchmarks or assessment statements, we have  content. A good teacher will be creative, differentiated and engaging in how it is taught, but it is still content. [2018: These foundational documents, can act as a guidebook in the quest for learning as learning becomes more student-owned. Could a diverse classroom of learners be creating their own units drawing from standards sets of their home countries?]

8. Strong inquiry teachers recognise the role of content is changing due to technology, but not in the way that quote might suggest. Google is a tool that opens up a world of information, but information is not curriculum and not all information is born equal in terms of its value within curriculum. Not only must we now make sure that the content we are teaching students is correct and misconception-free, we need to also learn how to help students evaluate and appropriately apply the information they find in their own online inquiries. We need to learn to master a parallel curriculum – a set of content and skills of digital, media and information literacy. Good job we have some ATL clusters for those too, eh?

[2018: I still think this, and since the original post we have seen a huge shift in the use (and misuse) of information for political means. Furthermore, we have even more powerful tools for inquiry at our command, from data searches and Wolfram|Alpha to fantastic media resources, Gapminder and the SDG’s. Tech stands in position to amplify and transform a robust curriculum into something very special.]

9. Strong educational design and teaching should inspire students to want to know more. Strong teaching might help them aspire to greatness. But a strong teacher will also try to help students recognise that learning is hard, that significant effort is rewarded with greater learning and that the privilege of education is worth the sometimes uninspiring work of practice. Strong teachers care about their students and their students know this.

[2018: This sings to the core of being a modern teacher. We all get into this job with ideals at heart, and the emerging role of the connected international educator as a learning designer leads to new challenges – and amazing opportunities.]

10. I need a number 10. Maybe you can add one in the comments, or on Twitter.

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What is the effect of ‘Googling’ on memory and is it a bad thing?

This paper (pdf) (summarized in the video below), outlines some studies on the externalisation of stored memory.

If students develop a dependence on search engines for recall of simple facts (or computation of simple maths facts), are they at a disadvantage to students who are able to recall and apply already automatized learning? Kahnemann’s Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow idea might suggest so – as we learn for automaticity and store information in the fast-thinking System I memory, we so free ‘cognitive load‘ for higher-order System II thought: inquiry as critical reflective thought.

If we activate effective learning of critical content through effective pedagogy, do we then help ensure the automaticity of this foundational knowledge, leading to more effective inquiry? Are students less likely to waste time (and cognitive load) on simple searches or computations? What would you think of an adult who had to constantly search simple facts or turn to calculator to make change?

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Personal Reflection

[Updated March 2018]

I teach science in an international school and I’m IB to my core (MYP & DP, kids in PYP). I believe in school education for a better world, not just as a stepping-stone to university, but I’m a pragmatist at the same time. I have a job to do, and that’s to educate and to do so as well as I can. I want my students to be lifelong learners with useful skills, useful knowledge, empathy and global literacy. I also need to support this in my colleagues, in my various roles.

Around 2010-12ish, the pendulum of my beliefs on education swung more towards the quote than it does now. As the role of EdTech and 1:1 access to instant, broad, authentic and real-time information became more powerful as pedagogical tools opportunities the excitement of open inquiry threatened to overcome critical reflection on what would work. I was (and remain) a risk-taker in the classroom, but I never had the bravery to hand the subject guide to the students and tell them to ‘just Google it’ as a course plan. I’m glad now that I didn’t. I still do use a lot of tech in teaching, mainly for workflow, feedback and creating new opportunities for real learning. Much of it now is in GoogleApps, with other tools, but when the best learning can happen without a screen, we put them away!

When I built online resources like i-Biology.net and various internal systems I was trying to put the content in place to make room for exploration and inquiry; by setting up a system of what I deemed reliable and useful content, I thought I could ‘derail’ the learning process and ’empower every learner’ to grow at their own pace, in their own zone of proximal development (lots of conferencing). I have experimented with various on and offline project-based methods, from the open to the teacher-directed, and have found through the experience (and student feedback), that there is a need and a demand for the teacher’s effective and explicit intervention, but that this need is often unpredictable and dependent on a complex web of cause-effects. This has been confirmed through my MA and professional readings, most recently looking at the work of Hattie, Kahnemann, Willingham, Dewey, Vygotsky, Elkjaer and more.

We are employed as the expert in the room, the guiding hand that not only facilitates student learning but which activates it. We need to set up a culture of thinking and of measured academic risk, but we also need to be there to protect students from going (too far) down dead-ends. Productive struggle and (worthwhile) failure are important to learning, but we need to spot when this is starting to replace opportunities for learning. This is especially true when there are high-stakes terminal assessments looming. The strongest students would likely have done just as well under any set of classroom practices – perhaps despite rather than because of my choices. Those students less ready to control their own learning struggled more, fell behind and needed much more direct intervention. The path through this first decade and a half of my teaching career is littered with the fallen bodies (and vestigial webpages, documents and ideas) of schemes that didn’t make the grade.

So now I’m starting to be happy with how I’m getting things set up. I’m comfortable with the importance of my role as a teacher to bring students to meaningful inquiry and the centrality of (the right) content in getting us there. The coming years are an opportunity to put this into practice, to test and refine inquiry as creative critical reflective thought based on curriculum as a careful curation of connected content taught carefully and purposefully with pedagogy as a on ongoing feedback loop.

Having said all this, exam success often means taking a Vygotskyian approach to inquiry when I’m more Dewey at heart. This is heightened by the dreaded GPA, backwashing pedagogical/assessment demands, and I continue to seek ways to focus on learning over grades. I’m very much looking forward to a future of learning that effectively crosses the traditional-progressive divide and empowers learners in all attributes of the learner profile – including knowledgeable.

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I wonder how many points this post could have scored on an edu-jargon bingo-card. Also, see this 2019 piece on “how to think without Googling.”

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