Wayfinder Learning Lab

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


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The Buoyant Force: L2 Talk & FOEN Workshop

This was a great challenge during the Learning2 Conference last week in Nanjing. It was my first time at the conference and I was looking for an experience that would push me and provide something to think about. I presented this short talk, and an extended session on Global Ignorance, Factfulness and Data-Informed Inquiry. You can see more action from the conference on #Learning2 on Twitter.

The “buoyant force” talk is based on an idea I started writing about in 2017 but had been thinking about as a coordinator for a while. The essence of it is that in our rush to “get ready for” the next stage, do we risk forgetting the forces that are acting on our curriculum on the way up the school? The images are a blend of my own photos and some from Unsplash.

Future of Education NOW at WAB

Here are the slides for the workshop version of The Buoyant Force, presented at WAB’s Future of Education Now “Festival of Learning” Conference. The format was a series of provocations and discussion for participants (a mix of WAB and visiting educators) to engage in reflection on the forces acting on learners through transitions.

The Big Ideas Of The Buoyant Force

There is more depth on the original post, but here are some key ideas:

  • Transitions are hard, are we making them harder by disregarding the skills, knowledge, concepts, identities and motivations of learners as they push up towards us?
  • How are we capitalising on the buoyant force of learner agency in our transitions? When a fired-up PYPx student transitions into MYP, what do we do with that experience? Those skills? Do we give them the opportunity to show us what they can do as continuum learners?
  • Do we use this to raise the bar for inquiry and understanding?
  • By misinterpreting backwards mapping as “we’ve got to get them ready for [high stakes terminal task] by practicing [high stakes terminal task]” at every stage of the continuum, are we reducing our planning to a backwash of demands?

The Buoyant Force and School Innovation

As many of our schools are in the process of change and reinvention, do we consider the buoyant force in our planning? For example, schools offering the MYP for the first time might have their older learners “test out” the Personal Project. How does that go with learners who have been enculturated to a different way of doing things? What would we expect to see with the following cohorts, who are more used to the programme?

Similarly, if we are going through dramatic change in a school, where are we investing the efforts? We can harness the buoyant force to drive the change by creating the change earlier in the continuum – and then planning for those learners pushing upwards.

Did they do something fab in Grade 8? Great, then how do we make the most of it in Grade 9? Is everyone on board? How do we expect to see this cohort raise our game?

An L2 Reflection

This was my first Learning2 Conference. Despite following it for years, there was always a clash with school commitments, prioritising others on the budget or transition. I’m so glad I finally went I’m over conferences in the regular format and the opportunity and challenge of being an L2 Leader was well worth the time and effort. The people were amazing and it felt like a productive, supportive, calm and inspiring community.

When I agreed to do the talk I had the kernel of the idea, based on the blog post. In a day, with some coaching and feedback, I was pretty happy with the product. I’m very used to leading workshops and active conference breakout sessions, so “doing a talk” was a new experience. Watching it back, there is plenty I’d change. It’s a bit TED-y. The lights were bright. But the response was positive and we had some great conversations afterwards. I am expanding this into a workshop for our school’s “Future of Education Now” Conference, where we will unpack the big ideas.

Thank-you L2 & FOEN Teams!


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Clear is Kind.

I love this post from Brené Brown, adapted from her book Dare to Lead: “Clear is Kind. Unclear is Unkind.”

In leadership roles in spaces with many moving parts and challenges, I’ve learned that unnecessary ambiguity can lead to unnecessary conflict. As a coordinator we can often predict where some of these conflicts might arise.

In something as complex as an international IB school, with a range of perspectives and experiences, having the “truth” to hand can be an effort and relationship-saver. Thinking carefully about the cultural forces of expectations and language can shape more positive interactions.

I’ve more recently started to lean on the phrase “here’s where we’re going with this” (Ron Ritchhart), in making as clear as possible to my colleagues and students the direction we’re going… and that it’s a shared journey.

We can invest time to make time (COT), to set the stage for productive collaboration, through resourcing, accessing “truth” documents and being clear with intention and the use of language. Through clarity of message, direction and resource we can minimise the chances of someone’s energies being sapped on surface-level frustrations. We want the mental energy to be spent on productive, collegial discourse.

Another line I love in Brené Brown’s post is “talking about someone rather than talking to them is unkind.” So much so, that in the agendas I control, we have two guiding questions at the top:

Simple principles, easy to live by.

They have helped me mature and maintain calm over my journey so far.


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Creating Cultures of Thinking: Summary Cards

COTCards-WABdangloid
Keeping it handy…

I love Creating Cultures of Thinking by Ron Ritchhart of Project Zero at HGSE so much, and refer to it so often, that I made these aide-mémoire cards and chapter summaries, and I carry them with me for planning, coaching and collaboration meetings. The front side has a visual and chapter line, and the reverse summarises the key subheadings of the chapter.

Of course this doesn’t replace a deep reading of the book. I find them a useful reminder and a tool for use in conversations. If you haven’t read the book (or taken part in a COT workshop or course), don’t rely on these for understanding. 

In my current role as learning & ICT coach, I use the cultural forces as a filter for thinking and development. They can be used to notice and name forces in a situation. Which forces are being influenced with this? Which force(s) might be in high or low resource? How can we make sure the influence is positive? How can we help make it easier to do better things?

Click here to download them as a pdf.

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Other COT resources I keep to hand

Most of these are hosted on Ron’s website.

“Children grow into the intellectual life around them.” 

(Vygotsky)

Our role as teachers and parents is to provide an intellectual apprenticeship for learners. As Ron mentions in the video below, via Howard Gardner, their time with us should be “time well spent”. This interview outlines some key ideas from the Cultures of Thinking project, and is well worth listening to.

More Resources

Since moving to WAB I have fallen in love with Libguides for curation and presentation of information and resources for colleagues and students. On this Pathfinder, I’ve compiled everything I can find for CCOT, MTV and other PZ resources.


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My Best Books, 2017-18

This year has been high on transition, anxiety and exhaustion, and very low on sleep. On the plus side, we’re feeling positive about the move to an amazing school, and the sleepless hours have meant even more reading than normal. Here is a selection of the books that have kept me going and inspired me over the past year.

Factfulness

“Please return your brain for a free upgrade.”

I really think all international educators should read this book by the wonderful Hans, Anna and Ola Rosling, of Gapminder. I’ve been a Han Rosling fanboy for many years over on i-Biology and this is the perfect tribute to him and summary of the important messages from years of research, action and TED Talks.

Buy it! It’s better in print than on Kindle, and on Gapminder you can try the global ignorance test and their Dollar Street project.

I’ve written a more complete review of Factfulness here, and have been tweeting about it with Friday #Factfulness.

 

The Binti Trilogy, Akata Witch & Akata Warrior

by Nnedi Okorafor

“Being in this place of diversity and movement was overwhelming, but I felt at home too… as long as I didn’t look at the ships.”

“Prepare to fall in love with Binti” says Neil Gaiman’s cover recommendation, and he couldn’t be more right. Nnedi Okorafor has created an outstanding body of work, with Binti as my introduction to her world-building, characters and afrofuturism. I won’t spoil it, but give Binti a go – it’s a quick read, packed with imagination an you could well be as hooked as I am. My own 11yo daughter loved it too. I immediately read Home, pre-ordered the trilogy finale, and got stuck into Akata Witch (and more recently finished Akata Warrior). The Akata books (Sunny) are renamed in the UK (here and here).

Okorafor is my new favourite author, and this short TEDx talk by her is well worth the nine minutes. I can see Binti becoming a great reader for MYP Lang Lit units of inquiry as it will resonate with Third Culture Kids (TCK’s).

 

Bold Moves for Schools

by Heidi Hayes Jacobs &  Marie Alcock

I’ve blogged about this before, and tweeted about it plenty. Reading this really resonated with who I am as an educator and curriculum/pedagogical leader. It is clear, provocative and practical, with lots of great ideas and suggestions encompassing curriculum, pedagogy, leadership and more. I had a great time at a Bootcamp with Marie earlier in the year, and it got me thinking a lot more about Webb’s DOK4 & Transfer. Well worth a look, especially if you’re looking to the future. Read more here. I also enjoyed Quest for Learning by Marie Alcock, Allison Zmuda and Michael Fisher (see here).

“Innovation requires courage coupled with a realistic sensibility to create new possibilities versus “edu-fantasies”. Moving boldly is not moving impulsively or for the sake of change. Moving boldly involves breaking barriers that need breaking.”

 

The John Catt Stable

These last few years, John Catt publishing in the UK have produced a range of great books on education. Back in 2014 I read and wrote about Martin Robinson’s Trivium 21C as a vision of a well-implemented IB Diploma Programme, and reviewed it for IS Magazine. This year I’ve read and loved all of the following, though my particular favourite has been “What does this look like in the classroom?” by Carl Hendrick and Robin MacPherson, illustrated by Oliver Caviglioli (reviewed and linked here).

These are the kinds of books educators should be reading in initial teacher training, as well as keeping as reminders of what works and why – particularly if you want to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater in a quest for dynamic learning. Other gooduns I’ve read this year (and there are more than this):

 

Reasons to Stay Alive

by Matt Haig

A wonderfully-written, honest and raw description of living with and through depression and anxiety, and great twitter account to follow. Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive is warm and funny whilst dealing with serious issues.

I look forward to reading his new follow-up, Notes On A Nervous Planet.

 

Recipes for Wonder

by Alom Shaha & Emily Robertson

This book is so beautiful I got three copies: one for us, one for my niece and one for the school library. Alom Shaha (@alomshaha) is on a mission to help parents become their child’s first science teacher and with this book, illustrated by Emily Robertson, he has a winner.

Books of “experiments at home” have been around for ages, but this goes far beyond: with personal stories, “the power of I don’t know”, inquiry questions and “Mr. Shaha says” explanations, it helps frame each activity through thinking as a scientist. Get it here, or in real shops.

 

The Idiot Brain

by Dean Burnett

Who knew brains could be so funny? Dean Burnett, neuroscientists did, and The Idiot Brain is a witty, readable and up-to-date primer on what we know about our brains, how they (kindof) work and how we know.

If you’re at all interested in how your jelly mass is ruling your life, and sometimes working against you, give this a go.

Grace of Kings

by Ken Liu

In summer 2016, a tweet from Saladin Ahmed sent me down a rabbit hole of rediscovering fantasy/sci-fi through nonwestern authors and stories. One of them, which I only got to in this year, was Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings. Epic, detailed and well-developed, the Dandelion Dynasty is a universe I’ll return to in the future.

And you know how it goes with Amazon recommendations connected to your “likes”…

Ember Quartet (Books 1-2) &  The Grisha Series

Excellent YA fantasy, the Ember novels by Sabaa Tahir and the Grisha novels by Leigh Bardugo are fast-paced, with rounded characters, solid arcs, darkness, humour and plenty to set them apart from traditional fantasy. Bardugo’s Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom are also a fun heist novels set in the Grisha world.

Authors like these have given me a renewed interest in a genre which I had abandoned years ago through boredom. I wasn’t aware of how much great stuff was out there.

 

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On my summer reading list (let’s see how many I get through):

 

So… what are you reading? Recommendations below, or find me on Twitter.

Happy holidays!

Stephen

 


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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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Seven Reasons to be an #IBEN Site Visitor

Over the last couple of years I’ve started to get involved in #IBEN, the IB Educators’ Network, as part of the Middle Years Programme authorisation and evaluation process. After initial training as a School Visiting Team Member (SVTM), I was out on a visit as a team member for a synchronised visit (PYP, MYP, DP, CIS & NEASC). More recently I have been team leader (SVTL) for the MYP section of another synchronised visit, and have completed consultancy training, to be part of a process that supports candidate MYP schools in their journey towards authorisation. This has all been phenomenal PD – learning through authentic inquiry that can only help me in my programme leadership role at school. 

So… here are seven reasons you should join #IBEN

1. It’s a community

There are lots of venues to meet others in the same role – workshops, conferences, online – but this is one that has a special focus: to help the IB community grow around you. Someone has done it for your school, you can do it for others. Along the way, we realise that the community is human, that “the IB” is not a faceless auditor and that we can share the responsibility of bringing the IB’s mission to fruition in the region.

2. Bringing the Standards & Practices to life.

No really, wait, stop giggling.

The S&P’s are our quality-control guidance as a school, yet we probably don’t learn about them or engage with them as often as we could. Being in a room with a team of people picking through them and thinking about how they look and how they can be interpreted is powerful learning – and immediately applicable in your own context.

3. Being right up to date.

Training for these roles is delivered by the experts, with an oversight of all the most relevant challenges and updates. It’s a great opportunity to clear up misconceptions and to make sure your own approach is on point. Are we using the right guidance? Is our approach in line with the expectations? How have other schools taken on this challenge?

4. It’s a privilege

The Standards & Practices set the direction of a school and the feedback from readers, consultants and site visitors helps keep the school on course. To be able to do this effectively, we are given access to a lot of information about a school. There is a lot of trust and respect in the process. We all learn and we all work with the best intentions in mind: to give our students the best international education they could have.

5. Time to focus.

How often do you really get to focus on one job for your role? Being away for a few days, with a singular role, can be as energising as it is engaging and exhausting. Even the time in the airport can be time to clear some of your to-do list. IB visits are usually no more than three days, so they’re not going to set you too far behind (some other agencies are there a week).

6. It’s free.

If you’re invited for training or to go on a visit, it doesn’t cost you anything but time, so on the learning-per-dollar scale, it’s pretty high-impact for your school. Better still, you get a little honorarium. It won’t make you rich, but it will offset the guilt-gifts you buy your family in the airport on the way home.

7. It works for your school.

It is impossible to separate your learning about the process (or during a visit) from your own context. Are we doing this right? Would this work in my school? Hey, that’s a neat idea…

By taking a careful, analytical approach to the S&P’s, we are becoming more competent as coordinators. By finding out about a school from its many stakeholders we can be inspired to be better pedagogical leaders in our own contexts.

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So get involved! Find out more here. I’m not a workshop leader, but I hear those guys have a blast, too.