Wayfinder Learning Lab

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


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Live Fully Now

[Edit 2018]: I still lean on this clip in discussions about “preparing students for the future”. I feel the phrase “get them ready for … ” is problematic for many reasons, not least the creation of a “future spectre”, which risks pulling discussions away from continuum-coherence. Let’s think about backward mapping but not backwashing demands, and making the most of the buoyant force of continuum learning.

I included this short clip, built on a short piece of a talk by philosopher Alan Watts, in my #GAFESummit session, Ready, Steady, Flow. There was some quiet contemplation (expected) and some tears (unexpected).

It had been doing the rounds on Twitter, and I felt it captured some of my feelings about education and the anxiety we can face as we “get them ready for XYZ.” It becomes all too easy to suck the joy out of learning, to focus on the grades, to get caught on the treadmill.

We risk losing our creativity and spark in the process.

At the same time, we hear so much about ‘shift happens‘ and educating students for the future, for ‘jobs that don’t exist yet’ and trying to play crystal-balls about what knowledge and skills the big innovators want in their workforce. We can’t do that. But we can educate the kids we have now, with the knowledge we have now, the tools and research that we have now so that they’ll become “better” people nowand for the future.

What if, by making all of us love learning now, we can make our students balanced, motivated inquirers ready for what the future throws at them?

There’s a name for that job.

Teachers. 

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As a parent I watch it and worry – am I making the most of my own kids’ childhoods? Am I helping make memories that they will love? Am I living in the ‘now’ with them? Do I have the right career-life balance?

I’ve seen this video many times. Each time it gets me.


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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.

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 10.29.23 AM

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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“You teachers have it easy.” Thankful for our choices.

This is an edited version of a post from last year.

Teachers. We're always on holiday - except when we're not.

Teachers. We’re always on holiday – except when we’re not.

“You teachers have it easy.”

“I wish I could muck about with kids all day.”

“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”

“I should get into teaching; I could really use the holidays.”

“All you have to do is tell kids the same easy stuff every year. I could do that.” 

It must be that time of year again…

Cue relief from face-booking teacher friends and ‘funny’ comments from non-teaching others. They used to bug me, but not any more; we have a lot to be thankful for.

Life, as teaching, is all about choices.

If anyone asked me if I would recommend teaching as a career, I would tell them without a doubt, certainly, yes – but only if they’re prepared to give it their all. This is doubly true if they have the opportunity or take the chance to go to a good international school. We work hard but we are well compensated – in fulfillment above all else.

Although I might do routine sixty-hour weeks in term time (the equivalent of fifty-seven 40-hour weeks), we get to spend time together as a family, traveling and learning together. We live, work and go to school together, and I’m home for bedtime every night. We have friends from all over the world and a global world view. We speak two languages in the house and the kids are learning Japanese. We could more money in a different career, for sure, but we can save a little and travel a lot.

And those holidays: we are officially working for about 38 weeks a year. The holidays are time to adventure, think, recharge and study; to bond, have fun and be a family. It’s time to reconnect with the family we leave behind to go overseas. I know teachers who are able to completely disconnect from work in the breaks though most, like me, choose to work, study, learn or write for a good part of that time. Whatever we do, we come back better able to educate our students.

But holidays are not the sole reason to become a teacher. 

If you could draw up a list of dream benefits, what would you choose?

If you could draw up a list of dream benefits, what would you choose?

Education is not something you can stick at if you have just fallen into it for lack of a better job prospect. It’s a vocation, a devotion and an inspiration. I am inspired by my students and the teachers that inspire them; the colleagues that do great things and those that want to do even greater things. There is energy in what we do – we are not stuck in a cubicle, repeating the same task day after endless day. I am inspired by mission and values, by international mindedness and thinking about global problems. I am inspired by the fact that so many people who have put good into the world can trace their inspiration back to a teacher or a mentor. I am inspired every single day about science in the world and think that yes, one day, one of my students will make a real difference.

It’s not always perfect; some times are tougher than others, especially when the work piles up and bottlenecks. But we do well and we need to keep perspective. This is particularly important for overseas teachers. I greatly admire, respect and am humbled by the teachers back home who to try to do all this and more: contending with decision after decision coming from the top down; with behavioural and funding problems, large classes, long commutes and excessive, often unrealistic, demands. They most certainly do not have it easy, and they deserve far more recognition and respect than they are given, especially in the UK.

So how will we respond when someone says we have it easy as educators?

“We’re happy with the choices we’ve made.” 

Find out more about how to become a teacher at the Times Education Supplement


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The Swallow, The Flock and The Writer’s Block

As the jumble of words in my head steadfastly refuse to flock together into a narrative on an assignment, I am finding it helpful to get back to the books, to sort the quotes again and think about the story they are telling.

I enjoyed this excerpt, from O.E. Mandelstam’s The Swallow, used in Lev Vygotsky’s Thought and Word and quoted here from Harry Daniels’ Vygostky and Pedagogy.

MandelstamSwallow_Vygotsky_iBiologyStephen

Link to original image. Link to quote.

It also reminds me of the challenges our learners face when they can’t articulate their thoughts in our ‘target language’ and the importance of us providing support and opportunities for them to create conceptual understandings even in spite of linguistic limitations.

I forgot the word I wanted to say,

And thought, unembodied,

Returns to the hall of shadows.

This is printed and on my door now.

Hopefully soon enough the thoughts will flock, forming something coherent and perhaps as beautiful as this murmuration of starlings.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/31158841″>Murmuration</a&gt; from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/islandsandrivers”>Islands &amp; Rivers</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>


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Is “every experience a moving force” in our curriculum?

As I struggle through writer’s block (after a very intense couple of months of work and more), trying to organise and finish off this ULL assignment, I find myself pulled back into the literature, thinking about the quotes of educationalists past and present. Recent reading about Dewey and Vygostky has been stimulating, as I realise that we, educationalists, have been having these same conversations for a hundred years or more*.

This is quote from Dewey (1938’s Experience and Education (pdf)) makes me think a lot about the essence of my argument about MYP: Mind the Gap. Are we creating learners for the future, giving them a “moving force” of an educational experience, or are we limiting education to preparation for external exams? I like to think we’re getting the best of both worlds.

JohnDewey_ExperienceMovingForce_iBiologyStephen

John Dewey on “Experience and Education.” Click through for a pdf.

*Actually thousands – I’m also reading Martin Robinson’s (@surrealanarchy) “Trivium 21C,” which traces the debates on how education ‘works’ back to Socrates and Aristotle.

JohnDewey_isms_iBiologyStephen

This quote is a good reminder to stop drawing lines in the sand. We don’t need more ‘isms, we need better education for a better world. I don’t know the source of the cartoon, but hopefully someone can find it. I did try a GoogleImages reverse-search.


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“You teachers have it easy.”

My gas taps are more surprised at these attempts at wit than I am.

My gas taps are more surprised at these pithy comments than I am.

The summer has just begun. The students have left campus, I’m procrastinating cleaning up the lab… and we’re back to it again in two months.

If you’re a teacher, you’ll know someone who hates that fact enough to remind you of it, frequently, with a barely-concealed envy. If you are an international school teacher, it completely blows their mind.

“You teachers have it easy.”

“I wish I could muck about with kids all day.”

“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”

“I should get into teaching; I could really use the holidays.”

And you know what, that’s fine with me.

Life, as teaching, is all about choices.

Education is not something you can stick at if you have just fallen into it for lack of a better job prospect. It’s a vocation, a devotion and an inspiration. It’s a privilege and a challenge. Its the invitation to change. Change ourselves, change our students, change minds, attitudes and actions, change the future for the better. It is the opportunity to learn, grow, reflect, interact, laugh and have a good time with scores of young people every day who are dedicated to learning, growth, reflection, interaction, laughter and having a good time.

I am inspired by my students and the teachers that inspire them; the colleagues that do great things and those that want to do even greater things. There is energy in what we do – we are not stuck in a cubicle. I am inspired by mission and values, by international mindedness and thinking about global problems. I am inspired by the fact that so many people who have put good into the world can trace their inspiration back to a teacher or a mentor. I am inspired every single day about science in the world and think that yes, one day, one of my students will make a real difference.

Throughout all this, because of all this, life is good. My work as an international school teacher gives my family and I a life of significant privilege. We live together, close to work, with good people around us and good opportunities for the kids. I can be home each evening to put the kids to bed, a simple pleasure that so many working parents miss out on. We have friends from all over the world and a global world view. We speak two languages in the house and have a two year-old who is learning Japanese. Even on one wage we make a decent enough living. We’re not shackled by a mortgage or car payments; we can save a little and travel a lot.

And those holidays. We are officially working for about 38 weeks a year (although they may routinely be 60+ hours a week). The holidays are time to think, recharge and study; to bond, have fun and be a family. It’s time to reconnect with the family we leave behind to go overseas. I know teachers who are able to completely disconnect in the break though most, like me, choose to work for a good part of that time. It’s like Google’s 20% time in a great big chunk. Whatever we do, we come back better able to educate our students.

Find out more about how to become a teacher at the Times Education Supplement.

I would struggle to enjoy life without this freedom and inspiration and this feeling of putting something worthwhile into the world. I love seeing the work of my friends and contacts who are living the dream of NGO work, improving lives, being creative, traveling and making a difference. I also know many people who are ‘living the dream’ of the nine-to-five, with the house, the car, the debt and three weeks off a year. If they are fulfilled and enjoy their life then great. If not, I feel bad for them.

I understand their envy of teachers.

It’s not always perfect. Some times are tougher than others. Grading and reporting times tend to bottleneck the stress, but I don’t think we should complain. We do well and we need to keep perspective. I greatly admire, respect and am humbled by the teachers back home who to try to do all this and more: contending with decision after decision coming from the top down; with behavioural and funding problems, large classes, long commutes and excessive, often unrealistic, demands. They most certainly do not have it easy, and they deserve far more recognition and respect than they are given. Sure there are teachers who can do better – sometimes much better – but I am saddened by the lingering perception that teachers are “those who can’t.”

If anyone asked me if I would recommend teaching as a career, I would tell them without a doubt, certainly, yes – but only if they’re prepared to give it their all. This is doubly true if they have the opportunity or take the chance to go to a good international school. We work hard but we are well compensated – in fulfillment above all else.

So how will I respond when someone says we have it easy as educators?

“I’m happy with the choices I’ve made.” 

The tune above was made by a 16 year-old composer/producer, and to me is the perfect soundtrack to reflection on a sunny day. We work with inspired kids like this every single day. 

………..o0O0o………..

This video by Taylor Mali sums up a conversation between a teacher and a lawyer. It’s an old one, but a good one.


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MYP Mind the Gap: Tensions in Transition from MYP to DP

UPDATE: March 31 2017

hackthemypI have just presented on #HackTheMYP at the IB Global Conference in Yokohama. At the conference there has been a lot of talk about Visible Learning. Since 2013, when I gave the Mind the Gap presentation, Visible Learning has really taken hold in international schools, as well as attracted some critics. Please read here for a review of Hattie’s more recent Visible Learning and the Science of How we Learn, as well as links to some critiques of the work.

Of course, since 2013 the MYP Next Chapter has taken place, and is now up and running. It is a great updated to the programme, and it is easy to put high-impact teaching practices to work to generate success in MYP… and send great learners up to DP.

I used the ideas in this presentation as the foundation for some assignments with the University of Bath, and in forming the pragmatic definition of inquiry. The rest of this post remains untouched and reflects my thinking back in 2013.

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Reflection: March 2013

Last Saturday I led my first conference breakout session, at the IB Asia Pacific Regional Conference 2013. It was hugely nerve-wracking, yet thoroughly enjoyable and well worth doing. As James MacDonald said in his session on Creativity, there’s nothing like doing a presentation on a topic to make you learn a lot about it – quickly!

When I was preparing the session, I had a few aims in mind:

  1. Pick a topic of discussion that would generate interest and be relevant to everyone in the audience.
  2. Develop a resource that would be used beyond the conference session, giving something tangible that participants could take home and work on.
  3. Facilitate something interactive, rather than a one-way information dump.

Also, after reading more about the Hattie meta-analysis, I wanted to introduce this as a ‘lense’ for these discussions. Whichever side of the fence one may sit with regard to the MYP-DP transition, it is hard to argue with evidence-based teaching and learning. There are strong practices from the DP that can be used in the MYP, as well as strong practices from the PYP and MYP that DP teachers might appreciate more fully with the evidence base.

To (try to) achieve this, I built a wikispace for resources, along with a Prezi for the session and some Wallwishers to collect participant ideas. I was careful to choose tools that would be available to participants when they got home (thanks http://www.blockedinchina.net/), and would be easy to use in the session. This meant many, many hours of preparation.

The premise was simple: are there significant ‘gaps’ between MYP and DP, either real or perceived, what does the evidence say about them (based on the Hattie meta-analysis), and what can we do about them?

MYP Mind the Gap

MYP Mind the Gap: Click to go to the Prezi for my session.

I tried to classify some of the tensions into three main domains. The links take you to the wikispaces page for each.

In each domain, I summarised some of the key findings from the Hattie meta-analysis, and then provided a number of quotes and provocations for groups to discuss: this was an attempt at differentiation by interest, and as I circulated, I could see that there was a great diversity in the interests of the groups. Some groups diverged from the MYP-DP issues and got really into looking at the Hattie resources, which was fine by me – at least there was a take-home for them.

I was even able to include a shout-out to the #MYPChat and extend an invitation to all to join in.

The session turned out better than I had expected, and was worth the work.

The room was busy, with a couple of latecomers standing, and I tried to encourage a loud and collegial discussion. From the first stimulus question, people were engaged – it is clearly an issue that resonates with many schools. I joked at one point that I could just leave the room, but really I probably could have done. I was thrilled to see groups form that did not previously know each other, and one group near the front were lovely – some ladies from India, Indonesia and Malaysia who found they all faced similar challenges of national curricula as well as MYP-DP transitions. I hope they stay in touch with each other!

The hour flew by – which I expected – and I got the sense that the participants enjoyed it. The feedback I received after the session was very positive. Although we had some issues with connecting to the Wallwishers for posting ideas there was little need (that was probably a tech-step too far for some people), everyone received a paper ticket with the URL and QR code, so they can revisit the domains of tension in their own schools.

One comment I’ve had a couple of times is that there is enough material in this to develop a full workshop, which would be cool: taking an evidence-based view of teaching and learning across the transition to strengthen our practices. As the IB grows in its research base and strengthens its provision of pedagogical workshops, this might have a place.

So next year: MYP Mind the Gap, Part 2? [Edit 2017: I did propose this, but nope]