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.
Over the last few years as a science teacher and coordinator I’ve been thinking a lot about how we might create a culture of thinking that balances vigorous and challenging outcomes with student co-creation (or navigation) of inquiry, particularly where there might be high-stakes terminal assessments looming. The “Curriculum as a compass, not a calendar” metaphor* helps me wrestle with these ideas.
This one has been brewing a while and is still pretty drafty, so I reserve the right to edit ;> With so much written about inquiry and edtech in recent years, there is likely little new in here, but writing helps clarify thinking. Also, my kids and I love Moana, hence the images and gifs.
*See the “Heritage of the Idea” at the bottom of the post.
Inquiry as a Quest (or Journey)
The Japanese term Tankyuu (探 究), meaning inquiry, journey, quest or investigation, is a nice fit for this idea. It aligns with a pragmatic definition of inquiry, suggesting that there is a journey worth taking, knowledge worth learning and many paths worth exploring.
It suggests depth and vigour, a level of sophistication that empowers learning, building on (and feeding back into) a solid foundation for the future.
This is no new idea, and has been written about in many different ways. Most recently, in Quest for Learning by Marie Alcock, Alison Zmuda and Michael Fisher, inquiry is presented as a part of a “quest” that is enhanced by effective networks and elements of “gaming” that drive learners. Hop on over here for a review of their book.
Curriculum as a Compass, not a Calendar
If we think of inquiry as a voyage, then we might think of curriculum as a compass – map and compass set. As a map the curriculum outlines the destinations and checkpoints, obstacles and viewpoints. The curriculum outlines the “need to knows” in context (national/international standards), but doesn’t dictate the route to take – or the schedule for the learning. There may be well-trodden paths to lead us to tourist hotspots but there might also be areas uncharted, adventures waiting to happen where the questing learner (co-)creates new knowledge, ideas or outcomes.
The compass holds “true north”, ensuring that whatever the path taken, learners can find themselves back on track, relatively unscathed. The compass can help the tempered self-regulating learner decide “If I’m here, and I want/need to get there, then I have to ______ .” In the PYP context, you might want to read the ever-great Edna Sackson’s post on “curriculum shouldn’t be linear“.
With curriculum as a map and compass, teachers and learners can navigate the “need to knows and where to go’s” with some confidence. They might even be ready to set sail into the blue yonder…
Just in case & just in time: the navigator’s toolkitWhat are the roles of knowledge and skills in an inquiry context? Under this metaphor, we might think of them as the “need to knows” to start the journey: the contents of the voyager’s backpack.
- What does the explorer need to know and be able to do to set the course? What experiences and provocations can inspire the journey and create the moving force to get going?
- What do they need to know and be able to do to get going? How will they know they’re making progress and how will they generate feedback to take action on the journey? What are the most effective ways to learn this foundational knowledge, misconception-free, so that they are prepared for the journey ahead?
- What are the “just in case” lessons or resources that the teacher might have to hand (or workshop with), in prediction for challenges ahead? “Ah, I can see you’re heading up the mountain…. do you have the right rope?“.
- What are the “just in time” lessons that the teacher might need to prepare, or have at their fingertips, as the journey progresses? How can we spot and take appropriate actions on the little nudges that get the lost wanderer out of the bog?
The Teacher and Learner as WayfindersThrough all these decisions the teacher makes (or helps the student make), we can hold the following in mind:
- What knowledge might help here, and are they on track?
- What disciplinary skills are useful here and do they know them well?
- What approaches to learning skills can drive this forwards?
- What tools – physical, digital and strategic – might be needed and how will they access them? How much of this is just in case or just in time?
- How can this connect to other learning, in this quest, other classes or outside?
- Who can help as journey-mates, experts or co-navigators?
- Are they holding “true north” and how far off course is OK until we need to step in?
So what is the role of the elder in the hero’s quest?
Inspiration? Co-creator? Director? The holder of cultural knowledge (curriculum)? Guide? Instructor? Coach? Confidante? Expert?
As the adults in the room, with a great weight of responsibility, it is likely to be all of the above. The challenge is knowing who needs what and when, helping our own learners find the joy in uncertainty and the fulfilment of doing the hard work of learning to find our way.
Technology can help bring the magic…
With potentially transformative technologies in our voyagers’ backpacks, our quests have the potential for charting new territories, creating new outcomes and connecting across the map.
From productivity to efficiency, creativity to critical thinking, wellbeing to connection, the potential for technologies to really elevate learning is endless, and can amplify (or transform) a knowledge-rich, student-owned learning adventure.
Reach out and connect: it’s a rich world of shared learning and collaboration that can give the voyagers access to learning that might not have been possible otherwise.
…but don’t let SatNav ruin the adventure
SatNav, as wonderful as it can be, has two main flaws. First, it gives “the answer” quickly, even though it might not be the answer we need (and may sometimes lead down a dodgy path). Second, it can be annoyingly fiddly, dominating your thinking when you should be driving the car. As the teacher it can be hard to resist jumping in with the answer (or an assumption) that steals the opportunity for thought, like a satnav giving shortcuts that miss out on the best part of the journey. Similarly, edtech is not always the solution and even in the age of Google our students need to be masters of valuable knowledge.
I like to think about these “get out of the ways” (and I’m sure will add more):
- If surface-level enquiry (looking up simple stuff) is wasting mental energy that could be better put to work on true thinking (inquiry with an “I”), find a more efficient way to teach the basics and move on to better questions.
- If the adult is getting in the way of the real thinking, step back and listen.
- If the tech is just a “shiny” distraction, reconsider its worth. Do we really need this side-plot in our adventure?
- If the tech tool is creating an unproductive struggle (a “clicky-clicky timesuck”), ditch it for something more truly interactive and/or effective.
- If grades are getting in the way of learning, find ways to separate them from feedback (feedback first, feed-forwards and so on).
- If the navigators are lost (or antagonistic), teach the teamwork skills that are needed to move on.
- … (can you add more?)
“It’s not just sails and knots…”
“… it’s seeing where you’re going (in your mind). It’s knowing where you’re going by knowing where you’ve been.”
So there you go. My two cents on curriculum as a compass, inquiry as a quest and ATL skills, edtech and more as navigation tools, using Moana gifs. If you have any thoughts, please add them in the comments below or find me on Twitter.
*The Heritage of an Idea
When I heard the phrase “curriculum is a compass, not a calendar“, years ago, it resonated,
but I couldn’t remember where I heard it, Found it: it was Aaron Duff (in 2014) – and I’d even made (and forgotten about) a graphorism when this account was on my old handle (@iBiologyStephen), a symptom of years of output littered across the web.
In a Twitter exchange on #PubPDAsia I tracked down an even earlier use of it (2008), and found a quote in Research on Second Language Teacher Education: A Sociocultural Perspective, edited by Karen E. Johnson, Paula R. Golombek. It’s amazing what focused search strategies can turn up in the context of a rapidly-moving live twitter-chat!
Now, as I think more about curriculum development and future adventures in high-quality, learner-driven, vigorous (and knowledge-founded) inquiry, I think about the toolkits and strategies we might put in place. Connecting the pieces of the the programmes (MYP, DP, NGSS etc), along with big ideas and frameworks from Bold Moves, Quest for Learning, Cultures of Thinking, Making Thinking Visible, I move closer to the image of the learner (adult or student) as a Wayfinder.
Aue, aue, we are explorers reading every sign
We tell the stories of our elders
In the never ending chain
I’ve added a new page to i-Biology.net to post resources and ideas for MYP Science Crit. D: Reflecting on the Impacts of Science. Some slides are below, but to see the full page, click here.
[IMaGE = International Mindedness and Global Engagment. To see my dissertation & resources on this, click here.]
At a recent MYP Coordinators’ network meeting we were discussing how – despite lots of moves towards quality control and great efforts by the IBEN team – we still had occasional concerns on the reliability of the received message from online and face-to-face (f2f) workshops. Whether this comes from an unclear message, a side conversation, a misunderstanding across languages or the participant’s personal filter, we don’t know, but it led me to think about what steps might be taken to reduce the likelihood of misunderstanding.
If this is already in the pipeline, I’d love to know more about it…
The Proposal: IB MOOC-style short courses
In the early stages of the MYP/DP teacher’s experience, the coordinator needs to know that the teacher knows the basics correctly, knows how to access the correct information and knows how to correctly operate their guide/criteria or other requirements. As unglamorous as it sounds, this seems to call for a reliable delivery method to build a baseline knowledge; a way to check the guides have been read and understood, with some reliable tasks and worked examples. A new teacher with a well-learned foundation of knowledge and skills in their subject area will be better equipped for interactive, inquiry-driven approaches in their later experiences in workshops and school-based PD.
Over the last decade, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) have become popular: where a university or institution has developed a great set of course materials, they post them online in a structured format for free participation – see Coursera, EdX, Udacity and many more at Class Central. Typically these courses work in self-paced (enrol and get working) or cohort (timed start and end) models. Although it has been estimated that only around 5-6% of participants complete the course they enrolled for, they offer learners the opportunity to try courses at a university level that they might not have access to otherwise. They democratise learning. Furthermore, many of the courses can be verified with an optional low-cost certificate after completing the course and assessment successfully – and this is where I see the opportunity for IB professional learning.
My IB as a MOOC Platform
In the current model of IB professional learning, online and f2f workshops are a great way to build a working knowledge of the programmes and make connections with colleagues from other schools. However, they are expensive and many schools have limited resources to support multiple attendees; if a workshop does not have the intended impact on the participant, it can feel like a waste of resources.
What if IBPD developed a series of short content-delivery courses in the MOOC-style so that access to the required, vetted and updated knowledge was open to all? Participants from anywhere with an internet connection could take short courses to update their understanding, at no cost: new teachers, existing teachers, those in IB schools and those who might want to be. Think a course in the style of Google Certified Educator Level 1: it doesn’t need to be ‘taught’ as all the materials are online (subject guides!), but has activities to demonstrate competence in the skills. Similarly, on the path to becoming a Microsoft Innovative Educator you can collect badges & certificates through a personally-relevant pathway.
Anyone could join in, everyone would get the same reliable information.
To get verified/certified, the participant would need a MyIB account. The participant or school would pay a small fee (around US$100 is common on verified MOOCS), complete the assessment and receive a digital certificate. This would be great in supporting in-house professional learning (particularly when guides update). Typically sending one teacher on a workshop costs my school up to $2,000 in workshop fees, flights and accommodation; that’s a lot of potential MyIBMOOC certificates. I’d love to have something like this form part of a differentiated model of in-house professional learning.
Would this model be appropriate for new teachers entering a school? Moving school, country and system can be daunting enough; taking on a full workshop out of context is not always effective. After all, we don’t know what we don’t know, and although we need to get up and running quickly, we don’t usually have great questions until we’ve taught it a while. I’d love to be able to share a couple of ‘learn the basics’ short-courses with incoming teachers, to relieve their stress and help them tune in to their new programme.
What if completion of an entry-level MyIBMOOC was required for registration into a workshop? Would this reduce the impact of inappropriately-placed workshop participants on the workshop outcomes? As the demand for IB workshops increases, it puts more pressure on the stellar work done by the IBEN team. Would this model reduce pressure on the WSL pool and ensure participants are at the right starting point to move forwards with the group effectively?
Design Principles for a Successful MyIBMOOC
What design specifications might make this model work? Here are some to get started. If you think of more, please add them in the comments below, or find me on Twitter.
- Short & focused. Long online courses are a draaaaaaag. A short course doesn’t need to deliver three days of f2f content; units on assessment & getting started in your subject, global contexts, being a personal project/EE supervisor or any other programme elements would be great.
- Always up-to-date and linkable. “What’s the page number?” is an IBEN mantra, and the same should be true here. Don’t hide information where it is hard to access, especially where accuracy is important.
- Clear assessment, focused feedback. We need to know that what we know is correct. Save the discussions for deeper-dive workshops, this idea is for building foundation knowledge only.
- Translateable. Clear and concise content might later be translated into other working IB languages. Here in Japan, as more “Article 1” schools come online, would this help get schools up and running?
- Platform agnostic & light. Of course, it needs to work on all broswers, not be blocked in any countries and not be so data-heavy that it can’t work in areas with slow internet.
What do you think? If this is already in the pipeline, I’d love to know more about it…
There are no new ideas in this post, yet as I work on curriculum development across the subjects, I reflect on how easy it is for us to fall into the trap of backward mapping without considering the buoyant force of learners as they move up the continuum.
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
Interpreting 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.
They are more like air bubbles racing to the surface of the water, expanding and accelerating as they go. When they hit the surface, they transition into the next phase: we launch them from school to the world. Along the way, however, there is the buoyant force, an upwards push that we can harness in curriculum design. It might sound cheesy, but run with it.
What are the opportunities and experiences that nucleate those bubbles? How can we catch the bubbles and keep those moving forces pushing upwards? When I reflect on things happening in our own context I think of a few examples:
- The rapid evolution of our Design classes in many ways. Introducing 3D printers and Tinkercad was great – but even greater is that once the PYP kids got a hold of it, those initial MYP lessons have become redundant already. Now the young MYP designers are doing amazing things, with purpose and audience. The buoyant force of the early experience allowed for even more awesome things to happen later.
- The revolution of PHE in MYP and the obvious and exciting enthusiasm of the learners as they move up the course. I’m stoked to see how they introduce more authentic data analysis and as a department they have created fantastic learning opportunities.
- The young PYP writers, coming out of a workshop model into MYP are already equipped for mini-lessons, conferencing and lots of active output in authentic genres. They are ready to write, read and produce work for real audiences.
In every discipline, in all sections of the continuum, I see examples like this, and it is amazing. The buoyant force creates pressure on a backward-mapped curriculum. There is no surer way to burst a kid’s bubble than to approach curriculum with the view that “I know you can do [amazing thing], but we need to do [less amazing, but seemingly more ‘valid’ thing].”
So as we develop vertically articulated curriculum, are we spending the care to think about the very best of what these learners know and can do already, and about how a rapidly evolving curriculum in the years below might precipitate a need for (r)evolution and reinvention in the years above? Do we think about it as a spiral, so that even if they encounter similar topics or concepts, they are truly building a stronger understanding through inquiring more deeply and with greater sophistication? Are we looking left and right for connections and experiences that can enhance the experience?
In the younger years are we thinking about how these bubbles nucleate, and how they connect to (and inspire) experiences in later years? When we teach a topic, are we taking care not to inflate the learner with misconceptions that rise with them?
When we deal with transitions, do we focus on communicating the very best of the learners’ experiences? Do we ask the teachers before us “how do we keep them excited?” Are we creating exhilaration for what comes next, rather than anxiety?
What are the buoyant forces in your continuum?
If your learners were to “live fully, now” how would that create a moving force that drives them through the next stage?
- Reductive rubric, by Stephen Taylor, inspired by an image I saw long time ago and can no longer find. I’d love to find it!
- Air Bubbles Rising in Water, created by Stephen Taylor on Giphy, from a Creative Commons video clip on YouTube by user VideoCruncher.
Shortlink to this resource: is.gd/mypassess
Update Sept. 5 2017 based on edits summarized in this update from the IB.
Big Update Dec. 2 2017: added subject group overview (curriculum articulation) tabs for each subject group, with data validation for key, related concepts, ATL.
If you find this useful, please consider making a donation to one of my chosen charities through Biology4Good.
Capturing the Criteria (and the Curriculum)
After some parent-teacher conferences recently, I was asked to show all of the MYP assessment criteria together and realised I couldn’t find something that met our needs for a single-reference, quick overview of the MYP assessment objectives and criteria.
Here is an attempt to put the big ideas and rubrics together in one place, so that colleagues can quickly see vertical and horizontal articulation and connections, and so that parents have a resource to hand to help understand assessment.
You might find it useful.
To make your own copy, click “File –> Make a copy”.
- This involved a lot of clicking and is bound to have some errors. Big thanks to Mitsuyo-san, our data secretary, who helped with this.
- Descriptors in bold did not make it across from text to spreadsheet. Use original descriptors in student assignments.
- This is intended only as an overview of the programme. Teachers must exercise caution with this, and default to the published guides on the OCC for assessment rubrics, clarifications, rules and guidance.
Zooming In: Focus on what’s important in assessment
Edit: added 3 May 2017
Why the green bands?
In each of the subject-area bands, you’ll find the Level 5-6 row accented with green. This is part of something I’m trying to work on with colleagues and students in terms of zooming into the objectives-level of assessment, and was something I used in #HackTheMYP.
The basic idea is this:
- As a model of a 4-band rubric, we typically see the third band as ‘meets objectives‘. This means that the rows below are approaching and above are exceeding.
- Try it: add up the scores for all 5, all 6 or a combination thereof. What does it come to when you apply the total to the 1-7 conversion chart? This is the kid that meets the outcomes of our core curriculum.
- When we focus only on the top-band descriptors we may inadvertently end up doing one of two things:
- Causing students to get stressed by default as they’re aiming for the ‘exceptional’ descriptors first. “The gap” between where they are and want to be is too big; or,
- Falsely making our core expectations for all students fit the 7-8 band, thus leaving nowhere to go from there – creating a “low ceiling” and no room for extension into genuinely meeting those top descriptors.
- If we zoom into the 5-6 band first – in task design and as a student – we are able to set an appropriate expectation for all learners, see how and where to scaffold and support those who need it, and provide a “high ceiling” for innovation, application, analysis, synthesis, etc.
- In essence, we can use it to differentiate up.
- It should then become easier to create the task-specific clarifications. If we can clearly describe the 5-6 “core” band first, we should then make sure that the levels above and below can be really clearly distinguished. In my experience, this is easier than starting at the top and working back.
If you’ve tried this idea (or similar), how did it go?
For a similar discussion and great resources, but in an SBG context, check out Jennifer Gonzalez’s (@cultofpedagogy) posts on the “single point rubric”:
A quick post to share a resource, based on some of our work at CA. I love cycle diagrams and was thinking about the process of moderation, planning and the challenges of effective collaboration when there are grades (and a big pile of ‘done’ grading) at stake.
If you’ve ever tried to ‘moderate’ work that’s based on two or more teachers’ hours of effort in grading, you’ll recognise the challenge. The proposal here is to reframe stadardization as a cycle – various points of entry to working together on a common understanding of assessment – so that teachers align their assessment standards more closely. Post-hoc moderation events may tend towards defense of our own grading work; who wants to go back and change all that work?