Wayfinder Learning Lab

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


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Time to Think

If we want to push students beyond merely procedural tasks and rote learning, we need to give them enough time to think. I know I sometimes feel that I’m not earning my keep if I’m not actively engaged with each student each lesson – but some of them prefer to be left alone to do the mental heavy lifting.

Why do we feel the need to schedule the lesson for the whole class to the minute? How do we best allow students to move on to heavier cognitive work? What environmental stimuli could facilitate their thought? 

Just because a student doesn’t look like they’re doing much, doesn’t mean they’re not thinking hard. Here are Raj and Sheldon to demonstrate.

Something I want to focus on in my classroom over the coming year is facilitating better student thought and improving my own questioning: making thinking visible without unnecessarily interrupting a student’s train of thought.

Making Thinking Visible resources:

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↬ Dr Inger Mewburn (@thesiswhisperer) for reminding me of the Big Bang Theory clip in her Thesis Whisperer blog.


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“Unit plans‽ But we have a subject guide!”

This post (June 2012) relates to my MA assignment in Curriculum Studies and recognises the tension that can be generated when asking IBDP teachers to plan a unit: traditionally the subject guides have been very prescriptive, making a content-driven approach to exam preparation relatively straightforward. The shift into more holistic unit planning in the IBDP can be seen as a challenge, and often needs to be justified. More recent posts address this as well, including “Curriculum development IS professional development,” “An Inquiry Crossfader,” and “Give a Student a Fish.”

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With the MYP’s move to the Next Chapter and the work of H. Lynn Erickson on Concept-based Curriculum being instrumental in this redesign, I figured I should get reading! 

At the moment I’m thinking about how to make this model work best in a content-heavy high school science syllabus (HS Science MYP moving into the heavily-prescribed IBDP subject guides). I’ve written before about how the delimiters of inquiry and differentiation change as we move up the MYP, largely as a result of content and assessment backwash. I feel the same might be true to some extent in designing concept-based curriculum in these classrooms.

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Learning Science By Doing Science: A quick reflection on Student feedback to teachers

The results of teacher evaluations by students were sent out to teachers this week and I was generally pleased with the feedback I received. Students here have written fairly and with thought and obviously appreciate their education. As a teacher I am very fortunate to be able to read this feedback. The strengths I expected to see were reflected in student comments – I go all out to make class and active and engaging experience but also to give students plenty of class time to be successful in assignments (and give guidance and supporting resources), to differentiate as far as possible, to be organised and show that I care about each student.

I think this is one of my favourite comments:

“Mr. Taylor is always available for help. The one thing I really like is that I know he wants me to do the best I can do in this class. He slows things down when the class is falling behind and adjusts deadlines when it is necessary. He teaches in a way that allows us to be independent learners and try things for ourselves. I used to think that he wasn’t teaching/helping enough, but I then realized I wasn’t familiar with this type of learning freedom before. I like doing things independently, and when I’m struggling, he’s always there for support and help.”

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MA Assignment: Proposed Assessment in MYP Next Chapter Sciences

This is a piece of work I submitted in February for my MA in International Education unit on Assessment with the University of Bath. I was given permission from my tutor to post it on this personal professional reflective blog.

It explores some of the issues of validity and reliability in the proposed changes to assessment in the MYP Sciences as the Next Chapter comes into focus. Please note that none of the proposals mentioned in this assignment have been ‘signed off’ by the IBO, as there are elements still in the pilot scheme.

Thanks to Malcolm Nicolson and Sean Rankin for their support in the process.

Next up: Curriculum Studies! Now that the year is starting to wind down (or screech towards the final day), my mind is starting to be filled with thoughts of what’s coming next year in the role of MYP Coordinator. I’ll try to base that assignment on an issue of relevance to CA as well.


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Concept Cartoons in Science Class

EDIT Dec 2018: Super old post (2012) now, but Concept Cartoons are the gift that keeps on giving and I was reminded of it from this Twitter thread. I’m not sure if Millgate House have produced these resources as online tools yet,  but if you can get a copy of them, they are worth trying.

The body text is original, except for strikethroughs. 

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I wrote in my last post that I’d expand on how I use concept cartoons as a way to encourage peer instruction and interaction – mostly in my Physics and Chemistry classes* . This is still a bit of a work in progress, but the SlideShare below** outlines the main ideas, which are based on the work of Brenda Keogh and Stuart Naylor. I came across their Concept Cartoons for the first time in teacher training and got back into the idea more recently***.

Concept Cartoons are useful for:

  • Quick formative assessment (d=0.9)****. They form great ‘hinge questions‘ in a class.
  • Discussion of misconceptions, either common or raised by students in discussion
  • Peer-teaching (d=0.74) based on observations or phenomena in class
  • Grouping students by readiness, based on the formative assessment data
  • Stimulating evaluation of ideas or discussing alternate explanations, which may or may not be correct
  • Setting up or reviewing lesson content or discrepant phenomena
I like to have some blank cartoon slides at the end of my working presentation, so if an interesting student observation, misconception or idea pops up it could easily be turned into a quick plenary or group discussion. Usually students would be discussing these with whiteboards and markers.
When we carry out labs I will keep my phone handy, so that if an observation sparks discussion I can take a snap and send it straight to a Picasa webalbum (now dead, but I GooglePhotos works OK), which is open on my laptop. This makes the step of pulling the image into the presentation quick and simple.
I like this technique and often feel I should use it more frequently. It is great for uncovering student misconceptions and allows students who grasp a concept to solidify their understanding by explaining it to others. I’m not sure all students would agree, though. It’s interesting to see student reactions to this approach. Some outwardly enjoy the interaction and discussion, whereas others really don’t take to it. In some cases it is introvertion, in others a lack of comfort in having to share and defend their ideas. Again this comes back to striking the balance between teaching methods used in class, and the need to try to differentiate as well as possible for the many styles of learning in the class.
Little People, posted by OCAL to clker royalty-free clipart.

Little People, posted by OCAL to clker royalty-free clipart.

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Some sources for misconceptions in science:

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For a ‘live action’ alternative to Concept Cartoons, you might try some of Derek Muller’s Veritasium science videos. Here’s an example, and here’s the YouTube channel.

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*Thanks to David Wees (@davidwees) for posting links to this on Twitter.

*Interestingly, I use them less frequently in the Environmental Science part of the course. This may be due to time constraints, but is more likely to be because we’re using more class time for lab reports and One World work. 

**This presentation was intended as brain-dump for why I do what I do, but ended up being featured on SlideShare’s front page on 3-4 April. 

***Although this quick idea is based on their work, their resources are far more polished and complete, including cartoons which reveal the cartoon students’ ideas and discussion of the misconceptions behind each. They are available here.

**** d values are old Hattie impacts, 2011. These have been updated since.


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Experiments & Challenges in Peer Instruction

I heard this talk from Dr. Eric Mazur earlier in the academic year, when thinking about getting back into Physics teaching. I gave it a listen again this morning, while tidying up and reminded by a post by Ed Hitchcock*. I thought about it in light of my last post and the experience of the year so far, in my Grade 10 Physics and Environmental Science course (and to some extent my Intro Chemistry and IBDP Biology classes). It is well worth watching, and nicely sums up some of the issues I’ve been experiencing at this stage in my teaching career.

Some of the comments and insights he makes are uncanny to my own experience:

  • Students can do well in the class and give positive feedback, but not necessarily engage with the subject or achieve a level of understanding deeper than simple memorization
  • Once you master the content, your mind doesn’t work like the beginning learner anymore – it is harder to see the misconceptions that trip students up
  • When discussions move from [science] into education, we tend to abandon the scientific method and rely on anecdotes: “The plural of anecdotes is not data.
  • Why in the sciences does information transfer wait until class time, where in literature students are expected to read before class? We should flip the content.
  • I always thought it was my teachers who taught me everything, but really a lot of it happened outside the classroom when I tried to figure it out for myself.” So why doesn’t this hard part happen in the class.
  • The source of good questions is not necessarily the mind of the instructor, but the mind of the student.
  • A syllabus defines a course by content. It should really be defined by outcomes.
  • You cannot change the way you teach without thinking about the way you assess.


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My Biggest Challenge: Striking the Balance

Is it possible to be too reflective?

Sleep is a challenge for teachers. Certainly for me. At any given time I have multiple streams running through my brain and it can be difficult to switch off. At times it is making sure all the grading and reporting is complete, at others prep and planning. Sometimes it is the interactions with students that get you thinking and at others it is the discussions with colleagues. Every day is different and challenging, and that’s why I love to teach, but wow it’s exhausting!

When I first started teaching about eight years ago, I thought to myself that it would get easier in a few years’ time; that I’d be a master of the content and that would be enough. The naïveté of the new teacher, assuming content mastery equals pedagogical success!

But it doesn’t get easier, the challenges become different. If I were happy to teach the same content in the same way under the assumption that all students were the same, then sure, life would be easy. I’ve always worked well with colleagues, had students enjoy my classes and achieved positive feedback. However, in this age of self-directed PD and access to other like-minded teachers online through Twitter and blogs, I find new ideas, perspectives and pedagogies on a regular basis. As the links, concepts and discussions build up, I question my own practice more critically, more frequently. And I sleep less.

I am in a fortunate position as a teacher (I think), to be able to teach Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Environmental Science at the High School Level, concurrently. To me, Science is more than a single subject. It is the process by which we make sense of the world and try to encourage students to make sense of global issues.

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