Ripples & Reflections

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

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Don’t feel hopeless, despite the world right now.

Students and adults alike are confused and worried about the state of the world right now, including me. Here is an attempt to use the Learner Profile to buoy IB students and to boost the Biology4Good project with donations to organizations helping the refugee crisis.


learner-profile-sticker-englishoptmized IB Learner Profile 

With the world at fever-pitch for humanitarian crises, discrimination, a swing to the political right and environmental problems becoming compounded, it can seem like we are powerless to make a change.

This might be even more true if you are underage, personally affected (directly or indirectly), a holder of a sensitive passport, living in a delicate location or even shielded from the reality of the situation by the privileged bubble of international schooling. But it does not need to be hopeless.

Our missions as IB schools and international schools around the world should be in clear focus right now. Our education, through the disciplines, service, TOK, approaches to learning and international mindedness is our toolbox as a global citizens.

You can help and give without putting yourself (or those around you) at risk. Here are some suggestions, framed through the Learner Profile.

Be Caring

Above all…

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Visualising the Curriculum: A Design-Cycle Approach

design-cycleThis year, two of my professional learning ‘Tankyuu‘ goals are to develop the curriculum review cycle for our school and to investigate ways in which we can best communicate our curriculum to the school community: parents, teachers, students and outside agencies.

What kind of MYP Coordinator would I be if I didn’t at least attempt to apply the Design Cycle to this design challenge ;>

Over the coming couple of months, I’ll post updates and ideas to the blog, following the cycle as well as possible. Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll have found the right vehicle for curriculum communication and can start on putting it together.

Why do we need this?

As an international school with a diverse student body, light turnover in faculty and families coming in and out throughout the year, we need to be able to clearly articulate what our students are learning in a way that is understandable to all stakeholders. Where cultural expectations of curriculum might differ, as well as interpretations of an inquiry education (defined below), we need to show the common threads, the ‘safe knowledge’ and the space for exploration in our programmes. As an accredited international school and authorised IB World School, we need to be able to show that learning is built upon clear expectations and that articulation is maintained. As we look towards connecting our curriculum standards to our programme of inquiry, and as we seek to help our parents understand what we do as a school, finding a clear way to reach them is paramount.

Defining Inquiry

Inquiry is creative, critical, reflective thought, built on a foundation of well-taught knowledge, skills and concepts, that invites learners to take action on their learning and ask “what if…?“. (link)

The non-negotiables

Here are some parameters I’m setting before getting started. There will be more as the research develops and the design specifications take shape.

  1. We already use ATLAS Rubicon for curriculum documentation at the school. Teachers have done a lot of work on this over recent years, and we are moving towards using it as a tool for curriculum conversation rather than form compliance. Although it does not currently help our communication with parents, I will prioritise using ATLAS to its fullest potential over suggesting anything new and will not suggest any tool that generates extra work for teachers. If possible, the communication tool will draw from ATLAS to produce something clearer, leaving ATLAS itself as a ‘safe space’ for curriculum development.
  2. Communicating our curriculum needs to help parents understand the connections between curriculum standards, programme frameworks, our learning principles and an inquiry education.
  3. It must be attractive, usable and accessible to parents from different demographics.
  4. It must meet the requirements for CIS/WASC accreditation and for IB programme evaluation (such as producing clear subject group overviews for MYP). As we prepare for a synchronised visit in a couple of years, I’d like to be done by then.

Next Steps

In the inquiring and analysing phase of the cycle I’ll be looking for research on effective curriculum communication tools from the parent perspective, digging deeper into the potential for ATLAS and looking at some products that are available for curriculum visualisation. As I go, I’ll continue to develop the design specification.

If you’re interested in following this journey, I’ll categorise posts with ‘Curriculum’ and tag them with ‘Visualizing Curriculum’. If you have any comments or ideas, please leave them below or let me know on Twitter (@sjtylr)



The MYP 5 Design Cycle, with descriptors. Adapted for Canadian Academy from the IB MYP Design Subject Guide (2014).



Defining Inquiry (again)

Since my (re)defining inquiry assignment for Bath and article in IS-Mag, the importance of careful definition and action on inquiry has been on my mind.

Education continues to be a battleground between polar views on “what is best for the kids” and I find myself frustrated by the consistently (false) dichotomous nature of the arguments: traditional vs progressive, schooling vs making, teacher-led vs student-driven. We can have the best of each world by creating it.

We occupy a position of extreme educational privilege in the international school sector: with strong, evidence-based frameworks and quite a lot of freedom to choose what we teach and how. As we make our choices, we need to be informed, critical, creative thinkers in our own right. Make space in the curriculum for play, creativity, curiosity and action, and make sure that the foundations are solid.

As teachers we should follow the research and we should create it. We should be coaches, mentors, guides and activators of learning (beyond facilitators). We should be inquirers, seeking to know our impact as we branch out into new territories.


Here’s my updated definition. It’s tidier than the last, less academic, and includes “creative”.

Inquiry is critical, creative, reflective thought built on a foundation of well-taught* knowledge, skills and concepts, that invites learners to take action on their learning and ask “what if…?” 

It’s important here to define creativity as more than the reserves of the arts and certainly more than a perception of something generally fun. It balances creative expression, teaching and learning with innovation and problem-solving. Creativity could be a catch-all term for the higher-order thinking skills, that in themselves require the foundational concepts, skills and knowledge to be worthwhile. In an MYP context, creative thinking is necessary to reach those top bands. What does creative thinking bring to all the disciplines?

After all, everything is a remix ;>.

  • Which elements of the “traditional” do you see here? How about the “progressive”?
  • How would this look in a (traditionally) high-content course? How about the early years?
  • How does the student’s average day, week, unit, year feel with this in mind?
  • How can we use this to excite genuine, meaningful learning and avoid the fuzzy-buzz of pseudolearning?
  • How does this look across the IB continuum? How about the Trivium schools?
Defining Inquiry

Inquiry is critical, creative, reflective thought, built on foundation of well-taught* knowledge, skills and concepts that invites learners to take action on their learning and ask “what if…?”


Update: Oct 2017

*I’m using well-taught here almost – but not quite – interchangeably with well-learned; to recognise the critical role of the expert teacher in an inquiry environment. As learning becomes more student-owned the student needs to become TEMPERed and learn how to learn more effectively, the expert teacher needs to have their disciplinary world at their fingertips.

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Authenticity in assessment, (re-)defined and explained

For a while I’ve been banging the drum of the importance of definitions and I was reminded of its importance at the weekend as I took part in the #GAFESummit at CA and the whole-school PD session on Learning Principles. We have so much language to use in the educational context that it can get confusing as terms get popular and overlap. Sometimes you get half-way through a conversation with someone (usually from another context) before realising that you’re both using the same word in different ways.

We need to define – and carefully use – terms on an institutional (or wider) level.

What is inquiry?

What does authentic really mean? How is it different to ‘real-world’ or ‘hands-on’?

What do we really mean when we say ‘meaningful’ or ‘engagement’?

Do we understand these terms in the context of someone else’s discipline?


Read on as Grant Wiggins defines ‘authentic’ in the way that we should all understand it. It is important.

Granted, and...

What is “authentic assessment”?

Almost 25 years ago, I wrote a widely-read and discussed paper that was entitled: “A True Test: Toward More Authentic and Equitable Assessment” that was in the Phi Delta Kappan. Download it here: Wiggins.atruetest.kappan89 I believe the phrase was my coining, made when I worked with Ted Sizer at the Coalition of Essential Schools, as a way of describing “true” tests as opposed to merely academic and unrealistic school tests. I first used the phrase in print in an article for Educational Leadership entitled “Teaching to the (Authentic) Test” in the April 1989 issue. (My colleague from the Advisory Board of the Coalition of Essential Schools, Fred Newmann, was the first to use the phrase in a book, a pamphlet for NASSP in 1988 entitled Beyond standardized testing: Assessing authentic academic achievement in secondary schools. His work in the Chicago public schools provides significant findings…

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No, I Don’t Personalize Learning

This is a nice post by Christina Milos (@SurreallyNo), a PYP educator in Europe who takes a critical look at educational trends and practices and writes about them with some academic background. In this post she distinguishes between differentiation, individualization and personalization in learning, explaining why she doesn’t do the latter.

Moments, Snippets, Spirals

Personalizedlearning. Differentiatedlearning. Individualizationof learning.

Three jargon elements that twist any teacher’s grey matter in spectacular motions. Which is what? Add to that the pressure that may come through a school PD (“We need to individualize learning!”) and you have the perfect combination for confusion.

There seems to be a continuous debate around the first (“personalized” learning) but I think clarification of terms is always useful before engaging in any argument. Also, a little historical background helps one understand the causes, underpinnings and implications of any educational approach.


A bit of history

1914 –  The inception of the concept rests with Helen Parkhurst who was heavily influenced by Maria Montessori and John Dewey’s work when she created the Dalton Plan, plan that was introduced in 1914  and was extended later in several countries across the world (from the U.S. and Australia to Japan and The Netherlands)…

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Mars-Shot Thinking

Mangalayaan. Click to visit ISRO.

Mangalyaan, the India Space Research Organisation‘s Mars Orbiter, has just become the first spacecraft from an Asian country to reach Mars – and the first globally to get into orbit on the first attempt. That’s a huge achievement, especially considering the low cost: just US$75million compared to NASA’s similar Maven project at US$671million [Forbes].

This reminds me of a trend a couple of years ago in education of thinking about ‘Moon-shot thinking‘, where the edge of technology and imaginative ideas inspire innovation, exploration and excitement. A lofty and motivating goal for any educational institution. Mangalayaan now makes me wonder if we should be Mars-Shot Thinking.

Here’s Google’s Moon-Shot Thinking video:


Do we promote Mars-Shot Thinking in International Education?

Do we teach our learners to consider international perspectives on how to solve problems? That the biggest, the first or the ‘best recognised’ player may not be the best place to find inspiration?

Do we teach our learners that we don’t always need more technology, more expense and more resources to be thrown after a problem to achieve better results? That we can build a hopeful and sustainable future with what we have?

Do we teach our learners a foundation of strong knowledge and skills, so that they can launch their inquiries from the shoulders of giants?

I use ‘Learners’ here as deliberately as the IB do in the Learner Profile: it includes the adults in the school. Typically international schools are well-funded and resourced, perhaps even pioneers of EdTech and innovation in education. We rarely have the concerns that teachers back home face regarding funding, behaviour, social inequity. We have problems that are generally less serious, perhaps more ‘playful’ and probably more intellectual.

So can we energise and challenge colleagues to use Mars-Shot Thinking in their collaboration, long-term goals and teaching?

Can we use Mars-Shot Thinking to inspire creative solutions to interesting problems?

If we have a strong foundation of curriculum, resources and professional practices are we better off putting our time, resources and collaborative efforts into encouraging this kind of culture?

There is no way I would advocate for a school administrator to use Mars-Shot Thinking as an excuse to slash budgets or to brush aside genuine concerns about poorly-resourced schools: these essentials are at the foundation of a teacher’s pyramid of needs. But what if we became too used to the ‘comforts’ of modern education? Would we expect more resources to achieve the same thing? Does the law of diminishing returns apply to investment in resources against gains in student learning? Hattie would suggest so.