Wayfinder Learning Lab

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

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Mars-Shot Thinking

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 could instead be Mars-Shot Thinking in innovating our international schools.

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 – and a little inspiration?

Do we teach our learners to build from a strong foundation of  knowledge and skills, and to be agile thinkers, 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 ourselves and our colleagues to use Mars-Shot Thinking in 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.


Read more about ISRO’s Mission Profile

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Exploring Environments: Student-Designed Units & Hapara

Here’s a detailed summary of a 7-week student-led inquiry project, facilitated through Hapara and GoogleDocs. I really enjoyed the level of inquiry and the quality of writing it led to.


Click here for a summary of our recent student-designed Grade 10 (MYP5) Environmental Sciences unit that we planned for students to design and implement. I used this project as my trial for Hapara, a GoogleDocs dashboard system. 

In summary, using this as a management tool allowed for a smooth and highly differentiated, student-led inquiry unit in MYP 5 Environmental Science. Find out more.

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What are we really learning from practical work?


As we study science, a lot of our time and resources are devoted to implementing an engaging practical scheme of work. Are we really making the most educational use of this time, these resources and the opportunities that we have? 

Teachers all over the world use experiments and demonstrations to engage students in the concept being taught. But does this actually improve student learning? Two recent videos have got me thinking about this issue, and before you read on you should watch them both.

The first is from UK science teacher & communicator Alom Shaha (@alomshaha), half the brains behind the sciencedemo.org website. The video was produced for the Nuffield Foundation’s new Practical Work for Learning resource. He refers to a number of research papers in the video, and is also one of the leaders of the #SciTeachJC (science teachers journal club) twitter discussion group.


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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.