Wednesday, November 12, 2014

An inquiry into... using technology for inquiry

Our school has begun implementing a flipped learning programme thanks @JudeCanning and it has really been helping us transform the way we teach our students and make the most out of the instructional time we have available.

I have also recently started using Educreations with my students to support this, usually making video tutorials myself and then embedding them in the school blog where students can access them.

However I just thought of a new way of using it to help me solve a problem that I am having.

As I do not have the privilege of co-teaching it has been imposible for me to do guided reading or one to one reading, which I loved to do at my ex-job with my ex - super - fantastic - co - teacher.
I am also working with year 6 students now, so that also opens up a bunch of possibilities that were not available before, working with year 1 students.

So because it has been imposible to do both guided and one to one reading with my kids, I have not had the chance to listen to each of them read, let alone be able to conference with them to give them feedback on their reading!

So here is where flipped learning and Educreations come in!

(note: all I have done so far is plan for all of this, I still have not implemented anything, so cross your fingers!)

I began by creating a class where my students can log into with the class code provided by Educreations.

The next step was to create the model Educreations video that I want my students to create (I usually make models of everything so that they can literally see what I am expecting them to do).

In the model I also tell the students that I expect them to do exactly the same thing.

Here it is:

The following step was to create a short how to video to explain to students how they can create their own usernames for Educreations (some of them already had one as using the app was one of the options for other assignments).

Here is that video:

So tomorrow I am going to assign this flipped learning activity for all my students, where I hope that they understand what I expect them to do on the Ipads on Monday. I also hope that at home, they each create their Educreations account, so that when they arrive Monday at school, they can get right to work on their reading.

This way, I hope to have a record of their reading: strategies they use, thinking they do, the way they pronounce, their fluency, the way the solve difficult words... etc....

Once I have their Educreations videos, I can see them and evaluate their reading, I can even respond to them through short personal tutorials, where I plan to give them feedback on their reading and suggestions on how to get better.

What I hope to get from this is a record of student reading at different points of the year so that they can literally see and hear their progress, as well as a way in which I can really guide them in their reading.

I truly hope it goes well! And of coarse, thanks for the huge inspiration @JudeCanning and @jessievaz12!!!!!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Community Building to Boost Learning

We keep hearing how the first week or so of school is important to develop positive attitudes in our students, to create a positive classroom climate and to build community. We know that it is important for us to show kids that we care and that they matter to us. We have read and studied how a learner will only learn if he or she feels and safe and welcome. Most of all, we know that students are not "empty vessels to be filled", or "blank slates" to be filled out. This may sound cliché, overrated, repeated, or maybe even lame...but it is so very true!

Not only is it true, but even though we all seem to know this, how often do we put it into practice? Many times I've seen teachers, who I am sure know all about constructivism and have heard that quote a million times, come into their classrooms without saying hello to the students, and start their class bu asking students to open a text book to a particular page. They begin their lesson, deliver it, and by the time the hour is over, ask students to organise their things and leave.

So it's not enough to know that students are people and should be respected, and to know that the more comfortable students are the more likely they are to learn... it's about actually doing things in the classroom and with the kids to make sure they FEEL respected and comfortable, to make sure that they are emotionally ready for meaningful learning.

Before the school year started I logged onto the Teaching Channel and found an amazing set of Vlogs (video blogs) by Sarah Brown Wessling (@sarawessling) which were super helpful for me to start thinking about the first week of school.

These vlogs were all about creating a real community of learners with the groups of students, as the most important way to set the scene for meaningful learning throughout the year.

I found that creating a community and a positive classroom culture was the most important thing I had to do at the beginning of the year, before even thinking about what I was going to start teaching my students.

I also investigated Sarah's blog post on how to cultivate classroom "chemistry" and found really interesting things there.

The following are, for me, the most important TO DO's at the beginning of a school year with any group of students at any grade level, and they are, in fact, the things that I have concentrated in doing throughout these first two weeks of school.

*Note: I know that "first two weeks of school" sounds like a looooong time to invest in only cultivating classroom community and culture, but I think that it is SO IMPORTANT that the time invested is absolutely worth it. Besides, it's not like ALL I did these first two weeks was JUST about building community.... the kids and I did, in fact, get other things done as well...

  1. Make students feel welcome, from the first instant they step a foot inside your classroom.
  2. Get to know them, for real: who they are, what thy like and dislike, who their friends are...
  3. Have them reflect on their expectations, and share your expectations with them: what are they expecting from you as a teacher? What are they expecting from their peers? What are they expecting from themselves? What are you expecting from them?
  4. Come to agreements about how we will all act and behave, create Essential Agreements.
  5. Have them reflect on who they are as learners, and how they embody the IB Profile.
  6. Make the fact that we are all different explicit: we all need to learn different things, and we all learn in different ways!
  7. Prepare students for making mistakes: it is from mistakes that we learn. 
  8. Check to see if students have a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset, help them see intelligence and success as something that depends on them, and that is not fixed.
  9. Teach students how to collaborate and work together, make it explicit that learning has a social factor.
  10. Help students set goals for themselves.

Even though the first two weeks of school are fundamental to develop these attitudes in ourselves and in students, and even though they set the scene for the rest of the year, it is important to remember that creating a positive classroom culture is an ongoing and never ending process. 

Super simple things such as just making sure you greet each and every student every morning can actually make a difference. However, we can also do this by making sure we respect the culture we have in our classrooms and that everything we do, we do remembering that the students we are working with are people, that they have feelings and thoughts of their own, and that they are not just "empty vessels that need to be filled". 

Monday, September 15, 2014

How structured should inquiry be in the PYP?

In one of our collaborative planning and reflection meetings, the teachers asked about the personal inquiries that students sometimes begin having spontaneously: within a math disciplinary unit of inquiry, students are developing their understanding of different number systems and how we use them today.

One of the students posed the following question: Why don't we use roman numbers all the time, the way people used to in history?

The teacher that shared this question was wondering how she could foster this student's personal interest, while at the same time make sure that this students is exploring the lines of inquiry and knowledge that she needs to acquire. 

So the first aspect that we discussed was: Is this student's inquiry really outside the unit's scope? Is this student not developing her own personal understanding of the central idea through this wondering? 

These questions led the discussion to the fact that despite that the student's question was somewhat "outside" the lines of inquiry, it was, in fact, a great way for the student to explore her understandings and develop her comprehension of the central idea.

But then the obvious question came up: should this particular student continue inquiring into this personal interest, or should this student participate in the class inquiry?

The discussion then went in various directions: this student needs to continue participating in the class inquiry, instead of using class time to inquire into her question; each student should be able to inquire into whatever they want, we should provide the resources and time for this to happen; what if the student were interested in inquiring into something totally different? Should we also let them inquire into this during class time? If so, how and when will this student develop his/her understandings of the topics and generalisations we need to teach them?

We discussed it for a while, went through the "Making the PYP Happen" (or "Happy"!) and other IB docs such as "The PYP: a Basis for Practice", and concluded that inquiry in the PYP is structured inquiry.

Structured inquiry means that students are conducting an inquiry, following different inquiry cycles, where they are:

  • activating prior knowledge
  • testing their hypothesis
  • searching for new information
  • experimenting
  • exploring
  • classifying their new understandings
  • synthesising their new understandings
  • reaching generalisations
  • making conclusions
  • reflecting on how their understandings have changed
  • sharing their findings and conclusions with others
  • changing the way they act or accomplish things in light of their new learning. 
However, as the inquiry is structured, students do all of this, inside a given structure: the lines of inquiry, the key concepts and the related concepts.  

So yes, students should be able to inquire into their own interests and wonderings, but inside the structure of the lines of inquiry and concepts. 

Does this mean that we should not provide time and resources for students to develop their natural curiosity and interests? Of coarse not!

What we concluded in this meeting is that within the structure of our unit of inquiry, students should and must ask, inquire and answer questions about their own interests, inside the scope of the lines of inquiry and conceptual understandings. However, we should also provide students with time and resources for them to ask, inquire and answer questions about whatever topics interest them, wether they are related to or absolutely different from, the curriculum that we are required to teach them. 

So why not have a half hour a week where we let students explore topics of their own interest? Cars, soccer, cooking, knitting, ...? Why not help them develop their inquiry skills, research skills and attitudes while they do this? Why not use these personal interests as an opportunity to develop transdisciplinary skills, attitudes and profile attributes?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Loads of Content...What do I do?

Many countries have some form of government ministry or department of education that, among other things, designs and elaborates curriculum that schools are required to follow by law.

Chile has a recently developed national curriculum which is actually pretty good, especially in comparison to what we had before. You can check it out here, if you are interested.

A common concern is the excessive amount of content that teachers are required to teach and that students are required to learn. This issue has been thoroughly discussed by many authors, who have also tried to propose solutions, such as Grantt Wiggins and Jay McTighe.

I am especially worried about this now because I am currently making efforts to plan for a transdisciplinary unit of inquiry, in which students can practice important skills, develop attitudes, gain understanding of transferable concepts, and be aware of (and take action towards) issues of global importance, all of this through inquiry.

However, at the same time, I must comply with what the state mandates I should be teaching.

How can my students achieve all these great understandings, attitudes and skills, meaningfully through inquiry, and at the same time "learn" a long list of topics that they will later be evaluated on through a standardised test they are required to take?

I believe that if students are offered meaningful, real world experiences, where they can explore and experiment, practice skills by doing, inquire into their interests, and reflect on their prior knowledge and how their understandings are changing through time, they will learn much more than they could ever show us by answering multiple choice questions in a standardised test. This is, in summary, why I truly believe in the PYP and the IBO.

BUT... I have to make sure that I am "covering" the content... bummer...

So I have been trying to solve this issue and came up with an idea that I am currently trying out and wonder what the results will be.

I have begun by making a list of all the topics and content that I am required to cover (you wouldn't believe how much it is).

I have then identified the concepts that underly the topics and content.

Using both the concepts and the topics, I have created generalisations (big ideas, enduring understandings, "mini" central ideas).

The central idea of the unit of inquiry is actually a generalisation of these smaller generalisations, a meta-generalisation if you will.

Here is a snapshot of what I did:

So all these generalisations build up to the Unit Central Idea, which is:

Investigating the diversity of living things that inhabit the planet allows us to better understand them and how they interact, as well as find better ways to take care of them.  

Now, I hope to develop a unit of inquiry in which students can develop their understandings of this Central Idea by practicing tons of investigation skills, through which they can explore the generalisations mentioned above.

Do you have content based national requirements to follow? How do you get these to co-exist with your programme of inquiry? How are you achieving balance between a concept based programme and a concept/skill based programme?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Transdisciplinary Learning... Further Thoughts

I appreciate the feedback from some of you regarding the points I expressed in the first post about Transdiscipliary Learning, thanks , Nigel Jones@nainisingh and Robyn Hamilton!!!

Nigel commented that he thinks that Central Ideas should not necessarily be that broad in order for there to be transdisciplinary learning. I really liked what he commented about choosing key concepts in a thoughtful way, and that it is the "universal applicability of the concept" that makes the unit transdisciplinary, and not particularly the Central Idea. He also mentioned something I agree with: in choosing the concepts, we should make sure that these express the undertandings of the different disciplines that will be participating in the Unit of Inquiry.

Related concepts.... in the Programme of Inquiry samples shared by the IB, they list related concepts and make no reference to any discipline in particular. With this as an argument and my prior thoughts, I come to agree with Nigel in that related concepts are concepts related to the key concepts, but that help make connections to disciplines, as mentioned by Lynn Erickson in the document "Concept Based Teaching and Learning" (2012, IBO).

Basically, I come to the conclusion that a Central Idea should state the enduring understanding that we want students to develop, mentioning (explicitly or implicitly) the key and related concepts that will be explored. It is ok for the central idea to have content / concepts related to specific disciplines, because these are the disciplines that will be participating in the Unit of Inquiry.

Whether a discipline should "participate" or not in the Unit of Inquiry depends in the Transdisciplinry Theme. If the knowledge and understandings that students willl develop in that discipline will support the Transdisciplinary Theme, then that discipline should be considered as part of the Unit of Inquiry.

Thanks again to all of you who commented and helped me further understand these issues!

Using ICT to Learn About Parts of Speech

As an activity for the online course I am taking on ICT in primary education I was asked to brainstorm the ways I could use technology for students to learn something in particular, considering the "Learning Types" developed by Diana Laurillard in her book "Teaching as a Design Science: Building Pedagogical Patterns for Learning and Technology" (I just bought a sample of this book, looks interesting!)

I purposefully tried to choose a topic that would typically be taught in a very boring, classical, text-booky way, to see how easy it would be to change it.

The topic I chose was different parts of speech (for 11 year old english language  learners) (this topic is actually part of a Unit of Inquiry I am currently developing, where I want students to understand this central idea: Each part of speech has a function and they work together to create complete sentences of different types. "Different parts of speech" is actually the content from one of the lines of inquiry: an inquiry into what different parts of speech are like (Form). I will post about this unit later when I have worked on it more, but any suggestions are welcome!).

The course suggested us to use this template to think about how technology could help students understand any given topic, and here is my brainstorm:

Learning through:
Students learning about different parts of speech could....
Student’s could watch a video about an everyday conversation or about of topic of their liking.
Students could use Voicethread to attach their comments to the video they watched, mentioning the parts of speech they were able to identify.
In order to identify all the parts of speech in the video they watched, so that they can comment on them on Voicethread, students could research parts of speech definitions online.
Students could practice by recording their own discussions or conversations where they intentionally use and point out different parts of speech.
Students could share their Voicethreads with each other so that they can continue adding their comments to point out parts of speech that others may have missed in the video.
Students could choose their best recordings and edit these to create a short video that showcases their conversation while pointing out the parts of speech that were used.

What do you think about these ideas? Do you have experience using Voicethread or other similar apps with students? Do you have any suggestions?

ICT in Primary Education

I have just started taking an online course on ICT in primary education, "The ICT in Primary Education: Transforming children's learning across the curriculum", from the Institute of Education at the University of London

(I hope this course will help me not only in using technology with my students in school, but I am also interested in seeing how the course is facilitated, as I am also taking (for the second time!) an online course from the IBO to become an online facilitator.)

The school I used to work at had a strong technology integration programme that was just beginning to be implemented. We had 6 ipads that we could check out to work with the students, and a technology specialist that was available to help. We were all struggling on how to incorporate technology in a thoughtful way to develop higher order thinking skills. This was no easy, I think mainly because we did not have the training that we needed, despite the hard work from the technology department, who really tried very hard to get the programme going as expected!

I think I might be sharing some of the resources, content, ideas and suggestions from this course, as well as recommending it to my friends there!

So far, something important that I think needs to be shared with anyone using technology with students is the following:

Every resource we use is good for different types of learning. 

When we use a book and ask students to read from it to gather information, we are fostering a certain type of learning style. When we use a small group discussion for students to gather information from each other, we are fostering a different type of learning style. When we use a video, we are pointing towards yet another learning style. Well, when we use technology, we are also pointing towards a different learning style. And just as we would not have students ONLY use reading to learn, or ONLY use discussion to learn, we should not expect students to ONLY use technology to learn. As we differentiate the resources we offer to students, and the styles behind our lessons, we should consider technology as another resource, oriented towards another learning style. 

When planning a lesson, we are basically "solving a problem": This group of students has not understood the concept of addition. How can I help them understand it?  Planning has to do with solving this problem. If all we ask ourselves is "What can I use this technology for?", we are not addressing the problem. We are just trying to "fit" technology in. So instead, we should ask:

This group of students has not understood the concept of addition; Can technology help? How?

The goal of thinking in this way is to "challenge the technology to help with the really important learning needs".

How do students learn? How can technology help?

This is what we need to ask ourselves, and in this order, not the other way around!

I wonder what your experiences are in implementing ICT in education. I'd love to know your thoughts and experiences!