Saturday, 7 June 2014


Dear Reader,

I have moved my blog to Wordpress.

Hope to see you there - and hoping to be blogging more soon!


Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Looks Aren't Everything!

In our last unit most of the inquiry was guided. In our new unit we decided that we would give more freedom to students earlier in the unit.

This is an environmental unit. It's new for us this year, although we had a similar one about Climate Change last year. We had a new compelling question, "How long could we live without bees." We asked students what they thought about this question. We used Padlets. This is my class's Padlet. (It's a great way to gather short thoughts and ideas.)
We shared a LiveBinder about Bees with videos that gave more of an insight into why we picked bees as a provocation and started students thinking about what the unit would actually be about. Interestingly almost all my class thought it was something to do with us not being able to live without honey...

We then looked at environmental posters produced by the World Wildlife Fund and eveyone had a go at the See-Think-Wonder thinking strategy we have learned. We talked about the various issues that we could identify and started the task which this post is actually about!

Corbineau Antoine & Mogarra Laurie, France,

The task was to choose an issue they found interesting and choose some wondering to research. And after two days they could share what they found out. I wanted to find out how they would go about this without my guiding step by step.  I said not to worry too much about presenting the information as I wasn't giving a lot of time and I really wanted to see how they could research...

But I knew they were so excited they weren't actually listening....

With our 1:1 laptop programme in its second year, I wanted to make sure that THIS year, students put better effort into the research part and not worry so much about the presentation part. I had noticed in the last few years that with the increasing use of technology there has been a danger of focusing way too much time on a Prezi/PowerPoint/Keynote/Google presentation/movie, etc. which is AMAZING looking... but doesn't actually show much learning.... I don't want that to be the case this year.

I don't want to be continually directing the inquiries all year. I feel that students need to be doing this for themselves. But to be able to do this, they need to see for themselves how well they are managing different aspects of the inquiry.

The tool I decided to use to help this reflection was google forms. I named it Researching. Some questions I asked had paragraph answers. Some had multiple choice and some had checkboxes.

In case you can't access the form.... This is what was emailed to students.

Here there's a paragraph space for the answer...
 Paragraph answer...
Paragraph answer....

As the surveys are done, the results appear on a spreadsheet. My class had clearly thought about the questions and answered honestly.  I hoped that the series of questions would direct the reflection so that the last question would indicate some action or goals.

Last Question: If you were doing this again, what would you do differently? 
  • I would try to research more information and try to find more information that I did not know
  • I would use more websites and/or books.
  • I would like to get more information.
  • Find more websites.
  • I would use some different websites to find my information
  • Do more researching.
  • I would research more.
  • I would have a harder question because the question I picked was a bit easy for me.
  • I would make my question not so wide so that it doesn't take a lot of time to research about it.
  • I will use key words when I search because it will make the research part faster.
  • I think I would not spend so long on BrainPop because it didn't give me that much information that I needed.
  • I would spend a little more time researching.
As we finished with everyone sharing what they had learned, I heard students talking about the process as well as what they had found, saying to each other, "I spent too long on making a presentation" or "I spent ages looking at pictures, and ended up with not much information."
Did the exercise work? We shall see in a couple of weeks as the inquiry focuses on food chains...

Monday, 25 November 2013

I read a book...

Inquiry isn't an isolated lesson. It isn't only "done" when one is studying a unit of inquiry. It isn't just for science or for social studies. I'd like to share a student's thinking and inquiring as he tells me about his reading.

For background, in my class,  once during a 7 day cycle, students write a letter to me about their reading. It can be something they read in school or at home. The idea is that they get to practise reading strategies they learn in class, particularly goals they have set for themselves. When I get the letter, I write back to each student. We do this all year. It is a great way for me to see and hear their thinking. The letters are personal. They aren't shared, although occasionally I will ask if it is ok to share a letter or part of a letter, if I feel it is inspiring! 

The letters are all written in a book. It is a wonderful document to look at in June. ( the end of the year for us) One sees such growth!

In his letters, Jiwhang often tells about connections he makes, tells of things that surprised him,  misconceptions he has had, wonderings and questions that he has. I love to correspond with a student who writes a letter like this.
Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs via Compfight cc
Dear mrs. Buckley,

Thank you very much for your letter. It’s fine with me if you read my letter to the class.

To answer your question, the old man in “Woodsong” was not the author’s imagination. He gave the author physical help by helping him load his luggage back onto his sled after the sled fell down a slope.

I read the book “Space Travel” by Ian Graham. This book is about space exploration, as well as various things about space.

While reading this book, I was reminded of when Korea’s Naro rocket succeeded in launching a satellite into space after two failed attempts, on January 2013. Many countries around the world, including Korea, are working hard to develop new and advanced space technologies.

I found the fact that spacecraft could venture out of the solar system suprising, since I thought that probes and spacecraft could only stay inside the solar system.

While reading this book, I found the fact that astronauts get taller in space interesting. That happens because in space, due to the zero-gravity situation, an astronaut’s spine stretches, resulting in the astronaut becoming taller. When the astronaut returns to Earth, his or her’s height returns to normal.

I have one question in my head. The first satellite, Sputnik 1, was made of aluminum. Since aluminum is not very durable, wouldn’t the crushing pressures of outer space end up flattening or heavily damaging the satellite so that it can’t work?



Thursday, 26 September 2013

I see, I think, I wonder...

Provocation and Follow-up

Our new unit is about trading. We are looking at what trade is, what people trade, how they trade, what happens if they have nothing to trade and what our responsibility is in that whole process...

We started by looking at Poverty. The provocation was a gallery walk of photos taken by my colleague when travelling around the world. The students were not given any front loading about the subject matter prior to this.

We used a See-Think-Wonder approach. Everyone had a bunch of slips with "I see, I think, I wonder" on each.
Image: Lindy Buckley
They saw, thought and wondered and then pinned the slip beside the photo.

Image: Lindy Buckley
After this quiet activity, we made small groups, each group to look at all the slips with a picture, to see if there were any common thoughts or wonderings. We also looked at the wonderings, doing a basic sort into questions that you could answer fairly quickly with yes or no and questions where you'd have to find out more to be able to try and answer. We talked about how much information you could get from an image. (Visual Literacy)
Image: Lindy Buckley

Killing two (actually more) birds with one stone, as it were, we went on to learn how to create a google presentation AND how to use Compfight to look for Creative Commons picures. Students chose 3 pictures from their search and placed on 3 slides, correctly attributed to the photographer.

They made notes about each image using the same See-Think-Wonder strategy. The next tech learning was using Quicktime with their google presentation, using their notes to talk about their pictures.

There's a lot of tech learning going on. At the same time I hear students talking with each other about the content of the images. Living in Indonesia, we all see images of poverty through our car windows on a daily basis. 

As we start investigating aspects of trade, we'll keep looking back at the poverty introduction to see if there are connections.

And HERE is how we created the presentation...

Warning! This is NOT a Presentation Zen!

Presentation Zen allows the presenter to use the images on a slide show as tools. The audience watches. The presenter talks. 

A Presentation Zen slideshow on its own has little meaning to the audience.

This slide show was created by me this morning after a lesson on the topic. I will send my students the link so they will have the shared doc in their Google Drives to refer to if they forget any steps of the process.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The Legacy of... "Legacies"

An inquiry unit called "Legacies" (first mentioned in this blog last year) has had its final inquiring.... We won't be studying history in this same way next year. 

As I have watched my students learning through this unit, I have been thinking about the aspects I don't want to lose, even though we will lose the unit.

Thinking about a strong introduction/provocation. See the link above.
Thinking about freedom of choice to choose an area of interest to study. How did we do this? Students browsed a variety of library books about times past from different places. They browsed websites on a LiveBinder, "So Many Legacies" . They wandered and wondered taking note of items, sites, stories that sparked their interest.

Thinking about what the unit is about and what it isn't about. I think this is so important. The boundaries, based on the standards and benchmarks, need to be clear.
Thinking about engagement. So important for the unit to IGNITE passion! Students want to be inquiring. They don't want to stop at breaktime! Some EVEN feel the need to dress the part before they start work each day....
Thinking about the Historical Fiction reading unit that runs along side the history and geography. We picked a different element each day and talked about it briefly before students read their chosen book from the historical fiction selection. Students met in Book Clubs and reflected on how that element appeared in their books.

Thinking about freedom to work with 1 partner, 2 partners or no partners... based on managing distractions. And no one chose to work alone.

Thinking about sharing the learning. Always great to watch and listen. That's when you know if students have succeeded.

 Images are all mine.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Student-Led Conferences 2013

In preparation for Student-Led Conferences at the end of this school year our grade 5s are moving towards using ePortfolios. Next year more classes will be heading in this direction. My school has adopted 4 Learning Dispositions: 
Resilience, Resourcefulness, Reflectiveness and Relating, based on Guy Claxton's work on Building Learning Power, so we will expect students to share their learning in light of those. 

We have a set of school Values too:
Perseverance, Integrity, Responsibility, Respect, Compassion, Balance and Fun. Students can talk about their learning through these lenses too.

This is a Slideshow used at a faculty meeting today. Presentation Zen, it isn't! But my colleagues said they found it useful.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Spelling... Unit vocabulary... Creativity

A couple of weeks back, my class had spent half an hour gathering all the vocabulary to do with climate change which they considered important and had filled a couple of large pieces of paper. 

Last year in a similar activity, students had chosen words from the list to define and explain, by drawing, writing or using in a sentence or by giving examples. We did this again and pinned up a host of index cards. And then I wondered was there something more we could do with those words.

As it happens, that morning I had read the blog post, "Are you Creative?" by Sonya Terborg and I had also seen a tweet from @travisattis about Unfair Math Games.

So I gave a challenge:

Create a game to help your peers learn to spell these words or learn the meanings. 

I don't do this sort of thing often enough. I say this to myself every time I give such a task and see the excitement and enthusiasm that students display when totally engaged...

Some of the ideas:
Memory game with words on matching cards.
Memory cards with words in capitals on one card and lower case on the on the matching card. 
Memory game with words on one set of cards and definitions on another. 

A selected few words, with letters cut up. Object to try to make the words from the letters in a given time.

The most inventive used little whiteboards, marked with steps. Two people played. They were given a word and the first to explain the meaning got to move their token up the steps, counting the syllables of the word. 

After everyone had a chance to play, students reflected on their games. Some were able to suggest ways they'd modify the game having had people play. Some were able to see ways they could make their game more challenging.

But the question is.... who learned that vocabulary best? The game creators or the game players?

Photos are my own.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Space ...Final thoughts

This is, I think, the last post on this Cycles and Systems Unit.
1. Tuning in to Space
2. Next Steps in Space
3. Do they Really Understand?

It is always hard when working one's way through a completely new unit to know how much time different parts will take. You can plan in detail and find that the plans are almost useless, since everything depends on what the students know and they what find out, BUT more importantly what understandings they acquire. Finding out stuff and actually understanding are not the same thing. And when researching (not just googling) is new, some things just take longer.

Our unit on Cycles and Systems was designed to address new standards and benchmarks our school has adopted. The focus according to the S&B was very clearly Space, the Solar System, Day and Night, Seasons...

  • Earth's rotation on its axis causes regular changes including day and night
  • The Earth is part of a system of planets orbiting around a star (the sun)
  • Observable changes occur in the sky and landscape

Because our students had done an almost similar unit in Grade 3, but had focused mainly on finding out about the planets in our Solar System, we decided to concentrate on the explanations of the various cycles, day and night, seasons, tides, etc. These, though part of that Grade 3 unit, were concepts too advanced for the average third grader.

In fact, explaining why we have seasons was challenging for quite a few fifth graders too! Most time in the unit was spent on reading about the cycles, discussing them, watching videos and making models. It occurred to us that quite a few of our students have always lived in the tropics and have not experienced living in places where there is a change of seasons. 

If, in the future, we have to include learning about the planets in our Solar System when the grade 3 classes who didn't do their Grade 3 Space unit arrive in Grade 5, we may find difficulty using a similar time frame.

In this unit this year, because of that repetition in Grade 3, we also asked the question, how have people's ideas and explanations about space changed over time. This does not link back to the S&B, but we felt it gave students a bit of perspective, understanding that we did not always know what we know now. My class had only 2 days to look at this aspect and we used our school's online databases as well as the NASA website and library books to study changes in scientific thinking from ancient civilizations and relatively recent changes in thinking in the European Middle Ages. In order to share our collected learnings, we used Google Presentation, with partners taking 1 or 2 slides each.

We do collaborations on Google docs fairly regularly. This was the first time that students were ALL able to do this without one or two messing with someone else's work! (Digital Citizenship lessons are working...) Earth's Place in Space.

At the closing of a unit, we will always ask students what new knowledge they found interesting. We ask what skills, they learned and found useful, or skills they improved on. We also ask how their thinking has changed. Here are a couple of reflections from students' blogs.

Next year, our students will also come with that grade 3 prior knowledge. But they will also come with more experience of inquiring. I am hoping that there will be less need to scaffold and there will be more opportunity for students to build their own inquiry. 

Plenty to talk about in our team unit discussion next week!

Photos are my own.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

3. Do They Really Understand?

Continuing the reflecting on the unit: Cycles and Systems
(1. Tuning in to Space )
(2. Next Steps in Space )
After all the investigating, questioning, discussing, connecting, reflecting, drawing, reading, note-taking, writing, explaining, interpreting that my class has done on Cycles and Systems, I am still wondering..... do they really understand? How could we check this?

My colleague and next classroom neighbour, Peter came up with the following idea:

The connections between the earth’s cycles to its place in space are significant to life on earth

Think about how life on earth would be affected by each of these occurrences:

1.    Supposing the earth started moving further away from the moon...
2.    Supposing the earth started moving further away from the sun...
3.    Supposing the earth continued to orbit around the sun, but it stopped rotating...
4.    Supposing the earth continued to rotate, but it stopped orbiting the sun....

Take each one separately. Show your ideas, e.g. on a mind map. Make sure your notes are good enough to help you talk about your ideas in as much detail as you can, with examples of situations that might happen as a result of the change. 

What things would/might change, directly? (main branches of your mind map)
What things would/might change indirectly? (twigs off the main branches)

On the face of it these are challenging scenarios and you definitely have to understand what is happening in order to imagine a reverse situation. My students worked in pairs and had a fair go after some initial discussions together.
 Taking time to visit each others mind maps gave students the opportunity to ask questions and extend their thinking - which is a big part of what we want to do....
......extend the thinking....

Photos are mine.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Next Steps in Space... (Cycles and Systems)

Having identified the 'black holes' in student knowledge through the tuning in activities, students in my grade 5 class set about helping each other understand the the various cycles at work in the Solar System.

The hardest cycle for sure was the cycle of  seasons. Students used library books, atlases and websites, looking for descriptions, diagrams and models which helped make it clear. We watched some short videos. We collected and saved the videos and best websites in Symbaloo - which is a great curating tool!

Students collaborated in small groups and worked and reworked their explanations several times, using their own words to articulate what they were learning from the media they were using. They combined their oral explanation with modelling and diagrams. 

They blogged about their learning. (And practised adding Creative Commons pictures and hyperlinks at the same time.)

As we started to look at why and how those cycles affect life on earth, it was clear that the large amount of reading (both digital and print) and group discussions over the past few weeks have had a big impact on what students are now able to share with each other and with their teachers, compared with when we started this unit in December. These sorts of substantive conversations are vital, especially for English language learners.

Students listed ways that life on Earth is affected by the various cycles. They chose different aspects to investigate further.... and that's when we ran into our first hurdle!

Because these are new units, and we are developing them over this year and next, our library is not yet as well resourced as it will be. Yes, we do have heaps of books on the planets and Solar System because grade 3 used to study space. But looking at the effects of the cycles of the moon, earth, etc. requires making connections between "topics" such as animal/bird migration, hibernation, deciduous trees, religious festivals and what we have learned about the cycles.

And because making these connections is new to most students, a lot of scaffolding is needed. Hopefully as we continue to grow with our inquiry learning, these thinking strategies will be second nature.

After an extra library lesson to tighten up our search methods, my students seem to be ok, and everyone is busy finding information to demonstrate understanding of the connections made. And... I am thrilled to see, enthusiastically citing their sources in noodletools!

There's no doubt.... we are ALL learning!
Photos are my own.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Tuning In to Space (Cycles and Systems)

" Of all the planets in our solar system why is earth the best place to live?" 
This new unit, Space and Systems is the first that we have planned using our new "planner" and latest PD from Kath Murdoch in October. We have developed our own inquiry cycle, loosely UbD - but with a greater emphasis on Kath Murdoch's Inquiry Cycle since Kath is our visiting consultant helping us put everything in place.

In the past, our planners were pretty much all filled out before the unit started, except for student questions and action. 

Our new planner has our standards and benchmarks and a summary to start us off. We developed the Enduring Understanding and Essential Questions and listed the skills and knowledge that we are expecting students to acquire. We discussed and came up with the criteria that would be assessed to decide whether students were successful in their learning. 

We created a "compelling question" which acts as an overview of the whole unit. 

And we covered as much of the classroom walls as we could with black paper.

After that the next step was planning the Tuning In. Our school has just purchased the whole set of International Primary Curriculum units of work. Our school administration has hired many PYP and other inquiry teachers who are able to take the best bits of the IPC units and use them in a way that fits what we are doing. We didn't like the Entry Point in the unit "Space Explorers" but we did like the tuning in activities, what they call the Knowledge Harvest.

Instead we used Steve Box's idea of playing the Star Wars theme as our Entry Point. Students posted thinking and wondering on a pin board. 

Then, we used the IPC activity where groups had a set of cards with facts, some correct some incorrect, e.g "Astronauts can only fly to the moon when it is full," and "Revolve and rotate mean the same thing." They had to sort the cards into True, False and Not Sure, and then explain their thinking. The sets of cards can be rearranged as thinking changes duing the unit.

After that, students were given tasks ceveloped by team mate Peter Gibson:
They were asked to post their thinking on 3 walls in Wallwisher. They could read the other posts and re-post their ideas if they changed their minds. They could use whichever language they were most confident with.  On one Wall they were asked to make a list of all the planets in the Solar System. On another Wall they were asked to say what the term Solar System meant to them. They could also use black paper and chalks, pastels or cut paper to create a view of the Solar System. 

On another wall they were asked to comment on the compelling question.
Thnking from the class next door.
Following that, they were to read each other's comments, and then write a paragraph (or more) stating their point of view on a google doc. Last this was posted as a comment on my other blog which I have for class use. They could comment on the comments, (using our commenting guidelines).

Next day there was another Wall question. "What cycles are associated with Earth's place in space?" They were to choose a cycle with a partner and explain it to our 1st grade buddies next day. They had to make a quick plan of materials they would need to make models. Library books were to hand for checking accuracy of thinking. Even though this was originally a 3rd grade unit, I could see that these were misconceptions. It was important not to pass these on to the gr 1 buddies.

Do these activities give us evidence of understanding? We also had the students' individual blog posts.  
Interesting that the writer is evaluating the learning of the Grade 1 buddies!
And the Grade 1 tweets.

The next planning meeting will be to decide the next steps based on the prior knowledge we have discovered and the wonderings that have come out of our preliminary work. 

But now.....time for a holiday!

Friday, 12 October 2012

Checking Understanding

Checking often on the understanding is important before progressing to new tasks, either teacher directed or student directed.

After all the initial work on causes of hunger, we asked students what connections they could make between the causes of hunger. They did this in small groups. Listening to how students identified connections and explained their thinking was a clear indication of the levels of understanding they had reached (or hadn't!) Students helped each other when they asked questions for clarification. They had to think about what they'd learned so far. Students had to think of how to put what they'd said in writing to add to the chart.

The more I hear discussion and questioning and thinking out loud from my groups of students the better  I am able to decide when to have them start their own inquiries in our study area.

The substantive conversations that occurred during this collaboration are vital for our EAL students too. They learn new vocabulary. They hear it being used over and over and they get to practise using their new words and phrases as they all discuss their ideas.