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.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Inquiry - Reading, Writing, Thinking...

Inquiry learning is not just the part of the day where you used to write Social Studies or Science on the timetable and you now write Inquiry! I always feel bothered when I see schedules where the week is filled with Maths, Reader's Workshop, Writer's Workshop, Spelling, various specialist subjects and then there's a couple of 45 minute blocks where Inquiry is fitted in.

For myself, when I am required to display a schedule, I have long blocked out times which I call Inquiry/Reading/Writing for want of a better label. When my students are working in a inquiry/project approach they are combining all elements of language. 
At any one time, students will be reading while others are writing or discussing, working alone or collaborating with a partner or two. They may be using books or their laptops or each other or teachers. They may be planning, asking questions, researching, gathering data or information, creating oral or visual presentations in a variety of formats and media or reflecting on the process.

(Of course there will be times when the reading and writing has nothing to do with the unit they are studying.....)

In their book, Comprehension and Collaboration, Inquiry Circles in Action, Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels talk about inquiry workshop rather than Reading Workshop and Writing Workshop. I like this idea very much!

Even when we are in the stages of a unit where the study is more teacher directed, language arts are integrated with the science or social studies and the various skills are explicitly referred to.

Here's a couple of examples from our grade 5 team:
In our Feeding the Millions unit yesterday and today we have been looking at what hunger and malnutrition are. We discovered a most useful website for teachers from The Food and Agriculture Organisation,  Feeding Minds, Fighting Hunger, with some great lessons, which we have modified for our use. These have the same focus as our Enduring Understanding and some of our Essential Questions.

Lesson: What are Hunger and Malnutrition and Who are the Hungry?
In pairs, students used the sheet of information about food being essential to life and a list of foods that show the vitamins and minerals they provide.
The Task was to read together with a partner, discussing any difficult vocabulary, each on their own copy underlining with pencil, information he or she already knew and highlighting any information that was new.

Then, with the partner, they studied a drawing with a variety of foods in groups. This task was to see what foods they could identify and select some that would make a nutritious meal, based on the food information they'd read together.
The next part was looking for information from a world map provided by FAO which showed countries where 30% or more of the population are hungry or malnourished. They studied the map and used atlases  or online maps to name some of the countries with large percentages of hungry and malnourished people. 

They discussed why there was a large concentration in Africa and low concentrations in Europe and North America. This map was dated 2000, so they talked about how accurate that information was. Students searched the World Food Programme site (in the LiveBinder  Causes of Hunger and Malnutrition ) to find good recent information which they compared with the FAO map to see if any country's category had changed over 12 years.

Lesson: Causes of hunger 
One of our team put together 5 reports of causes of hunger, each with several short paragraphs. The paragraphs were cut up for a jigsaw activity. Each group of 4 students got a report to reassemble. Students had to think of a strategy to tackle the task. They needed to read the paragraphs and get the big idea behind each one. These notes they wrote in their books. 
They had to interpret the transition words at the beginning of the paragraphs to give clues as to placing them in order before sticking on a sheet.
Each group used their big ideas to present orally to the whole class the important points. After listening to everyone, groups were reformed to include one person from each of the first groupings so that the new groups could create a mind-map of the causes of hunger with detailed notes. 
Our EAL teacher was there also to work with a group who needed more assistance with the vocabulary.

Throughout, students were encouraged to write questions and wonderings down....

During all the different parts of these lessons, teacher modelling and student reflecting on how and why they are learning is also a major focus for our students.

Photos are my own.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Encouraging Compassion

Our new Unit of Inquiry is called Feeding the Millions. 

The Enduring Understanding is: 
Farmers grow enough food for the world’s population and yet many people suffer chronic hunger or malnutrition.
The Essential Questions are:
If the world's farmers produce enough food to feed the world, how come so many people are hungry?
What are the main causes of hunger?
How do people make money for food, when they have few resources and little education?
How can local communities (like Pasirmukti) increase food production?
How do NGOs help people in need?

We have studied this unit in its present format for four years now. In that time, Feeding the Millions has been the unit that has engaged students the most and has aroused more passion than any other. 

We start the unit by watching a movie called "Hungry is the Tiger" a documentary film in Bahasa Indonesia with English subtitles. There is a travelling dhalang who tells a series of stories to children in a kampung in the country with wayang (shadow puppets). Each little story is followed by a look at aspects of hunger, malnutrition, farming and self-sufficiency in communities in rural Indonesian.  Part of the documentary is filmed in India also. Our children are enthralled by the experience. It's a wonderful hook of a film! (A school alumnus was involved in the production, gave us a copy and introduced the film to our students four years ago before it had its official premiere!)

As part of the unit there is a field trip where our students go to stay on a working farm at Pasirmukti seeing food production first hand and taking part in farming activities. We ask them to make connections with what they have seen in the film. They have another field trip to Kampung Kids, an organisation where children can have early years education but more importantly a nutritious meal once a day. Some local older children are sponsored by the organisation to attend the local school.

Feeding the Millions is a unit which requires students to really reflect on their own lives while they look at the lives of those less fortunate than themselves, often the people they see from their car windows as they are driven from place to place by their drivers. It is especially interesting for our students, who are for the most part expatriate or wealthy indonesians, all well-off compared with the majority of the population living around them. 

Some of our students are amazed that there are children living so close to them who don't go to school because their families can't afford for them to go. Some of our students bring great prior knowledge coming from families where mum or dad works for an NGO or Aid agency.

As well as looking at hunger and malnutrition locally, we have a decent quantity of great library books about feeding the world and websites gathered in a LiveBinder, Feeding the Millions - What's it all about? 

So many ways to provoke wondering and questioning.... and finally the action that comes from students themselves. This is what we most want to see in the service-learning area of our curriculum.

We've seen how engaged this unit is for kids and now we are seeing the research which explains what we've recognised. It's nice to read why this type of unit ignites such passion in our children. As a faculty we have watched videos of Mary Helen Immordino-Yang talking about her studies

And as it happens I just read an article last night called Three Insights from the Cutting Edge of Compassion Research by Emiliana R. Simon Thomas of the Greater Good Science Center, based at University of California, Berkeley, which talks about compassion and mindfulness. 

Compassion is one of our School Values. In this unit there is plenty of opportunity to encourage it. 

"Hungry is the Tiger"
Produser Eksekutif: Hashim Djojohadikusumo
Dibawakan oleh: Sudjiwo Tedjo dan Christine Hakim
Menampilkan: Prabowo Subianto Djojohadikusumo
Disutradarai oleh: Gary Hayes
Diproduksi oleh: PT. Media Desa Indonesia

Friday, 14 September 2012

Essential Questions

In a recent post, When a Unit Doesn't Go So Well..., I listed thoughts that were going through my mind about what reasons there might have been. I've been thinking about those on and off over the past week as we start our new unit. Our cross campus team debrief/reflection for the learning to learn unit is still a couple of weeks away.

It occurred to me that I didn't add the Essential Questions to my list of possible reasons why I felt the unit didn't go so well. Maybe they weren't engaging enough. Maybe they didn't point in a clear enough direction for thinking about answers.  So I looked again at the questions that our team decided on at our meeting way back in April.
Essential questions should be essential. 1. How does my brain work? - Is it essential that a 10 year old knows how the brain works?  The way it's written, I think that is way too big a question for grade 5 -  people spend years trying to find out. We only have a couple of weeks!

2. What does my brain have to do with learning? I know what we were aiming for but it's not a wildly exciting question....

3. What can I do to get the best out of my brain? It already got tweaked at our first planning meeting of this year. This is more along the lines of what we're wanting students to get from this unit.

4. What are my responsibilities as a learner? It's OK but it doesn't grab you! And maybe it is redundant if Q3 is really well understood by students. It IS what we want students to be thinking about.....

So now I'm wondering if we can do better... Below are my thoughts today which I'll share with my small campus team and see if we can improve on the originals. And then we'll share cross campus. A small group feeding off each other's suggestions is the way to go to get the best questions, I think. Wordsmithing is vital, too.

How can I show how amazing my brain is? - I like the word amazing. It does presumes our brains are amazing - but I think for grade 5s that's probably OK.

How amazing is my brain?  - I like this better
How awesome is my brain?

How can I change my lifestyle to help my brain work best? - Hmmm...

How can I make myself smarter? - This sounds good. I like "smarter."

What habits do smart people have? - Have to think. Could be good. How would students go about finding out? Would that be too hard...?

Can I make myself smarter? How? - Yes or no answer, but it does have a "How" so that's OK...

If you read this and have suggestions please let me know!

Photo is my own.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Asleep with my eyes open...

In helping students with the third EQ of our Learning to Learn Unit, "How do I get the best out of my brain," our EAL teacher Mrs Bell read a story called Moody Cow Meditates by  Kerry Lee McLean.  In the story the main character learns to manage his anger.

Margaret then had students practise an exercise that they could use to help them do the same.

She used a jar of sparkles suspended in a solution of half water and half hand sanitiser (as we can't easily buy glycerine). She created a jar with the children so they could see it and make their own if they liked. She had gold and silver glitter as well as colours which children suggested for anger (red) and sadness (blue).

She had them sit comfortably on the floor, sounded a little gong and shook the jar. Children had to concentrate and be very aware of their breathing and watch the sparkles in the jar settle to the bottom. She played the gong again and had them sit without talking until they could no longer hear it. 

After this exercise which lasted only a few minutes, she asked how they felt.

Here are some more responses:

  • Why does this thing make me calm?  And I felt that I was in no-where
  • When I heard the gong, it made me slow down my thoughts and I could control myself better
  • It helps me feel calm and also my body feels really relaxed and calm, it also gets all my bad thoughts.
  • It makes me feel calm and tired. It just makes me forget all my thoughts and think all about glitter.  It could help me in the beginning of the day. It helps me clear my mind.
  • I didn’t notice or remember anything, I thought I fell asleep with my eyes open.
  • I think this is good because it helps controlling you and you have a clear mind and it makes you calm
  • It was helpful because my mind just calmed down about thinking 100 different things.
  • It gave me relaxation and it is a little bit helpful for me at home because of my brother.
  • It helps me because all my stress was gone and I didn’t feel a thing.
Photos are my own.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

There is hope!

So I am about to start reading the blog posts my students wrote yesterday about what and how they have learned in the "Learning to Learn" unit,  and I am getting posts like, "i learned a lot of stuff about the brain." "I learned a lot of stuff about how to make my brain work better." " I learned a lot of stuff i didn't know about the brain...." and thinking I have my work cut out this year for sure!

Then I realised that my last year's class blogs are still listed and I suddenly realise that they wrote a last post the day before school finished and with everything that was going on at that time, I actually did not get around to reading them. Not good. I should have at the time. But anyway, I clicked the first on the list of last year's students ......... and what a great boost I got! Just what I needed after my week of worrying about my unit that didn't go so well.

Just what a body needed! There is hope!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

When a unit doesn't go so well...

In over 10 years of teaching through inquiry in PYP schools and at my current school in a team of inquiry trained teachers, I have never had such a lack of questions/wonderings....

I am asking myself...

  • Is it because we have so many other things we need to do at the start of the year and the inquiry took second place which meant there was not quality time?
  • Is it because we have so few suitable resources?
  • Is it because my class is low on inquiry skills because this is so new to them?
  • Is it because I am expecting too much?
  • Is it because I have not scaffolded enough?
  • Is it because we allocated 3 weeks and it's not long enough?
  • Is it because the unit has too difficult a concept?
  • Is it because half my team is at another campus and we last met to discuss and plan this unit last April?
  • Is it because changes cannot be made with out both campus teams deciding together so we end up not discussing them because it's too hard?
  • Is it because I still feel a bit fuzzy through lack of in depth planning meetings?
  • Is it because that April planning meeting had too many people? And some people weren't actually teaching the unit?
  • Is it because in my heart of hearts I suspected almost all of these problems would emerge and I am feeling frustrated with myself that I did not speak up more at the planning stage.... didn't like to put a damper on the excitement.... And what does that say about our large cross-campus team and the essential agreements of being clear, honest, speaking your mind, etc., etc.................)

I am asking myself these questions as I reflect on how things are going with 1 day to go. I will also be taking my questions to my next team meeting (just our campus). From chats in staffroom or in corridor, I know I am not alone in feeling that the unit has not gone as well as we'd liked.

The next unit is waiting in the wings. I know from 4 years of this study that it will be engaging and challenging and all the things a UOI should be.

I wish I felt better about this new unit...... I hope that we will make the time necessary to talk about what worked and what didn't and what to recommend for next year while it is all still fresh!

Friday, 31 August 2012

A Little Freedom and Responsibility

Our students grade 3-5 have always started the year with 6 weeks of keyboarding for 30 minutes every day in the computer lab. We have used Mavis Beacon which is installed there.

But this year grade 5 students have their own macbooks in the classroom so we have been looking for a keyboarding programme that is online, so that we don't have to load a programme onto 60 macbooks and also so that keyboarding can become part of Home Learning.

I asked the question on twitter as I know there are loads of 1:1 schools out there. They must surely be doing Keyboarding lessons? But all I got were replies of, "Let us know when you find some!"

Then my tech colleague came up with something useful - Tripwire Magazine,  that had 10 online programmes. My first thought was, "Fantastic!" My second was, "When am I going to have time to check each one of these!" I didn't recognise any. And then I thought, well maybe the students can check them out. So I emailed the link and we had a discussion about how we should go about it.

I asked, "How will you know if a programme is right for you?"
After I got a few answers like, "It will have lessons," and "It will teach you," in a variety of different ways I asked what else do we want? I got all kinds of strange answers before someone said, "FUN!"

So then I said, "There are 10 here to choose from. How will you decide which is best?" We talked a bit about that. I introduced the word "criteria." Then realising what the task involved they started to give suggestions like:
It should have lessons suitable for everyone.
There will be different levels.
It should show a keyboard.
It will have games.
It will have easy instructions.
It will be fun.
It will tell me how I'm doing.

Excellent! And so it turned out to be. Giving the freedom to study different programmes and the responsibility of making a choice that would be good for them and their peers was definitely the way to go.

After some time trying different programmes, I asked them to write their thoughts in a blog post. (And added a 2 minute lesson on how to insert a hyperlink.)

And this is where I can see who has really looked for specific features...

Sample comments: 

Good Keyboarding stuff
Today I visited some websites for keyboarding and these were the ones that I thought were good and not so good:

On one of the websites called  you can pick the level ,there is a keyboard and it will tell you what speed your at, But it does not have games. That is why I think This one is good.

Another good website is Sense-Lang It is all free and has great games but the games do not have a keyboard. The Lessons are really good because you can pick you lessons and it has a keyboard. You can also do a test. I think this one is also really good.

Another one I'd like to tell you about is Rapid typing. It also has great games and it also does not have a keyboard and the test does not have a keyboard either. The Lessons you have to download so I don't think this is very good.

Today at school we had to do some keyboarding on our laptops. So I went on SenseLang. On type race you had to race against other people online and you could also play by your self but it wasn't fun. You could also race against your friends!!!!!! So there was a long sentence  and every time you raced there will be a new sentence. You would have to type the word that was highlighted on the sentence. If you get the word correct you would gain speed and if you do a word wrong you would lose speed.

When I was typing today, I found a good site called rapid typing. And it has games, tests and lots of other stuff. I  played the game word mountain and it had lots of levels like easy, hard,etc....
And people that are begginers for typing, and who are experts fro typing can also enjoy it.I think I will recommend this to my cousin when she is older.

I thought these sights were really good for learning to type but at the same time you can have fun with your friends. My favorite site was called Sense-Lang in this site you can play typing racing games and you can play Olympic racing its really fun. At the end of each and every game it tells you how much words per minute you type my high score was 41. I'm glad you found these fun and interesting sites Mrs.Buckley i think when my brother is a bit older i will show him these sites to teach him.

Photos are my own.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Wandering and Wondering

One of the challenges of starting a brand new unit after the overseas orders have been done is lack of resources. Our library has not had time to order new items for August and currently there are 12 books about the brain or books with chapters about the brain.....  hardly enough for 3 classes of 20 students! Middle School library has lent us another 14 books. Still....

When we check our list on the wall (generated by a small group brainstorming activity) there are other avenues. 

We  will make use of other teachers and we might have a group of high school students interested in seeing how they can help but they are at least an hour away. Realistically - most of the information that's readily available is from the Internet. I used to use iKeepBookmarks to use with students but now finding LiveBinders ideal for our purposes.

Students were emailed this LiveBinder: Learning and the Brain

The first page reminds students of our focus. They also get a reminder of what they should be doing while browsing. 

Gathering websites which have already been pre-chosen, means that students:
1. aren't spending a lot of time surfing the net,
2. aren't having to evaluate the usefulness of sites like they would if they were using a search engine,
3. aren't reading material that has no relevance.
4. aren't reading material that is beyond the "just-right" of a good (but not necessarily the best) reader.

Having said that, these are important skills. This is a short unit and it is the start of the year. (See post "So many Starts!" ) We'll spend longer teaching those skills later. But we will talk about the sites given and their usefulness and why they were chosen.

Students are asked to note anything they find particularly interesting. They are asked to make note of wonderings and questions that they have as they are browsing.  I can see that they are not used to jotting down questions. 

 Oh dear!

I suspect that they will have had experience of asking questions during Reader's Workshop but haven't realised that this is a way of thinking and learning which is not confined to reading. (there's another blog post)

As I gather these bits of information about they way I see students approach this unit, I start to think of which of the many inquiry skills I should focus on next.  Articulating your wonderings and generating questions seems to be a main one!

Photos are my own.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

What happens inside your head?

In the first few days of our learning to learn unit, we wanted to have students start to think about what they already knew. With just a short introduction we asked students to draw what they thought went on inside their heads when they were thinking, and add labels and notes where they wanted - whatever way they could best explain.

What a great Happy Place!

Listening to the discussions going on was every bit as important as seeing the many visual ways students showed their thoughts. 

Finding how few students had any real idea was eyeopening.

"This is my happy section. I'm putting musical notes."
"It does memories."
"I have so much storage space."
"I need to show emotions, feelings."
"This is the control centre."
"My thinking section has different stages."
"I basically just did the main three things, movement, emotion and thoughts!"

Photos are my own.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Reflecting right from the start

Inquiry teachers, PYP or any other variety, most likely have a unit planner that has a section at the end for an End of Unit reflection. We all know the importance of taking time to make note of ideas, changes, etc. so one has prior knowledge to review before any necessary revising/modifying next time the unit is studied.  I aim this year to make notes of any reflections as the unit unfolds, so I can bring them to my team PLC meeting for discussion.

We have barely started with our brand new "Learning to Learn" unit and I already have some thoughts based on our initial planning sessions some time ago and on what I have learned so far about my new class and their inquiry experience and competency.

Our new Learning to Learn unit for Grade 5 has this Enduring Understanding:

Understanding what influences our learning can help us make better learning choices.

Essential Questions:

How does my brain work?
What does my brain have to do with learning?
What can I do to get the best out of my brain?
What are my responsibilities as a learner?

In our planner, we hope that students would be inquiring into the ways in which learning is influenced by both extrinsic and intrinsic factors. The initial plan, when we met as a team of eleven, (I wonder if that's too many perhaps) was that the inquiry would be focused primarily on an investigation of the brain – how it works and what impacts its functioning.  From there students would be able to transfer their new learning to their current situation. They would be better able to make choices that will support their learning and participate in an informed way, in setting up the classroom community as a learning environment.  They'd look into the needs of learners focusing on how to be successful in areas such as:  organization, responsibilities, peer-pressure, self-management (use of time, sleep, diet, exercise patterns), self-awareness, confidence, social/emotional development, learning styles, multiple intelligences, goal setting, and reflecting on learning.) 

Now that I have met my class, I think this is a huge task. We have 3 weeks, initially, to be followed with continuation throughout the year alongside our other units. (and that long list of time-consuming start up stuff....)

In a previous school, where students had grown up with the inquiry process from early childhood, I could have seen grade 5 students pick up this unit and run with it. My new class will need a lot of scaffolding to help them with inquiry which is a new way of learning. That means that maybe for the start of this year I might not see students' own thoughtful questions which will guide their inquiry. I might not see the deep investigating. I might not see a great deal of that all-important transfer... But, important to be on the lookout for all these things nonetheless.

This is where my own reflections are so important to my own learning. Taking note of how students are learning and what they need support in during this process will be invaluable, more so at this stage than checking off the bits of knowledge they collect about the brain... I need to remember and keep students mindful that this unit is about learning to learn and not just gathering "Fun Facts" about the brain!

More to come....