Saturday, 28 April 2012

Inquiry and Challenge Based Learning

The Present
In Christophe Henry's blog Life in the Middle today is a video of a group of four students in the Agri-JIS Club talking about their project.  (A Challenge Based Learning Trial) As I write, they are in Geneva with two teachers at a conference co-sponsored by CERN and Apple.

Clearly they are engaged by the challenge they have set themselves. They are showing all the Essential Qualities of JIS Learners: Creative Individuals, Collaborative Workers, Effective Communicators, Self-Directed Positive Learners, Adaptable Learners, Problem Solvers and Responsible World Citizens.

These students show our newly adopted School Values of Perseverance, Balance, Compassion, Integrity, Respect and Responsibility. They share their passion for what they want to achieve.

The future?
These students worked on the project after school in a club. How would we need to change the way our schools work to be able to allow all our students to challenge themselves in this way as part of their normal school day?

OR... do we really NEED to give students this opportunity?

Maybe it's OK that this kind of learning be saved for After School Activity or occasional special days, like Earth Day, so that it doesn't interfere with our established routines.... 

How can we in elementary schools give our children more opportunities to engage in this type of Inquiry and Action as well as having them learn to be good readers and writers and mathematicians, etc? 

The more we can do to be prepared for the future before it becomes the past, the better........ IMHO.....

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Student-Led Conferences and Parents

With Student-Led Conferences coming up this is what I send to parents in advance. When parents are fully aware of how the conference will work they and the children will get so much more from the experience.

Dear Parents,

In Student-Led Conferences students lead their parents through different aspects of their learning. Your child will talk about his or her learning identifying areas of growth as a JIS Learner. For all the statements they make about their learning, they will show evidence which could be in many different formats and may be from multiple subject areas. (Before the conference the students will have practice in sharing and explaining their learning through role play.) 

Why Student-Led Conferences?
SLCs allow students to discuss their work with their parents in the language that best suits the family – even if this is not the teacher’s language.
SLCs help parents to understand how their child sees his or her learning.
SLCs give the child the opportunity to show how he or she has accepted responsibility for learning.
SLCs promote reflection and engagement with learning.
SLCs show development of Learning Competencies.*
So, for this to work, your child must be present for this conference!

There will be a short time where you can talk just with me or you can of course schedule another appointment after the SLC.

Best regards,..........etc

* Learning Competencies:
  • Being resourceful
  • Relating to Others
  • Managing Self
  • Contributing

Friday, 20 April 2012

Climate Change Animal Stories

Integrating reading, writing and inquiry processes

To conclude our grade 5 Unit of Inquiry, "Climate Control" students were given this performance task:

"Earth Day is approaching. Use this occasion to give endangered animals a voice. Use your best research skills (Big 6) to find information you can use in your story. Speak with the voice of the animal. Tell the humans about your life, what's happening with Global Warming and how it is affecting you. Tell them what they can do to try to slow down the climate change. Members of your school community will hear your voices on Earth Day, so make your message strong!"

This task ignited great excitement. All students exhibited passion for the project.

LiveBinder was shared. It contains a few general climate change sites as well as a link to World Wildlife Fund Belgium's animal videos. This added to prior knowledge already acquired during the course of the inquiry unit. 

Students drafted using google docs and shared with a classmate for peer editing.

Completed stories were printed and students used a highlighter to show the parts of their stories which used new knowledge which had come from research. They also used a coloured pencil to underline words, phrases sentences and punctuation which they felt clearly showed Voice (6 Traits Writing) in the story.

Learning new skills

We had the idea to read the stories and record them. Students recorded themselves and uploaded the audio file to our school multimedia site and from there embedded it in the blog. New and exciting for all students! On Earth Day the Grade 1 Buddies were invited to listen to the stories.


Here are a couple of examples which I had to lift from their blogs which are only shared with our class:

From Max's Blog:
Endangered Leather-Back Turtles

  Max's story 

Hi!! I am the Leather Back Turtle a.k.a Dermochelys Coriacea, our kinds scientific name. I am the biggest of all the other marine turtles weighing surprisingly more than a ton and as long as 6 feet (2 meters). As you can see my shell is special because it has a rubbery touch. Soft isn’t it?Other sea turtles have hardbacks, almost like stone.  I use my rock-liked beak to eat my main food. I live in the cool waters in the Pacific Ocean. I love to swim because it is very refreshing to me. Most of my species lives at west coast of Mexico but some of them are just scattered around the globe.
Credits: Universal Image Group
I love the deep blue ocean but every thirty five minutes I have to go up to breath some fresh air. We leather backs never leave the ocean but only the females of our family leaves the ocean to lay her eggs. She lays roughly one hundred eggs in burrows so more sea turtles are born. Our females bury them with sand and tries to hide them from humans. You can see that sometimes only a few turtle eggs are in the nest. That’s because humans illegally steal our eggs or accidentally step on them. That’s animal cruelty. Imagine how it feels to be  stepped on? Or stolen?
After two to three months in a tight space, I’m born with some of my siblings and then my parents leave me to waddle to the blue waters and live on our on. I have experience that being a turtle hatchling is very dangerous. Once, I almost got eaten alive by my natural predators: seagulls and other seabirds. Those nasty birds. I was fine and made it too the ocean but i wish i could say that for some of my other siblings.
As I swim through the ocean’s currents, I can smell a delicious odor. I traced the odor, I saw... A JELLYFISH!!! We leather backs like to eat those bobbing delicious jellyfishes. Maybe you’re wondering why my meal doesn’t sting me? Well, my rock-like beak prevents the stings from going to my rough skin. I swam towards my delicious meal but that wasn’t a jellyfish. Ohhh barnacles, it was just a floating plastic bag. Those rubbish mimic our meals every time!! If we eat those plastic bags, that will be the end of us.  
There’s also another problem that’s really critical to us, it is Global Warming. Ohh, that terrible word. It is causing our kind to lose population of our species. Why do humans even need to make more and more pollution? Couldn’t they use renewable energy like solar power or wind power? Humans pollute so much by burning fossil fuel in their factories or cutting down trees instead of planting more. And everyday at least one third of all pollutants are sucked by the ocean and to the ocean plants but do you know how do they treat the ocean? By throwing trash and polluting it with oil that effects other swimming creatures! Humans don’t appreciate the ocean and what it does for them.
Do you know how global warming affects us?? Well, you’ll see that the gender of the egg depends on the surrounding air’s temperature. Now this is where global warming comes in. I found out that the temperature of the surrounding air in this nest is too hot, which means most of them will be females. If this keeps up, all the leather backs will be females!! That’s not going to help the population of our species. Soon, there won’t be a lot for us in the future.
I bet you're thinking: Why save leather back turtles in the first place? Did you know we are the ambassadors of the ocean? At least that’s what scientists say. We also “monitor” the ocean for dead corals and creatures. It’s a really sad scene to see but we have to do it. After all, we are the ambassadors. There’s also one way we help humans, a  delicious way; we help humans keep the population of the jellyfishes mild... not wild. It helps the humans by decreasing the number of stings from those delicious creature. It would be ashamed to lose us, leather backs, because we are the only “soft shelled” turtles around. Sometimes I don’t understand why humans want to harm such specials animals like us.
I really would appreciate anyone who tries to help save the leather back turtles. I know some of a lot of ways that you can help us:
  1. You can turn off your electricity when you aren’t using it.
  2. Use non-polluting vehicles like bicycles or skateboards.
  3. You can recycle all your plastic bags and that will save a lot of turtles from dying of eating plastics.
Remember, even the most tiniest help, could make a big difference. ACT NOW.


   Hanna's story

Hello there, let me introduce myself. I am a Galapagos penguin.

I live on Western Islands such as Fernandia and Isabella. I also can be located on Santiago, Bartolome, Northern Santa Cruz, Florenia, and of course the Galapagos Islands.
        You might be thinking that I look like my cousins the emperor penguins in Antarctica, but I don’t at all. I have a black head and black upper parts. I also have a thin white line running from the corner of my eye to the tip of my throat. My underparts are white with a black band running across my chest. The upper part of my bill and the tip of the lower part of my bill are black. Around my eye there is a bare patch and near that a tad of my bill is pink and yellow. The females are usually smaller than males and the young ones don’t have the black chest band that adults have.
        Hm, I’m feeling rather hungry. I’m a carnivore that supports on land and sea to eat. In the sea I prefer krill, small crustaceans , squid and a few species of fish. On land I eat crabs. Yum, just thinking about those delicacies make me famished. Out of everything I eat I’d have to say krill is the best. I of course have predators ,my predators consist of leopard seals,killer whales and sharks, snakes, and owls. Talking about food is killing me I’ll be right back . . .
        Ah, I have just completed a delicious lunch of krill and squid that my colony helped me get. I think it is now time to rest. I usually rest in caves, cracks, and depressions of the lava flow of  the Galapagos Islands. On other islands like Santiago I just live in normal cracks and caves.
        Mating. Been there and done that. We Galapagos penguins tend to have one pair bond per life. A bond is reinforced by preening and bill tapping. Voila, you have a spouse for life.  Two  eggs are produced at an interval for roughly four days. Incubation lasts a maximum of forty days and is shared by both males and females.
         There are some things on the earth that are harming my kind. One of those things is global warming. You might be wondering what global warming is. Well, global warming is when too much carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. This is all done by this species called ‘Humans’. These ‘Humans’ are burning fossil fuels, like coal for energy to run things like airplanes, cars, and trains. But as ‘humans’ burn fossil fuels to use them it releases carbon dioxide. 
        How is this effecting my kind you might ask? Well, now scientists are studying islands which I inhabit to see if global warming has an impact on a Galapagos penguins like myself. Right now on Galapagos Island scientists are not letting fisheries near the island or oil companies. So far the scientists on Galapagos Island  suspect the water temperature has risen. If the temperature goes up by only one degree a huge chunk of my diet could be cut off because the sea animals aren’t used to the temperature. I’m already endangered by the oil companies and the fisheries. I beg you with all my heart that you can prevent me from facing the horrible effects of climate change. 
        The next time you use an electronic like a laptop or television. Think of my kind and how much we could suffer and try to prevent it from disrupting our lifestyle and the delicate food chain. If you are deciding on what kinds of cars to buy, buy something that doesn’t use fossil fuels to run, for instance  a hybrid. Also, try to carpool a lot, it saves energy. Another thing you could do is to use solar power energy to power the electronics wind turbines could also work.
        If you try  these tips you could save me. So, consider these tips and we could make a huge step to prevent me from being extinct. Remember, there is no age limit to save the earth. Thank you, I hope the next time you hear from me my kind will be thriving.

arkive images of life on earth. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2012. <
a-z-animals. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2012. < galapagos-penguin/>.
unep-wcmc-apps. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2012. <>.
wwf. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2012. <>.

                                     image by Zrim:

Any comments left here for Hanna or Max will be passed on to them. 

Grade 5 Reflecting on Learning

A large part of our most useful assessment in Grade 5 is in the form of student reflection.
Students are encouraged to think and write about some of these things:
  • what they've been learning (knowledge and skills)
  • how they are learning
  • why they are learning
  • what they feel they have done well
  • what was challenging
  • what they might improve on
  • how learning has changed their viewpoints
  • how learning will change their actions
  • what they are still wondering about
  • how they see themselves as JIS Learners
  • how they show the JIS Values
Often these reflections are written as blog posts. Have a look. These are reflections following the unit Climate Control which ended with publishing the animal stories. These were lifted off the students' blogs which are only shared within our class.

From "Charlotte's 5th Grade Blog"

Climate Control Reflection

We've been learning about climate control. I've learned a lot from this unit. I learned about how the green house effect works. Also how burning fossil fuels can pollute the earth and how it gets made. I also learned about renewable energy and how it makes energy and doesn't pollute the earth like burning fossil fuels.When we were working on our animal stories I also learned some new information. I learned about the polar bears life style and what it likes to eat. What we need to do to help and why global warming is effecting their home.
      I've also learned some new skills, especially when doing our the animal story. A new skill that I learned was pasting a recording into your blog or in dragon tales. Also how to be careful picking pictures on the Internet because you might not be able to use them. We also learned how to do an audio. I've also learned how to write a story but being another person or species. I also learned how to comment on a persons blog, but saying good comments. Also I learned how to use a microscope which was really interesting.
     But there is one part that I enjoyed the most about this unit in Climate Control. I enjoyed doing the presentation on renewable energy because I learned a lot of new information and how it really helps the earth.
     Learning about this unit not only had given me new information but it has changed me as a person. When we were talking about fossil fuels it made me turn off my lights and AC more often because I want our earth to be clean and better place for us and animals to live in. Also when we were writing our animal stories it made me think if I were that polar bear living in the Arctic but now with frozen ice, but with melting ice and not enough food for me to eat. As I remembered that, I've been changing how I live so that I could try to make a change.
     I think that this unit really helped me learn more about how to be more active in helping to stop global warming. I also thought that this unit was really fun because we got to do a lot of group activities which made me stronger in working together with other people.
    In the future I will try to recycle more and not throw away my empty cans and bottles. I will try to not use the water so much. I will try to turn off the AC and lights as much as possible. I'll try not to use the the car to much and maybe ride a bike or walk.
    This unit was a fun unit to work on, I hope to do those things that I said that I would try to do.

From "Kyrene's Grade 5 Blog"

 The climate change unit

We are finishing of the climate change unit and these are some of my thoughts about the unit. Also what I learned and some things that I will do to stop climate change.
     I learned lots of things that I hadn't known before. First I didn't know what the greenhouse effect was and then after the climate change unit I found that it was when some greenhouse gases trap sunlight in the earth making it warmer instead of reflecting the sunlight back into space it is trapped on earth making the climate warmer. I also learnt about renewable energy.
     I also learnt that because of climate change many animals will start dying out because when the earth heats up and the ice melts then there won't be much ice left for the animals who live in cold weather and because of the heat they may be not cold enough and then they will start dying out and then the food chain will be ruined. I also learnt about some animals that were affected by climate change the animal that I mainly learnt about was the arctic fox and how its affected by climate change.
     I also learnt some skills in the climate change unit. I learnt how to use sound recorder and make a podcast of me reading aloud my story about an animal that was affected by climate change. I also learnt how to insert something into Dragontales, a website where we can share videos, pictures and audio files. I also learnt how to insert an audio file into blogger. I also learnt how to use the microscope.
     The best thing that I learned was that if we can help by stop using electronics and wasting water and wasting paper we can stop climate change and help animals who are effected by climate change.
     Since we have started this unit it has changed me in many different ways I have come to realise that because of us humans maybe there won't be a next generation of people and there might not be any more animals in the world.
      I thought that this unit was very useful because it taught me things that I hadn't know before and that it has made me realise if I don't stop cotributing to global warming there might not be any more animals, humans or trees left in the world.
      After learning about climate change I have decided to stop wasting water and paper and to stop using private transportation and more public transport and that I have stopped using too much electricty. I also have started to recycle more.
     This unit has taught me alot and I hope to find out more about climate change and how I can help. 

Any comments posted which are for Charlotte or Kyrene will be pasted on their blogs by me.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Using Internet Images

For a long time it has bothered me that our students were going straight to google for images, and copying and pasting images that they did not have permission to use. But difficult to say much when I could not offer an alternative. 

But this year, we were introduced to compfight at the start-of-year tech inservice by Chrissy Hellyer. Now towards the end of the year, I can happily report that my students will automatically go to compfight for pictures, but not only this! If Flickr doesn't have pictures they like, they will not go to Google but will instead try other Creative Commons or free images sites which they have discovered off their own bat! Self-Directed Positive Learners* indeed!

Here's the lesson I have been using, which is saved on our network so that students who forget steps can access it at any time.

Using Compfight for Internet images
* Self-Directed Positive Learner: One of the seven Essential Qualities of JIS Learners

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Blogging with Students

I have just finished reading and commenting on my class's blogs. They just get better and better! Very gratifying at this time of the year. 

Like everything new, it takes time to learn of course and now three years of blogging later, we all have a better idea of what it's all about. I find I can also talk about the blogging as a blogger myself and this really has made a big difference this year, perhaps because I now understand the process better. 

When we started three years ago, the children's blogs were very basic. There wasn't a lot of substance to posts. There were lots of exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  And enough swimming fish, fluffy bunnies, cute ponies, virtual pets.... to open a mini-zoo!

Generally each year my students take to blogging like ducks to water, being far less self-conscious about their writing than I. Not that that meant that they were producing quality work!  I struggled with improving what they were doing.

And then, at the start of this school year, we had a tech inservice with guest, Chrissy Hellyer from ISBangkok who shared her experiences.  And this year I got back into twitter and there is no shortage of great ideas being shared! The most useful has been Kim Coffino whose work at ISBangkok and Yokohama IS has been (and continues to be) inspiring, and Steven Anderson who tweets so many useful ideas.

My students and I understand that it is no less important to talk about writing for the blog than for any other type of writing. They are mostly all clear about what is expected and in my blog that I share with my class, I give reminders and sometimes target particular aspects to think about.  
We have agreed that:
  • We use 6 Traits so therefore that writing process should be used for blogging as it is for any other writing.
  • We  look at examples of good reflections and identify what makes them good and I expect them to really think deeply.
  • We talk about commenting. I make sure now that there is always time to comment on each other's blog posts and expect to see this happening.
  • We talk about suitable language and what expectations on a school blog would look like. 
  • We talk about netiquette, decide on how that should look in our interactions with each other in emails and blogs (just as we look at our behaviours in the classroom) and there is an expectation that everyone will follow.
At our last PLC our Pattimura grade 5 team, which included some of our specialist teachers, set out what we would like to see so we have guidelines for next year. It has taken a long time to get to this point but good to have a draft now to share with the rest of our school and anyone else who's interested.

What should your Grade 5 Blog look like? DRAFT
Overall Appearance
      Your blog looks tidy, simple, organized, academic.
      You can be as creative as you like to make your blog reflect you as a learner.
      You can use bright colors to catch the reader’s attention.
      Your title and tagline are interesting so that readers want to know more.
      The fonts are simple, easy to read, consistent size.
      Contrasting colors for the background and text make it easy to see and read.
      Your topics and interactions with others are positive.
      The topic of your blog posts is consistent with the theme.
      You use 6 Traits Writing Process.
      Your writing is appropriate for your audience.
      You can organise your different topics/themes into pages.
      The page about yourself has a short description about the author to help readers understand who is writing.
      You follow JIS Acceptable Use Policy guidelines for posting personal information.
      Images match the text. They have captions if needed.
      They are evenly spaced.
      You use images that you have permission to use.
      Attributions are shown.
      Links within posts and on sidebar are to your classmates’ blogs or are school related sites or sites to do with your topics.
      You comment on other blogs regularly, following the commenting guidelines.
      You reply to other people’s comments on your post when appropriate.

Ideas adapted from Grade 6 Blog Criteria by Kim Coffino Yokohama International School

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Legacies of the Past...

Today we started the last Unit of Inquiry for the year! "Legacies of the Past" is a mainly history unit and it has itself had an interesting history!

Way back in the mists of time, and well before my time, the elementary school at JIS divided up the world among the grades.  Grade 1 got Australia, Grade 5 got China, and I can't remember the others, but by the time you'd exited elementary school you'd have been all around the globe!

When I arrived in Grade 5 four years ago, the unit was known as the "China Unit" and had a secondary title of comparing cultures or some such. There was an enormously fat file book packed full of .... photocopiable worksheets .... Trying to turn all this into a unit of inquiry was a major piece of work but now we have a unit with one enduring understanding, a concept that is global, transferable, engaging, challenging and lends itself to students' group or individual inquiry.

After lunch my students came into a room with dimmed lights and "artifacts" scattered on the tables and hanging from the ceiling. They had lined up outside, peered through the windows, noticed the glint of gold (brass) and curiosities were immediately piqued. Their task was to study the objects, talk about where thy might have come from, what they might have been used for, who used them, etc, etc.

All these treasures came from our house, a collection of items gathered from our travels, as well as boxes of spices and teas to be smelled. 

Were the children engaged? Absolutely! Were there great substantive conversations happening? Yes! Lots of questions? Loads! Was there discovery going on? Yes!

Can I wait to get into school tomorrow to continue? No! The enthusiasm of children so thoroughly excited, curious and engaged is highly addictive!