Tag Archives: PYP

Differentiation vs. the Time Villain

I am going through a cycle in my own learning where I am taking in lots of information and trying to process it as I construct meaning and make connections across a few different related concepts. My mind is sifting and sorting as I try to learn and ultimately, grow both personally and professionally. As I try to inquire into each, I can’t help but make big connections as I explore these concepts individually and in tandem. I have lots of notes on all three and loads of ideas…but my understanding is still growing even though I’ve been at it for months. My inquiry, ideas and thinking are in process, but they are not at the point where I could possibly articulate the new understandings that I am building.

So, my current state has got me pondering and wondering about meaningful learning and the timing of summative assessments. What of the learner who is still making connections and processing their understanding and somehow they are supposed to complete a summative assessment because it’s “the end” of a unit? I was very provoked and inspired by the extremely reflective and insightful blog post recently shared by Sam Sharrett on summative assessments. Recently, I also participated in a webinar hosted by Rick Wormelli. Wormelli got me wondering when he questioned the mixed signals we are sending in the “rush to quantify learning”. I am wondering this: if differentiation is integral to teaching and learning, why is it typical practise to give the summative assessment to all learners at the same time? Even if we are differentiating the task, what if the timing isn’t right for some or all learners? How do we differentiate time in a system where time is often portrayed as the finite villain? It bothers me that the program of inquiry can become like a series of Amazing Race episodes, with learners racing from one line of inquiry to the next with the hopes of making it the big conceptual aha/final destination– except in this case, there is no million dollar prize at the end – just teachers scratching their heads and students lining up to start the race all over again when the next unit begins. And furthermore, how many of our students are eliminated during the race because they run out of time?

I must say that one of the big frustrations that I felt when I was in in the classroom full time, and one that has been shared with me countless times by colleagues and other educators I’ve worked with as a PYP workshop leader is the constraints that 6 transdisciplinary themes in one school year puts on learning. Is the requirement for learners to experience all 6 transdisciplinary themes REALLY about the learner? Six linear units with fairly firm start and end dates on the curricular clock doesn’t give the learner who isn’t ready to move on yet the time they may need to let their learning percolate. What about the learner who can’t process all that rich conceptual information within a 4-6 time-frame? Units of inquiry have a way of marching forward, one unit wrapping up as the other is ready to begin…the relentless calendar reminding us that a school year is finite and that learners must move on, ready or not.

I hope that as the IB revisits the PYP over the coming months that serious consideration will be given to making learning more flexible within the PYP curricular framework. The framework needs some refreshing – it’s been 15 years with no change – except some minor tweaks to a couple of theme names. While I appreciate the value of each unique transdisciplinary theme, I do believe that “coverage” of all six themes across one school year is not always learner centred and can actually be counter-productive to the heart of the best-practise inquiry based pedagogy that the PYP is built on. Schools should be able to make more flexible choices about the ebb and flow of units and which themes are best suited to learners at different developmental stages. Instead of a rigid matrix, perhaps some clear guidelines about minimum criteria around planning curriculum within the framework might help alleviate some of the crunch I know many teachers, and as a result, learners feel. This might give learners who need time to truly explore and inquire into and across transdisciplinary concepts the time they need to process, consolidate, apply and maybe even really have the time to take meaningful action for and from their learning.

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The PYP-X Files – Chronicles of an Exhibition, Weeks 6 & 7: Transferring

Our Exhibition is tomorrow! The last week and half have been filled with a busy energy as learners engaged in the hands on work of creating the different components of their presentations and exhibits. Week 6 is all about constructing, creating, collaborating and communicating as students work in their inquiry groups to bring the plans they created in Week 5 to life. Learning spaces become construction zones and Grade 6 student can be found in every available space in the school engaged in the realization of their plans. Sometimes students find challenges in making a plan become reality. It’s our job as the adults to give them the space they need to approach their challenges with their team members to find solutions, and to not step in unless we’re asked for support or to be an objective “third eye”.  It’s amazing to watch the students bring their ideas to life – this is a time to see their confidence and creativity shine. All aspects of the presentations are created and completed at school. They have lots of time to make it all happen and by the end of week 6 each group is feeling ready for the “beginning of the end.”

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A web page created by the Water issues group designed to raise awareness and funds to support the building of wells.

Week 7 begins with time for rehearsals. Each group presentation consists of a 10-15 minute presentation where each group shares their issue, perspectives, solutions and action. Students also have the option to have a table where they can share artifacts, art work, statistics, interactive components and any other visuals. All students display their Exhibition journals and planning as well. Students work in their groups to rehearse and interact with their props. Because we believe that Exhibition Day is a day of celebration, group presentations are formally assessed during the “dress rehearsal” in class presentations. They are given immediate feedback (stars and wishes) from their peers and their teacher provides them with feedback and evaluative data as well. We find that this de-emphasises marks and instead places the emphasis on opportunities for continued growth. Students have the opportunity to reflect prior to exhibition day and this means that each group uses the feedback they receive and applies it to their public presentation on Exhibition Day. There are no clip boards, rubrics or check-lists on Exhibition Day – just passionate students sharing their learning . As I watch the dress rehearsals I am in awe of the girls’ Exhibition journey and the diversity their work shows. Every group has chosen unique ways to share their learning about their chosen issue. Passion and commitment are highly evident; knowledge is delivered in creative ways; students show they are risk-takers through their provocations and their confidence.

The range of emotions I experience as I watch our learners transform into teachers leaves me at a loss for words: goose bumps, discomfort as my thinking and assumptions are challenged, teary eyed from shocking facts and statistics, inspired by messages of hope and action, and even laughter. These reactions tell me that the PYP journey is coming to an amazing end for these learners. They are living proof of the power of the IB framework and philosophy in action in our school.

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A student working on a model house that will show building materials that support a more sustainable future.
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Artwork created by the Animal issues group showing the impact of pollution and waste on habitats.

The exhibition is a process that reflects the development of the Learner Profile and the 5 Essential Elements of the PYP over time. In short, it acts as a school’s summative assessment of its entire PYP program, not just the final year of the program or one day. It is a milestone day that represents a significant journey for every learner and teacher in a PYP school. Presentations should be significant, relevant and engaging. They should also showcase each learner’s unique skills, talents and perspectives. Our job is to set our learners up for success by both challenging and supporting them. Today as I walked the spaces and interacted with our grade 6 students as they made their final preparations, my question to each of them was, “Are we ready?” Their resounding response – “YES WE ARE!”                                    

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An interactive game designed to help players compare 3 different health care systems.

The PYP-X Files – Chronicles of an Exhibition, Week 4: Exploring

Week 4 is all about research, research, research! Now that learners have a defined focus through their central ideas and lines of inquiry they go full-on into research mode, building on the preliminary gathering of materials in Week 3. This week students focus on building a bank of key concept related questions to help them deepen their research and inquiry into their issues. They use an F-Q-R format (Fact-Question-Response) to organize their research, show accountability/academic honesty for their chosen primary and secondary sources, and to think about their research as they conduct it.

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Fact-Question Response (F-Q-R) Research Format
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Deepening Research Through Key Concept Lenses

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A key piece of research is also sourcing out primary sources who can share unique perspectives into the various issues. Students make contact with local organizations, politicians, businesses, museums, etc. to arrange interviews (in person, via Skype or by e-mail) and learning trips.This year students are experiencing a great response to their requests and have taken part in some very meaningful learning as a result. Primary sources help to provide a real life lens into the issue and help students to gain local perspectives. E.g. One group visited a museum lecture and spoke to activists with varying perspectives; another visited a homeless shelter; another interviewed a police officer about gun control and visited a news paper office and interviewed the editor about guns and weapons in the news, etc. Our parent community provides essential support in helping us to make connections and chaperones small groups of students as they embark on learning trips to support their exhibition issues. As students reach out into the community they are also inspired to start taking action. While we do not require that every group must organize an action component beyond the exhibition itself, spontaneous action ideas begin to arise as students become more knowledgeable and passionate about their issues and make meaningful connections to local organizations and people through their learning trips and interviews.

As the week rounds out each group works together to frame a “debatable question” which will help them to analyse perspectives relating to their issue and synthesize the most important aspects of their research. They will use this question in Week 5 to write a persuasive essay arguing points for(pros) or against(cons) in response to their debatable questions. Each group meets with me and their teacher to discuss their debatable question ideas and share their preliminary thinking. We are so impressed with how the girls are able to confidently and articulately share their ideas and already tie in facts and information from their research to back up their thinking. That F-Q-R sure works to get learners thinking about their research while they are doing it. I was struck by a couple of comments students made during our discussions. Izzy said, “you know it’s a good debatable question because you have to think hard about which side to choose.” Fiona remarked about how she woke in the night thinking about her issue and the question she proposed to the group just hit her. (“They” aren’t kidding when “they” say the PYP is pervasive!) Some sample debatable questions:

  • Is the issue of body image properly addressed in our society?
  • Are we doing enough to preserve the earth’s supply of potable water?
  • Should children solve their bullying problems without adults intervening?
  • Is crowding people into cities an effective way to use the land?
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Debatable Question Planning Sheet

During the week students meet with their mentors to review their research and set new goals. At the end of the week they complete reflections on their research skills, as well us update their open-ended “Tree People” reflections.

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Mentor Meeting Tracking Sheet. The students are responsible for completing this each week.
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Research Skills Self-Assessment
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On going reflections each week for students to share their thoughts and feelings about the exhibition process, etc.

The Power of Teaching Others

Learning Pyramid
Learning Pyramid (Photo credit: dkuropatwa)

One of my favourite aspects of being an IB educator is being a part of the IB volunteer network. Giving workshops on behalf of IB is by far the best professional development opportunity that I participate in. I am a bit of a PD junky, so giving workshops feeds my addiction on so many levels! I can still remember sitting in my first PYP workshop 10 years ago in complete admiration of the presenters. They inspired me, and as soon as I could pursue the opportunity to become a workshop leader I did. Here are my “Top 10 Reasons Why I Love Being a PYP WSL”:

  1. The amount of involvement and application/transfer of my own understanding and knowledge of PYP framework and philosophy is deepened with each workshop I prepare for and deliver. That pyramid image with the base showing that we retain 90% of what we teach is 100% true!
  2. Collaborating with another colleague whom I only share a common understanding of the PYP with is such a testament to the power of the IB. We communicate prior to the workshop without having met before (in most cases) and share our experiences and stories as we construct shared meaning through the workshop framework. We plan on the fly once we meet in person and together we adapt and adjust once we get to know the participants in our workshop. We learn from each other and take away new strategies and ideas.
  3. While there are common IB objectives, each workshop experience is unique. Each room is different – sometimes there is a considerable range in participants; while other times participants are more homogenous. This can also depend on the level of a workshop. In a level 1 regional workshop the diversity of the group can be huge; while in a level 2 or 3 workshop there is a more shared understanding of the PYP and everyone in the room is there to go deeper to enhance teaching and learning even further.
  4. Being a part of a person’s or school’s “PYP Journey” while not knowing what the end looks like for them is highly motivating for me. I love bumping into people who attended a workshop I led or co-led at a future workshop who share their success stories of how much they’ve grown and changed. I love the ambiguity of “loving them and then setting them free”.
  5. The 2.5 day workshop experience is INTENSE! You enter a room as a stranger and you leave with a new network of PYP friends.
  6. 6.      An IB Workshop is the action cycle in motion.
  7. Reflection! As a WSL every moment is one hinged on reflection – Is this what the group needs most right now? How do I know? How will I change course to ensure that questions and points of tension and moments of wonder are built into the framework of the workshop? Truly differentiation at its best.
  8. Challenge – every participant group poses diverse problems and brings forward new challenges. Exploring solutions and what “that might look like” stretches me and causes me to dig deep in my PYP well to support them.
  9. Seeing shift happen right before your eyes. Change is directly measurable in a workshop – you can literally see it happening right before your eyes. I recently conducted an on-site workshop and witnessed the faculty of a school collectively come to the realization that in order for their school to succeed in their PYP journey that collaboration was going to be essential. The time they spent collaborating in the workshop opened their minds to the impact that the PYP can have not only in the classroom, but on their faculty too.
  10. Every time I return back to my school after giving a workshop I am better for it. Giving workshops changes my practice. I learn IN experience with the participants as we share in experiences to construct meaning. My own perspective shifts and I bring new insights and experiences to my role as a coordinator as I support my own colleagues in their PYP journey.

    My planning map for a recent Level 1: Making the PYP Happen in the Classoom

Action FROM Learning

It is not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something. May I suggest that it be creating joy for others, sharing what we have for the betterment of personkind, bringing hope to the lost and love to the lonely.   Leo T. Buscaglia

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Action FROM learning is something a learner chooses to do because of what they are learning or have learned. This type of action is a spark ignited by passion. Action FROM learning ranges from smaller scale actions taken by a learner such as changing something they personally do to make the world better (e.g. turning the tap off when brushing teeth) to larger scale action that involves others and requires a plan to follow through (e.g. organizing a clothing drive for a homeless shelter). Action FROM learning happens because something the learner was exposed to triggered them to take the “what” of their learning beyond the 4 walls of the classroom and out into the wider world. The learning brought the learner to the realization that they have a responsibility and that they can DO something about it.

Action FROM learning needs to be modelled, encouraged and fostered within a school community. Learners need to understand intrinsically that action is a process and that when they engage in a cycle of action, not only are they doing something to make a difference for others, they are also creating an opportunity for personal growth and reflection. This process can be simple as a realization and making a simple lifestyle change, or it can be complex and involve many steps.  Each time a learner chooses, acts and reflects, he/she deepens his/her understanding of themselves and their connection to others. When a learner completely follows through with an action thought or idea, whether it’s as simple as holding the door open for someone or as complex as organizing a large scale fund raiser, their action helps them to  become a better person by helping others or the world. Ultimately they help themselves as their own outlook on the world changes or shifts as they create impact around them.

For the last 10 years I have had the privilege of mentoring young learners through the action cycle. I don’t see myself as a teacher of action, but as a mentor. I am there to help big and small dreams become reality by supporting students as they seek to change the world and create impact. Kids are big dreamers and when they are moved to take action, especially larger scale action, they are as Craig Keilberger calls them, “shameless idealists”. Sadly, reality has the power to crush even the biggest idealists.  As an action mentor, I support the idealists in also being realists so that they don’t give up on their action dream, because there is no greater reward than seeing the action process through with the knowledge that change was instigated either near or far.

Critical to action FROM learning is that it connect to an ISSUE. Taking meaningful action is not about an event, which is a common pitfall to look out for when mentoring students through the action process. So many kids come to me saying, “I want to have a bake sale” or “I want to sell bracelets.” My questions back to them are always “What issue is it that you care about/are passionate about? WHY do you want to do this?/Why is this important to you?” Those 2 questions have resulted in major shifts in the culture of action in the two schools where I’ve taken on the action mentor charge. Students no longer come to me with an “action event”. Instead, they come with a cause or issue and the action is born out of their passion for that issue. Most frequently, the issue connects to an issue they’ve explored in class or to something they’ve talked about at home, or even something they saw in the newspaper/news/on-line. Once the issue is clearly defined, then we explore the “doability” factor: “Is this action possible/doable? What is our goal? How can we make it happen? What might get in our way? What do we need? What is our timeline? How much support will we need from others? How much education/awareness raising needs to be done to gain the support of our peers’, teachers and/or parents? Are we willing to change our plan if we need to to ensure this action happens?” A nice byproduct about supporting and mentoring action in this way, is that students always raise awareness first because they naturally want to educate others about what they care about. For larger scale action, awareness within the bigger community is paramount to the overall success of the action.

When I mentor students through an action plan, we work under the following guidelines:

Central/Big Idea: Understanding issues that affect us, our community and our world can help us to take meaningful action to make a difference.

Lines of Inquiry:

  • Issues affecting us, our community and our world
  • Working together to make a difference
  • Planning for, implementing and reflecting on action/service

Guiding Questions:

CHOOSE: What (issue) will we take action for? (local or global?)

ACT: How will we achieve our action goal? What steps will we take?

REFLECT: How successfully did we achieve our action goal?

These guidelines help us to share a collective focus and ensure that the action our students follow through with has a clear and meaningful purpose and that it is highly effective. Successful action leads to more action – it becomes a part of the values of the school community and it is celebrated and honoured as an important part of the learning process.

Stay tuned for the next post: an exploration of “Action FOR Learning”

Chaos in the world brings uneasiness, but it also allows the opportunity for creativity and growth.” Tom Barrett

Our Grade 5s are currently inquiring into the concept of sound and its environmental and technological applications. As a part of their inquiry they’ve visited some concert halls to explore how sound is used in a carefully designed space for a specific purpose. As we collaborated in the creation of this new unit in our program we wondered how much the students would really understand beyond the traditional sound basics. Exploring the applications of sound opened the possibilities up quite wide and with 10 and 11 year old learners, we wanted them not only to understand the science of sound – those aspects of sound that don’t change, but also come to appreciate that sound can be harnessed and the harnessing of sound pushes people to new limits, boundaries and change. The summative assessment involves the students planning, designing, constructing and presenting some sort of concert/presentation space. This afternoon I strolled into Grade 5 and landed in the most beautiful form of learning chaos – students spread out across the room surrounded by plans and construction materials. The chatter in the room was buoyant as they created their own masterpieces and inspired each other with their creativity and knowledge. Words like “acoustic baffling” and “resonance” were common place as they truly had become one with their task. Every material chosen had a specific purpose connecting back to enhancing the sound they hoped their space would create. Ideas ranged from traditional to downright innovative. My favorite was a dual purpose flip stage – on one side the stage was padded so that gymnasts and acrobats could perform daring feats to music; on the other side the stage floor was wood and Neil Diamond (a girl after my own heart) was perched in the center ready to belt out “Sweet Caroline.” Inquiry is a beautiful thing – and sometimes, beautiful things require chaos before they emerge.  Learning should get messy, and as educators, we need to make sure that we provide a classroom community where that happens on a regular basis. When we step back and provide a learning environment that invites problem solving, innovation, and creativity learning becomes vibrant in ways we never dreamed!

Professional Discourse with Not-So Strangers

Computer-globe
Computer-globe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve spent the last several days sick in bed with the flu. For those of us high strung type A educator types, being away from school for too long is always a challenge. I miss the frenetic pace of the day and that feeling of constantly being here, there and everywhere all at once. It got to the point where I was actually ahead of my digital workload (gasp – this never happens, usually I’m swimming in it!). So, what else is a gal who is ahead of her digital workload to do when relegated to bed with the flu for 4 days straight? Well, I finally fully launched this blog, opened a twitter account and made a PiEd PYPer Facebook page. I’m feeling pretty tech savvy with myself right now (picture my peacock feathers standing tall) even though I must admit, I’m not yet fully comprehending twitter at the moment. (Tips and tricks gratefully accepted, please!) That being said, I finally had the time to explore a ning for IB PYP educators called “PYP Threads” that I joined a little while ago but hadn’t yet had the chance to really dive in and explore. As I toured around the site, I felt the call to begin to engage. Having the opportunity to take part in some very deep professional discourse with colleagues whom I’ve never met face to face was utterly stimulating! I happened upon a post about central ideas and whether or not PYP teachers should post them on the wall during a unit of inquiry. I decided to put my two cents worth of comments in, and the next thing I knew I was engaged in a very deep and pedagogical conversation with a fellow PYP Co-ordinator currently in Japan. How cool is that? I even noticed that the recent conversation thread had made it onto the ning’s twitter feed which brought some others into the dialogue too. One of the best things about being a part of the International Baccalaureate community is just that – that you can have deep and meaningful professional discourse with someone from ANY IB school in the world, and because we all speak “PYP” we can engage deeply and stimulate each other’s thinking and reasoning. We can share perspectives, ideas and practice, and the most beautiful thing of all is that we can remain open-minded and live out that last bit of the IB mission statement, that says… “These programmes encourage students [educators] across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.

How do you engage in professional discourse? Leave a comment!

You Have To Start Somewhere…

So I’ve decided to start a blog, again. I kept a blog once before, when I was teaching a class of Grade 2 boys. (http://dynamitelearning.blogspot.ca/) It was a professional goal for me that year to communicate via a blog with the parents of the students in my class and as a reflective tool for me to document what was going in my classroom. The boys in my class that year loved going home and looking at the new blog entries with their parents whenever I made a post. It made them feel special and it helped them to have meaningful conversations with their parents about their learning. What was even more fun for them was watching the map that tracked where blog visitors came from. By the end of the school year, we had visitors from other places that we weren’t connected personally to, and that fascinated them. The fact that other people, who they did not know from other parts of the world could look in on us and learn from our learning was a huge point of wonder.

While I no longer have a class of my own, I view the teachers that I support through curriculum coordination and administration as my class – each colleague requires differentiation just as the learners in my classroom did. Each colleague brings something unique to my day, whether it is a challenge, a problem to solve, a project to work on together, documenting curriculum, realizing school based initiatives, an A-ha! moment, etc. Even though I am surrounded by a team of amazingly talented and inspiring colleagues in a fantastic school, I have a need to process my own learning beyond the walls of my school, so I’ve decided to blog once again. It’s time to chronicle my own reflections, learning, new understandings, wonderings, and challenges. Maybe, just maybe, along the way, others may join me again, whether they are close to home, or across the world.

In order to prepare myself for this blog, I’ve spent a lot of time exploring other blogs related to education and more. I’ve been so inspired by the reading I’ve done, and I am now hooked on several blogs, which I will be sure to share here, too! I love learning from other people’s perspectives. I am a constructivist at heart – I like to build my own understanding FROM something. When I first thought of starting up a blog again, I had a lot of doubts. Could I do this again? What exactly was I going to write about? Will anyone care? In preparing myself to do this I’ve gone through my own inquiry cycle. I started by PREPARING – thinking about my purpose and intent. Then I began to EXPLORE by looking at what else is out there in the edublogoshphere. Next, I started to PROCESS by brainstorming ideas around possible blog entries that I might write about. Thank goodness for the notes app on my iphone because I’ve learned you never know when or where an idea might strike! And now I am at the TRANSFER phase – I am ready to take action with my learning by actually committing to writing a blog. Through my inquiry process, I realized that YES, I can do this again (I do love to write after all), and that YES I do have things to write about and that NO, while it doesn’t really matter if anyone else reads this, that YES I do hope that there are others out there who will either identify with me, share with me, or want to challenge my perspective, helping me to grow. That’s what I call a win-win! So…you have to start somewhere and this is it for me…one post down…the PiEd PYPer plays a tune!