The Shape of a Unit.

Each unit is different. Each unit has a different shape. 

Some of them are straight linear lines, start at point A, pass point B, end at Point C. 

Some of them are more root-like, branching off into many different directions.


We just finished planning a unit with the big idea of CONSERVATION. This concept suggests a lot of different pathways to inquire down, so we wanted to define it to constrain the inquiry a bit so we can really dig into the Central Idea (which we keep in our mind as teachers but don't share with students). We came up with 4 main aspects of the big idea (in verb form); to PRESERVE, to PROTECT, to USE WISELY, to SPREAD. 

We then thought of an example of each, a case study to help understand the concept. These two inner circles will represent the guided inquiry aspect of the unit, where we as teachers can model and assess and make sure the concepts are understood. 

The outer circle represents the students own inquiries.  Using the verbs they can narrow down their inquiry, adding a WHO, WHERE, and HOW.
  • An inquiry into how the city is trying to PRESERVE temples and shrines in Kyoto
  • An inquiry into how organizations are trying to SPREAD indigenous cultures
  • An inquiry into how nations are attempting to PROTECT endangered species
  • An inquiry into how communities are trying to USE their timber resources WISELY
Using the Sustainability Compass as a lens, they can choose an issue and dive in, looking at CONSERVATION through various perspectives. 

Modelling and Language

I was modelling a math lesson the other day and the teacher who was observing took notes of everything I said. She typed it up and sent it back to me. I found it fascinating to see my own words reflected back to me. Great reflection. I highly recommend it.

  • I want you to show me eight circles (also demonstrate self)
  • Vocalised how each person did it… rows, lines, groups
  • If you were going to erase two, which two would you erase? Don't do it yet… just show me which ones you will erase.
  • Ok now Erase.
  • What made you do it that way? What made you choose those circles to erase?
  • Was their an easier way to do that?
  • Can you now draw ‘12’ crosses for me.
  • Mine is organised like… how did you organise yours?
  • Can you organise yours a bit more easily?
  • How can you arrange 12 crosses differently?
  • How many do we have here? 12. I'd like you to write 12 here.
  • All students write the number 12.
  • Then I'm going to write this little sign here -. 12 -.
  • What does this sign mean?
  • Now tell me how you're going to erase 5. Which 5 will you take away? Tell me first.
  • Now do it. Now how many are left?
  • Write on your own board 12-5=7
  • What does this sign mean? “=”
  • Talk and discuss the shape of the crosses that are left… oh, Jesse, I see you have 3 in 2 rows. Haru, you have 2 in 5 rows etc
  • Now we are going to do something a little harder…
  • Please draw 13 triangles. Keep it organised, so it's easy to see the number of triangles.
  • Verbalise. What have you got rosa? 4/4/4/1, Jesse 4/5/4, 6/6/1 etc
  • Let's write the number 13. Notice a child making it back to front, number, erase and say, oh sorry I erased your work, can you do it again? If repeats, use little dots to show shapes.
  • If I ask you to erase 4 of 13, show me which will be the easiest to erase… the easiest way to erase 4.
  • Ok erase them now. How many have you got left?
  • How do we write that? 13-4=9.
  • Before I was asking you to do subtraction on the white board. Now I want you to do that in your head. Can you see 9 circles in your head. Organise them in the easiest way. Can you take away 4 of them? Tell me what you have.
  • Ok, now let's use our fingers. Show me 8. Show me how to take away 2. There are 2 ways to take away two. Show me another way.




The Meta Unit (pt 1)

The Meta Unit (pt 1)

This is part 1 of a series of blog posts tracking a change in practice we are trying this year.
This idea came from our frustration with a very busy schedule where sequential Units of Inquiry left little breathing room on the calendar. In order to give ourselves a bit more room on the schedule, we have decided that each Primary class will designate one of their units of Inquiry as a META unit. 

After our initial planning session, two different types of Meta units emerged:

1) The Long Term Project Based Learning

Grade 5/6 will take a unit and do a year long project. On Friday afternoons every week, as a school we have a period dedicated to Community Time/Passion Projects. This class will take that time and apply it to a UOI once a week. The students will negotiate and decide what that will look like.

2) The Central Core

Grade 1 & 2 and Grade 3/4 are going with a different approach. They choose one unit that will act as a philosophical core for the year. It will be weaved in and out of everything. The unit on NEEDS is all about our basic needs as humans (who we are). This will include our needs as learners and as a member of a community. This will be used as a vehicle for reflection and character development.

The other unit is on EVIDENCE, which is all about defending your claim with some kind of support. The class will use CLAIM--SUPPORT--QUESTION as a central philosophy. They will use the other 5 units to inquire into different types of evidence, and different ways of presenting it and analyzing it. There will also be an ancient civilizations aspect to this, but we are still working out what that looks like.

Of course this is just the initial thoughts! We have no idea where it will go, but that unknown quality is very exciting....




To be continued....

Playing with Models

We have been playing with a couple of models, looking for some feedback.

We are trying to make our planning visible for parents to follow the inquiry. We are using metaphors to help them follow along at home so they get how we plan and how an inquiry unfolds.

Would love some feedback.



Good Questions

(also posted at THE LEAD LEARNER, staff blog of Kyoto International School)

Before making a transition to snack, or outside play, or lunch, we gather the children on the mat. We ask them to ask us GOOD question about 'something' (usually the first thing that pops into our heads, clouds, alligators, mountains, etc). When they ask a GOOD question, they can go.

So, what is a GOOD question? And how does an 5 year old know what a GOOD question is?

To support this, we are using this visual metaphor:

Culture of Thinking
A small fish question is a question that you already know the answer to (or one that doesn't really make sense)

A medium fish question is a question that you can probably figure out if you think about it

A big fish question is a question that you don't know the answer to, but you really want to

We have noticed in the several weeks we have started doing this quick little daily activity:

  • the questions are becoming progressively more BIG FISH oriented
  • the children are proud when they ask a good question, and they notice themselves the difference
  • they occasionally self correct their own questions
  • there is a longer pause from the moment the question is asked, to the hand going up
  • they discuss their questions after (during snack)
  • HOW questions are more accessible (and easier to formulate) than WHY questions
  • using a W5 questioning strategy helps get at deeper questioning skills