Taking the PYP Forward - The Role of ICT in the PYP

This chapter infuriated me.  There, I said it.  That felt better.  They make some good points about higher order skills at the beginning of the chapter, and then go to provide five spotlights where schools could focus on these skills to... well, I'm not really what the purpose is.  Improve learning?  That seems to be what they are saying, that in order to improve learning you need to use technology.  I profoundly disagree with this.  Great learning can happen with or without technology.  Yes, tech can improve on some things, or make others easier, but it does not replace other forms of learning.  I see no separation between technology learning and non-technology learning.

A pencil is technology.

All of the examples of projects or units given in the chapter could have been easily done without technology, with no real change to learning or thinking going on.  That to me is the key word, thinking.

How is technology changing the thinking of your students?  Is it a necessary part of developing thinking skills?

Finally, I also don't buy the bit about the need to teach kids how to use technology. They will do that on their own.  When they leave PYP and start their lives as teenagers, they will surpass us in terms of their technological understanding.  They are natives.  Let them run wild in their natural surrounding.  Now, using it responsibly that is a different question and that is an area where we could have some meaningful impact.

Spotlight #1: ICT in PYP inquiry and communication

They make the case that ICT has been left largely to the teacher initiative without any guidance in form of curricular design.  That is very true.  It is also the way I want it as a teacher!  If there is a teacher who is not comfortable with technology, but is a master of getting kids to display their thinking visually and explain their reasoning, that teacher is still an amazing asset that should be cherished.  Not forced to implement something they don't see the relevance of.

I am comfortable with computers and tech.  I grew up with them.  They are part of my life.  That doesn't mean I need a bunch of standards and benchmarks to tell me how to do something that is part of the world I inhabit.

Spotlight #2: Thinking, social, communication, self-management and research skills

Technology can help elevate the tasks that we design for students.  This is the gist of my problem with the article for me; they make sweeping broad comments like this and then don't explain how or why this can be done with technology better than without it.  Every example they give, I can take out the technology and make it just as rich in terms of the thinking that is going on.  Kids create a virtual museum.  Kids create a real museum.  Kids narrate stories onto computers and edit them together with images.  Kids do a public reading of the story surrounding by accompanying paintings.  What is the difference?  What is technology adding?

Aside: The Corporation influence

Apple and Google are not in education to make the world better for people.  They are in it to make money.  Be wary of anything that they are selling to schools, and have these conversations with your kids.  Don't let them set the agenda, or start writing curriculum.  That is a bad road to go down.....

Spotlight #5: collaboration, inquiry, and problem solving

This is where technology has its true purpose to me.  It can connect kids to the world.  If we made an art gallery in the school we could invite people from the community using our analog methods.  If we did it digitally, we could invite the world.  It makes the learning community so much larger.  It increases the response to our work, and it connects ideas to new ideas which form ever newer ideas.

A Plea to Technology Coordinators from me

I love technology and I use it with my kids everyday.  I also love paint, and play-doh, and going outside, and getting dirty, and collaborating on big pieces of paper with those smelly markers.  My plea to educational technologists is this; please don't lose that in the future schools that you envision.  It is too important to throw away.  Technology is great, but so is making something with your hands.  The tactile must be defended.  Someone must write a chapter about the The Role of the Tactile in the PYP that goes right beside this one.

Apple Tree (by my three year old son)


Taking the PYP Forward - English as a Second Language

This is a topic that is very relevant to my day to day life.  I appreciated this because it wasn't philosophical but was based on day to day life in the classroom.  There are aspects to teaching ESL that I do well, and those that I need to work on.  This made me feel good about both of those, and put into perspective some of the changes I need to make.  As I am currently working through the ESL in the Mainstream Course, this is all very relevant to me.

High Challenge High Support (pg 76)

Focusing on integrating ESL students into the UOI may seem like a simple idea, but it is harder than it looks.  I admit I have had students working on other projects (never alone) because I felt what we were doing was too difficult. This is something that I will stop doing (though I have not done it this year) in the future. It creates a sense of other, and limits the opportunities for meaningful interaction with the teacher and more importantly, their peers.  If I want to follow a Vygotsky approach, they need that time to harmonize with the collective.  I need to change my approach to how I set up those interactions.

Recasting the last sentence (pg 80)

This is a such a simple and profoundly powerful way of being with ESL students.  I first heard about this when I was a pre-service teacher at OISE and it has been part of practice ever since.  Instead of correcting grammar mistakes, rephrase them in the proper form.

S- I go to the library
T- oh, you went to the library?  What did you get?

My wife and I do this with our son in both languages of our house.  We try to never correct his mistakes only give him opportunities to hear the proper form, over and over again.  You do this once in a while and it has no meaning, but you do this 20 times a day and it starts to stick.

Playing the role of someone who doesn't understand (pg 81)

I love this.  Instead of explaining how to do something, have the kids teach you. It gives meaningful practice, they realize their mistakes as they rebuild their understanding on how it is done, and it is fun.  Break into small groups and do it with friends is also a great strategy as it takes the voice away from the more vocal students.  My advisor at OISE gave me the best advice ever at watching a lesson of mine.  On my feedback sheet he wrote TTT, shut up, and don't talk unless you have to.  My Teacher Talk Time was way to high, and I was explaining things that they should have been doing themselves.  That stuck with me ever since.

This may seem like spoon feeding... (pg 82)

Everybody needs to be spoonfed when learning to eat.  Why not speaking?  Interesting thought.

Non-threatening environment (pg 83)

For me, this is key.  If the students feel safe and that their mistakes will not be belittled but rather supported by the entire collective, then they will work more efficiently in the upper right High Challenge High Support quadrant.


Taking the PYP Forward - UdB and PYP

I wasn't going to do a post tonight (is it Xmas eve?), but I looked at this chapter and saw it was only a couple of pages long.  My son was tucked into bed snugly, the presents are wrapped under the tree, the living room is prepared for the madness that will follow tomorrow morning, and I too excited at the thought of spending the day tomorrow making Lego and playing that I can't sleep; so why not.

My first thought is this; in 1950 Ralph Tyler came out with his Tyler rationale of curriculum design:
Teaching consists of organizing knowledge into some pattern, of presenting the facts and generalizations in a clear, easily understood fashion, of testing to determine the amount of information acquired, and of marking the pupil’s attainment ... any change from this pattern is a softening of the educative process, a departure from the fundamentals. They are concerned with better ways of telling, explaining, drilling, testing, and marking.
Essentially, UbD is taking these principles and turning them around, making a backwards design.  Grant Wiggins, a great writer and someone I enjoy reading, mentions Ralph Tyler as a huge influence in his research and work.  Yet, I have concerns with any system that states it is able to plan a learning engagement without the students being present.  A methodized system, to me, seems to lack the authenticity of a more improvisational approach to teaching, learning, and knowing.  That being said, I am not an expert on UbD, and I do know that it is a tool, and like any tool, it can be used for reductionist purposes or it can be used as expansionist.  It is all about how the tool is used.  My only question at this point is; if this work is based on ideas that originated in the 1950's, what is new about this?

touch hearts as well as minds (pg 67)

This is stated as a goal of the PYP.  I agree wholeheartedly with this.  However, it always feels to me that the documents and official tone of them are separating the two.  Mind and heart are different things, and we need to reach both of them.  I see them as one and the same.  You can't have heart without mind, and you can't have mind without heart.  It is like yin and yang.

Big Ideas (pg 68)

As a student-teacher (in Canada we call them pre-service teachers) this was drilled into us.  We were being taught the concepts of backwards planning in our curriculum course, and the big ideas were a constant calling point.  So much so, that they lost their meaning and were a constant point of frustration.  I get it now, but back then, it was incredibly annoying.  We wanted to run wild, engage in ideas, follow the students and let them guide us, but we kept getting pulled back (like one of those canes that comes out during an old vaudeville performance and hooks the actor off stage) to the big idea.  To this day, I still get that feeling when following a plan.  I want to go off on a tangent, but I......

Essential questions (pg 68)

I like the UbD approach to questions over central ideas.  Something about me just likes the open ended part of a question that gets left hanging, and everybody answers it differently.  Such a great metaphor for life.  For more on this debate, see the PYP Threads discussion.  It is a great read.

Students asking their own questions (pg 70)

This is my favorite part of the job.  A student can come up with a question that changes everything, and makes everybody stop and think (if the attention is drawn to it).  This is a great aspect of the PYP that keeps me working with it.  Independent inquiries (or group or class) that are driven by authentic questions from the students are so powerful.  A great friend of mine and research partner told me of his grade 1 class that asked, how many bricks are in the yellow brick road?  This question sustained them for nearly the entire year, and they covered the entire grade 1 curriculum trying to answer it.  You can't plan that kind of thing, and if you did, would be authentic?

UbD offers a more universal framework that is being used to plan curriculum from pre-K to university levels (pg 71)

I think this is my big issue with UbD.  Here is my problem; I don't teach university. I teach children.  I teach all subjects (except for PE and Music).  I don't want to focus on a specific discipline because that is not the way the world works.  In the first chapter of the book, Kathy Short quoted Gregory Bateson.  Bateson was a polymath.  He did everything.  His career ranged from so many disciplines that it was impossible to say what he did.  In his own words, he webbed the disciplines, and found the connections between them and above them.  If the curriculum planning template gets in the way of me trying to provide that atmosphere for my students, then I have to question it's value.  (Note: having not read a lot of the literature around UbD, I cannot say how it reacts to this type of environment.  Maybe it works wonders.)

Do not need to reinvent the wheel (pg 71)

I don't like the OCC and I am equally sure I would not like UbD exchange.  I want to reinvent the wheel.  I want my students to get as authentic and real as experience as I can give them, and I want them in control.  They drive the bus, I just make sure it doesn't crash.  By taking somebody else's unit plan and applying it to my class, that is like putting a pair of somebody else's old shoes and thinking that it makes you more like that person.  They are just shoes.  What works in one environment, may not work in another.  Ideas are fine, but taking a planner and using it in exactly the same way, no thank you.

I like my shoes


Taking the PYP forward - 21st Century Assessment

I won't review this chapter, only because I have such a wildly different perception of what assessment means that it is like comparing apples to hairless grizzly bears. There are many ways to assess, and while I disagree (not everything) with the image of assessment presented in this chapter, I do not think it is wrong. Just different.

I will stop there.

Have a happy holiday.


Taking the PYP Forward - What should students learn?

This was superb.  For the length of it, there were so many ideas in here.  I will say that I see curriculum a little bit differently in terms of its shape, but this chapter is so wonderfully articulated and presented in such an open manner that it allows the reader to go into so many different directions.

There is too much to teach (pg 43)

I am glad this was stated right up front.  It is so true, and it is one of those aspects of schooling that teachers seem to shrug their shoulders to and say, meh.  Curriculum is so loaded and heavy (or bloated and stuffed) with content that it is almost overwhelming   The standards and benchmarks often become the goal of school, and learning is forgotten or replaced with an assembly line mentality to cover everything and pass the test.  There are schools out there who have freed themselves from these chains (look at the Sudbury Schools), but for the most part, is it still a trap.

The more rebellious teachers out there (tricksters) will purposely leave out parts of the curriculum that think are unsightly or unnecessary and instead focus on the things that matter; learning to learn, self-reflection, all those good things that the Learner Profile suggest.  However, I have had this same conversation with a good friend of mine who has opened my eyes to another perspective.  He loves his students, and he wants them to succeed and achieve their dreams.  Part of that means they have to pass the test, to get into the program, to get the certification, to..... you get the idea.  By focusing on the content and helping them clear those hurdles that the system puts up, is he not aiding them in their quest?  I don't like this story, but it always makes me think.

there are key ways of thinking and ways of being that are culturally important (pg 45)

The learner profile and trans-disciplinary skills are great.  They are a wonderful goal and it would be great if we could set the conditions for kids to possess all these qualities.  The problem for me; I don't possess all these qualities, and I value some more than others.  Is that bad of me?  I don't know.  My classroom is certainly a place that over-extends on the Thinkers and Inquirers scale.  Creativity and imagination are so important to what I do.  Yet, another teacher may move in the direction of the Knowledgable, or the Caring, or the Principled.  The fine arts may be traded out for design and digital arts.  Communication may be done through drama, or it may also be done through non-fiction essay writing, or it may be done through fiction.  We each have our strengths that we bring to our life in the classroom.

That is not to say I don't do these other things, I certainly do, but for me as a person I have my own values that I bring as a person.  Should I not let these values shine?  Or should I try and be Balanced all the time?  The problem is, that is not me.  I am not balanced.  I believe in being genuine with my students, as true to who I am as I can.  Is that a bad thing?

Power Standards (pg 46)

I like Marzano's idea of taking the standards and weeding out the unimportant ones down to a list of important-important ones.  It is a useful goal, and would help teachers.  My question with standards is this, why set them at all?  Why do we need them?  What are they for?  What if we let the learner profile and trans-disciplinary skills BE the curriculum?  What do we need standards?  I have yet to hear a good answer to that question (or at least a personally satisfying one).

Throughlines (pg 46)

I like this sense of a line running through the spiral, but I think if we are going to apply shapes to curriculum, the metaphors and images from fractal geometry and networked systems are much more powerful.

The Null Curriculum (pg 47)

I love Elliot Eisner.  He is such a defender of the arts in school and his work on curriculum is inspiring.  The explicit curriculum is huge, volumes and volumes of it.  The implicit curriculum is more about being a good person and is more about skills (and in my opinion, should BE the explicit curriculum), and the null curriculum is the stuff that is left out.  This one is the most interesting.  Subjects are left out of the curriculum (what school covers nano-technology) for whatever reason.  Also, certain people are left out of curriculum.  There is a lot of great writing on Queer pedagogy and how our curriculum is very heterosexual.  Food for thought.

Year long throughline; How we Expres Ourselves (pg 49)

I love this idea!  I would love to have five units a year instead of six (well I would like four, but will settle for five!).  The idea of the How we Express Ourselves running through each unit is great, and I made a note about the same thing before I got to this part.  I think it would be problematic in some ways, and it may lead to a de-valuation of the arts.  Yet, if schools made a commitment to the arts and self expression as a central tenet to their existence  it would work wonderfully.

If all those damn standards don't get in the way.


Taking the PYP Forward - Communities of Inquiry

I don't know, this article felt disjointed.  It was hard to follow and seemed to bounce from place to place.  I struggled to keep the central thesis in mind while I was reading.  At times it was focused on the individual, at other times the collective, and at other times the environment.  I really enjoyed it though!

At it's core, I read it as a defense of the social and collective intelligence of a classroom.  Yes, the tools of inquiry are great, and becoming fluent in them is important for life in the 21st century, but there is a larger layer atop of this.  It is not just about the individual, but the sense of collective, or community.  This lays the conditions for inquiry, as inquiry is not an individual process, but a collective one.

one has to make to make inquiry and its learning processes visible (pg 29)

This is exactly what I have been trying to do with my Making Thinking Visible work this year.

Developing Tools (pg 29)

I have trouble separating the physical tools from the psychological tools.  They are nested.  You cannot have one without the other.  They did not evolve separately, they co-evolved.  The importance of these tools in our culture and society, that is another question.  We absolutely value one over the other, but we often lose sight of the forest by starting at the trees.  We are obsessed with the psychological tools, and schools have a propensity to just throw away the rest and, as Ken Robinson says, educate the top of the head and slightly to the left.

Jazz musicianship is not individual, but social (pg 32)

What is we viewed teaching this way?  What is schools were more free flowing and allowed kids to make things as they go, follow their collective dreams and minds?  What if all of education was like a big game of improv drama?

Community of Readers (pg 32)

This is something I have been working hard at this year.  Trying to move the reading process away from the individual and into the realm of the collective.  Have you really read the book if you have not shared your thoughts on it with somebody else?

a class has shared purposes and values; shared classroom routines and activities; shared talk; and changing roles (pg 33)

A classroom is a culture.  It is like an ecosystem.  It is not a simple matter of opening the top of the container and pouring in the knowing.  I am glad the author is taking from Jean Lave, because she is a wonderful writer.  What this quote basically means to me is that a classroom is a complex adaptive system (and it is not just me and the books I read, it is becoming more mainstream, even Ken Robinson referred to education as a complex adaptive system).  Their is a host of research into the elements of complex systems, but this is touching on some of the major themes.
Redundancy and Diversity
To me this section of the article is drawing attention to the diversity of a class, but also the redundancy.  A system needs to be very redundant in order to communicate.  Think of the kids in your class.  I bet you will find there is more in common among them than there is difference.  The diversity allows for that same redundant group to be creative and to react in novel ways to an unknown stimulus.  This links in with Kathy Shorts ideas of tension in the previous chapter.  If you creating some great tension in your class, but not developing a community of inquiry, it won't be enough.  The tension needs a diverse collective for inquiry to soar.

IRF, Initiation, Response, Feedback (pg 35)

Ah, the old guess whats in the teachers head game!  I have written about this before, and how listening is such an important skill.  Evaluative listening (the example from the book) has its place, but if it is the norm then not much creativity will emerge.

I also really liked the bottom of page 35, Why do you say that?  Another visible thinking strategy.

Experts (pg 37)

I love the authors sense of how this plays out in the class.  It is beautiful.  However, I have a problem with the phrase thinking like a mathematician.  When a mathematician is thinking, they are using a complete set of tools to create a new and emergent result.  They have honed their understanding of the rules of math.  A child, not so much.  The difference is this, a mathematician is narrowing down, compacting rules and numbers to make them easier to understand.  The are trying to make the box smaller.  A child on the other hand, does not have all those tools, and then shouldn't the goal of teaching math to be expanding the box?  To make it bigger and broader?  To understand more about the language and discipline, and then start compacting it?  I struggle with this.

PYP has a complex curricular model (pg 40)

Yes, it does.  Their are many researchers, curriculum theorists, and teachers out there who are using the developed science of complexity to explain these process in the world of education.  I wonder how the PYP would be different if it adopted those metaphors, instead of the ones they already use?  Should it?  Is there a point?  That is an entirely different post waiting to happen.


Taking the PYP Forward - Inquiry as a stance on curriculum

First off, I loved this article.  Short speaks to everything that I value in an inquiry approach; the focus on the process of learning, that it transcends content, and that it is so much more than just themed units. It is an approach to living within the world, a way of being more than a way of studying.  I see a lot of parelles between Ted Aoki and his sense of the lived curriculum.  She is bang on in her estimation of how inquiry can often become a teacher-centered method, rather than an over-arching philosophy.  The tension that is often ignored in favor of clear outcomes is the place where we begin to reformulate our view of the world, and where learning lives.  This is true of both teachers approaching inquiry in the class, and students living with inquiry as a way of seeing the world.

Wonderful stuff.

I am also struck with how much Short harmonizes with the complexity sciences view of learning and education.  There are so many similarities in thought and philosophy.

Inquiry is a collaborative process of connecting to and reaching beyond current understandings to explore tensions significant to learners (pg 12)

Some big take-aways here are the concepts of collaborative and tensions.  Brent Davis mentions that education should be about making the familiar strange.  This is done not individually, but collectively.  We are not the sum of our parts, but the collective is its own learning system.  Essentially, this is what my M.Ed project is about in the context of the mathematics classroom.  The collective cannot be taken out of the learning.  We do not learn in isolation.  Students are living, complex beings, not photons in a vacuum.  Short gives us a sense of this in her phrasing of off balance.  This tension, between what we think we know and what we don't know, drives the learning into new and uncharted waters.  I would replace her use of the word off balanced and instead use far from equilibrium.  All complex systems operate far from equilibrium, and if they get stuck in that balanced area, they freeze and die.  The tension acts as a driving point to evolution, growth, and learning.

Spider eating a grasshopper (by my son)
I would argue that three year olds epitomize inquiry (pg 13)

So comforting to see a professional recognize the importance of the three year old mind.  As a father of a three year old I watch in awe as he shifts from understanding to understanding.  As we learn, we make complex, not simplify.  It seems to me that Short is suggesting an awareness of this process, an inquiry into inquiry so to speak.  Being mindful of how we are learning.  Learning about learning.  This is not always easy.  I have started this year with my kids to help them understand how they learn, but I cannot say that it is always easy.  It is a difficult idea to grasp, and the meta-awareness comes in pieces, not like a surging flood.  It takes time.

Bateson says that learning.... (pg 13)

Quoting Gregory Bateson Mind and Nature?!  We need to have a beer Kathy Short... (or a tea or a coffee).  Love this book.  He is a seminal thinker in the complexity sciences.

From the information age to the conceptual age (pg 14)

I love Dan Pink's work as well.  He is talking complexity science, though he is doing it from a populist perpective (as is Malcolm Gladwell).  The focus on imagination and creativity are central to the environment I try to occasion in my class.

Connection to the conceptual frame (pg 15)

This is something I struggle with, though I agree 100% on the importance.  I have trouble bringing it back to the Central Idea, and we sometimes get lost in the content.  Perhaps this is because that each unit in the current curriculum I work in is thematic by nature (complete with catchy titles), but more so because of me.  I need to work on this identification of the key questions and issues, and not let the project or the product dicate what we do.  At times I am good, other times I am not.  Part of my own evolution is being aware of this...

It reminds me of Making the PYP Happen in Kobe, my first introduction to the PYP three years ago.  The workshop facilitator said that if we are doing a unit on oceans, we need to keep it in the ocean and we cannot have the kids exploring rain-forests   The participants challenged her on this, saying that the concept should dictate, not the content.  If the concept was the same in the rain-forest and the ocean, then why not let them go?  I agree with this, but it is not something that I always do very well (and then other times I do it really well).  During our unit on nutrition, we got stuck doing body systems (it was still a great learning experience), not because it was driven by the children, but because I set it up that way.  I need to bring it back to the central idea and let that guide.  Like I said, sometimes I do, other times I don't.

Inquiry is collaborative (pg 17)

Again, this is the focus of my research.  I would expand this to say that not only is inquiry collaborative, but so is learning, and knowing.  Our intelligence is not situated in us, but is distributed among all those around us.  Merlin Donald writes about this and how our view of consciousness has shifted as we have become more connected.  The most important part for me is the community aspect.  A classroom, and a school, needs to be a learning community, where we are all sharing and learning from each other.  Not a once a month assembly, but engaging with each other and creating new tensions that push us all further.  What would that kind of school look like?

Enacting inquiry in the classroom (pg 18)

I don't think I would use the word enacting here.  Maybe occasioning, of providing the conditions for.  Enacting sounds to purposeful, to close to making, and like Friere said a couple of pages back, the person who poses the problem (enacts) is the person who controls the learning. Still, I get the sense she is trying to create.  You can't plan this stuff.  A unit planner cannot be filled out at the beginning of the unit and followed like a list.  There is a sense of reaction and improv that needs to be part of the teaching process.  We need to go with the flow, not our own flow, but with the flow of the learners (collective).  As Einstein said, I never teach my students, I simply provide the environment for them to learn.

I feel a bit uncomfortable with the circleness of her model, but at the same time I sense that she is not suggesting it be followed around like the hours on a clock.  It is dynamic and flexible.  What I love about her model is that is starts with connection.  This is harder than it looks, but is you can get the students connected to it in a personal and meaningful way, then inquiry comes much more easily.  I am a fan of the Kath Murdoch model, as it tends to be more about flows that circles, but I seem a lot of harmony between the two.  I would love to map them on top of each other and see where the similarities and the differences are.  My gut says they are much more similar than they are different.

The focus in unpacking complexity (pg 22)

This is great.  I remember working with Kath Murdoch at a workshop in Tokyo, and she said that you have to be comfortable with fogginess.  That has stuck with me.  To me, a unit of inquiry is not about packaging up a neat little book of understandings and saying that now I understand this.  That is simplistic and reductionist.  Rather, Short says that the final representations support students is recognizing how much they have learned as well as what they still need to know (pg 24).  This is such a shift from how many view education.  Rather than teaching students to know something, the onus moves from teaching students to learn something.  The learning never stops.  In order to get to the next layer of the onion, you have to know what you don't know.  This is such a beautiful way to view this profession.  It turns so many institutionalized aspects of education on its head (grades, grade levels, subjects, assessments).  For a much more complex and deeper look at this tension between knowing, learning, and teaching, read Brent Davis Engaging Minds.

Taking the PYP Forward

I can't tell you how many times I have been recommended this book.  For the last two and half years it has been sitting on my shelf.  Whenever it was time to grab a new book, I passed it over, always telling myself that I would eventually get to it.

Perhaps it was because I moved from a PYP school to a different curriculum after 3.11 and it didn't feel necessary.  Or maybe it was because I have been swamped with books and articles from my M.Ed and my mind was just elsewhere.  

Whatever the reason, I am finally getting around to it.  Next year I will be re-joining the PYP community at a school in Germany and I hope to get back into the flow (and speak the language more fluently).  Over the break I hope to get to a chapter a night and reflect on each as I go.  That is an optimistic goal, one that I know I won't be able to keep.  The holidays are a busy time and two and half weeks will fly by.  We shall see.

My initial impressions of the book, having only looked at the cover, scanned the table of contents, and read the introduction and contributors page are:

- there is a great diversity of voices present; from consultants, academics, administrators and teachers

- the range of topics looks broad; ICT to Reggio Emilia to organization culture and beyond

- I have a problem with the term best practice, and it has popped up several times and I haven't read the book yet; best for whom?  Where?  When?  What is best for one may not be best for another...

- There seems to be a general arc to the book, starting with Inquiry as the foundation and zooming in to more specific topics

My biggest wondering about this book is this; what does forward mean?  Are we talking about time?  Development?  Evolution?  It is interesting title for the book, and I wonder to what extend the answers will be embodied in the content.  

Where is forward?

Looking forward to reading this!


I'm a tree

I love Improv drama.  It is such a great way to let kids who are shy jump out of their shells.  In an ESL classroom, it gives a voice to the ones who might not be heard and a chance to practice real grammatical structures that emerge naturally out of situations, rather that being forced (imagine you are at an airport and you are trying to ....zzzzzz).

I have several kids who are doing very well with Improv this year.  They have grown more confident, and more socially aware.  They are also developing creativity and learning to think on their feet.  The kids love our weekly improv session (usually Friday afternoon, good way to end the week!).  I try and guide them through some general rules and principles of improv, introduce a game or an activity, and then stand back and let them self organize.  Sometime the game goes great, other times, it falls flat on its face.  However, that is true of improv in general!

This is a topic I hope to write much more about in the future.

Here are some games and simple ways to use them with ESL students.

I'm painting a house with my cat

Introduce a simple grammatical structure.  For example, I am _____ing with a _______.
Have the students stand in a line and have one person on stage.  The person on stages starts doing a repetitive gesture.  The first person in line walks up to the person doing the gesture and asks "what are you doing?".  The person doing the action explains their gesture (I am painting a house with a cat) and then walks to the back of the line.  Repeat and repeat.

This gives the ESL kids a chance to practice a specific structure.  It is also non-threatening, since they have plenty of time to think of what they are going to while in line.

Press Conference

This is a great one for developing questioning skills.  One person is holding a press conference.  The rest of the class are the reporters, except only the reporters know what the press conference is about.  Their job is to ask questions that reveal information, but not too much information.  The person hosting the press conference has to guess what is going on.

I am a Tree

This is another simple english game that is very physical.  Think of it as creating a painting.  In groups of 6-10, they stand in a circle.  One person walks into the middle and puts their hands up and says "I am a tree".  The next person adds to the painting, but adding something new.  "I am sleeping under the tree."  After a couple of rounds and the ideas start to get thinner, it gets very silly!  It is a great way to think of creative ways to use language in a real life rapid fire style of conversation.  The key here is SPEED.  Do it fast.  Think fast.  Move fast.

Metaphors, Networks, and Curriculum

Well, my latest semester has come to a close and I am free of studying for another month!  I love it, I truly do, but the breaks are vital....

This term we had a wonderful professor and we tackled an interesting topic; curriculum.  There are so many different ways of viewing what curriculum is, and so many problems with viewing it those ways. My conclusion, there is no perfect answer.  There is no perfect curriculum.  It needs to be emergent and it needs to be based on the needs of the people who matter most; the students.  Easy to say.  Hard to put into practice!

I was introduced to (or studied in more depth) some thinkers in this course who really opened up my view of curriculum.

Bill Pinar.
Ted Aoki.
William Doll.
Maxine Greene.
Paulo Freire.

It is really an amazing field so many interesting and diverse ideas.

We talked a lot about metaphor, and how those embodied metaphors we carry with us impact our official documents and the feeling and tone of the classroom.  Now, I can't help but noticing the language of business and capitalism all over educational materials and literature.  It is everywhere.

For the final paper I attempted to merge three metaphors into a view of education.  It is not the view of education, but rather my view.  These are the metaphors I use to look at these crazy ideas we call teaching, learning, and knowing.  It was a lot of fun.  I learned a lot.  I read some great stuff.  Challenged myself in new ways.

Now I'm ready for a break!

Would love feedback if you have time to read the whole paper.

A Different Shape for Curriculum; C Dwyer 2012



I have moved to Blogger.  My reasons are my own (great interface, linking with google apps, price), but part of me is compelled by a constant need for change.  Change is an addiction for me.  For so many years in my life I had tried (was taught to?) to surpress my urges to make changes.  About 10 years ago, I gave up trying to control it, and began to follow them.  I ended up where I am today, and I couldn't be happier.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” 
I am incredibly excited....

― Douglas Adams

On that note, I am also excited to be off to Germany next year.  I will be working in a PYP school, teaching either grade 4 or 5.  


A Zen perspective on Curriculum

As I finish up my latest course on Curriculum, I have come across a couple of articles that I would like to share.  They offer a very different view of curriculum, and they take their metaphors from widely different sources.  I have distilled the articles down into visual presentations, but I encourage you to read (if it makes you curious...).

A Zen journey in the living map of curriculum
Jie Yu, Louisiana State University, Journal of Transnational Curriculum Inquiry, Vol 6 No 2, 2006

download article here (free online journal)

That time of year...

Well, this time of year tends to be a little crazy in schools.  A lot of class time is diverted into other activities.  Teaching an inquiry based trans-curricular unit takes time, nice chunks of time.  Interrupting thinking routines and reflection time is not the way to make a real difference.  It is hard to get started.  It is hard to jump in and explore when you are being pulled in many different directions and your mind is focused on too many things.

Time is important.  When time is taken out, the class lumbers instead of soars.  As one of my co-workers T-Shirt so aptly states:

It is what it is

I found myself today with a disjointed schedule.  One period here, one there, another over there.  Not enough time to dive into anything new.  So instead, we are spending the day reflecting on our year so far.  I am asking the kids to take their time.  To use the time we have together to think back, to reflect, and to wonder about the new year.

I gave them a bit of structure if they require it.  Ideas more than a blueprint to follow.  They chose their method of reflecting (more and more keep choosing paper and pencil) and they found a quiet spot on their own.  Some of writing in short hand, point form notes.  Others are using paragraphs.  Some are using my ideas as headers and going through them like a checklist.  Others are just writing and seeing what emerges.  All of them are thinking about what we have done this year, how much we have grown, and what we should do looking to next year.

So am I.


Visible Thinking; Zoom-In

Context: We are studying maps of Japan and its natural landforms

This was a lot of fun.  The kids really got into this strategy and some great discussion ensued.  There was little debate, they seemed to all be on the same page, playing off each others ideas and building up their theories together.  I was orienting attention towards the changes in their discussion.  As each iteration of the picture expanded, the subject of the conversation also changed.

Note: The name of the routine is called zoom-in, but in hindsight, I should have changed that to zoom out!

Iteration 1

Here the conversation surrounded the question of whether or not this was a map.  They knew we were studying maps, so it was obvious that is might be a map.  However, they also know that I like to trick them (their word, my word would be perturbe). There was evidence for both sides and the kids did a great job of collecting both sides of the story.  The made T-Charts and put down all the arguments against it being a map, and all the evidence for it being a map.  It was amazing to see such long list from such a tiny picture!  It was also a great lesson in dialectical thinking, as the kids were able to hold both ideas in their head and believe that both of them may be true.  This open-mindedness is wonderful to see.

Now, the conversation shifted.  It is most certainly a map.  The question is, where?  Again, we kind of broke into two camps.  Most of them agreed that it must be a map of Japan, since we are studying Japan and its maps.  But what part of Japan?  They used their knowledge of the geography of Japan to break it down to several possible options.  The oceans on three sides was a clue.  As were the mountains in the center.  I would not allow them to have pencils or paper, so they mentally and physically were drawing maps with their fingers, trying to see where it would fit.  Great exercise in visualization, which is one of mathematical habits of mind.

Yep, it was Hokkaido.  Here, we had a discussion about how the focus on the conversation changed, and why it changed that way.  I think they got the idea that as we get more evidence, our view changes.  I didn't connect it to the larger body of science in general and how our understanding of the world has evolved.  Save that for another day.

I wonder how many slides are best for this routine?  I found myself wishing I had included a fourth slide because there was such great thinking going on, but then looking at the map I think that it would have made the progression weaker.  I don't see another step I could put in that would have created new pathways for conversation....


Visible Thinking Update

I haven't posted a Visible Thinking reflection in quite some time.  That is not because I haven't been using them, but rather because I have been repeating the routines.  At the moment, I am not introducing any new routines (though I will do one this afternoon so be on the lookout for that reflection).

Some observations:

  • Much easier the second time, especially with the ones that are simple (See, Think, Wonder or Looking Times Ten or Sentence-Phrase-Word)

  • The ones that are more complex (Chalk Talk, Concept Mapping, The 4 C's) the students don't recall as easily (though that will improve with multiple doings)

  • The students enjoy them!  They love the structure and they love to talk about how they are thinking

  • The students don't use them unless I set it up, I have seen no instances of self initiated strategies

For me as the teacher, using these routines has had the interesting benefit of allowing me to create routines on the fly as we go, that are tailor made to our circumstances.  The other day we were searching through self-portraits for our own bi-annual self portrait (for the school tracking folder) and I quickly created a thinking routine that would guide us.  I had the kids say something they like, and something they wonder about each famous self portrait they looked at.  This was wholly inspired by my Visible Thinking investigations.


Flotsam and exploring imaginative questions through literacy

My favorite picture book is Flotsam by David Wiesner.

It is a wordless picture book about a boy who finds a camera on the beach.  He develops the pictures inside and discovers new worlds beyond his imagination.  Every class I have ever shown it to has loved it.  It leads to wonderfully imaginative discussions and so many questions.  The other day we were working on asking imaginative questions and I used this book as a starting point for a writing activity.

As I went through the book and the kids read it (or looked at it, but experienced it is probably the better description) I had them writing down every question that came to their head.  At the end of the book, we had about a hundred questions so we began sharing them and discussing what questions would lead to new and interesting stories, and why.  What about those questions were richer than the other questions?  We concluded that the really rich questions led us to a background story that we didn't have, or that the book did not provide (purposefully).

With our questions in hand, we each chose one that would be a great place to explore, and then we tried to provide that background story.   I let the kids choose their preferred medium for writing (for those interested, 18% went with pen and paper, 36% decided on Desktop PCs, and 45% went with iPads), and they produced some of the best writing they have done all year. At the end of the day, we had a whole series of stories that brought the original picture book alive in so many different ways.  They were all from our imagination, and not the authors, but isn't that one of the great parts about reading and writing?

We get to create our own worlds, our own explanations, and our own background stories.... in short, our imagination is what powers literature and makes it so wonderfully wonderful...