Monday, December 5, 2016

Approaches to teaching and learning

I took part in another IB webinar last week.  There were 1600 registered participants for this webinar - WOW I thought, it's great that so many educators are taking part with a view to strengthening IB programme implementation.  Our focus this week was on Standards C3 - teaching and learning.  One thing we talked about was that we are moving to alignment within and between the programmes.  Also we are not just focusing on Approaches to Learning (ATLs) but also Approaches to Teaching:

At this point we were challenges to look at our own curriculum and to see what can be improved upon with the Approaches to Teaching.

Another area touched upon was how far policies drive the practices in our schools.  Our policies represent our own schools' contexts and beliefs and as such they should be "living" documents and not just sit on a shelf.  Also the Action Plans that we make should not just be addressed at times of evaluation - they need to be looked at continually to strengthen the programme.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

I want to challenge that!

Today I spent the whole day at school putting into practice my learning about the 6 Thinking Hats.  As we are re-thinking structures at ASB, our task as volunteers was to come up with ideas to conserve and grow ASB's culture of innovation in the areas of personnel, systems and processes and non-human resources.  We started the day with an introduction to the Thinking Hats, and then went on to deepen our understanding of how these can work by considering challenges.  It's important to know that a challenge is never an attack or a criticism, but it's a challenge to something that seems perfect - to see if you can do it an another, different way.  A challenge is always based on what the existing situation is and it can challenge both what is going on and what you are thinking.  The key word for challenges is why: in fact we are challenging something that is not broken but just asking why it's the way it is.

When considering why, there are 3 approaches:
  • Alternatives - challenging uniqueness - asking "Is this the only way?"
  • Because - challenging the reasons and asking if they are valid
  • Cut - challenging the necessity and asking "Do we need to do this at all?"
When challenging traditional thinking we need to start with the C (do we need it?) and then move onto B (are the reasons we are doing this valid?) and finally the A (are there other ways of doing this?"

We were given a checklist to work through when considering our issue, which in our group was non-human resources.  The checklist was made up of 5 areas:
  • Dominating ideas, thoughts and beliefs that control the situation
  • Boundaries that we think we need to work within
  • Assumptions  that we are making - do they just exist in our minds?
  • Essential factors that have to be present
  • Avoidance factors
Having considered all the above, we we able to use to Green Thinking Hat to come up with a lot of new ideas.  For example just challenging the notion that the school day runs from 8 am to 4 pm would give us many new ideas to work with. Perhaps there could be 2 "shifts" with elementary running in the morning and secondary in the afternoon, for example.  We ended up with many new ideas, and then these were sorted into a grid based on the impact they would have on student learning and how sustainable they would be once the present faculty who were advocating for them left the school.

In the top right quadrant (high impact on learning and sustainable) we had about 50 ideas.  These were then numbered and we were each given 18 stickers to write down the number of our favourite ideas. Once these were then sorted and grouped, 4 main ideas came to the surface:
  • Becoming a green school
  • Exploring outdoor education and the use of green spaces around the campuses
  • Multi-age approaches to inquiry
  • Building an off-site innovation centre 
All of these seemed great ideas to work with - and hopefully we will take these forward to grow ASB's culture of innovation.

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Meaningful learning

Since the IB webinar last week, I've been reading and thinking about learning:  not just acquiring knowledge but being able to use this knowledge in a variety of new ways and situations.  One of the articles I read was by Richard E Mayer on Bloom's Revised Taxonomy.  I was interested in this because we use Bloom's Digital Taxonomy in our tech audit when discussing student work, and I wanted to dig a bit deeper - to go beyond the 6 categories.

Obviously, two important goals of education are to promote retention and to promote transfer.  Retention simply means that students remember material that was taught to them in the past, whereas transfer indicates more meaningful learning as it's the ability to use what was learned to solve new problems or to answer new questions in the future. Teachers traditionally teach for retention, possibly because it's easier to assess, whereas transfer is more complex as students not only need to build their knowledge, but also need to build their cognitive processes in order to devise ways of achieving a goal that they have never previously achieved.

  • Remembering - this is the lowest level of Bloom's yet it is essential that students can retrieve knowledge from their long-term memory in order to use it in more complex tasks.  If the goal of teaching is meaningful learning, then remembering is simply a means to an end, and not the end in itself. 
  • Understanding - this is where the shift from retention to transfer starts.  In his article, Mayer argues that this is where the largest category of transfer-based educational objectives are emphasized.  Understanding involves building connections between new knowledge gained and prior experience.
  • Applying - this is where students use procedures to perform exercises or solve problems.  This may be to a familiar task (for example being able to divide) or to an unfamiliar task, which is often called implementing.
  • Analyzing - this is where students break material into parts and determine how the parts relate to each other.  Analyzing can also involve students being able to determine the point of view, biases or values embedded in the material.
  • Evaluating - this is when students make judgements based on criteria and standards, and are able to determine how well something is working.  It can involve critiquing (critical thinking).
  • Creating - this is when students can put various elements together to form a coherent and functional whole - it involves making a new pattern or structure, for example when designing an original project.  
It was good to revisit some of these definitions again and to consider the implications for teaching.  If we want to promote the transfer of learning then we really need to be designing learning engagements at the higher end of the taxonomy.  It also has implications about what and how we assess.  If we as educators want to promote transfer, then we need to design assessments that go beyond recognizing and recalling.

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Sparking learning

I took part in an IB Strengthening Programme Implementation webinar last week.  There were around 850 people participating in this webinar from across the Asia-Pacific region, and our focus for this session was on the written curriculum.  It was great to be part of this webinar, to consider the IB Mission Statement and how it frames learning in our schools and also to become more aware of a new upcoming Principles into Practice publication for the PYP, aligning it with same language as the other IB programmes, and of course ensuring that the 5 transdisciplinary skills - now referred to as Approaches to Learning (ATLs) - are common to all programmes.

As well as the Approaches to Learning, we are now talking about common Approaches to Teaching. These are:
  • based on inquiry
  • focused on conceptual understandings
  • developed in local and global contexts
  • focused on effective teamwork and collaboration
  • differentiated to meet the needs of all learners
  • informed by assessment (formative and summative)
We had some great discussions, including how we are not just trying to cover content, but instead we are trying to spark learning.  We talked about how the written curriculum must identify the knowledge, concepts and skills to be developed across the whole IB continuum, and the importance of having mixed teams to look at the units.  In particular the importance of starting with the concept was stressed - not just adding them into existing units.

One of the slides shared in the webinar was this one, based on the work of Lynn Erickson.  With this we started with a world map showing locations of ancient civilizations, for example around the Nile, Tigris and Eurphrates, Indus and Yellow rivers.  From that came the facts and topic about population distribution.  Identifying the concepts based in these facts and topic led to the concept of pattern, and finally to putting concepts together into a central idea:  Natural environments influence population distribution patterns.

As we focus on ensuring the learning is engaging, significant, relevant and challenging, it's important to remember that  "a good inquiry statement is unlikely to be understood by studying it once."

A large amount of reading material was sent to us along with our webinar invitations.  I've been ploughing through this - in particular all the papers about Bloom's Taxonomy - and will be blogging about this shortly.

Above all else, being part of this community and the hashtag #ibstrong on Twitter has enabled me to feel really connected to the IB programmes as they develop.

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YES - Youth Employment through Skills

I don't usually post these things on my blog, but this did seem to be a worthy cause as it combines education, technology and a country close to where I'm living now that really does seem to need such opportunities for its youth.

Bangladesh, one of the world's most densely populated places and also one of the poorest countries, has found a way to face the problem of 41%s of Bangladeshi youth not being a part of the education system, employed or in training. The idea is a crowdfunding project called YES (Youth Employment through Skills).

The online freelance market is exploding - over 5 million companies are posting over 100 000 paid jobs every week. Organizers of Youth Employment through Skills found a way to bridge the gap between the millions of ambitious Bangladeshi Youth and the $2 billion freelance market.
The idea is to enable 100 000 youth across Bangladesh to become IT freelancers. By providing access to training, finance and mentorship, they will be connected on the online freelance market, earning up to $300 per month. The program is created to teach youth in-demand IT skills, communication skills and freelancing skills.

Within six months of graduating from the YES Program, students will earn up to $300 per month. Over a period of 3 years, he or she can earn up to $10 000 through online freelance jobs. This means $1B earned by 100 000 Bangladeshi Youth over 3 years.

If you wish to find out more about this project you can visit the   Indiegogo Campaign page.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Becoming knowledgeable about thinking

One of the "hardest" thinking skill that is contained in the PYP Approaches to Learning is metacognition, thinking about how you think and learn.  This knowledge can be divided into 3 different categories:
  • Strategic knowledge - knowing general strategies for learning - basically the what and how of the different strategies (for example how to memorise, extract meaning, comprehend what they are hearing or reading, to set goals, to check their answers and so on)
  • Cognitive knowledge - knowing when and why to use the strategies because not all strategies are suitable for all situations
  • Self-knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses.  Accuracy of this is really important - it is not the same as good self-esteem which might include inflated and inaccurate self-knowledge.
It's important to teach for metacognition as part of regular teaching - discussions about thinking should be an everyday part of the classroom.  As students hear and see how other students approach a task, they can compare their classmates' strategies with their own and make judgements about how useful the different strategies are.  It's also important for us as teachers to plan assessments where students can develop their self-knowledge by assessing their own strengths and weaknesses.

Metacognition enables us to be successful learners.  How are you developing this thinking skills in your students?

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Work is the new retirement

When I started work in my 20s, the retirement age for women in the UK was 60.  It's quite disturbing to me that if things had remained the same, I would be looking at working only 2 more years as a teacher beyond this current school year.  What happened was that the goal posts changed.  As the government realised that people were living longer and that their retirement pensions were having a huge impact on the budget, the retirement age gradually increased.  I'm now looking at working 10 more years until I can retire on a pension - and even then I might not be able to if I haven't managed to save enough into my retirement fund.  Is this an alarming prospect - not really because I love work.  What is scary though is that once I turn 60, or even as I approach 60, schools will no longer find me attractive as an employee.  My years of experience will count for nothing against the younger and cheaper teachers entering education.  I may need to work for another 10 years, but will I be able to?  Will another school employ me?

This is an interesting thing to think about in the light of the GRC fair (Global Recruitment Collaborative) - the first free face-to-face job fair for teachers in the world, held in Dubai last weekend.  Which teachers were most successful in getting jobs, the older and more experienced ones, or the ones just out of college with little or no experience?   While figures are not yet in to answer this question, it's certainly something worth considering as I wonder if or when is the right time for me to look for a new job somewhere closer to my family.

I read an article in the Harvard Business Review about this today.  The traditional stereotype of people in their 60s and 70s is that they are less interested in work and looking forward to the leisure time offered by retirement.  However a survey of 10,000 people between the ages of 24 and 80 showed that this is not really the case.  Many of today's 50 year olds will need to work into their 70s in order to finance their retirement, and many of today's 20 year olds could find themselves working into their 80s.

One of my mother's cousins used to work for the University of the Third Age in the UK.  This implied that there were 3 stages of life:  education, work and retirement.  The U3A was an attempt to bring learning to retired and semi-retired people in their "third age", not for qualifications but for its own reward:  the joy of discovery.  Currently there are branches of the U3A all over the UK where people come together to learn for pleasure.  There are around 300 different subjects in various fields including art, languages, music, history, computing and so on.   However even this concept is changing.  Rather than there being 3 stages of life, education, jobs, freelancing and time spent out of the workforce will increasingly become part of all stages of life.

What the HBR survey did was to find that the stereotypes we have about people of different ages just don't seem to be true.  It's not a case of young people being more interested in learning new skills and older people wanting a slower life.  Here are some of the findings;

  • People invest in new skills throughout their lives - almost everyone feels that their skills are not keeping up with changing work demands.  Over the age of 45, almost 60% of respondents said they were up-skilling
  • People of all ages are positive and excited about work - it was constant at about 50% of all respondents, regardless of age.  The really troubling thing is that the other 50%, regardless of age, are not!
  • People of all ages are concerned about keeping fit - only about 50% of the under 45s actively keep fit as opposed to 71% of the over 70s.
  • Older people are not more exhausted and less productive - in fact the opposite is true.  43% of the under 45s reported being exhausted with work, compared with 35% of those over 45.  The least exhausted are those over 60.
  • Older people don't want to slow down.  In the age group 46 - 60 more than half said they wanted to slow down in contrast to 39% of over 60s and 20% of over 70s.
  • People of all ages want to explore - it's not just 20 years old who want a "gap year".  
This is the important thing:  because ageist stereotypes abound, many companies (and schools) believe that older employees invest less in their knowledge and are less excited by their work - this leads them to making the wrong decisions about who to select, promote and develop.  The call to action in this report is this:  we need to face up to stereotypes and challenge them - only then an we create workplaces where people are accepted for themselves - young or old.

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