Monday, March 29, 2010

Music as a Metaphor for Leadership and Learning

Itay Talgam gave an incredibly interesting presentation this morning, on the last day of the Apple Education Leadership Summit. I have written about Itay Talgam and his TEDtalk about great conductors and their different leaderships styles several months ago in a blog post called Doing without Doing. There are some extra points I want to mention here though.

This morning one of the things discussed was planning - it could be planning for anything, but in fact we were really dealing with planning for learning. When you get a new plan or perhaps a new curriculum you have to interpret it. This interpretation gives you ownership of it and it is the ownership of the interpretation is important - and where you can see the culture of the organisation. It is important that this ownership gives you the freedom make mistakes as you try to interpret the plan, as without the possibility or the "permission" to make mistakes there is no room for experimentation. Without experimentation there are no lessons you can learn. However some organisations or schools don't want experimentation - for them it's all about control.

Of course leadership of a school or the leadership involved in teaching a class, just like conducting an orchestra, does involve control. But there is a delicate balance between control and trusting that the teachers and students know what they are doing. This trust can be very energising and the best teachers know that you can give control to the students without losing control yourself. It's all about engaging in a process that everyone can understand.

This morning's session was a long one - a total of 3 hours with a short break about 2/3rds of the way through. Right before the break we had watched a movie of Leonard Bernstein conducting. Itay Talgam had worked with Bernstein and he told us that what was really special about him was that he was so empowering - that he made you feel that each and every person can be a leader and that real dialogue was possible. That he allowed and encouraged individual interpretation - which is what leads to dialogue. Each person is responsible for his own side of the dialogue. It's more of a partnership. We were told "You have to become a soloist to become part of the orchestra". You have to be an individual to be part of the group. Your work is bigger than you and your job is to add meaning to it.

After the break we came back and Itay showed us what he meant by working with 4 students playing in a string quartet and then 2 jazz musicians. He asked them questions about what they were doing, had different members of the quartet take the lead and interpret the music in different ways and eventually just all improvise together to see what the result would be. The students were incredibly brave doing this in front of hundreds of people.

This session was truly wonderful and very thought provoking - I am going to mull over these ideas for quite a long time.

Leadership by Vision - Thinking Ahead

The final session of the Apple Education Leadership Summit was given by John Couch. He started by saying that Steve Jobs likened a computer to a mental bicycle - to amplify our mental abilities (just as a physical bicycle amplifies our physical abilities and allows us to go further/faster) and he talked about the need for innovation and leadership in education.

Innovation is what distinguishes being a leader and being a follower, and leadership requires that we think ahead - to what our students will need in their lives beyond school. We need to develop a vision of what this future will be like and the only thing we know for sure is that technology will continue to play in important role.

Currently we are at a point where technology is disrupting our traditional model of education and we cannot afford to ignore these forces for change. It is leadership and innovation that will transform our education system and it is likely that a lot of this change will involve a mobile platform - already schools and students are starting to use the iPhone and iPod touch in education. Thinking ahead involves thinking differently and it is vital, as we have to plan this year for next year.

John Couch highlighted the need for leadership by vision. He said that when one sees with his eyes it is called sight, when one sees with imagination it is called passion and vision. Apple's vision for education is a world in which all learners are empowered to discover their own special genius. For us as teachers we need to realise that technology is only technology to those born before the technology. We still see technology as a tool, whereas students see it as an environment - it is therefore today's students who are driving the need for transformation.

In the past concept of knowledge was accumulation. When I was at school all that was really required was to learn a lot of facts and regurgite them for tests. Today knowledge is more about collaboration and transformation. The learning emphasis is on relationships and inquiry. The new generation of students expect a learning environment that provides equivalent functionality to their social environment. They have a mobile lifestyle and expect the same in education and in addition they want it to adapt to their individual learning styles and encourage collaboration and teamwork. The question is, have we as teachers changed our pedagogy sufficiently in order to challenge and motivate these students?

John Couch went on to discuss the difference between education and learning: education is a noun - the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, whereas learning is a verb - to gain or acquire knowledge or skill by study and experience. He finished with a quote from Seymour Papert: the role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge.

Photo Credit: Up:: 6/52 by Devendernarang

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The many questions on our learning journeys

I'm in Prague at the Apple Education Leadership Summit this weekend. The day opened with a keynote by Marco Torres - his message was that schooling and learning are often heading in different directions in some of our schools and he asked is school getting in the way of learning at a time when clearly knowledge is not enough any more?

He also talked about journeys - he showed a great slide with some different paths on it. One was just a jungle - to go on this journey you have to hack your way through and make your own path using a machete - some teachers are up for a learning journey like this, but for many of us it's difficult to cut a new path. Then there was a photo of a field of corn with a small track through it. You could see that a few people had gone through - the corn was bent in places - some people would be comfortable to follow them on this journey. The next image was a definite track - not a particularly big one, but one that would stay solid in the rain and not get washed away. The final photo was of a highway. Some of us as teachers wait for the entire road to be finished and the end of the journey known before they will venture forth and make any steps on the learning journey.

Actually Marco asked a lot of questions - he said it was good to stay with the questions and not to come up with solutions too quickly as it keeps us as a learner. Some other questions he asked were:

What does innovation look like? In discussing this Marco asked are we talking about nouns (for example the technology, such as SmartBoards) or verbs (such as what the students are doing)?

Another question he asked is what makes someone an expert? Can I look all this knowledge/information up in Google? If so what makes you an expert rather than anyone else who can do this? In a fast changing world, how can anyone be an expert? Is being an expert what you know or what you do? Can we even agree on the definition of an educated person? Is it someone who is resourceful and someone who is connected? Is it someone who collaborates, asks questions, observes things and takes risks?

Marco talked about the fact that there are lots of studies about how students learn (kinesthetic learners, auditory learners, visual learners etc) but he asked the question how do students produce? You can be an auditory learner and a kinesthetic producer for example. How are we catering to the different needs of the students to create/produce?

Although Marco told us to stay with the question, he also cautioned us to never ask questions you can look up the answers to. Perhaps that's the power of asking questions - the answer might not be so obvious - the answer might make us all think - those who are asking the questions and those to whom we are posing the questions.

Photo Credit: Commuter Belt by Jenny Downing

Friday, March 26, 2010

We're on the Tech Train and it's moving forwards

Today was the second session of Techie Breakies and I decided this morning to focus on blogging. Before we got onto that we had a recap of the previous session where I introduced Twitter. Only one of the teachers who comes to Techie Breakies had used Twitter before - she has been tweeting since September and she talked about how she has her own Twitter account and now she has one for her students too. She spoke about the people she follows and the ones who follow her.

We then got onto blogging as a form of professional reflection and looked at how to set up a blog.  Everyone signed up for a Blogger account.

Over the holidays when teachers have a bit of time to relax and play with both Blogger and Twitter I'm hoping that they will come to see how useful both these tools are.  When we are back at school again I want to show them how they can use both these tools to connect with other educators worldwide and how this can lead to their students collaborating and creating with students around the globe.

I had hoped to get onto Google Reader today, but unfortunately the time went too fast.  I realise it's better to stick to just one or two things and do them really well, rather than inundate our teachers with many new things that they might find overwhelming.

For future sessions I also want to show them some Web 2.0 tools that they can use with their students.  Some of my favourites include Bitstrips, Xtranormal, Prezi, VoiceThread and Glogster.  I can also see possibilities with Zimmertwins.

I'm excited to be able to do these sessions and after the holidays I'll be raring to go with the next one!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Whatever the Weather - Grade 2s share their learning

Our Grade 2 students have made connections with other students around the world using skype and email as they have been investigating how the weather around the world affects life on Earth.  They have asked questions about things like clothing, food, housing, animals and plants.  This week they made a VoiceThread to share their learning.

Kindergartens students discuss their learning using VoiceThread

One of our Kindergarten classes finished making their VoiceThread today, showing their learning and understanding about different materials they have been studying in their How the World Works unit of inquiry. In this VoiceThread you can see the students talking about the photos of the materials they have taken using both the Proscopes and the digital cameras.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Grade 4s Express Themselves using Photography

We are now in the final week of the How We Express Ourselves unit in Grade 4. This unit has been slightly different to the others I've supported this year in that each of the Grade 4 teachers was responsible for one area of expression, and the students spent a week with each teacher. I decided to give IT support to Heidi, the teacher who had chosen to do photography with the students, throughout the entire unit.

Each week for the last 5 weeks, Heidi and I have had one of the Grade 4 classes for the whole of one afternoon and the following morning. Luckily the change to a flexible schedule for me at Christmas has meant I was able to plan these large blocks into my week. We started giving the students an introduction to what makes a good photograph, with the emphasis on composition, texture and colour. We asked questions like "Why do people take photographs?" and "Are photographs art?" We also showed them the Kodak Top 10 Tips for Great Pictures website and discussed why some photographs were better than others.

After this introduction we took the students outside on a walk around the school grounds and along the lane towards the farms further up the hill. The students had already discussed the need to get down and move in close to their subject, and we also noticed some of them moving the objects they were photographing around in order to avoid a distracting background. We had discussed the rule of thirds and the need to take some vertical pictures and we were pleased to see how enthusiastically the students embraced these ideas - some of them even getting right down in the snow to get their close-up shots.

Over the 5 week period we have had very different weather in Switzerland - some weeks it was thick snow, other weeks it was cold and damp and some weeks it was sunny. The photographs of each class were therefore very unique - different from all the others.

We spent about an hour outside, then it was back into the school to transfer the photographs onto the laptops so that we could edit them in iMovie the following morning. We showed the students how to crop the photos for effect and how to adjust the various levels - the exposure and contrast, the shadows and highlights, and the saturation. We also showed them a couple of the effects such as black and white, sepia and blurring the edges. We told the students they would eventually be choosing 3 photos to print, one of which would show composition, one would show colour and one would show texture.

We talked to the students about how to frame their photos - this is easy to do from the print menu of iPhoto, so we showed them the various themes, background and borders available. We stressed the need to make sure the frame complemented the photograph and was not a distraction to it.

We were very, very impressed by the beautiful photographs the students ended up printing out for their art portfolios. Each student printed out their "best" three - though many had a hard time choosing as they were all so great. I absolutely loved doing this unit with the students and am looking forward to more photographic projects in the future.

You can view a slideshow with more of the Grade 4 photographs by clicking here.

Photo Credit: All photos were taken and edited by Grade 4 students: Katie, Mads, Jack B, Lucy, Jordi, Soma, Struan and Zsa Zsa.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Learning with my students: Grade 7 MYP Technology (part 4)

This week the kites were mostly finished - we have some amazing shapes and sizes and a variety of different materials being used with varying degrees of success. By the end of Friday afternoon some of the students were even ready to go outside and test them so that they could then make modifications to their designs.

One of our students used cling-film as the material on her kite, wrapped around a balsa wood frame. She was not very confident when she left the room, but within minutes she was back beaming - but holding a broken kite. "It flew really well" she told us excitedly, "much better than I'd expected .... but when it came down it bashed into Henry and broke". She immediately set to with repairing the damage and strengthening it.

A couple of the girls who had made kites out of paper and bamboo had the time to decorate their kites - most however had to make do with the basic materials they had chosen. Next Friday is a half day - there is no MYP technology lesson on Friday afternoon as the students all go home at lunchtime for the Easter break. Therefore we will have to wait until after the holidays to go and fly our kites and then evaluate which were the most successful designs. I can hardly wait!!

Kindergarten students look closely at different materials

For our How the World Works unit of inquiry, Kindergarten students have been finding out about different types of materials. We started this unit using the proscopes attached to a laptop to investigate what these materials look like when magnified 50 times. The proscopes have cameras built into them so the students were each able to take several photos of the materials they found interesting.

After this we went on a walk around the school to see if we could discover where these materials were being used. This time we took the digital cameras with us and each student was responsible for finding a particular material and taking a photograph of it.
For our final week we are going to have the students use VoiceThread to talk about the materials. We're hoping they can tell us something about the properties of the materials (whether they are hard, soft, rough, smooth, transparent, opaque and so on) as well as how and why the materials have been used around the school.

Photo Credit: The photograph of the shell taken using a proscope and the photograph of the metal and glass front door of our school were both taken by our Kindergarten students.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Whatever the Weather - Grade 2s exchange ideas

This week I've been dipping into some great blogs by Ozge Karaoglu where she describes great web tools to enhance collaboration. The quote below is taken from part 3 of these blogs and for me this sums up the amazing experiences our Grade 2 students are having as they talk and email with other students around the world to investigate how the weather is affecting people's lives.
“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”George Bernard Shaw
Each of our Grade 2 classes has contacted 4 schools around the world. They have discovered by talking with students in South Africa and receiving emails from Australia that in the southern hemisphere it is summer. They have contacted schools in Canada and Alaska and discovered that they are right in the middle of winter. They have heard from students in India and Thailand and found out that places near the equator don't have a big difference between summer and winter and that the children there wear summer clothes all year round. Last week, while skyping with a school in Spain, I heard one of the students ask the question "Do you have a temperate climate?" and then went on to say "Well, I suppose you do as you just told us that you have 4 seasons".

This week the students came to the computer room to make graphs. They have been making daily records of the temperatures in the cities where the schools they connected with are located, and in their maths lessons they discussed what would be the best type of graph to show this data. I had started off thinking that we would have the students use 2Graph, but it became clear that they had already gone beyond that programme - some of the students had recorded the maximum and minimum temperatures in their location, and they needed a way to work out the average. We therefore decided to use Excel and this week all the students were able to print out their graphs to compare with the other groups in the class who were investigating other cities.

There has been so much learning going on in this unit. I think for me the best part has been just watching the students talking to other students using skype - they have learnt so much from these connections that they would never have learnt just by doing research using books or websites and they are excited to share what they have learnt from these students when we start making our VoiceThreads next week. We are hoping that students in the other schools will continue to collaborate with us and comment on the VoiceThreads too.

Photo Credit: Building the World by Batintherain

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Time Management

Some time ago, when I was working in Amsterdam, I did an online course on time management. I'm not sure it helped me much, as I constantly seem to be overwhelmed with things that need to be done. Moving to a new school in a new country this year has definitely been a period where I felt the need to manage my time well. I needed the time to support my family in this year of transition, and at the same time I had lots of demands on my time from my new job and new colleagues and .... yes, let's face it .... from myself as I struggle to raise the level of technology in my new school.

Last week I ran across this article about the 80/20 rule of time management. Basically what this article says is that 20% of your efforts produce 80% of your results and the idea is that we should focus on that 20% to make the most efficient use of our time. In addition 20% of our colleagues probably give us 80% of our support - these are the people and the relationships we have to nurture! I guess the idea is that by just focusing on the most important 20% - those jobs and people that are vital to us - this will automatically help us to manage our time better and probably help us feel like a better person too. So the next time I'm asked to take on something else I'm going to ask myself: Is this in my 20%, and if it isn't, then I'm going to try to say no. Wish me luck. I'm not very good at saying no!

Photo Credit: Eternal Clock by Robbert van der Steeg

Things change. Education should change too.

Today I've been reading an interesting post by Tom Whitby about how we need to keep "plugging away at change". The comments that follow this post are also very thought-provoking. I really like the analogy by Janet Avery on the similarities between educational change and boats crossing a river:

In my circle we use the metaphor of a river with boats – you have the speedboats, the sailboats, the barges, and the rocks. The speedboats move right along with the changes – sometimes ahead of the changes. The sailboats can go with the changes – sometimes the wind changes the directions. The barges come along, but slowly. The rocks let the current run over them – refusing to move; however, they do get “molded” over time – and eventually the current is strong enough they can get swept away with it.

The key for me, as an administrator, is to not get caught up on the rocks – but steer clear so I can help the speedboats keep going, be the wind to help steer the sailboats in the right direction, and keep leading the barges.

Another interesting comment is from Matt Arguello:

I recently attended the CUE 2010 conference and had the pleasure of listening to Carol Anne McGuire speak. I’ll paraphrase a particularly apt comment she made.

She said something to the effect of, “My grandmother was a brain surgeon at the top of her field. That was 50 years ago. Would you have her perform brain surgery on you?”

Obviously not. Too much has changed.

Then she said, and again I’m paraphrasing, “No, actually my grandmother was a teacher. Would you have her substitute for you?”

The answer is the same. Too much has changed. We are not in the same society or world as 50 years ago. It doesn’t do anyone, especially students, any good to go on teaching like we still live in that world.

Photo Credit: Sundown at Boracay by MalNino Archival Mode

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Learning with my students: Grade 7 MYP Technology (part 3)

I have been on a learning journey with the Grade 7 students to investigate, plan and design kites. This week we started to construct them. At the end of last week's lesson I had asked the students to enter a list of materials that they wanted to use into a spreadsheet - this week we started the lesson with distributing all these materials to the students and giving them the tools they could use (saws, knives and various types of glue).

Most students started with making the frames - attaching the wood and bamboo together. Some of them ran into problems with sawing through the bamboo - it was much tougher than it looked. Several of them had problems attaching the material to the frame. I tried to be helpful and to suggest different ideas to them if they ran into problems, but often I just asked them more questions and tried to point them in another direction without telling them what I thought would be the best way of solving their problems.

The idea of the MYP design cycle is that the students can modify their original designs if necessary, so I wanted them to experience what the problems were, before jumping in and suggesting different ways of tacking them. For me this was quite hard - when I could see students doing something that obviously wasn't going to work my first reaction was to go over and offer help immediately - I had to force myself to hang back to see if they could learn from their mistakes and come up with their own ways of fixing things.

One of the problems that they encountered was that the balsa wood, which many students had decided to use as it was so light, was also very fragile. A couple of the pieces broke as the students were trying to assemble their frames. I resisted the urge to give them more wood, and looked to see what they were going to do. Some tried to glue the pieces back together and others used selotape and string to attach them. I'm not sure how strong these will end up being! Some of them also discovered that the hot glue guns will melt the plastic. A couple of the students decided to try to use cling-film for the kites - this was very difficult to work with. Others decided to use bead wire to put around the frame and then attach the sail material onto that - only they found it extremely difficult to attach wire to bamboo. All of us learnt a lot from this, and all of us have plenty to think about before next week's lesson when we will finish off the kites.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Getting on the Tech Train

Our tech training started this morning with the first session of "techie breakies". I had planned on training 6 teachers, one for each grade level from Kindergarten to Grade 5, but in the event 2 of the teachers were unable to attend because of illness. We were also joined by our PYP Coordinator. At the end of last week I had sent out a link to teachers with the VoiceThread made by Steven Anderson called "Why a Personal Learning Network?" where members of his PLN had contributed their stories and reasons for finding a PLN valuable. I wanted to start on a really positive note, therefore I decided to play the YouTube video A Vision of 21st Century Teachers. I like the way this movie gives the message "we can do more with technology" and "we can make it happen".

We went on to talk about why this year at school we have changed the IT lessons - in part this is because the nature of information is changing and we need to teach students new ways of finding and validating this information and new ways to communicate it. We talked about what 21st century skills are, how we are preparing our students for the world of work and the benefits of us developing our own PLNs to help us with this, as we are not just teachers but also learners. Finally we talked a little bit about Twitter and everyone set up a Twitter account.

Time seemed to fly. I had been planning to get onto blogging too, but all too soon it was time for the teachers to go to their classes for the start of the day. Blogging will have to wait until next time, but I'm hoping in the meantime the teachers will start to see the benefits of using Twitter and start to make some connections with other educators through using it.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

You Can't Buy Change (part 2)

Recently our school started a Fund for Excellence, a yearly fundraising initiative to improve core projects to enrich the academic programme. This year it was decided the Fund for Excellence would support technology. As IT teachers we were asked for input into the "wish list" which included SMARTtables for the Early Years students, digital microscopes and probes, graphic tablets, digital cameras and a colour plotter. The school managed to raise all the money for these items from parents, teachers, board members and local corporations, including a bonus challenge grant given by a partner that was based on the percentage of parents who participated. Of course this is a truly wonderful achievement, but it brings me back to a post I made earlier, which is that you can't buy change.

This week I was reading Kim Cofino's Always Learning blog about her reflections on the ASB Unplugged Conference. In this post Kim discusses a session she attended by Scott McLeod, where he stated that international schools spend a lot of money on technology, but that vision, pedagogy and leadership may be missing. Kim said:
Clearly, it’s easy for our well-funded schools to buy hardware, but it’s not so easy to develop and articulate a clear vision for what to do with those tools, or to implement long-term, effective professional development in order to make the most of the things we bought, and many of our school leaders prefer a more “hands off – let the tech team take care of tech” approach, rather than a true understanding of what this hardware should be creating in our schools.
Once again we are back to the question of what has the biggest impact on improving teaching and learning - curriculum, assessment or pedagogy. To my mind, the clear answer is that all are important, but for me it is the pedagogy that has to have the most immediate impact on our students.

Another post I was reading yesterday was on the excellent Langwitches blog by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano about Curriculum 21 - Essential Education in a Changing World. Based on Heidi Hayes Jacobs book by the same name, Silvia's excellent graphics show that we need to replace dated content, skills and assessments, not simply to integrate technology into what is there already. That this change involves new roles for both the teacher and the learner, as a result of a shift in the curriculum, the teaching and the assessment. The culture of teaching and learning needs to change, and this isn't done by throwing money at it, and it isn't done by buying lots of new technology, the real impact will come from the professional development of the teachers who will be the ones driving this change.

Photo Credit: Img_1991 by Scratch

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Learning with my students: Grade 7 MYP Technology (part 2)

The kite making saga continues with our Grade 7s. Last week the students were investigating different kite shapes and kite designs, this week they started to look at the materials they might like to use to build their kites. We collected together lots of different materials that they could test for the frame, the sail and the line. Students heard from one of the science teachers about aerodynamics and the balance between surface area, weight and strength. The heaviest of the materials for the frame is bamboo - we have 2 types of bamboo and the thick sticks are obviously much stronger than the thin ones - but are they going to be too heavy for the kites to be able to lift? We have balsa wood too - also different thicknesses and weights - but we tried some of them out and they break very easily. They are light and easy to lift, but how will these stand up to the wind if it is strong? We also have wire which some students are going to use to make the frames.

We've been looking at different types of materials for the sail - waxed paper, different types and thickness of plastics including cling-film, and fabrics. We're wondering about the best ways of attaching these onto the frame. Finally we are looking at the lines we can attach to the kites and let out as the kites (hopefully) rise into the sky.

The students have now finalised their designs and have made a shopping list for me of the materials they need next week to make their kites. I'm really excited to see how they are going to turn out and how the students are going to get on with the actual construction as most of the students have never been given the opportunity to design and make anything before or to handle tools such as saws. For all of us - students and myself too - this is a big leap into the dark.

Photo Credit: Tools of the Trade by Sarah Ross photography

A Window to the World - Grade 2s connect worldwide (part 2)

Earlier this week I published a post about the first experiences our Grade 2s have had with connecting with other schools worldwide using skype and email as a way of discovering how the weather affects our lifestyles. Since then we have now connected with 2 other schools, in Spain, and South Africa. One of the schools we skyped with last week was in Jacksonville, Florida and it was very exciting to see the Langwitches blog post yesterday entitled A Skype Odyssey where Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano explains how she set up the Around the World with 80 Schools project and the skills and understanding that the students have developed through taking part in these skype conversations with other students around the world.

For us, what was really exciting about this blog post, was seeing our school and the view from our classroom, projected up onto the wall in the classroom in Florida - we had lifted the laptop onto the windowsill to show the students our old school building with the pine trees behind it. It was amazing to think that the students thousands of miles away were looking at the same view we were! Even more exciting was looking at the video at the end of this post where we could actually see the students connecting with us in Switzerland and hear some of the things they had learnt from our students.

I think what our students have here is definitely a window to the world, and even more than this we are beginning to see a world without walls. As our students connect with each other they are definitely becoming more internationally minded and more open minded. They are becoming more tolerant, more respectful and more able to understand and celebrate diversity.

Photo Credit: This photo was taken by a student in Jacksonville, Florida and shows the view out of our classroom window in Switzerland.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Cooperative Learning or Collaborative Learning - the PYP Exhibition

We had a PYP Exhibition meeting today. Our Grade 5 students are now in their groups and know what they want to investigate for the PYP Exhibition. The Exhibition is a transdisciplinary inquiry into real-life issues or problems and is the culminating project of the PYP where students have to demonstrate their engagement with and synthesis of the essential elements of the PYP: knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and action. It's a celebration of their learning throughout the PYP and an opportunity for them to demonstrate the attributes of the learner profile. The PYP Exhibition calls for collaborative learning.

I have done a fair bit of reading lately about the differences between collaborative and cooperative learning. Both involve active learning as opposed to passively receiving knowledge, however cooperative learning is more about students working together in groups to achieve a specific end product or goal determined by the teacher, whereas collaboration gives the responsibility to the students to determine what the final product will look like, with guidance by the teacher mentors of each group. The PYP Exhibition is truly collaborative learning as students first choose issues that interested them, and are then put in groups across all the 5 Grade 5 classes with other students who share their interests. Learning comes about through dialogue among the students and with outside "experts" and they decide themselves what the final product will be. This dialogue also helps the students to appreciate multiple perspectives.

In the PYP Exhibition it is the process that is most important (the final product is only started in the last 2 weeks of the unit). Because it is collaborative learning, the teacher mentor transfers authority to the group and the investigation is open-ended - this truly empowers students to work as a team and ensure all group members learn, but it also encourages them to be independent as each student's performance is monitored and assessed by the mentors.

This year the students are blogging about the process. The class teachers have also set up Netvibes where resources can be shared and a calendar posted with deadlines. As an IT teacher I am not going to mentor an individual group, but instead I will mentor all the groups that decide to use technology as part of their final product. Maybe some groups would like to make a movie or a podcast, others might like to make a web page, a Glog or a Prezi. Some students may like to use VoiceThread. I anticipate many groups will chose to use Web 2.0 tools this year and I'm excited to see what they choose.

Photo Credit: Collaboration by ChrisL_AK

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Whatever the Weather - Grade 2s connect worldwide

A couple of weeks ago I was in a Grade 2 planning meeting when the teachers were talking about their upcoming unit How the World Works. Students are looking at the weather and the central idea is that weather affects life on Earth. They had some suggestions about experiments they could do to record the weather we are having in Switzerland, but for me I wanted to connect and communicate with schools around the world to see how other children think the weather affects them. I suggested they use skype and email to connect with other students worldwide, and have our students describe their learning in a VoiceThread that they could the share with the students in the schools that participated. Having made this suggestion, it was then up to me to find 4 schools for each of the Grade 2 classes to connect with - as we have 4 Grade 2 classes that meant I needed to find 16 schools in total.

I started with the Around the World with 80 Schools project set up by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano (Langwitches blog), and then set about connecting with schools in very different parts of the world. We wanted some southern hemisphere schools - so that the students would see that they are having summer right now - that their hottest months are January and February as opposed to here in Switzerland where our hottest months are July and August. We wanted the students to see that while we are tramping through the snow here every day, students in other schools in places such as Cape Town are wearing bikinis and swimming in the sea in the evenings because it is so warm there. We hoped that this would prompt the students to question and inquire into why there is different weather around the world, and then how the weather affects us: the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the sports we play and so on.

Having found 16 classes who were willing to take part in our project, it was then time to divide them up so that each of our Grade 2 classes had schools in a variety of climates and a variety of time zones. Some of the schools are 10 hours ahead or behind us in time here in Switzerland, therefore it was only possible to contact them using email. Where we had a time difference of about 6 hours we decided we would try to skype - it would mean we would have to do it early in the morning or late in the afternoon in order to fit in with the times the other students were in school.

So far our Grade 2 students have emailed students in Alaska, Canada, Thailand, Australia, Hong Kong, Hawaii and Tanzania. We have also had 2 skype calls, with 6 others planned for later this week and next week. Our first skype call was yesterday with a school in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The teacher there had already sent us several photos of the students in the class, and our students were ready with their questions. It was fantastic - the students were so excited and found out a lot of information. Today was our second skype call with Jacksonville in Florida. Again the students were excited and motivated and as well as investigating the climate, housing, animals, plants and food they also learnt how to say "Thank You" in Hebrew. We have more skype calls set up to schools in Cape Town in South Africa, Madrid in Spain, Chennai in India and New Jersey in the USA. The students are involved in authentic learning and investigations - they check the daily weather reports from the towns where "their" schools are as well as looking at the temperature around our school in Switzerland, and we are hoping that when they look at this information and compare it with where the schools are on a world map that they will be able to draw their own conclusions.

Having collected all the data, they will then start to put this information onto a VoiceThread. We have already started adding photos and have made maps using Google Maps to show the location of the schools. The fairly "dry" topic of investigating the weather around the world has really started to take on a life of its own!

Photo Credit: Double Bows by Nicholas T