Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Badges part 1 - for students

I'm in my 3rd week of my Coursera course about emerging trends and technologies in the virtual K12 classroom.  This week I'm learning more about game based learning and badging in virtual learning environments.  Now I've considered badges before as a way of recognizing teacher professional development, but I haven't really been involved in planning for their implementation in recognizing student achievement, so I was interested in the content of these lectures.

Open badges brings badging to education and provides a way to socially recognize accomplishments and encourage a skills-based approach to education while bringing in gamification to learning.  The idea is to help students to progress through their work and build real world skills while allowing them to collect badges that display their talents.  The idea of badges is collection oriented - and this is very appealing to students.   There is also evidence that points to the fact that awarding badges for authentic learning experiences helps students to show their knowledge in a better way than simply the results of a test:  The New Media Center 2013 Horizon Report K12 Wiki states:
While open badges are not by any means pervasive in educational systems, they appeal to many educators because they are considered to be more authentic signs of knowledge comprehension and skill acquisition than standard tests, grades or course credits.
There are challenges around issuing badges however.  Perhaps the most daunting one right now is that the manual creation and distribution of badges can be very time consuming and often needs technical support.  Another issue is that there is limited integration with the technologies that most teachers are using - though new ways to do this are emerging.  A third issue with badges is that as they are so new they are not yet aligned to or recognized in job application or collage applications (though Google does recognize badges).

I will be blogging more about badges in the coming days.  My next post will be considering badges for teachers.

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Circular time

I believe there is a reason for everything.  While working in an adult public health education programme in India a little over 30 years ago, I decided that I wanted to be a teacher of children, and the path that my life took changed dramatically.  For many years I used to say "I was meant to come to India, it was what set me on the path to becoming a teacher."  For the past couple of years, however, I've said that a little differently, because 2 years ago this week I accepted a job offer to move back to India, and my life changed dramatically again.

On Monday, in my Hindi class, I discovered that "kal", the Hindi word for yesterday, is the same as the word for tomorrow.  When I asked my teacher about this she told me that in India time is circular.  When you believe in reincarnation, then tomorrow is only the rebirth of yesterday.  And I started to think about that too (actually the idea is really mind-blowing).

I am convinced that right now this is the place I am supposed to be.  I don't know how I know it, but somehow I do.  I don't know why I'm supposed to be here either - but I just know that I am, for some reason yet to be revealed to me.  I also know that if I hadn't lived in India before, I would probably never have considered coming back here.  So the Hindi concept of "kal" has had a lot of meaning for me this week.  If time is circular, I was obviously meant to come to India "yesterday" because I was meant to be here "tomorrow".

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Bragging -v- Branding

About 3 years ago, some months after I'd started writing this blog to reflect on my thoughts about integrating technology into the curriculum, an administrator at my previous school had a meeting with me.  While the meeting was actually about something else, she brought the subject round to my blog and mentioned the words "personal branding" which I'd never heard of before.  She seemed to find this distasteful, perhaps she thought that by blogging under my own domain name that it was in some way detracting from the my role at the school.  This couldn't have been further from the truth, however.  Thousands of educators were reading my blog and many of them liked what I was writing and assumed that the school where I was working was a good one that encouraged all the initiatives I was reflecting on.  Perhaps it was simply a case of the Tall Poppy Syndrome as one of the most frequently heard expressions at the school was "keep your head down".  Perhaps it was because personal branding (which I didn't even know that I was doing) was seen as bragging.

I was interested today, then, to read an article entitled Why You Should Brag (Just a Little More).  Even more interesting was this statement, which I posted on Twitter:
A 2011 Catalyst study found that the most powerful tactic for women in advancing their career was to make their achievements known. Calling attention to accomplishments led to more career satisfaction and was actually the only reliable factor associated with bigger raises. As much as we believe, or want to believe, that our achievements speak for themselves, that alone isn’t enough. We have to speak about them too.
— Janet Choi, CCO of iDoneThis
There was an immediate reaction from several educators around the world, one of which set me off thinking in a new direction because it brought up the idea that as women teachers we are role models for our girls - many of whom also don't want to seen as braggers.  In fact we need to encourage girls to speak up about their successes and achievements, and we can probably do this best by showing them that we can do it ourselves.

I never set out to either brag about what I was doing or to brand myself in any way - I simply wanted to share what I was doing - yet I'm interested that despite almost never tweeting about blog posts I have written, or posting links on other social networks such as Facebook or Google+ (still a hangover from the days at my old school where such things were frowned upon), my name and my blog are known simply by a sort of 'word of mouth' among educators and that when I go to conferences people come up and introduce themselves to me because they already "know" me from reading things I've written online.  I'm happy that ideas that I have written about have been discussed in staff rooms around the world - not because I want to brag or brand myself, but because when we share ideas we all benefit, and I hope that people can learn from my experiences (both good and bad).  And of course I am happy to brag about the great school I work at now, the wonderful educators I interact with daily, and the fabulous things that our students are doing.

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Maker Faires - creating opportunities to empower students

For the past 2 weekends and for the whole of last week Gary Stager was working at ASB on making.  I've had a number of opportunities over this time to listen to Gary talking about what he refers to as the "game changers" - the kinds of learning experiences that challenge students' views of themselves as competent learners.  These game changers are as follows:

  • Fabrication - which includes the technology for designing and creating real life objects/products
  • Physical computing - creating machines that interact with their environment
  • Programming - giving precise instructions to a computer in order to control it
When I lived in Switzerland I taught a young boy who had an artificial leg.  He was an amazing boy who was able to ski, snowboard, swim and so on, but there were times when his prosthetic leg broke and he had to go to the hospital for a new one.  Also because he was growing fast, he often outgrew his prosthetic and needed to go to hospital to get a larger one.  Today with 3D printers, it is possible to simply print a new body part with a custom fit.  Imagine what a life changer this could be!  In the not-so-distant future, if you want to have a new bike, watch, phone case or whatever, you will simply be able to buy the design of anything you want, tweek the design to customize it to your preferences, and make it yourself on your 3D printer.  Think about the long term consequences of not having to make something in one place and ship it to where someone wants it - even just thinking about the savings in transport and fuel alone is mind-boggling.  

Physical Computing
The summer before I moved to India I went to TeachMeet East in Cambridge, where there was a Raspberry Jam going on.  This was really interesting to me because Eben Upton explained what motivated his team to design this credit card sized basic computer - a growing number of students were applying to do computer science at Cambridge University who have never programmed anything at all, or ever tried to build a computer, they were simply passive users of technology.  The Raspberry Pi is affordable for students and is aimed at making programming fun.  It's important for students to know that they can invent things that work and as Gary explained "Physical computing supports a wide range of learning styles and offers a part of the process that appeals to kids who have different attitudes, interests and expertise."  The Raspberry Pi, Arduino, Lilypad and others are bringing the experience of physical computing to students.

In the 1970s I almost became a computer programmer by accident.  I was at university and my boyfriend at the time wanted to try out for a job at Control Data.  The corporation was coming to our local Town Hall with the promise that anyone who got through the selection process (an evening of tests) would be trained by the company and guaranteed a job in computer programming at the end of it.  Being a student of geography and history at that time, I wasn't in the slightest bit interested, but decided to go along anyway.  To my embarrassment, after the tests were completed I was selected and my boyfriend was not, and I then had to explain that even though I'd been selected I'd just come along for the ride and that I was going to have to turn down this opportunity.  At that time, of course, I had no idea that 15 years or so later, I would become a computer teacher and actually have to learn how to programme!  I have also come to realize that those tests did actually show that I was good at something that I had no idea about then, or for many years afterwards.  However once I did start to learn to programme (Logo) I discovered that it was fun and I was able to include some programming into at least one unit of inquiry I was teaching each year.  What I discovered was that some students had a real aptitude for understanding how to programme - it wasn't always those students you would first think of - but some just got it and found it fun.

Gary Stager refers to computer science as "one of the jewels of human ingenuity" as it encourages problem solving, communication, creation and invention:  "Learning to program a computer is an act of intellectual mastery that empowers children and teaches them that they have control of a piece of powerful technology.  Students quickly learn that they are the most important part of the computer program"

These past weekends I have seen a lot of kids having a lot of fun.  I have seen students and parents persisting at tasks that were hard for long stretches of time.  I have seen students proud of the things they have created.  I'm determined to encourage teachers to give their students more opportunities to use the Maker Studio we have just established at school.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Revolutionizing Writing

I often talk to teachers about writing - indeed many elementary teachers refer to it as a basic skill - and yet I've noticed that many of the media products that students create don't contain a lot of writing - scripts have been written, of course, but often when I am seeing on media products is voice as opposed to text.

Gary Stager writes that "we may take word processing, desktop publishing, and Web publishing for granted, but they each had a greater impact on communication in  a few years than the sharing of information had experienced in the last several hundred years.  Blogging, podcasting and digital media editing allows anyone to share knowledge."  When I was at school, the only way I had to show what I knew about something was to handwrite a report and give it to one person - my teacher.  Now there are many more ways, some of which don't involve writing at all, and all of which can reach a huge audience.

But let's start with writing, which has also been "revolutionized" by word processing.  Last week I was showing a couple of our teachers 2Create in Purple Mash.  These simple publishing templates allow our students as young as Kindergarten to make attractive presentations and publications.  When students want to edit their work, it's also a breeze - in fact editing goes on fairly continuously with no need for arduous rewrites of different drafts.  Last week I was also using 2Animate with 2nd Graders.  When they had made their animation, showing their understanding of a natural disaster, it was a simple step to add it onto their ePortfolios, thereby sharing it with a large and authentic audience.  Our children are very motivated to publish - a fact noted by Gary in his book Invent to Learn:  "Audience is a key element in motivating a person to write, and informs what they write as well.  Motivation also increases when the product of student writing is attractive and valued by others."

Most of what we do in our media classes, however, is not writing.  As mentioned already, we are making animations, we are also green screening movies using iPads, making Auras, and telling stories using a variety of different apps, taking photos to add to our work and using various painting programmes to create art.  Our Modern Languages teachers are using voice recording software so that children can hear themselves speaking a foreign language and developing their oral language skills.  Even the most inexpensive of phones, usually has a way of taking photos and recording video and audio.  Anyone can be a photographer or film maker, even our 4 year olds.

We revolutionized writing for our teachers this week too.  For the first time we ran a session where we expected teachers and assistants to participate using only 140 characters - we did some basic (5 minutes) training in Twitter and launched straight into a Twitter chat.   I was moderating the chat from the secondary campus, while 20 of our teachers and assistants were participating from the elementary campus on their mobile devices.  I was interested to see if they were able to communicate as effectively using these devices as "regular" writing - in fact it was very easy for them to do this.  I wondered if those on mobile phones would find the chat more challenging than those on larger devices such as iPads - but in fact this was not the case.  Our mobile devices prototype is starting to show a preference for smaller devices - for example here is what one of our teachers wrote:

As for me, I haven't bought a new mobile device since moving to India, but I have signed up for the next wave of Google Glass invitations.  I'm really looking forward to the day when these are able to be used outside of the USA.  I want Google Glass to be my next BYOM.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Collaborating at a distance

Although I've started a Coursera online course about Virtual Learning K-12, I am currently trying to reflect on this in the light of where I do most of my online facilitation - with adults in the IB PYP online workshops.    Although adult learners are very different from those in K-12 there are many similarities too.  The workshop I'm currently facilitating for the IBO has several activities that involve collaboration in either pairs or groups.  I'm therefore keen to learn more about how to promote collaboration at a distance.

The lecture I viewed today dealt with where and how to use technology to foster collaboration and communication and the types of technology tools to use.  There are many advantages of designing collaborative activities as part of online learning, and the most important one from my perspective is the idea of active learning.  As mentioned in a previous post, I have done online course which involved simply reading and then reflecting (and in one case not even receiving any comments from the instructor apart from things like "good job, keep going".  In this course I had no interaction with any other participant and I felt this was a real disadvantage as I could have learned so much from their feedback.  Breaking up the tasks (jigsawing) in collaborative groups allows the group to delve deeper and to broaden the scope of the project as different people can do different parts of the project and then put it all together.  Another advantage of working collaboratively, both face to face and online, is that it develops teamwork and leadership skills and also the skill of being a productive team member.  In the course I'm facilitating at the moment, there are some participants who post very late, holding up the rest of the group from moving forward.  Hopefully they will come to develop these skills through the social interaction of the online workshop.

There are 3 main reasons for collaborating during an online course and each is enhanced by using the most appropriate tool:
  • Collaboratively creating content can easily be done through wikis or collaborative tools such as Google Docs.
  • Sharing content and media can be done in many ways, for example using Pinterest, Flickr, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.  These social media platforms allow for comments. 
  • Discussions and reflections can happen with blogging and microblogging
I was interested to hear about the tips for teachers who collaborate with technology.  I think these are very important for teachers in a K-12 setting.  For example it is important to model good collaboration as students are learning to move from using social media to socialize to using it as a learning tool.  It's also important to emphasize quality over quantity.  I was interested in this as we often ask our workshop participants to comment on at least one other participant's post.  We want to encourage meaningful dialogue, but not a random collection of posts saying "I agree with you".  Another tip was to allow for personalization as the participants share their identities.  We have a section called the Coffee Corner where they can introduce themselves and I always encourage participants to post a photo of themselves so that we can put a face to the name.

Here are some more tips which I find useful for those teaching online courses (especially as I do struggle with the word "balance").  Set expectations about your availability and don't respond or moderate 24/7.  I'm finding it hard to do this because the participants in our workshops are from all over the world and they are posting at so many different times.  I feel I need to be monitoring the workshop constantly to make sure that anything that is urgent and important is dealt with.

As with all MOOCs I'm finding that this Coursera one is very much lecture driven up to now.  With about 15,000 participants in this one, I haven't yet been able to make contact with any other participant.  I'm wondering if this is likely to change in the upcoming modules.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Beyond the electronic document

As I mentioned in my previous post, one of my motivations for doing an online course about K-12 Virtual Learning was that I have participated in a number of online courses myself that were simply a matter of reading online documents and responding to them.  Although this did mean that the participants were able to discuss and collaborate asynchronously across different time zones, the actual content was not much different from reading a book or attending a lecture.  When we are designing content for online courses I think it is important to go beyond simply reading electronic documents in order to deliver the most effective way of engaging with the content.

Studies have shown that a number of factors increase engagement:  first of all the content must be broken up into manageable chunks as students' attention tends to wane after about 20 minutes.  Other factors that keep attention include the use of video, audio, real life stories and the use of mobile devices to interact with the content or the concepts being introduced.  I was interested to see that in the revamped IB online workshops there are now several video and audio files (though in my opinion not enough as most content is still delivered through electronic documents).

Other techniques to reinforce concepts can be to use simulations and 3D images on the web and on mobile apps.  In addition hands-on interactions encourage deeper learning and problem solving skills.

Of course one of the best ways of delivering effective and engaging content is to have the students create it themselves.  In the upcoming module, during the creation of content online that shows their understanding of the essential elements of the PYP, the participants in my current workshop have to collaborate together in either pairs or small groups of up to 5 people.   I'm excited to see what the coming week will bring, how they will work together and what they will create.

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The Whys and Whens of Virtual Learning

Back in June, on the first day of the summer holidays, I started planning my own PD for this school year.  I found the Coursera website and signed up for a number of courses that seemed interesting to me professionally.  The following one was one of those that caught my eye:

Emerging Trends and Technologies in the Virtual K-12 Classroom - investigate how we can more deeply engage students in the virtual classroom through the use of innovative practices and technologies.

I was interested in this because I have facilitated a number of online classes over the past year, though all for adults.  I've also participated in many different online workshops and MOOCs - with varying degrees of satisfaction - and since I believe there is a huge future for virtual learning I definitely wanted to know more about this, and in particular how this could be used with students in elementary school.  The course seems to address the needs of elementary as well as secondary, so yesterday I signed on and started the course.

The first thing we considered was the whys.  Our K-12 students are the "millennial" generation who expect instant feedback, individualized instruction, who are highly visual and who are good at multi-tasking.  Online learning seems ideal for these types of students.  In addition the successes of online learning is supported by various learning theories:  technology is good to use for social, constructive and collaborative learning and lends itself to learning in active groups.  Virtual learning also offers the opportunity for hands on activities, project based learning and games that develop problem solving skills.  Technology allows the courses to have a broad reach and provides the instructors with rich data that can be used to personalize tasks.  The fact that most of the administration is done by the computer also means that the teacher is freed up to interact more with individual students.

The second thing we were introduced to was the whens.  Virtual learning succeeds when you are planning for access beyond the school and when you are looking for up to the moment data and simulations.  It also succeeds when you are looking to improve learning outcomes as it provides opportunities for continuous improvement because of the immediate feedback.  I was really interested to see the following graphic on the first video of the course, which to me asks excellent questions about when technology should be used so that it is planned for and used in an intentional way to improve learning.

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

ASB's first Maker Faire

Today we held ASB's first Maker Faire - next weekend we will hold the second one.  The morning started with Gary Stager making a brief introduction to the various stations and kits that were set up around the MPH on the secondary campus.  This was a day for parents to work with their children on making.  There were teachers and R&D team members available to help if necessary, but mostly we hoped that the kids and parents would figure things out by themselves, and we could take a back seat.

This brings me to what Gary writes is the main work of teacher: learning about their students.  He writes:
A teacher who is mindful and involved with student work without being the center of attention can teach without lecturing.  Teacher roles in the constructionalist classroom include:
Ethnographer - finding out what children already know
Documentatarian - collecting evidence of learning that makes the invisible thinking of children visible
Studio manager - making appropriate tools, materials and resources available so children can make their ideas come to life
Wise leader - guide children's inquiry towards big ideas without coercion
So today we were studio managers - and a great time was had by all!

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Creativity -v- rubrics

Last year I read a paper about what employers are most looking for in school leavers.  Of course there are many different attributes that are important for school and colleague leavers to have, but creativity is certainly one of them.  At my last school I was in a book club that read Alfie Kohn's Punished by Rewards, where he wrote about how grades can be counterproductive to motivation and learning.  Today I've been reading about rubrics and how they can be counterproductive to creativity.  For example a rubric imposes the teacher's vision or definition of what the final product should look like (so doesn't leave room for the student to make that choice for him/herself).  A rubric can also turn into a "check the box" activity that limits students ("I've written my 5 paragraphs so I've done enough").

Many teachers have moved away from grades and towards rubrics, but my question today is:  is this enough?  Do rubrics still limit student creativity?

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Constructionism -v- instructionism

Should you teach a student how to do something or let them explore and find out for themselves?  Here is the problem of instruction -v- construction.  What do we actually know about how students learn? This is what the research tells us:
Children given a toy and shown how to use it will "learn" how the toy works, but will not explore beyond what they are shown.  This is true even if they simply overhear instructions being given to a child in the same room.  Children not given instruction will explore the same toy with a wider range of investigations and will find things that the first groups of children do not find.  (Bonawitz et al, 2011, quoted in Invent to Learn)
Here is another definition:   Constructivism is a theory of learning that is child-centred, open-ended, project-based and inquiry based.  Learning is social and the learner is the centre of attention. Learning results from experience and is constructed inside the head of the student.  Instructionism is explicitly teaching facts or showing students how to solve problems and then having the students practice them. Instructionists believe that learning is the direct result of having been taught.

Thanks to Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez for giving me a lot to think about today.  What sort of teacher am I?  I think I do a bit of both.  Sometimes I do show students how something works - for example recently I've shown our 5th Graders how to use Sketch Up.  I tried to do this in a sort of minimalistic way by showing them the different tools and then asking them to play and explore by themselves, but for sure there were some students who wanted to know how to make a dome on the top of their structure, for example, and we did watch a tutorial on that together (and then I later showed some other students how to do this).  On the other hand I've also taken a very hands-off approach in other situations, for example in introducing 3rd Graders to Google Earth, where I have simply asked them to go and explore and then share what they discovered with the rest of the class.

What do you think?  Which type of teacher are you?

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A mistake, a detour or a new path?

When I was a 5th Grade teacher I used to have a class web site, and one year the title of the weekly updates page was "There are no mistakes, only lessons".  At the time I didn't know where this quote came from, but I thought it was a good one for my class.  Working at PYP schools we often talk about the attributes of the IB Learner Profile - one of which is risk-taker.  As a risk-taker you know that not everything you try is going to work out the way you thought it might, but that even when it doesn't you will learn from the experience.  As teachers who encourage risk-taking, we hope that if a child experiences failure that they will also learn resilience.  We need to know that we can't step in to prevent failure - in fact we shouldn't if the students are the ones who truly own the learning.  Giving up this control of the situation encourages the students to develop self-reliance.

Now some people go even further.  This is what Gary Stager refers to as "fetishing failure".  There are many teachers who actually advocate letting kids experience failure as a way of learning a valuable lesson.  Gary doesn't agree with this philosophy at all because he writes that failure is judgement - it is punitive and high-stakes.  He claims that it is not necessary because in an iterative design cycle the emphasis is not on learning from failure, but on continuing to improve by keeping the things that work and changing the things that don't.  He agrees with the quote above by saying that this is not failure, this is learning, and that students are very capable of looking at what they have done and deciding if this latest iteration is a mistake, a detour or a completely new path.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Make meaning before making media!

The expression above has become my mantra this year after taking online courses with Bernajean Porter and especially after doing the face to face practicum while she was at ASB in September.  This week I've been thinking about this along with the inquiry cycle and Kathy Short's claim that some kind of presentation is essential to the process of learning and doing inquiry because that is where students figure out what they know and don't know.

The important thing about presentations, is that students must think about what they want to communicate - what it is that is so important for everyone to know - before they think about how they want to present it (they have to think about the meaning first and then the media second).  As Bernajean mentioned many times - agency is important.  After deciding what they want to communicate, students need to have a whole list of different ways that they might be able to present this information to different audiences, and then they need to find the best match between the information and the presentation mode for communicating their ideas.  Within each mode (for example video, slideshow, podcast etc) there will still be a choice of which tool will be the best one to use.

Agency - choice - is important.  Kathy Short writes: "if [students] are let out of the process, then teachers are always in a position of having to motivate them, because what they are doing doesn't pull from their own internal motivation."  Employers frequently bemoan the lack of creativity in school leavers, which is not surprising if at school students are always told the type of communication, the mode of communication and the tool that they should use.  Gary Stager also comments on this in Invent to Learn:  "Students learn creativity by being creative.  They can develop self-esteem by engaging in satisfying work ... Students learn perseverance by working on projects that make them want to stick with them .... Study skills are best gained within a context of meaningful inquiry."

After the presentation, it's time to reflect - this is an essential part of inquiry as students need to think about what they have learned about the content/meaning and what they have learned about the process/making media.  Finally students need to reflect on how this new knowledge and understanding is going to be used - which is the action part of the PYP.  Once again I come back to a quote from Invent to Learn:
Most often kids will exceed our expectations, especially if exceeding our expectations is our expectation.
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Research -v- Inquiry

I've written about inquiry many times before, but one of the joys of facilitating online workshops is that I often have to think - and re-think - about curriculum and pedagogy over and over again depending on the workshop and the cohort of participants.  Over the last few days I've been reading Kathy Short's interview with Yvonne Siu-Runyan and considering inquiry as curriculum.

Inquiry is the basis of the PYP, and one of the 5 essential elements of the PYP is action.  Kathy explains how inquiry and action are linked.  She talks about how we come to ask questions - because something interests us or because something causes us tension or confusion.  As we try to answer these questions, we come to new understandings, but at the same time new questions emerge and, because we have found out the answers to our questions, we need to be able to apply this new information in our lives which leads to taking action as a result of our new understanding.  Of course the action may well lead to further questions.

The real difference with inquiry as an approach is that you must start with exploring first, before asking questions - it's not possible to ask questions or think critically about something that you know nothing about.  And it is for this reason that many PYP units start with frontloading and with students being totally immersed in the topic in order to build this background knowledge that will allow the asking of meaningful questions.  As Kathy says: "In inquiry, the focus is on exploring the topic from as many perspectives as possible before finding questions or issues for in-depth investigation."

Research is often about collecting facts, but inquiry goes further as students use these facts to ask questions that will deepen their understanding.  When students start to inquire, the teachers may not know which questions the students will ask or where these questions will take them - the students may even want to go further than the teacher's own knowledge on a topic which means that teachers will be learning alongside the students.  In this situation the role of the teacher is not to provide the answers, but to bring in ideas and perspectives that the students may not yet have considered but that will support the inquiry - and this role involves a huge amount of listening as the teacher needs to find out what the students already know so that he or she can provide different perspectives about what the students don't already know.

For this reason I'm always wary about planning out a unit of inquiry beforehand.  I think it's good to plan powerful provocations and then to sit back and listen to the students and evaluate what they are saying - to collect their questions and then to plan more learning engagements based on these.  I think the difference between researching a topic and inquiry is that in the latter situation it is the students who own the learning and who are digging into questions that are significant for them, and are showing their knowledge in different ways.  The way they present their understanding is something I want to think about a little more in an upcoming post.

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Prompts, provocations and authentic student achievement

To start a unit of inquiry, as a tuning in so that students are curious about learning, we often start with a provocation.  In Invent to Learn Gary Stager writes "A good prompt is worth 1,000 words!"  But what is a good prompt?  Gary explains this in the following way:
  • Brevity - clear, concise and self-evident
  • Ambiguity - the learner needs to explore the prompt in his or her own way - it shouldn't be too prescriptive
  • Immunity to assessment - if students care about what they are doing, they will want to do a good job.  They will be collaborating, peer reviewing and editing, making adult assessment unnecessary.
A good unit of inquiry or project goes beyond simply having a good prompt.  In addition, Gary writes, learners also need appropriate materials, sufficient time and a supportive culture, including a range of expertise.   What we need to is give students a prompt and then let them follow their ingenuity.  Gary says that "the richest learning often results from getting in over one's head or when encountering unforeseen obstacles ... good prompts do not burden a learner, but set them free."

Photo Credit: Wha'ppen via Compfight cc

Friday, November 1, 2013

Documentary Photography on Day 9

Today was Day 9.  As we have an 8-day schedule this means a day off schedule for the elementary students to work in multi-age groups.  All the teachers and assistants offered something, and the students signed up for what they were interested in.  My group decided to do documentary photography.

We'd had a Day 9 before and I did photography then too (see previous post).  Back in April we looked at photography as art, now we switched our attention to using photography as a documentary.  We talked about what this word meant, and about how we would capture the life of an old village within the huge city of Mumbai, just a few minutes walk from school.

I have to admit I was very proud of the students, who approached this task with respect and empathy.  I think their photographs and comments are very sensitive.  The local community were curious about us and extremely welcoming - we were invited into people's homes and businesses.  Many of these people are too poor to be able to afford photographs of themselves, so I have now decided to print out these photos on pieces of A4 paper and then laminate them and take them back into the village to give as gifts to those who so graciously shared their lives with us this morning.

On our return to school we chose the "best" of our photos and edited them.  For me the best part about this was when we came to lunch recess time and all but 3 of the students decided they wanted to stay in and continue editing their photos.  They were so engaged and motivated to get these done, to show to the other students during our sharing time this afternoon.

Remember, our students are only 9 and 10 years old.  I think they did an incredible job of sensitively documenting the life of our Indian neighbours.