Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The best preparation for university and work

Yesterday we got some great news.  Our daughter recently applied to a grad scheme, and after a number of interviews and tests, yesterday she was offered a job as a trainee consultant for a travel company.  I found this interesting for a number of reasons:  firstly she still has more than 6 months of university to complete before she gets her MA and can start work - it is early to secure a job offer.  Secondly, we have talked many times about the importance of following her passions (history and art).  Even though last year she admitted that it might have been better to study a subject that would have led more directly into a career, I still feel that spending 4 years studying subjects that you love simply can't be beaten.  The question was, would this count against her when looking for a job?  Would art history be seen as a bit "fluffy" compared with degrees in other subjects?  Would it lead into a job that used these talents and passions, or would she have to train again in a different area?  Yesterday these questions were answered.  One branch of the travel company specialises in tailor-made cultural holidays - certainly as a consultant in this area she will be able to use her expertise in both history and the history of art, as well as her experience of living in 4 different countries in Europe and Asia.

I was thumbing through the September issue of IB World today and came across an article entitled Diploma Programme gets thumbs up.  In a nutshell, a survey of university admissions officers in Britain indicates the IB Diploma is the best preparation for university and work, when compared with other qualifications taken on leaving school, such as A levels.  The reasons for this were as follows:
  • 57% stated the DP includes workplace skills
  • 76% feel that it promotes self-management skills
  • 72% feel it helps students to cope with pressure
  • 23% believe it gives students an entrepreneurial or positive approach to risk-taking
I've written before about the great preparation the DP has given to both my children - both now will be working in good jobs in areas they are passionate about.  I think they have fulfilled the IB mission statement, developing into "inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect" - certainly things that are needed in today's world.  I feel incredibly grateful to the schools that my children have attended, to the teachers who nurtured their passions and skills, who helped them open the doors to their futures and who gave them the courage to step forward into them.

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Thinking like a designer: creative spaces for creative work

When ASB was building a new campus we researched space.  We looked into designing "campfire" areas where students would receive direct instruction, "watering holes" where students can collaborate together and "cave" spaces for quiet, individual work.  Reading on in the book inGenius by Tina Seelig, I'm at the part where she writes about Ewan McIntosh's 7 types of spaces that can exist in both the physical and online world.

  1. Private space - places where we can be by ourselves.
  2. Group spaces - where small teams of people work together.
  3. Publishing spaces - designed to showcase what is going on - these occur in both the physical and virtual world, for example publishing on websites.
  4. Performing spaces - where you can share/act out ideas.  These spaces are designed to bring ideas to life and so stimulate the imagination.  They don't need to be permanent spaces, but should be available when needed.
  5. Participation spaces - places that allow personal engagement with what is going on.  The example Ewan gives is turning a school yard (group space) into a garden where students tend to the plants.
  6. Data space - a library or database where information is stored - it needs to be easily accessible either physically or online.
  7. Watching spaces - allowing us to be passive observers of what is happening around us, rather than being active participants.
I've been walking through the school and thinking about these spaces.  As well as our private "cave", "watering-hole" and "campfire" spaces I have seen we have others.  We definitely do also have publishing and performing spaces.  Our iCommons area can also be described as a data space. Possibly we need to think a little more about participation and watching spaces.

What sort of spaces do you have at your school?

Original artwork by an ASB student

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thinking like a designer: using memory to focus attention

Earlier this week I blogged about how I used Keri-Lee Beasley's CARP videos to help students understand design principles when they communicate using posters and presentations.  I've also read further in Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic's book Storytelling with Data to consider how to focus the attention of your audience so that we are in control of how they interact with our visual communications.

Cole explains that we see with our brains - in particular as a designer we need to think about the different types of memory and how we can utilise it as we communicate:
  • Iconic memory - information stays here for just a fraction of a second and mostly we are not even conscious of it.  However this memory evolved as a survival mechanism to pick up differences in our environment. Tapping into the iconic memory can certainly be used for effective visual communication.  This memory is the one that reacts to the Contrast part of the CARP model (here known as preattentive attributes) - making sure the important data contrasts with the rest is one way of ensuring our audience's attention is drawn to what we want them to see.
  • Short-term memory - here it's important to be aware that people can only keep about 4 chunks of visual information in their short-term memory simultaneously.  This is one reason why we shouldn't have multiple symbols, colours and so on as we try to communicate a message.
  • Long-term memory - once something leaves the short-term memory it either vanishes completely or it moves into long-term memory.  We know that images often stick with an audience, therefore combining a visual with a verbal message will be an effective way to trigger long-term memory in our audience.
We only have around 3-8 seconds with an audience before they decide to continue looking or focus their attention somewhere else.  Therefore we need to create a visual hierarchy so that the audience pays attention to what is most important first.  Preattentive attributes, such as colour, size, shape and position means that the audience doesn't have to work hard to process all the information, but instead is guided through the visual in order of what is most important.

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Reframe to create empathy

Over the past few days my Facebook feed has been dominated by the attitudes of people towards migrants following the recent atrocities in Paris.  There are some people who seem to think that by closing their borders to migrants, countries will remain safe. There are others who point out the benefits of migration, the consequences of not allowing innocent people to flee from hostilities, and who point out that religions encourage us to take care of our neighbours.  Of course this is just one example, but whatever the situation it is usually possible to look at it from different angles and perspectives, and in so-doing come up with more imaginative and creative solutions.

A few summers ago, when I did the Design Thinking for Educators workshop at the Henry Ford Learning Institute in Detroit, I learned that the first stage of the design process is empathy.  It's important to start with this because it allows you to put aside your own wants and needs that will bring you to what could be the ideal solution for you, but not necessarily for the wants and needs of another person. Walking in someone else's shoes is important so that you design a solution for them. Basically when you empathise you change your frame of reference by shifting your perspective to that of the other person.

Empathy forms part of both the IB Learner Profile and the PYP Attitudes.  The learner profile caring describes people who show empathy, compassion and respect towards the needs and feelings of others.  The attitude of empathy encourages students to "imagine themselves in another's situation in order to understand his or her reasoning and emotions, so as to be open-minded and reflective about the perspectives of others."

Being able to reframe situations is also an essential life-skill.  Our students will need to be able to reframe themselves and the way they view things to adapt and thrive in a world that is changing.

Image by Ronald Tan 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Innovation Engine

Can creativity be taught and learned?  We often talk about this, since creativity involves doing new things, and Tina Seelig, executive director of Stanford University’s Technology Ventures Program, thinks that it is certainly possible to increase a person's ability to come up with creative ideas.  She has devised a model called the Innovation Engine - shown in the diagram to the left.  She writes that the 3 parts on the inside of the Innovation Engine are knowledge, imagination and attitude:

  • Knowledge provides fuel for your imagination
  • Imagination transforms knowledge into new ideas
  • Attitude sets the Innovation Engine in motion.
On the outside of the Innovation Engine are resources, habitat and culture:
  • Resources are your community assets
  • Habitats are your local environments (home, school, office)
  • Culture is the collective beliefs, values and behaviours of your community.
She writes that "creativity is not just something you think about - it's something you do."  I'm keen to read her book inGenius to find out more about how we can promote creativity in our students.

Adapting Bloom's for formative assessment

Most of the time we talk about Bloom's taxonomy when considering students' summative assessments, but because I've been reading David A. Sousa's book Brain-Friendly Assessments I've also been thinking about how Bloom's can be applied for formative assessments.  Basically Bloom's taxonomy describes the complexity of human thought.  Teachers need to be aware when asking questions that they should be increasing complexity rather than difficulty to tap into the higher-levels of Blooms.

Here is the example given by Sousa:
Remember level:  Name the planets in the solar system
A more difficult question at the Remember level:  Name the planets in the solar system in order from the sun
Analysis and Evaluate level:  Was it necessary to downgrade Pluto to a dwarf planet? (Here a student has to understand and analyze the differences between a planet and a dwarf planet and evaluate whether it was necessary to downgrade.
Sousa also writes about the DOK model (Depth Of Knowledge) that combines the 6 levels of Bloom's into 4:

  • Recall - basic knowledge - corresponds to Remembering and Understanding
  • Basic application of skill/concept - corresponds to Applying
  • Strategic thinking - requires research and synthesis - corresponds to Analysing and Evaluating
  • Extended thinking - involves originally and innovation - corresponds to Creating
Studies show that engagement increases when students are asked to engage in higher-order thinking activities, as it "rescues" their brains from rote memorization, boredom and disengagement.

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Beyond Bloom's: Metacognition

We talk about Bloom's taxonomy a lot at school, in particular when discussing student work for our annual tech audit.  Having had these conversations with our Grade 4 and 5 teachers this week, I wanted to dig a bit deeper to what comes beyond the Creating level of Bloom's - I wanted to think more about metacognition.

In the PYP metacognition is one of the Thinking Skills (Approaches to Learning) and is defined in the following way:

Analysing one's own and other's thought processes; thinking about how one thinks and how one learns.

Metacognition is also an essential part of the concept of reflection, where we ask the question "How do we know?" This concept was chosen because it challenges students to look at evidence when drawing conclusions. In Making the PYP Happen it states:

It challenges the students to examine their evidence, methods and conclusions. In doing so, it extends their thinking into the higher order of metacognition, begins to acquaint them with what it means to know in different disciplines, and encourages them to be rigorous in examining evidence for potential bias or other inaccuracy.

I'm interested to read what David A. Sousa writes about reflection and metacognition, which he sees as being very different.  Reflection is looking back at something after it has happened, for example how a problem was solved, and then thinking about whether there was a better way to do it, or how it could be changed next time.  He writes that metacognition is different because the thinking happens while learning - during, not after.

When we talk about the lower levels of Bloom's, for example remembering, I notice we often put automaticity into this lower level.  This refers to a skill that has already been mastered, so it can be performed without almost any thought.  The example I always think about here is driving a car.  To start with you have to think about everything, but later you can drive automatically.  However is this really a lower level skill?  As we are driving we are constantly looking, assessing, making split-second decisions, monitoring what other road users are doing and so on.  Sousa feels that automaticity is actually a complement to higher-order thinking, that leads to the successful accomplishment of tasks.

Metacognition is difficult for young children.  This is because metacognition happens in the brain's prefrontal cortex, and it is not until 5th or 6th grade that students' frontal lobes are sufficiently developed so that they can understand what learning strategies will be effective for them.  However Sousa writes that studies of older students who learn about and use metacognitive strategies show greater academic achievement than students who do not.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Thinking like a designer: storytelling with data

Several years ago, in a previous school, I attended a staff meeting where we were shown the results of a survey that had been conducted at the school several months before.  This presentation had been put together by an experienced educator, and data derived from the responses to the survey were all visualized as Excel graphs.  However it was one of the most incomprehensible presentations I've ever attended - it was hard to follow and the design got in the way of communicating the message.  I did learn something though.  Thinking that there must have been a better way to present data, I went out and read Garr Reynold's book on Presentation Zen, and following this I made sure that I shared these design principles and techniques with both students and teachers.  Last year, following a Google Summit hosted at AST, I also came across a free iBook from Keri-Lee Beasley called Design Secrets Revealed on iTunes.  This iBook contains 4 short videos that explain some simple principles of design (Contrast, Alignment, Repetition and Proximity).  I have used these videos with elementary students to have them understand how using the CARP principles can really help them to communicate in an impactful way using both posters and presentations.

Today I've started reading a new book, Storytelling with Data by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic.  Cole writes:
In school, we learn a lot about language and math.  On the language side we learn how to put words together into sentences and into stories.  With math, we learn to make sense of numbers.  But it's rare that these two sides are paired:  no one teachers us how to tell stories with numbers .... This leaves us poorly prepared for an important task that is increasingly in demand.  Technology has enabled us to amass greater and greater amounts of data and there is an accompanying growing desire to make sense out of all this data.  Being able to visualize data and tell stories with it is key to turning it into information that can be used to drive better decision making  ...  Being able to tell stories with data is a skill that's becoming more important in our world of increasing data and desire for data driven decision making.  An effective data visualization can mean the difference between success and failure when it comes to communicating the findings of your study ... or simply getting your point across to your audience.
I'm hoping that I will learn a lot from this book, and be able to share this learning with students to help them tell better stories with the data they are collecting.  I'll be sharing thoughts about this in future blog posts too.

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Friday, November 6, 2015

International teaching - satisfying the wanderlust?

It's that time of year again - many international schools have already asked teachers about their intent to stay or go next school year.  This year I've been more involved in the Global Recruitment Collaborative that ASB prototyped last year - we have had a lot of interest in this, and in the past few days while I've been at the Learning2 conference in Johannesburg, a number of people have approached me directly about recruitment.

Many international teachers talk about it being "their time" to leave. They are happy to spend between 3-5 years at a school and then throw their hat into the ring again.  When I ask these people where they want to go, many of them are very open - anywhere new would be considered.

There are some people who seem to have wanderlust (possibly I've become one of them - I'm now living in my 7th country).  Recently following a link in Facebook I found there is actually a genetic link to wanderlust.  People with the bug to travel don't think of one place as home (home is wherever they happen to be), and so they enjoy exploring as much of the world as possible.  This genetic link came out of studies into ADD, which linked it to the dopamine receptor D4.  Around 15 years ago a study from the UC Irvine found that people with this gene were the ones who had a history of travel, as well as risk-taking and hyperactivity.

Apparently children who have this gene are the ones who are most likely to form hypotheses in their minds, and then experiment to test these hypotheses.  If they continue like this into adulthood, they are also more likely to want to move and live in new places.  I'm wondering if we did a study of international teachers, especially those who move from school to school frequently, getting itchy feet every 3-5 years, whether they too would be carriers of the DRD4 gene.  And as a mother of children that have been brought up in several countries, I'm wondering if this gene is hereditary.

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