Monthly Archives: October 2012

Does Your Classroom Reflect What You Believe About Learning?

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As teachers we are so lucky. We know that when we come to school each day, each day will be different and interesting. We also know that to help students to learn, you need to be a learner yourself. 

In the past few years the rate of learning for teachers like myself has soared due to social media. I recently read a post about a teacher in New Zealand who had changed her learning space. At the time I read it, I thought it was a great idea but was not sure how I would go about  creating the change. I have always been interested in creating a culture of thinking and learning in my classs,  where the teacher steps back and the children help drive the learning. It was for this reason that an epiphany struck me one day last term.

We recently had our school PYP Exhibition where my year six students presented their learning to the school and wider community. Throughout the learning process for the Exhibition, the kids in my class were creating their own spaces for learning. In setting up for the day most of our desks were taken out of my room and stored. There was suddenly all this space in the room that could be changed. I realised that for so many years I had worked on creating a collaborative learning culture in my room, but I was helping my pupils to decide who to collaborate with and where their learning should take place. Still a little uncomfortable about what I was going to do to change the space and how I was going to do it, I asked one of my colleagues about her thoughts.  I asked myself the question, “Does Your Classroom Reflect What You Believe About Learning?” The short answer was “No”. While discussing it I became convinced and my excitement started to gain momentum.

So….. after the Exhibition I put the idea to my class. I explained that I had been teaching for so long and that teaching and learning has changed so much over this time. We spoke about being 21st Century learners in a learning space that was static. I asked them what they thought about the idea of changing our space and they were really enthusiastic. So we went about the school looking for alternative furniture to replace desks and chairs. We changed these for Ottomans instead. The whole atmosphere in my room began to change. The kids told me that a new Essential Agreement for this Flexible space should be created. They created one and constantly refer to it if things are not going so well.

Flexible Learning Space

 

Now that we have a shared flexible space when it comes to tidying the room a sense of “we” has emerged in the room rather than “I”. Everyone now helps to clean the space. We are still experimenting with the space and are now trying out different types of furniture that a kind furniture rep has agreed to lend us. The children are excited to be helping to choose their furniture. They give me feedback about it without me even asking.

I had wondered what would happen with this new found freedom in the room. How and if  it would change learning. My observations are that children are now mixing things up and are learning and collaborating  more  than ever before. The children look more comfortable when they are learning.

As for me, I feel a sense of freedom too and am so glad that I took the plunge.

Organisation Challenge /Passion Project

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If we are passionate teachers we want to share our passion with passionate learners. It’s not always so easy to achieve. 

Working at an IBO school is a definite plus to help motivate kids to finding their passions. However, every unit of inquiry that is covered is not of interest to everyone. Even though there is scope for personal inquiries , I think that for some children, especially in year 6 , they are really starting to think about what they want to learn about, not always what the teacher wants. This was made really clear to me by my student’s during their Exhibition Unit last term.

It was during our Exhibition that they got to find their passion in the Transdisiplanary theme of “Sharing the Planet” . I witnessed a rise in motivation and independent learners emerging. How could I carry this level of excitement over into the following term?

The answer became clear to me while visiting Sam Sheratt’s classroom at NIST in Thailand.

As part of a their How We Organise Oursevelves unit, I observed the kids at NIST preparing for an Organisation Challenge and a quest to work on a Personal Passion. The kids were preparing to set themselves up to organise an event for others, some were around their passions. Oh what a buzz there was in the classroom. These self motivated learners were begging their teacher for time to organise their challenges and do their Passion Projects.

The challenges and passions included construction of arcade games (the kids had seen “Kane’s Arcade” on You Tube and were inspired by this), cooking dinner or baking cakes for family and friends, writing a book, writing a script for a play, creating a virtual school using Mind Craft etc. Sam has plans to develop this further with some kids in their upcoming exhibition.

The other motivating factor was that they would be going to camp soon and one of the goals was to provide what is needed for an underprivileged school that the teachers had connected with. It was the kids decision to do this. So I witnessed large cardboard boxes which were made into arcade games being hauled down the stairs at playtime where a fee was charged to play and the money carefully stored away to help underprivileged children with their education. I saw crazy hair day being organised. For an organisation challenge some girls were making smoothies. I saw tennis tournaments and swimming races being organised. I saw reading, writing, maths, public speaking, different text types types for different purposes, collaboration……..and the list goes on. All done in an authentic way.

The kids were clear on what they had to achieve. There was a graphic organiser on the Smart board with a cycle showing the words “Choose, Reflect, Act” (from PYP).  As the goal in the classroom was to become independent learners the kids understood that this cycle was never ending. So the words “What must I do I’m finished” did not escape from one child’s mouth. 

Kids were encouraged to think about which transdisiplanary theme/s their passion fitted into. They had to think about what the connections were to the theme and why it connected. Some of them were already thinking about skills and attitudes. Such authentically seamless learning around the PYP.

I wished a could have stayed to see how these continued to develop.

I’m hoping to follow this model next term. Next year I know that I need to begin my year with helping kids to find their passion and work towards becoming independent learners……exciting times.

Meaningful Home Learning vs Homework

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For the past year or two I have been struggling with the notion of “homework”. I changed the word to “home learning” and began trying to set learning at home for my students, around our inquiries. I stopped printing worksheets and began sending learning home online which mostly involved using online tools and our class blog. I felt more comfortable about this but not entirely.

On my recent trip to NIST  in Bangkok they are trialling a meaningful way for their pupils to think about learning at home. I think I have finally found something that I have been thinking about for ages. Authentic, purposeful thinking to be done at home centered around learning. It is called a Learning Log.

This is how it works. Each week the children receive a mostly blank piece of A3 paper with a big question like: Can organisation create happiness or what does organisation look like? They are also free to ask their own questions around the learning. The learning is tagged with the transdisiplanary theme, concepts, presentation criteria etc. I came accross this idea of tagging learning at a recent TeachMeet here in Melbourne and am now realising its power. With the use of tags kids have Big Ideas which they can hook their learning onto. Learning then becomes trans-disciplinary and open.

At the back of the same sheet are:

A concentric circle model starting with me in the centre, going out to friends, family , other people and experts. 

The Ice Berg model also features on this side. The kids know that they have to get below the water to make connections, look for different perspectives, ask more questions.

These are both used as a form of assessment. Kids get feedback from the models and a short comment written by the teacher. From these,  they form goals for the next week. Sam encouraged me to look at the children’s learning and give them feedback. The way the kids made use of the space on the paper was unbelievable. Each child used their own learning style to present their learning. I saw graphic organisers, drawings, photos, bubbly thoughts etc. I was blown away by the authenticity and perspectives given to the children by the adults around them.

When the sheets are returned kids give kids feedback. Sam explained how to give meaningful feedback after he listened to kids conversations. He made a beautiful analogy of sweet feed back using a honey jar and sour feedback using a lemon. One child said “to get delicious feedback you need a balance of the two”. So it was, that the feedback in the room became known as “Delicious Feedback”. The learning is then displayed in the room.

For now I think my search for authentic Home Learning is over. I am excited to implement this in my classroom.

Hello world!

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The decision to start this blog has come after much prodding and strong encouragement from one of my colleagues. She has told me that writing posts will help me reflect on my teaching practice and learning. So here it comes post number one, embarking on my personal journey of learning and practice. 

I work in a school where professional learning is encouraged and valued. Over the many years that I have been teaching I have been to many professional development courses. I am always able to take something away from these sessions, however I often land up feeling disappointed and let down due to either lack of engaging content and/or the way learning is presented. This got me thinking as to what I wanted from PD and how I was going to get it.

As luck would have it earlier this year my colleagues and I were fortunate enough to Skype with with a teacher at an international school in Thailand NIST, through a connection made on Twitter. We were about to embark on our PYP Exhibition and we wanted some help and clarification. This was my second attempt at the Exhibition and I knew exactly what I did not want to be doing second time round. 

So we Skyped with Sam Sherratt a Year 6 teacher at NISTand as the session progressed I knew I had stumbled on someone who spoke my language regarding learning. After an hour I came away inspired and relieved that the Exhibition could be achieved in a way that fits with my teaching philosophy and practice. A few months later Sam was invited to our school to share some of his ideas about learning. I hung on to every word and the wheels in my mind began turning. 

During the Exhibition term I got onto Twitter, due to the push I received from my learning friend and mentor – another big step in the right direction. It was here that I continued to connect with Sam. I found his advice invaluable. It was then that the idea came to me. I still had PD days owing to me and I knew what would be the best PD ever – time in Sam’s classroom in Thailand. When I approached my Principal he was so supportive but as this was an unusual request permission was needed from all the heads of campus. Permission was granted….and so a learning journey was born.

From the moment I stepped into Sam’s room I was stuck by the life lessons that unfolded each day and the absolute engagement of the children. The learning was always real for them because it connected to them. The unit being covered was in the PYP Transdisiplanary Theme of How We Organise Ourselves and it was about a journey of personal growth towards independence.

Each day began with children walking into the room, independently looking at instructions for the start of the day on the Smart board. The day started with. Reading and often the children had to think about what they were reading and how they were reading it. 

At the start of the week Sam would use a picture of rocks in a jar. On the rocks he put what had to be accomplished through the week with negotiation with the children. The children were warned not to put too many rocks in the jar and were encouraged to make their goals achievable. At the end of the week the children and teacher assessed if they were true to the goals set. The kids approached their teacher honestly and respectfully saying that they needed more time for some of the learning. This form of goal setting / what needed to be covered in the week was really powerful. It was incredible to hear the kids telling the teacher what they needed to accomplish. This is what we as educators dream of, independently motivated learners. In this classroom children’s ideas and opinions are highly valued as well as the teacher’s. It’s not all about the teacher, it’s about a learning community where all ideas are equal.

I think that I might have just completed the most powerful form of Professional Development in a long time.