Taking It Public

Sometimes my team and I get crazy ideas. Like having 120 students share their 120 personalized Units of Inquiry, 8 different ways, 3 days after the winter holiday.

It always seems like a great at the time. We hold hands, jump in with both feet, happily submerge into new waters… then we pop back up to the surface, catch our breath and look around.

What is first excitement, soon becomes panic.

“What were we thinking!?”

“What have we done!?”

“How do we get out of this!?”

Then the realization hits us. The fact that we are constantly asking our students to:

– think big

– take risks

– leave their comfort zone

– do something that scares them

– embrace failure

So in order to avoid being the world’s biggest hypocrites, we commit to our crazy idea, get all hands on deck and continue full steam ahead.

Here is the story of how we muddled through our first attempt at supporting students to “Take Their Learning Public”

As always, the idea came from a long and heated chat. This time, about how to wrap up the students’ first personalized Units of Inquiry. We all agreed, there needed to be some way in which they shared their learning with parents and the school community, but we wanted to ensure it was as authentic and student-driven as possible. So we settled on the idea of having all students “take it public” but in a way that made sense for what their unit was.

As a team, we brainstormed all the possible ways student could take their learning public, and because we’re crazy, we thought… “Why not have them all happening on the same day!?”

And because we’re even crazier, we figured “Why not the Friday after they return from winter holiday”.

So then we introduced the idea to students, as usual starting with the “why”. We talked about how regardless of what someone is working on, learning about, or pursuing, there typically comes a point where that person takes their journey public. It may be when a fashion designer puts on a show. Or when a scientist publishes their findings. Or perhaps when an inventor showcases a prototype at a trade show. Or even when a musician performs a new song.

So since they’ve been working on pursuing a purpose for the past 6 weeks, it was time for them to take their learning public and share it with others.

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Then we shared our plan for “how” we were going to help students to make this happen.

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We shared our plan for support.

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We shared our plan for time.

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Then we shared our thinking about “what” ways they could take their learning public. For each option, we shared stories and photos from previous years to help students understand and visualize what that might look like for them – hopefully helping them more of an informed choice when it came time to commit to one of the options.

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Then we had all student complete a Google Form to give us the data we needed to plan our support for them.

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We analyzed the data in order to make decisions about groups and adult allocations. We looked for styles of taking it public that could be grouped together (like Ted Talks and live performances; gallery and showcase) and we also took into consideration our individual strengths and preferences for which group we felt we could best support.

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Then we shared this information with students…

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and had our first meetings with our “TIP” groups where we able to get to know the students (since they were made of mixed groupings) and begin to co-construct a vision for what success would look like.

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These “Take it Public” (or “TIP” as it came to be known) groups would continue to meet at the beginning of each day, so the adult responsible for the group could support the students to create to-do lists and day plans in order to prepare and meet again at the end of each day to support students in reflecting on progress, challenges and next steps. Many advisors also set up TIP Google Classrooms to help with the logistics, organization and communication.

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At this point, we also knew it was important to communicate with parents to let them know the “why, how, and whats” of Taking It Public, so they could make arrangement to hopefully come in and be part of it. We decided to be completely transparent with the parent community, and position ourselves as risk-takers, hence the name “A Friday of Firsts” – both for students and ourselves.

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Then, the next few days were full of:

Researching…

Building…

Rehearsing…

Designing…

Practicing…

Preparing…

Memorizing…

Organizing…

and lots and LOTS of conferencing!

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Many of us used a variety of approaches to track the students’ progress and find out what support they wanted from us. This helped us stay involved with what they needed and the amount and level of support that made sense for them.

Some of us collected this data with small check-in Google Forms at the end of each day:

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Others took anecdotal notes, or had one-on-one, regular check-ins with the members of their group.

Regardless of how we collected this data, we all made sure to use it in order to inform our planning for the following day.

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We also paid attention to planning the logistics for the actual day. Taking into consideration what is happening when, who is involved, who is supervising whom and who is available to come an observe/participate.

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The morning of the event, students did their final touches and preparations…

And then…. ready, set, GO!

Ted Talks

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A Marketplace

A showcase 

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A gallery

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A catered “Food Friday”

Workshops for younger students

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And read alouds

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Photo credits: @puglifevn @juouelle @hktans @ms_amandaromano 

Reflections:

  • All in all it was a successful day – there was a palpable energy amongst students, advisors and the parent community, as well as feelings of pride, success and accomplishment
  • There were a few difficult conversations between parents and students, but we welcome and encourage that as part of the learning process from students first attempt planning and directing their own Unit of Inquiry – it’s all about failing forward and learning from mistakes 
  • As a team, we were glad we took the plunge and tried something new and scary – we left our comfort zone, and magic really did happen!
  • It was SO great to work with a mixed group of students and continue to build relationships with students across the grade level
  • It was surprising how smooth the transition was from winter holiday, right back into TIP preparations – we were shocked and provoked at the idea not necessarily needing to wrap up one thing before a break, and the unexpected benefits of having something familiar to jump right back into

 Future Thoughts:

  • next time it would be great for us to acknowledge the students that “took it public” on their own accord at some point throughout their unit, as we had a few students point out that they had already hosted a workshop, catered an event, participated in a market at a more authentic time in their journey. Maybe this teacher-led “take it public” does not need to be for everyone, but could be more for those students who missed this part of the process on their own
  • it would be great if we could figure out how to break this “taking it public” out of school-land, beyond parents and students, and support students to share their learning and accomplishments with the wider community

 

How do you support your students to have ownership over taking their learning public?

How do you model and experience taking risks and facing failures alongside your students?

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PYPx – Beyond Poster Boards

Google “PYP Exhibition” and you’re likely to find many images of students standing beside a poster board that tells what they’ve learned about over 6 week period.

Our school’s approach to PYPx is a little different…

Firstly, we believe that PYPx is more than having students share what they’ve learned about, and should be an opportunity for students to share what they’ve learned about themselves as learners during their time in the Primary Years Program.

Secondly, we believe that it’s a much more deep, meaningful and powerful process to have students show what they’ve learned about themselves as learners rather than tell it.

Thirdly, we believe that the PYPx is not a presentation, but rather an invitation to a conversation where the learner is able to engage with their visitors, share their stories, respond to questions and also ask questions.

This approach became even more essential last year when we decided to empower Grade 5 students to plan all of their own personalized Units of Inquiry. Which meant they didn’t have one 6 week block of a personal inquiry to share, but rather a year’s worth of experiences, successes, failures, discoveries and life lessons.

Here’s a glimpse into how it went:

Introducing the PYP Exhibition

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Sampling symbolic representations

To help students make an informed choice about how best to symbolically represent their journey as a learner, we led them through an inquiry where they got to “sample” many small tasting of different symbolic representations: colours, sounds, images, symbols, movements, shapes etc.

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After students had sampled all the different types of symbolic representation, we helped them reflect on which modes of communication allowed them to express themselves most effectively in order to make an informed choice about their PYPx symbolic piece.

Co-constructing success criteria

Before beginning to plan their symbolic piece, we took the time to co-construct what success would look like.

We used the VTR Growing Definition to allow each students to start with their own criteria, then moving to synthesize with a partner, then a group, then the entire class.

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This list of criteria became a constant point of reference for reflections and feedback during their planning and creation process.

Planning their vision

To support their planning of creating a vision we used a few optional tools to help students identify the modes that help them best express their journey and the skills and talents they already have that they can use to create something.

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Creating

Once students were committed to a vision, they jumped in with both feet! Thanks to many years of experiencing voice, choice and ownership in their art classes with @annadeibisu  and @NaomiFeil  the students were empowered, dedicated and resourceful creators.

Some chose to represent their learning journey through music…

Others through film…

Or paint…

shapes and structures…

words and fonts…

video clips…

Images…

Fabrics and textures…

Objects…

Maps…

Movement…

Even a Rube Goldberg!

Support from each other

Even though each student had their own symbolic piece, it was beautiful to watch the way they took interest in each other’s creations and offered guidance, support and feedback.

Support from adults

Throughout the creation process, it was all-hands-on-deck and we were lucky to have so much support from adults within the community – specifically connecting with students and sharing their personal interests and areas of expertise.

We were also fortunate to have art and music teachers who were comfortable collapsing their timetable for the Grade level in order to create a open “studio-style” schedule where art and music spaces, people and materials were open throughout the day for students.

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Ongoing Feedback and Reflection

Throughout the creation process we continually worked with students to provoke their thinking about the symbolic piece in hopes of deepening the layers of symbolic representation.

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This process also included helping students think through the lens of the Learner Profile, PYP Attitudes and ATL Skills and how might those layers be represented in their symbolic piece.

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Artist Statements

Since we knew there would be times throughout the Exhibition when students wouldn’t be standing next to their piece, we wanted to make sure students were still able to share their story with any visitor at any time. So we supported them to create “Artist Statements” to allow for members of the community to understand what they had made, why they had made it and how it represents their PYP learning journey.

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Staging and installation

Once the pieces and artist statements were complete (or almost complete!) it was time to stage the exhibition!

We started with our multipurpose room, added some cloth, lanterns, lamps, wires, walls, boxes and stands to set the mood…

Then students began to move their installations into the space and made their final adjustments to their pieces.

Finally the PYPx staging was complete!

There were 80 unique symbolic pieces to represent 80 unique PYP learning journeys!

An invitation for a conversation

As mentioned above, we strongly urge our students away from thinking about PYPx as a presentation where they memorize a spiel and repeat it over and over again. Instead, we support our students to think of it as an invitation to a conversation where they are able to engage and interact more authentically with their visitors.

To help prepare them for this we offered optional workshops on conversational skills.

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Sharing with the community

Then it was time to invite parents, teachers, students and community members to celebrate our learners’ journeys!

Feedback

The response from the community was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone was proud to see how confident, creative, reflective, self-aware and articulate all the students were.

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Moving Forward…

This was my first PYPx experience, and although it was an amazing experience I am always looking to reflect and improve. So as I head into the final half of our school year – knowing another PYPx is just around the corner – I’d love to hear your thoughts:

What is your school doing to innovate and push the boundaries of the typical approach to PYPx?

What feedback do you have for us to make our process more student-centred, learning-driven and agency-supportive?

What blog posts out there have poked and provoked your own thinking about PYPx?

Agency Self-Reflection Tool

Recently, I’ve been trying my hand at leading workshops to help educators along their journey to respect and support student agency. One element of my workshop is providing educators with self reflection tools to help them identify parts of their practice that are already agency-supportive and also to illuminate areas in their practice where there is space for more student agency.

Here is a questionnaire I created with that purpose in mind:

(Click here for a printable copy)

Agency Self-Reflection Tool

Without judgement, honestly and critically reflect on the following questions.

Beginning of the Year

1. How involved were your students in setting up their learning space? (desks, shelves, bulletin boards, classroom libraries, manipulatives, resources etc.)

  • Not at all
  • Slightly involved
  • Very involved
  • Students had full ownership

2.How involved were your students in establishing class systems and routines at the beginning of the year? (attention getters, tidy-up routines, etc.)

  • Not at all
  • Slightly involved
  • Very involved
  • Students had full ownership

3. How involved were your students in establishing their rights and responsibilities (or essential agreements?)

  • Not at all
  • Slightly involved
  • Very involved
  • Students had full ownership

Day to Day Voice and Choice

4. How much voice and choice do your students have in where they learn? (desk, floor, cushion, hallway, library etc.)

  • None
  • Some
  • A lot
  • Full control

5. How much voice and choice do your students have in who they learn with? (partners, groups, etc.)

  • None
  • Some
  • A lot
  • Full control

6. How much voice and choice do your students have in how they learn? (lesson, video, reading, listening, experimenting, peer-to-peer, play etc.)

  • None
  • Some
  • A lot
  • Full control

7. How much voice and choice do your students have in when they learn? (Which day, which period, for how long, how often etc.)

  • None
  • Some
  • A lot
  • Full control

8. How much voice and choice do your students have in what they learn? (content, skills, concepts, topics, etc.)

  • None
  • Some
  • A lot
  • Full control

Planning, Assessing and Reporting Their Learning

9. How involved are your students in planning their units?

  • Not at all
  • Somewhat
  • Very
  • Complete ownership of this process

10. How involved are your students in choosing, gathering and sharing the resources they use to learn? (videos, books, podcasts, manipulatives, experts etc.)

  • Not at all
  • Somewhat
  • Very
  • Complete ownership of this process

11. How involved are your students in choosing how they organize their learning? (notebooks, Google Docs, Evernote ,Google Slides, notes, diagrams, sketches etc.)

  • Not at all
  • Somewhat
  • Very
  • Complete ownership of this process

12. How involved are your students in choosing how they share their learning? (presentation, story, podcast, blog, video, vlog, etc.)

  • Not at all
  • Somewhat
  • Very
  • Complete ownership of this process

13. How involved are your students in assessing their own learning? (pre-assessment, diagnostic, formative, summative etc.)

  • Not at all
  • Somewhat
  • Very
  • Complete ownership of this process

14. How involved are your students in the process of feedback (when, from whom, about what, how often etc.)

  • Not at all
  • Somewhat
  • Very
  • Complete ownership of this process

15. How involved are your students in evaluating their learning? (grades, spectrums, letters, numbers, etc.)

  • Not at all
  • Somewhat
  • Very
  • Complete ownership of this process

16. How involved are your students in formally reporting their learning? (report cards, evaluations of learning, progress reports etc.)

  • Not at all
  • Somewhat
  • Very
  • Complete ownership of this process

17. How involved are your students in conferences involving parents

  • Not at all
  • Somewhat
  • Very
  • Complete ownership of this process

Other:

18. How comfortable would your students be to disagree with you?

  • Not at all
  • Somewhat
  • Very
  • Completely comfortable

19. How comfortable would your students be to make changes to the physical learning space?

  • They would not think they could make changes
  • They would ask permission to make a change
  • They would notify me they were going to make a change
  • They would just make the change

20. When your students need to take care of physical needs (going to the bathroom, eating, drinking, visiting the clinic etc.) they are most likely to:

  • Not do anything, the know they are not allowed during my class
  • Ask permission (May I please go to…)
  • Notify you (I am going to…)
  • Just do it

21. How often do you ask your students for their feedback (about you, your teaching, how they feel in your class, suggestions for improvement etc.)

  • Never
  • Once year
  • A few times a year
  • Regularly

 


 

Obviously, this questionnaire reflects my thoughts, opinions and beliefs about student agency – but with that also comes my biases, blind spots and misconceptions too. And posts like this demonstrate how much stronger we are when we share ideas, challenge each other and push one another’s thinking forward.

So, I’d like to know what you think…

What would you add, change or remove?

What’s missing, that’s essential to empowering students to be in the driver’s seat?

What’s included that’s redundant, misleading or unnecessary?

How could I make it more inclusive for all educators, regardless of the age or subject they teach and the system they work in?

How could I adapt it for leaders to reflect on how they respect and support the agency of the teachers they work with?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts…

What could an agency-supportive first week of school look like?

We’ve just finished our first week with students – and it was amazing! As a team, our goal was to start the year respecting and supporting student agency as much as possible.

Here is what we tried:

1. Invest time in the “why”

So often as educators we spend lots of time thinking about and preparing “what” we are going to do with students during the first week of school. This year as a team, we took a step back and invested most of our energy thinking about our “why”. We had many discussions, disagreements and debates, which was needed in order to ensure we were all on the same page about planning a week that encouraged as much student voice, choice and ownership as possible.

2. Plan in response, not advance

Once we were all solid in our “why” we were able to begin to move onto the “how”. We agreed that in order to respect and support student agency, we needed to take an approach of planning in response to learning, instead of in advance. So we decided not to plan beyond the first day, to allow for us to meet our learners, make observations, and collect their feedback. We also agreed that in order to make this approach work we would need to meet as a team at the end of each day to debrief, share notes and collectively analyze any student feedback in order to plan for next steps.

3. Involve students in planning the first day

Even as we were planning the first day, we knew that we wanted to set the tone for flat power structures and shared decision making. So we decided to involve students in the co-construction of their first day of school. Which meant, as usual, we spent our time planning for their planning. How could we structure and support systems to allow for their ideas and perspectives?

First we invited students to brainstorm any and all ideas about how we could get to know each other and how we could get to know our school.

Then, we had them sort which activities were structured, whole group activities that we would need to do together and which were more unstructured, small group or individual activities.

Next, we had them vote on which activities they were most interested in and used that data to create an agenda for the day that balanced structured and unstructured times in the day.

We also involved the students in collectively deciding how much time should be dedicated to each activity and what locations would be best for each activity. Students were also included in solving problems regarding the day’s agenda as they arose – like when another class was on the playground when we planned to go there, or when one activity ran longer than expected and there was not enough time for the next planned activity.

4. Teacher transparency

A huge theme that ran throughout the week (and we plan to continue throughout the year) is transparency – #nosecretteacherbusiness! Right from the get go we shared our “why” with them, involved them in decisions like how they want us to collect their attention in large groups and were honest with our reflections when things weren’t going according to plan.

5. Involve students in setting up the learning space

A big way we wanted to walk the walk of agency, was involving them in setting up their learning spaces. So we decided the spend our time the week before school “unsetting” up the learning spaces to make time and space for their ideas about the learning environments that best support them as learners.

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Since we also wanted to break the traditional mindset of “homerooms” we didn’t have the students set up just their classroom, we had all 120 students work together to set up the entire Grade 5 hallway – in total 10 learning spaces! (More about this in a blog post coming soon!)

6. Provide opportunities for student voice

It was also very important that from day 1, students knew their voices matter. So we aimed to have many opportunities for students to share their thoughts, ideas, concerns, worries and suggestions with us.

7. Act on student voice

Having a place for student voice, and actually acting on student voice are two different things. So we knew we wanted to make it clear to students that not only were we taking time to read and analyze what they shared with us, but we were also using that data to reflect on our own practices and decisions as well create the plan for the following day.

In order to make sure students knew their voices were being heard, we were transparent in each step of the process. Students knew that when they went home on the first day, we stayed and spent over an hour reading each and everything they wrote and using their feedback to create a plan for the second day. We compiled all the most common questions, ideas, worries etc. and visibly shared that data with the students the morning of the second day, then took the time to have small group discussions based around those topics.

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Their feedback not only impacted what we did, such as allocating more time for set-up, but also how we did things. For example, the first day we stayed in our smaller advisory groups for the co-constructed get to know you activities. But based on the feedback we got from students, we discovered they wanted a chance to do some of those activities in small mixed groups, with different students across the grade level. So based on that suggestion, we got together as a team, identified the activities that were most popular to all 6 advisory groups’ brainstorms and decided to have a sign-up based “get to know each other time”…. an idea we probably would not have ever thought of without them!

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Here are our reflections from the week:

It was SUCH an enjoyable first week. As a team, we couldn’t believe how energized and happy we all felt at the end of each day and how excited we were for the following day!

It planted the seeds for a strong sense of community. Both amongst the teachers, the students, the advisory groups and the grade-level as a whole, you couldn’t deny there was something special going on. Even after only a few days, you could feel that we were a crew, a team, a family.

There was lots of positive feedback from students and parents.  It was amazing to see students bringing their parents, siblings and friends through the grade-level for tours to show off what they had been up to the first few days of school. We also received emails and had pop in visits from parents to share how energized, empowered and engaged their children had felt when they came home each day.

The week leading up to school was a breeze. Usually teachers spend endless amounts of time (and often money) setting up their classroom and meticulously planning the first week of school. But because we planned do to the set-up and planning with our students once they arrived, we found ourselves with lots of spare time to hang out together, play games and ease into the school year.

It set the tone for a democratic community. Because we purposefully made all the decisions with the students from the moment they arrived, a culture of shared decision making and a flattened power structure has already started to emerge. For example, sometimes when all 130 of us get together in a townhall meeting, the students self-organize and collect each other’s attention without any input or intervention from the teacher.

It’s essential to differentiate support for students. That amount of voice, choice and ownership can look and feel quite different depending on the student. We tried to be cognizant,  empathetic and supportive to students coming from a more traditional school system, as well as students with specific learning, language, social or emotional needs.

Overall, it was THE BEST first week of school I have ever experienced. Of course, we have a lot of room to grow and improve, as this was the first time our team attempted anything like this. But we can feel good to know that how we approached the first week aligns with our belief that students have the right to have their agency respected and supported during their time at school.

However, we’re not experts and we don’t pretend to be – we’re just risk-takers, firm and passionate in our belief of what we think school should be.  That’s why I used the word “could” in the title of this post, instead of “does”. These are simply the ways we tried to respect and support the agency of our students during the first week of school – I’m sure there are many other ways out there.

How are YOU planning to start the year with a focus on student agency?

Trying to break the “homeroom” mould

Last year we tried many things to help get us and the students to break away from the traditional notion of a homeroom.

  • We encouraged free flow and fluidity between spaces.
  • Teachers and students offered workshops open to anyone in the grade level.
  • Students collaborated with whomever they liked, regardless of whether they were in “their class” or not

But despite our best intentions and efforts, more often that not it was still “my room”, “my teacher”, “my class” (for both us and the students)

So this year we have to decided to keep trying to break that stubborn mould – which as we discovered – is a deeply entrenched concept in the collective current understanding of what school is.

Here are a few things we’ve decided to try this year to hopefully move further away from the mindset of the homeroom:

1. We’re not assigning rooms to teachers. Instead of having Miss Taryn’s room, Mr. Pug’s room, Miss Amanda’s room – where a specific set of students and teachers lay claim – we’ve decide to have all spaces shared and co-owned. It’s been a hard habit to change our language of “my room”, “your room”, but in trying to do so it has made us all more mindful of both the language we use and our own deep rooted habits of thinking and being. We’ve taken to referring to the rooms simply by numbers, but were hoping when students arrive they think of some more creative and purposeful room names!

2. We’re meeting as a grade level first. On the first day of school, after we collect our specifically assigned students from the basketball court, we’ve decided to meet altogether, as a grade level, in our town hall meeting space. We’re hoping that meeting together in a shared space first will help them identify with the larger community and space, instead of reinforcing that idea of “my room” if we take them into a specific, smaller, classroom-like space. From there we will breakout into smaller groups, but we’re planning on purposefully and arbitrarily picking a room and using general language, like “let’s go meet in that room”.

3. We’re purposefully rotating where we meet with students. Building on the ideas above, we’ve also decided to rotate the spaces we use whenever we pull the students into smaller groups. Again hoping to help all students see all spaces as available to them for the betterment of their learning.

4. Students can choose where to keep their things. This was a big discussion as a team. We wanted students to have a consistent homebase – somewhere to put their backpacks, lunch bags, swim clothes each day – but we were also aware that that typically means a cubby section in an assigned classroom. So we’ve decided to make all cubbies available to all students, but have students choose one cubby to make their “home base” for the rest of the year.

5. We’re having one Google Classroom. Another structure that kept us in the mindset of homerooms last year was having separate Google Classrooms. This year we’ve decided to have one centralized Google Classroom where all teachers and all students can connect and collaborate with one another.

6. Students will decide how best to use and set up the variety of learning spaces we have. Our biggest risk – and hopefully biggest crack to the mould of homeroom mentality- is having students set up their learning spaces. But instead of having them set up classrooms, we’ve decided to have the whole cohort take ownership over the whole grade-level area – hallways, quiet learning spaces, loud learning spaces, and regular learning spaces. To assist with this process we have “unsetup” all the spaces to create a blank canvas. We’ve emptied every shelf, bin and cupboard, stock piled every table, couch, pillow and collated all the learning supplies and resources. On the first day of school we’re going to ensure students know they are empowered and trusted to envision, create and take ownership over their learning spaces, resources and materials. After giving them a little bit of time to try, struggle, have tension, solve problems and persevere we’re planning on supporting their thinking as well as the process – having 120 students set up 9 learning spaces will be no small task!

I’m sure there are still many ways that our mindset and that of the students will be stuck within the confines of the “homeroom mould”, but hopefully these 6 steps propel us further down the path of true learning and further away from doing school.

As with any worthwhile risk, I’m feeling the perfect combination of excitement and fear. It’s either going to be amazing or a complete disaster!

The adventure begins tomorrow…

Wish us luck!

Do you want to go fast… or far?

I am not a natural collaborator.

Anyone I have ever been on a team with would be able to confirm this fact.

I am passionate. I am zealous. I am idealistic. I am stubborn.

I get a vision in my mind and I have to make it happen.

Even though I am not a natural collaborator, I’m slowing learning how to collaborate – and I must say, it’s been pretty great.

For me, my (slow) transformation can be summed up by this quote:

go together

Last year, I knew I believed in student agency and set off (mostly on my own) to turn that vision into a reality. That’s not to say I didn’t have an amazing team around me! I had six wonderful teachers who personally supported me and cheered me on, no matter how different or crazy my idea seemed. It’s just that none of them were professionally interested in going the same direction that I was, or to the extent that I was. So last year, I knew where I wanted to go, I went by myself and I got there fast.

This year, I have another amazing team around me. The difference being they are professionally interested in the same things that I am, so I am no longer alone in my pursuit to respect and support student agency – and that has helped me truly learn the power of collaboration. With them I have been able to go much farther than I ever made it last year on my own.

Here are a few examples that have helped me along my journey:

Going fast – last year I knew I wanted to have my students plan their own day…. so I had them plan their own day. Pretty much, right out of the gate! I gave them an empty day plan, and only really made a few slight adjustments to the template over the year.

old day plan

Going far – this year I shared my approach from last year. We tested it out, discussed it, revised it, tested it again, revised it again, tried something different, asked for feedback, revised it again. What was once a fairly basic day plan template and process, grew into a more sophisticated template and process of planning, which then transformed into an even more sophisticated template and process for weekly planning!

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Going fast – last year I knew I wanted students to set up their learning space… so I had them set-up their learning space.

old classroom

Going far – this year I proposed them same idea, which after many collective brainstorms, turned into a grade-wide learning space re-design. Students conducted research about learning spaces, collected data from their 84 community members, collaborated with students from a variety of homerooms, learned new technical skills (like 3D Floor Planner) put together video proposals and made informed choices about their learning space.

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Going fastlast year I knew I wanted all three voices to be heard equally at three-way conferences. So I made a very basic placemat and had parents, students and myself take turns deciding whether something was a “star” or a “wish”.

stars wishes.png

Going far – this year I pitched the same idea to my team…then, the magic of collaboration happened… and we ended up with a Gradual Increase of Responsibility, where students, parents and teachers could share their perspective, in a colour-coded way, which then could be kept and used to set and track personal goals on a day to day basis.

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Starting to get the picture? 

I couldn’t have ever imagined the distance these initial ideas would come to reach. But that’s the point isn’t is? True collaboration is leaving a room with ideas that no one person could have come up with on their own.

… So to those of you educators out there who are like me, you may want to pause and ask yourself:

Do you want to go fast…. or do you want to go far?

Transdisciplinary Math – An epiphany and a plan!

For the past few weeks I have been helping my teams review their math scope and sequence and decide which math is transdisciplinary and fits within a Unit of Inquiry and what math is better taught in stand-alone units. This process always seems to lead to the same conclusion….

Teaching math in a transdisciplinary way is hard. 

Teachers seem to believe in the purpose and power of teaching math in a relevant and significant context and want to do it… but most seem not too sure about how to do it.

As I get ready to transition back into the classroom in the fall, this is something that has started to occupy my mind as well. How DO you do it? The last time I was a PYP teacher I can self-admit that teaching math within the context of my UOIs was not a strength of mine – in fact, I’m not sure if I did it at all. So naturally, this is an area I want to get much better at. But how? 

And then I had an idea! It hit me this weekend while I was watching BBC’s Africa series.

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Since teaching math in a transdisciplinary way was on my mind, I couldn’t help but notice that every vignette was OVERFLOWING with opportunities for math inquiries!

The average size of a giraffe’s tongue is half a meter.”

“Only one out of 1000 turtles make it to adult hood.”

One million birds migrate over the Sahara each year.”

“Each chick weighs only 20 grams.”

“The adult grows to be 5 times the size of the baby.”

“Silver ants can only survive in the sun for 1 hour.”

Every few minutes there was some piece of information about an animal or a landscape or a natural phenomenon where you needed to understand the math concept being referenced in order to fully understand what was being said. And that is when it hit me! All of the movies, books, articles, graphics etc. we use in our Units of Inquiry probably already contain opportunities for math – we just need to be looking for them and know what to do with them!

So here is my plan for next year!

Step 1- Introduce a text related to the central idea or the central concepts.

As usual, choose (or invite your students to help choose) a resources to explore the big idea in your current Unit of Inquiry. Introduce the text in an open-ended way. Allow the students to engage with the text in a natural and organic way. Read the book. Watch the movie. Listen to the song. Look at the info graphic. Allow the students to enjoy it and ask questions, make connections and offer thoughts. I’m thinking of using a back channel like Today’s Meet to allow students to communicate their thoughts, reactions and questions with their learning community while watching, listening or looking without interrupting one another. You could also provide post-its so students could record their thinking if a device is not available.

Step 2 – Revisit the text with a math focus

The next day, revisit the same text, but this time let students know that they will be looking at the text as mathematicians. Re-read the book. Re-watch the movie. Re-listen to the song. Re-look at the infographic. But this time, stop and pay specific attention to the “math moments”. If the video says “Giraffes’ tongues are half a meter long” pause the video and ask students, “What does that mean?” “How long is that?” “How can we find out?” “How can we show it?”. Any time a number, a measurement, a statistic, a pattern, or a concept is mentioned stop, point it out and explore it.

Step 3 – Follow where it takes you

When you stop to explore the math within a UOI text, be prepared to follow the inquiry. If it takes 10 minutes great. If it reveals other math concepts, skills and vocabulary that need to be explored first, back up and inquire into those. If your students need to bust out some manipulatives, look online, consult other mathematicians – do it! Allow what ever time is needed to explore and truly understand what the math means in that context.

Step 4 – Don’t stop at math! 

After the initial open-ended viewing and the math-specific viewing… keep going! You could apply the same strategy for many different purposes. Explore the same text a third time with a writer’s lens and hone in on the techniques the writer used. Explore the same text with a musician’s perspective and focus on how different segments of music contribute to the message. Explore the same text from an artist’s point of view to analyze colour, line and shape that was used. This would be a great opportunity to connect with single-subject teachers and share some of the texts with them to be looked at and deconstructed multiple times, in multiple ways, through multiple disciplinary-perspectives. Your whole week could be deconstructing one text in different ways for different purposes!

Eventually, I believe you will be able to get to the stage where instead of telling students “here is the math” when exploring a UOI text, you will be able to ask them “where is the math?”.  I also have the sneaking suspicion that if you allow students to document their thinking during the initial, unstructured exploration of the text there will be some math-related questions that are recorded about the quantities, measurements and statistics that are referenced. So you wouldn’t even need to point out the math, you could allow students’ own questions to be the driving force of the math inquiry.

So I challenge you… go back and look at some of your UOI books, videos, graphics etc and notice the opportunities for “math moments” and more!

How do you explore your UOIs through the discipline of math?

What are your best approaches to inquiring into math within the context of a UOI?