This is part of a series of of IB PYP units of inquiry provocations. For more, click here.
The PYP unit, How the World Works is designed as:
“An exploration of the physical and material world; of natural and human-made phenomena; of the world of science and technology.”
I believe one of the biggest overarching concepts — stretching across the “physical and material world” –is the concept of perfection. We search for it. We strive for it. We pay billions for it. And yet, it remains elusive.
Moreover, imperfection possesses its own beauty — the persistence, the originality, the innovation.
Below are three resources that could take your class in many different directions as they explore the idea of perfection/imperfection in the world around them:
Resource #1: Unsatisfying, by Parallel Studio
Resource #2: Forms in Nature
Resource #3: Audri’s Rube Goldberg Monster Trap
Why is imperfection so much more common than perfection in the world?
How do people respond to imperfection? Why?
What is the purpose of imperfection in nature?
What is the purpose of imperfection in human’s creations?
What does the growth mindset have to do with perfection/imperfection?
As teachers, we sure love the skill of problem solving. After all, in a class of 30 students (each with their own daily sundry problems), the more they can figure out their pencil situation, bathroom needs, and minor spats among friends, the more energy we can devote to, well, teaching.
But of course, we all know there’s more to the skill of problem solving than classroom management. There’s empowering students with ownership. There’s equipping them with the ability to face future unknowns. And there’s helping them access solutions that will bring them joy throughout their lives.
Problem-solving is also closely tied to the growth mindset. As Carol Dweck has put it:
“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”
Thus, with the growth mindset, we learn that our efforts are instrumental in helping us to grow, and are resilient when our initial solutions fail.
On that note, these are both resources I have shared with students in the past that have led to wonderful discussions on this topic:
Video of how the Panyee Soccer Club began amid less than ideal circumstances:
My online bookmarks are a mess. The only thing that irritates me more than the fact that they aren’t doing me any good in their jumbled mess of folders is that they aren’t doing anyone else any good there either.
Fixing that today with this little graphic of resources, strategies, and ideas that I couldn’t help but bookmark over the years (even though I knew it meant adding to the mess). It also links to a few of my posts that included many of those bookmarks to further help me organize my favorite resources/strategies.
As you browse, please remember that innovative ideas will only make an impact when wielded by innovative teachers–individuals committed to thinking outside the box, encouraging student empowerment, and cultivating a personal growth-mindset. Also know that they aren’t intended as a silver bullet for classrooms everywhere; some might be more/less useful than others to you and your circumstances.
But I hope that you will be able to find something new, useful, and/or inspiring from this graphic!
I decided to frame the entire thing around the 4 C’s of 21st century education (I wanted to use the ISTE standards for students, but it proved too much for the visual I intended, but if you check those out, you’ll see a lot of parallels anyway). Please let me know what you found most useful, or if you have additional ideas to share! Enjoy!
Last week, I asked my 6 year-old to get something from the car. I knew the item had fallen under the seats, so I added the instruction, “Make sure you look all over!”
She came back empty-handed, telling me it wasn’t there. Of course, with mom omnipotence (momnipotence?), I knew that item was indeed in the car and that she had simply not looked thoroughly enough.
Anyhow, I was ready to heave my usual sigh and go look for it myself when it occurred to me that “look all over” is a very vague and abstract concept for a 6 year-old. My mind jumped to an old-school Sesame Street episode featuring Grover we had recently watched:
I referenced Grover’s silly song about prepositions, telling her, “Try checking one more time, only this time, be sure to be like Grover and look ‘Around…over…under…and through’ all the seats.”
Though she did not end up finding the object during her second search either, she nevertheless took much longer and was clearly far more thorough (in the end I discovered it had fallen down into a remote and camouflaged corner).
As I reflected on that small teaching opportunity, I realized how often I take for granted what I think my kids ought to be able to do, yielding to frustration rather than teaching. In my classroom, I generally made it a point to help my students explicitly identify, “what does _____ look/sound/feel like” (ie, what does working respectfully in pairs look/sound/feel like?).
Yet there were still moments when I felt frustrated by shortcomings I felt my fifth graders should just know by now (penmanship, writing in complete sentences, group work skills). The reality was usually that they simply needed more modeling, more support, more patience.
I hope this #TeacherMom moment will help me better recognize those learning opportunities with my own children and my future students.
Years ago, toward the end of the school year, I felt like our class was in a rut. I wasn’t sure what we were missing–Autonomy? Inspiration? Creativity? All of the above?
Whatever it was, I decided to do something drastic. I had recently come across a story online of a teacher who encouraged her students to create videos, and it seemed like a great idea to me.
So the next day, I checked out the laptop carts and dived head-long. I told them they had to work in small groups. I told them they could create any commercial they wanted. I might have had slightly more structure than I can recall, but if there was, it wasn’t much. And I stepped back, awaiting the student-centered magic to come to life.
It was bedlam.
Shocked and dismayed at the chaos and the discord and the aimlessness, I cancelled the whole thing the next day.
Today, a small part of me still wants to leave this experience forever buried in the corner of my memory labeled, “I-can’t-believe-you-actually-tried-that.”
But the rest of me knows that our failures are rich with learning opportunities. It reminds me of a teacher’s remarks during a PD session on inquiry this fall in which she expressed a wish to hear more about inquiry attempts that have crashed and burned. So, having come a long way since then (I hope!), I think I’m ready to finally retrieve that memory from its dark recesses and shed light and learning on it instead.
Here are 5 major elements that I now realize I was missing:
1. Purpose. It’s been so long that I honestly don’t even remember whether the commercials were intended as an extension of a unit. But I do know that a defined purpose and invitation to wonder and explore were missing. My students were eager to try it out, of course, but there was a lot less deliberation, and a lot more mania. Today, I find Kath Murdoch’s diagram of framing inquiry particularly helpful in establishing purpose, starting with “big ideas” and “context for learning.”
2. Metacognition. While I had always wanted my students to take more ownership over their learning, I had never explicitly taught them to consider their own thinking processes. I appreciated Trevor MacKenzie’s (@trev_mackenzie) recent article about bringing inquiry into the classroom in which he describes how he sought out metacognition in the inquiry process with his students with the visual below:
“Students should feel connected to their learning, certain about how to plan their inquiry, and comfortable with its responsibility. The Types of Student Inquiry structure our coursework and learning in a gradual release of control model, one where students learn essential inquiry skills throughout the year rather than being thrown into the deep end of the inquiry pool right away.
Each of my students has a copy of the swimming pool illustration above, and it hangs on our classroom wall.”
I had undoubtedly thrown us all into the deep end without equipping my students with proper ownership over their own inquiry skills/processes.
3. Scaffolding. Mackenzie’s diagram is a great representation of the scaffolding I was missing; there was certainly no gradual release of control. One inquiry teacher who I find does a great job of scaffolding is Taryn Bondclegg. Her class blog, Risk & Reflect, is packed with examples; a recent instance that stood out was when she introduced back-channeling to her fourth graders. You’ll notice how they “tested out back channeling in a low stakes way” before diving into her ultimate purpose of using it during read aloud time.
4. Questions. Beyond general supervision and feedback, neither my students nor I had any driving questions to help them ponder, fine-tune, or reflect. I now know the critical role powerful questions play during provocations, wrap-ups, visible thinking routines, and just about everywhere else in an inquiry-driven classroom.
5. Skills. We had never made movies in my class before. None of us had the slightest familiarity with the movie-making software on our laptops. And while I have a lot of confidence in my students’ ability to independently figure out much of technology, it was simply too open-ended and complex for my fifth graders to handle, especially when combined with the general lack of structure. Another one of Kath Murdoch’s visuals of the phases of inquiry illustrates many other skills in the inquiry learning process that we neglected: finding out, sorting out, synthesizing, reflecting, and more (I highly recommend exploring her blog and other resources here).
As much of a train-wreck as this activity was, it was the beginning of my journey toward becoming a more inquiry-minded teacher, a journey that I am still on today. The experience taught me that increased student ownership requires much more purpose, structure, and nuance than I had realized. So, however naïve, I’m grateful that I took that first leap, laying the groundwork for more deliberate future attempts.
Do you have any stories of inquiry fails that you learned from to share? Please do in the comments!
Earlier this summer, my daughter started expressing interest in all things behind-the-scenes-movie-making. Not only did she seem more attentive during the “bonus features” than the movies themselves, but she took rapt illustrated notes as she watched.
When she told us she wanted to make movies for Disney when she grows up, I sensed a learning opportunity. I downloaded a stop motion video-making app for her to explore (Stop Motion Studio on Android).
Though the first attempt was pretty rough, I was impressed that a 6 year-old was able to figure out a fairly complex creative app almost completely independently. After some time exploring, I offered her an additional resource: a camera holder. We Googled some solutions together, found a cardboard lid, cut some slots, and let her roll. Below was her attempt a few days later:
Over the months, I noticed continued exploration of the the app’s features and techniques, including altering the speed of the stop motion, adding music, and typing in titles to her videos.
She also wanted to watch examples of high quality stop motion videos on Youtube. Her favorites were this:
and this… (which included a particularly rich conversation as she watched with wonder and made hypotheses on how each shot was created. We paused, rewound, and re-watched frame-by-frame. It was a magic in and of itself to watch her try to unravel the mystery).
I was not surprised when our mini-film festival inspired her to create something new, with markedly improved technique:
But I was ever so surprised to find that as I went about my business later that day, I was suddenly struck with an idea for a stop motion video myself (having had a bumpy, less-than confident relationship with creativity in the past). So we brought “Goldilocks and the 3 Chairs” to life together (the “river” and “bridge” were her additions):
I would never have guessed when I first downloaded the app that this would have evolved into such an enjoyable shared pursuit. And I marvel at the skills that she is developing (no sticker charts, grades, or rewards needed here!):
Story structure Over time, I can see her getting better at developing a beginning, middle, and end of her stories. She’s also considering settings, characters, and key details that bring a story to life.
Phonics As she slowly locates each letter on the keypad for her titles, she is making connections about spelling rules and “rule-breakers.”
Speaking and listening I listen to her record her voice, listen back, and then rerecord over and over until she is satisfied with the way it sounds.
Media literacy All this device and app exploration has increased her confidence in navigating and wielding the device features.
PATIENCE Would you have thought it possible for a 6 year-old to spend hours going back and forth between snapping photos and making infinitesimal adjustments to her set over and over and over again? Me neither.
The teacher-side of me is reminded that when we allow ourselves to be authentic participants of the learning (and not just the ringmaster or director of it as it swirls or marches around us), not only is that learning exponentially enhanced for our students, but it is enhanced for ourselves. The entire process becomes self-perpetuating in an ever richer cycle. And the relationships are deepened in a way that worksheets and boxed units can simply never replicate.
On Monday, my first grader came home from school and announced, “Mistakes are for learning.” Throughout the rest of the day, she repeated the mantra in various contexts–including sharing it with a restaurant manager helping us out when we found wax paper in a burger.
Pleased though I am that she seems to finally be grasping this essential element of the growth mindset, I can’t help but marvel at how long it took for this concept to sink in. After all, having studied Carol Dweck’s growth mindset, I’ve made it a point over the years to try to help her celebrate failures and recognize opportunities for growth.
But it wasn’t until a first grade teacher shared it in such simple terms as “Mistakes are for learning” that things clicked. And I couldn’t be more grateful for the timing. First grade is packed with pivotal moments for learning, failing, and growing. With a fresh school year, she’s still dazzled by every aspect: practicing spelling lists, listening to audiobooks, participating in a computer math program that advances users as they demonstrate mastery.
But I know that it won’t be long before the novelty will wear off. The tasks will become more challenging. The routine will become less enchanting. Mistakes will always be for learning, but that will not make them frustration-proof.
The key will be to help her maintain her understanding of the positive outcomes even amid the discomfort. To recall previous moments of victory as a result of repeated effort and failure. (Like when she recently wrote a book title, and when she asked me to read it, and I read aloud phonetically, “The Kumfee Kav,” she dashed off saying, “OH! I forgot ‘cave’s’ silent ‘e’ to make the ‘a’ say its own name! I can fix that!”). To remember that though progress may be slow, as Khan Academy’s video below emphasizes, “[She] can learn anything.” Most of all, to celebrate the journey along the way.
So to all the teachers currently in the classroom, thank you. Thank you for stepping in, shedding light, and reaching our kids in ways we parents can’t always do.