What Happens When We “Let Kids In On the Secret” of Development #TeacherMom

It started with a conversation over birding. Having been raised to share love of bird-watching with her dad, my daughter was casually checking out a few species when she mentioned she wished she had her binoculars with her. That’s when I told her, “Did you know that some people can identify birds with other senses besides sight? If you were blind, what would you use to learn about birds instead?” This led to watching the video entitled, “Blind Birdwatcher Sees With Sound,” followed by all the other videos I recently included in an inquiry into the senses.

All this led to a fascinating conversation about the senses, absolutely packed with “aha moments” for my daughter. The baby video in the above-mentioned post particularly made us think together — we ended up talking about how important sensory experiences are for kids. That’s when she made the connection to why we call our bin filled with dry grain a “sensory box,” as well as other items in our home that she suddenly realized were deliberate choices based on her parents’ understanding of child development.

All at once, and to her delight, she was “in on the secret” on her own development as well as that of her brothers. She started to not only recognize but make suggestions to her environment when it comes to providing sensory experiences (particularly keen to share her pearls of wisdom on bettering her little brothers’ experiences). And quite apart from the learning element from it all, it has simply been a wonderful relationship-builder as well.

What does “letting kids in on the secret” look like at school? 

This phrase is regularly shared by inquiry educator Kath Murdoch. She writes,

“inquiry teachers have a transparent style. It’s not just about putting learning intentions up on the wall – they constantly ensure their kids know why they are doing what they are doing.”

In another post, she adds,

“We know that for many students, school is like a jigsaw puzzle…only no one has given them the picture on the lid of the box. We know now of course that when we hold on tightly to those secret intentions, when we fail to tell kids why they are learning what they are learning…when we take purpose away from the equation – we reduce motivation, engagement and understanding.”

Letting kids in on the secret might mean…

…letting a committee of kids design the next seating chart (after discussing the how and why behind it)

…regularly discussing learning standards/objectives and what they mean and how we get there (and how kids might help in the planning to get there!)

…having meaningful conversations about metacognition, and what specific strategies we seek to better understand our own thinking patterns and self-regulation

…teaching kids to recognize their own time-use and purposes, and then gradually providing them with opportunities to exercise agency in how they spend their time (such as in this Daily 5 example).

…frequently talking about the why behind everything we do!

What about you? What are some ways you have “let students in on the secret?” What has been the impact when you see students with a greater understanding of the big picture of school?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

How Did We Come to Playground Rubber Wood Chips? #TeacherMom

This was my inquiry on Google. Which then changed to “history of playground surfacing.” I earnestly wanted to know how we went from the sand and grass of my childhood to rubber mats and engineered wood fiber. Was it really, as comments on the currently popular image below would have us conclude, that today’s schoolchildren and their parents are over-protective “snowflakes?”

Turns out, there’s quite a bit more to the issue than nostalgia for the good ol’ days of tough kids and tough love.

An element that especially caught my attention was accessibility. In 2000, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed as a civil rights law to prevent disability discrimination. Sand and gravel do not allow wheelchair-bound children to access playground equipment. Suddenly, I find the nostalgia fading for times when public funds only served able-bodied kids.

The much more slippery slope here, of course, is safety. I know I look back at my playground-sand “rug burns” with some strange fondness, and I’m certainly the last to suggest that preventing all cuts, bumps, or bruises is of a higher priority than play and exploration (I tend to congratulate my kids on “battle scars” when they get hurt while playing).

But I see nothing wrong with taking measures to mitigate serious injuries, especially when they are brain-related. Consider these figures from the CDC:

  • 200,000 children under age 14 visit hospital emergency rooms each year for playground-related injuries
  • 20,000 of these children are treated for traumatic brain injuries each year
  • The rate of hospital visits for traumatic brain injuries has recently increased significantly

While there are those that scoff at the fact that grass isn’t considered a safe playground surface, it’s important to remember that its “ability to absorb shock can be affected greatly by weather conditions and wear (via American Association of Orthopedics)–in other words, it becomes worn, compacted, and ultimately dangerous if you’re going to swing upside-down by your legs above it.

And again, it’s important to note that when we’re talking about brain injuries in children, it’s a serious conversation. According to the Brain Injury Association of America, “The assumption used to be a child with a brain injury would recover better than an adult because there was more “plasticity” in a younger brain.  More recent research has shown that this is not the case. A brain injury actually has a more devastating impact on a child than an injury of the same severity has on a mature adult.”

Of course, all precautions can be taken to an extreme — when we put kids at greater risk for childhood obesity than brain injury because we’ve so associated so much fear with rigorous play, for example, we still put them in harm’s way.

But when we wonder why things have changed since our own childhoods, we should remain curious, careful not to let our reminiscence stray into assumption and generalization.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry Into the 5 Essential Elements of the PYP

I remember receiving a box of laminated cut-outs to display in my classroom which were intended to help remind us about our goals as teachers and learners using the International Baccalaureate (IB) PYP Programme — specifically, the 5 Essential Elements of the PYP.

via TIGS Illawara Grammar School

Use of these cutouts went about as well as my feeble attempts to use Key Concepts questions (read that story here — fortunately, it does have happy ending).

In retrospect, I realize that my mind was in such a frenzy trying to “get it together” as a new teacher, I never had the quiet time necessary to sit and process in its entirety this more subtle approach to teaching and learning.

As I’ve continued to reflect on my experiences at a PYP school, and on inquiry in general, I’ve come to better glimpse how and why all five of these elements truly are essential. This week’s provocation is intended as an investigation on where they come into play for learners. (I will also plan on designing additional provocations based on individual essential elements in the future!)

Resource #1: The Potter, video by Josh Burton

Resource #2: Soar by Alyce Tzue via The CGBros

Provocation Questions:

  • What is the connection between a growth mindset and these essential elements?
  • Why are concepts, skills, knowledge, attitudes, and action necessary for learning? What would happen if one element was missing?
  • How do the different elements support each other?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry: What Trajectory Are YOU On?

This week, I had the privilege to volunteer at my old school as one of the trainers for professional development day. I was asked to focus one of the workshops on inquiry planning and concept-based instruction in science and social studies. But the more I prepared, the more I realized that when it comes to inquiry, it’s not so much WHAT we do, as much as HOW we APPROACH.

So instead of spending our hour discussing science/social studies-specific ideas, we started off with a personal inquiry inventory, adapted from a couple posts by Kath Murdoch.

click for Kath’s post from which this inventory mainly originated

Next, participants used their inventory responses to determine which area of inquiry they wanted to investigate more.

As participants researched, they were also on the hunt for a sentence-phrase-word that helped them determine the difference between the same science/social studies activity used in a traditional teacher-driven classroom vs. an inquiry, concept-driven classroom.

I loved hearing the conversations, and engaging with participants as their research prompted new wonderings.

As everyone shared their Sentence-Phrase-Words, it led to more fabulous, thought-provoking discussions, such as…

  • …the fact that it’s a sacred trust to protect and cultivate the natural curiosity of our young charges — to not allow “the game of school” to drain that from them.
  • …the fact that everyone is on a different trajectory when it comes to adopting an inquiry approach — it’s not so much about how much of your day is dedicated to an inquiry-based instruction, but rather how consistently.

But by far my favorite part of our workshop was finishing up with “I used to think…Now I know…” sticky notes.

In case you can’t quite read them all in the above photo, I’ll list out the content here, too:

  • I used to think that students need to be taught. Now I know that they need to be guided.
  • I used to think the teacher had to give all the instruction using books, videos, etc. to teach about other cultures and countries. Now I know we can connect with other places in the world and talk with REAL people about their culture and country through technology.
  • I used to think that giving students agency can be scary. Now I know that with the right tools, it isn’t.
  • I used to think that joining curriculum and student-driven inquiry was too difficult to join in the classroom. Now I know it’s possible here as it is anywhere & not as hard as we convince ourselves.
  • I used to think that inquiry was complicated. Now I know we are making it complicated.
  • I used to think that questions were used solely at the beginning of a unit to drive the inquiry. Now I know questions can be a result of the inquiry and lead to more exploration.
  • I used to think inquiry was more work on the teacher. Now I know I need to lend it over to the kids — let them be kids.
  • I used to think that you had to fit everything in your lessons. Now I know that student driven lessons are more effective and fun.
  • I used to think that I always had to have an answer. Now I know that I don’t. Students can discover their answers through their own research.

I should add that thanks to the discussion during this workshop, as well as my continued online learning with teachers around the world, I need to add my own:

  • I used to think that to be an inquiry teacher, we must have students directing the learning 100% of the time. Now I know that it’s more about working toward creating a culture of ownership and curiosity, which can be present even during explicit teacher instruction.

Here are the links to all the research I shared with participants. Thank you so much to the many educators who so freely share their thinking and learning. I learn so much every day because of you! Kath Murdoch, Edna Sackson, Taryn BondClegg, Richard Wells, Sonya Terborg, Aviva Dunsinger, Sam Sherratt, and more.

Questioning:

Classroom culture:

Inquiry cycle for forward-moving planning:

Student-driven planning:

Hunter/Gathering for science/social studies:

Agency:

Focusing on CONCEPTS amid curriculum requirements:

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry into Numbers

An educator in my PLN, Matthew Oldridge, recently shared a fabulous perspective on mathematics:

“Kids should see mathematics as a thinking tool to use to engage with the world.”

I have long since been an advocate of helping students see the power and wonder of their words; I’m afraid I cannot say the same for numbers. So this week’s provocation centers on helping our students inquire and wonder into numbers.

Resource #1: A Brief History of Banned Numbers, by TED-Ed

Resource #2: 1+1=5: And Other Unlikely Additions, by David LaRochelle

Resource #3: Beauty in Numbers: Pi, by Rebecka Taule

Provocation Questions:

  • How do numbers work?
  • How do numbers allow us to interact with the world around us?
  • What if we did not have numbers?
  • How are words and numbers related?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry Into How We Express Ourselves

“How We Express Ourselves” was always a tricky PYP unit theme for me. I struggled finding ways to help our students weave it in a transdisciplinary manner, and it almost always just came back to the obvious art.

But similar to how my view of the PYP key concepts has broadened over time, so too is my view of this theme. I have come to better understand that expressing ourselves is a basic human need that is woven into all we do. I’ve also found that authentic self-expression, which engenders passion and joy, is more readily found when we embrace imperfection, cultivate a growth mindset, and are given opportunities to own our learning.

With that in mind, here are a few resources that might help you invite your students into a How We Express Ourselves Inquiry. Don’t forget about the provocation questions at the end (and add a few of your own if you’re so inclined)!

Resource #1: Ballet Rotoscope by Masahiko Sato + EUPHRATES via The Kid Should See This

Resource #2: Callum Donovan Grujicich’s Sculptural Art by CBC Arts, via The Kid Should See This

Resource #3: Why Do I Study Physics? by Shixie

Resource #2: Lily Hevesh’s Dominoes by Telia Carrier, via The Kid Should See This

Resource #5: Picture Books, of course!

“The Big Orange Splot” by Daniel Pinkwater has been a lifetime favorite of mine. Read with your students about what happens when a bird drops a bucket of paint on Mr. Plumbean’s house that used to be just like every other house on his neat street.

I love the mysterious whimsy of Annabelle’s box of yarn that never runs out, and how she uses it to transforms her surroundings.

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to express ourselves?
  • Why do we feel the need to express ourselves?
  • How is general expression different from self-expression?
  • How can one person’s self-expression help someone else see the world differently?
  • How does the way we choose to express ourselves impact our lives? How does it impact the lives of others around us?
  • What is the connection between self-expression and individuality?
  • What is the connection between self-expression and perspective?
  • What does the growth mindset have to do with self-expression?
  • How can self-expression sometimes be unexpected?
  • Why is perfectionism the enemy of self-expression?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry into Friendship

Real learning — the kind that students carry with them and treasure in the longterm — is a vulnerable process. If we are to help our students get to a place where they are truly willing to put themselves out there, take risks, make mistakes, and try again, we need to take an active role in cultivating a classroom of trust.

It’s with that in mind that I share this week’s provocation on friendship.

Resource #1: Gymnastics student’s repeated efforts, via harleykyan

Resource #2: “Invisible Boy” by Trudy Ludwig and Patrice Barton

Resource #3: The Wonderment online children’s platform

Meet Us In The Wonderment from The Wonderment on Vimeo.

Provocation Questions:

  • How are trust and the growth mindset connected?
  • How does friendship work?
  • Why does feeling a sense of belonging matter?
  • What is our responsibility to be a friend to others?
  • How has technology changed the way we can support each other?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto