A Little Less Filtered #TeacherMom

As our family settled in a few weeks ago to watch a show together, my toddler’s attention was captured by an icon for an National Geographic animal documentary. And that’s how we found ourselves learning about baboons’ alpha hierarchy and frogs’ defense mechanisms that night.

What surprised me most was how the show’s benefits for my son went well beyond simply learning about animal facts. It was the engagement. It was the conversation. It was the connection. As he soaked up every word and every shot, he asked questions, he placed vocabulary in context, and he play-acted out his observations.

This experience had me reflecting about two ideas.

The first is that we can more frequently go to the source for learning. With all the guidelines and curriculum and expert recommendations, we as adults often feel the need to contrive and filter to maximize our kids’ learning. It’s like we think that if we can pack in enough ABC’s and numbers and cooperation messages in one show (or workbook, etc), it’s like a multivitamin we can feed our kids to fill in the gaps of their education (and no, this is not to bash those shows–we love Sesame Street around here, remember?).

Yet the reality is, we don’t have to rely on such concoctions for learning. True, when it comes to science and history, we’re usually already many steps removed from the source–after all, it’s not like we can take a field trip to the Serengeti or World War II or the Moon. But, often thanks to modern technology and social networking, we can get ourselves and our children closer than ever (like leveraging Google Street View for virtual exploration, or following this Twitter account that narrates WWII in real time, or exploring this Interactive Lunar Guide by ESA).

The second thought: when we more directly allow our children’s interests to take the lead, richer learning follows. Learning is to be had wherever our students’ interests lead us. Like I said above, my son wasn’t just learning about animal facts. He was learning vocabulary, speaking and listening skills, and even pre-reading skills through his imaginative play.

More importantly, when we try to turn this on its head–that is, force student interest on our agenda for “learning”–the results are poorer anyway. As Marcia L. Tate writes in Reading & Language Arts Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites:

“…there is actually a physiological reason for whether students choose to comprehend instruction. The basal ganglia acts like a policeman that protects the brain from distracting input. Information that has been selected as worthy of being learned flows through fibers back to the thalamus and on to areas of the brain where information can be interpreted (Nevills & Wolfe, 2009).”

Of course, with a class of 30+ students, it is certainly a challenge to meet our students where they are in their interests, which is why boxed programs with promises for perfect differentiation and solutions to all our students’ reading comprehension needs are tempting.

While we’re going to keep on watching intermittent episodes of Sesame Street around here, in the future, it will be less about meeting some kind of learning quota and more about family entertainment. And I look forward to getting better at recognizing learning opportunites as they come through my children’s interests.

Featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry: How Do People Get Their Food?

An inquiry provocation is meant to help us stretch our thinking beyond what we normally consider. It’s designed to plant the kind of seed that, as it grows, inspires us to continue reconsidering and rethinking the world around us. We learn to ask more thoughtful questions, make connections to existing understandings, and develop consideration and empathy for others.

Thus, this week’s provocation on how people get their food isn’t just about food. It’s about getting us to consider broader concepts (including, but not limited to, PYP units of inquiry such as How the World WorksHow We Organize Ourselves, and Who We Are). I would love to hear if/how you use these resources with your class!

#1 of 3: Atlas of Beauty image

Mihaela Noroc is a Romanian photographer who travels the world with the goal to capture beauty in all countries. Below is a recent photo of a woman doing her grocery shopping in Myanmar.

via Mihaela Noroc’s Atlas of Beauty Facebook page

#2 of 3: What I Eat, Around the World in 80 Diets

Photojournalist Peter Menzel documented what individuals around the world eat each day.  See here for several of his photos along with the fascinating stories of each person.

#3 of 3: Amazon Go Concept

Amazon has developed a smart store that allows shoppers to grab their groceries and go without standing in line for payment. According to Futurism, “The store is powered by sensors, deep learning artificial intelligence (AI), and computer vision, which allows it to detect which items a customer has selected and even when products are returned to shelves.”

Provocation Questions:

  • How do people eat differently?
  • Why do people eat differently?
  • What do people’s eating habits tell us about their lives?
  • How is the way people get their food changing over time? Why?
  • Why is it important for us to consider how people eat differently around the world?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry into Scale & Perspective

Being more spatially-challenged in general, I always had trouble as a child comprehending concepts like mirror images, rotations, and geometry nets.

Fortunately, as a grew older, I learned that these are all just facets of broader concepts of scale and perspective. I’ve also benefited by recognizing their applications beyond mathematics–from art to city planning to interpersonal relationships.

So this week consists of a provocation to help our young learners begin with the big picture of scale and perspective, hopefully encouraging them to draw their own connections and conclusions.

The first is a fascinating video that lays out the entire history of the earth on a football field.

The second is a photo series by artist Matthew Albanese. He creates stunningly realistic landscapes using forced perspective, using materials from nutmeg to steel wool to fake fog. Head over to his site to view the collection of images, along with the incredible behind-the-scenes images and information on his process. 

Provocation Questions:

  • How do people use scale and perspective to help us see “the big picture?”
  • How does technology allow us new possibilities to show scale and perspective?
  • How do scale and perspective change the way we see the world?
  • What is our responsibility to use perspective in our lives?
  • How are scale and perspective connected?
  • How does perspective help us understand other people?
  • How does scale help us understand the world?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

 

Inquiry Into Cultures and Open-Mindedness

“The aim of all IB programmes is to develop internationally minded people who, recognizing their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful world.”

While I taught at an IB (International Baccalaureate) we were encouraged to cultivate the 10 traits defined within the Learner Profile (inquirer, knowledgeable, thinker, communicator, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-taker, balanced, reflective).

This week’s provocation (appropriate for upper elementary and older) will look particularly at the open-minded quality. When I think of open-mindedness, cultural perspective readily comes to mind.

The first resource is one I’ve shared with my fifth graders in the past, and has made for some fascinating conversation. Graphic artist Yang Liu’s East Meets West helps students start to consider how our cultural differences influence the way people approach various situations (click link above for more of her images).

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The second is the awe-inspiring story of Rais Bhuiyan, a Muslim American who was shot in the aftermath of 9/11, but who worked to save his assailant from death row. I particularly appreciate how this illustrates that whatever our differences, compassion can bring us unity, understanding, and healing.

Provocation Questions:

  • How is open-mindedness related to cultures?
  • What is our responsibility for open-mindedness?
  • How does open-mindedness help with fearfulness (or other negative emotions)?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

What is the Ship? What is the Sea? 4 Ideas for Vision #TeacherMom

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These words turn my mind to all the spheres of my life, past and present. What is the ship? What is the sea?

When I look at my children, the ship-building vision comes readily: raising healthy, happy, and competent individuals. It’s why I require them to wear clean underwear, to eat vegetables, to brush their teeth, to say ‘sorry.’

When I recall my 5th graders, a similar ship comes to mind: self-aware and self-driven people who can drive their personal learning and growth. It’s why I asked them to write in complete sentences, to reflect with peers, to study out evidence for thinking, to keep track of goals.

I find it interesting how easily these tasks and expectations quickly slip from being part of grander vision, down to dreary repetition. In isolation, no one much wants to do any of those things. But when we elevate our sights to that “vast and endless sea,” our days change. A few ideas come to mind when I consider how we can help our children and students catch the vision of the sea, not only for their futures, but for their present daily experiences:

    • Constantly ask why, and help them to do the same. It’s tough because there is always so much to do in a perpetually tight schedule, but it’s worth the effort to slow down. Ensure students aren’t just “getting it done” so we can get it done. I admire the way Katherine Hansen brings the why into a simple yet effective place in her classroom:

  • Deliberately cultivate creativity and inspiration. Show videos of awe-inspiring phenomena, mind-boggling inventions, and stories of perseverance and possibility. Help them find their personal passion to help them drive their daily efforts.
  • Let them experience natural consequences. This is not really about “tough love,” grades, or getting them to see how correct we are in our requests for them to perform the daily tasks. It’s about helping them gradually discover the need for these tasks and skills independently. And it requires a lot of metacognition instruction on our part to help them think more about their thinking process so they can identify what is going wrong and what is going right.
  • Cultivate ownership, choice, and voice. Yes, they still have to wear clean underwear and write in complete sentences. But when we give our kids as many choices as possible and let them in on the learning plan, it makes a tremendous difference in their ability to see beyond the mundane daily to-do list. Check out this fantastic example of student agency by Charlotte Hills.

If we’re not careful, life can become like one long series of “gathering wood, dividing the work, and giving orders.” Elevate the vision. Seek the inspiration. And help all those around you to also “yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

I would love to hear more ideas for ways you help your students elevate their vision! Please share in the comments!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Zipcodes: A “How We Organize Ourselves” Provocation

A while back, I shared a provocation to support one of the IB Primary Years Programme Units known as Who We Are. This week, I want to share one that can be used with How We Organize Ourselves. Take a look at this fascinating video to find out how the US went about the problem of an exponentially growing volume of mail.

Provocation Questions:

  • How are problem-solving and organization connected?
  • How did the zip-code solution change over time?
  • How might future zip code solutions impact people?
  • Why do we keep changing the way we organize systems?
  • What is our responsibility to keep changing the way we organize systems?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Provocation Into Recycling, Sustainability, & Making a Difference through Creativity

These two videos have really caught my eye lately. The first is entitled, “Washed Ashore, Art to Save the Sea:”

The second is one I used in an inquiry into inquiry with some teachers last month, in which artist Phil Hansen shares his experience when he developed a tremor in his hands:

Provocation Questions:

  • How does using (or reusing) what we already have impact our lives?
  • How can our limitations or problems provide opportunities?
  • What role does creativity play in solving problems?
  • How is recycling connected to creativity?
  • What is our responsibility to use our creative talents to improve the world?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto