Inquiry into SDGs: Climate Action

This is a series of provocations designed to provide resources for students to inquire into the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. For more, click here

Today’s provocation centers on the global goal of Climate Action, that is, the need to take “urgent action on climate change and its impacts.” Use the resources below to help students consider what this might mean for them!

Resource #1: HiCamp – A Letter to Congress By Christopher Newman

Resource #2: SciStarter Citizen Science video

See also the Earth Challenge 2020 & video here.

Resource #3: Planet Under Pressure by Moth

Resource #4: Climate Action Plan by Squint/Opera

Resource #5: What Can a Citizen Do? by Dave Eggers

Provocation Questions:

  • What is climate?
  • Why does our climate require action?
  • How does global citizenship connect to climate action?
  • What is our responsibility to take action for our environment?
  • How can one person make a difference?

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“Where’s The Mom?” #TeacherMom


Sure, they may be building independence, problem-solving, time-management, confidence, physical health, risk-taking, and more. But the neighbors don’t see any of that. What they see & think is, “Where’s the mom?”

Never mind that when we were kids, such unsupervised play with a pack of neighbor kids was the norm.

Never mind that contrary to popular belief, the world is actually safer today than it was when we were kids.

Never mind that outdoor play actually addresses dramatically more threatening issues our kids face today, such as anxiety and diabetes.

When a someone recently told me that “Where’s the mom?” is the question asked when they see my kids play, it led me to revisit the way unstructured, unsupervised play has declined since when we were kids (sidebar: what about “Where’s the dad?” If we’re going to be judged, at least let it be equal opportunity judgement!). I have started to wonder whether this is less about protecting kids and more about protecting ourselves from judgement (offline & online) from other adults.

Ultimately, we need to find the courage to set aside those fears and focus on kids’ needs. We have been told, “You can’t be too careful when it comes to kids’ safety.” But the truth is that “an obsession with safety carries its own risks,” not least of which include a child’s diminished sense of autonomy. (see “Child Safety Up, Child Anxiety Up. Hmmm.“).

As a teacher, this seems to have direct parallels in the classroom as well. Both teachers and parents are pressured to make all the decisions in the name of safety or future success. Both are put under such an intense microscope, challenging the status quo is risky business. Both face an ever-present risk of severe judgement.

As a result, child autonomy is suffering, but we have the power to change that. We can:

And of course, it always helps when we find our tribe! There are many Facebook groups (one example here) and Twitter hashtags (#StudentAgency & #studentchoice) where you can find supportive teachers and parents who are similarly working toward childhood independence.

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Inquiry into Skills: Research

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

What measures do we take to help our students cultivate research skills? Teach them to google? Help them take outlined notes? These and others might be helpful, but it might be time to go a little deeper and help them further break down what research skills really entail.

According to the PYP, this break-down includes:

  • Formulating questionsIdentifying something one wants or needs to know and asking compelling & relevant questions that can be researched
  • ObservingUsing all the senses to notice relevant details
  • Planning: Developing a course of action; writing an outline; devising ways of finding out necessary information
  • Collecting data: Gathering information from a variety of first- and second-hand sources such as maps, surveys, direct observation, books, films, people, museums & ICT
  • Recording data: Describing & recording observations by drawing, note-taking, making charts, tallying, writing statements
  • Organizing data: Sorting & categorizing information; arranging into understandable forms such as narrative descriptions, tables, timelines, graphs & diagrams.
  • Interpreting data: Drawing conclusions from relationships and patterns that emerge from organized data.
  • Presenting research findings: Effectively communicating what has been learned; choosing appropriate media

This week’s provocation is intended to help students investigate the nature of research skills for themselves.

Resource #1: Fistful of Stars 360 via The Kid Should See This

Also see (also via The Kid Should See This):

Resource #2: Urban Nature hunting tips from Mr. O’Shea

Resource #3: What is dust made of? via The Kid Should See This

Resource #4: OK Go Sandbox (lessons on the science behind their amazing videos!)

Resource #5: Biography picture books on scientists. Here are a few great ones!

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to conduct research?
  • What does it mean to be a researcher?
  • When are you a researcher?
  • What tools do researchers use?
  • What are the processes of research?
  • How does research change throughout a project?
  • What is a source? How can we use them
  • What is the role of perspective in research?
  • How can we develop/strengthen research skills?

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On Rewards

We talked quietly in the corner. His 10 year-old head hung. He knew that had been a hurtful choice, knew that it had been a series of uncharacteristically unkind choices as of late. We talked about what might be going on lately. He said he didn’t know.

I told him that sometimes teachers use rewards to help their kids make better choices. I asked him, “Do you think we need to set up some kind of reward system for you to make better choices? Or do you think you can go ahead and step up to the kinds of choices we both know you can make?”

His eyes widened, and he replied, “I know I can make better choices.”

And he did. For the rest of the year.

Truly, if he had said he needed some kind of reward system, I would have honored that. Not because I think that such extrinsic rewards are particularly effective, or that they should be applied by and large. But because it might have served as a temporary scaffold.

But for longterm motivation and behavior, I have come to question more and more the place of tangible rewards in the classroom. We’ve seen studies that indicate that rewards actually make the behavior less desirable for kids. And we have seen the remarkable impact of self-efficacy on learning as kids develop specific skills that in turn help them believe in their innate ability to achieve goals.

Even as my critical position on rewards has grown stronger over the years, I appreciate articles like this that add more nuance to the conversation:

“Some people say, “[Offering incentives for reading] should be off the table,” or “This is terrible.” I wouldn’t go that far, just because I’m always a little uncomfortable pretending that psychologists have the absolute answer to anything. My recommendation is, maybe don’t try it first.”

When I unpack statements like this a little more, it makes me think of scenarios like the conversation I described above. I once had a similar conversation with another student who did indicate that having a reward system for a brief time would be helpful to reroute the behavior. As I stated earlier, it was a temporary scaffold, and it was ultimately effective to help him bring his attention to his choices.

So, yes, I’m still wary of incentives systems that might place a child’s attention on treats & stickers over the learning & self-awareness, particularly over longterm use. But I’m working on remaining curious as I continue to learn and assess my past practices to inform my future ones.

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Inquiry into Attitudes: Tolerance

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

Sometimes it seems like our world today is overcome with notions of in-group/out-group. But what if we can help our students find their common ground? This week’s provocation is centered on the PYP attitude of tolerance, which involves “work[ing] towards feeling sensitivity towards differences and diversity in the world and being responsive to the needs of others.”

Resource #1: Us Vs Them: Immigration, Empathy, & Psychology via The Kid Should See This

Resource #2: Charter for Compassion by Ben Kaufman

Resource #3: Day & Night by Pixar

Resource #4: What is Public Life?

Resource #5: Most People by Michael Lennah & Jennifer E. Morris

Provocation Questions: 

  • What does it mean to have tolerance?
  • What is the connection between tolerance and empathy?
  • How does tolerance impact a diverse community? How does tolerance impact a community that seems alike?
  • What is our responsibility to cultivate tolerance?

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Inquiry into Skills: Social

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

As I come toward the end of sharing provocation resources for each of the PYP essential elements (just 3 to go!), I was surprised to realize that finding ones for social skills was tricky. But then I realized that was because I was looking at it as a whole instead of breaking down more specific skills. The PYP social skills include:

  • Accepting responsibility: taking on a completing tasks in an appropriate manner; being willing to assume a share of their responsibility
  • Respecting otherslistening sensitively to others; making decisions based on fairness & equality; recognizing others’ beliefs, viewpoints, religions, & ideas may differ from one’s own; stating one’s opinion without hurting others
  • Cooperatingworking cooperatively in a group; being courteous to others; sharing materials; taking turns
  • Resolving conflictlistening carefully to others; compromising; reacting reasonably to the situation; accepting responsibility appropriately; being fair
  • Group decision-makinglistening to others; discussing ideas; asking questions; working towards and obtaining consensus
  • Adopting a variety of roles: understanding what behavior is acceptable in a given situation & acting accordingly; being a leader in some circumstances, a follower in others

In breaking them down, it became clear that I’ve been sharing resources for all these skills all along. There is so much overlap among all the PYP essential elements, but I think this is particularly the case when it comes to social skills. Each of the other PYP essential elements may help students investigate & build up their own social skills in addition to the specific attitude, skill, or attribute.

So this week’s provocation is designed to think about the big picture of social skills as a whole, but know that if you are looking to hone in on the more specific skills listed above, you may find what you need in the complete list of provocations into the PYP essential elements, or even the complete list of all inquiry-based provocations on this site.

Resource #1: Family Rescues Whale Tangled In Net via The Dodo

Resource #2: Brene Brown on Empathy by The RSA (yes, this is a specific skill, but watch closely for multiple social skills here)

Resource #3: Kids Meet a Person with Cerebral Palsy via The Kid Should See This

Resource #4: ADA at iPark Museum of Art via The Kid Should See This

Resource #5: “We Found A Hat” by Jon Klassen

Provocation Questions:

  • How do social skills impact our relationships?
  • What are social skills?
  • How do we improve our social skills?
  • What is the impact of social skills on our lives? On our communities?
  • What is our responsibility to cultivate our social skills?
  • Are there different perspectives on what good social skills are? If so, what are they, and why do they exist?
  • How do social skills connect to collaboration?
  • How do social skills impact our ability to accomplish goals?

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She Just Asked Google To Remind Her to “Read All the Books On the Bottom Shelf” #TeacherMom

A few days ago, I overheard my 8 year-old adding her day plans to our shared daily to-do list (more on that here). Using the speech-to-text feature, amid other typical tasks, I suddenly heard her say, “Read all the books on the bottom shelf.”

Teacher mom that I am, of course I was delighted. 

But then I turned to reflect once more on our journey of her literacy:

The pressures I felt to ensure she memorized the ABC’s before kindergarten.

The way I felt like a failure as a teacher when she would not cooperate with my beautifully laid-out magnetic letter play.

The constant tension I felt between whether I should let her choose her own books or drill her on-level basal reader or sight-word flashcards to push her to the next reading level.

The nagging worry that I was denying her opportunities by turning down programs with the label, “proven to be successful in improving the reading skills of every student who participates.”

The way I wondered if I was wrong to yield to her book-making efforts over any worksheets that came home.

Yet amid all the angst, here we are to nearly the start of 3rd grade, and not only is she a fantastic reader and writer, but she’s adding items to her to-do list like “read all the books on the bottom shelf.”

It makes me wonder. Had I pushed all those academics and level advancement on her from my place of stress and worry, would she be making such choices for her summer? My suspicion is that had I pushed my agenda on my strong-willed child, she would want little to do with books today–especially on her “time off.”

It seems that those of us raising kids today are given every reason to believe that to trust our kids’ autonomy over their learning is tantamount to negligence. We are constantly bombarded with ads that offer promises of confidence in our children’s future success. We are so stressed by questions on whether we’re doing enough for our kids, that there is little room left for noticing the learning that quietly and naturally unfolds each day.

This is where I’ll share and re-share this quote from Brene Brown (see it also on Preschool, Kinder-Prep, & 3 Things Kids Need Most):

There is an abundance of learning and growing happening within our kids each day. Recognizing, embracing, and celebrating that from a place of love will always outperform operating from a place of not-enough stress and fear. Not because it will guarantee some future Harvard acceptance or a job on Wall Street, but because it will cultivate a lifetime of joyful learning.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto