This year for the first time I am teaching the PYP and also guiding Year 5 students through the PYP Exhibition. It basically involves the students taking themselves through a unit of inquiry where they have full autonomy over the lines of inquiry and culminates with a public exhibition of their learning. I’ve regularly mentored groups as a non-Year5 staff member (which is part of the process) but have not been directly involved in planning and delivering the unit before.
Something that always stood out for me as I observed it from afar was that there seemed to be a lot of time and energy spent by the students in making or constructing something as a result of their inquiry. For example, an inquiry into waste and recycling would lead to students ‘Taking Action’ by creating and building a new type of bin. An inquiry into the needs of the elderly might lead to the design and mock-up of a new type of emergency pager. And so on. The reservation I have about this final construction phase is that there is a big potential for the students to lose sight of the learning and context for the product and get wrapped up in the fun and excitement of building. True, building is exciting and fun, but I think it compromises the learning and investigation that precedes it in the process.
Past Year 5 teachers have said that the kids ‘run out of time’ due to the construction phase. It seems to me that rushing an inquiry, for the sake of what is usually a tokenistic creation, is feeding the notion of ‘bells and whistles’ in learning at the expense of deep learning. Like any use of technology, physical building of something needs to enhance the learning outcomes. Since the exhibition primarily addresses research skills, I see no place for a construction element to be so prevalent, or lead to taking student focus away from their lines of inquiry.
This year we have changed the approach for the exhibition unit. We are deepening the scope of research the students are required to do, and are taking away the building part at the end. The ‘taking action’ aspect of the inquiry will take the form of the students presenting links between a piece of technology, the scientific principles that underlie it and the human need that it satisfies. Students may approach this from any of the three angles, but there is no creation of something new. This is quite a change in the culture of the unit, but one which I think will lead to deeper learning, and a better appreciation of how technology helps our society.
Staff Meeting tonight had us extending the staff focus of deliberate planning into effective lesson design. We have been emphasising planning and reporting by achievement standards within the Australian Curriculum; Starting with these standards and working backwards towards individual learning experiences.
A ‘golden pickup’ I have developed is the idea of giving students a learning intention before every lesson. This has helped me focus my teaching to align with all our careful planning, as well as given the students an increased sense of context and purpose for their learning.
Tonight Rebecca and Jade took us through a sharing session based on PD they had attended titled “Effective Lesson Design in English & Maths”. Now this presentation is not mine to share but my big takeaways are listed below. And these are in note form, based on the notes I took during the session – I think this is an authentic way to share my ideas at this stage. When they evolve into something new of my own I will share accordingly but for now, I’ll keep them in the form of inspiration from another:
- Learning intentions must be explicitly clear for all students in the room. Intentions must be visible.
- Learning intentions are not descriptions of an activity. They are directly linked to achievement standards.
- There should be no secrets in the learning process –> this means success criteria must also be clear and explicit.
- Success criteria tell kids “You can succeed at this and this is how you do it”. What does it look like to achieve the learning intention?
- Along with WALT statements (We Are Learning To) and WILF statements (What I’m Looking For) you also need to address TIB (This Is Because) which links WALT and WILF to the students personal contexts.
- To help with students engaging with WALT and WILF statements, these can be present on task sheets and blank work sheets. That way teachers can easily indicate how students have performed against them.
- Students should be able to state learning intentions and success criteria. This is easier if displayed as above.
- Don’t use the term differentiate. Say ‘make it accessible’.
There was also some discussion about the notion of Prime Time in student engagement levels through the course of a lesson. It peaks in the first ten minutes before hitting downtime after 20 and then a second, lower, peak at the half hour mark.
This led to some great staff discussion about all of the above. Most year levels shared some insights from the session and related it to what they were doing in their classes. In Y5 we shared our ‘Position’ class interventions, which I’ll detail once report season is over!
Said no one ever.
Yeah, not so much excitement at my end, I’m afraid. While I’ve got the inevitable opinion on NAPLAN and standardised testing in general (I’ve put some fun memes down below), I don’t want to soapbox (on this occasion), suffice it to say that my class and I are missing two Maths lessons, a Science lesson and an Inquiry session this week. And that means… well not much really. It’s not such a big deal given sports days, excursions et al that consistently push aside the ‘already overcrowded curriculum’ and add to the hidden curriculum that is so meaningful for students. Alongside things like life lessons learnt during schoolyard fights and social development and whatnot. The real parts of life that happen alongside formal education.
That’s what I’ve come to see NAPLAN as – an experience for the students. Like it or not, success in formal education means testing and ranking. If you do well in Year 12, you’ll get into uni and have options. Of course you can be extremely successful without a uni experience, it just gives you options. If that’s what you’re after.
We give our kids formative assessment before giving them summative ones – I see NAPLAN (in one way) as a formative experience for students, in preparation for the higher stakes tests, the ones that actually count, in high school. Sure they also provide valuable information to stakeholders about the standard achievement levels of students and schools, but we all know they are a snapshot, through a narrow lens, of just one part of the educational experience.
So with the talk around staff rooms this week on why NAPLAN is <insert opinion here> I like to think of it in a positive light and let my students enjoy the ride.
and just for fun…
So this post title is a play on my jumping back into both integrated ICT use in my room as well as blogging but also a play on the name of the tool I am using – Studyladder.
First about me – after a hectic year of ICT use in 2014 involving a new 1:1 iPad program at my school, I’ve taken a real step back from ICT integration this year, and gotten back to the basics of teaching. I won’t lie, there were students in my new class disappointed about this, with my reputation as the techie teacher preceding me, but I’m a firm believer in tech use not being tech-centric. That is, the tech should support the learning and if it doesn’t , it shouldn’t be used. I felt with the iPads last year there was a pressure to show that they were worthwhile and some of what I did pushed into the ‘using tech for its own sake’ field and that made me uncomfortable. So this year I have consciously tried to use ICT only if there is a clear advantage for the students in doing so. Its been a bit of a reset, really.
So this study ladder thing. I am using it as a basis for Mathematics homework. I can set modules for different students and monitor their performance in those modules. I can see how many times they have attempted their work, and how their results have changed through these attempts. It certainly fits my criteria of tech use as it allows functionality that would not be possible without it.
I have also started developing individual blogs for my students and through those will start delving back into more regular tech enhancement.
In the spirit of me finding balance in my life between school and home, I have undertaken to scale back my blog posts from a place of detailed reflection (often stressful to manufacture when one is super busy!), to a place where I share thoughts, classroom tidbits and given the rebranding of my site’s title, a place of musings and insights.
I have just started the year here in Australia with a Year 5 class. Very exciting for a few reasons; I started my career with a Year 5 class; after three years of Year 6 I was ready to change things up a bit; and after three years of teaching MYP I will now be teaching PYP, something I have never done before.
For now, I am happy just to say I am excited about the year ahead and that I’m looking forward to using this blog in a way that benefits me rather than causes me stress. So, in keeping it light, here is a photo of my new room.
So again, school and kids have bumped my blogging down the ladder of priorities, as they should. Reports, birthdays and life in general have been in the front seat, but also has been a new tool that I have been taking for a spin in the classroom. Showbie is an app that I have been familiar with for a long time, and was even part of our workflow solutions this year as we introduced the 1:1 iPad program. It didn’t stay long in the forefront of our day to day working, but this term I have used it again, to great success.
I have been able to guide my students through the writing of historical fiction this term, satisfying the MYP subjects of Design, Individuals and Societies and Language and Literature, as well as the Australian Curriculum content outcomes for History (different perspectives). I have been teaching this in discreet chunks, lesson by lesson eg Step 1 was to find an Australian historical event. Step 2, think of a unique perspective Step 3, outline key historical tidbits etc. This is all well and good but because of constant student absences due to music and other co-curricular considerations, students often miss these discreet teachable moments.
With Showbie, I am able to record instructional materials and individually monitor the progress of individual students throughout the task. I can digitally annotate their works in progress and provide verbal feedback too. Once I turned off the email notifications (which came thick and fast everytime one of the 50 Year 6s updated their work, which was often) I found the app incredible in its capacity to allow me oversight of the students work. I still conference with the students 1:1, but this digital record of their progress is valuable and something I will integrate into my digital toolkit moving forward.
I’ve just acquired a box of Lego for my classroom. I’ve always been jealous of classes in huge younger years who have access to these little blocks and I’ve always thought about how I could use them in upper primary. Through a discount website (the kind that sells you stuff you generally don’t need) I picked up a box of 500 assorted bricks for a decent price.
This is the result:
The kids rushed to my side and the end of individual reading became a hub of creativity. Lines of conversation included
– make the pictures on the box
– no, make whatever you want
– let’s make the characters from Animal Farm (our novel study)
– gee, Mr Huebl, your building thing is amazing (I might have heard that in my own head)
I’m happy with the attitude the kids have had towards the blocks. I am mindful now of how to maximise the benefit if their use as well as making the use of them equitable.
One of the things that most teachers will say is hard to feel motivated about doing all of the time is marking. So often, marking can consist of really just checking that students have done the right thing. While this is necessary, it hardly feels like I am contributing to the learning process in a meaningful way!
One of the things I have liked about student blogging, is that your marking takes the form of commenting, and receiving comments is what can motivate a student more than any other factor. One of the routines I have introduced is the process of having students in my class comment on each others’ work. This form of peer feedback and assessment is valuable because it not only exposes students to new perspectives as they read each other’s work, but provides a genuine, real audience for it.
I have created small laminated cards, with a picture of each student on each side, with a QR code linking to that students’ blog on the other. I use these to distribute to students and assign their lesson/daily/ weekly blog to comment on. I also have the QR codes without the photos, so that we can play ‘mystery commenting’.
The latest app that we have pushed out to the kids is Minecraft. If you have kids, or work with children then you will be familiar with this game. It is a sandbox style game that has both survival and creative modes and has become a prominent tool in education (see here, here, and here for examples.) We will be implementing this app as part of a Design unit in Term 3 but we have given it to the students early so we can establish their skill set with the app before they require it for their learning.
This action by us is what this post is all about. Training the students in particular skill sets has been common practice for us as we have used the iPads this year. Obviously, we can’t expect the students to do stuff if we haven’t explicitly provided them with the skills to do so. With Minecraft though, we will not be explicitly teaching the students how to use the app. (This has nothing to do with the fact that most of them know far more about it than we do…) For this app/game, we are tasking the students themselves with devleoping their own skills. They will do this through playing.
The beauty of Minecraft in our eyes is that it has so many uses. As it is a game, we figure that it should be played. As the students become skilled in playing, they will certainly be better equipped to apply the world of the game to the specific learning tasks that we give them. (Andy in fact created a preliminary task for the students that you can read about here. It was an extension on some Engineering work we were doing earlier in the day and it was a natural extension of that task to have the students replicate their work within Minecraft.)
We are very interested in hearing from others who have used Minecraft in schools, especially in Upper Primary and with iPads.
As part of our 1:1 iPad program, our Year 6 team are constantly reviewing the best practices for running our learning environments. Today I have come up with the term DAFA (Digital Anecdotal Formative Assessments). I got the idea from Andy Peartree (@anderspearz) who was using the app Explain Everything in his Maths group. I saw the students using the app to demonstrate their learning. They were engaged with the process and the Maths itself was not being compromised.
I decided to adopt the practice myself, but thought that I could formalise it to provide me with legitimate formative assessment. My maths class has just finished looking at converting fractions, to varying levels of success. I created a task on Edmodo asking my students to create an Explain Everything showing their understanding. I was able to quickly see who really understood the process without the need to troll through all their workbooks to establish their competence.
This is not a new process by any means, and I must stress the role my colleagues Andy and Jade in beginning this process. However, by formalising DAFA as a formal part of our teaching strategy, we have actively used technology to enhance our teaching.