PYP Exhibition Theme Synthesis

In the New Year, my sixth grade class will undertake our school’s inaugural PYP Exhibition. Here’s the description of the event from the International Baccalaureate Organization website:
“Students who are in their final year of the programme are expected to carry out an extended, collaborative inquiry project, known as the exhibition, under the guidance of their teachers.
The exhibition represents a significant event in the life of both the school and student, synthesizing the essential elements of the programme and sharing them with the whole school community. It is an opportunity for students to exhibit the attributes of the Learner profile that have been developing throughout their engagement with the programme. It is a culminating experience marking the transition from PYP to further steps in education.
Schools are given considerable flexibility in their choice of real-life issues or problems to be explored or investigated in the exhibition.”
In the past years, I have visited several Exhibitions in Tokyo and explored the online presentations of dozens more. There are as many unique approaches as there are people participating! Designing an environment in which the exhibitioners will thrive is a grand and fascinating challenge and an ideal example of metateaching.
One aspect all examples I have viewed share in common is that they fall under one of the IB PYP Transdisciplinary Themes. However, in the Exhibition Guidelines, it states that one of the essential features should be to “synthesize aspects of all six transdisciplinary themes”.
“synthesize aspects of all six transdisciplinary themes”
I thought of one way to attempt this by way of inspiration from refrigerator poetry magnets. I simply printed the key terms from the six transdisciplinary themes, laminated and cut them out, attached magnets and arrayed them on a corner of our whiteboard. My class and I had a brief discussion of the themes and the goal to draw items from them of interest to us and rearrange them to create our own theme description. From that, we can create a title for our theme which can serve as a title for our Exhibition.
They began by playing, which is exactly what I had hoped for. The point is to play with the words to begin to explore our ideas. As our ideas become more organized, so should the words. I am extremely excited to begin our Exhibition inquiries, and have been planning activities all year as practice and preparation. I view it as an archetypal Independent Inquiry, and the first formal test of many of the principles of inquiry we have been exploring.

Mapping My Internet

When George Siemens asks, “How do you manage your information?“, and Jeff Delp is writing about being “All-In” With Evernote, it’s clear that data management is an issue that every digital resident must address to transition from being a passive consumer to an active participant on the Internet.

Their use of graphics reminded me of the Laziness Map flowchart I made for the Making Learning Connected MOOC and shared in the post, Is laziness good for learning?. While that project was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, noticing that I’ve felt digitally overwhelmed lately led me to create this map of how I generally discover, sort, share, and publish on the web.

created by Bart Miller
(click the image to open the document and follow the hyperlinks)

To summarize, arrayed at the bottom are the social networks I use to find content. Many are just for entertainment and inspiration, but I use a several, particularly twitter and tumblr, to discover and curate. Since most of my browsing is done on my mobile phone and usually on the subway, the first task is simply to identify posts I want to examine more deeply and “favorite” or “like” them. That simply saves them to find easily later. Once a week or so, I check my saved items and decide whether to import them into Evernote using the tagging system I described in Inquiry with Evernote vol 1. Sometimes I share immediately, and occasionally across platforms.

When I discover new blogs I want to follow, I add them to Feedly. Since I started using it after the demise of Google Reader, the number of blogs I follow increased exponentially to about 400 in various categories, but has plateaued lately.

Sorting information in this way helps me to apply it with agility and relevance in the classroom and in publishing on my own blog and my favorite communities. I also use Evernote to document learning in the classroom, so it is rapidly becoming my “home base”.

Creating this graphic helped me to clarify my thinking about the web and how I use it. How do you sort the Internet? Still sending yourself emails with links?… it’s ok, I do that sometimes, too 😉

Independent Inquiry: Origami

A group of students in my class is exploring the Origami Club website to learn to fold new and more complex creations. The site includes hundreds, if not thousands of designs with blueprint and animated instructions.

Connected Learning like this is very inspiring. They are utilizing the Internet to pursue their inquiry, using mathematical vocabulary in authentic contexts, cooperating by taking turns choosing which design to follow, helping each other, and enjoying themselves.

I’m interested to see if any of them take the inquiry further, perhaps by earning a DIY Papercrafter Patch or participating in an online community like The Origami Forum. As their teacher, it’s important to make sure that they have access to those opportunities, so I added links to the Independent Inquiry page on our class wiki.

The 800-pound bully

Elephants are not particularly known for bullying. We humans, unfortunately, are. Bullying among adults is the elephant in the room during any discussion about bullying among children, online or offline.

Take for example, Lisa Nielson’s article, Addressing the #bullying problem starts with adults, in which she details a case of bullying that originates from what is supposed to be a friendly volleyball ‘game’ and includes most of the hallmarks of schoolyard bullying: admonishment, destructive criticism, over-competitiveness, exclusion, and isolation.

To draw a distinction between this and bullying among children would be pointless. They are the same.

The problem is worse in not necessarily friendly environments like the workplace. Perhaps it’s worth a few moments to review the guide from PBS This Emotional Life, Adult bullying, to assess the climate where you are now.

Often, adult bullying is incredibly destructive. In the article, Adult Bullying: Harassment by People You Respect, a gang of mothers is described who took to Facebook to bash photos of other people’s toddlers. This is behavior, I believe, that no student I have ever known would participate in. To call such choices immature is an insult to children.

It leads me to believe that children who bully might only be immitating behavior they have observed among adults. I recommend reading this article, Know BS: Say No to Adult Bulliesas good example of putting bullying in perspective and de-sensationalizing it. For even greater perspective, here’s a post one of my students wrote earlier in the school year, Bullying.

When facing these issues with students, I take it as an opportunity to learn about themselves. I ask questions to help them define their own emotional, social, or even physical boundaries. And, of course, I help them to find strategies and techniques to defend themselves against bullies.

It’s important for kids to know that they have our support. Most often, victims of bullying are isolated. Perhaps that’s why elephants so vigilantly stay together in the face of danger or adversity.

“Bullying results in fear, for fear is the means by which all abusers, including bullies, disempower and control their victims.”

Empower the victims. Perhaps a program at your school like the Gracie BullyProof program would go a long way toward strengthening your community against bullying! Whether victims choose to ignore, fight back, or anything in between, should ultimately be up to them.

The Evolution of Independent Inquiry

When I introduced Independent Inquiry in my Grade 4 class during the last school year, it was out of a desire to reinvent homework as a more relevant activity connecting learning at school with learning at home. The primary inspiration was the MIT Media Lab Learning Creative Learning course, and in particular, being introduced to Connected Learning.

Interest-driven learning comes as naturally to us human beings as breathing and scratching ourselves. The brain is made for it. We naturally seek creative solutions to problems and desire to learn what is useful and/or fun. I also became fascinated with the Maker Education Initiative and the implications of purposeful play for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education.

Why does school try to make learning so hard?

We began using a Google Form to reflect on our inquiries and holding weekly meetings to discuss the independent projects we were doing at home. Some highlighted projects can be found by searching the independent inquiry label here on Symphony of Ideas.

Soon after, I discovered Genius Hour. There were thousands of teachers around the world providing class time for students to pursue their passions and interests! Teaching at an inquiry school, I always provide time for independent research and autonomous learning opportunities, however, only along the lines of inquiry specified in our units.

The time had come to blow it wide open. I started a wiki to clarify purpose for myself and share with other educators, collect relevant resources and supporting articles, and publish my students’ reflections.
Starting this school year, and for the past three months, we have dedicated one to two hours per week to “indinq”, independent inquiry. The students operate on their own authority, with only suggestions or assistance coming from me. The only requirement is that they use our google form to reflect and document their activities.
The results have been impressive, including a pair who collaborated to create a robot using Lego MindStorms, a group who choreographed a dance routine to one of their favorite songs, an inquiry into improving basketball free-throw percentage, earning do-it-yourself badges, and exploring various web-based tools like Soundation and Mozilla Popcorn Maker to produce and remix original works of art.
Most of what I do these days during ‘indinq’ is document. I’ve created a notebook in Evernote for each student and take pictures, occasionally with brief voice comments, when I notice a student reaching a milestone, obstacle, epiphany, or when collaborations begin or end, or for just about anything, really. The atmosphere in the room is so electric, virtually anything is an assessable learning experience.

If I had to choose the greatest benefit of independent inquiry, I would say that it is relevance. Because the students are pursuing their own interests, their learning is always meaningful. The skills and attitudes they develop transfer fluidly to other activities and they take pride in sharing their creations with the school community.

To a teacher unsure how to start or reticent to release the reins in their classroom, I recommend to start with something structured and gradually let go. Trust your students to trust their instincts. They know what they need to learn. Let them.