Questions in inquiry learning

A welcome development this year in the Elementary School at KIST has been an emphasis on inquiry. It is more than likely due to feedback from our recent IB re-authorization visit and for me, an opportunity to grow in one of the most challenging aspects of teaching. I’ve blogged quite a bit about the theory and practices of inquiry learning, most recently in the post, CLMOOC Unmake: Unintroducing inquiry learning.

When it was announced that inquiry would be a focus, I sifted through articles I had read and collected over the years.

I also enjoyed gliding over memory lane and revisiting some saved tweets with choice perspectives on inquiry.

One article that grabbed my attention last autumn was Good research starts with good questions by David Farkas and Brad Nunnally. What I found most interesting was that many of the pitfalls of research questions are actually key techniques in developing questions for inquiry learning. For example, research should avoid ‘leading questions’ that may skew data in a particular direction. In teaching, we want the learners to find their ways to a common destination, either general or specific.

Erasing prior knowledge

In an occurrence I wish were more common, while reflecting on the experience, a colleague commented that one challenge inquiry teachers face is the desire of students to ‘get the right answers’, or even worse, to answer in the way they believe the teacher wants. This can lead to regurgitated prior knowledge answers rather than creative explorations of the concepts and contexts presented in the questions.

In Grant Wiggins’ article, 5 Tips To Help Students Arrive At Their Own Understandings, the distinction between Understanding and Knowledge is highlighted. It’s vital that learning in an inquiry setting begin with as close to a clean slate as possible. The more a class feels that their teacher is soliciting a ‘right’ answer, the less likely they are to develop deeper and personal understanding.

Student questions

One solution to the problem is to ask students to generate questions based on elements of the understandings we wish them to pursue. In an IB PYP unit of inquiry, the ‘lines of inquiry’ should help to define the scope of an intended inquiry, while the ‘key concepts’ provide a frame or lens through which to interpret one’s findings.

The photo above is a list of questions generated by a provocation in which students identified company logos, then considered them in reference to the line of inquiry, ‘How images, text, and music are used to influence people’s choices’.

Teacher questions

This year, we are collaborating with another grade level team to develop questions together to provoke inquiry into a new unit. The initial concept was to begin with carefully selected materials and a starting question intended to stimulate creativity and curiosity. Subsequent questions would climb the Bloom’s Taxonomy ladder to higher-order thinking skills, as well as ‘funnel’ students’ understandings in the general direction prescribed by the Central Idea and Key Concepts of the unit.

Our first meeting was to develop questions for the other grade’s lesson. Then, we observed them and followed up with a debriefing session, and to develop questions for our lesson. They attended our lesson and we concluded the collaboration with a final debriefing about the entire experience.

The process reinforced my belief in the importance of collaboration and design thinking in Learning Experience Design.

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World Cultures Day

At KIST we celebrate International Mother Language Day with an annual ‘World Cultures Day’ event which includes a traditional costume parade and PTA bake sale featuring delicious treats from around the world.This year, I challenged the Elementary Student Representative Council to host a ‘Mother language recordings’ booth. We wanted to provide an opportunity for students and parents to record brief video messages about peace in their mother languages.

Photo by Bart Miller via Instagram

The students made a poster and I created a form for participants to write their messages along with English translations. We collaborated with the Media Club to record the videos. In an hour, we recorded around twenty videos by community members in languages including Japanese, Russian, Turkish, English, Bengali, and three different languages from India: Tamil, Odiya, and Hindi.

We are currently in the process of deciding how to publish and share the videos, although I did make a point of obtaining permission from the adult participants to share their recordings on the school website.

The greatest takeaway for me was the encouragement we received to widen the scope of this project next year with more promotion and a larger window of time to record messages.

A few days later, the tweet above from IB World Magazine caused me to reflect on how International Mother Language Day is an essential opportunity for internationally minded people and organizations to celebrate and preserve language diversity. Hopefully, we will expand the ‘Mother language recordings’ project next year.

Composite skills in the PYP

Preparing students for the Primary Years Program Exhibition, a self directed and collaborative culminating project, has been a rewarding challenge this year. In a sense, I’ve been thinking of the entire school as a long term project with the Exhibition being the ‘deliverable’ product.

The process of developing capacities and competencies in my students has led to analysis and evaluation of Transdisciplinary Skills in the PYP.

I like the list of skills and the categories into which they are organized (thinking, social, research, self management, communication), and I have been developing a model for composite skills. These are skills that require fluency in other fundamental skills and attitudes.

[This post was initially titled Hybrid skills in the PYP. After further consideration, I realized that ‘composite’ was a better description than ‘hybrid’. Hybrid connotes that only parts of the fundamental skills are utilized, while ‘composite’ connotes that each skill is integrated in its entirety. I took the liberty of substituting the terms throughout the post.]

The first composite skill I conceived at the end of the last school year was Conversation. My reasoning was that conversation requires a combination of the Listening and Speaking communication skills together with the attitude of Empathy.

During the year, I have introduced a few other composite skills to our classroom toolbox, and am now in the process of organizing and codifying them in the MindMup below. If you would like to collaborate, the Composite skills mind map is shared via Google Drive. Use MindMup to open it and get started.


Edcamp Tokyo 2015 Harajuku

It’s been my honor to help organize Edcamp Tokyo for the second time. This year, the event will be hosted by Jingumae International Exchange School in Harajuku on Saturday 28 February 2015.

Play to learn; learn to play.

We decided on a theme of ‘play’ this year, which I hope will set a tone of curiosity and openness. As with every Edcamp, the key to success is self determination among the participants. Through a democratic process, sessions are proposed, voted on, and organized into classrooms and other meeting spaces.
The schedule is never set in stone. Edcampers are encouraged to continue engaging conversations, break out into splinter groups, or change sessions if their interests or needs are not being met.
We only ask that sharing and collaboration remain a top priority via Google Docs and our Edcamp Tokyo 2015 Home Document.
I look forward to seeing how the day evolves and invite anyone to participate, even if you can’t be there in person!

Maker Club year 1

One year ago, I started a Maker Club at my school as part of our after school program. While maker spaces for older learners generally focus on robotics and digital creation, I believe that an elementary maker experience should start from concrete, physical creation. Most of our materials were donated by families, but we also frequently raid the school art supplies.

Based on my participation in the Learning Creative Learning MOOC in 2013, the initial guiding principles for our Maker Club were Independence and Social Creativity.

Independence

It’s critical that Maker Club have no assignments. The only requirement is to always be ‘making’. Imagining, researching, designing, sharing, and reflecting are all parts of the making process.

Maker Faire often includes digital production, as well as arts and crafts, engineering and construction, cooking, scientific experiments and demonstrations, and the visual and performing arts. There are no artificial limits.

For the first few meetings, there was a refrain of ‘What should I make?’, ‘What do you want to make?’. This dialog is indicative of empowerment. As young makers realize that they are in control of their learning in their maker space, their creativity is ignited.

In a sense, this is what makes a maker space. Of course, maker tools and materials are important, but most important is fostering an environment in which everyone feels safe to experiment and create.

Every maker must be encouraged to try anything, and indeed, ‘makes’ that fail are not failures at all. Failures are courageous learning experiences and opportunities to safely practice a growth mindset.

Social Creativity

Social Creativity is the notion that creativity is a social activity. Innovation by adapting existing ideas, sharing, cooperating, and collaborating respects the idea that creation is an act of communication.

Every week, we update a Maker Club Projects spreadsheet that both serves to document our activities and as an archive to inspire innovation and collaboration.

The framework for assessment in our Maker Club is from The Tinkering Studio’s Design, Make, Play and consists of the the criteria of Engagement, Intentionality, Innovation, and Solidarity. This rubric emphasizes process over product and social interaction over individual achievement. These principles guide me in my role as facilitator in coaching young makers.


Play, passion, projects, peers

The most recent iteration of the Learning Creative Learning MOOC introduced the ‘4 Ps’ of play, passion, projects, and peers. Mitchell Resnick also introduced the Creative Learning Spiral, which became the inquiry model for our Maker Club.


This model is exceptionally effect for maintaining makers’ momentum.


Gallery

Please enjoy these photos of various works in progress. All photos by Bart Miller (CC BY 4.0).

One ambitious maker, inspired by a Maker Faire video, attempted to convert her bicycle into a cupcake. The project proved to be too complex for the scope of our once per week club, but she did manage to complete a ‘cherry on top’ helmet.


A pair of makers surprised me with an impromptu hand puppet show!


One of my favorite makes was this mixed media artwork. I noticed a maker with a large piece of cardboard and a pile of assorted materials.

I asked, ‘What are you making here?’
She replied, ‘I don’t know, I’m just making it.’

That’s precisely the spirit I love to see in a maker space, and is a glowing example of creative learning in action.


A student asked, ‘Is it ok if I practice piano during Maker Club?’

Yes, it is very ok to make music in Maker Club.


Often, younger makers start with a familiar project, like making a greeting card. The exciting thing is the freedom with which they innovate and iterate. Arts and crafts lessons tend to be more structured, which is of course very effective for developing a particular skill. In Maker Club, we emphasize creativity over specific skill development.


One of the older makers inspired some first graders to decorate plastic bottle caps. Learning from each other and innovating each others’ ideas is an element of social creativity that comes alive in a maker space.


The classroom computers have quick links to various digital maker sites such as Scratch, DIY, and The Hour of Code


Yet another exciting development is makers using our club time to create for projects in their ‘regular’ class. Blurring the boundaries between learning in different settings is one of my driving goals as an educator. In the photo above, a maker begins work on a robot ticket booth for a classroom carnival.

If they start building cardboard ‘robots’, it’s not a huge leap to consider adding mechanical joints, gears, or motors!


Our Maker Club achieved a new level of complexity when a new member resolved to build a guitar. I was hoping that they would inquire into how to make it playable, but they were satisfied with it as is.


Making is messy. That’s part of what makes it fun and what makes the learning that happens in a maker space so authentic and deep. I’ve learned the hard way how important it is to have rather strict clean up procedures.


One rather reluctant maker jumped at the chance to dissect a donated broken DVD player. I suggested to use our camera to take ‘macro’ photos of the innards, and the result was an interesting blend of art and technology.

Starting Year 2

Happily, by adhering to the principles of independence and social creativity, a tremendous amount of positive momentum has accumulated.

Some makers have come and gone, choosing other options for their after school program.

But some have caught maker fever. They need Maker Club.

To express the feeling of this new year of Maker Club, please enjoy this poem:

Maker Fever

Fidget through meetings
sneak to prepare materials
anxious to maximize time.

Don’t ask to ‘use this’ or ‘make that’.
Don’t need permission
in our maker space.

Make things at school,
share them at home.

Make things at home,
share them at school.

Make anywhere;
share everywhere.

Quality increases.

Confidence
Time management
Social interactions
Friendship

Constructed understanding reflected in classwork.

Attention to details
Planning
Resilience
Mindset

We are makers.

We can make anything.

All we need is space, time, and stuff.
(stuff is optional)

We are makers.




LX Design

Two intersecting areas of study which have captivated my interest this year, Design Thinking and Project Management, have significant promise as I consider how to apply new principles to planning a year of learning in my Grade 5/6 classroom.

The two disciplines are strongly intertwined and have profound implications when applied to designing learning experiences. This post seeks to define LX Design as an approach to classroom planning and as a framework for ongoing iteration and reflection.


Design Thinking


Completing the Macromedia University Design Thinking MOOC introduced me to the discipline of User Experience Design, or UX Design. When thinking in terms of user experience, a designer considers all human elements and possibilities related to a product or service, not only the material and economic.

For example, when designing a machine to make coffee, one must consider not only the cost and suitability of the materials used, but also the likely moods of users, often early in the morning, while using the coffee machine.

A common theme in Design Thinking is to understand people’s emotional, social, psychological, and spiritual needs when designing products, services, and experiences. In the case of education, we design learning experiences, hence the term ‘LX Design’.

Meanings of use


Klaus Krippendorff’s lecture, The Key Concepts of The Semantic Turn, and in particular his explanations of ‘meanings of use’, challenged and transformed my thinking about learning. I recreated the graphic below to represent what I consider an essential model for educators. It is the foundation for my approach to LX Design.

To summarize, when a person encounters a thing, whether it’s a product or an idea, they must first recognize it and the opportunities it presents. Next, the thing can be explored, or used to try to accomplish a task. When a person becomes engaged with the thing, they might find it so useful as to become reliant upon it, using it naturally on a regular basis.

A great physical example is shoes. If you had never seen shoes before, you may or may not recognize how their shape resembles feet. If you did, you might try wearing them, even adjusting the laces for a comfortable fit, and walk. Before long, you would find yourself always wearing them for their comfort and safety until you can hardly imagine living without them.

Design Thinking in the classroom

The same model applies to knowledge, concepts, and learning tools.

In fifteen years as a professional educator, I have observed that everyone wants to learn what they can use. I suppose that is the reason the why Professor Krippendorf’s model resonated so strongly with me.


In my inquiry based classroom, I have been moving away from the ‘what students should know and be able to do’ model. Instead, I seek to design learning experiences that empower rich opportunities to construct understanding.


Following the design process described in the IDEO Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit, the first stage, Discovery, consists of two primary elements. First, the learning artifacts, and in particular the formative reflections, of previous year students. Second, data gathered in about my current class from their portfolios, assessment files, and personal experiences. This corresponds to ‘Recognition of opportunities’ in the Krippendorf model.

The next stages in the design process, Interpretation and Ideation, represent ‘purposeful Exploration’ in the Krippendorff model, and the bulk of the learning experience design in the first weeks of the school year. As the students and I collaboratively make sense of our current understandings, hypothesize approaches to learning that will lead to constructing deeper and more relevant meaning, and pursue those inquiries through Experimentation, our ‘Reliance’ on that learning provides the foundation and raw material for the Evolution of our thinking, according to the IDEO process.

That evolution begins with ‘disruption’ in the Krippendorff model, which in terms of learning I consider synonymous with cognitive dissonance. As our understandings evolve, ideally, we engage in an infinite learning loop, constantly reflecting and reevaluating, utilizing various models of inquiry or design to guide and share our learning.

As this project unfolds, an overriding goal is that the students begin to harness the processes of Design Thinking. In this way, the entire class can become a cooperative and collaborative LX Design Team engaged in constructing their own independent yet connected lines of inquiry.

The LX Design community


There are several excellent educators and organizations sharing their ideas on Design Thinking in education. I recommend exploring Jackie Gerstein’s The Educator as a Design Thinker for its enlightening graphic and wealth of well organized information and links to essential resources.

Maureen Devlin has explored learning design on her blog, including the provocative post, Learning Design: Center Stage in which she asks the essential question, ‘How can I synthesize materials, tools, strategies, standards, and students’ needs and interests to serve students well?’

Ewan McIntosh’s article, Design Thinking: Tools to help make thinking visible, provides an invaluable model for design thinking in action in the classroom.

I also recommend exploring IDEO Desing Thinking for Educators, the National Center on Universal Design for Learning, and Learning Designer, an exciting website for unit planning, sharing, and collaboration.

Project Management


While a design team utilizes design thinking principles to achieve common and generally clear goals, my classroom is not necessarily so collaborative nor certainly so linear. The highly personalized nature of inquiry learning requires a chaotic environment with learning streaming in different directions and intersecting in unpredictable ways.

Project Management, while primarily business-oriented, can contribute much needed principles to classroom learning experience design.

I have begun by considering this school year as a project ten months in duration, with the primary goals of students demonstrating academic mastery, practicing 21st century fluencies, and engaging in meaningful and significant community action. The pursuit of these goals will be on display during our Exhibition.

Reflecting on last year’s Exhibition, I utilized MindMup to organize essential tools and skills necessary for success in the document PYP Exhibition. By visualizing in this way, I was able to identify which elements would be best to introduce early in the school year and how the different elements could compliment each other.

For example, the one element which I found to be most foundational for success is Expository Writing. For that reason, in the first weeks of school, we have emphasized heavily the writing process and tools for gathering and organizing research data. As students engage with other tools and practice other literacies in their inquiries, this writing practice will continue to develop to become an increasingly reliable communication tool.


Another aspect of Project Management is sharing information. Using project management principles to identify stakeholders and establishing processes for increasing transparency can be a highly effective utilization of technology.

Another of Maureen Devlin’s posts, Transition to Transparency, is an insightful reflection on how and why ‘keeping communication fluid and transparent really helps to support a dynamic learning community’An indispensable tool in this process is A Useful Framework For Transparency In Education, a graphic model around which I am attempting to design a robust online system for collaborative document and data sharing. In a world connected by digital technologies, connectivist tools are essential to learning.

Ongoing inquiry


What I find most compelling about this endeavor is how perfectly it mirrors the inquiry learning process I wish to foster in my students. I am utilizing design principles to learn how to effectively facilitate their learning of design principles to facilitate their own learning!

Indeed it is easy to see how our processes may quickly become inseparable and indistinguishable.

This is a long term project I look forward to pursuing using the label LX Design and would certainly welcome collaborators!


Service learning in elementary school

The New York Times Magazine cover story, Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead?, explores the work of Adam Grant, whose ‘studies have been highlighted in bestselling books such as Quiet by Susan Cain, Drive and To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink, Thrive by Arianna Huffington, and David and Goliath by Gladwell’.

In that article, the case is convincingly made that altruism is not only beneficial to the beneficiary, but also to the benefactor.


A little kindness goes a long way by Ed Yourdon CC BY NC SA 


This apparent contradiction is supported by research findings not only in neuroscience, as in the article, Altruism, egoism: Brain exercises cognitive analysis, but also by commonly accepted wisdom contained in the world’s ancient and respected religious and spiritual disciplines as explored in Carolyn Gregoire‘s post, What Neuroscience Can Teach Us About Compassion.


Mindfulness and empathy help to make connections in the brain which manifest as action.


Caring for others makes us smarter.

So why isn’t service learning an essential characteristic of every school? Why isn’t it designed into the curriculum and culture of schools?


In the Harvard EdCast, Making Global Local, Jeff Shea (2015 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year) describes his innovate Global Leadership class and comments that we should ‘plant the seeds early’ for global education and service learning, so it only makes sense for elementary schools to introduce and practice service learning.

There are endless possibilities for doing so, and even what appears to be a simple act of service can provide tremendous authentic context and purpose for learning.


My experiences


My first classroom teaching experience was in a service project based learning charter elementary school in Los Angeles, California, founded by Full-Circle Learning and six educators including myself.


Our mission was to design learning experiences around ‘habits of heart’ and global collaboration. 


When someone asked my students what they are learning, they would say they are learning about ‘children who can’t go to school’, ’empathy’, ‘altruism’, or ‘how to be a humanitarian’.


In a sense, we were more than a community of learning.


We were a community of learning to serve.

Culture of service


There are a number of strategies I would recommend that any elementary school could quickly adopt to cultivate a culture of service.

Meaningful class names

Stop calling classes by their grade level, and assign them special names. I taught a Grade 4/5 combination class called ‘The Humanitarians’ and a Grade 2 class called ‘The Peacemakers’. The names for classes could be drawn from the school’s curriculum, mission statement, service learning goals, or learner profile.

Empathy based conflict resolution

Every school has a conflict resolution policy which all stakeholders agree to follow. Usually, these policies are based on compromise or tolerance. However, the most effective conflict resolution is based on empathy. The conflict resolution process should contain an explicit ’empathy step’ which encourages each party to resolve the conflict in service to the other.

Attitude and action orientation

In a service learning environment, the foundation of every unit is the driving question, ‘how can we help?’ Often, units are provoked by emotional appeals around global issues concerning human rights, environmental stewardship, injustice, or inequity.

In the post, Inquiry should be action-oriented., I described a collaboration with our partner grade 2 class in Lesotho around the ‘habit of heart’ of appreciation. The provocation for the unit took the form of students sharing stories of their experiences of children mistreating or acting disrespectfully toward their parents or teachers.

It was a very rich discussion about a situation that existed at both schools. The driving question of ‘how can we help’ led to an inquiry into the attitude of appreciation, writing personal letters to help our African partners to learn appreciation together, among other connected activities.

Our project, planned cooperatively as a class, was to weave ‘appreciation bracelets’ for our learning partners to give to their parents to express appreciation.

Learning partners in Lesotho receive ‘appreciation bracelets’ by Bart Miller CC BY SA


I also recommend reading Sam Sherratt’s post, Creating the conditions for action, and practicing the Putting Action on the Agenda guidelines from International School Ho Chi Minh City.


Embedded technology


The potential for technology to redefine service learning, whether by digital media creation or social media, is virtually unlimited.

In terms of social media, at any given time there are easy to find campaigns underway which students can learn from and contribute to. Here’s a short list of some recent examples:

One approach to bringing social media into the classroom is to start a class twitter account. I’ve collected hundreds on this list, ‘classrooms atwitter‘.

To get my students tweeting, I created little ‘tweet’ cards with 140 character grids. The students compose their tweets, then drop them off at my desk to be added to our feed.

photo by Bart Miller CC BY SA


It’s a medium I look forward to utilizing much more aggressively as I integrate service and social advocacy more into our units of inquiry.

Empowerment is the goal


Ultimately, service learning is about empowering students to understand that they can help to solve the world’s problems.

By practicing inquiry which is rooted in empathy and oriented toward action, students learn to realize their potential as change agents in the world.