Making physics physical

One of my favorite units of inquiry in Grade 4 at KIST, in the theme of ‘How the world works’, is titled Force & Motion, and focuses on Newton’s Laws of Motion. The unit resources when I arrived at the school included a few useful tools for demonstrations, but lacked class sets of items and structured experiences that students could use to explore and discuss.

Media

One resource we do have is access to excellent videos and online games. Some of our favorites are published by NASA and other space agencies, like Launchpad: Newton’s Laws On-Board the International Space Station (video), and the Physics Games website.

Twitter once again proved its worth as a tool for learning in the quoted tweet above, a live video of an astronaut playing with and observing a fidget spinner in microgravity. All of the media we have collected are engaging, but can’t compete with a fidget spinner for the attention of nine year olds.

Design & technology challenge

Each year, we have added materials and experiences to make the unit more visceral and fun. To kick off the unit, we introduced an initial provocation in the form of a G4 Water Balloon Drop Challenge. Using the rules outlined in the flyer, students research, design, and build their apparatuses independently outside of class. When we gather on the appointed day, I load each with a water balloon and drop them from the second floor balcony. Those that successfully protect the balloon are taken to the third floor and dropped again. The proud few that survive that are finally dropped from the fourth floor.

We often have visiting administrators and younger classes in the audience, so the event has become a well anticipated and exciting way to get our students thinking about forces and motion.

Get physical

Next, we collaborated with our Physical Education teacher to organize a tug-of-war tournament. Between each round of competition, each team reflected on one of Newton’s Laws of Motion to try to improve their performance.

My hope is that whenever these children think about physics or Newton, they will remember this event. Additionally, by systematically reviewing each of the laws during the tournament, there is definitely higher retention of the vocabulary of Newton’s Laws.

Hands-on exploration

This year, our new addition was a set of Newton’s Cradles. With enough for a pair of students to share one, I wrote a series of questions to add some guidance to their explorations, for example, ‘What happens when you raise and release one of the hanging balls?’.

While it is possible to demonstrate a Newton’s Cradle at the front of the classroom, and that would be better than watching a video, having one that every student could touch, see, and hear, up close, instantly transforms the lesson from passive to active.

Making catapults

Finally, as the culminating Summative Assessment Task for the unit, we ordered 1cm x 1cm x 90cm lengths of wood, nails, hammers, hacksaws, and safety goggles for the purpose of building catapults. The objectives were to expose the students to basic design and construction principles, explore Newton’s Laws of Motion in a practical way, then hold a grand catapult tournament on the main field in the center of the school.

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Having facilitated a Maker Club in the past, I was aware of the need to emphasize safety early on, but also to trust the students to look after their own well being. I find it’s best if my role is mainly to watch out for unsafe practices and intervene as quickly as possible. Fortunately, it happens rarely, leaving a high degree of autonomy for students and plenty of time for me to interact and promote collaboration among the groups.

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Children constantly impress me with their ability to creatively solve problems when they are trusted with the tools and freedom to do so.

There were many expected and unexpected benefits of this engagement. The expected ones were quite predictable, but unexpectedly, some of my less precocious students absolutely sprung to life. Some students who tend to be distracted in typical class activities, or struggle with academic work, were impressively inspired by the task of building a catapult. This phenomenon has caused me to think that the way we tend to use class time is unbalanced.

Reflection

Observing the excited energy and positive experiences of my students interacting with concepts and vocabulary of physics has pushed my pedagogical thinking even further in the direction of Constructionism. The idea that a learner figuratively builds understanding by literally building a physical – or virtual – object gains traction for me every time I see it in action.

In terms of assessment for the catapult challenge, I think it’s appropriate to use the method I employed for our Model UN scrimmage: Every student begins with a baseline ‘proficient’ score. In this case, we start with 90%. Then, as the activity progresses, teachers use structured observation to modify students’ scores on targeted skills. For this activity, we were looking for evidence of Spatial Awareness, Cooperation, and Independence.

And as always, the students complete a comprehensive self-assessment of all elements of task and unit.

Experiences like these remind me that school should be a lot more time spent doing tasks like these, and a lot less about rigid standards within a few disciplines.

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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.

CLMOOC Unmake: Unintroducing inquiry learning

I’m delighted to see educators around the world embracing the term ‘inquiry’. The word itself is so nebulous that it defies definition. One could assume it means simply ‘asking a question’, but it also means ‘collecting and organizing information’. Broadened further in my preferred nomenclature, ‘inquiry learning’ perplexes even further.

Are we learning through inquiry? Are we learning about inquiry? Are we inquiring into learning? Is it just a typo?

It’s an ideal topic for Making Learning Connected. As Michael Weller writes in his post, CLMOOC 2015: Make An Inquiry, Make Cycle 1 for the Make an Inquiry strand this summer, ”I think that inquiry, like the term research, can be intimidating – but I don’t think it needs to be!’.

As connected educators take to the information superhighway to explore and interpret the meaning of ‘inquiry learning’, our evaluations and reflections belie insecurity.

If a term exists that can be known, then we should be able to know it.

After all, we are educated.

Right?

There must be an answer to the question: What is inquiry learning?

We all want to get it right.

One prominent and highly visible modality in this rush to ‘get it’ is through graphics. A Google Images search for ‘inquiry cycle’ yields an overwhelmingly diverse field of interpretations. Many of these visual interpretations reveal fresh thought and creative courage in the true spirit of inquiry learning, like sprouts through the detritus.

After reading his post, Let Me Introduce Myself: From Pasture to Post, Tacit Knowing All the Way Down, I believe that Terry Elliott would enjoy a walk in this pasture ripe with nuanced tacit knowing meditating behind the desire for shared understanding.

We all know inquiry, tacitly. What we lack are mutually understood models.

An impressive amount of making has gone into this! As each of us contributes our voice to the conversation, it increases meaning for all of us.

A diverse harvest of inquiry models

Some models are quite prescriptive, like this inquiry cycle by Nicole Laura from the post, Apps to Support Inquiry: Connect and Wonder.

(All images of inquiry models are hyperlinks to sources).

Some are adaptations or remixes of well known models, such as this KWHLAQ chart from Sylvia Rosenthal Tolisano’s post, An Update to the Upgraded KWL for the 21st Century.

http://langwitches.org/blog/2015/06/12/an-update-to-the-upgraded-kwl-for-the-21st-century/

Some focus on questions to provoke inquiry, like this model from International School of Tianjin.

Some incorporate elements from popular design thinking (which I sometimes blog about using the LX Design label) models.

Design Inquiry Cycle by Rebecca Grodner, Shula Ponet
Figure 4. The Process of Inquiry and Research: Model 2

Most are based, directly or indirectly, on the work and writings of Kath Murdoch, whose post Busting some myths about ‘the inquiry cycle’… is required reading for anyone seeking to define, understand, or otherwise grapple with ‘inquiry’.

http://www.kathmurdoch.com.au/fileadmin/_migrated/content_uploads/phasesofinquiry.pdf

 

Don’t try to hard

A photo posted by blair at madstone farm (@startafarm) on Jun 28, 2015 at 6:12pm PDT

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We are all getting it right

 

As long as we are trying, we are getting it. This is a mindset that also applies well in the classroom.

It’s easy to design a comprehensible worksheet, but nobody learns much from it.

It’s hard to empower learning, and everybody learns a lot from it.

In practice

In my classroom, we use models primarily to share and participate in each other’s inquiry learning. Most of my role as a teacher is to help students to publish their learning to each other and the greater school community.

Learners can utilize the models in ways that help them, and we often modify or ignore them as necessary.

There is no curriculum for inquiry learning. It is the Knowledge, Concepts, Skills, and Attitudes that emerge and grow in pursuit of one’s curiosities. Attempts to bind inquiry learning to an established curriculum are valiant, yet often mutually destructive.

My CLMOOC ‘Make an inquiry’ Model

Often, inquiry learning models begin with some iteration of ‘formulating questions’, but I have found that that is not necessarily the best way to begin an inquiry.

Whether it speaks to my preferred learning modality or personality type, I find that making is a great way to start. The challenges that arise catalyze questions. The enjoyment of the process of making demands to be shared. Reflection on doing is inherently more motivating than reflecting on thinking.

The challenge for teachers is to document and curate a constantly evolving authentic learning community!

With that in mind, please enjoy the inquiry model I made for CLMOOC this year, entitled The importance of irreverence..

https://docs.google.com/drawings/d/1xJX9WXSgfFiPLFuacjc4e1B53C2vv9nMYDPh2W_N9LA/edit?usp=sharing

Exhibition rubrics & Global Issues Expo

My students become increasingly engrossed in their research and creating for PYP Exhibition. Thus, my role has become almost exclusively facilitator, coach, and documentarian. This is ideal in a project based learning environment.

Rubrics

In the past two weeks, I’ve devoted particular attention to developing the rubrics for the Exhibition. We will be using four rubrics in total: The PYP Exhibition self assessment rubric, pictured below, for the entire project, and separate rubrics for the essay, speech, and arts components.

In the project rubric, the top three elements are assessed in separate rubrics. The scores are converted and added to this one. The bottom five elements are the the essential elements of the IB Primary Years Program. The purpose of the Exhibition is to demonstrate understanding and engagement with these. This rubric serves as a summative assessment of students’ PYP learning.
The qualitative criteria have been revised from my previous rubrics with terminology inspired by the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition. I’ve also included hybrid ‘one point’ elements which I believe will be particularly effective for self assessment. The students will assign themselves point values for some criteria along with their reflections and rationale.
These rubrics have been shared with students throughout the process of creating them and their input has been included. Since they are all in Google Docs, my feedback after they have been completed by each student will be in the form of comments added to their self assessments.

Global Issues Expo

Our school’s International Children’s Day celebration occurred in the third week of our project. On this day, each classroom creates a unique environment and visitors from our local community are invited to play games and participate in fun learning challenges.
I thought it would be an ideal opportunity for my students to focus on their global issues for Exhibition by creating a Global Issues Expo.
In fact, our expo looked like a typical PYP Exhibition. However, I want the students to have maximum agency in how they present their Exhibition, not necessarily as a collection of display boards about global issues. So our Global Issues Expo worked out perfectly.
Students created displays that were arrayed around the classroom. Each display included a survey question which could be answered by placing a sticker.
This Animal Abuse display asked if guests would prefer to purchase a pet at a store or adopt from a shelter.

This Mental Illness display asked the poignant question, ‘Do you know any person who has a mental illness?’ We were impressed by respondents’ honesty! About 40% answered ‘yes’.
This event has led to increased energy around the students’ global issues and started authentic research in the form of surveys. I have been encouraging them to create google forms to continue their surveys online, but haven’t yet seen a completed one.

Ongoing reflection

We have also been recording reflection interviews. I knew it would be an effective formative assessment technique, but I had no idea it would be such a powerful way to help guide the students’ projects without intruding on their processes. It only takes a few minutes for each student to record their interview and then they can be instantly sorted into playlists.

Uncertain future

At this point in the process, we have formally explored each element. The students have submitted their first drafts of essays and speeches and we have conferenced about them. Some have begun art projects. We have created global issues displays, conducted surveys, and conducted interviews about possible local community action.
Now that the stage is set, it’s time for the students to truly take control.

Elements of the PYP Exhibition

This week, my class of fifth and sixth graders began the culmination of their IB Primary Years journey, the Exhibition. A self-directed and collaborative project, it is my favorite part of the year and a deeply enjoyable challenge to facilitate.

Before setting out, I organized a meeting with all Exhibition stakeholders including students, parents, teachers, and administrators. We discussed everyone’s ideas, questions, and concerns in order to draft our Essential Agreements.


Components


The Exhibition Guidelines provide clear expectations, which I have synthesized for the students to provide support for their projects. One helpful practice I have chosen is to clarify five required components of the project. Specifically, every student must choose a global issue, deliver a persuasive speech, write an expository essay, create a work of art, and engage in community action. Among our first activities was introducing the organizer below.

In this way, each student has a clear map of expectations, yet is empowered to pursue their project along their own path.

Documentation


The Exhibition as an assessment should provide each student with maximum flexibility to demonstrate their understandings. To this end, I have set up a simple wiki for each student within our class wiki to use to document and self assess their learning according to the elements of the PYP (skills, attitudes, concepts, knowledge, action).

Each student has a shared Evernote notebook which functions as a portfolio. Throughout the year, we gather photos, audio reflections, links to blog posts, scanned work, etc. During Exhibition, I am particularly active trying to catch them in the act of deep learning. These artifacts will be extremely useful for them as they curate their documentation wikis.

After the Exhibition concludes, students will self assess their documented learning on rubrics aligned to the elements of the PYP. Here is a link to a rubric from last year which is the model for this year’s rubrics.

Reflection


Students have been publishing their weekly learning journals on their blogs all year. During Exhibition, they are also expected to publish weekly posts reflecting on the progress of their exhibition inquiries and creations.

To scaffold these reflections, we conduct weekly interviews which are uploaded to YouTube. The students are encouraged to include them in their reflections, but it is not required. I have some preplanned questions and we also plan questions together at the beginning of the week. Knowing the questions in advance helps us to have a similar perspective on our activities and helps them to speak and reflect more fluently.


Early starters


I am very happy with the progress thus far. Empowering students to determine their own processes has yielded some interesting immediate results.

One student was inspired to create visual art by filling balloons with paint and air, taping them to paper, and then exploding them with darts.

The inquiry has also included researching the effects of music on brain development. After a brief coaching conversation, we agreed that the importance of Arts Education would be an ideal global issue around which her Exhibition can grow.


Another student began with a global issue: Animal Rights. She already has an excellent community action planned to volunteer at a local animal shelter.

She rushed to complete the poster. Her work led to a frank discussion about aesthetics and time management and she decided to start over, taking more time to create a more visually appealing product.


Call to action


In the first week of Exhibition, we also viewed PYP Exhibition: A Rite of Passage, an inspirational and motivational video I made last year. In most cases, the Exhibition is a student’s first opportunity for 100% self directed learning. Provided a minimum of guidance, I enjoy watching how each learner rises to the challenge.

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.


What is technology?

On Monday morning, I embarked upon a unit of inquiry with my grade 5/6 class by using our usual ‘warm up’ routine to reflect on and discuss the slide below.

 

As students arrive in the morning, when possible, I project some sort of provocation, sometimes directly connected to our inquiries, sometimes specifically not, and sometimes just for fun (link to ‘warm up’ slides).

Many students sit down and begin writing or sketching immediately, while some prefer to converse before working independently. After a few minutes, we share and discuss our ideas.

This ‘technology’ provocation was effective and I was pleasantly surprised by students’ insights. Their responses included definitions with words like ‘tools’. ‘useful’, and ‘solve problems’. Some also alluded to negative as well as positive effects of technology. At the conclusion of our brief discussion, I introduced our central idea for the unit: Scientific understanding constantly evolves to build and destroy. (link to unit planner)

Before setting the students loose, we will conduct a modeled inquiry into 3D printing. The purpose will be to model a standard inquiry process as well as generate interest in various aspects of technology including scientific, social, artistic, and cultural. It was extremely effective last year and, especially based on my current class’ formative understandings, I’m confident that the next few weeks will be fun and enlightening.