Expert in the classroom, virtually

By definition, a generalist teacher is not an expert in any particular discipline. Fortunately, most of us are, and enrich our classrooms with our interests and passions. Unfortunately, the scope of a school year of inquiry stretches far beyond any one teacher’s expertise.

Excursions and guest speakers can make up the difference, and video communications technology makes it possible to bring experts into the classroom from anywhere.

Near the conclusion of a recent unit which focused significantly on advertising, it occurred to me that one of my friends, Adam Lisagor, is the founder and owner of Sandwich Video, one of today’s premier creative advertising organizations. It only took a few text messages and time zone conversions to have him on the big screen in the classroom.

Honored to have Adam Lisagor chat with my class today about Sandwich Video! #edu

A post shared by Bart Miller (@bartlmiller) on

 

To prepare students for the interview, we first viewed several of Adam’s videos, then set a home learning task to explore more. Then, I asked them to submit questions via an online form so that I could sort and select in a way that promoted a conversational mood. As questions were chosen, students approached the camera one at a time to speak with Adam. Not surprisingly, their questions were insightful and elicited excellent comments on persuasion, honesty, and creativity.

In addition to an excursion, I would attempt to schedule a guest speaker, either in person or more likely via video, for every unit of inquiry.

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Data evolution & revolution

The past

Data has been an undercurrent in my teaching since my first classroom in 2007. Of course, in that year, I struggled to gather data and there was virtually no chance of utilizing much of it to inform and enrich instructional planning. For good or ill, data is not essential to the survival of a first year teacher.

Each year after, I slowly improved, including a variety of experiments like the one shared in the post Student Empowerment | COETAIL final project. I tried different forms, organizers, notebooks, etc, until finally unveiling an integrated digital system last year. I shared it as a presenter at the GAFE Summit 2016 in Kobe, Japan, and used it for the school year to publish students’ ongoing assessment data, and other key information such as website usernames and passwords, directly to them as web pages. After celebrating and discussing the system, I felt that it was terribly unsatisfying.

The present

Inspiration came in the form of media such as Jack Norris’ keynote presentation from Strata + Hadoop World in San Francisco, Let’s Get Real: Acting on Data in Real Time, embedded below.

The concept of ‘data agility’ through converged data and processing appealed to me because what I sought a tool which would organize all assessment data in a way that could be searched, shared, and analyzed. Over the years I had been introduced to many ‘tracking systems’, only to discover that they were utterly unmanageable at scale. Ticking boxes on scope and sequence documents or highlighting learning objectives almost arbitrarily seemed like a show at best. In fact, a colleague who shared such a system with me admitted that at the end of a term, due to a lack of hard data, he would simply choose outcomes to highlight on every student’s document regardless of their actual progress or learning. To quote Mr Norris, I wanted my data to ‘get real’.

While designing my own system, I became somewhat of an amateur data scientist. The implications of the article Putting the science back in data science got me thinking about the flow from data entry to visualization and publishing. A quote from the post Can Small Data Improve K-12 Education? helped to clarify the objective for the project.

‘Small data observes the details or small clues that uncover large trends. The idea is that by honing in on the elements that make up relationships and narratives in schools, education can be enriched.’ The Edvocate

What I wanted to do was bring transparency to the relationships between myself, students, parents, and administrators. Further readings within the big data and data science trends like Data Quality Should Be Everyone’s Job  by Thomas C Redman directed my attention toward the purpose for the data. Before data is collected, it should already have a purpose, and that purpose dictates the design of the collection, publishing, and analysis tools.

 

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Copious data entry (lots of dragging)
The next piece of the design puzzle was my school’s Assessment Handbook. In it were the categories, criteria, and descriptors on top of which my system would function.

 

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Student data visualization via Google Sheets
Utilizing a system of Google Sheets, data is entered and student progress viewed in potentially real time, depending on the efficiency of my data entry. As we began using the system I shared a video, Tour of your data book, embedded below, which illustrates the details of the user experience much better than I can describe in words.

The future

This system has been remarkably effective and unlike last year, I only plan to make minor tweaks, especially to the user interface. Feedback from students and parents revealed, as I expected, that there are too many graphs and that it’s difficult to know which are more or less important.

Another feature I plan to add is a Google Form which mirrors the data entry document which would allow teaching assistants, specialists, and even parents or students themselves to contribute data to the system.

If articles like The Three Ways Teachers Use Data—and What Technology Needs to Do Better by Karen Johnson and 7 Steps to Becoming a Data-Driven School by Eric Crites are any indication of the direction that data utilization is heading in education, I’m glad to be along for the ride.

Designing a new classroom

Upon arriving for the first day of a new job, I sat by myself, for the first time in my new classroom, Grade 4B, in my new school, K International School Tokyo.


In anticipation of that moment, I applied attention to classroom environment as a crucial element of Learning Experience Design. Several interesting articles have been published recently on this topic, including Classroom design can boost primary pupils’ progress by 16% and The Perfect Classroom, According to Science.

While following CISC 2015 – the most inspiring symposium I didn’t attend, I was inspired by a classroom layout concept shared by Brian Curwick.

It closely resembled my own thinking about the importance of collaborative teams in learning. I augmented this idea with the need for a balance between private, collaborative, and presentation spaces.

Empowering pedagogy


Last April, I was pleasantly surprised by this tweet announcing a twitter chat on the topic of environment in empowering pedagogy:

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsThe document shared in the tweet, ‘The Environment’ (Chapter 8 of Empowering Pedagogy For Early Childhood Education), and Making Your Environment ‘The Third Teacher’, another article shared within it, have both been enlightening as during my deliberations.

The graphic below from ‘The Environment’ is an ideal reference in this process.



Also included was a quote which resonated strongly with me:

‘The path of learning and development is more like a butterfly than that of a bullet.’ Jim Greenman

Learning shouldn’t have a trajectory, but rather a heading.



Although these Reggio Emilia inspired resources focus on early childhood learning and I will be teaching Grade 4, I think the concepts and strategies are absolutely applicable, particularly in promoting engagement.

What are the ‘hidden treasures’ for nine year olds? They still literally need things to climb, sand to dig, and water to pour. But they should also play with increasingly sophisticated concepts. And they should do it together, so perhaps many of their treasures are the ideas and feedback from each other, as Constructivist pedagogy suggests.

Design perspective


//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsDesigners rethinking schools and classrooms provide inspiration. The DesignShare website contains many interesting illustrations to consider. Of particular interest to me were their pages about the Learning Studio and Home Base and Individual Storage.

Jim Greenman’s publication for Beyond the Journal, Places for Childhood in the 21st Century, inspires an ethical and moral dimension to create learning spaces which ‘encourage competence, provide comfort, and accept individuality.’


In the article, How UDL can get you to personalized learning, David Gordon describes considerations for goals, methods, materials, and assessment can promote the Universal Design for Learning recommendations of:


– Multiple means of engagement (affective)
– Multiple representations of content (recognition)
– Multiple means of action and expression (strategic)


‘When applying the UDL framework, goals should be decoupled from the means to achieve them so that teachers can effectively plan to provide multiple pathways to success.’


Physical reality


Even with all of this to consider, the actual cuboid room and traditional furniture and materials within dictate the design of the learning space.

Fortunately, the room has significant natural light. Unfortunately, it illuminated years of dust and grime that demanded my attention before any theory could be considered.

While dusting and washing, I excavated all of the ‘stuff’, such as binders, plastic drawer units, rolls of butcher paper, etc, to directly in front of the projector screen. This helped to guarantee that once it was all sorted and relocated, a large open space would remain which would serve as a whole group presentation and interaction space.

Settling into a new classroom. #twt

A post shared by Bart Miller (@bartlmiller) on


My immediate goal was to design a space with three zones:

Private/independent
Small group collaborative
Whole class presentation/interactive

Our private space is the smallest, consisting of a classroom library under the bright windows and soon, colorful foam mats for floor seating.

The small group spaces are my priority. I arranged individual student desks into groups of four (one group of five) around the perimeter of the learning space, each with its own bookshelf to store resources including encyclopedias, dictionaries, thesaurus, student work in progress trays, and some their other materials.



Through proximity, I believe that students may enjoy a greater sense of connection to and responsibility for their learning assets. They will also have a voice in deciding exactly how their spaces are used, empowering them to act as designers themselves.

While promoting cooperation, this arrangement also prevents distraction, as the space between the groups is maximized.

The center of the room contains an open space for whole class interaction. When the desk groups are pushed closer to the walls, there is enough room for the entire class to form a Community Circle with their chairs, or to create a sort of amphitheater environment for viewing presentations and media.


Digital environment


Our fourth teacher is online. Using Moodle and other online tools, I expect to enhance our cooperative and collaborative learning.

However, that is a topic for another post.

Conclusion


Have I designed a space to achieve my goal to include private, collaborative, and presentation spaces?

Maybe.

We have a private reading area under the windows, albeit tiny and exposed. Yet there is warm natural light and colorful foam mats on order to further brighten it. There may be a solution to creating more of a ‘nook’ feeling that I will try to revisit as I see how the students utilize the space as it is.

The priority of this layout is to facilitate collaboration. Placing bookshelves adjacent to groups of desks occupies valuable floor space, but it can also mean increased access to resources. Observation of the students will determine the success of this theory.

With some easy rearrangement, the open space in the center can become large enough to serve as a work area for larger projects, whole group meeting area, and audience seating for presentations.

I’m quite happy with how the room turned out, although I can see how custom made furniture would make it look stylish. Everyone wants a bit bigger room, but I haven’t felt cramped at any time. Often while pursuing inquiries, students ask to move into the corridor anyway, which makes me consider that perhaps it’s a mistake to think of the classroom walls as boundaries at all!
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CLMOOC Unmake: Unintroducing inquiry learning

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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

Introducing myself | CLMOOC 2015 Summer Unschool

Having stowed away on the first Making Learning Connected voyage in 2013 but remaining ashore last summer, I’m excited to set sail again this year onto the open seas of connected maker learning.


This year, CLMOOC will be a part of a personal/professional project: Summer school for my three year old son! In her post, Learning to learn., my wife recently reflected on our decision to keep him home from school in the next school year due to an array of extenuating circumstances.

Whatchu talkin' 'bout? #child #face #portrait #attitude #vscocam

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I think my son will learn more by continuing to explore his curiosities and helping to take care of his new baby brother. July is going to be a research project for me to document his formal learning along this wandering informal path. He is already well versed in playing and being generally silly.


Bag on his head. #toddler #cute #play

A post shared by Bart Miller (@bartlmiller) on



He has loved to draw since he could hold an extra thick crayon and now fills notepads of recycled paper at a staggering rate.

A photo posted by Bart Miller (@botofotos) on Dec 9, 2013 at 3:51am PST


//platform.instagram.com/en_US/embeds.jsLuckily, pads of paper are cheap.

Last, but the opposite of least, he is a maker. He loves to mess around with legos, blocks, cardboard, tape, household objects, and anything else that he can pretend is something else. In a word, everything.

Here is one of his ‘makes’ from this past Father’s Day:

A photo posted by Bart Miller (@botofotos) on Jun 20, 2015 at 8:25pm PDT


//platform.instagram.com/en_US/embeds.jsSometimes, he invites collaboration:



My challenge is to channel some of his fun, creative energy toward various ‘formal’ learning activities. My method is to:

1 Authentically channel his informal learning toward formal content.

2 Document the formal learning in his informal learning adventures.


In many cases, this is already happening naturally.

Since I will be on vacation throughout July, I intend to schedule a number of field expeditions. I also intend to not schedule some, and simply let his inspiration spill out onto the street and see where the current carries us.

If you’ve learned with me in CLMOOC or read my blog before, you know that I love Google forms for documentation. I’m currently designing a form to use this summer. I expect that it will have traditional categories, perhaps Language, Mathematics, STE(A)M, Physical, and Social Emotional. These could be coupled to reflections based on Connected Learning principles or the Learning Dimensions in the chart below from Tinkering Is Serious Play by Bronwyn Bevan, Mike Petrich, and Karen Wilkinson.


My summer vacation will not begin until the middle of next week, so I have a bit more time to plan and prepare before our CLMOOC 2015 Summer Unschool begins. Suggestions are certainly welcome!

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.