Elementary mindfulness

There has been so much hype about mindfulness that it is easy to be skeptical about its efficacy in the classroom. However, my father, a biologist with a background in neurophysiology research, practiced Zen meditation for reasons not remotely related to the transcendental or supernatural. He did it because meditation is good for the brain.

He shared the practice with me as a teenager after observing that nervousness was preventing me from achieving my best performance as a pitcher in little league baseball.

His perspective is reflected in Carolyn Gregoire’s article, What Neuroscience Can Teach Us About Compassion, which explores the synergy of meditation, compassion, and understanding.

In teaching

Early in my career, I discovered that if I asked my second grade class to pause at the door to our classroom after recess for a deep breath, coaching them to expand their abdomen for the inhalation and exhale as slowly as possible, their engagement and ability to focus was uncannily enhanced.

Last year, I encouraged my fourth graders to practice mindfulness for a few minutes after eating their lunch. They were a generally calm and thoughtful cohort and the practice seemed to benefit their focus and general mood of the classroom.

A challenge

This year, I prepared for a class that already had a reputation for high energy, acting impulsively, and lacking attention skills. The plan was to practice mindfulness as a class for five minutes immediately after returning from morning recess. In the first week of school, we meditated for one minute. Then, for two minutes. I coached the students in various techniques such as breathing, counting exercises, and visualization. It also seemed to help convince them of the importance of meditation to describe how athletes, artists, and other professionals use mindfulness to improve their performance.

I was thrilled to receive an email from a grateful parent, who happens to be a physician, thanking me for introducing mindfulness to her child.

‘I think it is so important that children observe their feeling and that they themselves lead an answer for their next move from themselves and being mindful really helps them to do this.

I just want to thank you for thinking about the students’ future and offering this kind of tool that can really help them throughout their lives.’

The letter concluded by stating that they were happy to be in my class because I ‘can bring out the positive behavior and create special learning environment for everyone.’

Simple Habit

Finally, when we could consistently sit silently for five minutes, we began using Simple Habit recordings to guide and practice. I should point out that the rules for our meditations are not strict. The students are not required to close their eyes, nor do I question them about their level of participation. As long as they sit silently, including reading a book, it is fine.

It’s difficult to assess any effect our meditation is having, although for certain it helps to instill a sense of calm in the classroom after morning recess. It is also a discreet opportunity to practice being Reflective. For that alone, it is worth continuing. But considering the possible benefits meditation can have for individuals, this could be a simple initiative with profound and lasting impact.

Service in action: ESRC

Action

Action is the one component of the IB Primary Years Program that is expressly difficult to implement and document. When I started at KIST, there was an opening as the Elementary Student Representative Council facilitator. Although I was reluctant to take on extra roles in my first year at a new school, my background in service learning motivated me to volunteer.

Since then, I have slowly transformed the culture of the ESRC into an authentic service learning experience.

Service design

One of the initial changes was to change members every quarter. This was done in order to provide opportunities for four times as many students per year to participate. I view each quarter as an iteration of the design thinking process, or more specifically, service design.

Service design process

1 Communicate with peers
2 Seek & identify service goal
3 Make action plan
4 Assign duties
5 Implement plan
6 Reflect on outcomes

The process begins by raising questions and surveying the elementary student population about their views on how the school might be improved. ESRC members speak with their own classes, and older representatives visit younger classes. Their suggestions and concerns are discussed in a subsequent meeting to identify a service goal.

In addition to speaking with their classes, each iteration of the ESRC conducts at least one meeting with the Elementary School Principal. The format and purpose of these meetings will continue to evolve, but their efficacy in promoting confidence and sense of purpose is invaluable.

Details of all meeting notes are kept in an Excel workbook with a new sheet added every quarter.

Responsible Communicators

In the article Community Service Ideas for Youth: Why Giving Back Matters by Marilyn Price-Mitchell, PhD, the focus for elementary students is on learning to be responsible. However, the ESRC at KIST is voluntary and the expectation of responsibility is made clear to prospective members before they join. Our focus is on growing as Communicators.

Members use a private email group to communicate with each other and a public (within the school) group to stay in touch online. I found that the emphasis on communication whether through meetings, speaking to large groups, and creating posters and other visual media, shifts the students’ attention from ‘learning to be responsible’ to needing to be responsible to take and illicit Action.

Our successes have included helping a Grade 2 student to persuade the school administration to install a Friendship Bench and sponsoring a Pink Shirt Day.

Future plans

Perhaps as our routines become established, I would consider developing a portfolio and badging system like the one described in Adam Hill’s post, Action and Service Volunteers.

GAFE Summit 2016

A few weeks ago, I attended the Edtech Team Summit Featuring Google Apps for Education in Kobe, Japan. It was my second ‘GafeSummit’. The first was in 2013 and was a dramatic turning point in my career as a teacher and my life as a digital citizen.


The one notable difference was that this year, I would be presenting a session on Google Apps for Transparency.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BBbXZe8jSpA/

360º



My first eye opener was Jim Sill’s session, Google Views – Lessons in 360º, in which I was introduced to Cardboard. This is a realist iteration of virtual reality that could be easily integrated into schools. Although I haven’t had other VR experiences, I wonder if Cardboard offers a majority of the sensory experience.

The flow

Overall, I was most inspired by Stephen Taylor’s Formatting the Flow session. As an inquiry teacher, I have always wrestled with the impulse to manage students’ learning. What Stephen showed was how formatted documents can make processes visual and focus students on their learning rather than their presentation and reporting media.

BreakoutEDU

A photo posted by Bart Miller (@botofotos) on Feb 6, 2016 at 8:13pm PST

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My group was beta testing BreakoutEDU with augmented reality and was not able to open the box like some other groups.

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Transparency

Finally, it was time for my presentation, Google Apps for Transparency.

As a form of modeling, I shared a Transparency notes Google Doc with all participants for public note taking and documentation.

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I began with a brief introduction to the concept of transparency as it is viewed in practice in government, business, and education. Then, following a generally ‘less to more’ transparent framework according to the slides embedded below, I shared the tools that I use to make planning, teaching, and assessment in my classroom as transparent as possible.



Included in the demonstrations were my weekly planners. I use a template in Google Sheets that allows me to plan to five minutes of accuracy include relevant details including differentiation. These documents are published as a webpage and the link is shared on our class Moodle site.

Having the plans published via a link allows easy access from any internet connected device. A classroom computer at the front of our classroom is dedicated to our projector, but it also has all of our links saved as bookmarks in the web browser. Throughout the day, students check these links. This increases the amount of time that I can devote to learning by minimizing questions like ‘what are we doing next?’ or ‘what’s after lunch?’.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1v7jufrMw8HRPBCEA6CfuhsDhZKSbkts7IKBNN6cYOhc/pubhtml
Click image to view as webpage.


A teacher in the workshop asked if there was added stress from publishing all of my planning. I replied with that this level of transparency adds a component of accountability that is its own reward.

Using the publishing capability of Google Apps, I also publish slides of our daily warm ups and home learning assignments. They are embedded on our class Moodle and require no additional maintenance. They update automatically when new slides are added. If a parent or other member of our learning community uses them even once to have a conversation with their child or keep up to date on home learning, it’s worth the minimal effort to set up.


Finally, I shared my data workbook. This is a system of spreadsheets that provides me with real time data from assessments and then publishes the same data to individual pages, published as websites, for students and families.


This works extremely well for parents to keep up to date on their child’s learning and for sharing web addresses, usernames, and passwords.

All materials for the workshop are shared in a public Google Drive folder, Transparency | GAFE Summit Kobe 2016.

Strangely, as soon as my session ended, I felt the urge to develop a new data management system that could provide more possibilities for data visualization and analysis. I’ve already begun sketching ideas and look forward to designing and programming this summer.

Reflection

I’ve completed tons of online professional development, and nothing compares to the invigorating social and interactive experience of a face to face conference. Ironically, this can be especially true in technology where digitally isn’t necessarily the best way to learn something new.

The tools which I have put to work immediately are Quizizz and SafeShare. Since introducing Quizizz, my students constantly ask when we will be taking the next quiz.

Reflecting on my own presentation, I feel that I probably learned more than my participants! It is easy to feel that the time and energy spent preparing to conduct a conference or workshop session is wasted, but I found the opposite. By deeply analyzing and presenting my approaches to technology in the classroom, I deepened my understanding. Being inspired to expand my strategies was an unexpected surprise!

If you’re curious to explore the conference, follow this link to view the full schedule.

I’ve already been contacted by Google related colleagues about organizing an event in Tokyo, so I look forward to putting some of that inspiration into action.

Student survey analysis

At KIST, we conduct an annual student survey to assess classroom climate. Students complete the survey electronically and anonymously by evaluating statements about me and the class as ‘usually’, ‘sometimes’, or ‘no’. The resulting data is later shared with teachers. It’s an informative method of receiving feedback which can be used to refine approaches teaching.

Positives

Overall, my survey results were very positive. To statements which I would consider critical, like ‘My teacher cares about me.’ and ‘My teacher shows respect to all students.’

   

One question which I find very useful for evaluating my differentiation strategies is ‘I am able to do the work given to me.’


An 81% ‘usually’ and 0% ‘no’ outcome shows that my ongoing formative assessment cycle assures that every student is both challenged and capable of success.

One surprise was an unexpectedly positive response to ‘My teacher allows me to demonstrate my understanding in various ways.’

 

Through the first half of the school year, providing multiple pathways to understanding and accepting diverse assessment artifacts have been areas I feel I have neglected. However, my students seem to think otherwise, so perhaps what I have been doing has been satisfying for them.


Negatives

The first disturbing result in the student survey was to the statement ‘Students are respectful to each other in my class.’


The majority of students responded ‘sometimes’, indicating that I could be doing more to foster respect in my class. Fortunately, they don’t seem to think that I lack respect.

  
My biggest disappointment is the only 62% ‘usually’ response for ‘My teacher teaches about and demonstrates the Learner Profile attributes.’


 Planning and executing IB Primary Years Program units of inquiry has been my greatest frustration this year as I adapt to a new teaching environment. In the past, I have been very careful to explicitly teach the elements of the PYP embedded within units of inquiry. Thus far in this school year, such careful planning and execution simply hasn’t happened.

Fortunately, my class is in the formative stages of a new unit so it’s a perfect time to bring IB Learner Profile attributes back to the front. To get started, I’ll access another data source, our Learner Profile reflections, by looking at the analytics.

This data visualization reveals that at this time, according to their self assessments, Caring is my students’ least developed Learner Profile attribute. This evidence also supports their feeling that they are not respectful to each other in class.

By making Caring a focal point in our next unit of inquiry, these issues may be addressed.

Interesting

The statement ‘I feel free to ask and answer questions.’ is the most perplexing to me.

Contrasting that with a more favorable response to ‘My teacher gives me help when I need it.’ suggest some confusion.

In general, school has traditionally been a place where teachers have answers to students’ questions. While that is a culture that I reject, it doesn’t mean my students have not grow up with that mindset.

As in Ted Meyer’s TED talk, Math class needs a makeover, I aim to promote ingenuity and inquiry by being ‘less helpful’. Students constantly ask me questions that could researched in a book, on the Internet, or by asking their peers. For example, I almost never answer spelling questions for students.

I also avoid the traditional hand raising routine that most classrooms follow, preferring to call for responses randomly or in an open forum setting.

So it’s little surprise that many only ‘sometimes’ feel free to ask questions since they are likely still processing the cognitive dissonance of a new culture of ‘less helpful’ classroom participation.

Conclusion

This is an interesting exercise, although doing it any more than once per year would be too much. I can also see how it might be difficult to compare results year to year, as the perspectives of different classes can vary so widely.

I am happy to take away some actionable data and look forward to seeing what results it might lead to. 

Reflection on practice: Provoking inquiry into energy

One of my greatest frustrations as an inquiry teacher is the lack of opportunities to observe other inquiry teachers. The incredible amount of preparation results in having a limited amount of free time.

When I noticed the Grade Five team at KIST next door preparing centers including light bulbs, various balls, balloons, thermometers, and more, and during my preparation period, I couldn’t miss the chance to observe and document.

The first center I visited appeared to be engaging with the relationship between heat and light. I was immediately impressed with the thoughtfulness of the questions used by the facilitator to stimulate students’ analyses.


I didn’t have much opportunity to glean the full purpose of one center which involved a beaker and thermometer, but students were highly intrigued as they shared ideas from their observations.



There was also an ingenious application of the impossible dominoes phenomenon. The thought occurred to me, however, that this demonstration is worthy of investing in a purpose built set of progressively larger dominoes.


Two more centers are not pictured in this post. One involved comparing how different balls bounce, and how they bounce differently when released on top of each other. This would have been a fantastic exploration to allow students to carry out, but would need to be outside due to the risk of errant balls. The final center was the classic balloon/straw jet on a string.

What appealed the most about this experience to me was it’s cohesion. The graphic organizer provided served to connect the various engagements through a cognitive framework. It was an ideal design that I look forward to adapting to future units of inquiry in my class.