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.

Division models

One of the best ways I’ve found for infusing inquiry into my approach to teaching mathematics is to introduce new topics and concepts with a challenge. Recently, we explored Division by asking volunteers to share on the whiteboard techniques for visually modelling the division expression 21÷3.

Taking the time to do this has many benefits, including:

  • providing an opportunity to build confidence through peer to peer teaching
  • introducing, highlighting, and discussing a variety of accessible strategies
  • developing mental models which can be referred to as learning continues
  • initially assess general understanding of the concept in a zero pressure setting
  • review learning that may need to be refreshed before engaging more deeply.

‘Level up’ transdisciplinary skills

In the IB Primary years program, ‘Transdisciplinary skills’ play a critical role in planning, teaching, and assessing student learning. However, they are not often explicitly taught and when they are, it is usually in an isolated manner. For example, one might teach a mini lesson about ‘gather data’ as part of a unit of inquiry.

To reinforce the transdisciplinary nature of the skills and provide more opportunities for students to reflect and discuss them together, I designed a slightly gamified system.

Each skill is posted on the wall with an eight by one square grid underneath.

Each square represents a level. Every Friday, students are invited to nominate a skill to ‘level up’ and support their choice with examples from the week. For instance, a student could suggest that we have increased our ‘organizing data’ skill by learning how to use a new type of graph.

Each colored box represents a brief class reflection and discussion of a particular way to practice a skill.



The learning around this simple chart in barely ten minutes per week has been incredible, and occasionally students comment during class that we are practicing a certain skill.

Another benefit is that as our skill levels grow, it becomes more difficult to achieve higher levels. In the photo above, ‘Listening’ is at level seven with only one space to go. Many nominations have been made, but I have had to politely decline and explain that to achieve the final level of Listening, a new innovation will need to be discovered. I’m holding out for some expression of active listening, questioning or paraphrasing to improve clarity and understanding in communication.

Our skills reflection routine, for its minimal investment of time and materials, has provided opportunities to explore the nuances of each skill and highlight the importance of applying them in diverse contexts.

Perhaps before the end of the school year, we will finally level up the elusive Metacognition.