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Using Peer Support to Develop PYP Attitudes

Like many schools around Australia my school uses the concept of Peer Support groups to develop cross age relationships and year 6 leadership skills. The Year 6 students are paired and given a small group to lead which contains students from each year group. in my school that generally means groups of eight or nine students, who meet fortnightly for half an hour at a time.

For the past few years we have used an purchased Peer Support program of timed activities. We have long felt though, that although this program is good, it just didn’t meet our students needs. So this year I have taken on the responsibility of introducing the PYP Attitudes through Peer Support.

These attitudes are the values that we want our students to show towards each other, themselves and the wider world.

Appreciation
Commitment
Confidence
Cooperation
Creativity
Curiosity
Empathy
Enthusiasm
Independence
Integrity
Respect
Tolerance

This has proved to be an excellent way to not only introduce them but to run Peer Support too. For me it has also been a fairly easy procedure. Type any of the words above into a search engine and numerous potential activities will pop up. There are Pinterest pages too developed by wonderful educators with more time that I have.

Firstly our groups created posters as their Peer Group Support essential agreements. Since then they have read books together on the topic of empathy.  Cooperated in games that do not have winners.  Developed confidence using dramatic role plays. Shown commitment in completing a jigsaw puzzle together and enthusiasm for craft activities.

So if you run Peer Support at your school consider writing your own program, these days it’s not as hard as it might seem. Don’t you just love the way that all around the world today ideas are shared.

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Provocations to start inquiry

I’m so lucky that in my role as PYP Coordinator I get to visit all the other classrooms at my school and assist other teachers with their inquiry units. This week was a week of provocations. Provocations are such an informative and rich way of starting a new unit. They give so much valuable information about what the students already know and what they are thinking.

Year 1 and 2 started by wondering and discovering what it was like to never see light. They had to close their eyes, put on a blindfold and using only a friend as a guide move around the classroom. Doing this allowed each student to understand just what it would be like to live in a world of darkness.. Their experiences led to many thoughtful reflections and wonderings.

I felt cold because I was in the dark.
I was nervous because it was scary.
It felt like the whole world was floating in the air. Everything was black. It was very boring not being able to see.
I felt scared and itchy, it was the end of the world 

As an introduction to their unit on government. Year 6 arrived on Tuesday to a classroom with no rules, told by their teachers they could do anything they liked for the first half hour many of them were confused. Fortunately or perhaps not, the worst they could come up with was to move classes to chat and catch up with friends! This happy time was brought abruptly to an end though, with the arrival of Mr W, playing the role of a dictator he soon had them in their place, kneeling before him and praising his leadership. Exploring forms of government through anarchy and dictatorship allowed these learners to start contemplating what they already know and what they want to know about Australia’s government.

Year 3 completed a see, think and wonder thinking routine on a number of living and non-living objects. Exploring through touch, drawings and questioning allowed them to decide what categories they could each use when classifying these objects. They came up with several including inside and outside, soft and hard, natural and made, as well as living and non-living. With teacher guidance they further defined their categories and shared their understandings.

Our classrooms are certainly exciting places to be these days.

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Ban Boring Homework – Use blogging instead

Last week I attended the fabulous TeachMeet 5 Squared hosted by @simon_harper3. I gave the following presentation. Ban Boring Homework – Use blogging instead. In this five minute presentation I gave a glimpse into the way we use blogging to engage our year 6 students in reading, writing, presenting and reflecting on their learning, using Edublogs student blogs. Last term my students completed Passion Projects for homework, over the course of the eight weeks. They then used their students blogs to report on their learning, to comment on other students learning and to reflect on the process. Why did we use blogs for this? Because the new Australian English curriculum has outcomes such as ‘Students create well structured and well -presented written and multimodal imaginative, informative and persuasive texts for a wide range of purposes and audiences’. To my mind blogging about learning, reflecting on the process and sharing it all with a wider audience fulfills this outcome perfectly. Next term we have decided our students will complete ‘choose your own adventure’ narratives. Each week they will be required to write a chapter of their story. Fellow students, parents and the wider community will then vote on what should happen next.  Authentic imaginative writing for an authentic audience. What could be better. If you would like to comment or have your class read, comment and vote on their narratives, please let me know, as we would love your involvement.  

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So much to learn, so little time

I’m planning a day of professional learning for my staff. A day when we will attempt to build our PYP Program of Inquiry. We have been on our journey towards becoming an authorised PYP school for several months now but as yet we have not had the time this year to create this vital part of the PYP puzzle. We have not had the time, as every other professional learning day has been filled with other equally vital staff development needs. Including several days when of all of us took our Making the PYP Happen course. We are also part of a K – 12 school. so PYP is not the only professional development need. Positive psychology and Growth Mindset are just two of the other areas we are learning about.

But finally day one next term it’s time. Time to unpack our Australian and NSW content outcomes and match them to the PYP Trans-disciplinary themes. Time to move beyond just an inquiry framework. Time to collaboratively build our Program of Inquiry.

Except that it’s not. A day is not nearly enough time. Beyond building the bones of our POI. I want to spend time exploring all of the following:

What does it mean to collaborate, not just cooperate?
How can we ensure our inquiry is concept driven?
Do our central ideas really meet the needs of our students?
How can we meet our BOS outcomes without our inquiry becoming superficial?
Can we meet all the five essential elements of the PYP curriculum

And
How can we teachers ensure we are inquirers too?
How can we fit all the learning we need to do in and teach too?
How can I best support both myself and my staff in our learning journey?

So much to learn, so little time. Where even to start? All suggestions welcomed!

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Using technology with purpose.

One of the joys of my job is that I get to spend time in other classrooms besides my own. Last week one of my visits was to Year 3. At my school Year 3 is the first year of laptops. In the infants department they had access to an iPad so for many a laptop is totally new. No more touch screen swiping, it’s time to use a mouse and keyboard. So these young students need to be taught some essential but basic skills, such as how to type and save documents in Word.

So how to achieve this in a meaningful way? Well, as part of their Inquiry unit these students are researching significant people from the earliest colonisation of Australia. Guided by their teachers they have developed a range of purposeful questions and chosen their significant person. To meet both their learning outcomes and technological needs, their assessment task will be to create a poster. A poster is the perfect multi-modal text for stage two learners. Creating a combination of images and text allows them to represent their ideas and combine their learning. By synthesising the facts they have found through reading and then transferring their ideas into a poster. They will be thinking deeply, producing new meaning and developing richer and stronger understandings.

So will this poster be on cardboard? Of course not, what a waste of paper that would be. Will this poster be created in Glogster? Certainly a fun site to use for students. One in which they can add videos, typefaces, colour and more. But to my mind a site which many students use to end up with over designed flashing gizmos, at the expense of relevant factual information.

No what these students will use is Microsoft Word. Boring perhaps, predictable certainly. But with specific targeted skill based lessons in how to create a headline and insert pictures and text. They will end up by creating a product that will have used technology with purpose, as well as met their learning needs and their inquiry outcomes. A win-win situation all round.

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TeachMeet Strategy Meeting

I spent Saturday in Sydney City at a TeachMeet strategy meeting, working with an amazing group of educators to reflect, plan and strategise on the phenomenon that is TeachMeet.

Matt Esterman has already written a fabulous post which clearly describes what we did and how it worked which you can read here. So I won’t attempt to replicate his words. What I have been doing today though is to reflect on the people who came to the meeting, as to my mind they represent so much that is great about Australian educators.

Firstly I was humbled when I met Leon Wilson an AP at a primary school in Kununurra in Western Australia. Leon works in a school with a high Indigenous population of students. It took him the best part of a day and night just to get to Sydney and he will still be traveling home as I start my day at work tomorrow. Listening to his tales of deprivation, poverty and more at his school and realising that not only was he dealing with this, in a remote part of Australia but also doing his bit for the TeachMeet cause, makes me want to jump up and down with glee.

Secondly we had educators come from almost every state. Young ones and older ones. Almost straight from University and those with many years experience. Teachers from primary to secondary to university levels. I met and talked with so many great teachers, all trying to do their bit for the future of our students.

This year has been hard for me. I have a new job and I have just sold and moved house. I have had a busy life with my family and TeachMeet has at times had to take a backseat. This has been worrying me. Tonight though I am relaxed. With teachers like the ones I met yesterday at the helm, I know that TeachMeet can only flourish and grow. And with our work yesterday which will lead to further planning, I am confident that we can only get better.

Who’d have thought four years ago that TeachMeet Australia would grow from just a few classroom meetings to reach the distances it does. Watch out Asia we have plans for you too. TeachMeet Asia/Pacific is what we aspire to.

If you have never heard of TeachMeets or been to one, check out our website or wiki for details of one that might be near you. Or better still use our host pack and plan your own.

Adriano Zumbo's gingerbread house

Passion Projects and Student Blogging

My school’s homework policy is designed to ensure students only complete tasks that are meaningful, for the purposes of reinforcing classroom learning and building connections with home. This term Year 6 are once again completing Passion Projects. These projects are designed to be completed during the term, thus introducing them to tasks that take time. They are also designed to encourage reflection and to build their literacy skills. Our first Passion Projects were completed by last year’s students. In that instance we used Google docs as our means of tracking their progress. This year we have taken it one step further.

This year our students are each using a student blog to document their learning. We have blogged as a class for several years now at year6rc.edublogs using our blog to connect with classes, students and the wider community. Now, if you visit our class site you can find 54 student blogs down the side. Each of these student blogs will lead you to a different style blog, each one reporting on a different Passion. From cooking to bedroom design, motorbikes to App building, crochet to photography. You name it Year 6 are interested in it. Our students are using these blogs to record, reflect and display their learning. By the end of the project it is expected that they will have written at least one post each week as well as commented on four of their peers. This way their blogs will become an online portfolio record of their passion.

As yet our projects are only part way through and it is fair to say that some students are more engaged in the blogging process than others. Many though, are choosing to write regular posts above and beyond what is expected on them for homework. Choosing to spend their own time to read, write and reflect. Student learning at its best.

If you are interested in Passion projects you can read my previous posts here and hereMy Personal Passion Project_REVISED is our student instructions, which I modified from an original I found online.

Image thanks to Charli who made an Adriano Zumbo Gingerbread house last year.

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Collaborative meetings

At the PYP course I took last week, I heard much about the need to develop collaborative teams of teachers. As the PYP coordinator I facilitate planning meetings between teachers. The question I am grappling with this week is how can I ensure they are collaborative? And what is a collaborative meeting and why does it matter anyway?

I meet with teachers in small and large teams, to plan our units of inquiry, to reflect on classroom successes and to acknowledge weaknesses in past units. I know our meetings need to be collaborative as they are usually about creation. The creation of new teaching ideas, units and plans. Yet for many the concept of shared, timetabled meeting times is new.

Firstly I read that a collaborative meeting will be one which is not about agreement but about creation. From this I am realising that it is no use to anyone if during a planning meeting we all sit around agreeing with each other. As it is only through listening to each other and recognising our differences of opinions, that we will truly create something new. We are not there just to cooperate. We need to grapple with dissent. This is hard for teachers. We are accomplished and experienced, masters of our classroom practice. Many of us are used to being the ‘hero’. Working incredibly hard to do the best for the students we teach, in our room. Sharing ones ideas with other teachers only to have them disagreed with, can be not only confronting but dispiriting too. I realise I need to tred carefully. I must listen, watch and care about the degree of openness. I must recognise their individual professionalism while also seeing if ideas are being lost or impeded.

Secondly collaboration is not about communication. We are not meeting to exchange ideas but to create new ones. We are meeting to share a process and create a shared product. My meetings have a purpose to them. So this purpose needs to be clearly defined with shared protocols and clear goals.

Thirdly there are different forms of collaboration.
Comfortable collaboration, will see teachers sharing classroom anecdotes. Structured collaboration, will see small teams working on curriculum tasks. Critical collaboration, will see teachers questioning each other’s assumptions about learning in order to explore and improve our practice.

There is much I still need to read and understand about collaboration. Do you work in school based teams? Are your meetings truly collaborative? Are they comfortable, structured or critical?

If you are interested in learning more I recommend checking out the work of Richard DuFour.

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Reflections on the role of a PYP coordinator

I am writing this reflection from my hotel room in Singapore, where I am lucky enough to be attending a course title ‘The role of the PYP Coordinator’. Tonight is the end of day two and I have homework to do before tomorrow. I need to reflect on my learning so far and to especially consider the following questions.

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So in relation to the first question, just what have I learned about the group and our collective knowledge?
I have learned:
That our thirty participants work in nine different countries.
That many of them speak multiple languages.
That one participant can speak 11 languages, I was truly humbled by this idea.
That our collective understanding and knowledge is of enormous value.
That talking with others is almost as beneficial as the course itself.
That I need to keep reading and keep learning.
That the role of the PYP coordinator is a challenging but exciting one.
That although all our schools are all different, essentially we all care about the one issue, our students learning.
That the reason I teach is because of the students and that is the same no matter where one works.
That I am making connections with people that will continue to be valuable as I learn and grow.

What have I learned about myself?
That I will always be a learner and that no matter what I might think I know, other people will always be able to offer me tips, tricks, ideas and strategies that I can take back to my classroom and staff.

Tomorrow my learning will continue, right now I am off to explore some of the delights of Singapore.

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Rich discussions in Edmodo

It is a Sunday afternoon and as I regularly do I have just checked into my Edmodo literacy group to view some of my students weekly homework. As I do so, I want to spontaneously give a little happy dance. This weekend the discussions on our novel The city of Ember have exploded. Students are asking and answering each others rich and interesting questions. Not because I have told them too and not because it is all homework but because it is fun.

I have written many times before about the ways I use Edmodo in literacy groups. About how I love the way Edmodo gives a voice to the quiet students, allows differentiation through sub-groupings and is especially appealing to my pre Facebook age 11 and 12 students.

But how is this fun? After all it involves extra reading and writing? I believe my students are engaged in these discussions for two reasons. Firstly because I have created three extra students in our group. Lina Mayfleet, Poppy Mayfleet and Doon Harrow. Are these students of 6MW? No, they are characters from The City of Ember. I now have students lining up to play these roles. Choosing to spend their own time setting and responding to questions while playing a character from the novel, does I am sure, allow them to deeply think about these characters actions and motives.

The second reason I think that my students are so engaged in this forum is due to the ‘Word, Phrase, Sentence’ thinking routine we have been using during our reading. I am asking students to find a word, a phrase and a sentence that resonates with them in each section. They then have to justify their thinking and choices which has enabled them to make deep and rich connections with the text.

As they document their ideas, their thoughts as well as the actual novel characters thoughts and actions in Edmodo, I can see that the quiet ones are getting a voice. Those that need help are assisted by reading their peers ideas and that they are all reading and responding in deep and meaningful ways. A win win situation all round.