Thursday, December 15, 2011
Only dead fish follow the stream...
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Questioning by design
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Unpacking a maths program
Our Maths Coach (a new appointment this year) is settling into his role and has brought with him a new approach to the design of our maths units. In previous years we have focused on a core resource for informing our mathematics practice and supplemented this with other resources where required. Along with our newly created outcomes we revised this resource and decided that it wasn't the best fit for our program. We recently received our new core resource and are now familiarising ourselves with this.
Through the self-analysis of our program in the Elementary School, one of our main criticisms of our work was that we don't revisit mathematical concepts throughout the year. This is referred to as 'spiraling', as concepts are visited and re-visited throughout the course of the year. The belief behind this is that students are able to build on their knowledge throughout the year and develop deeper understandings. This also aligns with the constructivist approach to learning that the PYP values. Conversely, a curriculum based on 'mastery' places emphasis on mastering specific concepts of mathematics before moving onto the next one. Mastery is the end goal for all mathematical concepts, spiraling is one way of achieving that. Some educators achieve a spiraling curriculum by addressing concepts during each year of a students' school life. In this example the students learn certain parts of concepts (eg. fractions) in grades 1, 2, 3 etc, with each part becoming developmentally more challenging. Spiraling can also occur within a grade level and this would involve students re-visiting the concept at different times of the year. This is what we are looking towards in our school.
To encourage this approach our maths program has been re-designed around five units: Counting, Partitioning and Calculating; Securing Number Facts and Understanding Shapes; Handling Data and Measures; Calculating, Measuring and Understanding Shapes; and Securing Facts, Calculating and Identifying. I believe that these are similar to (or the same as) those used in the National Curriculum for the UK. Each unit has multiple mathematical concepts within it, for example, Algebra, Measurement and Number, and our outcomes have been placed accordingly. In order to spiral these we visit each unit twice - once in the first semester and again in the second semester. In this structure we spend around 3-4 weeks on each unit per visit and in the second visit are able to build upon the outcomes that we initially addressed in the first half of the year. Because the units are structured like this, we can choose to place them at any time of the year that we wish. This lets us link our maths units more authentically with our Units of Inquiry. For example, in our recent unit on Forces and Motion for How the World Works, we decided to run the Data Handling and Measures unit alongside it as it provided a natural trans-disciplinary link.
The difficulties we are facing at the moment is that it is nearly impossible to create a central idea for a maths unit if it contains so many different mathematical concepts. The Data Handling unit is unique in this setup as it contains concepts that are only linked to data and probability, instead of many other concepts, but the others have many differing ideas all covered under the same umbrella.
This leads onto the next obstacle. With the many different concepts being grouped in each unit there is a lot to cover. It has been suggested to us as teachers that we should aim to cover some element of every single aspect of the unit during the first visit. The result is that teachers are rushing through the work in order to complete it within the given time frame. There is little time for genuine inquiry as the students are being pushed through the topics at a fast pace. One solution to this that is being trialled is the development of rich maths learning engagements that ask the students to connect their skills, knowledge and understanding of several areas in order to complete the task. The one we trialled in Grade Four (centered around 'volume') worked well and was more geared towards inquiry-based learning. It gave the students the opportunity to experiment with different arrangements (measurement outcomes) test out their own theories and construct a formula (algebra outcomes) that could be used to determine the volume of any cuboid. They also had to calculate their answers along the way (number outcomes). It is envisaged that these tasks will then lead into inquiries in some of the areas of maths that were included in the task. Time will play an important role in this strategy as these tasks need to be developed for five units across six grade levels - and then again for the second visit for that year!
The irony of all this is that by developing a spiralled curriculum within each grade we run the risk of making the maths less meaningful for our students. I'm curious to know how other schools handle this paradox. If you do create units based on certain concepts, such as fractions, do you ensure that they are being re-visited again later in the year? If you don't, do the students have a thorough enough mastery of the concept to hit the ground running the next year or does time need to be spent on refreshing them at the beginning of the topic? If you do re-visit them, how do you make sure you've had enough time to give them their due course initially and are they addressed through the principles of inquiry?
Sunday, December 4, 2011
The Power of Reflection
More of these clips can be found at the Journey To Excellence website.
Reflecting is the most common way that most teachers help to foster meta cognitive skills. A summative task will inevitably include some form of reflection, as will a culmination of a unit of work. Unfortunately this can sometimes only be token reflection - seen more of a 'tick the box' task rather than a true reflection on the learning process. Paying mere lip service to a completed task or unit is something akin to immersing children in a fact-based curriculum that sacrifices conceptual understanding. It is important that teachers recognise the power of reflection and help to scaffold and encourage this development throughout a child's education.
As Wiliam states in the video, children can be taught the processes of reflection. The reflective process, like other skills, can develop over time and as students become more comptent at it they take less time to consider the elements that they think about - it becomes more natural. I certainly agree with this and can recall many students that I have taught who have excellent meta cognitive skills. There can be a noticeable difference between students who have been educated in an environment where reflection is valued, compared to those who have rarely reflected in the past. Clearly, reflecting well is not as easy as it sounds. If this ability level can be reached earlier on in someone's life then it can have positive impacts on their learning.
Teachers can help encourage the reflection process in many ways. Harvard University's Project Zero has developed several thinking routines, some of which are linked directly to reflection. I have used some of these in the past and have found them to be very effective. Through activities, such as blogging, the use of Web 2.0 tools can also encourage reflection. This blog has certainly helped me to reflect on my own practice and has also enabled me to gather feedback from other educators around the world. This can be easily transferred to the classroom as students can have their own blogs or twitter accounts (another way to enhance the reflection process). Blogging isn't the only way though - there are many different tools that can help encourage reflection. For some other ideas check out this blog post or re-cap the recent #elemchat on Twitter.
My final thoughts are concerned with how and what we should reflect on. Reflecting on key and related concepts for a unit or piece of work is a good way of helping to assess students' understanding. Sure, we structure our work around concepts but do the kids really 'get' it? Do they know that they are discussing perspectives, connections or responsibilities? Not all the time, I don't think. Good reflection can focus students' thinking onto the big ideas that they might not realise they're working with. Secondly, negotiating the curriculum with students is a key element of inquiry learning. If students have ownership over what they are learning then they are more engaged and this makes the reflection process both easier and more relevant. A final element to consider is to ensure that reflection is a perpetual process. This is a personal goal of mine as I feel that I don't give my students enough opportunity to reflect at the end of a lesson (or in the middle of a lesson). Reflecting only at the end of a unit, while important, doesn't give students the chance to adapt their learning throughout the process. If they're not learning from their learning then they're not extracting everything that they can from their work.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Graph of the Day
Monday, October 31, 2011
A brief history of education - the academic illusion.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Monday, October 3, 2011
The Education Miracle
This morning I read a very interesting newspaper article about educational performance of different nations. Its focus was on the recent high performance of Asian nations - namely Korea, Singapore and China and looks at their rise to the top of the international student rankings. It states, however, that this rise hasn't come without a cost.
These three nations, among others, have regularly topped these sorts of ranking tables in recent years. As a result, education reformers in search of similar results look to these countries' curricula for inspiration on how to enhance their own programs. However, according to Dr. Yong Zhao, from the University of Oregon, more attention needs to be paid to the other results that these systems yield.
The article highlights three key educational points:
(i) The development of the whole child - Dr. Zhao highlights the existence, in these systems, of high levels of psychological stress, the strong directional focus from the teacher to the student, and a lack of social experiences, which can lead to poor emotional development in a child. He also mentions the children's lack of confidence, for example, creativity, entrepreneurial spirit and imagination. To claim that an over-reliance on purely an academic focus - however that may be defined - is detrimental to a student's development is not ground breaking news. However, what still astounds me is some people's (and I include teachers, parents, students and policy makers in this group) fascination with academic scores and results. People talk about the importance of developing the 'whole child' but I sometimes get the impression that few truly believe it and even less actually act on it.
(ii) The over-reliance on standardised testing results - Dr. Zhao states that standardised test scores are ''easily manipulated if you pay for college prep schools''. Long used to measure student achievement or academic ability (and more recently for other means), there is regular discussion about the methods and uses of standardised testing in many different settings. The use of standardised testing results to allocate funding, student class or level placement, and teacher performance has wreaked havoc among several countries with one of the most notable examples being the No Child Left Behind Act in the United States. Despite all this, Government representatives still seem to view this as the most effective way of evaluating many parts of a school's teaching and learning. And to be perfectly honest, it's hard to blame them. Many elementary school teachers advocate the end of standardised testing, citing student rates of development, over-reliance on factual knowledge over deeper understanding, and multiple intelligences as key arguments against the use of these assessment methods. But many Universities still base their student admission criteria on these sorts of tests. So, inevitably, as the student progresses through their schooling years, they need to learn how to perform on such assessments. It pleased me to read the section in the article that mentioned how some Universities are changing their selection process and criteria to not only rely on academic performance. They are doing this because students are performing well on standardised tests to enter their universities, only to find themselves being 'dragged back into the pack' once they're in. It is a small start, but these realisations need to come from the top (ie. universities and colleges) in order for the changes to fully filter through the complete educational life of a child.
(iii) The importance of collaborative working skills - The article also states that many of the students that enter 'top' universities are leaving without jobs in any of the Fortune 500 companies that they expect to gain. 'People talk about how they lack confidence, how they lack entrepreneurial skills, how they lack the ability to work with a group'. These skills need to be fostered and a focus on 'skill and drill' style learning experiences does little to enhance them. This loops back to the first point of developing the whole child but highlights that fact that it doesn't simply stop after elementary school. These skills need to be developed throughout a child's entire education.
It is sometimes difficult to have the vision and courage to change the ways of the past, especially when they are still used in many circumstances or if the reasons for the change are not completely understood. Fast disappearing are the days where mastering one discipline in one way would be enough to guarantee the successful completion of a task - or even a career. Today's workforce favours employees who boast a skill set consisting of creative thinking, the ability to collaborate, and the capacity to synthesise and transfer knowledge to new and related fields. It is the students that possess these skills that are the real miracles of education.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
The importance of empathy
Sunday, September 25, 2011
The value of service
I recently came across this quote:
Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they’ll never sit in.
It is an old Greek proverb and refers to how a society can develop when it’s members choose to perform actions that benefit the community as a whole, over ones that will serve only their personal needs. It shows the value of helping one another and putting things in place that will provide benefits for the future.The Primary Years Program places a strong emphasis on service. It is one of the core elements of the curriculum and teachers of the PYP foster positive action in order to allow students to serve their communities. This service component is key throughout all three programs of the IB and they aim to produce students that will hopefully one day plant their own trees for their communities.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
A balancing act
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Conquering the content - The IB approach
This week is my grade level parent information evening. When preparing my presentation, I usually provide the parents with an insight into the surface actions of my classroom - the day to day teaching that they see when they come in (or get told about by their children). Last year I was caught off guard by some parents who wanted to know more about the philosophical underpinnings of the curriculum that we frame our teaching around. This year I plan on having a more coherent explanation on hand for curious parents and have been brushing up on some related readings. I've referenced the following paragraphs with the sources that I used.
Students are currently learning in an environment that is commonly referred to as the ‘digital revolution’. Increased technologies and global interdependence requires greater intellectual and academic standards that have been previously required (Erickson, L., 2008). In order to accomplish this, curriculum design must consider alternative approaches. Traditional curriculum design focuses on content coverage and often fails to emphasis higher-level, lasting ideas that are universal by nature and application (Erickson, L., 2008). It is these conceptual ideas that bring focus and depth to a study and hold the solution to the increased academic and intellectual standards that are required in today’s age. Curricula with a focus on content instead of concepts fail to engage students at a high cognitive level. A concept-led curriculum encourages students to connect the factual knowledge that they have gained to other ‘big ideas’ of significance (Erickson, L., 2008). When this happens students discover personal meaning and can see relevance in their learning. They have a greater motivation to learn because they are engaged on a more personal level.
A concept is defined as being timeless, universal and abstract (Erickson, L., 2008). It is these aspects that allow them to be applied at various times and in various contexts throughout a student’s education. This links directly with a transdisciplinary approach to learning. By studying subjects in isolation, students pick up isolated facts and ideas. While it is important to become knowledgeable in separate academic subjects, in order to a more authentic understanding students must be given opportunities to connect their knowledge across disciplines (Boyer, E. 1995). Furthermore, brain research has revealed that learning at its optimum is an ‘integrative function’ of synthesizing, organizing and processing parts of information into a whole (Caine, R. & Caine, G., 1990).The PYP framework is organized around six transdisciplinary themes. These were developed from Boyer’s work on The Core Commonalities, which are universal experiences that are shared by all people (Boyer, E. 1995). Boyer states that all traditional subjects have a place within the Core Commonalities and, by linking learning across these disciplines, students can make personal connections to their learning and achieve greater understandings (Boyer, E. 1995). The learning in a PYP classroom is structured in this way and complimented by being delivered in a guided, concept-led approach. This allows for greater analysis, evaluation and investigation as the students consider the transferrable possibilities of the inquiry.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
The Big Picture
- North - are innovators and like to take action and get things going;
- South - like to ensure that everyone's voice has been heard before making a decision;
- East - aim to see the big picture before putting a plan into action;
- West - like tick all the boxes and know every detail about the effects of the action before proceeding.
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Friday, August 5, 2011
Thursday, August 4, 2011
The Real Thing
Monday, August 1, 2011
Curriculum - Part VI
- Shared norms and values
- Focus on student learning
- Reflective dialogue
- Deprivatisation of practice
- Job descriptions (P)
- Meeting agendas and schedules (T)
- Team structure and hierarchy (P)
- Purchasing systems (R)
- Professional development opportunities/systems (P)
- Budget allocation (R)
- Strategic planning (T)
- Coaching and mentoring (P)
- Physical space - eg. facilities and materials (R)
- Hiring policies (P)
- Timetable structure (T)
- Appraisal system (P)
- The personality, relationships, knowledge and skills of leaders.
- Whether or not the school community believes students will or won't be disadvantage by curriculum changes.
- The flexibility of the curriculum design.
- Teacher beliefs and values.
- Subject knowledge (essential teacher readings are a good way to develop this).
- Disposition towards reflection
- Pedagogical content knowledge (how do students learn?).
- Willingness to share and collaborate with colleagues.
- Level of influence with other faculty members.