Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What the heck is transdisciplinary learning?

As someone in charge of coordinating a program that is committed to a transdisciplinary approach, I shouldn't be asking this. I should know. But for too many years, I've relied too heavily on the shallow understanding that transdisciplinary learning simply is "learning that transcends the traditional subject areas".

But I'm not quite sure I deeply understand what that means, even after several years of workshops, reading, discussing and thinking about this question: What the heck is transdisciplinary learning? Which leads me to wonder, "Would I be able to recognize it, if I saw it?" Which most certainly means I can't help people adapt their written, taught and assessed curriculum to be more transdisciplinary, if it wasn't.

So, it was time to learn more about this concept (which is also unknown to both Microsoft & Google, as evidenced by that little squiggly red line that obnoxiously appears every time I type the word).

And, as someone who is committed to the social construction of understanding, I'm sharing my thinking with you all, that you might learn from and with me, and hopefully add to my understanding too.

My question: What can I listen and watch for so that I know a teacher/team/school is committed to and understands transdisciplinary learning?

To begin to answer my question, I pored over the IB document, The Primary Years Programme as a model of trandisciplinary learning


From that document, I synthesized that transdisciplinary learning is written, taught and assessed curriculum that:
  • is
    • engaging, relevant, challenging & significant
    • innovative
    • elusive
    • based in the exploration of real-life issues
    • authentic
    • a new vision & a new experience for learning
    • radically different from traditional education
    • universal (grounded in timeless, abstract, universal & transferable concepts)
    • embedded in the essential elements of the PYP, particularly transdisciplinary knowledge, key concepts & Approaches to Learning (this represents THE CORE of the PYP)
  • transcends
    • traditional subjects, but still has relevance across subject areas. Transdisciplinary learning isn't about getting rid of subject areas. Rather, it is complemented and supported by the subject areas.
  • connects
    • to what is real in the real world
  • may involve
    • what is commonly known as Problem-Based Learning
  • most definitely involves
    • collaboration (by teachers & by students)
    • problem-solving
  • allows
    • students to be autonomous
    • all students to contribute in a variety of ways
    • for spontaneous and easy connections across learning
    • students to acquire and sufficiently & competently apply Approaches to Learning, which are the tools of inquiry
    • students to explore our human commonality
  • promotes
    • lifelong learning, since it mimics learning we do in real life
    • an awareness of the commonality of the human experience
  • focuses on
    • issues
    • broad perspectives
    • deep understanding of timeless, abstract, universal and transferable concepts
    • a local issue or problem that also has global implications
  • demands
    • students work individually & in groups of different sizes and different make-ups for different reasons
    • students to be actively constructing meaning through inquiry
    • that the relationships between the teacher & student changes
    • higher-order thinking
    • participation/involvement/engagement
  • explores
    • the inter-relatedness of complex issues
  • shows
    • students the relevance of what they're learning. No student or teacher doubts the authentic reason for learning what we're learning
  • forces
    • teachers out of their comfort zones
  • relates to
    • students' lives
  • eliminates
    • redundancy
  • values & supports
    • all students, equally
Based on this synthesis, I wanted to develop a checklist that I could use to help me when observing in classrooms and perhaps teachers could use too as a self-assessment. (Disclaimer: I can imagine that some of my many astute colleagues in the PYP community will balk at the idea of reducing the very complex idea of Transdisciplinary Learning into a simple checklist; but I'm going to give it a go anyway).

When watching or reflecting on a collection of lessons or on a unit, ask:

Were students: 
  • involved, engaged, participating? (C3.5)
  • exploring a real-life, authentic issue? (C2.6a) Was the issue/problem a local one, with global connections? (C2.7)
  • focused on constructing an understanding of timeless, abstract, universal and transferable concepts? (C3.1a, C3.6)
  • collaborating in groups? Did they use different grouping methods throughout? (C3.10a, C3.14a)
  • having to collaborate? Did the teacher have to collaborate in preparation? (C1.2)
  • independent & autonomous? Did this take the teacher out of her/his comfort zone? Did s/he feel out of control at times? (C3.2, C3.5)
  • obviously studying one subject-area in particular? Were students able to make spontaneous connections to other learning? (C3.1b)
  • acquiring and applying the tools of inquiry (Approaches to Learning)? (C1.1c, C2.1d, C3.1a)
  • exploring multiple perspectives? (C2.8, C3.6)
  • understanding and thus able to articulate why they were learning what they were learning? (C3.13)
  • able to contribute? ALL students? (C3.7, C3.10)
Although I've taught in or coordinated a PYP for six years and I've visited with other PYP practitioners and visited other PYP schools, my experience is that Transdisciplinary Learning remains elusive. I look forward to continually deepening my understanding of this essential component of the IB Primary Years Programme.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Assessment-Capable Learners: Understanding one of Hattie's most powerful influences on student achievement

John Hattie published Visible Learning (2009) to synthesize evidence-based research in order to tell a specific and compelling story: 
  • Almost nothing we do harms kids
  • Most of what we do leads kids to learning
  • Therefore, instead of talking about "what works", we should be focused on "what works best"
Doug Fisher says that Hattie's work tells us what works, how it works and when it works. Deb Masters suggests the Mindframes for Teachers and Leaders represent a succinct story of the Visible Learning Research. 

My sketchnotes from Masters' session on the 10 Mindframes for Teachers & Leaders.
To clearly show what works best (has greater probability of having a high impact on student learning), Hattie used the research to calculate the effect size for each influence studied. He found that an effect size of d = 0.15 to d = 0.40 represented what teachers can accomplish in a typical year of schooling. He argued therefore, we must focus on those strategies that have an effect size of d = 0.40 and higher; those influences that work best.
http://www.education.vic.gov.au/Documents/about/research/ravisiblelearning.pdf
When Visible Learning Trainer Dave Nagel came to our district in February 2016, he mentioned an influence I hadn't heard of before in Hattie's research: Assessment-Capable Learners. Assessment-Capable Learners, Nagel explained, had an effect size of d =1.44, well above the majority of the other influences listed in Hattie's research. This influence is one of the most important things we can do to raise student achievement.

Although Nagel showed the following slide during his keynote, I was still left confused; what the heck was an Assessment-Capable Learner? How do we develop these types of students?


A slide explaining the attributes of an Assessment-Capable Learner from Dave Nagel, February 2016
As with many of the influences on Hattie's list, there is great danger at taking misguided action based on a superficial understanding of what an Assessment-Capable Learner is. On the surface, one might think that Hattie is suggesting that we develop learners who are capable of successfully taking assessments, particularly those high stakes tests which are pervasive in schools throughout the world; learners who have practiced and are skilled at various test-taking strategies: closely-reading the questions, eliminating answers obviously wrong, going back and checking work, etc. However there is evidence that teaching learners these test-taking strategies actually does not have a high impact on student learning (teaching test-taking: d = 0.27).

Those that have an initial misunderstanding of an Assessment-Capable Learner aren't alone. When asked, "Why are we striving for an 'assessment-capable learner' and not a 'self-regulated learner?'" Hattie admitted that he struggles with a lot of "those words". Rather, he suggests that we think about Assessment Capable Learners in this way: "When students see themselves as their own teachers."

Each keynote and breakout session at the Annual Visible Learning Conference in Washington, D.C. allowed me to further construct my own understanding of Assessment-Capable Learners. Below, I share a synthesis of my thinking:



Assessment-Capable Learners:
  • can answer the following three questions, as long as teachers have clearly communicated learning intentions and success criteria (teacher clarity: d = 0.75)
    1. What am I learning?
    2. Why am I learning it?
    3. How will I know when I've had success & have learned it?

  • know where they are, where they're going (based on clear learning intentions & success criteria) and their next steps to move forward.
  • know the language of learning (VOICE) and make decisions about their learning (CHOICE)
  • are open to and expect feedback.
  • give feedback to others, because they recognize the powerful impact they can have on their peers' learning.
  • set challenging, yet realistic learning goals AND put forth the effort to reach them.
  • are active, involved and engaged in their own learning.
  • are radical change agents
  • see errors as opportunities for learning
  • exhibit the eight Mindframes for Learners:
    1. I want to know what success looks like.
    2. I like challenging goals.
    3. I want to master and have deep learning.
    4. I am confident I can learn.
    5. I want to become my own teacher.
    6. I engage in dialogue, not monologue, about my learning.
    7. I like to plan to implement my learning goals.
    8. I want to learn to be strategic in my learning goals.

As I continue to construct my own understanding of an Assessment-Capable Learner, I begin to ask: what do we teachers need to do to develop these dispositions and encourage these actions in the learners with whom we work?

THANK YOU to all the presenters at the conference. My thinking above represents a synthesis of keynotes and breakout sessions led by those directly quoted above and: Paul Bloomberg, Barb Pitchford, Peter DeWitt, Michael Fullan, Jen Mall, Michael McDowell.

Friday, February 26, 2016

We're Internationally-Minded! A song about the IB Learner Profile

Central to the mission of the International Baccalaureate Organization is to "develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect."

In order to accomplish this goal, authorized IB programs use the IB Learner Profile, a set of "10 attributes valued by IB World Schools. We believe these attributes, and others like them, can help individuals and groups become responsible members of local, national and global communities."

In our PYP, we introduce the IB Learner Profile to our kindergarten students right away when they start the year with us and throughout the next subsequent six years, continue to provide students with opportunities to further develop their understanding of these 10 attributes. Our students collaboratively create classroom displays, highlight particular attributes when reading and recognize when those around them demonstrate attributes of an internationally-minded person.

In addition to these and the many other ways we bring the IB Learner Profile to the center of our life at our PYP, we also sing about it as a way to remember, understand and celebrate the IB Learner Profile.

Check out these second graders singing "We're Internationally-Minded!", an original song we created at our school about the IB Learner Profile. Can you figure out which learner profile attributes they're singing about in the verses? All 10 are mentioned!


If you want to sing this song with your students, check out the lyrics below. If you want to play along, here is a copy of the lyrics with the guitar chords. Note: The second graders in the video are chanting "K-A-P-O-S-I-A" to celebrate our school, but you can easily change the lyric to fit your Primary Years Program.

We’re Internationally-Minded!

Verse 1
We’re curious and we love to learn.
Knowing the big idea is our concern.
We are responsible and act with honesty.

We show compassion to all our friends.
We truly care for them, it's not pretend.
We can express ourselves and listen carefully.

Chorus
We know, inquire, and care and we are thinkers.
We’re principled and balanced and risk-takers.
We communicate, reflect, we’re open-minded.
(chant school name): We’re internationally-minded! (x2)

Verse 2
We use our thinking skills to make decisions.
We value other cultures and traditions.
We think about the world and ourselves thoughtfully.

We balance different aspects of our lives.
Take care of mind and body, to survive.
We’re brave and take risks when faced with uncertainty.

Chorus

Bridge
We’re all in this together.
There’s just one human race.
We want to make Earth better,
to bring peace to this place.
If not now, then when?
If not us, then who?
It’s all up to me and you, you, you!

Chorus

Friday, February 12, 2016

Teaching Story Elements and Fluency with Minecraft

Since I've been working with students in our MinecraftEdu class, students have had the opportunity to practice and refine math skills in worlds that others have created and posted on the MinecraftEdu World Library

Although these experiences have been worthwhile and students have been able to collaborate, communicate and think critically, they haven't had a lot of chances to be creative and do what Minecraft does best - BUILD.

To address this issue, I decided that I wanted the students to build something; "BUT WHAT?" I asked.

In an effort to start simple, I adapted a version of Little Red Riding Hood, dropped the students in the middle of a flat world and gave them these simple instructions:



Through several sessions, the students worked together, talked through their plans, thought critically about what they'd build and how they'd build it but most importantly, they were able to show their individual and collective creativity. 


On the last day of the project, the students recorded their story as they walked through the setting they had created. They each quickly practiced, making sure they were able to read their individual part with expression.

Here is their final product.


After reading about how I used MinecraftEdu to help students create the story elements of a familiar tale to tell the story in a new way, how could you use MinecraftEdu in your classroom?

P.S. Two years ago, I started to document and share, through this blog, the best teaching practices I was observing around my school . Over these last two years, I have found great joy in reflecting on and sharing what wonderful things are going on in our school. This blog has been visited over 50,000 times by people all over the world. Many of you, in Minnesota and abroad, have offered both positive and constructive feedback - a dialogue that helps us, education professionals, to collectively improve. Thank you for reading, responding and collaborating.

Friday, January 29, 2016

5 steps to teach concepts ... in math

Last year, I shared a blog post with friends and colleagues on Facebook entitled "Are You Doing It Wrong? How to Introduce Telling Time" by Cindy Lee of Ainslee Labs (which has since been reposted here: Avoid the biggest mistake teachers make when teaching time ).

It caught the attention of my second grade colleagues and now together, we're trying to figure out how to put Ms. Lee's ideas into practice with students.

Traditionally, students are introduced to telling time by first learning time to the hour. Next, students learn to tell time to the half hour, then to the quarter hour, then to the nearest five minutes and finally to the exact minute.

Ms. Lee has experience that shows this way is confusing to kids (I've had that same experience!). We first teach kids to look wherever the short hand is pointing to to read the hour. But soon thereafter, this understanding becomes a misconception.

To address this confusion, Ms. Lee suggests using a clock graphic colorfully divided into twelfths, teaching the kids that each hour has an area or space that belongs to them.

Below, I've detailed how I used my five-step concept-based lesson framework to introduce this idea to the students.

1. Start with a concept
.

Before the lesson, I decided on three related objectives to make sure that my lesson was three-dimensional (to learn more about 3D curriculum and instruction see anything by Lynn Erickson).

Concept: The students will understand that you can't achieve your goal if you use the right tool the wrong way.

Knowledge: The students will know that the hour has an area or space that belongs to them on the clock.

Skill: The students will be able to read the hour on a clock, regardless of how many minutes have passed.

Although I was specifically concerned with students gaining mathematical knowledge and skill during this lesson, I was equally interested in them learning the timeless, abstract, universal and transferable idea that even if you're using the right tool, you need to use it the right away to be able to reach your goals. Striking a balance between teaching and learning knowledge, skill and concept objectives is paramount, in concept-based teaching.

2. Pick a specific, concrete example of a person, place, situation, or thing that illustrates that concept & 3. Create an opportunity for students to explore that concrete example.

To introduce students to the concept of using the right tool the right way, I brought in a tool box, a hammer, a small board and my lanyard.


I told them I had a goal of making a lanyard hanger so that it wouldn't get tangled on my shelf at home. We first chatted about the right tool I'd need out of my toolbox. When we decided that a hammer was indeed the right tool, I tried to hammer in the nail with the end of the hammer. When that didn't work, a student suggested I use the top of the hammer. When that didn't work, someone suggested I used the circle part of the top.

As the nail went into the board, so too did the idea into the kids' brains that you need the right tool used the right way to get the job done!

Then I introduced them to another tool - a clock.

"When we use a clock as our tool, what is our goal?" I asked.

As one girl offered (and all the second graders agreed), we use clocks to read the time.

So, I asked the students to write on their whiteboards what the time was on each of the following clocks:




All the students were able to accurately tell me the time. We all agreed that to read the time on those clocks, you just needed to look where the hour-hand was pointing.

"Okay," I said, "now tell me what time it is."



We counted together that 55 minutes had passed and they all had to read the hour by themselves. Just like clockwork (pun completely intended) all but 1 or 2 students said it was 2:55.


Then, we had a conversation about how we had been using the right tool to tell the time, but we were using it in the wrong way.

Next, I showed them the clock face with the partitioned hours (thanks again to Ainslee Labs for the free clock face. Want to pay for her whole telling time kit?).


We used this clock face to practice telling the time with various times. Over and over again, the students had no trouble identifying the correct hour, even when the hour hand wasn't pointing directly to a particular number. Eventually I removed the gray numbers inside the clock and 100% of the students were
able to read the hour on a clock, regardless of how many minutes have passed because they knew that the hour has an area or space that belongs to them on the clock.

4. Check for understanding by having them write a concept statement. 

(This step is very similar to the thinking routine Headlines found in Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison, p. 111)

Since I was confident that the students had reached the knowledge and skill objectives of the lesson, I asked, "What did you learn today about how you should use a tool to achieve your goal?".


I gave the students a chance to write down their individual responses on their whiteboards and then one-by-one we shared until everyone's ideas were represented in our statement. Below is the sequence of revisions that our conceptual statement when through. My prompts are highlighted in yellow.

"What do you have to remember about tools when trying to achieve a goal?" First child responds:


"Does anyone want to add anything?" Second child adds:




"Does anyone want to add anything?" Third child adds:



 "Is this true just when we're telling time?" Fourth child adds:



"Who needs to do all of this?" Fifth child responds:



"That doesn't sound right." Sixth child corrects: 



The students were comfortable that their conceptual statement encapsulated all the learning they had done up until that point, so we ended the lesson there.


Often times when crafting conceptual statements (sometimes called generalizations, central ideas, or enduring understandings) we create hard-to-understand statements that don't sound like how we normally talk. Concept statements should be written in language that is easy to understand to all who read it. One way to do this is let the students craft the statement, as we did together in this lesson.

5. Reflect on their thinking and decide next steps.

Moving forward, I would want these students to continue to practice reading the hour using this partitioned clock. Eventually, I would want them to independently be able to read the hours and the minutes first with the partitions and then after slowly taking away that support.

Conceptually, I would want to explore other tools and discuss the correct way to use them and contrast that with the wrong way to use them. This conversation would fit in wonderfully with any beginning-of-the-year guided discoveries that students experience as they are exploring the learning tools of the classroom.

After reading how I used a clock lesson to teach a timeless, abstract, universal and transferable concept to second graders, how do you teach these BIG IDEAS to your students?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Teaching 21st Century Skills with Minecraft

In an attempt to help students who struggle in the areas of literacy and math, our school hosts Learning Academy, a before-school academic support class where students are able to practice and refine skills taught during the school day.

Students are invited to attend Learning Academy when they show they have a deficit in literacy and/or math skills, but it important to remember that these students - nay, all students - also require time and opportunities to develop thinking and communication skills, some of which have collectively become known as 21st Century Skills or the 4Cs: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.

http://fargopublicschools.areavoices.com/files/2014/09/21st-Century-Skills-4-Cs-graphic.jpg
To foster and support the development of these 21st Century Skills, I invited some of the Learning Academy participants to take part in a @MinecraftEdu class after being introduced to MinecraftEdu at a workshop presented by Alan November (@globalearner). MinecraftEdu is a "school-ready remix of the original smash hit game Minecraft." It builds on the excitement and engagement generated by the game-version of Minecraft to give students an environment in which they can develop and refine various academic and social skills.

Students worked together in worlds downloaded from the MinecraftEdu World Library that other users had created. We worked in the following worlds: Tutorial WorldMultiplying Decimal Numbers, and The Island. In these challenging worlds, students worked on mathematical skills such as understanding coordinate systems, multiplying decimals and long division while exploring, hunting and navigating through adventurous worlds full of obstacles and pitfalls.

After working for several weeks in those worlds, I created a (very simple) world of my own, where I gave students tasks that would allow them to continue to practice mathematical concepts while also giving them the chance to create and build. Below, is a short video showing the students' work on one particular mathematical task I had set up in this world.


Now that this first group of kids has been with me for several months, it is time for the students to move on and a new group to start learning with MinecraftEdu. The week before I said goodbye to this first group of students, I asked them if they could write up a reflection of what they learned, how they learned it and why they learned it. Below are their reflections. 






After reading about how I used MinecraftEdu to help students develop skills of communication, creativity, and creative & critical problem-solving how do you help your students develop these skills in your classroom?

Friday, November 20, 2015

He who does the talking, does the learning

All of us learn in different and multiple ways. As a teacher, it is important for me to remember to strike a balance in the way that I teach, so that my students have the opportunity to learn in different and multiple ways.

The Learning Pyramid below suggests that relatively little learning is done when students are just listening, but that students learn and retain more when they have the chance to teach others about the concept they themselves are learning about.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2013/03/06/why-the-learning-pyramid-is-wrong/
Ironically, this specific graphic comes from a Washington Post article that critiques The Learning Pyramid.

Although there might be problems with the pyramid above, many will agree with the underlying concept: the more students are engaged, active and put in charge, the more learning that takes place.

Recently, one of my colleagues shared a gem of a quote from Jen York-Barr: "The person doing the talking is often the person doing the learning." This saying falls in line with the idea that when students are active participants in the learning process, the more they will learn.

Trying to capitalize on this idea, in my morning Minecraft class, I learned that a student wasn't able to easily and quickly multiply 9's because he hadn't mastered "The 9 Trick".

*Please note: I understand that math tricks, shortcuts and 'helpful' phrases are sometimes damaging to students' understanding of mathematical concepts. But, sometimes they can offer students a bridge as they construct their understanding of these complex and abstract concepts.

After giving him a mini-lecture on how to use the trick and giving him multiple opportunities to practice doing the trick with different kinds of equations, I asked him to prepare a short demonstration that would help teach others about the useful trick with multiplying by 9.

Below, is a recording of his demonstration.


At a talk I attended in August, Alan November (@globalearner & @NLearning) advocated for more of this kind of "students-teaching-students" approach. As an example, he shared with us the website http://mathtrain.tv/, which is a free, educational "kids teaching kids" project from Mr. Marcos & his Students at Lincoln Middle School in Santa Monica, CA. The idea isn't solely to show our students these videos (some are very helpful), but to also have our students create teaching videos for an authentic, international audience.

Often times, teachers ask students to turn and talk with their partners to share their thinking and teach others right beside them. With devices that record video and audio that can then be instantly uploaded to the web, how could we put our students in charge of the teaching so that they feel empowered to teach others around the globe?