Friday, March 20, 2015

Parts, Purposes, and Complexities

Various researchers working at Project Zero (PZ) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) have been working to make Thinking Visible. Their work has resulted in thinking routines which are tools, structures, and patterns of behavior that give thinkers the ability to make sense of abstract ideas.

Researchers involved with Agency by Design are working to investigate the promises, practices, and pedagogies of maker-centered learning. They too have created thinking routines that help thinkers slow down and look carefully.

Currently, the first graders at our school have just started their unit of inquiry during which they are exploring how making careful and close observations leads to discoveries. One way G1 students are constructing understanding of this abstract concept is by investigating rocks.

During the unit, they have a rock kit that is organized in the same way that the rock layers are situated underneath the grass in our neck of the woods (to learn more about this kit, visit this website: Understanding Rocks: What's Under the Grass?) To introduce the students to the rock kit, I led them through the thinking routine Parts, Purposes, & Complexities developed by the researchers at Agency by Design.

First, I set the rock kit in the middle of the students and gave them a couple of moments to observe the entire kit.

Next, I gave the G1 students a chance to see the separate containers, so they could get a better look at the parts of the kit.

Then I asked, "What are the different parts that you see?"

As students responded, I asked them what they thought each of those parts did by asking, "What is its purpose?"

Below is the recording sheet we used to document the students' thinking.

To examine the complexities, I asked the students how the parts were connected. One student responded with:

Since we understood that the containers were there to help us organize the rocks and the papers and that the rocks and the papers were there to help us learn, we agreed it made sense to keep the rocks and the papers with their original containers as we began exploring each individual container.

Introducing the rock kit to the G1 students with this thinking routine gave them the opportunity to explore how the kit worked, gave them the chance to set up expectations about how they'd use the kit, and really got them excited about exploring the rocks further. As they were considering the parts of the kit and what purpose they had, they wanted to touch, explore, look closer, and ask questions. It was a wonderful way to start using the kit, as it really captured their minds, hearts, and attention.

After reading about how G1 students used this routine to slow down their thinking to make careful observations of a system, how could you use this routine to explore an object or a system with your students?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Using concrete models to represent abstract concepts

Third graders in Minnesota need to understand how time, money and temperature can be used to solve real-world and mathematical problems (Math Academic Standard This includes being able:
  • to tell time to the minute, using digital and analog clocks and 
  • to determine elapsed time to the minute.
Time, and especially the passage of it, are particularly abstract concepts that many third graders have difficulty understanding. Third grade educators, and other teachers of young children, must set up instruction that allows students to move from concrete to abstract (Making the PYP Happen, Subject Area Annex, Mathematics in the Primary Years Programme).

Recently, a G3 teacher introduced a model to her students that they could use to concretely represent the abstract concept of elapsed time.

The model allows students to show time passing on a timeline. Students represent the passage of time with different geological features:

  • A mountain = 1 hour
  • A hill = 30, 20, 15, 10, or 5 minutes
  • A rock = 1 minute
The teacher explained to her students that these different features represent different amounts of time relative to the amount of time it would take to climb over one (i.e. it takes longer to climb over a mountain that it does to climb over a hill, whereas jumping over a rock takes relatively little time.)

The class used this anchor chart as they learned how to use the model.

The following are some examples of students using the concrete model to represent the abstract concept of the passage of time.


In this example, the child jumps over a small hill (10 minutes) and a rock (1 minute) before jumping over a larger hill (30 minutes) in order to get to an even time (5:00). 
When students are required to show their thinking in this way, they're able to justify their thinking (abstract) more easily because they can refer to the model (concrete). Thus, young learners can initiate, explore, discuss, document, and manage their thinking about abstract concepts, if given the appropriate structure (Defining Thinking Routines, Ron Ritchhart).

This same model could also be used to make sense of other abstract mathematical concepts, such as

  • the passage of time on a greater scale (decade, century, millennia).
  • representing multiplication as jumps on a number line.
  • making change to a dollar could be concretely shown using this timeline model.
How could you use this concrete model (or other models) with your students for them to make sense of an abstract concept?

Click here to learn more about the Elapsed Time Mountain Strategy.

Friday, March 13, 2015

PYP Essential Elements: More than a bunch of lists

To prepare for my first year of teaching G3 in an IB World School, I attended the workshop, "PYP: An Introduction to the Curriculum Model." It was at that workshop that I first learned about the five essential elements of the PYP:
  • knowledge
  • skills
  • concepts
  • attitudes
  • action
At first, the essential elements represented an overwhelming amount of lists with an overwhelming amount of words to learn. To make things easier, we learned the mnemonic device "Calvin Klein Sells Awesome Apparel" to remember that the essential elements include concepts, knowledge, skills, attitudes, and action. However, this memorization tool only helped me to believe that the essential elements were lists to memorize and remember, missing the big idea of the essential elements.

Since that time, I have developed a deeper understanding of the essential elements. To help other educators with whom I work develop a similar deep understanding of the essential elements, I recently led colleagues through the following inquiry into the essential elements of the PYP:

1. Start with a concept.

To be successful, people must learn specific facts & develop certain skills, construct understanding of big ideas, and demonstrate attitudes that lead to the well-being of the individual and of the group. On the road to success, people must have authentic opportunities to put what they've learned to use.

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

What do basketball coaches want to teach their players?

After exploring our big idea (concept) in one unrelated context, I wanted to explore a concrete example closer to home, so I posed the question: "What do PYP teachers want to teach their students?"

3. Check for understanding.

Then, I asked the teachers, "What do you understand about the essential elements of the PYP? Make sure your response is Timeless, Abstract, Universal, and Transferrable."

I've included some of the individual responses here. I bolded and highlighted certain phrases to help me synthesize these responses. A synthesis of all the responses follows.

*I understand that the essential elements of the PYP help teachers identify what we want students to know, do, and understand.

*The essential elements are more than a list to dig up - they actually make logical sense in starting with what we want kids to understand KNOW - can they exhibit this and do it SKILLS - do they get the bigger concepts of who they need to be ATTITUDES - and that without an impulse to ACTION or putting into their lives what good is it? So essentially, these steps become more like logical steps to all we want to teach kids instead of a confusing list for PYP hoops to jump through.

*We use the essential elements to help us write our Units of Inquiry. We can start with knowledge - what we want the students to know. Skills - can be related across disciplines. Concepts - BIG ideas. Attitudes - these might be generated throughout the lesson. Action - give the students an opportunity to try/use these.

Deep-rooted and relevant learning is more likely to take place and evolve when PYP instructors purposefully and strategically include all of the essential elements in their daily instruction. 

*The essential elements of PYP are set of understands/characteristics/learning outcomes that encompass knowledge, skills, attitudes, concepts, and transfer of these to action!

*They are all equally important.

*All of the elements work together and are necessary to write and implement a good unit if inquiry. All of the elements lead to action and then reflection.

*The essential elements guide instructional and learning practices that reach the whole child, and intimately lead to action.

*The essential elements help organize all aspects of writing a unit. They guide teachers and students through an entire learning cycle. The elements are all the different building blocks needed to have a true understanding of a concept. They come together to help students build that understanding.

*I understand that the essential elements are "big picture" ideas and thoughts and frameworks that we want to incorporate into our lessons and guide our kiddos to use now and throughout their lives.

*We use the essential elements of PYP to write our conceptual unit of inquiries and to help us teach our students to be global learners.

*The essential elements provide a framework to ensure students are not only able to recite fact but to also understand and apply what they've learned. This provides them a base and opportunity to have deeper understanding of basic tenants and to become a more open-minded student. Seeing how all the elements support one another, could evoke higher-level thinking and processing. Concept, Knowledge, Skills, Attitude, Action.

*We hope all our work leads to action (it's the groundwork that leads to it).

*I understand that the essential elements are all necessary in order to develop a PYP learner. Through the essential elements, teachers can develop the students' skills related to a specific concept, help students to connect and apply their learning to life outside the classroom, and develop their overall self as a learner and a part of the learning community.

(which is)

*The essential elements of the PYP work together to make a complete lesson that is structured around a concept rather than a skill. Using a concept to teach a skill causes knowledge to become more meaningful. That allows students to demonstrate attitudes, knowledge, and understanding of the concept through the appropriate action. This authentic assessment helps make students more well-rounded and retain the knowledge and skills long-term.

4. Reflect on their thinking and decide next steps.

To better understand what we collectively think, I synthesized the individual responses into this one statement: 

The essential elements of the PYP are more than a list. We use the essential elements to help us write our Units of Inquiry purposefully and strategically. The essential elements of the PYP are knowledge, skills, attitudes, concepts, and action. They are all equally important and necessary to reach the whole child and to help students build understanding. The essential elements guide our kiddos now and throughout their lives to be global learners and to become more open-minded. All our work leads students to connect and apply their learning to life outside the classroom which is authentic assessment.

This statement represents a true understanding of the essential elements, which is much more sophisticated than a meaningless regurgitation of a set of lists.

Now, our next step is to see how we can apply our understanding of the essential elements when we create our written curriculum and put it into action (taught curriculum).

Using Compass Points to Structure Student-led Conferences

Right now, teachers and students are busily preparing for the second round of conferences of the school year. This round of conferences are led by the students.

Because this can seem like a formidable task t
o such young learners, teachers provide structures that help support students as they reflect on their progress with their families.

One teacher in G5 used the thinking routine Compass Points (p. 93 from Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Church, & Morrison) as the structure her students would use to communicate their successes, needs, excitements, and worries in fifth grade.

She started by providing the students with a Google Slides presentation template with just one slide that said: 

"Usually when you think of a compass, it helps you find directions: North, South, East, West

This set of compass points helps me reflect on the learning I’ve done and the learning that’s coming up: Successes, Needs, Excitements, Worries"

Students then reflected and documented their thinking on the subsequent slides. Here are some examples of what the students shared at conferences with their families. Many thanks to the G5 students who shared their thinking with us, so can learn from them!

Some of the print on the slides is small and hard to read. Click on the images to make them bigger to read the students' thinking more easily.

After reading about how G5 students used Compass Points as a structure to reflect on their learning, how could you or have you used thinking routines as a structure to help students' collectively and individually initiate, explore, discuss, document, and manage their thinking?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Zoom In

Last year, the G1 teachers with whom I work conceptually reviewed a unit of inquiry that is largely based on Minnesota K-12 Academic Standards in Science. In the unit, the teachers want students:
  • to know the different attributes used to describe rocks (knowledge-based benchmark),
  • to be able to group and classify rocks by those attributes (skill-based benchmark),
  • to be able to identify similarities and differences between soil and rocks (skill-based benchmark), and
  • to be able to identify and describe large and small objects made of Earth Materials (skill-based benchmark).
As part of the review process, the teachers identified the big ideas (called concepts) that they want their students to understand:
  • Form
  • Change
  • Causation
  • Observation
  • Description
  • Comparison
  • Classification
  • Material
Ultimately, the teachers want their students to understand that "observing the environment leads to discoveries." By wording this enduring understanding in this way, teachers can easily transfer this idea to other areas of the content, not just science.

To kick off this unit, I was invited to lead a class of G1 students through a provocation.

While planning for this provocation, I used similar steps I have used previously to teach conceptually (until it becomes more natural for me to teach with these BIG IDEAS in mind). However, I've recently seen a need to make a couple of changes:

1. Start with a concept.
2. Pick a specific, concrete example of a person, place, situation, or thing that illustrates that concept and 3. create an opportunity for students to explore that concrete example. 
4. 3. Check for understanding by having them write a concept statement.
5. 4. Reflect on their thinking and decide next steps.

1. Start with a concept.

I want the G1 students to understand that you have to make careful and close observations to really learn about something.

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

To give students the opportunity to think about observing carefully and closely in order to really learn about something, I decided to use the thinking routine "Zoom In" from Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Church, & Morrison.

Although it has nothing to do with rocks (or perhaps because it has nothing to do with rocks) I wanted to use an image from a book by Carmen Lomas Garza, "a Chicana narrative artist who creates images about the everyday events in the lives of Mexican Americans based on her memories and experiences in Texas and California," (from Garza's website). The specific image I used was from the story "Birthday Party" from the book Family Pictures / Cuadros de Familia.

At first, I showed the students a small bit of the image and asked them, "What do you observe?" and "What is your hypothesis of what is happening?" Students recorded their observations and hypotheses on a blank sheet of paper (samples of these observation recording sheets follow).

Students observed leaves, a tree, branches, and sky but they weren't really able to form a hypothesis of what was happening. We discussed that is the case because they didn't have a lot of information, so I revealed a bit more of the image.

With this new revelation, I asked them, "What new things do you observe?" and "How has your hypothesis of what is happening changed?"

Students noticed the flowers, the fence, and the woman with the crutches. They thought she might be planting a garden, but still weren't very sure what was happening because how can a woman with crutches successfully plant a garden? I pointed out to the students that their observations were actually leading to more questions.

We repeated this process three more times.

Students observed the woman's friend and thought she had invited her over for lunch.

Students observed more people and the man with the piñata. They then hypothesized that they were at a birthday party, which I challenged them on. I asked, "what is typically at a birthday party?" to which they responded "cake and presents." Because they didn't see any of that in the image, we re-hypothesized that this was an image of a party, but that we couldn't confirm what kind of party it was.

After revealing the entire image to the kids, they did observe the cake and the presents and therefore were able to confirm their original hypothesis that this was indeed a birthday party.

Next, in the routine I asked the students if they had any lingering questions. Some asked:

  • How old is the girl?
  • Why are there so many people there? Babies, children, and adults all at the same party?!
  • Are her cousins there?
  • Is the girl hitting the piñata the birthday girl?
  • What game are they playing in the corner?

Below, are some samples of the students' observation recording sheets.

I observe a leaf and tree branches and sky. The new observation: a person with a crutch. The new observation: She invited her sister. She had a party for her grandson as a fiesta. Its called a fiesta. She had a big big big big fiesta party.

I observe I see leaves and sky. There is a lady and a fence and she broke her leg. Her friend is visiting her. They are having a party. A girl is hitting the piñanta and there are cake and presents.

I observe a little of a tree branch and the tree is a sky. A fence and a lady in crutches and a flower in a garden. I think she's reaching for something. There's her sister, I think. A piñata I think and kids and more people and I think a dog and it might be a party and it might be a birthday. I see a cake and presents and even more people and a girl with a stick and blindfold.

Its getting dark. Sky. I think that someone is under playing. A women is under the tree right behind the fence and she has a broken leg? There's a little grass. I think she's looking for something. I think she is talking to someone and she doesn't like it and she is told her, "Would you like some pie?" They're having a party and I see someone doing something. I think the lady is setting up the piñata. They're gathering around the girl because she is going to hit that piñata first. See someone saying look she is going to hit the piñata and they are watching that girl hit the piñata.

leaves. branch. I wonder what the person is doing. cups. bag. having a dinner. a drink. flowers. ropes. presents. cake. sky. fence. nest. plants. adults. person. piñata. cat or a dog. birthday party. kids.

I observe smiling (?) Sky! I observe that it is a party. I observe planting. I observe her mom is helping. Maybe they're having a party.

Leaves branches sky. Girl little grass someone hurt flowers fence crutch. Girl carrying a bag. Kids kids talking adults adults talking kids playing. a lot of people piñata cups cake presents.
A tree and sky. they're going to cut down a tree. A girl broke her arm and forest. Her mom is probably mad? A lot of kids! And a piñata. A cake and drinks and presents.
3. Check for understanding.

Next, I told the students to forget about the specific picture and think about the BIG IDEA of observation. I asked them to finish the phrase, "I have to make careful and close observations because ..."

Below are some representative samples of the students' thinking.

This student understands the basic idea: that we must make careful and close observations so we can learn.

During the lesson, I asked students who needs to look carefully and closely and students responded with dectectives, spies, and scientists. This student's response shows that she understands this BIG IDEA (concept) also transfers to artists.

This student knows that careful and close observations help us learn more things, but I really like that this student is also including that when we take more time and look closely, we "have more thinking".
Next, I had all the students read their responses to the class. If someone read a new idea, we added it to the class's concept statement (using a different colored marker to graphically show how much the statement changed with the addition of new ideas.

Finally, we rewrote the statement to which they can refer throughout the entire unit.

4. Reflect on their thinking and decide next steps.

I was impressed by the first graders' keen eye during the Zoom In routine, but I was more impressed by their ability to write down all their observations. Having every child write down their observations during the thinking routine assured that everyone was engaged and also gave them an authentic reason to write. The teacher could review their observation sheets and give mini-lessons on a number of things related to writing: spelling patterns, punctuation, spacing, capitalization, question formation, etc.

The students' concept statement right now includes some ideas that are not always true; for instance, we don't always have fun when we look carefully and closely. Moving forward, I would suggest to this teacher that she set up opportunities for looking closely and carefully that aren't necessarily fun (looking through the lost and found, for example). As the students explore more concrete examples where they must observe, describe, classify, hypothesize, and draw conclusions, I would recommend that they continually revisit this concept statement and make changes as necessary.

After reading about how I used the thinking routine Zoom In to get students to develop an understanding of the importance of observing carefully and closely, how could you or have you used thinking routines to develop students' understanding of life's BIG IDEAS?