Friday, 6 January 2017

Supporting Units of Inquiry through Collaborative Learning - Teamie in the PYP Classroom

Supporting Units of Inquiry through Collaborative Learning - Teamie in the PYP Classroom

I had the pleasure of visiting Nexus International School (Singapore) in the last week of November and seeing how they are putting the Teamie learning platform to good use in their teaching and learning in the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme (PYP).  For me this was a very interesting experience as I had been an Elementary PYP teacher of grade 2 and grade 5 prior to joining Teamie.  While many schools choose to initially deploy Teamie in their middle school and high school programs, Nexus uses it as a tool to organize and communicate teaching and learning in primary school units of inquiry (UOI).  One of the reasons for joining Teamie initially was that I identified it as a tool that I would have had loved to integrate into my teaching and use the features of the tool to organize my units of inquiry, further motivate and engage my students, exhibit student learning and action and better meet the teaching and learning goals of the PYP IB programme.  As I continue to better understand all the facets and capabilities of the platform and experience its continued development, I always revert to envisioning how I would have used those tools in my own PYP classroom, so I was excited to be invited to Nexus and see where their usage of the platform aligned with my own ideas and where it went beyond.

Teaching, Learning and Reflecting in a Unit of Inquiry Class

I was welcomed into Mr. Zach’s Year 5 classroom. Their inquiry unit was How the World Works and they were enquiring into the central idea (CI) “Scientific understanding of material helps us meet our changing needs”.  A bright young man named Archie had volunteered to show me some of the work they had been doing in this inquiry with the help of the Teamie platform.  Firstly there were 7 lessons for the unit that had been built by Mr. Zach in the materials section of the platform, roughly following the inquiry cycle (Tuning in, Finding out, Sorting out, Going Further, Reflecting, Taking action.Mr. Zach would post a quick question in the class newsfeed and get comments and feedback from learners.  In some cases, he'd run a formative assessment of prior knowledge through a Quiz on Teamie and instantly see which questions the learners were having trouble understanding. Student initiated questions or response comments helped drive and direct inquiry. Useful sources of information were organized and shared by both Mr. Zach and the students, in lessons and newsfeed posts.
 Teamie LMS at Nexus International School Singapore
What Archie was showing me on this particular day was them wrapping up their unit by using the Stories feature to reflect on the unit and mainly the summative task where they did procedural writing of science experiments and performed those experiments for a Year 4. This tool was used to reflect on the task but also housed and exhibited the key elements of the process. After completion it was shared so others could provide peer feedback on not just the end result but the whole process.

Integrating Technology Tools & Applications into the Classroom

I had noticed that students had used different tools and applications to express themselves and the manner & ease with which other technology tools and applications were integrated into the classroom stood out to me. The advantage of this flexibility was that it allowed the students to use applications that they were comfortable with and hence their reflection on the summative  showed a nice array of skills and multiple intelligences that were being exercised.
For example, first Archie had used Doodlecast, a video presentation app, on his iPad to record a reflection and then he uploaded it in his Story on the Teamie learning platform. He had also uploaded the Google slide on which he had done the procedural writing of his experiment following the scientific method taught in one of the earlier mentioned lessons that Mr. Zach had designed using the native Teamie lesson building tool.
The rest of the story was populated with photos of the experiment itself and the assessment documents used that were a checklist for the procedural writing assessment success criteria and a very nice continuum rubric for the experiment itself.
Integrating Technology into Unit of Enquiry

Encouraging & Recording Action

I also saw the Teamie platform playing a big part in the Action component of the inquiry cycle. Housing, promoting and eliciting action from the students of Mr. Zach’s class. First off one of the classrooms which all the students were members of was specifically devoted to and entitled Action. 
Enhancing E-Learning Through Collaboration
I think that much of the student action happening daily goes unrecognised or unrecorded but thankfully Teamie has many features which capture these small pieces of anecdotal evidence of student action.  I’ll share with you some that I observed, in the time I spent in Mr. Zach’s class.  One student had shown the initiative to experiment with Stories, publishing and sharing the first Story on Teamie in this class. The Story was entitled ‘Techkid’, a collection of images and links to useful apps he had encountered which he felt would be beneficial to his peers in their integration and understanding of technology and would compliment their use of the Stories app as they moved forward in the school year and continued to publish their learning on Stories.  In this way the student of their own volition was using Stories as an ongoing shared blog to communicate ideas and connections he’d made in his learning with others.
Stories - Teamie's e-Portfolio
If we consider action any time students are Sharing and presenting findings, teaching others, taking action based on what has been learned to make a difference’,  then every time a student publishes a Story on Teamie , posts a comment, question or thought in news feed or shares in some form their learning being used to make a difference, it is encouraging and exhibiting action.  The Stories that students were writing were action, the presentation of their experiments to the Year 4s was action, the comments and questions posted throughout the unit were actions, the Techkid blog is action, feedback provided on each others Stories is action and sharing their experience with me was action. So thank you very much to Archie and Mr. Zach’s class for giving me some insight into how Teamie can enhance inquiry and action in a PYP classroom.
 Using Teamie eLearning Platform in PYP Classroom

Gordon Vanstone (Teamie) and Lee Wilson (Nexus International school)

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Creating Meaningful Learning Opportunities

Pritika Chandiramani
Year 2 Class Teacher
EtonHouse International School, 51, Broadrick Road

Our school shares the rich culture of weekly gatherings, where all teachers and students come together in the school hall to experience a sense of community and belonging with each other. The weekly assemblies are also a time to pass on general messages from the school head and acknowledge individual student merits by awarding certificates to discerning students. The most thrilling part about these assemblies is, that each week a class is scheduled to host it. While it is an absolutely enthralling experience for the students of the host class who get to go up on stage and do a performance; for their parents who are delighted to see their kids up on stage; and for the other class students and teachers who get to witness another class perform; it can be a frightfully daunting experience for the host teacher who has to think of a plan for the assembly, get her students ready and organised in order to perform in front of the rest of the school. 

Very recently, I had the pleasure of being that teacher! Two weeks before the actual date, I announced to the class that it was soon going to be our Class Assembly. Barely realising, I spoke my thoughts out loud, "what can we do"? To my amazement, students were instantly hooked on and spontaneously started bouncing off suggestions and sharing ideas with their peers and myself. The buzz and excitement was evident. Seizing the teaching moment and possibly a meaningful learning journey that could follow, I prompted them to get into groups and continue to discuss what they would like their assembly to look like, feel like and sound like. 

This is where it all began... knowing their goal and working passionately together towards it. In the video, you will witness the variety, depth and meaningful learning that took place there on. It was priceless! Students were faced with opportunities that pushed them to tackle all approaches to teaching and learning through authentic learning experiences. They were communicating in small and big groups, presenting their ideas, writing and reading plans. The social opportunities for team work and collaboration were umpteen, accepting responsibilities, making group decisions were just a few of many. The group were thinking as they were comprehending, applying, analysing and evaluating newly acquired knowledge. They managed their time, organised themselves and made informed choices. The ongoing research made it possible for the students to collect, record, organise and interpret data, while they continued to observe and plan for their class assembly.  

During the entire process of their planning, students stayed emotionally hooked, as it was a project that was relevant and significant to them. With that in mind, it was effortless for them to stay focused on their personal and positive attitudes towards peers, towards the environment and towards learning.  
In the end, the process and planning of our assembly inevitably became the crux of the actual performance, in addition to the song chosen by students to dance to. As one of the students said, "I think we should perform to this song because it connects well with our Central Idea".
Here is a glimpse of our planning process and the rich learning that happened through it!

I have to admit, that even though I was a little nervous on the actual day of the performance, I was confident that my students would shine up on stage for the simple reason that they owned it, every part of it! And guess what! They did.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Student reflections in maths

by Martina Horn
Prep teacher (5 - 6 year olds)
Australian International School
In planning for an upcoming stand alone mathematics unit on Shape, the Prep team wanted to focus on our own understanding of the approaches to learning and how they relate to Mathematics. During our initial collaborative planning session we identified the targeted transdisciplinary and mathematical skills and unpacked these in more detail through the lens of Shape. From there we were able to develop a series of goals related to these skills. These goals were discussed and the team identified how they connected to both the Prep and Year 1 end of year expectations for Shape. Whilst it is important for students to set their own learning goals, it was felt that an initial area for development was improving teacher understanding of how the skills and lines of inquiry could be developed into goals.
In order to support the use of these goals I developed an ‘Up and Down Reflection’ for students to use
The aim of this self-assessment was so my students could tell me which areas in shape they felt they knew well and/or which areas they felt they needed to work on a little or a lot more. The students were asked to show this by either drawing a hill (the up) above the red line running through the centre of the graph paper. The size of the hill would reflect how much they felt they already knew.  If they felt they needed to work on the area a lot, they would draw an upside down hill (a down) below the red line. To help guide them to reflect above or below the red line, a happy face indicated above the line and a sad face indicated below the line. This helped the children understand what was meant by know well or need more learning. It had no negative connotation attached to it and they seemed to understand this.
This type of graphical representation was selected for both its mathematical nature and accessibility for young learners.
It is felt that most students were able to accurately reflect on their knowledge of shapes and where they felt they needed to focus on more. This activity connects directly to the PYP framework which encourages and makes use of self-reflection upon completion of units of study, and has assisted me to give each student a ‘shape math goal’. Moving forward, students will be encouraged to select their own goals based on their self-assessments.
As a class we will be using the next few weeks to focus each week on shape math goals and these are individualized according to how each student reflected. These goals are displayed on the class Math Board and discussed regularly so as to develop student articulation of goals and vocabulary.
Would I do anything different next time?
Instead of using a happy and a sad face to stress how much understanding a student has, I would rather put a check or a thumbs up symbol to indicate = know concept well/good understanding, and a thumb to the side to indicate = need to develop more understanding. This will ensure the reflection is seen positively.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Building Resilience in Students: Our important role as teachers

“If just one person in a child’s life is consistently supportive, a child is much more likely to overcome difficult circumstances. Just one person who is enthusiastic about the child. Just one person who lights up when the child walks into the room.”

Being a teacher and parent in an international school in Singapore has made me aware of a  fascinating group of children: ‘Third Culture Kids’. Having been born and brought up exclusively in my home country, I often compare my formative years with my daughter’s current life. My culturally homogenous and perfectly uneventful childhood does not come close to the multicultural opportunities and experiences she has been privileged to have in her thirteen years in three different countries. However, while there are positives about being a third culture kid, there are several potential downsides as well.

While children around the world are affected by stressful situations in various degrees through their school life, third culture children share very specific challenges. Sudden changes in living location may lead to a breakdown in friendships and core groups, feelings of isolation and even elements of discrimination. These often lead to a multitude of other emotional and social challenges, some more complex than others. While many children cope with these challenges beautifully, the emotional and social turmoil rarely goes away. However, being able to cope, is a key factor for students around the world to maintain positive mental health, successful school experiences and healthy relationships. It is not something that teachers or parents can control or decide. However, teachers can play a vital role in helping students develop important attributes, that enable them to be resilient, ensuring that their mental health and wellbeing is not left to chance.

Research has shown that resilience makes a big difference in how children live. Having productive strategies for coping with hardships, allows children to live long and healthier lives, have happier relationships, become more successful in school and be more positive and less depressed. However, resilience isn’t something one is necessarily born with; it can be learned. This is where we, as teachers, come in. Strong teacher-child relationships are vital to building resilience. Moreover, it is possible for teachers to develop resilience strategies and tie them seamlessly into the curriculum.

Nursery age children are naturally drawn to their teachers because of the physical nature of their needs. Little ones need to be aware that it’s ok to ask for help and that it is easily forthcoming. However, teaching children to wait and be patient, by gently putting off entertaining a child who wants immediate attention, is perhaps one of the most basic ways to build resilience. Sharing classroom materials and activities, stressing the importance of turn taking and developing understandings of the importance of relationships, is integral for the little ones to get their first taste of resilience development. When teachers overtly model classroom essential agreements, attributes of the learner profile and the PYP attitudes, it gives students ideas on how they can follow these and create new ways to replicate these as well. Empowering students to speak their mind if they are not happy with a situation or other children’s actions, often reduces emotional and social breakdowns. Also, rather than complaining, children need to be encouraged to look for positive points in their peers or life in general.

Even children over the age of six, who are quite independent, still need adult reassurance. Their increasing interest in friends, social media, internet games and other activities, begins drawing them away from adults. Conducting and facilitating class meetings with attention to specific feelings, makes students aware of their emotions. These meetings can take place as the need arises, daily or simply reflect on the past week. They are healthy ways to connect students and create a safe place for them to discuss and repair negative emotions they may have towards each other or towards a particular situation.

Getting students involved in volunteering to make a collaborative contribution to their school or outside community, helps them to serve others, model generosity and creates positive action. However, volunteering isn’t something that comes naturally to many students. Teachers can serve as advisors or mentors to such ideas. This could be as simple as helping each other to clean up the immediate environment, to feel a sense of worth and to understand that happiness and wellbeing can come from non-material things too. Setting up opportunities for students to be ‘giving’ by inviting students from other classes to visit, to showcase an exhibition or a class task, is also an effective way to create better well-being between students. Encouraging students to step outside their comfort zone and play with children who speak another language or even trying new activities or foods is another way to widen children’s experiences, where students build, develop and practice coping strategies. It is important to keep reminding children, that there is always a rainbow after any storm.

By age eleven and twelve, children begin challenging ideas and authority and resilience to emotional challenges, often falters. It is at this stage, that significant adults should be aware of the importance of connecting to the emotional needs of students. Helping students to set realistic academic goals, creating optimistic social resolutions, offering critical thinking tools to solve emotional issues, providing opportunities to be more assertive and encouraging children to persevere when challenges arise, are some of the important processes that foster resilience during the teenage years. In turn, resilience could help boost student confidence and encourage support among students, making them happier, more empathetic and balanced individuals.

While teachers cannot possibly control their students’ lives outside school, we can certainly try and make a difference in our students’ lives at school. By creating an environment that fosters and develops resiliency among our students, we can help them to face and overcome challenges and get stronger because of it.

- Liesl Pinto
K1 Homeroom Teacher
Chatsworth East International School

Sunday, 11 September 2016

A Learning Story: SAVING OUR TOMORROW (Theme: PLAY)

Chatsworth International School
International Mindedness Festival
“Life is more fun if you play games.”  ― Roald Dahl

Day 1
As a class we had chosen PLAY as our theme for the IMF festival. This we did by voting using tally marks (mathematics integration). We started the day by discussing what ‘international minded’ meant and soon concluded that it meant living in harmony (this word came from a student in our class) and being open-minded.
Next part of the day was spent thinking about, what is play? Then we discussed, why is play important?
Children’s responses:
-  It helps you to exercise and keep fit.
- Play helps bits of your body.
- Play is having fun.
-  Play helps you to get stronger.
- You don't get bored!
- Play is fun.
- You get to go outside.
- Play is catching and catching is fun!
Day 2
The children were divided into five groups to make their own unique games to play. The specific instructions given were:
1) Give a name to your game (creativity)
2) Think about the rules (organisation skills)
3) What will you need? (language integration - instructional writing)
The children first observed the secondary students playing outside. Then they thought of their unit of inquiry on How the world works with the related concepts of force and movement. Finally they used reusable items from their ‘I Time’ box and created games (applying prior knowledge).
Day 3
On the third day we looked at play with a compass viewpoint.
N – Nature
The children picked up twigs from the outside and made different games with them. Some used their prior knowledge of tic tac toe and improvised on it while others came up with alphabet (language integration) and number games. We also made creative designs with twigs, stones, kidney beans and dry flowers using our knowledge of shapes and patterns (mathematics integration).
S – Society (people)
We invited other classes to come and play our games. Our host class had to explain the rules of the games, etc (oral skills). That was fun!
E – Economy
We made a shopping game and also understood that we need money to play or buy games sometimes (making connections).
W - Well being
Play keeps us fit and happy. We played outdoor games to learn about different forces and in the process exercised and stayed fit. J
Day 4
The last day of the week was spent on reflection. So how can play save our tomorrow?
The children’s responses:
- Playing helps the world to be clean. First they play, then they clean up.
- Play helps us to be caring, make friends and if you're nice to each other, it makes the world nicer.
- Play is getting exercise and be healthy.
- People respect each other.
- People respect their friends, we share languages when we play with people of different countries and you know more about others
- You become open-minded. Play gives us energy.
- We make friends
- We build new friendships
- Play gives us new friends
- We can have so much fun
- Play helps us to include more people
- The world becomes one big family

This is an example of transdisciplinary learning through the power of play!
By: Srinanda Gupta
Early Years Coordinator/Year 1 Homeroom