Many Worlds are Born Today

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My best ideas come to me while cooking. Quite interestingly, considering the unstable weather in classrooms that result from brainstorms and other phenomena, I do not doubt that universes can be born at school.

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For the last two weeks, the Qingdao Amerasia International School (QAIS) family has been involved in intense professional development to support our mission of being language learners and teachers at all moments. Needless to say, at the end of the last session not only did we feel empowered, but also ready to navigate the waves and layers of learning using language as the vessel that will help us co-construct new ideas and achieve new understandings.

Today was our first day at school, and I finally got a taste of the flavors on multilingualism and multiculturalism in our very own QAIS. If QAIS were a planet, all languages and cultures represented in the school (that is around 30 nationalities and languages between students and staff) could modestly symbolize different colors, textures, latitudes, structures, systems, legacies, and aspirations that every nation and planet treasure as their most desired constellation.

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First days are the genesis of great things, and these are easily perceptible to the curious eyes that look for novelty and dreams. It is almost as looking at your dear ones when you arrive in an airport after a long time: there are children running to their former teachers’ arms with full remembrance of a past year full of joy, and with their eyes filled expectations because of what lies ahead. New paths will be designed by teachers and students; the designs are very likely to change as the year evolves, but that is the beauty of learning: we flow with the rhythm of our personal expectations, and open our senses to the curiosities that are waiting for us in the real world- always inviting us to play, always ready to make us wonder.

When we see the environment that teachers have created in their classrooms, it is always interesting to look back and figure out how the pieces were put together: why are there tables and standing stations? Where have all those paper shapes gone or what are they a part of now? Why does each wall portray a certain kind of personality? Why did teachers decide to include certain symbols and images? How did teachers envision emotional layers in their classroom? And how have teachers made sure their classrooms are both learning laboratories and workshops filled with tools?

IMG_5234If the process of decorating and setting up classrooms is directly proportional to the learning that will take place in them, then it is clear to me that many worlds will be born in those classrooms; many recipes will be cooked; many ideas will be challenged; many understanding will find fertile soil to grow; and many ideals will find their communion. One single classroom to host many heads filled with ideas hence becomes the universe that awaits exploration, discovery and acknowledgment.

Happy Rhodes’s Many Worlds are Born Tonight album is playing in my iTunes now, and I cannot agree more with what she says:

If you stare into a flame
You’ll get an eye full of energy
If you write your night escapades
You’ll get a dawn full of promises.

So here is to a great year ahead; a year in which the burning flame or learning in each classroom will expect our observation; a year in which our getting involved will allow us to experience the sunrise and sunset of promises and accomplishments.

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The Things I Think about when I Differentiate

Many good and tough experiences with differentiation have made me realize that differentiation is not something that we must do because some students need help, or because some students are more able to carry out certain kinds of tasks. We differentiate because learning happens in different manners; because the route to get to it is more stimulating when we are touched by differences; because when we become aware of the warning bells that signal opportunities to conduct different explorations, we can experience creativity and curiosity flow through our veins.

The differentiated classroom is defined and described in many ways, but I could just simply say that it is the environment that recognizes teachers and students as a human beings. Basically my conception means that both of them share the credit for learning successes and the responsibilities for the difficult paths that need to be walked to experience with new ideas.

The classroom is a place where any learning and thinking individual should feel different, for it is the kitchen where good ideas are being cooked; it is the lab where new formulas are being tested; it is the playground where we are allowed to be playful with tools, before we put them to practice in the real world. So, what do I think about when I differentiate? Like any kind of reflection, there is a prior, during and post differentiation stage.

The stage prior to differentiating feels like a roller coaster: it has its ups and downs; it is filled with excitement and anticipation; grains of anxiety could be experienced; but I enjoy the readiness for doing in my fingers; the voices in my head that prompt me with ideas and dangers; the electric sensation that is produced when creating something that will help. There are times when I feel like Ironman or like a great X-Men with awesome skills. Many times I am unafraid, but there are times when I also feel nervous about new things that I am willing to try.

The stage during differentiation defines challenge in every way. This stage forces me to act as a shape-shifter; I need to be whoever students need me to be, since the questions that are asked pursue different kind of knowledge and because each student is operating in a different level of learning. The layers of learning in this stage are simply extraordinary: I need to find ways to stay engaged with the connections students are making, while being observant of what students have to say about the conceptual knowledge that is unwrapped. It is part of my job to remain curious about the learning that is constantly evolving in the classroom, understanding that I need to be willing and ready to let students do the talking and the thinking. This stage is exhausting, but the feeling I experience is the substance dreams are made of.

After differentiation a moment of silence is required; I need to make room for digesting the experience; I need to listen to the voices in my head again. The questions they now pose have to do with the way I operated in the narrative of the class that was just delivered; they ask me how I will talk about learning with students; they ask me to look at how this experience fits in the whole architecture of my teaching and, most importantly, they encourage me to plan the next best thing. And yes, I understand that after each success or struggle, I will have to plan a next best thing.

After a differentiated class, I need to start working on generating a new universe of work. This is normally best done with a good cup of coffee or tea, or with the joy of dialogue with some of my colleagues. This is the stage where I reaffirm to myself that teaching includes the demonstration of the skills we foster and aim to develop in students; that students’ thirst for knowledge activate creativity instincts in teachers and we must, therefore, create environments where this happen. When my attempts did not work as planned, I can feel a maelstrom in my skill toolbox, I can feel the noise; I can sense the silent encouragement; I can touch the texture of my thirst for resource-exploration and problem solving; and I can hear the voices of the dialogues that will follow the next best thing, when students and I celebrate that we have made it.

I differentiate, therefore I learn; and I am convinced that it is part of my job to sail the waves of creativity to generate the environment where students can tell the difference between my teaching style and others’.

Posted in Curriculum, IB MYP, IB PYP, Inquiry, Planning | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Gamified Reading: The Game is Never Over!

Unaltered image taken from: npinopunintended.wordpress.com

Unaltered image taken from: npinopunintended.wordpress.com

When I fee adventurous and decide to incorporate something new into my teaching / learning experience, I only have one condition: if it does not create different layers of learning and allows for integration of various skills, it’s not good enough. This rationale might seem unreal and arrogant, but learning and engagement are not processes that happen in isolation and, therefore, they must be protected.

Reading skills development and strategizing has been a major focus in my language classes lately. I stayed playing with the senses, using ebook creator in order to accompany texts with images and sounds in order to augment the reading experience. Another frequent strategy has been the Spiral Action Reading Approach (SARA) in which passages are exploited in such a way that readers are stimulated to establish connections with other disciplines, to state memories that the reading evokes, to share experiences that they can link to the ‘life lessons’ in the text, and to carry out grammar and vocabulary development takes using the passage as a background.

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Part of students’ work is to tell the story of the choices they make. A map is generated as support in their story-telling.

Moreover, one of the most gratifying strategies is how I have used the storylines in vintage games to engage students into, for example (using Golden Axe as a context), imagining the background of the characters; into describing difficult moments of the journey and come up with possible strategies; into evaluating the alternatives in terms of weapons, when or not magic needs to be used, etc. This practice has allowed students to produce some of the most creative writing pieces, and have helped me see the role of inquiry questions when aiming to make-meaning out of readings. (Golden Axe -in Spanish- Download)

However, it is been my efforts in gamifying stories what has yielded fantastic results. Not only have students experienced challenged to demonstrate their reading comprehension skills, but have also needed to employ problem solving and transfer strategies in order to fulfill the tasks.

I cannot lie and say that gamifying readings is a simple task, because it isn’t! On the contrary, planning for them is lengthy and testing their logics, the sequence between clues and the relationships among them requires time, focus and patience. Yet, they are some of the most reciprocal tasks for they pay back with a very special kind of engagement, in which students read beyond reading for they are to make choices, save information and utilize the ‘weapons’ the accumulate when available.

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Giving students the chance to compare the choices they make is a key element of gamified reading.

Gamified reading tasks do not look like readings; their maze-like nature and how they incite readers into assessing every step of their process helps me say that this kind of takes truly welcome and empower inquiry and also become a plateau where students witness how their skills a.k.a. Toolbox are employed, as well as where their efforts are going.

Download a sample for Spanish (MYP Phase 2) here.

Below are some students’ opinions on gamified reading.

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Savor reflection and let it flavor your new experiences

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When discussing projects and how we must never underestimate the efforts we make while completing them, I always remember what my biology teacher told me in Middle School: a boat builder does not make a boat solely to drag it to the sea and figure out how well it floats; he builds it so that it takes him to different places. Ms. Laura Barrón claimed that students should regard projects as vessels that will transport them to different plateaus of learning, where new projects will be generated, and where they had the opportunities to marvel at the opportunities new knowledge and information allows them to have.

Not only has this mantra helped me embrace the challenges in every new project I participate in, but also has encouraged me to find ways to help students enjoy a meaningful process in the projects they are to fulfill. In an inquiry-based learning environment some of the most meaningful habits that need to be experienced are awareness of the skills we are employing while working; reflection on the strategies we employ and the results we obtain; and evaluation of the decisions we make when we devise instruments or processes for learning. For this reason, in order to help students realize the importance of turning their project into vessels of learning, I enjoy engaging in their wonderings and wanderings, for this also helps me get to know them better as well.

Incorporating ‘ATL’ as adjectives, nouns and verbs in the conversations I have with students has become a common element in our interactions. In previous posts I have already spoken the importance of helping students see that the ideas they share contribute to the co-construction of information (another brick on the bridge); I have shared my views on the importance of explicitly teaching essential skills in each of the projects we carry out in our subjects (Hands of the doer); I have reflected on the importance of observing and acknowledging how new learning transforms students and teachers alike (Cycles); and I have also inquired into the unit to measure the joy of learning. This time, as I revisit the interviews on ATL in the Personal project that I had during the Personal Project presentation, I have realized that students are able to identify those significant ATL skills that will help them achieve their goals, and to devise different ways of learning to make that happen. Nonetheless, what strikes me the most is the passion with which they claim ownership of their learning.

As I look back at the ATL in the Personal Project that we underwent at EMWS this year, I can’t help but wonder:

  • Are we interested in welcoming learners’ reflections so that we can design learning experiences to engage them as the individuals they have become?
  • Are we interested in observing how they talk about the skills they have attained, so that we can capitalize on that and help them explore new sets of abilities?
  • Does engaging with learners’ reflections awaken the desire of getting to know more about them, about the big ideas that are shaping their convictions, and about the possible ways in which their expertise can be useful in our learning experience?
  • Are we able to see how acknowledging and making room for students’ legacy can help develop richer and more engaging experiences in the future?
  • Do we take ownership of the contributions we have made to students’ development while valuing the way their learning styles and approaches to learning enriched our praxis?
  • Do we generate opportunities for other peers of theirs to learn from the collective experience that is generated within the community?
  • Do we know how to store the knowledge that our community generates?

This is just another day in the life of an ATL lover.

Below are some of the reflections students shared on their Personal Projects in which elements of the essence of ATL are captured.

 

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Engagement, they wrote

One of the most rewarding experiences for a teacher is to witness how students take responsibilities for answering the questions that emerge in class and then redefine the course of the inquiry that was originally planned. When this happens in my class, I see it as a sign of providence; and while a few times this web of questions and answers does not take place in the target language (Spanish), I find that this is a sacrifice I am willing to make for it is the substance of their debate what will allow me to maximize the meaningfulness of the unit.

As we were unwrapping our statement of inquiry for our unit entitled ‘Manners’, someone asked: “so how can we use international mindedness as a tool and not as an idea in this unit?” And then the best part came when I asked if anyone could answer that. Volunteers in this kind of requests are never rare in my class, and since their interventions were flavored with humor, wits, dense ideas and personal opinions, I could not possibly ask for more.

Not only did students’ exchange of ideas launched the unit in a powerful way, but also generated a great context for us to start locating and mapping the explorations that could be made. Thus, from manners at the table, to the difference between manners, rules and prohibitions, how manners depend on place, culture and time, every idea that arose automatically became an item in our project.

IMG_3531As a result of this standup internationalmindedness-omedy, students agreed on researching the spectrum of manners in a variety of countries and to write a brief manual with key information on how the country each of them chooses regards ideas such as punctuality, stress tolerance, the idea of ‘good behavior’ and the flexibility of rules.  We are now hoping to find schools in the countries that were chosen in order for students to receive feedback on how thorough and accurate their research was, and after that they are hoping to write a few pointers for people traveling to those countries so that they live the culture in that particular country whenever they are there.

… And then there is that lucky moment when a DP business management student enters the classroom and adds: “that information can actually be helpful when we discuss case studies from those countries.” Again, I just enjoyed when students asked, “do you think we can also talk about that?”

Introduction to the project: Sensitization task

Introduction to the project: Sensitization task

Unwrapping the unit: looking at situations

Unwrapping the unit: looking at situations

Summarizing research

Summarizing research

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Reflections that Inspire Action

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For the 3rd time, we have worked on a unit on Sustainability at Ecole Mondiale World School in the MYP Grade 10 Language Acquisition Department; this is also the 3rd time we conduct a Skype conference to accompany and enrich the experience, and having witnessed how students engaged with the experience, we can fully celebrate by saying what we say in Mexico: la tercera es la vencida (the third time around is the winning one). The first time we used the Skype Classroom experience to wrap up our unit; last year we used it as a key component in the learning experiences of the unit; and this year, not only did we want it to help students add perspective to the initiative they were about to launch, but also to generate an opportunity for them to discuss what they have been studying in their respective language class (French, Hindi and Spanish), and to have the opportunity to demonstrate their communication and critical thinking skills. This third time, students have fully demonstrated that, if given the chance, they are able to elevate the significance of learning to plateaus that cannot be constructed in learning scenarios where there is limited scope to visualize how their convictions and beliefs would take shape in the real world.

Snapshots from the blog

Snapshots from the blog

Prior to this conference, students had taken part in blog collaborations with people from different latitudes of the world, from India itself to Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, Spain, Malawi, USA and Panama; they had also held a meeting where they started to map the timeline they were to follow for the initiative they were targeting as a result of their involvement in the unit; they had divided their duties and commenced to explore the scenario to gain awareness of the current situation of our learning community, as the school will be the receptacle of this experience. For this reason, beyond providing them with the opportunity to learn how Emmanuel López Neri and his students at UVM started a movement towards developing an App for environmental sustainability and sustainable civility, this experience allowed them to evaluate the first steps of their initiative, to learn from the difficulties López Neri and his team have experienced, and to develop a new perspective that can help them prevent problems and devise possible solutions as they launch their initiative.

Students demonstrated that they are able to comprehend complex processes involved in planning, and designing innovations; that they are capable of understanding how data collection processes work; and that they can identify the gaps where problems may occur. Clearly, those teachers that witnessed how students engaged in the reflection process have witnessed yet another example of the power of inquiry and engagement. I, an individual that has ben lucky to witness this happenstance quite often, cannot help but feel lucky of seeing students shaping understandings and inspiring me to continue looking for new scenarios for all of us to learn. On a personal level, what this experience has allowed me to see is the power of reflection when done at the right moment and at the right time; when we address it with an affective approach and link its substance to personal experience, to our local context; and when we use the energy it provides us to shape our learning journeys.

Most importantly, this experience has confirmed my belief that reflection is meaningful and effective when teachers and students are part of the course, when this stage is not an isolated part of the inquiry process, and when we, the participants, acknowledge that the moment at which we reflect becomes a plateau that allows us to look learning before our reflection and after it. What best system to document reflection than this: an occasion where everyone involved can savor the spices in the ideas we share; an instance where everyone is given to opportunity to create new affective and intellectual links with one another; an event where the knowledge being generated belongs to everyone present; and an experience that allows us to bathe our interactions in the science of thinking, as we navigate the waves of togetherness and truly feel part of the learning community we belong to. Below is a video that captures some of the key moments in our reflection. López Neri said that we all make science when develop interest in transforming our reality; when we break our ideas and curiosities and put them together to discover that we are capable of creating impact. I also believe that we make science when we generate spaces to discuss how we are experiencing our learning, for this is one of the most transparent ways in which we can continue designing the pathway that will take us to our idea of learning and happiness.

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ATL as the GPS of understandings

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Unedited image taken from: electronics.howstuffworks.com

Culminating projects are a big deal, and since big deals are meant to be treasured and remembered, this year we want our PYP students to have even greater reasons to be proud of their achievements. In this particular occasion we want them to be fully aware of both the skills required for a successful completion of the PYP exhibition and the skills they already possess in their ‘toolbox’, so that they have more toys to play with as they make their own decisions and design their inquiries.

Source of image: http://www.shopbuy.org

As a result of the explicit introduction of Approaches to Learning (ATL) in the Diploma Program, at Ecole Mondiale we want to start the journey in PYP so that the MYP serves as pathways for enhancement and consolidation of this series of skills that allow us to strategize what we can do with what we know, and that can enable us to devise opportunities for action in our surroundings by observing what skills are needed to solving problems. Clearly, the curiosity and thirst for knowledge that exist in students’ biological age as they move from primary to secondary serves as our best friend in this journey.

The awareness that will be reaffirmed through this initiative will hopefully help MYP teachers to engage students in a special kind of dialogue that will allow students to explicitly refer to the skills needed in each learning experience of core task, so that they can manage their own learning and aim for self-regulation. Likewise, this explicitness will hopefully assist the teachers in figuring out how best to design learning scenarios that welcome and promote the employment of these approaches to learning.

The aims of the session were:

  • Develop awareness of the clusters and skills that each ATL category includes.
  • Involve students in categorising and mapping the essential ATL skills in the exhibition.
  • ‘Cube’ (represent in a conceptual model) the significance of the exhibitions through 6 specific lenses:
    1. Description
    2. Comparison
    3. Association
    4. Analysis
    5. Application
    6. Reflection.
  • Synthesize the essence of their personal contribution / project in the exhibition.

The following video documents our session on ATL & the PYP exhibition.

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