We built more than a Structure, we built a Foundation

We’ve been doing a lot of challenges in Grade 1 – thanks ‏@bfinnimore . Our challenge, to build a structure that can hold as many dictionaries as possible.There have been a lot of tears in Grade 1. We’ve had conflict. Resolution. Design. Redesign. It’s been an interesting week. We’ve been involved in design thinking. We’ve been incorporating Math, Science, Social Studies, Art and Technology in design projects.P1060742


The kids like projects like these I think. Yes, theres turmoil and stress but in the end they are left with some sort of satisfaction of completion. Of teamwork. You cant get that feeling from a workbook or a worksheet. Most of our weekly challenges involve teamwork. Some kids ‘hate’  it. Others love it. Some kids assume role of leaders, others are given the role by peers. It depends. Its hard! We blog about it here too.

As a teacher I need to stop myself from jumping in and solving their problems, conflicts. Its hard to stand back but this is authentic learning. I provide guidance when needed, when asked, but I do not give them an answer.

P1060769These types of projects foster teamwork, collaboration, thinking skills. Real like situations here that will challenge these kids. We learned alot about math, max. weight capacity and bridge load. We used estimation and accurate measurement using standard measurement. In these challenges we have a our specs. For example make s structure X high or X long.. If kids want to innovate, awesome. Go for it. We often get other grades involved like the grade 4. They love to come in and test our hypotheses and give their expert feedback on how to better the design. How do they know? They had similar experiences years ago in grade 1. We learn that we can use other designs and make them better. We learn that we use other people for inspiration and for information. These are real life skills.

Afterwards we talk about what skills we used, why we even did this challenge and what weve learned. They get it. Its applied learning. In PYP speak kids are ‘Applying Meaning’ and using higher order thinking skills. I love the inquiry into maths here in these challenges. What I dont want to do is to plan everything the kids do. Plan each step. Thats not inquiry. Learning unfolds. If I did this next year it would be very different Im sure.

So what did I learn as a practitioner?
Kids need time
We make mistakes
We have different ideas
We use prior knowledge to make future decisions

Its great to learn from my kids. Building on my own foundation of learning.

Of course.. I could give a worksheet…


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Some Teapot Math: Take 2, Part 1

Several years ago, we began a teapot project. Created in collaboration with teachers from China and YIS in Japan, the idea took off and has been running the last several years. The teapot has traveled from Japan to the US to Indonesia and then back to the US. What it involves is willing teachers, upper elementary or middle school students, and the desire to do some project-based learning. It’s a chance to do some good math inquiry.

This year, Melvina and her 6th grade class in Hawaii started up the project again, and we jumped in to receive their teapot. We will then send on to Aviva, and her 5th graders in Canada. The goal is to create a box that can hold a teapot that can be shipped to another country. A teapot is an odd enough shape that’s not easy to fit into a typical box. I like that it gives students a challenge to design something that can hold the teapot tightly. Here are some learning intentions for this teapot package project.

IMG_6943Our Beginning

To start off the project, we looked at packaging and sustainable design. We took a trip to the local supermarket, a store that specializes in foreign goods, to look at different packaging. Students were introduced to the project and told to do some analysis of the unique designs used to package items.

What they found is that the rectangular prism is the most common type of packaging although there are some unique ones out there. We talked about making the package environmentally friendly and that we’ll be using recycled materials as much as we can. We don’t want to use packaging materials if possible, or at least use minimal ones.

After our walking trip and package analysis, we looked at some packaging designs online. Apple has a lot of interesting packaging ideas that are supposed to be eco-friendly. This site also has some cool, creative designs we all looked at for inspiration.

A Skype Call

BiknEH2CUAAkur6Next we got a chance to talk with the class in Hawaii who had designed the teapot package we would receive. They had spent about a month working on the project, and their winning designs were fantastic. The students shared their design and why they had chosen the one they did. They talked about the challenges of collaborating and designing the package. They had chosen four different designs. One of the winning ones was a box shaped like a volcano. All were colorful, all different shapes and all represented Japan. The students enjoyed talking with the students in Hawaii and got some great ideas about how to approach their own teapot package, bound for Canada. We had to choose one teapot package but really wanted them all!

Teams and Design

Next students were placed in teams of 3 or 4 and they started brainstorming ideas for the package. Everyone in the team wrote out their own design, and then their goal was to come to consensus. In words and pictures, they came up with ideas about colors, shapes, type of materials, durability and functionality. I wasn’t in the day they brainstormed, and it was fun to come back and see their ideas taking shape. Based on their investigation of packaging and their conversation with Hawaii, they independently thought about what a package needed.

They then got some ideas from the class in Canada. Their Canadian friends there brainstormed things important to Canada like the maple leaf on the flag, hockey and even the say “Eh.” We looked at their pictures of images and words for ideas.

Doing the Math and Planning

IMG_7076Now it was time to do some concrete math. Since we hadn’t received the teapot yet, but knew the dimensions, students created a model of the teapot’s size. With recycled materials, they put together something that was approximately the size of the teapot–although different in shape. It was a good chance to observe everyone’s measurement skills and 2-D to 3-D conversion as they put together rectangles to make a rectangular prism.

From there, students had a physical model to look at and came up with exact measurements for their teapot package. Since our goal was to use as little packaging as possible, students thought about how to make a small package, leaving only some room inside. One group came up with a box with sides that flexed inwards. This led to some interesting math about how much the sides should indent in order to leave enough room for the teapot. On their own, they began inquiring into angles, talking about the size of angles and what would be the best angle for those indents. Students drew out trapezoids, a rocket ship shaped package and finally a maple leaf.

In drawing and talking about their teapot package designs, we discussed perimeter and area and introduced volume. I then introduced scale and had students attempt to scale their designs on 1 cm graph paper. As it turned out, that exercise proved to be one of the most challenging so far. The trapezoid and rectangular prism with indented sides was easy enough. The maple leaf was suddenly a huge challenge and chance for inquiry.

Some Complex Math

IMG_7209Trying to scale the maple leaf proved to be a great inquiry, unexpectedly. As one of the students started working on it, with each leaf having a different perimeter, she became frustrated. She declared it impossible to scale or something that would take so long she dreaded it. One of her teammates came through and thought it might be possible based on something she had seen before. She couldn’t quite place how to do it though. Then, another student came over and suggested dividing the shape into triangles so they could figure out the area. Then, they could scale the area. Suddenly three of them were working on it, measuring out acute, right and obtuse triangles. They decided to find the area of each of the triangles and then add them altogether. They figured out how to do the area of triangles and had conversations about how to find the height of the triangles. It was amazing. I stood back and watched as they figured and figured as a team, completely engaged for about 45 minutes. I love those moments in teaching. The next day they were back at it again.


IMG_7214Meanwhile, students have been learning SketchUp to use as an assistant design program. They did some tutorials on Sketchup and then had the goal of creating a house, as practice. I’ve never completely learned SketchUp myself but I leave it up to the students who are so much quicker at learning tools like SketchUp. They loved it and within several hours of using it, all of them had created at least a house. Some were creating cities. Now, they’re moving into using SketchUp to make their actual teapot design. Since they can’t find a cm tool on SketchUp, they are independently converting between mm and cm or m and cm. Hopefully, we will be able to print out one of the designs on the school’s 3-D printer.

The Teapot Arrives

IMG_7198Just before spring break, the teapot from Hawaii arrived. We opened the package with excitement to find an intact teapot and beautiful teapot package. The package was a spam musubi box, which was carefully coated in rice with a homemade felt spam on the top. Inside the box was the white teapot, some tea from Hawaii and a postcard from the students. It was like getting a birthday present, and students were all excited. We now are ready to start constructing our own package, using recycled cardboard students found at school. We also got to have a nice tea party with the tea and teapot that arrived, while listening to some soothing Hawaiian music. We’re ready for the next stage of the project…and spring break, of course.

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A Math Inquiry With Attitude

One of my concerns is that math in my classroom is not as inquiry based as I would like it to be.  My students and I just began a unit on Geometry.  I gave the pretest and for the most part, students had a spattering of knowledge and the test was completed with much hair pulling and cries of “Man! I KNOW this….but….I forgot!”.  When we went over the paper, I could see a collective “aha” from the majority of the students as they started to dust off the vocabulary sitting at the back of their minds.  So, what to do?


I did some scouring of the internet and came up with a couple of really interesting reads: Angle Measurement – An Opportunity for Equity, and Inquiry Maths: A Parallel Lines Inquiry.


After reading these articles, the next day my students and I sat with the pretest and pulled the vocabulary from it.  They spent the lesson with math dictionaries, math tools, the Khan Academy, and various math text books from the classroom shelves in order to create an understanding of what these terms meant.  They found all these connections that I wanted them to know but didn’t want to just tell them: that perpendicular lines were also intersecting lines but not all intersecting lines are perpendicular.  Same with equilateral triangles and isosceles triangles (all equilateral triangles are isosceles but all isosceles are not equilateral). Some asked if they could work on their “Math Dictionaries” at home.  Others took screen shots of Khan Academy videos and added their own notes.  I told them they were preparing for an inquiry and they needed to be well equipped!


The next day, we discussed the idea of using math as a language. I drew a rectangle on the board in purple marker.  If this were to be described using the English language, I would call it “Purple Box”.  If it were to be described using Math language, I would call it “A rectangular quadrangle with interior angles of 90 degrees each (right angles) formed by a set of horizontal, parallel line segments and a set of vertical, parallel line segments. They got the idea.


I told the class that this was an open, collaborative inquiry. That meant they were free to consult any source they needed in order to extend their inquiry and that the work was collaborative in that I wanted them to build off each others ideas.  I have 18 students (I know, I am blessed!) and so I printed off 9 pictures (3 of each image) so that children had a choice of where to work in the small room.  I also wanted to be able to have them come together with other groups during the next lesson to share and compare their findings. Before I showed them the images, I shared the Success Criteria for the lesson:
Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 9.09.07 PM


Here are the images I used, the first one from the Parallel Lines inquiry and the second and third from another Inquiry Maths Inquiry:

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 11.55.03 PM Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 8.59.59 PM Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 9.00.14 PM

My students were shown the pictures, reminded of the Success Criteria for the lesson,  and were off!  It was fascinating.  They partnered up in a similar fashion to the day before when they were creating their vocabulary understandings and quickly started to use their knowledge to describe their image. I “casually” asked if anyone wanted a protractor (YES! YES! YES!).  As I wandered around I saw children reading, questioning, measuring and using their math language to describe the image in front of them.  ”Can we draw on it?”  Yes!  For one group who had the star shaped image, this led to some pretty crazy coloring/marking which to my naive eye looked more like silly scribbling than serious math but I let them keep going.  One group started talking about symmetry and I found some mirrors and laid them on their table which started another investigation into where that line of symmetry actually was.

This was supposed to last 15 minutes but it was clear they had more than 15 minutes of math language in them!  As the end of the lesson neared, I asked them to briefly group with the other people who had the same image to get an idea of what others had done. Cries of, “I was going to do that next!”, “I hadn’t thought of that!”, “I forgot to put that, too! ” and  ”Where did you get a mirror from?!” were heard around the room.

I have a really great class of kids but like all kids they need to be asked to think about why they do what they do and how they are behaving.  As a PYP school, we offer a values-laden curriculum so teaching about attitudes is part of what we do.  We are currently working on the culminating project of the PYP – the Exhibition.  It requires a lot of group work and one of the things I am noticing is that students need more than to be physically placed in a pod of four students, for group work to be successful.  We have been looking at the type of attitudes we expect to see at our school and I wanted them to see the connection to this in math class so I gave them the following exit slip for the lesson:

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 9.22.28 PM

Their comments were so insightful:

curiosity…because I wanted to see just how much I could write in math language

confidence…because I knew I knew a lot about this and I knew I could describe the picture in a lot of details

respect…because I listened to the ideas of the person I was working with and also added my ideas

and the student that I thought was goofing off:

creativity…because I was able to add really colorful and interesting designs to our star and it looked really good and then it also helped my group see patterns within the star and we were able to add a lot more information


I think the students were not the only ones learning something today!

To download a PDF of the lesson plan and materials used today, click here





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So Which Pedagogical Cocktails Are Drinking Today?


cc licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by Thomas Hawk: http://flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/2355249759

I am not sure if I was being naive or slightly arrogant, but this post began its life as an effort to provide an overview of the different modes and methods of inquiry. Whether it be challenged-based, project-based, problem-based or plain old inquiry-based learning, I was trying to bring everything together in my own head, to make more sense of it all. However, what I soon realised was that the more I explored the topic, the more variants that appeared, with so many different ideas and interpretations. It all came to a head when Richard Olsen shared a blog with me from Ewan McIntosh on the difference between project-based learning and design learning. As you read through both McIntosh’s post, as well as various comments that follow, you realise that there is little consistency throughout. Although many of the differences are only marginal, there is little agreement on what constitutes either problem-based learning and design learning.

At the end of the day, the reality is that every teacher is different – we just choose to deny it. Even though we may practise a certain pedagogy, it does not necessarily mean that it will be the same as the next person. Rather, everyone has their our own intricacies and twists on the way they do things. What then starts to matter more is the practitioner rather than the pedagogy. I think that this is the point that John Hattie and co are trying to make by moving the focus from the student to the teacher.

I believe that this re-visioning of education is best summed up by Kath Murdoch in her fantastic post on the attributes of an inquiry teacher. Murdoch argues that inquiry-based learning is more than planning a unit, it is about facilitating this learning in the classroom. As she states, “Inquiry is not just about knowing how to plan – it’s about how we teach.” This got me thinking that maybe a better approach to work towards isn’t about identifying the ‘best’ practise as revolving around curriculum where the end is decided before the beginning, maybe our focus should be on how we teach and adjusting this to the needs of each and every situation.


The Pedagogical Cocktail

The idea that caught me was the metaphor of a cocktail. While chatting with some new found members of my PLN (Dick Faber and Alan Thwaites) it occurred to me that our chats were something akin to being at a bar and what we were drinking were pedagogical cocktails. However, unlike a traditional bar where you go up and request your drink, all the ingredients are laid out for us to make up our own. This creates a scenario where choice is only limited to our own creativity. Then after enjoying a cocktail or two, we are able to share back and reflect with those in our networks, hearing about the ups and downs, and helping us with our next choice of cocktail.

I think that the problem is that sometimes we think that we feel that we can only partake of a particular cocktail, that someone else always knows better, therefore we should listen to them. However, this denial of choice often results in teachers who have little engagement and ownership over their curriculum and classrooms, while it also restricts many potentials and possibilities. Instead, teachers maintain a status-quo that often no longer accounts for the world that will come tomorrow, let alone we live in today.

In an interview for the TER Podcast, John Goh captures this situation by suggesting that, “all of us have a ‘default’ value from teachers college.” This concoction of tastes reassures and comforts us. That old friend whose welcoming aromas makes us feel at ease. The challenge though, as Goh goes on to propose, is that “we need to make sure that we move on from that.” Although we may know it, like it and find comfort within the default value, we need to move on and adjust our choice of cocktail to the food on offer or to the environment being set. It just wouldn’t feel right drinking a stock beer with everyone wearing tuxedos. The reality is that it is not enough to going back to the tried and trusted again and again.


The Right Method for the Moment

I entered this year with the endeavour to provide more time for student lead learning. Other than exploring +Mark Barnes‘s The 5-Minute Teacher, I took to exploring the potentials of different modes of inquiry. Having had some history with inquiry-based learning, I returned like the prodigal son, but this time instead of sticking to one particular model, I was instead interested in identifying the right method for the moment. This is portrayed by two contrasting units of work, one for Robotics, while the other for Business Studies.


An Introduction to Robotics

Having taught the class for three years, it was due for an overhaul. Fine, I had refined things each year, but instead of rolling out the same assignment with a set of questions and tasks containing a restricted set of ideas and information, I had taken to providing more opportunities for students to follow up on their own interests. So I began with a series of lessons focused on immersing students into different aspects of robotics, such as what constitutes a robot, some of the history associated with robotics and how everything is represented through popular culture. Once students had completed these tasks, they posed questions associated with each of the three areas. They then chose one of their questions to investigate and present back. As a class, we then created a measurement for greatness to provide a point of reflection for students to work towards. I really wanted to share these collaboratively and get everyone commenting and questioning on each others presentations. However, due to some technical restrictions, we weren’t able to do this. 


How Can we Measure Success?

On the flip side, for Business Studies I started the unit by posing the question ‘how can we measure success?’ From there the class investigated who they consider as being successful and what makes them so. After that, I gave the challenge of coming up with a way of measuring the success of a student, the principal and Lionel Messi. They then shared their different conceptions with each other, giving feedback about what they thought was good and what they would improve. Once they had fixed up their various forms of measurement, the class then used Socrative to vote on which one was the most effective and why. With this decision, they then decided to work in pairs to make a series of profiles of successful people and combine them into a book.

Although I am sure there are some who would argue that I have not really done inquiry, that I have probably cut corners and that I haven’t really taken authentic action. I would agree and I admit that this is something that I still need to work on. However, sometimes ideals aren’t always ideal. At the very least, a move from the teacher at the centre to the student was a positive change.


Know What Your Drinking When Ordering from the Bar

It can be so easy to jump on a band wagon, to wear a certain ‘ism’ on your sleeve as if it were some sort of given. The reality though is that there are no ‘givens’, instead their are choices and consequences, as I have stated elsewhere. The most difficult thing to do is actually making the best choice for the current context and situation. In a recent interview on the TER Podcast, David Price suggested, “I’d rather you do didactic learning well, than project learning badly.” His point as I understand it is that we sometimes choose a particular method because we feel we have to and baulk at others, therefore we must do project-based learning and must never do any sort of didactic learning. However saying a blanket ‘no’ to didactic learning is just as bad as saying a blanket ‘no’ to inquiry-based learning. No is not really a useful word when discussing choice.

John Spencer makes a similar point in his insightful post ‘Seven Horrible Things That Really Aren’t All That Horrible‘. In this post, Spencer discusses such taboos as worksheets, multiple choice tests and textbooks, arguing that sometimes it is how these things are used which is the issue and that sometimes they do have a place.

In the end, the most important thing that we can do is be conscious of the decisions we make. I am aware that this is no simple matter, as was pointed out to me by Darryn Swaby on Twitter:

@mrkrndvs #pedagogicalcocktail Here’s the thing…I’m not sure I know [what pedagogical cocktail I've been drinking]. I think that is why your analogy resonated with me.— Darryn Swaby (@DarrynSwaby) March 28, 2014

To me this all starts by asking yourself, what does my classroom look, feel and sound like and how is it different from other classrooms. I think that this may be what Richard Olsen is aiming at with his new venture ‘The Modern Learning Canvas‘. Where teachers are not only encouraged to identify the how and what associated with learning and teaching, but most importantly, the why. At the very least, we owe it to ourselves to at least be informed, through data and feedback, so that we can make the best choice possible, rather than keep on drinking the same old cocktail again and again.

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A concept driven inquiry into history…

The inquiry 

Central Idea – ‘Investigating history helps us understand the present.

The teachers collaboratively develop a rubric for the desired conceptual understandings so that, with shared goals in mind, we can plan a couple of powerful provocations and then wait to see how the learning unfolds.

The understandings

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 4.29.22 pm The provocations 

  • An excursion to Sovereign Hill, an open air museum, where children explore the Australian Gold Rush (mandatory Australian curriculum) via hands-on experiences, while observing and noticing through the conceptual lens of change and taking photographic evidence.
  • Exposure to a range of maps, headlines and artefacts from the past to provoke curiosity. (Details here)

What next?

The learners are engaged and excited, with plenty of questions and wonderings, BUT… so far, their focus is entirely on change. Rubi and I chat about how to provoke them to think about causation too.

Inquiry through drama 

In the spirit of trans-disciplinary, concept-driven learning, we engage the students in a drama activity to push their thinking further…

The class is split into two. One group stands in a line facing the wall and we play a version of Chinese Whispers, except with movements instead of talking. The teacher acts out a series of movements for the first person in the line. The children then turn around one by one and pass the actions down the line. The role of the second group is to observe. (They talk first about what observing is – more than looking, watching carefully, thinking about what we see, really noticing.)

Much fun and laughter ensues, as the movements change time and again as they are passed down the line. By the time the last person acts it out, it has become something different entirely. After switching groups and repeating the activity, the children talk with partners about what they think caused the changes. 

Making connections 

Before we have an opportunity to make the connection, Josh excitedly calls out – ‘I know how this connects to our unit of inquiry!’  Wonderful! We have succeeded in shifting the learners’ beyond just how things change over time, to causation… 

The surprise 

Josh says that the activity shows how, when things are passed down, they get changed along the way. How do we know that what is presented as history is accurate? How do we know if there are different perspectives on the way things happened? 

Rubi and I exchange glances. Not what we’d expected, but much, much deeper! Before anyone states the ‘obvious message’, another learner says it made her realise that ‘the past’ might be one minute ago, change is happening all the time. Another notes that it can be a lot of little changes along the way that add up to the big changes in history. Yet another says it’s about looking for patterns of behaviour that cause change… And all of this before someone mentions that it could relate to the people and things that have caused change over time. (our intention)

Our learners are ready to take their wonderings to another level. They haven’t even seen the rubric yet and they are already developing the desired conceptual understandings.


  • Never play ‘guess what’s in my head’. Learning is not about coming up with the one right answer.  Given the time, space and encouragement to think, learners will surprise you with their responses.
  • Don’t over-plan. Wait and see how the learning unfolds and plan responsively.
  • A simple, seemingly unrelated, activity can provoke deep thinking when learners are able to make connections.
  • Use a variety of approaches to teaching and learning in order to appeal to all kinds of learners. Don’t underestimate the power of drama in provoking thinking and deepening understanding.
  • Content based teaching just focuses on forgettable facts. (We used to ‘teach the Gold Rush’.) Concept driven learning is about big transferable ideas that transcend time, place and situation, helping learners make sense of the facts and of the world around them.
  • Don’t cover the curriculum. Let the learners discover and uncover for themselves…
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It’s about educating the whole learner!

Just because Maths is timetabled for periods 3 and 4 on a Tuesday, it doesn’t mean that it has to be taught as a subject in isolation. As educators we often reflect on our lessons and ask ourselves; how could I have approached that differently? Were all the learners engaged? Did they gain deep understandings? Did good questions and or conjectures arise? But the other day I found myself questioning if I was spending too much “maths timetabled time” not doing maths!

At the start of the session with my Year 4 class, I showed the students the first photo in my power point:

1000 steps

I asked them to independently “See, Think and Wonder” about the picture. They then shared either what they saw, or what they thought or what they were wondering about. I was blown away! Some of their responses were:

  • I wonder if they shot the photo from an angle to make the steps not look steep
  • I think the light at the top of the stairs represents creativity
  • I wonder what’s at the top
  • I wonder why you are showing us stairs in a Maths lesson
  • I think it’s the 1000 steps in the Dandenongs
  • I think the stairs lead to creativity
  • I wonder why there is a forest right next to the steps
  • I see a gum tree
  • I wonder where this is
  • I think the staircase is much much longer than what I can see in the photo
  • I wonder which country they’re in
  • I wonder who built the stairs and why
  • I think it’s a staircase to learning
  • I think the stairs are like a number line – going up and going down

I then showed them the next photo of houses in Cambodia. I asked them to chat to the person next to them about what they “See, Think or Wonder”. Before I knew it many learners were researching where Cambodia is in relation to Australia. Some were discussing the phrase “third world country”. Others were exchanging personal experiences about countries they had visited with similar houses. One learner was asking how this picture was connected to the previous one and then formed a conjecture “I think the steps must be in Cambodia!”

I then showed them the third and final slide.  I passed around some oId Australian 1 cent coins and explained that my 15 year old son Zac had just been to the Thousand steps in the Dandenongs. As he is visiting Cambodia with the school in June, with the purpose of building houses, his group decided to hold a  fundraiser where people sponsored them 1000 cents for 1000 steps. I  told the class that I was wondering how much that would be in dollars. Many of the learners automatically knew the answer and I explained that mathematicians need to be able to reason with evidence, hence their task was to make a claim and then find evidence to support their claim. I encouraged them to think of finding evidence in relation to our central idea which was “In our Base Ten number system the value of numbers change depending on their place”.

Their supporting evidence astounded me! Some learners used place value columns to justify how numbers move down when they are divided by 100. Other students acted out the numbers moving by using place value crowns and a decimal point that never moved! Some learners used an equation (1000 cents ÷ 100 cents = 10 dollars). Others worked backwards and showed that 10 (their claim in dollars) multiplied by 100 (the number of cents in a dollar) is equal to 1000 (cents). And these examples are just a few samples of the justifications that were formed in a fairly short period of time

With this lesson in mind I have come to the following conclusions:

1. Periods 3 and 4 on a Tuesday are about developing the whole learner: mathematician, inquirer, communicator, reflector, caring global citizen, appreciator of beauty, creative thinker, risk taker, sense maker …

2. When time is taken to place learning in an authentic context, learners cultivate deep, rich, meaningful understandings.

3. Sharing a piece of your life with learners helps build positive relationships. As educators, not only do we need to know our curriculum and our students, but so too do we need to provide opportunities for our learners to get to know us as real people.

4. Periods 3 and 4 on a Tuesday are about helping learners make connections

  • connections between maths domains (place value, money, location, angles),
  • connections between disciplines (maths, geography, language, history),
  • connections to prior knowledge and experience,
  • and connections between learning at school and the real world.

5. Teachers are story tellers. Our role is to engage learners not manage them!

Don’t allow a fixed timetable to dictate how you teach. Stay true to what you believe about learning. As educators, it’s our responsibility to develop the whole learner even when it’s maths in periods 3 and 4 on a Tuesday!

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This is how inquiry teachers teach…

Since Kath has posted her ‘How do Inquiry Teachers… teach?’ here at Inquire Within, I’ll post my response here too…

Traditional pedagogy sees the teacher provide a set of instructions, make sure everyone ‘knows what to do’, explain everything and THEN students might be given some time to do a task themselves. It’s about 80% teacher led and 20% student. Inquiry-based pedagogy gets kids doing, thinking and investigating – and the explicit teaching happens in response to what the teacher sees and hears. The 80:20 ratio is reversed. Good inquiry teachers know how to get more kids thinking more deeply more of the time.

- Kath Murdoch, How do Inquiry Teachers… teach?

Jocelyn (Year 6) shares her excitement at the way her students extracted the conceptual ideas from a series of learning engagements before collaboratively developing their own ‘central ideas’. We recall a time when we thought we had to explain all of this to our learners at the beginning of the unit!

Claire (Year 5) talks about how she provoked her students’ curiosity by asking simply ‘Can graphs be persuasive?’ Instead of Claire covering the material, the kids took off on their own inquiries, discovering different kinds of graphs themselves and making connections between maths (data) literacy (persuasive writing) and their unit of inquiry into digital citizenship.

Hailey (Year 4) reflects on the process of letting go of control, as her students develop the skills to take responsibility for their own learning. She’s practising what Guy Claxton calls split screen teaching, and her kids are using the language of ‘learnacy’ to reflect on their own learning. ‘Metacognition’, once a word teachers hardly understood themselves, let alone shared with learners, is not only practised but noticed and named by Hailey’s students.

Linda (eLearning Facilitator) tells us how she’s been supporting learners in discovering effective search strategies in an authentic context in year 5. As the children googled what they needed, they uncovered what kinds of sites would give them unbiased information and she was able to respond with tips at their point of need. She highlights the difference between this kind of learning and the old way… where she would stand and teach an isolated lesson on a particular computer skill, unrelated to any particular learning context.

Lana (Maths Coordinator) shares the excitement of one of our new teachers, developing her understanding of inquiry. She took her Year 2 students out for a walk to collect data and encouraged them to observe and count whatever they like, to be represented visually later back at school. Once she would have given them all the same boring worksheet with specific items to count. This time the learners are highly engaged as they notice their surroundings, independently recording their observations and wonderings.

We relate all these shared learning experiences back to Kath Murdoch’s latest blog post ‘How do inquiry teachers… teach?’  (Every teacher should read it!)

Kath’s post is our inspiration at today’s Learning Team Leaders meeting, one of a range of such communities of practice which exist within our school’s wider learning community. Sharing practice and professional dialogue are part of our culture. Inspirational blog posts such as this one are often the trigger for our discussions.

There is nothing quite so satisfying in a school as the passion in the voices of teachers, as they talk animatedly about teaching and learning, ask provocative questions, openly express frustrations, offer each other advice and support…

The challenge is to create enough time, within the hectic demands of school life, for everyone to be involved in these conversations.

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