Introducing ‘The Whysmen’

*Originally posted at

Taking on a new leadership role this year, my class load is significantly less than last year…60% less in fact. What I have discovered is that remaining 40% has become the target of full 100% of teaching effort and I am enjoying the in-class engagements as much as ever.

 I have spent the early part of my teaching time focusing on maths and language conventions. These are core components of the class teaching allocations. “You got the dry stuff to teach,” suggested one colleague. But you know what, squeezing my teaching energy into these areas has allowed them to be anything but dry. A learning monsoon if you will. And it all comes down to that great three letter word – ‘Why?’
Our class is a class of inquiry. Not confined to Units of Inquiry, but a classroom with a genuine inquiry mindset across the disciplines. I am teaching the ‘Whysmen’ this year, a term I have adopted and that we have started to see adopted as a mindset also by the boys. My goal is to have students not asking what we are learning but why we are learning. The new found focus on the purpose and transferability of the skills, processes and content base having positive impacts upon the boys’ engagement in the learning process.
My energy levels in class are at an all time high. Whether it is the constant adrenalin rush from a busy schedule or the interaction with all of the different stakeholders on campus that is fuelling me, but I feel pumped each time I walk through the 5B door. It is a tangible buzz that I hope is contagious. So far so good.
When a student says “I didn’t know place value could be so interesting and fun” or “Commas are cool”, I have to feel like I am on to it.
The need to understand why in maths is built around the quest for purpose in our learning. We have begun by investigating ‘How do we place value? How do we value place?’ The slight differential in the language of those two questions leading to such rich conversations that have taken us outside the usual realm of “This is the tens place, this is the thousands place etc.” to conversations about number systems, about implications on our society of mixed application of place value conventions, how these commonalities of reference impact on communication between nations (perfect segueway into our current Sharing the Planet UOI) and more. 
Even the punctuation staple the Comma got the inquiry treatment – “How do we stop a Panda turning into a gun-toting bandit?” See Lynn Truss’ book “Eats, shoots and leaves” for where that reference comes from. 
Without continuing to quote examples of an engaging opening 7 days of learning in 5B, I feel that I have opened a connection to their learning in disciplines that often represent a disconnect. There is no greater target for inquiry learning, particularly through our PYP vehicle than boys. 10 year old boys eat it up and at a stage in their development as learners where attitudes and habits are so critical, we are winning early. 
My challenge now is to have our boys responding favourably to our questions, to having them frame the questions themselves, discovering the answers and challenging me in return. 
‘If only the 3 Wise Men brought questions instead of gold, frankincense and myrrh,’ I suggested. “Why did they bring what they did? What would baby Jesus have wanted with myrrh anyway?” came the response. These ‘Whysmen’ get it.

About wholeboxndice

Head of Primary, teacher, #pypchat Co-founder, Soon to be MEd Grad. Lover of inquiry. Advocate for Boys Education.
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