18 December 2013

PYP Exhibition Theme Synthesis

In the New Year, my sixth grade class will undertake our school's inaugural PYP Exhibition. Here's the description of the event from the International Baccalaureate Organization website:

"Students who are in their final year of the programme are expected to carry out an extended, collaborative inquiry project, known as the exhibition, under the guidance of their teachers.
The exhibition represents a significant event in the life of both the school and student, synthesizing the essential elements of the programme and sharing them with the whole school community. It is an opportunity for students to exhibit the attributes of the Learner profile that have been developing throughout their engagement with the programme. It is a culminating experience marking the transition from PYP to further steps in education.
Schools are given considerable flexibility in their choice of real-life issues or problems to be explored or investigated in the exhibition."
In the past years, I have visited several Exhibitions in Tokyo and explored the online presentations of dozens more. There are as many unique approaches as there are people participating! Designing an environment in which the exhibitioners will thrive is a grand and fascinating challenge and an ideal example of metateaching.

One aspect all examples I have viewed share in common is that they fall under one of the IB PYP Transdisciplinary Themes. However, in the Exhibition Guidelines, it states that one of the essential features should be to "synthesize aspects of all six transdisciplinary themes".

"synthesize aspects of all six transdisciplinary themes"

I thought of one way to attempt this by way of inspiration from refrigerator poetry magnets. I simply printed the key terms from the six transdisciplinary themes, laminated and cut them out, attached magnets and arrayed them on a corner of our whiteboard. My class and I had a brief discussion of the themes and the goal to draw items from them of interest to us and rearrange them to create our own theme description. From that, we can create a title for our theme which can serve as a title for our Exhibition.

They began by playing, which is exactly what I had hoped for. The point is to play with the words to begin to explore our ideas. As our ideas become more organized, so should the words. I am extremely excited to begin our Exhibition inquiries, and have been planning activities all year as practice and preparation. I view it as an archetypal Independent Inquiry, and the first formal test of many of the principles of inquiry we have been exploring.

15 December 2013

Mapping My Internet

When George Siemens asks, "How do you manage your information?", and Jeff Delp is writing about being "All-In" With Evernote, it's clear that data management is an issue that every digital resident must address to transition from being a passive consumer to an active participant on the Internet.

Their use of graphics reminded me of the Laziness Map flowchart I made for the Making Learning Connected MOOC and shared in the post, Is laziness good for learning?. While that project was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, noticing that I've felt digitally overwhelmed lately led me to create this map of how I generally discover, sort, share, and publish on the web.

created by Bart Miller
(click the image to open the document and follow the hyperlinks)

05 December 2013

Independent Inquiry: Origami

A group of students in my class is exploring the Origami Club website to learn to fold new and more complex creations. The site includes hundreds, if not thousands of designs with blueprint and animated instructions.

Connected Learning like this is very inspiring. They are utilizing the Internet to pursue their inquiry, using mathematical vocabulary in authentic contexts, cooperating by taking turns choosing which design to follow, helping each other, and enjoying themselves.

I'm interested to see if any of them take the inquiry further, perhaps by earning a DIY Papercrafter Patch or participating in an online community like The Origami Forum. As their teacher, it's important to make sure that they have access to those opportunities, so I added links to the Independent Inquiry page on our class wiki.

04 December 2013

The 800-pound bully

Elephants are not particularly known for bullying. We humans, unfortunately, are. Bullying among adults is the elephant in the room during any discussion about bullying among children, online or offline.

Take for example, Lisa Nielson's article, Addressing the #bullying problem starts with adults, in which she details a case of bullying that originates from what is supposed to be a friendly volleyball 'game' and includes most of the hallmarks of schoolyard bullying: admonishment, destructive criticism, over-competitiveness, exclusion, and isolation.

To draw a distinction between this and bullying among children would be pointless. They are the same.

02 December 2013

The Evolution of Independent Inquiry

When I introduced Independent Inquiry in my Grade 4 class during the last school year, it was out of a desire to reinvent homework as a more relevant activity connecting learning at school with learning at home. The primary inspiration was the MIT Media Lab Learning Creative Learning course, and in particular, being introduced to Connected Learning.

Interest-driven learning comes as naturally to us human beings as breathing and scratching ourselves. The brain is made for it. We naturally seek creative solutions to problems and desire to learn what is useful and/or fun. I also became fascinated with the Maker Education Initiative and the implications of purposeful play for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education.

Why does school try to make learning so hard?

We began using a Google Form to reflect on our inquiries and holding weekly meetings to discuss the independent projects we were doing at home. Some highlighted projects can be found by searching the independent inquiry label here on Symphony of Ideas.

Soon after, I discovered Genius Hour. There were thousands of teachers around the world providing class time for students to pursue their passions and interests! Teaching at an inquiry school, I always provide time for independent research and autonomous learning opportunities, however, only along the lines of inquiry specified in our units.

The time had come to blow it wide open. I started a wiki to clarify purpose for myself and share with other educators, collect relevant resources and supporting articles, and publish my students' reflections.

27 November 2013

Genius and Vision

The discussion of the emergent remix culture both annoys and excites me.

On one hand, I feel that the elements of participation, connectivity, and the belief that everyone can and should contribute materially to our culture are churning a simmering pot of creativity and invention that is already having a positive impact by stimulating enthusiasm for authentic, interest driven learning.

On the other hand, I feel that elements of the remix/hack/mashup culture are having a negative impact, as well. In the following excerpt from Everything is a Remix , Kirby Ferguson reduces Star Wars to little more than a mashup of various preceding films.

24 November 2013

Autumn Leaves in Japan

On Saturday, my wife, son, and I went to the park. After arriving and eating a snack, we began wandering and playing. While chasing my two-year-old, I noticed the rich variety of autumn leaves blanketing the ground. It dawned on me that it might be my last chance to make good on a promise to my friend, Kevin Hodgson, to remix his Learning Walk Photo Blitz: The Autumn Leaves here in Japan.

19 November 2013

My beef with Facebook

When I joined Facebook, it was still just a reaction to MySpace, which had become overrun by troll accounts and spam. Facebook was refreshing because I could apply the privacy lessons I had learned (the hard way) on MySpace, and use it to keep in touch with family and friends to share news and photos, and it has such a friendly and neutral white and blue theme.

For years, it worked splendidly.

Then, news about privacy infringement began surfacing. Articles started appearing, like one I noticed on Reddit about a tricky setting for the iOS app that would steal your contacts' information if you clicked on an innocuous button labeled 'Find More Friends'.

17 November 2013

Make/Hack/Play Together 2

When Kevin Hodgson shared his song in the post, Making a Song, for the first 'make' of the Make/Hack/Play Together MOOC, I was immediately impressed by its mournful mood. I thought it would be appropriate for this week's 'digital make' to hack his song by arranging it for string quartet using MuseScore. Here's a link to my work-in-progress, Hacking a Song.

I've only spent a short time on it, but have found some bits I like and some that probably wouldn't make the final cut. Arranging is different that writing a song. It's rather scientific and requires taking into account many variables such as register, the mechanics of the instruments involved, acoustics, etc.

I even started to 'play' at the end, but it's getting late and I can't tell whether those ideas are worth staying up for...

The trickiest part, however, is capturing the mood. Since the mood of Kevin's song is what struck me, I tried to interpret that feeling for a different ensemble. It never works to copy it. It's more like a translation than anything else. The sounds, like words, may have the same meanings, but they don't say the same things.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading and listening to my little, albeit, incomplete piece.

12 November 2013

Elementary Blogging - Start a digital footprint with both feet

In the past two school years, I have blogged with my classes. It has been enlightening. There are countless benefits to blogging with students and getting started in elementary school as described in Kim Cofino's article, Blogging is Elementary!. To summarize, here are a few salient and immediate benefits:

- authentic, global audience
- engaging, relevant technology
- individual feedback and differentiation
- reading and writing with purpose

However, there is always a shadow lurking which I characterize as "YouTube Comments Syndrome". If you want to know what I'm referring to, find a popular video and start scrolling. If those comments aren't meaningless enough for you, try the downright offensive comments section on Ylvis' The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?). Luckily, I believe that most people ignore the stream of semiconciousness that hangs from our favorite videos.

CC-by-SA Tim Wayne

10 November 2013

Make/Hack/Play Together 1

During the past week, I participated in the Make/Hack/Play Together MOOC. Experience has taught me that every learner builds their understanding themselves, and very often literally. Thinking is not something that occurs 'in our heads'. Thinking is everywhere, visibly and tangibly. This MOOC is a fantastic opportunity to explore Constructionist pedagogy as a learner and teacher.

The first assignment was to build something physical. I didn't manage to find time to build anything myself, but I did with my son. He is two years old, and has had a set of wooden blocks for about a year. When he first started playing with them, they always represented objects. Sometimes they were spoons, sometimes trains, sometimes only he knows what.

In recent weeks, however, he has started building. Noticing his curiosity, I started building alongside him and describing my creative process. He enjoys watching and listening, and gets very excited as my creations grow. That is, before he obliterates them. He is definitely still in the 'destroyer' stage as a maker, but as his hand/eye coordination and fine motor skills improve, I'm sure he will finally start to make his imaginings concrete and visible.

My 'Garage Cathedral' moments before demolition.

07 November 2013

BYOT Field Trip

My sixth graders and I took a field trip to The Bandai Edison Museum yesterday and I thought it was an ideal chance for a Bring-Your-Own-Technology experiment. Our current inquiry focuses on personal histories and the primary objective of the field trip was to reflect on how the Thomas Edison Exhibition tells the story of his life.

The task was to choose three artifacts in the exhibit and deduce what invention led or might have led to it, and what inventions came after. Usually, iPads and other mobile digital devices are not allowed in school, but for the field trip, I said they can bring any technology they want to complete their assignment. I created a simple google form and posted it on our class blog for those with Internet access. Some students chose to write their reflections with paper and pencil, but a few brought their iPads, smartphones, and a couple DSs, and were excited to use them!

After completing their reflections, some students took photos or made videos of their favorite exhibits. It felt great to provide them with the autonomy to use their technological resources to inspire and motivate their inquiries. The enhanced engagement and enthusiasm to share their work was a clear benefit.

I plan to have a BYOT policy in place in the classroom when we start working in earnest on our culminating Exhibition, and the field trip experiment demonstrated to me that these technologies, coupled with independence, are remarkable learning multipliers.

In our reflective discussion, many students cited their digital products when describing Edison's place in history and the connections between inventions. I'm considering ways that this strategy could be expounded to transform field trips into "Connected Learning Expeditions" and would appreciate knowing your experiences and thoughts!

03 November 2013

No Sleep November

I hereby dub this month "No Sleep November" because there are so many fantastic learning opportunities for teachers and I don't want to miss any.

First, I'm participating in the COETAIL (Certificate of Educational Technology and Information Literacy) program and working toward a Master's Degree. Course 1 was an enjoyable survey and blogscussion of Connectivist Learning Theory and Course 2 promises to address issues related to technology.

Next, the Deeper Learning MOOC preview. This is exactly the kind of exploration I've been looking forward to and will mercifully commence in January. The preview is this week, and will focus on Academic Mindsets.

To further inform and develop my Independent Inquiry project, a philosophy and framework for connecting learning in and out of school, I enrolled in the Make/Hack/Play Together MOOC. I'm planning to participate along with my students, so hopefully a good portion of the assignments will be completed during class time.

Finally, I'm hoping to catch up on everything I missed in the K-12 Online Conference. I made a note of this awesome event months ago and checked in on the last day only to be blown away by all that I had missed! 

Did I mention I'm writing a novel? I've put down about fifty-thousand words, although haven't worked on it for a few months. Thanks to the folks at Educator Innovator for reminding me that November is National Novel Writing Month! How convenient. I don't expect to finish mine this month, but I shouldn't let it slide for too long.

How can I possibly expect to do all of this? It can't be ignored that I have a rambunctious two-year-old son at home and a school-wide musical to organize, rehearse, and produce!

The solution, of course, is to forgo sleep. Rather than burning midnight oil, I'm considering a regimen of coffee-fueled early morning work sessions. Even just five hours per week should be enough to stay on top of these projects and lead to wrapping up 2013 with a thunderous bang.

Here's musical score for 'No Sleep November', my own composition for jazz orchestra, Insomnia.

20 October 2013

What's your story?

The most important question I ask myself constantly while planning instruction is, "so what?". The most valid reason for learner disengagement is irrelevance. When designing learning experiences, I try to ensure that everyone always has a reason to be engaged.

In the case of this unit, What's your story?, personal connection is the hook as the learner will inquire into a family or community member to deduce connections between themselves, their research subject, and History. They will also use photo, video, and other media applications to organize a VoiceThread presentation to tell their subject's story, or personal history. VoiceThread will be the new technology application, for them and me. In terms of writing, we will inquire into writing a documentary style script and visual literacy as it relates to organizing and presenting media, as well as the importance of copyright and citation.

We have already started this unit by inquiring into primary sources related to the Russian Revolution and spread of Communism in Europe. It has been a great way to begin to explore Perspective in History and develop skills that students can apply to their independent research and project production. Most of the students are planning to create a personal history for a grandparent or older relative, so the connection to World War II and the Cold War should be very strong.

In terms of Global Collaboration, I understand the VoiceThread allows comments in various forms by any other VoiceThread users. I've been collaborating with a teacher in Hawaii who is very keen to exchange feedback via VoiceThread, which has been a strong motivator for me to learn that application. Another possibility would be to invite other teachers to do the same project and provide the students with an opportunity to link their presentations into a sort of historical net. Perhaps while my students are researching their subjects, I can delve into more research about technology tools to support this project.

We will be publishing our projects on our class blog, so I hope you'll come visit to see them in a month or so!

17 October 2013

Constructing The Learner Profile

One of the most positive and sincere refrains one hears in education is to teach 'the whole child'. Most of the time, however, what that means isn't clear. Common sense dictates that we should care about students' emotional and social growth as much as academic. Inquiries into learning modalities or multiple intelligences seem to shed light onto planning more inclusive learning opportunities. As a slogan, 'teach the whole child' is perfectly fine.

The IB Learner Profile takes a much needed step toward articulating more specifically what the attributes of a 'whole child', or indeed any person, are.

My approach to reflecting on and documenting development of the Learner Profile in my classroom is very simple. The attributes are posted at the edges of a large blank display. As students demonstrate an attribute, they or I suggest to attach an artifact of the event on the display. When someone 'nominates' an artifact, it's an ideal opportunity for reflective discussion and celebration of our achievements!

Thus far, we determined that exchanging origami Peace Cranes with students in Hawaii showed that we are caring, so we stuck some cranes on the board.

Our origami Peace Cranes show that we are caring.
Symbolically, I love having a visual representation in the classroom of our growth, not only as learners, but as people.

Our learner profile will fill up as the year progresses.
Visualizing our thinking and learning is a fun and remarkably useful endeavor, particularly in elementary school. In what ways are your students showing what they have learned and how they have grown?

14 October 2013

COETAIL, meet Connected Learning.

My first truly connected learning experience was the Learning Creative Learning course from MIT Media Lab. The philosophy, content, and community opened my mind and clarified so many notions that had been simmering in my educational philosophy, but hadn't yet boiled over. The course syllabus and Google+ community are still active, and I highly recommend anyone interested in the nature of learning to explore them. It was my first connected learning experience, but I didn't actually know it yet.

During the course, I discovered many brilliant people to follow on twitter and participated in the Google+ community, which led me to find the Making Learning Connected MOOC at the beginning of last summer. If Learning Creative Learning opened my mind, Making Learning Connected blew it up and sent the pieces flying in all directions. While sailing through the air, the pieces of my mind connected with too many wonderful connected learners to count, let alone mention. You can follow my personal 'clmooc' journey on my blog, Symphony of Ideas (links to posts tagged with the 'clmooc' label).

Most of the action occurred in the Making Learning Connected Google+ community. It's hard to describe how I felt or how I grew, but I think any curious inquirer would learn a tremendous amount from reading the participant's posts and viewing the wonderful variety of learning artifacts. An adventurous connected learner might even complete each 'make cycle'! I'm sure you would receive very useful feedback and enthusiastic encouragement from that outstanding community. At the very least, please take a moment to read the Connected Learning Principles and reflect on how they apply to your own learning and the learning in your classroom or school.

The rest is, as they say, history. I've connected with a fascinating array of people, communities, organizations, and had a few interactions that defy classification. All along, I've had a strong sense of wanting to share the thrill of connected learning with the students in my class, so that's what I've been doing. In a few short weeks, we've utilized our class blog to publish some of our learning and connect with other classes, practicing invaluable 21st Century communication and collaboration skills. We give and receive insightful comments globally and one of my student's first posts was even featured on Comments4Kids!

My Independent Inquiry project has also flourished as a result of my summer of connected learning, as you can see on our class wiki.

The research behind Connected Learning coming from the DML Research Hub (including Mimi Ito, whom COETAILers would certainly recognize) and all of its associated projects and communities are an indispensable resource for any connected educator. Enjoy!

What are your treasures?

13 October 2013

Peace Cranes

Being a connected educator is not easy. Often, a single tweet or blog post will disrupt my plans for the day, bring my train of thought screeching to a halt, or overturn part of my philosophy of learning and teaching.

And I've enjoyed every minute of it! One of the best tweets I've received was from Melvina Kurashige, in Hawaii, inviting my class to exchange origami peace cranes as part of the Peace Crane Project. Who wouldn't want to do that?!

It was a simple and meaningful activity which involved writing messages of peace on paper, folding them into origami cranes, and sending them off. Just before sending ours, we received a package from Hawaii containing the beautiful cranes and postcard in the photo.

To bring our classes closer together, we held a brief Skype session in which the students asked each other questions about their schools, where they live, and their interests.

The activity connected perfectly with Shibuya Peace Day, one of our schoolwide events. I could imagine a class participating while reading Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes for a strong literature connection or as part of an arts & crafts unit on origami.

This fun global collaboration was most meaningful due to having a simple and worthy goal: to promote peace.

Global Collaboration: To the point

Having been a virtual participant in the Flat Classroom Japan Conference last March, and having connected students from grade two to six over the last several years from Los Angeles, Kenya, Lesotho, Japan, Australia, Hong Kong, and India, I am certain that global collaboration contributes to authenticity of learning, engagement in school, and the development of empathy.

03 October 2013

Geeking Out with Google Apps

I love teaching and learning at a PYP school. Inquiry-based, conceptually-driven learning matches impeccably well with my constructionist philosophy and pedagogy. The chaos is inspiring and the triumphs and failures are motivating. The most relevant learning occurs when we provide the time, tools, and independence for each learner to build their understandings in their own ways, whether with their hands, computers, pencils, blocks, paint, sounds, etc.

My shift toward increasingly individualized education has been supported by technology. I would like to share a few of the tools I've developed with Google Apps which are intended to place the learner at the center of learning documentation and provide a transparent medium for reporting to parents.

02 October 2013

Silent Discussion

Classroom discussion is a valuable opportunity to share ideas and develop communication skills, but often, the full benefits are enjoyed by the most extroverted and precocious students in the class. While I do believe that everyone should develop skills in all areas, especially those that are not as strong, I also believe that teachers, or better yet, metateachers, should design learning activities that provide equitable opportunities for learners with different strengths. The 'Silent Discussion' is just such an activity.

Simply explained, it's a way for a group to hold a discussion without speaking. I tried it recently and the results were fantastic, so I thought I'd share.

In our current unit of inquiry into Rights & Responsibilities, there are three lines of inquiry we have been following:

How rights are viewed globally
How rights are granted
Actions required to protect rights

Everyone knew that the lines of inquiry would guide our learning for the next few weeks, and the unit had been provoked by a guided inquiry into the Bayaka people of Central Africa. The Silent Discussion was intended to develop our understanding of the concept of Rights and focus our attention in a socially creative manner.

Organizing the Silent Discussion
1 Print the lines of inquiry, one each, on large paper (we used A3).
2 Place the papers at different corners of the room, or around a central table (consider elbow room).
3 Everyone browses silently with their favorite writing implement, writing comments and questions about the lines of inquiry.
4 Read others' comments and questions, reply, continue.

The activity started slowly, and grew in energy during a fifteen minute session. I injected some provocations and modeled different ways to engage with the activity (drawing pictures, circling and connecting different comments/questions). Finally, we posted the sheets and reflected on our thoughts and interactions.

I believe that the activity works best if it begins with abstract concepts or statements, rather than topics. It was also helpful to play thoughtful music (I generally stream KUSC).

It occurred to me that a techologized version of the Silent Discussion could be possible, but I rather like the museum-like energy generated by thoughtful browsing and the visceral nature of physically constructing our collective understandings on paper.

Another detail that would have extended the activity would be to post provocative images around the room, and perhaps provide videos or news articles to further contextualize the lines of inquiry.

Have you learned or taught through an activity like the Silent Discussion?

19 September 2013

Don't be a node. Be a nexus.

Encountering the word 'node' in publications and discussions about networks and connected learning left me with an uneasy feeling. It sounds much too much like a pejorative nickname than how I would like to define myself. It's mentioned in George Seimens' Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age and Jeff Utecht's Reach and it just bothers me.

When I visualize a 'node', it's like a lump with wires sticking out of it. I understand the implication that we're each a dot on a matrix of lines of digital communication, but connected learning means more than that to me.

image cc European Southern Observatory

17 September 2013

My String Quartet

I've been meaning to write a string quartet for almost fifteen years. My multitude of notebooks contain dozens of beginnings, always unsatisfactory and abandoned. Even more fester in musical purgatory in long forgotten folders on dusty old hard drives.


There is an ethos surrounding the string quartet. Nearly every composer of Western Classical music has written them, and often they were the medium for innovation and experimentation. Even Ravel and Debussy, not fans of tradition, wrote one each, almost as if to prove that they could do it. I count those and the string quartets of Bartok, Ginastera, and Berg as some of my most revered artistic creations, and I can literally listen to Haydn, Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Schubert string quartets all day long.
Kneisel Quartet c1890 (photo public domain)

11 September 2013

What was missing from my youth.

Learning to use digital media and observing how today's youth are steeped in a culture of connection is making me feel extremely jealous! It's not that I'm not excited to connect myself, but reflecting on my own formative years compared to the opportunities literally sitting in teens' laps now has got me feeling a bit nostalgic.

Angst aside, I thought it would be interesting to reflect on my earlier years by framing my teenage activities according to the research findings in Living with New Media. What were my friendship-driven practices? Which were interest-driven? What did I do while hanging out? Messing around? Geeking out?

05 September 2013

Musical Keyboard Inquiry

In addition to being a PYP Grade 6 teacher, I also teach music to Grades 4-6, in addition to my own homeroom. Last year, I taught music to Grades 1-6, but as the school is grows, the schedule gets a bit tighter.

The fourth graders are just beginning their musical keyboard study, so I thought we could set the stage with a listening-based inquiry.

In the activity, we listened to recordings of various keyboard instruments from hurdy-gurdy to minimoog for which I had gathered YouTube links. After each listen, students responded to the question:

How do you think it produces sound?

photo cc Finchcocks Musical Museum

03 September 2013

Back-to-School Marshmallow Spaghetti Tower Challenge!

I was first introduced to this activity during the MIT Media Lab Learning Creative Learning course. There are a few variations, such as limiting the amount of resources or including tape, but for my students' first day of sixth grade, I let chaos reign.

I gave each group a package of dry spaghetti, three small bags of marshmallows, and the simplest rules I could think of:

1 Build the tallest structure you can.
2 You may only use the materials I gave you.
3 We'll measure after 60 minutes.

01 September 2013

Five innovations for the first day of school

Although I was at school last week, tomorrow is the first day for students and I'm very excited. I've changed a few of my approaches to teaching and can't to get started. I think other teachers may be interested, so I'll outline a few of this year's innovations:

1 Organizing resources with Evernote. As I've been reporting in my 'Inquiry with Evernote' posts at Inquire Within, I have a few hundred photos, articles, videos, websites, etc tagged according to theme, concepts, and disciplines. The result is a cache of resources that can be called upon in various ways and is meant to provide provocation and support for inquiry-based learning and teaching.

2 Using the class blog as a learning hub. This year, our blog will be central to learning, connecting, and collaborating. With that in mind, I've already prepared posts in draft form ready to be published when the time comes. For example, in our first unit, we'll view two videos and read a magazine article. We'll discuss them in class, but respond on the class blog. I've embedded the videos and link to the article in posts so that they can be reviewed before students respond by writing comments.

We'll be inviting other classes inquiring into similar themes or topics to respond, as well, by searching their blogs for related posts on which to comment and using twitter to raise awareness.

25 August 2013

Summer PD Reflection - DES!GN

My summer professional development challenge for myself was to expand my understanding of design, including graphic, physical, instructional, etc. It was my Independent Inquiry for the last several weeks and I'm happy to share my findings.

The first thing that happened to me was the Making Learning Connected MOOC. The values I learned during that collaboration of Equity, Social Connection, and Full Participation, create an excellent frame for designing learning activities and opportunities for my students. By ensuring that these values are represented in my classroom at all times, I'm confident that engagement will be enhanced.

Please view my Laziness Map and other posts for the collaboration. The spirit of the Making Learning Connected MOOC will continue to thrive in the Educator Innovator Network and I look forward to following and participating in that endeavor.

Another exploration I made was of the remarkable depth of design resources available on tumblr and Pinterest. In addition to being entertaining, these social networks are teeming with artists, designers, brilliant teachers, and other interesting people who are happy to share their excellent work and resources. I still consider myself a beginner 'pinner', but I have enjoyed discovering and following new boards, although I must admit that I've been mostly attracted to the food... Much of design sense, as with any aesthetic appreciation, comes from viewing and experiencing many examples and constructing one's own understanding and social networks provide a rich selection.

There was also this timely post, which I have yet to fully explore.

My wife, Yuka, was an invaluable teacher this summer. We had many discussions about color, layout, font selection, and many other topics related to the visual appeal and usability of my instructional tools. As I continue to prepare presentations and materials, it's exciting to apply the her tutorials about using Adobe Creative Suite.

Finally, she discovered and shared with me the Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit, which I immediately downloaded and began reading. Many of the principles remind me of my own notion of metateaching, but from an informed and more highly developed perspective. It's exactly what I can use to realign many of my own ideas with developed theories and concepts of design.

18 August 2013

Inquiry with Evernote vol 2

After spending the summer curating and tagging a veritable plethora of resources for inquiry (300+ notes) and with the first day of a new school year rapidly approaching, it's time to use Evernote to plan a unit of inquiry for my grade 6 class. The inquiry was framed at the end of the last school year using the IB PYP planner:

Transdisciplinary Theme: Who we are

Central Idea: Human rights and responsibilities are shared across cultures.

Key Concepts: Function, Connection, Responsibility

Lines of Inquiry: How rights are viewed globally; How rights are granted; Actions required to protect rights

Naturally, I have a few resources and activities in mind already, such as introducing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, surveying other classes around the world about their views regarding human rights, and researching the history of rights movements and laws, among others.

What I'm looking for from my Evernote notebook, however, is the shocking, thrilling, engaging, provoking media that truly engage authentic inquiry and learning.

The obvious thing to do first is to find out if the tagging scheme outlined in Inquiry with Evernote vol 1 really works to retrieve relevant and provocative resources. Starting with the 'Who we are' tag, my first search yielded 95 results. Refining that search by the 'Function' tag revealed 26 notes, 'Connection' had 23, and 'Responsibility' had 26 (to view notes including multiple tags, simply command-click).

Included in 'Who we are' plus 'Function' were many photos of people wearing traditional clothing which could be relevant to an inquiry into people's rights regarding their beliefs. Also, there was a link to a great infographic called How humans learn which will be very useful when discussing our right to education.

Among notes tagged 'Who we are' plus 'Connection', I found several resources about Digital Citizenship and cyberbullying which will prove to be very useful when we begin exploring our class blog and social media.

Finally, notes with both the 'Who we are' and 'Responsibility' tags led to a delightful collection of quotes by Albert Einstein that will be wonderful to explore early in the school year.

Just for fun, I tried 'Who we are' and all three key concepts and found 3 notes that met those criteria. Not bad! Of those three, this has the most potential:
The note is simply called 'Bayaka' and comes from a post from one of my favorite tumblrs about the plight of the pygmy peoples of Central Africa. That post contains links to the original source Smithsonian article, a short video from the BBC, and a documentary film which raises issues of land rights and slavery.

What a find! Normally, I would spend hours trying to locate or relocate such rich and relevant media. However, the question remains whether these materials relate to the central idea and lines of inquiry into Rights. A scan of the Smithsonian article reveals this:

'Over the past decade, I've visited Pygmy clans in several Congo Basin countries, witnessing the destruction of their traditional lifestyle by the Bantu, as taller Africans are widely known. On this trip, this past February, my companion is Manfred Mesumbe, a Cameroonian anthropologist and expert on Pygmy culture. "The Bantu governments have forced them to stop living in the rain forests, their culture's bedrock," he tells me. "Within a generation many of their unique traditional ways will be gone forever."' Paul Raffaele, Smithsonian magazine, Dec 2008

It's like magic. If this article and related videos are not a perfect provocation for this inquiry, I don't know what would be. So what shall we do with them?

This unit will also serve as our introduction to Global Digital Citizenship, so I'll embed one of the videos on our class blog and let this be one of our first 'view and respond' activities to practice posting thoughtful comments. To support that task, we'll read the Smithsonian article together in class. Then, I'll challenge the students to research another instance of rights violations in the world, post their own findings, and comment on each other's posts.

What if a student needs help with their independent inquiry? Based on the nature of the assignment, I think Responsibility is the most applicable key concept. A quick browsing of the 26 matching posts turns up several that could help someone get started:
The highlighted note with the photo of the crying woman is titled 'Ixil Mayans' and links to another tumblr post about oppressed indigenous people in Guatemala. It would provide ideal search terms to begin researching and images to effectively provoke the inquiry.

Questions being central to inquiry, I'd like to test my Evernote notebook's response to a more specific search. Let's see how it holds up to a question like "what are the differences between rights in different countries?". The logical terms to search would be 'rights' and 'country'. Unfortunately, I haven't tagged any posts with 'rights'. To make the matter worse, almost all of my notes tagged with names of countries are interesting photos, but not necessarily related to any article about current or historical events. Clearly, I need to improve my cache of secondary concepts (rights, transportation, technology, etc) and simply keep clipping notes focusing on issues and linked to more articles about historical and current events.

Finally, it's important to add a new tag to any notes used for this inquiry. I use the school year, grade, 'UOI#', and title of the the unit, in this case, Rights & Responsibilities. Notes used in this inquiry are tagged 1314 G6 UOI1 Rights & Responsibilities to make them easy to spot later, and so that tags will be organized chronologically.

Does Evernote work for inquiry?

I'd say so. In the time it took to write this post, I planned a sizable chunk of guided inquiry for my class including authentic articles and video, and that's from just one note. Further independent inquiry can be instantly supported with additional resources, as well as spontaneous modeled and guided inquiry.

In volume 3 of Inquiry with Evernote, I'll be reflecting on using Evernote in the classroom for real-time inquiry during the first weeks of a new school year. Thanks for reading and please leave your questions and suggestions!

02 August 2013

Connected Learning or just learning?

Make Cycle 6 (envisioning)

I was a rather curious child and a natural inquirer. A particular interest in cars led me to subscribe to magazines like Road & Track and Automobile, talk to knowledgeable people about how cars work, and even invest in a wonderful book called Auto Math Handbook. It provided the engineering foundation for many car designs which I diligently drew while summarily ignoring the television.
I'm pretty sure one of my designs inspired the creation of the Bugatti Veyron.

26 July 2013

Engaging and Authentic Student Blogging

Last year, I started blogging with my students on Kidblog. I immediately saw the benefits to their motivation to write and the potential to expand our classroom across oceans and continents. In the next school year, I plan to use our class blog as a hub for writing and collaboration with other classes around the world.

There are as many approaches to student blogging as there are innovative teachers doing it, but I have a suggestion related to promoting and commenting which I think would make blogging more engaging and authentic for students.
Photo by Lars Plougmann

24 July 2013

Learning Walk

I thought my evening commute would be a good route for a Learning Walk. New perspectives on a familiar pathway...

20 July 2013

I want workbenches in my classroom.

Make Cycle 5 (reflection)

The first assignment I remember from my 'teacher training' was to make a map of my ideal elementary classroom. It was based on what I called 'zones'. There was a quiet reading zone equipped with beanbags, a gallery zone with easels dedicated to exhibiting artwork, and a vegetable garden under the windows. My proudest feature, however, was the workbenches. When I presented my map to the class, I spoke about how it was fine for students to have desks, but I wanted another area without chairs, just large, tall tables around which they could collaborate and build.

I wanted workbenches.

I had a few years experience teaching musical keyboard classes. I had wild ideas of 'open school' and giant learning spaces in which the boundaries between teacher and student, classroom and community, were smeared beyond recognition.

All I knew was that children learn best when they are self-directed and encouraged to collaborate.

14 July 2013

Inquiry with Evernote vol 1

Three weeks ago, I began exploring Evernote. Literally within minutes, I was convinced that it is an essential tool for inquiry-based teaching. I hope that by the end of this post, you will agree and want to join me in taking a huge step toward true metateaching. If student curiosity is a spark, I want to use Evernote to ignite that spark into a raging inferno. To be authentic, inquiry must be unpredictable. Inquiry teaching includes a fair amount of modeled and structured inquiry, but the deepest learning occurs when learners follow their own interests and processes to construct understanding.

I have been using Evernote to create an interconnected web of media that can be instantly searched based on criteria I create for my inquiry classroom. I already feel like a librarian from a futuristic sci-fi movie! Here is my process for curating resources:

1 Discover an image, website, video, etc, which I think would be provocative for inquiry. I most often find them on tumblr, education blogs, and science and geography journals.

2 Create a note. I prefer to use the Web Clipper and to clip a stimulating image rather than the entire webpage. As long as I ensure that the URL included in the note is correct, I can easily follow my note to its source for further investigation. 

3 Customize the title of the note.

4 Add tags.

5 Done. Tags are the key to creating an inquiry library. My system for creating the tags is what makes Evernote both a scalpel and a battle ax of inquiry. I use five categories.

General Use a few tags for broad categories. For example, 'education', 'technology', or 'learning theory'. Each of my notes usually gets just 1 or 2 general tags.

Thematic I recommend to use 5-8 thematic tags relevant to your units of inquiry like 'Who we are' or 'Personal Expression'. If a note that you create seems relevant to any of your themes, tag it as such. Keep in mind that the more tags you create, the more connected your inquiry notebook will be.

Conceptual tags such as 'form, 'perspective', 'identity', 'independence', 'creativity'. When inquiry is running rampant, concepts become the adhesive that connects learning across disciplines, genres, and any other classifications. I recommend using 7 or 8 key concepts so that your web of connections is strong, and many (50+) secondary concepts so that you can search very specifically. If you search for a secondary concept, it will connect to various key concepts which relate to more secondary concepts, and so on.

Disciplinary tags like 'history', 'biology', 'music'. These will be useful when a discipline-oriented inquiry is unraveling or when creating presentations, displays, etc.

Specific tags like 'moon', 'pelican', 'fuzzy', 'grief'. These tags simply describe the note. I also include tags like 'graphic', 'photo', 'game', and 'website' to tag each note as explicitly as possible. If you curate a few hundred of resources in this way, your Evernote inquiry notebook will be a powerful tool for provoking inquiries both planned and spontaneous. If you curate a few thousand... Let's go through the process with an actual resource from my notebook.

How would you tag this image in Evernote?
My note for this resource.

The general tag I chose for this note is 'bloom's taxonomy' because I feel it could provoke an inquiry all the way up the cognitive ladder. The thematic tags are 'Sharing the planet', 'Who we are', and 'How we express ourselves'. My conceptual tags are 'form', 'responsibility', 'creativity'. This note's disciplinary tags are 'arts', 'social studies', 'geography'. The tags specific to this note are 'painting', 'color', 'fish', 'animal', 'nature', 'indigenous', and 'student work'. Could there be more tags? There can always be more tags! The important thing is that your tags, in terms of categories and connections, work for inquiry by being broadly and deeply connected. Also, take care that the link in the note directs to the website from which it came. This image happens to be from a blog post by a middle school art teacher which includes many other examples, so it could be an excellent provocation for deeper inquiry leading to researching the artist who inspired the work or contacting the teacher who posted the image. Be sure to customize the title to your taste. I titled this note 'Morriseau inspired paintings'. Often, the automatically generated title is quite long and jumbled. I prefer succinct titles.

In conclusion, there are many implications and applications for Evernote in inquiry learning and teaching. Knowing that I have only peeked under the lid is very exciting for me and I plan to explore much more deeply and share my adventures and misadventures in a series of posts here at Inquire Within. I hope your interest is piqued and that you will join me on this inquiry. What would you add? What would you subtract? Am I missing something obvious? I would love to collaborate to discover new ways to use Evernote to provoke and orchestrate inquiry learning and teaching! "As metateachers, we design the physical, social, emotional, conceptual, and informational environments in which learners can thrive." (from Bill Evans - Creative Process and Self Teaching)

12 July 2013

My Connected Learning Credo

Make Cycle 4 Reflection (Credo)

I believe that trust is the foundation of learning.

Learning is built on a foundation of trust.

I'm having a hard time trying explain it. It's kind of a gut feeling and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway. I would like to I really need to reflect on how I arrived at it, however.

I joined the Making Learning Connected MOOC for summer professional development and specifically to help develop my Independent Inquiry project for the next school year. Since the project was largely inspired by Mimi Ito's talk in the MIT MediaLab Learning Creative Learning MOOC, it only made sense to continue along that path of inquiry. I introduced myself innocuously and interacted with some nice people until...

07 July 2013

Is laziness good for learning?

Make Cycle 3 Reflection (Map)

Witnessing the creativity and originality of the maps my peers in the Making Learning Connected MOOC had submitted, I was overwhelmed by my own laziness. I didn't feel like being 'hands on'. Didn't want to tinker. Wouldn't go outside. I wasn't even inspired by the thoughtful prompts or useful tools which had been shared. I was just too lazy.

Was it because this is the first week of my summer break? Was it because the weather in Tokyo is becoming hotter and muggier? Am I naturally lazy?

From an evolutionary perspective, isn't being lazy very important? Wasted energy and effort don't support survival, and nobody likes a busybody out on the Serengeti. Lions are lazy, sleeping most of their lives, and bears hibernate for a few months every year! Bears and lions are awesome, so why is laziness such a taboo?!

As I wallowed in my laziness, it dawned on me that I could make a map to help solve my problem, both to understand my laziness and finish my assignment, and viola!, my Laziness Map.

Click to view in google drive.

01 July 2013

Parents as Catalyst for Professional Development

During end-of-year conferences, I had an enlightening conversation with the parents of twins. What made it interesting was the fact that the two siblings have completely different approaches to learning. We described one as a 'Part to Whole' learner and the other as a 'Whole to Part' learner. In the conference, they generously shared a story about their children learning to walk: One carefully analyzed the process of walking before venturing out; the other stood up and stumbled across the room without hesitation. It reminded me of my summer DES!GN project and my interest was piqued. How might I better design learning experiences to better engage 'whole to part' learners? Hence this blog post.

A brief inquiry led to this fantastic paper by Linda Kreger Silverman, Ph.D., Visual-Spatial Learners.

Although sharing terminology with the learning modalities and multiple intelligences, I am finding it very helpful to think of different approaches to learning existing on a continuum from Visual-Spatial to Auditory-Sequential.

Everyone is unique, but from an instructional design perspective, if I always consider the extremes of the spectrum, I should be accommodating any learning style on the spectrum.

30 June 2013

Toy Hack - Thomas the Train Plays Marimba

For my Making Learning Connected Toy Hack, I used a laundry clip to attach one of my almost two-year-old son's marimba mallets to his Thomas the Train toy. I had to wait until he was taking a nap because he doesn't appreciate when I fiddle with his toys.

This is exactly the type of toy hack I would have tried as a child. It started from a novel and fairly simple idea. Acquired the time and materials. Put it all together. A moment of triumphant elation when it works. Then disappointment or dissatisfaction coupled with a nagging desire to make it better, louder, faster, more complex...

29 June 2013

Introduction for Making Learning Connected MOOC

I 'signed up' a little late, but should be caught up by the end of the weekend. I'm so excited that I found this MOOC, Making Learning Connected, because it applies directly to my Independent Inquiry project and will be fun professional development for the summer. I am an elementary school teacher at an international school in Tokyo.

By way of an introduction, please visit my SoundCloud profile and listen to my music. I composed all of the music on there, and will be uploading more soon, including my current improvisational electronic project.


24 June 2013

Maiden Voyage - Global Collaboration

My first attempt at global collaboration was nearly a titanic disaster. That is to say, it was a phenomenal success. As with anything innovative and ambitious, most of what we did was improvised along the way. Nothing turned out as planned and everything went better than expected.

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." Mark Twain

Philosophical Foundation
The project started as our "Sharing the Planet" PYP Unit of Inquiry, Friends in Distant Lands. The central idea and lines of inquiry centered on children's challenges and opportunities. The action goal was to help children in need. My primary inspiration was participating virtually in a Flat Classroom Conference, although action has always been a feature of my teaching.

Friends in Distant Lands Wiki

I did not want to plan a project. I wanted to provide the opportunities for inquiry that would empower my students to plan their own project(s). If we shared our opportunities with collaborators, and they shared with us, our perspective could broaden and the possibilities for taking action would expand.

18 June 2013

EdTech Unplugged

Educational technology has become synonymous with computers. However, I often remind myself that any tool is technology, and different tools work better for different people for different jobs.

Late 20th century classic, the individual whiteboard.
I've never met a class that didn't enjoy creating word problems for their peers on individual whiteboards and voraciously solving each others' problems.

16 June 2013

Focus on DES!GN - Summer Pro Dev

Watching tweets and posts scroll by about last days of school around the world is giving me that familiar 'last days of school' feeling.

It's not that I'm overexcited for vacation (yes I am), I'm excited to get to work on my Summer PD! I truly enjoy abandoning the schedules and information of teaching to focus on the thinking. The key word for my plans for the summer is Design.

Why Design? First, I would like to consider graphic design principles to make the learning environment more engaging and inspiring for my students. As my classroom becomes more internet-based, I want to avoid the abyss of screens full of text, but I don't want to create experiences littered with gaudy images or unbalanced webpages. Luckily, my wife, Yuka, is a freelance illustrator and designer, so she will be able to direct me toward good resources for my self-study project, and perhaps assign some authentic and useful assessments.

Creative Space: Mozilla London (photo cc Rock drum)

13 June 2013

Independent Inquiry - Clean personal spaces

The shoe is actually a pencil case.
Not all inquiries are particularly academic. In fact, I'm always pleased when students' goals focus on social, personal, emotional, physical, gastronomical, or any number of different categories of activities. In anticipation of the end of the school year, one student suggested cleaning personal spaces at school and at home. Many agreed to set it as a goal, although they agreed it was really a secondary goal and that no one had messy enough personal spaces to require a week of cleaning.

Lockers as neat as the first day of school.
I understand that this Independent Inquiry was particularly popular among parents. My favorite comment in their Ind Inq Meeting was that "now that I cleaned my locker, it's clean every time I look at it!"