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Archive for Discovery Learning

July 5, 2014

Student Voices: Interviews with Sophia Pink

Sophia Dept of Edu

I was fortunate to record a couple podcasts with the extraordinary Sophia Pink. She designed and implemented a hybrid year of studies in place of attending Washington International School for her 10th grade year. In the first podcast Sophia tells the story of the program of studies she put together. In the second show, she offers her insights on how high school can be much more personalized with increased student engagement.

I am really enjoying our shows that give students the opportunity to share their ideas about teaching and learning. Stay tuned for the next Edtech Co-Op podcast to hear from my son Samuel as he shares about his lesson design work with his Theory of Knowledge (TOK) teacher.

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March 21, 2014

Databases in the Primary School- Lessons Learned


Our ICL team (Sue Anderson, Doris Clingman and myself) teach in our scheduled classes and “just in time” teaching the value of students and teachers in using our online databases. One of our goals is to make our PS Library website with its many databases the go to place for our student researchers as they purse their inquiry.

We start our Kindergarten students with BrainPop Jr and BrainPop videos in Spanish and French. We introduce PebbleGo in Grade 1 followed by Britannica. Spanish and French databases come into play next as well as the incredible Britannica ImageQuest. ImageQuest is so important as it provides an excellent alternative to sending students searching on the Web as the provided ImageQuest images are rights cleared covering a wide variety of topics.

Sue is currently supporting a Grade 3 unit of study on economics by introducing more sophisticated databases using them to have students learn about supply and demand. She teaches ICL skills of information literacy and analysis by having the students go into the provided databases to gather information on supply and demand. She gives students the handout inserted below as they do their exploration.

Sue shared important insight with me yesterday regarding another goal in teaching databases. She stressed how important it is for the students to move beyond basic literacy in using them. As part of our ICL curriculum, we push for students to become fluent in how they analyze information, media, visuals and technology. A part of this fluency is becoming so comfortable that one is willing to persevere and stay on task in doing a database search when the information is not so easy to find.

Sue explained that the last thing we want is for students to have limited experience with databases so that they do not become adept in using them. With limited use and skill development they are more apt to quickly drop a database search when faced with an obstacle and jump into a search engine. In other words, the faculty and parents have to be all in when teaching and supporting the use of databases in school and at home so that they truly become a part of our students’ personal learning systems.

How “all in” is your school’s community in supporting your students to become skilled and dedicated database users?


Database lesson


March 4, 2014

Project Zero Conference- Lessons Learned


I was fortunate to attend the Project Zero (PZ) conference hosted by Presbyterian Day School (PDS) and the Martin Institute. There are many resources on the Web and books if you are new to the many research areas and pedagogical approaches of PZ. Here are some of my notes taken from the presentations by Harvard researchers as well as from my day spent in the classrooms of PDS teachers.


Creating Cultures of Thinking: what to look for when observing learning in a classroom. Ron Ritchhart.

-Making thinking valued- where to look in a classroom? 1) Focus of the lesson- how is it directed to engage students to think  2) Teacher Interactions with students. Where and when do you see an interest and curiosity about students’ thinking?  3) What opportunities are available for student thinking? How did the lesson yield new understanding? What kinds of thinking lead to true understanding? Importance of promoting wondering, considering different viewpoints, uncovering complexities… to then provide opportunities for students to make their thinking visible.

-Routines and Questions: Look for the routines the teacher uses to bring about thinking, to make it visible, apparent, doesn’t have to be written out but simply is evident through student words and activity. How do these routines/tools support thinking and learning? The ongoing thinking not just products.

-Thinking is actively promoted. Press for Thinking- how is the teacher pressing the students for further thinking? How does the teacher push students a bit? Discourse: How do we encourage discourse, conversation about ideas? How does the teacher help the greater group to challenge ideas, share comments? Opportunities and Time: How are the children given the time and opportunities that advance thinking? How does the teacher provide space for student to extend, elaborate and develop both their ideas and the idea of others? This means not to just wait and jump on the first response but to have “wait time” that lets students know they have time to respond to their first idea to expand it and for others to respond.

-Task with low threshold to get started but high ceilings for expansive thinking. This approach really supports differentiation for all students.

-Video of Gr 1 teacher and teaching how one’s conscience guides us: Thinking books with words and images– visual notetaking, complex concept. The teacher clearly had systems in place for learning. The students were comfortable in turning to their listening partner.


Making Learning Whole: David Perkins

What does it look like to learn really well?

-What school learning experiences do we have that are like learning a game like baseball that gives you a feel for the whole where one see the connections? School isn’t like learning to play baseball. So many separate aspects that are not connected.

-Seven Sides of Learning

7 Sides of Learning

-We often teach with “elements of things”, the breaking down into skills and parts but we wait to put it all together later. Not such a good thing. David calls this “elementitus”. The learners don’t get a sense of the whole “game” thus not learning with true understanding.

-We teach about things… think about how we teach about history. Think of children going to baseball camp. Think if they learned about baseball words, rules, strategies instead of playing… this is “learning about” rather than how to think, apply, solve, etc. David calls this “aboutitis”. The students are not “in” the game. It isn’t getting them into complexities.

-Junior Versions: Baseball story, learning in backyard, a couple bases playing with friends, fewer players… it is simpler, a more junior version but still same shape of the whole. We can help students enter complexity by going the “junior version” route where they are in the game and not on the outside from the “about’ perspective looking in.

-There are junior versions for all learning areas at all ages. Again, first step to enter the learning of complexity. It is not going the elementitus or aboutitus route.

-Good learning calls for the learning experiences to be a good model of the target performances. If you don’t go this way, the learning is really thin in meaningfulness. It is inert and ritual knowledge that we often have on tests. That type of learning knowledge is inert in that it is not transferred by the students to make connections to other topics, ideas, etc.

-So it comes back to playing the whole game… not looking in from the fringe… get totally in.

-Looking for rich, holistic learning activities. Example is the math bungee jumping video.

-Teach in a whole game way: Fairness and Justice in stories as a concept to pursue. You want students to be thinking about fairness and justice constantly. Looking to have them combining the elements as they read the book. Need to have an appropriate junior version… don’t give them Crime and Punishment, go with Jack and the Beanstalk. :) Use methods and purpose and forms of the discipline you are working with. As with lit study, we are looking at the text, analyzing it, predicting, connecting to other stories. Also looking for problem finding and solving. Not just giving them the exact task but opening it up enough to see where they might go.



The Edge Lab Learning Space at PDS

Explore-Develop Empathy-Grow Your Ideas-Evaluate

I spent a class period in the new EDGE Lab Learning Space that had just opened up at Presbyterian Day School. The room is where the students go to problem solve, design and then prototype their ideas in a makerspace. The teacher of the class, Alice Walker, worked with the students to connect to their reading from the Chester Cricket series of books. Their task was to design and build a cricket house for Chester.

Alice started the class by reminding them of how the EDGE approach to learning works. She then did an exercise to get the students thinking laterally by giving each team of students an everyday object. They brainstormed to come up with alternative ways to use the objects. Alice also went over the brainstorming process. The teams then moved to the “Idea Wall” to go through the brainstorming process. It was quite impressive to see the engagement and teamwork as the students wrote out their ideas on the wall.

Idea WallIdea Wall

Idea Wall

Cricket Venn
Hallway Venn Diagram for Chester Cricket Reading

Thinking Routine
Thinking Routine Used with Venn Diagram

One huge take away from my time at the conference and at the school was the validation of my belief in just how important leadership and being actionable are to shifting practices in a school. The head of PDS, Lee Burns, made the decision many years ago to connect with Project Zero to help transform teaching and learning at his school. He led his teachers to PZ conferences and then communicated expectations that they would be accountable for implementing PZ pedagogies into their teaching and classrooms.

Evidence of the shift to develop a school where the culture of learning truly emphasizes thinking, problem-solving, connection making, etc. could be seen everywhere. Bulletin boards, posters, the school website and the language of thinking that the students used all communicated the mission to develop students as thinkers. Here are photos of just a few examples of what was on display throughout the school.




February 18, 2014

30 Day Art Challenge- Creativity Unleashed!

art challenge

Laura Evangelista continues to find novel ways to challenge and engage her students to be creative and expressive. Each student received a sketchbook and 30 days of prompts to get them thinking and creating. The following are a few of the daily challenges students responded to in their sketchbooks.

Day 1:  A day in the life of YOU!

Day 2: ART! What do you think about ART!

Day 3: Draw 1 object 6 different ways

Day 4: If you were a cartoon character…

Day 5: FOODs you CRAVE

Day 6: Circles as doodles!

Day 7: Anything BLUE


Laura provided the following videos to help guide her students.

Organic Art Journal Page

ABC Art Journal Series

Art Journal Page

Art Journal & Mixed Media

January 16, 2014

Communicating Understanding and Documenting Student Learning


Our First and Second Graders recently completed projects using ScreenChomp to create screencasts on their iPads. The learning goal for the students was to reflect to then communicate their responses to the essential questions from the units of inquiry they were completing. A big challenge was to visually represent their thinking about their learning and to communicate their answers to the questions in their second language (French, Spanish or Dutch).

The First Graders responded to the following questions from the People Around the World unit.

  • What is my daily life like?
  • How is my life similar to the lives of children in other countries?
  • How is my life different to the lives of children in other countries?

The Second Graders responded to the following questions from the Weather unit.

  • What is weather?
  • What makes the weather change?
  • How does weather affect peoples’ lives?

Here is an example of one student’s screencast.

January 11, 2014

Visually Representing How One Learns

1The teachers at the WIS Primary School consistently use Project Zero instructional strategies to help their students think about their learning. A nice example of applying ideas from the making thinking visible routines took place in Foun Tang’s 4th grade classroom. Foun challenged her students to think about how they learn to then create a visible representation of their learning processes.

As you can see from the two images, the students used color, shapes, textures and space to communicate how they learn. Each student wrote up their interpretation and added it under their visual. While the end product is important, it was the process of guiding students to reflect to then think of ways to represent their ideas that really made this project valuable. I really like how Foun pushes her students to be abstract thinkers making visual connections in how they learn.      2

December 9, 2013

“And Action: Directing Documentaries in the Social Studies Classroom”

And ActionWe know that if done correctly, videography can really support our students to support the multiple pedagogies of project-based, inquiry, student-centered, authentic, etc. etc. learning. The combination of students working in teams to create documentaries really leverages the learning possibilities when using video.  It is one thing to hand a camera to a group of students and say “create a video”. It is another to really plan, scaffold and guide students through the process of designing, shooting, editing and publishing a documentary. The learning rewards are abundant and rich but it is not an easy task to perform.

Just as our students, we need all the help that we can get to teach and manage the process of having our students create documentaries. Fortunately we have two leaders in the fields of instructional technology and social studies to guide us through the process.

Kathy Swan of the University of Kentucky and Mark Hofer of the College of William & Mary drew on their years of experience and wonderful teaching ability to provide us with the A to Z, practical guide for documentary creation in the K-12 classroom. Their book, and Action: Directing Documentaries in the Social Studies Classroom, simply nails it with the nuts and bolts “how to’s”. But more importantly, Kathy and Mark provide the “how to’s” of using the videography process to help students reach deeper understanding of the concepts, themes and significance of their subject matter.

Definitely look to purchase the book for yourself, your student library and professional development library. It is a winner.

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August 25, 2013

Student Designed Learning: “Somewhere in between…” Regular Classroom and Virtual


Sophia Pink, an 11th grader at Washington International School (WIS) in the District of Columbia, wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post and created a video about her experiences last year when she left the regular classroom to design and experience her own learning program. In the article Sophia notes of her experiences taking high school online courses from Johns Hopkins University while also picking up classes from Udacity as she ventured into the world of MOOCs. Sophia was also able to pursue her interests and create projects that were not part of the set 10th grade curriculum at WIS.

Sophia missed the learning from collaborating with her WIS classmates but she enjoyed having more control over how her days would run as well as time spent on individual courses. She concludes that regular schools and online learning both have a place for students as “somewhere in between” the two makes the most sense to her.

I am sure that being such a self-directed and responsible learner definitely was a big part of admin at WIS and Sophia’s parents supporting Sophia’s self-designed learning program. Having choice, being able to control one’s time and being allowed to pursue one’s interests are a big part of what we consistently hear schools should be doing for their students. It is important to note that there are some schools that offer students experiences similar to Sophia’s.

It is nice to see that the leaders at my new school (I started this summer at WIS) so value students that they were open to support Sophia’s learning journey. The next step will be to see how we can offer a more hybrid approach to our curriculum where more students take courses in and outside of school while pursing their interests.

Talk about authentic learning, writing an opinion article and producing a video for a major newspaper definitely are a couple biggies when it comes to connecting one’s learning to the real world. Also, do look to review an earlier post where I wrote about Sophia as an accomplished videographer.


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April 21, 2013

Constructivist Teaching and Learning

We talk a lot about curriculum-based technology integration on the Edtech Co-Op podcast. Note: The podcast is at a new site- http://edtechcoop.posthaven.com. We also have guests on to share instructional and assessment strategies that guide students to make meaning and construct their understanding. Our last two shows zeroed in on constructivism as we spoke with Stephan Anagnost of the International School of Curacao. Stephan describes the hard but fruitful work of designing student-centered learning opportunities. If you haven’t listed to the two podcasts, do take a listen.

Here are a few more resources about constructivist learning opportunities.

My wife runs the Future Problem Solvers (FPS) club at her high school. One of my sons this year started a FPS team at his school. They attended the state competition this weekend. Both came home describing the incredible creativity and problem solving that took place as teams from across the state tackled the presented problem. Look to learn more about FPS and how you might start a chapter at your school. It is can be a helpful model to add to your teaching toolkit.

Speaking of problem solving, John Hunter just publised a book about his World Peace Game. If you haven’t seen his TED Talk, do look to check it out. The World Peace Game is all about students working together to problem solve and build understanding as they go through a series of prompts to find peace in an ongoing simulation game.

May 18, 2012

Kindergarten Art Curriculum

My wife and I have been very fortunate in our schools to work with outstanding art teachers. My current school is no different. As part of the Kindergarten curriculum the students study the artistic styles of Miro, Picasso and Pollock. The Kindergarten students just completed their Pollock interpretation which provided some beautiful paintings. A minor technology connection is that the students used the Mr. Picassohead drawing site as a follow up to their Picasso unit of study.

Here are some examples of their work including a newly painted book cart for the library.

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