Friday, January 24, 2014

Food for Thought. Hacking Schooling makes me happy.

Dear all,

I was sent this video by one of my ex-students this week because it reminded her of a conversation I had had with her Year group about the importance of creativity in their lives and not being scared to think differently from others. What this young man, Logan LePlante, has to say is without doubt Food for Thought. It raises serious questions about how we structure our learning, what is important and what we should be teaching.
Watching this, putting it together with other inspirational talks and articles about education today, raises the question, what is it we should be teaching our students in preparation for their lives in the 21st century? Our old model of education based around core subjects, school structures, authority, discipline, uniformity and regimentation, that has existed for over 150 years as a means of preparing people for a place in an industrial society is clearly outdated. Very few of the students we are teaching will work on the factory floor, so should we be listening more to what students like Logan are saying and applying it to what we are doing in our classrooms and schools?


Here is the link to Dr Roger Walsh’s website as mentioned by Logan in his talk. I know this will interest quite a few of you. Last week’s Food for Thought focused on questioning, so here are the questions that have driven Dr Roger Marsh’s research and investigation into Wellbeing and Happiness over the past 30 years.

·         What does it mean to live wisely and well, and what does it take?

·         How can we cultivate qualities such as love and wisdom, kindness and compassion?

·         What is meant by terms such as enlightenment and liberation, salvation and satori?

Wouldn’t we have an amazing school if all students who graduated from ISHCMC could emerge with the answers or at least an understanding of Dr Walsh’s three questions built into the way they plan to live their lives?

Networked Classroom

Project Examples:

Have a great weekend,

Saturday, January 18, 2014

"A Beautiful Question is something that should feel important, meaningful, profound—but also potentially answerable.”

Dear all,

It has been lovely being back in the ISHCMC community this week following the Christmas vacation and recruitment and witnessing all the exciting things that are taking place with students and their learning.


 Photo Credit: CarbonNYC via Compfight cc

I feel that I have so many things that I’ve read recently that I want to share with you all, that I don’t know where to start. After much thought I decided that I would share part of an article and a series of posts s about asking questions, something that is fundamental to all our IB programmes.  I read about this recently whilst reflecting on my own teaching and also on unit questions for MYP humanities.

My search started with this:  
“To me, a Beautiful Question is something that should feel important, meaningful, profound—but also potentially answerable.”
A great question tends to evolve. "In studying innovators," Berger says, "I've found that once they take on a big question, they often proceed through various 'stages of inquiry' that gradually lead them toward an answer. They may not always get to the answer they want, but they do arrive at something." He has labeled these stages as "speculative inquiry," "contextual inquiry," "constructive inquiry"—all steps in a process that keeps the questioner moving forward on the journey.

Berger is also trying out an idea called "collaborative inquiry," tapping into the ideas of young people interested in the subject. "I'm used to working alone in my cave as an author, but this idea is so big and challenging, I just felt like I didn't want to go on this journey by myself." So on his website he asks people to submit their own "Beautiful Questions" and invites them to join him in the investigation. "I'm asking a team of selected collaborators, not a random 'crowd,' to help me as I put together the answer. As the book's author, I'll still make all the decisions and do all the writing—but hopefully the team will unearth some great raw material that I could never find on my own. I'm very conscious of the fact that I'm asking people to do something for nothing, so my hope is that I can make it an enjoyable, enriching experience."

As the questions grow, will the answers change Berger's thesis? "I started off with the thesis that one had to learn how to be a better questioner," he says. "But now I'm starting to think it's about re-learning—because the truth is, we all start out as questioners.

"The average 5-year-old questions everything. Yet research shows that many of us begin to question less and less as we get older. Is it the school system, which tends to prize memorized answers over creative questions? Is it because we feel social pressure to 'seem smart?' Or maybe it's a business culture that discourages employees from questioning entrenched corporate policies and practices? My book will try to answer these and many, many other questions about questioning. So now maybe you can see why I'm going to need help."

Which stimulated me to  a further search on edutopia about asking questions to encourage students to become more curious and think more deeply in my class as we are investigating a topic and moving towards an enduring understanding. Below are three short posts that had links to each other.  These gave me some ideas to improve my own teaching skills as well as reinforcing things I was already doing, so I thought they might be interesting to you as well.

·         Keeping It Simple

“I also learned over the years that asking straightforward, simply-worded questions can be just as effective as those intricate ones. With that in mind, if you are a new teacher or perhaps not so new but know that question-asking is an area where you'd like to grow, start tomorrow with these five:

#1. What do you think?

This question interrupts us from telling too much. There is a place for direct instruction where we give students information yet we need to always strive to balance this with plenty of opportunities for students to make sense of and apply that new information using their schemata and understanding.

#2. Why do you think that?

After students share what they think, this follow-up question pushes them to provide reasoning for their thinking.

#3. How do you know this?

When this question is asked, students can make connections to their ideas and thoughts with things they've experienced, read, and have seen.

#4. Can you tell me more?

This question can inspire students to extend their thinking and share further evidence for their ideas.

#5. What questions do you still have?

This allows students to offer up questions they have about the information, ideas or the evidence.

In addition to routinely and relentlessly asking your students questions, be sure to provide time for them to think. What's best here, three seconds, five, or seven? Depending on their age, the depth of the material, and their comfort level, this think time will vary. Just push yourself to stay silent and wait for those hands to go up.

Also be sure to vary your tone so it genuinely sounds like a question and not a statement. When we say something in a declarative way, it is often with one tone and flat sounding. On the other hand, there is a lilt in our voice when we are inquiring and questioning.

To help student feel more comfortable and confident with answering questions and asking ones of their own, you can use this scaffold: Ask a question, pause, and then invite students to "turn and talk" with a neighbor first before sharing out with the whole group. This allows all to have their voices heard and also gives them a chance to practice their responses before sharing in front of the whole class.”


 Photo Credit: foxypar4 via Compfight cc

     Four Strategies to Spark Curiosity via Student Questioning

“British archaeologist Mary Leakey described her own learning as being "compelled by curiosity." Curiosity is the name we give to the state of having unanswered questions. And unanswered questions, by their nature, help us maintain a learning mindset. When we realize that we do not know all there is to know about something in which we are interested, we thirst. We pursue. We act as though what we do not know is more important than what we do, as though what we do not possess is worth the chase to own it. How do we help students discover this drive?

Strategy One: Equip Students to Ask Questions

At its essence, curiosity is asking questions and pursuing answers. The brain does not like unanswered questions and will shift into seek-and-find mode to uncover and understand the unknown. Questions ignite curiosity.

We often ask students if they have any questions, but we rarely teach them how to ask advantageous questions. Like any skill, asking questions can be taught and practiced, and with technology enabling an increasing emphasis on self-directed learning, this skill is more important than ever. As Wendy Puriefoy explains, "The skill of question formulation -- a thinking ability with universal relevance -- can make all learning possible."1 Students should be equipped to be inquisitive explorers, to pursue learning anytime, anywhere.

Strategy Two: Provide a Launch Pad

Even if students have mastered the full range (1) of question forming, it is difficult to inquire about topics with which they have no familiarity. When this is the case, giving just enough information to launch inquiry can help. Limit the information to true basics, such as a general context and term definitions. Then challenge students to generate questions that, when answered, uncover additional information. (For a more creative approach to launching questions, try something similar to Dr. Judy Willis' inventive use of radishes (2)!2) Guide and prompt as needed to encourage questions that address deeper concepts, and connections that will help students construct understanding. If needed, eliminate duplicity by combining questions. Once the questions are articulated, let the search begin!

Strategy Three: Cast a Wide Net

During the information gathering phase of learning, the brain does its best work in an active and receptive state. (Neurologically, this is characterized by decreased frontal lobe activity but increased activity in the temporal, occipital and parietal lobes, and by increased alpha and theta wave activity, suggesting a relaxed and receptive mental state.3) Action associated with this neurological state includes searching and collecting that is both focused ("I know the topic I am pursuing") and open to discovery ("I do not know where I will find it or what else I may find in the process"). We can foster this by challenging students to "cast a wide net" as they gather information, striving for diversity in sources and source types. Not just a summary from Wikipedia, but also a poem that addresses some aspect of the topic; not just the labeled diagram, but also an artist's portrayal of the idea.

Keep the search active by praising student efforts to discover novelty. A new idea or perspective raises new questions, and since the brain does not like unanswered questions, curiosity continues to motivate the search.

Strategy Four: Avoid Cutting the Search Short

Curiosity cut off at its peak rarely regains its fervor, so allow ample time for students to thoroughly pursue answers and novel discoveries related to the topic or idea.

What is found -- the answers to the questions -- must eventually be sorted and related to known ideas or experiences for new knowledge and understanding to emerge. However, we can spark curiosity by engaging students in questioning and in pursuing answers. Learning "compelled" by questions is learning driven by curiosity. “


1Puriefoy, W.D. (2011). Foreword in Rothstein, D. & Santana, L. Make Just One Change. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
2Washburn, K.D. (2010).
The Architecture of Learning: Designing Instruction for the Learning Brain. Pelham, AL: Clerestory Press.
3Carson, S. (2010).
Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

·        A Simple, Effective Approach

“Most of us have been exposed to the questioning strategies researched by Mary Budd Rowe. She proposed that teachers simply ask a question, such as "What do you call it when an insect kills itself?" pause for at least three seconds, and then say a student's name: "Sally." By doing this, all the students will automatically be thinking about an answer and only after another child's name is said will they sigh in relief because they were not chosen.

Creative teachers accompany this technique with a system to make sure that every child gets to answer questions in a random fashion. If it is not random, then once they answer a question, they think they have answered their one question and are done for the day. I did some online research on questioning and found these questioning and discussion resources from UMDMJ (1) useful.

So, if we are not planning to use total physical response (TPR) (2) to have all the students answer questions at the same time, then at least we should be asking a question, pausing for three seconds and then saying a student's name in order to get the most effect out of questions. However, if we are satisfied with only some students paying attention and learning in our classrooms, then we can continue as usual.”

Finally for this week’s Food for Thought we return to the strategies that we learned at the Transforming your classroom workshop.

#5: Digital Citizenship

Amazing Resources:

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Photo Credit: David Blackwell. via Compfight cc

Dear all,

I hope you have had a good first week back after the winter break. I’m very much looking forward to being back in school on Monday and working with you all again, being away in both Australia and now Thailand I have to admit I have missed ISHCMC.

Hence as I got up early this morning, completed all my recruitment tasks and still had some spare time before our first interview I thought I would send you a couple of things that I read over the winter break. The first about being the best you can adds to one of our pillars of an Achievement Culture and is useful for us as individuals and for the advice and direction we give to our students. The conclusion about looking for a combination of factors certainly links strongly with us as a Professional Learning Community and our need for developing meaningful collaboration and teamwork throughout the school. We have so much talent at ISHCMC it is important to share and learn from each other.

The Five Paths To Being The Best At Anything

I’ve posted a lot about becoming the best in your field. Looking back, what are the most successful methods for getting there?

10,000 Hours

Let’s get the most famous one out of the way first: Hard work pays off.

Malcolm Gladwell popularized the theory in Outliers: approximately 10,000 hours of deliberate practice at something can turn you into an expert.

…the most elite violinists accumulated about the same number of hours of deliberate practice (about 7,410 hours) by the age of 18 as professional middle-aged violinists belonging to international-level orchestras (about 7,336 hours)! By the age of 20, the most accomplished musicians estimated they spent over 10,000 hours in deliberate practice, which is 2,500 and 5,000 hours more than two less accomplished groups of expert musicians or 8,000 hours more than amateur pianists of the same age.

That said, 10,000 hours is an average. And deliberate practice is not just going through the motions.

You’ve spent more than 10,000 hours driving but that doesn’t make you ready for NASCAR or Formula One.

But it is what molds champions.

(More on how you can become an expert here.)

Have Great Genetics

I won’t lie to you: being a member of the lucky sperm club certainly has its advantages.

Even in this age of hyperspecialization in sports, some rare individuals become world-class athletes, and even world champions, in sports from running to rowing with less than a year or two of training. As with Gobet’s chess players, in all sports and skills, the only real rule is that there is a tremendous natural range.

There are also genetic advantages in the area of music, math and writing.

Heritability coefficients were strongest in music (.92), math (.87), sports (.85), and writing (.83) of the explained variance.

This is usually cause for many to throw up their arms and surrender. (These people do not have much grit, mind you.)

But the existence of genetic advantages doesn’t mean you should give up. I’d ask you two questions:

1.       Have you tried a wide variety of things to see if you possess genetic advantages at any of them?

2.       Have you tried aligning your efforts with the areas where you show a level of natural talent?

As David Epstein explains, the model is no longer “good at sports” or “not good at sports” — it’s “which sport was your body designed for?”

But, as Norton and Olds saw, as winner-take-all markets emerged, the early-twentieth-century paradigm of the singular, perfect athletic body faded in favor of more rare and highly specialized bodies that fit like finches’ beaks into their athletic niches. When Norton and Olds plotted the heights and weights of modern world-class high jumpers and shot putters, they saw that the athletes had become stunningly dissimilar. The average elite shot putter is now 2.5 inches taller and 130 pounds heavier than the average international high jumper… Just as the galaxies are hurtling apart, so are the body types required for success in a given sport speeding away from one another toward their respective highly specialized and lonely corners of the athletic physique universe. 

Tall and thin? Try basketball. Short and thick? Weightlifting. Mom and dad are successful engineers? Give math a whirl.

Taking advantage of genetic gifts is a matter of finding what your body and mind might have been designed to excel at and aligning your efforts appropriately.

(More on genetic advantages — and how I had my own DNA analyzed – here.)

Be Part Of A Great Team

Working 10K hours and having naturally steady hands can be a great advantage to a doctor but surgeons only get better at their home hospital.

Why? That’s where they know the team best and develop strong working relationships.

Overall, the surgeons didn’t get better with practice. They only got better at the specific hospital where they practiced. For every procedure they handled at a given hospital, the risk of patient mortality dropped by 1 percent. But the risk of mortality stayed the same at other hospitals. The surgeons couldn’t take their performance with them. They weren’t getting better at performing coronary artery bypass grafts. They were becoming more familiar with particular nurses and anesthesiologists, learning about their strengths and weaknesses, habits and styles.

Star analysts on Wall Street? Same thing.

Even though they were supposed to be individual stars, their performance wasn’t portable. When star analysts moved to a different firm, their performance dropped, and it stayed lower for at least five years.

What about for artists? Yeah, baby.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s drought lasted until he gave up on independence and began to work interdependently again with talented collaborators. It wasn’t his own idea: his wife Olgivanna convinced him to start a fellowship for apprentices to help him with his work. When apprentices joined him in 1932, his productivity soared, and he was soon working on the Fallingwater house, which would be seen by many as the greatest work of architecture in modern history. 

(More on how your friends can make you a better person here.)

Be A Giver

Researchers who hog the credit on scientific papers are less likely to win a Nobel prize.

Those who give younger academics a bit of the spotlight are more likely to have a trip to Stockholm in their future.

One striking finding was the beneficence of Nobel laureates, or as Zuckerman termed it, noblesse oblige. In general, when a scientific paper is published, the author who did the most is listed first.There are exceptions to this, and this can vary from field to field, but Zuckerman took it as a useful rule of thumb. What she found was that Nobel laureates are first authors of numerous publications early in their careers, but quickly begin to give their junior colleagues first authorship. And this happens far before they receive the Nobel Prize… By their forties, Nobel laureates are first authors on only 26 percent of their papers, as compared to their less accomplished contemporaries, who are first authors 56 percent of the time. Nicer people are indeed more creative, more successful, and even more likely to win Nobel prizes.

We think of givers as getting exploited or walked on. And that definitely happens.

What I find across various industries, and various studies is the Givers are most likely to end up at the bottom. That’s primarily because they end up putting other people first in ways that either burn them out, or will allow them to get taken advantage of and exploited by Takers.

But that’s not the end of the story. If givers resist being martyrs, or have a circle of “matchers” who protect them, they end up on top:

Then I looked at the other end of the spectrum and said if Givers are at the bottom, who’s at the top? Actually, I was really surprised to discover, it’s the Givers again. The people who consistently are looking for ways to help others are over-represented not only at the bottom, but also at the top of most success metrics. 

(More on balancing nice with tough here.)

Combine Them

Only got 5000 hours and “pretty good” genetics? Combining these methods can provide powerful results.

You don’t need to work endlessly or be born brilliant. There’s a very simple formula we can all use to get a benefit from this information:

1.       Always work hard to improve.

2.       When choosing tasks and strategies, consider your natural gifts.

3.       Pick a great team and get familiar with them.

4.       Within reason, always help others.

All other things being equal, I can’t imagine how this combination would not lead to an impressive level of success. Can you?

This second is a list of articles from Anne Murphy Paul that you might want to browse through….they are very readable, interesting and ask good questions about education.

Some of these I have already shared with you.

Best wishes for a Happy and Healthy 2014,