Learning unconventionally …

I never thought that making slime was educational. Until recently.

I have the privilege of working one-on-one with a nine year old young man, who finds learning – particularly maths – incredibly challenging. He often shrugs his shoulders and throws in the towel. So a few weeks ago, when he asked “how do you make slime?” I told him honestly that I had no clue, but there must be ways to find out.

This has led to a three chapter investigation. The first week, we used cornstarch as the main ingredient. He was comparing quantities and estimating without thinking about the difficulty. The “slime” was a disaster! And I celebrated. “What do you think we need to do differently?” I asked, and he hypothesised. So when he arrived the following week, he happily dove in to reading and interpreting a new recipe (with contact lense solution!) and comparing it to the previous week’s recipe.

Alas – another mess! And the conversation grew. “We need to persevere to get this right,” we decided. “Our mistakes are helping us know what we shouldn’t do next time.”


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Chapter 3 unfolded  with young lad arriving with his own You Tube Clip and we took notes while we watched. We decided we were missing one ingredient, so perhaps we could improvise. We searched through some other recipes and decided we need to make our own liquid starch. We headed into the kitchen and looked at the measuring equipment. “Which one is larger, which one holds less? How many ml in two cups?” The skills that he employed without calling it maths are varied and impressive.

“We’ve hit the jackpot!” he proudly announced, his hand dripping in yellow “stuff”. Now this is slime. We spoke about what we learnt and on his way out, I am told that when he found his home learning challenging this week, he said, “I’ll give it a go – just like like the slime!”

Yes – I think “we’ve hit the jackpot” !

Posted in Inquiry, Jina, Learning, Thinking | 2 Comments

Exploring exponents

Today, my year 5 maths group heads off with me, chatting happily along the way.  We have been asked to explore exponents.  The children are in a different space to where they usually learn, the mix of children is different and so is the teacher!

They take time to settle and I say, “I guess you’re not used to what I expect from learners, so I’ll tell you what I hope and then please will you tell me what you expect.”

In one sentence, I talk about making decisions, taking ownership and being responsible for learning. No one has anything to add, so we move on.

I pose this as an invitation :

Very quickly, I realize that the children are not connecting to my train of thought, so I rephrase to:

Some children use A3 paper, some their books to write all that they think they know. I walk around, noting ideas and misconceptions. I write two things on the board, telling the class that I have noticed two different ideas and I am wondering which is right:

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Children decide which one they believe is correct and why they believe this. We write their initials up next to the one they agree with and we have one child who is undecided. We have a tug of war type of discussion, and children change their opinions (and where their names are written) as they listen to other people’s opinions. At the end of the tug, we are all on one side and each child is able to explain why they have their belief.

We move on to explore exponents and then, I pose this provocation, asking the children to use index notation in some way.

Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 8.36.47 pmCollaboration is innate and the ideas that start to develop are fascinating. As I walk around, I see that one child has written:

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We write this on the board and ask what people think. Some agree, some are unsure.  They all want time to explore. Suddenly, Kayleigh says, “I disagree! I can explain …” The other children listen intently and more questions evolve.

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As the lesson draws to a close, we have a discussion. “What did we learn today?”

The responses vary:

  • I learnt that making mistakes helps me learn.
  • I learnt what exponents are.
  • I learnt that when I find things out myself, I understand them better.
  • I learnt that I can make decisions that help me learn.
  • I learnt how to explain my thinking.

I ask the children to complete this form. Their questions will inform where they start the next lesson.


Posted in Jina, Learning, learning support, ownership, PYP, Thinking | Leave a comment

A survival kit for teachers

Teaching a class must be one of the most challenging things to do.

The responsibilities are immense, yet the rewards, while sometimes buried deep, are endless.

Teachers are asked to:

  • know every child – their learning needs; social connections (and lack thereof) , family background; likes and dislikes; hopes and dreams
  • cater to needs of every child – differentiate, individualise, include, provoke thinking … allow time (just the right amount), group children with purpose . Provide rich, valuable resources without dishing out answers
  • provide a stimulating, motivating environment in which children are given agency and choice, but where there is a sense of decorum to allow listening, communication and learning to grow
  • use assessments and data in a meaningful way – track growth; use of variety of meaningful assessment tools; document learning
  • communicate – with school heads; colleagues; parents; children
  • be informed – know the world; know the curriculum; know the content and skills. Where has each child come from? Where are they going to?
  • be mindful when offering praise – sometimes praising one child is interpreted by others that they are not good enough.Allow children to decide when their ideas are valuable and ask questions to get them to evaluate and reflect on what they have done and think of ways in which they might improve.

How is this possible? How can one person do all of this effectively and efficiently?

My list of survival and success tools, gathered over many years and by interacting with incredible educators looks something like this:

  • Stay in the loop – know what your children are talking about and bring the world to them. Share real world events and help learners make connections.
  • Laugh when you need to. Cry when you need to. Have people around you who will listen when you moan, will laugh with you and who will ask “the right questions” and tell you to ask them too. Ensure that your learners, their parents and your school heads know that you are human
  • One rule for all children does not work – using global punishment or rewards for a whole class alienates children from each other and the punisher and is something that is very hard to stop. When do individuals learn to make effective choices and take responsibility for their actions if whole classes are rewarded and punished for the actions of individuals?
  • Have access to resources – printed; online; people and things
  • Use a calendar that has alerts – there is way too much to remember. Technology is our friend.
  • Take photos to remember and document learning.
  • Let the children do theheavy lifting“. Teachers plant seeds of thoughts and help learners find their own – children need to grow and develop ideas in ways that work for them
  • Put the decision making onto the children and allow them to reflect on the effects. Make reflection a regular and expected part of learning.
  • Be flexible. Schools are dynamic places. Be willing to change plans and ideas as learners and school needs evolve.

What would you add to this survival kit?

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Learners sharing experiences and knowledge

With his Zine finally published, B has secured the places where he wants to display his product. It sits proudly in the reception areas of our school, so that it may be seen by visitors. It is his snap shot of what learning looks like at our school.

The action, however, came in a form that neither of us had considered. Our Year 6 students are currently working on their PYP Expedition, towards their PYP Exhibition. Part of our role, as teacher mentors is to talk to the children. To get them to pose and answer questions and keep considering the journey they are on. The focus is the expedition, not the exhibition.

In this capacity, I sit with a girl (L) who feels passionately about educating people about the great work  of a charity organisation – one in which she is involved. She has been there, she has cooked, packed and delivered food to needy people and she knows all the benefits. She wants to tell other people why they should be involved too. She has decided to make a brochure, which the organisation wants to see, but she is unsure how to do this. She is folding paper and deciding on lay-out.

She feels unsure and something is not right for her. So I ask her, “Do you know what a zine is?”
“No!” We watch a quick YouTube clip and she looks at me and says,”This might be good for me!” So we head off to the office and I show her B’s zine.

“HOW DID HE DO THAT?” she beams.

“Why don’t you ask him?” I suggest. And we are off.

An informal, light-hearted mentoring session takes place, with a promise to be of assistance as and when he is required in the future.


L feels invigorated. She has direction and a real mentor – an expert who has done this before!

B feels important! He is able to share his knowledge and experience and help another (older) child.

How do we empower children to share their experiences and knowledge?

Do we know what our learners know so that we can pair them up authentically (with no barriers of age and stage)?


Posted in Jina, Learning, learning support, ownership, PYP | 1 Comment

Reflective honesty

A and two friends (Year 6 learners)  join me to think about themselves as learners. Their goal is to write report reflections for their final primary school reports. We look at the learner profile  and consider what they have achieved and improved on and what they still need to improve. Each of the children approach the task in their own way.

  • J (who is a creative thinker) immediately starts to think about what she does, how she does it and who she is as a learner.
  • N gets lost in her thoughts and needs time to think.
  • A wants to talk. She wants to bounce ideas around.


During the week, I interact with other children who are writing their reflections. I notice:

  • Some like to plan first; others like to dive in.
  • Some like to write about what they are thinking; others like to think about what they are writing.
  • Some require sentence starters to assist them; others have plenty to say.
  • Some want to chat about their thinking ; some want to think in silence.
  • Some want to talk and have someone scribe (type) ; others want to type as they think.

It seems like everything that we do is differentiated to some degree and that given choices, learners experiment and find out what works best for them. The comments are testimony to the reflective practice that the learners are exposed to and I love the honesty and insight that they display.

Here are some examples of what they say :

N: “I know that I need to show more commitment to my learning as I tend to get distracted and lose focus. My learning environment is important. I need to have a place to map out my thoughts and all my ideas so that I can refer back to them as I need them.”

A :”I am willing to share my knowledge and I know that I need to ask questions more often and be willing to take risks as I know that when I make a mistake, I learn new things. I do know that I need to contribute more to class discussions and get more involved as sometimes I am not willing to share my thoughts as I am unsure of what other people will think of them. I need time to think and a safe place to share.”

(K has started thinking alone, but wants to chat to generate more ideas. He is so honest in what he says, that as I read this sentence, I hear his voice.)

K: “When I am determined to learn something no one can stop me but when I don’t really want to learn something I am closed-minded.”

Taking time to model reflection and build it into all we do certainly pays off.

What do your learners think about?

How do they reflect on and for their learning?

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Engaging all learners …

Observing the world, reading and viewing gives one  great opportunites to ask questions; reflect on one’s own practice and try to make meaningful, practical suggestions.

   How do we get all learners to be engaged, feel involved and show them that their voice matters?

 How do we involve all children in discussion, learning and collaboration?

 Is whole class discussion the way to start lessons, to pull everyone in?

I’ve been watching some video clips that our literacy co-ordinator shared with me. My first observation is that the children look like they are half asleep. The same two children raise their hands and are called on constantly.  The teacher talks and talks …

What strategies might we use to draw all of our learners in?

  • Stop asking for raised hands. Instead, ask everyone to think and place their thumb next to their chest when they feel they have a thought. Hands in the air hinder the thinking of the children who take time to think. They know that the “hand up child” will be called on , so there is no need to think.


  • Access prior knowledge – use thinking routines (in parts and with purpose) eg I used to think and now I think (know)
  • Use Google Slides / Docs so that every child has a place to share their ideas and link to those of others.
  • Allow every child a point of entry by using big questions and deep provocations.
  • Less teacher talk – allow children to ask the questions and then find out what they are interested in and what they see the need to find out about.
  • Using thinking routines like Connect-Extend-Challenge, Think, Pair Share , Compass Points , See, Think, Wonder
  • Share ideas in small groups rather than whole class discussions all the time. Get group to come up with a headline / big idea / question / insight to share.
  • Use place mat thinking routines to come up with a definition.

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  • Use a chalk walk to collect thinking and extend ideas.vtr3

At the end of the lesson, check in  with children. Ask them to share a puzzle/ insight / something they learnt/ how they are feeling.  Is it possible to engage all learners, all of the time?

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Teaching or learning?



Image taken from All Things Learning

Here’s the question for today … What do we value more? Teaching or learning? 

This question could be debated from many perspectives, with a huge amount of evidence to justify view points.

So often, we consider “the lesson; the concept; the message”. Is there anything wrong with this? I don’t think so. How often do we consider these things:

  • What is the learner’s prior knowledge?
  • What  is the learner’s ‘care factor’ about this topic?
  • How is the learner going to use this beyond the classroom?
  • How does each learner learn best?
  • What will motivate the learner to extend their thinking?

Do we expect children to do things that we would hate to do? 

When we plan for learning, is the focus on teaching (how and what) or learning (why)?     In Making the PYP Happen, this question is  raised : “How should the teaching and learning process be modified as a result of the assessment?”

How are we using assessment to inform our teaching and  learning?                                     Is assessment for a grade? To monitor progress? To see how a school / teacher / child is traveling?                                                                            

What else helps us inform teaching and learning? 

What do we value more? Teaching or learning? 

Posted in Learning, Thinking | 4 Comments