“Trans-Articulation”: What if our POI can create a future world that works for everyone?

I woke up feeling electric. My body simply can’t take any coffee, so I made a cup of Good Earth herbal tea. Its tea tag contained the message:

Tag Your It Winner:

Good ideas are laughed at in the beginning. 

-Katrucha Huork

I’m not sure if this is an omen.

As a disclaimer, I’m not in the habit of reposting from my personal blog on this website, but I’d like to share some musings that are slightly edited from my personal blog post, Future Thinking: Evolving as a Part of Enhancing A #PYP Programme Of Inquiry  in an effort to open a larger dialogue around what it means to be a PYP school. Thanks for indulging my ideas and responding to how we might “evolve” the PYP curriculum.


Not everyone wakes up on a Sunday morning and sketches out ideas for a Programme of Inquiry (POI), but I’ve been reflecting for a while on my experience from last spring when I went to the IB’s headquarters in the Hague to help design sample POIs for the Enhanced PYP initiative (see the Teacher Support Materials that can be accessed in the MyIB section of the main page for those samples in PYP resources). During that time, our teams sat down and began to create POIs that were structurally synergistic, organized so that there was more conceptual coherence and personalized to the uniqueness of that school reality and age group. In the blog post, #PYP: What is a Successful Programme of Inquiry?, I articulated the intention that was foundational in creating those sample POIs, but I’m starting to consider this definition of “success” as my “first thinking” when I consider what it might mean to “enhance” something.

Probably all you English scholars know that the word “enhance” is a transitive verb, meaning that this verb is relational and influential. enhanced pyp I find it an interesting word choice by the IB in its re-branding effort. So their call to “enhance” our Primary Years Programme has got me lingering on what it is that we want to elevate in the learning experience.  Visually, “Agency” has now become the symbolic heart of the PYP’s graphic. I think many educators are painting a picture of what that can look like on this blog, with a multitude of examples of how teachers are pivoting towards an agentic pedagogical approach. Currently, I am enamored with Rick Hanson’s definition of agency from his book, Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength and Happiness , which I’d like to share with you:

Agency is the ability to look for ways to cause an effect. It’s a sense of internal freedom when you make something happen.

Hmm…..when I consider that interpretation, my eyes begin to widen its focus upon the outer ring’s message of this enhanced PYP graphic: “Building For the Future”.  Should we not, as PYP educators, be contemplating what sort of future we wish to build? We often undermine our influence of the big picture of how society and culture are developed over time through our educational paradigms. Educators have played a big role in creating the Millennial-generation, and we are helping to create the next generation of global citizens. We shouldn’t take these things lightly, and in fact, I think we should be much more intentional with our power and ability to transform our human experience and life on Earth. We should look for ways to cause an effect….because we have the freedom to make something happen. For example, it seems obvious to me that the intelligent and thoughtful people at the United Nation’s know this, which is why they have created a call to action with the #TeachSDGsmovement. Our schools should be seriously considering how we might achieve those 17 goals by 2030, because this is certainly one way to shape our schools’ POIs which is in alignment with the PYP curricular framework and values of the IB.

A Second Thought

As I reflect back to that Hague experience, I feel that this initial approach to considering what it means to “enhance” the design of the POI is still ongoing. If you look carefully at those Sample POIs, you would notice that they don’t really deviate much from each other. Because at the end of the day, whether we were using national curricular standards or the IB’s Scope and Sequence, the challenges with using either the standards-based vs. concept-based curriculum results in more similarities than exceptions when creating the units of inquiries. I think this a testimony to the strength of the PYP framework and transdisciplinary learning with how translatable it is to a variety of educational settings.  However, when I read books like Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari, The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future by Kevin Kelly and  How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed by Ray Kurzweil, I begin to wonder if our current POIs are teaching towards the past or preparing for the imminent reality of our students. Are we, as schools, engaged in future-building, with meaningful and forward-thinking POIs, or clinging onto industrial-age ideas.

I’m not sure how familiar you are with those books, so I’d like to share a quote that persistently plagues me from Homo Deus:

As human fictions are translated into genetic and electronic codes, the intersubject reality will swallow up the objective reality and biology will merge with history. In the 21st century, fiction might thereby become the most potent force on Earth…hence, if we want to understand our future, cracking genomes and crunching numbers is hardly enough. We must also decipher the fictions that make meaning in our world……Fiction isn’t bad. It’s vital. Without commonly accepted stories about money, states or coorporations, no complex human society can function. We can’t play football unless everyone believes in the same made-up rules, and we can’t enjoy the benefits of the markets and courts without simliar make-believe stories. But the stories are just tools. They should not become our goals or our yardsticks. When we forget they are mere fiction, we lose touch with reality.

Yuval Noah Harari, from Home Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.

I’ve been marinating in those words for over a year. Curious about what could be the “story” we are telling ourselves now about our future and how we can use it as a “tool”. I know that some feel that the book Future Shock is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. But what if we could choose another direction, one in which we meet the disruption that advancing technology will bring with creativity, grace, and intention. I believe wholeheartedly in that possibility, which is why I’ve been working on developing online courses for well-being in the digital age. I feel strongly that we should not resist technology but instead embrace it and use it to promote greater health and improve our relationships. That is the empowering “story” I wish to tell.

And today, I woke up, feeling alive, wanting to create a POI that was bathed in an over-reaching goal of developing well-being because I think that is the “fiction” I’d like to cultivate in the intersubjective (socially agreed upon) future reality of students. Here are the main 6 concepts that I feel need to be unpacked and gone into depth over the course of a student’s PYP experience within our 6 transdisciplinary themes.

  1. Sustainability (Production and Consumption):  because we need to shift from scarcity to ingenuity.
  2. Entrepreneurship: because we need to shift from profit-orientated goals to positive contributions in society.
  3. Computational Thinking: because we have to understand the algorithms of life and how we can co-evolve with exponential machine learning.
  4. Digital Citizenship: because online relationships and media are influencing us and our society. We need to navigate this reality skillfully.
  5. Social Emotional Learning: because attention and emotional awareness is vital to our health and is the new currency in our economy.
  6. Imagination (and Poetry): because creativity is the by-product of imagination, and we need to find more beautiful ways to express it.

I’ve started to create potential POIs that take these main concepts and build them out so that the overall force of the programme is one that develops well-bing: resilience, awareness, positive outlook and generosity. It’s really hard to translate these ideas into words without a fully fleshed out sample POI to show as a model but hopefully, the spirit of this quest has been communicated and I will have something completed soon that I can show as an example.

An Invitation

Now, whether you agree with me or not about what concepts need to be on a future-orientated whole-school POI isn’t the point but I do hope to open up a debate. I know in schools that are moving towards personalized learning culture, very broad and general central ideas are highly valued so that there is a lot of flexibility in the direction of a student’s inquiry. In my own experience, I am grappling with casting such a wide net with central ideas in the curriculum, uncertain if the overall outcome behooves the students and is manageable for teachers. But the purpose of this post is not to incite discussion around central ideas, but instead to provoke a re-examination of “the big picture” of your current school’s POI and reflect upon the future that you want to create through the curriculum.  Especially in schools that have authorized programmes, we need to be really challenging ourselves, moving beyond horizontal and vertical alignment and articulation. I’m beginning to have a new working definition of the Enhanced PYP: “trans-articulation”, which is less about ticking boxes and more about growing the future today, evolving consciously and actively within our curriculum approach.

As always, I hope you share your reflections, wonderings and concerns in the comments below.

Expanding My Perimeter of Ignorance to Create More #StudentAgency

I want to run, I want to hide
I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside
I wanna reach out and touch the flame
Where the streets have no name

As we bump down our muddy street in Vientiane, those U2 lyrics swell inside our balmy truck.  I stare out the window, thinking. Their message pierces a part of me, the part of me that longs to make this year different. It’s hard to imagine that I am going into my eighteenth year in education.  circle of knowledgeI strangely feel incompetent as I reflect on the “circles of knowledge”  (aka, a perimeter of ignorance) that I learned so many years ago in my DP Theory of Knowledge (TOK) class. There is still a vast amount of things that I don’t understand about this elusive thing called “best practice” and supporting real growth in learners. I don’t know why so many people think teaching is easy. It’s hard. Damn hard.

But over the years, I’ve broken addictions. Just like quitting smoking, I quit textbooks, worksheets and being “the boss” of the class. I think there are some other ugly vices that I can let go of this year.

Our team has made a re-dedication to play this year so we can see and hear what it is that students are interested in, what they care about and who they are as learners. We are making the first weeks of school about developing an understanding of who they are as learners, for us and for them, in an effort to increase their agency. We are putting a decreased emphasis on rules and routines and more about leaning in and listening to them, giving them time to play and invent, providing structured unstructured time. Although on our planner it looks like provocations around our central idea: Our choices and actions as individuals define who we become as a community, it’s deeper than that. It’s about releasing control so we can empower them to be self-motivated and independent learners, and we want to do that Day 1.

The truth is, they are ALREADY self-motivated and independent learners, we just need to listen and pay attention to the whole child, not just the part of them we wish to see–the one that can write words, recognize numerals and raise their hand. I think it will be more interesting to observe the “why” behind these behaviors so we can cultivate the best in them, as well as going on a scavenger hunt, finding what else there is about them.

Learning is a result of listening, which in turn leads to even better listening and attentiveness to the other person. In other words, to learn from the child, we must have empathy, and empathy grows as we learn. — Alice Miller

I’m not sure where our discoveries will lead us, but I hope we find this place “where the streets have no names”, venturing into new terrain and creating a different direction in our learning community this year.

#InnovationInEducation: Challenge the Status Quo*

My student stood agog: “Wow, you type so fast! How do you do that?” I looked down at my keyboard and then back at my student. Do I even bother to explain the QWERTY keyboard set up and how I learned to type to my 1st grader? I mean, will the keyboard even exist in the future? Will touch-typing even be a relevant skill?

It’s odd to think that the QWERTY keyboard is an excellent example of why we need to look at common things with uncommon sight. Why innovation is so vital in our educational systems. Have you ever heard of the Fable of the Keys? Do you know why we have that layout of letters of the home keys? Perhaps you think it was created to improve our speed and efficiency when typing? NO–quite the opposite. It was to slow us down so that those old fashion typewriter keys didn’t get jammed up. Its crazy to think that in an era of such technological impact, that such a simple feature of our computers cannot be revamped to improve our productivity. It’s a bit foolish really that we haven’t adopted another style of the keyboard when you think of it. And it makes me wonder what else we are doing in our world that is relies on 200-year-old technology.

Again, I wonder if the layout of the keyboard of our laptops and devices should be reconfigured to produce faster typing speeds? That’s the most sensible approach, right? ABSOLUTELY NOT! I think about this provocative quote about innovation:Anytime teachers think differently about (3)

And it makes sense, right? Why would we spend all that time and effort when we could be reimagining how we might capture thoughts and ideas? Most of us submit that talk to text will be the way of the future-it’s already a classroom staple for my 1st graders. But I wonder how often in education we just repackage these same sorts of “old” ideas which have gotten standardized into our systems. When you look at the quote by Seymour Papert, a man who brought technology to education, can you think of anything that you are using or doing in your classroom that just recapitulates antiquated practices?

The phrase “technology and education” usually means inventing new gadgets to teach the same old stuff in a thinly disguised version of the same old way. Moreover, if the gadgets are computers, the same old teaching becomes incredibly more expensive and biased towards its dullest parts, namely the kind of rote learning in which measurable results can be obtained by treating the children like pigeons in a Skinner box.   –Seymour Papert, father of Constructionism

During Season 4, Episode 3 of IMMOOC, John Spencer described his journey with technology and how his thinking has evolved around its use. As I listened to him speaking about using Scotch tape to mend microfiche, my head just kept unconsciously nodding. Oh, how I could relate! And I wholeheartedly agree with his lesson from this experience.

What is transferable, what is powerful and what stayed forever has been getting to think critically, getting to be creative, getting to problem solve-all of that. To me, when people get focused on the technology, they are going to end up inevitably doing is getting obsessed with the novelty.

I think this is an important lesson for all of us educators to consider. How can we focus on transferable skills vs. technology skills? Is knowing how to touch-type going to be a game changer for my 1st grader’s future OR is understanding how we organize and create systems to improve our capacity to do more and communicate more of our best selves and solve problems the answer?

Obviously, my question is rhetorical. And maybe you are wondering what “QUERTYs” you have in your school culture and classrooms–what old fashion practices and tools are you perpetuating, with or without the use of technology? Let’s start to make genuine progress by challenging and “breaking” them. Because by accepting the “status quo” in education, like un-imagining “the keyboard”, just makes us look slow and stupid.


*This blog post originally was posted on my personal blog: #IMMOOC: WHY THE STATUS QUO MAKES US SLOW AND STUPID

My reason for reposting is that, as rebels, I believe that we should be challenging those aspects of things that are institutional and trying to delve deeper into why they exist and what purpose they serve.

#Teacher Agency: If You Like Pina Coladas and Getting Caught in the Rain: Who Are You Waiting For?

 

Recently a friend of mine was sharing the struggles of leadership in a non-IB international school that is transitioning away from textbooks. During the first year of implementing change, teachers genuinely cringed at the thought and lamented how challenging it was to teach without these curriculum resources. It was hard. There was a learning curve. They had lived in their safe textbook bubble for years and never exercised any critical thinking around curriculum. No one really knew anything about Backwards By Design and had never really attempted creating unit plans. Concept-based approaches were just not on their radar.   Three years later, the struggle continues but in the very best of ways. Those teachers are discovering their mojo, their voice, and their agency. They have learned to finally be teachers that they always wanted to be. As I listened to his teachers’ journey, I recognized that, although my path may be different, I am really quite the same as them.

How often we wait for someone to give us permission to do things differently. We are afraid that stepping out in new directions will make us seem like renegades and trouble-makers. For once, I can comfortably say that I’m okay with being a rebel-it’s not a dirty word and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. And I think I’m finally in that place where I understand that these constraints are really self-imposed. That I have been free all along and I don’t have to do anything to prove to anyone that my ideas are worthy or good. It’s sorta like that cheesy 70’s song, Escape by Rupert Holmes, in which the man who put in a personal ad comes to find out that the woman who responds is his current partner. (Ha- the irony!) I feel like in many ways, it’s the same for me. That what I want is really already in front of me if I just choose to recognize it. Perhaps you feel the same way.

The truth is that our schools need us to be more of who we want to become. Even if we are weird. Even if we stir up a hornet’s nest. Even if we are critical. Even if our ideas challenge the status quo of our school’s culture. Because schools are not there for the adults in the building, they are there for the children who fill its classrooms. And, the futures that our children will live in will require us to rethink education and how we “do school”.

There is a beautiful message from the Hopi Elders, a Native American tribe based in my favorite home state of Arizona, that I keep up as a reminder. I’d like to share it with you.

Here are the things that must be considered:

            Where are you living?

            What are you doing?

            What are your relationships?

            Are you in right relation?

            Where is your water?

            Know our garden.

            It is time to speak your Truth.

            Create your community.

            Be good to each other.

            And do not look outside yourself for the leader.

This could be a good time!

There is a river flowing now very fast.

It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.

They will try to hold on to the shore.

They will feel like they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly.

Know the river has its destination.

The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off toward the middle of

the river,

keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.

See who is there with you and celebrate.

At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally,   least of all

ourselves!

For the moment we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

The time of the lonely wolf is over.

Gather yourselves!

Banish the word struggle from your attitude and vocabulary.

All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

Let’s all give ourselves permission to be the best of who we are and “let go of the shore” of what is comfortable and allow ourselves to flail around until we gain a steady footing of the transformation in education that we are a part of. It may be hard, but it will be worth it.