The Power of the SDG’s

This was originally posted in authors personal blog Empower 2 Be…

Now, let me start by highlighting a few embarrassing admissions…1. I am not a vegan or vegetarian but fully believe we all should be, 2. while I believe in the fair treatment for all living things I do NOT do enough to make this happen! 3. I know I should recycle and do everything I can to protect our environment but I am often LAZY and don’t make it a high enough priority! I don’t mind people being on their “soapboxes” about the above issues because we need more of the world to be sharing those boxes if we want to improve the mess that we have made!

In short, I am the biggest factor as to why the world is in the physical state it is in. Now I am not saying that I am the singular cause for all the devastation but I am part of the problem…the reason being that I am not an anomaly…in fact, I will put it out there and say I think I may be a sad example of the norm. I WANT to do more, I KNOW I should do more, BUT I DON’T!

As an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (IBPYP) teacher for the last 15 years, action has always been part of the plan. Getting our students to take action and DO SOMETHING from what they have learned in class. My big issue with this has always been that this action has normally been teacher initiated OR forced OR superficial OR a one-off event OR inauthentic OR ABSENT altogether! It has always been a challenge for me…how do I bring this great learning that is happening and enable the students to recognize the action they can take that is both authentic and sustainable?

In 2015 the United Nations did educators all around the world a HUGE favour! They released the Sustainable Development Goals…the SDG’s! At first, I wasn’t aware of the power that these 17 ambitious goals had but 3 years later (has it only been 3 years?) classroom teaching has changed forever!

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What started off 3 years ago as forcing connections between what we are doing in the classroom to the SDG’s is now a case of units changing and evolving as we see ways that we can make more authentic opportunities for our students to see the power that they have as leaders in helping the world achieve these goals! What started off being a blanket decision of “all grade levels will connect at least two units to an SDG throughout the year” has now resulted in many grade levels connected all of their units and representing ALL of the 17 SDG’s throughout the school year.

I am lucky to work in a school that has adopted the SDG’s as a leading force to all that we do. The SDG’s are up around the school, EVERYWHERE! We hosted the first IB Regional Conference that was themed around the SDG’s and ALL students, from the 3-year-olds in Discovery to the 18-year-olds doing the diploma, are exposed to them. The result is that 3 years in I am no longer having to “introduce” my 4th graders to the SDG’s as they already know them! We are now able to take our knowledge and build on it and use our voices to work towards them.

Here are some ideas that my students wanted me to share:

  • start up a group of “SDG Guardians” in your school! Warriors, who come together every week and discuss and implement ways to spread the word of the SDG’s throughout the school and local community #SDGguardians
  • challenge your students to implement Teaspoons of Change
  • facilitate the inquiry of your students learning about the SDG’s! What can they find? What do they connect with?
  • have your older students make SDG board games to play with your younger grade levels that will teach them about the goals and what they can be doing
  • connect with Teach SDG’s to find more ways to embed the SDG’s into your classrooms #teachSDGs
  • have your PYPx students work towards an SDG for their exhibition! Challenge them…can their work lead to a sustainable change?
  • empower your students to look around the school and find changes that can be made towards different SDG’s (for example…is your school still laminating? What is all this plastic doing to the ocean?)
  • connect with NGO’s and organizations in your community who are working towards one or more of the SDG’s…how can you work together to make a bigger impact?
  • incorporate the design cycle and inquiry cycle into their learning process…can the design cycle be part of the “taking it further” with the inquiry cycle?

What I have noticed in the last three years is that the more student agency I enable the more sustainable and meaningful the connections the students are making! Last year our 4th graders were able to choose the SDG they felt the most passionate about. They created a social enterprise and used their profits from their market day to work toward making their action proposal a reality! (see my previous blog post for more information!) This year it has been incredible to hear that some of these students have continued on with what they started, in grade 5 and are running bake sales and lemonade stands at school and in the local dog park, to continue working with the NGO they connected with in grade 4.

 

I have noticed that each year the students come in with a greater understanding of the SDG’s and a more heightened motivation to take action! We have students advocating for equal rights for girls and boys on the soccer pitch and meeting with the athletics department, students convincing peers to purchase bamboo straws as prizes for their SDG game rather than candy because the candy is wrapped in plastic, making recycling boxes for the classrooms, marching in the local LGBT parade to support equality for all…the list grows every year! To me, this is the power of a “whole school approach”! If the message is the same every year and the approach is through empowering self-initiated action NOT forced teacher-driven tasks, our learners will learn what power they actually possess to make a change!

As an educator and a facilitator of learning for my class of little humans, it is MY responsibility to ignite in them a passion to take action and make changes so that they don’t become another me! They need to DO more, ACT better and INSPIRE the older, and younger, generations to make a change!

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Exciting, Authentic, Connected…Transdisciplinary Learning!

As part of my professional inquiry for this year I decided to focus on student directed learning and student agency. The explanation of this is an entire blog post of its own (next one on my list) but in short I was looking at how I could play with my classroom logistics in order to stay true to what the school were requiring but still allowing the students to have agency.

Part of my process was to keep the parents of my class informed and aware of these changes. We are a team and it is important that there is complete transparency between us in order for the students to truly succeed.

Below is an edited blog post that I wrote to parents in December of this school year. The purpose of the post was to explain the changes that had started to happen in their child’s classroom. The response was extremely supportive and positive and resulted in many parents coming to visit and have a look.

PLEASE NOTE: the ideas that I have been implementing in my classroom are by no means my creation! I have adapted ideas received through observations of other amazing teachers and readings. The ideas are constantly changing as the students and I work together to make them the most successful for our class of learners! It is often messy and not always successful but there has been one constant result…learning!

Teacher to Parent Blog Post; December, 2017

At the moment in the education world, and specifically in the PYP, there is a big push for student agency and for educators to encourage students to be more in control of their own learning. The IB PYP is focusing on introducing student agency in a more focused way. They highlight the following advantages about increasing student agency as…

“Students with agency:

  • have voice, choice and ownership; and a propensity to take action
  • influence and direct learning
  • contribute to and participate in the learning community.”

As part of my own professional learning, I have been researching and looking for ways to create a learning environment that allows for greater student agency. For the last 4 weeks I have been introducing the class to new structures and concepts and giving them time (and a lot of guidance) as they learn what it all involves. This week was the first week where the students really saw it all come together, and I am so happy to witness the enthusiastic way that they have tackled the new approach!

Every morning the students come in to read an overview of what the day has to offer. Below is an example.

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IMG_2670An example of a completed weekly goals sheet that highlights not only the goal but also what success will look like and strategies to use to get there.

During the “Where We Are In Place and Time” unit of inquiry, the students did a range of tasks that were related to the unit but targeted specific math and literacy skills. They started to talk about their learning in terms of “I learned about… through the lens of math/reading/writing”. The content was focused on the unit of inquiry however the “skills” that they were learning were specific from the English and Math curriculum. At the end of the unit the students expressed that they felt they had a better understanding of the unit as they were looking at it from many different perspectives. They also highlighted that it allowed them to strengthen skills such as time management, reflection, cooperation and commitment.

IMG_7876An example of the Transdisciplinary Inquiry Journals that all students use to document their learning process.

img_0638.jpgThe list of Transdisciplinary Tasks students were required to do over the course of the unit, including a time management plan.
This week we have focused on developing our understanding of child rights, what they are and what they mean. Students have selected a range of tasks to undertake (each through the lens of either data handling, writing or reading) and began to work towards finding ways that they can take action towards to enable more children access to their rights.

At the beginning of each week they will reflect on their past week’s goals and look at how they are achieving them. They need to provide evidence of their learning and create their next plan of action, do they continue with the same goals or do they create new ones?

Snip20180331_2.pngCreating her weekly goals on Monday morning using her reflections to help her.

They then create a schedule for their learning. The class schedule is now broken into three sections;

  • student directed / transdisciplinary inquiry
  • whole class lessons
  • specialist classes
  • teacher and student led workshops on specific learning objectives

It is through the transdisciplinary inquiry that students get to take true control over their learning and achieve a level of learning that is authentic and connected to the wider world. They decide what they are doing when (with teacher guidance!) and sign up for teacher OR student led workshops or independent inquiry tasks. Their key focus is on what they need to do to deepen their understanding and to have a balance of reading, writing and math. I help them with gaining this self-awareness and guide them to understanding what their needs are, if I recognise that they have not signed up for a workshop that I believe they would benefit from.

IMG_0848.jpg Signing up for teacher led workshops and recording these sessions on his personal schedule.

                    IMG_0583.JPGAn example of the workshop sign up sheet. Students have this information when developing their schedules and goals.

IMG_8552.JPGStudents deciding on the tasks they will undertake for the week ahead.

Overall, the classroom has become invigorated by the thinking that has been involved. The students are excited by the chance to shape the way they inquire into our classroom focus.

Snip20180413_43  An example of a planning document for individual workshop focus. Homeroom teacher (Mel), Teacher Assistant (Huong), EAL teacher (Nicole) and Learning Support teacher (Sara).

 

Authentic, Sustainable Action…How?

This was originally posted on the blog Empower 2 Be…

As an IB educator the whole concept of action has been a baffling one to me! I love everything it embodies, in concept, but I have always struggled with the idea that I am manufacturing opportunities for action for my students. Surely, if I am truly embedding the IB principles and inspiring my class of learners to be masters for change they can discover these opportunities themselves?

Over the years I have seen some great examples of action that different teachers and schools have accomplished and, while I walk away so impressed, I leave wondering what I am doing wrong…why can’t I achieve this with my learners? I don’t believe in being inauthentic in order to tick a box and say “we did action”!

Of course there have been moments over the last 15 years where opportunities have been grasped and success has been achieved! Such as my 5th grader who was EAL and learning support and struggling to grasp the idea of having to tackle the exhibition. A project that seemed so out of his reach was achievable by allowing him voice and choice and the freedom to cater to his strengths not his challenges. His aunt was in a wheelchair and when he discovered my mum too was in a wheelchair he decided this was going to be the focus for his exhibition. He focused on interviewing via telephone to do his research and he channeled his research into how Germany (his Aunt) and Australia (my mum) accommodated for disabled citizens. He did a fantastic job and on the day he set up a course in the gym and had wheelchairs available for people to “have a go” at operating in order to gain empathy towards those physically challenged. It was GREAT and the pride and tears of his parents was heart warming. Yet as his teacher it was his action that I was the most proud of. He requested to come to school for the day in a wheelchair. To use it for the entire day and to see how well the school accommodated for the disabled student. He video’d, photographed and noted his experience and then wrote a letter to the school board and head of school to highlight the areas of the school that were wheelchair friendly and those that needed improvement. The school took notice and by the start of next term ramps had been installed.

This seems so long ago…15 years in fact, and yet it is still in the forefront of my mind! It is only now as I reflect on action that I realise what was probably a key factor for his success…voice and choice and working to his strengths. I didn’t force book research or essay writing, he journalled via video recordings and explained via photographs. As soon as taking the reading and writing focus away he was truly able to allow himself the freedom to explore him passion.

15 years later I have once again been able to see this authentic action again! Our Sharing the Planet unit of inquiry focused on “Children’s rights and responsibilities exist to enable equitable opportunities.” It was going to be followed by our small business unit for How We Organise Ourselves so we decided to merge them so that the small businesses would actually be “social enterprises” and therefore an action for the Sharing the Planet unit.

 

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The students started by owning their roles as students of the UN…what did this mean? What did it currently look like? What COULD it look like?

img_2992.jpg At the end of the Sharing the Planet unit the class brainstormed ideas for taking action towards helping children in Vietnam access more of their rights.

 

IMG_4961Students broke up into small groups focused on one of the child rights that they felt passionate for. They researched different NGO (non government organisations) and service learning projects within Hanoi and the school that would be a good partnership for them to work with. The made connections to one or more of the UN SDG’s (sustainable development goals). AND finally they created their social enterprise company name, slogan and logo!

All of a sudden 4A had 6 operating social enterprise’s that were addressing 5 different SDG’s and collaborating with 6 different NGO / Service Learning Projects. The impact that this had on the students was fascinating to watch. The small business unit always was a fun one that the students LOVED, but by adding this extra layer of purpose to their businesses the students were inspired and worked that much harder to be successful. They were writing to different people around the school to meet with them and discuss action ideas and were excited to use money (that was once used for a class party) that they raised to help children less fortunate than themselves.

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There were definitely the groups that needed more help than others, groups that had students who were less committed and needed more guidance but even these individuals and groups were learning. The skills that they had been honing in on throughout our student directed year (such as group work, communication and time management) were being put to use and they were EXCITED!

At this current point in time the groups are working with their partner organisations to arrange how their profits will be spent. We have the Great Green Gardeners heading off to go shopping with the school gardener, for items to create gardening kits to then distribute to families who will be able to grow their own food. Teddy Paws are purchasing the materials they need to make 25 teddy bears to take to an orphanage where one of the class members started her life in. Others are making clothing, blankets and toys for children in rural Vietnam, making stationary kits for schools in Sapa, organising a years internet subscription for a rural school who has 1 computer…the class is a buzz. No longer have the students wanted to donate the money and say they made cookies and that was their action!

Before we left for Spring Break we sat together as a class and discussed what we learned from this experience. That they explained what that because they knew they were going to be creating social enterprises based on a child right they started thinking about it from the beginning of the Sharing the Planet unit. They said that they felt special because they are lucky to be students at a UN school and that they hadn’t realised what that really meant before. One student said “I feel more socially responsible to help other kids that aren’t like me” while 2 others students asked if they could continue to work on their social enterprise in the future or if it was over now the unit was? Without realising it, these students were asking to create sustainable service learning projects! And I wanted to stand on the table and DO MY HAPPY DANCE!

Upon reflection I am seeing connections between this experience my class had with the year of self-directed learning they have had. They were able be successful because:

  • they had started to develop the skills they needed throughout the previous units
  • they had become more socially self-aware of what their role in society was as a privileged international school student
  • they were able to explore the area they felt the most connected to and passionate about
  • they were taking responsibility for their actions and were WANTING to do more for others

So after all of this I am left wondering…

  • How do we have this happen again?
  • For the Who We Are unit what will the students decide to do?
  • What skills can I foresee they will need in order for them to have the ability to authentically take action (whatever that may look like)?

All of a sudden planning is looking a lot different…

Project Planning Paralysis

I have a love/hate affair with projects.

I love them because students get to choose what they do.

I hate them because students get to choose what they do.

 

It boils down to three things for me: judgement, control, and fear.

I find myself checking if I think this project choice is worthy of our class time. I wonder if the project they choose is going to be something I know anything about. I am fearful that even if I overcome both these hurdles, there is still the judgement of teachers or parents who may not see the value in the project choice.

I have a long history with student choice. I won’t call it agency because, for much of the time, I found myself setting the parameters for the choices. Ultimately, I want kids to have a voice, I want them to learn through something they love to do.

My fifth grade Design students have been eager to have more say in what we do. I wanted to respect that so we started looking at what “Design” was and I opened up the floor for them to choose their next design project. But I couldn’t help myself and I started throwing in “rules” to hamper their freedom of choice. Before I knew it, I had created a framework for their projects of my making. It looks like this (and I still am not sure if I like it or not):

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I created this, if I am to be honest, out of fear that should my kids stop at step one, “PLAY”, other people may judge the worthiness of them doing so. Who are these “others” that have so much control over my instinct to let my kids play, that I would go and create four more hoops for them to jump through?

This is where I am struggling at the moment in my quest for agency. Where do scaffolds come in? How can we help our students with things like authentic empathy or exposure to the Global Goals as a springboard for design? Who is to say what is purposeful and what is not?

Here is an example from one student:

After doing a “tournament of champions” with all the ideas of things that could be done in Design (similar to this one below) a student chose: Minecraft. 

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Example of how the kids each chose the thing they wanted to “Play” with in Design.

Students were then re-introduced to the Sustainable Development Goals (something they were already familiar with). This is where they would connect “Play” with “Problem”.

They then needed to “Pitch” an idea: what were they going to make? Do? Create? And then I wanted them to think about why? What was their “Purpose”?

Here’s one example:

Grade 5 Design1.001

“Plan” made it’s way in when I saw that many kids didn’t quite know where to get started. Or, to be fair, they did know (they started to Play!) but I wanted something more concrete.

Even as I write this I am questioning the whole thing. How much interference is too much? How much freedom is too much?

How do you make this work in your school?