Life Cycle: The beginning (pre-assessment)

Spending the holidays being ill is just the worst thing, especially since my idea was to check out the botanical gardens in Pisa, to collect good pictures for the Life Cycles immersion phase and so on.

Instead I now cannot walk, I have Erythema Nodosum and that means nothing much to me other than swollen nodules on my lower leg, a swollen ankle, joint pains and inability to walk.

So, instead of enjoying the lovely Tuscan weather, I have been pondering this unit of inquiry a little more. Our initial ideas and planning happened, but it was lacking a way for me to start the unit with the 8 and 9 year-olds.

Now this is sorted, we will actually start to PLAN and INVESTIGATE the unit together. I have created a more science skills/W.A.L.T./Pre-assessment powerpoint series.

This is the pre-assessment for when the kids come in, this will be left uncommented for the time being. It will give me the opportunity to see what the kids can recognize and describe.

Our exploration of the central idea, lines of inquiry, concepts and a first KWHL map. This is not going to be done one after one after one, but will spread throughout the day.

I wish I could give proper credit for this one. I got this off the Online Curriculum Center Resource Section (Science). The publisher is not mentioned. We will explore the scientific methods and hopefully make connections to the Research Skills which come…. What we are going to learn. An exploration of the skills we need for this unit of inquiry. Including science and transdisciplinary skills, but also the mathematical and language skills we need. I want to make the connections with the students as we collaboratively move on the continuum towards transdisciplinary learning.

This is the beginning. I will post more about the end later on!


Action Inquiry/Professional Inquiry into Action in the Classroom

I have just been thinking about how scattered my own thinking and learning is sometimes. I know this happens when I have no formal (that doesn’t mean it has to be institutional, but can be self-guided) structure guiding me.

Now, for the next year, action, international-mindedness, and inquiry-based teaching and learning are three big ideas that the school is looking at.

Taking these three big things, and splitting them up seems quite a good idea. Action, which I always put towards the end of my priority continuum, has moved up considerably with such an action-rich Unit of Inquiry that just ended.
Moving into an inquiry into “How the world works” and “How we express ourselves” with central ideas that not so obviously spark my ideas about student-initiated action, I think action could be a nice little inquiry project for myself.

However, working alone is not fun. I can ask my colleagues, and invite them to join me in this project, and I can reach out to educators around the world.

Following my good old action research structures, I am thinking about a proposal, using the format I used at university as well. (see the end of this post)

I really do think this would be a worthwhile exploration, and not just within my own school, but on a broader scale too. I would like to hear from you what literature you recommend on Action? What questions are worth exploring? Would you like to participate?

When school starts, I will propose this to the head of the school and invite those teachers who are interested to join me one afternoon a week to work on this. Depending on who is interested, we might even find the time to do this during lunch time.

Action Inquiry Proposal

1. An Action Inquiry into developing my understanding and enabling of student-initiated action

2. Rationale – to be worked out

3. Indicative Literature List – any suggestions?

4. Research Questions

What is student-initiated action and how can I identify it?

How can I enable all students to act?

……. more

5. Methodology (this bit is taken from my dissertation proposal)

My chosen methodology is action inquiry, which is qualitative in nature. My interest is to gain an insight into the “why” and “how” of phenomena, rather than statistical information (Bell 2005), which is the main focus of the “what”, “where” and “when” approach of scientific research. Traditional methods like this do not take place in real-world situations, but are undertaken by scientists, who research for the general public, or an organisation. They are trying to explain something external (McNiff, Lomax and Whitehead 2003).
Action inquiry is a research method that is about people, internal and real-world situations, and qualitative data is of great importance to the researcher.

My inquiry is concerned with my own professional development through improvement of my own practice. An action inquiry approach is suitable as I aim to learn from my experience. The cyclical approach will allow me to collect, analyse and reflect on data on implemented change to my practice. This is how I will inform further changes, making action inquiry emergent and unpredictable.

The strengths are apparent: I, as the practitioner, will be the centre of my own research in order to enhance my own practice. Following the notion of action inquiry being participatory, I will include my colleagues, not only in my data collection, but also as critical friends and in sharing positive results and good practice.

Action inquiry is subjective and bias is one of its main weaknesses. As outlined in data collection and analysis, I aim to eliminate those as best as possible by applying triangulation, and gaining a wide perspective through submitting my data for peer review. I will be critical in evaluating my findings and apply reflection. Furthermore, I will add rigour and validity to my research by reviewing current literature throughout.

I have chosen to follow Lewin’s action research model for this inquiry.

This inquiry is self-directed and will allow more time for planning, which made the Lewin model attractive for me. Although the step of reconnaissance has always been important, it has not been mentioned specifically. This year I will use this step to gather information in more detail before implementing an action. I will use my findings and reflection, as well as current literature and research as a basis to inform further changes to my practice.

Lewin is seen as the person to have coined the term ‘action research’, involving the steps of planning, action, observation and reflection, the general frame for reflective action research.

6. Ethical Considerations (this bit is taken from my dissertation proposal)

Ethical considerations for my research are based on the Revised Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research (2004) by the British Educational Research Association (BERA).

I will gain informed consent from all participants, namely my colleagues, who will be part of my data collection and form some of my context, and my students, who are not subjects, yet form the context of my research. As they are under-age, I need to gain consent from their guardians.

The following conditions guarantees will be made to all participants:

•The research will be open and honest. I will use data collection and analysis methods, such as triangulation and structured reflection to reduce bias. I will consider and challenge personal values that may influence my perceptions and interpretations.

•Every participant has the right to withdraw from the research without penalty or giving a reason at any point during the research.

•Every participant will be protected from harm.

•Every participant has the right to confidentiality. I will not identify participants or present them in an identifiable way. This includes the school.

•Participants have the right to anonymity. By anonymity in this context I mean that no one will see transcripts of interviews, or video recordings except me, and collected data will be destroyed (deleted) after being carefully reflected on.

•Participants have the right to ask questions and express concerns at any time during the research.

7. Data Collection Methods

8. Data Analysis

9. Audience

– Myself

– My school

– Other PYP Practitioners

– Other educators

10. Resources

11. Timetable

Key Concept: Perspective – In Art

year3and4 002

Originally uploaded by yourjoyismylow

In Art, my class of 8 and 9 year-olds have explored the concept of perspective.
To do this, we looked at a lot of photos and paintings, the way they convey detail and the way they allow us to interpret them in specific ways. Some interesting discussions came from that.

Then I showed them photographs where I replaced important details (mainly people with their telling expressions) with silhouettes. This left the picture much more open to interpretation. We were able to express our own perspective this way.

That led us to creating our own silhouettes. Originally I had hoped to include photography in this, but then we just stuck to creating our own “shadow” pictures. Some of the ones shown on my Flickr deal with perspective, and how our intention may be interpreted in different ways, but some of them are also random (“Can I make some more?”).

More reflections on Rights and Responsibilities

Today was the last day of our unit of inquiry “Rights and Responsibilities”. The end was marked by a visit from representatives of the Province of Pisa, who run a charity to support the refugees from Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic.

During our last unit of inquiry, “To buy or not to buy”, an inquiry into how we organize ourselves, the students formed business groups who created products that were sold to the school community. With their car wash, bar, bake sale and talent show, the students from Year 3/4 and Year 5/6 raised over 500 Euro. That money was donated to this charity.

Their visit today made the connections between our actions during the last unit of inquiry, our current actions, and the ideas we explored during this unit very clear to the children. They were inspired and curious.

Comments afterwards in my class were very positive:

“I thought that what I did was not that important, but now I know I can make a real difference. I feel proud of myself.”

That was my favorite comment and so spot on. A lot of the kids felt that way!

After the visit we sat together and talked about the unit of inquiry. We reflected on it using Two Stars and a Wish (optional). It is very obvious that a lot of the students were really keen on the use of technology in this unit. Some were so unsure of the internet before, and really liked exploring the options that were given to them. They confidently talked about the work they did!

Also popular choices were the exploration of the right to identity and the right to be myself. The students did enjoy a lot of self-exploration, but I know we were close to transcending the borders to the transdisciplinary theme “Who we are” there.

I need to find a way to keep the technology integrated as heavily. I am extremely tempted to set up a Ning for the class, and to use it as a way to communicate and share some work. I might just do that.

Then the students prepared for their end-of-unit presentation, where they share their learning with their friends and families. It was a nice, quiet afternoon and now we are off for half-term! Time to relax!


It is that time of the unit again. Reflection time. While we have been reflecting throughout, I wanted to put my final thoughts on here.

WIS 3 and 4 inquired into sharing the planet, and looked at the central idea “Children worldwide have a variety of rights and responsibilities”.

It was to be a challenging unit, as we moved it from Who We Are to Sharing the Planet, and the resources and ideas changed considerably. However, the planning stages made us teacher positively surprised. There were so many useful resources for so many different developmental stages. As we teach this unit as part of our “replacement Cycle C”, Years 3, 4, 5 and 6 are covering the same units of inquiry. This is often a challenge, and our inquiries were quite different.

As we started off, the students were really engaged. Much more so than I have seen in previous similar units.

The added component to this unit was the use of technology. I have to admit that our school is quite behind when it comes to technology and only having a laptop per class is really quite limiting. But I took the plunge. During this unit we used:

  • A wiki (and created one)
  • Google Docs
  • A blog (and posted in our own one)
  • Flickr

and I even got to introduce the idea of creative commons. This was a lot and today the students, after individually viewing each others and giving each other feedback, presented their Wikis to each other. We talked about the criteria we had established, self-assessed our work and gave constructive feedbacks. It was a great, reflection-based day!

As I am compiling my own reflections on the unit, I think I will sign off this, and I will need the input of many other individuals.

What a great unit though!

Assembly time!

Yesterday was WIS 3and4’s big day! It was our RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES assembly.

Personally, I was not so sure about the choice of this unit of inquiry for our assembly, but I had to make room for newer teachers’ choices.
But once I started my research on this unit, I knew it was a great choice. Such a well-resourced concept! Great! In the end, the ideas I had about assemblies were easily overruled by the ideas the students had.

Truly inspired by Greg Mortenson, responsible for “Three Cups of Tea” and “Listen to the Wind”, the kids chose to write their own script for “Listen to the Wind”. I knew they really loved the story and I was very impressed how they all collaboratively worked on the script using Google Docs.

They independently arranged their props, we made some nice backdrops for the performance and when one of the students found out about the song “Three Cups of Tea”, it was instantly decided to add this to the assembly.

Drama, as a discipline, is a more or less untouched field for a teacher from Germany. But I was a theatre student in my primary and secondary education, and I know very well what was important. We did a lot of thinking about our own characters. We introduced ourselves to others, drew our own self-portraits and described each other’s traits.

Yesterday was great. Despite last minute changes to room and timings, we did well! Well, the boys and girls in my class did!