How we express ourselves: Film-making

Our trans-disciplinary unit of inquiry into how we express ourselves started yesterday.

Title: Film-Making (and I am unsure about titles these days, they can be so misleading and distracting from the central idea)
Central Idea: The use of film allows us to enjoy and share our creativity
Lines of Inquiry:

  • Different types of films
  • How films are created and shared
  • What films convey

Related Concepts: communication, review, subjectivity
Key Concepts: Form, perspective and reflection

Our tuning in question is: How do we communicate our creativity (which is, initially sounding, a function question, but we are looking at the form of communication and creativity, and reflecting on ourselves). This is to make personal connections to the unit.
Generally, I can already say that the actual focus on film as a form of communication will be a challenge for the students in my class, who are (at this point in time) 9 and 10 years old. (Grade 3/4).

Yesterdays pre-assessment and informal discussions between students showed that for them movies are about adventures and fun. I was, however, very impressed with their understanding of genres such as documentaries. (I also thought it was funny when they talked about what films/shows their parents like…. )

As with all units, the second day is daunting for me. I am not 100% sure how to go on. It takes me a few days to process what I learn from and about the children. Today’s focus will still be on creativity and on categorizing the art forms we identified yesterday, before we move onto What is film? and What types of film are there?


When people with a passion meet….

This Saturday was an amazing, rejuvenating day. I will, however, share the details of what happened that day, another time.

What I can say is that I met with another PYP coordinator from Italy, and it was fantastic. She is much more experienced in the PYP than I am (not hard, is it?), but we shared one thing: A passion for what we do. We worked well, no, I think that doesn’t really do it. We worked fantastically together (in my humble opinion), we got things done and moving so quickly.

That made me think a lot about a book I’m currently going through, called Overcoming the five dysfunctions of a team.
It starts with dysfunction one, which is trust. And that really makes all the difference as to what a team is and can achieve. All weekend I was trying to make sense why we were so effective this weekend. Was trust automatically there? How come we were able to be so open and “blunt” with each other? Was is a “honeymoon period” effect, or was this transcending the trust and commitment issues others have, simply because we knew that we could trust each other?

All very interesting questions, and I will continue to observe this. I will also enjoy the fact that we worked so well together and that I have found another professional friend with whom to share my passion for what I do!

Welcome to Stars and Clouds V 2.0

Welcome to! Stars and Clouds has grown up and moved to its own webspace, and own url and and and.
The content will pretty much stay the same.
If you are reading this blog for the first time, or started to fairly recently, let me just introduce myself:

I’m Jessica, a primary school teacher at an international school in Italy. I am not just a “primary” teacher, I am a PYP (International Baccalaureate’s Primary Years Programme), which makes me proud and quite different from some other teachers. Incidentally, I am also the PYP Coordinator.

This blog serves as my reflection, planning, professional development and sharing platform. Here you will find more about what I do in the classroom, what I wonder about, my professional and occasionally my personal inquiries, my reflections, my planning (or shall I use the word: Plan-flection?). A lot, in other words.

I also twitter @yourjoyismylow (starsandclouds is unfortunately taken!), love to meet and discuss things on Skype (yourjoyismylow) and in person.

Enjoy the blog, join in the discussion, feel free to leave comments! I am an avid collaborator, and comments make me happy!

Planning Maths with a PYP Planner

I haven’t been able to think much about blogging. We have been so busy in class, but personally it hasn’t been better. On top of that, I am preparing the end-of-the-year stuff, which includes the review of our POI. A Language Policy to finish and and and…. But to be honest, I am still relaxed, not too busy really. Just lacking the ability to think too deep at night.

Today I finally took the step to use the PYP planner for my Maths planning. This is outside the unit-of-inquiry Maths. In the next school year, we want to attempt to put all stand-alone teaching this way. I used the sample planner which can be found on the OCC/IB elibrary to help me get started. One thing I noticed was the heavy focus on activities in there, I wouldn’t do that in a UoI planner, but it seems appropriate for Maths. It also helped me to really rethink the Maths planning process personally. I usually use Investigations for my teaching, but with this approach now, I think not too many resources are even needed.

The main part was writing the central idea and coming up with lines of inquiry. I was really finding it hard to think about anything at the time, but then used the sample planner and that helped.

I am curious to see whether the students will notice the difference….

Re-thinking a unit of inquiry: Knowledge and understanding

It has only been a week that we were off, but I really relaxed and now it feels like I haven’t been to school for a long time!
Exciting as it is, I am posed with challenges… learning that occurred and questions I have asked myself during the week off, clash with my current practice a little. I wonder what I can do about that?

Lets look at the scenario: The current unit of inquiry, Life Cycles, is going okay. I say that because the students have all engaged in their own, personal inquiries. But somehow the unit is posing challenges to me as we go along. I posted a question about key concepts on PYP Threads and received two interesting replies that make me want to rethink and restart. I guess this will all go back into the reflection bit of the planner eventually and can be improved later on.

However, to get started on those challenges, lets look at Jax’s reply first:

There’s so much great stuff there that I don’t want to be at all negative but my residing feeling is…that I’m not quite sure how one might hope that students of this age group meaningfully apply an understanding of your CI.
It seems that the outcome that is sought is very heavy based in knowledge, without a clear sense of relevance to the students themselves.
I can see your confusion with the concepts, but for me the residing question is about the purpose of the unit.
If you unravel the Unit back to a review the Organising Theme and ask yourself how will the children USE this understanding now and in the future, determining acceptable evidence might help you to review driving concepts?
Happy to help if I can be a thinking partner! If I don’t just add further confusion!!

As one can see, this is quite thought-provoking. And good! Because this has been nagging at me for a bit.
Lets take the feedback apart and see if I can address this as we go along here.

Meaningful application of understanding of the Central Idea/
Relevance of the unit to the students.
Outcome is heavily based on knowledge.

I like the question: What is the purpose of the unit. Lets unravel this a little then. The unit, Life Cycles, falls under the organizing theme: How the World Works. Traditionally, and this is often a very dangerous area to consider in my view, this unit is heavily science based.
The organizing theme states:

An inquiry into the natural world and its laws; the interaction between the natural world (physical and biological) and human societies; how humans use their understanding of scientific principles; the impact of scientific and technological advances on society and on the environment.
With the central idea being “The Life Cycles of living thing contribute to their continuation”, I would say this is an inquiry into the natural world and its laws.

And this is where I get sort of stuck….. I guess we would have to ask: Why do we need to know the natural world and its laws? What do we need to know, and again, why? How can we gain an understanding of the natural world? Connect it to ourselves? Is that meaningful? We are part of the natural world, and governed by its natural laws too. Such as life cycles, and reproduction. (Just a note to myself and my original question: This is the connection part I was thinking of!)

Is this what makes the unit relevant to the students though?  Was the original consideration of this unit only knowledge-based? What is the understanding we want children to construct? What is the understanding possible to construct through this unit?

What relevance do the related concepts, growth and cycles, play here? Is this unit really suitable for 8-9 year-olds? Should it not be?

All these questions, in the early evening hours of the day before I am about to leap into the second to last week of this unit.

What to do? I really would LOVE replies to this! (more about the other reply another time)

Talking about…

A recurring theme on my blog is… collaboration! And again I find myself really encouraged and refreshed by a great conversation I had yesterday.
Just to set the scene a little. Ever since I completed the degree in Learning, Technology and Research, which was completely conducted online, I valued the importance of collaboration. People, who I had never met at the time (and most of them I haven’t met yet), became close friends and collaborators. We learned together, gave each other much needed encouragement at times, and peer reviewed each other’s work.
Sometimes we worked together with people who were inquiring into completely different areas as ours, but most of the time you found yourself collaborating with researchers from similar areas. The conversations we had would often lead to substantial learning, a type of learning that you would never get from sitting in a lecture at any university.

Back to the point then: Collaboration, to me, is one of the best ways for professional development. I always seek connections and people willing to collaborate.
So it is not unusual for me to visit schools and contribute in forums. I blog, I twitter, I ask and I ask even more.

Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with Chad. If you look back to this post here, he is the one with the amazing insight into trans-disciplinarity.

Our conversation was mainly about how much the PYP is allowing us to be transdisciplinary. More precisely really, how much does the system allow us to!
My challenge is still that the PYP, as an international curriculum framework is very vague. We talk about “within the unit of inquiry” and “outside the unit of inquiry”. I believe that as we move up the age range, the “outside the unit of inquiry” becomes less.
Schools implementing the PYP differ greatly. There are state schools with official mandates, national curriculum needs and demands, and there are free, private schools, that do not have any requirements. I am part of the latter. As a private school in Italy, we are not recognized by the government and we do not need to meet the Italian curriculum. Luckily. That gives us free reign. We have much more freedom in our programme of inquiry, in our timetables and in the way we approach things.

I understand that most schools will not have this freedom and thus, the PYP needs to be a flexible “framework”. This brings with it another question: How is quality and reliability ensured? That is a question for another time though.

Back to the conversation, we explored the three aspects that the PYP promotes in regards to Language: Learning Language, Learning Through Language, and Learning About Language.
This approach is based on language alone.
In Maths, the aspects are similar:  Constructing meaning, transferring meaning, and applying with understanding.

I have to agree with Chad’s statement that this triad approach can apply to all disciplines.
For example Science: Learning Science (Right, this might be, in my understanding, the scientific vocabulary, scientific method,…), Learning About Science (historical and theoretical approaches), and Learning Through Science (well, as you know, APPLYING WITH UNDERSTANDING, such as making use of the scientific method to learn).

I also think that this applies to The Arts (both the responding and the creating strands fit in here!), PSPE, and Social Studies.

Having those three approaches to a discipline, it is important to evaluate which of these is suitable for a transdisciplinary approach, and which ones are solely “outside the unit of inquiry” approaches.

I really look at the perspectives of the knowledge and sign systems as more of the learning through aspects of these subject areas. Does that make sense? Therefore it is only about 1/3 of the curriculum for that subject. This would definitely be interwoven into the “within a unit of inquiry” time. However, to address the others and fully develop them, you would need some “outside a unit of inquiry” time

(Chad Hyatt)

Taking Chad’s thinking here, it would mean that Learning Through “Subject” or “Applying with Understanding” are the tools for transdisciplinary approaches.

What does that mean for the way we schedule our days? What does that mean for when we get older? Do we need to develop those skills ONLY outside of the units, or can we develop disciplinary skills within a transdisciplinary approach?

How does this effect our school day? How does the Early Years or 5/6 year-olds classroom differ from the 11 year-olds?

All things to consider further. A lot of ramblings here but I hope to hear other thoughts on this!

Student Independent Inquiries into Animal Life Cycles

Last week the students in my class suggested they all investigate the life cycles of different animals. This tied in nicely with the development of research and self-management skills. They all had ideas already about what they wanted to inquire into. There were dolphins, lions, orangutans and sea turtles. New, and interesting groups were formed.

Collaboration went beyond the classroom. The students made good use of their Google Accounts and emailed each other, as well as collaborating through Google Docs. In class, they made use of the library and the class computers to develop their projects.

There was less time than usual, in class, for the investigations, but the use of technology and learning outside of the classroom made their work effective and great!

On Thursday we made time for the presentations. This was not our summative assessment, but their celebration of their learning. They were wonderful.

Here you see the students preparing for their presentation and getting ready (last minute run-throughs).