This post follows a series of posts that relate to a COETAIL Course 5 final project. It follows the journey of a "Sharing the planet" unit of inquiry and how COETAIL course learning has been injected into it. You can read the other posts related to this journey here.
Getting into Personally Meaningful Inquiries
Up until now, students have been discovering what climate change is about and some of its causes. The connection with the Grade 12 CAS students, described in my last blog post, really helped with that. The older students even touched briefly on what humans are doing to show action or take responsibility, which was the deeper portion of the second line of inquiry.
Now that students has some lead in and exposure to content knowledge relating to our lines of inquiry, it was time for them to dive deeper into an area of climate change that they could further hone their research and thinking skills (i.e. the Approaches to learning).
COETAIL course three had a big focus on visual communication and collaboration; it really helped me further craft my design and visual communication skills. Since a premise of COETAIL Course Five is about embedding learning authentically into your context, it got my thinking about how to improve the visual access and communication for teachers, students and parents. An area from last year's unit that needed some love in particular was simplifying and synthesizing the media that students would use for their research.
To start my pitch to the grade four teaching team, I created this visual (which we would also use with the students), as to the next direction for the unit.
Essentially, students would choose and become mini-experts within one of these five areas. Teachers would take the lead in one area, then collate or synthesizing some kid friendly research media. In addition, the teacher facilitators for each domain would model research skills and create exemplars to help scaffold the skills needed in order for the students to create the explanation text brochures that was part of the summative task of this unit.
The team liked the idea and we got students to choose their area of interest.
As teachers, we carved out several collaborative blocks during a two week time period where kids went to their "topic" teacher. In these sessions, teachers modeled research of a mini-topic within that domain (e.g. concrete for materials) to serve as exemplars.
Simultaneously throughout this unit, our literacy classes complimented this inquiry by looking at text and language features of explanation texts, skimming and scanning skills, note-taking, co-creating success criteria and more.
A big change from last year, and something COETAIL further helped hone in on this craft, was thinking of more effective ways to embed technology into teaching and learning. The context in which this unit was taught last year was different - it was taught face-to-face. However, this unit was taught in an online context. As a team, we decided that we would add all of our "expert" media housed into one Padlet. Regardless of teaching context, this offered several advantages from last year. First, other teachers could benchmark from one another and be inspired more transparently about what other expert groups were doing. Secondly, students could access the information asynchronously and also access it during homeroom time. Third, homeroom teachers could better support all of their homeroom students working on various topics because all the information was in one place.
In sum, all of this allowed for greater visibility, improved support, access to modeling notes, and more kid-friendly research resources from last year.
Connecting further with experts
COETAIL does a fantastic job of integrating the ISTE standards into course content knowledge. Being an ISTE certified educator already coming into the course, I loved how COETAIL gave me further opportunities to refine my application and understanding of the standards.
One of my passions as an educator is connecting kids with experts beyond their four walls. This aligns nicely with the ISTE Standards for Educators 2.4c.
I knew there was so much potential to reach out to "expert" members in our community on this topic, so I started reaching out to several contacts that I knew had a great fit.
Sadly, timing wasn't our friend, and, after exhausting those resources, I knew I had to draw on my other connections.
Yet another key learning experience in COETAIL is teaching us the power of staying "CONNECTED" as an educator. For me, one of my favorite tools for this, particularly in a time where face-to-face learning conferences are almost non-existent, is Twitter. This medium, through use of various educational hashtags like #COETAIL and #PYPchat, is such an amazing resource to learn and connect with others around the globe.
Undoubtedly, within a few hours of a carefully crafted Tweet, one member of my professional learning network (PLN), a former colleague and mentor, was able to connect me with an expert suited to our needs!
After reaching out to the contact provided, we were able to connect and align a time for all of our students to learn from an expert local food company. It was a great fit because the vertical organic farming model touched on almost all of the five "expert" areas that the students were inquiring into. The experience led to so many great wonderings and it really opened their eyes to meaningful change that was happening in their host nation around sustainable farming and more.
In my next post I'll discuss how the unit draws to a close. More specifically, how we, as teachers, inspired the student "experts" to share and learn from one another, along with providing a place to publish their explanation brochures!
My course five final project for COETAIL follows a "Sharing the planet" unit of inquiry in my context.
I describe the initial planning stages in a previous post here.
In this post, I'll elaborate mostly on how I incorporated COETAIL learning from course 2, specifically the importance of collaboration into mix of our planning.
Grade 12 CAS Students
A goal from working with the Community Action Service (CAS) final project students and coordinators from last year was to look for more opportunities for cross-campus connections between primary and secondary for this year.
Luckily, a group of grade 12 students did email us early in the year and I did connect with them telling them that I would love for them to work with us for this unit.
After developing a new unit provocation, the grade four student responses revealed that they new very little about the concept of climate change or its causes. Most levels of understanding were very surface level at best.
Below is one of the engagements we used for the provocation. After modelling how to fill in a "non-example" infographic, we asked students to fill in as much as they could in the boxes of this infographic.
Now we were ready to collaborate
With the beginning direction of the unit in place and the first line of inquiry or two sorted, we had a great starting point to begin the collaborative conversation with the Grade 12 group who wanted to connect with us.
COETAIL course two really impacted me on the village approach to learning, so the grade four team I lead was very happy with this idea. We could embark in a cross-campus student learning experience where we could help grade 12s with a CAS project of theirs and they could help us by teaching grade four students about climate change, some causes and more!
First Meeting and Planning Teaching Times
Finding a common meeting and possible teaching times for this kind of collaboration proved a bit tricky with all the different schedules across two campuses and learning online, but we did it.
After bringing the grade 12s in to one of our initial unit planning meetings as teachers, we were able to make the stars align.
Collectively, we decided that the CAS students would lead and run one lesson towards the end of each week and the grade four teachers would support during the lessons, but also run additional supporting lessons afterwards or at the beginning of the following week to help scaffold the knowledge introduced in the grade 12 led lesson.
Off to the Races - Initiating the Plan!
All of the initial legwork of making the stars align went off without a hitch. After sharing our unit planning, the CAS students shared their proposal.
Our grade four team mentioned that we would definitely honour three connection times with the CAS students, one happening each week. After each lesson, we would all touch base and reflect on how things went week-by-week in order to be responsive to the learning needs of each classroom. As a grade four team, we would also help guide the direction of the next week's content.
In addition, the CAS students created some of their initial teaching slides and our grade four teaching team gave them some feedback and a few more ideas so the collaborative teaching days would run smoothly.
Hard work pays off
All of the work to kick off this collaborative teaching effort truly paid off in these first few weeks. The Gr12s nailed exactly what we were looking for and it also matched the aims of their passions for this project. Speaking specifically to my class, I felt that the student who led it, did it so professionally and was a natural in the art of teaching. The lessons were very meaningful and had lots of interactive content.
In return, the learners benefitted from learning from someone different, and were super engaged and energized to be learning from a high school student.
Tune into the next post for this COETAIL course 5 project where the unit takes a "Going Further" approach with research. We dive deeper into even more varied collaboration approaches and get students to narrow in on a personally meaningful inquiry within the unit!
Course five offers us COETAIL-ers an opportunity to apply and reflect upon our learning throughout the previous four courses.
Whilst the course does ask us to redesign a unit from the ground up, I must first state that this kind of agency is not that simple in my given context.
I lead and teach a large grade four team in an International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme (PYP) curriculum school. All of our units are collaboratively constructed and designed, and, as best as possible, incorporate the voices of our learners as well. Therefore, I will try as best as possible to inject as much COETAIL learning into this project as possible, given these collaborative constraints.
Specifics on the project
At the end of course four, we were asked to describe our proposal for our final project for this course. Since "Sharing the Planet" was our next big unit of inquiry that was approaching, focusing on this made the most sense for my final COETAIL project.
There are several key differences of this year, compared to last, in my context. The two most notable are almost an entirely new team and learning is online due to the current conditions of the pandemic in Ho Chi Minh City.
As highlighted in our learning in an earlier COETAIL course, and in the ISTE standards, collaboration with other educators is a key element to the design of this unit.
Units of inquiry are always evolving, sometimes rebuilt anew, sometimes refining. With a new team and a new PYP coordinator, and reflecting upon last year's reflections, listed below are things that I brought to the collaborative discussion of ways we could improve the unit, particularly in regards to injecting some of my key COETAIL learning.
Simplifying the essential elements of the inquiry
Every PYP inquiry has five essential elements, but, simply put, the focus is on concept driven inquiry around an essential idea that can lead to personally meaningful inquiries for every learner. Here are some things that I wanted to suggest changing:
I'll discuss more about how the central idea and lines of inquiry came to be in a future post, but hopefully the contrast between the two unit overviews is clear, particularly from design and accessibility perspectives.
Essentially, the new and simplified key wording met more of our learners where they were currently at based on initial diagnostic assessments.
Part one and part two vs. One unit
Last year, I was brand new to this team, coming from grade five. This unit, for a variety of reasons was split throughout the year in parts one and part two. There was probably sound and just reasons for this, but I wasn't a fan and I don't think my learners were either. Therefore, with so many new team members this year, it was a time for reflection and the potential of change.
Units of inquiry generally run for six weeks and ideally scaffold or build upon each other promoting future action and transfer of learning. My preference is usually for that concentrated focus to be done consecutively. After collaboratively discussing this with my team, they also tended to agree with this preference.
More community connection
One of my big passions as an educator, that definitely grew with more intensity throughout COETAIL, is the power of connection, particularly thinking about how it takes a community to raise a village. These "connections" could be parents in our school community working in a field authentic to the unit, older students, video chatting with global experts and more.
Last year, I helped out with the Community Action Service (CAS) final interviews with our more senior high school students and worked closely with the CAS staff coordinator. Knowing the importance of a thriving professional learning network highlighted in COETAIL learning, I did mention to the CAS coordinator that I would love more opportunities for these CAS students to work more closely with students in primary and to think of us whenever there was an opportunity for a possible connection.
That wish came true early this year when a group of grade 12 students reached out and mentioned that they were doing their CAS project on educating various communities on climate change. After speaking with the PYP coordinator, I did mention that we should meet with the group and try our best to make it work for some learning experiences for this particular "Sharing the planet" unit since it had such an authentic fit.
After initial conversations with the group, it seemed like all would work out with some finer planning to be done later. When this idea was proposed to the grade four team, they were happily on board as well.
A provocation is an appetizer to salivate curiosities for the unit. It's not a teaching moment, it's a chance to get learners excited for the up and coming unit, spark wonder, but also to provide some diagnostic insights as to what our learners know already and any misconceptions. Here's a great post on provocations from inquiry guru, Kath Murdoch, should you wish to inquire further.
Last year, the provocation was an "Evil-o-meter" in which children worked in small groups ranking images in terms of which things were more or less evil for the environment. I've attached a few images below for a visual.
While the activity was great in theory, upon reflection, we found that children had almost no contextual knowledge of causes of climate change. It was a great activity to keep revisiting throughout learning experiences in the unit, but it didn't really provide us with much data for planning the beginning of the unit.
Therefore, being reflective practitioners, and also listening to what our learners were telling us in conversations even before the unit, we felt that a better provocation would be to see what learners could tell us about climate change first and see if they could make any connections to some potential causes. I'll be sure post some examples of the new provocation in a future post.
A few examples of last year's provocation:
Stay tuned to the next post where I discuss in detail about how the first couple of weeks of the unit transpired! In particular, the collaboration with the CAS students and how the essential elements of the unit came to be after the provocation.