Skype in the Classroom with Dr. Jane Goodall

This week, my class participated in a Skype in the Classroom event arranged by Microsoft Education.

We are currently in the ‘Exhibition’ unit of our school year, where students are able to select an issue that they want to investigate. After they have become an expert through research including using primary sources, students are encouraged to lead positive change to apply their learning to make a difference. The theme for the event, How Every Individual’s Actions Can Make a Big Impact, could not have fit more perfectly with what we are currently discussing in the class right now. The recording of the event was later posted on YouTube, so if you weren’t able to join live, it is possible to still use this even as a launch point.

After watching the live event, we had a great discussion in class about the big ideas that Dr. Goodall shared. Below are some of the ideas that stuck with my students from listening to the broadcast.

Big Ideas 

  • Build Trust
  • Follow your passion and satisfy your own curiosity.
  • Criticism can be really useful. View it as a learning opportunity.
  • Everyday you live you have an opportunity to make the world a better place.

Skype in the Classroom Broadcast with Dr. Jane Goodall 

PYP Exhibition without the trifold board … it is possible.

We did it … this year we eliminated the trifold display board for our PYP Exhibition community celebration.

What did it mean?

• It allowed our students to focus their time on thinking about creative ways to engage their audience rather than being limited by the traditional trifold board.

• Students devoted more time to their mode of expression  and created games and activities related to their issues, leaving people with a memory or a story rather than just facts. We had beautiful art work, songs, a dance, poetry and even infographics.

• It made the conversations at our community celebration richer, as students went beyond what would normally be on their display board.

• It was good for the environment. At the end of the celebration, there was trifold board that ended up in the dumpster or a house basement. 

Yes, it took some conversations with the students to help them reimagine what their booth might look like at the community celebration, but in the end I believe it was the right decision to help students engage more deeply in the learning process.


Workshop Reflection: Teaching and Learning Through Inquiry with Kath Murdoch


As a PYP teacher, I feel like one of my ‘bucket list’ items for the past almost 10 years has been to go to a Kath Murdoch Inquiry workshop. Having read her blog posts, followed her on Twitter, and tried to use elements of her inquiry model in my classroom, I have always felt like if I only had the opportunity to learn from Kath herself, I might feel more confident in my skills. Last week, I had the chance to attend a 2-day workshop in Toronto that helped me really reflect on my beliefs about inquiry and has inspired me to reignite the inquiry flame in my classroom again.

The workshop was 2 days long and was jammed back with information for all educators no matter where you are in your journey as an inquiry teacher. I could not possibly blog on everything, so I am going to attempt to summarize the big ideas that were ‘aha’ moments for me.

  1. CuriosityOur job as inquiry teachers is to both cultivate curiosity with in students but also within ourselves. Inquiry is rooted in being curious and in order to evoke curiosity within our students, it is essential that we also live curious and model this for our students. Curiosity is a habit that needs to be practiced and reinforced. At times, I feel that as adults, we don’t take the time to ‘pause and ponder‘ and miss many opportunities to spot issues or problems that would make authentic inquiries with our students. One of my action items, is to try and flex my curiosity muscles and share my personal wonderings during my class morning meetings more regularly.
  2. Classrooms and schools need to be both learning and learner centred: I have always believed that one of the most important pieces of being a teacher was to help students ‘learn how to learn‘. Of course, students need to learn specific concepts and skills; however, it is also important that they develop an understanding of how to learn so that they can be independent learners. In order to be both learning and learner centred, we need to strategically speak the language of learning and help students notice and develop themselves as a learner. One practical idea that was shared during the workshop was to develop ‘Learning Agreements’ similar to the classroom behaviour agreements that many classes typically develop at the beginning of a school year.
  3. Parallel-Inquiry: The particular idea was mind blowing for me as it put words and a concrete concept to something that I have always wondered how to to strategically and consistently. Parallel inquiry involves having the students inquire into a specific concept, the ‘what’, while at the same time also inquiring into a specific learning skill, or the ‘how’. For me, it provided me with an immediate light-bulb in terms of how to marry the IB Approaches to Learning (ATL) Skills within a unit of inquiry and my teaching practice. I am hoping over the summer to take a closer look at how the ATL skills can more strategically be woven throughout my units of inquiry.
  4. Tuning-In: It is not just about the topic of the inquiry, but also about the learners way of seeing. In many inquiry models, one of the ‘phases’ near the beginning of the inquiry involves tuning-in, and often the focus of learning activities in this phase involves engaging students in tasks to get them thinking. During this phase, it is also where teachers can actively engage in formative assessment to help provide direction for the inquiry based on the specific group of students. As much as teachers often like to be well planned and organized, if we are truly engaging in inquiry, it is important that they are planning responsively based on this first assessment phase.
  5. Relationships matter:  Anyone who works in education can tell you that at the heart of good teaching and good schools, are strong relationships. Inquiry environments require students to be risk-takers and have the confidence to struggle and push through challenges when learning is not linear. It is essential that teachers take the time to really know the students you are working with, their skills, interests and design learning to build from this foundation.
  6. Forced association: A few times during the workshop, we engaged in exercises that involved using forced association to demonstrate our understanding. Forced association involves making a connection between two seemingly unrelated things, and then explaining the relationship. It was really interesting to observe how using this strategy really helped hone in on explaining conceptual understanding, rather than getting ‘stuck in the weeds’.
  7. Planning is important, but how we teach is more important: Planning for inquiry is important to help us think about where students may take the inquiry, but how we engage with students is where real inquiry happens. Are we using good questioning techniques? Are we letting students grapple with their ideas? Are we modeling curiosity? Do we follow the lead of students? As much as good planning allows these things to happen, we have to be prepared to focus on tuning in to our own teaching practices and notice these things in order to continue our inquiry journeys. As a teacher, I can see how coaching or co-teaching, could be a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how we teach, and focus in on specific areas of our teaching.

I am sure that as I continue to digest, share and apply ideas from the workshop, I will continue to have more ‘aha’ moments.

If you have the chance to work attend workshops with Kath Murdoch I would highly encourage that you take advantage of the opportunity. I was fortunate to be able to go with a team from my school, and it was particularly meaningful in order to be able to debrief and discuss the concepts with a trusted colleague. I also hope that we will be able to support each other as well as we work through the application.

#OneWord 2019 – FOCUS

For the past few years, I have selected #OneWord instead of making a New Year’s Resolution. As a reflective and goal oriented person, I am always working on improvement so just because it is a new year, I don’t feel the need to make another goal, rather, I like to select a word that helps me be better all around.  After some thought and soul searching this year I have selected the word FOCUS. The word has so many meanings to me in both my professional and personal life. In a busy world it so so easy to go through the motions but not be focused and taking advantage of the opportunities.

I hope that using this word throughout 2019, will help be to FOCUS on my goals and aspirations and avoid the distractions and temptations that can be so easy to pay more attention to than they deserve.

Building Understanding of Student Led Conferences in the Parent Community

As the PYP Coordinator, part of my responsibility is to help educate the parents in our school community about various aspects of the Primary Years Programme. One tool that we use for parent education are ‘Coffee Mornings’ that are held approximately once per month. At these sessions, various informative topics are discussed and students are also given the opportunity to share their learning with the parent community.

This month, with student led conferences quickly approaching, I will be presented on the topic at a Parent Coffee Morning. For many of our ‘new’ families, student led conferences are not a type of reporting that they are familiar with so it is important to spend some time in advance of the event to provide them with the opportunity to learn about why we feel they are an important tool and how they can use this event to best support their child in the learning process.

As a PYP Coordinator, I am always looking for ways to help parents see how units of inquiry are structured with the essential elements of the programme so I took the opportunity to structure my presentation with the essential elements as my framework.

Central Idea: Student-led conferences empower students to take ownership of their learning by focusing on the process, successes and challenges.

Leaner Profile: Communicators, Reflective

Attitudes: Commitment, Confidence

Form: What is it? (Line of Inquiry: What is a student led conference?)
• Method of reporting student progress and achievement – one of many that we use (Formal: Learning Skills Reports, Parent Teacher Interviews, Report Cards, Informal: Test/Assignments coming home to be signed, Emails, Conversations)
• Conversation between student and parent about the learning process, not necessarily focused on the summative assessment or final grade but more so on the skills that were used in the learning process
• Celebration of learning

Causation: Why is it like it is? (Line of Inquiry: Why do we believe in Student-Led Conferences?)
• More reflective process, communicates how students are doing by also why
• Highlights student voice – what their strengths and challenges are, correlation between effort, progress, and understanding
• Help students to communicate their learning and processes to their parents – often helps make things visible that don’t appear on a traditional report card and might not happen in a regular conversation at home about school
• Provides students with the message that they are responsible for their own learning and success

Function: How does it work? (Line of Inquiry: What happens during a student led conference?)
• Students and teachers prepare by selecting samples of work to build a ‘portfolio’ and reflecting on what those pieces of work demonstrate – best work, growth, challenge
• Students practice presenting and sharing their work and any other artifacts of learning that they would like to share

• Review student work and progress
• Teachers will provide parents with a list of questions that they can ask to help stimulate discussion
• Focus on how you can help your child and what your child need from you
• Depending on the grade level, may have a few short activities to do in the classroom, visit the specialist teachers

• Celebrate
• Set goals with your child or review habits (homework time, screen time, reading time)
• Use the student-led conference as a conversation builder to continue talking about the learning that has been happening at school