Author: marcielewis

Love Life Learning ~ IB PYP Coordinator/Grade 6 Teacher, Passion: Thinking Empowered Learning, EdTech Interests: Running, Rowing, Golf, Kayaking, MSU Spartans!

Summer 2016 Reading

This summer, I was able to put a dent in the ‘to be read’ pile of books that was accumulating in my office. I don’t know about how other teachers feel, but I struggle to make my way through books during the school year at any pace that leads to any significant comprehension – there are just too many other things on the go.

After reading all of these books my mind is full of ideas and things that I want to try but I know that I need to be realistic in what I can focus on so that I will notice any change or improvements that occur.

The following are the books that I read this summer:

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Note: Over the past few years, I have used Goodreads to help me document the books that I have read and was to read in order to keep track. I like the visual organization method to trigger my memory and remind me to go back to a book I have read previously. It is also good for organizing books that are related to units that I teach within my class. It helps me to keep running records of books I have read and link to other books students might find interesting.


Strengths based approach to bringing the ATL skills to life

This year, during the PYP Exhibition I decided that I wanted to try a new approach to incorporating all of the Approaches to Learning (ATL) formerly the PYP Transdisciplinary Skills. Over the course of a students PYP ‘Career’ these skills are meaningfully incorporated across all units of inquiry.

Viewing the PYP Exhibition as an opportunity for students to display who they are as learners and work collaboratively together I was looking for a new strategy to bring share students strengths and increase collaboration in a meaningful way. At the beginning of our PYP Exhibition unit, students completed a self-assessment rating scale about all of the ATL skills. They then selected a skill which they felt they could be a community expert in to offer advice and mentoring for students who may need support with that skills during the exhibition process.

IMG_2340Students completed a large cue card that featured the name of the skill, a tip for the skill, and their name so if another student wanted to seek them out for help they knew who to ask. After the cue cards were completed, I hung them in the hallway under the ‘categories’ so they would be in a visible location. This is a far away picture of the board not quite completed.

After doing this activity, I found it to be very valuable for students to see these as skills that we are constantly developing and improving. It was also important for them to realize that there are different people in the class who have different strengths and they can support each other. I would like to use this type of board again next year, but not wait until PYP Exhibition to introduce it but rather be a living component of the classroom that is updated and changed in various units.

Annual Learning Plan 2016-2017

My posts about previous Annual Learning Plans (2013-2014, 2014-2015), seem to be fairly well read so I feel compelled to write about my Annual Learning Plan this year, because it has taken a new direction.

This year, all of the teachers at my school were introduced to Folio Collaborative, an online platform that provides a venue for developing ongoing conversations about teaching and learning. It is a great tool for building professional relationships and a tool that I think has a lot of potential for helping foster a dynamic learning environment for professional learning. As a part of the introduction, teachers were asked to develop professional goals but we were asked by our Dean of Teaching and Learning, to write them in the form of a question based on the work of Warren Berger in A More Beautiful Question.

Each member of faculty was provided with giant sticky note chart paper and was asked to develop 3-5 ‘Beautiful Questions’ that would form the basis of their Annual Learning Plan for this year. After the questions were written down, each member of faculty posted there chart in around our large gathering space and an adjoining hallway to share with others. We then participated in a gallery walk, where we could provide comments, suggestions or feedback related to other people’s questions. In the end, the members of my department displayed their chart papers in our staff room as a continual display of our focus for the year.

My questions that I am investigating this year are:

  1. How can I help to support students in viewing math with a growth mindset and apply the principles of positive psychology to math instruction?
  2. How can I help other teachers utilize technology to support strong pedagogy to enhance student learning?
  3. How can I better support the PYP team in strengthening their understanding of the PYP to enhance students’ learning?
  4. How can I further develop students thinking skills to enhance there ability to think critically and creatively?
  5. How can I design my units and lessons to encourage and support deeper conceptual thinking and understanding?

For each goal, there are specific related action items and I can keep track of my progress within Folio Collaborative.


Debating: An inquiry-based activity for fueling ‘Thinking Empowered Learning’

This past week, the students in my classroom have been engaged in preparing for and completing a debate connected to our current unit of inquiry on scientific innovation, specifically aviation technology. As I reflect on the past week, I cannot help but think of how debating is a wonderful inquiry based activity that helps engage students in ‘Thinking Empowered Learning’.

In trying to define, inquiry based learning I came across the following article from The Ontario Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat, Capacity Building Series on Inquiry-based learning.


Debating as an instructional activity, naturally places students’ in an atmosphere where they must develop questions, ideas and observations about the resolution being discussed. It also is a respectful way to challenge, test, and redefine ideas about difficult concepts that our students’ may be wondering about. In some cases, students may also be put in a position of defending a position other than their own, causing them to think deeply about the other side of the argument  and another point of view or perspective. By supporting students throughout this process, teachers help to engage students in real-world based thinking and provide them with the tools to using thinking to empower their learning in other situations.

As an inquiry based activity, students must research and construct arguments to support their side of their resolution. They also must listen carefully to the opposing perspective and think of ways to form a rebuttal. Through this process, students are challenged to think deeply about the issue being discussed and form their own understanding.

After my class had completed our debate activity, I had each student complete a reflection form where they identified what attributed of the IB Learner Profile and attitudes they had displayed or developed while preparing, debating, or observing. It was interesting to read their responses and the variety of attributed that they mentioned. I would have also liked to include the Approaches to Learning as I think that many of them used a wide number of these skills as well.

Below are some of the descriptions of the attributes my students felt that they displayed our developed through participating in an debate.

Preparation Phase
– Communicator – “I worked together with my partner to research and write down facts and decide who was going to say what.”~H
– Risk Taker – “I never debated before so I took a risk in trying something new.”~R
– Inquirer – “I had a lot of questions and I wanted to learn more about my topic.”~A
– Cooperative – “I had and idea and wanted to share it, I waited for the person talking to stop.”~S

– Knowledgeable – “I knew all of the ‘cons’ of aviation and I got to share it with others.” ~H- Enthusiasm – “You had to be excited about the topic and show you were happy to be there and happy to learn.”~R
– Open-Minded – “I had to listed to the oppositions notes in case I had to rebuttal and say something that I did not agree with.”~A
– Communicator – “I was talking to my audience and I thought about how to get their full attention and when I was presenting I gave them the full package.”~R
– Confidence – “I didn’t back down and I felt very confident in front of the class.”~B

Observing Other Debates
– Curious – “I wanted to know what the others’ side opinion was.”~H
– Thinker – “You have to be thinking, how could you make my debate better next time.”~R – Reflective “You have to reflect on the other debates and think how could I make my debate better.”~A

I would like to continue to explore the use of debate in the inquiry based classroom and develop some age appropriate resources for the students in the PYP. I believe that it is a wonderful activity to engage students in ‘Thinking Empowered Learning’.

The first week … No math, no reading, no writing … just building relationships and community

No math, no reading, no writing … just building relationships and community. Yes, that was my first week back and it felt great. Lots of smiling faces, kids playing, building, making, creating, and enjoying each others company.

Schools and classrooms are built on strong relationships so we need to give ourselves permission to allow those to develop before instruction can begin. In my class, I have a number of students who are brand new to the school. On Wednesday, you could see there nervous faces but by the end of today, it looked like they had all been at my school since Kindergarten.

We have started to build a trusting and caring community that will support our learning for the rest of the year. There is lots of time to do math, reading, and writing this year. I don’t regret spending this week creating our learning environment and building relationships. I know it is going to be beneficial over the course of the school year.