‘The Trading Game’ ~ A classroom simulation

As part of our final PYP unit of inquiry for this year my students are examining the central idea “Organization is critical to the effective use of natural resources.”  In researching Canada’s natural resources, we discovered that many ‘regions’ (physical or political) produce specific natural resources. This means, that it is necessary to ‘share’ or ‘trade’ them in order for them to be used effectively. As we dug deeper into our inquiry, I suggested that we could try and simulate how we could share the natural resources to discover why organization was so important.

My students were full of ideas about how we should structure the simulation that I was referring to as “The Trading Game”. One of the books that we had explored was from the Close Up Canada Series – Canada’s Natural Resources. This book had classified natural resources into 5 categories – forests (pulp and paper, habitats), water (fresh water, aquaculture), land/soil (agriculture), rocks/minerals, and energy. After we had learned about the various natural resources each group of students was assigned a physical region of Canada to research and had to learn about the natural resources present in that environment.

Then came developing the game!

As a class we decided that for our purposes each physical region would have the same ‘number’ of resources to export or trade in the game at the beginning of the game; however, as a few groups learned, the population is certain parts of the country (Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Lowlands) was a much greater percentage of the population so they would require a greater percentage of the resources. Thus, the amount of resources you needed to have at the end of the simulation could be higher or lower than your starting number.  It was interesting to develop the game as a class as a discussion because each physical region needed to make sure that they were representing the best interests of their region.

The following chart was created during our discussion. The blue numbers represent how many resources each group will begin with and the red numbers in the circles represent how many resources they need to finish with.

The Trading Game Organizational Chart

This was the chart that was created to record our starting values (in blue) and finishing values (in red).

Next came the discussion about who would be allowed to trade with who. As we had not discussed ‘modes of transportation’ yet, it was decided that you would only be able to trade with your neighbour – based on the location on a map. This meant that if you were the Cordillera and you needed to trade with the Appalachians – you would need the Interior Plains and the Canadian Shield to assist you in the process. This added an interesting element of challenge – but also helped to develop the conceptual understanding of ‘organization’ within the process of utilizing natural resources effectively.

In looking for an easy way to represent each ‘natural resource’ in the trading game we used the ‘square tiles’ from a math manipulative bin. Each colour represented a different resource which made it visually easy to see. In order to keep track of all of the ‘natural resources’ each group used white stickers as labels to stick on their ‘squares’ and write the name of their physical region so we could track where each resource had started. As they needed to export their resources, at the end of the simulation they needed to have resources from different regions – not their own. They also needed to be conscious about having a ‘variety’ within the type of resource as ‘land/soil’ from one region would provide different resources than ‘land/soil’ from another region. This simple tracking step seemed to do the trick.

This photo shows the labeling system that was developed to keep track of where the resources had originated from.

This photo shows the labeling system that was developed to keep track of where the resources had originated from.

Throughout the trading, students were required to record the ‘trades’ that they were making. The first ’round’ students found this difficult and many partnerships were having discussions about it. When we experienced a ‘deep freeze’ in the ‘Winter’ that required us to pause the game because all transportation methods were closed, we had a good discussion about using ‘systems’ and ‘strategies’ to ‘communicate’ within the partnership to make the process more ‘effective’. It was so great to hear the students using the language from the central idea and related concepts to the unit in trying to resolve the problems that they were experiencing.

After we had our discussion, the students returned all of the resources to their ‘origin’ and we began the game again using our new knowledge to see if we could do the process more effectively. It was so interesting to see how the strategies that students were using changed, but also how the roles within the small groups also adjusted. They were much more strategic and aware of communicating clearly with the other members of their group in the second round.

At the end of the second round, we had a large group ‘knowledge building’ talk to try and make the connection between our ‘game’ and the real world. Some of the question prompts that I used are:

What are some of the things you noticed playing the trading game?
What were some ways or strategies that you used to be more organized?
Why was it important to be organized?
How does this game represent what happens in Canada? around the world?
What do you think would happen if we weren’t organized in the ways that we used our natural resources?

Some of the comments were:
“there wasn’t many connecting trades because it was too difficult to organize”
“when it got near the end it got more difficult to make your trades, you also needed to keep certain things that could be traded later”
“think about what you are going to trade – plan – helps you not make extra trades”
“have specific roles that help each other so we weren’t try to do the same thing at the same time”

I am looking forward to our continued discussion and ideas that students use in the reflection on this process.


Think, Create, Innovate – A Project Zero Adventure

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Project Zero Perspectives conference hosted in Atlanta by Atlanta International School and the High Museum of Art. It was one of the best organized conferences I have attended from a pedagogical perspective as there were 4 themes (educating for global competency, encouraging creativity and maker thinking, growing up in the digital age, making learning and thinking visible)  than ran throughout the entire weekend. The various keynotes and sessions built on these themes and really allowed the participants to see the big ideas emerging as the weekend went on. The overarching inspiration for the conference was the following quote:

Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things. – Theodore Levitt

I could not possibly share everything that I was able to take away from this conference, but here are a few of the highlights.

Day 1

Shari Tishman – Keynote
Big Idea: By looking slowly at things we can understand the ways in which things are complex – complexity is a powerful performance of understanding
– understanding is something that you do rather than something that you have
– slow looking – taking the time to notice more than what meets the eye at first glance, it is a purposeful action that is done intentionally to look beyond what comes naturally
– many of the ‘Visible Thinking’ strategies have been designed to include a slow looking phase
– 3 types of complexity
1. complexity of parts and interactions
2. complexity of perspective
3. complexity of engagement

Designing for Disaster (@BuildingMuseum) – Interactive Workshop
– Resilience is a systematic approach
– The built environment is not arbitrary. It is the result of human decisions making.
– How should be build? Where should we built?
– What does a city need to function? What should a city offer its residents?
– What infrastructure or buildings are needed for each of these services?
– How do we organize all of it?
– Who should help decide where to build?

Fostering Global Competency (Clarkston Community Schools) – Interactive Workshops
– Children grow into the intellectual life around them. – Vygotsky – cannot create a culture of thinking for kids if the adults don’t have a culture of thinking as well – need to model thinking
– importance of the whole person – need to be well rounded to function in a global world
– culture is shared – we all have to be part of creating a culture of thinking
– building culture of knowledge  in community through sharing of authentic information from members in your community

Keynote – Daniel Wilson – Director of Project Zero
– What does it mean to learn for a global competency?
– How can we encourage creativity and maker thinking?
– What are the civic, moral, and ethical opportunities and challenges in growing up in a digital age?
– How can we make learning and think visible? – learning is constructed through the making of artifacts and actions – performance based – highly reflective journey that is done socially not heirarchial, learning from one to another
– learning is not done in one mode
– learning is complex
– learning as a verb, an emerging action
– we cannot ‘control’ learning; the best we can do as designers of learning for others is to create places where this complex actions can emerge

Day 2

David Perkins – Keynote
Theme: Wondering to Learn: Education with Questions for Tomorrow’s World
– develop a culture of questions in contrast to a culture of answers
– What is worth learning now?
– we need to teach students to LIVE WITH questions, they are not done at the end of the day or the end of a unit
– questions need to be part of the content not the drivers of content
– to speak of a culture of questions does not mean that we don’t care about the answers
– if you imagine a culture of questions, you spend your time on looking for good answers – abundant answers but often not final answers

Qualities of Effective Learning Communities – Daniel Wilson
– How to YOU (as an individual) CREATE a learning community? – interesting to think about your own personal contribution to fostering a learning community
– tell your story – “Here’s something that happened …” – invite someone in to you classroom to observe/participate in a lesson
– having a provocative perspective – “I strongly believe…” – Teachers need to be model learners and need to be provided the time and space to do this, not just have it be another expectations
– A puzzle – “Something I really wonder about is … ”
– A probing questions – “Tell me more about this … ”
– Elicit ideas – “What do you think about … ”
– These 5 conversation moves have been show to be strategies from which people learn
– How can we be more explicit about cultivating the routines and space to support the language that creates learning communities?
– informal learning opportunities are the gold mine of learning because the participants set the goals, the process, and the evaluation/outcome
– 80% of professional learning is built informally
– How do we better help capture the informal learning opportunities in our schools for the adults?

Interactive Session – Making Learning Visible – Mara Krechevsky
– importance of relationships and listening – documentation – practice of observing, recording, interpreting, and sharing through different media the processes and the product of learning in order to deepen learning
– we don’t document what happens – we document what we think happens
– “making learning visible makes learning possible”

Closing Keynote: Tina Grotzer – Thinking About Complexity
– human cognitive architecture is not particularly well adapted for perceiving, attuning to, and reasoning about complexity- complexity doesn’t have to be wicked – it can be engaging and beautiful
– complex, ill structured problems offer terrain for some of the deepest, most rewarding learning
– different forms of complexity – spatial (space), temporal(time), perspectives

Day 3
Keynote – Howard Gardner – Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Re-Reframed – wondering about and wondering at – Teaching for ‘Wonder’standing
– Technological Challenge – young people see and think of the world very differently than before
– media is a two way experience now
– the fast changing yet also oddly permanent digital world
– need to focus on teaching students methods of discovery/verification of information
– critical examination of information
– establishing truths is a distinctly CONvergent experience
– neighbourly vs. ethical good
– What does it mean to participate in a community whose size and extent you cannot know?
– There is no easier way to completely go wrong than to think you can solve a complex problem on your own.

The Global Lens Project – Veronica Boix Mansilla
– preparing youth for our times through interdisciplinary studies, quality journalism and global media – the best starting point for our curriculum is the world
– the media is where we get almost all of our information about the world
– we need to teach students to navigate the world of media
– understanding the world, our place, and ourselves through quality journalism and global media
– we consume around 92-95% of our media from domestic sources
– journalism as a mediator between us and the world
– quality journalism can be a tool for provoking learning about global issues

Finding Meaning
What’s the story? What is the human story? What is the world story? What is the new story? What is the untold story?

Finding Significance
Why might this matter to me? to my community? to the world?

Why can GAFE be so powerful?

This weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Ontario Google (GAFE) Summit in Kitchener. I think I might have been one of the only people from a non-GAFE school/board but I was still able to learn many things that I can apply to my teaching practice (another blog post!). For me, I try to make technology integration not about the technology but a focus on maintaining strong pedagogy and utilizing the tools to allow us to reach beyond what is possible without its use. Over the weekend listening to many of the other educators talk, I couldn’t help but thinking about why GAFE was such a powerful tool when mass adoption in an organization takes place. I also developed a greater understanding of how GAFE can enhance teachers ability to hit the sweet spot in the TPACK framework .

Here are a couple of the strengths I identified:

(1) Everyone speaking the same language – Having a common ‘toolkit’ allows all teachers to speak the same language in terms of their technological knowledge (TK). There are still ways to customize the toolkit through the use of add-ons and 3rd party tools; however, the core set of tools provides amazing flexibility and adaptability across K-12 (+higher ed) and subject area. As everyone is familiar with the same tools, teachers can ‘collaborate’ and assist each other, sharing their knowledge and ideas, strengthening the technological knowledge. With greater technological knowledge, teachers are better able to see where technology can be selected to work together with their pedagogical knowledge and content knowledge.

(2) Workflow – The GAFE suite makes distributing and collecting student work a streamlined process, but it also allows teachers to observe students ‘during’ the learning and can help shift the focus from being solely on the product of the learning but also to the process of the learning. With the ability to monitor and support students throughout the learning process, the teachers role can shift to being a facilitator and guider of the learning process, rather than the keeper of knowledge (pedagogical knowledge). This is not to suggest that it is not possible to do this without the use of GAFE because of course it is; however, it could require a greater level of technological knowledge to ‘hack’ other tools to preform similar functions and be more time consuming to monitor.

(3) Enhanced Assessment Capabilities – With the shift to monitoring the process of learning, the GAFE suite has a number of built in tools that allow for teachers to provide timely and effective feedback throughout the learning process. The ability to provide ‘comments’ and have students respond to the comments while they are working, allows for personalized feedback without the student having to ‘hand-in’ their work, the teacher sitting down to look over all of the tasks, and then waiting until the next time they see the student to return the work. Another function that is beneficial to the assessment process is the ‘revision history’. This is particularly useful if you are looking at shared-documents where students are working in groups and you can see each members contributions, or if you are looking at how students are able to apply feedback and make changes to their work. In terms of TPACK, having more formative assessment information during the process of learning allows the teacher to identify concepts that students are having difficulty with and better match their ‘content’ with the students needs.

(4) Takes the focus away from the technology – This kind of seems silly but I actually think that when students and teachers are using a common toolkit and develop fluency with the tools the focus of the learning doesn’t need to be the technology. I personally thinking, that often the sweet spot in TPACK is reached when the focus is not on the technology but on the harmonious blending of the technology, the content, and the pedagogy. Currently, I find that I have to spend a lot of time teaching the tools that I have selected for my students to use because they have often not used them in previous grades. Although students today are fast learners, and often figure out things that I didn’t even know were possible, it still takes time and shifts the focus away from our other learning. With GAFE, the toolkit can become a ubiquitous part of their learning environment instead of an add-on.

What other reasons have you found that make GAFE a powerful toolkit in your organization?
What drawbacks have you found to GAFE?

The Door is Open … Come on in!

January has been an interesting month for me professionally as a teacher when it comes to peer observation. I have always been very open about what happens in my classroom, sharing with my PLN on my blog and Twitter. As much as possible, during the school day I try to physically keep my classroom door open so that colleagues feel free to come in my room. I think a lot of people have great intentions about observing peers (including myself), but actually finding the time to be able to can sometimes be a little more difficult. In terms of the priority list, there are often things that need to be done immediately that seem to find there way in front of peer observation.

This month I have had two teachers come into my classroom to observe both with slightly different scenarios.
The first person to come in was Canadian teacher who is currently teaching at a PYP school Australia who was home in Canada over the Christmas holidays. As the school year is different in Australia due to being in the Southern Hemisphere he was still home when Canadian schools returned back to school being in session. The second person to come in is a Masters candidate from the local university who is studying inquiry practices in the classroom. It has been interesting to reflect on how both of these opportunities have helped me to continue to grow professionally.

As we are a fairly new school to the PYP programme, it was the first time that I have had the chance to have another teacher who teaches within the PYP visit my classroom. As the PYP is a framework not a curriculum, there are many different ways to implement the program that align with the programme. Throughout the two days of the visit it was interesting to compare the techniques that I was using to what the other teacher was using. One of the first observations that the visiting teacher made was that I am the only Grade 4 teacher in my school which automatically impacted the amount and type of collaboration that was happening within my planning and teaching practices. As a result, my collaborative planning tends to occur more with the specialty teachers vs. grade level partners.

Tweet from Visiting PYP Teacher

Tweet from Visiting PYP Teacher

Over the course of the two days, we had a number of conversations about differences in the ways we were implementing the PYP. Overall, there were lots of similarities – including a number of the same units at similar grade levels.

The second observer in my classroom has been a Masters of Education candidate from the local university studying inquiry practices. As Masters of Education programs in Canada are generally more research based (not as a means to gain your teaching qualification) this observation block does not include ‘student-teaching’. One aspect that they have been really interested in is the actual process of planning for inquiry. As a profession, having to explain what you are doing and why really helps you to better understand your practices. It also forces you to be open and honest about if there are better ways that you could be going about achieving your goal.

Although these observers have been very different in their purpose, both have contributed to my professional growth. I would encourage you if you have the opportunity to open your classroom doors to observers but also to try and find time to go and observe your colleagues and members of your PLN.

My One Word for 2015: Presence

Over the past few days on Twitter I have seen a number of people making ‘One Word’ resolutions. The feeling stems from the fact that many people make New Year’s Resolutions and then very quickly they are forgotten, or were unrealistic in the first place.

The idea with the one word, is that it is something that you can easily think about and work on improving in your life.

The word that I have chosen is presence and I think that it is a really important one when I think about how much we try and multitask and live lives constantly being bombarded by information.

Life is too ironic. It takes sadness to know what happiness is, noise to appreciate silence, and absence to value presence.

I would like to be fully present – not worrying about checking my email to see what has happened since I last checked, not sitting with my cellphone nearby just in case it should ring or buzz, and just really being present at what ever I choose to do.

Choosing one word or phrase to focus on seems like a good way to really think about making improvements in your life.