Who am I?

MYP Humanities Instructor.  International School Teacher in Japan. Google Certified Teacher. Apple Distinguished Educator. Americorp Alumnae. National Board Certified Teacher.  Traveler & TV Watcher.

This is where I think about these things.

To see what’s going on in my classroom, visit my class blog

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A teacher learning from her student leaders

I am writing this as part of my Professional Growth Plan this year: Student Leadership. 

I love being a middle school Student Council advisor. To other people, planning middle school dances, trying to run meetings with 12 year olds, and organizing monthly assemblies with grades 6-8 students may not be the best ways to spend your spare time. For me, I am energized by working with fun, silly, good-intentioned middle schoolers.

Look at these goofballs...how can you not smile when working with these kids.

Look at these goofballs…how can you not smile when working with these kids.

I love seeing what they can accomplish and their belief that with hard work, they can accomplish anything. I see my job as StuCo advisor to create opportunities for my students to act as leaders and to shine. The less you see of me, the better.

Despite my belief that my StuCo members do develop as leaders, it’s been a bit like throwing a non-swimmer in the ocean. Kids learn on the job. It’s a joy watching the upperclassmen (the wise and wizened 8th graders) teach the 6th graders how to get things done. But I haven’t set aside time for them to learn leadership skills. And when my amazing Vice-Principal, Susie Clifford*, suggested that we hold a leadership retreat for our middle schoolers, it seemed silly that it wasn’t something we didn’t do as a matter of course.

So this Wednesday, Susie, Adam Clark** and I jumped in cabs with 12 students and headed away to school to the Yokohama Country & Athletic Club. And while the kids were there to learn things like public speaking, how to communicate with adults and peers, and project management, I learned just as much as they did.

I learned our kids can teach. We gave the kids an hour to work in small teams to come up with a 15 minute lesson plan on their topic. To be honest, Susie and Adam and I thought they might struggle to fill the time. Instead they planned amazing lessons***. The group teaching about running agenda, created a beautifully planned agenda for their lesson, with action items and discussion points and then had each group (including the teacher group) act out a good meeting. The group teaching about communicating with adults had each group write an email asking for chaperones for a dance and then chose the best intro, body and conclusion. There were visible thinking routines, quizzes, pair-shares. I saw little things I know I do in my humanities class. I caught glimpses of my colleagues in watching this middle schoolers teach.  It was awesome. And they were amazing teachers.

LR StuCoI learned that it’s important to get away from campus for a day. It’s a special occasion for the kids (a15475046542_5c4538c484_ond adults) to leave campus, eat non-cafeteria food, and spend the day thinking about their roles as leaders. And it can’t be interrupted by all the things that happen at schools. It was special and we don’t do enough of those things for the kids.

I learned we need more opportunities for cross-grade interactions. I truly enjoyed watching 6th graders work with 8th graders. And for 7th graders to switch between being mentors to the ones being mentored. If yo15288412479_3e096c06b6_ou remember middle school, the gulf between grades can be vast. But watching the kids laugh and hang out and play games and get to know each other was the best part of the day. And the community that is formed is  invaluable. And we need more create more chances for the kids to learn from each other. 15475277455_ed1570a8de_o

I learned that schools should value student leadership. Student leadership is one of our school goals this year. It’s because of this that the school supported three teachers leaving campus for the day and paid for the leadership retreat. The belief is that if we train student leaders, they will then teach other students to lead. I truly believe that this can happen.

I learned the kids want to lead. The last hour the kids worked on projects using the skills they developed. They worked on the assembly which would happen the next day (which was according to a 7th grader was “flawless”). They worked on fundraisers. They wrote a blog post about the day to share on the school website. One group worked on setting up an agenda for our future meetings. And for the last 30 minutes, our incredible StuCo president Kai ran the meeting. Watching him run the meeting like a boss was proof the day was worth it.

StuCo Meeting

The evening after the leadership, I was buzzing. It was so much fun to spend the day with these kids and some days when you’re a teacher you just want to have fun with your students. And then I got this email from our president, Kai: 

Today was a really fun day and I learned a lot about how to run meetings, and how to be a good leader. On behalf of the student council I would like to say thank you for everything you taught us today, and the time you put into it. I feel like we can now all be advanced leaders, and our meetings will become more student led. Hopefully, we can start to be more productive on our own in meetings.

I think it goes without saying, but we’re already planning our next leadership retreat.


* There should be no confusion, this leadership day was the brainchild of Susie. And she did the vast majority of the work getting us ready for the day. This day could not have happened with Susie…like so many other things at YIS.

**This day also couldn’t have happened without the indomitable Adam Clark. He ran so many of the activities, games and took the amazing photos you see on this blog post.

*** I did something similar a day later with my grade 11s. Their lessons were lecture based with maybe a small quiz. I’m not sure what that means, but I think it means something.

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Visible Thinking: Not Just for Little Kids

I’m thrilled this year to be teaching DP History again. It’s been a while (my entire time at YIS) and I’ve missed it. But in my years focusing on MYP and middle school, I’ve picked up some new teaching strategies that I knew I could use with my grade 11 “historians”. So this year I hope to document how I challenge my DP students, get through the curriculum, keep the class relevant and ensure that the focus of the class is on student learning. 

One of the strategies I have started to use with my grade 11 students are the Making Thinking Visible Routines. Now I know that MTV is often thought of as an elementary exercise. Or as something good for scaffolding thinking with middle schoolers. And perhaps MTV may not the best fit for pre-college level course. But I also know that the kids in my classroom are 15 and 16 years old. They are just starting their Diploma Program process and they still need help clarifying their thinking. I also know that by grade 11, grades and GPAs really do matter and it’s not fair of me to just throw a test at them without at least trying to see if they had an understanding of the time period we are studying (the complicated Origins of WWI).  And finally, I am not the same teacher that used to believe that lecture and quizzes was the only way to teach this course. So with that I introduced some making thinking visible routines (including a non-official routine) to see if my students were really thinking and engaging with the history we are studying.

The non-official thinking routine: Hexagon Thinking

This final product.

I had first heard of Hexagon Thinking as part of my exploration last year of Design Thinking. The NoTosh website defines hexagon thinking as:

where either student or teacher writes key concepts on hexagonal cards, at the end of a period of learning, where the content behind each ‘headline’ is relatively clear to a team of learners. The students then place the cards together in the way that makes most sense to them – some ideas will connect to up to five others, others will lie at the end of a long sequential order, others still will appear in small outlying positions, on their own.

For my purposes I wanted my students to being thinking about one of the major concepts we would be studying for the next two years: Causes, Practices and Effects of War.

One the first day of class, students were divided into groups, each investigating either causes, practices or effects. They brainstormed, used prior knowledge, and searched the internet. They wrote down their findings on hexagons*. And after about 20 minutes they came back together and tried to link all of the concepts.  Causes, practices and effects all joined together, and students demonstrated high level of thinking by making links between the three big concepts

hexagon thinking

Working at pulling it all together.

Working at pulling it all together.

I found several advantages of using hexagon thinking.

  1. It allowed me a brief insight into what prior knowledge my students walked in with. It was actually impressive hearing them talk about what they already knew.
  2. It allowed for students to make connections. Sometimes I think my over-reliance on a neat GoogleDoc table means that my students separate ideas too readily. This allowed for my students to see how terrorism (for instance) could be a cause, a practice and an effect of war. They connections between ideas was vital and it was wonderful to see and hear them make the connection.
  3. The routine allowed me to introduce the idea of historiography. By asking students if their final product would look the same as students in different times and places, they realized that history can change depending on who is writing it.
  4. They even made a link to Theory of Knowledge in talking about bias and perspective. Pretty good for the first day of class. 

Tug of War (Modified)

One of the most tricky bits of teaching DP history is ensuring the students understand the facts and the story, but think in terms of concepts and arguments. I want my students to move beyond the narrative and move to analytical. 

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 9.37.03 AM

I love how they just sit on the floor and get to work.

Now Origins of WWI is full of details and facts that can be hard to remember. So again, I had my students working in teams outline the events leading up to WWI for different countries. Out came the post-its. Russian events on pink, Balkans on green, Germany on yellow and everyone else on orange. Then we put them on a timeline, a piece a string down the middle of the table. They classified the events as alliances, militarism, nationalism, etc with letters. And the timeline looked good.  They looked pretty proud of themselves. 

I then told them the timeline was no longer a timeline. They had to sort the events from most important factors leading to war and least important. We were now doing the tug of war routine. So they debated. And argued. And conversation started in a way it didn’t during the timeline. 


tug of warSome advantages of this routine

  1. It set up the conversation for how narrative was not what we were looking for from DP History students. Having a timeline (in essay form) isn’t enough. They have to combine facts and analysis to formulate a coherent argument. 
  2. The conversation they had was great. As you can see I have a small class, so everyone was participating and I could see that in general they were getting it.
  3. We now have the tug of war artifact hanging in the classroom and I’ve see kids go back to it. 

See Think Wonder

This was probably the biggest flop of the routines I used. In preparation for our first test, I handed students the official IB mark scheme (aka rubric). These things are full of teacher-talk. In addition, I have several students who are used to the American-style of grading (points of 100 leading to a A-F). I wanted my students to really read them and understand what was being asked of them. So as I handed out copies of the markscheme, I asked them to complete the See Think Wonder routine. What do you see as you read the rubric? What do you think about the rubric? What do you wonder? My grade 11s did not like being asked to break down their thinking this way. Several kids said they got it the rubric and didn’t have any questions. Other kids just jumped around without really looking at the document. The deliberateness (and maybe the childishness) of the routine did not resonate. 

15141529481_38f027cd09_kThat said I do think the See Think Wonder routine does have value:

  1. I think students need to slow down and actually look at documents, pictures, evidence, etc. Often they are already a few steps ahead and they miss the details. This is detrimental to all students. It can be especially detrimental to history students who are asked to analyze and evaluate documents as part of their exam.
  2. The conversation we had was really valuable. While it wasn’t as focused as I might have liked, students were noticing good details that I think they would have missed initially.
  3. The kids who all said they “got it” actually ended up missing a lot. Forcing them to do the routine made them push beyond the assumptions. 


So far I’m incredibly pleased with how the routines have worked in my class. They go incredibly quick with grade 11s, which is great. It’s a valid form of formative assessment. Most importantly it means the kids are a vital part of the conversation, not just listening to me. Next step will be using the routines for teaching sources analysis. Which to a dorky history teacher like me is actually kind of exciting. 





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Trailblazers: iPads and 7th Graders

My school has gone 2:1. Two devices, one student. Grade 7 students are now walking around with iPad minis in addition to their MacBook Airs. As any avowed Apple-Fangirl, I’ve been excited about this development. But as a teacher, I’ve been wondering how this would look. I was concerned that this was just conspicuous consumption and would provide minimal educational benefits. So while I wanted the pilot to work and I’ve been impressed as always at the thought our school puts into the roll out of new initiatives*, until the iPads were in the hands of my 7th graders, I was unsure it would be worth it.

One week in, I’m already seeing the benefits of being 2:1. I am amazed at how the iPads and computers are being used by my kids and how thoughtful they are with the devices. So as we go through the iPad pilot, I thought it’d be worth while to reflect on a list of things I’ve noticed in the past week.

1. Mobility is a huge advantage of the iPads.

I like having my kids walking around and sharing. The iPad lets them do in a way the computer doesn’t. And last week we went on a field trip and the grade 7s were able to take their iPads. As I stated on the YIS iPads blog

The mobility of devices proved a perfect way to document the field trip. With the iPads, students were able to take pictures, take notes and record important facts that will be used in a project about Yokohama History in Humanities class. It was impressive to see them use Noteability to take notes, Voice Recorder to record interviews with people we met or record information on museum exhibits, and various photos apps to modify their pictures.


2. The kids are really thoughtful about how they are using the devices for learning. I really appreciated that before they had the iPads, grade 7 students were questioning what benefit they would have in schools.

Headlines from the iPad Institute Grade 7s attended show how thoughtful our kids are about this experience. Picture from @superkimbo

Headlines from the iPad Institute Grade 7s attended show how thoughtful our kids are about this experience. Picture from @superkimbo

The one thing that I found out is that kids hadn’t been using iPads for anything besides consumption and they didn’t think iPads had any much educational value. But they’re challenging that belief every day.

3. Creation is easy on the iPad.

I love how our students willing to experiment with different apps. The products our students create aren’t perfect, but it allows for quick demonstration of thinking and understanding. That’s something I appreciate.

4. Kids are taking the lead. One of my favorite moments was when one kid volunteered to write down the instructions for sharing a video they created on the iPad.

Grade 7 Student Writing Down instructions for sharing Adobe Voice Video

Grade 7 Student Writing Down instructions for sharing Adobe Voice Video

No one is an expert with the iPad, so we’re all fumbling together. And some kids are leading the way.

5. Workflow is the biggest pain. Trying to figure out ways to AppSmash and to share things created on an iPad is what is taking the most time away from instruction.

Many steps to share a video and it still didn't work for many students.  And each app is different. It's a pain.

Many steps to share a video and it still didn’t work for many students. And there are different steps for each app. It’s a pain.

I realize how absurd this picture is. But he was having problems getting a photo from his iPhone to his iPad. His solution was quick and easy and effective. But still...a little absurd.

I realize how absurd this picture is. But he was having problems getting a photo from his iPhone to his iPad. His solution was quick and easy and effective. But still…a little absurd.

My kids are getting creative about how to make it work and I appreciate the chance for them to develop “grit” when it comes to technology. I’m assuming this will get easier with time, but right now it’s a challenge.

6. iPads are more social. 

There is something about the ability to share a screen, to not be blocked by a computer and the ability to move makes a difference.

I love this photo so much

I love this photo so much. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are doing what they are supposed to be doing.


7. This is definitely a 2:1 program.

GoogleDocs Script worked on collaboratively, iPad being used for Puppet Pals

GoogleDocs Script worked on collaboratively, iPad being used for Puppet Pals

Three Screens.

Throw in AirServer and we’re on three Screens.

I am very grateful for the fact that my kids still have their MacBooks. I appreciate that they are moving between the two devices and are being thoughtful about when to use which tool. There are times when the iPad makes sense. There are definitely time when the computer makes sense. I am so dependent on GoogleDocs that I would find it a huge change to my teaching if I could only have the kids use the iPad. Until Google and Apple play nice the iPad cannot work efficiently with GoogleDocs and I’d find it hard to give up the collaboration that comes with GoogleDocs.

In addition, the ability to have multiple screens is an embarrassment of riches. I love how my kids are using both devices in tandem and that they are complimenting each other.

She forgot she propped her iPad on her computer and was confused when the trackpad didn't work.

She forgot she propped her iPad on her computer and was confused when the trackpad didn’t work.

8. There is a still a way to go. 

I’m more than convinced than ever that a 2:1 initiative is worthwhile and has real educational benefits. But I feel like I have just scratched the surface. We keep telling the kids they are trailblazers. And that’s kind of how I feel too.



* Check out Kim Cofino’s blog our 2:1 (iPad Mini + MacBook Air 11″) trial at YIS. Check out these and posts for some background.



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The Simple Flip

I finally found a sensible and easy way to use video of me talking that my kids can watch again and again until they get it*.  I’ve flipped the rubric.

In MYP the rubrics for students can be complicated. And wordy.

For an assessment that is all four criteria (like the one above) there is a lot to process. If you’re a middle school kid or an English-language learner, the rubrics can look overwhelming. If you are a parent used to a score out of 100 points, this may look foreign. Even the official name — Task-Specific-Clarification— can be gobblygook to my students. But with that said, I really appreciate how these focus on mastery and ability to think critically, investigate and communicate. My students can assess their work accurately and my grading is much more consistent and easier with a detailed rubric. So I had to find a way to make it a little easier for my students.

Enter Movenote.

This is what I do. I open Movenote. I upload the rubric straight from Gooledocs, because it something doesn’t work with Googledocs, I won’t use it. And when I go through the rubric with my students in class like I always do, I record myself**. Movenote then turns my recording into a video that I can embed into my blog. My kids then go back and watch it again and again. Or they can go back to the parts they are not sure of. Parents can see what is required on an assessment. And most importantly: I have not created any extra work for myself and I have helped my students.

Like I said, a simple way flip my classroom. And with the exception of the awkwardness of watching myself on video, it’s a no lose situation.


* I’ve talked about my hesitations with a “traditional” flipped classroom before.

**It’s important that I go over it in class instead of just making it something kids watch for homework. That said, I have used Movenote to explain assignments when I’m out-of-school, which I think is great.

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Empathy and a 7th Grade History Class

This post is part of my Professional Growth Plan documentation on how I’m using Design Thinking in my classroom

One Grade 7 assignment I have done the past few years is a trial set during the Industrial Revolution, where students must answer the question: Should children be allowed to work in factories?

The assignment reads:

We are in Industrial Revolution England and the country is growing at an incredible rate.  The advancements in technology and the rapid urbanization of the country have lead to drastic changes. But not everyone is benefiting from the changes.   Young people are being asked to work in factories, for long hours and low wages.   Now the country is debating whether  the welfare of children is more important than the economic and technological progress occurring in the country.

You will be assigned a role in a trial we will be having in class. Some of you will be witnesses and other people will be lawyers.  There are two sides being debated and you will have to persuade people that your position is correct for the time period during the industrial revolution.

I’ve always liked this assignment. I like how easy it is to differentiate the roles for different students. I like the fact that students are introduced to primary documents and have to use them to formulate an argument. I like the fact that students dress up for the trial and they get into the spirit of the trial and have fun. I also really like that students are forced to think about a perspective that they might naturally think is wrong; namely the position that people would argue for child labor.

Trying to understand new, different, and abstract (i.e historical) perspectives can be difficult for grade 7 students. This year, I added a formative assignment prior to introducing the trial: an empathy map*. An empathy map is something used in Design Thinking,” to help you synthesize your observations and draw out unexpected insights”. Often used to understand a customer or client’s needs, an empathy map is being used in more classrooms as Design Thinking makes the move into more academic settings. Suggested by Adrian Baker, an empathy map is an excellent way for students to gain insights into historical figures. For this assignment, I used an empathy map to have students think about what life was like during the Industrial Revolution for children, factory owners, and campaigners.

It turns out I had to be away from school when my students were working on their empathy maps. So I made a video explaining what they had to do.


And because I was out, I made another one explaining how important empathy can be in understanding a historical figure.


When I came back to school (after Spring Break), my student pulled up their empathy maps and immediately could remember the perspective of the person they read about. I could immediately assess their understanding of primary sources. And they could immediately get to work at formulating questions for the trial based around what they observed and synthesized on their empathy maps .


Empathy Map for supporter of child labor


Doctor Against Child Labor

Doctor Against Child Labor

Empathy Map for Children Working During the Industrial Revolution

There is no doubt that doing the empathy map has strengthen my students’ understanding of the issue of child labor during the Industrial Revolution. It is a seemingly simple tool that allows my students to make their thinking visible and to gain a deeper understanding of historical perspectives.

Hard to feel bad about that.


*A big thanks to @davidjbland for putting together this great Google Draw template of an empathy map that let my students collaborate and share.

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Throwing Ideas Out There: Design Thinking and Professional Development

As part of my Professional Growth Plan , I am going to be doing the periodic blog post on how I am trying to integrate Design Thinking into my teaching and learning environment. To learn more about the process of introducing and implementing the PGP at YIS, check out Kim’s blog

Blogging to Ideate.

From Stanford d.School

I am usually pretty open to trying things and not being sure where they are going to take me. That attitude is the one that has served me well. So after a semester or so of reading and learning about Design Thinking. it’s time to start sharing some of my ideas for where I’m going to be implementing. And in the process, I hope to synthesize all the ideas that I’ve been thinking about.

My curriculum.  

This is perhaps the most natural for me. I really wish I was still teaching the Sustainability Inquiry unit in Grade 10, as this would be the perfect place to implement the Design Thinking in the curriculum. But with my current teaching responsibilities, I’m thinking my Grade 7 unit on the Industrial Revolution would be the best place. I think the focus on empathy inherent in Design Thinking could really strengthen how I teach the unit, as I want my kids to understand what life was like in the historical Industrial Revolution and to make connections with the modern-day work conditions. Last year, I did loads of Visible Thinking Routines in this unit and I think the two could easily complement each other. I’ve kind of let my project on modern day child labor melt away, but Design Thinking could be a way to reinvigorate it. The other place would be the end of Grade 8, when students have to create a sustainable community in Minecraft.

My classroom: 


I love my walls in my classroom. They are covered with post-its, I don’t have to decorate them, and they show the process my students are going through in their learning. In some ways, I’ve modeled my walls on the d.School dynamic walls.  I love my walls so much, that they deserve their own post.

Sharing with other staff

I’ve already shared a lot of ideas with the other teachers in the Humanities Department. And I think there are other places in school we could use Design Thinking, especially Extended Essay and the Personal Project. This video suggests to me that our Service Learning program could also be informed by Design Thinking.

While I’m not coordinating either of these, one of the wonderful things about YIS is that everyone is open to other people’s ideas and won’t be offended when I send forward some ideas I’ve learned from Design Thinking.

Student Council

This is perhaps the one I’m most excited about. I’ve been a student council advisor for most of my teaching career. I really love it, as you usually get great kids and you can set them loose. But I’m stagnating a little. We really are a machine in planning our assemblies, our dances, and volunteer work.

So, what I would like to do is for my Student Council members to engage in a Design Challenge to find a way to make YIS a better community. Perhaps they would work with Elementary or High School student council. Perhaps they would work with administration. Or perhaps they would interview their classmates. This is the one I’m going to be really sitting down and working on in the coming weeks.  I think my student council can empathize, ideate, sympathize, prototype (repeat as necessary) and come up with some awesome stuff.


Perhaps because Design Thinking is still a bit of niche in education, I find the more I talk about my desire to learn more, the more people people reach out and share. I’m not quite sure what connections I am going to make talking about Design Thinking. But I do think there are some great possibilities to work with other teachers and academics thinking about how design can help our students.

Next step: Prototype

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Get Up: Taking Breaks and Acting Silly in a 1:1 Classroom

I’m not embarrassed to say that often my students look like this when they are working.

Or like this

Yes…his face is blue. He’s a smurf of course.

Or like this

Girls helping each other out during #hourofcode

Or like this

I am very conscious that my students are on their computers a lot. I am very conscious that eye strain, bad posture, and entering a vortex of wikipedia links is a constant concern in a 1:1 environment. Which is why I’ve introduced mini-breaks, which I try to get my kids away from the computer and moving. And after 5-10 minutes of silliness, they get back to work.  

All right. Get up!

At some point in my 90 minute class, I will say the words “All Right. Get Up!”. My kids, with varying levels of groans, will close their computers and stand up. And then we get moving.

Ms. Madrid Says”.

A variation of Simon Says is, for some reason, a student favorite.  This is what it looks like in my classroom.

Ms. Madrid says Reach for the Ceiling

Ms. Madrid says “take a selfie”

What does homework look like? 

I ask my students to act out what homework looks like. Or ask them to do a slow-motion kangaroo. Or I ask them to spell out the alphabet with their whole body. I love the look of concentration on my students face when they are thinking how to express themselves. Sometimes I ask them I just ask them to yawn. 

Monday Morning Yawns. Let’s get the oxygen flowing.


A bit of Pilates. Or Yoga. Or Dance.

One kid came back from Nepal and taught us some yoga moves he learned. Or I try to get my kids to isolate muscles to create movement like I do in Pilates. And some kids take dance lessons and have taught us a couple of moves, like a plié. What always blows my mind is that all my kids try it.

Grace taught the other kids this move.

Not all kids found this move easy.

Second Position.

The ease that kids do this move makes me a little jealous.

Concentrating on using the core to twist.

Shimmy Time

Last year, on the last class day of the week, my grade 6s would have a shimmy break. I loved that every kids had a shimmy style. 

Just Dance!

I’m not sure how I came upon the idea of putting up videos of the Wii Game Just Dance.

But this is an absolute favorite of my students. We put on the videos and we dance. It never fails to make make me smile. And every once in a while, we get the whole school dancing. It’s pretty cool to watch kids just let their guard down and just dance.

Back to work. 

At the end of the game or exercise, I tell them get back to work. And they do.

And after these silly little mini-breaks I swear they are more awake, more engaged, and more smiley. Hard to complain about that.

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Gamification: An Epic Quest

This blog is crossposted on the COETAIL site

The Game of School

The particular offense of playing the Game of School lies in the disengagement of our intellect and our feelings from tasks that deserve to be taken seriously; task like writing, reading, thinking, planning, listening, researching, analyzing, performing, applying evaluating. We do harm when we reduce these acts of intellect, creativity, and judgement to rote exercises, perfunctory deeds, or meaningless gestures. Faced with the stress of daily life in school, it can seem easier, at times, to pretend to believe rather than to truly believe in the value of what we are about. The Game of School: Why We All Play It, How it Hurts, and What it Will Take to Change it. By Rober L Fried

I have pronounced, loudly, that I am not a gamer.

Leveling Up

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by artnoose

In case you haven’t guessed it, games are serious business.

So the next big question, is how are you going to use games in your classroom? Are you going to gamifiy your grading system? Are you going to redo a whole unit as a quest for your students to explore? Are you going to remix an existing game with your own curriculum? Are you going to play games that push your students a little further in their thinking?  Are you going to use badges at your school, with students or teachers? Are you going to try to play a game, to see how games really work and how the best ones are designed? Are you going to have students create a game? Can you gamify COETAIL?

Our students are already learning rules for success and failure in school. And some parents (and our students) will be reluctant to change the game. And so, the final question is, are we having them play a game that is worth playing?

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Creating Questions: Ideation in a MYP World

My students spent a week coming up with a good question. A single question – average around 10 words –  took my 8th graders a week to come up with. In comparison, my students will spend a week actually putting together a final product answering the question. This may be a little crazy. But I think it was the best thing for my students.

The Inspiration:

I’ve stated a couple times that I am intrigued by Design Thinking as a way to teach my students. I was lucky enough to go to a  Creating Space for Innovation with Ewan McIntosh in September and for the first time I was able to actually practice what had been just theory: Ideation. Synthesis. Prototype. Feedback.

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Ewan McIntosh

While the discussions I was able to have during the conference were meaningful*, I also fully appreciated how I was able to take the concept of ideation into my classroom the next day.

My Context

My 8th graders were starting their culmitative world religion project. I’ve never been happy with the questions my students chose to focus on. Even worse, I don’t think my students were happy. This was a project that my students were supposed to care about and their questions were letting them down. And in reality, I know from teaching all levels, kids often don’t know how to create good questions. Moreover, creating questions is an assessed strand in the MYP Humanities criterion “Investigation”.  So I figured it was time for my students to learn how to create good questions.

Step 1: Generating Questions. Lots and Lots of questions. 

This is the phase that probably looks the most familiar to anyone who has brainstormed. 12 minutes, don’t put your pencil down, write as many questions as you can. Music played**. I wish I would have had them standing up. But most of them were scribbling away.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by ndbekah

Not surprisingly, some kids had tons and tons of questions. Other kids, not so much. So we re-grouped.

Depending on how many questions they had generated in 12 minutes, they had different instructions.

    • 0-10 questions – meet together and have a conversation with me to try to generate more questions. This was a great chance for me to meet and help draw out interests and establish prior knowledge in small groups. I was surprised how hard this was for some students.
    • 10-20 questions – share with each other for 4 minutes and write questions for 2 minutes
    • 20+ questions – share with each other for 6 minutes.

By the end of day one, all kids had a least a dozen questions. Some questions were absurd. Others were intriguing. But we had started.

My walls are covered with the questions and reflections. I’m working on creating walls that are living.

Starting to synthesize

Now students need to do something with their questions. They need to sort, purge, combine all their questions. And it needs to happen quick. 13 minutes laters, students had their questions sorted.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by ndbekah

Making it MYP

My students need to know the official IB Command Terms. If they know what “identify” or “explain” or “analyze” means, they know how to answer a question. If they can start to get this in 8th grade, they’re golden.

I gave my students the IB Command Terms sheet. They then had to classify the terms into Level 1 (these are easy questions) to level 3 (high-level question/non-googleable). They were actually really good at it. Basically, they created their own Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Creating the Question: Next Step

Students had to create three possible questions, using a Level 3 command term. I want them using terms like “analyze” , “evaluate”, “justify”.  They submitted them via a GoogleForm. I started getting excited because the questions I were getting were good. But now we needed to get to the final stage.

I learned at Ewan’s workshop about the “New, Useful, Feasible” Matrix.*** I changed it for my kids to “Interesting, Answerable, High-Level” Matrix. Students ranked how each question to figure out what they really wanted to do and what was actually possible. This was knocking out questions like “Why is there a God?” but keeping in questions like “Analyze how religion affect family and communities”?

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by ndbekah

I then did individual conferences with each student using this matrix as a guide for discussion.**** Sometimes I disagreed with their classification, particularly about how answerable a question was. I helped them refine their questions. Sometimes, we narrowed the questions. But a week after we started, they had questions they were excited about and questions that challenged them.

Final Thoughts

I had Parent Teacher Conferences this week and when the kids were telling their parents about the questions they were working on, I was a little blown away. Hearing 8th graders talk about the role of women in religion or why religions go extinct is amazing. And the kids are excited (for the most part) about the work they are doing.***  We’re also refining their questions. I want my students to be comfortable changing the question as their research develops.

I don’t know if I’ve spent this much time thinking about writing questions since I was in grad school. I think we assume kids know how to do this. But I don’t think that’s true. And I’m still so new to this process.  I know that I have loads to learn about how to make this ideation phase better for my students. And while it’s been hard to be patient at times, I am convinced every second has been worth it.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by ndbekah


* Check out my notes from the workshop. The conversations I was able to have with the primarily ASIJ staff members were fantastic.

** Pro-tip- Jack Johnson is a good choice for this type of thing.

***Basically, take ideas and rank them out of ten on how new, how useful, and how feasible the idea is. This helps figure out what the next step is.

**** I liked doing this on paper to hang up in the classroom. While I was absent, though, I created a GoogleDoc of the matrix. Having done both, paper was better.

**** I haven’t talked about the research phase or the prototyping phase. Another time.

Posted in Humanities, IBO-MYP-DP, MYP Humanities, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Learning to…

Two days after arriving home from Learning2.0 Singapore, two tweets seem to summarize how I am feeling…

It’s with this dizzying mix of exhaustion and exhilaration, on the edge of a (literal) typhoon, that I start the bullet points.*

  • I’m excited that Learning 2.0 is really Learning to_________. The blank can be filled with verbs like “tell stories”, “code”, “capture stories” ,”build robots”, etc. The palpable excitement around the maker movement, the focus on pedagogy, and the desire to find a way to bridge student passions with classroom learning suggests to me that things are changing. And they are changing quickly.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Clint Hamada

  • There have been a couple (dozen) times when I wonder what I have done to be so lucky to be in the room learning from such amazing and impassioned educators. I thought this when I was in the conference hall with all 400+ participants. Or when I was in the room of COETAILers. Or when I was was working with the amazing Learning2Leaders. But I honestly believe hard work (coupled with willingness to share) has given me this opportunity. And I will be working just as hard to stay in that room, because the amount that I learned from every teacher I met is a gift
  • International schools in Asia actually form a giant/global school district. I’m amazed how many teachers I have met in different countries and continents and how many people I know when I go to a conference. Not needing to “meet and greet” means we can get to the big issues we are dealing with in our schools.
  • I will be taking Visual Notes from now on. Even though I don’t draw.
  • I will be learning more about Design Thinking. Stay tuned for more blog posts.
  • Sub-bullets from Everything is a Remix: Learning2 Edition.** Huge thanks to the positive and energetic participants who I learned a tons from.
        • Remix is the current word for Creativity. This resonates for all teachers. Imitating then innovating – in multimedia, products, text- is a concept worth exploring and I found myself really geeking out.
        • The skills of remix are really non-technical. After watching a series of remixes teachers noted that skills were: research, visual literacy, background knowledge of content, being able to recognize tone, storyboarding and more. The technical skills were editing. Even those of us not comfortable with editing can and do teach all the other skills.
        • Creative Commons, citation, and attribution and Fair Use is a quagmire for schools. But I think one way to have this resonate with schools is to teach this line with academic honesty and plagiarism. We teach students not to Cut and Copy, to chose a little bit of text and create something new, and that citation is required by IB. Why aren’t we teaching this with new media as well?
        • Our students are remixing. Check their YouTube channels. So why aren’t we embracing this in our classrooms?
    • This is the third conference in six months where I have thought about moonshot thinking.

I still don’t know what my moonshot is. Jeff Utecht challenged us to find our moonshot and not knowing what mine is making me a little nervous. But I’m pretty sure that I’m on my way. And I plan on dreaming BIG.  And I have some amazing people who inspire me and who will have my back (to push or support) when I know which moon I’m shooting for.


* I reserve the right to add more bullets, as I think of them. I just wanted to write it down before life got super busy.

** I’ve been thinking about remix for the past six months in preparation for this session I knew I would be leading at Learning2. I’m not ready to stop thinking about it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 8 Comments