19 October 2015

Making the arts make a difference

In lieu of a faculty meeting today, my Principal has blessed us with a learning opportunity to read and reflect on The Arts Make A Difference by Nick Rabkin and Robin Redmond.

Being significantly behind on my professional blogging, this is also an ideal opportunity to reestablish that invaluable habit.

One observation that I have made about my students is that, like the students in Nick Jaffe's music engineering classes, '“They have a shocking ability to work effectively and listen well amid the cacophony in this open room,”'. Perhaps one consideration we should have is that deep learning is messy and noisy. If we insist on neat, orderly, quiet classrooms, we will have neat, orderly, quiet learning.

I want learning to be loud.

The most important theme of this article is that arts integration shouldn't necessarily mean the integration of Arts content into or connected to Language and Mathematics. They should be equally balanced, with emphasis being placed on the authentic arts processes and products, supported by language and math skills.

What is needed is for teachers to collaborate to understand the 'parallel processes in an art form or arts-related activity and a more traditionally academic activity'.

In a truly Constructivist environment, the content is created by the learners with the teachers serving as facilitators, organizers, documentarians, and coaches. Learning expressed through art values the learners' experiences, values, and emotions. But for curriculum to be arts driven, we must find ways to use content and skills instruction to support learning in a coherent manner. This provokes me to revisit my introduction to the IB Primary Years Program and the document, Toward a Coherent Curriculum by James Beane.

The transdisciplinary nature of the PYP and the 'socially constructed and largely artificial' boundaries of school are incompatible.

If we instead think of the learner at the center (rather than content), it is intuitive to imagine that each teacher can have a role, based on their expertise, to uniquely support and inform learning.

Coherence will come from those teachers acting as a collaborative team rather than a group of cooperating individuals isolated within their own disciplines. They should understand how each others' approaches complement each other from the learners' perspective and how they can improve their coordination through communication.

To quickly begin to address this need in our school, I recommend that each integrated unit of inquiry be planned on one document and that specialist teachers be responsible for 'leading' the planning to identify and define the language and mathematics content and skills that would best support the students' learning processes and products.

10 September 2015

Designing a new classroom

Upon arriving for the first day of a new job, I sat by myself, for the first time in my new classroom, Grade 4B, in my new school, K International School Tokyo.

In anticipation of that moment, I applied attention to classroom environment as a crucial element of Learning Experience Design. Several interesting articles have been published recently on this topic, including Classroom design can boost primary pupils' progress by 16% and The Perfect Classroom, According to Science.

While following CISC 2015 - the most inspiring symposium I didn't attend, I was inspired by a classroom layout concept shared by Brian Curwick.

It closely resembled my own thinking about the importance of collaborative teams in learning. I augmented this idea with the need for a balance between private, collaborative, and presentation spaces.

Empowering pedagogy

Last April, I was pleasantly surprised by this tweet announcing a twitter chat on the topic of environment in empowering pedagogy:
The document shared in the tweet, 'The Environment' (Chapter 8 of Empowering Pedagogy For Early Childhood Education), and Making Your Environment 'The Third Teacher', another article shared within it, have both been enlightening as during my deliberations.

The graphic below from 'The Environment' is an ideal reference in this process.

Also included was a quote which resonated strongly with me:

'The path of learning and development is more like a butterfly than that of a bullet.' Jim Greenman

Learning shouldn't have a trajectory, but rather a heading.

15 July 2015

CLMOOC Unmake: Unintroducing inquiry learning

I'm delighted to see educators around the world embracing the term 'inquiry'. The word itself is so nebulous that it defies definition. One could assume it means simply 'asking a question', but it also means 'collecting and organizing information'. Broadened further in my preferred nomenclature, 'inquiry learning' perplexes even further.

Are we learning through inquiry? Are we learning about inquiry? Are we inquiring into learning? Is it just a typo?

It's an ideal topic for Making Learning Connected. As Michael Weller writes in his post, CLMOOC 2015: Make An Inquiry, Make Cycle 1 for the Make an Inquiry strand this summer, ''I think that inquiry, like the term research, can be intimidating – but I don’t think it needs to be!'.

As connected educators take to the information superhighway to explore and interpret the meaning of 'inquiry learning', our evaluations and reflections belie insecurity.

If a term exists that can be known, then we should be able to know it.

After all, we are educated.


There must be an answer to the question: What is inquiry learning?

We all want to get it right.

One prominent and highly visible modality in this rush to 'get it' is through graphics. A Google Images search for 'inquiry cycle' yields an overwhelmingly diverse field of interpretations. Many of these visual interpretations reveal fresh thought and creative courage in the true spirit of inquiry learning, like sprouts through the detritus.

After reading his post, Let Me Introduce Myself: From Pasture to Post, Tacit Knowing All the Way Down, I believe that Terry Elliott would enjoy a walk in this pasture ripe with nuanced tacit knowing meditating behind the desire for shared understanding.

We all know inquiry, tacitly. What we lack are mutually understood models.

An impressive amount of making has gone into this! As each of us contributes our voice to the conversation, it increases meaning for all of us.

A diverse harvest of inquiry models

Some models are quite prescriptive, like this inquiry cycle by Nicole Laura from the post, Apps to Support Inquiry: Connect and Wonder.

(All images of inquiry models are hyperlinks to sources).

Some are adaptations or remixes of well known models, such as this KWHLAQ chart from Sylvia Rosenthal Tolisano's post, An Update to the Upgraded KWL for the 21st Century.


Some focus on questions to provoke inquiry, like this model from International School of Tianjin.

Some incorporate elements from popular design thinking (which I sometimes blog about using the LX Design label) models.

Design Inquiry Cycle by Rebecca Grodner, Shula Ponet

Figure 4. The Process of Inquiry and Research: Model 2

Most are based, directly or indirectly, on the work and writings of Kath Murdoch, whose post Busting some myths about ‘the inquiry cycle’… is required reading for anyone seeking to define, understand, or otherwise grapple with 'inquiry'.


Don't try to hard

A photo posted by blair at madstone farm (@startafarm) on


We are all getting it right

As long as we are trying, we are getting it. This is a mindset that also applies well in the classroom.

It's easy to design a comprehensible worksheet, but nobody learns much from it.

It's hard to empower learning, and everybody learns a lot from it.

In practice

In my classroom, we use models primarily to share and participate in each other's inquiry learning. Most of my role as a teacher is to help students to publish their learning to each other and the greater school community.

Learners can utilize the models in ways that help them, and we often modify or ignore them as necessary.

There is no curriculum for inquiry learning. It is the Knowledge, Concepts, Skills, and Attitudes that emerge and grow in pursuit of one's curiosities. Attempts to bind inquiry learning to an established curriculum are valiant, yet often mutually destructive.

My CLMOOC 'Make an inquiry' Model

Often, inquiry learning models begin with some iteration of 'formulating questions', but I have found that that is not necessarily the best way to begin an inquiry.

Whether it speaks to my preferred learning modality or personality type, I find that making is a great way to start. The challenges that arise catalyze questions. The enjoyment of the process of making demands to be shared. Reflection on doing is inherently more motivating than reflecting on thinking.

The challenge for teachers is to document and curate a constantly evolving authentic learning community!

With that in mind, please enjoy the inquiry model I made for CLMOOC this year, entitled The importance of irreverence..


22 June 2015

Wonderful example of action: Band promotion

Returning from a staff meeting which included discussion of our upcoming Year End Show, I found this charming handmade envelope on my desk.

Who is 'lucky 5'? My first guess was that it was a group of second graders who had invited me to listen to their band in the Performing Arts studio. I enjoyed their music and suggested that they might perform a number on stage at the show. As the school's Performing Arts Coordinator and producer of shows, it would be easy for me to find a place for them in the program. All they needed was a name...

I'm looking!

And there it is: The power of asking. The power of action. On my class action board, this belong in the category of 'Conversing'.

However, it got better. They also included a beautiful promotional poster! Well that sealed the deal.

One can only imagine the inspired and authentic collaboration that went into this. It is packed with language, visual arts, and design applications. It is also an ideal artifact of social and emotional learning.

Needless to say, Lucky 5 will perform their single, Bye Bye, at our Year End Show.

Introducing myself | CLMOOC 2015 Summer Unschool

Having stowed away on the first Making Learning Connected voyage in 2013 but remaining ashore last summer, I'm excited to set sail again this year onto the open seas of connected maker learning.

This year, CLMOOC will be a part of a personal/professional project: Summer school for my three year old son! In her post, Learning to learn., my wife recently reflected on our decision to keep him home from school in the next school year due to an array of extenuating circumstances.

A photo posted by Bart Miller (@botofotos) on

I think my son will learn more by continuing to explore his curiosities and helping to take care of his new baby brother. July is going to be a research project for me to document his formal learning along this wandering informal path. He is already well versed in playing and being generally silly.

A photo posted by Bart Miller (@botofotos) on

He has loved to draw since he could hold an extra thick crayon and now fills notepads of recycled paper at a staggering rate.

A photo posted by Bart Miller (@botofotos) on

Luckily, pads of paper are cheap.

Last, but the opposite of least, he is a maker. He loves to mess around with legos, blocks, cardboard, tape, household objects, and anything else that he can pretend is something else. In a word, everything.

Here is one of his 'makes' from this past Father's Day:

A photo posted by Bart Miller (@botofotos) on

Sometimes, he invites collaboration:

My challenge is to channel some of his fun, creative energy toward various 'formal' learning activities. My method is to:

1 Authentically channel his informal learning toward formal content.

2 Document the formal learning in his informal learning adventures.

In many cases, this is already happening naturally.

Since I will be on vacation throughout July, I intend to schedule a number of field expeditions. I also intend to not schedule some, and simply let his inspiration spill out onto the street and see where the current carries us.

If you've learned with me in CLMOOC or read my blog before, you know that I love Google forms for documentation. I'm currently designing a form to use this summer. I expect that it will have traditional categories, perhaps Language, Mathematics, STE(A)M, Physical, and Social Emotional. These could be coupled to reflections based on Connected Learning principles or the Learning Dimensions in the chart below from Tinkering Is Serious Play by Bronwyn Bevan, Mike Petrich, and Karen Wilkinson.

My summer vacation will not begin until the middle of next week, so I have a bit more time to plan and prepare before our CLMOOC 2015 Summer Unschool begins. Suggestions are certainly welcome!

09 June 2015

Creativity = Motivation + Discipline

All I need to write by Grant Snider

This post started as a quick reflection on my personal journal on Tumblr and why I haven't felt like posting lately.

But the more thought and consideration I put into it, the more it seemed appropriate to write a more formal article to reflect on and share my creative process. I have always been frustrated with my creative output, and a self study was long overdue.

24 April 2015

Exhibition rubrics & Global Issues Expo

My students become increasingly engrossed in their research and creating for PYP Exhibition. Thus, my role has become almost exclusively facilitator, coach, and documentarian. This is ideal in a project based learning environment.


In the past two weeks, I've devoted particular attention to developing the rubrics for the Exhibition. We will be using four rubrics in total: The PYP Exhibition self assessment rubric, pictured below, for the entire project, and separate rubrics for the essay, speech, and arts components.

10 April 2015

Elements of the PYP Exhibition

This week, my class of fifth and sixth graders began the culmination of their IB Primary Years journey, the Exhibition. A self-directed and collaborative project, it is my favorite part of the year and a deeply enjoyable challenge to facilitate.

Before setting out, I organized a meeting with all Exhibition stakeholders including students, parents, teachers, and administrators. We discussed everyone's ideas, questions, and concerns in order to draft our Essential Agreements.


The Exhibition Guidelines provide clear expectations, which I have synthesized for the students to provide support for their projects. One helpful practice I have chosen is to clarify five required components of the project. Specifically, every student must choose a global issue, deliver a persuasive speech, write an expository essay, create a work of art, and engage in community action. Among our first activities was introducing the organizer below.

In this way, each student has a clear map of expectations, yet is empowered to pursue their project along their own path.

25 March 2015

Composite skills in the PYP

Preparing students for the Primary Years Program Exhibition, a self directed and collaborative culminating project, has been a rewarding challenge this year. In a sense, I've been thinking of the entire school as a long term project with the Exhibition being the 'deliverable' product.

The process of developing capacities and competencies in my students has led to analysis and evaluation of Transdisciplinary Skills in the PYP.

I like the list of skills and the categories into which they are organized (thinking, social, research, self management, communication), and I have been developing a model for composite skills. These are skills that require fluency in other fundamental skills and attitudes.

[This post was initially titled Hybrid skills in the PYP. After further consideration, I realized that 'composite' was a better description than 'hybrid'. Hybrid connotes that only parts of the fundamental skills are utilized, while 'composite' connotes that each skill is integrated in its entirety. I took the liberty of substituting the terms throughout the post.]

The first composite skill I conceived at the end of the last school year was Conversation. My reasoning was that conversation requires a combination of the Listening and Speaking communication skills together with the attitude of Empathy.

During the year, I have introduced a few other composite skills to our classroom toolbox, and am now in the process of organizing and codifying them in the MindMup below. If you would like to collaborate, the Composite skills mind map is shared via Google Drive. Use MindMup to open it and get started.

08 March 2015

Twitter: Promoters, connectors, and why I unfollowed you

I have something to confess: I finally did it: Something I've been meaning to do for a long time, but haven't mustered the courage until now:

I committed twittercide.

19 February 2015

CISC 2015 - the most inspiring symposium I didn't attend

(This post contains embedded 'tweets' that may not render properly depending upon your device and browser.)

It all started, as so many connected learning experiences do, with a tweet.

If Kristen Swanson #couldntbemoreexcited about #EdcampPalooza, then lurking on the #CISC2015 hashtag on Twitter with @Haydeewan seemed like an inviting activity. 

17 February 2015

What is technology?

On Monday morning, I embarked upon a unit of inquiry with my grade 5/6 class by using our usual 'warm up' routine to reflect on and discuss the slide below.


As students arrive in the morning, when possible, I project some sort of provocation, sometimes directly connected to our inquiries, sometimes specifically not, and sometimes just for fun (link to 'warm up' slides).

Many students sit down and begin writing or sketching immediately, while some prefer to converse before working independently. After a few minutes, we share and discuss our ideas.

This 'technology' provocation was effective and I was pleasantly surprised by students' insights. Their responses included definitions with words like 'tools'. 'useful', and 'solve problems'. Some also alluded to negative as well as positive effects of technology. At the conclusion of our brief discussion, I introduced our central idea for the unit: Scientific understanding constantly evolves to build and destroy. (link to unit planner)

Before setting the students loose, we will conduct a modeled inquiry into 3D printing. The purpose will be to model a standard inquiry process as well as generate interest in various aspects of technology including scientific, social, artistic, and cultural. It was extremely effective last year and, especially based on my current class' formative understandings, I'm confident that the next few weeks will be fun and enlightening.

04 February 2015

Edcamp Tokyo 2015 Harajuku

It's been my honor to help organize Edcamp Tokyo for the second time. This year, the event will be hosted by Jingumae International Exchange School in Harajuku on Saturday 28 February 2015.

Play to learn; learn to play.

We decided on a theme of 'play' this year, which I hope will set a tone of curiosity and openness. As with every Edcamp, the key to success is self determination among the participants. Through a democratic process, sessions are proposed, voted on, and organized into classrooms and other meeting spaces.

The schedule is never set in stone. Edcampers are encouraged to continue engaging conversations, break out into splinter groups, or change sessions if their interests or needs are not being met.

We only ask that sharing and collaboration remain a top priority via Google Docs and our Edcamp Tokyo 2015 Home Document.

I look forward to seeing how the day evolves and invite anyone to participate, even if you can't be there in person!

03 February 2015

Inquiry math: Estimation

One of my challenges as an IB PYP teacher is how to design authentic opportunities for inquiry using mathematics. I think it's due partly to the fact that the outcomes tend to be predetermined but also because upper elementary mathematical skills aren't often prominent in the students' own inquiries.

My solution has generally been to provide an inquiry provocation to introduce a concept with related skills to be practiced in subsequent lessons.


Recently, we completed a unit on estimation. The initial challenge was simply to estimate the number of various objects in various containers.

01 February 2015

Learning Differences MOOC

I am very excited to be registered for my first MOOC of 2015, Learning Differences, offered by the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation and MOOC-Ed, starting 9 February and concluding 22 March 2015.



I discovered the course via a tweet by All Kinds of Minds, proving once again the value of Twitter as a connected learning network.
The course will be divided into six units including Habits of Mind, Working Memory, Motivation, and Executive Function. Of particular interest to me is how these topics will inform and enhance my approaches to teaching in my inquiry and project based learning classroom.

I'm hoping to cooperate and collaborate with members of my learning network, particularly those at inquiry, project based learning, and IB PYP schools, as well as connect with new highly engaged educators.