11 April 2014

Hanami 2014

Viewing the plum, almond, and cherry blossoms in Japan is a social, aesthetic, artistic, and philosophical activity. Hanami (花見) means 'flower viewing', and is a highly anticipated and enjoyed activity here.

Photographing the blossoms is a very serene way to enjoy the warming weather.


Of course, the blossoms mark the beginning of Spring. In the post, Plum Blossom, I started this photographic inquiry and began to bid farewell to the Winter. 


April is the beginning of the Japanese school year, as well as the time during which companies typically reorganize and reassign employees. People tend to relocate and renovate their homes at this time, as well. Renewal is carried by the wind along with the pollen and refreshed demeanor of the people.


Spring is a time for noticing. Whether it's the change of temperature, smell, mood, or indeed, the apparent return to life of the trees.


I was lucky to visit a few parks this year and continue my inquiry into visual literacy through photography.


Needless to say, the cherry blossoms are extremely photogenic. Being virtually impossible to take a 'bad' picture of, I challenged myself to capture images with stories, conflict, and emotion.

Exploring the photo editing suite from Visual Supply Company was another way to enhance the drama in the photos. For more of my work, please visit my VSCO Grid or Instagram Profile.


Thankfully, the overriding feeling of the blossoms is joy. My wife, Yuka, a much more accomplished photographer than me, shared her work in the post, Special Spring Gift, including the heartwarming photo below of a fallen cherry blossom our son gave to her.







31 March 2014

Transgender Day of Visibility

March 31st is International Transgender Day of Visibility, and it's a perfect opportunity for everyone, particularly teachers, to learn about the impressive progress being made toward gender equity and equality, and individual empowerment.

Visibility is the most important step toward acceptance and empathy, so I encourage you to visit the Trans Student Equality Resources site (transstudent.org) and explore their outstanding resources, particularly the engaging infographics.

http://www.transstudent.org/2014

For more of my own reflection and classroom practices, please read my post, Empathy & Acceptance: Toward a gender-neutral classroom.

25 March 2014

Reflecting on Edcamp Tokyo

Beginning with an errant tweet and concluding with an impressive Demo Slam, helping to organize and then participating in Japan's first Edcamp, Edcamp Tokyo, was a truly remarkable experience.

http://instagram.com/p/litk67jSgu/


Incredible Team

Special appreciation belongs to Kim Cofino, Clint Hamada, and Yokohama International School for hosting us so well. Their attention to detail and world class facilities left nothing to be desired. The fluency of collaboration demonstrated by the entire organization team including Greg Feezell, Glenda Baker, Sarah Sutter, and Rab Paterson was simply astounding.

The result was an organization and planning process that was as enjoyable as it was effective.

Making Connections

The strongest connection I made at Edcamp was in the sharing of ideas between diverse learning communities. It was the first time I gained a sense for the approaches to learning and teaching being practiced at other schools and in a variety age ranges and developmental stages.

Discussing the Maker Movement with secondary educators was a revelation for me, as I gained insight into how my efforts at the elementary level can build the fundamental scientific, mathematical, collaborative, and innovative thinking skills that learners will expand and develop in the future.

Making Thinking Visible, a relatively new line of inquiry for me, turned out to be an in-depth discussion of the conceptual connections between learning in various disciplines and how explicitly taught and practiced 'thinking routines' can provide continuity between skills, topics, and ideas.

I was happy to share my experiences developing the Independent Inquiry project with a group of educators in the 20% Time in Education session. I hope that they will find the resources shared to be useful as they cultivate self-directed, interest-driven learning.

In the Creativity, Design, and Innovation session, there was a palpable desire for change. We all shared a passion for learning and hope for the future that was an inspirational way to end the day.

The notes from the sessions are all linked to the Collaborative Organization Document (aka the schedule), a resource which I hope can help to maintain the connections we have made.

Building Community

How Edcamp Tokyo helped to build a community of learners in Tokyo and across Japan remains to be seen. There haven't been any tweets using the #EdcampTokyo or #Edcamp東京 hashtags on Twitter for awhile, nor is there much activity on the Edcamp Tokyo Google+ Community.

In all likelihood, participants returned to their busy lives and classrooms with new perspectives and tools, but not necessarily time to reflect and share publicly. Given the intensity of engagement throughout the day, I'm confident that we are all applying our new understandings in creative and meaningful ways.

Personally, I feel that what we did was ultimately in the service of learning. Every idea shared was a generous gift and I'm happy to express sincere gratitude to all of the participants in Japan's first Edcamp.

12 March 2014

Visual Literacy Achievements Unlocked!

My final projects for the Visual Literacy COETAIL course are a slide presentation to inform my school community about our first PYP Exhibition and a video to inspire my Grade 6 students as they prepare their Exhibition, a self-directed and collaborative research and service action project.

Inform

As detailed in the post, Exhibition pre-Zen-tation, I struggled to transform my text-heavy, visually dry slides into a more engaging and thought provoking accompaniment to my speech.

The process was mostly subtractive. I deleted nearly all of the text and replaced it with carefully selected Creative Commons licensed images.

One of my most important lessons from this course has been the importance of audience. With that in mind, I shared the second draft of my slides and received very insightful comments, which led to the final version.

Introduction to the Exhibition



I was very happy with the presentation and meeting, and I believe that these slides inspired thoughtful discourse and discussion, rather than simply delivering information. For the latter purpose, I simply shared my notes on Google Drive and embedded them in our class blog for accessibility.

Inspire

In the post, PYP Exhibition: A Rite of Passage, I detail the process of creating an inspirational video for my students and other students preparing their exhibitions.

As with the slide presentation, I sought critique before completing the final cut.

My favorite step was composing the music. In the 'remix' spirit, I arranged samples from one of my class' collective improvisations into an innocent, dreamy loop. By adding a simple string pad and energetic drum tracks, I tried to capture the mood and drama of the Exhibition from meandering innocence, through cognitive dissonance, and into catalyzed momentum.

Prelude to the Exhibition


My most significant understanding from completing this project is that deeper learning needs plenty of time and freedom. Tinkering and iteration are essential to constructionist learning, and I spent many late evenings and early mornings wrestling with the unfamiliar tools I needed to complete my projects.

It's important to consider that students need time to explore the technological tools we invite them to use in order to achieve their full potential and quality of expression.

04 March 2014

Infographics in the classroom

Who doesn't love a good infographic?

I get my fix from Daily Infographic, but a quick Google search uncovers many more sources.

I'm often surprised how the layout, color palette, and design of a document draw me into a topic. To capitalize on this phenomenon in the classroom, I started building an infographics section on the wall.


The concept is so simple and fun. Just print infographics, laminate them, and affix them to the wall with magnetic tape. Students are welcome to browse during independent reading and inquiry periods. Having them mounted magnetically means they are portable. Occasionally, they become very excited about a particular graphic and share with each other.

Although it has been somewhat labor intensive to build a collection, the result is an engaging range that my sixth grade students find very inviting. Changing the selection always results in some kind of excitement, and learning with them builds visual media fluency and provokes inquiries in a novel way.

With such an emphasis on digital technology, it's important to remember that people learn in many different ways. Providing a variety of approaches to learning is always the best application of educational technology.

Why not start your own infographics wall?

02 March 2014

PYP Exhibition: A Rite of Passage

Several weeks ago, I began an inquiry into visual literacy. Feeling that visual communication is My Greatest Weakness, it's been an exciting challenge to spill this can of worms and start stomping. It has been easy to find opportunities to practice and apply new skills and understandings in the classroom.

Purpose

My students have begun preparing their PYP Exhibition. It's our first in every sense: as individuals, as a class, and as a school. I have researched extensively about elementary school Exhibitions around the world and have been trying to approach the process from a design perspective.

Metateaching

The essence of metateaching is knowing students well and designing an environment in which their learning can thrive.

For Exhibition, that environment consists primarily of independence, yet it is important to introduce the project in a way that helps inform and inspire the process.

When I was preparing the presentation I would deliver to the school community about Exhibition, the Exhibition pre-Zen-tation, I intended to provide information about what we should all expect during the coming several weeks.

I blogged about the meeting in the post, Exhibition Week 0. It was successful, but there was something missing. From the perspective of visual literacy and storytelling, I realized that my efforts could accomplish much more if I aimed to persuade rather than inform, or, to use Seth Godin's terminology, 'persuade' rather than 'convince'.

The presentation and slides are effective at delivering information and provoking thought, 'convincing', but they wouldn't inspire anyone to join the adventure. They don't 'persuade'. They lack emotion.

What I needed was a video.

My own inspiration

To inspire my video, I pondered the Exhibition. The objective is for students to demonstrate mastery of the IBO Primary Years Program through self-directed and collaborative inquiry. It occurred me that it closely resembles a traditional rite of passage, a ritual marking the transition from one state or status to another.

In this case, the students are moving from elementary school to secondary school. They are presented with a challenging task and provided limited assistance and expected to use what they know to organize and take action. They are intended to cause cognitive dissonance, the resolution of which is both the process and product of the experience.

This led to the conceptual framework for the video. It would start with an introduction to rites of passage, then invite the students to engage in the inquiry process through video footage of other schools' exhibitions.

I do everything the hard way

At that point, things became ugly. Or interesting, depending on your perspective. I was trying to learn several different technologies, as well as visual literacy concepts and skills, all at the same time.

First there was searching for Creative Commons licensed images and video to remix. Next, learning how to use iMovie to organize and edit them, as well as adding the text. Adding text involved searching for an interesting font, a process in which I became totally lost for most of an evening. Finally, I hacked together a scratch music track with audio from one of my class' collective improvisations for keyboard percussion. Unfortunately or fortunately, I'm really not sure, technological misunderstanding prevented the audio from being included in the uploaded YouTube video.

Without further ado

I decided to share this version of the video because part of my personal inquiry is to be more collaborative. I have always had a very thin skin when it comes to critique and criticism, something I am working to improve. 

Please view my video and tell me what you think!


EDIT 19 March 2014 - View the final video in the post, Visual Literacy Achievements Unlocked!.

24 February 2014

Compare cultures through literature


Spoiler Alert! The last line is "...until the day they were crushed to death in a shower of flying stones."
One of my favorite inquiries is to deduce and compare the values of different cultures based on their "Cinderella" stories. Probably the oldest, and my personal favorite, is Yeh-Shen from China.


20 February 2014

Exhibition Week 0

School Community Meeting


On Thursday evening, we held a presentation and meeting for students, parents, and teachers to learn about and discuss our school's inaugural PYP Exhibition to be held in about two months, on 26 April during our International Children's Day event.

I began the meeting by reviewing the description of the Exhibition on the International Baccalaureate Primary-Years-Program website and the directing everyone to the Exhibition Guidelines for further details.

Next, I delivered a short presentation. Here are the slides and notes:



19 February 2014

Elementary Digital Music

For the past few weeks, I have enjoyed looking forward to my 'Music with Computers' after-school class on Wednesdays, for 2nd through 6th grade students.

It's a ten week course. During the first five weeks, I introduced various creation tools. The second half is for exploration, experimentation, composition, and creation.

The availability of intuitive, expressive, professional, free sound creation tools is exploding. I've enjoyed exploring to find a few of the best to share with students, as well as a few teachers who happened to be in the media center on Wednesday afternoon, and I would like to share them with you!

Synthesizer

 

http://wonderfl.net/c/9Xx7/fullscreen
SiON SoundObject Quartet

17 February 2014

Gearing up for Edcamp Tokyo

In the Spring of last year, I tweeted my interest in having an Edcamp in Tokyo:



Crickets...


There wasn't much interest, although in retrospect I suppose it would have been helpful to use the actual #Edcamp hashtag. I set up a page on the Edcamp Wiki and laid in wait...

Several months later, a tweet piqued my interest once again:



As Greg would later observe, it snowballed from there. Several Tokyo and Yokohama teacher-leaders joined the organizational team. We set up an Edcamp Tokyo website, held a Google Hangout with Edcamp Foundation Board Member, Kristen Swanson, settled on a location, Yokohama International School, and a date, March 15.

Countdown to Edcamp Tokyo


With only four weeks to go, there are currently more than fifty dedicated educators registered and conversations percolating on our Edcamp Tokyo Connectivity page, Edcamp Tokyo Google+ Community, Edcamp Tokyo Idea Wall, and of course around the #EdcampTokyo and #Edcamp東京 hashtags on Twitter!

This is the first chance for educators in Japan to assemble for self-directed, collaborative professional development. Even those outside of Japan might be interested in our activities, especially as they pertain to inquiry-learning, multilingual and third-culture education, technology, and whatever inspiration may strike!

I can't wait to see you there, in person or virtually.

Edcamp Tokyo




13 February 2014

Pottery Field Trip

My class had an outstanding field trip today, in connection with our unit of inquiry into the effects of changes in science and technology. We recently completed a modeled inquiry into 3D printing, introduced in the post, Modeling Inquiry. Having delved into the future of manufacturing, a visit to Uzumako Ceramic Art School was ideal to provide perspective by experiencing one of the world's most ancient crafts, pottery.

Student hands dig into wet, spinning clay

Fotomania

Playing at the window after a snowstorm
As part of my inquiry into Visual Literacy, I have taken up photography as a hobby. I think that hobbies don't get enough credit as deep, informal learning experiences!

In this photo, my first of an artistic nature, I tried to capture the wonder my son expressed as he felt the sunshine and surveyed the snow-covered rooftops all around outside after Tokyo's heaviest snowstorm in more than forty years.

If you are interested in following my new fotomania, please find my photo feed on Instagram.

06 February 2014

Exhibition pre-Zen-tation

My Grade 6 class is currently embarking upon their PYP Exhibition. It is the first event of its kind at my school, and one of my responsibilities is to make a presentation for the parents and school community about it.

The fact is, the Exhibition is a gargantuan task. The event itself represents the culmination of all learning and growth in a child's life to this point in time. Also, it is not an 'assignment', but a framework or set of guidelines within which students pursue an inquiry for several weeks. It has structure and should occur at a particular time, but the nature of the inquiry and how it is expressed is up to the students.

To help myself articulate the goals of our Exhibition, I actually started creating this presentation last summer. I suppose I should call it a pre-Zen-tation, because I was woefully unaware of design principles like those detailed by Garr Reynolds at Presentation Zen.

The pre-Zen-tation:



What you see here was not finished. I simply saved a 'before' copy before beginning to edit according to my new insights into presentation design and visual literacy.

03 February 2014

Student Blogging & Meaningful Connections: The Noobster

Using the Internet and specifically blogs to network classrooms around the world is a priceless learning activity, in my opinion. Writing for an audience provides incomparable motivation, receiving objective feedback provides authenticity, and engaging in developing as writers with other people promotes relevance and significance. I have blogged before about strategies for developing this network of connected young learners in the post, Engaging and Authentic Student Blogging.

A wild tweet appeared

More recently, during a #teach2blog Twitter chat, a wild tweet appeared:

While I was unable to properly participate in the chat, I did come up with a solution based on the Liebster award. Why not make a Liebster for student bloggers?

Introducing the Noobster




Student bloggers are 'noobs', and I think that the negative connotation that accompanies that term in online video games and chat rooms needs to be reappropriated into something positive. A Noobster is awared to student bloggers who are expressing themselves and sharing openly. A Noobster honors their courage as communicators.

The structure for writing a Noobster post is very simple. Be sure to include these directions in yours!

It should include: 

-The red  Noobster 'Noob' image embedded.

-One paragraph linking to the post in which the Noobster was nominated and describing your thoughts about receiving the award.

-Answer five questions about yourself.

-Write five random and interesting facts about yourself.

-Ask five questions to your own Noobster nominees.

-Nominate and link to five other student bloggers, preferably in different classes, to make your own Noobster nominations.

Comment on those five blogs informing the authors that you awarded them with Noobsters so that they can write their own. Don't forget to leave a link to your Noobster post!

Have fun!

I'm excited to see if this works to help students to connect and get to know each other as authors and audience. Here's a link to the first Noobster post. Watch your comment box for your nomination, noobs!

02 February 2014

Better visual design in the classroom

Last week, as part of my inquiry into visual literacy and design (My Greatest Weakness), I decided to redesign the display board outside my classroom door based on the principles I learned from Garr Reynolds' From Golden Mean to 'Rule of Thirds'.

These ideas are not new to me, at least conceptually. The Golden Mean is well known in music composition and fiction writing as a standard to keep in mind to maximize drama, suspense, conflict and resolution, and climax.

Applying it visually is a new exploration for me.

The Display

Here is a photo of the original display board for our unit of inquiry focused on changes in science and technology:


The text on the left is simply information about the unit. The photos are from students' formative blog posts about 3D printing, and the small, diagonal texts, are quotes from their posts.

My design concept was to line up the large text on the left and then just fill in the rest in whatever way it would fit.

Not really 'design'

'Fit it all in' is not really 'design'. In order to truly begin to design the display, and to apply my constructionist philosophy, I printed out the photo of the display and cut out each element. With this hands-on model, I began rearranging the parts. By thinking of the 'rule of thirds' grid, and utilizing a design strategy beyond 'just fit it all in', I found that different arrangements led to different impressions and understanding.

I set up a center in the classroom and invited my students to help me. Here are a few of the iterations we documented:


My favorite came from a student, the one in the lower right. I like how the layout of the large text respects the 'rule of thirds' and draws the viewer from top left to bottom right. It also utilizes proximity to associate each quote with a particular image, rather than grouping them together. The effect is that attention is drawn toward the most 'important' information, and the viewer is free to explore the rest.

Questions lead to more questions

Shouldn't the quotes should be bigger because they are actually the most important part of the display to which the viewer should be directed? How would that alter options for the layout? Should the other text be smaller? Should I choose different images? Is it possible to arrange everything in a way that tells a story? What is the story? Should this display do more than simply present information?

Reflection

Despite being a source of some anxiety for me, this activity was fun for two primary reasons:

1 It involved a model that could be manipulated, creating a sense of 'play' rather than 'work'.
2 It was collaborative. Inviting others to help created an authentic feeling of shared purpose.

These are critical considerations for instructional design, and I'm happy to have had this authentic experience for myself.

Going further

I am excited to expand this inquiry. I applied these concepts to photography this weekend, the product of which you can view in the post, Plum Blossom.

There is also a Visual Literacy unit in the planning stages for my class, a topic I never had the courage to try to teach explicitly in the past. Wish me luck!