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!



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:


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


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?


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!

Deeper Learning Student Work

Looking at student work

I'd like to share three pieces of student work, each of which shows unique applications of deeper learning.


The first is a Grade 2 'landforms' project. The task was to build and paint an island with landforms. The example shows a few examples of deeper geographical understanding, especially that the river is carved into the land, rather than simply painted on, and that it flows from the hills to the ocean.

However, it would have been better to provide greater opportunities to practice with the clay and paint in a creative way. The student's reflection, 'I could to better', is very revealing of the fact that this little project utilized too many different, new skills. I should have planned a stand-alone art unit using these tools before applying them in this Geography activity.

Plum Blossom

First plum blossom by Bart Miller, Tokyo 2014

Japan's most famous blossom is, of course, the cherry. But I think most people have a soft spot for the lovely pink plums that bloom about a month earlier.

The cherry blossoms celebrate the arrival of Spring. The plum blossoms are the invitation.

Here's a photo I shot at our neighborhood park while playing with my son of the first plum blossom I've seen this year.

Modeling Inquiry

In general, I like to classify classroom inquiry activities into three general categories: Independent, Guided, and Modeled.

Independent Inquiry

I have blogged fairly extensively about Independent Inquiry and created a wiki dedicated to supporting interest-driven learning in the classroom. Independent inquiry should be totally independent, in my opinion, not limited to 'schoolwork' or 'homework', due date free, and without any regulation by authority figures beyond common sense and safety.

Guided Inquiry

Guided Inquiry is what is mostly practiced in schools and provides the richest opportunities to balance autonomy with predetermined curriculum. Differentiation is inherent as learners require varying levels of guidance in various situations. The guided inquiry environment is fluid, productive, and engaging.

Finally, Modeled Inquiry most resembles classical, Socratic education. The teacher has a clear sense of the goal and direction of the learning, and crafts small tasks, like dialogs, in which students participate in order to emphasize learning of the inquiry process.

In my class' current unit of inquiry, I planned a modeled inquiry into 'the role of technology in scientific understanding' and its effects on people's lives. Feel free to visit the planning document which contains links to the resources we utilized along the way.