Archive for December, 2014

What's Your Problem? PBL visual note drawn using Adobe Ideas on iPad by Nicki Hambleton

What’s Your Problem? PBL visual note drawn using Adobe Ideas on iPad by Nicki Hambleton

Ask Seek Find

When I was at school the biggest problem I remember trying to solve was the Rubic cube. For weeks my friends and I would get so far in completing several of the coloured sides then be stumped. There was no internet, YouTube demonstrations, spoilers or instructions in completing the puzzle, only our brains and trial and error. I cannot quite remember whether I eventually finished it through methodology or just sheer luck but the next step in my circle of friends was how quickly you could complete it.
Photo Credit: electricnude via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: electricnude via Compfight cc

In my school, however, learning in class was quite different. We were there to learn facts and figures, answers, equations, grammar, painting, music notation or, in PE, how to do the hurdles. Today’s hurdles for our students are greater and more complex than in my day.
Projects, blogs, labs, book clubs, journals. So many processes and so little time…
When do we give students the time to pose their big questions? Questions like: Where will I use algebra? What happens when it thunders? Why can’t we time travel? I remember a great book I got for Christmas one year called WHY, a fabulous book my mother still has on her shelf that can answer a multitude of questions a youngster may have. I think the equivalent of it on amazon these days is the Big book of why (or How) by Time, for kids.

But what is the Question?

Questioning is an important part of a child’s education and asking the right questions is the key.

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”  Voltaire

Photo Credit: Editor B via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Editor B via Compfight cc

Previously, when I worked in MYP departments, essential questions were the backbone of the unit of work. They opened thoughts and began conversations. Students grappled with the context of the unit and the Big Idea that would help them to unravel not only what they were studying but also why. It is a practice we have continued at UWCSEA with both Frank Curkovic and I having taught MYP for many years, Frank in Japan and me in both Ghana and Italy. Together we have added Essential questions throughout our units across Middle School Visual Art and, despite time being tight when teaching a class once a week, I know that it helps to ground the unit firmly in what we believe to be the root of knowledge. This way students can see the meaning for their work and how Art fits in the whole scheme of things and make sense of it.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Albert Einstein

It seems to me that questioning is a fundamental part of learning and that this practice is not new at all. Elementary teachers use questioning throughout their daily routines, as do IB Science teachers. Inquiry based learning is an important part of the IB. But how often do we ask our students what questions they have? I mentioned before the weekly practice of Carl Jenkins, a music teacher at UWCSEA who asks students to pose their question on a google doc at the end of the lesson that helps him to know what they are struggling with or want to know more about in readiness for the following lesson. I love this simple idea and I am adopting it in earnest using Google Forms in order to drive the lesson starters and check in with the level of learning and problems students are facing. With our school well underway in piloting Teamie as our Learning Platform this will eventually make the process far more transparent and easy to manage in real-time open forums. Being married to an IB Physics teacher I see questioning at the forefront of Science topics. Could this student generated practice filter into all year groups and across all disciplines?

“Indeed, the only truly serious questions are ones that even a child can formulate. Only the most naive of questions are truly serious. They are the questions with no answers. A question with no answer is a barrier that cannot be breached. In other words, it is questions with no answers that set the limit of human possibilities, describe the boundaries of human existence.” Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Projects vs Problems

Throughout my years of teaching in different schools and countries and in observing the teaching methodologies of my colleagues I have noticed many students are set projects, often in groups, to work on over a given timeframe. These projects are usually multi faceted and governed by the current theme or topic being covered in class. It seems to be a usual practice in schools around the world. Often they have a prescribed outcome and a step by step method in which to get there along with an accompanying rubric or assessment matrix. Yet, of what benefit are these projects to students? Are they meaningful, current, relevant? Do they teach students the skills and mindset necessary for success? Perhaps the original concept by John Dewey and the idea of setting a real world problem or designing a tangible project or being guided by an open-ended question has in many cases been lost somewhere along the way.
In UWCSEA, Grade 6 undertake a fabulous Humanities unit learning about natural disasters and geographical formations resulting in the making of an impressive model, for example of a Tsunami or volcano. I understand the value and contextual nature of the unit yet not the outcome – model making? Often the students return to class with spectacular results and having spent weeks perfecting the shape construction, textures and details but I am not sure of the learning that has gone on. Is a model the most effective way to understand the concept of geographical features or occurrences? Why not a simulation or diagram?  This perhaps seems strange coming from an Art teacher!
When I was teaching MYP a fundamental part of the units was to have meaning and context. The unit grew around the essential questions and the Big Idea. Yet they were still set by the teacher. These real-world problems being set demanded deep thinking from the students guided by the teacher.
Norbert de Graaff on The Noun Project

Norbert de Graaff on The Noun Project

Back in January 2014, John Larmer wrote an article on Edutopia about the different types of “based-learning”. Over the years there have been many twists on the original concept, from challenge based to design based learning. He refers to BIE’s 8 Essential Elements of PBL. Yet all fall under the umbrella of inquiry led learning. Larmer sets out a clear distinction between project and problem based learning with project based often being centred in post 16 education and being more multidisciplinary, compared to problem based in single subjects and being shorter in length. He documents the typical steps in problem-based learning demonstrated similarly here by Maastricht University:
The narrated animation clearly sets out to explain the concept, procedure (7 Jump), gained skills and the possible problems with PBL. It re emphasises the need in schools for basic skills in communication, thinking as well as listening.

The 4 Cs

Spinning off from Larmer’s article and Maastricht’s video, I find an interesting write up by Robert Kaplinsky on implementing PBL. The article is a great source of further information, particularly if you are a Maths teacher and Kaplinsky shares his thoughts on the four Cs on which a teacher should focus on: Communication, Curiosity, Critical Thinking and Content Knowledge. Kaplinsky refers to Dan Meyer’s TED talk “Math class needs a makeover”, and quotes him saying,
“What problem have you solved ever, that was worth solving, where you knew all of the given information in advance? Or you didn’t have a surplus of information and you had to filter it out? Or you didn’t have insufficient information and had to go find some? I’m sure we all agree that no problem worth solving is like that.”
How can we apply this thinking and strategy to our daily practice? How might we encourage more curiosity in our Middle School and High School lessons? My son, working on his iGCSE Design Technology project had to search for a problem to solve, investigate and develop possible solutions. Being a keen guitarist, he decided on a guitar stand for limited spaces, functional yet aesthetic and his thinking followed clear guidelines which form the backbone of Design Technology.
This process of problem finding continues on into the IB Diploma Group 4 project, a multi discipline Science driven practical activity set over 10 hours. This project brings together the different disciplines of the subject, collaborating in teams to investigate and suggest solutions to Science problems. Students formulate large, almost unanswerable questions to investigate, research and experiment.
This seems to be a perfect combination of these 4 Cs, developing deeper content knowledge through critical thinking, collaboration and curiosity into the problem either given or proposed.
Photo Credit: Kurayba via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Kurayba via Compfight cc

The most interesting part for me from Larmer’s article concludes that both PBLs start with open-ended questioning, in real world contexts and with student independence and inquiry at the heart.
With this in mind, I return to my learning over the past months in COETAIL and to my own classroom at UWCSEA. How do I use PBL currently and what can I do to incorporate it authentically into the existing curriculum for maximum benefit to my students?
Michelle Cordy on Hack the Classroom in November 2014 shares her 6 ideas to start you off in inquiry and PBL: Using a factoid to start discussion, Pushing thinking further through probing questions (Thinking routines), slowing down, noticing thinking, feeding forward and using non-fictions texts.
How might you incorporate these into your classroom?

Design Thinking

Inspired by John Rinker and his many workshops on Maker Spaces, it is fascinating to see so many adults enjoy the prospect of just making, tinkering and playing. So too do students love this freedom to create and this, I feel, is at the heart of Design Thinking. Dropping in on the extensive Storify of the Design Thinking Twitter chat, hosted by Pana Asavavatana, Joe Sergi and Tosca Killoran a few weeks ago, I realise that often Art and Design teachers naturally teach in a PBL manner. Design Thinking, in its nature is cyclical and, working through problems we think we have a solution. Yet delving deeper, it gives forth to further developments.
Twitter Chat: Design Thinking December 9th 2014

Twitter Chat: Design Thinking December 9th 2014

The first question asked on the Twitter Chat gave forth to many interpretations on What is Design Thinking and there was no doubt that it was a powerful and beneficial methodology for our students today. The conversation online ebbed and flowed opening many ideas for justifying its place in education and I particularly appreciated the moment when the discussion sidetracked to Introverts and extroverts, again from Heather McKay‘s tweet:

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 17.30.47Why should all learning be group based? Not every student works best in a team and this is an important consideration we need to be aware of with PBL – the balance between group and individual work.
When I first started teaching the Creative Cycle, as it was known then, followed a similar format and Design Thinking can take this more formal approach as in Technology MYP:

It is through this kind of process that PBL seems most clearly connected with. We need to create a culture of thinking if we are to best serve the citizens of the future. My mind drifts to Harvard’s Project Zero and its Visible Thinking Routines.

Creativity and 20%

In Ewan Mcintosh’s TEDxLondon talk “What’s Next” he asks us to encourage and teach our students to find the problems, then solve them not to spoon feed them. He talks about the world needing Problem Finders yet still I find students, often higher up the school at IB level wanting to be given the answers, not to search for them. Yet some years ago Dan Pink told us in his book “A Whole New World” that the creative ones will be the successful ones in the future, the entrepreneurs, the thinkers, the ones who look for the problems, develop these ideas and take the world forward just innovators such as Steve Jobs did.
Photo Credit: rickz via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: rickz via Compfight cc

Employees at Google have one day a week dedicated to their own new idea or fixing, idea developing or problem finding, known as Google 20%. Google’s 20% time is a feature I would love to bring into every classroom, for students to work on their passions not driven by any assessment criteria, rubric or text book. Through this we can nurture and cultivate true creativity and see that design thinking has its future firmly locked in our youngsters, ultimately the most innovative members of our society. Many schools have already taken Google’s concept onboard, collectively known as genius hour. In Michael Schrage’s article on Harvard Business Review, “Just how valuable is Google’s 20% time?” he asks “do curiosity-driven and/or passion-driven initiatives lead to measurably better innovation outcomes?” It is interesting to read about the changes at Google, from shutting down the intrapreneurial playground Google Labs to Google X, the moonshot research lab that gave forth to Google Glass. I can’t help but recall again Jeff Utecht’s Moonshot Learning 2 Talk. What would your moonshot be? What would you develop, design, find or solve if you had 20% time?

Next Steps

Photo Credit: J. C. Merriman via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: J. C. Merriman via Compfight cc

I am wondering now in anticipation of, not only Course 5 but my teaching in general, how to combine the idea of gamification with problem solving (or problem finding!). Could a unit be a series of problems or quests that determine which direction next? What are the potential big questions students want answers to in my subject? And how can I incorporate more creative time and free thinking to search for those problems in a rapidly changing world?
How is this going to be possible in a 75 minute Art lesson once a week?
Now there is a problem just waiting to be solved……!
I remember a recent conversation with Joe Teft about the next steps. As I recount my woes of indecision and too many ideas brewing, he tells me that “problem setting often means we don’t know what the outcome will be”. He is clearly a wise thinker, but for a Graphic designer that is quite a scary concept! I am going to need a bit of coaching to help me to answer these and other pressing questions.
“Every problem is a gift – without problems we would not grow.” Anthony Robbins
So to the final step, Course 5 – what will I do, how will I decide what best to do for both me and my students?
Now that is a big problem.

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Albert Einstein

Connecting the Dots visual note by Nicki Hambleton using Adobe Ideas on iPad

Connecting the Dots visual note by Nicki Hambleton using Adobe Ideas on iPad

As a young child I loved Dot to Dots, joining the seemingly random patterns to reveal a recognisable image. I loved to try to work out what the dots were going to magically transform into by connecting them via advancing numbers. If you have never heard of or done a Dot to Dot before there is one below. Can you tell what this one is going to be?

Photo Credit: whitney waller via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: whitney waller via Compfight cc

The idea of seeing the whole picture is something that has continued with me; from developing meaningful lessons to my “Big Idea” visual notes and it was whilst planning this current post that led me to recall a quote from Steve Jobs:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Despite the uniqueness of this quote, most people talk about looking to the future than the past, it rings true for so much that we do. In order to move forwards we must look to the past: to learn from it, to move on from it or to take ourselves somewhere new. There is no point thinking we can develop anything without building on the past, it is the way we have always been. Even Picasso said that all art comes from what precedes it and Kirby Ferguson talked about the remix culture in his TedTalk Embrace the Remix in 2012.

Do we look back to the past or into the future? What is the future of Education?

What Learning Matters?

Thinking about the future of education and how it might look, takes me back to the Learning 2 Talk “What Learning Matters” by Charlotte Diller of The Chinese International School , Hong Kong. She begs us to think about what what really matters:

“with so much that is now googleable, what learning is it that is going to position our students in a world that is rapidly changing and for a future that is unknown?”

Learning Online

Photo Credit: giulia.forsythe via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: giulia.forsythe via Compfight cc

Way back in 1969, the Open University launched and opened its doors to students in 1971. With more than 250,000 students enrolled and more than 1.5 million students having taken courses since it began, it qualifies as one of the largest institutions in the world. Many students prefer distance learning, due to age or health reasons or for convenience of studying at home and this concept of “learn when you want” is common practice these days. We learn in so many ways, from watching a video on YouTube to signing up for an online course through Alison, Coursera or iTunes U. Some time ago I set out to improve my digital skills in Art through online courses in Photoshop and a multitude of alternatives presented themselves to me. Alison has 600 free courses available from Accounting to Yoga with over 4 million learners online. My New Years resolution is to learn more about After Effects and thank goodness Alison has a free course! Coursera takes it one notch further, connecting learners with universities and organisations to provide high quality courses again for free. Back in 2007, iTunes U was launched providing downloadable material for learning and encouraging individuals to set up their own online courses. Wouldn’t it be great if teachers backed up their lessons online through iTunes U extending the class material and pushing students further in their understanding? Two years ago an article on Edudemic encouraged teachers using iPads in the classroom to start using iTunes U as a resource as there were so many lessons already available for them to use. More recently, this summer Techcrunch reported an update that allows teachers more flexibility with creating and managing course content on iTunes U through iPad.

Perhaps I should develop a Visual Note taking course online – would anyone be interested?

We can literally learn anything we want, whenever we choose. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) emerged in 2012 as a way of bringing together unlimited numbers of participants to resources and videos through forums and discussions to build community around content. EdX differs from Coursera and Udacity as a MOOC and online learning platform being non-profit, analysing the data of its users and currently has over 3 million users in over 300 courses online.

It seems as technology advances so too does the amount of choice we have in taking learning into our own hands. But returning to Charlotte’s talk, the combination of emotion and cognition is what is important in the future. The skills of perseverance, creativity and thinking are what will be needed in the future.

So how might this look?

Connectivism: it takes a village to raise a child

Like most people, my best learning and thinking occurs around, from and with others. So the visual note above shows that connecting with people and places is the most effective way to learn, and it is this model that is at the heart of the success of COETAIL. At the beginning of Course 1 I looked at connecting and reaching out to begin to build a network of support as well as encouragement and a point of contact to learn and bounce ideas from. I am eternally grateful to those early supporters, like Matt, Ann and Joe who found the time to connect with me and comment on my posts. And they are still with me, despite our difference in backgrounds and distances in locations. Jim Laney at Learning 2, Africa states, “there is no other continent that values personal connection and social responsibility more than Africa”. (The Right Time. The Right Place). Jim quotes that “it takes a village to raise a child” and to me COETAIL is like a village, consisting of the Elders, the wise ones, always there to guide and push us; the coaches, like the graduates in a family understanding our worries and directing us forward through their own experience; and us, the teenagers, ready to embark on our journey ahead. And as valued members of this COETAIL family, we are there for the new members, those staring out, ready to help them to connect and learn too. It is this “engaged learning” that Jim talks about that is the centre of the philosophies of COETAIL. I remember how difficult connecting was when I lived and worked in Ghana from 2008-10, and the isolation and technology difficulties meant we had to find alternative ways to learn together and move forward our thinking. Challenges force us to think differently, to find solutions and change can be rapid.

Photo Credit: Dietmar Temps via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Dietmar Temps via Compfight cc

Building a Tribe

There are so many incredible and inspirational educators out there, and through COETAIL and Learning 2 I have been privileged to learn and work alongside them. As I think back to where this all started and map my journey above, I realise that connections and emotion are inextricably linked. Without the will to meet and learn we would not connect. Without the drive and desire to change and develop we would not grow. My tribe started small and close to home, with the enviable names of educators I followed on Twitter starting that journey. As an early Twitterer, Jabiz encouraged me to expand my PLN so I duly followed many educators he followed. I learnt so much in the early days from Kim Cofino’s blog Always Learning, introduced to me by the Elementary librarian Tanja Galetti at LCS in Ghana. I am lucky now to work at UWCSEA with Keri-lee Beasley, Dave Caleb, Jeff Plaman and Paula Guinto, all who have helped me in this journey of development but it was Andrew McCarthy who first tapped into my talent as a mere Art teacher dabbling with technology in the classroom and helped me to where I am now. It took a while to believe I had something worth sharing.

Having a tribe of honest, helpful and caring people is crucial in developing trust and belief and it is with this in mind that I wonder how our youngsters can build their own tribes to support and guide them in their learning. How can we foster this in Middle School when they cannot join many social media sites until they are 13?

The Future is Now

Back in January 2012, Sir Ken Robinson talked about Leading a Learning Revolution. He said that:

“every education system is being reformed yet it is not enough. Reform is no use as it is simply improving a broken model. What we need is not an evolution but a revolution in education. This has to be transformed into something else.”

He also stated that people are reluctant to reform or transform as “it has always been done that way”. As I think about this further, I remember Jeff Utecht’s talk “The Future is Here” at Learning 2 Singapore last year:

Jeff told us that we are “in a world where Science fiction meets reality yet Education isn’t changing”. But is it? Are we teaching as we always did? We are bombarded with new ideas and initiatives often when there is barely enough time to teach the curriculum so how can we change for the better, for our students? Maybe we need to change our thinking and ask, as Charlotte did, “What Learning matters, now and in the future?” What walls are you faced with to get around? What is that wall and what is stopping you breaking through it?

Jeff Utecht "What's your Moonshot?" Learning 2 talk 2013 Singapore by Nicki Hambleton

Jeff Utecht “What’s your Moonshot?” Learning 2 talk 2013 Singapore by Nicki Hambleton

From thinking about this course, I ask myself, What am I going to do differently on Monday? The whole experience of COETAIL has led to thinking differently and changing what I do on Mondays, yet I want more and I want it for more students than just the ones I teach. I, like Jeff, am bothered that things aren’t changing and if they are, are they changing for the better, for our students in this unknown future?

Photo Credit: andrew and hobbes via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: andrew and hobbes via Compfight cc

For one, I would like to help my students to grow their PLNs whatever that looks like, to find their go-to people, their supporters, encouragers and guides. Working with online services like blogging and image sharing, I hope to assist them in giving and receiving valuable feedback that will take them forward and transform their learning both in and out of the classroom. But, as always this change in culture will take time, but I hope that, like me, they will see the benefit and beauty in connecting and supporting one another in order to grow and develop.

It is incredible how much changes in a short time. What changes will we see in education, what has changed in the time I have been teaching, or even just in the last 5 years? Sir Ken Robinson finishes his 2012 Learning without Frontiers talk by saying that we should be “customising and personalising education to our students” and in the context we are teaching. It is not about finding a new solution but in developing our own solutions.

What is the Future of Learning? Well, whatever it is, it is in our hands…