Monthly Archives: September 2012

Taking Action

Taking Action has been on my mind a lot lately…both in my personal and professional life.  Being in my first year of teaching inquiry through the PYP programme, it’s been a journey of figuring out what the different puzzle pieces are and how they fit together…and a piece I feel like has been missing (or at least not visible) in my classroom is this part of inquiry that involves taking action.  I think part of the reason I haven’t worked to make it more visible is because I wanted it to be authentic action, not just for the sake of it.  In my personal life I have been thinking for the past few years about what I truly feel passionate about and asking myself, “Then what am I doing about it?  How is it changing my life?”  

Recently I had a bit of a shift in my understanding of what Taking Action could look like after reading a blog by Richard Black found here and looking at a poster he developed for his classroom below.  I liked the idea that action might be more than just doing something- how he used the different types of verbs to show different aspects of action (great grammar lesson too!).  Not everything we learn translates into raising money for something or putting up posters, perhaps a more powerful action at times would be in changing how you think or feel about something which might not lead to a doing action for quite some time.  When I was 16 I went to Mexico and experienced the third-world slum life for the first time.  It changed the way I thought and felt and opened my eyes to a world where people lived very differently than I did….we did take some action and help for the week, but I think the more powerful action I took on was the change in my thinking and feeling…which has led to more action and ‘doing’ and changed my life significantly as I have grown older.  But it started there.  Too often I think I have looked at Taking Action in my classroom and felt like my students needed to be ‘doing’ something in order for it to ‘count’.  I haven’t taken the time to notice the other, often deeper, aspects of action found below.  Perhaps Taking Action is like an iceberg, where the Doing is the tiny bit you see on the surface, but there is a huge mass below that we need to remember and acknowledge as well….


From Richard Black’s post found here

This past week I visited the Year 6 exhibition at our school and had some great discussions with some of the students.  I asked one girl who had learned about people with disabilities what the big thing was that she would be taking with her from this project.  She said that she changed her thinking – she realized now that people with disabilities weren’t so different from her, that even though they might look or act different on the outside, that we are the same on the inside.  That when she saw someone who was disabled, she wouldn’t get scared and go away or ignore them, but she would walk up and have a conversation.  Another girl researched hunger and was filled with knowledge she was bursting to share.  When I asked her what she was taking with her from her project, she began to tell me how she had no idea that there were so many people without enough food and was so upset that we spend so much more money on weapons than on people.  She told me about the website Kiva where she had loaned $20 to help a family to save their business…both of the girls were Saying, one was Doing, but perhaps even more powerful was the Thinking, Feeling and Being that was so obvious and will most likely stay with them in the future…

I’m going to try setting up an Action Wall based on the poster and make our action more visible in this last term of the year…it is great to learn new things, but I feel like what you do with your learning is what determines its meaningfulness in your life.  


Categories: Education | 3 Comments

Chalk Talk…A Conversation on Paper

I love going on PD days…lots of new inspiration, thoughts to ponder and just a chance to grow and learn with others…but I especially loved my PD this last week with Ron Ritchhart about Creating a Culture of Thinking.  My colleagues laughed at the sheer length of my notes, but there was loads of good stuff to process/ponder later that I knew I might forget.  One of my favourite things I have taken away from that day was the Chalk Talk.  We were given the question, “What do we want the children we teach to be like as adults?” and in a perfectly silent room had some amazing conversations….on paper.  Everyone had a pen to make their voice heard and connect with the thoughts of others.  I have had students all write down thoughts at the same time on paper, but the way this was set up went beyond everyone having a voice to truly connecting, engaging, questioning and conversing with others.


Needless to say, the next day back at school I was curious and decided to try it out.  I teach the higher level maths group and we were about to begin our unit on time.  I put a large piece of paper and texters at each group and told the students that their job was to answer the questions, “What do you know about time?  How do we use time?”  They couldn’t talk verbally with one another, but had to use their pen to be their voice.  They needed to move around the table when not writing (this encourages them to read the thoughts of others plus keeps them more engaged) and could put their own thoughts down and make connections (with lines or ticks) to the thoughts of others.  But it had to be silent.  One hand instantly went up in the middle of explaining – “But what if we have a question about what they wrote – can we write questions?”  I was going to get to that, but I love that he got there before I did.

So the first part began with students writing away.  One group had a particularly hard time not speaking and I had to give several reminders to use the pen as their voice and point out/compliment groups who were doing particularly well at this – they got better with practice.  After about five minutes, I had the groups rotate to another group’s paper – here they were to read the different thoughts of others as they walked around that table and continue the conversation – add your own thoughts, questions, connections, etc.  We continued this until they had been to all four groups.

At the end they looked at their own conversations from their original paper and we talked about what they noticed from their conversations about time.  I literally had to force the pens out of their hands so we had time to discuss the conversations, which tells me that they were definitely engaged in their discussions!

Here were some of their thoughts:

“We have a lot of questions about where time came from like when it started and who thought of things….” Another student chimed in..“That’s the history – we want to know about the history of time!”

“I noticed that no one mentioned watches…I wonder why we didn’t talk about those anywhere.”

“Some people thought my thought about Ussein Bolt running didn’t have to do with time, but I think it does.  This is a way we use time to see how fast people can be.”

“I think we are a lot more worried about time now than people used to be a long time ago….they didn’t even used to have clocks.”

“Some of us had questions that other people knew the answer to…” (which led to the idea that I might not be the only person to teach them something about time in this unit)

From looking at it, I can know after one lesson that:

–          They see it as a way we organise our lives (lots of those thoughts on all papers)

–          My students are super curious about the history of time and how it has developed (which was not something I planned on originally covering at all, but something that would be great to spend some time inquiring into)  They want to know about who thought of putting 60 seconds to a minute and why that was chosen, for example.

–          They have different thoughts about why we use analogue and digital, but seem to value the analogue time and prefer that to the digital (which I would have never guessed)

–          They only have a few ideas about how we use time (could extend this area) and were curious about how our use of time has developed/changed – a few discovered through their conversations that we didn’t always have clocks and used to use the sun

–          A few of them are familiar with the 24 hour clock and that time can be written both ways digitally

–          They didn’t mention timetables at all in their conversations, so they probably don’t have a lot of experience with them (which is something we plan to look at a bit) – they didn’t have a lot of uses for time beyond cooking and getting to a place on time…


A one-session Chalk Talk has told me (and the students) so much about their prior knowledge and interests and managed to take our time unit in a different direction than what I had originally intended…which tells me it was successful because it helped them to engage in our new unit and discuss important ideas and is helping me to let them drive a bit more of their own learning (and make Maths more inquiry based which is something I need to develop further).  In the end, we’ve hung up our Chalk Talk conversations on the wall for them to continue to look at – I look forward to looking at them at the end of our unit to see how our thinking has developed!

Categories: Numeracy, Thinking | 1 Comment

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