Skype in the classroom

We skyped in the classroom without Skype in the Classroom. Although I signed up with Skype in the Classroom a while ago I still haven’t used it. Skype_classroom

So what do you do when year 6 is inquiring into energy during the unit How The World Works and hydro and wind energy specialists are not listed with Skype in the Classroom?

We rely on our friends. Friends in the energy business! My colleague’s friend works at a dam in Ontario. The students prepared questions questions and during the call we pre-assigned some students to ask a question. Our dam expert had seen some of the questions in advance and came prepared not only with answers but also with a demonstration. He showed us how to light a lightbulb with a powerdrill!

The students also had a lot of questions about wind and solar energy. I happen to have a friend in the Netherlands who researches the efficiency of windmills.

We planned it a little different this time. The students watched a short video on how windmills work and listed their questions on the class blog. The windmill expert had access to the blog and the students’ questions and during the skype session answered the questions in detail, using a model of a windmill. Students asked some further questions at the end of the session.


The students used the Cornell note taking graphic organiser to take notes.  (Use this link for the Cornell notes_HTWW organiser.)

Windmill notesThe questions about our own electricity sources here in Luanda were answered when a representative from the Angolan Ministry of Energy came to school. He presented with a Powerpoint and explained how our electricity is generated. He then answered some of the students’ questions that were mostly about the reasons why there are so many power cuts.

When evaluating the three sessions with the students and my colleagues we can only see positives. There needs to be a balance between speakers who come to school and speakers on Skype but ultimately it’s about finding the right source to answer the students’ questions.

After just reading this article by Lauren Bacon on the lack of women at math conferences I will be more careful when choosing speakers for our upcoming units.

If you have used Skype in the Classroom I would love to hear your experiences. If you work in the field of nuclear energy,  fuel cells or solar power and are a woman I would love to hear from you.

When things get bigger than planned

Image from:

During our unit Where We Are In Place and Time we use the humanitarian novel Marie in the Shadow of the Lion by Jerry Piasecki. This novel helps to understand one of the reasons people migrate and to see the perspective of conflict refugees.

Sometimes things get bigger than planned. As the reading went on and the interest level of the class (year 6) grew we started adding tasks to include other learning outcomes. If you follow this link you can see it starts with vocabulary, comprehension and inferencing questions. The students got so pulled into the story that the characters Marie and Joseph became part of most of the conversations. So we started adding learning engagements connected to our concepts, mathematics (measurement strand area and perimeter, compass points, coordinates), poetic devices (metaphors) and persuasive writing.


The last chapter in the book directly asks the readers what they are going to do to help and it gives them some options to take action. The class chose to take action by writing a letter to the UNHCR convincing them to allocate more money for Syrian refugees, especially children.

UNHCR Letter

The students were sad when the story was over and that there was no part two. They were also surprised that this book was not made into a film… and then somebody said “Yet”. That was it. A few students got together to write the script, auditions were held and props were gathered. The script was revised by different groups of students, typed up, rehearsed and filmed. To save time I did the editing of the film with input from the directors and screenwriters. The students thought putting our adaptation of Marie in the Shadow of the Lion on  Youtube would make sure lots of people would watch it. After looking at the views for a few days they decided that more needed to be done. So we booked the theatre for the premiere. We made a trailer and invited the other year 6 classes and the year 8 classes to watch the film.

We also emailed the author, Jerry Piasecki, and send him the link of the film.

The students were over the moon with his reply, which got framed and put on our action board:

“Thank you so very much for sharing the amazing work done by your students. Please tell them that they are now peacemakers and partners in peace. If you don’t mind, I will be sharing the movies with young people in Australia, Nepal, the U.S. and elsewhere. Yes, Marie and Joseph want everyone to know their stories. By spreading the word, your amazing students are helping to make their voices are being heard.

Always believe you can make a difference because if you do… . you can.

Peace always,

Jerry Piasecki”

We are doing the same unit again this year, we will read the novel, we will probably use some of the same learning engagements and this time we can also watch the film.

The world has changed though. There is not enough support for refugees. European countries are not doing enough to help refugees coming from Syria, Eritrea and Somalia. I wonder if my students are aware of this, if they have noticed this on the news if they are tuned in to the discussions at home. This unit was always authentic and relevant but now even more so.

Split Screen Teaching

One of the first things I tried after coming back from  Kath Murdoch‘s workshop was split screen teaching.  Split screen teaching is teaching the conceptual understanding and a learning objective at the same time. I usually write “What am I learning about?” on one side of the board and and “What am I learning to do?” on the other side. I think it helps students see that you need a skill in order to access or interact with the content.

Split screen teaching can be used in many ways but I have found it most useful for explicitly teaching the transdisciplary skills.

In this interview with Guy Claxton he talks about the idea of building learning power. I think that can translate to both the transdisciplinary skills (What am I learning to do?) and the attitudes. (What am I learning to be?)

I have been sharing the split screen teaching approach with colleagues through planning meetings, a workshop session and team teaching and it has been great to see the different ways it can be used.

In Year 6 I have been using the following approach; After introducing the “What am I learning about?” and introducing the skill “What am I learning to do?” the students unpack the skill and brainstorm the criteria needed to assess the skill. Students have used the criteria to create a personal self-assessment tool. They might not choose all the criteria but just the ones they want to focus on. They can do a pre-assessment or a self-assessment after the first session/day and write goals for the next time.

Codes of behaviour_collage




Below is an example from a colleague in Year 5 where they focused on time management. The second photo is from  a colleague in Year 3 working on non-verbal communication and observation.

Split screen_collage








In the movie below students in Year 3 are learning how images communicate information. The skills we are focusing on are non-verbal communication and observation.

I learnt more about split screen teaching from the following bloggers: Lindy BuckleyDavid Fawcett and Jane Nicholls.

I would love to hear how you have implemented or modified split screen teaching. Please leave a comment.



Inquiry Into Fractions

I admit, planning for maths is not my favourite part of the week but after reading some great blog posts I started feeling better about fraction planning. As often the case, I didn’t give myself a lot of time but thanks to Sonya Ter Borg and Bruce Ferrington and some discussion with my colleague Claudelle, we had our first part of the fractions journey planned.

In the first session the students (in homogenous groups) discussed and answered the following questions about fractions on a Y-chart.

Function: How do fractions work and what are they for?
Form: What are they like?
Connection: How is it connected to other things?

Two groups added percentages and decimals to their Y-chart.

I thought this would take about 25 minutes but I didn’t want to interrupt the discussions so I let it go on for 40 minutes. We came back to the circle to reflect on the process and the use of communication skills. Most students had discussed effectively and had used words, symbols and drawings to represent their ideas about the concepts.


In the next session I gave the students 10 minutes and a blank A4 to record everything they know about fractions. This was a more personal prior assessment that the students did individually using words, symbols and drawings. The students who already know the connections between fractions, decimal fractions and percentages wrote about that too. They had a few minutes to compare what they had written with a group member before I set the timer again. This time to record everything they wanted to learn about fractions. They used the other side of the sheet for this.

What they want to learn:

  • Why are there improper fractions if you can just simplify them?
  • How to add fractions.
  • I know that ½ is the same as 2/4 but I don’t know what other fractions are the same.
  • How can fractions be converted to percentages?
  • How can you multiply and divide fractions?
  • Can you multiply a fraction with another one if they do not have the same bottom number? (I forgot what this is called)
  • How can you turn fractions into decimals?
  • How do people use fractions in sports?
  • How to work out a fraction from a big number like 1/4 of 170.
  • Can you use a fraction or a decimal fraction in a percentage like 1/5 % or 3.75%
  • How to multiply and divide decimals like 0.5;5= or 0.6×3 =
  • I want to know what E means in the calculator when you divide a number.
  • I want to know strategies to multiply and divide fractions quicker.

After this very varied list we discussed, and recorded on the white board, how we can we find out. Suggestions included; ask a friend to explain it to you, find out online (Brainpop, Mathletics, Khan Academy), text books in the classroom, maths dictionary, ask a teacher or a parent and try to remember from last year. The list of resources did not include manipulatives so I made sure they were visible as the students started their inquiry.

Before they set off we discussed how this inquiry would work best. Instead of creating success criteria with the students (lack of time) I used a slightly adapted version of Sonya Ter Borg‘s success criteria and throughout the process we reflected on these.

The students found someone else who wanted to find out about the same, or a similar question and got to work. The students spent quite a few days finding out answers to their questions, they used all the resources on the suggested list and added more questions to their list as they found out there was a lot more to learn! During the process we developed a vocab board where students added maths vocabulary with examples and explanations. The board was used as a resource and reference point by different groups.

I shared the learning outcomes with the students and asked them to put their photo magnet next to a skill on the list if they felt that had achieved it. (Fraction, decimals and percentage skills). As a formative assessment students completed concept cards (adapted from Learning Links by Kath Murdoch and Jeni Wilson) to explain their new thinking. IMG_4211IMG_4212IMG_4210IMG_4213

Students were invited to present or teach their skill to the rest of the class or to another group of students. Some pairs taught groups of year 5 students after practicing on their peers and reflecting on the feedback.

We are in the process of creating stand alone unit plans for mathematics. This is the first one we have completed for year 6. You can download the complete PYP planner here: Y6 fractions, decimals, percentages planner

Student Agency

Coming back from Kath Murdoch’s workshop in Accra I have been inspired to up my game. The game of facilitating inquiry learning.
We focused quite a bit on the factors that contribute to a good context for inquiry.

  • Student voice and choice
  • Provoking curiosity
  • Relationships – “Without good relationships with the children there will not be any learning. Great teaching is about connecting with students. Relationships are the key to it.” Kath Murdoch
  • Agency – How are we learning what we are learning?

Back at school, reading through my notes, I decided I wanted to explore the last one first. The Merriam-Webster meaning of agency is: “The capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power.”

I decided to find out from my students what their capacity is, how they exert power when it comes to learning.

I printed the following questions on A3s and gave the students sticky notes for their answers. The students worked individually but also spent time reading responses from their peers. Agency_3Agency






What is a good learner?

Student responses:
A good learner never gives up, keeps asking questions and is enthusiastic to start learning new things.
A good learner follows or tries to follow the learner profile attributes.
A good learner is someone who is respectful to others, who likes what they are learning.
A good learner is responsible, organized and most of the learner profile attributes.
A good learner is caring and respectful to others.
A good learner is focused all the time.
A good learner is someone who knows what to do to expand their learning.
A good learner is a person who tries to improve themselves in every possible way.
Is a person who enjoys learning and want to listen to different perspectives.
A good learner is someone who listens to others and who enjoys learning.

• How does your focus change across the day?

Student responses:
It depends on the task.
It changes when I’m near distractions.
I can focus across the day by keeping on task and not messing around and fidgeting.
It changes when a friend says something at lunch time and it makes you sad.
It changes every time we change an activity.
My focus changes after the breaks.
My focus gets worse as the day goes on because I get tired.
My focus is very good in the morning but goes out of focus later in the day.
After break I’m really focused, after lunch not so much.


• How do you impact other people’s learning?

Student responses:
By helping them understand something.
By helping them but sometimes I talk too much and don’t concentrate.
By not disturbing them when they are learning.
By sharing their knowledge with them.
By helping them and sharing my ideas.
By trying to support them in they way that I can.
By not talking with them or playing with them I help them learn.
By encouraging them and by giving extra help when needed.
By not distracting them.


In what kind of tasks are you most engaged?

Student responses:
Mostly in maths because I really enjoy it.
Any tasks that involve reading and writing.
Any tasks that involves body language and moving.
Fun task are the best kind of tasks for me because I like to have fun.
Task that require moving a lot.
In tasks like working on the exhibition.
When we can work in groups.


What role do you tend to play when working in a collaborative group?

Student responses:
I sometimes lead and sometimes follow I listen to the leader and if I am the leader I give tasks to people based on their strengths.
I sometimes yield to let someone else lead I also don’t mind being a follower because it’s fun to see what other people think.
I usually am the leader in a group.
My role is mostly the follower because I am shy.
I am usually the follower but sometimes I have a different perspective than the leader and I share that.
Listening and putting everyone’s ideas together.

How can you take more risks as a learner today?

Student responses:
Not sit with my friends.
Sit next to someone you can learn from.
By doing challenging tasks.
Encourage myself by trying my best.
Believe in myself.
Pushing the negative energy that’s holding me back and say what I think is right.

How can you make sure you are stretched and challenged in your thinking today?

Studenew doc_2nt responses:
Staying focused.
Trying new things that challenge you.
Be a risk taker and push yourself.
Try to be a risk taker.
Trying something I haven’t done before.
By using different ways of communicating..
By thinking deeper to try to find answers

Afterwards we came back to the circle and discussed the process and the content. We talked about what hinders their learning and how to deal with these obstacles. The students are very good at solving these challenges during circle time but reflected that it is very hard to apply them in the real world. They feel that doing this exercise will help them to be better learners because “It reminded us of how we can be better learners” and “you become more mindful of what you are going to do”.

Interesting blogs on student agency and inquiry:
Kath Murdoch’s blog, Ed Talk by Mark Herring on the aspects of student agency and how to develop it, a blog post by Nick Rate “When you look at these characteristics of learning there are a number of elements that I believe are the foundations of effective learning and teaching.”

Who Is Looking At You?

Do we still have privacy?

If you understand privacy to mean being free from being observed or disturbed by other people, I don’t think we have have had complete privacy for a long time. We have all thought about our digital footprint and our digital shadow. We can make smart choices about what we post online and how we manage our privacy settings (digital footprint). Unfortunately, you never know who is looking and how hard they’re trying. I think Ghostery can help to improve your protection (I have just learnt that from Katy’s blog post). However,  I’m sure the people in this video didn’t know their bank accounts were so accessible to others. Whether this information is available legally or illegally, it is still available.

This article from BBC News highlights the privacy issues regarding Google Glass. It raises the issue of whether people need to know when they are being recorded. That is an important question but I don’t think people know that now, whether they are being recorded by CCTV cameras or by others around them with camera phones. Of course Glass will bring this to a whole new level. With instant face recognition and GPS connection anyone can find out who is where at any one time. I’m sure similar discussions took place when the first CCTV cameras were installed in the 70s and we just got used to it and leant to live with it.

The students in my Year 6 class are very aware of the dangers of the internet and they tell me they would never disclose any personal information like their real name, where they live, where they go etc. (“Duh, Ms Faber!”) On the other hand, they do share their log in pass words with their classmates. To be honest I have not discouraged them from doing this for practical reasons. Collaborative projects can only be accessed by all students if they use the same log in so it is quite handy to know each other’s passwords.

Some of us live in countries where all emails, text messages and internet activity are being monitored. Does this worry you? Is it in the back of your mind when you write an email to a friend or sign an online petition?

The Sharing Debate

Image: Own

I have a limited understanding of copywright laws and how they work internationally. As Lawrence Lessig says in his Ted Talk Laws That Choke Creativity, kids (and adults) are knowingly breaking ‘the law’. A lot of them probably feel that they have no choice. In a lot of places in the world it is the only way to get music, images, dance moves, software, films and TV series. If your credit card is registered in certain countries you are not even able to sign up for Amazon or iTunes so paying for legal material is not an option.  The countries I have lived in in the last 6 years haven’t signed the ‘Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works’ or the ‘Buenos Aires Convention’. Does this mean we still have to abide by foreign laws, or does it come down to our own moral standards?

I introduced Creative Commons to my students a while ago but with limited success. When I try to model it, I also struggle to find the images my students need and definitely not as fast as searching on Google images. It always comes down to speed and convenience in the end. Often I can help them out with my own photos because I tend to take photos of issues when I travel (water pollution, deforestation, endangered animals etc.).

This week I made a small contribution to the online community. I set up a second Flickr account for these kind of images, I chose the CC license so that everybody is free to use them. Actually, I wanted no license at all as it makes absolutely no difference to me if a person somewhere in the world credits my name or not when they use my photo in a slide show. My Flickr name is ‘Mags’ pics for everyone’ and I will keep adding and tagging.

It’s interesting to see so many perspectives on ‘sharing’ intellectual property. I read on BBC News this week that over 30 patents have been awarded to medical companies and universities for human genes. At the opposite end of the spectrum there is all kinds of open source software and Massimo Banzi (amongst other like-minded people) from Arduino, who blew me away with the range of creative product designs and ideas that are shared for free. For more about sharing check out the TED Open source playlist.

Some of my favourites in Banzi’s talk are a device that gives your plant a voice on Twitter to ask for more water – Botanicalls or Matt Richardsson’s device called Enough Already that mutes your TV when it starts talking about an over exposed or annoying person.

Digital Footprint

Own Flickr Mags’ pics for everyone

Should you have a digital footprint as an international educator?

This is a very interesting question and I have enjoyed all the discussions I’ve had with people about this. My first reaction to the question is “of course we should” but once I started getting further some research, the reasons why some people would argue “of course not” become understandable.

In his article “Digitally Speaking/ Positive Digital Footprints” Will Ferriter makes several references to quotes by Will Richardson that are difficult to disagree with. In essence these are that as an international educator it is better to have a digital footprint than not at all. Richardson argues that scare tactics aimed at minimizing the digital footprints of students “prevent students from seeing digital footprints as potential tools for learning, finding like-minded peers, and building reputations as thoughtful contributors to meaningful digital conversations” Surely these are things that international educators in our increasingly connected world should also avoid closing themselves off from.

In almost all international school curricula you are expected to teach and therefore model digital literacy, but we also all probably have worked with colleagues who are not digitally literate and have no digital footprint. This means some school directors still belong to the 8% of employers who do not use social networking sites to do background checks, or who are of the opinion that no news means good news. A quick chat with our two principals revealed a 50:50 split: one of them does use social networking for applicants and one of them doesn’t. While this is hardly a sample that can be used to support an argument it does hint at a widening gap in approaches and the knock-on effect for curriculum delivery. How damaging is it to your career if a potential employer sees a dubious photo of you on Facebook? Would it be more damaging if they thought that you didn’t have the technological skills to know how to organize your privacy settings?

A positive presence online can help in many ways: e-folios, class blogs, professional blogs, Twitter contributions and Linkedin recommendations say so much more about you than a letter of interest and a two-page CV can possibly do.

In the primary school we teach students netiquette and are really just making them aware of the wider audience and how to make positive contributions to it. We need to make sure that we model that as teachers. In secondary school, students should be made aware of how to actively use this to promote themselves for college applications and future jobs.

I wasn’t surprised to learn from Kim Komando in “Your Online Reputation Can Hurt Your Job Search” that it is possible to pay professionals to improve your online reputation.

You can also get a company to erase your digital persona after you die. But why get rid of your legacy? Everything in the real world doesn’t get erased immediately after you die either. You could include in your will that your digital persona gets erased and someone suggested students should write that will at school. But how could we possibly write a will now that will include all the things we sign up for that haven’t even been invented yet?

Preparing for Adolescence – Course 1 Final Project

It has been really valuable to look at my fellow COETAILers’ final projects. It has delayed, but hopefully also improved my own lesson. My final project for course 1 is a unit about adolescence, although not all the learning engagements between the understanding phase and the creation phase are described in the plan. The lessons I have planned for our next unit can not be done without technology, this was my goal but it also means I need to have a plan B in case technology fails us.

I will start the unit in the first week of May but puberty it is already a hot topic with the girls in my class, so a question wall may have to start during our current unit. As stated in the plan all the resources are provided by the teachers. A lot of videos will be part of the home learning programme and watched with parental guidance. This will give the parents an opportunity to interpret the topic with their child, I think this is the best solution in a multi-cultural classroom.

I am hoping to collaborate with two Year 6 classes in the UK that the students have been in touch with via our class blogs. Instead of sharing and commenting on each other’s final products I am hoping to start the collaboration earlier on in the unit.

I am looking forward to ideas on how to improve my plan.

Course 1 Final Project

Not ‘Really’ Teaching?

A learning environment in a modern school without technology is now unthinkable. I have been reflecting on my role in this also through discussion with the trainee teacher who is currently doing her practicum in my classroom. She is teaching some of the lessons, we team-teach some lessons and she observes some of mine. The right lesson for her to observe and for her to be observed in caused for some interesting discussion.

As the class is currently in the research phase of the PYP exhibition, (A student led inquiry into a chosen topic) the students are researching, interviewing, taking surveys, collating and interpreting data, reflecting on their findings, posing new questions etc. The students work in groups and are all at different stages of the process.

This raised the question; as I wasn’t ‘really teaching a lesson’ is this a good time to observe the teaching?  No, I haven’t delivered many teacher led ‘lessons’ recently. But yes, I am definitely teaching. I am guiding, conferencing, helping to figure out technology, explaining, questioning, giving feedback etc. The fact that it is student driven, on a needs basis and happening in small groups or individual students, makes it hard to observe, but also more realistic and relevant than a class session. This way of learning is only possible because of technology. If the students all had the same text to read, the same video to watch, the same tools to use, class sessions would be effective but not in the current landscape.

The tools the students are using range from iPhones, Galaxies, iPads, their own laptops, iPod Touches and a few other tablets alongside the school’s MacBooks and desktops. The Internet connection has been terribly slow and there are problems with printing from personal devices but the students find ways around that very quickly. Learning the skills to use these tools effectively, happens through collaboration and trail and error and only sometimes do they need my input.

Dragon Dictation (as mentioned in a previous post) has been a success with some of the students, although not with the reluctant writers I mainly had in mind when introducing it. The Caribbean accent was hard for Dragon to interpret at first but as the app promises, it gets used to your accent. It was interesting to see how it helped the students reflect on their spoken language. They started speaking more eloquently after having to edit out multiple likes and uhms.