Friday, June 4, 2010

Taking the need for content knowledge into account in professional development for PYP teachers

Here is another excerpt from my FAST TRAIN Final Reflections document, this one dealing with a specific aspect of professional development for teachers.

Early in my class work in the FAST TRAIN courses, I was introduced to various pieces of research, such as the work of Lee Shulman cited by Anita Woolfolk, that point out that possession of “deep and interconnected” content knowledge is vital in the making of a successful teacher (Woolfolk, 2008, p. 7). My personal experiences in my teaching internship served to greatly buttress what those researchers have found. For example, in my work on a Grade 2 “Solar System” unit, knowledge gained from a recently completed online undergraduate course in astronomy (which I took to fulfill a science deficiency for my teaching certification) allowed me to serve as the classroom “expert” on much of the unit’s subject matter, and to craft and deliver three very important lessons introducing the sometimes confusing concepts of motion, gravity, and orbits. I am convinced that without the background given by my course work, I would not have been able to impart the understanding that the Grade 2 students needed.

This leads me to make another potentially controversial assertion. Professional development for teachers in a PYP school should not chiefly consist of PYP-oriented training. A significant portion of professional development should be in course work directly related to the unit topics that the teacher is covering in the PYP units that their classes are engaged in. While some institutions may in fact have a more balanced PD approach, those that I have observed are weighted at least 90% in the direction of purely PYP training for their teachers (e.g., Making the PYP Happen, International mindedness in the PYP, etc.). It’s not that there is anything wrong with PYP-oriented training itself; I just see the heavy focus on it as being out-of-balance. In my observations over the last two years, I have seen many examples of units being taught by teachers with only a cursory knowledge of the unit’s subject matter, with the obvious result being that student learning, as evidenced by formative and summative assessment work, was fairly shallow.

Reference List
  • Woolfolk, Anita (2008). Educational Psychology. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Seeking a proper role and balance for components of the PYP approach to learning

The following is an excerpt from a Final Reflections document that I recently submitted to the FAST TRAIN program after having finished all requirements leading toward my receiving elementary and secondary teaching certification (from the state of Virginia). If you can make it past the first two paragraphs where I restate some blatantly obvious and widely agreed-upon ideas, you'll get to the parts that may be a bit controversial.

My two years of summer academic studies at George Mason University’s Fairfax campus, combined with my field experience and teaching internship at the International School of Tianjin, have buttressed my previously developed educational philosophy in unpredicted ways. In my many past years of experience in the business world, I have seen organizations fail or succeed based upon the degree to which they clearly articulated their mission and objectives and on how well they directed their efforts at accomplishing those objectives. This experience no doubt led to one of my earliest stated educational philosophies: that an educational institution needs a clearly articulated curriculum (with clearly stated goals of knowledge content and skills that are to be acquired by students at every stage), and that the actions that the teachers in the institution undertake must be directed at the successful fulfillment of this curriculum.

Since my business experience was largely within the information technology industry, I also came into the educational field with a predisposition that acquisition and utilization of educational technologies should always be done in the direct service of the curriculum. Curriculum should drive technology, not the other way around.

While these ideas are hardly controversial, my field work in a PYP elementary school has led me into a few ideas that might not be so universally accepted. Taken as a rather confusing whole, the ideas put forth in IBO publications such as Making the PYP Happen can be difficult for educators to immediately digest and put into action. To help allay this confusion, it is useful for me to think of all of the PYP concepts promoted by the IBO as constituting a technology, and like any other technology, the PYP should be singularly employed in service of a school’s clearly-articulated curriculum. But if we say that a school’s explicitly-stated curricular goals should drive its implementation of the PYP, how do we effectively bridge one to the other? In other words, how can we “map” curricular goals to PYP goals?

In my opinion, the most tangible aspects of the PYP approach to learning are stated in the various Scope and Sequence documents (IBO, 2008, 2009), and most vitally in the PYP Transdisciplinary Skills (IBO, 2007). In fact, I think that the PYP Transdisciplinary Skills (e.g., comprehension, cooperating, reading, writing, synthesizing information, time management, etc.) together constitute the most universally uncontroversial and immediately accessible part of the entire PYP world. The average forward-thinking corporate CEO can look at that list of skills and say unequivocally to an educator “Yes, these are the skills that our future workforce (i.e., your present students) need to be equipped with in order to effectively navigate the 21st century.”

I have come to believe that the PYP Transdisciplinary Skills and the IBO’s Scope and Sequence documents provide a tangible bridge between a school’s clearly-stated curriculum and some of the more obscure recommendations and imperatives of the PYP. They provide the means by which an institution’s curriculum can effectively and with minimal confusion be tied to its employment of PYP “technology”.

This all leads me to take a potentially controversial stand: The IBO seems to push the Learner Profile to a position of highest prominence in the PYP firmament. In my opinion, this is done to an over-weighted extent which potentially obscures and dilutes a much more vital focus that should be given to the PYP Transdisciplinary Skills. I have seen more than one institution in which the attributes of the Learner Profile adorn many of the walls. I for one would appreciate seeing the various PYP Transdisciplinary Skills just as prominently displayed and focused upon in each school’s daily unit and non-unit activities, with students at every level being assisted in setting and tracking their own goals for skill development. The Learner Profile certainly has its place, but it should be a properly balanced one.

Reference List
  • International Baccalaureate Organization (2007). Making the PYP happen: A curriculum framework for international primary education. United Kingdom: IBO.
  • International Baccalaureate Organization (2008). Science Scope and Sequence. United Kingdom: IBO.
  • International Baccalaureate Organization (2008). Social Studies Scope and Sequence. United Kingdom: IBO.
  • International Baccalaureate Organization (2009). Mathematics Scope and Sequence. United Kingdom: IBO.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Rubik's Cube Cookbook

It has been some time since my last blog post; I've been spending the past few months deeply ensconced in the student teaching engagements that make up the very last part of the work that I have to do in order to earn my elementary and secondary teaching credentials from the State of Virginia through the FAST TRAIN program.

But in the midst of all the lesson planning and delivery, I took some time out to write up a 30-page manual on how to solve a Rubik's cube. My wife, Lora, and I have been sponsoring a weekly after school activity entitled, "Math Games, Puzzles, and Fun" (for students Grades 2 through 4), and we promised the students that we would do a special focus on the Rubik's Cube. Not finding a clear, concise, and age-appropriate set of Rubik's Cube instructions on the Internet, I undertook to write my own after teaching myself how to solve the Cube by watching some very good YouTube videos (which are blocked here in China).

So, here is the fruit of my labors:

The Rubik's Cube Cookbook, version 1.0

It may still not be age-appropriate for the youngest kids that we were teaching (second graders), but it did serve as a useful guide to me as I talked some of them through the various algorithms for solving the Cube. It was slow-going for a few weeks, but two of the second-graders I was working with finally completed solving the Cube last Tuesday (April 27).

If the "Cookbook" might be of use to you, please feel free to download it for yourself or your students!!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Follow-up to "My First Take on Ubuntu"

As I was sitting in a Starbucks in Tianjin this morning doing some quick research on the "Schools Interoperability Framework" (my background in the data integration world makes me naturally curious about such things), I also ran across two recent well-written blog postings regarding the possibilities for widespread adoption of Ubuntu, one decidedly pro (by Christopher Dawson) and one unwaveringly con (by Jason Hiner).

While it is unwise, particularly in the realm of competing computer technologies, to say that a particular technology will never succeed, at this point in the game both my personal experiences with Ubuntu and the hard stats presented in the graph in Jason Hiner's posting indicate to me that the broad introduction of Ubuntu into a primary/secondary school environment is not currently a good idea (although I always want to regularly keep my finger on the pulse of alternatives to both Windows and Mac operating systems). It remains unfortunately true that FREEWARE ISN'T FREE -- the total cost of ownership is more than just the dollars and cents entailed in license fees.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Action research into metacognition development

As we are "reporting" on our Professional Portfolio website, my wife, Lora, and I have been doing some interesting work with her Grade 2 students in developing their reading skills (or more importantly, their ability to oversee the development of their own reading skills).

As we say on our site:
In working with the Grade 2 students at the International School of Tianjin, we have discovered a straightforward yet quite effective use of Flip camera technology in the classroom for development of metacognition skills in the language arts program.

Check out the full descriptive text and the accompanying documentary videos (showing of few of Lora's students in action) on our website.