Sunday, 6 April 2014

Managing Frustration

Posted by Lindsay

This week the students in division one and two headed to the Think Tank with the overarching goal of 'Managing Frustration'. The students were asked to engage the Habits of Mind: Preserve and Think Independently, however, the students soon discovered that there are several Habits of Mind that can be tapped into when one is frustrated.

We began this session with our opening circle where we asked students questions such as 'Have you ever been frustrated before?',  'What do you do when you are frustrated?', 'Why is it important to manage frustration?' Many of the students responses centred around being frustrated by younger siblings and parents. After deeper questioning, the students described activities and situations that brought out frustrations in them. It was encouraging to hear that the students had some very good strategies in place to deal with their frustrations. The students in both division one and two have been working through the 'Mind-Up' curriculum throughout the course of the year. Many of their responses to dealing with frustration were examples of mindful behaviour.

Who's been frustrated?

Before exploring the inquiry beans, the students were asked to notice when they began to feel frustrated with their task and or with their learning partner. As with other Think Tank sessions, students were also asked to notice what Habits of Mind they were using. It also important to understand that some students might not feel frustrated with their task or their partner…and that is a good thing!

Once engaged in the bins, some students did experience frustration.

The 'Tower of Hanoi…renamed by this students as the 'Tower of Annoy'

3D Tic Tac Toe can also be frustrating

The students were asked to reflect upon their Think Tank session by responding to the following writing prompt.

This was also an opportunity for frustration to set in. Students were once again using Habits of Mind such as 'Preserve' to complete this task. Luckily, we have found that scaffolding the students reflection writing has helped limit frustration in this area. We have found that adaptations in the students' reflective writing component has led to success for all learners.

Managing frustration during reflective writing

Students' reflective writing represented a strong ability to manage frustration. The examples that the students used to draw upon for their connections were real and personal to them. Furthermore, the strategies that they are using to manage their frustrations demonstrated a strong understanding of mindful behaviour!

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Integrating Habits of Mind Instruction and Reflection With Project-Based Learning

It has been over a month since we've posted a reflection here on our little Think Tank blog! Both Lindsay and I had our classes engaged in big term projects so took a little hiatus from taking the kids into the Think Tank. That doesn't mean we weren't still engaged in action research into students' Habit of Mind growth. I decided to include a focus on the Habits of Mind right in the Grade 5 physical science unit: Forces and Machines.

I decided to integrate the Habits of Mind into the science for two reasons. The first reason was the obvious - I want my kids to develop and become aware of  these thinking dispositions that set them up for success. I was also thinking about how the "Core Competencies" in the new BC Curriculum could be explicitly taught within the content. I am very very curious and excited about Competencies being included as part of our curriculum, because research shows - as well as our own intuition and experience - EQ (emotional intelligence) is a far greater indicator of success than just IQ (as Daniel Goleman shared with us many years ago in his book Emotional Intelligence (1995). With what we know about changing the brain, we know that emotional comptencies can, and should, be taught. The question in the school setting is "how". I maintain that using Habits of Mind as a focus, it is possible to teach emotional capacities.

The curriculum includes the competencies of: thinking, communicating and personal and social. Here is an example of how the Habit of Mind ""Understand Others" encompasses the competencies. Understanding others requires a person to, among other things: listen actively to others, care about others thoughts and feelings and put themselves in another's shoes. Having the capability of understanding others means you are demonstrating the core competencies of: Communicating (talking and listening) and Personal and Social (awareness of self, awareness of self with others, empathy, empathy accuracy). Teaching the kids the language of the Habits of Mind gives them tools to understanding themselves pesonally but also understand themselves in relationships. to include it in the curriculum?

First of all, direct instruction in each Habit of Mind is essential. After being introduced to the Habit of Mind, and accessing all prior knowledge and awareness of it, one must notice it in action. The Think Tank was our initial platform for students to start paying attention to when they were demonstrating or developing a Habit of Mind, but we quickly integrated it into the entire day. Once the Habit of Mind has been noticed, it is important to reflect and share to solidify the understanding of one's possession of it.

How did I get the kids to notice their Habit of Mind development and demonstration within the Forces and Machines Unit? Well here is the "Big Task" I gave the kids as we launched the unit:

The unit took 7 weeks in total, with a large portion of our day being spent on it. The kids were pretty jazzed up with the task, and after we watched several "Rube Goldberg" machines on the internet, their curiosity was piqued. We decided we needed to conduct an inquiry into forces and machines before we could even attempt the task. I used Science Probe as a resource, using the experiments and investigations as a means of learning and understanding the "big ideas" of the unit. Not only did we delve into the science concepts, we had the opportunity to learn to research, through discovery, experiment as well as secondary source (ie texts and video etc).
Here's a picture of one investigation on force:
As you can see the unit was very hands on (as we expect in the physical sciences!) 
It isn't all crazy-chaos in my class, by the way! We mix it up: 

Here we are later in the unit writing our essays on the Habits of Mind that were in use during the unit. 
See those orange cards? The orange cards were our "self awareness data sheets". Periodically in the unit, I asked the kids to jot down what habit of mind they noticed themselves (or another) using. They used that data as evidence in their writing (I will share some essay excerpts below, but here is a sample of the kids' data collection of Habit of Mind use during this unit (I also asked them to notice when they were being creative or engaged in problem solving).

We also continued with instruction and group discussions on the Habits of Mind....

Building Time! 
What fun we had! I set up a store (of course) and the kids got $200.00 to buy their supplies (we had been collecting "Stuff" for several weeks, plus i made a very special visit to Value Village for interesting things the kids could use creatively to build a machine). 
There was a lotta math going on! I think next time I do this, I will put an even greater focus on the math. It was amazing to see the little financial world that developed when the students were planning and shopping. We had an auction and lots of the kids traded and sold things they realized they didn't need. Here are a couple of pics of the work (we spent 5 entire days making the machines...except for breaks for gym, DPA and independent reading). It was a machine-construction zone! The night janitor couldn't actually clean up and in then end we had to move the machines to the room where our Think Tank is (don't know what will happen next year when that room will be the Coastal Kindergarten room!!?) 

As you can imagine, there was a lot of learning going on! The problems that arose were great opportunities to coach and reinforce the science concepts, in addition to all of the creativity, communication, group work, etc. We had a LOT of fun, even a midst the chaos (or perhaps because of it).

To assess the kids' understanding of forces and machines, I videotaped each of them explaining their machine. I also videotaped them explaining how they had to be creative and when they had to problem solve. My intent was to share it all with parents, but I had (and am still) having difficulties uploading it all etc etc (should I call it 21st Century pains?!) Nonetheless, the interviews provided excellent assessment evidence. I gave them instant feedback after the interview and we talked about how they met the criteria. I gave them a little assessment sheet at the end for 'paper documentation', using: NOT YET, ALMOST and GOT IT as a scale. 

Here are a couple of machines doing their tasks (you must know, there were often SEVERAL tries to get them to work, but in the end all the teams except one had their machine working at least once! )

After the machines were done, and I had done the interviews and recorded the machines doing their job, it was time to work on the presentations (Task #2). I was, as usual, impressed with the level of engagement and the ownership everyone took in the task. (I recorded those too). The best part of the presentations, for me, was the peer feedback. I got the kids to assess each others' presentations. Give the kids in my class a clipboard and they become little professionals (in this case, professional evaluators for the Intergalactic Youth Network).

We then shared our machines with the community! We invited the kids from the school as well as parents and community members. Here they are sharing and explaining their work: 

And FINALLY, we got to the task of the "big essay" on what Habits of Mind are necessary for working on a project with a team. Because the writing was scaffolded to such a degree, every single student was successful! They had to support their assertions with evidence from the process of the unit. Here are a few snippets of what the kids wrote in their essays (for some reason I can't upload anymore pictures right now, so I am typing from the students' essays):

""Being adventurous and open-minded is important for working on a project because if you aren't adventurous and open-minded and your first idea doesn't work, you won't be open-minded to try a new idea so you will become stuck. In my project I had to be adventurous and open-minded when had to scrap my first idea I was being open-minded. Then I had to scrap my second idea I was also being open minded then. This reminds me of the first time I tried mussels I was being adventurous." 

"Thinking independently is important for working on a project with a team because you would have to think independently to come up with an example like when me and (my partner) were out of ideas so we had to think independently. In my project I had to think independently because our machine was falling apart and we had to think of something else. This reminds me of the time I had to think independently when I was reading a mystery in a book."

"Persevering is important for working on a project with a team because at times things can get complicated and frustrating sometimes. I can't think properly when I'm frustrated so I do my best to keep going which stops me from getting cranky! In my project I persevered when I was trying to make the measurements accurate and nothing worked. This reminds me of a time when I was learning how to work the DVD player and I would scream at myself and my dad would say "persevere."

"Understanding others is important for working on a project with a team because you have to UNDERSTAND your partner(s) when they say something or everyone would just do random things and that would not work because no one would get anything done. In my project I had to help my partners understand the plans for the machines. This reminds me of when we were making paper structures (last year) for our structures unit and I had to understand my partner's plan for making our building." 

So there you go! The students demonstrated their personal and social, thinking and communicating competencies in this unit on Forces and Machines. The fun projects and solid content provided the platform for students to learn about and become aware of themselves as learners and collaborators. The sense of satisfaction of completing the machines and all of the challenging tasks also required of them, left the kids (and me) very happy!

Next week: Lindsay will post on the adventure of a new project: becoming entrepreneurs! 


Monday, 10 February 2014


Session Eleven: Communicate Clearly 

Post by Joy 

Speech is the mirror of the soul; as a man speaks, so he is. – Publilius Syrus

          As an educator, I give Communicating Clearly very high status as an instructional focus. In this new communication age, how we communicate is changing, and I believe we are risk of losing our ability to communicate and connect because of the gizmo-superfast, techy world we are now living in. Are we reducing our expression to 140 characters or less?  Communication helps us build relationships, work collaboratively, express our needs and desires, and (in the school setting) demonstrate our learning. In school, regardless of the medium, students are expected to communicate what they know and what they have learned. As we embrace “21st Century Learning”, educators are providing, and experimenting with, more tools and options to communicate learning. Yes, this is great, but whatever the medium, we still need to be able to communicate with each other.

          I question whether our communication skills are improving in this age of communication. Technology gives us the ability to communicate with anyone, anywhere, anytime, but with it comes the risk of losing our ability to connect. Blythe (2010) suggested that this information age is changing us. She said: “The irony of this communication age is that we communicate less meaningfully”. Jaron Lanier, in his very provocative book you are not a gadget suggested that in this era of freedom on the World Wide Web, communication is being experienced as a superhuman phenomenon, separate from individuals. He said: “a new generation has come of age with a reduced expectation of what a person can be, and of who each person might become” (p. 4., 2010). YIKES! After reading Lanier’s book, which made me question why I am so enamored with technology (and at the same time develop a fear of what he coined the “hive mind”), I decided to double my efforts to help my students develop communication skills that will enable them to see themselves and envision who they might become!

BUT I DIGRESS…This blog is about our Think Tank project….
Here we are, learning to be adventurous!

 When we set out on this project, of developing children’s’ Habits of Mind through inquiry, I wouldn't have predicted our focus of teaching would be where it is right now….on writing!  Our focus this week, in the lab and in our writing lessons, has been on communicating clearly. We have employed the use of: modeling, setting criteria together, pulling out examples of meeting criteria, finding exemplars in our writing to enable to kids to express and communicate their understandings of their development of the Habits of Mind we focus on each week. We are expected our students to be able to notice, and articulate, their usage of these Habits of Mind, and without having given it much thought, our default method of collecting this data, has been through writing. Therefore, writing to learn and reflection writing has become our instructional focus this term, both in and out of the Think Tank lab.

 Here we have examples, that the students pulled out themselves, of meeting the criteria in three of the areas for we created for reflection-writing:

Interestingly (or should I say, obviously!!) “Communicate Clearly” is a Habit of Mind! When I brought my class to the Think Tank this week, we created criteria around what we believe Communicating Clearly means. I could not help but notice (and be very pleased and proud) that the students have a well-developed understanding of what it means to communicate clearly. We are used to working in partners and groups, and the students have personal “Partner Talk Goals” they are working towards, so it was not really a stretch to frame it within the concept of communication.

While they worked on their projects, I asked the kids to notice when their partner was demonstrating Communicating Clearly. Because we had criteria to work off of, each student was easily able to identify a moment or time in which their partner met that criteria. Instead of reflecting themselves, I asked the students to seek feedback from their partner about their abilities and demonstrations of Communicating Clearly. The students then used that feedback as evidence in their written reflections. They referred to our class-generated list of exemplars for each piece of criteria for reflection writing. 

I believe our students reflections show both development in their writing skills as well as a developing understanding of their Habit of Mind development. Here are a few examples:

 Where are we going from here? We will keep on moving forward with our reflection writing. I am not going to take my kids into the Think Tank lab for the next couple of weeks, because we will be engaged in our Compound Machines Development project. The kids will be noticing and reflecting on their Habits of Mind use as they work with a small group to create a Compound Machine, create a presentation to “sell” their machine and write a document that argues how their demonstration of their Habits of Mind make them suitable for membership in the “Intergalactic Youth Network” (a group of youth from around the galaxy working together to solve problems and create solutions for the 21st Century) !! A lot of work…and what FUN we are going to have!!

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Session Ten: OK. Why?

Posted by Lindsay

Part 2 of 2: OK. Why?

After spending some quality time building criteria for reflective writing, the students were ready to hit the Think Tank again. This session was guided by the statement/question: 'OK. Why' and focussed on the Habit of Mind: Supporting Ideas with Reasons Why. This lesson was the perfect tie-in to the previous lesson where the students had fittingly generated a portion of criteria called: 'Supports Ideas With Reasons Why'.

Our opening circle was guided by the question; why? Anyone who has raised a toddler, has a toddler or knows a toddler knows how they are experts at asking the question 'why'.  They can be very persistent in asking this question until they are satisfied with the answer. I challenged the students to be that 'insisting toddler' and ask the question 'why' to their partner as they worked on their inquiry project.
Once students began working with the bins, I noticed a lot of questioning going on. Hopefully, this will transfer to their reflective writing.

These students conquered the 'Impossible Spiral'

3-D Tic-Tac-Toe…trickier than it looks!

Working together on 'Stop-Motion Animation'
 After each class worked separately on the inquiry bins, we met back in the 'Think Tank' for our Reflection Session and writing. We kicked things off with a little 'mindful breathing'.

Yes, meditation with 50 nine and ten year olds can happen on a Friday afternoon!
Then, it was time to write! During the writing process, many students referenced the two criteria charts that were created the previous day. All students appeared engaged and successful in the writing process.

Some students benefited from scribing from an adult to get ideas on paper. Others still required guiding and prompting however, this seems to be decreasing. We were very impressed at the content of what the reflective writing. Our next step will be to have the students evaluate their own writing and provide the 'proof' in their writing. 

Friday, 31 January 2014

Session Nine: Setting Criteria

Posted by Lindsay

Part 1 of 2
Part 1: Building Criteria

Part 1: After mulling over the students' reflections over the past months, Joy and I were beginning to think that the were not 'reflecting' the level of deep thinking we felt we were observing.
We have committed to using reflective writing as the method of capturing student learning and thought now was the time to build some solid criteria.

The Task: Previous refection writing samples were used as a template for building our criteria. We highlighted one portion of each students' sample. When the students met as a group, they used partner talk to discuss why their portion was highlighted. When students reported out, they were able to articulate why they thought their sample was 'good'. Based on what the students said we came up with two headings:  'qualities of writing' and 'form and conventions'

The students' samples were used as the proof for good reflective writing.  Now that we have the criteria set, we are ready to hit the 'Tank' again and practice some reflective writing!