A ‘learning buzz’ in the virtual learning world

I recently wrote about missing the sense of, ‘a learning buzz‘, during these times where many of us have moved to virtual learning spaces. It made me wonder, how can you generate a ‘learning buzz’ in this virtual space? It of course would be fruitless and frustrating to try to copy and paste the same approaches into an online space – context matters and what works in one will not necessarily work in the other. However, whilst the ‘learning buzz’ may not look and feel the same, how would we define this in an online space I wondered? What opportunities might there be? How do we adapt our learning environments?

Learning, teaching and leading in an inquiry based, PYP School, one of our challenges has most definitely been honouring the values of our learning and teaching principles. Despite pressures faced, focusing on our beliefs and values to foster curiosity and inquiry at the heart of our daily approach to learning.

This prompted me to refer to the PYP guidance on creating learning environments and think about the different elements that are defined as going into cultivating these and intentionally exploring how these evolve.

‘PYP learning spaces affect and reflect values and beliefs about learning. They play a role in shaping the culture of the learning community by facilitating certain ways of acting and interacting. They support a constructivist and social-constructivist (Vygotsky 1978) approach to learning and teaching. They are multifunctional, emphasizing personalization of learning, promoting independence and engagement.’

My IB – Connecting pedagogy and design

So how do we nurture that magical ‘learning buzz’ in whatever context we are in?

This diagram shows the elements I believe contribute to enabling a ‘learning buzz’ to flourish and as a way to illustrate what this could look like in a classroom or school community. I use the word ‘enable’ intentionally as this learning buzz is not something any one person can create but from my perspective is about letting this have space to flourish and blossom. Below are some examples I made connections to from experiences during Distance Learning at my School. I would love to know of others that you may have to get further inspiration!

Sense of being ‘me’

Finding space for individuality to be celebrated and to bring community together in an inclusive way is so important. During lockdown we could not run our Home Language Program as usual so we made this into a community event. We created an interactive map of where we feel at home for everyone to anonymously share, shared our languages through poems and sayings and students (and adults if they wanted!) created Language Portraits. This was all done virtually through a live stream assembly and recorded activities and video calls.

Shared Values & Understandings

Making sure to share beliefs and values with community ensures learning is effective, and it can be done in a fun, informative way! We made a series of video clips to remind everyone about online meeting etiquette and created Community fact sheets with our rules and essential agreements reflecting our Community Values in the virtual learning space.

Rituals & Routines

Rituals and routines are part of every learning environment, of every school community; whether it be a morning greeting, check in circle, or roles and responsibilities that are assigned to the class each week. These all form part of a shared classroom culture. In the online space, we saw morning check in circles often replaced with a morning prompt in the chat in MS Teams, a way for everyone to say hello and connect before starting their learning day. Or for the younger grades, a morning video message. I also observed the beauty of new rituals or routines forming – a favourite way to end a call in one of 6th grade classes for example, has now become an embedded ritual for the class to say goodbye!

Teachers found ways to adapt roles of responsibility also in the virtual space, assigning chat moderators in video calls for examples or continuing to use hand signals in video calls to show agreement/disagreement/ connection/questions and so forth. We also tried to keep to our regular school assembly schedule and routines to bring everyone together as part of our regular routine.

Learning Purpose and relevance

Ensuring learning is purposeful, challenging and relevant for all students became ever more complex in a distance learning world where differentiation strategies and the ease of interaction between teachers, students and peers is more challenging. Finding ways to engage in learning with materials and experiences at home, ensuring learning engagements are open ended and encourage further student led inquiry all can help ensure that learning remains purposeful and relevant for the individual. We had great examples with students carrying out science experiments, building machines, testing theories and recording their experiments as learning evidence.

Interaction – Dialogue

Here are some examples of teachers finding ways to promote interaction and dialogue using tools such as Padlet to share in online lessons. We also used Padlet to encourage interaction within our community too, with the song sharing and virtual arts day as some examples!

Fun & Connection

Bringing community together through shared events and having fun together! We celebrated Earth Day, Sports day and other events together and brought a bit of fun to lockdown life. I feel fortunate to work with such a dedicated, fun team!

Innovation in Education

Almost two years ago I attended a conference in London called LearnIT; tech focused, it hosted a truly inspiring bunch of innovators and change-makers in the world of education and learning. I found it so motivating to hear the stories and listen to panel discussions from the many diverse voices. Often these highlighted how a simple ideas can transform experiences and impact learning in profound ways. So, when I heard from the HundrED organisation I was fascinated to learn more and find out how to get involved.

HundrEd is a non for profit organisation with a mission to support innovations coming to life and being shared world wide. I loved the emphasis on young people’s voices and leveraging the perspectives and opinions of our students, of all ages, to take action. So, I set up a call for our students to explore how they could become Student Ambassadors. We met virtually online and some of our Primary students stepped up, applied and indeed became Student Ambassadors!

In 2020, I decided I would step up to also become a HundrED Ambassador and I am so glad I did. I was part of the review panel for the HundrED 2021 innovations. It was such an interesting process and so inspiring to read about the unique ways in which change in education is being fostered. I had the opportunity to explore and learn about around 25 different innovations that were nominated to be part of the HundrED 2021 Innovations. I shared my feedback on each innovation and based on all of the feedback from around 150 HundrED Ambassadors the HundrED Research Team then went through a collaborative iterative process to select the final 100 innovations. You can see the final Global collection at the end of this post.

Most of all what I took away from being part of this process was how much I gained from the experience; learning about diverse perspectives, exploring different contexts and developing understanding of the solutions being found to address specific learning needs. I was inspired by the amazing ideas, the commitment to being inclusive and the passion by so many individuals to improve learning for all young people, everywhere. I highly recommend getting involved in HundrED!

Spring is in the Air: Time for another #ISMTeachMeet

My school community is filled with educators who come from a range of backgrounds and have a wide variety of expertise so it would be foolish for us not to take advantage of such a skilled and knowledgeable bunch of teachers and encourage a professional sharing practice.

John Jones, @mrjonesICT, and I first introduced the idea of a TeachMeet to the ISM teaching community well over a year ago. Our first session was met with a mixture of extreme caution, some resistance but mostly curiousity and enthusiasm.  We welcomed some risk-taking teachers to stand up and share their experiences, wisdom, learning and innovative ideas to colleagues. They led the way in ensuring that gradually TeachMeets are becoming part of our School community culture.

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Many teachers found it an enlightening experience to hear what fellow colleagues who they share their morning break with every day actually find useful, engaging tools to inspire learning in the classroom. Since then the #ISMTeachMeet has gained momentum and we have scheduled to have these school-wide at least once a term. Our Spring TeachMeet is lining up to have everything from Design Learning presented by Jen Rhodes @JenRhodes to using Pinterest & Smore to create and share revision guides by Michael Cotgrave @Miclaaa.

Now, my next thought is how about we create a StudentMeet for teachers and students! Why don’t we ask students to present for 2 or 5 minutes about the technology tools and learning practices that engage and inspire them in their everyday learning….. Wouldn’t it make sense to hear what they find successful? My next goal has been set!

Learn to Listen, Listen to Learn!

School seems eerily quiet at the moment, you know that feeling when something just isn’t quite right?

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Well, the thing is, we have yet to actually welcome any students into school for the new term and, in reality, a school is not really a school at all unless you have students. I had blogged about this concept of students making the learning environment previously in, ‘What is a classroom?’

https://jennyofee.com/2012/08/27/what-is-a-classroom/

In many respects, it seems the wrong way round for teachers to be creating, planning and preparing everything students are ‘going to learn’ in the year ahead when we haven’t even met the students in our classes yet!

It made me think of this wonderful TED Talk by Adora Svitak, ‘What adults can learn from kids’:


So, when the students do arrive at school, we need to listen to them to learn and to facilitate learning; learn what they need from us, learn where they are in their learning journey, learn how they learn and learn what interests them to challenge and ignite a passion for being curious to learn more.

We also are blessed with possibility to learn new skills and knowledge from them, for example, I hope to continue to develop our ‘Digital Leaders’, a role that @mrJonesICT  began to develop with Primary School students last year. These ‘Digital Leaders’ can teach and support learning in classrooms immensely with their extensive skills and knowledge in ICT. Adults learn from kids.

We all have curriculums to follow, standards, benchmarks and perhaps exams to prepare our students for, but ultimately, if we want to connect with and help students achieve their potential we need to listen to them and believe in their capabilities. I fully intend to listen and to learn from the young learners around me. Building self-awareness around listening to our students can only serve to continue strengthening learning in our community. As @adorasv said, ‘Learning between grown-ups and kids should be reciprocal’.

Appreciation

Handing yourself over to be a student in a completely new discipline or unfamiliar territory can be daunting and this was where I found myself this summer during my Yoga Teacher Training at YogaWorks in Soho, NYC. The whole experience has taught me such a lot as both an educator and as a learner, and reminded me just how often we undervalue the power and impact of a truly GREAT teacher.

There have been many articles and posts written about the key ingredients to maximising learning in a classroom, how to engage students, strategies and tools that can be used to connect students with their learning and how to structure a lesson to maintain student interest. When it comes down to it however, what really makes the difference, is the teacher. It is a complex and arduous task to define what actually makes a truly GREAT teacher, but somehow you just know one when they cross your path.

When I found myself in the Yoga Studio, my classroom for a month, with Paula Liberis, I realised she was exactly that, a truly GREAT teacher. Someone who inspires and who is inspired, someone who has passion for their discipline and shares that in every aspect of their teaching. Someone who engages every student in the room and treats everyone equally. Someone who models and encompasses the values that they teach. Someone who connects to their students in an authentic, sincere way. Ultimately, someone who cares about the learning, invests in the learners and is also a reflective learner themselves.

It seemed appropriate then, that at the beginning of a new school year, this be my first post for the term ahead:  Appreciation of GREAT teachers.

My focus this term is to show appreciation for all of the GREAT teachers who are around me, those both near and far. Every time a student leaves with a lasting memory of their learning; an ancedote a teacher has shared to help them understand something or an experience they have participated in that has inspired, amazed or challenged their thinking, a GREAT teacher has been at work. GREAT teachers are a gift to be appreciated.

BETT & the Blogging Journey

As I listened to the presentation by Head of ICT, John Jones (@mrjonesICT ) http://ict.ismonacoblog.org/2013/01/31/to-blog-or-not-to-blog-the-ism-question/
that charted the highs and lows of the blogging journey our school has been traveling along at the Bett 2013 Exhibition, I was struck by a number of things.
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Firstly, the immense progress that can be made in a relatively short space of time; what has been achieved is inspiring and is largely due to the passion and commitment of our Head of ICT. Our school has opened its doors to the outside world and invited others in to share in successes, provide inspiration for learners and give feedback and purpose to the learning taking place. What’s more, the reciprocal role of this experience, that is, that the students are also being asked to give their personal opinions and feedback has been transformative in many of our classrooms.
That is not to say that the journey has been smooth, in fact, in reality it has been anything but smooth! Nor does it mean that blogging has been embraced by all, although, it is gradually spreading school-wide as teachers explore what is the best fit for their classrooms and learners.
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Change, any kind of change = tension, heightened emotion and hopefully a great deal of reflection and debate. Being part of charting the unknown and navigating a pathway to successful blogging has been an enriching experience as an educator. Would I change anything about the journey so far, not at all, it has all been learning, the highs and the lows.
Relationships
Secondly, the greater realization that technology, rather than stand in the way of forming relationships has actually opened possibilities, broadened horizons and enriched learning for everyone. This is often the argument I hear against using blogging or indeed, technology as a tool in classrooms, that it depersonalizes  leaning, or stops traditional talk and collaboration.
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Relationships are really at the heart of any learning community and this is exactly why blogging has transformed much of the learning taking place in our classrooms.
No longer is it only the teachers’ opinion that provides feedback to students but suddenly there is a wider audience to encourage, critique and comment on student learning. The relationships that form from this online forum are key to its success. The one thing that has changed however is the definition of these ‘relationships’. That, I believe is the ‘new’ part of using technology as a tool in education.