After a marathon planning meeting this afternoon, where we finalized a few aspects of Exhibition and divvied up the many tasks that need to be completed, my to do list is heavier, but my heart is lighter. The team, which has experienced a few bumps in the road during the past few weeks, is starting to gel and the conversations that were previously focused on what we (the adults) wanted are now centered around students and what’s best for them and their learning. We’ve (loosely) mapped out the nine weeks of the process and now know where we’re headed.
I’m incredibly passionate about the PYP, and the Exhibition, which is the culminating project of the Primary Years Programme, is the pinnacle of the program. Students take ownership over their learning as they inquire into and research an issue they are passionate about. In addition to choosing their issue, there are many more aspects of the project that they have agency over, from who they work with (or whether they will work independently), how they will share their learning with the community, how they will take action, and many more!
We’re making a few major changes in the Exhibition at my school this year that excite me. To better support our students, each student will be assigned an advisor (one of the two Grade 5 teachers, Grade 5 intern, Librarian, or myself- the PYP Coordinator) to be their point person throughout the process. This reduces the ratio from 1:20 to 1:8, allowing us to be more in touch with each students’ progress so that we can provide more support through (at least) weekly one-on-one meetings. Additionally, each student will have a mentor to support them. In the past, mentors have worked with several students at once, but by providing them with a one-on-one person, they will receive more support. The role of the mentor is to offer advice, ask questions and provoke thinking, give feedback on the various components of the Exhibition, and celebrate the students’ learning along the way.
Another change is the introduction of workshops, where different teachers and support personnel will offer a variety of mini-lessons about different aspects of the Exhibition, focusing on their area(s) of expertise. Students will create their weekly schedules, deciding what they need to do and when and with whom to do it, based on their weekly checklists and deadlines. The will be given the choice to decide which workshops to attend, based on their needs. This will help develop their self-management skills.
Our Exhibition is under the transdisciplinary theme of How We Express Ourselves, so our students will be using this project to express themselves in whichever way(s) they choose. I can’t want to see what they come up with!
As I sit here reflecting on the Exhibition planning thus far, I am buzzing, excited about the incredible learning journey our Grade 5 students are about to embark upon. I wish I could have been a PYP student…this is the best way to learn!
If you are not at a PYP school and wondering what the heck an Exhibition is, feel free to visit my previous school’s PYP Exhibition website, which houses the students’ virtual Exhibition presentations, as well as a documentation of our inquiry journey. We are creating a similar website to house this year’s Exhibition, but it’s not finished yet.
I’m back for another installment of advice for virtual learning. If you haven’t read Part 1 or Part 2, you might want to start there. Part 1 gives tips for Student Wellbeing and Part 2 delves into Staff Wellbeing.
Virtual Learning Tools
Before I launch into my recommendations for virtual learning tools, let me let you in on a little secret. I’m no expert in technology. There are probably definitely a million more blogs for you to get great ideas from, but in an effort to get you started, here are the tools I’ve been using the past 2 weeks with my students that I’ve found to be the most helpful.
An invaluable tool for our school during this period has been Seesaw. Seesaw is an app that students already use in the classroom to document learning, which serves as an online portfolio with photos, videos, and work samples. Students can also complete tasks set by the teacher in the ‘Activities’ tab. Parents are connected to their child’s account, and just like Instagram, they get a notification whenever a new item is posted so they can like and comment.
Since this is a tool we have been using for a couple of years at my school, it made it very easy to transition to this platform when we started online learning. Students’ and parents’ familiarity with the app helped ease the anxiety of learning online (a little bit, anyway). Check out the quick tour of Seesaw below.
If you haven’t tried FlipGrid yet, try it now! No, seriously, I’ll wait. I was fortunate that I had already introduced FlipGrid in the classroom as part of tuning in to our Exhibition, so my students were familiar with how to access it and create videos, but if you haven’t tried it, I’m confident that your students can pick it up quickly, as it’s rather intuitive (and let’s face it, they are way better at technology than us anyway). Students are highly engaged when creating videos and certainly enjoy sharing their learning this way!
FlipGrid is basically an app or website that allows students to create videos of various lengths (you set the time limit, with a maximum of 5 minutes) about any topic you set. You can create different ‘grids’ for different topics. So far I’ve created grids for International Day, where students made cultural videos to share with the class after we missed out on the event due to the school closure, and a few grids connected to our Exhibition (Action ideas, weekly reflections, UN Sustainable Development Goals). What I love about it is that students can customize the videos with stickers, text, photos, inserting clips of other videos, etc. They can also pause the video as many times as they want while filming, which is different than when recording traditional videos on the iPad or on PhotoBooth.
Once the students post a video on the grid, everyone in the class can view the videos and create video responses. All videos are secure on FlipGrid’s site and students have to enter a ‘Flip Code’ and an ID number to access the videos, which makes me feel relieved that not just anybody can access them. You, as the teacher, have control to delete, hide, or download videos. Teachers can also give feedback to the student using a rubric and/or written comments, in addition to video feedback, which I use often.
Here’s an example of an introduction video for FlipGrid, where you let the students know what the video they will create should be about.
I don’t want to share a video with my students’ faces, but here’s a FlipGrid one of my students made when reflecting on last week’s virtual school experience.
ZOOM is a video conferencing tool that allows up to 100 participants at a time, so you can have all of your students online at the same time. I’m fairly new to this tool, as I only held my first class ZOOM meeting today, but it’s fairly easy to figure out. I suggest you first try it out with some colleagues, as I did with my staff last Friday. We played around for half an hour and left feeling confident to try it with our classes today. The students were so excited to see everyone again and enjoyed chatting all at once. The ‘Mute All’ feature came in handy for that! 😉 I’m going to try this out tomorrow to hold a class discussion about our collaborative performance for Exhibition and later this week for a live read aloud. We created essential agreements for how we will use it. I suggest you do, too. The video below is a tutorial for how to set it up.
Padlet is a virtual way to collaborate and share ideas. Padlet is one of those tools that has been introduced at many professional development workshops I’ve attended, and I’ve always thought it was cool, but I never seem to find time to try it when I go back to school. Last week I used it for the first time in virtual school. I wanted students to share their ideas for their math component for Exhibition, but thought that having them post their ideas for everyone to see would work best since those students who were less confident could see some other ideas before having to decide on their own. I then gave them feedback in the form of questions to help them strengthen and improve their ideas. The downside is that students can’t sign in without email addresses, so all posts come up with ‘Anonymous.’ Just try to remind them to include their name in their post.
A tool that we already make use of at our school is Microsoft Teams, which is a messaging, video conferencing, and file sharing system. While I much prefer to use the Google Suite, I’m getting used to using Teams. I had not yet used it with my students prior to the school closure, but when we closed, I quickly got them set up on it so that we could have one-on-one meetings and chat easily, two features that Seesaw doesn’t offer. We ran into difficulties setting it up remotely, so if you are still at school, I recommend setting up all technology tools with students prior to the closure (if you can). As with anything new, we are having some teething issues, such as students messaging too much in the group chat or annoying one another with incessant chatting in the private messages, but they are learning. Again, create essential agreements from the outset. I had to backtrack and create them, as I didn’t think of that at first!
Many of us are familiar with BrainPOP, a popular source of informative videos presented in bite-sized chunks. During our school closure, I’ve used it as a tool to reteach concepts I’d already taught in class that students still need practice with, such as citing sources, researching, and note-taking skills. With my students in the middle of their PYP Exhibition, they are all researching their topics at the moment.
My school doesn’t have a subscription to BrainPOP, but BrainPOP has generously offered free access to all schools that are closed due to COVID-19. I suggest you sign up for a free account. I signed up for one account for my school, and we are all using the same username and password. Click on the screenshot below to sign up.
Kahoot! is another tool I’m sure you are familiar with, as most of us have created fun quizzes to use in the classroom as a review for a test. I am going to use Kahoot! for my math lesson tomorrow to have them practice mean, median, mode, and range. I’ve never tried it individually (there’s no time limit and you can see how they performed later), but I think they will enjoy it. Kahoot! is another company who has offered their service free to schools who are closed due to COVID-19. For a free account, head to the homepage and click “Learn More” in the yellow banner at the top. It’s a great resource, loaded with tons of teacher-created content!
Weebly is a free website-creation site and app. I love using Weebly because it’s easy for students. You simply drag and drop the items that you want (headings, text, images, videos, etc.) and rearrange them however you want. Weebly is a tool we had already been using in class since each student is responsible for creating a website to document their Exhibition process. If you are looking for an ongoing project, would like students to learn how to create a website, or perhaps you are looking for a way to share lessons with students during virtual school, I think you should check out Weebly.
Two great programmes for creating tutorials, teaching using slides, or reading aloud from books online are Loom and Screencastify. They both work similarly, giving you the option to record your screen, with the option to include a video of you in the corner of the screen, however, I prefer Loom because it has more free options. With Screencastify you are limited to creating 5-minute videos on the free version, but with Loom, you can create much longer videos (at least 20 minutes, I’ve found), adjust the size of the webcam video, and move the video anywhere you want on the screen. Both are easy to install, as they are simple Chrome extensions.
Here’s a Loom video tutorial I made for my teachers to show them how to schedule a meeting on ZOOM.
Free Online Books
Many of us already use EPIC in our classrooms, and while the app is free at school, but not at home, what I’ve discovered is that it’s free at school due to it being free during school hours, which means students can access EPIC books at home, Monday-Friday 8.00am-3.00pm. So get those kids reading!
Another website for books is Open Library, a website with thousands upon thousands of free books. If you want to read a book aloud but you don’t have a physical copy, use Loom to record your screen and read a book from Open Library!
I didn’t get time to give advice about creating a daily schedule/organizing your day and parent wellbeing and support, so I’ll have to do that next time! If there’s anything else you’d like me to share, or if you have an idea that works for you, please comment below. Thanks for reading!
My title is somewhat misleading. While Day 2 of our Virtual School was easier, the fact is that it’s 6 minutes to 11:00pm and I just finished my work for today. My to do list is still quite long, but I finished the work that I absolutely had to do to be ready for tomorrow morning. I’ve still got to film my Morning Message video in the morning before “school” starts at 8:00, but I look a bit worse for wear at the moment, so I thought it better to wait until I at least had a shower and put on some makeup.
My second day wasn’t as frantic. People were starting to get the hang of things, and while I had a steady flow of messages, texts, calls, and emails to attend to, I wasn’t completely bombarded like yesterday. Based on feedback from the students and parents yesterday, I scaled back the workload today. It’s difficult to gauge how long something will take students to do online and at home. In the classroom you just know, but online it’s so different. Something I think will take them a few minutes takes 30 and something the art teacher set to do over two days they did in an hour. We are all still finding our way.
I really enjoyed my 1-on-1 video conferences with my students, where I was able to chat with them individually about what they’ve been working on, what they needed support with, and what their next steps were. I was able to connect with 12 of my students today and I’ll be speaking with the remaining ones tomorrow. They seemed less nervous and awkward on our video chats today.
Something I hadn’t expected when this all began 3 days ago was that I’d end up being IT Support. I’m tech savvy enough, but I wouldn’t call myself a specialist or anything. However, this unique situation of being thrown into virtual schooling with no prior warning given to parents and students and very little preparation of staff presents some challenges. Students trying to figure out the ins and outs of the various platforms we are using while not physically being with me means I then need to troubleshoot issues remotely with a 10 year old. Of course, there were also some issues with loading resources and videos onto Seesaw. With everyone on all at the same time, some videos wouldn’t upload or wouldn’t play after being uploaded. We are learning patience and work arounds for the issues we come across, such as loading videos at night, when it’s calm, and saving them as drafts to be released in the morning.
On a more personal note, I didn’t take the breaks I’d intended to take today, although I wasn’t as worked up since it was quieter today. I managed to snack a bit during the day, but didn’t manage to eat lunch until 4:30. No wonder my stomach is hungry now…the late lunch/early dinner didn’t tide me over that long. Based on a suggestion from a fellow slicer yesterday, I managed to get a car over to school to pick up my standing desk, which was a definite win for today. After being at work for 12 hours, I had only managed to get in a measly 1,258 steps. I took a break and went for a half hour walk to get in a bit of exercise. I think that starting Monday I’m going to figure out how to get in a walk in the morning and the evening. With 11 more days of self-quarantine to go and at least that many days of virtual school, I’ve got to figure out a way to move more (and not go crazy!).
For those of you interested in what it’s like, here’s a sample of the things we’re doing with the students online.
I made my first YouTube video today of me reading a chapter from our read aloud for their library lesson tomorrow, where they will listen to the read aloud, comment their prediction underneath the video in Seesaw, and then do some independent reading.
Here’s a sample of our daily learning overview for tomorrow. My situation is unique in that we are in our PYP Exhibition, so rather than have lots of lessons, they have more time for researching and working through their Exhibition checklist, tasks, and blog.
Lastly, here are a few pictures of things that some of our other teachers have been doing in the virtual classrooms. I spent some time this evening going through and looking at their videos and work they’d loaded so I could give some feedback to them in our group chat.
Looking forward to Day 3 tomorrow…and the weekend where I can rest and get ahead with videos for next week’s learning!
Earlier this week I blogged a bit about Exhibition. While it was a ton of work for everyone involved, I couldn’t be prouder of the students and teachers who made it all possible! Yesterday, the Grade 5 students presented their Exhibition three times, once to the PYP students, one to the MYP students, and once to their parents. While we were all beat at the end of the night, we had a blast!
We began with an introduction by the Grade 5 teachers, school Director, Head of Secondary School, and me. Then the student groups took turns presenting the main points of their project, including their technology and art components, and their action as a result of the Exhibition. Following the group presentations, the audience was invited to view the display boards to learn more about the students’ research and ask questions. Lastly, visitors left a positive comment about something they loved about the presentations.
Today the students reflected A TON on the whole Exhibition process. They assessed themselves, wrote about challenges they encountered and how they overcame them, and celebrated their successes. Tomorrow we’ve invited all of the mentors and experts to have a pizza party to celebrate the end of the Exhibition! They definitely deserve a party…they’ve worked hard! 🙂
I just loved reading all the positive things people had to say about the students! They loved reading them, too. The notes helped boost their confidence and made them feel proud! 🙂
Holding dual roles at school means that sometimes I wear one hat more than the other. Lately my PYP Coordinator hat has been on more often, as our Exhibition has been fast-approaching (it’s TOMORROW!). Last week and this week, I have been surrounded by PYP– literally. I can’t seem to get away from it, but I sorta love it!
As I mentioned, our Exhibition presentations are tomorrow. Our Grade 5 students, teachers, and mentors have been working their little tails off getting ready for this momentous occasion for the past 6 weeks. Their collaborative, in-depth inquiry has lead them to some really interesting learning experiences and to take action in their local community. Here’s a video of their journey thus far. Today, I attended a field trip to our sister school, ACD, to attend their Exhibition, and then worked with the students on perfecting their presentations and display boards. I think know we are ready!
In addition to the Exhibition, we held a PYP training for all staff this past Saturday and Sunday. Unfortunately I was sick and could not attend all of the training, but the teachers did some amazing thinking and reflection while I was gone!
A documentary made about our school, and how we teach, was just released online today. It shows what it’s like attending and teaching at an international school in Albania, but also what it means to have an IB education. We are a candidate school for all 3 programmes of the IB- PYP, MYP, and DP!
Lastly, today during recess, I was drawn to a group of girls who were playing in the field. I watched them a short while and noticed they were gathering items and piling them up. I decided to investigate. After approaching the group (one in preschool, one in Grade 1, and two in Grade 2), I asked them what they were doing. They explained they were building a nest for the birds. When I questioned them further, they explained that people are cutting down trees, so birds no longer have homes, therefore they built a nest for the birds. They included leaves, flowers, dried twigs, berries, and a long stick. The berries were for food, of course, and the stick was so the bird could locate the nest and have something to sit on. The interesting thing is that they are all learning about Sharing the Planet at this time, although their Central Ideas vary. This group of girls decided, on their own during their free time, to take action to help animals who are losing their homes. If that’s not PYP, I don’t know what is!
It’s moments like this that remind me of why I do what I do and why I believe in it so much!