Visible Thinking

Visible Thinking

So I know that my task this week is to discuss how I would like to redesign any web based resource into a more visually appealing manner…

Visible Thinking

Photo Credit: sherrattsam via Compfight cc

But after reading I went off in a different tangent (I hope this is ok). I wanted to talk about visible thinking. Patricia Palmer, David Perkins, Ron Ritchhart, and Shari Tishman have put together an amazing website on Visible Thinking.  This site takes educators through the process of guiding students through a set of routines which ultimately helps students learn.  It visualizes what a thoughtful classroom looks like.   See Visible Thinking in Action for an example.

Just the other day, I had a student who was trying to explain a mathematics solution to me.  In fact, this student in grade 7 really impressed me deriving a general solution to the problem.  I had not expected this from anyone, let alone figuring out and writing down a (n-1)*(n-1) pattern!).  Unfortunately she was unable to explain to me her thinking process and how she came up with this solution.  She just did it.

In my mathematics class we often perform investigations and to conclude I require students to publish a report on their findings.  This may be in the form of a journal, a poster, a video or other method (in fact I would like to include more technology driven journals, any advice on what programs I could use??).  Each journal must answer the set of following questions.

(As an aside, I have just recently added in the bullet points and added specific colours to important words to imply and convey meaning.  As shared on the Course 3 Flipboard, “The Essential Guide to What Colors Communicate”, the red demands attention meaning they must do it; the Yellow generates optimism while thinking of a hypothesis; the orange is to bring attention to something important, but not quite as important as the first question; the grey strategies are stable as they are always used in our class; the green is to help students grow and learn from mistakes; the purple is to encourage problem solving; and the blue is to give students a secure feeling as they should know their answer is correct.) 

Back to Visible Thinking, I often find the hardest question for students to answer is just explaining what they did in the task.  But of course this is just making their learning visible.  If a student cannot explain what they did to their teacher, their peers, or their parents do they deeply understand the problem at all?

So now where does this come into effect with a redesign?  I have already shared a number of the resources with the art teachers in my school, but I will also try to integrate some of this learning with the students.  We will talk about spacing, and colours which have a meaning, and flow (in fact I have few examples of very bad flow), simplicity, CRAP, and hierarchy.  I want my students to make their thinking visible, but also do so in a manner which allows a reader to find the important information in a quick and easy manner.


*note, I could not find a way to contact the authors of the Visible Thinking website to ask if I could use their images, so I have just linked to their webpage.

**note, I could not for the life of me figure out how to center the embedded webpage…any suggestions?  I used to be able to do this!

Motivation Leeds to Geeking Out

Before I begin, I want to give a huge shout out to our school girls basketball team (which I coach). We just finished competing in our yearly tournament with other similar schools in Indonesia and we won! Yeah so happy.

See the clip below. It wasn’t pretty, but we managed to win. Hooray for #BISEDU and the girls basketball team. All three elimination games were won by a combined 4 points (yes that is right, two 1-point victories, and a 2-point victory…and yes that is me jumping around like a fool)


Now onto more important stuff! I used to think I did a decent job of integrating technology into my classroom. But after reading the <i><a title=”Living and Learning with New Media” href=”” target=”_blank”>Living and Learning with New Media</a> (p13-34)</i> sections on Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Around I am starting to feel inadequate as a teacher. I do integrate technology into the classroom but I am now asking myself, “Is it enough?”

Especially after reading the Geeking Out section. I am realizing I need to give my students the opportunity to become experts. Once they are experts they can: Learn more from online forums; Teach others; Learn the complexities of each program. As a teacher, I need to be giving my students the opportunity to “engage in technology and media in an intense, autonomous, and interest driven way…”

Earlier this year I was able to convince the secondary principal to let the grade 8 students partake in a genius hour project. The project goes by many different names: <a title=”Innovation Class” href=””>innovation class</a>, 20% time, <a title=”Genius Hour” href=””>genius hour</a>, <a title=”Passion Based Learning” href=””>passion based learning</a>, passion projects.  These projects allow students to dictate the direction of their learning.  It allows students to delve deeply into a topic of their choice.  Students make a product.  Students share their product with an (authentic) audience.  This type of project gets kids motivated.  It gets kids excited.  See Dan Pink’s video on motivation below, along with some students talking about their genius hours.

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Ultimately, this type of project will  allow students to geek out. This will be great.  Now, it may or may not be feasible to implement this into an individual class, but I would like to encourage the genius hour behaviour (allowing students to become immersed into programs) allowing students to become true geeks.  I want to let students choose their desired medium to showcase products.  I want them to become experts.  I want my students to run into difficult problems, use forums and chat groups to find answers, and implement the solutions into the product.

It is time for students to become geeks!


Super-organisms and Super-colonies

Photo Credit: Troup1 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Troup1 via Compfight cc

“Insects or a single creature?  When ants unite the individual vanishes and the group becomes a being unto itself.  A super-organism.”  – City of Ants, National Geographic.  This quote is the beginning of a recommended documentary on ants and their colonies.  You can watch it below.

Ants are really amazing creatures.  They are successful by taking social behaviour taken to the extremes.  They have specialized members of their society: hunters, gatherers, egg layers, workers, nurses, queens etc.  By working together and being organized they have been extremely successful in nature.  They survive. A successful ant colony is one which is connected to each other and organized.  The most successful ants, Argentinian Ants, actually join forces and work together, rather than fighting for supremacy.

Reading George Siemens’ article, “Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age”, I started thinking about how connected learning (especially via social media) is mirroring what occurs in colonies which us swarm intelligence.  As stated by Stephenson in Siemens’ article, “Since we cannot experience everything, other people’s experiences, and hence other people, become the surrogate for knowledge.”  This is how a hive mind works.  While ants search for food, they use the experiences of others to direct them to good locations.  This is how we use social media: My network of friends use their experiences and pass on the most important information. “This isn’t just me who thinks this is good, it is all of my friends who think it is good as well.” (cannot find source of quote again 🙁 )  The result the information coming to me is already deemed important by my trusted network.

Check out this interesting TED Talk by Nicholas Christakis titled “The hidden influence of social networks.” I cannot embed the video here 🙁

While we as individuals,says Siemens, need to make the “distinctions between important and unimportant” information, our PLN is a filter allowing only good things through.  My PLN includes the twitter chat groups #MYPchat, #IBDPchat, and #IBchat.  I trust my network.  If they answer a question of mine, share information with me, or post a link, I am much more inclined to check out this information as it has been deemed important. Hive structure provides specialized subgroups which only focus on one job, the tags, PLNs, categories, are my specialized subgroups which direct me to information.

Photo Credit: Ethan Hein via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Ethan Hein via Compfight cc

This is the path that social media is taking.  We need to really guide our students to connect to the right network.  Students need to have the opportunity to build educational networks, rather than just social networks.  Social networks can turn our students into super-organisms, and eventually the world into a super colony.

With a few modifications, the opening quote reads, ‘Individuals or a connected world?  When connections are made the individual vanishes and the group becomes a being unto itself.  A super-organism.

Anonymous and Asynchronous

AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by nickgoesglobal

AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by nickgoesglobal

As a child, I played many sports, was part of my school bands, took part in drama performances, achieved high marks in class, and had a strong social life. I was busy. Weekends were often booked for events and tournaments, and unexpected social plans often altered my weekend schedules.

As a child with divorced parents growing up, this presented a problem for me. You see, my mother had custody of me and my father was only allowed to see me every second weekend. He would drive for 3hrs on a Friday night to pick me up, and we would drive back to his home some 3hrs away. Repeat on Sunday afternoon. (to this day I still admire my dad for driving so long and far to see me! I know how exhausted I am on weekends)

When my plans changed, I would need to make the inevitable call to my father and say ‘sorry I cant see you this weekend, can we switch…” This was a conversation I dreaded. My father, of course, was unimpressed with me, and often sent little jabs of guilt my direction, questioned my decisions, and generally made me feel contrite. Then internet age came.

Much like the children in relationships do, as reported by Mizuko Ito et al in “Living and Learning with New Media” (pg 16), I wanted to “carefully compose messages” and “…think about things more” ensuring that I had a well thought out argument/reasoning. And, quite honestly, I did not want to face my father’s reaction. I did not want to deal with his disappointment. What did I do? I sent an email of course!

I was able to say exactly what I wanted. Was able to explain myself. And best of all, I was able to avoid dealing with any immediate reaction, good or bad.

So what does this mean for my teaching. Social media, email, forums, and using digital personifications are all ways that my students can carefully compose answers: thinking about their answers and replies thoroughly. I am thinking of the student in my class who stumbles on words, which makes him nervous. The student where English is a second language and is afraid to speak in class. The socially awkward student who has no friends and is afraid of other students’ response. The quiet student. We all have these students. They may shine if given the opportunity to have an asynchronous conversation. They may shine if anonymity is given to them, helping break down existing walls and stigmas of students.

Attribution Some rights reserved by kev_hickey_uk

Attribution Some rights reserved by kev_hickey_uk

So now the real question is how can I embed these technologies into my teachings. I am toying with the idea of giving students a difficult assignment, but allowing them to use either a forum or a message board to help each other out! The trick being, each submission would be anonymous. Only I, the teacher, would know each students handle.  This would give students time to compose their message and post with no fear of playing into a stigma

I have not worked out the logistics of this idea yet, but the thought is percolating around my head. I am intrigued. Have you done something similar in your class? How did it work? Have you used message boards or forums with your class? Used them anonymously? What are your thoughts and suggestions for implementing this idea?


ps does anyone know an easy way to find and copy the attribution and CC licence on Flickr??  It used to be so easy, and now Im struggling just to find the information!

Proud of my Students


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Rachel Titiriga:

So, Ive talked about how my DP Physics class is being run in the past  (The Promised Follow UpRe: Student Driven Learning and here ).  And I must say, I’m proud of my students.


We are beginning our option topics for physics, and I am trying something different with this class.  They can choose which ever options they would like.  I have faith in their learning and their independence.  I believe in their ability to learn independently.  They are driven, passionate, and excited to chose and learn their chosen topic.



cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Jon Gjelle:

Of course I will be there to guide them, but Im proud of the way my students have turned out.  Are there any other DP science teachers out there that have experience letting their students choose options?  As a class?  As individuals?  I would love to hear any feedback you have discovered from letting students choose.

Where the Buck Stops

17/365 ThePointer

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Gabe Austin:

Three years ago when I came to this school myself and the other new maths teacher were given the ultimatum “make the students enjoy maths again”.  Apparently through the past 5 years there had been a myriad of issues with maths, students, and teachers.  Without patting myself on the back too much, I think we have succeeded.  Students are enjoying maths and producing at an above average when compared to world MAP tests and world IB scores.

The first thing we did was map the curriculum and skills needed across all secondary school grades (6-12 at our school).  We backward mapped from the DP program.  We have are also in our 2nd year of a curriculum review.  Up until now there has been no problem.

This year I have noticed for the first time in my grade 6 class that they are quite poor in mathematics! I have students doing simple multiplication on their fingers (8×3 is 8, 9, 10, 11…16, 17, 18…24 counted on fingers).  Talking to last years g5 teachers, apparently the following 2 years of students will be just as poor.

Further to this, a parent of a student I have never taught, a parent whose children are in the elementary school, a parent who I never talk to came to me very worried about the mathematics program in the elementary section.  She was worried that it was below standard, and her children would be behind in mathematics at a different school

We have been having some interesting discussion about how maths is implemented (properly…or just under the inquiry umbrella and forgotten about) occurring in the staff room recently.

Mathematics  *Explore April 24, 2013 #4* (at one time)

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Tom Brown:

Is the problem the program?  The cohort (hard to tell with small numbers and changing cohorts)? The teachers (I hope not, but some are put off and afraid of mathematics just as they are with technology)? Is it the mapping?  The mapping, scoping, and sequencing is there but is it being followed?

Where does the finger pointing stop?  It is easy to say, well the students came to grade x with poor math skills, so it is not my fault.  Where does the solution start?  I am just happy that we are in another curriculum review period and hopefully we can find the root of this problem and fix it.

Why I Teach

Well, I’m feeling pretty good about myself right now.  Every so often, ideally every year, we as teachers make a difference on someone.  That sparkling moment when you have forever changed a student’s life.  Well, it happened to me this year in my first week of school.  I am so lucky.


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by John Fischer:

In my grade 6 maths class, my first task is a ‘Multiplication Investigation’.  In this students investigate 5 or 6 different methods to multiply.  I love this assignment for 3 reasons.  The first of which get to remember and practice their 2 and 3 digit multiplication.  The second is students need to follow instructions with very mathematical vocabulary.  And finally students are aware that there many different possibilities of answering a question.  The last is an important aspect which we focus on for the unit.

For the first time ever, I had two girls actually in tears in their first maths class.  I was so upset and disappointed in myself that these girls’ confidence was so low, that my first task made them cry.  I was actually in shock.  In my teachings I have occasionally made students cry for various reasons (most of them my fault at misreading the situation) but NEVER on the first day and NEVER two students at the same time.

So I did what any teacher would have done, and I comforted them, helped them, and explained some mathematics to them in a positive, warm, and encouraging manner.  By the end of the class they were ok.  The next day we continued on the same task, and these two girls were able, with my help, to move on from the first method.  Pretty soon they were high fiving each other, giggling in joy that they were able to answer these questions…just using a different method.  What an amazing turn-around.  But the highlight for me was at the end of the class, one of the two girls came up to me and said, “Mr. C, in all honesty, this was the most fun class ever!”

These are the moments I live for.  This is why I teach.

Reflections and Excitement

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Lisa:

This is always an exciting time for educators: New school year; new classes; new Students; new experiences; and a new start.  The last point is especially an important one as teachers can reflect and adjust class procedures, teaching techniques, and alter educational philosophies.

Most educators spend a significant amount of time reflecting upon their year.  Perhaps even more so for those working at IB schools where ‘reflective’ is a key ingredient to the IB Learner Profile which is aimed towards the entire community.  I am going to detail some of my reflections of things which I can improve upon and then briefly list some reasons why I am excited for this upcoming school year.



cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Colin Harris  ADE:

–          Be more balanced.  Gone will be the days where Im working until 6, go home, eat dinner, and sleep.  I need to be more focused on my personal life in order to maintain balance.  I need to take on less responsibility and extracurricular activities.

–          Continue trying new techniques. Over the last few years I have been trying new methods of teaching, some which have met with good results and others with poor results.  Despite some of these not working out, for me to continue to grow as an educator I need to test and trial these methods in my class to ensure I am providing what works best for my students and myself.

–          Be less frustrated.  Sometimes I get frustrated at the pace in which change occurs in our school.  Discussion, more discussion, trial, reflection, discussion, explain reasons to the staff, more discussion, arguments from staff, discussion, implementation (with not many people actually implementing).  I get frustrated with admin for not being stricter and staff for not following school directions.   I need to worry about my own practices and be happy that I am implementing change or following direction as best as I can.

–          Say no. This combines with being more balanced, but for the past three years at school I have been known as the ‘yes man’.  The person everyone came to when something needs to be done (supervision, curriculum groups, supervision covers, MC’ing events etc).  I would always say yes.  No more.  I need to focus on being balanced and many of these requests will be turned down this year.



cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Harold Neal:

–          ITC Facilitator. This year I have taken on a new role at our school as Secondary School ITC Facilitator.  My role is to encourage and help the educators at our school integrate technology into their classrooms.  I will be working in concert with the IT Coordinator, Jason Graham, and am super excited at the opportunity to work with someone so involved in technology and with a huge PLN.

–          Basketball. The past three years I have been coaching our girls basketball team.  There was not much culture for basketball at our school when I started and we always went to tournaments with a team 2-3 years younger than the competition.  Well, these girls are growing up and the majority of our team will be from G11 and G10.  I am super excited to coach these awesome girls again this year.

–          Changes. I am looking forward to implementing changes in my classes, most specifically homeroom responsibilities and IT implementation in my classes and the school.

–          New Headmaster. Last year our headmaster, Henri Bemelmans, of the last 8 years decided it was time to move on.  Henri did a fantastic job juggling the responsibilities of students, parents, business, and teachers.  He will surely be missed in the school community.  But we have a new headmaster arriving who will naturally have different ideas, different philosophy and a different direction he will lead us.  I am looking forward to the changes that he will bring.

–          #MYPchat. Last year I started participating and occasionally moderated the #MYPchat.  This chat was started by Stephen Taylor, and is a growing group of educators from around the world who get together and discuss and share resources related to the MYP.  Anything from practices, new documents from the IB, unit planners, class ideas etc.  I am really looking forward to continue to grow and learn with this network and I hope to have some student collaboration with these teachers this year.

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Fabrizio Angius:


Well these are just a few of my reflections and excitement for this year.   I’d love to hear your reflections about your teaching last year and what you are excited about this year!

No Grades?

6/16/08..::Secret Sixteen::..

cc licensed ( BY ND ) flickr photo by Bhumi Finding Herself:

If you were my co-teacher, supervisor, principal, or head of school, what would your response be to the following question:

Can I assess my class on a pass/fail system with no formal grades (letter grades, percentages, criterion boundaries etc) ?


Papers have been written suggesting that the best way to improve a students learning is with timely and appropriate feedback.  Marks and scores are just a glorified ranking system which will not help the student learn.  Our job as an educator is to help students learn and to help students succeed in life.  Why are we bounded by most educational systems to give meaningless grades?  They do not help students learn. They may even make a student complacent ‘82% is good enough for me’, ‘6 is good enough’

If we help develop a students intrinsic motivation, pique their interest in learning, and throw grades out the window, will we accomplish more with student learning?

So what do you think?  Is your answer yes or no?  Would you be willing to try this in your class?

I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas


Our school just got back from a week of what we call our ‘outreach’ program.  Other schools call this ‘Class with out walls’ and still other schools have a different name.  What this entails is taking students outside of the classroom for a week of real-world education.

Our school had 4 different trips students could choose between, and I ended up going to Gili Trawangan with 18 students.  This island, close to a Bali, is a set of three islands which is known for SCUBA diving.  What did the students do when we went there…they learnt how to SCUBA dive.

Now some of you may be thinking, wow that is fun (and it is) but what does it have to do with education?  Well, these 18 students had to take an intensive course provided by SSI (SCUBA Schools International) which included both theory and practical skills, a written test, as well as a myriad of practical tests completed under the water.

On top of that, they had to learn how to interact and learn from different ‘teachers’ (the dive masters and instructors were amazing with this group of students).  While SCUBA diving, the students had the opportunity to explore and learn about an entire ecosystem which they had never encountered before.  Ocean life has some of the most interesting, bizarre, and complex relationships in the most diverse ecosystem on the planet.

Further more, Gili Trawangan has, in the past, experienced both bomb fishing and cyanid fishing.  These short sighted actions by the population has had a drastic affect on the coral reefs and fish life in the area.  In order to help right what was wrong, measures have been taken to ‘encourage’ the growth of new corals areas through the use of cement and metal structures under the water.  THe students of course got to see these artificial reefs and how they compare to the damaged reefs and the healthy reefs in the area.

So, yes, the trip was fun.  Every student had probably the time of their life. But they are coming home with something which is useful for the rest of their lives.  In fact, we may have introduced a life altering experience for the students (past students of this trip are doing internships with Princeton that have to do with SCUBA diving and biology).  They worked hard, past tests, showed their skills, and gained an appreciation for the country they live in.  It was a great experience for both me and them.  I only wish we could do more outreach trips each year.