A New Start: Learning an International Approach to Education

PYP-EngWhen my husband and I made the decision to move abroad, we knew it was the opportunity of a lifetime. It was a chance to learn a new language and culture, meet new people, travel, and see the world from a different perspective.

For me, it also meant beginning a new stage in my teaching career, as an international educator. I was so curious: how would international schools in Switzerland differ from public schools in the United States? What would the International Baccalaureate (IB) be like? How would becoming an international school teacher change me and my teaching?

It has been two months now since I returned to teaching, and I’ve begun to answer these questions. Over the past four weeks, I’ve also been taking a class about implementing the IB’s program for primary school students (called the Primary Years Program, or PYP). This post is a way to synthesize what I’ve learned so far.

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Embracing Teachable Moments

Who wouldn't want to take a closer look at this guy?

Who wouldn’t want to take a closer look at this guy?

A few weeks ago, as my class was walking in from recess, we saw a large brownish-black bug crawling across a desk in the hallway. Of course, everyone wanted to look at it. It was so cool! But, as a hundred children began to cram through the recess door, I reluctantly urged my class along.

Once my students were back in the room, I made a quick decision. I dashed out into the hall with a bug box, hoping the little guy was still there. He was — looking dazed — so I scooped him up, and brought him back to my room.

I had planned to do a read aloud about the rainforest that afternoon, but I knew my plans could wait. The bug couldn’t, and neither could my students. So I put the bug on the document camera where everyone could see, and we began a science talk. Continue reading

Results Count: Homework That Really Works

This morning, I read that French President Francois Hollande has proposed that his country eliminate homework in elementary and junior high school. From the article on NPR’s website, it appears that members of the French government believe homework places too great a burden on children, especially children with difficult home lives. And because of the centralized nature of the French school system, there is little room for teachers to innovate and try new strategies.

I wouldn’t presume to offer an opinion on the French approach to education. However, here in the United States, we have the same debate: what is the real value of homework for young children? Is is possible to design homework that increases student learning and motivates kids after a long school day?

My answer is yes, and I have results to back it up.
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Creating Google Presentations with Elementary Students

Today, I want to talk about one of the most powerful and versatile technologies to use with students: Google presentations. For anyone who just groaned and thought, “That’s all? Google’s version of PowerPoint?” don’t count me out yet! It’s true, Google presentations are a lot like PowerPoint or Keynote presentations.  Except, they allow for seamless collaboration and sharing between students, teachers, parents, and the rest of the world.

That power turns a simple technology — a digital slideshow — into a way for students to teach an engaged, authentic audience as they synthesize ideas, pursue independent studies, compare conclusions from experiments, jigsaw small group learning, and even publish e-books. Continue reading

Blogging With Elementary Students

When I use technology in my classroom, it’s never just for the sake of using technology.  I use technology when it will do a better job of achieving my learning goals than traditional methods.  I have rigorous goals for my students and little time to achieve them.  So we use computers (and iPads, iPods, etc.) only when they give us a greater return on investment.

That brings me to one really smart investment: blogs.  Blogging is all about writing.  To write a blog well, you need to be organized, include details, think about your audience, develop your voice, and edit for conventions.  What makes blogging different from normal classroom writing?  When students write blogs, they can share their writing with the world.  Perhaps “the world” is limited to their parents, grandparents, and other family members.  Perhaps “the world” really is the world, as in, everyone in the world can see what they write.

Blogging is writing with the volume turned up to 11.  Students are more excited to write blog posts than practically anything else they write in the classroom.  And so, as their teacher, I love having them blog so I can take full advantage of that drive in order to teach them to write well. Continue reading

Teaching the Scientific Method to 3rd Graders

The post I wrote about teaching scientific observation skills has been making me think more about the importance of going back to basics with science in our digital age.  We live in a time when kids think it’s better to take digital pictures in the forest than to draw.  They think technology has to be made of circuits and silicon and that every question can be answered with a Google search.

But none of that is true!  Drawing teaches us to see.  Technology includes the buttons on your shirt and the laces in your shoes.  And Google searches will tell us the knowledge of the day, but not the answers we need for tomorrow.

That’s why we have to teach the scientific method.  So students have the tools they need to ask questions and find answers that are factual, verifiable, and provable.  Answers that stand up against critical review and analysis and reveal larger truths about our world.

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Getting Started with Science

Being an elementary school teacher is hard for many reasons, not the least of which is you have to be a master of every discipline (as well a psychologistcaregiver, etc.).  One discipline that seems especially tough for people is science.  I often hear from colleagues that they feel like they lack the background knowledge they need to be effective science teachers.  Many colleagues who have science kits teach only those lessons, and colleagues who have less well-defined programs aren’t sure where to start.

There are good reasons to feel this way.  First, many of us had few experiences with science (and probably none with engineering) when we were in elementary school.  I remember hatching chicks in first grade, and that’s about it.  Second, women, who make up the vast majority of elementary teachers, have historically been discouraged from pursuing the sciences.  Third, while many of us read and write as part of our daily lives, fewer people see science the same way.  And if you live in an urban area, it may feel like opportunities for experiencing the natural world are few and far between.

I want to share some very simple, but profound ways to get started with science in your elementary classroom.  Or, if you teach from a science kit (I do too — there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel), I want to share some ways to get back to fundamentals and do science with your kids outside. Continue reading