Redesigning the Design…

We are about to head back to school for Semester 2. A new semester, a new zodiac year.

Time to reflect, to recharge, to re-energise, time to look back, breathe and re-evaluate.

In August this past year, the Studio 5 team took advantage of the fact that they would now have an extended space for their hub of learning which would be dedicated to Studio 5 students. The team also reflected on some of the successes and challenges of their pilot year. One of the past year challenges was guiding both learners and advisors to break out of  classroom walls and “live” the studio style.  (August 2019 – Trying to break the homeroom mould). Moving forward, the goal was to use the extended space in true studio style that would reflect our beliefs about agency and provide learners with voice, choice and ownership of their learning, their spaces and how they used them.

Taryn BondClegg (@makinggoodhumans) has already documented and shared with her readers on Makinggoodhumans, the thinking, the planning and the journey of the advisors and the learners that took place back in August.

Handing over the Studio spaces to our learners to design as they best thought they needed for learning, was a great success. The studio design culminated in a ‘Chill-ax’ room, a reading nook, a recording studio, a fitness room, a town hall, a science and maths centre, a tech space and a town hall.

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From Studio 5 files & Makinggoodhumans

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Now their ‘stage was set, the Studio 5 team and learners turned their focus to developing a Studio 5 community and planning their first Student Designed Units of Inquiry.

As the term progressed, we started noticing that our learners weren’t really using the spaces for the purose that they had first designed them for.  There were learners attending maths courses in the drama space, completing blogs in the fitness room, learners using the townhall for DIY projects and Art work, and reading in the recording space, and of course, there were learners (and advisors) using tech everywhere and not just in the tech room.

So what had gone wrong?

The Design Cycle:

downloadWe reviewed the Design Cycle and stepped back to look at our process.


Taking time to explore what needed to be done, taking time to research, discuss and explore possible outcomes compiling and analysing the data and information and even going so far to begin the process of  identifying possible materials that could be used. 

Design and Plan:

Begin to list options, idea and possible plans.  Drafting a number of possiblities, bringing materials into the plan, going deeper and with more detail and considering all options. Drafting several plans – going back to INVESTIGATE by collecting opinion and feedback and ultimately choosing one plan forward, creating a more concrete ‘blueprint’ and formalising details.


Taking action and turning plans into reality. Stopping to reflect, check back, update and adjust the orignal plan, and record those changes and thinking behind them. Honouring the process – testing along the way and making adjustments to optimize and improve the original plan.


Taking time to ask for feedback, reflect, test the product, living with it and using it for a while and continually evaluating its success against the original investigation and within that the purpose of the design itself.  

So, as Taryn’s blog post (August 2019 – The magic of a student designed Studio.  ) records both the Studio 5 team and the learners HAD followed the design process, so why were these purpose-fully designed spaces no longer being used for the purpose they were designed for?

Through reflection and discussion ( the team’s own investigation in the Design cycle) there was a realisation, that although, the Studio had been purposefully designed by the learners and, there certainly had been many opportunities for learners to use their voice, make choices and have ownership of the spaces, our learners had designed and set these spaces up without really understanding what spaces they would need as learners.

The learners’ purpose planners and student directed units of inquiry were created after the design and set up of the studio spaces.

So, although we had a fitness room, most of the more active purpose units needed the dance room or the field for their inquiries. Although we had a creative arts space, most inquiries focused on arts and creativity were drawn to the Fab Lab and expertise of Mr Nhan (@NhanNgu38386685  ) and Mr. Frank (@PhuHua ), and although we had a reading room, it proved to be a great space for quiet reflection, blogging or skyping with experts.

Following the winter break, we had, as a school, invited Duane Smith ( ) back to work with our learning community. Duane had worked with our Lower Primary and Early Explorers teams during our 3E Conference to create purposeful learning spaces that invited learners in to engage and connect with their environment, and to do this through vision of ‘shared responsibility’.

One of my personal beliefs in schools, is we should be taking full advantage of the ideas, the creativity, the problem solving and the incredible practices within our school and our colleagues.  We have so much to learn from each other and I am constantly encouraging Studio 4 & 5 to visit our Early Explorers, our Kg team to visit the Arts space and our teachers to celebrate and learn with and from each other.

So, for Duane’s January visit, we asked him to not only extend the work he had done with the younger year groups to the upper primary, but also to see if he could encourage, support, connect and celebrate vertical learning opportunities within the school.

When Duane met with the Studio 5 team, the discussion and reflection centred around their studio spaces. Duane is an advocate of ‘shared responsibility’ and so his values of agency and the design of spaces belonging to the learner and the community very much aligns with ours.

Duane’s discussions focused on the learners and their needs:

  • the need to feel respected,
  • need to be free to express themselves,
  • need to be safe to take risks and make mistakes.
  • need to have spaces for individual and collective learning
  • need to have access to spaces, resources and experts as and when they need them.

And then, as a true community, taking shared responsibility: the teachers and advisors:

  • the need to feel a sense of belonging for the place they work,
  • the need to have community space
  • the need to have private space

Returning after the winter break, Studio 5 learners took some time to reflect and decide whether they were going to ‘pivot or persevere’ for their second student designed inquiry.

Now, as we go into Semester 2, plans are in place and learners now have a more of an idea of who they are as learners and what they would like to acheive through their second unit. They also have a more informed idea of what tools, materials and spaces they might need as they embark on their second student designed unit of inquiry.

Taking some of the learning from time spent with Duane, the team decided a ‘re-do’ was needed and thus, prior to the Tet (Vietnam New Year) holiday, the studio space went through a big ‘ clear-out’. For the second time this year, shelves were cleared, cupboards emptied, materials collected in a huge studio-sized spring clean (in true Tet style). As you walked through the studio, this is what you saw. A provocation to engage and invite the learners in (again!)

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Once cleared and stacked, learners were then asked to sort their ‘trash from the treasure’ , negotiate with each other re: needs and wants and make informed decisions as to what might be needed to support their learning, both individually and collectively.

They have ‘reset’ and are back to zero.….. and that’s OK.

But are they really? There’s been an incredible amount of learning, reflection, thinking and discussion throughout the past semeseter and this process. Taking the time to reflect, ‘revisit their why’ and  whilst appreciating the successes of August not being afraid to go back to an ‘almost’ blank slate, but this time with  more intention to ensure their ‘why’ was still true.

Tomorrow we begin Semester 2.

Studio 5 learners will be asked to consider and re-consider the purpose of their collaborative learning spaces and, using the design principles reflect on the impact of those spaces on their learning both as individuals but also through the collective lens and maintaining the concept of “shared responsibility”.

I can’t wait to see what they come up with!



Making Better Teachers

making better teachers

Last week, I was interviewed by Kevin O’Shea who is currently working in Beijing, China as a PYP/Nature/Outdoor educator.

Kevin it the host of the BRAND NEW Making Better Teachers Podcast 

From following Kevin on Twitter and listening to his podcast it is obviousl that Kevin is a learner – and has this thirst for wanting to know more. Through his podcast his has explored a number of issues with regards to education and the different perspectives in varying contexts in education.

He contacted me to talk about our #ISHCMCIB model of self-directed learning in our #ISHCMCIB Primary PYP setting.  It was a pleasure sharing some of the great work our educators are doing at our school, and an honor to talk to Kevin and his followers.

If you would like to follow Kevin on Twitter, his handle is @MadForMaple

His wordpress site is: 

“What does student centered learning look like? Where is it going? In this episode we speak to Tania Mansfield, PYP Coordinator at International School Ho Chi Minh City about their Studio model of student centered learning. What is it? How was it developed and where is it going? “

Following the podcast, I realised that there were so many more educators and schools exploring the concept of AGENCY and pushing the boundaries of education, that I had failed to mention. So I have begun to compile a “Connections for Change” list for others to connect to.

There are also a number of ever growing educators on Twitter that I have begun to save in “Twitter Lists” and you are welcome to add to these lists.

This is not an exhaustive list and I ask that if I have missed some amazing blogs, educators, schools, twitter feeds that you please add to this so that we may all continue to learn.



Vietnam Tech Conference 2019

On January 26th & 27th January I attended the Vietnam Tech Conference hosted by Saigon South International School. Their Conference website is HERE  


Their Tagline this year was “Agents of Change”  and highlighted the conference mission of:

  • Providing  a venue for educators to inquire and explore how they can effectively integrate technology within the classroom.
  • Creating  a community of educators pushing the boundaries of educational technology
  • Promoting Digital citizenship and awareness throughout our learning communities.



The Keynote this year was by Warren Apel (@warrena ) who is currently the Director of Technology at the American School in Japan. Warren opened the conference with the provocation “Becoming an agent of change” highlighting that schools are notoriously averse to change”.   Warren shared his personal stories of change, along with research from economics and psychology, to start us thinking how we too could be an “agent of change”.

It was refreshing to be attending a conference as a learner, someone who had some knowledge but was looking forward to meeting experts, to hearing stories of change and also to celebrate our #ISHCMCIB colleagues who were presenting and sharing their own learning and successes.

One of my personal goals this year has been to explore sketchnoting and digital notetaking so I used the conference as an opportunity to ‘have a go’ in real-time during the conference.

I attended 4 workshops during the conference:

David Lee (@davidleeedtech  )









Adam Torrens ( @EvolvedToMrAdam ) & Meryn Rainey ( @MerynRainey  ) spiderwebsDx6j-aQUUAInx9z








Chris Smith ( @SmithRChris  )










Luke Dyer (@dukelyer  )







All of these workshops introduced me to something new, as well as some revisiting of ideas and affirmation of what our educators are practicing at #ISHCMCIB.

Chris Smith’s (@SmithRChris ) workshop was my first time exploring Keynote as a tool for sketchnoting and it was a great opportunity to ‘play’ whilst there were experts and other learners in the room to learn with and from.

I took advantage of the ‘quiet’ time over the Vietnamese Tet holiday to take some of Chris’ tips and tricks and apply them to my notes from his workshop.

So I went, from this….








.to this:


My next step was to play with the animation features and see if I could recreate the workshop in ‘animation’ style.

It was easier than I thought… and with a few glitches to still iron out… this is what I ended up with.


I have also been, for a whilst now, hovering over students’ shoulders as they have been playing with Procreate,  sketching, drawing and painting.

However, this is a paid app, so rather than spend the money before I have developed the skill level, I decided to test my creativity a little further and try some ‘sketching’ with Keynote.

I chose a photo of my boys and began to play:

IMG_1123 IMG_4745.JPG

Far from the talent of some of our students, but a start……


So I continue to learn, to play and to ask experts…. and to find ways to document my learning in creative ways.

Always learning….






The signals within the noise…

For a while now, we have had this on going question thrown at us from different directions. “How do we know our model of self-directed learning is successful?“. The question is constantly present – being asked by stakeholders, our board, our Head of School, our parents, and ourselves.

Our discomfort has been in that we continue to struggle with the definition of ‘success‘. We are opposed to defining success of learning and the success of a child through one time and place statistics or data points, on standardised assessments and on what can be measured through numbers and graphs. We constantly battle with the question – ‘how do we measure what matters?’

In our model, we see learners living the PYP, thriving, growing in confidence and becoming more reflective and self-aware whilst developing skills to motivate themselves and their peers. We see learners, who although on our radar as students of concern, fly because in our environment of self-directed learning,  no one is putting them in a box or pre-planning their path for them – but rather allowing them time, space, freedom and, most importantly developing respect and relationships within the model to support them and their learning.

So we struggle – to answer the question “How do we know our model of self-directed learning is successful?” as we continue to resist against the needs of others outside the model, and advocate for the needs of our learners within the model.

In September this year our principal, (@peterson_kurtis), provided us with a provocation to help us unpack our struggle:

“Our gut says its good – but how do we KNOW?”

He introduced our Studio 5 team to a text by Nate Silver, The Signal and the Noise.

noise3As a team we collaborated to record all the data we had collected last year, and compared it to the data we were planning to collect this year.

As you can see – we are not short of data.

We are literally drowning in evidence and data. Some of  the data is qualitative, some of it quantitative. Some collected and curated by advisors, others by learners. Some of it standardised, some of it subjective and collected through conferences, observations and conversations.


Data Summary – HERE – Our gut says it’s good but how do we know?


But look at it – there is what Nate Silver calls, just too much ‘noise’. There is too much for us to decipher, streamline and present….. so Kurtis challenged us – so where are the signals? 

This began more conversations and reflections, how could we decide on the signals if we didn’t know their purpose , how were these signals to be used?  

There has been alot of time and energy invested in this pilot of self-directed learning so we are a little hesitant to move forward without purpose – a little wary of agendas and resistant to feeling we’re being pushed back towards traditional thoughts and ways of  measuring success, assessing and collecting data…. so we hesitated… and reflected. 


A few meetings later, our Head of School (@rebelleader18) added to the conversation.

He introduced the short video Adaptable Minds –  which questions whether we are focusing on what matters in learning? 

He also sent out follow up clips for us to reflect on which included development and celebration of the character strengths from



purposeIf our gut did believe that this model was successful – and we had all this ‘noise’ – could we, as a school, a group of determined educators who were committed to change, could we come up with  “an authentic system that shows growth of our learners in a self-directed model.”  

The challenge was set, (and at this stage, my head hurt!) .  

Next meeting, we brainstormed some criteria for such a system:

A system that: 

  • was applicable from our youngest learners through the PYP and MYP to our eldest learners in the Diploma programme.
  • showed growth of the learner over time
  • allowed next steps and goals to be set.
  • would be transferrable and valued across age groups
  • would be transferrable and valued in other schools
  • authentic and embedded in real life context and learning 
  • was suitable for all learners
  • meaningful to all
  • manageable 
  • simple, effective and purposeful for all stakeholders

We then went to the research. There were so many conversations globally, so many schools working towards change, there must be something we can use as starting block to give us some direction.

So we went to the research, took time to read, reflect, dig deeper, discuss and then sort what could work for us, and what would align with our criteria?

Our research included:

Through all of this research, we liked alot of the pieces, but some were more secondary based and thus not applicable to our early learners, and some were still driven by ‘subjects’ and curriculum needs instead of the learner needs.

atlsWe eventually came back to our PYP ATL skills. Sometimes time and space to explore and gain perspective leads us to appreciate what we had in front of us the whole time. 

These 5 skills were what we believed learners needed…so how could we incorporate these into a system that fit all the criteria we had set for ourselves?


We continued to look at some of the tools and resources out there that could support us in our tracking of the ATL skills – but they were more about tracking rather than the learner….so we kept exploring.

In the weeks between meetings, 3 things happened. 

  1. The IB officially released the 3 documents making up the newly enhanced PYP Principles to practice.
  2. Our Former Studio 5 colleague, Suzanne (@OrenjiButa ) updated her wonderful graphics incorporating the new PYP ATL skills.
  3. Our student success team shared with us their student developed learning portfolio for student reflection, goal setting and action.

These 3 events helped us move forward in our purpose: 

atl 5

Fig. ATL01 – Pg 27 Learning & Teaching

The document “Learning & Teaching” from the IB PYP included this graphic on Pg 27  to represent the 5  interrealted Approaches To Learning Skills.  

It was so similar to our Studio 5 graphic, we were encouraged to move forward. 




Suzanne’s graphics helped us review and reflect on the changes to the ATL Skills in the PYP and compare and contrast to the MYP ATL Skills (graphics developed by @ndbekah) 


ilp templThe template that our student success team have been using for our learner led ILP conversations gave us a format that was already proven, that gave our learners ownership of their learning and gave them a voice to set their own goals. 

And this all helped us in formulating an idea…. however, if this idea was to meet all our criteria we needed to start a conversation with our MYP colleagues to see if our plan would be: 

  • applicable for our older learners in the MYP through to our eldest learners in the Diploma programme.
  • would be transferrable and valued across age groups 

So we presented our plan…..

  • to develop a system orientated around the ATL Skills that gave learners choice, voice and ownership of themselves, their learning and their next steps.
  • to develop a continuum using both the ATL PYP Skills and MYP Skills that guided learners in their reflection and assessment of their learning and inform their next steps.
  • to have this system directly feed into the learners’ Evaluations of Learning as they reflected on who they were as learners. 
  • to develop a system that followed our students as they advanced through to the MYP & DP. 

This is what we presented to the MYP:

Learner’s Journey – Self-Directed Model

The MYP team, were very supportive and positive in response to our thinking and plans to move forward.


They reflected that they had been working in Grade 6 individual google sites designed for students to develop reflective practices and had also come to the conclusion that the ATL Skills were the direction to head in, but they’d not yet got to discussions about an ATL continuum. 

So this is where we now are: (December 2018)

  • We have our purpose and the criteria to meet support that purpose.
  • We have our signals – the ATL skills 
  • We have a plan that this will feed directly into the learner Evaluations of Learning, so that learners will be reflecting on themselves as learners through the ATL skills and not through the traditional subjects in PYP & MYP. 
  • Evaluations of learning will reflect learners as ‘Researchers’, ‘Communicators’, ‘Self-Managers’, ‘Thinkers’, and ‘Socialisers’ and will include next steps and goals to be shared with others. 
  • Evaluations of learning will not have grades – we believe the power is in the narrative and the conversatsions leading up to and following the development of the learner reflections. 

Our next steps moving forward are: 

  • To revise and review the ATL continuum that our ATL committee developed using the new enhanced PYP ATL Skills descriptors
  • To explore the use of a google site for students to use that will follow them through their ISHCMC life and can be transferred to new school contexts. 
  • To explore and play with the potential with our learners and get their voice and feedback whilst assessing the best way to ensure the format is  manageable  and simple, effective and purposeful for all stakeholders (as agreed in our criteria) 
  • To introduce to our lower PYP grades levels and begin the conversation with them is this something they could adapt and use developmentally?
  • To follow up plans to silence some of the other data that is creating ‘noise’ so that the data we collect continues to be learner owned.

We’d be interested in hearing from anyone who may be on a similar journey, or have found ways to manage student digital portfolios of learning for a whole school ( K – 12 system)  or have maybe found alternative ways to develop  “an authentic system that shows growth of our learners in a self-directed model.”  


Chrismas Baking – the ‘WHY?’

We’re spending the Christmas holidays at home in Vietnam this year. We’ve nothing really planned, just family time, home time, resting and recovering and hanging out.

Part of my ‘idea’ of Christmas is my Mum’s Christmas cooking – shortbread, fudge and pavlova. It has now become a family expectation. As my eldest declared last week, it’s not Christmas until there is “Nana Pat’s fudge in the fridge”.  So, with time on our hands this holiday, our youngest and I began baking.

My youngest has always loved cooking. To be honest, I think it is more a love of the product than the process, but his motivation to enjoy the product fills his need to be part of the process.  He is also a ‘why? guy’.

So making shortbread, he asks, “why add cornflour?“, “why so much butter?” , “why is it dry?” , “What makes it shortbread?”, “why do we prick it with a fork?

Making my mum’s fudge, he asks, “why do we add egg to fudge?”, “why do we bring it to the boil?”.  “How do you know that’s enough cocoa?”, “What happens if we don’t add vanilla essence?”

Making pavlova he asks, “why only the egg whites?”, “why do you add sugar a little at a time?”,  “Why do we add salt and vinegar to something sweet?” , “Why don’t you hit the mixing bowl?”, ” Why do we let it rest in the oven, whilst everything else, we take out?

I didn’t have all the answers to his questions.

I do know that cornflour thickens things but I don’t know why, I do know the eggs help bind the ingredients but I don’t know why, I do know adding sugar to meringue too fast makes it crystallise, and thus burn, but I don’t know why (I assume it’s something to do with sugar burning at a certain temperature?),  I do know that taking meringue out of the oven before it cools makes it drop (and wastes ingredients and an hour of your time!) but I don’t really know why.

I’m not a chef , just a mum that cooks and follows family recipes and knows what to do through experience and by watching and cooking with my own mum and others through the years.  I can DO. I have some KNOWLEDGE, but I don’t really UNDERSTAND.

I don’t have the deep understanding to be able to explain the “Why?” to my son. I enjoy baking, am capable and competent, but I don’t know the “Why?”  or really understand the science behind the baking.  I just know what to do and how to do it.

Each time my youngest asked “Why?”, I had to apologise because I didn’t know and then we’d either move on, or he’d ask google assistant.  Half way through one of our sessions, he reflected outloud to me:

“It’s like me and math, 
I know how to do and what to do
…..but I don’t know why”

I kept kneading and making shortbread with him but he started me thinking….

Last month we ran a parent workshop on “Developing Mathematical Thinkers“. Being an international PYP school we are committed to developing mathematical learners through concepts and having our learners apply their understanding in a real world context.

We, continue to help our parents develop their understanding for the need to develop mathematical thinkers rather than focusing on math being all about calculation and speed.  We continue to work to support our parents by introducing them to maths strategies and games, mathematical concepts and the importance of developing a understanding of how numbers work.

So, what if we can use my son’s reflection and thinking to help support our parents understanding of the importance of developing mathematical thinkers?

What if we can use the real-life contexts and analogies to help support our parents understanding in the importance of developing mathematical thinkers ?

I wonder what other real-life contexts and analogies we can use to help support our parents understanding of education and how school, teaching and learning is changing ?

Those beautiful questions.

Last month Edna Sackson published a new blogpost, Liberating the Programme of Inquiry.

Some beautiful questions to drive thinking, to challenge norms and to stir up those creative juices in response the newly published, PYP Enhancement documents. Before the publication of the documents, there had been many rumours and wonderings gleaned from the drip-drip of information coming from the IB. The new long-awaited documents now provide more clarity on the direction of the PYP,

I was recently running a PYP workshop, when Edna’s blog post was raised in open discussion. Some saw these beautiful questions as a relief , a celebration and step in the right direction and embraced the possibilities.

Others were more critical – these beautiful questions were pipe-dreams, un-realistic, and pushed the boundaries of the PYP just a little too far.

Before responding, I paused to reflect and remember that as learners and educators we are all in different places in our ‘PYP journey’, working in different contexts, within different parameters and are developing our understanding through different pathways. So, although I wanted to react and respond to those that were more critical, I understand that some may see these these beautiful questions as just that ….’beautiful’. But I urged…. they are not impossible.

At International School of Ho Chi Minh (ISHCMC) , some of these beautiful questions are very much a reality.

Edna’s Beautiful questions: 

  • What if….whole school unit of inquiry, linked to our whole school focus?
  • What if we we have the same central idea for all the classes at one grade level, but each group of learners develop their own lines of inquiry?

Since 2015 ISHCMC have had a whole school unit of inquiry, under Who we Are. This unit was developed in response to a need in our school of a consistent approach to our understanding of  being a learning community and is the first unit for the beginning of the year across all grade levels and specialists. You can read about the ISHCMC journey developing this HERE.

In 2018 – our whole school Who We Are unit looks like this


This central idea and unit was developed for a purpose, a need in the school community and relevant to the school and the needs of the learners at that time. Over the past 3 years we have grown as a school, we have changed as a school and our learners have grown and their needs have developed, so this year we will review our process, our central idea and ask ‘is the purpose still true.’  Our whole community teachers, learners and parents focus on this inquiry as a community and it sets the tone for our year ahead – an inquiry into Who We Are.

Edna’s Beautiful questions:

  • What if units do not follow one after another, but rather overlap and intersect?
  • What if one unit incorporates two trans disciplinary themes? 
  • What if some units are year long, some short, some ongoing… depending on content, concepts, trans disciplinary possibilities and student interest?
  • What if we actively seek unexpected combinations of learning areas, like science and poetry? 
  • What if one unit incorporates two trans disciplinary themes?
  • What if we wait to develop the lines of inquiry till we see where the learners want to take it? 

At ISHCMC we have anumber of units that overlap, that flow into each other ( same central idea but different TD theme and lines of inquiry.  See our POI HERE across our grade levels.

ee 2018

Early Explorers @ISHCMCIB  – POI  – 2018-2019

In Early Explorers this year, we have all four units of inquiry running simultaneously over the year, and are observing as learners are invited to provocations and learning engagements and we are noticing, naming, documenting and responding to learners and their learning.

In Kindergarten last year we had two units running parallel, How the world works and How we express ourselves. (Previous blog post on this)  It allowed for time, space, connections and inquiry to happen. It transformed 2 lots of 6 weeks of  ‘hurry-time’ into 13 glorious weeks of inquiring, curiousity, play and the ‘so what’. Now with the new enhancements this unit has been rolled into one under How we Express Ourselves – with an authentic focus on science and maths, bringing the awe and the wonder to how the world works and how we are inspired to create.

Our Grade 3 team this year have played with theit units of inquiry. That beautiful “what if…” and the culture of the ‘Permission of Yes’.  They have put the authentic needs of their learners first whilst  designing their year. They now have 2 year long units, one of which threads itself through all of the other units of inquiry, because learning is not a silo. They have one unit that re-occurs (because learning never stops) and 3 that now have more time to explore and inquire.

g3 2018

Grade 3 @ISHCMCIB – POI – 2018 – 2019

Edna’s Beautiful questions:

  • What if we actively seek unexpected combinations of learning areas, like science and poetry?

We are forever trying to fit Arts, Music. PSPE etc into our classroom units….but transdisciplinarity in not a one-way highway…. learning is learning.

This year, our Head of PE & I sat and watched kids playing at camp. We observed individuals and groups. We observed who picked up sticks and stones, and what they did with them, who observed and interacted with nature, who created natural game zones and courts and who climbed, ran, sat and played.

This led to a ‘eureka’ moment for both of us. We marveled as we watched and chatted just how much authentic maths and science there was in this 30 minutes of outdoor play.  So… we wondered, why could the maths, science and arts not be integrated and taught through the PE units and lessons? And why could classroom teachers not take more advantage of  more classroom time to bring learners outside to explore maths and science concepts through PE and outdoor exploration?

So, with a stick, drawing in the dirt we started brainstorming and mapping possibilities and opportunities for data collection, measurement , and forces through the athletics component ot the PE unit whilst ensuring learning had multiple pathways as classrooms maths units incorporated athletics and swimming and games into their real ife math applications.

Edna’s Beautiful questions:

  • What if we wait to develop the lines of inquiry till we see where the learners want to take it?

We have a number of units where the first line of inquiry is the tuning in….and we wait.  If it is the learners unit, their inquiry and their learning, why do we insist on planning all 3 lines of inquiry at the beginning of the unit?

But, I wonder if maybe even writing the first line of inquiry is taking it too far?  What if the provocation is exactly that –  a provocation where we as educators observe and wait.  There is power in the wait. It creates that precious ‘think time’. So what if  we as educators also used this ‘wait time’ to observe, to reflect, to probe and to then discuss next steps forward?  (Found this mindful link that explores this idea) and we then bring all the student data back before we go next steps and respond to learners ….and plan which path to take for tuning in and true inquiry.

Edna’s Beautiful questions:

  • What if we analyse our program of inquiry in terms of the concentric circle model and check the balance between opportunities for self discovery and thinking beyond ourselves?

At ISHCMC we don’t have a concentric circle model – although we are watching and learning with interest what Edna and her team are developing and using with their learners at Mt. Scopus.

21st cent

Our Head of School (@rebelleader18)  provoked our thinking last year –  “What if all units focus not just on developing knowledge, understanding and skills but on developing human beings?”

So during our reflections we include the attributes of the 21st Century learner – how did this unit help to develop and contribute to building better humans?

Edna’s Beautiful questions:

  • What if every grade level has at least one unit that is individual and personal, student selected and student driven?

At ISHCMC, our Studio model of self-directed learning allows for complete learner choice and mapping of the learning through the studio.  Follow some of our educator blogs – Making Good Humans & Innovative Inquirers to learn more.

This year, Studio 4 and Grade 3 currently have incomplete central ideas (the ellipsis is our friend!) ….where learners choose how to complete the Central Idea – giving them ownership of the unit, ensuring accountability of their learning and giving them the opportunity to construct their own understanding and to have ownership of their learning.


Edna’s Beautiful questions:

  • What if we liberate ourselves from the traditional curriculum prison and explore new vistas? 

Yep….what if ?  What if we were brave and daring? What if we put learners and learning before curriculum and standards and paperwork – What if ? What if we asked more of these beautiful questions and turned them into a reality? What if?

I look forward to reading how others have turned beautiful questions into reality within their learning contexts and how Edna and her team approach their POI review this year – we will be watching , learning and asking more of those beautiful questions.


Agency begins at home.

This past summer, we took a family holiday to Sri Lanka. Beautiful country with such a range of landscapes, travel options and things to do – be it beaches, heritage, culture, and the most amzing food.

I am usually the sort of person who prefers to have everything mapped, planned, budgeted and organised, but we decided this holiday to not over plan. We had a few things on our list of “Must Dos” and did not want to put ourselves in the position of wanting or needing a couple more days in one spot, to have the options taken away because of bookings and pre-booked tickets.

Our boys are now also of the age (11 & 15) that we decided we could travel in ‘semi-backpacker’ style – travelling on a range of local buses, trains, tuk tuks and cars and accommodation ranging from backpacker hostel types to homestays to small hotels.

We left Vietnam with one bag between all 4 of us deciding all we needed were t-shirts, shorts and swimmers and an agreed budget of no more than USD65 for all four of us for each night.

In this modern world, the internet is a wonderful tool when travelling – data available, maps, apps and google allowing us as tourists to always be connected and allowing us choice in research. During the trip we did reminisce about the days of Lonely Planet and Fodors and chatting to travellers in hostels and bars and never really knowing where you were going until you arrived.

We landed in Colombo, ticked off money, Sim cards and taxis and found our way to our Air BnB – all researched and organised online.

The next day, thanks to the Sri Lankan app of ‘Pick Me’, google maps plus travel advisor we were able to navigate our way through the sights of Colombo. During the day we also found our way to the train station, got ourselves tickets for the next day and then headed to the ‘green’ to watch the cricket players and kite flyers at sunset.

A wonderful dinner treat at the Gallery through a friend’s Facebook recommendation.

All of this researched online navigating our ways through apps and online tools.

The next morning, a Pick Me car to the train station and we sat back to enjoy our train ride to Kandy.

Having time to sit back, chat, play cards and read as we trundled through the tea plantations, I sat back to read a couple of the books that have been sitting on my shelf. ‘Empower’ by John Spencer was one of them. I found myself nodding along as I read, making notes and highlighting some points in preparation  for our orientation of our new teachers and how we, as a school, could extend our beliefs to our new members of the community.


Tea Plantations everywhere

With this headspace and hat on…I sat back, watched the tea plantations go by and started thinking….


John Spencer ‘Empower”  (@spencerideas)

Our boys were very capable young people, educated, thinkers and problem solvers and had access to the same tools and research we had. They were as able to research and make decisions as we were, so why were we, the adults, making all the holiday decisions for them?

Agreed they were tourists as were we, but they were being pulled along and so, far being very tolerant of the ‘pull’ but were not really being involved in the decisions or choices being made. They were passengers in their own holiday and we were not providing any opportunity for them to either navigate or drive. 

New city – new mindset


With this niggling thought we arrived in Kandy.

Our first task was to buy tickets for our next train journey, and I decided to start putting my thoughts into action. I asked my eldest to head to information to find out where, when and how to buy tickets for the next day whilst I handed my phone to my youngest and asked him to book the ‘Pick Me’ driver to our Air BnB. Both did as well as we could have. Driver booked. Information received and plans in place.

We checked into the Air BnB, and as we showered and got sorted, I threw my phone to the boys said I had ‘tagged’ a couple of sites and restaurants and asked them to come up with a plan and book a driver.

Their research led them to confirming we didn’t need a driver, we could walk, and that as well as the temple of the tooth at sunset, there was also a cultural dance and fire walking show – and they’d chosen a restaurant to suit all our needs within walking distance.

I wasn’t so convinced about the dance show as they can be a tourist trap, so I suggested they ask our host for information – they came back with free tickets, and suggestions to take sarongs for the temple as shorts were not allowed.  

All this whilst, I showered, changed, had a coffee and got luggage sorted.

Travelling through Asia means Google maps are not always your friend, but as this was not our  plan, but rather the boys plan, they led the way confidently and stopped to check with locals on where we were going.  As we arrived at the temple and purchased tickets, they also reminded the ticket master of the ‘student’ discount and presented their student cards – saving us about USD 100 total. 

We had a wonderful evening finished off with dinner and a few cold beverages.  During dinner – we talked about train plans. We had some option. If we managed to get reserved seating then all was well – but without reserved seating the reality was potentially standing for 7 hours. None of us had any  control over whether tickets were available or not, but our eldest thought if he and Dad went early enough , the man would remember him.

So the next morning at 6.30am, they headed to buy tickets. The Pick Me app didn’t give any success so they decided to Tuk Tuk it. We had already had conversations about ‘current rate’ so the eldest knew his budget and haggled well.  The reward was success – 4 seats on the 7 hour train journey – and time for local breakfast at the station.

My youngest and I joined them having had time to sleep in, have a balcony breakfast. This ‘handing it over’ was going well so far!


Kandy to Ella

The train journey from Kandy to Ella is famous – an incredible train trip up through the mountains, passed tea plantations and countryside.

We started chatting to some retired locals, and of course being from NZ, the conversation turned to cricket. We were given some of their fruit from their garden at home and talked of our plans and got some great tips.

We also chatted to fellow tourists who also had lots of information and tips. All the whilst including the boys, modeling for them and ensuring they were part of the conversations and questions.

Half way through the journey, I mentioned I had not yet booked accommodation for Ella. I had bookmarked a few on Air BnB and but that was as far as I had got.  I threw the phone (yes – it was getting thrown around a bit!) to the boys, reminded them of the budget and asked them to book. They found a great family room, below budget, with breakfast and wifi and all was done.  I also asked them to look for places for dinner – which they did.

As we walked to our hotel from the train station they recognised some of the restaurant names and stopped to check out menus, and the place itself. Some were quickly crossed off the list as “not as advertised’ and some new ones added.  

When we got to our hostel – the boys checked us in, as they had done the booking with us only providing our passports. They confirmed wifi and breakfast and also if there were any tourist information sites.

We were told – by the boys – that if we wanted to beat the sunset , we had 10 minutes to get ready as the walk was an hour and we could also do the 9-arch bridge on the way.


Now – if it had been the adults saying all this – the groans, and complaints and noise we would have got! But it was coming from the boys, their plans…… (I must admit I wasn’t really sure of a hike – but …… couldn’t look back now!)

We found our way, got lost, asked for directions – and when I say ‘we’ I mean the boys. We made it to the top for sunset, took in the awe of this incredible country and headed back to town for dinner.

The boys had decided on a perfect place – cold beers and ginger beers, burgers and local curries and the world cup soccer on. When we asked how they found this place, they had worked out it was the sister place to the one in Kandy the night before and they’d seen it advertised last night.

So…..that was it – one day in.  An 11 year old and 15 year old had booked transport,train tickets, accomodation, made plans and found us a place for dinner.

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Finding their way in an authentic setting.

The adults had sat back and followed their lead, providing some help if asked for.

We made plans together for the next days hike, and I volunteered to organise snacks and liquids whilst they researched the route. The next day the route was a little tricky along railway lines, through tea plantations and villages, but the boys had found a blog with detailed directions and thus had screenshot what we needed – just in case data was not available. ( 21st Century Learners!)

A gruelling hike ( for me!) and one where I realised this was the holiday that the students had become the masters – in more ways than one!

So from that point on we handed the boys the decision making – there were a few criterias such as budget, the fact we had a flight to catch home at some stage and also some ‘musts that we wanted to do as a family ranging from heritage, culture, surfing and food.’’

Were there a couple of hiccups along the way? Sure but no more than there would have been if the adults had been in charge, and really no deal breakers.

Were they more efficient on the apps and planning – absolutely.

Did they build skills and confidence as they interacted with the locals, problem solved and researched. Absolutely.

Were we included in the decision making – of course, but we didn’t lead it. It was our holiday too, so we were included and informed and had a say all the way – which is I think more than we had given them at the beginning of the holiday and we had a very stress free holiday – and gelled as a family having conversations, making plans, considering each others’ points of view and being together.

So, although very much an advocate of agency in education and schools…I feel as a parent I had not transferred this belief am now a believer that agency needs to begin at home.

As parents of toddlers, we do this so well as they learn to walk, to feed themselves, to dress themselves, to brush their teeth and to take responsibility of their belonging I wonder when this stops?

Why do we as parents stop promoting and pushing this growth of independence, this freedom to learn and to make mistakes?

As parents, I believe that we need to be providing our children with time, space and opportunity to exercise and have choice, voice and ownership of their lives.  They are capable young people, they are smart, informed and amazing problem solvers and we should be taking advantage of this skill set. We owe it to our children. They deserve it. 

Thank you to John Spencer (@spencerideas) for provoking my thinking ( again!) and helping us make this a family time and holiday to remember.


Other resources for parents :

Edna Sackson’s (@whatedsaid ) “Top 10 series” :

The case for the self-driven child : The case for the Self-driven child   (Thank you @makingoodhumans )

Anyone else have great resources for parents to support agency at home?