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Deep Learning in Action

While I love and appreciate working with theories, research and frameworks, I’ve always been one who needs to try things out and get hands-on. This week’s resources were just what I needed to take the next steps toward action and I know I’ve said this a thousand times, but the timing couldn’t be better. Many of the grade levels I work with have either just started or are in the planning stages for units that incorporate aspects of design thinking and PBL, so this is where I’ll focus my energy this week.

Grade 1 Takes on Design Thinking

UOI Graphic by me

One of my favorite grade levels to collaborate with is the Grade 1 team because they’re always willing to try new things. In this particular unit, a lot of the core elements remain the same as in previous years, but a few changes have been made, especially in transdisciplinary learning with music, art and technology integration. These changes came about because several of the team members are new this year and don’t have a lot of institutional memory of the way things have been done before.

In the past, the art teacher would work with the students to create papier-mache instruments that would be affixed with a conductive material and connected to Makey Makeys. These would then play pre-recorded loops of music when attached to a computer. Upon reading the unit plans and speaking with returning team members, I got excited about the creative project but also nervous because I’d not done a project like this before and neither had the art teacher. We had both heard stories from people within the school that this project took a really long time to complete and was a lot of work for everyone involved. Licia (the new art teacher) and I put our heads together and thought about ways we could preserve the tradition and integrity of this transdisciplinary unit while keeping it within the timeline of the unit and simplifying the project a bit AND use Design Thinking. She decided to throw out the papier-mache part and stick with using the design process to build new instruments from recycled materials. Meanwhile, Stephen (the music teacher) and I agreed to get the kids to create their own music compositions on their iPads using GarageBand in music class, an idea inspired by my Twitter feed. My hope is that the creative process can be woven into this component when students share their compositions to get feedback from peers and teachers.

Design Thinking will also be used throughout this unit in their homeroom class as students start with the empathy stage of this process by interviewing a classmate about his or her likes, wants and needs with regards to a backpack. They will then go through ideation, prototyping, getting feedback, and revising until they’ve created a backpack to suit the needs of their classmates (the end-user).

Passion-Based Learning in Grade 3

UOI Graphic by me

Another grade level team I’ve had the opportunity to interact with lately has been third grade. Their team is dynamic and strong with lots of exciting things happening across the curriculum. One of the things I was most excited to collaborate on this year with them is their year-long unit on different forms of expression because they chose to take on student-led passion projects, something I’ve never seen done successfully over an extended period of time.

While this unit started with a provocation at the very beginning of the school year, the teaching team has decided to reinvigorate the unit with the second round of provocations; this time with special guests from the faculty sharing their passions to spark interest and creativity. Naturally, I’ve signed up to share my love of cross stitch and embroidery with the classes next week.

As I spent time scrolling through the Atlas planner for the upcoming unit, I was struck by how nicely project-based learning, passion projects and the PYP fit together. Each of these is grounded in 21st-century skills, engages learners in authentic inquiry, and places learners at the center of the experience with a sense of agency and autonomy over their learning. And really, this is the essence of Deep Learning and the reason why I am an educator.

ISTE Connections

As luck would have it, the end of this course coincides with the end of my online modules for my ISTE certification and marks the beginning of a big, culminating showcase of my learning and knowledge in both programs. That means I’ve been getting in the habit of measuring my work against the ISTE standards for educators and students and then trying to find creative ways to document, explain and share this work with stakeholders. To this end, I’ve taken on a couple of tasks and hope to be able to share these as the weeks unfold. For now, I’ll share the ones in process:

New Bulletin Board, Who Dis?

ISTE-inspired Bulletin Board

Close up view

One of the ways I’m showcasing the work being done with ISTE Standards around the school is by redesigning the bulletin board outside the IT room to incorporating these awesome ISTE posters created by Tanya LeClair, my predecessor and all-around EdTech rockstar and publicize the tweets shared by teachers that align with the ISTE standards and our school’s mission in another way. My hope is to bring more awareness to the standards, compel more teachers to join Twitter and begin compiling evidence for the portfolio project in my ISTE certification course.

Seeking Alignment

Another ongoing project in the works is happening with grade levels teams and the PYP Coordinator as we look at new/updated science (NGSS) and social studies (AERO 2019) standards and how they fit together with the ISTE standards to develop a new Program of Inquiry. This is arduous but important work that I hope to have a better handle on soon so I can share it out as part of my final projects for COETAIL and ISTE. For now, just know that it’s a large part of what I’m hoping to accomplish in planning meetings with teams this year.

Looking Ahead, Looking Behind

Next week marks the end of another COETAIL course and the end of another calendar year; both events beckoning me to reflect on the journey behind and to begin planning for another cycle of learning ahead. And while I haven’t accomplished all of the goals I set for myself back when the year began (mostly personal- weight loss, exercise, meditation, etc), I’ve come a long way in accomplishing some professional goals, so I’m going to choose to celebrate these wins and let that momentum carry me forward.

I hope to hear from my COETAIL cohort and PLN over the next few weeks about what this journey has been like for them and all the things they’re looking forward to in the year ahead. What about you? What pearls of wisdom can you share about your learning journey throughout the year?


Many of the ideas and materials being used were inspired, adapted or just downright stolen from the following:

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