Posted by: sherrattsam | April 19, 2010

“Blanning”: How Green is Your Issue?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The students were given some decent paper and a small selection of chalk and oil pastels. They were asked to use shades of green and only one more colour in order to show their issue from a green/nature perspective through abstract art.

Many of them were not familiar with abstract art, which was quite a shock! However, I shared some examples of the work done by the teachers at the Green School (see previous posting) and that seemed to unlock some of their creativity.

The students wrote an explanation of their work on an index card and then they put them up on a display board.

Some of the ideas that came out of students sharing their work were very interesting and could lead on to some bigger works of art to form part of the exhibition:

  • Sasha’s drawing of blue water that is becoming more and more polluted could become a large “timeline painting” that shows what we have been doing to water throughout history. It could also include some vision for the future.
  • Rosna’s image of plastic bags on top of a natural background could be extended to become a painting of the Earth that is covered with cut-out bits of plastic to represent plastic bags. She could stick these on herself, or make it interactive in order to increase the shock value!
  • Alfie’s growing cloud of cigarette smoke could also be turned into an interactive piece of work. He wanted to get people to sign a petition. maybe, instead, he could get people to contribute to a massive cloud of smoke?

These ideas for further development of the artwork came from Naomi Natale’s One Million Bones project.

The slideshow is doing some strange things!

I’m going to attempt use this blog to document all my planning, both before and as everything happens, as I work with my Year 6 students through the PYP exhibition process. I’m going to call this “Blanning”… because “Blagging” is just too honest!

Tomorrow, I’m going to use the Nature lens of the Compass. Through the Nature lens, students are asked to consider the implications of their issues from the natural perspective. So, for example, making links between local beggars and deforestion and loss of homes in Myanmar and Cambodia.

I was thinking of having quite an open-ended day, with students making choices of a number of ways to consider the links between issues and nature. But then I thought it might be good to have a series of finite activities that need to be done within a specific timeframe and then shared and reflected on before moving on to something very different. Perhaps:

  • Students could use expressive materials like pastels and charcoal to create an impulsive abstract piece of artwork based on their thoughts about their issues in the green context. I will limit them to using only shades of green and one other significant colour. I got the idea from a session my Dad did for the teachers at the Green School Bali:
  • Creating quotes, locating quotes, sharing quotes: This would be the search for existing and student-created quotes that illustrate connections between their issue and nature. They will have a set amount of time to find and develop their quotes, and then the same amount of time again to think about how they will share it.
  • Green Data: Up-to-date facts and figures that will back up student ideas, arguments and conclusions. Again, they will have a set amount of time to find and collate their data, and then the same amount of time again to think about how they will share it. Emphasis will be placed on producing infographics here, probably leaning heavily on using the SmartArt features of Microsoft Word, or for the more technologically advanced.
  • I’d like to end the day with a lot of talking, walking and looking at what the kids have produced. I’ll try to provoke conversations and play devil’s advocate a bit. Then, I’ll get them to identify the “Key Connections” between their issue and the Nature lens of the Compass. They may blog those by comments on a posting. They may display them visually in the room, they may do both… we’ll see what happens tomorrow!

So, during all of this – hopefully – the Compass Guides will be dropping in whenever they have 5 or 10 minutes to spare and taking a look at what the kids are thinking, what directions they’re moving in and what ideas they have for them.

I've shamelessley created another wordle for this posting by copying pasting the words in the posting into wordle and hitting "randomize" several times. So simple, so good to look at. But... they can't be used all the time.
Posted by: sherrattsam | April 17, 2010

6SS Compass Drop-in Sessions

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It’s hard to make exact plans for the next stage of our exhibition as we’re never fully sure the school will be open or that several students will take extended holidays. However, it will be a priority for us to look at the students’ issues through each lens of the Compass in  myriad of ways. I ‘m thinking:

  • Hi-quality image searching, seeking images that are entirely relevant, powerful and large file sizes for added manipulation and poster design. I get the students using the Creative Commons image search as they have share-alike copyrights which means we can use them as long as they are credited.
  • Quotes from media reports and opinion
  • Data in the form of infographics  – see
  • Use Wordle to create visuals of frequently used words in media stories, blog comments, interviews (see the examples in the slideshow that I created by pasting the text of this posting into Wordle).

Students will spend the day looking at their issue solely from the perspective of one lens and will be responsible for sharing their findings throughout the day. Compass Guides are invited to drop-in to the classroom at any time during the day in order to give feedback, provoke ideas and familiarize the students further with actually talking to different people about their issues.

Technology will play a major part in each day. I’m imagining students will be:

  • Searching the Internet for images
  • Reading online news and reports
  • Watching Youtube videos
  • Reading or writing on the 6SS Blog
  • Recording video using Flip cameras
  • Making calls on Skype
  • Designing pages using Word
  • Creating infographics using SmartArt or
  • Taking and manipulating photographs
  • Using Prezi or PowerPoint to deliver short presentations.
  • Developing their  own big picture/small picture tasks for other people

Basically, the students will be exploring issues with a very clear focus: Nature, Economy, Society and Well-Being. Have a close look at the original Compass developed by Alan Atkisson.

Posted by: sherrattsam | March 10, 2010

What does “Tuning-in” mean?

Posted by: sherrattsam | February 19, 2010

Real Life: Will Our Students Be Ready?

"Welcome To The Real World, eh?" by Now I'm Always Smiling.

There is a theme running through many of the conversations I seem to be having at the moment. Provoked by a number of things like Jamie Oliver’s recent TED Talk about food, a meeting last night with a property investor, a presentation by Robyn Treyvaud about online safety and a discussion with a colleague about his daughter’s struggles to contend with health insurance, student loans and rental contracts, I wonder… are students leaving school with any of the knowledge/skills they actually need to survive life?


Jamie Oliver stated that kids should be leaving school with at least 10 recipes up their sleeve that will empower them to get through their first few years of independence without relying on junk, canned, frozen and microwaved food. He argues that this sort of education used to take place at home, but it isn’t any more and schools have the chance to fill that gap. Jamie is dealing with the third generation of people who have not learned to cook at home! No wonder everyone eats such low-quality food and are heading towards serious diet-related illnesses. Can schools step in here? I think so… and here are the benefits:

  • Kids will leave school knowing how to cook for themselves.
  • As they grow older and their cooking skills develop, they can be shared with their families to ensure that cooking is “passed on”.
  • Kids who develop a serious interest in cooking and kitchen work will leave school prepared for that industry – a massive industry that mainly picks up its people once they’ve gone down other paths and hated them.
  • Kids who develop an interest in food and writing will have a head start into the area of recipe-writing and food-related publishing.
  • Food preparation and cooking is actually very scientific and would, if taught well, cover a variety of scientific concepts that might otherwise be taught in a dry and unengaging way.
  • Food preparation and cooking involve reading and following complex procedures and is therefore very powerful in developing students’ ability to read and comprehend written instructions.
  • If given the responsibility, students can learn all about budgeting for food, the practicalities of shopping and the harsh reality of wasted ingredients – all vital life skills.
  • Once basics have been covered, cooking is very creative and would enable students to innovate and express themselves through food.
  • By learning to cook food from a variety of cultures, cooking develops open-mindedness in students and encourages them to be risk-takers not only with the kind of food they cook, but also the food they eat.
  • Food preparation, particularly, involves serious fine-motor skills. How many students leave school knowing how to cut a tomato effectively, or how to peel a potato?
  • By educating students to act and behave responsibly in kitchens we would be passing on vital safety skills.
  • By educating students about nutrition and how to cook food in ways that optimize the nutritional value of ingredients, we would be paving the way for a healthier future for these future adults!


Property Investor, Nick Cartledge, last night spoke about  a passion of his: unlocking the terrifying minefield of buying property through education. The first thing he does with potential clients is educates them. He explains the complex terminology and breaks down the facts and figures that so many of us do not understand and often run away from!

But, why don’t we understand them? Why are we scared of terms like “negative gearing”, “tax deductible”, “interest rates” and so on? The answer is simple. Nobody ever taught us. Yet, we would all aspire to buy a house or apartment at some point in our lives, preferably not too late right?

Surely schools should be educating students about:

  • Process involved in buying property
  • Loans and interest rates
  • Contracts
  • Basic laws
  • Credit cards
  • Processes involved in setting up bank accounts
  • Financial planning
  • Pension plans
  • Medical insurance
  • The cost of living!
  • Future financial constraints, such as the education of children

Not only would educating students about these issues prepare them for the real world that they will imminently be a part of. It will also expose them to large and vital sections of industry that they may be interested in working in.

Online Safety

Robyn Treyvaud recently ran a series of presentations at our schol about the issue of online safety. Robyn was very successful in her time at our school because of one key factor: she was honest. Brutally, openly honest. Honest with parents, honest with teachers, honest with students. The kids loved her for that, she knew what they were doing when they go online and she spoke to them in a way that didn’t patronize them, didn’t tell them off and didn’t pretend it wasn’t happening.

Everywhere, kids are going online and interacting in all sorts of ways and parents and teachers need to know what they are doing and educate them about how to do it responsibly, safely and purposefully. That is the reality. Enough said!

So What?

Now, I am sure that there are schools currently doing these things and I would love to hear more about them. I worry that we have gone down the road of academia and left the vital life-skills by the side of the road somewhere. The only problem is that our students are going to have to walk all the way back up that road and pick up those life skills somehow. Usually by making mistakes. Usually by getting ill. Usually by getting into trouble. Usually by falling into debt. Usually by relying on someone else.

Is that really what we want?

Posted by: sherrattsam | February 12, 2010

Are we doing enough?

I just watched Jamie Oliver’s TED Talk about food and the responsibility that educators have in reversing the terrifying trends that are causing so much poor health and even premature death. I was incredibly moved by Jamie’s passion and powerful arguments. We all know he’s passionate about food, many of us have his cookbooks and many of us have changed the way we cook and eat because of him. But, are we ready to be scared enough by his message to change the way we educate?

I am.

As a PYP Teacher and Workshop Leader, I constantly find myself talking to students and fellow teachers about how we are “preparing our students for the world”. I elaborate on that by echoing the words of Sir Ken Robinson who reminds us that we know very little about the world that our students will inhabit. One thing we do know for sure is… they will need to eat, and Jamie Oliver’s message is that they are going to need to develop very different eating habits to the ones currently in fashion. But, when did I last teach my 10/11 year old students to cook? When did I last do any food-related teaching that truly had an impact on my students and was so internalized by them that it changed the way they eat? Am I really preparing them for the future?

Why not?

I’d like to try and reverse this situation in much the same way as Jamie Oliver is. I’d like to be a part of a movement,in my school and in the IBPYP, towards more teaching and learning about food, food preparation and cooking.

I’m actually pretty lucky. Early Years students in my school do cooking on a regular basis. And Middle Years students do food technology for a term. So, the process has started. But there’s a big gap… I’d like to fill it.

Posted by: sherrattsam | February 1, 2010

A Blogging Success: Why Blogging is Genuine Language Learning

The Blog that my class and I have developed so far this year has been outstandingly successful. The effects, among others, have been:

  • A much greater amount of writing is being published than I have ever experienced in teaching before.
  • A worldwide audience has made the students think about their responsibilities and powers as authors.
  • The conversations that have happened through comments and replies has taken student understanding to a very deep level.
  • The students are increasingly confident about sharing their ideas, thoughts and feelings.
  • The parents love the fact that they can go on our Blog at any time and get a real sense of what the students are thinking about at the time.
  • The students have naturally started to self and peer edit.
  • ESL students have the opportunity to express themselves in writing in a very low-pressure setting, boosting their confidence.
  • The students have become genuinely empowered by having the right to create their own posts.
  • The students are developing skills and codes of online behaviour that will really set them up for the future.

The Blog has become what it is because:

  • Everything on the Blog is relevant to current learning or is based on student interests.
  • Students have been trusted to create postings.
  • Students have been assigned Blog tasks in school and at home.
  • Students have been provided with new skills as they have needed them, not too much too soon and nothing held back because “they are not capable of doing that”.
  • Postings contain provocations that get the students thinking and make them want to react.
  • Postings contain high-quality images that give the Blog a professional feel.
  • Effective use of Tags and Categories makes it possible to access old postings very easily, keeping them alive.
  • Effective use of widgets provides extra content and useful information.
  • Information about the number of hits and worldwide visitors puts things into perspective for the kids and acts as an extra motivation – “there are people out there who are interested in what we do!”

I was recently very happy to find a similar blog posting to this one: “Let Your Students Blog” by Deborah C. White

Posted by: sherrattsam | February 1, 2010

The Lost Language Art – Presenting

For a number of years I have been getting more and more concerned by the terrible quality of students’ presented work. Many times I have walked past posters created bystudents in Grade 8, 9 or 10 and seen products that look exactly like they do in Grade 2 and 3. Big bits of paper with pictures or text that have been printed out, cut out badly and then  stuck on badly. Headings that have run out of space and had the last letter squeezed in at the end or even underneath! White-out. Spelling errors. Pixelated images. Text that has been copied and pasted. Irrelevant text. Horrible, nauseating colour schemes.

The same goes for Powerpoints. So many of them are poorly created. The images are selected without thought for visual communication. There is always way too much writing. Horrible clip-art is strewn about them like a plague. The students bore everyone stupid by reading every word. The colours ae a psychedelic nightmare of blends from red to fluoro-green!

Does any of this ring a bell, a loud and piercing bell?

The time has come to stop the rot. Who is with me?

One person is Will Kirkwood, IT teacher here at NIST. He’s running a series of lessons that he is calling his “Presentation Roadshow” in which he is opening our students’ eyes to presentation issues such as layout, colour choice, image selection, reducing text to a minimum and so on… He is also exposing them to new presentation tools and strategies like Prezi and In Plain English videos.

I’ve also been doing a lot of work with the students on poster design and the students have created some outstanding posters that really reflect that main points I hoped to get across. This website was an invaluable tool in the process. Getting students to think about themselves “as designers” has been really empowering and effective.

Posted by: sherrattsam | January 29, 2010

The Power of Rotations

I have recently started using rotations in my classroom. Most mornings, the students come into the room and have three tasks to work on. They may decide what order to do these tasks in. Each rotation is about 30 minutes and the students now manage the time themselves, keeping an eye on the clock and trying to time their work accordingly.

As much as possible, rotations are relevant to the unit of inquiry that we are working on at the moment. This is always the case with the writing task. I will provoke their writing with a question, statement or problem and then they will use a basic writing process to produce a piece of work. They will pass their their work on to classmates for comments and proofreading. Very often, the writing task is connected to a conversation we have already had or a conversation we will have.

Another rotation is normally maths-based. We have subscriptions to Mathletics and the rotations give us the chance to use Mathletics for those skills and drills practices and frees up time for genuine maths inquiries at other times.

The third rotation is usually reading. The students have a lot of freedom about what reading materials to select and often I have students reading magazines, fiction books, non-fiction books, comics, newspapers, web pages and so on. Students read independently, in pairs or in groups.

The rotations have worked really well so far. They give us the chance to do a variety of tasks in a way that keeps a good pace. Students like the freedom to choose the order they do things in and they are enjoying the chance to manage their own time.

Posted by: sherrattsam | January 29, 2010

Interactive Gradual Release of Responsibility


During this unit of inquiry (central idea: “Being organized empowers us to achieve.”) we have put up a huge display of the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model. We have adapted the model to suit the purposes of this unit of inquiry and to enable students to inquire into how independent they are on a day-to-day basis.

Students are thinking about every aspect of their lives, such as packing bags for school or waking up in the morning, and plotting where each aspect fits into the GRR. As they take more responsibility for the simple things in their lives, they move their index cards along the line towards the goal of increased independence.

Recently, parents came into school for our 3 Way Conferences and were able to share this experience with the students. Some of them agreed new things to focus on and work on at home.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »