Sunday, February 11, 2018

Dying to Live

“They gave Pandora a box. Prometheus begged her not to open it. She opened it. Every evil to which human flesh is heir came out of it.

The last thing to come out of the box was hope. It flew away.”
― Kurt Vonnegut

Central Idea : Access to medical care around the world varies and can influence how diseases are spread.

Focus Key Concepts: 





We started the unit off by playing the board game PANDEMIC

Central Idea: Access to medical care around the world varies and can influence how diseases are spread. 

We just started off the unit on diseases. We thought of a title we could give the unit that was slightly more inspiring than"Diseases" and came up with "Dying to Live!" just for fun. It seems quite apt one considering there is a continuous battle between our determined yet frustrated scientists and the pathogens that mock them by constantly evolving. In the meantime, we poor people are suffering. Our students hope to put a stop to this perpetual battle and close the pandora's box once and for all...

During recess, when the students went off to play, Mr. O'Shea, my teaching partner, and I slyly applied a gooey modge-podgey-glow-in-the-dark substance on the door handles. When they students arrived, we hoped they would get infected by the mock deadly bacteria that has been lurking in the school hallways. We declared an emergency and had the students tested by putting their hands under a UV machine which lit up the "bacteria" on their grubby fingers. The shrieks and moans were palpable and satisfactory.

As we learn about diseases, we are also learning to tackle complex non-fiction text.

So far the big understanding have been:

The students have been using various strategies to decode words. It's amazing how they are actually able to use the strategies and come u with ways to guess the meaning of difficult words!
Here is an example:

I took a video of how the students were working with each other to figure out the type of text structure and main ideas implicit in a given text.
I love the way one student takes it upon herself to guide another student who was struggling. The partnership was clearly effective as the new student was eager to share her thoughts about the text. Student agency is all what out classroom is about!

In other news, our ICT teacher Mr.Towse hooked us on a mystery Skype session with Australia. We had great fun making up hints about where we are situated in the world.

The first one reads..."Our houses are really well built."

The most fun we had this week was having a Mystery Skype session with Australia ( again!) arranged by Mr.Towse. We gave them some hints and they had to guess where in the world we were. We exchanged information about ourselves and what we were studying. It was a good way for the students to establish contacts with another school and communicate with each other in preparation for conducting future interviews for their Exhibition.

Here is a snippet of Sora singing for her Australian audience.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Classroom "Culture"

We have began our research on different pathogens.
Being a science unit, our research has been very hands-on as. The science strand ' Living Things" helps us focus on the following:
The study of the characteristics, systems, and behaviours of humans and other animals (including pathogens) ; their interactions and relationships between and among them, and their environment.
They key words that stood out  for us was "behaviour", "interaction" and "relationship."

Our big question was: under what conditions do micro organisms like bacteria/fungi thrive?
In order to find out how microorganism, behave and interact with their environment, we made some food for our classroom guests, the metaphorical white elephants -millions of them in 6B.
We made some very tasty pasty dough using white flour and water.
We then weighed the dough...
We needed to use our estimation skills! We finally adjusted the dough after weighing each portion.
We discussed our variables as all  scientists do.
The control was one open ziplock back with the dough in it, placed on the classroom desk.
We adjusted the other ziploc bags to create different conditions.

Read as push!

Unfortunately, the cleaning staff of our school thought the better of this sample. 

We have been weighing the dough every day and noting down any changes in weight. With a little more data in hand, we should be able to create a line graph indicating what is going on inside those plastic bags. It will be very interesting to compare the data.
We have  started observing how the pathogens in the air are interacting with their environment.
Suddenly there is a party going on and they have all come together. We realised that was why we could finally see them!
A big learning moment for the girls.
Alongside this, we have began comparing the different types of pathogens.
Students were asked to complete a matrix comparing bacteria, virus and fungi and write what they know or think they know about these tiny living things (or non-living- they don't know this yet)
What they need to survive
are they harmful or useful when in our bodies   
Can we use them in our daily lives?   
How can we control them?   

The students had 10 minutes to work in pairs and come up with the answers.

The next 10 minutes-
As a whole class we then came up with the following matrix:
And we finally were able to focus on our next research focus:
That's all for today.
Be nice to our micro friends and they will be nice to you!
Have a great weekend.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Writing workshop in a PYP Classroom

Moving on from personal narratives, the students of Grade 6 have started a new type of writing: Theinformation genre and their big topic is all about Teen Activism. This gives us the perfect opportunity to address one aspect of our unit on "Governance" which focuses on citizens and their complex often volatile relationship with the government!

The students started by looking at the structure of an essay. The big message here is that "structure sets you free".
If you are able to chisel out a clear message through structure, then writing an essay becomes simple.
Brainstorming sessions are  vital yet many students think they can get away with it.
And this is what happens when you try to...
One huge paragraph where the main ideas are submerged and left to the reader to figure out.

or ...

As you can see, there is no clear topic sentence here.

And so a 5 minute mini-lesson/mid-writing workshop...
Listening carefully and following instructions during the mini lessons also sets you free. This was evident in the work books of many students who set about creating a clear structure. Students quickly went back to their seats to highlight their topic sentences.
Those who brainstormed clearly had an easier time drafting their essay.

Once the skeleton structure was completed and out of the way, the students had to gather all their notes and try and add examples, anecdotes, quotes to support their ideas. Many students realised they should have deepened their research and cited more examples to support their ideas. So they set themselves homework, where they would find more articles in order to consolidate their main ideas.
Here are some examples of essays where the students managed to get a clear message across.

In the next one, her peer editor does a pretty good job with feedback!
At this point, students were asked to find a topic they were really interested in and to do this, they had to generate ideas following the Trail of Research strategy, which looks something like this:

Once they create a trail of research, they meet in their writing groups to talk about their ideas.

This Bullying Group gets too excited about their topic and their brainstorm looses focus; they eventually get back to the drawing board.

Once done...they create the content page after having seen some great samples from the library.
This is what one group comes up with after a lot of discussion and debate.

The students are all set to go deeper with their research and specialise in one area.
This blog will be updated the week after next so please stay tuned!

Monday, September 4, 2017

What does "culture" mean?

Our Central idea is

Understanding the beliefs and values of different cultures may promote global -mindedness.

The words "beliefs" and "values" are not really that easy to define. A quick glance at different definitions of these words does not give you a simple answer.

What strategy could best address this dilemma? How can the grade 6s begin to appreciate their beliefs and values?

So we started with the word "culture"  And their responses were, as I anticipated, pretty basic - Family, Flags, Food and Festivals.

I allowed them to place their post-its wherever they pleased.

Later, after everyone got a chance to express themselves, I moved most of them up to the tip of the iceberg, explaining that they were the outward expressions of culture.

...and asked them to think of other less obvious words related to culture.

And so we dove deeper ...

It was great to see them coming up with words such as "respect", "life style' and 'animals!"

I picked on the word "animals" and the next day, posted pictures of animals around the room:
The holy cow, the whale in the aquarium, the guide dog, roasted turkey...The intention was to give students a chance to tap into their beliefs and values when they thought of animals and how we use or abuse them.

After a great discussion one evening with our Librarian Ms Lea, we wondered how the students would react to the following statement:

Not only could we address the cultural beliefs and values of different groups of people behind this statement, we could also think about how we felt about it and we could introduce the language of debate: 

I respectfully agree or disagree...however, I would like to add...

Ms Lea pointed out that students could get the opportunity to change their minds about an idea; in other words, understand that beliefs and values can change!

On the way towards this understanding, our class faced a rather big hurdle.
We surfaced for a bit...

The quality of their responses towards the pictures did not reflect deep thinking. How could the students realise this without the teacher bringing it to their notice?

Harumi took on the lead role here and helped the class sort the students' responses into HOT and LOT questions (clink on link for more information on this).

This activity was a great way to see how we thought about things.

We have just began the year, and I hope with more probing activities, we can help encourage the students to think more deeply about issues and hopefully become great global citizens of this world.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Unravelling the 6 PYP Transdisciplinary Themes

“Write what you know. That should leave you with a lot of free time.” 

If knowledge was an orange, then each of its juicy segments would ideally represent the transdisciplinary themes,

Who We Are
Where We are in Place and Time
How the World Works
Sharing the Planet
How We Organise Ourselves.

Just before the start of the exhibition, we decided to revise the descriptors of these 'segments', the TD themes,  in order to help our scholars recognise where their passions lay.

The challenge was to find a way to make the Grade 6's interested in these rather not so juicy descriptors.

And so this is how we went about it:


Scour through newspapers and identify as many articles that fit in with the six TD themes. Highlight the areas in the articles in order to justify your reasoning.

In groups of 6, collect articles related to a TD theme and create a collage with the articles. The collage needs to reflect some elements of the descriptor.


As the students flipped through the pages of newspapers, they realized that everything fit into the 6 themes!
By asking them to highlight areas, they had to repeatedly read the descriptors. This allowed them to easily recall and recognize the themes.
It was interesting to note how, at times, they were torn between two themes and finally decided to look at the purpose of the article in order to identify one dominant theme.

That busy hum.

Here is what some of the groups came up with. What I found interesting about the collages is that if you look closely enough, every article they are made up of, belong to that respective transdisciplinary theme.

How We Organize Ourselves

Where We Are in Place and Time

How the World Works

The last one was very metaphorical. You'll notice a kingfisher drawn in the front of the Shinkansen. The students attempted to show how technological advancements are made when humans closely observe how the natural world works.

The bullet train was a result of biomimicry.

I leave you with a short clip of a pretty little blue bird...



Was it designed?


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Snakes and Ladder and the 3 Way Learning Conference

Source :

As we were preparing for the 3 Way conference, some of the students realised they needed to deepen their thinking and practice using the unit vocabulary a little bit more.

I came across Peter Sanderson 's idea on twitter and loved it. And so did the kids.

Next time we will use the Wheel to bring variety to our tasks.

Watch the students  learn  through play!

Game board 1

Game board 2

Game board 3

Game board 4

Try it out. Click on this link and make a copy of it and let your student's come up with their own tasks.