The Inquiry Cycle on Display

My new first grade teaching partner this year is going to teach me a lot of fun new things, I can already tell.

Here is a picture I took of her inquiry cycle board after our first six-week unit:

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Pretty amazing right? The students were able to see a visual fill up week by week as they journeyed through the inquiry cycle that is tuning in, finding out, sorting out, going further, making conclusions (reflection), and taking action.

I obviously had to create a board like this in my own room. Here is what it looks like after we  had our tuning in learning engagements for the first week of our Sharing the Planet unit with the central idea: Mini beasts play a role in our lives.

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While this is on the back wall of my room, my lines of inquiry, key concepts, etc. are displayed in front of the room:

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You’ll notice that under my central idea I have it translated into Korean, Chinese, and Japanese. I have students in my classroom who speak very little English, during this unit I had them guess what words they thought would be in our central idea, many of them said “mini beasts” and were very excited to hear what the central idea was, then when students heard it in their mother tongue they got even more excited.

The questions on post it notes are questions my students wrote when they came into our changed classroom atmosphere the first day of our unit. I love giving time for my students to ask questions!

How do you display your inquiry cycle in your PYP classroom? How do you have students ask and answer wondering questions?

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*Here is what my board looked like at the end of the unit!

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#teachergoals

Well if Taylor Swift can bring about new popularity to an age old word like “goals” by putting a hash tag and squad in front of it (ICYMI, just google #squadgoals) while posting group photos with her beautiful girl gang, I’m going to start a new trend. Well I am definitely no T-swift, but I’d like to revive the idea of having #teachergoals because it’s the beginning of the school year. And who doesn’t love being able to create new goals, says the achiever in me.

As I start my thirteenth year of my teaching career, in case you are wondering I was only 13 when I started teaching (obviously), I always look forward to the endless possibilities that await me with a fresh new class of students on the first day of school. Deep down, my main teacher goal every year is to the best teacher ever, but I guess I do need to make more concrete teacher goals for myself. I really do try to push myself to be an even better teacher then I was the year before. It’s kind of the rule of teaching that you get better each year. I’ve definitely seen growth when I reflect on my practice and then make concrete goals to improve.

Now that I’m becoming a veteran (but still young at heart) teacher, I realize you need to push yourself even more to become better. It’s easy to get better in the first few years, but you have to keep challenging yourself to keep learning and improving, because once you have your bag of tricks that allows you to keep your students on task, quiet, and respectful it’s easy to get stagnant. At the end of the day, are you just good at classroom management or are you truly a great teacher? Are you really growing a genuine community of learners? Are you really differentiating and allowing for inquiry to happen? So I’m always reading new teaching books, blogs, articles and attending workshops to make sure I’m learning and growing. (I recently discovered this great teaching blog: cult of pedagogy)

So this year, I have a few teacher goals swirling around my mind.

  • Be better at giving more effective and timely feedback to my students. I totally had that biology teacher in high school that would take months to return that test, and I always wondered why it took so long. Well now that I’m a teacher, I totally understand how that’s possible. I’m giving myself a week at most to return something. Yes, it’s going to be difficult when the essays get longer and the tests get longer, but I know I can do it.
  • To improve my conferring note-taking system, so that I can be more effective in giving feedback (see goal #1) and be more reflective on where my students need help. For the past few years I decided to go digital with my conferring notes for reading and writing workshop. I used Evernote app on my ipad and it was good.  However, it wasn’t great and it wasn’t meeting all of my needs. So this year, this techie teacher went back to good old paper and I’m loving it so far. I created my own conferring notebook for reading workshop and writing workshop with colorful tabs and they are goal focused. It’s pinterest worthy and I’ll have to do another post with photos on it later!
  • To really push and challenge my students that already have gotten the concepts. As a teacher, you are usually focused on meeting the needs of the students that don’t get the concepts, which is great, but often the students that already have gotten the concepts don’t get challenged or pushed. Often times, those students get a menu of more busy work. So, I want to make sure that I’m really appropriately challenging those students as well. If you have any suggestions or resources, please leave a comment!

Ok, so even if I don’t start a new internet trend, please share with us some of your teacher goals for this new school year through your blog/facebook/twitter/instagram/snapchat and make sure to include #teachergoals. I would love to hear what your goals are!

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A Review of 2012

As we are enjoying the last day of 2012, Melody and I are reunited here in Seoul.  A big thanks to all of our readers and especially our top commenters. We appreciate all of your support and we look forward to continuing our blog in 2013. Here’s a look back at our year!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 20,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 5 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Here a few of the highlights of 2012!

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Guest Blog Post: Tips for a First Year Teacher

We are so thankful for this newbie teacher Janice. Not only is she young, enthusiastic and talented, but she is willing to run races and watch movies with us! Many would be surprised to find out that she originally wanted to teach in the elementary classroom. Currently she teaches high school chemistry, AP chemistry and creative writing at our school. 

Tips for a First Year Teacher

1. Take Deep Breaths

Let’s face it: there are days when all teachers think to themselves, “am I cut out for this?” The answer: YES!

The teaching profession comes with many challenges, all of which I am convinced happen in your first year. Whatever your frustration may be, do yourself (and your students) a favor and take a deep breath (or two).

Then, ask yourself this question:Why do I want to be a teacher? I always think back to a quote my grandfather once wrote me on a restaurant napkin. I’m sure you have one too; if you don’t, you can borrow mine:

“Teachers work in the most noble profession, as they are the engineers of the human spirit.”

2. Set Small Goals

Develop small, achievable goals for yourself on a weekly or monthly basis. My goals usually focus on improving classroom management, establishing classroom routines, and incorporating differentiation strategies.

Here are some of my goals from this year:

  • Having students ready when the class bell rings
  • Taking time to focus on literacy
  • Using the 2 Buddy Rule (encourage students to ask 2 classmates for help before asking you)
  • Using tiered problems – I structure my practice problems in 4 categories (knowledge, comprehension, analysis and application). I encourage students to start at the tier that is most suitable to their understanding level. This gives your lower-level students more time to focus on the basics, while still challenging your higher-level students.

3. It’s About Equity, Not Equality

We think that each student must complete the same assignment and take the same test. Not true.

Think about how each student is going to use the concepts you are teaching them in the future. Create different options for assignments and projects – have some that focus on the more advanced abstract theory and others that center on the everyday applications of that concept.

For example, my Chemistry class just did a project on Chemical Reactions. Option 1: Should high-school athletes be allowed to drink energy drinks during games?

These students researched the chemical compounds in energy drinks, communicated their side effects, and shared their arguments in a creative presentation.

Option 2: Research and design an experiment that tests the effectiveness of different substances at neutralizing acid.

These students researched the process of neutralization reactions. After completing their research, they designed a lab to test the effectiveness of different substances. They carried out the lab, analyzed their results, and shared their conclusion with the rest of the class.

4. How Can I Make This Fun?

Sometimes, students just need to practice. One of the things I often struggle with is trying to keep students engaged and interested while still having them focused on the content and curriculum.

Here are some things I’ve tried:

  • Silly examples – believe it or not, using students names (or my own) in silly situations actually makes Practice Problems a hundred times more enjoyable
  • Cooperative learning games –Pair students; have Partner 1 complete the first part of the question and Partner 2 complete the second.
  • Demo-of-the-day / Activity-of-the-day –Even if your demonstration or activity is only 15 minutes long, students will appreciate your effort to do something hands-on and fun

5. The Only Way to Grow is to Reflect

Take some time at the end of each day (or each week) to think about your lessons. I leave a section in my lesson plans for my reflections – I note everything from an activity that took too long, to a mistake on my handout. These notes will help you tremendously in the years to come!


Part 1: Reflections from the Bangkok Job Fair

This has been a post I’ve been wanting to do for a while, since attending the Search Associates Job Fair in Bangkok, this past January. There were a few important things I learned from this intense, stressful, but rewarding experience.

Tips for a Job Fair

1. Network- I didn’t realize how much a good place to network it is at a job fair. You are there meeting many different head of schools, directors, principals, and other administrators. Be friendly, make conversations with people in the elevator, and be professional! I realized that the administrators network in the international school scene is not as big as I thought. Many administrators move around schools and countries. You never know, but the administrator you interviewed with might be at the next school you want to work at years down. Definitely attend the social at the end of the conference. I don’t like going to these things, but it’s a good time to mingle and meet a lot of people.

2. Be open- Interview with schools that are not necessarily your top choices. You never know! I never wanted to come to Korea, but now I am here and in my fourth year.

3. Research- Really research the school you are interviewing for. Even if you are not that interested, it makes a difference. Have questions you want to ask about the school. It’s always better to make a good impression and get an offer to turn down.

4. Be confident- During the interview, of course you will be nervous, but do the best to seem confident of yourself. Even if you make a mistake or you don’t answer a question well, don’t linger. Just move on! I know many times, I wished I hadn’t said something, but I kept going.

5. Attend presentations- For the schools that you are really interested in, make an effort to go to their presentation. I remember for one school, my friend and I went and sat in the first row. During my interview with them, the administrator mentioned how she liked that we came and sat in the front row during the presentation.

6. Show Gratitude- Make sure to bring a whole bunch of thank you cards. Make an effort to write thank you cards and respond to all the schools that get in contact with you.

 Stay tuned for Part 2 on the different type of interview questions asked at the job fair!

Here are some photos from beautiful Bangkok, Thailand!