Philosophy 4 Children

This week on Sunday and Monday I took part in Philosophy 4 Children training at our campus. One of our curriculum objectives in Secondary is embed the concepts of Theory of Knowledge (a core component in the IB Diploma Programme) horiztonally and vertically through the Secondary Curriculum. The TOK course is concerned with developing students conceptual understanding of how knowledge is produced and utilized across the subject areas. It challenges kids to think about how knowledge claims can be justified and supported.

At the same time, our primary colleagues have been exploring how Philosophy for Children (P4C) can be used to improve children’s abilities to reason, justify and explain their ideas about broad topics.

One of the benefits of working in a K-12 school is that we can combine PD between Primary and Secondary which allows for some eye opening sharing of teacher classroom practice. This training provided a good opportunity for me as a curriculum leader to not only learn about P4C as a concept and teaching tool, but also to see how it might enable Secondary teachers to get a better grip of managing dialogue and understanding of abstract concepts in the TOK course.

During the training we encountered a variety of warm up activities that can be used to get thinking and discussion going, as well as a full P4C inquiry which is a structured 11 step process for generating a conversation about an abstract question. I am not going to write up all the activities that we did in this post as I tweeted an ongoing thread throughout the training detailing all of the tasks we used.

The first observation I had was that the P4C model of inquiry is highly structured, providing a scaffold for all learners (teachers included) to work through their thinking about a topic. Following the 11 steps from a real stimulus to a discussion about an abstract concept allows even someone who is relatively unconfident in this area to succeed in generating thinking and discussion.

Commentators who were following my thread were quick to point out that int there experience, P4C training was some of the best training for TOK teaching that was available.

Indeed, it became immediately apparent to me that the 11 step full inquiry is a perfect model for generating knowledge questions, one of the key, and most difficult steps for TOK learners to get. Here is a method that can be directly applied in TOK classrooms to help students unpack knowledge questions from a stimulus or real life situation. With practice, I am confident that many teachers would be able to use this model to help them develop TOK thinking.

In other secondary subjects, this model can also help teachers and students to unpack TOK concepts related to their subject area. For example in natural sciences, some of the key TOK concepts relate to models, uncertainty, inductive and deductive reasoning, falsifiability among others. Using the NoS statements from the subject guides with specific real life examples like models used to predict climate change as a stimulus, this model could be directly applied in the IB Biology classroom to help teachers and their students generate knowledge questions from examples in their syllabus.

Recently, I have been thinking about how I can get my IB biology students more engaged with real world issues or deeper conceptual questions like “what is life?”. I have lots of ideas for stimuli but beyond creating a DART or questionnaire linked to the podcast, video or reading I was at a loss as to how to generate deep thinking and discussion.

This tool, I believe, has given me the key to help my students, think about and generate questions in response to stimuli, and provide a basis for fruitful discussion about the topic of interest.

For example, I am thinking about how I can really engage my students with the issue of climate change, so that as well as learning about it from the biology syllabus, the learning develops real meaning and significance for them so that they are inspired to run a CAS project around the issue etc. I had an idea of using some of the recent planet earth documentary as a stimulus but was unsure how to use it. Now, myself, the Lang B teachers and the geography teacher are collaboratively planning to address this topic in sequence and we will think about how we can bring the 11 steps inquiry into our planning.

I am convinced that P4C is an excellent foundation for TOK, both of which are programs that can help student think and question more deeply as well as become more engaged with big ideas and questions.

P4C is broad, it is concerned with thinking about any of a range of concepts that could be thought of as philosophical. TOK is narrower in focus, and, in a Venn diagram, would sit inside the concepts of P4C. P4C can be focussed on knowledge, TOK is concerned only with inquiry about the nature of knowledge. Both programs are concerned with linking the real world stimulus to the abstract theoretical concept. The P4C 11 step scaffold provides an excellent ladder to allow learners to move between the real and the abstract.

Authentic learning, real world meaning.

After reading Mary Myatt’s “The Curriculum”, I’ve been beginning to spend some time thinking about how the IBDP can provide opportunities to make the students work more purposeful via opportunities for authentic performance. In her chapter on Beautiful work she writes:

“children’s work should be honored. It should be of the highest quality and it should also have an audience.”

She goes on to quote Ron Berger “Once a pupil creates work of value for an authentic audience beyond the classroom – work that is sophisticated, accurate, important and beautiful – that student is never the same”.

So far I’m thinking about elements common to all Diploma students:

  • The Group 4 project: this is a collborative 10 hour project that student teams composed of students from different subjects work on together. The project is not assessed but is mandatory. The theme is set by the school and in four schools over 10 years this has usually involved the HOD Sci using a word like colour or survival. However there can have some real world stimulus like the UN sustainable development goals to focus the project. The students would design experiments along this theme and then present their project to the wider school community and guests.
  • CAS: Im not an expert here by any stretch and you could argue that CAS is already the most authentic part of the DP. What could be more authentic than working on projects that have direct application in the real world? but how many projects in schools around the world actually do? Is there scope here to raise the bar? the students CAS project could also center around a real world stimulus, the activity stage focussed on taking action in some way, again an exhibition to the community could be used to sum up students work in some authentic way.
  • TOK: TOK has a heavy summative assessment component with a 1600 word academic essay and ten minute presentation, I would be loathe to add to this…but, the presentations could definitely be delivered to a wider audience..school assemblies, some other exhibitions or the community could be invited to the assessment itself.
  • Extended Essay: With over 40 hrs of work and 4000 words in the making the extended essay is a beast for most students. There are issues with it and you could already argue that, as a piece of original work, it has real world application. This year we are taking the small step to publish our students TOK and Extended Essays together in a volume, a bit like a journal, with work from some of our Visual Arts students work being used as the cover pieces. But I also like the idea of having student’s undertake a more public viva, like a PhD defense. Clearly, an EE is not a PhD but can we make it so that the process is less tick boxy and more formal? I am keen to hear what other schools do.

With all these things I think about scalability. What works in a small school doesn’t necessarily work in a very large one. Ok, sit through 2 group 4 presentations but 30? So instead schools could ensure that some students present at one event and others at another, so long as each student gets some opportunity to deliver their work meaningfully in the real world.

I realise that my ideas are a little unoriginal and perhaps I am a little bit behind the times (some schools are already doing great work) focussing mostly on presentations and exhibitions, what do you think? How else could we make our student’s DP work have more real world meaning?

The role of curriculum

In the second NPQSL face to face session we looked at leading the quality of teaching and learning within a school. We were asked to think about what high quality teaching and learning looks like in our schools and what this means to us personally. This provided some good reflection time for my own thinking about this means for me. I concluded that high quality teaching and learning is where students are forced into thinking about the topics of the subject under discussion. Thinking takes variety of forms. For me and my project, focused on implementing the DP, TOK is the key to horizontal collaboration within the DP programme, catalyzing not only a change in the way that student think but also how teachers think. Going forward I need to Establish a working group of teachers who are interested in improving their links to TOK.

At the start of the session on “driving the quality of teaching and learning” we were asked to list three priorities with regard to the quality of teaching and learning. Mine were:

  1. Making thinking the basis of both
  2. Developing good knowledge of the whole curriculum (Martin Robinson’s story)
  3. Developing knowledge of good practice – can the teacher make reasoned judgements about why they do what they do.

We then considered learning centered leadership: – how do we model, monitor and have dialogue. My group felt that it was important for leaders to be:

  1. Modelling preparedness, calm, openness and friendliness
  2. Still teaching?
  3. Using data
  4. Observations
  5. Conversations
  6. Diagnostic audit of peoples and there skills

Next we were asked to list ten ingredients for great teaching and to discuss why leaders may want to observe lessons, what the purposes of lesson observation were. My ingredients for great teaching were:

  1. Dialog
  2. Content knowledge
  3. Pedagogical content knowledge
  4. Evidence for teaching practice
  5. Prior knowledge
  6. Contextual – relevance for kids
  7. Focussed on concepts
  8. Timing – knowing when an intervention is appropriate or not
  9. Collaborative – outside the silo
  10. Firm friendliness

I also felt that observation is a great way to learn and be coached and time for teachers to observe each other is valuable if we want to enable coaching, mentoring and further development.

After sharing these within our groups we had to decide on the groups final five. We had a lot of good discussion about how learning is often confused with performance and other proxies, and that learning is actually quite a hard thing to actually observe in a lesson. Any attempt to observe a lesson for accountability purposes was doomed if you are hoping to look measure learning. Instead my group agreed that the best we could hope for was to look for proxies that may indicate high quality teaching. My group decided that our priorities were to look for :

  1. Positive relationships
  2. Feedback
  3. Knowing the students
  4. Knowledge of content and pedagogy
  5. High Expectations

I reflected that evidence is a key thing here: Knowledge in education is so tentative and unsure that no one can say with certainty this is right, or this way is wrong. Thus if we focus on the thinking behind what teachers are doing and why – are teachers able to engage with discussions and evidence why they are doing somethingt. To ensure great teaching I think it is important for leaders to smile, be open and approachable. We need to encourage discussion between teachers about their practice, provide opportunity for observation between teachers and focus more on teaching and learning, instead of getting drag into secondary tasks.

Going forward I need to work to facilitate this in my community and help to provide opportunity for this to happen, time for teachers to observe each other and time for them to have discussions with a view to improving the quality of teaching within the school. I need to support a focus on developing an understanding of the links between the subjects – horizontally and vertically – and encourage teachers to come out of the their silo.

How might this session influence your staff professional development policy?

How can you measure the impact of CPD? Carry out observations of trying out TOK activities, carry out a staff survey, have the CPD, start the written curriculum and then observe more activities and carry out an additional survey. Invite staff to take part in TOK and ATL collaboration.

Side effects in Education

Recently, in my NPQSL course we have been asked to reflect on the question “What is the moral purpose of education?” Education can be argued to have many moral purposes, and it comes down to an educators point of view; this is an opinion that I think many teachers and leaders would accept.

For example you could argue that the moral purpose of education is to allow individuals to experience a fulfilled life where they can experience and appreciate the whole of their humanity. You could also argue that education’s purpose is to serve society and better the community at large.

Where ever you stand on this spectrum, the very fact that there is a difference of opinion here makes education, as a profession, a little unique. Doctors, for example, would largely agree that the moral purpose of education is to save life.

In what works can hurt, Yong Zhao asks if educational research should be concerned with side effects in education. However appealing this analogy is misleading. In medicine there is a clear moral purpose: do no harm. This is a moral purpose that all medics subscribe too. Medics are driven by the desire to save and prolong life.

No single unifying moral principle exists in education and different schools and different teachers have different moral purposes.

Yong Zhao cites the medical profession as one that requires researchers to investigate side effects as well as the main affects of interventions. In light of calls for educational research to adopt similar methodologies to medical research and become more scientific he argues that this is an area that is overlooked.

Educational research is exclusively focussed on what works without looking at how much it hurts.

Reasons for this may be that education is universally perceived as good, although I would argue that medicine is also. I think the reasons that the education does not consider side effects so much is that the moral purpose of education is much less clear. As well as, this damage due to eduction may take a very long time to be observable and you can only measure that which can be observed – also there are huge numbers of conflating variables.

Zhao writes that education is dominated by a narrow focus on cognitive abilities derived in a small number of subjects measured by standardized tests so that scores in these tests become the measure of effectiveness. Other outcomes are rarely measured so we don’t know about any adverse effects.

More evidence is unlikely to stop the battles within education, but a consideration of side effects might. The education pendulum swings but there is really no progress. I can agree with some of this as any look at the history of the debates does see that these arguments do go on quite a way back.

A way forward to resolving the traditional/progressive debate may be the consideration of both main and side effects in education interventions.

Zhao highlights that direct instruction is effective but can stifle creativity and reduce confidence. He cites the progress of some Asian countries, where students have a lot of knowledge drilled into them but students suffer from lack of confidence, versus Western countries where students know less but have more confidence, as evidence that what works can hurt.  I wonder if this may be a relic of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Student may well be further along the knowledge curve and therefore less confident.

Many interventions that have sought to improve reading scores have reduced access to other subject areas, by eliminating subjects to make more time for reading prep. The negative effects of these interventions are now well documented: reducing access to other subjects only serves to reduce literacy scores.

I do think that by focussing only on what can be measured can lead us down the wrong path. Measurement is important and does have a place, but there are elements of human life that we don’t know how to measure or have barriers to measuring like cost and time. We shouldn’t ignore these areas.

Developing a progression model for IBDP biology

I recently completed Daisy Christodolou’s “Making good progress?”. You can see my notes here. In the final chapters, after presenting an argument building up to this, she outlines the key aspects of what she terms a “progression model”. In this post I want to line up some ideas about what this may look like in delivering the IB DP Biology course.

In her book Christodoulou suggests, and I agree, that to effectively help students make progress we have to break down the skills required to be successful in the final assessments into sub-skills and practice these. This is a bit analogous to a football team practicing dribbling, striking or defending in order to make progress in the main game.

In the book she also stresses the difference between formative and summative assessments, what they can and can’t be used for respectively and why one assessment can’t necessarily be used for both.

A progression model for biology

A progression model would clearly map out how to get from the start to the finish of any given course, and make progress in mastering the skills and concepts associated with that domain. In order to do this we need to think carefully about:

  1. What are the key skills being assessed in the final summative tasks (don’t forget that language or maths skills might be a large component of this)?
  2. What sub-components make up these skills?
  3. What tasks can be designed to appropriately formatively assess the development of these sub-skills or, in other words, What does deliberate practice look like in biology?
  4. What would be our formative item bank?
  5. What could be our standardised assessment bank?
  6. What are appropriate summative assessment tasks throughout that would allow us to measure progress throughout the course?
  7. What could be our summative item bank?
  8. How often should progress to the final summative task be measured i.e. how often should we set summative assessments in an academic year that track progress?

Key skills in biology

This is quite a tricky concept to pin down in biology specifically and in the sciences in general. What skills exactly are kids being assessed on in those final summative IGCSE or IBDP/A Level exams. I haven’t done a thorough literature review here so currently I am not sure what previous work has been in this area.

However,  I would contend that most final written summative exams are assessing students conceptual understanding of the domain. If this is the case then the skill is really, thinking and understanding about and with the material of the domain. Students who have a deeper understanding of the links between concepts are likely to do better.

In addition, those courses with a practical component, like the IBDP group 4 internal assessment are assessing a students understanding of the scientific process. While it may seem like these components are assessing practical skills per se, they only do this indirectly, as it is the actual written report that is assessed and moderated. To do well the student is actually demonstrating an understanding of the process, regardless of where their practical skills are in terms of development.

Indeed if we look at the assessment objectives of IBDP biology we see that this is very much the case. Students are assessed on their ability to: demonstrate knowledge and understanding and apply that understanding of facts, concepts and terminology; methodologies and communication in science etc.

Sub-skills

How can we move students to a place where they can competently demonstrate knowledge and understanding, apply that understanding as well as formulate, analyse and evaluate aspects of the scientific method and communication.

The literature on the psychology of learning would suggest breaking down these skills into their subcomponents. This means we need to look at methods that develop knowledge and understanding from knowledge. Organising our units in ways that help students see the bigger concepts and connections between concepts within the domain will also help. For more on this see my previous post here. I think that understanding develops from knowledge.

I recently read that Thomas Khun claimed that expertise in science was achieved by the studying of exemplars. Scientific experts are experts because they have learned to draw the general concepts of the specific examples.

Useful sub-skills would be:

  • Fluency with the terminology of the domain
  • Ability to read graphs and data
  • Explicit knowledge of very specific examples
  • Explicit knowledge of abstract concepts illustrated by the specific examples
  • Ability to generate hypothesis and construct controlled experiments

Deliberate practice in biology

Thinking about these sub-skills, then, we can see what may constitute deliberate practice in biology and thus what would make useful formative assessments within the subject.

Fluency with the terminology can be gained through the studying of terminology decks like those available on quizlet. In addition, the work of Isabel Beck. Suggests that learning words isolated from text is not that helpful to gaining an understanding of those terms. To gain this, students need to be exposed to these words in context. Therefore there is a lot to be said for tasks and formative assessments that get students reading. Formative assessments could then consist of vocab tests and reading comprehension exercises of selected texts.

Reading and interpreting data can be improved through practice of these skills. This is an area where inquiry alone won’t help students make progress. Students need to be shown how to interpret data and read tables and graphs before making judgements. Ideally, in my opinion they should do this once they have learned the relevant factual knowledge of a related topic. Formative assessments focussing on data interpretation should therefore come a little later once students have covered a bulk of the content.

To build up conceptual understanding, students need to be exposed to specific examples related to those topics as I outlined in this post. Tests (MCQs) that assess how well students know the specific details of an example could be useful here to guide learners to which parts they know and those they don’t.

Following this we can begin to link examples together to build knowledge of a more abstract concept. Concepts can then be knitted together to develop the domain specific thinking skills: thinking like a biologist.

Formative assessments

Formative assessments could take the form of MCQs but as outlined above, vocab tests, reading comprehension activities, and other tasks may well have their place here.

Summative assessments for measuring progress

I am now thinking that to truly assess student progress against the domain, individual unit tests just won’t cut it. As Christodolou argues, summative tests exists to create shared meaning and do that need to be valid and reliable. Does scoring a 7 in a unit test on one topic of an 11 topic syllabus mean that the student is on track to score a 7? Not necessarily. Not only is the unit test not comparable to the IB 7 because it is only sampling a tiny portion of the full domain, but the construction and administration of the test may not be as rigorous as that of the actual IB papers.

Clearly it isn’t ideal to use the formative assessments described above as these are nothing like the final summative assessment of the course, plus their purpose is to guide teaching and learning, not to measure progress.

I would argue that summative assessments over the two-year course should use entire past papers. These past papers sample the entire domain of the course and performance against them is the best method of progress in the domain. A past paper could be administered right at the start of the course to establish a base line. Subsequent, infrequent, summative tests, also composed of past papers could then measure progress against this baseline.

Why should summative assessments use past papers? What not use unit tests? Unit tests, aggregated, is not the same thing as performance on a single assessment sampling the whole domain. They cannot produce the same shared meaning as an assessment that samples the entire domain. In addition the use of many single unit, high stakes tests will cause teaching to the test as well as much more student anxiety. Instead lots of formative testing and practice of recall should help to build students confidence in themselves.