Scratching at the bark

In my first term of teaching in 2008 my mum was hospitalised.

She had been unwell for several years. There were some really quite alarming events surrounding her health for us as her family over the years leading to her hospitalization, and there were lots of strange explanations from GPs who clearly, in hindsight, failed to diagnose her illness properly.

Mostly, as her family, we were quite confused.

Until she got admitted.

When she was admitted, her condition in intensive care rapidly declined, until a specialist finally correctly diagnosed her issues and was able to treat the underling problems.

During her alarming decline, my dad called me to say that this may be it and that I should come and be with her.

After 6 weeks in my job as unqualified, untrained teacher I had to request leave, to go up to London, and to visit my mum in hospital. I wasn’t sure how much time I needed and I said so.

After a few days staying in London with family and visiting my mum at UCH in Euston I had a call from the “Undermaster”.

I don’t really remember much about the call except that he asked “Is your mum really dying?” and said “The kids are missing you”.

At that stage, at 25, it was enough to make me feel guilty and with my mum’s condition improving I felt the I needed to go back. I felt the pressure to go back. Infact in 2008 I was lucky to have a job as a recent MSc graduate.

I had to go back. After all who would look after my classes for one more day? What would happen to my students learning if I stayed away even one more day to help my Dad, to spend time with my mum who I very nearly lost.

In hindsight, and soon after my mums recovery I am ashamed to say that I even questioned my own motives for going to see her. “See, she was fine!” “There was no need to go.” “I just wanted an excuse to not be in work”. This was the self talk I gave myself for a few years until I had convinced myself that she wasn’t really dying when I went up to the hospital in 2008.

My sister put me straight recently. Her memory was very clear. Mum very seriously nearly died.

I realise now, that hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Mum’s situation could have not recovered and I may not have gone. What would I think about myself then? It is very easy to look back at an event and to look at is skewed. Facts just don’t seem the same after an event as they did before.

Unintentionally or not I was manipulated. My senior colleagues’ concern was not for my welfare in light of my mother nearly passing. He just needed me back in work to keep the ship running. Thats true. But it is also true that this motive was probably obscured even to himself.

Teachers really are amazing people. Mostly, they go above and beyond all the time, continually making personal sacrifices in the name of the learning, and of their students. And they can be easily manipulated into doing so.

But where does that stop? When do we draw the line? When is it more important to focus on the wood than stare at the trees or even scratch, up close, at the bark?

Often I think about the focussing illusion and how it impacts our working lives as teachers. I think that this is a major factor in our working, day to day decisions to sacrifice for learning. We spend hour after hour, day after day, week after week, thinking about other people. How to help them learn, how to differentiate for this kid, how to hook in another, how to enthuse, how to inspire, how to bend ourselves backwards and spend all night making whizzy animations on our PowerPoint just to engage a student.

When we are in this mode, learning is the MOST IMPORTANT THING OF ALL TIME.

Unfortunately, the downside of this thinking like this is that we lose the ability to recognise when learning isn’t the most important thing in the world.

Learning is important in so much that it benefits an individual and enriches society by having well educated individuals collectively. Often we place our students learning above our own wellbeing but no one can keep sacrificing themselves indefinitely.

Eventually you get to a point where you have to stop going the extra mile today, so you can keep walking tomorrow.

In this age of the coronavirus, I hear stories of teachers complaining about loss of learning time if schools close. The focussing illusion is rearing its head again. We are anchored on learning. We think learning is more important than keeping people alive and keeping people healthy.

In this age of the coronavirus I hear other Diploma Coordinators complaining about their teachers who, after staying away from a virus hit country will not come back as the dust settles. They forget that this is now going on all over the world. They are anchored on their schools, on their concerns.

For international teachers, the game has changed. The rules have changed. No longer is it just about school closures in one country. It’s about global travel bans. Border closures. Indefinite quarantine. It’s about family members on the other side of the planet who are now also exposed. It’s about the limited and decreasing availability of flights. It’s about uncertainty about when this may be over. And it will be over, eventually.

And yet, while this forest grows round us, some of our school leaders are focussed on one tree and mending it – school closures and getting them reopened. They forget about the rest of the forest that has grown up around them. They forget about how some of their staff may now have other considerations, they didn’t have a month ago. They will even ignore government advice in their pursuit of re-opening a school.

My mother said its barmy. The UK government wants to self isolate over 70s for up to four months. She can’t understand why COVID is so different to SARS, MERS, Swine Flu, Ebola, that causes the global government reacts so. It is hard to comprehend.

COVID is way more infectious than any of these other diseases. It can be transmitted without the individual evening knowing they are infected. Super infectious and super transmissible. Thankfully it isn’t as deadly as Ebola, but is probably 10x more deadly than seasonal flu.

I just hope that school leaders, in their eagerness to re-open schools and get learning on campus up and running again, step back from scratching the bark and look at the wood and the myriad obstacles it presents for their staff.

I just hope that school leaders can be strong enough to allow their teams to be humans when they need to be.

The Core: Extended Essay in the DP

A summary of my week hosting #DPChat focussing on the integration of the extended essay into the rest of the IBDP.

With much thanks fo the many educators who got online and joined the discussion that week and provided the ideas that I have collated here. These are the people to follow on Twitter:

@JeffersonLars @Elfdaws @ExtendingEast @agudteach @rajashree_basu @trigrama @malikah_sheriff @AdrianvWJ @shoey_sarah @geogeducator @IdeasRoadshow @zoebadcock @bear48

Why is the EE important?

At the most basic level, it’s good preparation for university.

Students get to follow an interest (lacking in some subjects) develop excellent research skills, work one on one with their mentor (communication, self development) fine tune essay writing skills for further Ed.

I think EE is a great project that is an opportunity for students to formally connect content, concepts, and context in a meaningful way. Investigating, researching and reporting a detailed evaluation of diverging viewpoints is a life skill.

As a former IB student, the two takeaways that you keep for life are: 1) learning about learning, the ATLs that make you a lifelong learner; and 2) knowing about knowing, which comes from #TOK and builds up your critical thinking skills.

Ideas for structuring the EE

We’ve just kicked off the EE with our EEco @MalinMeiLing . We started with a fair to celebrate the end of the grade 12s. They gave tips to grade 11 & their essay review. Next was the intro workshops explaining process & looking at global issues. Next week we’ll have fair with subjects represented.

#DPChat As a mentor it seems to be my job to teach my #IBEE std how to reference and use the library databases and walk them through appropriate EE structure. Students didn’t even know about the reflections they need to do.

I think as a minimum the cohort should have some workshops in the library about how to use online databases and how to reference properly using the different conventions. I don’t believe this currently happens at all.

We have an EE coordinator (@ExtendingEast) and she does an incredible job of structuring the EE for both students and supervisors, including introductory carousels, support workshops, and an EE day for focused writing and research #DPChat

HoD’s present mini-workshops (20 min) based on subject area. 1/2 our #G11 students choose which 2 they’d like to attend; the other 1/2 attend a research/writing workshop in the library. The next day, they switch. This all takes place during mentor time in the morning.

We hold sessions in the beginning working on organization and research skills. We have whole group and supervisor check ins. Reflection on the process is a skill specifically taught right after the first interaction. Citation specific session is held at the end.

On #EECelebrationDay, our G12’s came dressed as their #EE after submitting their final drafts. Special thanks to the supervisors who guided them & the parents who fed them! Congratulations, G12’s! #buzzbuzz

Ideas for integrating EE into the DP

We have EAL learners and for support and development of ATL skills of research , thinking and communication we use some templates in the initial part to induce and develop these skills. We have core lessons where explicit strategies for skill development are taught

New Lang A syllabus = new opportunities for the EE. The focus on global issues is a great segue for students to start thinking about a WSEE. Can also be more seamlessly connected to both TOK & CAS. Loving the layers of learning here

I think the knowledge framework from ToK is a great resource for World Studies EEs, helped students to clearly understand and article the different approaches of their two subjects.

This year I had students do a practice ToK presentation on their EE topic. This helped them (I think!?) to frame their topic as a knowledge question, and think a bit more about their methodology.

I think we need to structure the EE for all students in task-specific goals for each step of the EE. Break it down into doable segments with frequent meetings and strict deadlines. ATLs should be developed BEFORE DP, but we have to remember, these are NOT yet responsible adults.

We just did this service workshop with @cbkaye . The MISO method is a great way to ask a lot of questions in a short period of time. Connect your EE to #SDGs or #service and you could most likely combine your CAS and EE in an awesome way. Is this ok? Or is it double-dipping?

It’s great! In my experience consulting for #IBO they loved when there was intersection between EE and CAS. More connected learning through different vantage points and experiences.

I love sentence starters. As often know the information but may need help getting sentences and paragraphs started.

#DPchat I suggest adding one more discussion point to the #IBEE discussion: What is the role of librarians in support students with their #EE? Librarians can provide important training to students and advice on academic honesty. #lksw2019 #intlchat #sisrocks #IBDP

For EAL students doing the EE I’d say it’s actually not so different? I’d suggest going over the assessment criteria along w/ subject-specific expectations from the EE guide. I’d also want to discuss research practices to be sure they’re drawing upon quality sources …

In many cases those could be in their best language, but also pulling a lot from research in target language (probably English).I’ve been doing the EE, but realized recently I need to support the handling of sources better: finding/selecting, reading, analyzing/evaluating, using.

Integrating TOK into the IBDP

A summary of my week hosting #DPChat focussing on the integration of TOK into the rest of the IBDP.

With much thanks to the many educators who got online and joined the discussion that week and provided the ideas that I have collated here. These are people to follow on Twitter:

@tuckbarrows @alexbclearning @agudteach @simunderhill
@melloluiz2 @natalie_carman @jdesegonzac @soloelsie
@ian_huffaker @richard_royal @malikah_sheriff @AdrianvWJ
@JungnitschM @UzayAshton @steppescience @Elfdaws


The general consensus was that TOK integration is thought to be important for furthering students understanding of the subjects they are studying and also for helping students inquire more meaningfully about their subjects. A focus on TOK in subject groups enables concept centered and inquiry focussed teaching.

The need to justify ideas and insights is central to most classes and that integrating TOK terminology into our lessons on justification presents a great opportunity.

DP teachers need to understand they’re more than single subject specialists. Too many DP teachers see themselves as “just X” and separate themselves from TOK.

Teachers cannot understand TOK any better than the students if they have had no specific training on it. They think it is the subject whenever a problem is debated. So to use GMO in foods or not becomes a TOK link. This is NOT TOK and saying this is unhelpful.

Ways to integrate TOK

  • Train the faculty on TOK. The Cat 3 “TOK for subject teachers” is a great way to do this when deployed as an in school workshop.
  • Link TOK to CAS by asking TOK teachers to explain and discuss early in the DP year the term “ethics” in context and how this knowledge can be applied by students when reflecting on one of the CAS learning outcomes: “consider the ethics of choices and decisions”.
  • Collectively brainstorm the essay titles with the DP teachers. Can be conducted informally and allows for rich discussion. Insights from different subjects can also help the advice we give students.
  • During whole faculty  time, create an opportunity for DP subject teams to complete a blank template for their AOK’s knowledge framework. Promotes great discussions and helps Ts to learn about TOK reqs.
  • Carve out common planning time for TOK teachers and subject teachers. Have open conversations and invite staff into your classes is a great way to start a conversation.
  • Have a small TOK icon to signpost RLSs and TOK concepts in student materials in other classes- this is a visual reminder for all of us that there is potential for making TOK connections which we flesh out together in class.
  • Concept based teaching is one good way to incorporate more TOK into lessons. I also ask my students what they are currently studying in TOK & try to build lessons around that. Good way to get our kiddos involved, too.

Resources

The advent of educational genomics?

One of the first overseas school trips I accompanied was to the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference. Looking back, I feel immensely privileged to have been able to work in a school that supported giving students in year 12 the opportunity to visit a world leading scientific conference.

Most of the material was way above the heads of even these academic high achievers, however I could see the value for them in pure inspiration. For many kids the days contained many lightbulb moments. Kids would be super charged with ideas that, while they may not have understood all the details, they could see how they connected to what they were learning in school. These were certainly intellectually high challenge events for a 17yo.

I remember, as an accompanying teacher, feeling like I was undergoing solid subject specific CPD and many of the workshops that I attended as a Masters-degree holding biologist were concerned with a topic known a pharmacogenomics. This was 2009, the Human Genome Project had concluded four years earlier and there was much discussion about the applications of this research.

Pharmacogenomics holds, crudely, the promise that essentially, one day, we will be able to have our individual DNA sequence read quickly, in a GPs surgery, and drugs tailored to our particular genome. That medicine can be tailored to us so that we all get treatments that are most effective for each of us individually.

There is no doubt that this is the way that medicine is moving, albeit slowly and it is likely that if the light’s don’t go out on civilisation we will see some version of this in the next 100 years.

Reading Robert Plomin’s Blueprint it was striking to read a psychologist begin to explain how 50% of the variance of intelligence within a population can be explained by genetics. This means that the biggest, stable, correlation of educational outcomes is with the DNA within an individuals genome. Plomin goes on to explain that the shared environmental influence of children attending the same school and growing up in the same family accounts for only 20% of the variance in school achievement (and only 10% at university).

This claim begs the question as to what are the implications for education if genetics is the best predictor of educational success?

As  Plomin is keen to stress these predictions are probabilistic and not fatalistic. Just because genetics is accounts for 50% of the variance of educational outcomes, this does not mean that kids with the “right” genetic mix are pre-determined to do well, just that, on average, they will. He argues for going with the grain of genetics, and, in the case of parenting, working in a way that exposes children to opportunity but develops children alongside what they appear to be interested in.

I found many of these ideas fascinating and I am left with the question – will we soon be in the time of educational genomics? Will we be able to sequence our DNA and from the information have an insight into our psychology in such a way that we can tailor instruction to be optimal for us?

I suspect that the differences in the DNA and psychological make up in the 1st and 2nd standard deviations of the population will be so small as to make tailoring of instruction as effectively meaningless. The fact is, that children need, for a host of reasons, to be educated communally, and this creates a whole host of issues with regards to the personalisation of education.

Still it is an interesting idea..

What films do TOK teachers recommend?

At the start of this year, a colleague and I joked about starting a Films for TOK Cocurricular/ExtraCurricular activity, and that got me thinking – what films would TOK teachers recommend we watch. So I went back to the facebook group and asked the questions.

The list below summarises their answers.

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