All posts by Sonia Trakroo

6 insights from Kath Murdoch to empower every PYP teacher

Kath Murdoch – a name synonymous with inquiry (the cornerstone of the PYP). Every teacher initiates herself into this world of the PYP following her inquiry cycle.
No matter how far along my journey of teaching I come, I find myself going back to her (I’m currently reading her book ‘The power of Inquiry’) again and again for guidance on so many aspects of the PYP – the art of questioning, the stages of inquiry, assessments, reflection and so much more.
My PYP blog would always have felt incomplete without integrating her insights – which is why I shared the link to her blog in one of my earlier posts. I also reached out to Kath, asking if she would be willing to answer questions my readers may have on inquiry in different domains of the PYP. I was delighted to receive a prompt and encouraging response from her – demonstrating her commitment and enthusiasm to educating the educators!
Kath has a unique ability to deconstruct this seemingly complex inquiry model into easy to follow steps – empowering teachers with the feeling ‘Yes, I can do this’ OR ‘Oh! I’m already doing that!’. Every answer below demonstrates that – beautifully articulated in a knowledgeable and yet easy to follow way.

I express a heartfelt thanks on behalf of the entire community for her contribution in empowering us in making our students capable and confident learners.  

So, go ahead, sit back with your cuppa and feast yourself on these nuggets of wisdom – quoted verbatim from the most authentic and knowledgeable source.

1. How far can we bring inquiry into the languages? Do you personally feel it is more difficult than STEM subjects?

If you see inquiry as a stance then it is possible to bring it to all areas of the curriculum. Inquiry is about engaging learners as researchers – inviting them to ‘figure things out’, look for patterns, raise questions and think deeply. This kind of learning is not subject specific. Learning a language is an act of inquiry in itself. 

2. How to bridge the gap between teacher guided and student led inquiry?

All inquiry is guided in some way and I am not sure what is meant by a ‘gap?’. In an inquiry based approach we release responsibility to students but we do this in a way that is consistent with their needs and their readiness.  Teachers are always guiding in some way and students lead in others.  In most journeys of inquiry, students AND teachers are working together to negotiate the way forward. 

3. How can students carry on with inquiry through experiments or investigation without being taught related vocabulary or information?

Students inquire in order TO build vocabulary and gather information. If “being taught” means that teachers explain/demonstrate/provide… then this is part of the inquiry process and one of the roles the teacher plays.  Explaining is not separated from inquiry – it is part of it. 

4. Importance of unstructured inquiry in teaching and learning

It depends what you mean by structure. Structure in the form of routines, scaffolds and frameworks is really important so that there are some boundaries and consistencies for learners. Everything we do in an inquiry classroom is intentional and carefully designed. If it is too loose and chaotic, then we can easily overwhelm learners and lose sight of what the learning is. 

5. How do we meaningfully and authentically apply inquiry based learning in single subject areas especially during online teaching?

The same things that are important in the classroom are important in online teaching:
Listening to and honouring children’s questions and theories 
Modelling what it means to be a curious, passionate learner
Providing opportunities for learners to do more “figuring out” – flipping the gradual release model
Valuing thinking by using routines and scaffolds that have learners thinking creatively, critically and reflectively
Providing ample time for children to investigate
Giving them opportunities to make choices about what/how/with whom they will learn and how they might show it (not full choice in everything but contained choices) 
Inquiry as an approach to teaching and learning can continue even when we are not in the classroom – Providing children with challenges that position them as a researcher/investigator is the key.

6. How to make lessons more concept based and inquiry driven in single subject areas – Music / Dance / PHE 

The above response is my answer to the inquiry part of this question. For the concept based part – first make sure you understand what concepts are and then see if you can locate the concepts within a lesson/task. Learn to think less about topics and activities and more about the concepts that sit above them.  In dance, for example, there are abundant concepts that can be explored including pattern, expression, collaboration, balance… these SAME concepts might be developed in PE and in Music. Exploring such concepts simultaneously can mean greater transfer and deeper understanding. 

To conclude with one of her quotes would be fitting here –

You can follow her blog atJustWondering — KATH MURDOCH

A clever collaboration tool to help students create amazing presentations

Google slides – How I used this remarkable tool for student collaboration

Collaboration makes your work better because it:

  • Creates self-awareness. When you collaborate with others, you have to explain (and then defend) your ideas. Collaboration is a great way to understand your own thought processes.
  • Speeds things up. When you have more people on a task, everyone can use their unique strengths to make the project run smoother…and faster
  • Boosts morale. When people don’t trust each other, morale suffers. Regularly working with other people is one of the most effective ways to build trust.
  • You never stop learning. Collaboration exposes you to new skillsets and experiences. That fresh perspective triggers the creativity for everyone involved.

Source – 45 Collaboration Quotes That Will Get You Excited to be Part of a Team (

“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.” – H.E. Luccock

The online learning and teaching platform has pushed teachers to become more creative to keep students engaged in their learning – and collaboration is always a wonderful way to help students stay engaged, display student agency and develop the ATL

In this post, I am sharing a new strategy I used for student collaboration. The funny thing being that we teachers have used it for so long to collaborate, but I just recently realised its effectiveness for student collaboration! Much impressed with the results too, I must say!

The breakout rooms recently introduced in Microsoft Teams is a wonderful feature which allows students to collaborate meaningfully. I am sharing below the steps I followed to effectively integrate the breakout rooms feature and Google Slides app for collaboration and creation of a wonderful presentation.

6 simple steps to help students create a presentation using Google slides –

Recently, in our English classes, we were inquiring into the different genres of poetry and the use of poetic devices for greater impact.

  • I created a Google slide before the class for the purpose.  I had a skeletal structure in place – title slide, placeholders for each slide (free verse, rhyming haiku, limerick, and a last slide for the figures of speech like metaphor, simile, alliteration etc).
  • I gave instructions to the class as a whole – they would work on the slide number as per their breakout room numbers (room no 1 on free verse etc). I then sent the students packing into their breakout rooms 🙂 (I automatically assigned them to 5 rooms)
  • I shared the link to the Google slide with the whole class with editing rights.

Genres of poetry – Google slide

  • I visited each room in turn to ensure student participation and give feedback on the work they were doing.
  • As a teacher, it was so easy to give them feedback as every group was working on the same document! I just focused on the slide relevant to that group.
  • At the end of the task we had a wonderful presentation on genres of poetry that would serve as a ready resource for all.

Sharing some images from the presentation created –

  • I then used the same strategy in Math for data handling – students researched in breakout rooms and created a consolidated presentation on bar graphs, line graphs, pie chart and pictographs, also comparing and contrasting the different types of graphs.

Sharing some samples of the student work and the link to the Google slide

Data handling – Google slides

Do share if you have a collaboration tool that worked effectively in your classroom!

6 IB blogs to follow for inquiry, inspiration and innovation

The one thing I really, really treasure about my role as an educator is that I am also always learning by –

  • interacting with the students who are always enthusiastic, filled with positive energy, always challenging and taking me beyond the scope of my planning
  • being a part of the IB community – having this insatiable curiosity to dive deeper into this veritable treasure chest of knowledge.

At the same time this journey is made so much easier with the many keys (resources) to open the locked doors (of our minds) along the way, which is why I wanted to share some of these resources with the wider community.

In this post I am compiling a list of some of these keys – my go-to blogs authored by some of the giants of the IB world. I turn to these whenever I need inspiration for any PYP related resources, ideas for how to progress with any concept, strengthening inquiry in the classroom, reflection strategies etc.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, just the ones that I tend to turn towards for the following reasons – 

  • their wealth of years of experience in PYP
  • the way they break down complex ideas into easy to follow strategies.
  • the inspiration and motivation they provide leading to many treasured AHA (‘I can do this too’) moments in the classroom.

So here goes – in random order, and including links to 2 posts for each blog :-

1. What Ed Said – A blog about learning

Link to the blog –

2 of her blogs that I enjoyed reading –

The ‘so what’ of learning… – What Ed Said (

Making Thinking Visible: Chapter Two – What Ed Said (

2. Sonya Terborg – Innovation, inspiration, education

Link to the blog –

These 2 posts really helped me understand key concepts and feedback in the pyp classroom

Concept-Question Cards.pages (

Ladder of Feedback – sonya terborg

3. Just wondering – Kath Murdoch

Link to the blog –

JustWondering — KATH MURDOCH

These 2 posts made me reflect on my understanding on inquiry

7 Lessons from deep in the inquiry trenches… — KATH MURDOCH

What are you noticing? — KATH MURDOCH

4. PYP Teaching Tools – inquiry based tips and tools for teachers worldwide

Link to the blog –

PYP Teaching Tools – Inquiry based teaching tips and tools for teachers worldwide.

Read these 2 of her interesting blogs on PYP teachers and students –

5 Things You Don’t Have To Do As A PYP Teacher – PYP Teaching Tools

6 Steps to Setting Goals with IB PYP Students – PYP Teaching Tools

5. Cristina Milos – A teacher’s wonderings

Link to the blog

2 of her blogs that really helped me stir my thinking 🙂

6. Class teaching – Finding and sharing teaching ‘bright spots’

Link to the blog

Class Teaching | Finding & sharing teaching ‘bright spots’ (

2 blogs to read for for deeper understanding of differentiation and feedback –

Differentiation – Some classroom strategies | Class Teaching (

Focus on Feedback | Class Teaching (

Do you have your own go-to IB blog that you follow? Do share in the comments and add to this treasure chest 🙂

Do you have a question you would like to ask any of these experienced and expert bloggers. Post it in the comments and I’ll try and get it answered for you!

How Going SOLO can be effective in your classroom!

SOLO – Structured observation of learning outcomes
Taxonomy – the science of naming, describing and classifying
The 2 words put together mean describing and classifying student learning and the outcomes

What exactly is SOLO?

The structure of observed learning outcomes taxonomy (SOLO taxonomy) is a simple yet robust tool for measuring how well a student understands a topic. It describes 5 levels of understanding, moving from surface level understanding to conceptual understanding. It is widely used for designing curriculum outcomes and assessment tasks that get progressively more difficult as students move through their education.

Source –

To be honest, for a long time, I did not use this wonderful tool as I was not sure how to use it effectively, let alone explain it to my young students!

I am sharing my experiences of using this tool to hopefully encourage and inspire other teachers also to deploy this effective tool in their classrooms. On my part, I am looking forward to developing a deeper understanding thus applying this tool more effectively in various areas of my teaching and learning.

I had recently attended a JobsAlike session on SOLO Taxonomy and that really boosted my enthusiasm to use it. The session really helped, as not only did I get to witness how other teachers actually used it, the discussions also helped each participant enhance their confidence in using this tool. The participants shared some very useful online tools for using SOLO. That’s the power of collaboration, if anyone needed further proof!

As they say, the first step in any journey is the most difficult. The good news is, once you have taken that first step and built up your confidence, the second and third steps become so much easier. Yes, you might occasionally stumble or find yourself walking in the wrong direction — but at least you’ll be moving – quote from

I decided that I would apply this strategy within the coming week itself. We had just completed the concept of fractions, decimals and percentages in math. I used SOLO Taxonomy as a reflection tool for the first time.

As students already had a fair understanding of command terms, I shared a list of command terms that related to each phase of the SOLO. I observed that students were able to reflect meaningfully, rather than the usual ‘I am confident’, ‘I did not understand’.

Using SOLO Taxonomy, students were able to justify the phase they felt they were currently at –

For eg. ‘I am able to describe how a fraction and decimal are related, i am able to compute sums based on percentages – that is why I am at a multi structural level’.

It also gave them a goal to work towards and the direction to progress in their understanding.

For eg. ‘I am at the multi-structural level and I want to progress to relational level – so I need to be able to analyse, explain and predict the relationship between fractions and percentages’ etc.

Student reflection samples below –

The ease with which students took to this new tool gave me the confidence to use it again. I subsequently used the SOLO Taxonomy as a learning continuum for the ongoing unit of inquiry on simple machines – to track how student’s understanding of simple machines was progressing. As you can see from the samples below – both teachers and students can track how understanding is evolving – from listing and describing simple machines to understanding the concepts of energy, work and force, and the impact that machines have on our lives .

1 interesting idea – use the SOLO continuum as an exit ticket on completion of a class/concept

Do share in the comments if you use this strategy in class!

5 reasons SOLO Taxonomy is a must have tool in every teachers kit –

– SOLO has a visual progression which helps students place their understanding in well defined phases.

SOLO helps in framing effective success criteria which motivates students to be more engaged with the tasks

– It is an effective tool for assessment, feedback and feed forward

– It helps teachers and students track how learning is moving from simple to more complex levels

– It helps students reflect meaningfully on their learning

3 useful and simple resources to get you started on this exciting SOLO journey –

HOT SOLO Presentations – HookED Wiki (


Sample of a rubric created using SOLO
This is a sample rubric I created using Functioning Knowledge Rubric Generator — HookED (

What are your first thoughts about using this tool? With which subject or concept would you like to try SOLO with first? Do share your thoughts and experiences using SOLO in your classroom..

DPSI Math cafe – serving an order of math – sunny (fun) side up!

Definition of a café – ‘An establishment serving a variety of meals, coffee and snacks’.

A learning café would thus serve good teaching practices, strategies and ideas, for free! The only payment a teacher seeks is to benefit her students and inspire other teachers.

A café was recently organized at my school wherein the idea was to get teachers to share their best teaching practices in any sphere of their experience that they wanted to.

This was an excellent example of teacher agency – where teachers volunteered to be a part the café, chose their area of expertise and then shared it in their choice of presentation with the larger community. On the other hand, the participating teachers also had a choice of which café they wanted to attend to hone their understanding in a particular area.

It is easier to do what you are doing, than to talk about what you are doing!

The challenge was to make sure that the attending teachers had a lot of takeaways from our workshop as they were investing their time in us, so we decided to share some of our best practices, the thought process when we plan and design our math curriculum, and some strategies that we aspire to include in our teaching.

While planning any math concept for our students, we follow the process below and try to integrate as many elements as possible from those listed below –

  • Assessing the prior knowledge of students, which helps us to
    • Plan the progression (from where to start)
    • Plan the differentiation
    • Look for grouping strategies
    • Understand to what level of complexity we can take the concept
  • Making real life connections – helping students see the relevance of their learning in real life – “where am I going to use this?’
  • Ensuring differentiation in instruction – stepping up and stepping down to cater to all learning levels.
  • Developing critical thinking skills –  in a world with an overload of information – the ability to think clearly and rationally; identify, analyse and solve problems; be an active learner rather than a passive recipient of information – is a critical one.

I am sharing here some of the strategies that could help make math more engaging and relevant for each and every learner in our classes.

To begin with, on a lighter note, just to understand why we need math in our life –

Has something like this happened with you? 🙂

Strategy 1 – setting the scene for math classes – what a math class should look like  

Activity – 100 numbers to get students talking

He/she who does the most talking does the most learning’

  • The goal is to get all students talking – about math – every day. 
  • This activity can be done in the first week of school as it helps lay the foundation for effective communication and collaboration in math
  • This is what group work in math should look like –
    • All group members are focused
    • Collaboration between the group members, (sharing of ideas)
    • Well defined learning goals and success criteria
    • Group members are encouraged to persist and have a growth mindset

When students repeat the activity a couple of times, they begin to see patterns, they can predict where the next numbers can be found, and work more effectively as a group

Strategy 2 – Moving from concrete to abstract

  • CONCRETE: an actual apple–it can be felt, manipulated, cut into, eaten, observed.
  • VISUAL: an image of apple
  • ABSTRACT: the word apple

This is how the flow in math should also be – e.g. For a concept like fractions, get students to fold a newspaper into half, then a fourth, then trace along the lines and observe the shaded parts to recognize the equivalent fractions formed. Later, when they express on paper , they will understand equivalent fractions better, as they can visualise it.

The video below explains the activity

(Watch from 0:40 – 2:54 minutes)

Strategy 3 – Making real life connections

Concepts such as symmetry, tessellation, patterns can very easily be seen in the world around us – flowers, beehives, monuments. Students just have to hone their powers of observation – math is all around us, it’s not just numbers.

To provoke student thinking, ask questions like – What is the shape of each cell in the beehive? Why do you a hexagon would be the best shape for it?

Observe the Fibonacci series in flower petals, the tessellation in the tiles of a floor, the patterns in monuments – field trip for math to Humayun’s Tomb, perhaps?

I have stood on the walkways of my school with my students, counting the petals on flowers, much to the amusement of onlookers!

Number sense in cooking and baking

Ratios and proportion can be introduced through a simple activity of making a glass of lemonade or a fruit salad, and then changing the amount required. So, you give students the quantity of lemon juice, water, sugar, and salt required for 1 glass of lemonade, and then ask how much of each would be required for 2 people, 3 people etc. Once they figure out the correct answer, they can reward themselves with a cool glass of lemonade!!

Analysis of real life events

Most students take a keen interest in sports – so whenever there is a sporting event going on – try and relate math to it. For eg. while we were learning about decimals, the IPL was on. We got students to compare decimals by analysing the bowling speeds of various bowlers to determine who the most impressive bowler of this IPL was!

Other sporting events could be – the Olympics, the FIFA world cup, tennis tournaments etc.

Elapsed time and 24 hrs. time through real life context of flight/train schedules

Students can understand the importance of 12 and 24 hr time as flight timings are written in 24 hr format. They can practise and reinforce conversion between 12 and 24 hr time, and calculation of elapsed time, by analyzing flight/train schedules.

When students read the flight time as 0030 hrs, it is so important to know – is that morning or night, else they may end up missing their flight! Has that happened to anyone of us ??!  

Strategy 4 – Gamification

  • Children love playing Minecraft, a game of adventure and limitless possibilities as they build, mine, battle mobs, and explore the ever-changing Minecraft landscape.

Math concepts like area and perimeter, patterns, ratios, and coordinates all come alive when they’re laid out spatially and can be manipulated with the click of the mouse, as students immerse themselves in the Minecraft world. 

  • To bring the fun element in my math classes, i play a game called ‘buzz’ with my students. Over the number of years I have taught math, I have seen that almost every student loves playing this game. They reinforce their times tables and apply divisibility rules – thus improving their skills in such an exciting way. The way the game is played – sit in a circle with your students (i always play with them), choose any number – e.g 4, then starting from 1, every student says numbers sequentially, except they have to say ‘buzz’ for any number that is in the table of 4. So, 1, 2, 3, buzz, 5, 6, 7, buzz…and so on. For older students start from a higher number eg. 100, or choose 2 numbers – so any number that comes in the table of 3 and 4 is buzzed.

Strategy 5 – Encourage a growth mindset in math

Brain research shows that deeper learning and greater neural connections form from making mistakes on difficult tasks, rather than simply having constant success on easy tasks. This is a sentence that my students can now complete for me!! However, I feel it well worth repeating the message, that it is really okay to make mistakes, but it is not okay to not try.

Source –

Strategy 6 – Finger perception

Latest research goes against a common misconception that students should not count/calculate using their fingers. I encourage students, who find it difficult to memorize the multiplication tables, to use their fingers to do repeated addition – for e.g. 7 x 3 – add 7 three times using your fingers – 7, 14, 21

‘Mathematics may not teach us to add love or subtract hate, but it gives us hope that every problem has a solution’. I would consider myself a good math teacher not just when my students can solve all sums correctly, but when my efforts sow the love for learning and a spark for always trying ….

I hosted the math café at my school – DPS International – along with a colleague of mine – Ambika Bansal. Both of us teach Grade 5 math, so there is a lot of common understanding and shared experiences of what has worked well for us over the years of teaching math.

Equal opportunities

No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.’ – Nelson Mandela

The world is witnessing so much divisiveness and intolerance today. Why is it that as geographical boundaries are dissolving due to technological advances, so many walls are being erected in our minds around colour, race and religion?

To me, the answer lies in educating the future generations – which is why I am a firm advocate of the IB pedagogy whose mission statement encapsulates its spirit

‘The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect’.

Grade 5 recently completed a unit on equal opportunities – based on the central idea that ‘Access to equal opportunities can shape communities and make a difference in the world’. The students inquired into types of inequalities (form), their causes and impact (causation) and their actions towards reducing it (responsibility). 

The unit was an engaging one – and very relevant, given the current scenario of intolerance around the world. As an educator my main responsibility is to build open minded and global citizens of the world, who will then go on to make the world a better place.

The provocation into this unit was through a gallery of images – depicting some of the different types of inequalities in society. Students observed these and then expressed their thoughts using the thinking routine ‘I see, I think, I wonder’. Sharing some glimpses of students’ interesting thought processes below:

Students then read the following poem to help them understand the term ‘inequality’. Students then expressed their understanding of inequality through the ‘Colour, Symbol, Image’ routine

(The use of visible thinking routines such as the ones listed above loosely gives a direction to student thinking and at the same increases student motivation and creativity).

The way a unit of inquiry is usually approached is by exploring each line of inquiry sequentially – however we decided to have a holistic approach this time – we categorised the inequalities (social, economic and political inequalities) and then discussed it in the framework of all the 3 LOIs. We started with social inequalities – gender and racial discrimination, and discussed the features of these inequalities, where it is observed (local and global contexts), the causes and impacts of gender and racial discrimination and then the measures to reduce it.

Students first understood terms like stereotyping, discrimination, prejudice and discussed where they have seen or experienced this in their family, community, and the world (local to global perspective). Then they watched some videos to understand how this discrimination manifests and what it looks like.

The use of real life case studies during this unit was very impactful – especially in understanding the causes and the impact of gender and racial discrimination – Kamla Harris being elected as vice president, Poorna Malavath – the youngest woman (from a disadvantaged background) to scale Mt Everest, the impact of COVID 19 on women and the effectiveness of women leaders during the pandemic .

There was indignation expressed over the unfairness of the treatment meted out by the police officers to George Floyd, discussions around how the COVID pandemic has increased stress levels among working women much more than men. Newspaper articles were analysed to prove the effectiveness of women leaders during the pandemic – four common threads that emerged : trust, decisiveness, technology, love. People at organizations of all types and sizes — from companies to schools to community groups — can benefit from incorporating truth, decisiveness, tech and love into their thoughts and actions.

Very interesting discussions took place around these cases – through the lines of inquiry and lens of the key concepts which give student inquiries a framework through guiding questions and thus allow meaningful and in-depth learning to happen.

All of the above engagements also helped in reinforcing the central idea – how access to equal opportunities can shape communities and make the world a better place. Students actually appreciated how Poorna Malavath’s perseverance in the face of discrimination helped not only in her own upliftment, but in the progress of her entire community – which was previously marginalised. How Kamla Harris being elected Vice President would inspire millions of girls and people of colour to dream big…

To better understand and thus challenge stereotypes – students read the following books –

Rainbow girls

Rainbow boys

They were then able to challenge gender and race stereotypes by creating online avatars.

Their evolving understanding of the unit came across beautifully through the poems they wrote.

It was so heartening to see the students’ thought processes evolve, the strong emotions they felt while discussing unfairness, discrimination and the resolve they expressed to change things for the better when their time camethus displaying the true essence of being internationally minded citizens of the world .

For the love of reading ….

A virtual class library

Source – Pinterest

Children who love reading perform better in school overall – vocabulary development, grammar – these are the obvious benefits. A more subtle learning is the development of the art of writing. When you read good pieces of writing – novels, essays etc you imbibe the style and the tone of different genres of writing. So it’s a win-win all around!

Now for the slightly tricky part – some children love reading, some not so much. Can a love for reading be developed and enhanced? As a teacher, yes, I believe it can. Reading can be fun especially when we read aloud and read together for enjoyment. I have witnessed this in my classroom, when we spend the most magical time (once or twice a week) reading a book together.

The challenge was to create an ambience or a feel of the bookshelf / library at school during these challenging times of virtual learning. But, If there is one thing this pandemic has taught us, it is that the human will is indomiatable – so read on…

I created a virtual class library for my students so that, in some way, they could have the feel of a library, and a bookshelf full of books to click and read.

I used the following video as a guide to use Bitmojis in creating my virtual library –

Am sharing a step by step pictorial guide to how I created my own class library. Hope this helps you create one of your own! Here goes

Open a new Google slide in your browser

Delete these two blocks (title and subtitle), so you have a blank canvas to work with

Now, choose a background you would like for the library – I chose a brick wall

The next step is to place a bookshelf in your library -> insert image -> search web for a transparent bookshelf. Make sure you include the word transparent

Once i chose and added my bookshelf to the slide, I snipped an image of the book cover i wanted to add and placed it on the bookshelf, using insert image. To enable students to click on the book cover and read, first click on the image, then click on Insert -> link. Copy paste the hyperlink to the pdf version of the book here. Picture reference below :

You can keep adding books in this way. The link to this google slide can then be shared with students. I have pasted this link as a separate section in the Microsoft Class notebook. I have created one bookshelf for unit related and academic content, and one for fiction books – reading for pleasure. A snip of the 2 bookshelves in my class library is pasted below –

An example of how we have used the class library (other than for unit related and English reading) – we have been doing loud reading of the Roald Dahl book ‘Matilda’ around once a week. Students are really loving this book. They read aloud in turns (serves the purpose of a reading assessment also 👍) and then we discuss the story, the characters, what parts we enjoyed. It was so rewarding to hear some students share that these reading sessions motivated them to actually buy a physical copy of the book to continue reading!

Students are now recommending books that would like to add to our bookshelf –

A double act – Jacqueline Wilson

A series of unfortunate events Daniel Handler

Skylanders Universe – Onk Beakman

Sam the stolen puppy – Holly Webb

Are we there yet – Enid Blyton

Would appreciate any recommendations to add to this list of good reading for my Grade 5 students – please do share in comments 😊

Happy reading to all of you and your students. Do share in the comments any initiatives you are taking to develop a love for reading in your children….

Social emotional learning – the why and the how

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. Credit –

I look back at my accomplishments thus far in my life – academic, professional, personal relationships/family – and a common thread underlying all these achievements are the attitudes, traits and values that guided me through it all. Some of these include –

•    Optimism •   Tenacity or perseverance •   A strong work ethic •   Dedication •   The ability to delay gratification •   Open-mindedness•   Empathy •   Flexibility •   A sense of humour •   Cooperation and collaboration •   Willingness to negotiate differences  

In my primary role today as a teacher I now wonder – In what areas do my students demonstrate their strengths or a deficit? What does this imply for their academic and non-academic success later on in life? Can I help them reflect on how these attributes are critical in becoming balanced, open-minded and empathetic individuals? The answer to the above is a resounding yes. These attributes can be taught, can be role modelled and are equally as important as teaching literacy and numeracy skills. 

The Answer to “What is SEL?”

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) provides students with the emotional and social wherewithal to demonstrate the personal attributes, attitudes, and values identified above. Emotional learning involves helping students develop self-understanding, self-regulation, impulse control, the ability to delay gratification, anger management, stress reduction, etc.  Social learning helps students develop an ability to adopt a different perspective, identify emotions in others, feel empathy, listen, communicate effectively, and simply get along with others.

The Answer to “Why SEL?”

Our students’ ability to succeed academically, professionally, and personally is strongly correlated with their emotional and social intelligence. Social-emotional learning is not happening as consistently in the home (or elsewhere in society) as it did in the past.  The reasons for this phenomenon are too varied and complex to discuss fully here.  Nonetheless, we are left with a fundamental question:  do we take on the task of teaching SEL or accept the status quo?

Credits –

SEL is an integral part of the curriculum at our school. In addition to the dedicated classes for the same, I wanted to equip my students with some strategies to cope with their emotions and feelings – especially negative ones like frustration, stress – we did some of these activities inspired from the Youtube channel –

Being me – mindfulness tasks for kids

First activity – Connect the dots

Students placed 10 dots on the whiteboard and breathed in and out while connecting one dot to the next.

Students reflected that they were able to focus only on their breathing with no unwanted thoughts coming to mind. I have suggested they do this when experiencing any strong emotions – frustration, anger etc. 

Second activity – Clapping and cups rhythm

Students watched a video to play a rhythm using a cup and then tried to do the same. The focus was on dealing with the frustration of not being able to do the rhythm initially, and strategies to deal with this frustration.

Post the activity we reflected on our frustrations in other areas of our lives especially when trying to learn something new. Case in point – some students were definitely struggling with the concept of adding and subtracting unlike fractions – I could sense their confusion and frustration (yes, even across that virtual screen!). I referenced this clap and cup activity while suggesting that focusing on each step at a time (each clap and rhythm), and just persisting (trying the rhythm again and again) would definitely help them.

A couple more links from the same channel that I plan to do in the coming weeks –

(a feely bag with objects of different shapes and textures to help the mind focus on only one thing, thus helping to calm your breathing and lessen your thoughts.

(Gratitude name – use the letters of your name to list things you are grateful for)

(Using 3 senses to notice 3 things. Focussing on your outer world helps to calm your inner world.)

Activity 3 – role modelling

Role modelling – Children will do as they see you do, they may not necessarily do what they hear you say. They need to see us as human beings with the same emotions and we need to role model how we deal with our negative emotions.

I remember one class – where just everything seemed to go wrong – my computer froze, I couldn’t share my screen with students, I couldn’t even see them – luckily though they could hear me. I could sense my frustration building as time passed and my plan for the class went to pieces. Not wanting to waste any more time trying to get my computer to behave, I changed my track on the spot – got them to start doing math in their journals – the good old pencil and paper way (failsafe).

I then used this as a teachable moment – talked to the students about my frustration and how I took a deep breath to not let it overcome me and then moved on in the best way possible in the circumstances.

Do leave a comment with feedback if you try any of these activities in your class 🙂

A virtual assembly

‘Technology is not just a tool. It can give learners a voice that they may not have had before’. George Couros

Honestly, my initial reaction on having to host an assembly was skepticism. How would I find time to plan and prepare for an assembly, how will my students collaborate, how will the curriculum learning plans be met?

However, my students were enthusiastic about the assembly on their current unit ‘technology’ – so I set the ball rolling.

A unit rubric had been developed to assess student understanding as the unit progressed. So, it definitely made sense that students express their understanding along these four major criteria during the assembly. I made four groups based on the criteria below

As I started the planning process, carving out time here and there (10 minutes sensory break, 15 mins class time, after school time😄), I realised this assembly would not only reinforce student understanding of the unit but also help them enhance their communication and collaboration skills. With the PYP exhibition process for Grade5 also about to commence, this was a good opportunity to discuss the key elements of PYP which they would need to be aware of.

Expression of understanding of technology thus ran parallel with the key concepts, ATL development and display of learner profile attributes. I wanted the students to realize that the process (planning, collaborating with peers) is as important as the final product. – that is, presentation of the assembly to their peers. The process of collaborating was not always smooth – in a classroom environment I would have given them time to sit in groups and discuss – how could I do that virtually? I suggested to the students that they create online word documents for collaboration where every group member could put down their thoughts and ideas. Students also took initiative to meet their group members outside of school hours to connect and collaborate if required. The struggle was real🤷‍♂️ ‘ Why aren’t you coming online’, ‘ I’m calling you, please accept’, ‘ Ma’am – he/she is not doing his part …our work is incomplete’. My input to them – the goal is meeting the deadline for the assembly, doing a good job of presenting, and then the team (not a single individual) will get any credit or any blame. So work together productively..

Once this brainstorming stage was done, the group chose 1 or 2 members who would put the presentation together using an online tool which they had learnt during the unit itself – Canva / Podcast / powerpoint presentation etc, displaying an understanding of using the various features.

Students had complete voice, choice and ownership during the planning of the assembly – choice of tools they wanted to use to present, voice as in the expression of their own understanding and ownership of the process – incorporating my feedback, ensuring deadlines were met. 

My role in the assembly was of a mentor, guiding the students, giving feedback on the format and language of the presentations, and making them aware of the skills and attributes they were developing. It was really heartening to see the way the students incorporated this feedback with an open mind.

One important skill I feel I helped them enhance is how to structure a presentation – something most of us learned quite late in life. I ensured that they kept only bulleted lists with short phrases on each slide (too much text bores the audience), and included some relevant images for better aesthetics. One important instruction I shared was that they would not read from each slide – they would refer to the bulleted list and then build on that in their own words, and with examples. This would make the presentation more interactive.

Sharing some images from the presentations

The students did a great job of presenting during the assembly and received positive feedback from the audience – their peers.

My own feeling was that students enhanced their understanding not only of the unit but also of the key concepts and ATL development (explaining to others is the best way to check your own understanding!)

As a last step students reflected on the presentation – one skill they enhanced, how they felt before and after the assembly and one thing they would differently next time. Am sharing some of their wonderfully articulated reflections below. I have taken their permission before sharing these 🙂

Made with Padlet
Reflections after the assembly

Finally, my take away

If everything was planned, it would be dreadful. If everything was unplanned, it would be equally dreadful – Errol Morris.

True learning happens somewhere in this intersection of the planned and the unplanned – one just has to go with the flow..

New academic session – a virtual beginning

 ‘Technology can never replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of great teachers is transformational’ – George Souros

I began this academic session as form tutor for Grade 5, which gave me the tremendous advantage of already knowing the students as I taught them math last year in Grade 4; otherwise I literally would not have seen them IRL. We welcomed 2 new students in the class – it was a unique challenge to make them feel comfortable and get to know their new buddies on the virtual platform.  They are deprived of the normal sensory  interactions – in the class, in the lunch hall, and playground – that nurtures bonding for a lifetime. A small activity I did for their peers to get to know them a little better – 2 truths and a lie. They expressed two truths and one lie about themselves and their peers had to guess which was the lie, thus gaining some insight into their likes and aspirations.

A key question as we started with online learning was – why should children attend online classes? Can’t they be home schooled? Parents could buy the relevant course textbooks and let them learn at home. There are 2 key aspects to learning – the content and the process. Parents (or other significant adults) can deliver content but may not be equipped to follow the process, especially the PYP pedagogy – which focuses on constructing knowledge through inquiry and collaboration. PYP teachers have to conform to certain minimum requirements in terms of certifications and training to ensure authenticity of the PYP is maintained.

In my digital classroom, as much as exploring content, students are thinking critically, collaborating (using some amazing online apps) and reflecting on their understanding (metacognition).

Some of my thoughts and experiences with online learning –

  • A unique feature of online learning is the blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning. As compared to the physical classroom where the teacher and students are disconnected once school hours are over, in the digital classroom teachers and students are always connected. I am able to help students in real time – ensuring a timely and relevant feedback process.
  • I have observed students behaving and reacting differently than they would in regular school.  Even the diligent learners are missing the classroom environment and the physical connect with their peers and teachers and this definitely affects their learning. It thus becomes critical to maintain a balance between their social emotional health and the delivery of curriculum. Sharing some strategies that worked in my class –
    • Using technology Interactive and engaging lessons – Quizizz, Wakelet, Peardeck, Nearpod and MS- Forms are some of the apps I have used effectively to replace worksheets and audio visual presentations. (Will share details of how I used these tools in another post) 
    • Small activities to let them express their feelings
      • Sometimes just letting them express their feelings
      • Sometimes using strategies for the same like this peardeck SEL template helps students express their feelings
  • Emphasising the criticality of being principled towards their own learning – whether it is timely submission or doing their work independently. It’s like walking a tightrope – iron fist in a velvet glove, if you may!
    • Connecting with students individually and asynchronously using the online platform– to check in on them or help them with their concerns.
    • A balance of moving ahead with the curriculum and giving them the time and space to just be, just express themselves. Giving them the space and the time to just be – the way they could in school. I have started devoting one day week towards fun activities – this could be a structured and planned activity – flameless cooking, craft activities, virtual tours or an unstructured platform to share something unique they are doing to make quarantine life better, share some unique talent of theirs.

This learner profile attribute given by a student means so much to me because it captures the essence of what I strive to role model as a teacher – don’t be scared to make mistakes, reflect and learn from them, there is immense growth in this process. More than teaching them math or science, if I can inculcate this attribute in my students, I would consider myself a good teacher.