FutureSchools Review – Day 1 Session 1 – Master class with Jennie Magiera

The next few articles will be based on reflections of my time attending the 2016 iteration of the FutureSchools conference and expo, which, for the 2016 iteration, consists of master classes on Wednesday 2nd March, and the conferences and expo proper on Thursday 3rd and Friday 4th March respectively. When I attended last year (2015 review articles here), I commuted down and back each day, a return journey of approximately three hours total, which made for a long and tiring three days. When I decided to attend this year I made the decision that to engage with the networking aspect of the three days, and in order to not arrive each morning already tired, that I would stay in Sydney for the two nights. Accordingly, I wrote this particular article whilst sitting on the end of the single bed in the small (but very clean and well-kept) room, using an ironing board I borrowed from the staff to iron my shirts for tomorrow as a table of sorts, with my notebook propped up on the obligatory teacup provided in the room. It is certainly one of the more bizarre writing setups that I have used.


Wednesday was the day for master classes, with three different full-day master classes on offer (you can read the blurb for each by clicking here, here and here). After reading through the synopsis of each on offer I made the decision that the Jennie Magiera’s (@MsMagiera) facilitated master class, entitled Transforming School Culture: Curiosity Based Learning for Students AND Teachers was the best fit for where I am at, currently, as a teacher in regards to my pedagogical approach and interests and the master class from which I would gain the most benefit vis-à-vis being able to put what I learn into practice when I return to school.

When we started, Jennie stated that she wanted us to think about “…building a culture of curiosity…” in our schools and that cognitive dissonance would be the goal of today, to challenge us and to draw us out of our comfort zones in order to open us up to thinking about questioning from a different reference point. She was open that the day would be interactive, practical and not a five-hour long keynote with some breaks throughout, and that the first activity we needed to do was to smile.

She attributed this activity to Roni Habib (@Roni_Habib) and referred to it as clapping for happiness and that it worked with both children and adults. It was a very simple activity wherein we all stood up in a rough circle around the outside of the room, and Jennie timed how long it would take for what was effectively a Mexican-Wave clap to make it all the way around the room, with the goal to achieve a sub-ten second time.  It sounds very simple, and it was, but you could sense the competitiveness in the air the moment a time-goal was mentioned. At the end of the activity, however, everyone was laughing, smiling and had reawakened from their early-morning lethargy that many suffer from in the short period after arriving at work, and you could feel the energy in the room shift.

Jennie took us through an interesting series of analogies and explanations, beginning with Project Based Learning (PBL v1), extending to Project Based Learning (PBL v2) and then to Curiosity Based Learning (CBL). Jennie indicated that she wanted us to think about PBL v1 as a quadrilateral. There are specific qualities needed for a shape to be a quadrilateral though these criteria are quite broad and accordingly many things can be a quadrilateral, though it is often clear when something is not a quadrilateral. To refine a quadrilateral, we need to take the definition a step further. Jennie asked us to think about PBL v2 as being a square. Though still a quadrilateral, it has further criteria that define it as a specific type of shape, and the delineation between a quadrilateral, in general, and a square, specifically, is fairly clear.

The message here is that all squares are quadrilaterals, but that not all quadrilaterals are squares.  Jennie stated that

“…all problem-based learning units are project based learning, as in order to solve the problem, typically, there is some form of creation, an output at the end, achieved by completing a project. But not all Project based learning units are problem-based.”

To situate this in a context we can grapple with more easily, we often ask students to create something, a presentation, a diorama, a poster or some other output. However, the question that Jennie was asking, or my interpretation of the question that Jennie was asking here, is how often is the project based on solving a problem, in contrast to creating an output that meets a specific, already known and quantifiable purpose/rubric/metric?

Retrieved from tinyurl.com/zz3hbmlk 3rd March 2016

Jennie’s advice was that in PBL v2, a student being successful is not required. In actuality, the greatest learning in PBL v2 may arise from a failure. She provided us with the seemingly trite, but potentially powerful and liberating acronym of FAIL; standing for First Attempt In Learning, and that too often she sees and hears of teachers providing problems that are too small, with teacher’s labouring under the notion that the problem they are working on MUST be situated locally in order to be of significance to them and their learning. Jennie exhorted us to think bigger, to think on a grander scale, and that she and other teachers she has worked with find that the questions, the problems which generate more interest, engagement and learning are those that are deemed impossible.

Jennie gave us a current example from her own career as a Year Four classroom teacher in Chicago, Illinois. Currently, a large contingent of her students are genuinely fearful that if Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee in the 2016 United States Presidential election that he will come to the south side of Chicago, put them all in trucks and deport them. The question how can we stop Donald Trump becoming the Republican candidate generated a lot of high-quality teaching and learning moments and is of great significance to those students. This exact same unit of work, if it was to be bundled up so neatly, would likely not interest any Year Four class outside of the United States, and even within the United States, would only appeal to particular class groups, depending on their ethnic make-up, based upon Trump’s speeches. The problem is a large-scale one, not situated locally vis-à-vis their specific school, but it is a large scale problem, that has generated curiosity in the student, which takes us to the next level.

PBL v2 starts with a problem, CBL, the next step in Jennie’s analogy, starts with a question. The problem for the students was that they might be deported if Trump succeeds in his Presidential campaign. The problem generated curiosity which led to the question, how can we stop Trump from succeeding?

This chain of thought brought Jennie to reminding us that children do have an innate curiosity and need to ask questions, particularly as young children (pre-school age), but that the process of schooling often stamps out that curiosity and consequently we need to re-instil in our students a sense of wonder and curiosity, and also how to audit their curiosity in a productive manner.

To achieve this Jennie offered up an activity which we all completed which she referred to as a Wonder Catalyst. In essence, this activity involves providing students with a pad of post-it notes on which they are to write any question that comes to mind, without censorship or auditing for sensibility or practicality or answerability as long as it starts with one of the question stems (who, what, when, where, why and how) based upon a series of images, each of which is shown for a short period of time (I believe each was shown for around thirty seconds today, which was ok as adults, however, I certainly think that younger groups would need longer).

After this has been done, then the auditing process begins. Questions are to be sorted into three question types; those that can be answered simply by asking Siri, or Google and to which a definitive answer is immediately returned, which Jennie referred to as Googleable questions; those that can definitively answered with some research, whether it is through a series of web searches, phone calls, tracking people down to get dates or places etc, which are referred to as researchable questions; and finally, those questions to which, though  there are best guesses (educated or not), there is no definitive answer, which Jennie referred to as Wonderable questions. You can see an example of what this might look like below.


The next level in this process is moving away from sentence stems, and towards a shift in mindset towards the curious, asking students to suspend disbelief and ask what if questions. Instead of asking when/where/why/how something occurred, ask what if……something else occurred.

What if….the microbes in the garbage have a fully functional society? Image retrieved from tinyurl.com/krvg8f5 3rd March 2016


Two tools which Jennie provided us to help with this process were rightquestion.org/education and 101Qs.com, both of which generate a series of images and allows you to note down any question which springs to mind about or based on that image, and to also see what questions have been asked in the past for that image.

Jennie related this process back to Understanding by Design (a topic I have touched upon very briefly in the past, following the Teaching for Thinking conference I attended in 2015), and how the process of planning a unit of work in that model is based upon achieving a particular learning goal, getting to which is based around a single essential question, which may then have three or four guiding questions. It was also noted that utilising prompts to generate questions in this fashion, as opposed to simply telling students to write down any questions they have on any topic, may also help to reduce the incidence of choice-paralysis which may also bring about fear of failure to ask the right questions.

Another method which Jennie said she has used to help generate questions in the past is the Earthview extension for Google Chrome. It sets the new tab background to a satellite photo of Earth, which students then generate questions about in order to attempt to determine what or where the photo is of. Each photo also has a link to Google Earth so that more information can be looked at if something appears that you want to pursue further.

This little segue was the close for the morning session and lead into our morning break, which makes it a good place to stop for today. I hope that you have been able to draw something out of this article, as I have found it useful to reflect upon what I learned this morning, and what practices I want to add to my pedagogical quiver when I return to the classroom. As always, thank you for reading, and feel free to leave any questions or comments below, or to contact me via Twitter if you want to engage in a discussion around this topic, or get more information about anything.

Jump straight to Day One Part Two

TeachMeet: Teaching for Thinking

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
– Attributed to Aristotle

Earlier in the year I attended a TeachMeet about Teaching for Thinking, or Teaching Philosophy in Schools at St Leo’s Catholic College, Wahroonga. The event was a very interesting one, with lots of challenging ideas about education and how we teach children to think. As always, I wrote a series of review articles, which you can find linked to below:

  1. Part One
  2. Part Two
  3. Part Three
  4. Part Four

Another Teaching for Thinking TeachMeet has been organised, to be held on Sunday, 29th November from 1300 to 1600 at Wyvern House Preparatory School in Stanmore.

From the invitational flyer:

The teachmeet will be an introductory platform for passionate and interested educators and leaders from a range of schools across Sydney to share their experiences, expertise, vision and learn from one another. Topics for discussion will include: Critical and Creative Thinking; Philosophy in the classroom; and Tools of inquiry The afternoon will include five presenters, a Q&A session, followed by an open forum/panel discussion. The teachmeet will also be a great opportunity to start a broader dialogue about teaching for thinking and build professional networks.

Speakers include Emeritus Professor Phil Cam,  President of Philosophy in Schools NSW from the University of New South Wales speaking under the title Because and Therefore;  Dr Britta Jensen an English and French teacher from Marist College North Shore speaking under the title Fostering a thinking disposition in our students; Mr Dan Smith Deputy Principal at Leichhardt Public School speaking under the title Bringing philosophy into school – 10 years of experience; Ms Sally Parker, a Science Teacher from Moriah College speaking under the title Stimulus material, Concept games and Questioning tools for the Science classroom; and Ms Ksenia Filatov, English and Philosophy Teacher at St Leo’s Catholic College speaking under Teaching and Applied Philosophy elective course for years 9-10.

To attend, please RSVP through this google form by Thursday 26th November.

Review: Teaching for Thinking Forum (Part Four)

“If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.”
– Attributed to Bruce Lee

Today’s article is the final in the review series from the Teaching for Thinking Forum held last week at St Leo’s Catholic College, and focuses on Constantin Lomaca’s concluding presentation titled Towards a Thinking Curriculum. If you have not read the articles covering the previous three speakers, I would recommend you do so, by clicking here for the first presentation. Constantin is the head of Teaching and Learning at St. Leo’s, and opened by thanking everyone for their attendance, and promising that he would push through quickly to preserve the question time that was planned for the end of the evening.

Constantin entry point into the discussion on thinking and philosophy in education was reminiscent of components of the previous speakers’ messages; the current curriculum is crowded, the pressure on teachers stress to “…get through all the content…” and the ensuing stress as we seek to achieve this leads to our students having little time to think and to process the discussions and learning in which they engage; and this on the back of us, as teachers, having only a small amount of time to plan and prepare inside school hours, being forced to take work home far too often.

“By the ‘time our students reach senior school, they have not acquired the tools or dispositions for “thinking through” problems, concepts and ideas independently, which impacts their HSC performance, particularly at the higher bands.”
  Constantin Lomaca

As a primary teacher, I do not necessarily see the end results that Constantin is referring to. What I do see, however, is the effects he is implying when it comes to NAPLAN. Students that do not ‘get’ the answer, or think of the answer within the allotted time (often only a few seconds) and are thus used to being supplied with the answers to ‘problems’ are being asked to think for themselves and this is causing anxiety and stress.

Simon commented in his presentation that “…learning is the product of thinking…” and Constantin extended this statement. To learn something, is to understand it, intrinsically. To be able to transfer the knowledge across domains, and therefore, “…[u]nderstanding is NOT… a precursor to application, analysis, evaluating [or] creating, but a RESULT of them. Thus UNDERSTANDING is the outcome of Thinking” and accordingly, it is only when students have demonstrated with evidence their understanding and reasoning behind a specific concept that our job is done. Constantin’s statement regarding the lack of dispositions for thinking also hearkens back to a comment by Simon ,in his presentation, that without the disposition to think, it is irrelevant how much explicit teaching of thinking [tools] we provide.

Constantin echoed Dr Jensen’s call that thinking skills need to be explicitly taught, and time for authentic practice given, however it is not enough, I believe, to provide time for practice of thinking skills and strategies. The discussions that were engaged in during the evening indicated that there was a general awareness and understanding of this point, and the pedagogical strategies that have been put in place to support the implementation of the explicit teaching of thinking skills and strategies.

Constantin continued his presentation with a brief overview of how St Leo’s were utilising a process to program and plan called Understanding by Designor UbD, to facilitate the inclusion of thinking skills. I had not previously heard of this programming method, but based upon Constantin’s explanation, it does sound somewhat similar to a process that was introduced to me during my undergraduate degree as backward mapping, which is also known as Backward Planning or Backward Design.

Constantin expanded upon how this process was being used to implement teaching for thinking and to make thinking visible within the context of his school, and concluded his presentation by inviting three students to make a presentation based upon their learning during the year thus far. The students demonstrated an awareness of the basic principles of critical thinking skills, and the historical providence from the Age of Enlightenment and other thinkers throughout history, which despite some obvious nervousness from the students, flowed well and was tightly structured.

The Forum at this point, after some closing remarks from Constantin, and an invitation to join himself and others for a meal at a local venue, broke up, with a number of small groups forming to digest, discuss and reflect with each other upon the evening. Given that my mode of travel is motorbike, and that at this point it was around 7.30pm, cold and a little windy, I made the decision to opt out of the dinner in order to make the approximately forty-five minute trip home.

The Forum was, in my mind, absolutely worth attending, and each of the presenters linked in with each other on various points. There was a lot to get excited about, a lot to take back into the classroom and put into action, much to ruminate upon and plans to consider for future action.

I was excited by the results of the two philosophy courses being implemented at Waverley College, and am eager to visit and see some of those classes in action, in order to extrapolate some of the pedagogical strategies backwards to put into place with my Stage Three students. I am also beginning to make explicit thinking time part of my pedagogical practice when asking students to engage with concepts. So far, in the week since the Forum, this has met with mixed responses from students, but I am confident that as it becomes more and more common and that as we continue the conversation about why thinking is critical that more students will get on board with the practice. Finally, I very much want to spend some time considering how, when I do have a full-time class, I can embed the teaching for thinking principles within my class, my pedagogy and my students, to achieve the goal of creating life long learners and thinkers.

I will leave you with a final comment, a reminder that “…learning is the product of thinking…” (Dominic Hearne)that “…good thinking is a disposition as well as a skillset…” (Simon Brooks), that “…we need to explicitly teach and embed thinking skills, including the metalanguage of thinking and metacognition…” (Dr Jensen) and finally, that “…our job is done only when we see evidence of students’ understanding and reasoning…” (Constantin Lomaca).

As always, thank you for reading, and my thanks go to St. Leo’s Catholic College for organising and hosting this event, to the speakers for their time, energy, expertise and ideas, and to my fellow teachers, who gave of their Thursday night to open themselves up to concepts and ideas that can be challenging in the face of needing to “…get through the content…”

Review: Teaching for Thinking Forum (Part Three)

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”
– Attributed to Henry Ford

My previous two articles in this review series from the Teaching for Thinking Forum have examined the presentations by Dominic Hearne and Simon Brooks. This article follows on with a review of the first presentation after the networking and reflection break, which was delivered by Dr Britta Jensen of Marist College presenting under the title Community of Inquiry – teaching methodology for the thinking classroom.

Dr Jensen opened her presentation by making a statement that I agree with wholeheartedly; “[t]hinking skills should be explicitly taught and practiced,” a statement which harks back to Simon Brooks’ comment that “learning is the product of thinking.”  Dr Jensen produced a non-exhaustive list of thinking skills and some of their applications, which I have included here.

Thinking skills – a non exhaustive list:

  • Discriminate between types of questions
  • Compose conceptual (divergent) questions
  • Give reasons (to justify)
  • Make distinctions, suggestions and inferences
  • Define concepts and test their definitions
  • Hypothesise
  • Examine generalisations
  • Identify (underlying) assumptions
  • Use examples and counterexamples
  • Create and test criteria
  • Engage with the meta-language of thought – to reflect on one’s own and others’ thinking moves

You can see how many of these relate to the Four C’s as previously introduced by Simon and also back to the examination of generalisations and of underlying assumptions that Dominic Hearne spoke about in his presentation. The introduction of thinking skills, and particularly the explicit engagement with the meta-language of thought may increase the quality of class discussions (and as an aside, when combined with other strategies, may reduce the incidence of the Hermione effect) and increase the awareness of the thinking strategies which students are engaging with in a variety of contexts, that is, of meta-cognition around thinking skills and strategies which they are employing.

Dr Jensen then produced the brief version of five steps for a community of inquiry:

  1. Introduce a stimulus
  2. Generate questions
  3. Collaboratively question generation on board
  4. Group the questions based on thematic commonality
    1. This has the side-effect of creating more abstract questions, challenging students to think more abstractly.
  5. Collaboratively choose a question/s (from step four) to explore and examine in depth.

Dr Jensen played for the audience the trailer for Sur le chemin de l’école and then we, as an audience, generated questions that arose from the brief clip (included below).

The underlying aim of the exercise was to demonstrate the ease with which a questioning and thinking exercise can be initiated in a classroom. Dr Jensen followed this up by showing us a stimulus that had been used with a Stage One class:

Stage 1 Stimulus

This stimulus generated a significant level of conversation with Stage One students, and the responses were quite articulate and demonstrate a high level of awareness when it comes to questioning and thinking.

Stage 1 Responses

There are a range of potential benefits to explicitly teaching and practicing thinking skills, some of which Dr Jensen elucidated on, including the ability to contribute, constructively, to discussions, the ability to refine ideas and arguments upon the reception of new information (a skill which will carry across to the scientific domain), and very importantly, it teaches students to respectfully disagree. This last skills in particular is a critical skill for all students, indeed, all adults, to possess as it will be required, essentially, throughout their lives as a skill to avoid creating arguments and disharmony in various contexts.

Dr Jensen closed with discussion of two schools in Australia, Buranda State School in Queensland and Bondi Public School in NSW, both of whom have introduced explicit teaching of philosophy and thinking, which has had a flow-on effect on NAPLAN results. Dr Jensen was quick acknowledge that NAPLAN is merely one way to measure, and that there is knowledge of any other programs that may have been put in place by those schools that may have assisted with the results.

Dr Jensen provided some links to other resources for anyone interested in further development and using philosophy and thinking their teaching, as well as some links to academic resources:

FAPSA approved and BOSTES accredited workshops and courses can be found through KinderPhilosophy and Philosophy in Schools NSW and through the Federation of Australasian Philosophy in Schools.

Academic References

  • Cam, P. (2010). Philosophy for a Thinking Curriculum. Accessed 1 June 2013 via http://www.philosophyinschoolsnsw.com.au/index.php?page=philosophy-fora-thinking-curriculum
  • Cam, P. (2015). Educational Disadvantage and the Community of Inquiry (manuscript).
  • Jensen, B. (2013). 21st Century teachers should promote thoughtful dialogue: We should establish and sustain communities of inquiry. Poster presented at Department of Education Knowledge Fair, Macquarie University.
  • Jensen, B. & Kennedy White, K. (2014). The case for Philosophical inquiry in the K- 12 Classroom SCAN Volume 33, Issue 2 pp 6-11.
  • Kennedy White, K. (2013) “How to embed Philosophy into the Crowded Curriculum” presented at the Australasian Conference on Philosophy for Children, Sydney and the International Conference of Philosophy in Schools, Cape Town, South Africa.
  • Kennedy White, K. & Jensen, B. (2015) Creating a thinking school: a case study in the value added by philosophy inquiry. To be presented at the International Conference of Philosophy in Schools, University of British Columbia, Vancouver.
  • Topping, K.L. and Trickey, S. (2007). ‘Collaborative philosophical inquiry for school children: Cognitive gains at 2-year follow-up,’ British Journal of Educational Psychology 77, 787-796.

I would like to hear from anyone who has implemented explicit teaching and practice of thinking skills in their classroom, and the problems that were encountered and strategies for solving them, as well as the success stories with using explicit teaching and practice of thinking skills.

As always, thank you for reading, and tomorrow will see the last article in this series on the Teaching for Thinking Forum, a review of Dean Lomaca’s presentation under the title Towards a Thinking Curriculum.


Just a very brief post today, simply to say that I will not be posting article as I am off to a Teaching for Think Forum, to be held at St Leo’s Catholic College in Waroongha.

I do not plan to live tweet from the forum, so that I can focus on what the speakers are saying and take some notes. I do plan to post a review tomorrow afternoon though, so keep an eye out for that. There may be some live tweeters at the event, so keep an eye out for #TeachforThink on Twitter. 

EduTech and The Teaching for Thinking Forum

The annual EduTECH conference is on this week in Brisbane, and it promises to be an excellent event, with some great keynote speakers, and of course the large range of exhibitors. I would have liked to have gone, but am unable to do so. If you are interested in following the happenings, keep your eyes open for #EduTECH and if you are at EduTech, then make sure you get along to one of the #TMEduTech sessions. I would particularly like to hear about Monika Kern’s two minute session on The RAT model – an alternative to SAMR.

If you are unable to make it EduTech, consider sending an RSVP to the email on the bottom of the below invitation to attend the Teaching for Thinking Forum at to St Leo’s Catholic College this Thursday at 4.30.

Teaching for Thinking Forum FlyerThe agenda looks interesting, and I will either live tweet (look for #TeachforThink) or write a review the following day.

Have a great week everyone, and as always, thank you for reading.