A Teenager's Identity

The end of an IMYC unit is marked with an “Exit Point”. It is opportunity for students to demonstrate what they have incorporated regarding the big idea that has underpinned the content in all of their classes for the past 8 weeks. The students are given the task of sharing their thoughts, in this case, in the form of a PowerPoint, Prezi or Keynote presentation. It is one of the few times that there is no rubric and there are no guidelines, only the instruction to share whatever is important with respect to the big idea.

So there we sit, awaiting the philosophical input of our 8th graders. One by one they stand. Their theme?

Our sense of self and that of others is continually developing through our different interactions and impacts on how we exist in the world.

 Did they make the connection? Do they realize the dynamic nature of their own identity? Do they understand that their identity will change over the years? In fact, one of them outright makes the claim, “Our identity changes. What we were like when we were 9 is different from what we are now”.

There are moments of goofiness, awkwardness, trepidation, and shyness. There’s even fear. They each address the big idea and their definition of it. But then one by one they attempt to communicate what their own identity is. Their diverse backgrounds are astounding: Hungary, Austria, South Africa, France, the UK, Holland, India, adopted from China to the U.S.A., U.S.A., Iceland, Ukraine. They are all 3rd culture kids. They each allude to this part of their self. Yet then they drive deeper. Musings of culture, sports, likes/dislikes, family, religion, and values are shared. One boy pauses before exclaiming at the end, “And this is who I am”. He has put himself out there. And it is touching.

In the end, each student has reflected on, identified, and communicated the essence of self. And that has value. It’s empowering, especially to young teenagers, to know who you are.


Image: Culture: Cultural Identity? Personality? Language? Reality?. (n.d.). ChineseBreeze Unorthodox Language Learning Blog. Retrieved September 26, 2014, from

A Murder Mystery

An International Middle Years Curriculum (IMYC) Entry Point

Our sides ache. Our cheeks ache. The laughter snowballs and we just can’t stop. We’re slaphappy. It’s 17:30 and we’re still at the school, working out a script for the Murder Mystery 7th and 8th grade Entry Point for the International Middle Years Curriculum (IMYC) program at the school. The Murder Mystery activity was downloaded from the Internet but needed serious overhaul as there were many gaps and inconsistencies but we finally worked through it, and made a fun time of it for sure.

Treasure chests, playing cards, a “Last Testament and Will”, candy, student journals, and newspaper were either rounded up or created.  You’d be surprised at how difficult it was to secure newspaper.  Student invitations with character description and instructions printed and handed out. A clipboard for each classroom with all the paper work was put together. In the end, six teachers collaborated to pull this off.

This morning we gathered with the students and the drama began.  We commenced with character introductions. Some students were very prepared and engaged, mocking an accent or acquiring a mannerism.  The room was abuzz with questions, laughter, and curiosity during the “get to know each other” session in which students, in character, were supposed to find out things about others. Finally, it was time to enact the script.  Focused students realized the flow and spontaneously contributed, eager for the outcome.  A melodramatic ending topped off the event.  The sharing of candy from the treasure chest elicited cheers and smiles. 

The event culminated with students intent on their journal reflections.

What is an entry point supposed accomplish? or to be like?

From the IMYC manual:

“… sets an exciting context for the … explicit purpose of a new beginning.”

“intended to be engaging enough so that students will begin to think about the idea of the Theme and Big Idea”

“outside the box”

“generate interest and, hopefully, excitement about the Theme and learning that is to come”

It’s time for teachers to reflect.  It’s time to determine whether the intentions of the IMYC for the entry point were met. In many ways, yes.  But we can do better. 

We can always do better, right? That’s a teacher’s job.  No matter how good, it can always be better. 

IMYC Exit Point Results in an Appreciation Fest

“Now this is a ‘top secret’ project,” we tell them.  Each student breaks out into a huge grin, slyly looking around the room.  Their hands slip onto their computers eager to open them up.  “Don't tell anyone what you are writing or collaborate in anyway.  It will be a surprise for everyone when you are done.” They become agitated, their legs are swinging beneath the table in anticipation, “Can we get started?”

As part of the International Middle Years Curriculum (IMYC) our 6th grade students finished off a unit called “Balance” this past week.  Their exit point task was to create a classroom “web” identifying how each student in the grade (there are only 12 of them) brings balance to the learning experience at school.  They will be placing their name at the center of the web and then extending individual lines to each classmate notating what strengths that student contributes to the school setting. 

Before turning them loose, however, we brainstorm positive characteristics that could be included in providing balance to a learning environment.  The students put together a massive list including descriptors such as hard working, focused, helpful, collaborative, and energetic, etc. Then, students eagerly begin recording their ideas.  The ideas are transferred to a “web” that they know will be shared with the class.  They construct all sorts of interesting walls to hide their masterpieces as they glue and draw.

Finally, the day has arrived, and the students sit at tables arranged in a semicircle.  The webs are upside down in front of them, remaining a mystery.   After a brief introduction the students are instructed to turn over their webs.  They all stand and have the opportunity to walk around the ordered tables reading the webs.  A hush blankets the room.  I feel like I’m observing a group at a major art exhibit.  They are thoroughly studying the documentation before them. Following their time with the posters, they are given a set of reflective questions in which they immediately immerse themselves in response. They exude satisfaction and confirmation. 

What began as an exercise to help them see how each person contributes to the class turned into a huge appreciation fest where everyone was handed a confidence boost.  It’s human nature, isn’t it?  A desire for appreciation.  A hope for recognition.  Opportunity to focus on the strengths and good in others is probably essential in just about every organization out there.  How can we foster a more appreciative environment wherever we are but particularly in schools?

Balance as students, teachers, people

My 6th grade class is currently completing a unit within the International Middle Years Curriculum (IMYC) titled “Balance”.  The big idea of the unit is  “Things are more stable when different elements are in the correct of best possible proportions” (1).

Coupled to our global-warming themed Science Fair, these students are investigating an animal that is threatened by global warming and analyzing the ramifications of the given animal disappearing from the food chain.  In preparation for this task, they viewed a short video (see below) on the impact of wolves in Yellow Stone National Park (2).

After watching the film I opened up a general discussion with “So what did you think?”  Immediately, a student responded with “It’s like the wolves provide balance to the entire ecosystem”.  As always, my 6th graders were duly impressed and expressed appropriate wonderment.  I love that about them.  In any case, it jump started them in their own research about their threatened species.

Furthermore, it gave them perspective on the exit point they are doing for the IMYC unit: Working individually, they are to create a “person web” (kind-of like a food web), with themselves at the center.  Branching out from themselves will be all of their classmates.  They are to identify a characteristic of each classmate that brings balance to their learning environment. It will be a surprise to the group when each presents.

This idea of balance is such an important concept.  We also teach it at the IB level claiming that IB learners are “Balanced” and that “we understand the importance of balancing different aspects of our lives – intellectual, physical, and emotional- to achieve well-being for ourselves and others.  We recognize our interdependence with other people and with the world in which we live” (3).

I hope that we, as teachers and adults, also teach this principle of balance by our examples.  It is an area that I have personally struggled with but am improving in.  Here are ways I seek balance in my own life:

  1. I prioritize time with my family.  We eat together and we do things together. 1:1 time with each person in the family involves date-nights with my husband, roller-blading with my 12-year old, dog walks and market visits with my daughter, and watching the “Walking Dead” series with my teenage son. 
  2. I exercise.  I run, especially when school isn’t in session.  Biking to and from work is my main mode of commuting.
  3. I write!  A few times a year I attend the Amsterdam Writer's Workshop (4) and I've committed myself to writing everyday.  I’ve started this blog.
  4. I read.  I find time to read novels and literature pertaining to education.

If I don’t do these things, I spend all my time on lesson planning, grading, and trying to make things better for the next time.  Since every lesson can always be better in some way, this could become a completely obsessive habit.  There have been times when I have worked from 19:00 – 24:00 every night.  And that is not balanced.  

My 2014 resolution was to break that habit and I have! 

How do you keep balance in your life?  Add your comments below.








Differentiated Learning via the neighborhood ecosystem (and the IMYC)

Activity 1: Data collection in our neighborhood canal region (I posted about the distraction we had that day).  Students recorded observations on sightings and evidence of living organisms in the forested area banking a canal across the street from our school.

Activity 2: Students constructed energy pyramids of our neighborhood ecosystem and generated an informational brochure on Google Docs that they then linked to the blog post they wrote on the topic.

Activity 3: A brain pop video and a game on making food chains.

Today, using their data from activity #1 and their learning from activity #3, students have been instructed to be thorough in drawing out food chains of our neighborhood ecosystem.  Once again there is instant energy in the classroom.   As I circulate I enjoy the enthusiasm, the focus, and the intensity that surrounds me. 

“Can we turn this into a food web?” a student queries as he holds up a marker that he has lifted from the already burgeoning web on his paper.

One student is holding his food chain poster in front of the camera adjusting the frame to capture the image “just so”. 

Several are further analyzing the data to find additional connections.

“How do I incorporate the decomposers?” a boy questions as he holds up his poster gesticulating how he imagines adding this important piece of information.

Two girls compare food chains to see if they can glean some ideas from each other. 

I survey the nearly completed food chains.  They are all so wonderfully distinct!  Language learners have drawn pictures instead of writing all the names. Left to right.  Top to bottom. Some with bubbles, some with squares, some with just the animal names and arrows. A few students have elected to actually create a food web of the multiple chains.  One student has succeeded in incorporating the decomposers.  The activity in itself has lent itself to differentiation. 

Then they eagerly capture an image of their poster to upload the picture onto their blog.  The posts are written and published.  “Class is over already?” one notes as she looks at the time.  It has flown by for me as well.

The International Middle Year Curriculum (IMYC) claims to be a “challenging, engaging, internationally-minded, concept-focused curriculum designed specifically for the unique learning needs for 11-14 year olds” through “making meaning, connecting learning, and developing minds” (1) My experience with this curriculum is that I have a lot of work to do with regard to creating rubrics, building in the scientific method, and scaffolding.  However, the overall outcome is, indeed, a differentiated, vigorous, and exciting learning experience. Any other IMYC experiences out there?

(1) "What is the IMYC?." The International Middle Years Curriculum. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2014. <>.



Students worked in groups of 3 or 4 to prepare a musical number that they could present to parents, staff and peers.  As we neared performance day, class time was given from other classes enabling students to perfect their number.  One group actually composed their own piece.  Others created arrangements for known pieces and several prepared a familiar song, as the populace knows it.

This morning they nervously waited their turn on stage but each group, as soon as they began their performance, appeared to proceed with ease.  It was amazing.  Drums, keyboard, vocal, and guitar – they tackled it all.  Then, the judges posed questions to the group that centered on the International Middle Years Curriculum (IMYC) theme that pertained to their group (either adaptability, competition, or community) and related to their band experience.  They consulted with each other and answered individually providing reflective insight as to how these themes related to them.

I was asked to be a judge.  I settled in on “Vicki Pinaj” and in preparation I viewed several video clips of Nicki Minaj as a judge on American Idol.  I secured a blue wig from a colleague and some outrageously long, hot pink, feathery earrings from my daughter.  I purchased some fake eyelashes (a first for me) to top off my costume.  This morning it took me about 40 minutes to put those silly things on my eyes, and I was only successful after recruiting the help of my daughter and her friend.  However, once I was properly outfitted, I walked into that room with a whole new attitude.  It was so fun!  I truly enjoyed displaying an alter ego.

The best part of the morning was watching these courageous middle school students stand up to perform.  Furthermore, the music was actually good and enjoyable to listen to.  One parent said, “This is such an amazing feature of this school – that this was a safe enough place for all of these students to rise and perform was incredible”.  She continued to reiterate how rare and amazing it was.  I have to agree.  The scene today was special and it was largely possible because of the family like atmosphere generated at our small school.

Should we repeat the event again next year?  Absolutely!  Parents, staff, and students were thrilled with the outcome.

Adaptations: Failed It!

We completed a joint construction.

They had a rubric.

They had an exemplar.

They referred to the rubric during the entire process.

So what went wrong?

Today my 6th graders proudly hung their posters for assessment and viewing.  The assignment was to research a particular arctic animal and report on the adaptations that animal has to its habitat. 

I hear my colleague's voice loud in clear in my head, “Now remember, your adaptations have to link directly to the habitat you have described—how does that specific adaptation help your animal to survive in its habitat?”

We have done this project together before. 

We’ve refined it.

It seemed perfect.

So what went wrong?

I saw students checking off the items from the rubric.

I consulted with them.

The co-teacher and I both viewed their words before the printer was engaged.

So what went wrong?

The posters are a disaster.

Not one student fully grasped the concept of connecting the adaptations to the habitat and that was the main point of this project!

So now the conundrum: Do I have them redo it?

I should.

Mastery ought to be the expectation.

But the time it will take.

It’s like pulling teeth.

It’s probably worth it. 

So back to the drawing board.

Revisit the standards.  Rework the rubric.

It’s worth it.  I think.  I hope.