The Grade 2 team together with art, music and myself have just finished a successful How We Express Ourselves transdisciplinary unit of inquiry on how culture can help us express and explain.

Here are the details:

Central Idea: Culture can help us express and explain ourselves

Key Concepts: Form, connection

Lines of Inquiry

  • The elements of culture (Form)
  • How cultures express themselves (Form)
  • Why cultures express and explain (Connection)

ISTE Standards for Students

  • Empowered Learner: students understand the fundamental concepts of technology operations, demonstrate the ability to choose, use, and troubleshoot current technologies and are able to transfer their knowledge to explore emerging technologies.
  • Knowledge Constructor: students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.
  • Innovative Designer: students know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovative artifacts or solving authentic problems.
  • Creative Communicator: students publish or present content that customises the message and medium for their intended audience.

Learning Engagements

To help students tune into the central idea, Grade 2 students split into nine mixed groups and rotated around nine different teachers (for 30 minutes each, across 3 days). Teachers chose areas of personal cultural interest with which to share with students. Some examples were sports, fashion, music, Chinese culture, and myself – expressing yourself digitally. I shared a short video I made in Clips explaining some elements of my culture (from childhood, New Zealand life etc). Students then used PicKids to create a quick collage of different cultural elements. At the end of the three days of rotations, students selected which cultural element they wanted to inquire further into.

At this point I was allocated a group of nine digitally-interested students to work with for a further three weeks, for a total of six two hour sessions.

The G2 Technology Crew

I cross-referenced the ISTE Standards for Students with a NoTosh Design Thinking approach in planning for these three weeks. I began with a provocative hook: “Teachers don’t know how to use their iPads – LOL!”. After the shock has subsided, students began exploring each of our “Big 8” apps for learning (Explain Everything, Clips, Book Creator, Green Screen, iMovie, Pic Kids, Shadow Puppet EDU, and PuppetPals) about 15 minutes per app, in order to get to know the apps to help the teachers. Students used a “Function mindset” to explore the apps, recording features of each app on small hexagons and sticking them up on the window around larger hexagons labeled with each app.

Once this was complete, we had a lovely, nice, orderly window display. Which thankfully didn’t survive for too long. I explained the concept behind a hexagonal thinking synthesis: to find links, to work out how things fit together and connect in different ways. And the students went at it. Through this process they noticed many apps had similar functions, but each one had at least one function which was unique. They also naturally discovered the concept of “App Smashing” where one creation could be used again or remixed in another app. In the end, we had a marvelous mess of a window, filled with snaking arms of hexagons connecting in different ways. It probably looked like chaos to an outsider, but to us, it made perfect sense.

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We tabled that line of inquiry for a while and moved onto brainstorming elements of our own culture. We used the cultural iceberg to move beyond the flags / food / festivals conceptions of culture as we used massive pieces of paper to scribble down words and images of personal cultural significance. Going deeper into the cultural iceberg was challenging for students, as they didn’t know what they didn’t know. Eliciting the help of parents at this stage was extremely helpful in students becoming aware of aspects of their culture which they’d never thought about. I emailed parents and asked them to discuss certain questions with their child, recording the answers and bringing them to school. Students added this information to their giant brainstorms and the cultural picture began filling out.

We then brought together the two different lines of inquiry into one. We thought, which apps are going to be useful for explaining the different parts of my culture? If I want to show a series of images, perhaps Shadow Puppet EDU is the best. If I want annotate over certain parts of an image as I’m talking, maybe Explain Everything is the best. If I want to explain one image, maybe Green Screen is best. Students added to their brainstorms which apps they think would work for each element, and considered which “Home Base” app would work best for them (the one in which they would bring all their other creations into – most chose Book Creator, a few iMovie). Then they got prototyping.

Considering different home-base apps

Students spent the next few sessions creating, recording, getting feedback, rinse, repeat. By the time the parent Exhibition rolled around, students presented wonderful digital creations filled with elements of their own culture. They were clearly proud, and the parents loved being able to view the final product.


  • How transdisciplinary was this really? We all just specialised in one particular subject.
  • How might we involve more student voice in the Tuning In phase? It was quite teacher directed having students rotate around sessions based on our own personal cultural interests.
  • Next time spend less time in the brainstorm phase and more time in the creation / prototyping phase.
  • How might we help Grade 2 students to make deeper link with the bottom parts of the cultural iceberg? Was this more a country study rather than a cultural one?
  • AirDropping final videos to parents was very much appreciated. How might we continue to do this in other units?
  • In the end, I don’t think I really hit on the central idea. Instead of “Culture can help us express and explain ourselves ” my sessions were more focused on “Technology can help us express and explain our culture.” Is the central idea we have currently exactly what we want it to be?


The Grade 4 team together with art, music and myself have just finished a successful How We Express Ourselves transdisciplinary unit of inquiry on persuasive advertisements.

Here are the details:

Central Idea: Different forms of expression can be persuasive

Key Concepts: Function, perspective, connection

Lines of Inquiry

  • The techniques used to persuade (Function)
  • How different forms of expressions evoke different responses (Perspective)
  • How we connect to different forms of expression (Connection)

ISTE Standards for Students

  • Empowered Learner: students use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.
  • Digital Citizen: students demonstrate an understanding of and respect for the rights and obligations of using and sharing intellectual property.
  • Innovative Designer: students select and use digital tools to plan and manage a design process that considers design constraints and calculated risks.
  • Creative Communicator: students publish or present content that customises the message and medium for their intended audience.

Learning Engagements

Students began by “tuning in” via viewing and commenting on some of the teachers’ favourite advertisements.

In rotations, we then examined one common advertisement through the lens of each specialised domain: music (what musical techniques did this ad employ?), art (what visual techniques did this ad employ?), IT (what camera techniques did this ad employ?), and homeroom (what language techniques did this ad employ?). We called these our “Function Rotations” so that students were linking their explorations to the lines of inquiry.

In the third week of the unit, students were presented with their challenge: to plan, film, edit, and explain their own persuasive video advertisement using persuasive techniques from all four domains.

Students got into groups, brainstormed, created storyboards, then went off to film. Over the next two weeks, students filmed their scenes, received peer and teacher feedback, refilmed, got more feedback, and filmed again. This feedback cycle culminated in a whole Grade “Feedback Festival” in the theatre, where we watched each others’ advertisements then gave feedback to each group using red, orange, or green signs we all held up.

There was one last frantic morning of quick changes and edits based on that feedback, then we held a parent celebration where parents came in, the students explained their advertisements, and then provided some summative feedback. Here are three examples below of some of the advertisements presented on the day.


Transdisciplinary units, where traditionally “single subject” teachers are released to work together with homeroom teachers, are a bit of a tricky thing to coordinate. Planning time is limited. Making sure everyone is heard and on the same page is a challenge. We had a limited amount of meetings, so we had to be focused in our discussions. When we were not meeting, emails were being sent back and forth – it was important that all teachers had the expectation to keep up with these. What really worked well though was a ten minute “scrum meeting” we had at the conclusion of each transdisciplinary session. We reviewed what happened that day, and quickly planned for the next session. This worked because it was timely – we were all still in the mindset of the session – and we could quite clearly see next steps based on where student understanding was at. Communication is key in these transdisciplinary units, and we developed some helpful rules of thumb for this over the course of the unit.

Having a central project to “unite” around helped too. Perhaps summative assessments in these transdisciplinary units should be more project based such as this, where every subject has a role to play.

Helping students understand the feedback cycle is of central importance. We must have been through 4 or 5 of these cycles as students refilmed and polished their advertisements. At a certain point though, enough is enough!

Volume of voices. This was probably the most received feedback. The students needed to be far closer to their subject than they thought – the iPad microphones are just not good enough. I’m looking into purchasing third-party microphones for next year.

Shaky camera. This was the second most received piece of feedback. Next year I’ll think about some more concrete strategies I can give student to help with this. Or just buy a bunch of tripods.

Authentic audience. Students shared their final videos A) with their parents, together with an explanation, and B) on their Blogfolios (to share with extended family). This provided an excellent source of motivation.

Feedback Festival. Students sat for too long in the theatre and they began to lose interest in the end. Next year, cut this in half, or have 4 separate in-class festivals.

All in All…

It was clear in their final written explanations that students had developed their understanding of how expressions can persuade, their ability to know when someone is trying to persuade them, and also how to create persuasive expressions themselves. They developed collaborative and creative capacity, and drew together usually disparate areas of school into one unified whole.

An effective unit – looking forward to acting on these reflections next year.