This weekend was rich with reflective and collaborative educational practice. After four years of participating in, and leading Critical Friends Group institutes, I never fail to be energized by the work. It is great to make our work public in such a trusting environment. Student learning has no choice but to improve when we come together as a group of educators in this way. You can learn more about Critical Friends Groups (CFG) here.
It is my hope that later this year I will transfer this blog to a different platform, although I will keep the website.
A year ago I walked by our 8th grade math teacher's room and had my attention caught by the display of students' scale drawings posted in his window. They were all portraits of the teacher himself and took various comedic and creative approaches to showing his unique personality, while at the same time demonstrating performance on the math skills being studied. Now, in a different school, I had the chance to study scale and measurement with my sixth grade students. I decided to experiment with the same art driven assignment.
I framed the assignment with a mild PBL twist of needing to decorate the halls with some evidence of student learning. In a very conceded tone, I claimed that I thought portraits of me would make exceptional decorations. Could my students help me? How would they draw me? Should it be accurate? What are the connections between accuracy and scale? What happens if we play around with scale and purposefully change proportions? We explored these questions and brainstormed what we would need to learn in order to fulfill the higher purpose of filling the corridors with my image.
Soon we were off to work with mini-lessons, drafts, and sharing of discoveries. Much of the art was done as homework so that class time could be dedicated toward math practice. As often happens, students started inspiring each other when they saw the work coming in. Soon students were not only creating multiple scale outfits for me, but also engineering the displays to allow for quick superhero like changes of costumes.
In reflection, the project could likely be expanded, with similar results, to allow for scale drawings of subject matter other than myself. The key motivators came from pushing students to think out of the box, providing extension opportunities, and showcasing their efforts. Here are the instructions we used (the easier version just used one scale factor). I even had one student take the extension of creating a scale model of the classroom. The model can be seen in the photo samples below.
Last fall I did a test run using our ipad mobile lab to have my grade 6 students create their own algebra tutorial videos. Engagement was high and the tech integration flowed naturally. The project remained math focused, rather than gadget focused. A well organized storyboard planning sheet was a key ingredient for success. Here is a link to the videos.
Good times with my Auburn Middle School (our international sister school) friends and pro teacher collaborators. What an amazing opportunity for us to connect here on their home turf in VA. My Saturday PBL workshops at their professional development conference went great, and now we are off to see Monticello for a Sunday afternoon excursion. Tomorrow I visit AMS and then do some consulting work with one of the district's charter schools that is totally PBL based. I eagerly await the arrival to DC of our Grade 8 students (68 of them!) and my CMS teammates on Tuesday.
Pictured: Kay Conners, Tara Helkowski, and Zach Post
Today the CMS Grade 8 students participated in an Expert Project Fair on the Era of Expansion in the U.S. It was an event that allowed each student to share what they had learned with an audience of Grade 5 students as well as other faculty. After 12 years of project based teaching, this is familiar terrain for me as a facilitator, yet every time such a culminating event comes around I am energized. Why? I am energized because the majority of my students develop a deep sense of pride and excitement from such experiences. The reward is not in the grade, although by that point we have looked at the rubric often, but rather by a sense of accomplishment and the unique feeling of being the most knowledgeable person in the room about their topic. Although I try to offer praise where due, it is not needed, as those that worked hard to be prepared know that they had their shining moment.
Here are some Grade 8 student metacognitive reflections on their experience with the project.
What helped me get ideas? (Student 1)
While I was writing my thesis paragraph, I got most of my ideas by researching various reliable websites and using books from the library that were related to my topic and essential question. Also, my partner helped me get ideas because we shared our opinions on the topic, which aided me in analyzing the theme deeply and thoroughly. When preparing the poster and model, my main source of ideas came from having conversations with my partner and by brainstorming possible ways to do the presentation and interactive features. The internet was much more useful than I thought it would be because it was very easy to find websites with information specific to my essential question and project. I found a book in the library on the exact topic that I was doing. Since the book had over 100 pages, it gave me a lot of background information that helped me present to the 5th Graders.
What helped me get ideas? (Student 2)
I have never used anything that is not a website for any researching project. I have always found it easier to simply use a website that I search on Google, but this time I discovered that sometimes print sources can be better. I went to the library and checked out a book which helped me tons. My whole thesis paragraph was based only on that book. I changed my mind of how I thought about research and now I will be using books regularly.
The pictures below are a sample of what the event looked like. Due to privacy restrictions, I am unable to publicly post some student photos. I will try my best to highlight those not on here in our end of the year slide show.
We are doing a mad dash to the finish line to get ready for our Expert Project Fair, which starts tomorrow. The students are excited to share their learning on the Era of Expansion in the U.S. Our target audience is the CMS Fifth Grade, as they “requested” we help introduce them to this topic. This year we completed projects in less than two weeks. As a result, much of the display and product creation happened at home, while research and thesis paragraph writing was supported at school. Students worked, at their own pacing, through a series of six online lessons in the computer lab and signed up to conference with me as needed. They were challenged to find reliable and relevant sources, create an annotated bibliography, and answer an essential question in a mini thesis essay. In addition to this they created 3-D interactive displays that would draw their 5th Grade audience in. As was expected, the energy has been high, and while students have not always been on the steps I thought they should be, everyone has been engaged with their independently chosen topics.
During the day of the project fair we will have the room set up as stations. I will ask your students to come and sit in the middle of the room for a welcome, and then we will send them to rotate through each station in groups of two-three. I will signal when it is time to move to the next station and we will rotate clockwise.
Here is a link to the topics/projects that will be covered by each of my sections.
Link to project topics by section: http://moodle.cms.edu.do/mod/resource/view.php?inpopup=true&id=13805
_ The Dominican Republic took one step closer toward protecting child rights when the Grade 8 students shared their proposals on how to assist local NGOs in their work to alleviate the issues caused by poverty. The Child Rights Proposal Fair and Drama performance on Thursday November 17 were the culminating events of a month long project based learning unit that involved all teachers and students of the eighth grade. Students practiced important 21st century skills as they researched, worked collaboratively, problem solved, and communicated their learning.
Here is a link to a photo journal of the project: PHOTOS
Here are some student reflections written at the conclusion of the project:
“The Proposal Fair helped me think about my topic because having to present for an audience makes you think about it from a different point of view. Also when you have an audience you can notice the information that you're missing. They also ask many questions that make you think about what you could explain better.”
“A skill I should improve on is not trying to take control of everything. I have to let my teammates help and give their ideas because we should be working together. I also get very stressed and that makes me want to work less and get less things done. I should relax and take everything step by step and not waste time. That way we would have gotten more things done quicker and not have to been stressed at the end.”
“Our group redid our entire poster the day before the presentation. We did this because our poster was way too simple, didn't attract attention, and the information on it was too small and inaccessible. I am glad we did this because, although it was hard work and took us a VERY long time to complete, the poster came out ten times better and was a lot more beneficial as a visual aid towards our presentation(s).”
For the past week students have been buzzing around the classroom in preparation for the Child Rights Proposal Fair. There was a great deal of teamwork going on. There were some concerns about too many big assignments in other classes that were due at the same time, but in the end the students pulled through and managed their responsibilities. About 20 of the students stayed after school for multiple days in order to rehearse their child rights Drama performance, which premiered before the Proposal Fair.
As the fair came to a close I met with the leaders from our partnering NGOs and they shared their excitement for the ideas the students had generated. Each leader wanted to enact several of the proposals offered to them. These ranged from redoing their websites, to advertising on radio stations reported to be best for their target "market". In December we will move toward our next steps.
Today a student tried to explain to me there was too much to do on the project. It is true, but only if students let it become that way. This is the time in the project when students realize that any undone homework or misused class time will catch-up with them. Some students are trying to fit two or three classes into one as a result of falling behind.
On the other hand, many students are crossing the bridge into the most exciting territory of the project which is developing their final proposals to help the organizations. This is when the authenticity of the project leads to high engagement and memorable learning. Students are developing sample pod-casts for their proposed public service radio announcements, contacting corporations for their proposed corporate connections programs, and brainstorming web for their proposed revamped websites. All of these ideas require collaboration and extension into the community. Team community contact members are on the phone with organizations, sending emails, and debriefing with me.
All of this is fueled by consistent mini-lessons on the issue of poverty. Today we explored the question, "Why are people poor?" A very interesting conversation followed.
Zach Post specializes in creating relevant learning opportunities to help students and teachers engage in their rapidly changing world. His focus is on leadership, technology integration, and collaboration. Currently, Mr. Post works at Saigon South International School in Vietnam. He has been an educator since 2001.