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.
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
Today was interesting because students had many different emotional reactions to the teams they had been assigned. Most groups made a smooth transition to being in their new teams, which will last for the project duration (three weeks). Such students immediately put to use their collaborative skills to move through the directions of creating team contracts and sharing the document using Google Docs. In each class there was at least one group or several individuals who asked, in a way that felt more like a demand, if they could switch groups. They had many reasons, some of the most dramatic being claims that they could not work in a mixed gender team because their parents would not allow them all to go over each others house. Wow, I am so glad I am challenging them to work through this. For some students this will be one of the biggest learning opportunities this project offers them. It was hard not to give-in as in one class the complaining was very disruptive, but it is important to hold the line in such a case. This is a time for the students to be open minded, not the teacher. (see previous post for teacher process of making teams)
There are several reasons I assign groups for a project like this. One is to create diversity as it is important for students to learn to work with many different people. The other is to balance strengths as I want to help set them up for success since it is a major assignment. Additionally, research regarding the skills students need in order to have an advantage when seeking employment supports requiring them to work through what they perceive to be communication challenges.
A project such as the Child Right's project not only allows students to help their community, it also offers them very important practice in the "Top 5" skills employers look for.
“Top 5” skills desired by employers in the coming decade:
1. Communications Skills (listening, verbal, written). The ability to effectively communicate is by far, the one skill mentioned most frequently by employers. Having the ability to listen, write, speak effectively and facilitate communication are absolutely critical.
2. Analytical & Research Skills. Your ability to assess a situation, seek multiple perspectives, gather more information if necessary, and identify key issues that need to be addressed are critically important.
3. Computer & Technical Literacy. Your ability to showcase your proficiency with technology and its applications are crucial in the information age.
4. Flexibility/Adaptability/Managing Multiple Priorities. Your ability to manage multiple assignments and tasks, set priorities, and adapt to changing conditions and work assignments is absolutely critical.
5. Interpersonal Abilities. This one is very similar to your ability to communicate, but is specific to the ability to relate to your peers/co-workers, inspire others to participate, and solve conflict with peers/co-workers.
As many teachers know, the task of creating teams is a puzzle. Trying to balance student satisfaction, honor their choice, balance gender, balance strengths, and match personalities is no easy order. Today I was reminded that student voice can be incorporated into this process. I had a handful of highly engaged and reflective students offer to help me draft up the teams. Their knowledge of each other helped a great deal with the personality bit. They also proved to have quick minds and grasped the concept the balancing act that was our challenge. Once we finalized the teams by arranging slips of paper a few of the volunteers entered them into a shared Google doc. Some students have expressed concnerns about teams, but my message to them is that part of the learning has to do with cooperation and developing the skills to work through team challenges. The next step is to have teams develop contracts whcih will help guide the teams in their responsi. A big thank you to the students that helped today.
Students have already started asking me how they can extend projects on education rights that they started last year while working on PBL in 7th grade. I can see an intrinsic drive which I assume comes from the relevancy of the challenge. One student was looking at an organizations website and said, "The site really could be much more interactive. I could help them improve it." And with that she was sending off an email to offer her thoughts and assistance to the organization contact person. This all feels exciting- the reason I work so hard to develop such a learning opportunity.
On Tuesday we hosted a panel of five leaders from local children’s rights organizations. A huge thank you to the panelists for their outstanding preparation and messages. Also, an AMAZING effort from the students who helped with taking notes on G Docs, Skype control, video, photography, and tech presentation! We had one panelist Skyped in from US, did a back channel question asking session using polleverywhere.com, and learned a ton. Students seamlessly transitioned into taking on the challenge of helping these organizations during my next class.
Here are two important docs for us as we move forward:
- Panel with CONTACT info HERE
- Child Rights Project Summary HERE
Students will choose which organization they will help. We will let each organization know the progress on this by the end of the week. We are also doing learning activities to help explore the supporting essential questions in the project summary.
Thanks for the support of the CMS IT and AV teams who had everything ready to go and working great. Thanks to Josefina and Marsha for making the room look so nice and having treats as well as gifts for our panel. A special thanks to parent Ericka Kunhardt for dedicating so much time to finding panelists and getting them organized.
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.