Posted in Classroom Examples, Genius Hour

Operation Project Based Classroom, how do I stay on top of all of these different projects???

project based learning

So we are two months in and we have been hard at work trying to change the world…project by project.  We have had some amazing things happen, some ok things happen and some failures. I have had days where I am so excited to share what is happening in our classroom with anyone who will listen and then there are days that I drive home ready to burst into tears because I feel so out of control.  At the end of every project my students are asked to reflect on what went well, what didn’t go so well and what they learned from the process. When I feel like crying I do what I ask my students to do and reflect. I take what I have learned from what we have been doing and try to find ways to make it better.  I love what my students are doing, I believe in what we are doing, but I often struggle to find a way to feel in control. Managing a project based classroom is probably my biggest challenge right now. I am by no means an expert at all, in this post I will outline how I am trying to keep it all together.

Taking my cue from Don Wettrick’s blueprint in Pure Genius we embarked on our project based learning by looking for issues around the school that the students could find solutions for.  The kids were super excited and had some really great ideas. As mentioned above we had some amazing things happen, some ok things happen and some failures.

Project Development Cycle

When working on our projects my students go through five steps from start to finish.

  1. Brainstorm projects and write up a proposal.
  2. Work on project until completion date.
  3. Reflect on the project.
  4. Negotiate mark with teacher.
  5. Start Over

Proposal

They are required to complete a proposal that includes:

  1. The issue that they will be exploring / coming up with a solution.
  2. Step by Step instructions that includes a completion date and mini goals to get there.
  3. At least 3 curriculum expectations that they will be covering as they complete the project.
  4. How many points their project is worth.

The proposal has been a lifesaver and pain in the ass all at the same time.  Once the proposals are complete they are what keep the students on track and give them guidance.  It makes them accountable and really helps them to stay motivated (for the most part). However, getting the proposals completed is tough.  Since the students have never mapped out their own learning before they require a lot of guidance and help. It is really hard for me to give each person / group the attention that they need.  There is one of me and 30 of them!! So I have recruited some former students, friends of mine who work from home, our former VP who is now retired and a set of Grandparents to come in and help me with this process.   This has been a huge help, especially in the brainstorming stage.

Another challenge I have found with the proposals is that since the students all started their projects at the same time most students were finishing up their first projects all at once.  This meant that I was having to negotiate / conference with students when they finished but then they required help to get started on their next project proposal. This was very overwhelming for me and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it!!  But we all powered through and got them all going on a second project. I am finding now that we are at the mid way mark, most students have such different deadlines it makes it so much easier. I have the ability to negotiate with only a few groups a week as well as helping those who need it on their next proposal or those who need help on the projects that they are working on.  

Once the proposals were completed and approved, the students got going on their projects. It was a lot of running from group to group to group but other than being tired at the end the day it was manageable.  I was able to move around and support students with their projects. However, where it became unmanageable was trying to figure out who was finishing up, who needed to work on their reflection, who needed to negotiate and who was starting the process all over again.  I had my students sharing their proposals with me in google classroom and was attempting to keep track of all of them there. I found this very difficult so I decided to use the board below to keep myself and the students updated on who was at each stage. For a couple of weeks I fixed this board up every morning and then would go over it at the beginning of each class.  I found it very helpful for me for a bit and just recently found it hard to stay on top of. I have now abandoned this method and am trying out a new tracking method.

Work - reflect- negotiate - brianstorm

I have moved from electronically looking at the proposals to having the students fill out a project list (they add their projects to it as they go), I ask that they hand write or print out a copy of their proposal and I have created a file folder for each student to keep track of all of their projects.  Now when they get a proposal approved a copy of it goes into that folder and I put what the project is, how much the project is worth, and when it will be completed into a spreadsheet. I have new whiteboards with every student on it with their project and dates and I will update my whiteboards probably once every two weeks or so.

human dev

My next step is to create a google form that I think I will fill out once the proposal is approved.  I am hoping that this will provide me with a spreadsheet where I can sort the students and keep track of each of their projects etc, we will see how that goes.

We are very much in a trial by error /  learn by failure situation in my classroom.  If you have a PBL classroom and have any suggestions I am SO open to any help you might give.

Thanks for unlearning with us.

Cheers, R 🙂

Picture
“School District of Ashland.” Project Based Learning Schools (3rd – 12th Grade) / Project Based Learning, Ashland Elementary Charter School, http://www.ashland.k12.wi.us/Page/1290.
Posted in Classroom Examples, Genius Hour, Why Unlearn?

I’ve gone 100% passion based projects this semester….oh my what have I done!?!?

try fail learn repeat

So if you have been reading my blog you will know that Don Wettrick has been a huge inspiration for me and my students.  After listening to his podcast for almost a year, I decided it would be a good idea to read his book Pure Genius over the summer. Not surprising, it was exactly what I needed.  Rewind to last year and you will understand why.

Over the past five years I have truly transitioned from a traditional classroom to a more student led inquiry based classroom.  We have followed an inquiry process where students used the Social Scientific Research Method to research a current issue, become an advocate for it – make their classmates, their parents and the world aware of the issue, research it according to the course that they were in, create media pieces and showcase everything that they were doing via Twitter.  I am super fortunate to teach a lot of the same students in grade 10 history then in grade 11 Intro to Anthro, Psych and Soc and then get them for grade 12 Human Growth and development and grade 12 World Issues. For the past few years, I have used the Inquiry Model in all of my classes. The grade 10s take a bit to get to used to it and the grade 11s usually love it.  However, what I was finding was that the grade 12s were bored of that process and needed more. Last fall, I spent time volunteering at Blue Sky School in Kanata (Experimental Prototype School) where they allow the students passions to lead their learning. I was very fortunate to watch this process and wanted to try out a similar model in my classroom.  So, at the end of semester one I gave my grade 12s some more freedom in their learning and I asked them to create their own projects that were prompted by three questions:

  1. What do you want to learn?
  2. How do you want to learn it?
  3. Once you have learned it what will you do with the information?

Since most of these students had already spent at least two courses with me they didn’t struggle like most students when they were asked what they wanted to learn.  They really embraced the idea and jumped into their projects without hesitation. When they were done we had a little show and tell at the end. They showcased what they learned in a variety of ways.  We had a lesson on Artificial Intelligence a workshop on finance, a TED talk style presentation on humour and some small discussions. In my opinion it was a success.

Riding out that high I decided, as I do, to jump right in and  I attempted to go completely project based with my grade 12s the following semester.  I went in a blazin’ with a trial and error mentality and we had some really amazing things happen, but we also had a whole lot of nothing happening. To be completely honest it was a bit of a gong show.

After a semester of trying this out and a lot of reflection I realized  that I just couldn’t figure out the right kind of structure to support the students.  I was looking for answers to the following questions:

  1. How do I keep track of 25 students doing all kinds of different projects.
  2. How do I get students to stay on task?
  3. How do I get them to follow through on what they want to do?
  4. How much freedom do I give them in creating their projects?
  5. How do I support 25 students as they work on different projects?

We tried so many different things / ways to answer the above questions.  Originally we tried out some of the methods they were using at Blue Sky School such as their metaphor of driving their own bus and creating road maps each day but unfortunately they did not work for us.  We tried journal writing, goals on twitter, google forms, step by step instructions on the wall, calendars, reflections and binders with their projects listed.  By the end of the semester I was exhausted and felt defeated as I never really felt that I was able to get a handle on a student led project based classroom. For the entire semester I was searching for a play book to help me out but I couldn’t seem to find anything…..UNTIL I came across exactly what I was looking for in Don’s book.

I have met some amazing teachers via Twitter and this summer was talking to Eryka Desroisers from Quebec (host of the podcast In a Teacher’s Shoes) and she asked if I had read Don’s book.  We were discussing the upcoming school year and I was telling her my dilemma from the previous school year.  I told her that I had been racking my brain and resources for ways to get a handle on this type of classroom and she pulled out Don’s book and read a part to me that she thought would be helpful.  After we finished out Google Hangout session I immediately downloaded Pure Genius onto my Kindle and read it in about two days. I had almost given up on the idea of running my class like I did last semester and was going to revert back to the inquiry model until I found Don’s blueprint for an innovation class.

So, this semester I am teaching grade 11 Intro to Anthro, Psych and Soc and grade 12 Human Growth and Development and World Issues and we are 100% project based.  What I learned from last year was that the students required more help than I could provide them, they needed deadlines, they needed to be working on one project at a time, they needed a value placed on their projects and they needed to show progress on a regular basis.  It was like I hit the jackpot when I found Don’s blueprint. I immediately started to wrap my head around how I would use it in my classroom and adapted it accordingly. I created guidelines for the projects that my students would create. You can see them here if you are interested.

In the last month we have been busy learning how to be a 100% student led project based classroom.  For the first couple of weeks we learned about the course content and curriculum so that they had an understanding of what they needed to connect their projects to.  We then went over the guidelines. As recommended by Don, my students were encouraged to start out with a small project around the school. The students assembled their teams and started the proposal process.  I realized that this planning stage was one of the biggest downfalls to last year’s success. One of the issues last year was that there was only one of me and 25 of them so it was really tough to give each student the attention that they needed.  As a result the emphasis on a good plan was not there. So this year I made it my mission to make sure that no one started their projects before they had laid out step by step what they were going to do. As well I reached out to some friends and former students and asked if they would come in and help me with the brainstorming and planning process, this was as a huge help.  Getting through this process was intense, stressful and a learning curve for both myself and my students but totally worth it.

Now some of my students have been through their first projects, reflected and negotiated their points and are now moving on to their next project.   Below are videos that showcase what has been happening in our classroom. You can also see what they have been doing via their vlogs / blogs and podcasts at our class hashtags #jmsshpa11 #jmsshpahhg  #jmsshpacgw

This is a video that I took of my grade 12 World Issue class describing the projects that they are working on.

These are two girls from the World Issues class who are combating garbage in our hallways.  Check out their journey.

This is a group of grade 11 girls who wanted to brighten up some classrooms and engage some friends from a General Learning program.  This is their final vlog.

So far things have been going well, not perfect, but pretty good.  However, there are days where I wonder if I made the right decision to go 100% project based.   I do know that I love watching my students taking risks, making things happen and feeling like they have a voice.  I will therefore put my insecurities aside and soldier on.

I am always looking for others who are interested in chatting about this type of stuff – so if that is you please reach out and let’s connect!!

Thanks for unlearning with us 🙂

Cheers, R

Stay tuned for more examples and thoughts as we move throughout the semester.

 

Posted in Why Unlearn?

Teach Skills not Content

skills

A few years ago I found a list of essential life skills that I wanted my students to use as their curriculum in my classroom.  We decided that we would use the course material to work on those essential skills – you can see them below. For the life of me I can not find the site that I borrowed these from.  It was definitely somewhere in the UK…sorry!!

Learning to Learn

  • Self Directed Learning skills
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Right mindset
  • Emotional resilience
  • Grit

Learning to Think

  • Independence & creative thinking
  • Innovative problem solving
  • Judicious decision making

Learning to Listen & Tell

  • Narrative skills
  • Persuasive skills
 

Learning to Collaborate

  • Empathy
  • Accepting diversity
  • Teamwork

Learning to Earn & Give

  • Financial literacy
  • Philanthropy

Learning to Be

  • Self awareness
  • Pursuit of goals larger than own interest

Little did I know that our board already had something called EXIT OUTCOMES.  I found a lot of overlap with the essential life skills that we had been focusing on. Now we use the combination of the two as our curriculum.

exit outcomes
I want my students to be ok with failing and willing to take risks, learn to be able to learn on their own, to be self-motivated and self-regulated, confident, feel valued, motivated and excited for their next chapter.  I want them to leave with a set of essential life skills that no matter what content they learned they will have the ability to be successful in anything that they want to pursue. They may not all take the same path in getting there, but I want to know that they will have the ability to get there because of this toolbox of skills that they possess.

Just in Time learning vs Just in Case Learning

I listened to Sergio Marrero: Just In Time Learning or Just In Case? on Don Wettricks StartedUp podcast a month or so ago and was intrigued.  Marrero talks about College in the US and how he feels that there is a need for a post secondary option that focuses on Just in Time Learning rather than Just in Case learning.  He suggests that a lot of traditional Colleges focus on the concept of teaching students what they might need in the future rather than what they need right now. I would argue that this is the same for our elementary and high schools.  It has been the teachers job to prepare students for their next steps, in elementary school they teach a lot of just in case you need this in high school, in high school we teach just in case you might need this in post secondary and beyond.  But is it time to get rid of this model? Rather than sitting through classes that bore some students to death, why can’t we work on the skills that the students will need later in life by finding out what students are interested in learning right now and connecting curriculum to that?  I am trying this out in my Social Science classes but, the question that I have been pondering is how do we do that in all subject areas, is it even possible? As mentioned I teach in the Social Sciences and any time I have this conversation with people it is always, that is great and I can see how that works in the Social Sciences, but it would never work in Maths or Science.  I am on a mission to prove that teaching skills over content can happen in any class. What I want to figure out is what set of skills would someone need in order to pursue something that they did not go to school for. For example if I wanted to be an engineer but did not take maths and sciences in high school or university what set of skills would I need to eventually become an engineer?

I have often wonder where my set of tools came from.  I can hypothesize that first and foremost they come from home, some genetic, other activities and experiences that I was exposed to over my lifetime and finally school.  I am so fortunate to have been brought up in a household with two amazing parents who were great role models for me. My mother is a retired elementary school teacher who was so passionate about everything that she did at school, she is a true leader.  She ran anti bullying programs, worked with inner city kids and modeled perseverance and lifelong learning when she worked on her degree by taking night school all while raising a family and working full time. My father was the GM of a Steel Mill who from day one instilled in his girls that they would be strong, confident and independent.  He never treated us like “girls” and taught us to throw a baseball, drive a boat and understand how to fix things if we were stranded, meet deadlines and always be on time. He modeled confidence, compassion and empathy and was there for us when ever we needed him. I also played competitive volleyball for an organization that was coached by Catholic School Teachers.  While volleyball was important to them, the way we conducted ourselves in public and with each other was one of their top priorities. Sport taught me perseverance, good health, teamwork and collaboration. My teammates were like my sisters and we learned so much together. We travelled a lot and learned a lot of life skills while on the road. We learned about philanthropy and giving back. I know for a fact that the time spent with this group is a huge part of who I am today. As for school,  I would say that I definitely learned how to read and write, numeracy and how to interact with teachers and peers. However, I find it hard to figure out what about who I am today is a result of my schooling. I would argue – not all that much.

In my fourth year of University I worked at the GAP and H & R Block as a receptionist. While I was working at H & R Block I learned a lot about tax preparation. As exciting as that sounds, I decided to take the course that would allow me to prepare taxes.  I have a degree in history with a minor in geography. One would think that I would need some sort of math or accounting background to do this but I didn’t and I was still able to successfully complete the course and prepare some taxes – this would be a case for some just in time learning.  

Skip ahead a year, after I finished university I decided to take some time off before going to teachers college to enjoy life and work. I ended up getting a job as a receptionist at an accounting firm.  I worked here for about a year. While I was there my bosses approached me and asked me what my future plans were. I told them that I wanted to be a teacher and was hoping to go to teachers college. It was pretty tough to get into teachers college at the time so I wasn’t sure I would get in.   They sat me down and asked me if I would be interested in getting into accounting. While I was flattered, I knew that working in an office was not for me. But, what I am wondering is this – if I had all the tools needed to learn something that was not related to what I learned in school would I be able to do it?  In my experience I think yes. If I really wanted to become an accountant, I could have pursued this because I would have been motivated, confident and would learn what I needed to learn in order to make it happen. I wouldn’t have used much from my just in case learning, but I would have to pull from the skills from my tool box.  Now the question is, can all people do this if they are equipped with the right tools before heading out into the “real world”?

I am curious to hear people’s thoughts on this.  How much of who I am today and what I am capable of comes from my just in case learning in high school when I was very disengaged???

Thanks again for reading 🙂

Cheers, R

 

Posted in Student Perspective, Why Unlearn?

Students are suffocating and we need to do something about it.

help

About 3 months ago I came across Don Wetterick’s podcast called StartedUp on Twitter.  He had on a teacher from Virginia named Nate Green who was talking about using social media in his classroom.  I instantly connected with Don’s message as well as Nate’s.  That day I listened to the podcast a second time and decided to contact Nate to see if we could chat about what he was doing in his classroom.  Nate was amazing and offered to chat via google hangout.  It was amazing to connect with someone so like minded.  You should check out him out on Twitter and take a look at his blog Social Media in Education.

Over the past few months, I have listened to Don’s podcast religiously and when new podcasts were not released I went back and listened to ones from the previous year.  One message that was consistent with Don and all of his guests was that education needs to change.  I have learned and continue to learn so much from his guests.  One guest in particular really got my attention. Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate was interviewed by Don in I believe December of 2017.  He talked about his book and publishing company, which I found fascinating you should listen to it here.  BUT, what Dave said that really stuck with me was this….there are kids in our classes that are suffocating and they need help.  If you are a teacher who believes that you are doing something to save these students it is your duty and obligation to share it.  I was one of those students in high school, I am fighting for those students and I got into teaching to save them, therefore I think I have some suggestions and I want to share it!!

Inspired by listening to Dave Burgess’s interview with Don Wettrick I decided to email / DM Don and tell him all about all of the amazing things that my students were doing.  Within twenty minutes he messaged me back and asked if I wanted to be on his podcast….I was thrilled and obviously jumped at the chance.  I have been reluctant to share this podcast with others, but have just recently finished the book Poke the Box by Seth Godin (recommended to me by Cameron author of A Students Perspective on Why we need to Unlearn) and have decided to listen to his manifesto.  In it, Godin suggests that those who want to be initiators need to have a pick me mentality.  You can no longer wait for others to promote your ideas, you need to make it happen yourself.  So, please listen to the podcast below, I am pretty proud of my students and the message that we are trying to spread.  Thank you Don Wettrick for inviting me and my students to be a part of your podcast, it was an honour.

Thanks for reading and listening!

R

Posted in Why Unlearn?

What exactly is Unlearning?

unlearn a toffer

In my first few posts I have tried to explain what I feel is wrong with our current education system, and hopefully I have got some of your attention.  I truly believe that society, teachers, parents and students need to unlearn the current system, but what exactly is unlearning? Before we can define unlearning, we will need to define what it is that we need to unlearn, school, the role of teacher and student.  

What does it mean to be a teacher?

In a traditional sense it means that they are the keeper of knowledge, they are the ones that tell students what they need to know and how to learn it.  This was a great model for the industrial age and maybe for a couple of centuries to follow. But it is outdated, and does not prepare students for the world that they will live in.   In Peter Gamwell’s book Wonderwall, he suggests that we live in an age of complexity, that we no longer need to spit out carbon copies of students who know the same stuff. Don Wettrick points out that in a few years 40% of jobs will be made up by the “Gig” economy, and that students will need to be able to solve problems by being innovative and creative.

“A gig economy is an environment in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements. The trend toward a gig economy has begun. A study by Intuit predicted that by 2020, 40 percent of American workers would be independent contractors.”  (techtarget.com)

What does it mean to be a student?

For the past 200 years students have been consumers of knowledge.  They learn whatever they are being taught and then regurgitate it to prove that they know it. Usually they have very little control over what they learn and how they learn it.

Some responses to the need for change.

Don’t get me wrong, there have been a lot of initiatives to change student engagement throughout my teaching career.  Even though there are things that still resemble the industrial revolution (bells and rows) teachers are doing amazing things to deliver content in a more engaging way. We’ve learned about different types of learners and implemented better ways for these students to learn (kinesthetic, audio, visual etc), we’ve used differentiated instruction, classrooms have been equipped with the latest technology such as smart boards, ipads, chromebooks and more recently we have been implementing more inquiry into our classes.  This is all a great start, and some of these methods should remain, but it is not enough, we need to redefine the traditional student / teacher roles as well as the definition of the traditional classroom. The classroom walls need to come down. We need to wipe the slate clean and start fresh so that our schools resemble the world in which our students will be living.  Students need to become creators rather than consumers and teachers need to become mentors / facilitators.

So what exactly is unlearning?

I enjoy change, actually I thrive on it.  I have never taught a class the same way more than once.  I am constantly looking for some way to change things up and do a better job.  I reflect on what went right and what didn’t and work from there. I’d say most teachers do this, but they continue to change their lessons / assignments in a more traditional way. As mentioned in previous posts, I have been inspired by many progressive educators who are saying enough is enough, things have got change. So I have jumped on the unlearning bandwagon and am challenging the traditional definitions of education, classroom, teacher and student.   

The unlearning movement involves what Peter Hutton describes as ‘“new ways to think in the face of established practices.”’ (Flanagan) This concept is hard to achieve in our current system as most teachers feel overwhelmed with limitations  and barriers that include lack of time to unlearn, covering curriculum, class sizes,  lack of technology, behaviour problems and the need to provide marks, to name a few. However some leaders are recognizing that it needs to happen. Recently I have been reading about Peter Hutton, head of Beaver Country Day School and Marga Biller, project director of Harvard’s Learning Innovations Laboratory, and how they are taking a whole school approach and putting their teachers through the unlearning process.  Biller points out that, ‘”We’ve all gone to workshops and seminars and learned from a class,” she said. “We go there, gain skills, change mindsets, we get very excited, and then we head back to work and things get in the way. And then we wonder why change isn’t taking place.” She said often what stands in the way of implementing change is the inability to see things beyond what they’ve always been in the past.” (Flanagan)  These two organizations are going to work together to challenge what has always been by using a process where they will change mindsets, habits and build trust.

While I know it is not realistic for every school to stop everything and put their staff and students through the unlearning process, I would like to show you that it can be done.

In my next few posts, I plan to outline my unlearning journey from traditional teacher to an unlearned teacher.  I hope you will continue to read, ask questions and maybe try to do a little unlearning of your own.

Thanks for reading 🙂

R

For more reading on Beaver Country Day School and Harvard’s LILA see below.

Almeida, Debora. “Should Students Be Learning or Unlearning? – The Boston Globe.”BostonGlobe.com, 21 Oct. 2016, http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/regionals/west/2016/10/21/should-students-learning-unlearning/uvpDTMsdvuYtkXjNtUrRFN/story.html.

Flanagan, Linda. “Why ‘Unlearning’ Old Habits Is An Essential Step For Innovation | MindShift | KQED News.” KQED, 23 June 2017, http://www.kqed.org/mindshift/48480/why-unlearning-old-habits-is-an-essential-step-for-innovation.
“Learning Innovations Laboratory.” Learning Innovations Laboratory | Project Zero, http://www.pz.harvard.edu/projects/learning-innovations-laboratory.

“What Is Gig Economy? – Definition from WhatIs.com.” WhatIs.com, May 2016, whatis.techtarget.com/definition/gig-economy.

 

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