This semester both our Art and Earth Science teachers collaborated on a project titled "Earth Wonders." Students researched earth's layers applied the content by making their own chalk, collaborated with art students to create a mural, and designed a website to document the process. Below are some of the questions students answered. If you're interested is seeing the website that documents the student work please visit here.
Light bulb moments. Mindshifts. Where time stands still and clarity settles in. It's an awareness that leads to deeper levels of learning and transformation. This is what author Peter Senge calls "Presencing" in his book "Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future." (great book) These are the moments I live for, because I know they lead to my own transformation. In this case, it produced a shift in my coaching mindset.
During 2014-15 we were a first year PBL school. Our goal starting in the second quarter was to implement one PBL project per quarter. So I lead the teacher team with a focus on designing projects. During second quarter we brainstormed, mapped, tuned, and implemented. Our first project products were a mess, epic failures actually. From what I saw it was obvious we needed more reflection and checkpoints. During third quarter we focused on using a Tuning Protocol with more frequency and also inserting more formative checkpoints for better products. Our team started to see growth and improvement, but we still weren't getting the products we wanted. Fourth quarter our team focused on using more "voice & choice" to increase motivation and several teachers started seeing success, but products were still mediocre and I was a bit frustrated.
In April I attended the Buck Institute for Education's PBL coaches workshop in Atlanta Georgia. It was on the first day that we discussed Gold Standard Project Based Teaching Practices and how they "expand on what it means to implement PBL well, beyond designing the projects." (Larmer, John BIE 2015) The moment I heard this mental brakes were applied and I had to ask myself "Wait, what did I miss? To do PBL well what's beyond project design? All year I had focused coaching project design and like I said projects were mediocre at best. So what was I missing? A fellow coach sitting next to me spoke next. She turned to me and said,
"The learning outcome is not in the product, it's in the process."
It was that moment I recognized that my focus as a coach was all wrong. I had put too much emphasis on student products and none on the learning process. I immediately went back to school and shared my reflections with Ms. Downey the Biology teacher. Our conversation just so happened to coincide with the end of her project, and just in time to capture her students reflections. She prompted her students to reflect on the process and then we used the reflections to observe the learning that took place. We were pleasantly surprised by their comments.. The following were taken directly from their written reflections.
"I learned to actually ask for feedback during the project to kinda get some ideas on how to make it better."
"Next time we present I want to be more organized"
"I really like the creative freedom"
"I feel like I learned a lot of content during the creation/planning of the project. "
"I should have gone over my lines more for our skit because now that I am watching our video of our guidance counselor session, it looks like I am just reading from my skit most of the time."
"I learned a lot from this project, maybe not content wise, but for future presentations. I know now that I have to own what I do."
Looking at these with the teacher reiterated what I had learned. Learning is in the process not the product. It was a ginormous lesson and one worth working all year to learn. I am reminded too that even though the learning is in the process the product is still important and should be measured against a list of criteria. We just can't forget about what Suzie Boss calls the "messy middle" in her book "Real World Projects." It's messy for a reason, but it's the place,when PBL is done well that the real learning occurs.
Are you in need of a few new PBL resources? Last week I started to sift through my Pocket and sort the resources I think may be the most helpful. Let me know if you find them useful.
If you're searching for PBL project ideas check out the Buck Institutes PBLU site where you will find not only project ideas, but also the project plan and other essential documents needed for the project.
Do you need a one-stop-shop for PBL information? Check out the New Tech Network Daily where they've complied blogs, twitter feeds, recent articles, videos worth mentioning and other resources. You can even subscribe to stay current on their updates.
BAMRadio is your connection to educators radio. If you're looking for resources for parents, teachers or students look at the Pod-casts & resources this website has to officer.
Voice & Choice
With an emphasis this quarter on Voice & Choice I've used these articles and resources with my team to guide us in writing our PBL projects. First, I used the step-by-step plan which I found most helpful in thinking through the process. I used Danez Smith's TEDx talk to introduce the need for Voice & Choice and also StuVoice as an additional resource.
My Favorite Find
My favorite find this week was a 5 minute Film Festival called "Freedom to Fail Forward." It's a playlist of videos that showcase examples of failing forward. Whether you're highlighting Carol Dweck's Growth Mindset or just teaching the importance of failure, these are a must see. Here is my favorite.
Some say it's difficult to motivate the Millennial Generation, but is it really? We like to complain about them and make comments like, "They're trophy kids" "They think they're entitled" "They're lazy" or " How can I teach them if they won't do the work?" But I've been wondering, are these assumptions about teens really true? Are they really lazy or just misunderstood? While pondering this I watch a TED-Ed video called "From Worst to First" given by John Bacon a University of Michigan professor, author and award winning speaker. He describes his interactions with Millennials through his work as a high school hockey coach. I was challenged by his speech and was left wondering about several statements he made. As a result, I've compiled a few of his quotes about motivation and have written down some of my own reflections. My hope is that these quotes provoke more conversation and contemplation around motivating Millennials.
Make it special and make it hard, harder than you think they can handle. We ask too little of them and ourselves. Millennials want to be challenged. " John Bacon
We've reflected on this phenomenon at our own school. We're a new early college with an emphasis on career and technical education. We opened our school with only grades 10th-12th. This meant that students already established in high schools had to apply and transfer here. Once the word got out about our early college technical programs, students from all over our county wanted to attend. Students left their high schools, their friends, their connections to come to our school because they knew we could offer them something that no one else could.
John Bacon's uses the analogy the U.S Army Special Forces. Why do so many people want to be in Special Force Units? It's not because they make a lot of money or receive fame. It's because it's elite, it's challenging (I am sure that's an understatement), and you belong to something special.
I can't help but to think of one more example and one that I hear about almost on a daily basis. That's the University of Michigan football team. If you're a college football fan you know there's a lot of talk about the new University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh. He has been in the press for months, but in the last two weeks the press has been reporting on his four hour practices. If you've played sports you know that a FOUR HOUR practice is hard core. The toughness doesn't stop there either. After four hours of intensive workouts players who have won in practice competitions don't get to sit on the sidelines and watch the losers run laps. No, "winners run extra sprints at the end of Harbaugh's practices, because in his words, "people who win have earned the right to improve themselves -- and those who lost have earned the right to sit and watch everyone around them get better." (MLive, Baumgardner) Dang, that's amazing! Here is a great example of how positive peer pressure can have the potential to improve success. This Big Ten team is filled with players fighting everyday to reach their fullest potential and it's not easy. I'd bet that for most it's the hardest damn thing they've ever done.
"You work hard for me, I work hard for you. Don't ask Millennials to do something that you aren't willing to do yourself." John Bacon
Whether in the classroom or on the field supporting teens we need to lead by example. Again, let's look at U of M. The Detroit News has captured players responses to Jim Harbaugh's hands on approach to coaching. I think it's obvious that there's a level of respect and awe that their coach is willing to teach a snap or catch a ball. How about us as teachers? Are we willing to lead by example and do what we ask of our students? It could be something as simple as making a video with them or learning a new technology before they hit the pitfalls. Whatever the task, we need to show students we're willing to do it too.
"Set goals, they like to be challenged." John Bacon
As teachers we're accustomed to setting goals. We use S.M.A.R.T goals for school improvement plans, yearly professional development goals, and goals centered on our PLT time. But what about student created goals? If we want students to achieve measured success we need to guide them in making personal goals that are measurable and public. Maurice Alias in his blog called "Helping Students Set Goals and Find Success" gives a step-by-step process for setting small goals that lead to success.
"They want discipline, they want to be challenged, and they want direction. They want to belong to something bigger than themselves. If you give them your best, they will give you everything." John Bacon
I don't think it's too much to ask of ourselves to challenge students with something they believe in and making the learning experience worth it. Whether it's challenging them with clear outcomes, leading by example, or guiding them in personal goal setting. I think all of these things are reasonable and worthy of exploring because again, are we making assumptions about this generation or does the problem really reflect back to us?
You know that moment in your run when your feet are hitting the pavement and in that juncture between the zone & reality you feel inspired? Sometimes it's an idea and other times it's just pure inspiration. I had that moment this morning when I heard One Republic's song "I lived." As the listener I heard the challenge. What goals am I setting for myself? What am I doing to "own every second" whether it's as an individual or professionally? At the end of this semester or this year will I be able to say "I did it all?"
Regardless of who we are we should be reflective practitioners. How else can we get out of life what we want? So how about it, what are your goals this semester, this summer, and for remainder of the year? Don't loose out on an opportunity to be a better person, own every second of life so at the end of this year you can say "you did it all."
My Personal Goal List:
1. To hone my coaching skills and develop a repertoire of coaching through questions.
3. Compete in my 2nd Sprint Triathlon (summer)
4. Establish a Training and Coaching plan for 2015-16 school year (summer/fall)
The holidays are just around the corner and I was determined that this year I would make gifts for a few family members. I headed to Pinterest to find an easy craft and since scarves are all the rage this season, also a personal favorite of mine, I looked for an easy scarf to make.
I quickly found a video for arm knitting. According to the video in just over 30 minutes I could have a beautiful infinity scarf. After several weeks of procrastinating, I bought the yarn and later that day set myself up with yarn and iPad ready to start the project. The first step was making a slip not. God, how could making a knot be so difficult? I watched and re-watched the video 4 times just to figure it out. I should have know at this point that making this "30 minute scarf" was not going to be as easy as I'd hoped.
The most challenging part of the process was the casting. I watched the video example SEVERAL times, but I couldn't figure out how to make the first cast. After 30 minutes of trying to do the FIRST cast and constantly failing I walked away from the project. Maybe just maybe I would buy the gift instead.....but the project nagged at me and I wanted to conquer the scarf.
I did finally conquer the scarf.... 2 hours later. At some point, I realized that in order to persevere I had to employ my own learning strategies to finally make it happen.
Here's what I did. Since I couldn't figure out the initial stitch with the first video I searched for another. Ha, simple right. The second video "Arm Knitting For Beginners" gave me more hope. The video was shot from a different angle and slowly showed how to cast. Still I wasn't making progress. More determined than ever I watched a third video "The Basics for Arm Knitting." The third video was the charm. The presenter used a simple technique of forming a triangle and showing the step-by-step process that I could finally visualize and process. Success. I was able to cast on and make the stitches and was finally on my way to making the scarf. I did eventually go back to the first video and used it to finish the project. After I was done I felt enormous pride and satisfaction in having the first gift complete. This feeling of success lead to the making of two more scarves that afternoon.
After reflecting on my scarf experience I realized my struggle mirrored the struggle students have learning new information. I often hear from teachers about their frustration with students who struggle to learn. These teachers think learning comes naturally and it doesn't. They expect students to hear information once and than be able to go home and complete a new homework assignment or read a new concept for homework and then be able to apply it the next day. This is foolery. Students, especially those whom already struggle academically, need time, scaffolds, and learning strategies to figure things out. If we don't give them this we set them up for failure. The goal of learning is to find that feeling of satisfaction when we finally get it. When we can say " Yup, I didn't get it the first time, but I knew how to use the appropriate tools and worked it out." This type of learning experience is not just memorable it's powerful and changes the mindset of students who struggle. As an adult trying to figure out how to make a scarf I knew I could learn to do it. I knew that I just needed to be patient, apply my strategies and persevere. When we do the same thing with students we teach them the feeling of success and in turn empower them to tackle the next challenge.
Did you know that there are people who actually throw away their refrigerators by taking off the door, opening a manhole cover, and throwing down the hole? Crazy right? This morning on NPR (yes I am a huge fan) I heard a local story about waste management. Our local waste management here in Raleigh has a book club called "The Talking Trash Book Club" (a genius idea), to involve and educate the public about waste related issues. I know I am interested and plan on putting these books on my reading list.
Ms. Goodson's class is doing their PBL project and I am demonstrating how to use a website with a blog and Voicethread. Hey Ms. Goodson's class here is a video on how to embed a VoiceThread to your weebly.
What does this "A" really mean? What's the purpose of a grade? What meaning do we want grades to convey? These were questions we asked ourselves as we, the teachers at Vernon Malone College and Career Academy, started to write our new grading policy.
I have to be honest, it was the first time I had ever considered the purpose of a grade. As a staff we research, discussed, and after a several working sessions established that "a grade is a fair and consistent measurement that gauges student mastery of learning objectives." (VM Grading Policy) As I reflected on this definition I realized, along with everyone else, that we needed to establish a new norm for a secondary grading policy in our district.
In one of our staff meetings we discussed the elementary report card. In our district elementary kids are graded using a 4 point rubric. Each standard is listed for the year and a point system communicates with parents their child's mastery. Additional comments are added that describe behavior and other anecdotal information. On the contrary, at the secondary level we use a grading scale that is interpreted with A-F grades. In essence, everything a student does is wrapped up in one grade. So, in this case, how can a single grade represent the content mastery of the student? In my opinion it can't, not when we also include things like behavior grades and extra credit.
So is there a natural consequence for including behavior in grades if the purpose is to show mastery of a standard? I think so. I think it promotes grade inflation. Think about it. Think about that kid in your class that can't do.....hmmm...let's say Math II. You look at his previous grades and see he passed Math I with a B. You're shocked and wonder how did that happen? It happens because we include behavior measures like participation, homework completion grades (5 point for completing the homework 0 if it's not done), and extra credit. So if we establish that grades are to communicate mastery of the content, we should be asking what doesn't belong in the current content grade? How can we separate content grades from behavior? What could this look like at the secondary level?
At VM we quickly recognized the same grading dilemma and decided "that achievement should be communicated separately from information about student's effort and behavior." (VM Grading Policy) We worked as a staff and defined summative & formative assessments and agreed that only summative grades would "count toward a student’s grade in order for the grade to reflect only the academic achievement.” We than established that “formative assessments are designed to provide the student with direction for improvement and to provide the teacher with direction for instruction. Performance on formative assessment will be reflected in the student effort and behavior grade." (VM Grading Policy) The rubric for "Student Effort and Behavior Grade" includes meeting deadlines, preparedness, participation, and respect. We also established policies for homework, missed work, classwork, extra credit, missed work, & grade calculations. The grading policy at VM is still a work in progress. We committed to revisiting our policies at the end of the year reflect and make adjustments. We don't claim that the policy is perfect, but if you are curious feel free to take a look.
Changing grading policies can be an arduous process and requires an expert facilitator to guide the conversation. Regardless, I also think it’s a conversation schools need to have. So, if this notion of grading challenges your perspective take a moment to reflect, pose a question or leave a comment.
Truth or dare? Remember the truth or dare game you played as a kid? It's been years since I've played, but a few weeks ago I was dared by a student to participate in a PBL project. The project was to read "The Crucible" and write an essay. How hard could it be, right?
Although this student thought he was being witty, the beauty of this arrangement was that I got to see an experienced PBL teacher manage a project, as well as take on the role of a student. So, for three weeks I attended classes, did the assigned readings, took the quizzes, completed the project, and presented it in front of a panel of judges.
I've kept a journal of my experience and have taken pictures along the way. The following is a sequential log of how the project rolled out and was managed. I hope you'll stick around to see what happened.
Note 1: Ms. Horton had done a bit of pre-teaching before I joined the class. She taught Puritan Law and had done activities to identify individual student strengths, both of which helped establish purpose for her project.
Note 2: This class is taught on an A/B schedule.
Day 1: The Entry Event. Ms. Horton asked us to read the entry document and write on a piece of paper everything we already knew about this assignment (based on the entry document) and then write down all the things we needed to know to complete the project. After giving us a few minutes to think about both, she opened the floor for discussion. "What do you already know?" she asked. We replied with statements like, "We have to write an essay," "It's a contest," and "We have to answer the driving question." Then she switched gears and asked, "Ok, what do you need to know to be successful for this project?" We asked questions like, "What is the correct format?" "How long does it need to be?" "What are the Scarlet Letter Laws?" (SLL) and "What is 'The Crucible'?" As you can see in this video Ms. Horton didn't answer the questions, but instead explained how the question would drive her project.
I left class that day with a study guide and an assignment: to read Act I.
Day 2: Instant Anxiety & Guidelines I came prepared. I read Act 1, kept notes on my study guide, and... Oh crap we're going to have a quiz?! Instant anxiety. Here's what I wrote in my journal that day, "I am quickly transported into the role of a student. I feel the pressure of being evaluated, the stress of wondering if I can answer the questions. I read for homework, but will I recall everything? Will I pass? Can I remember what I read? Oh, man I am not a good test taker. Breathe deep and relax." The quiz was multiple choice, with a short essay at the end.
Guidelines: After the quiz we received the project guidelines. Up until this point we didn't know the details of the project for group work, the firing process, writing expectations, or presentation requirements.
Once we were given the guidelines we revisited the "Need to Knows" and added any additional questions. Here are just a few questions that were added: "Where can we find the Scarlet Letter Laws?" "What is additional relevant evidence?" "Will we have to do the project and keep doing other things in class?"
It was obvious by the questions and comments that students were beginning to feel uncomfortable with the inquiry process. Later, in a feedback session, Ms. Horton told her students, " You're not supposed to like it. The inquiry process slows down your learning process and forces you to spend time digging at the content. You need to be comfortable in not knowing, it's where the magic happens."
Day 3: Project Management On day 3 a few things happened.
1. We had a class discussion on Act II (no quiz this time)
2. We received the rubric
3. We established groups and roles
4. We signed a Team Contract
5. We began our Project Management Log
The rubric: Finally on day 3 we received the rubric. None of us had started writing yet because we still needed information on the Scarlet Letter Laws. In the meantime, the rubric defined what the essay expectations were and answered many of our need to knows.
Being Accepted: Let's just say that no one wanted to work with me. We were given the option of working with 1-3 people, but I was a bit surprised when I was left to work individually. Come on, I am a pretty likeable person. It felt like high school all over again... Wait, I was in high school taking on the role of a high school student. Ugh, the pressure to be accepted by a group... Not cool.
Group Contracts: The team contract is a must for any PBL project. Here are two reasons why:
Have you even been fired from a job? Well, you can be "fired" from this job too. Yup, that's right folks: if a group feels another student isn't working to the contract expectations the group has a right to fire the member. To do this the teacher establishes a firing process explained in the project guidelines. If the behavior continues the member will be fired and required to complete the project on their own. Since the group has intellectual property rights, the member is not allowed to use any of the group's work. Instead he/she can only keep what they have created. The process of firing works, and is crucial to group management.
Project Management: The project management document is used so the group members can outline the tasks and dates needed to complete the project. Some teachers use a paper document while I've seen other teachers use Trello, a free project management tool.
Day 4: Scarlet Letter Laws (instruction) So if you're wondering where the direct instruction happens, don't worry: it's embedded in the process. On day 4 after taking our second quiz on Act 3, Ms. Horton led an activity on the Scarlet Letter Laws. She explained the origin of the Scarlet Letter and we were each given an article that gave a real life example of a Scarlet Letter Law. In our activity we needed to individually answer "Why was it considered a SLL? What civil right was violated? What was the greater good? Did I agree or disagree with the use of the SLL?" We were required, based on the rubric, to use an example of a SLL in our essay, so we did quick 3 minute presentations to the class. This gave us a repertoire of examples that we could use in our paper.
Day 5: Small group instruction After discussing Act IV and the implications of the greater good, we had project work time. While we were working, Ms. Horton had a workshop on MLA formatting. She gave the entire class a handout, but if there were those that needed more in-depth assistance she met with them in a small group during class.
Day 6: Presentation Rubric & Study Guide By day 6 we were winding down our project. We had passed the deadline to fire anyone (no one was fired), we had class work time, and we were approaching our deadlines. With our project due in just a few days, we were given a presentation rubric and a test study guide. That's right, even though we had a group project due we still would have to take an individual summative assessment on "The Crucible." Yikes!
Writing & Frustration: I have to admit, writing the essay was tough. There were several times I felt frustrated and wanted to quit. Part of this was because I didn't manage my notes or annotations of the reading well. Ms. Horton told us to keep track of contextual evidence, but I didn't. There were other times I wanted to quit, and had to wonder if other students felt this way.
"How does a teacher deal with student frustration and learn to manage it?" This was a question I asked Ms. Horton. She told me that frustration is a natural part of PBL. In order to deal with it, teachers have to be observant and look for the clues students give when they're frustrated. Once a teacher sees or anticipates this they can conference with the student and assist them in overcoming the frustration. This often times leads to small workshops during project time where teachers can address issues of frustration and reteach skills or provide information.
Day 6: Essay Due Date & The Presentation I only had 10 minutes until class and I was still finishing my essay and presentation. Just in time I got it done and presented it to the panel of judges.
Should the greater good of society supersede the rights of the individual?
In my opinion, the answer cannot be exclusively yes or no. Instead, in order to determine if the greater good of society should supersede the rights of an individual, one has to determine if the positive outcome from the good is worthy of the sacrifice.
Day 8 Day of Reflection: So I chickened out and didn't take the cumulative test, but I did sit in on the "Day of Reflection." Another key component of PBL is feedback, and on this day I participated as Ms. Horton gathered plus/deltas on the class's first PBL project. Ms. Horton has been teaching for 15 years, and watching her scaffold this reflection was nothing short of amazing. She approached it like she did her need-to-knows and listed all the positive things we encountered with the project. We said things like:
After the plus/deltas Ms. Horton gave a class breakdown of the grades. This included all 4 of her classes and how they scored on the final test. After she asked us to reflect on the following questions:
After the students reflected, she gave them back their tests. After seeing their test grade Ms. Horton added a few more questions to reflect on.
Some of the goals students wrote after seeing their test scores and reflecting on the process are listed below:
Ms. Horton is still busy grading 120 essays. It might be a while before I get mine back, but that's understandable and I am in no hurry. What I learned from this project can't be graded anyway. What I saw was a teacher – a cultivator – who was planting seeds that will grow to form new mindsets, stronger work ethics, and deeper engagement. We are a PBL school. We're in our infancy, but the seeds that are being planted are beginning to take root in both teachers and students and it's exciting to watch them grow.
Thanks again Ms. Horton for letting me participate and be your student.
What other lessons have teachers or coaches learned regarding the PBL managing process? I am curious, so feel free to share and be a part of the conversation.
Teacher, leader, curious observer, explorer of the world and everything in it, passionate about new experiences, and making connections with people.