For the past 2 years I've spent coaching the teachers at VMCCA. Every year I've seen significant growth in everyone's teaching capacity and implementation of PBL. These teachers are an amazing bunch to work with and learn from. This year is proving to be another stellar year. I've already seen and heard evidence of teachers committing to wall-to-wall PBL, taking on new initiatives, becoming self directed, an most importantly becoming a part of our shared leadership model we've worked hard to achieve. I am excited for our third year and being able to celebrate as we set a course for success.
So what are we going to accomplish? Based on the feedback I received last year teachers wanted more differentiated training and support during our PBL planning days. So this year during our Monday PLT I've designed workshops that teachers will be able to self select and attend based on their instructional needs. The same is true for our PD for the year. Each session teachers will be able to decide what strand they want to participate in. We'll reflect after the first quarter and see how this plan is working. We'll also continue using Scrum in support of our Tier 1 instruction. I've created a stand up protocol to ensure we're staying focused on our instructional strategies and keeping ourselves accountable to our goals. There is a lot of work to accomplish, but this team is ready. Cheers to the start of a new year.
How can schools better reflect the business world? What framework or models exist that can be applied in schools to better student outcomes? Can we use these frameworks to ensure student readiness for college and career?
In July I had the opportunity to visit Dude Solutions and meet with Josh Anderson the Agile Project Manager. This ended up being my first encounter with Agile Methodology & Scrum. Immediately I saw the connection between Scrum, project management and PBL. At the time it was exactly what we needed as teachers to help our students manage the projects they were working on.
Agile is a framework used mostly in the computer software field, but can be adapted elsewhere. Basically, it's a project management tool that allows teams to produce a workable or sellable product in short period of time. I was so excited when I saw this demonstrated for me I wanted the VMCCA teachers to see it for themselves and arranged for a site visit. Teachers saw the immediate application of using Scrum in project management and we agreed to try it in our PLT and classrooms.
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.
Teacher, leader, curious observer, explorer of the world and everything in it, passionate about new experiences, and making connections with people.