Thursday, April 24, 2014

What did I get myself into???

This is the question I have been asking myself lately.  As you can see, I have not had much time to post about what we have been doing.  But...we have been working hard, and learning so much.

A lot of my students are struggling to find platforms for their products or creations.  Some of it is due to laziness, while others just don't know how to navigate the web.
I myself have found it very time consuming to locate and curate resources.  While there exists infinite sites and apps, the uses for each particular product are finite.  Figuring out which works best for a particular product and audience is proving to be a challenging  part of this endeavor.
However, we are moving forward.  And I am hoping to curate a somewhat specific list..if time allows.

I have watched a lot of my students blossom and find a new sense of ownership in their work, as well as a new sense of identity as a student.  The evolution of this student identity has been very interesting to watch.  I have a student who feels very passionately about the topic of discipline vs. reward within the school system. He is usually very vocal and has no problem writing essays, but he has struggled to find a way to send his message out into the world in another format.  He wants desperately to write, but I have challenged him to push his boundaries.

I had a discussion with one student yesterday who had changed her topic.  She had a wonderful topic that she felt very strongly about, but she had no confidence in her ability to change her own voice/tone.
 "I don't think I can say this in a nice way.." she said.
"What!!! This is exactly why you are doing this.  This is what you have to learn to do.  This is a life skill.  So  do it.  Here, and now.  Not when you are in an interview and blurt out something that sounds crass or antagonistic."

What I have seen is that they are being forced to be an active participant in not just their learning, but their own thinking.   The student if forced to consider ideas/topics from so many angles.  This PBL has really flipped the script on their cognitive process.  So much of what they are used to is the standard sit and get method.  Which I did for a long time, and I totally get.  The older method is what I knew and what I learned, but this method is so much better!!!

This Friday the students will conduct their first peer critiques.  I am anxious to see how this goes.  One of the things I have noticed while working on this unit, is that the students' soft skills just aren't there.  I began the year addressing active listening, effective communication, working in teams, etc.  But, these skill were usually exchanged from student to teacher.  I am realizing that in the beginning of the year I need to have them work together to right away.  Looking back I know that I feared a lack of control and had a fear of how "messy" it might look.  However, I have done my students a disservice by asking them to use these skills before they have had a chance to fully develop them.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


We are about a week into our unit, and things are going fairly smoothly.  Most of the students are engaged and working hard. There are the usual suspects who will stop at nothing to try and do nothing. 

Some things to note:
This is the first time I have seen kids get excited about my feedback using comments in Google docs.  We have done this before, but their seemed to be little reaction.  I am wondering if this is because they care about what they are doing, and so they actually take time to read the feedback.  Or, is it because this time they actually paid attention, and they have time to read/respond in class.  Maybe a combo of both???

I have had students say, "I am confused, can I just write an essay?"  And my mind was officially blown.  All year I had to do magic rain dances in the dark to elicit any enthusiasm about writing....and now you claim you would PREFER to WRITE!!!  Ahhhhh.....  I took a seat next to each of these kids immediately and we talked about what was really going on.  They were simply confused, or found the idea of creating too hard.  We are now working together to build their creative confidence and find a platform/format that will work for their project.

I am learning that they are accustomed to having so little choice/control in their learning, that for some of them the idea is overwhelming.  They seem to shut down and revert to the only thing they know.  While this is human nature for many of us when faced with change or something new, it makes me wonder what I can do differently in the future to help them find this less difficult.  I feel that I am experiencing my own learning revolution right along with my students (and I am loving it).

Some things I am struggling with are:
Finding the time to assist students individually in each class.
Not giving them too much support
Assessing student productivity on a daily basis

My students will be conducting interviews with elementary students today!!  I am very excited about this collaboration and will be posting soon.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Diving into PBL

Hello fellow teachers/learners,

This week my students (10th grade co-teach) and I began working on our first true project based assignment.  And all I can say is... WOW!  I have been extremely impressed by their enthusiasm and amazing ideas.  I have to admit that I was initially worried about their ability to come up with viable concepts on their own, but most have been inventive and inspirational.

There was a lot of prep on my part in regards to structure and time frame,  all of which I think is imperative to rolling out a lesson of this type.  But, with the help of trusted colleagues I was able to create a system that I hope works.  Keep your fingers crossed please:)

Together my colleagues and I came up with a menu of ideas to help give the students a place to start from, and some examples of what the end products might look like.  They were also given a Project Pitch Form to help them flesh out their creation. I modeled the form after one from Manor ISD.  They are a great place to look for inspiration and logistics regarding PBL.

I briefly went over the menu and PPF with my students, and then set them free.  They were basically told to create a project they would want to share with others.  Their job would be to come up with the product, and  a specific format for audience consumption.  While some went straight to the menu for ideas, others immediately new what they wanted to do.  My co-teacher and I simply walked around and helped students get what was in their brain on paper.  I find that this is a big struggle for them, and I am hoping this unit can help them build confidence and strength in this area.  We shall see...