Sunday, January 2, 2011
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Thursday, May 20, 2010
I have been thinking about this a lot lately, but I have been so busy with all of those things I 'have' to do that I have not had a chance to simply write. It's all been in my head. I have quite a bit to say, so I plan to address one or two topics at a time. I feel like our education system is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Today, I had the pleasure of working with two classes of 1st graders as we attempted to finish a project we began several weeks ago. Mind you, school will be out for the summer in one week, so, one can imagine the level of focus and attention being given to the project. Our "I Can" project consisted of students writing 10-15 sentences about things that they 'can' do and which would be able to be communicated through still imagery. Once the students write down their ideas on paper, each student uses PowerPoint to type in the I can sentences from the list. Students then pair up and take pictures of each other doing the activities. I assist the students in downloading the pictures, and then the 1st graders insert their own pictures into the appropriate slides. The students choose their favorite font shape, size, and color, and then we import everything to PhotoStory so they can narrate their projects, and the teacher combines them all into one video the students can take home as a keepsake and portfolio addition. The kids love it. They are engaged and are so excited when they see their pictures and figure out how to listen to their voices and decide whether or not they should keep the audio clip or not. Generally speaking, it takes about one modeling session for the students to understand how to do each of the steps their own, and each step doesn't really doesn't take that long.
So, if it doesn't take that long, what is my point, and why am I about to complain? In theory it doesn't take that long, but when your are dealing with 1st graders, patience is more than a virtue! Additionally management is essential. The students must be engaged 115% of the time or chaos will evolve. What I am trying to say is that even though we started the project several weeks ago, it did not have to take weeks to complete. Had we been able to plan for a longer block of time at once, we could have completed the project more quickly and in less time overall. But, because we had to keep starting and stopping it took much longer than anticipated.
In the past, the square peg (learning environment) may have fit into the square hole (calendar), but when the learning environment changes with respect to resources and technology and the calendar changes with regards to real-time access to real-world experiences, why do we continue to use the same standard, and expect that we will derive an alternative result?
To me, it seems that completing the project in one or two longer sessions would have been more effective and productive than dragging it out over several weeks. However, we were working with the time and resources available. As teachers, we did the best we could with what we had at the time.
If we rethought the schedule in the school day and allowed for more flexibility in project based learning, teachers and administrators might be more effective in meeting students' needs.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
By Suzie Boss4/22/10
In project learning (PL), plans that look spectacular on paper can go awry when students enter the picture. During the implementation phase, students may decide to head in directions their teacher never anticipated.
Tensions can build if teams don't understand what it means to collaborate or share responsibility for project success. Creative problem solving can start to feel like classroom chaos. This is when the art of project-based teaching makes all the difference.
What if you're new to teaching with the project approach? Do you have to learn everything the hard way?
Fortunately, veteran PL teachers are only too happy to share their wisdom. For the past several weeks, I've had the pleasure of listening to educators talk about the nitty-gritty of projects. Colleague Jane Krauss and I just wrapped up hosting a series of webinars. (If you are interested, the discussion continues here.)
Here are just a few gems from this conversation, along with links to projects that will give you some new ideas to try with your students.
Get Minds Inquiring
Inquiry is at the heart of project learning, and PL veterans are deliberate about sparking student curiosity before a project actually begins. Some teachers leave clues in plain sight, encouraging students to do preliminary detective work that will fire up their curiosity. Others use opinion polls to ignite class discussions. Kevin Gant from the New Tech Network offers this sample question to lead into a physics project: "What's the better car: Dodge Viper or Shelby Cobra?" A class survey takes just a few minutes, Gant says, but, "time spent getting the students riled up about an issue is golden."
Lay a Foundation
The project approach challenges students to think for themselves, conduct research, solve authentic problems, meet deadlines, and manage much of their own learning. Experienced teachers don't take these skills for granted. They invest time to introduce students to the project process. Terry Smith from Hannibal, Missouri, uses the popular Monster Project to "get students into project mode" by negotiating decision making in small teams.
Before Sue Boudreau, teaching in Orinda, California, unleashes students on a complex project, she starts with a low-risk activity to teach process skills. She might ask students to think about all the steps associated with a familiar task, such as getting a meal ready for dinner guests. Then she has them work backwards from the dinner bell to figure out the project flow. Currently, Boudreau's middle school students are using their project skills to take on real-world science challenges through the Take Action Project.
Look to the Discipline for Cues
Where are the boundaries when students are pursuing open-ended questions? Neil Stephenson from Calgary, Alberta, suggests looking to the discipline you're teaching to help students focus their efforts. "I'm trying to find places where I can bring the reality of the discipline into the classroom. What does it mean for kids to become mathematicians and not just teach them math? What does it mean to teach them to do science and not learn about science? There's a subtle but powerful shift there," he suggests, "and the right way to teach comes out of the disciplines." Stephenson's award-winning Cigar Box Project demonstrates what happens "when kids actually become historians and interpret events from the past."
Project learning typically culminates with students sharing the results of their effort, often at a public event. How do you build students' presentation skills, as well as the confidence to exercise their voice? Anthony Armstrong, teaching in Tiburon, Calif., goes about this deliberately. He challenges his eighth graders with an activity he calls the "30-second blowhard." They discover that staying on topic for half a minute can be a challenge, especially when you're expected to make a cogent argument. And that's not all.
Armstrong asks each student to summarize the key points made by the previous speaker. That builds listening skills. Gradually, as students gain confidence and competence, the 30-second challenge expands to a couple minutes.
Build Some Buzz
When PL really takes hold, the benefits can extend in all sorts of unexpected directions. We call this the project spiral. Where can spirals go? Imagine a project that brings in collaborators from other schools -- or other countries. Picture community members connecting with students to solve real-world challenges. Think about the advantages when PL teachers form virtual communities to continue fine-tuning their practice.
These benefits won't happen in a vacuum, however. George Mayo from Silver Spring, Maryland, reminds us of the value of building buzz by getting student projects out into the world. He's an advocate of blogs as a tool for getting students to publicly reflect on their learning and invite reactions. Mayo also organizes a project called the Longfellow Ten, in which students from across the country create "absurd stop-motion films" to illustrate academic concepts. In his own community, Mayo organizes an annual film festival where students showcase their best filmmaking efforts -- and evidence of their expanding visual literacy -- with family and friends.
Establish the Right Context
Connie Weber teaches at an independent school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that removes many of the typical barriers to the project approach. She enjoys small class sizes, gifted students, strong parental support, and even an on-campus nature center. But when we asked her about the key conditions for project success, she described a learning environment that could be replicated almost anywhere -- with the right care and attention. What's essential, she says, "is establishing the learning atmosphere, how the class feels." Instead of generating rules with her students, she invites them to "generate tendencies, [and] positive ways to be together."
Students warm right up to this request. Weber explains, "They suggest that they want each other to be nice, honest, respectful, patient; to have integrity and perseverance; to be safe to make mistakes and safe to share their views." She adds one more quality to the list: "It's important to play."
What does this feel like in practice? At the start of a project, Weber describes this moment:
"For the teacher, there's this giant letting go. Now, that requires some effort. I can see it in my mind -- it's me walking away, turning my back, going somewhere else, not allowing myself to hover. It's me communicating, 'I'm at your service,' and, 'May the force be with you.' It's me utterly and totally handing over the reins, come what may. The project is theirs."
These are just a few of the insights shared during several weeks of inspiring conversations. And the good talk continues. Links to webinar recordings are posted in Classroom 2.0.
Thanks to Project Foundry for hosting this series, and to LearnCentral for providing the virtual meeting room through the site, Elluminate. Most of all, thanks to all the excellent teachers who have so generously shared their wisdom.
If you've been teaching with projects for a while, how have you fine-tuned your approach? If you're new to PL, what advice are you searching for? Please share your ideas -- and keep this conversation going.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
What it is: Grammaropolis is a fun find that helps students learn the parts of speech. In Grammaropolis, all of the characters are a different part of speech. Students will “meet” Adverb, Linking Verb, Pronoun, Adjective, Preposition, Slang, Noun, Conjunction, Interjection, and Action Verb. Each character is personified with personalities inspired by their grammaticall roles in a sentence. The characters interact with each other the same way that parts of speech interact in a sentence, brilliant! Each character has a character card that tells a story about them. Students can watch short Grammaropolis videos starring the characters (parts of speech) that live there. Students can take Grammaropolis quizzes, complete word sorts, and color the characters of Grammaropolis in an online coloring book in the games section. Students will enjoy the fun Grammaropolis song featuring all of the characters of Grammaropolis. Coming soon, students will be able to read a book series starring the Grammaropolis characters.
How to integrate Grammaropolis into the classroom: Visual learners will absolutely love this site that personifies the parts of speech. All learners will appreciate the stories about the parts of speech. We learn best through story. Story gives us a framework for our understanding of new concepts and helps us to use those new concepts. Grammar is often a subject that is taught purely through memorization of rules and drill and skill exercises. This makes it difficult for students to really understand grammar. Grammaropolis is an excellent solution to this problem. Use the Grammaropolis character cards to introduce students to new parts of speech. Watch the videos and listen to the song as a class to delve deeper into the character traits that each part of speech has. The books on Grammaropolis are coming soon, while students await these, why not encourage your students to write their own stories that include the characters of Grammaropolis? Do you have older students that could use a parts of speech refresher? Have them create stories using the characters for younger students. The characters have already been developed for them! Print out the character cards and post them around the classroom. This will help your visual learners, when you talk about “Pronoun” they will be able to associate it with a character and story. Set up the Grammaropolis games on classroom computers as a literacy center that students can visit to practice their understanding of the parts of speech.
Tips: Grammaropolis is currently holding a contest. Helping Verb is lost, students can draw what they think Helping Verb should look like. Submissions will be accepted until March 31, 2010 (so start this contest with your students today!). Five finalists will be posted on the Grammaropolis blog on April 7 with a winner announced April 22. The winner will recieve a gift pack, there character drawn by a professional and added to the Grammaropolis team, and receive a 20″x30″ poster featuring their character singed by the Powerhouse animators that make the Grammaropolis videos. The winning character will debut in Action Verb’s book in the book series.
Please leave a comment and share how you are using Grammaropolis in your classroom.
What it is: Sometimes I use a website and recommend a website so often in my own corner of the world, that I forget to share it with all of you. Scribble Maps is one of those websites. Jonathan Wylie posted about Scribble Maps on his blog, Educational Technology Blog, last week and it made me wonder if I had ever posted here about it. A quick search revealed I had not. That sent me on a search through my blog of websites that I use most often with my students, and many of them have been overlooked here. I guess I assume everyone knows about them because I use them so much. You know what they say about people assuming things… So, I will sprinkle in blog posts of some well known tools (in my classroom) as I realize they are absent! Scribble Maps is a website that lets you scribble, draw, and annotate over Google maps. Scribble Maps even lets you print your maps, save them, embed them on your website, blog, or wiki or save them as jpeg images to your computer. Sweet, huh?! In addition to annotating over maps, you can also add place markers with titles and descriptions, and add images to the map. Maps can be viewed as regular maps, terrain maps, hybrid maps, or satellite maps making it pretty ideal for every classroom need.
How to integrate Scribble Maps into the classroom: The days of bulky pull down maps taking up space in your classroom are over. If you have an interactive whiteboard or computer with projector, Scribble Maps is all you need. (You couldn’t write on those expensive maps anyway!) Scribble Maps is perfect for your every map need. Whether it is a quick reference or an in depth geography lesson, Scribble Maps is easy to use, save, and print. Use Scribble Maps in literature or history and drop place markers with descriptions on a map as students read. Students will have a better idea of what is happening in story when they can visually see places mentioned marked out on a map. Scribble Maps would be a great tool for those Flat Stanley projects that elementary classrooms across the country do each school year. Create a map and plot all of the places that Stanley traveled, attach pictures of Stanley, with those he visited, on the map. Play map games calling out geographical places and having students find them on the map and tag them with the information they know.
Scribble Maps lets you share maps via Facebook, in the high school classroom create a class page that students can become fans of and post homework help, links to educational websites, etc.
Please leave a comment and share how you are using Scribble Maps in your classroom.