Blog Archives

Summer Reading: Reinventing Project-Based Learning Part III

My final thought about Reinventing Project-Based Learning is that the book spent a little too much attention on exceptional projects. I actually would have preferred to read about average PBL instead of exceptional. Many of the projects referenced in the book were incredibly specific to the community. While I can see the value of eventually building a project like that, at first it seems more practical to do something a little more general. A few exceptional projects would have been great, but I also wanted examples of projects that failed – so I could learn from them.

There needs to be a book with specific instructions in designing projects, specific problems & specific solutions. I’m a firm believer in creativity and doing things differently. However, I also think you need to learn the rules before you break them.

Anyway, the book was decent overall….I’m just a big critic!

Advertisements

Summer Reading: Reinventing Project-Based Learning Part II

I liked the second half of this book slightly more than the first. It was a little more specific. One thing I was struck by while reading through the second half is how much PBL and modeling instruction have in common. For example, both emphasize asking good questions. Modeling recommends Socratic technique while PBL seems to advocate for complex, content-rich questions. Either way, the intention is to promote higher order thinking.

Another similarity between modeling and PBL is that both are extremely student centered. In both, teachers act as facilitators instead of sources of knowledge. In both, students are tasked with actively constructing meaning instead of passively consuming. Additionally both seem to sacrifice some breadth for richness and depth.

However there are some differences too. Especially for subjects like physics, chemistry, and math modeling offers one core methodology and curriculum instead of the seemly vast forest of resources for PBL. Both philosophies have advantages, but especially for the new modeler it’s nice to have access to a source of materials that are always high quality as with modeling. The other advantage of the core curriculum is that it is constantly being improved not just by a few physics teachers, but hundreds of physics teachers (I’ve even contributed a few small things). The more un-structured approach to curriculum materials for PBL does offer ton’s of variety though!

Summer Reading Thoughts: Reinventing Project-Based Learning

I’m about half-way through Reinventing Project Based Learning by Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss. I’m not sure how I feel about it. The book is clearly well written, it’s probably more practical than most, and has some interesting interviews with teachers. Here are a couple of my favorite quotes & reactions so far:

“Teach Less, Learn More.”

-The Motto of the Ministry of Education in Singapore

Why don’t we follow proven educational leaders like Singapore and Finland?

“I’ll never go back….to the way I used to teach.”

This seems like a very persuasive argument in favor of investing in PBL. Modeling instruction in physics is similar – of all the teachers who learn/try modeling very few ever return to traditional instruction.

“Both teacher and students had to navigate news ways of working together as a the project unfolded, but it didn’t hurt that students saw their teacher trying new approaches and taking risks as a learner.”

Why do teachers always have to be right? I think it’s good for students to occasionally see teachers fail.

For a “field book” it’s still a little too theoretical for my tastes. One example is when Boss & Krauss talk about the importance of maximizing opportunity while minimizing risk. This is a well known strategy in everything from making money in stocks, winning football games, and successfully choosing a career. The hard part is knowing how to do it. Reinventing Project-Based Learning falls flat here – there is no actual advice about how to maximize opportunity while simultaneously minimizing risk for PBL.

When I first started reflecting on what to write in this post, my thoughts were almost all positive. Reinventing Project-Based Learning is certainly interesting enough. However, when I tried to think of the specific things I learned from this book, I couldn’t come up with anything concrete. In my opinion, that’s damning. I hope the second half is more specific!

Problem Based Learning: A Manual?

As part of e21’s summer reading, I’d like to find a book about practically implementing project-based or problem based learning. Based on our trip to New Tech High, I’m already convinced that PBL could powerfully compliment what I currently do. The problem is that despite our trip to New Tech High, I don’t really know how to actually implement PBL.

I’d like to read a book containing specific instructions on implementing PBL. What are specific examples of PBL units? What are the purposes and methods of all the different components like the introductory paper, workshops etc. Perhaps most importantly, what are the common problems and practical solutions?

Anyone know of a book like this?

Thanks!

Deprogramming Students for 21CL

“Just give me the answers.”

“Why won’t you help me? You’re the teacher.”

“This project is going to take FOR…EVER. Ugh.”

“You mean I actually have to think on this assignment?!?”

Ever heard one these grumblings from one of your students? Believe it or not, it’s a good thing. It means your learning environment is transitioning. Our students are programmed to succeed in the traditional educational system. They want to continue to use BASIC while the world now requires them to know Objective C.

FACT: The recent shift to 21st century learning – promotion of skills like creativity, collaboration, problem-solving, curation, and innovation – is just as difficult for students to embrace as it is for teachers. Shocked?

Our kids are accustomed to the age-old game of content acquisition (passive learning) and testing (regurgitation). And many have gotten downright amazing at it. You know them. They’re typically your honor students. The ones who breeze through the homework and ace all your tests. They average a 98% or better in your class. And they’ve found a nice, warm, cozy niche in your educational environment. The problem is that information, once scarce, is now abundant and instantly available in today’s world.

So now, you’re challenging them to move. You’re asking them to take knowledge  and do something with it (other than just spew it back to you). You’re asking them to design. Create. Innovate. Share. Debate. Present. Choose. Imply. Ask questions. Manipulate the content – and do so in a team with others.

It’s not going to be an easy adjustment for some of them. And, as teachers, we must understand the challenge involved in figuring out the rules of this new game – 21CL. So, what can we do to help our students then?

Have you encountered student resistance to 21CL activities in your classroom? How have you handled it? Found anything that works? Share your experiences with the E21 blog community. Comment on this post.

We have to “deprogram” our students by increasing the 21CL opportunities. We have to talk with them about the fact that the game is changing. Discuss the new “rules” when you implement a PBL unit. Explain that it may seem at times like you’re not teaching them, but that’s because you want them to learn. The active process is now theirs, not yours. It’s because you want them to take ownership of their own learning. Assure them that you are not abandoning them – and they can call on you for help and guidance as they explore. Expect mistakes along the way…and encourage your students to learn from failure. You are their 21st Century Tour Guide.

Failure is okay. Some of the world’s most successful people failed miserably while learning to succeed. Remind your students that they fail time and time again playing video games.

And yet, in the end, they always save the world.

Rethinking How Students Learn: Bob Pearlman on PBL

Bus driver…move…THAT…(school) bus!!!

And reveal the new learning environment of the 21st Century. Is it time for an Extreme Makeover: School Edition? I think so. And so does Bob Pearlman, nationally renowned educational reform consultant.

An example of “connected learning” (see my previous post), this topic is relevant on several levels for me right now. You see, Pearlman is going to speak at Heritage Hall in April regarding project-based learning (I absolutely can’t wait!). I am currently in the midst of dreaming and blueprinting a redesign of our Upper School computer lab. To top it all off, our E21 Team is thrilled about our upcoming road trip to see one of the premier examples of 21st century learning environment (21CLE) in our region – New Tech High at Coppell, Texas.

We all know that students learn best when they are engaged and allowed to do most of the learning on their own. Research has proven such about this generation of students. So what is the best way to accomplish this phenomenon? The successful formula seems to be:  PBL based pedagogy + 21CL environment + performance assessment = meaningful, connected learning.

Pearlman cites a Buck Institute of Education definition of PBL:

PBL is a systematic teaching method that engages students in learning knowledge and skills through an extended inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and tasks.

Sounds intense, doesn’t it? It is. According to Pearlman, PBL activities at New Tech schools usually last 1-3 weeks long. Examples include presenting a plan to Congress solving the oil crisis and inventing a sport that astronauts can play on the moon so they can get exercise. Students usually receive a rubric up front, so they know what amount of work will be required to achieve basic, proficient, or advanced scores.

Here’s an idea I absolutely love…when students finish a PBL unit of study, they present to an external audience. That could mean community experts, parents, Board members, other teachers, peers outside of their own class, or more. And students self-evaluate throughout the project and write a summative reflection on what they learned and how the project can be improved. And, in the spirit of 21CL, why not share with a global audience…online?!? This could be done with a partner classroom, or simply through a blog or Wiki open to the world.

So what about changes to the physical environment? 21CLE’s are large open spaces with mobile furniture. Every student has access to a computer. Tables or desks can be easily moved together for collaboration or “break-out” sessions structured around student “need to knows.” Many 21CLE’s use glass walls or windows to make learning transparent to all students and visiting adults.

The best 21st century schools provide every student with a computer, which increasingly means a laptop in a wireless environment. [Bob Pearlman]

But it’s not just about the technology. It’s the pedagogy behind technology that makes for successful learning in a 21CLE. Students use the laptop to conduct Internet research, Skype with experts, work collaboratively outside of school to construct products of learning (i.e. videos, podcasts, websites), and utilize technology to present their findings. In other words, according to Pearlman, “Students utilize all these [digital] tools to be investigators and producers of knowledge.”

At New Tech High in Coppell the school has adopted new language to refer to students and teachers. They have become “learners” and “facilitators,” respectively. Pearlman goes on to describe the physical landscape of NTH@C, both in the classroom and in hallways & common areas. Because our E21 team will be visiting NTH@C in early April, I will save discussion on these revelations for a future blog post. For now, check out these links to five schools ID’d by Pearlman as “the best of the new learning environments:”

Columbus Signature Academy (Columbus, Indiana)
New Tech High @ Coppell (Coppell, Texas)
The Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center (Providence, Rhode Island)
High Tech High (San Diego, California)
New Line Learning Academy (Kent, England)

The bottom line: These findings, yet again, suggest that our E21 mission is true. We are on the eve of implementing at a 1:1 laptop program – not based on simply dropping in technology, but based on years of our own research about 1:1 and 21CL. Our program is founded on technology rooted in tried and true pedagogy. By moving forward, we further enable our students to go beyond passive consumption of information and actively CREATE their own knowledge and experience true lifelong learning.

And that is what it’s all about, friends.

Teaching on a “Need to Know” Basis?

Below is an interesting video about how “Connected Learning” is causing a shift in education. It was put together by the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, which can be followed on Twitter @DMLCentral. Underneath are some highlights and my reflections. See if you agree…

Material and pace are clearly dictating our nation’s current systematic approach to education. It’s more important to cover as much content in as little amount of time as possible. This inch-deep, mile-wide approach is hurting our kids; we’ve got to allow them to explore learning on a deeper level. I feel so blessed to work at a school that recognizes – and always has – that learning isn’t just about content acquisition.

According to the DML experts in this video, we can do this by starting all learning initiatives in class with an emotional, intellectual, or identity question that inspires a true “need to know” in our students. This kind of approach will not only lead to increased retention of relevant knowledge, but also promotes a passion for learning, in general, among our kids.

Who contributes…and who is ultimately responsible for helping young people survive and thrive and grow up to be curious, engaged citizens?
[Katie Salen, DePaul University Professor]

Education is no longer solely the job of the school. It is a community endeavor; we must all embrace learning together. Schools do not wield knowledge and control learning. By doing so, we instill a notion in our students that learning is a one-time thing that spans 14 years and then you graduate. Learning is, in fact, forever. Let us inspire our students to become self-motivated, lifelong learners.

How can we use these resources to bring people together who want to learn together – and not the model of how can we deliver content more effectively from a single source to many listeners?
[Mimo Ito, Cultural Anthropologist]

The central principle, according to DML, of 21st century learning is CONNECTEDNESS. This ties directly into the modern ideal of open knowledge. “It’s about expertise that’s widely distributed in our society culture…the fact that anybody can help somebody get better at something,” says Ito. Connected learning is a work in progress…and will always be such.

At HH, we are clearly already on the right path…let us stay the course…and help our students reap the rewards of connected learning.

Make them need to know.