Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Project-Based Learning for Dummies

It feels like I made a promise.  When I cut up the BC Learning Outcomes, parsed them out into projects, then blogged about it, I set up an expectation.  "Tell me how it goes.", "Keep us updated.", "Make sure you blog about it." was what I heard.


You mean I've got to go through with it?  I have great systems in place.  Math routines.  Class sets of textbooks.  Colleagues to teach my students some courses.  Change?  Really?

As teachers, though, new is nothing new.

And as always, step by step is the way it works for me.  So below are a few steps I took to make my foray into the PBL world.  But first a proviso: I know that simply attaching learning outcomes to projects is not what project-based learning is all about.  I know.  But I had to do something like that to transition from the world of "courses" to the world of genuine-real-life-I-can-learn-something-through-these projects.  Remember, I am the eternal:

So here are a few steps I've taken.

1) Reduce platooning
I now have my students 90% of the week. At first I thought that would be crazy: juggling all those balls in the air?  But with projects, the juggling is easier. And I don't have to keep track of so much from the students in the other classes. So far (it's still September), this is doable.  Having lots of time with the same students has been really important to provide the time needed to work on our projects.  Class has been a lot more free flowing and it has been great not having to change gears every 45 minutes.

2) Read some articles
7 Essentials For Project-Based Learning by John Larmer and John R. Mergendoller
What Project-Based Learning Is - And What It Isn't by Katrina Schwartz
Project-Based Learning: A Short History by Suzie Boss

3) Find a learning network
I've got a couple things going here.  I've been encouraging our staff to communicate more through twitter and we now have a common learning hashtag to follow.  This has increased and deepened the level of collaboration.  And just like there is a buzz you can feel when your students are deeply engaged in what they're doing, there is a buzz when teachers are sharing, collaborating and learning.  I feel that buzz at my school.

Leyton Schnellert with SD43

Also, I am fortunate that my own learning desires have been coupled with my district's.  Leyton Schnellert has been brought in to facilitate our development in "Engaging Learners Through Community and Inquiry in the Middle Years".  Schnellert has expanded our horizons by sharing experiences ranging from participating in simple inquiry activities to observing a full blown PBL class.  Below is Kim Ondrik's class up in Vernon.  It is hard to explain the kind of genuine learning community she has up there (called the O-zone).  Her grade 6/7 students work on real life activities: from tying flies to chopping carrots for needed meals to taking pictures of animals in the nearby wetlands to raking up nearby leaves to taking up roles in the civic council chambers.  Her kids have a voice.  They solve problems.  And they still meet learning outcomes.

Kim Ondrik and the Ozone

4) Jump right in
Project 1: My Perfect Classroom.  I asked my students to find the dimensions of our class and design the perfect classroom.  (Was it wrong to ask them to figure out the floor area of the class in square meters as well? :) )  I bought dollar store tape measurers and asked the students to work in their table groups to find the classroom dimensions.  I made available some instructional videos on finding area of parallelograms and triangles.  After calculating area, students were to design their idea of the perfect learning space.  Though they could be as creative as they wanted, I tried to instill the fact that their ideas could find themselves being played out in real life.  The plans are coming in and I'm interested to see what we can do with all these ideas.

Making wide scale changes isn't easy.  Sometimes, however, the risk not to change is greater than the risk to change.  When faced with great, good just isn't good enough.  I am much happier seeing my students climbing on the counters toting tape measurers, than I am having them regurgitate words on a page.  And I think they're much happier too.

It's a start.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Citizenship! Digital or not.

Before we start talking about digital citizenship, I think we need to talk about just plain old citizenship.  Possibly the problems we have with: "who should be teaching it" and "what should be taught" might be solved better if we take the digital out of citizenship for a moment.  Here is a popular Youtube Video (by xinz57) about it:

It's fast but at the end we get some definitions:

Digital Citizenship is: etiquette, access, responsibility, using the internet effectively, easy to learn, communication, understanding technology, literacy, social media done right, respect, being private, commerce, appropriate use, creating, important, sharing, the future, participating, your internet trail, yours.

(spent enough time pausing and playing cassette tapes to learn guitar licks and love song lyrics in my day. . .this was child's play)

Anyway, the list has that "do the right thing" emphasis: etiquette, responsibility, effectiveness, appropriateness, done right-ness.  Even the ideas like creating and sharing are just the start of what I think we might consider citizenship.  Now, I like the video.  I think I may have even used the video at some point.  But we must go deeper.

Recently, at the fourth #bcedchat, digital citizenship was the topic.  Here is an excerpt:

Though there was the "watch out there is danger out there" and the "thou shalt not's" in terms of piracy, I was very encouraged that I saw some positive citizenship ideas.

What a sad state we would be in if in life we lived by the watch-outs and the do-nots.   Doesn't citizenship include: do something great.  Do something kind.  Do something meaningful.  Sure we can include: do something proper and do something safe; but safe and proper doesn't make the world a better place.  Just makes it properly safe.

I think we know what model citizens are.  Here are some examples: 10-year-old helps catch suspect in theft, receives Citizen Award; 18-year-old who raised money for Islamic Relief Syria Appeal nominated for award.  These students have risen above safety and what is proper.  They've done something caring, something selfless, even put themselves on the line.  That is what true citizenship is; and we know it.  We've seen cities, countries, even the whole world come together to aid when a certain disaster has happened.  So let's not narrow our idea of citizenship when we add the word digital in front of it.

So let's add the digital.  Let's add the digital to what we already know about citizenship.  What is the difference?

Could it be put simply as: extending our reach in doing great, kind and meaningful things with the help of technology?  How is that for a starting point?  Does that definition change how we might instill digital citizenship in our students?  Can digital citizenship really be taught apart from plain old citizenship?

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

When fear drives the bus

I wish I could explain the extent to how boneheaded I've been.  I'll try.

It was the first assignment I had given out in a new teaching job: a friendly letter to the teacher.  I required students to type out all the necessary components of a letter: names, addresses, greetings.  And I wanted each student to tell me in this letter about themselves, their family make up, what they like to do.  But I wanted to take the assignment one step further.  No one was going to print this letter out.  No.  We were going paperless.  Each student would upload the letter to my webpage and I would mark the assignment from there.

I was called into the office the next day.  Seems the webpage was an unprotected site.  I had created an online predator's dream: names, addresses, descriptions.  Needless to say the site came down quick, fast and in a hurry and some trees paid the ultimate price for this assignment's submission.

Now this was before we had hand-in boxes and SharePoint levels of access.  It was a time when we were all just figuring things out.

But it scared me.

I was reminded of how I have to tread slowly in my use of technology as I teach.  Maybe my passions were quelled, my excitement abated.  The experience may have even stalled me from the tech immersion direction in which I may have been headed.  Paper just seemed so much...safer.

I am wondering if that feeling, that fear of putting the wrong things out there, is more common than we think.  I have seen student blog sites locked down tighter than Knox.  I have heard Facebook spoken in schools as if it was a dirty word.  And I have known districts to move at a snail's pace when it came to addressing social media and education.

And now you know I can empathize.
Unfortunately, there is another growing fear in Canadian education: FIPPA fear.  FIPPA (Freedom of Information / Protection of Privacy Act), especially in British Columbia, is a tight policy that includes stringent rules around public bodies storing their clients information outside of Canada.

Storage and access must be in Canada

from: Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act
[RSBC 1996] CHAPTER 165
Every cloud based service and their dog stores their data outside of Canada.  It's much cheaper and allows some of the smaller companies to even survive.  So that means that Google Apps, Dropbox, Khan Academy, Edmodo, Edublogs, Prezi and pretty much every other educational tech offering are off limits to BCers without parental consent in the prescribed manner.  But even with consent, there seems to be a feeling of: "I gotta watch myself here."

Trepidation may lead to "why bother, it's too complicated."  My experience has been that because of this trepidation, I've had to push myself to move ahead and often I have felt alone in it.  I wonder if there are others out there that feel the same.

"We can do it ourselves" is often the answer to FIPPA.  Is it the best answer?  Are we, the Canadians, leading the world in cutting edge tech offerings for our students?  Now, I am not advocating changes to FIPPA nor am I saying that thoughtfulness when considering the incorporation of tech initiatives in schools is a waste of time.

What I am getting at is that fear shouldn't be behind the wheel.  In fact, if we pull an ostrich-head-sanding maneuver, we're actually being negligent.  Students are signing up for social media sights faster than ipod touch users take to unlocked wifi.  They need guidance.  The discussions about digital citizenship, social media, and learning management systems need to happen.  Districts would do well to walk in the teachers' shoes and ask: "what do you need?" and "how can we make that happen?"  And collaborative mentorship guiding teachers to use technology properly and safely is paramount.  The fear of technology in whatever form it takes can be faced.