Getting Started with Project Based Teaching

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StartingLine-1Some teachers struggle with project based teaching, because they are unsure of where to begin or how to generate ideas for projects. In her book Project Based Teaching: How to Create Rigorous and Engaging Learning Experiences, author Suzie Boss suggests the following as potential project starters:

  1. Headlines.  The items that are making the news often interest students and provide opportunities to create projects. Scan your favorite news site for stories that might pique an interest.
  2. Popular culture. Listen to your students talking before and after the bell. What are they talking about? What movies are they seeing? Who are their favorite musicians and performers? These items provide great opportunities for projects.
  3. Real requests. Many students have connections with local employers via after school jobs or family relationships. These employers have needs that could be addressed through project based teaching. For example, a community reorganization committee may need to website to share information with stakeholders. Students could become involved in that type of project.
  4. Your own passions. Sometimes you as a teacher have interests that would engage students and become great projects. Share yourself with the students and see what kind of response you get.
  5. Collaboration.  Schools are filled with opportunities for collaboration and offer opportunities to address problems that impact students and staff alike. Be attentive to these moments. A few years ago, students at a nearby college became concerned about how much water was being used and how much waste was being generated from the dining hall. The students and faculty joined forces to examine the issue, gather real data, and make recommendations for improvement. The college accepted the student recommendations and reduced water use and waste in their dining halls.
  6. Existing projects. Many ongoing projects exist and are readily accessible via the internet. Enabling the Future, the International Education and Resource Network, the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education, and Out of Eden Walk offer ongoing project collaborations for students.

As you plan for next week, explore the opportunities you have for projects. Work with your students to select a project that will engage in new and exciting ways. You and your students will benefit greatly!



Take a Walk through the Gallery

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student gallery walkTwo summers ago my family and I had the pleasure of visiting the MIT Museum in Boston (https://mitmuseum.mit.edu). The museum displays technology developed by students and faculty, machines, and artwork. As we moved throughout the displays, we talked about the things we saw, pointing out items of interest and questioning things that didn’t quite make sense. We learned much from our exploration and dialogue.

In the book Project Based Teaching: How to Create Rigorous and Engaging Learning Experiences, author Suzie Boss shares a “gallery walk” protocol for reviewing student works in progress, so that students receive quality formative feedback from a number of peer perspectives. Boss shares the following guidelines for a gallery walk (pp. 28-29):

  1. Post work to be reviewed on classroom walls or in digital stations. Make sure the artifacts are clearly visible.
  2. Provide students with sticky notes or a feedback guide to be used during the gallery walk.
  3. Explain the criteria for providing feedback. Use the project rubric as a checklist, and provide sentence starters for completion.
  4. Instruct students to move around the room silently to give feedback.
  5. After the gallery walk, have each student who received feedback share it with the class. Have the student reflect on the feedback and plan steps for improving the project.

Students may need to briefly present their project to reviewers during the gallery walk. Allow it. Students may want to provide specific prompts for feedback regarding their project. Allow it. The goal is for students to get their projects reviewed while in progress, so they can make adjustments along the way.

As you plan for next week, think about the things your students are working on. Do any of your classes have projects that would benefit from a gallery walk? If so, plan for about 20 to 30 minutes for such a session. Your students and their projects will benefit greatly.

Checking the Weather

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weather imageSeveral years ago I had the privilege of working with a veteran of the United States Air Force. When I asked about his role in the service, he informed me that he was an Airborne Climatologist who was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army. He went on to explain that his job was to go up in the plane with the 101st while they were on a mission and monitor the weather to ensure that the climate was conducive to a safe deployment. He further explained the measurements and checklists he followed to ensure that the team would be able to safely and successfully execute their mission.

In the classroom, you are the climatologist. You can assess the environment to ensure that it is conducive to student learning. In the book Project Based Teaching: How to Create Rigorous and Engaging Learning Experiences, author Suzie Boss shares the following checklist to help you audit your classroom to ensure a positive climate for learning (pp. 26-27):

  1. What students see: Do photos, posters, and artwork reflect students’ cultures and backgounds? Do students have choice regarding what is displayed? Is student work prominent?
  2. What students think and say: Are students’ thoughts captured and displayed on the boards or in classroom norms? Are works in progress displayed or only finished work? Are student supports (i.e. word walls, sentence frames, etc.) visible in the room?
  3. Seating arrangements: Is seating flexible, allowing for individual work, pairs, or other small groups? Does the classroom setup accommodate for students with special needs?
  4. Who owns the stuff: Are tools, books, and resources for learning readily accessible for students, or does the teacher control them?
  5. Learning in process: Is it evident what types of projects the learners are working on? Is the work of high quality? Are models available? Are rubrics visible?

Conduct a quick classroom audit as you prepare for next week. Make adjustments as you see fit. Ultimately, your classroom will become more conducive to learning, and your students will benefit greatly.

A Measure, Not THE Measure

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nfl catchNFL scouts use a spider graph to assess prospective wide receivers on twelve elements they deem important to success in the league. Those elements include height, weight, arm length, hand size, 10-yard dash, 40-yard dash, bench press, broad jump, cone drill, 20-yard shuttle, and 60-yard shuttle.   During a presentation at the ASCD Conference on Educational Leadership last October, Myron Dueck reviewed the spider graphs and actual game statistics of three top ten picks and one 63rd round pick. Interestingly, the 63rd round pick had the worst spider graph, but the best game performance statistics during his first few seasons in the NFL. Dueck went on to explain that the spider graph was A measure, but not necessarily THE measure of success in the NFL for these players.   The spider graph cannot measure all the intangibles, such as work ethic and sheer determination, necessary to be successful.

The same holds true for educators.  Nearly every state employs some type of standardized test for its students and reports the results publicly.  This represents A measure, but not necessarily THE measure of success for our schools. Is this good information to know? Absolutely. We need to know how our students are doing on these state assessments, and we need to continue to improve our pedagogy and practices in order to give students the opportunity to perform well on these assessments. Is the state test the only measure we should use? Absolutely not. We must be continually mindful of the fact that our students will continue to learn and grow in our schools, because of our efforts and their own grit.

All across the country on a school day, students and teachers will bee engaged in a variety of activities. Students and teachers will be laughing and enjoying their work. They will be in safe facilities.   These are the successes that cannot be quantified by the state assessment.

Keep up the great work! You are making a huge difference in the lives of our students!!

Does Classroom Dialogue Make A Difference For Student Learning?

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classroom dialougueOften attributed to the philosopher and teacher Socrates, classroom dialogue, whether teacher to student or student to student, has been considered essential pedagogy for centuries. Even as we move boldly into the 21st century and focus on communication as an essential skill, we continue to acknowledge the importance of dialogue in the classroom. Does it really make a difference in student learning?

University of Cambridge researchers Christine Howe, Sara Hennessy, Neil Mercer, Maria Vrikki, and Lisa Wheatley conducted a study to find out the answer. To determine an answer, the team filmed 72 classrooms of 10 to 11 year-old students in a variety of urban and rural settings. The total number of students observed was 1700. Classroom dialogue was analyzed and standardized achievement data from the 1700 students was analyzed. The major findings indicated three aspects of dialogue that strongly predicted performance on the standardized tests administered:

  1. Elaboration – Students who were encouraged to elaborate and build upon prior knowledge or others’ ideas fared better on the standardized exams.
  2. Questioning – Students who were encouraged to question and reason fared better on the standardized exams.
  3. Student participation – Classrooms where student participation was high produced students who fared better on the standardized exams.

To learn more about the study, visit http://www.educ.cam.ac.uk/research/projects/classroomdialouge/. As you prepare for your classroom next week, find ways to encourage elaboration, encourage questioning, and encourage student participation. You and your students will benefit greatly!

Let My Students Think

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child thinkingThink time is an important part of the communication process that is often overlooked in planning. Those periods of silence in the flow of a lesson can be awkward for students and teachers alike, but those moments of thought can yield tremendous insights from students.

What should a teacher do during the silence of a student in thought? In her article All the Time They Need, author Ellin Oliver Keene writes about using think time with students who are learning English as a second language. The following suggestions for those quiet pauses for reflection can be used with all students (Keene, E. O. (2014). All the Time They Need, Educational Leadership, 72(3), 66-71):

  1. Restate a question or comment the student previously made
  2. Tell other students you respect the thought time
  3. Offer the student an opportunity to review something related to the question
  4. Ask all students to quietly reread the text in question
  5. Use silent signals (i.e. lowering your hand, thinking pose) to encourage other students to lower their hands and wait
  6. Ask students to write down comments or questions to be included later in the dialogue

Giving individual students time to think in the communication process can help other students develop their thoughts as well. Over time, silent thought will become the norm and students will begin to use it independently. As you prepare for next week, plan for a little quiet space in student communication opportunities. You and your students will benefit greatly!

Thinking About Communication Opportunities

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students work togetherStudents need the opportunity to practice communication skills in the classroom. If you are having difficulty coming up with communication-type activities for your students, the following list may help:

Oral Communication

  1. “How To” Speeches – Let the students teach you something like making a peanut butter sandwich or tying shoes. These are more powerful when a student tells you how to do something and you must comply verbatim on the spot. Students will very quickly see which details they left out.
  2. The Elevator Speech – Students have an elevator ride (usually 30 seconds or so) to introduce themselves or their ideas. They have to be specific and succinct.
  3. Give A Famous Speech – Students simply give a famous speech (or segment). Try Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

Written Communication

  1. Print Ads, Posters, and Flyers – Have students develop written print media to support their speeches.
  2. Essays, White Papers, and Research – Have students pick a topic of interest and write, write, write!
  3. Questions – Have students write questions during presentations and use those to guide further discussion and/or research.

Interpersonal Communication

  1. Dear Sir or Madam – Have students write letters or emails to one another, other teachers, or places of interest.
  2. Develop Collaborative Teams – Have students work together on projects and presentations, so that they learn to communicate well with others.
  3. Practice active listening – Teach students to engage in active listening through eye contact, nonverbal cues, and restatement of the ideas articulated.

The possibilities for student communication in the classroom are endless. This list was informed and inspired by the work of Alexandra D. Owens’ article Building Communication Skills in Your 21st Century Classroom (http://edu.stemjobs.com/developing-21st-century-skills-communication). Generate your own list and start exploring communication with your students.