Monday, November 29, 2010

Computational Thinking in Real-Life Projects

Isn't it surprising that with all the technology available to our students, fewer and fewer of them are pursuing education and careers that will have them inventing technologies? The U.S. talent pool from which the next innovations spring is shrinking and NCWIT By the Numbers (pdf) tells the story.
In the interest of changing this trend, Computer Science Education Week was born. From December 5-11 folks around the country are mobilizing to:
  • Eliminate misperceptions about computer science and computing careers
  • Communicate the endless opportunities for which computer science education prepares students within K-12, and into their higher education and careers
  • Provide information and activities for students, educators, parents, and IT professionals to advocate for computer science education at all levels
Visit the site and make a pledge to raise awareness of the role computing plays in all our lives and to promote computer science education for all students.

Here's where PBL comes in. All teachers (not just CS teachers!) have a role in developing the computational thinking patterns that are foundational to computer science.
"Computational thinking is a way of solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior that draws on concepts fundamental to computer science. To flourish in today's world, computational thinking has to be a fundamental part of the way people think and understand the world."
The right learning opportunity combined with accessible technologies -from spreadsheets to Scratch to modeling software- can encourage the exploration of computational concepts during real-life problem solving. With more "computational thinking" experiences under their belts, it's likely more kids will see how harnessing the power of computer science can help them invent and improve their world.

One example? Middle school students in Ohio became concerned about broken city sidewalks that hampered mobility for senior and disabled citizens. By making an inventory of sidewalk quality and studying foot traffic patterns students were able to create a model that they presented to the city council in support of their recommendations for sidewalk repair. Identifying the problem so it could be studied through data inventory and analysis was just the start of the computational thinking involved in the sidewalk project. Determining how to associate foot traffic patterns and sidewalk quality was another computational challenge, as was how to best represent the problem in an infographic.

What aspects of your projects could be amped up to draw on and develop computational thinking?

Learn more about CT from Jeanette Wing:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Take a World Tour of Education

It's been a busy week, with stops in Turkmenistan, India, Australia, and the Mentawai Islands. And that was just Monday.
The first-ever Global Education Conference is underway from Nov. 15-19. This free virtual event has unleashed a world of learning opportunities for anyone with an Internet connection and a sense of curiosity. Sessions are running around the clock, with 400+ presenters eager to share their insights. Many are talking about global collaborative projects, which should be of particular interest to anyone who's involved in project-based learning.
This post for Edutopia covers all the basics, including links to recordings.
There's still plenty of time to take your own world tour. Where do you want to go next?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Today's News, Tomorrow's Projects?

In a post for Edutopia this week, I talked about developing "ripped from the headlines" projects, using the news as a launching pad for in-depth learning. The idea is to go beyond current-events discussions and bring students into the the role of problem-solver, analyst, or perhaps even advocate for change.
Conversations with teachers about this idea have me thinking about both opportunities and challenges. In a follow-up discussion on Teachers Teaching Teachers, for instance, Kevin Hodgson brought up the issue of how to fit in such projects, given the real constraints of time and curriculum. Matt Montagne emphasized the need for teachers (and students) to own a project idea if it's going to take hold. Chris Sloan cited the recent election season as an opportunity to use a real event to get students involved in a critical study of language.
In the comments to my Edutopia post, there were several inspiring examples of real-world projects--countered by a writer who argued for teaching basics first before launching into more contemporary topics in the classroom.
I'm eager to keep gathering examples of "ripped from the headlines" projects. What have you tried with your students? What were the pitfalls? The benefits? Let me know, and I'll share your wisdom in a follow-up post.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Put Out the Welcome Mat

More than a decade ago, experts took a look at the reasons why parents become involved—or not—in their children’s education. Researchers Kathleen Hoover-Dempsey and Howard Sandler narrowed their focus to these three key factors:

  • · How parents view their “job description,” including their responsibility for their children’s learning
  • · How confident parents feel about their ability to help their kids
  • · Whether parents feel invited and welcome at school.

That third factor is the one that educators have the greatest opportunity to influence. How welcoming does your school feel to parents? (Have you ever asked them?) When you communicate with families, do you tend to pass along announcements and due dates, or invite parents to be real partners in their children’s education?

I had a chance to discover some of the creative ways schools are connecting with families while researching new publication for Edutopia. Home-to-School Connections Guide: Tips, Tech Tools, and Strategies for Improving Family-to-School Communication is just out, and you can download a free copy here.

Many of the tips you’ll find here come from colleagues and other Edutopia community members who responded to my inquiries with a host of good ideas in blogs, online discussion groups, and on Twitter. (Tip #10 includes a nifty idea from Jane Krauss about how to connect parents with their kids’ learning.)

Clearly, schools are getting more creative about connecting with parents. The guide includes examples of how they’re using Facebook and other social media to open conversations with families. Some tips offer new takes on old-fashioned ideas, such as making reading a family affair. And, of course, many ideas come from the reporting that Edutopia has done about what works in public education.

How do you forge stronger partnerships with your parents? Please share your ideas, and we’ll keep growing this conversation.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Crying for Solutions

Several years back, when I was an editor at an educational research organization, we produced materials for a federal initiative to promote school safety. Among our most popular publications was a fact sheet on strategies to prevent bullying. The solutions seemed so straightforward: Don't ignore it. Create a climate of respect. Make it safe to ask for help.
Fast forward a decade or more, and bullying persists as an issue that just won't go away. Indeed, it continues to mutate as new technologies are harnessed for the hideous cause of attacking another person's humanity.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Scarcely a week in, we've seen headlines about a gang in New York that viciously attacked two teens and an adult male because they happen to be gay. We've heard a candidate for governor of the same state describe gay people as "disgusting." And then refuse to apologize for his bigotry. We've heard more reports about a New Jersey college student named Tyler Clementi who jumped off a bridge after his classmates used Twitter, a webcam, and YouTube to torment him by broadcasting details of his intimate life. (OK, that happened in September.)
Clearly, this is a problem that's still crying for solutions.
What can we do to make sure we don't continue to face the same problem in another decade? For starters, take a look at a project called Not In Our School. It grew out of an anti-hate campaign called Not In Our Town, which itself grew out of a documentary by the same name. (My recent Edutopia post includes more background.) Resources for schools include no-nonsense classroom materials and a social media campaign that encourages kids to create and share their own anti-bullying messages.
Can a campaign make a difference? Take a look at the Not in Our School videos from Gunn High in Palo Alto or Shaw High School in East Cleveland, Ohio, and see for yourself. Better yet, share them with your students. And get the conversation started.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tools for Infographics

The other day Suzie and I participated in an author talk with a special interest group for media specialists, ISTE's SIGMS. We touched on the topic of infographics and folks wanted to know what tools people use to make them.

Wouldn't you know it, Flowing Data, the infographics site I recommended to the group, just polled their readers about their design tools and the results are here!

In addition to these I know student Michael Greenberg uses InDesign, and others recommend these:

Google Spreadsheets:

Science Pipes(for biodiversity data)

Tableau Public:


Glogster (for interactive poster-making):

Have fun with infographics and tell us about your experiences with them!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

PBL, Information Literacy & Infographics

I just drafted a book chapter that includes a big treatment of infographics. I'm excited to share what I've learned and get your

<= (awesome)

thoughts on infographics and other means for building information literacy. What are your favorite resources, methods, and tips?

PBL, Information Literacy & Infographics
Please join me on September 16 at 5:00 p/6:00m/7:00c/8:00e on Elluminate. Here is the Learn Central link to the event.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

This is an infographic and a puzzle

Is it possible to determine where this signpost is situated in the world? for a close look...

Wouldn't this be a fun project? Share four of five photos of signposts from around the world and have groups of kids try to figure out where they are situated. You'd have to pick photos where the signs' locations are not identified!

from the Flickr Creative Commons, #signpost
...more thinking...
This might be a "jump off" activity for a community project. Find something distinctive about your town, relate it to others around the world, put up signs. (The little town of Florence, OR has sign posts to all the Florences in the world.) More ideas:
  • Origins: 1) Relate local settler or military hero statues to others, 2) Relate local commerce (mint growing in small towns in Oregon) to other regions with same commercial interest, 3) Get demographics of the area and make signs pointing to nations of origin.
  • Events: 1) Notable disasters: big flood, tornado, and so on, 2) Birthplaces (your town spawned Jay Leno, signposts point to birthplaces of other TV figures), 3) Your annual Berry Festival or Summer Jazz Jam isn't likely the only one going...
  • What would you add?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Jump-Start Your School Year

Just published and free to download, Edutopia's Back-to-School Guide is full of suggestions for incorporating new media into learning during the first weeks of school.
Thanks to all who shared suggestions, and please let me know about tools and tips to keep in mind for next year. Never too soon to plan ahead!

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Futures Channel

I just learned about The Futures Channel and am excited to share their films with teachers wanting to introduce their students to "Real Math, Real Science, Real Careers." Start with Aquarium Makers (click on pic) and see how passion, science and math combine to make the world more beautiful.

I can imagine using this video as a launching pad for a project where kids design an aquarium to fit a space in their school and actually have one built. What else would happen along the way? Lots of math and physics, design rendering (blue prints, sketchup), meetings with engineers, architects, expert aquarists and fabricators, charette protocols, pitches to the school board or parent group, a fund raising campaign and creation of a media kit. Think ninth or tenth graders could carry this off?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

PBL Camp: Now the Real Fun Begins

(Cross-posted from Edutopia)

Back in July, we kicked off Edutopia’s first-ever Project-Based Learning Camp by posing a big question: How can educators turn the Gulf oil disaster into meaningful learning for students?

Four weeks of brainstorming and collaboration later, participants have emerged from this online experience with some inspired ideas. Our final webinar turned into a celebration as teacher teams shared their innovative projects and reflected on their process.
What’s ahead for these teachers—and for their students? Here are just a few examples.

Fight for Your Life: In Georgia, Mike Reilly’s ninth-graders will be exploring what happens when human demand for life-sustaining water outstrips supply. Student investigations into water wars may lead them to create movies, presentations, computer games, or even physical demonstrations of their understanding. Giving students a choice is intentional, Reilly says, so that they will “own” the project—and their own learning. He plans to start with a school-based project (in collaboration with a language arts teacher), and then eventually connect with the other four PBL Campers who collaborated on this project, titled “Fight for Your Life.”
The Pandora Project: What does it mean to be human? And how can we take better care of the planet we share? Those are among the intriguing questions students will be exploring in “The Pandora Project.” Developed by Jennifer Duann from Lima, Ohio, and Zahra Belyea from Massachusetts, “Pandora” uses James Cameron’s film Avatar as the springboard for learning. By the end of the project, students will be designing their own worlds—and human-like inhabitants. Duann comes at the project as a biology teacher and Belyea as a language arts teacher currently working in an alternative high school setting. They hope the project not only takes students deep into understanding life science, but also builds empathy.
It Affects Us All: A huge team—16 elementary teachers—came together to develop yet another project, called “It Affects Us All.” They will be connecting their classes throughout the year—reading and discussing environmental novels, reporting on their local ecology, and collaborating on service projects. Jennifer Ower from San Bernardino, Calif., and Kristin Hoins from Telluride, Colo., shared their insights about planning this ambitious project during the webinar. For Ower, this is her first “full-blown PBL. It’s how I’ve always wanted to teach,” she says. Hoins, who is moving into a new role as technology coordinator for her intermediate school, sees the project as an opportunity “for our students to have an authentic audience for their ideas.” Technology tools will be infused throughout the project, enabling students to accomplish a variety of important learning goals.

As I listened to teachers describe their plans, I could hear the excitement in their voices. They can’t wait to launch these projects. By designing projects that connect students with real-life issues, they have set the stage for relevant, meaningful learning. You can’t get this from a textbook. At the same time, they have thought long and hard about the content standards that they plan to address. Their plans should lead to rigorous learning and genuine problem-solving.

Best of all, the good thinking and creative resources that came out of PBL Camp are now available for any other teacher to borrow or learn from. All the webinars and weekly learning activities from PBL Camp are now archived at Edutopia. The project plans are available to borrow in the PBL Camp wiki. If you want to brainstorm with teachers who have taken the lead on developing these project plans, you can connect with them in Edutopia’s PBL community.

So, back to that initial question: How can teachers help turn the Gulf disaster into meaningful learning for students? Like any good driving question in PBL, this can’t be solved with one “right” answer. It’s deliberately open-ended and focuses on a messy, real-life problem. And as PBL Campers quickly discovered, one good question naturally leads to others.
But answers are on the way. In the months ahead, look for more news about PBL Camp as we provide updates on projects from across the country. Voices on the Gulf, a new online community for student publishing, is another place to watch students tackle hard questions and make meaning about one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.

It’s been a privilege to work with PBL Campers and watch them dive deeply into project planning together. As one participant told me after our final webinar, “The results today demonstrate how powerful this is, and how quickly people figure it out and jump in swimming. It has been an excellent proof-of-concept for social invention.”
And it’s going to get even more interesting when students enter the picture. So stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Whose Stories Get Told?

A/V Geeks is amazing! This video on immigration would be a great jumping off point, causing kids to ask "Whose stories get told?" I think they'd be driven to improve and update this narrative. I apologize for the ad that precedes it.

Watch Immigration (1946) in Educational | View More Free Videos Online at

I'm always on the hunt for "entry events," kick off events that will engage and focus kids. Send me yours!

Monday, August 9, 2010

“When are we ever going to use this?”

Wouldn’t it be nice if no student ever felt compelled to ask that question again? Project teachers should rarely have to answer it. When a project makes math a necessity, the question becomes, “How could we have ever done this without math?”

Imagine an interdisciplinary middle school project that has a lot of math in it. It unfolds across many classrooms and throughout each day.

Our Golden Year

Our Golden Year taps into the fascinating world of gold across many projects and kids learn lots through these subjects and topics:
  • Social Studies –History of gold and world cultures, symbolism and rites, alchemy, gold and conflict, history of gold as legal tender
  • Earth Science/Geography –Gold -a mineral that exists the earth in different forms and is distributed across the earth, prospecting and mining
  • Engineering –Mining, extraction, and refining, gold in medicine, industry, and electronics
  • Chemistry/Physics –Elemental properties, refining gold, alchemy
  • Economics –Gold as a trade commodity, as a monetary standard, the relationship of scarcity and value
  • Language Arts –Historical narratives, symbolism across cultures, in the forms of fairytales, folklore, poetry, playwriting, philosophy of worth and value, journalism about gold
  • Fine Arts –Ornamentation, jewelry making, gilding, gold in art, poetry, theatre, dance and music
Wouldn't this be fun? It would be interesting to have the math teacher take on a new role, helping teachers teach math in the contexts of their projects. What do you think?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Help the Unicorns

Jane here. I worked with the staff of a fine arts magnet middle school in Tucson this week (Go Unicorns!) that was grappling with the difference between activity-based learning and project-based learning. Through discussion we came close to an operational definition of each, which could help them sort and improve their project ideas. They would like to be able to say, for example, "No, I think that's more of an activity, it's not really a project. A project would be/have..."
Would you throw in your two cents? Utterback MS (amazing place) and I thank you!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Project Brief - On not hard-wiring a PBL too soon

Suzie and I have been working with teachers on pbl design for a while and we've hit on a new strategy. I'd like your opinion! As with many approaches, we start by having folks determine the Big Ideas of the disciplines they teach. They select several interrelated objectives and talk with others about real-life applications and interdisciplinary connections. In classic PBL design folks would now start planning assessment, determining what students would demonstrate to show attainment of new knowledge and skills. We skip over this momentarily to add an intermediate, iterative step we call the "project brief."

The project brief is the germ of an idea presented in a short paragraph (think 'elevator speech'). It gives critical friends just enough information to understand what kids will do and learn. It's intentionally brief so 1) the teacher doesn't get overly invested in a 'hard-wired' plan, 2) it's not overladen with procedural detail and is easy for a reader to digest, and 3) it's still malleable and can be improved or chucked altogether in favor of a better idea. If a teacher presents a brief that isn't clear he answers questions, gets feedback and advice, and works on it some more. Critical friends plump up a plan, advising on ways to strengthen the project.
Here are some project ideas we've helped shape . Some still need work. What would you advise?

We've used a simplified National School Reform Faculty Constructivist Tuning Protocol (pdf) for reviewing project briefs. Here's our version:

View more presentations from jkrauss.
The next stages, determining evidence of learning and designing the project more comprehensively, go along easier once a solid idea takes shape!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Roger Ebert Gets Me Thinking

There are so many good reasons to follow Roger Ebert on Twitter. Here's just one post.

I could never reason out how a sewing machine worked. On Twitpic
I could never reason out how a sewing machine worked. on Twitpic
Click for a bigger view.

I'm thinking how I'd introduce a 4/5 grade physics motion, design, and mechanics unit with this illustration.
First I'd ask kids to imagine how a sewing machine works. I might give them a needle and thread and scraps of cloth. I'd ask them to draw a diagram or act out what they think happens in the machine. I'd ask them to share their theories and speculate some more. Then I'd show them thread components, (the bobbin and the thread coming off the spindle and through the needle) and have them fuss some more. Then I'd show the machine in action and open the little door that holds the bobbin while the machine is running. Surmise, surmise, surmise. Ultimately I'd show them RE's fabulous illustration.
There are so many key concepts are in play here! Things you could return to, too, like tensile strength. It would make a better entree into physics than the Rube Goldberg approach I've seen too many times. That's funny but too explicit-- lots of what goes on in machines is covert, which is a great reason to use them to get kids theorizing.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

PBL Camp: A Community Comes Together

Edutopia’s first-ever PBL Camp is in now high gear, with campers jumping into active discussions about project ideas relating to the Gulf disaster. Tomorrow is the start of Week Two.
It’s still early, but already several themes are emerging.
PBL Campers are a generous group. We’ve had experienced teachers volunteer to mentor newcomers, and three PBL pros—Jane Krauss, Tristan de Frondeville, and Telannia Norfar—on call to dispense timely advice as PBL Camp Counselors. Karen McMillan (@McTeach) has gone out of her way to help teachers get comfortable using the various tech tools we are introducing throughout this four-week adventure.
Teachers are eager to collaborate. This week, we’re encouraging Campers to buddy up with a colleague or two (or more) on a project planning team. Collaboration has already started in the discussions at Edutopia, where teachers are quick to recognize the value of working together.
We’re all learning in plain sight. PBL Camp is unfolding publicly, with planning conversations taking place online at Edutopia, on Twitter, and on a planning wiki. Unlike most PBL resources, which typically showcase finished projects, PBL Camp opens a window on the planning and brainstorming stage. All the resources, webinars, and discussions are being archived here.
Opportunity keeps knocking. PBL Campers are part of a bigger community of educators who are looking to turn the Gulf disaster into meaningful learning. We have made wonderful connections with Teachers Teaching Teachers (thanks to co-hosts Paul Allison and Susan Ettenheim). Eric Brunsell, assistant professor of science education from Wisconsin, is sharing his ideas and resources for engaging science projects. And more connections are in the works.
Of course, we'll find ways to stay connected as a community once camp ends and teachers start implementing these amazing projects with students. Till then, let's camp!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Let's Camp!

Today was the kickoff for Edutopia's PBL Camp. The big goal is to turn the Gulf disaster into meaningful learning opportunities for students. We had excellent turnout for the webinar (which will be recorded and available online soon), and that leaves me hopeful about where this group is heading.
The Wordle image above captures campers' reflections on this question: What do you hope your students will remember most about the project you plan this summer? (We used Wallwisher for brainstorming--check out the PBL Camp Wall here.)
In many ways, we're using PBL methods to plan and implement PBL Camp. It's a team effort all the way. As facilitator, I'm collaborating with Betty Ray, Edutopia's Community Manager. Many more colleagues have agreed to play a role in the weeks ahead.
Like most worthwhile projects, this one has involved considerable advance planning so that participants can hit the ground running. And, we're using technology tools where we need them to do important work (including a wiki for project planning, online discussion groups and Twitter for conversations, and Delicious for tracking resources).
The four weeks of PBL Camp will follow the arc of a project, starting with an open-ended question (How will you make the Gulf oil disaster relevant for your students?), and ending with a celebration of learning. In between, of course, comes the fun of getting hundreds of teachers working together to plan engaging projects.
So as Betty proclaimed at the end of our kickoff today, "Let's camp!"

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Tinkering Under the Hood

At ISTE we got smart and crowd-sourced thinking routines, methods and tools that support inquiry in PBL. Take a look and add your ideas to the Wallwisher walls and Google Doc. (All links show in one place on the final slide.)

Friday, July 9, 2010

It matters what you call it.

It matters what you call it.
Many of us will be studying the BP Deep Horizon oil well disaster with students when school starts again. As you begin, how will you refer to it? I've been ruminating on this because I think it's important that we frame the study by naming it precisely. I hear "Gulf oil spill" tossed around but that's inert. "Gulf" says where, "oil spill" says what, but how about greater specificity? Who was responsible? What failed? What is the scale of the thing? I propose we call it what it is: the BP Deep Horizon Oil Well Disaster. Do you have a better idea? I'd like to hear it.

It matters how you see it.
How will you help kids visualize the scope of the oil well disaster? Here's a terrific visualization tool by If It Was My Home, a Google Map overlay you can place right over your town to get a sense of the sheer size of the oily mess. Notice that If It Was My Home cares about how we talk about this too - It's not a spill, it's a disaster.

In his blog Teaching Science 2.0, Eric Brunsell, Asst. Professor, University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh presents infographics links and plenty of other resources you'll find useful for studying the BPDHOWD. He starts off with a video and prompt to get viewers thinking (I'd press students' media literacy into service to figure out point of view) and follows with advice on how to center in on a project by "messing about" first.

Meet Camp Sergeant Suzie and the Edutopia Campers
Suzie Boss is heading up Edutopia's PBL Summer Camp where all "campers" will work together to whittle out projects relating to the oil well disaster. A thousand campers signed up in just two and a half days so you can't join, but you can certainly see everything going on, including the discussions and weekly webinars. Learn more here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Let's Meet at ISTE

With ISTE just around the corner, we're looking forward to the chance to connect with fellow PBL advocates. We've met many of you in the virtual world. Now's our chance to meet face to face. Here are a few events we hope you'll attend:

Birds of a Feather: Join us for a PBL Birds of a Feather event on Monday (6/28), 4:45-6:15 pm, room CCC 205/207

Hands-on Session: Tinkering Under the Hood: Strategies to Enhance Critical Thinking, Tuesday (6/29), 3:30-4:30 pm, CCC Korbel Ballroom 2A.
Plan on an engaging conversation about the role of inquiry in PBL.

Book Signing: We'll be signing copies of Reinventing Project-Based
and answering questions, Tuesday (6/29), 5-6 p.m., CCC, Lobby D

Poster Session: The Innovator's Toolkit, Wednesday (6/30), 8-10 am, CCC Lobby A.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

SLA- Franklin Institute Graduation Ceremony 2010 127

SLA- Franklin Institute Graduation Ceremony 2010 127
Originally uploaded by Darryl W. Moran

Here they are, the first graduates of Science Leadership Academy. Read Principal Chris Lehmann's speech to students here. He says it all. Congratulations to Chris, the dedicated staff of SLA and to the graduating class of 2010!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What Projects Ask of Us

Jane and I just wrapped up two days of PBL planning with a wonderful group of teachers at the Laptop Leaders Academy in Mitchell, South Dakota. By the end of our session, they all had at least one project plan in draft stage, incorporating appropriate technology tools to meet essential learning goals. Better yet, they made new connections with one another which will continue to support them as they integrate the project approach into teaching and learning.
This Wordle image captures their brainstorming about the qualities that real-world projects ask of us (and our students). It's a pretty compelling list of traits. (Anything you'd add?)
We'll be checking back to see how the ideas that were sparked this week grow into authentic projects during the coming school year. Can't wait to hear more about projects that involve incorporating geometry into playground design, or challenging students to develop wellness plans for community members, or documenting the stories of World War II veterans.
Good luck and thanks to our new friends in South Dakota!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Projects for Earth Day--and Every Day

Just in time for Earth Day, Edutopia has released Think Green: Tips and Resources for Earth-Friendly Learning Projects. You can download a free copy here.
Each project idea includes supporting resources and classroom examples to help you get started. Some projects will take advance planning to launch with your students, but here's one idea you can adopt today: Pledge to Teach Paperless.
The paperless pledge is the brainchild of Shelly Blake-Plock, a Maryland high school teacher (find him on Twitter @TeachPaperless). As I explain in the Edutopia guide, he used to be a paper junkie. He got over it when his school adopted laptops, and that prompted him to blog about his transformation to paperless teaching. One thing led to another, and before long he was spearheading a campaign to break the paper habit in schools worldwide. As of today, Earth Day, nearly 1,500 teachers have signed on.
But that's just the beginning. Going to a paperless classroom turns out to be a golden opportunity to rethink teaching habits. Steve Katz has started collecting paper alternatives. Naturally, he's created a collaborative online doc to capture the collective wisdom.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Power of One (x Many)

A recording of last week's webinar with Greg Mortenson is now available at Edutopia.
On this page, you'll find a collection of links to service-learning resources. And here, you'll find a story about one girl who was inspired by his story and started her own Pennies for Peace project.
As Greg explained during our conversation, many students begin with Pennies for Peace--and then go on to take part in other service projects. He sees evidence of a growing movement of youth engaged in improving their communities--and the larger world. This can only be good news.
I'd love to hear from teachers who are seeing this happen in their schools. How have your students stepped up to make a difference? How are they changed by the experience?

Friday, April 16, 2010


Does it get any better than this?
That's what I asked myself as I sat across a conference table from Greg Mortenson yesterday morning, waiting to start hosting a webinar for Edutopia. We found out just before showtime that 1,000 attendees were signed in to hear from the author of Three Cups of Tea--and I'd heard through the grapevine that many teachers would be sharing the experience with their students.
Greg took a moment to savor the Marin County scenery just outside the windows, and I could imagine him enjoying a hike across those rolling hills. But as he told us about his crazy speaking schedule--presenting to audiences in the thousands and then catching a night flight to his next gig--it was clear he wouldn't have time for even a quick stroll.
What is it about this man's story that has so captivated audiences? Once the webinar started and he described his 17 years of school-building efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan, a few things stood out. His passion for bringing education to the farthest corners of the globe burns brighter than ever. He has seen firsthand what happens when a school opens to those who have been left out of learning--girls, especially. In his words, "Education is the most powerful weapon we have in the world today."
His family tree is full of teachers--including his parents, grandparents, and great-grands. No surprise, then, that he sent a big shout-out to teachers for the work that they do. (I couldn't hear our audience, but could imagine the cheering.) This was right in keeping with his message about respect as a way of engaging with others--whether they're people in your own community or those living in a village in Afghanistan.
Not surprising, then, that he emphasizes what American kids can learn from children in Central Asia. Although most are growing up without electricity or creature comforts, they enjoy close relationships with their elders. Storytelling remains a big part of their lives. Many are multilingual. And, Greg adds, they love to receive email from American students.
But what really captures audiences' imagination is Greg's humble way of telling his story. He's a living, breathing example of what one motivated person can do. His successes are monumental, but they have taken him years to achieve--one small step at a time, and often after heartbreaking setbacks. At one point, he held up a copy of Three Cups of Tea and pointed to the title of the first chapter: "Failure." His editors gave him grief for that, he says, but he insisted on keeping it. And then he mentioned that in Balti, the language spoken in northern Pakistan, there's no word for failure. "It's just a fork in the road." (I imagined more wild cheering from the audience here.) And success, in Balti, "means you've reached your destination."
As soon as the webinar ended, Greg was racing off to his next destination. But I know that the conversation he started will continue in the education world. From looking at the Twitter comments during the event, I know that many of you came away inspired. I know that I'm going to remember this phrase that Greg has pasted to his bathroom mirror: "When your heart speaks, take good notes."
If you missed the webinar, Edutopia plans to rebroadcast the recording soon. So stayed tuned for details. Meanwhile, you can join other educators in the Edutopia groups to talk about your own ideas for service-learning programs like Pennies for Peace, global education, or the power of good old-fashioned storytelling. See you there!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Essential Conditions for PBL

Jane here! Suzie Boss and I both contribute to this blog and from responses from family and friends I get more credit than I deserve so I'm going to announce myself from now on.

I have been doing some curriculum work around project-based learning recently and I need your advice. We all know PBL works best when certain conditions are in place to support it. What would you say the essential conditions are? I know teacher characteristics, intentions and methods are key, but outside the teacher and students, what else? I'm starting a list and I wonder if you might add to it. Additionally, sometimes the removal of barriers is important, too, so reflect on that, too. Swing for the fences, folks!

Essential Conditions for effective PBL implementation
  • A school culture that tolerates, even encourages, the sometimes messy chaos of student-directed learning.
  • Access to any technologies that support the teaching and learning enterprise
  • A system of accountability that causes a teacher to demonstrate --and parents and administrators to understand-- that rigorous learning aims are met though the PBL.
  • and?
Remove barriers
  • Reconsider when and where learning takes place. Structure some flexibility (oxymoron!) into the school program so spaces and time are less of a limiting factor.
  • and?
Thanks, all. I look forward to your replies.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tea and Conversation

There's a memorable scene in Three Cups of Tea where Greg Mortenson tucks his 6-foot, 4-inch frame into a tiny cable car and pulls himself across a river gorge in northern Pakistan. Reflecting later on the creaky cable that he entrusted to hold him aloft, he said, "If it broke, you'd fall. And if you fell, you were dead."
Overcoming one obstacle after another, Mortenson has helped to build 131 schools in some of the most remote regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. His is a remarkable story of courage, persistence, and cross-cultural understanding. It's also an ideal tale for launching students on their own quest to make a difference in the world through a service-learning program called Pennies for Peace.
I'm delighted to be hosting a webinar for Edutopia on April 15, when Mortenson will talk about his own journey and the examples of youth leadership that he encounters wherever he goes. (This new article from Edutopia introduces one such student from San Diego.)
Are there questions you or your students would like to ask Mortenson? Post them here in the comments, and I'll do my best to pass them along in person. Hope you can join us!
Photo by David Oliver Relin

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Teach Like a Champion

I just read the March 2 NYT Magazine article Building a Better Teacher that looks at the "hidden game" of accomplished teaching. Doug Lemov, teacher, principal, charter-school founder and consultant, decided to study the methods of champion teachers who, working under the most challenging circumstances, are able to reach and teach kids and ultimately, significantly, increase their achievement. His findings, referred to as Lemov's Taxonomy, isolate 49 instructional strategies that make a difference. From "cold call" questioning where every kid gets ready to answer to the "strong voice" technique that ensures a teacher's words are heard, Lemov digs into seemingly small but significant communication and management methods that increase a teacher's effectiveness. The "Taxonomy" is presented in a new book due in April:
Teach Like a Champion: The 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College. (Amazon offers a discount if you preorder!)
I look forward to reading about the strategies and imagining how they apply to the PBL classroom. I wonder, if we were to drill down into the methods of exemplary PBL teachers, would we identify techniques that are unique to the PBL-constructivist setting? I look forward to reading with my PBL lenses on.

Monday, March 15, 2010

PBL Goes Global

Excited to learn from our friends at ISTE that Reinventing Project-Based Learning will soon be published in German. And here's more evidence that PBL is generating interest around the world: Eduteka, a Spanish language website for educators, has just translated "Appendix A: Essential Learning with Digital Tools, the Internet, and Web 2.0," from our book. Spanish-speaking colleagues can find the full text here.
And for our English-speaking colleagues, we have just updated Appendix A to include a few new Web 2.0 tools. See link at top right of this page to download a copy.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Keeping Your Project on the Rails

Next up in our PBL~Better with Practice webinar series is a March 4 discussion about project management. Or, as we're calling it, "Keeping Your Project on the Rails." We'll meet in our Learn Central Elluminate Room at 2:00 and 5:00 pst. Please join us!
Experienced teachers will be sharing their advice, tips, and resources for keeping projects on track. For instance, Sue Boudreau will explain how she has adapted project management processes from industry to work with middle-schoolers. Neil Stephenson will dig deeper into questioning, explaining how inquiry evolves during a complex project. Lisa Parisi will offer well-honed advice for managing PBL with elementary students. Nichole Kotasek will get into the nitty-gritty of managing teams and the other issues that arise during the implementation phase of projects. Nichole's school uses Project Foundry, and we'll hear more about how that PBL platform works, too.
Thanks in advance to these practitioners, who are generously sharing their time and strategies. Can't wait to hear where the discussion goes!
Meanwhile, please join the PBL~Better with Practice group in Classroom 2.0, where more than 70 folks are shaping this conversation and expanding their professional network.
Photo by Rachel Cowan, Creative Commons

Monday, February 1, 2010

Better with Practice - A Webinar Discussion Series

Once a project launches there's a lot to attend to. Let's look beyond project design to the implementation phase of projects and share our challenges and best ideas.

Join us for our webinar series

Better with Practice: PBL Implementation Tips from the Field

  1. How to Create a Culture of Inquiry - February 18 event login
  2. Keeping Your Project on the Rails - March 4
  3. It’s Not Over When It’s Over: The Project Spiral - March 11
To accommodate time zone differences, sessions are offered twice at 2:00 and at 5:00 pacific. Each session lasts an hour. Series sponsor is Project Foundry.

Help shape the series in an unconference-y way. Join the Classroom 2.0 group Better with Practice and help us decide what we should be attending to.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Let's Talk About You for a Change

Try this exercise, please! It's easy and fun and will only take you a minute (OK three). Send your response by email (don't comment here) to jkrauss(at)mahonia(dot)us. Subject line: exercise.
Let's Talk about You for a Change
Directions: Forget about kids and teaching for a moment and recall a project you did recently away from school. Maybe it was planning a wedding, tracking your family genealogy, building a shed, organizing a community campaign or learning to knit. Choose one big or small that taxed you to a degree or took you into unfamiliar territory.
Now, open an email and put "exercise" in the subject line. In the body write a descriptive title for the project, then jot notes -single words or short phrases- that describe the personal capabilities the project called for or caused you to develop. An example statement might be persistence or budgeting time. Think through every phase of the project as you go. Write as many capabilities as you can in three minutes. Send them by email to jkrauss(at)mahonia(dot)com. I'll post a wordle with the combined results soon. I'll also share the facilitation that goes with this group exercise and we can discuss the AHA moment that results.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Dirt on School Gardens

In the current Atlantic Monthly, Caitlin Flanagan takes a good, hard look at the shortcomings of public education and comes up with a surprising fall guy. The blame for the academic woes of our current generation, she concludes, rests squarely on the shoulders of...Alice Waters. Waters, the California chef who introduced millions of foodies to the joys of eating locally, is also the godmother of school gardens (starting with The Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley). To listen to Flanagan, those campus garden beds spell nothin' but Trouble.

In "Cultivating Failure," Flanagan reveals the dirty trick perpetrated by "an agglomeration of foodies and educational reformers who are propelled by a vacuous if well-meaning ideology that is responsible for robbing an increasing number of American schoolchildren of hours they might other wise have spent reading important books or learning higher math."

Flanagan's basic beef is that school gardens are glorified time-wasters, depriving kids of a chance to learn serious stuff. Apparently, she's never seen the rigorous projects that use gardens as a place to grow scientific inquiry skills along with vegetables, or to give budding naturalists a place to hone their powers of observation. (For just a few examples, check out this issue of Northwest Teacher. It's a little dated but still relevant.)

Flanagan really goes off the rails when she tries to blame the burgeoning school gardening movement for the achievement gap. Children of Hispanic immigrants deserve better, she suggests, than becoming "our state's new child farm laborers."

Sounds like a load of organic steer manure to me.

Photo by Michael LoRusso, Creative Commons.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Cigar Box Project - And More Immersive Learning Experiences

This week I'm compiling a set of projects I can have teacher teams examine and "unpack" against the ISTE NETS for Students and Teachers. I thought I'd share some of these rich, rigorous exemplars of PBL with you.

I've gone on project searches before and in the Web 2.0 era the hunt is more rewarding than ever. Before the emergence of social tools I'd typically find an instructional plan of some sort and possibly some samples of student work, but *wow* what a difference a few years make. Videos, blogs, wikis, digital artifacts, recorded Skype calls, podcasts-- there's no limit to the creative ways teachers and students are sharing what goes on in their project-focused classrooms. Enjoy!

In a Duck with a Blog K-2 grade students in California chronicle their science studies when a mallard family nests on campus. Read chronologically from the bottom and ignore advertising banners. (Edublogs what were you thinking?)

In the Machinto Project Alberta and Ontario primary students join students in Hiroshima, Japan and from around the world to study war through children's eyes. This project is hosted by iEARN. View a 7-minute Flash video of the Canada Machinto Project and then dig into artifacts of learning.

In the Write On! project ten classes of third, fourth, and fifth grade students around the U.S. contribute to a collaborative story.

Eighth graders in Calgary, Canada mash up all sorts of technologies to reinterpret events from Canadian History. And they stump historians in the process. See the Cigar Box Project.

After three terms studying African American history 9th graders in Philadelphia launch inquiries and create 30-second commercials. Read the teacher's summary of the project, view the student wiki and examine commercials.

Texas teacher Christian Long developed the Alice Project, where 9-10 grade literature students analyze Alice in Wonderland and present their blogs for scrutiny by "jurors" from around the world. Please see "The Big Picture" section.

High school "citizen scientists" in Los Angeles investigate air quality -indoors and outdoors- and propose remedial action in The Black Cloud project.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

ISTE 2010

I look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones at ISTE 2010 in Denver. I have two sessions I hope you'll consider participating in: Tinkering Under the Hood: Strategies to enhance critical thinking and Computational Thinking for Everyone where we explore how computing develops logic, systems thinking and other capabilities. What are you looking forward to at ISTE 2010?