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.