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 Veoh.com

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!