Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Thanksgiving 2011 will be one I always remember—and not because of the turkey and trimmings. Instead of the usual family feast, I shared a delicious meal of chapati, curry, and rice with students and teachers at a boarding school outside the city of Faridabad, not far from Delhi.
Arriving at Vidya Sanskar International School was like reaching a garden oasis. It’s lush, green, and well-appointed with extensive sports facilities and plenty of fresh, clean air. (After a few days in Delhi, blanketed by pollution, this was especially welcome.) About a third of the students and half the faculty live on campus, and our digs were a comfortable faculty apartment. Getting there involved a bumpy, three-hour cab ride from Agra, where my husband (who joined me a week ago) and I spent a couple days marveling at the Taj and other historic sites.
I spent the first morning at Vidya Sanskar (which translates, roughly, to “holistic learning”) sitting in on classes, and saw everything from 3-year-olds doing ambitious literacy work in Hindi and English to 16-year-olds studying environmental science. Then it was time for two half-days of workshops on project-based learning. By the end of the second day, one team was planning to have kids design and plant a medicine garden (after interviewing family members and health experts about various herbs) and another was imagining a student-designed rainwater harvesting system to water it. At the upper grades, teachers were talking about having students analyze the pros/cons of privatizing railroads and doing a marketing project on cell phones.
Not surprisingly, the question of covering the syllabus came up in our conversations. This school follows the University of Cambridge model, which culminates in challenging tests. Just as teachers in the U.S. worry about high-stakes testing, teachers here are accountable for student results on exams. At the same time, many teachers in India are recognizing that the traditional, test-heavy education system isn’t preparing their students to be critical thinkers. Hence, their keen interest in PBL—along with tough questions about how to make sure it works well.
Next stop: Mumbai
Then it was on to Mumbai, where I spent a day with a high-energy group of teachers at American School of Bombay. This IB school was a contrast to others I’ve visited in many ways, but the most dramatic difference here was the prevalence of technology. ASB was one of the first international schools to adopt the 1:1 model, and teachers (and students) have a familiarity with tech tools that I haven’t encountered anywhere else yet in India. Sitting in on one class, I saw students sharing Glosters, Prezis, blogs, and other products in a project that had them interpret Indian culture for different audiences, such as filmmakers, journalists, or police officers.
(Hat tip @solomonsenrick)
With technology well-integrated, ASB is now focusing on strategies to further expand students’ 21st-century skills. An action research team has been investigating project-based learning, and several teachers have already taken the plunge into projects. Given this context, we turned the day into a mini-project. A highlight was listening to teacher teams share out their ideas about making sure essential elements of good projects are addressed. I’m eager to hear where they go next on their PBL journey.
Next on the itinerary: Pune, a quick flight from Mumbai, and home to two schools operated by Gyanankur English School. I started with a visit to a school in Kesnand, where nearly 500 children from seven surrounding villages come to learn. It was a stark contrast to the high-tech environment of ASB (although there is a computer lab at the village school, with donated equipment that allows students to learn basics like how to use a mouse and save files). The school vision is to offer children a joyful learning environment, and that was evident as I made my way from one classroom to the next. It’s also a place for hands-on learning, and students were eager to share their recent creations.
I spent the next day working with teachers from Kesnand along with their colleagues from Gyanankur English School in Pune. Our focus what how to shift from activities—which they’re already doing—to authentic projects. It might seem like a stretch for low-resourced schools to even try PBL, but these teachers were game. By the end of the day, they told me they were eager to build inquiry into projects and find more opportunities to give students a voice about their learning. And because both schools are anticipating new construction in the near future to accommodate demand, teachers are also excited about involving students in school design. (Video Courtyard Redesign was a great conversation-starter.)
End in Mind
Just one more workshop in Mumbai on my Indian adventure, and then I’ll face the challenge of packing up my many memories and mementos for the long trip home.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
I've just wrapped up two energizing days of workshops at Alwar Public School, located in the state of Rajasthan. In the first photo, I've just been warmly welcomed by students and teachers. The good vibes were a constant feature of this stop on my whirlwind tour of India.
Alwar is a school with a strong collaborative culture, where considerable effort has gone into laying a foundation for project-based learning. Under the gentle but forward-thinking leadership of academic coordinator Anshu Beniwal, teachers are well on their way to adopting new strategies for the classroom. They have developed rubrics that cut across grade levels and subject areas, creating a common language for talking about quality student work. They regularly team up on interdisciplinary projects. And they go about their work with good humor and a caring spirit. I came away inspired and eager to see what they accomplish next.
In this photo, Alwar teachers are busy preparing posters about their projects for a gallery walk. They had some great ideas--connecting with experts at a nearby tiger preserve, designing rainwater harvesting for a nearby village, and having students advise travelers about what's worth seeing in India. (Hint: Stop in Alwar and stay at the historic Burja Haveli!)
Monday, November 14, 2011
Picture a school with an average class size of 15 students, where attention is paid to individual learning needs, and where teachers are willing to devote a full Saturday to building their toolkit with new instructional strategies. In broad strokes, this describes APL Global, a relatively new school in Chennai, India, where I’ve just spent a full day working with teachers interested in project-based learning.
Right off the bat, I noticed that the school design sends a welcoming message. Colorful graphics, big windows, and lush greenery provide the backdrop for learning. Modular classroom furniture is designed to be rearranged in an instant for small group work or individual study. Students and teachers share South Indian vegetarian lunch in an open-air cafeteria.
But it’s the student-centered philosophy that most distinguishes this school. The majority of government schools in India stick closely to the traditional model, where it’s all about covering the curriculum and preparing students for the big tests that rely on memorization. At APL Global, a private institution, the vision is personalized learning through a varied instructional approach. It’s an island of progress in a sea of conformity.
In this morning’s Hindustan Times, the perils of tradition were spelled out in an op-ed piece by Abhijit Banerjee, Ford Foundation international professor of economics and director, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT. Citing a recent report on the status of education, he bemoaned the fact that about half of students in government schools lag years behind grade level in reading and fare even worse in math. Results are only slightly better at private schools, where even poor families struggle to send their children to help them gain an edge.
Why? Here’s Banerjee’s theory: “The goal of education is to permit the most successful students to get through the difficult exams that get thrown at them and hit the jackpot of a government job or a place in an engineering school. The rest, unavoidably, will just drop out.”
But then you find islands of progress. It’s mostly in private schools where innovative teaching and learning is taking root in India. This is where you find teachers determined to do the hard work of learning to teach in new ways—very different from the way they were taught. The teachers I worked with at APL Global seemed eager to get started on their journey with PBL and ready for the challenges ahead.
Like many teachers who are new to the project approach, they wrestled with the difference between engaging activities—which they do already—and project-based learning. But by the end of our day together, they were seeing how they could remodel activities into academically rich projects. And they had no shortage of good ideas for real-world projects that I’m certain will engage their diverse learners. A business teacher got excited about a project idea she called “It’s My Business,” in which students will develop business plans for their own enterprises. A primary teacher was keen to find a partner school somewhere else in the world for a collaborative project. I fully expect to read someday about Indian students who have helped eradicate mosquito breeding grounds, who have addressed a difficult social issue, or who have designed an eco-friendly car engine. It won’t surprise me a bit if they come from Chennai or one of the other islands of progress in this vast country.
Photo: Teachers in PBL workshop, APL Global School, Chennai
Thursday, November 10, 2011
These lovely children are from the village of Ladhra, about 60 kilometers and several centuries removed from the planned and very modern city of Chandigarh, where I've been staying. I'll have more to share about school life after I do a workshop this weekend in Chennai.
Monday, November 7, 2011
My first stop in India is Chandigarh, known as the "city beautiful." It's India's only planned city, with wide streets, beautiful architecture, and many parks. Photo above is at an intriguing rock garden--a local treasure. I'm enjoying a few days at the home of my hosts from The Achievers Programme. I'll depart from here to Chennai later in the week for teacher workshops. Stay tuned!
Saturday, November 5, 2011
I’ve just spent an invigorating two days with about 50 passionate educators from India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh, gathered in Kathmandu for the South Asia International Baccalaureate Schools Association conference. The event, hosted at Ullens School in Kathmandu, was my first stop on a month-long journey to work with schools across India.
In my sessions on collaborative learning and 21st century skills, participants offered keen insights about the challenges and opportunities in their schools. SAIBSA represents the progressive end of the educational spectrum here, with schools emphasizing deep learning through inquiry, critical thinking, and service learning.
I was struck by some of the day-to-day challenges: A teacher from India said she sometimes has to encourage parents to cut back on family socializing so that students will have time for studies. A team from Pakistan told me what it’s like to work in a school building that’s guarded by rooftop snipers and where many students have their own bodyguards.
Project-based learning is a relatively new term here, although a few schools are embracing the approach. One administrator from India said PBL may be a new term, but it describes many of the practices already in place at her school. She was excited to continue the conversation and build a common way of talking about this approach to teaching and learning. And that’s exactly what I’ll be doing for the next four weeks.
More impressions to follow as my adventure continues.
Top photo: Peaceful oasis of Ullens School. Bottom photo: Bustling Thamel district of Kathmandu.
Monday, October 31, 2011
For the coming month, I'll be blogging about my adventures in Nepal and India. First stop: Kathmandu! I'll meet educators from across South Asia gathered for the South Asia International Baccalaureate Schools Association. Host for the meeting is Ullens School, the first IB school in Nepal. I'm eager to hear what 21st century learning means to educators from Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and elsewhere across the region.
From there, it's off to India for a series of workshops with teachers interested in project-based learning. Stops on the itinerary--so far--include Delhi, Chennai, Chandigarh, Mumbai, Alwar and more.
Updates to follow!
Friday, October 7, 2011
October is Bullying Prevention Month, a good time for projects that prompt students to think critically about what they can do about this issue. The Stand Up: Stop Bullying Comic Challenge offers a way to engage students' creativity along with their problem-solving skills. It's also a chance for teachers to test-drive Bitstrips for Schools, a comic-creation platform. Learn more here.
Illustration courtesy Bitstrips for Schools
Friday, September 2, 2011
Saturday, August 6, 2011
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Originally uploaded by cowyeow
Friday, July 8, 2011
I just shared a few post-ISTE reflections at Edutopia.
Thanks to those who took part in my Ripped from the Headlines session, especially my three great guests--Paul Allison, Matt Van Kouwenberg, and Katherine Schulten. Details from the session, including links to resources and a guide to using the New York Times Learning Network, are available on the ISTE Ning. And if you're interested in working with colleagues to plan a newsy project for the upcoming school year, be sure to check out the Edutopia wiki. It's bare-bones now, but will grow as we begin brainstorming and adding resources.
Finally, if you didn't get a chance to come to Philadelphia, take a few minutes to listen to the closing keynote by Chris Lehmann, principal of Science Leadership Academy. Guaranteed to inspire!
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Hope you'll join us at these sessions:
- Tuesday: Jane facilitates Beyond Words: Using Infographics to Help Kids Grapple with Complexity. This is a BYO Laptop session (sign-up required) from 10:30-11:30 a.m. Room: PACC 118C.
- Wednesday: Suzie facilitates Ripped from the Headlines: Real Events Yield Relevant Projects. It's from 11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m., Room PACC 113B. No advance registration necessary.
Hope to see you there!
Thursday, May 5, 2011
A classroom visit from a guest speaker is a time-honored way to kick off a project. Ideally, the guest will spark curiosity about the subject in which he or she has expertise. Sometimes, guests are so passionate about their topic that students are similarly infected, in a good way, and ready to dive into an inquiry project.
But how often do we invite students to fill the role of guest expert?
A program called eXpressions, designed and funded by the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, taps student expertise with powerful results. The goal of this ambitious effort is to expand the pipeline of students preparing for careers across the health services spectrum, from nursing to research to medicine. A cornerstone of the project is a student research internship during the summer. But that's just the start. What makes eXpressions stand out from other STEM initiatives is the addition of arts and creative writing to the equation. Once summer scholars complete their research, they present their findings to art students--who then take up the challenge of interpreting science through the arts.
I go into more detail in this Edutopia post, but the two images above offer a hint of the creativity that this project is unleashing. At right is summer scholar Charles Hayes's project about patients' experiences with blood transfusions. At left is artist Kate Humphrey's interpretation of that research in an intricately woven piece of wearable art. As she explains in her artist statement, "I almost wanted my dress to seem pained and exhausted from giving and receiving blood so often, like it had been pricked by a cold medical syringe one too many times and was wary from the whole experience."
I'm willing to bet that both students came away with a deep understanding of the related science content, as well as a new appreciation for each other's ways of understanding the world.
Friday, April 15, 2011
This week I happened to read two dispatches from thoughtful teachers who are on quite different journeys with project-based learning. One is moving full-steam-ahead, teaching core content through challenging projects. She seems to have good support from colleagues and coaches. The other, restricted by a test-prep school culture, is making side trips into PBL—but only with only some students, and only some of the time.
Shelley Wright, high school teacher in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, writes a series of posts to describe how an ambitious Holocaust museum project has unfolded. Part 1 describes her decision to “take the plunge” and part company with familiar teaching practices. (Spoiler alert: There’s no yellow brick road. Doubts emerge. But courage and patience win the day.) In Part 2, initially wary students warm up to their new role as creators; our traveler gets more comfortable in her new role as co-learner. She reports, “To be honest, this project is so interesting, I want to be part of it. I want to help make and design it, and I’ve never had that impulse while teaching before.” In Part 3, empowered students race the clock to prepare their museum exhibits for a showcase event. Shelley comes up for air long enough to offer three nuggets of wisdom that are guiding her PBL journey: improvise, learn the hard way, and don’t regret.
Steven Davis is in his tenth year teaching high school English in an urban setting in northern California. In a guest post on Larry Cuban’s blog, Steven describes the learning that is happening not during regular class time, but instead through less formal experiences before school and during lunch. That’s when he invites a group of students who are English language learners to take part in hands-on activities. These aren’t full-blown projects, but they give students time and opportunity to experience things like curiosity and persistence. As he considers what students are gaining from learning to use a soldering iron or assemble electronic kits, Steven reflects, “The project has been less about teaching than it has been about providing students with mentoring, tools, and the setting in which they can learn for themselves.” He ends by considering, “Who knows where project-based learning experiences will lead?”
Sounds like more PBL adventures await. More postcards, please!
Thursday, March 17, 2011
And, thanks to colleagues who shared resources and suggestions!
Monday, March 14, 2011
Before taking a trip each of us considers what we want to experience. If only subconsciously, we also filter our choices based on the kinds of travelers we are. What kind are you? Do you prefer the certainty of a detailed itinerary and guided tour? Or, are you an experienced through-the-back-door wanderer? Let’s think about professional learning as a journey and see how getting oriented can affect the success of anyone’s “trip.”
I do quite a bit of professional development around project-based learning (PBL) and technology. Whether learning groups are focused on PBL, technology integration or any other change effort, most are comprised of folks with a range of abilities, from novice to expert. Over the past few years I’ve found it helpful to start workshops by asking folks what kind of traveler they are in relation to the learning journey ahead. My colleague and coauthor Suzie Boss came up with the traveler metaphor and a range of descriptors. Think about a topic of your current professional learning. What kind of traveler are you?
Armchair tourist: Curious from afar, need to know more
Tenderfoot: Setting out on that first journey, ready to try new things
Explorer: Used to stepping out, ready for new frontiers
Scout: A seasoned traveler who can show others the way
These identifiers, in contrast to “novice” or “expert” imply movement, or growth. A tenderfoot traveling even a short distance may be taking a more profound journey than a seasoned explorer or scout.
Once I ask folks to self-identify and we establish the composition of the group, I can begin to differentiate instruction for the learning ahead. Participants benefit from knowing the composition of the group, too. It’s comforting for any learner to know he is one of an acknowledged group whose needs will be addressed.
During a workshop, just as you do in your classroom every day, I form small groups, assign peer teachers, and customize activities based on individual needs or strengths of the group.
At the end of our time together we revisit the “traveler” types and I recommend differentiated steps to take beyond the workshop. I’ll leave you with an example from a recent project-based learning workshop in San Francisco.
Keep reading and observing
– Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age, authors Jane Krauss, Suzie Boss
– PBL Handbook, Buck Institute for Education
– Edutopia Project-based Learning site: www.edutopia.org/project-based-learning
– Understanding by Design, authors Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe
Join a well-designed project
– Cornell Labs Citizen Science www.birds.cornell.edu/citsci
– Pennies for Peace, an international service-learning project www.penniesforpeace.org
– iEARN global network of projects www.iearn.org
– The My Hero Project – http://www.myhero.com
Expand beyond your classroom, find partners
– Classroom 2.0 www.classroom20.com
– Edutopia PBL Group www.edutopia.org/groups/project-based-learning
– ePals www.epals.com
– Global Education Collaborative http://globaleducation.ning.com
– Global SchoolNet www.globalschoolnet.org
Build buzz and go to scale
– Buzz-builders: Twitter, blogs, Facebook
– Alert the media!
– Invite others to join your projects
– Share your wisdom through webinars, conferences, formal or ad hoc PLCs
You and your colleagues might not be studying PBL, but try the “traveler” metaphor on for size with any learning initiative of which you are part. How might you use it to look for differentiated learning opportunities?
Monday, February 7, 2011
Jane and I have been regulars at EduCon for the past three years. What makes it worth the cross-country trip, during an especially harsh winter, are equal parts conversation and camaraderie. It all takes place under the welcoming tent of the Science Leadership Academy, a remarkable public high school that embraces inquiry and project-based learning. I blog about a few session highlights in this post for Edutopia.
One evening during this year's visit to Philly, we walked past an imposing landmark. Eastern State Penitentiary, a hulking Gothic fortress, doesn't look very hospitable, especially at night. But it revolutionized the prison system when it opened in 1829. With central heating, an exercise yard, and separate cells for individual inmates, it offered a more humane model of incarceration that emphasized reform over punishment. Visitors from around the world apparently came to Philly to see it in action, and hundreds exported the model to their communities.
I couldn't help thinking that Philadelphia now offers the world another institution that inspires imitation. This time around, it's a school instead of a prison. Can the successful model of SLA be replicated in other states, or even in other neighborhoods in Philadelphia? How can other communities learn from SLA's example but still create a school that's uniquely theirs? That's a conversation worth having--and not just once a year.
Friday, January 7, 2011
Repeat photography is a method by which an older photo is photographed in the scene it originally captured. An example explains it better than words.
Imagine the investigations kids could make into natural and human environments! Causal relationships, physical landmarks and perspective, photography, human impact, change over time... Imagine how seeking answers to questions about our dynamic world could be more meaningful with repeat photography.
Interested in seeing more, learning tips for repeat photography? My web scan for photos-in-photos and methods didn't yield much. The best examples I've seen so far are Ranger Doug's. The best advice for repeat photography comes from University of Texas instructor Craig Campbell's photography course.
I found some photos I'd like to rephotograph here in my hometown. I look forward to investigating the possibilities. Stay tuned!
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
The video is worth a watch for many reasons, not least of which is Pilloton's passion for this initiative. It's also a good conversation-starter about how schools work--and how they could work better, especially in places that are short on creative capital.
If the video leaves you eager to learn more about design thinking and the role it can play in K-12 education, take a look at the K-12 Laboratory at Stanford University's Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. This Edutopia article offers more information about learning through active problem-solving.