How To Not Kill Creativity in the Science Classroom

Creativity is at once an ethereal goal for science teachers and an essential ability for science students. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standard for students as innovative designers proposes that “students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.” Based on my experience as a middle school science teacher and research, my principal advice to teachers hoping to foster creativity would be, “don’t kill it.”

I am reminded of the maxim shared by health and education professionals: “primum non nocere or “first, do no harm.” Students who may enter our classrooms with the ability and willingness to create, shouldn’t have their creativity stamped out by the confines of their environment. Also, Shel Silverstein’s illustration “The Artist” comes to mind. Silverstein’s illustration shows a child growing up, and as they do, flowers begin to sprout on top of their head, until the flowers have grown into a tall bouquet much larger than their whole body. A group of people laugh and point at the bouquet, which embarrasses and saddens our protagonist, who proceeds to snip all of the flowers down to short stems. The protagonist would have much rather conformed than risk being ridiculed again.

So if creativity is as fragile, beautiful and essential (to the life of an angiosperm) as a flower, how can we provide an environment in which it can develop, be protected and bear fruit? Sternberg (2006) provides a six-part model of creativity that we can use to help guide our science teaching practice:

“Creativity, as an emergent ability, is the result of a complex interplay of several factors, such as intellectual abilities (i.e., problem finding, seeing problems in novel ways), prior, domain-specific knowledge, personality traits (i.e., self-efficacy, risk taking, a tolerance for ambiguity), motivation and environment.” (Sternberg, 2006 as cited in Hadzigeorgiou, Fokialis, & Kabouropoulou, 2012)

The intellectual abilities posed by Sternberg (2006) include a) seeing problems in new ways, b) recognizing valuable ideas and c) persuading others of the value of your idea (p. 6). The challenge for teachers is to engage students in culturally relevant, creative endeavors that allow for these abilities to develop. Hadzigeorgiou, Fokialis and Kabouropoulou (2012) recommend creative problem solving and creative science inquiry as activities that have potential to increase students’ scientific creativity (p. 609). Developing a relevant problem (from a current event or a relevant fiction) can support students in investigating solutions and engaging in argument from evidence (NGSS Science and Engineering Practice 7). Students can then explore novel ideas based on evidence to determine the cause of a problem (science) or design a solution for one (engineering).

Helping students develop knowledge is essential if they are to be creative in the science classroom. As an analogy, creative language, like telling a joke, is not possible without a solid base of language knowledge. This is the content delivery and retention piece that requires good teaching practices like meeting students where they are, making connections between prior knowledge and new concepts, modeling and timely feedback. One technology tool that has been useful to provide timely feedback is Microsoft Excel in combination with Microsoft Word to analyze aggregated quiz and test data and turn it into printable reports for students and families with the “mail merge” tool. In this way, a teacher can take raw data from any online quiz program (ones and zeros for correct and incorrect multiple choice questions, along with typed written response questions), align them to standards and make comments on written response questions that can all be printed out as individualized reports for students to review.

Sparking creativity in students with different styles of thinking may be supported through technology tools that represent scientific content through multiple means as well as through cooperative learning structures. Using multimedia available on computers or tablets such as pictures, slide shows, audio, video, simulations and games provide science classrooms with multiple access points for students. Furthermore, Hadzigeorgiou et al. argue that “the purely personal dimension of creativity, even in the case of some rare individuals, who make new discoveries and invent new scientific theories, seems to be complemented with a social dimension” (p. 604). Students working cooperatively are exposed to the thinking styles of their peers, which can help them see problems in new ways. Science seminars (structured, whole-group discussion sessions) have proven to be useful spaces for students to share and support their science and engineering ideas.

Personality attributes like “willingness to overcome obstacles, willingness to take sensible risks, willingness to tolerate ambiguity, and self-efficacy” (Sternberg, 2006, p. 7) are important in creative thinking. As teachers, we can’t control the personalities of our students, but we can create environments that allow such personality traits to develop. Perseverance can be supported effectively through the promotion of a “growth mindset” in the classroom. Dweck (2006) compares the willingness to overcome obstacles and take risks in people with fixed mindsets and growth mindsets:

“From the point of view of the fixed mindset, effort is only for people with deficiencies… If your claim to fame is not having any deficiencies… then you have a lot to lose. Effort can reduce you” (p. 42).

“In the growth mindset, it’s almost inconceivable to want something badly, to think you have a chance to achieve it, and then to do nothing about it” (p. 44).

In the classroom, we can praise the process rather than the result in order to help students build a growth mindset.  Choosing discussion topics and science problems carefully will allow students to develop multiple claims or valid solutions and can help foster tolerance for ambiguity.

The development of a growth mindset along with providing students with multiple means of expression can improve a student’s motivation in science class. Just as with differentiation of instructional materials, technology tools can allow for multiple means of expression, providing opportunities for students to show what they know through various media, including art, video and design. SketchUp is an online resource that would allow students to design engineering solutions in 3D using classroom devices. Jerome Kagan offers a valuable keynote to Hardiman, Magsamen, McKhann and Eilber’s (2009) findings on neuroeducation that supports artistic expression as a motivator: “One strategy to mute a child’s discouraging evaluation of self competence is to provide the child with opportunities to be successful at some classroom task. Art, dance, film, and music are perfect candidates” (p. 30). A student who struggles with writing a scientific argument may find a different means of expression through art.

Finally, the science classroom environment should support and reward creative ideas. One way I have supported creative thinking is through an online discussion board dedicated to creative science questions and ideas. Our classes use the discussion board as a log of interesting concepts that students bring up and as a community investigation space where all classmates can share research around any of their classmates ideas that interest them. We add to the board as a group if a current event sparks questions and students may decide to focus their end-of-year project around an idea posted on our discussion board.

 


References

Dweck, C. S. (2016). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Ballantine Books. (Original work published 2006)

Hadzigeorgiou, Y., Fokialis, P., & Kabouropoulou, M. (2012) Thinking about creativity in science education. Scientific Research, 3(5), 603-611. http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ce.2012.35089

Hardiman, M., Magsamen, S., McKhann, G., & Eilber, J. (2009) Neuroeducation: Learning, arts, and the brain. New York, NY: Dana Press.

Sternberg, R. J. (2006). Creating a vision of creativity: The first 25 years. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 1, 2-12. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/1931-3896.S.1.2

 

Connecting PLCs to Local and Global PLNs: Module 3

Begin with the End in Mind

This quarter we continue to investigate ISTE-C Standard 4b about how Educational Technology coaches can model principles of adult learning while demonstrating best practices in professional development. It makes sense that we are spending our entire quarter considering this standard because of the importance professional development could play in the role of a teacher. In much of the current professional development it appears that there is an unmet potential. It’s not really a surprise then that I’m finding my post this module is related to the last two posts I’ve written this quarter. It too has elements of choice for teachers along with variety in the offerings for professional development.

I started off this module asking about teachers as learners and trying to decide how professional development opportunities could be continue to be relevant after a session ends? I was wondering how Twitter chats, hashtags and online PLNs could play a role in helping teachers to continue learning and how learning through technology in that way might demonstrate digital age best practices. I’m not going to completely abandon that idea but in conducting research I’ve decided to include some best practices for professional development in the physical school environment as well because in my school district this constitutes the majority of professional learning opportunities. I also know that previously PLCs were a part of the district but they were required, much like in my past district so I wanted to revisit the practice of PLCs in a way that might appeal to teachers even if it wasn’t a requirement. My new question became how can individual buildings and the school district support PLCs and teachers as learners? As I asked this new question I also had to consider if PLCs can support digital age best practices, and I think they do as I’ll explain a bit later as I look at the Triple E framework through the lens of professional learning. The only thinking that might be missing from this post for me personally as a technology coach is maybe what role do I play in supporting this kind of learning in my schools? I don’t know if I will get to that specifically in this post or not, but if not it is something I will continue to think about.

Starting the Change

Over and over again in my readings on professional development throughout my time in the Digital Education Leadership Program at SPU I’ve read about how important teacher choice is in education. In this case I’m talking about choice in professional development. This week I read an interesting paper on teacher agency in professional learning and I think it makes a good case for involving teachers in the process. The paper starts out by asking an important question, “What if we are operating under faulty assumptions about how adults learn and what motivates them to learn?” (Calvert, 2016). For my school district I think it is important to start to involve teachers in the process of shaping their own professional learning again. I’ve seen some of the school improvement plans for my buildings and I don’t know how much teacher input there is into a school professional learning plan. To get teachers engaged in their learning many resources suggest getting input from teachers. A popular way to do that in my district is through survey data. I’ve heard talk from the district level that they are afraid of survey fatigue but it seems to me that in spite of that possibility we have to find a way to have teachers weigh in on the learning they will receive at buildings.

For the school district the focus should begin to shift as well. There are many initiatives happening and I don’t doubt that they are valuable but if improvign teaching and learning is a focus then devoting some time to professional learning is important. A teacher survey is the first step to designing learning that will be meaningful to each school individually. With over 20 elementary schools the needs are diverse, so learning should be diverse especially if it is designed from input from staff members at individual buildings. If members of the leadership are concerned with getting input from staff members I think this quote is a helpful way to frame the thinking about teacher input. “They must understand the intangible, but enormous, value teachers place on being listened to and involved meaningfully as well as the benefits the school community enjoys when teachers are intrinsically motivated to pursue their continued development” (Calvert, 2016). More involvement translates to an improved school community, which is related to a district goal we are pursuing.

After staff have provided input (or maybe before the process starts they can make it clear that) the district will ask teachers to lead sessions of professional learning for their staff. This provides an opportunity for coaches to guide teachers in some best practices for adult learners or to provide some guidance on technology integration. Here is how one district tackled designing the learning, “after conducting the survey, Mieliwocki and Almer brought together teacher leaders from each school to talk about the survey results and make teacher-directed plans for professional learning,” (Calvert, 2016). Again support was provided but plans were individualized for each school based on local needs.

With input from schools the district office is better able to support individual schools and can support administrators. The shift from whole district to school based professional learning topics in fact might help administrators to better support their staff as talked about in the WA-TPL “when district leadership utilizes a research-based approach to making decisions about the design of professional learning opportunities, individual school leaders are better able to make decisions about how to meet the needs of all educators,” (Bishop, Lumpe, Henrikson & Crane, 2016). So,individualizing professional learning eases the burden administrators carry to make learning relevant to their staff. If a staff is able to pick their learning, it will be relevant!

One final consideration I read about for districts to support this initial change is to provide quality professional learning for principals. Some principals may need guidance on how to be instructional leaders in their buildings. They might not be aware of the adult learning principles, just as I was not aware of them before learning about them during this class. In addition to learning about adult learning principles, they can learn about why and how to give teachers support in their professional learning. I know principals are stretched thin, so I’m not saying they have to be a part of everything, they might have to release some responsibility to let teachers grow. However, it is clear that somehow, they should be learning alongside their staff, (Bishop, Lumpe, Henrikson, & Crane, 2016). As was said in Moving from Compliance to Agency, “the principal doesn’t have to be on every team, but she or he must foster a commitment of excellence, improvement, and shared leadership through such peer networks,” (Calvert, 2016).

Connection to Digital Age Best Practices

I wanted to clearly connect my thinking to digital age best practices since that was the original goal of this module and much of our learning as digital education leaders. In order to do that I want to use the Triple E framework from Liz Kolb. The Triple E is designed to analyze best practices in teaching with technology but I think it would apply to professional learning as well. The three E’s are Engagement, Enhancement and Extension. I’ve done my best to connect how those relate to digital age best practices in professional development.

Engagement

I think that teachers will be more engaged in their learning because of the level of involvement they are given by providing input on learning. In addition to that, Twitter or an educational chat on any other social media service provides access to learning and resources after initial exposure in a PLC. At a district level I think those resources could be shared with principals or may even be shared at a school level by teachers who are following or participating in Twitter chats to the benefit of others. Later at the end of this post I’ll share some possible resources that I found also for discovering Twitter chats. Overall, I think that school based learning would help ensure teachers are active learners instead of passive learners.

Enhancement

The understanding of content and professional learning is enhanced by using technology. Technology may even act as a scaffold providing multiple entry points and directions when staff members are researching or learning about the same topic. All contributions become valuable to the team, shifting the idea that any one person is in charge of the learning of others which shows respect for those participating in the PLC. To demonstrate understanding of a concept or topic or in a content area teachers could even participate in a micro credentialing course as a PLC or pursue some other kind of badging to demonstrate their learning. In addition to these ideas simply participating in a Twitter chat would provide additional understanding over time. One great resource I’ll share a link to later is Participate, because it shows daily or weekly educator chats that are upcoming and shows topics that will be discussed.

Extension

Teachers learning is extended when working with their PLC if they continue to investigate topics they are learning about outside of the school day. If teachers participate in a Twitter chat they are definitely extending their learning, and with a teacher laptop or smartphone they could do that learning from anywhere with an internet connection. Other tools like microcredentials are also available for teachers outside of the school day. Both of these tools help teachers to build a positive digital footprint and connect them with other educators across the country and world.

Ways to Connect

In this post I also want to make sure to share some ways that teacher can connect and for me as a coach, I think part of my role should be sharing the idea of participating in a Twitter chat with the teachers I work with. I came across a few good resources in my investigation this module as I read about “Professional Development for Globally Minded Educators” and “The Future of Professional Development is Collaborative Development,” both of those resources can be found below. They each talk about why educators might use something like a Twitter chat for professional development. In “The Future of Professional Development is Collaborative Development,” they provide a resource that I think would be beneficial for teachers getting started with Twitter chats. At the Participate website there is a way to search for Twitter chats that are happening that day or that week. The daily chats are even divided up by morning, afternoon or evening. One other resource I thought would be helpful for getting teachers connected outside of their PLC is the list of Education Chats from ISTE. They have curated a list of 40 chats that are worth the time of teachers. Finally here are a couple other ways to connect, you can use a variety of resources to search for hashtags on Twitter after you find a chat to follow or investigate.

      1. Twitter Search
      2. Twubs
      3. Tweetdeck

How to Share Information

Now I wanted to think about how this information can be shared with an entire school district to focus buildings on learning that applies for them and to encourage PLCs meeting within each building. First I think teachers need to be able to provide input through a survey or some other way to hear the voices of all affected. In addition to asking what professional learning would help them, I think the survey could be used to share a hashtag that teachers could use to track their learning and contributions on Twitter. Instructional coaches could help to share any shift in practice by giving a quick talk at staff meetings or in informal discussions with teachers. The district leadership could share the shift with principals in one of their monthly meetings. The changes I’ve written about would likely help teachers to be more active participants, and would also incorporate some of the characteristics of adult learning into professional learning.

Reconsider the Plan for Professional Learning

This post is meant to get schools and school districts to think about redesigning their professional learning with a focus on school level learning. The ways to do that are, turning over control to teachers at a school – not simply entrusting that work to an administrator or even to a leadership team – the input should come from the majority, if not from all of the staff. Evaluate the learning community a principal builds in their school. One way a district administrator could do that is by attending occasional staff meetings at schools, or through feedback forms filled out by school staff members. Provide additional coaching training and guidance for building a community of learners. Make it a part of a district wide focus. Encourage ideas and input from teachers. Provide a way for teachers to track the learning that they engage in over a school year, maybe as a part of their grade level goal, individual goal or SIP goal. Encourage reflection. I still am wondering how a positive impact on teaching and learning would be measured, maybe it could rely on SBA scores for some teachers, but maybe just as other data is used in Growth Goals the impact could be measured there. The report on Transforming Learning in Washington State provides some interesting data on the effectiveness of professional learning on classroom practice. I’m hopeful that as school districts continue to change professional learning and implement some of these ideas that are shared across the literature, teacher engagement will improve and we will be providing professional learning that considers the characteristics of adult learners and also models digital age best practices.

Resources:

Bishop, D, Lumpe, A., Henrikson, R, & Crane, C. (2016). Transforming Professional Learning in Washington State – Project Evaluation Report. Seattle Pacific University: Seattle, WA. Retrieved January 19, 2018, from http://www.k12.wa.us/CurriculumInstruct/WA-TPL/pubdocs/2016-WA-TPL-Evaluation-Report.pdf

Calvert, L. (2016). Moving from compliance to agency: What teachers need
to make professional learning work. Oxford, OH: Learning Forward and NCTAF.

Fingal, D. (2018, January 16). 40 education Twitter chats worth your time. Retrieved February 19, 2018, from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=7

Spirrison, B. (2016, June 2). The Future of Professional Development is Collaborative Development. Retrieved February 18, 2018, from http://www.gettingsmart.com/2016/06/future-professional-development-collaborative-development/

Triple E Framework. (n.d.). Retrieved February 19, 2018, from http://www.tripleeframework.com/

What teachers need to learn about professional digital citizenship

The ISTE standards for Educators outline how educators can help model, support and teach digital citizenship for students. They are, as we’d hope, responsible use standards that focus on the things we do want teachers to do with technology. It uses words like “positive, socially responsible contributions”, “establish a learning culture”, “mentor students”, and “model and promote management of identity”. (See the graphic below for the full text of the Educator Standards.)

I am in full agreement that teachers need to be part of educating students about digital citizenship. In many districts it’s been a task turned over to librarians. For a long time libraries were where technology was happening and often the only place students had access to technology. However, in an age of 1:1 one devices, teachers are now in a better position to be able to address issues in the moment, spy out and use those teachable moments to teach students or reinforce digital responsibility, and they are there when the technology is being used. Librarians are still amazing resources for digital citizenship and digital and media literacy instruction. But what if we could take the task of teaching students those skills off the librarians plates and instead have them teach teachers those same skills?

I’ve been searching for a few months to try and find some resources to teach teachers about digital citizenship. I don’t mean how to teach them to teach their students, I’m talking about teaching teachers the things they need to know to keep themselves safe, protect their own digital reputations and become ethical consumers of digital information. I’m not sure its the same as just picking it up by osmosis as they are teaching students. It seems unfair but teachers, like a lot of public figures, are more in the spotlight than many other professions such as an accountant or a scientist. They work with children. There is a higher standard expected of teachers, especially in their interactions with students and parents. It’s not even enough to keep your professional and private lives separate online when everything is so searchable. So, I’d like to find some ways that I can help teachers understand their own professional responsibility when it comes to issues of social media, copyright, account privacy and other issues that could  affect them and their professional reputations.

Let’s take the ISTE for Educator Standards and see what teachers might need to know in order to be able to model and teach the standards and protect their digital reputations:

Standards 3a & 3d

These two standards are about positive relationships online and managing one’s digital footprint. We want teachers using social media. It’s hard to stay relevant and connected without a social media presence anymore, but we do need teachers to know how to keep their presence appropriate and manage their digital reputation. One interesting resource I discovered was Childnet International. Their  Social-Media-Guide-teachers-and-support-staff has some good advice about things like when it’s appropriate or not to “friend” students on social media, setting privacy settings on social media accounts and managing your professional reputation. Their online safety calendar 2017-2018 has links to video and print resources for teachers and checklists to help teachers manage their digital footprint and their social media sites. Their INSET Training also discusses issues of reporting and monitoring student behaviors. There are lots of good resources here that I will spend more time learning about and finding ways to incorporate into training for teachers.

There is also the issue of training teachers to take a closer look at the privacy policies of websites that they ask their students to sign up for. We have a responsibility to watch out for the welfare of our student’s data when they are too young to do it themselves. Becoming more familiar with what to look for in online agreements is essential. The document from the government: Protecting Student Privacy While Using Online Educational Services: Requirements and Best Practices seems like a good place to start to learn more about protecting students.

Standards 3b & 3c

The areas of being critical consumers of online content and the ethics of intellectual property rights have more in common with good practices for students but it’s incredibly tempting to “borrow” things from the internet for that lesson coming up in 15 minutes. Teachers need good instruction on copyright and fair use. Many districts are also helping teachers understand and define intellectual property rights in regards to teachers creation of content that they want to sell online. We may need some more open conversations with teachers about what belongs to the district and what belongs to teachers.

Training for teachers is beginning to take more shape in my mind. Using these resource I can hopefully get a good start on it anyway.

References

ISTE | Standards For Educators. (2017). Iste.org. Retrieved 20 February 2018, from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-educators

Protecting Student Privacy While Using Online Educational Services: Requirements and Best Practices. (2014). Washington DC. Retrieved from https://tech.ed.gov/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Student-Privacy-and-Online-Educational-Services-February-2014.pdf

School Pack for Online Safety Awareness. (2017). Childnet. Retrieved 20 February 2018, from http://www.childnet.com/resources/school-pack-for-online-safety-awareness

 

Social Media PD for a 21st Century Classroom

EDTC 6106 Module 3

Promoting Responsible Social Media Use

I remember 11 years ago getting a panicked phone call from a friend, asking for legal advice regarding something that happened while substitute teaching.  We both subbed in the same small district, and I was familiar with the schools, staff, etc.  She had been falsely accused of using the computer inappropriately in class and middle school students chose to fabricate a story as revenge for her sending two of their friends to the office the day before.  Due to my friend using the internet to check Facebook, which was against district policy, she was found guilty and sent home while a full investigation was underway (the accusations were a lot more severe, but she was cleared of those allegations).  Her experience led me to be a lot more cautious and aware of my actions and ended up taking her to law school.

The reason this memory comes to mind, connects with my quest to find out how districts can promote responsible social media use and support teachers with ongoing professional development. Recently I’ve been searching for guidelines and policies for staff regarding digital citizenship and social media use.  While continuing to look at  ISTE Coaching Standard 4b and best practices, I feel many PDs still fall short of supporting teacher growth and development as they focus on curriculum and student data rather than tools that support student growth and personalized learning for teachers.

Social Media Guidelines

Acceptable/responsible use policies for students using the district’s internet seems to be common place and easily found on school district websites.  However, the same policies do not seem to be publicly displayed for district employees.  For example, I can’t find anything for my district and only vaguely recall learning through word of mouth last year that Facebook was no longer blocked on school computers.  The lack of transparency in my own district may be linked to our lack of devices district-wide.  While searching other large districts where I’ve worked previously, there staff guidelines were easy to locate and help take away any question about what acceptable use looks like for teachers.

One resource I found helpful comes from New Zealand, Guideline on Ethical Use of Social Media. Looking at this resource from a PD option, I see the one page as a tool that’s user-friendly, allows collaborative discussion to occur, and serves as a starting point when discussing social media use with staff. The four categories they ask teachers to consider are their commitment to students, society, families, and the teaching profession.

How to Make Social Media Work For You

Once guidelines have been established around Social Media Use, it’s important to offer personalized learning for teachers around the app/program they are using to support students and families. This is where time to collaborate and ongoing PD are critical to successful implementation.

If school districts want to use social media and technology to promote collaboration and sharing of ideas, then time needs to be built in throughout the year for teachers to continue exploring, sharing, creating, and becoming independent users of these programs.

Referring back to my previous posts this winter on Motivational Factors and Barriers as well as The Role of Technology in PD, I continue to discover evidence of successful integration from schools/districts that offer ongoing PD at a central location that is led by educators who for in the district. In addition, teacher’s time is recognized somehow whether it be extra pay, badges, credits, clock hours, certification.  Similar to districts in previous posts, Carson City School District in Nevada, identified a need to support tech integration when they began to transition to a 1:1 district for grades 3-12.

How does this support personalised PD? Carson City School District allocate 4 hours on Wednesdays to optional PD at their Professional Development Center, referring to this time as Technology Café. I like their acronym CAFÉ, because it aligns with the best practices in Dr. Lisa Kolb’s Triple E Framework.

What does this look like? Teachers can choose how long they visit the Café, who they collaborate with, what lessons or resources they need, and seek advice from colleagues as well as tech specialists. Having a weekly common meeting place that provides snacks and caffeine as well as teacher driven PD, allows teachers to explore ideas or programs they may have considered yet not yet approached due to lack of how they align with district goals and policies.  Personally, when I read this, I was immediately filled with envy thinking about how awesome that would be! The district found this PD strategy effective with an average of 24 teachers attending each week when this article was published in 2015.

In Monica Fuglei’s post Social Media in Education: Benefits, Drawbacks and Things to Avoid, she breaks down why teachers should consider using social media professionally, not just personally.  We know that social media is not a fad likely to fade any time soon.  Students enter our rooms familiar with apps either they use personally, or they have seen in action. If teachers are not ready to use apps/networks such as Twitter or Edmodo yet with students, there is still so much to be gained by joining groups of professionals online to share resources, ideas, and network. 

Social Media Profiles and Communication

With so many educational apps being introduced all the time, it can be daunting for teachers to know where to begin and what is allowed in their district.  Each district has their own rules, but each district should also have tech specialist who are available to answer questions for educators.  When it comes to using social media to connect with others, there has been a heavy emphasis on professionalism, privacy settings, and district policies.  If a teacher is looking for another way to connect, online blogs offer a great way to share information with families and many now have private messaging options for parents and teachers.  I bring this up as an alternative to teachers friending parents/students on apps such as Facebook.  

Putting My Own Words Into Action

Presently, I’m using Seesaw with my students and love the way parents can see and comment on their child’s work, bonus is that they can do it in any language.  This helps show students that what they post is viewed by others and helps raise the bar for how they choose to submit posts.  In addition, I have moderation power, and choose to read each post/comment before approving to our class page. This year I’ve been learning with my students how Seesaw works, and I’ve been overall impressed with the thoughtful comments they leave on their peers work. As educators, we need to continuously look at how we can modernize our teaching to help prepare our students for future learning goals.  Using social media or apps for communication allows teachable moments in digital citizenship that can help our students as 21st century learners.

Without joining Seesaw Facebook groups, webinars, and following on Twitter or Instagram, I wouldn’t feel nearly as confident using the app, let alone modeling how it works for other teachers. Within my own building, my hope is that several of the teachers who’ve shown interest in Seesaw will actively use the program next year. I realise however, for this to work, we need time to collaborate, for them to see it in action with students, and more than a one time PD session. So how can I take this to the next level? Networking!  Using my social media contacts, I am confident I can ask for support on how other schools have introduced Seesaw in schools with similar demographics and limited devices. Through social media contacts outside of my district, I can learn from others and hopefully implement a PD session in August for a new PLC group next year that are interested in using digital portfolios to monitor student growth.

References

Morris, L. (2015, February 27). Turn tech PD into a casual trip to the CAFE with this new model. Retrieved February 17, 2018, from https://www.eschoolnews.com/2015/02/27/cafe-pd-model-531/

Davis, M. (2013, February 26). Social Media for Teachers: Guides, Resources, and Ideas. Retrieved February 17, 2018, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/social-media-resources-educators-matt-davis

Fuglei, M. (2017, November 13). Dos and Don’ts for Using Social Media as a Teacher. Retrieved February 17, 2018, from https://education.cu-portland.edu/blog/leaders-link/educational-social-media-use/

Higgin, T. (2017, November 30). How to Craft Useful, Student-Centered Social Media Policies. Retrieved February 17, 2018, from https://www.commonsense.org/education/blog/how-to-craft-useful-student-centered-social-media-policies?utm_source=Edu_Newsletter_2018_02_13&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weekly

Balancing Process and Product

Creativity in learning involves both imagination and an ability to work with content knowledge (Hadzigeorgiou et al., 2012). A creative learning process will involve both iterations of refinement and application of core content knowledge such as disciplinary frameworks and core skills such as research methods.

Designing a unit in which college students in an introductory literature class use digital archives to develop hypotheses about literary texts (see previous post), and to address those hypotheses through contextual documents found in digital archives will involve both me and my students in context-focused inquiry as an important piece of the interpretive process, but also in “design thinking.” Design thinking is an iterative process of innovation related to learner-centered solving of either an applied question (as in engineering) or (in the case of the humanities) a knowledge question. In design thinking, “students know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovating artifacts or solving authentic problems” (ISTE Standard for Students 4a).

The learning goals for a typical introductory literature class focus on using the skills of textual analysis and critical theory, perhaps supported by basic training in the use of library databases to find and synthesize scholarly perspectives. In my experience, students need time to hone their own analytical skills and instincts, so I tend to de-emphasize the use of theories or scholarly sources that may co-opt student thinking.

Exposure to primary sources from the cultural and historical contexts surrounding literary production may prove to be a better way to extend student interpretive thinking (Nunes, 2015). In addition to affording cross-cultural collaboration into student consideration of the meaning of literary texts, a primary goal of my Global Collaboration project will be for student work with digitally archived primary sources to support extended questioning about the human problems presented in literature, as well as real-world application of what is learned, both in the sense of sharing an inquiry-based research process and in the sense of producing a meaningful product (ISTE Connects, 2016).

The affordances of the Digital Humanities (DH)—such as the types of information available, the technologies for gathering and analyzing that information, and the ways of asking and investigating questions that DH borrows from the social sciences—also extend the way it is possible to think about the research process in a literature class.

This reality demonstrates the way that teaching and learning core content knowledge, pedagogical approaches, and disciplinary technologies are not only three equally important considerations in course design, but may be significantly merged in Digital Age teaching and learning (Koehler & Mishra, 2009). Koehler and Mishra’s (2009) framework for teaching and learning, now known as TPACK (technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge), demonstrates the complex interaction of these three domains in the “complex, ill-structured” problem solving process of teaching.

This post begins with the TPACK framework as necessarily complex set of considerations for developing and balancing the criteria for choosing a content curation tool for the Global Collaboration project.

For this project, the student inquiry process—involving content knowledge—will merge with a design process—involving pedagogy and technology—that will include: posting references to digital archives, collaboration through feedback, an iterative process of demonstrating and refining answers, and technology-based content sharing via a refined final presentation of the question-and-answer process.

One important consideration for the use of technology tools in the design of this learning process is that the technology tools, research methods, and information systems used in the project not disrupt student learning by going too far beyond the skill set and course objectives for novice college students and novice technology users. Chen and Chen (2010) caution that digital archival material may not be well organized to support information access and retrieval.

Further, because some students who will be involved in this project live in a place where Internet access can be intermittent and technology infrastructure is less developed than in the U.S. mainland, tech tools used in the project need to be appropriate to support non-disruptive learning in those conditions. On the other hand, the technologies chosen for this project should have affordances that enable them to support a process of deeper understanding of a problem, generating ideas, and finding solutions (Kuo, Chen, & Hwang, 2014).

A second tension in the choice of technology tools is the constraints or affordances technology tools offer with respect to emphasizing the learning process versus emphasizing the product that can be produced.

Other criteria to consider in the choice of a content curation tool (or tools) for this project, include:

  • free
  • capacity for curating web links to digital archives
  • a visual element
  • space to post student writing
  • ease of use, including minimal layers of technology (ideally a single tool rather than a tool for creating and another for feedback and/or display)
  • ease of turning in and sharing work
  • support of collaboration and feedback within four-person small groups
  • ease of presentation of finished product to both classes
  • privacy: students should be able to opt out of associating work posted publicly with their names

My initial primary consideration has been to find a tool that supports both process (as would a blog or wiki) and the visual, product-oriented nature of curated archives.

At the latter end of the spectrum is https://elink.io, a tool for curating web links. Here is a prototype for a piece of student work in progress: https://elink.io/9a58b1f

Discussion:

  • The app is simple and easy to use.
  • I didn’t have to enter any personal identifying info (though there was an option to do so) although publishing does put the link onto the public Internet. I signed up for elink.io with a gmail account.
  • This tool seems to emphasize product over process. It immediately looks like a finished document, which has a motivating element, although editing is easy, so the tool is process-oriented in that sense.
  • Unfortunately, at least at the free level, there is no comments feature. Another app could be used for comments, but I hesitate to add layers of technology.
  • Students will need to share their links easily. With this app, sharing can be done by cutting and pasting into an email, but the app also has some ways you can post a link to Google+. But if a user does that, then his or her name is then associated with the link publicly.

As a second option and at the process-oriented end of the spectrum, I set up a class wiki prototype using Google Sites. Here’s the link: https://sites.google.com/view/introtolitcollaborative/home?authuser=0

Discussion:

  • A positive aspect of this set-up is that only one technology is needed. Google Sites provides essentially a self-contained blog site in which all students can see one another’s work. Not having to follow links would likely increase collaboration and sharing over elink
  • There is opportunity for peer feedback directly on student pages; peer comments can be posted in a designated space so they are visible to content creators.
  • Ease of use. This tool seems even easier to use than elink.
  • A con is that there is no way for students to easily include visuals of their archives or visual links. This is a significant impediment
  • Another and an important possible con is that, although the wiki is more conducive to facilitating a writing and reflection process than elink, it still presents a “finished product” appearance, which could have affective influence on how much students persist with inquiry and iteration. In addition, a preset blog format like the one I created in the prototype would allow for student ease of use, but creates a fill-in-the-blank visual presentation that may inadvertently stifle thinking.

The “blogging modalities” that will be important for my literature students’ “Global Collaboration” project include, on the one hand, the iterative and peer-to-peer aspects of a research and writing process, and, on the other, the “voice to all” and visual presentation aspects of an archival product (Brownstein & Klein, 2006). Although I’ll be investigating Blogger and Weebly, my consideration of how to balance technologies that are open-ended platforms for creation with those that are accessible to novice users and serve the needs of the inquiry project may lead me beyond traditional blog apps.

Barrow, Anderson, and Horner (2017) suggest the use of collaborative content creation tools such as Lino Boards for student curation of primary sources, and emphasize that blog content need not necessarily be created on typical blog sites.

Careful scaffolding—whether present within the chosen technology tools or external to them—will be necessary to support both student learning and student interacting, and to create a bridge between technological affordances and student learning through a design process.

 

References:

Barrow, E., Anderson, J., & Horner, M. (2017). The role of photoblogs in social studies classroom: Learning about the people of the Civil War. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 17(4). Retrieved from: http://www.citejournal.org/volume-17/issue-4-17/social-studies/the-role-of-photoblogs-in-social-studies-classroom-learning-about-the-people-of-the-civil-war

Brownstein, E., & Klein, R. (2006). Blogs: Applications in science education. Journal of college science teaching, 53(6).

Chen, C., & Chen, C. (2010). Problem-based learning supported by digital archives: Case study of Taiwan libraries’ history digital library. The electronic library, 28(1), 5-28. Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/02640471011005414

Humphrey, M. (2015). Design thinking. [Video file]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qyoZTUGzdGY

ISTE Connects. (2016, January 19). Here’s how you teach innovative thinking. International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=651

Koehler, M.J., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge? Contemporary issues in technology and teacher education, 9(1), pp. 60-70. Retrieved from: http://www.citejournal.org/volume-9/issue-1-09/general/what-is-technological-pedagogicalcontent-knowledge/

Kuo, F.-R., Chen, N.-S., & Hwang, G.-J. (2014). A creative thinking approach to enhancing the web-based problem solving performance of university students. Computers & Education, 72(c), 220–230.

Nunes, C., (2015). Digital archives in the wired world literature classroom in the US, Ariel 46(1/2), 115-141.

Pursel, B.K., & Xie, H., (2014). Patterns and pedagogy: Exploring student blog use in higher education. Contemporary educational technology, 5(2), pp. 96-109. Retrieved from: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1105526.pdf

Hadzigeorgiou, Y., Fokialis, P., & Kabouropoulou, M. (2012). Thinking about creativity in science education. Creative Education 3(5), pp. 603-611. Retrieved from: http://file.scirp.org/Html/22940.html

Designing platforms for PD: Web 2.0 and knowledge management (Module 3, ISTE-CS 4b)

For Module 3, we were prompted to look into the “digital age best practices” part of ISTE Coaching Standard 4b – design, develop, and implement technology rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment.

I’d like to write a bonus blog for sharing something I want to say about the process I went through during this module, but for now I’ll get straight to the point. What I found during this module were a few terms that help me ask my question using words that help me find information I’m looking for. The new terms are Web 2.0 and knowledge management (KM), and my reformulated question is:

What best practices are associated with using Web 2.0 technologies and knowledge management systems for the purpose of continuing engagement in professional development through virtual communities?
Definitions

Be aware that the term “knowledge management” seems to be a business term and so I expect that the business aspect of this term may not always map directly to education. Nevertheless, the term seems very helpful to me because of the vein of information I can find by using it since there is a lot of overlap between business and education – especially when it comes to collaboration.

I’ve come to the conclusion that, in general, if you want definitions for ideas which are consistently used everywhere, you’ll probably be out of luck. And since I currently want some flexibility in the definitions, I’m going to use Wikipedia to define the terms:

Web 2.0: “A Web 2.0 website may allow users to interact and collaborate with each other in a social media dialogue as creators of user-generated content in a virtual community, in contrast to the first generation of Web 1.0-era websites where people were limited to the passive viewing of content. Examples of Web 2.0 features include social networking sites and social media sites (e.g., Facebook), blogs, wikis, folksonomies (“tagging” keywords on websites and links), [and] video sharing sites (e.g., YouTube)…” (Web 2.0, n.d.).

Knowledge management: “Knowledge management is the process of creating, sharing, using and managing the knowledge and information of an organisation” (Knowledge management, n.d.).

Designing platforms for PD

During Module 1 this quarter (blog here), I read that learning management systems (LMSs) aren’t designed for professional development (PD), and we need platforms which are (Spirrison, 2016). I don’t know how true that statement is, or why Spirrison claims that, but I’ve been puzzling over it ever since and I’ve been wondering:

What makes a platform ideal for PD versus some other purpose (like running a class, for example)?

With that question in mind, a quote from a dissertation I’ve been referencing, titled Constructing Guidelines for Building Communities of Practice for Supporting Faculty Professional Development in Electronic Environments (Bond, 2013), stood out to me: “Early results indicate that both Facebook and Twitter may provide the social structures for building community, but lack infrastructure for knowledge creation and sharing” (p. 20). This sentence suggests to me that there are two big things that a platform designed for supporting PD needs to do: support social structures and support knowledge creation and sharing.

I can rewrite this claim using the new terms -> There are two big things that a platform designed for supporting PD needs to have: well-developed Web 2.0 technologies and KM technologies. I think integration of these two things is what platforms like Microsoft Teams and Slack are trying to do. Frost (2013) says that the mapping of Web 2.0 principles to KM is referred to as “KM 2.0” – another good term which would probably be valuable for me to investigate.

My experience as insight

My own experience as a graduate student suggests that what is lacking from your typical LMS is the social-structures support. I don’t think LMSs are devoid of social-structures support, but I don’t think they strongly support the social side of the equation. I’d have to think more about why, but that’s what I’m inclined to say at the moment. It could be more about the way we tend to use the tool than it is about the features and capabilities of the tool itself, and that could lead us to thoughts about best practices for using LMSs as a Web 2.0 tool, not just a KM tool.

So what I’m left with for this module are not thoughts about best digital age practices, but thoughts that put me in a better position to ask about, and search for, best digital age practices for extending PDs beyond face-to-face time.

 


References

Bond, M. A. (2013). Constructing Guidelines for Building Communities of Practice for Supporting Faculty Professional Development in Electronic Environments (Doctoral dissertation, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University).

Frost, A. (2013). Groupware Systems & KM 2.0. Retrieved from http://www.knowledge-management-tools.net/groupware.html

ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education. (2017). ISTE standards for coaches (2011). Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Knowledge management. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved Feb. 18, 2018,  from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge_management

Spirrison, B. (2016). Five reasons continuous learning platforms are the future of PD [blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.gettingsmart.com/2016/12/continuous-learning-platforms-professional-development/

Web 2.0. (n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved Feb. 18, 2018,  from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_2.0

Becoming Innovative Designers

This week we examined ISTE Student Standard 4: Innovative Designer- Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions. To best fit this standard for a Kindergarten classroom I need to answer the following questions.

How can Kindergarten students use digital tools to help solve problems? What digital tools can be used to teach students about a design process?

Why learning to solve problems through a design process is important-

When adding a new subject into our schedules it can seem like a daunting task, however, teaching students to code is an important skill. In the article Adding Coding to the Curriculum by Beth Gardiner from The New York Times, Beth stated “programming is highly creative: Studying it can help to develop problem-solving abilities, as well as equip students for a world transformed by technology”.(Gardiner)

“Kids these days are all stuck to their phones, their tablets, and are constantly using technology, but very few of them are learning how to create it,” said Roxanne Emadi, a strategist at Code.org, an advocacy group based in Seattle that is behind the Hour of Code effort. “Even if it’s something simple, like a kid programming a maze or programming a robot, when you can see your work brought to life, that’s where light bulbs go off.” (Gardiner)

Digital Tools for Coding-

While researching for different digital tools that foster in teaching students the design process, I discovered the site ScratchJr.org.  ScratchJr is an introductory programming language that enables young children (ages 5-7) to create their own interactive stories and games. Children snap together graphical programming blocks to make characters move, jump, dance, and sing. Children can modify characters in the paint editor, add their own voices and sounds, even insert photos of themselves — then use the programming blocks to make their characters come to life. With this program students learn how to create and express themselves with the computer, not just to interact with it. In the process, children learn to solve problems and design projects, and they develop sequencing skills that are foundational for later academic success. They also use math and language in a meaningful and motivating context, supporting the development of early-childhood numeracy and literacy.

Using ScratchJr. in the Classroom-

Activities- ScratchJr. comes with a assortment of activities for students to complete through the app. These activities come in a variety of difficulty, which allows for differentiation among students.

Curriculum-

  • Block Images-You can print high quality images of the ScratchJr blocks for classroom instruction.
  • Animated Genres-The curriculum will be divided into three modules based on three interactive genres of ScratchJr-based projects. These genres are collage, story, and game. Each of these modules is comprised of two units: 1. A series of lessons that introduce ScratchJr features and programming blocks 2. An opportunity for children to create their own projects by applying concepts learned in module lessons
  • Playground Games-In the eight lessons of this curriculum, children learn how to use ScratchJr as they re-create familiar playground games
  • Reinforcing Literacy and Math- These curricular modules describe ScratchJr projects that reinforce the Common Core Standards

Assessments- These assessments allow for teachers to determine the depth of students’ understanding of the relationship between the programming blocks and their associated behaviors.

 

Sources:

Gardiner, B. (2014, March 23). Adding Coding to the Curriculum. Retrieved February 19, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/24/world/europe/adding-coding-to-the-curriculum.html

ISTE Standards FORSTUDENTS. (n.d.). Retrieved February 19, 2018, from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students
Scratch – Home. (2017, April). Retrieved February 19, 2018, from https://www.scratchjr.org/

Using Code to Teach the Design Process

Innovative Designers

ISTE Standard for Students #4 is “Innovative Designer: Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.” There are four indicators listed under this standard and the first indicator reads: Students know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovative artifacts or solving authentic problems. (ISTE, 2016).  Jorge Valenzuela wrote a article published on the ISTE website called “Teaching Kids Computer Science Through Design and Inquiry” and he believes, “to be a proficient coder, it’s critical to learn how to develop a product, not just write code.”  Valenzuela lays out 4 steps for educators to consider when attempting to approach code through a design and inquiry perspective. Step 1: learn the skills and the tools, Step 2: start with computational thinking, algorithmic thinking and design, Step 3: introduce new knowledge and skills through inquiry and design, and Step 4: incorporate reflection into work with your students (Valenzuela, 2017).   

 

What’s the True Objective?

One of the most important things we can do during a lesson or unit of study is to be intentional with our learning objective as well as be very explicit when describing this objective to our students.  For me, I find this task difficult when planning lessons for coding instruction. When teaching my elementary students coding, many of them get very caught up with solving the puzzles as quickly as possible and get frustrated when they get “stuck”.  My objective for these types of learning experiences is focused on the process rather than the product.  I want my students to not just learn how to solve code puzzles but learn how to design by planning, taking risks, making mistakes, and learning from those mistakes.  My part of the equation (intentional objective) is clear, but articulating this to my students and having them grasp the objective is more difficult.  I think one of the keys to solving this dilemma is to spend time teaching about the design and inquiry process first, so students will have that foundation to draw upon when working through the coding puzzles.  Valenzuela has been intentional doing this with his students, “At first, we didn’t directly tell our students that they would be learning to code in this new project. We introduced it this way so that they wouldn’t initially focus so much on coding but more on the steps of the design (or project) that would include coding for successful implementation (Valenzuela, 2017).”  

Ok to Fail

Making mistakes or “failing” has often solely been negatively associated and not valued as a learning experience.  Slowly, making mistakes and using those mistakes to adjust our plan of action in a learning environment is becoming “ok”. When writing about educational makerspaces, Kurti and Kurti (2014) write, “It’s OK to fail. In fact, we encourage what most of society calls “failure,” because in reality, it is simply the first or second or third step toward success. No amazing innovation is created on the first try. Truly paradigm-shifting technologies and devices are the outgrowth of many iterations. Thus the path to success is paved with failures.”  I want my students to take risks when they are solving their coding puzzles, even if these risks mean they are more likely to make mistakes. I encourage my students to use “repeat” functions and “conditionals”  when they see fit, so they learn the concept of using loops and conditionals.  Innovation, inquiry, and the design process are learning environments that we need more than ever in schools. And these learning environments require “failure”. Our students must learn how to persevere when making mistakes and use their mistakes to plan a better design the next time.  As educators, we can help them learn how to persevere by engaging them in low-stakes, yet motivating, coding tutorials.

 

Sources:

Code.org website (Retrieved on 2018, February 16)

Iste.org. (2017) ISTE Standards for Students. (Retrieved on 2018, February 14) from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-student

ISTE Connects. (2016, January 19). Here’s how you teach innovative thinking. International Society for Technology in Education. (Retrieved on 2018, February 15) from: https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=651

Kurti, R. S., Kurti, D. L., & Fleming, L. (2014). The Philosophy of Educational Makerspaces. Teacher Librarian, 41(5), 8-11.

Valenzuela, J. (2017). Teaching Kids Computer Science Through Design and Inquiry. (Retrieved on 2018, February 13) from: https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=2105&category=Computer-Science&article

A PD Makeover for the Digital Age

Professional PD, Content Area PD & Digital Age Best Practices We’ve been dealing quite a bit with professional development this quarter in Digital Education Leadership and several of our prompts have focused on how we deal with adult learners. In last week’s post, I railed against the lack of respect that is often shown to … Continue reading "A PD Makeover for the Digital Age"

PBL Meets ELA: A Case Study

Project Based Learning (PBL) is one of the hottest buzzwords in education. The term brings to mind students hard at work researching or creating, groups crafting tangible projects worthy of display during Open House night, and teachers beaming as students take the lead in their own learning. PBL is a goal many teachers aspire to implement.

I am one of those teachers. I even received training and certification in PBL two years ago. Despite this training, I was left wondering how individual teachers (especially those of us in the humanities) could implement PBL in our individual classrooms. Programs like the Apollo School in Pennsylvania offer wonderful, personalized, Project Based Learning for students. But what I wanted to explore this week was how teachers who don’t have administrative support, extra funding, interdisciplinary co-teachers, and extremely small class sizes could implement PBL.

Another reason I wanted to explore successful PBL was to counter the many less than stellar examples I’d observed in the past few years. For example, a high school English teacher boasted about skipping teaching narrative writing and instead having students blog pictures of themselves throughout the day to ‘tell a story.’ While I’m sure his students were very excited and engaged, I struggled to see an academic component or a tie-in with ELA standards. Furthermore, are selfies really a skill that students need to be prompted to do?

Further complicating my search were the numerous amounts of projects that teachers were calling Project Based Learning which really were just good old-fashioned projects. For instance, writing and performing a modern adaptation of Macbeth after reading the play is a great summative project, but it doesn’t qualify as PBL.

Defining Project Based Learning

So what constitutes Project Based Learning? According to the Buck Institute for Education (a nonprofit organization focused on promoting student learning through Project Based Learning), the PBL teaching method should include the following 8 components:

  • Key Knowledge, Understanding, and Success Skills: Project is goal-based and informed by standards with an emphasis on critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and self-management.
  • Challenging Problem or Question: An appropriately challenging question or problem frames the project.
  • Sustained Inquiry: To explore the problem or question, students engage in research. Through the initial research, new questions emerge and are also explored.
  • Authenticity: The project should deal with real-world concerns and issues relevant to students’ lives. The task, impact, and process should also be authentic.
  • Student Voice & Choice: Within the project, students have the opportunity to choose how to work and what to create to demonstrate learning.
  • Reflection: Students should have a chance to reflect on the process and outcome including what challenges they faced and how they tackled those challenges.
  • Critique & Revision: Feedback is not final. Students have the opportunity to refine their product/project based on peer or teacher feedback.
  • Public Product: Audience for the final product is not just the teacher. Students have the chance to present or post their learning in a public forum.

On her blog, Cult of Pedagogy, Jennifer Gonzalez explains Project Based Learning as follows:

“With project based learning, the content is baked inside of a long-term project, a real-world problem students need to solve in a creative and authentic way. In the process of solving the problem, students also meet required standards, but this work is integrated into the project, not separate from it.” (2016)

PBL Success in the English Language Arts Classroom

In the course of researching PBL, I stumbled upon a post by junior high English teacher, Hannah Reimer. The title of the post piqued my interest: Literature, Deep Inquiry, Makerspace: Memorial Projects for the Holocaust & Other Cataclysmic Events. A makerspace project in English class? Tell me more!

Like many middle school teachers across the country, Reimer is tasked with teaching the difficult and painful subject of the Holocaust. Unlike many teachers, Reimer uses Project Based Learning to explore the ideas of remembrance and learning from the past.

Reimer begins her Holocaust unit by asking the following thought-provoking questions:

  • How do we remember or memorialize the people, all the people, scarred by genocide?
  • Why should we remember them?
  • What does it mean to remember?
  • How does art help people remember?
  • How is memory connected to education and change?

Students explore the questions through historical fiction and nonfiction (they choose the books) as well as online research. Students are then asked to create a model of a memorial for someone who suffered due to the ‘us versus them’ mentality that the victims of the Holocaust faced. Students are free to choose a single person, group of people, or an idea to commemorate. They’re not limited to creating memorials solely for Holocaust victims. For example, one student chose to memorialize young people who had committed suicide due to cyberbullying.

Students visit real-life memorials in their city to get a feel for the relationship between architecture, design, and honoring the dead. Before constructing their memorial models in their junior high’s makerspace lab, students had to write a persuasive pitch including facts and statistics about why the memorial was warranted. They also needed to justify their design choices.

As students work to construct their 3D models, they are able to consult with local artists and architects as well as a college professor. The final projects are photographed and edited using software like Photoshop to look like authentic architectural proposals. All students present their projects to faculty members at the Milwaukee Institute of Art. The best projects are then displayed at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee.

Reimer’s Holocaust project is a great example of what successful PBL looks like in the English classroom. It involves literature, research, writing, design thinking, modeling, art, computer design, and verbal presentation. The ability of students to consult with experts and present to an authentic audience further makes the project a real-world learning experience.

In addition to the many Common Core English standards met through this unit, students also meet ISTE standard 4, Innovative Designer. Specifically, students worked with an open-ended problem, built prototypes as part of the design process, used digital tools to research and create their memorial models, and created an authentic artifact that demonstrated their learning (iste.org, 2017).

Of course the academic element to this project is extensive and exciting. More importantly, this project encourages students to empathize with victims and consider the impact of their actions on others. In a longer version of the post, Reimer shares that her inspiration for the project stems from a request that a principal (and Holocaust survivor) made to his teachers: “Help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human” (as cited in Reimer, 2016).

Sources:
Bie.org. (n.d.). What is PBL? | Project Based Learning. [online] Available at: https://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl [Accessed 17 Feb. 2018].
Gonzalez, J. (2016). Project Based Learning: Start Here. [online] Cult of Pedagogy. Available at: https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/project-based-learning/ [Accessed 12 Feb. 2018].
Iste.org. (2017). ISTE Standards For Students. [online] Available at: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students [Accessed 10 Feb. 2018].
Reimer, H. (2016). Literature, Deep Inquiry, Makerspace: Memorial Projects for the Holocaust & Other Cataclysmic Events. [online] Bie.org. Available at: https://www.bie.org/blog/literature_deep_inquiry_makerspace_memorial_projects_for_the_holocaust_othe [Accessed 14 Feb. 2018].
Reimer, H. (2016). Searching for Meaning from the Holocaust. [online] Nais.org. Available at: https://www.nais.org/magazine/independent-teacher/spring-2016/searching-for-meaning-from-the-holocaust/ [Accessed 14 Feb. 2018].
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