Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Assessment in a PBI Environment? How?

Whenever I talk with someone who is considering using Project Based Instruction (PBI) in their classroom I can be assured that the topic of assessment will be one of the first questions asked. Assessment, both formative and summative, is a topic that is guaranteed to bring out opinions from educators and this is magnified by teachers trying to visualize assessment in a PBI classroom.

So, what does assessment look like in my classroom? Well, we have tests and quizzes and daily "warm-ups" and written explanations and.......
Wait, that sounds just like a regular classroom? YES! That is exactly the point I am trying to make. Even though we are considered "100 % PBI" does not mean that we give up assessing the learning of our students.

There are a couple of items that we do assess differently and that, really, is all that we need to discuss. If you have options, in your bag of tricks, of assessing the learning that is going on in your class, then you are already at a point where you are ready to be a PBI teacher.

Some things that WILL look different or that you don't normally see in a conventional classroom include: Project Grades, Collaboration Grades, Oral Presentation Grades, Critical Thinking Grades, or even Group Assessment Grades.

PROJECT GRADES - A project is more than just putting together a pretty poster or a power point explaining some research that has been conducted. There needs to be definite demarcations for the beginning or introduction to a new concept or idea; a middle where research, hands-on learning, or direct instruction is going on; and an ending where the new concept or idea is presented by the students to show their level of knowledge of the material.

At each stage of this process there are chances to assess knowledge. There might be a pre-assessment to confirm the knowledge levels of each student during the introduction phase. During the middle stages there can be written quizzes, (or even tests for larger, longer lasting projects), there can be oral quizzes, there can be quick "knowledge checks" taken through clicker systems or surveys. We collect "Warm-ups" at the beginning of class or "Tickets Out" at the end of class as another way to check for understanding. Your imagination is the only limiting tool.

COLLABORATION GRADES - While we are walking around monitoring group work, we have an intuitive "grade" of individual efforts in each group. To put a numerical value to what we already know we can assign collaboration grades at the midpoint and at the end of the project. This might be done with a survey or Google Forms where each student gives the other students and themselves a grade (1 - 10, 1 - 5, etc.). Then you add them all up and determine the grade for each student. Don't worry about equity, students are both ruthless (about the other group members) and honest (about themselves). A fun way to do this is to give the groups a total score that the individual scores must add up to. Just make sure the total isn't evenly divisible by the number of students in the group.

ORAL PRESENTATION GRADES - Whenever we can, we make sure that the students are presenting their projects to an audience. They have worked hard and deserve to show off their new-found knowledge. The audience might be a panel of experts from a business, education majors from the local college or university, parents of students, other students, or whatever combination of people you want to come up with. We often hear "I haven't touched algebra in 20 years," or " I was never good at math." But these panelists don't have to grade on content, they can grade for how the students presented: did they have good rapport with the audience? did they have interesting videos/podcasts/powerpoint slides/etc.? did one member of a group dominate the presentation or were they equal partners? Just list the objectives you would like graded and let them do the rest.

Assessment, as should be no surprise, is done in a PBI classroom just like a conventional classroom. I hope this short post has dispelled any rumors that PBI means we don't have to do assessment. That rumor needs to go into the same category of unfounded myths as the one about PBI can't have direct teaching. Don't get me started on that one. Or, maybe that's a topic for another post.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

An Example of PBL Planning

I started this morning trying to create an item using Blabberize.com and Glogster.com and ended up writing this post.

Whenever you are creating an Entry Document (or introduction to the project) you must decide many things, the most important of which is, what format will you use? When we started this project ideation we had in mind a music video using the idea of On A Boat (sans the bad language). But, as happens with real life teaching, we ran out of time prior to the Thanksgiving Holiday break and had to regroup.

We knew we wanted a boat theme and had even talked about having pirates in there, somewhere. Enter social media. Through twitter I had seen tweets about Blabberize and I had already played with it. I envisioned a talking pirate but what I actually settled for a talking skull.

When I had completed the blabberized skull I saw that when I selected "Share" it only gave me the option of copying the HTML to paste into something. So, I moved over to Glogster to create a place for my work.

I had just heard aboutGlogster, it turns out, via Twitter and I was ready to start playing with it. I had already created a map in Geometer Sketchpad, had uploaded it to Adobe Illustrator to make it nicer and then uploaded it to a word document. After the map I added the text of what I had my pirate skull say in the blabberize piece.

So, I placed the map and written directions into a glogster piece and I went back to trying to figure out how to place a link to my Talking Skull into glogster.

Enter social media again. I took a quick editing break to look at my twitter stream and noticed a tweet from Blabberize offering to make a video from one of my works. I took them up on the offer and I now have it to use in other places, as needed.

So the Entry Document to start this next project ends up being a Glogster with a Treasure Map and a Pirate Skull telling the students how to find my treasure. Also on the Glogster will be the instructions they were given in the Blabberize along with some additional instructions to build a boat to take the treasure to another island and to create their own treasure map of where they hid the treasure on their next island.

The purpose of an entry document is to get the students hooked and to get them thinking about what they need to learn to successfully complete the project. The entry document I have created will force students to ask how to do geometry constructions (to navigate the instructions and to create their own map) and it will pique their curiosity about what the boat will be made of which will lead us into another part of the project where they will look at the linear relationships between mass and buoyancy.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Thoughts on Co-Teaching a Class

At our school this year we are experimenting with ways to improve the educational experience of our math students. This experiment deals with two math teachers teaching the subjects of Algebra and Geometry to the same group of 9th graders. The students, as of right now, will stay with these two teachers until they have completed the state mandated mathematics objectives for both subjects. The hope, and expectation, placed on this experiment is a deeper understanding of the foundational math skills required of all students taking 4 years of mathematics in high school. This will, in turn, improve the results of our students when they take the state mandated tests at the end of the year.

What I haven't told you is that this experiment is going on in my classroom and my co-teacher and I are the teachers mentioned above. So, we have completed almost three weeks of school and here are my early observations:

1. Planning is now something that is done with two perspectives. That may sound obvious but how many times have you said, "oh, I forgot about that." Now, one of us is bound to have thought through a particular angle that might have been missed by a single teacher. Also, I am finding that we are able to plan much farther out in the calendar. We will get together, for example, tomorrow and go through the basic nuts and bolts for the next three weeks of our second project while evaluating the end of our first project which wraps up this coming week.

2. Grading can now be done more expeditiously. As a matter of fact we are finding that I really like grading tests and quizzes (which is a very long process because I go through every problem for every student to see their work and evaluate their thought process), and my co-teacher doesn't mind doing the daily homework, classwork grading (things I hate to do and which would always end up piling up on my desk). This may change after a while, but for now, I think we're both happy.

3. We are starting to have an almost husband/wife relationship in front of the students. What I mean by this is that we play off each other's thoughts, we do the whole "good cop/bad cop" thing, and we feel comfortable poking fun at each other. This has led to times when one of us is not feeling like dealing with a certain situation in class and the other naturally steps in to take control of the task at hand. We have also caught students asking one of us for permission, not getting it, and then coming over and asking the other one of us for permission; a classic child/parent scenario.

4. Our pairing is especially good because of our age, and experience, difference. My co-teacher is in her 2nd full year as a teacher, is working on her Master's in Math Education, and is recognized by our district and the University of Texas' UTEACH program as an exceptionally gifted teacher. I've been teaching since 1992 and have taught in a variety of situations. Her hard driving, go-get-em approach is nicely tempered with my even-handed, seasoned approach to teaching. Between the two of us we are able to find a sensible middle ground in all that we do.

Working with another teacher in "your classroom" can be a bit disconcerting, at first. There needs to be a willingness by both teachers to collaborate on all decisions. As with all good teams, egos must be put aside so that progress can happen. Because, the progress we are really talking about is the progress of our students. The state, superintendent, principal, and parents don't care which teacher does what in the classroom as long as the students are successful. And, that is what we are seeing in OUR classroom. Learning is happening and I'm excited about the possibilities.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Should We Worry About Twitter Safety?

Surprise by Khayal on Flickr ccAs an educator I am always cognizant of perceptions by parents, school district personnel, and the local community. That runs the gamut from anything I might buy at the local liquor store to what web sites I go to on the school computers.

So, I am also very careful about social media and my interaction with students. I, literally, am friends with one student on Facebook from my current school and one student from a previous school. On Twitter I only follow one student and I have blocked all other students. Because I do have access, even as limited as it is, with students I am extra careful about what I post and what comments or links I interact with.

Many of you reading this will think I am overly worried. Those who know how conservative my school district is may be surprised I actually interact with any students on Facebook or Twitter. In fact, there are several of our teachers who have lots of interaction with their students, although we have (as a staff) witnessed what can happen when a parent becomes concerned with what is being said between a teacher and a student.

As an advocate of social media for teachers, especially Twitter, I was saddened to witness a friend of my wife's problems. It seems her Twitter stream was hijacked and replaced with a pornographic site. If you went to the original site you would get a message that the site was not found. This resulted in the real woman taking her site down. If, however, you went to the the new Twitter ID found in the original woman's twitter stream you would go to a site that looked just like the original site but all of the links and tweets were related to pornographic material.

Has this happened before? You bet. Had my wife or I witnessed it happening? Not at that time. And it really got our attention. I started to think about a teacher who might be using Twitter with students and suddenly the students are being offered an education in things most parents would not welcome.

Would these same parents be understanding? - "Oh, no problem. That happens." -OR- Would these parents crucify the teacher for "exposing our child to pornography?" Would the school administration be supportive? - "He is an outstanding teacher and we are sorry this happened. You can be sure that we will look into the matter and it will not happen again." -OR- Would the administration hang the teacher out to dry ?- "He was warned about using social media in the classroom."

Even though I am at the end of my second year on Twitter, I think that we are still too early in the life cycle of this site to be sure whether what happened that day is something to worry about. Still, I would hope one would not blindly jump into the stream and offer up Twitter interaction with students without, first, considering all of the possible scenarios. I would also hope that you would have a dialogue with your administration and staff so that every teacher is fully educated about the wonders (and the possible horrors) of using social media with your students. I know we had this discussion at our school.

I would also hope you are having ongoing discussions with your students about what they post and how their comments can come back to haunt them in future years.

Getting back to my original theme; no matter how good we are with improving the knowledge level of our teachers and students, that does not mean that your Twitter stream won't get hijacked.

At my school, at least, I feel confident that we will have the full support of our administration should any problem arise.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

So Summer Begins...

I am at the end of my first week of Summer vacation and I really haven't done squat. Maybe that's what I was supposed to do because I'm ready to start working. My first item of business is to get this Blog going. As I said in the last post I will be going through lots of tools this summer to see what I might want to use in the coming school year. In addition to the list I gave you then, here are my Delicious Bookmarks to see all of the things that I have "collected" during the school year - lots for me to take a look at!

I thought I'd share what my Summer plans look like before you start complaining that I didn't get enough done on my ToDo List.
First off I will be writing curriculum for our school district. I'll be working with my fellow MNTHS teacher, Tara Craig, and we will be concentrating on the combined Algebra 1/Geometry class that we will be team teaching this year (and next). The alignment of state standards will be tricky but not impossible to complete.
Next up I go to Harvard. Sounds impressive but actually I'm the DH(designated hitter) for our school. We have been asked to participate at the Achievement Gap Initiative under schools that "Focus Effectively on Technology." I'll attend the two-day conference but I'm a back-up should our Principal or Master Teacher be unable to be on their panel.
I then get almost two weeks off before I attend the Conference for the Advancement of Mathematics Teaching (CAMT) in Houston.
That ends on Friday, July 17th and on July 18th I drive to San Antonio for the set up of a week at the PBL T-STEM Summer Institute. There, I become a trainer and I will be one of only a handful of PBL high school teachers in attendance.
When that concludes, I get to have almost 48 hours off before I leave on Sunday, 26th to go to our New Technology Foundation All Schools Conference in Grand Rapids, MI. At this conference I will be both attending and presenting. Many, if not all, of the teachers at MNTHS present at this conference because, well, we're awesome like that. Actually our Principal is very supportive of our work and he encourages us all to submit a proposal because HE thinks we're awesome. It really is an incredible conference for all of us New Tech folks.
That ends on the 31st and on Monday or Tuesday I attend a TAP summer training for 3 days ( at our school, thank God). Then I get a week or so off before teachers are Back To School!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

What I (will do) Did On My Summer Vacation

As a first year teacher doing Project Based Instruction (PBI), I am working my little rear end off and I'm not even doing a great job! So, with very little time to breath, I have come up with things I plan on looking at during the summer as part of my personal PD. This list came from bookmarks on my laptop. They include sites I heard about from people on twitter or from the blogs of people I follow on Twitter. That's right from my Personal Learning Network or PLN. The full list includes websites, blogs, apps, and other neat things. But, for this blog post I'm just listing the first 10. You may find some of these things interesting or, maybe, you might have some experience with an item and you can help me in my quest for learning. Either way I hope you find this list fun. Feel free to add anything you think I should look at in the comments section.

My Summer Professional Development List:

1) Geo-caching 2)TI Math Forward and TI N-Spire 3) iShowU 4)The Futures Channel 5) NCTM Illuminations 6) PDtogo.com 7) Peak Achievement 8) mySMARTspaces 9) Voicethread 10) Diigo

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patty's Day

I woke up this morning with no intentions of having a blog. As a matter of fact I had just last month stated that I didn't have enough time to blog. Enter Liz Strauss and Becky McCray. They were in visiting for SXSW and had been actively participating with my wife Sheila Scarborough. As I was describing reading my many education friends on Twitter and then sending emails to fellow teachers when I found a real nugget, Liz said, "Well, its time you had your own blog." Becky added that a blog would not be that time consuming and that I should consider it. Well, it is now the afternoon and I'm on Spring Break so here we go........
I won't guarantee that I will be posting much until the summer but when I come across something that I feel is important to my education cohorts then I will post away. The bottom line is that today is St. Patrick's Day and I hope you all are "awearin th'green."