Sunday, September 16, 2012

Problem Statements and Driving Questions, Oh My...

     This week I was able to overhear and then take part in (for a few moments) a discussion on Problem Statements and Driving Questions and what they look like at various levels of educational maturation.  I love my job and I love having smart PBL people like Chrysta, Claudia, and Ashley to talk with about such things.

     So how should we introduce a problem and then keep pushing our students toward a goal that ensures successful knowledge gain?  Here are a couple of videos that let you see teachers discussing their driving questions (notice that these are both at the high school level).

     Watch this entire video to see teachers discussing components of the driving question and subsequent questions that will need to be examined.

     I love this discussion of crafting a driving question.  This link starts in the middle of the discussion but there are some key points made here.

     When we are creating a driving question we want to know what our students should be learning and we need to think of questions that must be answered by our students as they demonstrate knowledge.  That is rather obvious.  But how much do we give to our students, up front, and how much do we expect our students to ask/answer by themselves.

     With upper elementary students and lower middle school students we will need to drive them to the questions they need to ask.  They may not know what they need to know to be successful.  As the students mature we will need to guide their questioning.  This is usually expressed as their Knows and Need to Knows.  We help them make a list of items they will need to learn.

     With our secondary students we may just need to facilitate their discussions of Knows and Need to Knows.  They should be able to brainstorm what will need to be learned during the project.  And so we are able to guide them to the driving question.  They create the question that will drive their learning.

     In more advanced (with PBL) classes we can even have our students create their problem statement.  The overarching problem can be tackled from many different directions and therefore the students will need to decide how they want to tackle it.  They create the problem and the ensuing driving questions.

     To sum up these thoughts, I would suggest students who are in their first year with PBL or those students who are at the elementary level will need to have a problem statement and driving question from the outset and generated by the teacher.   Middle school students or students with more than a year of PBL should be able to take a problem statement and create the driving question.  (Note: at this point groups may have different driving questions.  It will be up to the teacher to ensure they are heading in the right direction with their problem.)

     Finally, those students with years of PBL experience and a high enough maturity level, will be able to take a "problem" and create a problem statement and their driving question.  They should also be able to create sub-questions that will need to be answered for their group to successfully answer their driving question.  It is at this point that the teacher truly becomes a facilitator.

     Some might look at this as when the teacher's job is done.  However, this is when a teacher must be at his or her finest.  Teachers must guide the students with their learning which might mean a sudden need for a workshop on a topic, about which,  the teacher may only have cursory knowledge.  Then the teacher may have to do their own learning on the topic.  This is why many teachers describe their experience with pbl as "the most walking I've ever done - I never get to sit!"

    Whether you are providing the problem statement and driving question or you are facilitating as groups create their problem statement and driving question(s), you must be tuned in to every discussion and conversation happening in your pbl groups.  With advanced work on what you want the problem statement and driving question to be, you will be able to give your students a framework for rich conversations that will foster a deeper understanding of a topic.  And, hopefully, those students will be more capable in using the required skills that drive your curriculum.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Using A Power Standard Protocol

Many teachers get stuck at the project ideation stage when they consider using PBL in their classes.  What standards will they use?  How do they convert the standards to a step or concept in a project?  Should they come up with a project idea and then figure out what standards "fit" the project?  What do they do if they don't have a good imagination or they aren't creative?

Once a teacher has been "doing PBL" for a few years they will discover that they can choose whether to take standards and think of a project idea around those standards, or, take a project idea and fit standards into that idea.

Since I have immersed myself into looking at standards, in my new job as an instructional coach, I will base this post on going from the standards to the project idea.

Our district is currently using a Power Standards Protocol, as first mentioned in Larry Ainsworth's Power Standard's book.  If you use this process, along with your district's curriculum guides, you will be set up for creating projects that are fully standards based.

To use the protocol you first need to have your district curriculum for the year.  Many districts call this a Year at a Glance or YAG.  Within your YAG, or equivalent document, you will have standards that you will be expected to cover during set periods or within designated "Units."  If you're lucky your district will have given the units a theme or big idea.  Having a theme or idea will immediately translate to a project idea and you are already heading in the right direction.

But no matter how it is presented to you, there will be standards that are expected to be taught and here's where the Power Standards Protocol comes in.  Power standards are those standards that have endurance, leverage and/or readiness.  

Endurance standards are those standards that will be important for students throughout their academic life and beyond.   For example understanding whether a math answer is reasonable is a standard in many math courses and at many grades.  It is also important in life - when you get that car loan does the monthly bill seem reasonable?  That standard has endurance.

Leverage standards are those standards that will be important in multiple classes.  For example understanding how to read data in a graph is important in math, in social studies, in science and in many other courses.  That is a standard that has leverage.

Readiness standards are those standards that help build a foundation for success in the next course or grade.  For example basic arithmetic standards for adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing are required to be successful in subsequent math classes.  This example is also a standard that has leverage and endurance.  So, some standards have all three requirements.  And, these are standards that are more powerful - hence power standards.

These days we also look at how standards effect the successful completion of state standardized tests. And so the ideas of endurance, leverage, and readiness must also be discussed in relation to these tests.  Results from the previous year for individual students or for specific grades can, and should, be added into the discussion of which standards are Power Standards.  If only 44% of your students got the correct answer for questions involving a certain standard and there were 8 questions from that standard on the latest test, then this standard might be a power standard.

So, look at the standards that you have to cover in your next unit.  It is a good idea to make an initial prioritization based upon your knowledge of your content and any other relevant factors.  Then look at the data from previous years as well as the leverage, endurance, and readiness qualities.  This will often change your initial prioritization.  Now you are ready for a final prioritization of the standards for that unit.  

It is important to understand that prioritizing the standards does not imply that you don't have to cover those standards that received the lowest priority.  Every standard will have to be taught and assessed.  But, those standards with  the highest priority will be your power standards and you will want to make sure that you plan to teach, assess, and reteach (if necessary) these standards.  And, you will want to have these standards as key components of your project.

One way to emphasize the power standards is to have them listed in your rubrics.  We like to use 4-column rubrics with the first column listing the standards to be covered in the project.  You may also want to have line items in the rubric that address these standards specifically.  If students know that they are required to master a certain standard or task then they are more willing to take them seriously.  Make sure they are aware of what standards they are expected to learn and they will take charge of their learning.

Data mining is now an expected skill in education.  And, I would say, this is one of the more important tasks teachers learn in their first few years in the classroom.  Through the process of finding the power standards teachers now know what key topics their students need to learn to be successful in the classroom and in the students' future classes.  Knowing their power standards can turn teachers into power educators.