Monday, January 30, 2012

Questioning Normalcy


Educon 2.4 came to a close but is far from finished.  The conversations started there will continue in the hallways and faculty lounges around the world and in online discussions via blogs, Facebook, and Twitter.  
The overarching word du jour was Innovation. We heard what it was and what it wasn't. We dissected it and defined it and even used it in a drinking game.  But, most striking was the fact that we never gave up on it. 
 Innovation, it seems, was a part of us throughout the weekend.  And why not?  Those of us in those rooms or following along via streaming are education innovators.  How many of us know more people who haven't a clue what Educon is than the number of people who were envious of us in attendance?

But how do we innovate once we return to our offices or classrooms?  For me I plan on bringing up these discussions with my colleagues.  I plan on addressing things that made me question what I, or my school, is doing.  I plan on having discussions with students about these topics and how they can help bring about change in our school.

As this transformation evolves I will be posting the "aha!" moments, the "holy crap we can't do that's," and the "let's get this baby rollings."   Throughout, I would love your thoughts and encouragement.  I'll be sharing this with our students and look forward to their input as well.  And, in a few weeks I plan on linking to our class blog as my students start down this journey.

Thank you Educon, Chris Lehman, and the staff, parents, and students of the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) for providing all of us with such an enriching event.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Educon 2.4 First Day Reflection

"Wow!  My head hurts, but in a good way."  How many times did I hear some version of that statement tonight.  Yes, it hurts your brain to question what you are doing.  It hurts your brain to question what others are saying they are doing.  And, it hurts your brain to stand firm on something you truly believe in.

All of those things happened (and more) to my brain today.  Actually this pain in my brain started Thursday night as we sat talking inside of Con Murphys, until later than I would have liked, about things related to unstructured classrooms and democratic learning.  [Confession: my brain hurt too because the singer was a little loud - I'm getting old, sigh....]

This continued on Friday as I toured the SLA and talked with their incredible students.  But the best thing about seeing the SLA is that our students are just like those students.  Our classrooms are incredibly similar to the SLA classrooms.  I saw presentations and researching with technology.  I saw hands on exploration in a Calculus class.  [Confession #2: I was told I couldn't help the students but I did give them a hint about thinking back to their Algebra 2 days and maximizing area of a fenced in pen, sorry]

Then, Friday night, there was a wonderful panel of speakers who challenged our thoughts on Innovation. This later became "the I-word" and was worked into a drinking game but the fact is we were discussing until almost midnight what it means to innovate.

The pain today started early as I had to choose between about 15 conversations for each of the three sessions.  Luckily, for me,  Michelle Baldwin had tweeted me the night before telling me I had to come to her session where we discussed finding and nurturing the next Da Vinci in our classrooms. [Confession #3: Glad I didn't have to choose and it turned out to be an awesome discussion with Kelly Tenkely.]

The second session I went to was made easy because I didn't have to change rooms.  I really wanted to hear Liz Davis and Lisa Thumann and they just happened to be in the same room.  Their conversation was on Tradition Vs. Innovation.  This was an interactive session as we had to choose to "Dig It" or "Ditch It" on some dozen topics in education that were "traditional."  Great discussions by teachers wearing their parent hats in this one.

You know, I've heard Dean Shareski speak and I abuse the other Canadian, Alec Couros a lot on twitter so I had to go see them tag team the topic of Learning in Public.  This was definitely standing room only and there were no shy people in the room when it came to discussing this topic.  Somehow this was the only session where I was content to just listen.  [Confession #4: I almost raised my hand to see if I could be selected so I could tell them that Kelly Tenkely kept raising her hand to comment and they were missing her]

The SLA then provided a dinner where we continued to talk about what we had heard during the day and then we took the train out to the meet up this evening where we discussed stuff for another hour and a half and now, finally, I am back in my room and writing this post.

Basically, I have talked about education related topics every waking hour from my arrival to now and that's about 40 of the last 54 hours.  So, yeah, my head hurts.  But you know what?  I'm heading back tomorrow morning to do it all again.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

PBL With Friends

      "To create meaningful PBL units it helps to enlist friends and colleagues.  If they are not in your area of expertise they bring a fresh perspective.  We will discuss creating a PBL unit while brainstorming with a topic and standards given to us from one of the participants."

     That is the short description of my conversation for Educon Philly 2012.  My aim is to have a discussion around what it takes to create a PBL unit and to show those thinking about working PBL into their classroom that it can be done.  And, it is much easier to be successful if you have people help you with the planning.

     To start I want to figure out the level of expertise, in PBL, of the people in the room.  For that I'm debating using some sort of mobile polling app or maybe just a google form.  Either way I'm hoping to have it updating as people are coming into the room so that, as we begin, I already know where I need to head with the initial discussion.

     Things that will effect my starting point for the conversation:  (1) Grade Levels represented.  PBL may be PBL but there are differences that need to be addressed.  Are we mostly Elementary or Post Secondary?  (2)  Experience with PBL.  Is my audience mostly new to PBL and really need to understand what the heck this PBL stuff is?  Or, are we dealing with knowledgeable teachers of PBL who we can really dig deeply in our conversations.  (3) Subject Areas.  Are there mostly math teachers?  Social Study Teachers?  Lower Elementary or Home Schoolers who want to discuss multi-content PBL's?

     One of the things I will want to share is this post with links to key items.  That includes the Buck Institute.  They do wonderful workshops on PBL and have "how to" books on the subject that I reference before the beginning of each school year.  Also, Edutopia has started really building their reference materials and videos about PBL.  And, lastly, the newest resource for great PBL information - PBLChat on Twitter.  PBLChat is every Tuesday evening at 9 EST.  And the archive from each week is saved in Storify.  Here are two of the better chats:  Engaging Entry Events,  and,  Doing Projects vs. PBL .  
     Mainly, though, we will have (as the name says) a conversation.  I want to hear what people are doing with PBL in their classrooms and schools.  I want to hear questions and fears from those wanting to take the plunge.   I want honest questions and honest responses.  PBL is hard, for example.  That needs to be made clear - yes, it is hard.  But only because you become like a new teacher when you start with PBL.  You are learning pacing, you are learning group dynamics, you are learning a new form of classroom management...  The list could go on and on.  But when you stick with it you will suddenly get to the day where you get the class started and suddenly there is learning going on all around you.  Groups are having thoughtful discussions.  Groups are handling issues with one of their members.  And, most enjoyably, students are asking you "how?" or "why?" or some other higher level thinking question.

      PBL is different.  PBL may not be for every teacher.  But PBL works.  Those classrooms having success can see it; they can feel it; and they can hear it;  the learning is in the hands of your students.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sometimes, NEEDS can surprise you.

Wordle: PBL Blogpost
From Wordle
     The last post I wrote in 2011 was a four parter and dealt with getting started with PBL.   I decided to run those posts through Wordle and the picture to the left is the result.

     The words that really stand out are PBL, Need, Project, and Students.  Not too much smaller are Know and Standards.  I found this interesting in that the standards came out as nearly as important as the word PBL, Project, and Students.

     What really surprised me was the word Need.  I know students really need  a different experience in the classroom.  I know the students need a teacher willing to try something new so that they can benefit from the best learning possible.

     I also know that teachers need support from their peers, their administration and their district curriculum people.   Some of you may be saying that I need to apologize for getting you to read this.  Actually, I just need to see you all having fun with this post.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Sometimes You Just Have to Drop Back and Punt

     This week we came back to school and we were in mid-project.  When my co-teacher and I met on the return teacher work day we discussed the fact that we were not really happy with how the project had gone and we determined that we might just have to wrap it up and move on.

     We, literally, almost came down to an arm wrestle over whether to stop the project, when to stop the project, and how to stop the project.  We finally had our hand forced as we realized that the end of our six weeks marking period was going to happen within the next 7 class days.

     How did this disaster happen?  Simple actually: not being specific about what we wanted our students to accomplish and not understanding the time required to obtain certain skills.  And, without having to mention the subject, this could have happened in any project-based class in any school in the world.

     When you try to put too much into a project you run into the possibility of students losing interest in what was supposed to be the major end product.  That is what happened to us.  We had CAD (computer aided design) techniques that needed to be learned and we had a requirement for a specialized 3D printer that needed an upgrade.  Meanwhile the driving question was " How can students use their artistic talents in an engineering course to create a lasting symbol of peace and love?"  And their end product was a tile mosaic with each student creating a tile for the mosaic.  

     The concept sounded beautiful.  Then there came the set backs.  First the realization that we might not be able to make the tiles when they got to that point because our 3D printer wouldn't be ready.  Next the realization that the CAD techniques we were wanting our students to learn take time and we hadn't really planned the right number of days for this.  A day here, a day there, a Thanksgiving break, and the craziness that occurs near the December holiday break and suddenly it was January 3 and we hadn't completed the project.

     So what do you do?  Well, here's what we did.  On the first day groups created a presentation on where they had gotten to before Christmas.  This served a threefold purpose: we could discuss the fact that we weren't happy and wanted to terminate the project, students could remember why we were even doing the project in the first place, and they could practice their presentation skills (giving us a chance at an oral communication grade).  

     The second day we continued with groups drawing sketches of what the final product would have looked like and what CAD skills they would have had to use to create their design.  This gave us a chance to give a writing grade and a technology skills grade.   Finally we wrapped things up with a discussion of how things went in the project and what could be improved.  And, we took time to discuss the final product and it's potential for impact on the school and community.

     Here we have two teachers who have taught in a PBL classroom for a combined 8 years and their project flopped.  It happens.  And when it happens you need to get the students involved.  Have them help you understand what went wrong.  Then continue a discussion of what the final product means in relation to the work they have completed.  And then move on to the next project.  Incorporate skills that you were unable to get to with the previous project into the new project.  Use spiraling and scaffolding to connect the skills and before long you may be the only one who remembers this disaster.  Welcome to PBL.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Workout For The New Year

     You get home and you are exhausted or you want to get up and do something but don't have a lot of time before getting ready for school.  If you want to walk and/or run as part of your workout then this might work for you.  I did mine at lunch today to start the new year right.

     I started doing this workout a couple of years ago to get myself back into running.  When I started I had a hard time running a lap on the track and I was 70 pounds overweight.  Today I'm not much better but I do try to do a monthly 5K and I'm only about 50 pounds overweight.  So you can do this.

     This will get you through 2+ miles (if you can run at least one lap) and will get you about a mile and a half if you can only walk a lap.  The goal is to keep moving for about 30 minutes.  So, if you are faster then adjust by adding some distance to this and I'll explain that at the end.

Here's the workout and I'll explain after:

          1.  Jog (or walk) one lap on a track (or for 4 or 5 minutes) at an easier pace than you do for a 5K.(Note 1)
          2.  Do 10 pushups concentrating on form. (Note 2)
          3.  Walk a half of a lap (or for 3 minutes).
          4.  Run (or walk at a quicker pace) to the end of the lap (Note 1)
          5.  Do 9 pushups concentrating on form. (Note 2)
          6.  Walk a half of a lap (or for 3 minutes).
          7.  Run (or walk) the straight part of the track at faster than a 5K pace (Note 1) then walk to the end of this lap.
          8.  Do 8 pushups concentrating on form. (Note 2)
          9.  Run (or walk) the straight part of the track at faster than a 5K pace (Note 1) then walk the curved part of the track.  Then run the second straight and walk the final curve to the end of this lap.
        10.  Do 7 pushups concentrating on form. (Note 2)
        11.  Repeat steps 1 - 10 with decreasing pushups at the end of each lap (6,5,4,3 pushups).
        12.  At the end you may want to walk one complete lap as a cool down.  Total time should be between 25 and 35 minutes depending on your speed.

NOTE 1:  The running/jogging/walking will be at various speeds. I try to do this on a track.  I run the first lap at a slower than 5K pace and I start at the beginning of one of the straight-aways.  My "formula" has you run a complete 1st lap, run half and walk half for the 2nd lap, run only the second straight-away on the 3rd lap and run both of the straight-aways on the final lap.  The straights are done at a faster than normal 5K pace.  I like to run in lane 1 (or 2 if there are faster runners) for the 1st  and 5th lap, lane 2 for the 2nd and 6th lap, etc.  This will help you keep track of the lap you are on.

NOTE 2:  The pushups are done at the end of each lap or at the end of every 3 to 5 minutes (depending on the speed).  You start with 10, then decrease by one for each lap.  This may be a lot in the beginning but is a small enough number that you can really focus on good form.  You may always increase the number once you can do them all with great form.  At the end you will have done 52 pushups.

     Finally, once you are comfortably doing this workout with all of the pushups and you are consistently below 30 minutes you will want to add distance to complete a full 30 minutes.  I like to add full laps at a 5K pace.  If you get to the point that you are running 3 miles and completing all of the pushups start adding additional pushups or some other exercise to work your upper body or core.

     Happy New Year and hope you find this useful.  I'll be back talking about PBL in the next post.