Tuesday, March 26, 2013

April Fool's Day and PBL

A couple of years ago a co-teacher and I held a project where students had to create a prank on one of the teachers or administrators.

They needed to fill a room, drawer, cabinet, locker, car, etc with items as a prank. The winning group would be allowed to pull off the prank.

The standards for this prank were Geometry-based and dealt with volume and surface area. But the main thing we had in this project was authenticity and voice & choice.

Those kids had a definite purpose in calculating how many balloons would fit in a teacher's car or how many marshmallows would fit in a desk drawer.

As April fools day approaches I am reminded that PBL projects don't have to be mundane and boring. If you can't come up with ideas ask your PLN or, even better, your students for ideas.

If you need help thinking of practical jokes just google "pranks," or "office pranks," or other words that will head you in the right direction. But, better yet, just have your students create a prank that requires math to calculate and won't hurt anyone (other than maybe some pride).

Sunday, March 24, 2013

"Doing PBL" Isn't Automatic

I've been meeting with my 6th grade science teachers in the last few weeks as they get ready to start a project. We've looked at the standards that they want to cover and brainstormed scenarios.

What I've discovered, as a first year instructional coach, is that some of my teachers need more help than others (well duh), and, that there isn't some magic switch that turns on in a teacher's head and they suddenly become PBL teachers.

There really is a leap of faith that a veteran teacher must make to let go of the learning process and put more of the learning in the student's hands. With some it is more of a hopping across stones instead of a leap.  Let go (a little), evaluate what just happened, repeat.

So here we are in March and there is still a valid concern about getting all of the standards covered. Where I see how to set up the project so students find a need to know the material, these teachers still want to "teach stuff first" so that students have a foundation to work with.  I know that the process will work but these teachers haven't gotten there yet.

Part of the problem is that they are good teachers. They have had success doing what they have been doing.  Yes, they have been through a four-day PBL training program.  Yes, they have been told teaching with the PBL process as the primary form of facilitation will work. But we have not required them to go full-bore with PBL.  They have only had to do a few PBL units and practice does make perfect.

It may sound weird to some but teachers, and their students, must struggle and maybe even fail before they will really understand what makes for a good PBL unit. Part of being successful is being honestly reflective and making changes to what you have done. It is the fear of the unknown and the possibility of failure that keeps teachers from more freely embracing PBL.

As we move forward with PBL and add the 7th and 8th grade teachers to the mix I realize that we are going to have to be more demanding on the number of PBL units our teachers attempt in the coming school year. This will be especially important in those classes that aren't viewed as "tested" subjects. Those teachers who learn and understand the process will find success and their success will fuel the desire our other teachers will need to take the challenge for themselves. Next school year may be filled with a lot of work but the results will be worth it.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

It's All About the Conversations

People Like to Talk
Anyone who has ever attended an Educon event knows that conversations are the key to having successful learning experiences at conferences.

In the standard conference we attend sessions where people talk to us, in a lecture format, and there may, or may not be time for questions. To truly have time to discuss what you just heard you have to join up (virtually or face-to-face) with others who attended that session or who have knowledge of the subject.

SXSWEdu is starting to have less lecturers and more facilitators of discussion and it is a welcomed change.  There are many things that are different, this year, from that first disappointingly bad conference two years ago. But, unfortunately, there is still too much emphasis on the business of education rather than the art of education.

So, if you want to have conversations about topics of interest, it is the hallways, restaurants, bars, and lounges where you will have the best and deepest discussions.  While in the hallways of SXSW you hear teachers talking with edtech people; startups talking with venture capitalists; and IT folks talking with school administrators.

Unfortunately, you don't hear many conversations between teachers and other teachers at SXSWEdu.  As a friend of mine said to me this morning, when I asked him how his week was, "They should call it an Education Industry conference.  It really isn't an education conference."

And this week was frustrating because of the huge emphasis on data.  There were startups who could give you a better dashboard for your data.  Edtech companies who could put all of your data from the various programs you are using into one data file.  There were companies who could do more meaningful data management.

Analyzing data can help teachers provide better and more meaningful instruction for their students. That is a true statement. God knows I spend hours upon hours of spreadsheet analysis of student scores related to various data points.  But with this much emphasis on data I felt like I was attending a math conference instead of an education conference.

SXSWEdu has grown in size and in scope.  It is immensely better than the poor excuse for a conference in 2011 that I had to attend - at my own cost even though I was a speaker. [Side Note: speakers at the other SXSW events get a pass to the conference]  But if we're going to call this an educator conference, let's bring in the educators in large numbers.  Let's have the break down be 70% educators and 30% industry folks instead of the current 70%(or more?) industry and 30% educators.

As I said two years ago and last year: Let's put together educators in the Central Texas area to sit on a panel and select key educators from around the globe and truly make this the "Can't Miss" education conference on the planet. Then we can discuss the data of its success.

Monday, March 4, 2013

PBL Session WIth BIE's Alfred Solis

        When I saw the schedule of sessions here at SXSWEdu this year I instantly saw the trade mark "8 Essential Elements" of PBL and knew it had to be from one of the incredible members of the National Faculty with BIE.org.  And I was right.  It was their nearly-famous (at least in PBL circles) Alfred Solis.

  The room was packed and I wasn't surprised.  When I mention I teach with PBL and that I'm associated with Manor TX,  people always want to talk PBL with me.  Educators are very interested in PBL. They want to know how to do it, why to do it, and whether they even should do it.

  Alfred really got things rolling with some great music and some nice SWAG.  But we weren't here for listening to cool music we wanted to know about PBL.  He didn't waste any time.  He immediately had us pondering the number 1,000,000 and when 1 + 1 doesn't equal 2.

  As an intro to PBL Alfred showed us the video on Public Arts from the Edutopia website.  He followed that by a listing of the 8 Elements: Significant Content, 21st Century Skills, In-Depth Inquiry, Driving Question, Need to Know, Voice & Choice, Revision & Reflection, and Public Audience.

  Once he had given a brief explanation of each he rolled into another video of a project from the Edutopia library and he asked us to evaluate the project based upon the 8 elements.  This gave us a chance to actively engage in the presentation

  With barely 5 minutes left he opened it up to questions.  There were some great questions but even more interesting were the number of audience members who stayed to engage him in conversation.

  About an hour after the session ended I talked with Alfred and he was still continuing conversations over in the speaker's Green Room.  PBL is a very hot topic these days and Alfred Solis provides a great presentation of the basics of this vehicle for instruction.

Greetings From the SXSWEdu Blogger Lounge

  First day in the Blogger Lounge at SXSWEdu.  We're located on the fourth floor fairly close to the Registration Desk.  The lounge is being presented by Compass Learning and will have interviews of key presenters at various times each day.  For example I'mm listening to an interview with Paul Smith of  LearnSprout as I'm writing this post.

   In the lounge you can relax, check email and twitter, write a post or just hang out with some cool folks.   There's coffee, tea, and water and a decent amount of places to plug in and recharge your devices.

   Come on in and say hello.