Monday, September 30, 2013

Loving What I See At Our School

Today I was able to get into a few of our math classes. I started with two of our 6th grade classes. Since they plan with me and we all plan together, I knew that they would be teaching the exact same concept but we really push the idea that every teacher is their own person and can teach in whatever way they feel comfortable.

The concept: Finding Greatest Common Factors and Least Common Multiples with Venn Diagrams

In the first room our teacher was starting with a video rap about multiples. His surround sound system with max base had the class rocking. Then he projected a blank venn diagram and asked for students to explain how a venn diagram worked. With this still projected he brought up a video explanation with the video venn right where the other had been.

The students, meanwhile, were taking notes and following along with the videos that were embedded in our LMS (Learning Management System) called ECHO.  When I left, the students were engaged and actively working on this:

Across the hall I went to the other classroom where I found the teacher engaged in an explanation of accessing something on the iPad - in Spanish. We are happy to have many bilingual teachers in 6th grade and with dozens of students who have Spanish as their primary language, it sure helps.

As I entered the room I couldn't help but notice that the activity (above) was up on the board.  The students had their iPads open and were busy working.  As I scanned the room I noticed some QR codes on a board for each period with "Answers to Friday's Quiz" written about them. Since I was in 3rd period I scanned the 3rd period QR and it took me to a Padlet that was blank.

The teacher told me I should scan the ones for 1st and 2nd since they had worked on this and so I scanned the QR's.  There I found students had placed the problems from the quiz that they had worked out using Educreations.

Two different classes. Two different teachers. But the same content. Both classes were steeped in technology use but were using different apps and/or sites. I went to these classes randomly and I left feeling really good about the math instruction our 6th graders are getting. A teacher, new to the school, asked me as I walked back to my office, "Would you have your kids at this school?"  That's a resounding YES!

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Secret To Doing PBL in a Real School

OK, so I got your attention and you came to read this because of the title of the post. Well, to be honest, if you understand PBL and the inquiry process there isn't any secret to making it happen in a "large comprehensive middle school" like mine.

And I can tell you what needs to be in place to have successful inquiry and the pbl process happening throughout your school. Why am I so confident? Because we are heading in the right direction at my school.

No, we aren't there yet. As a matter of fact there are only between 10% and 25% of our teachers who are comfortable with pbl and the pbl process. After this week all of our core content teachers will have been pbl trained. But only a handful will be running projects next week.

Before I discuss why that is I want to give you three reasons why I believe you can do it.

1) Collaboration is King -  We, as a district, are pushing collaboration as a key component to successful teams and schools.  During the week we have all of our core content teachers meeting with me a minimum of once per week for planning. Teachers are using Google Docs and are discussing content in their meetings. They aren't discussing the latest football game or an upcoming concert.  That's for times outside of the school day and/or at happy hour.

2) Backwards Design is the Norm - We use a curriculum guide called CSCOPE that gives our teachers a framework, including a pacing guide, for curriculum planning. We look at each of the unit tests and the standards being covered in those tests. We take time to see the verbs in the standards and how each question is worded. We look at how our school and our district performed on the previous year's standardized tests. We look at screening data for math and reading.  We put that all together and we plan out a unit. Then we get together and discuss the week that is coming up. We look at what standards will be covered and what small group activities will be held each day.

3) You Can't do Small Groups if Big Groups Don't Know How to Act - We spent the first four weeks of school, in every content class, creating an atmosphere of learning. We taught our students what is expected when a teacher is working with a small group of students. Most (not quite all, yet) students know that when the teacher is working with students, the teacher is not to be bothered. They don't ask questions. They don't ask to go to the bathroom. They don't ask where a handout or a web page is located. They don't interrupt the instruction. Period.

When teachers are working together and are planning lessons using a backwards design process, then good things will be coming from the teacher in the classroom.  When students can be self sufficient so that teachers can work with their classmates, good learning will be happening in the classroom. When the teacher is sharing good stuff and students are learning good stuff and the students are getting their needs met through small group instruction, then all of the members of the class are ready to operate as a PBL classroom.

Start with the end in mind? You bet.  Allow for inquiry and student led learning? Yes. Most of our teachers have never planned and executed a project in their classroom. But when I hand them a Project Planning Form and they realize that all of the systems we have in place are there to help make running a project an easy process, then they will feel better about this thing we call PBL.

We are in our second year of bringing the PBL process into our school of nearly 1000 students and 50 teachers.  We have added 1:1 iPads this year. We are implementing new processes for planning and backward design. We are even putting in a positive behavior plan. There are so many new things that many of our teachers are ready to snap from the stress.  But we're going to be OK. Our teachers are going to do this because we are all in this together.

Most of our teachers are not "doing PBL."  But students are grouped in the classrooms and teachers are working with the groups. Teachers are writing driving questions for each of the teaching units. Teachers are keeping the end in mind. Teachers are even thinking about products that can be created in the teaching units.

Don't tell them, but they are almost "doing PBL." I'll work on getting them to realize this later. I'm enjoying their success right now.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Future Look of My Edcamp Presentations

Original Central Texas Edcamp
First, we all need to agree that one should never, NEVER, do a sit-n-git session at ANY professional development. This is especially true for edcamps. Just putting that out there.

If, for example, you have to start a portion of a PD with the phrase, " I apologize, but for the next hour or so there's material I have to give you. It could be a bit dry." Then, you've already lost the audience. Do your homework and figure out a way to chunk the material in 10 to 15 minute pieces with activity between the sets. You now know where I stand.

This is on my mind because I have started thinking about what I will do at the next edcamp I attend. I've signed up for two. There's Edcamp Dallas and a few weeks later Edcamp ATX (Austin).  These will be my 4th and 5th edcamps to attend (and I've run one edcamp (see the top picture)). For the first 3 I always did sessions on "Getting Started with PBL." The sessions ended up being standing room only and were well received.  But I want to do something different this time, while keeping the PBL-angle with whatever I end up doing.

(You can ignore the following edcamp thoughts if all you're going to do is present an app or two and let people work with them at the next edcamp you go to. Just like dessert, the attendees LOVE app sessions. Remember apps are teacher-tools. Give your audience examples of how you, personally, are using the app(s) in your classroom - with students - on a daily basis - like, all of the time.)

So here's how you keep an edcamp session going:  (1) Hook them as they are coming in. By that I mean have some activity that groups them in some fashion as they come into the room. Force them to sit with someone besides their best friend, too. (2) Do a few minutes of intro and then get them going on an activity. (3) Ask for feedback/reflection (4) Add a couple of minutes of great thoughts. (5) Have another activity (6) Repeat as needed...(7) Have time for a final reflection and discussions

PBL is a hot topic. It will always bring in people to a session. So I want to make sure my session is a little different while being an expected hour of doing PBL. Math teachers are hard to convince to use PBL. I might be able to lure math teachers into my session with the word "math" and the letters P-B-L in the title. So I'll work on producing a session title that ties the two together.

I think I need to have the attendees do a process that will lead them to solving a math problem. I just need to make sure the whole "doing math" part doesn't get out. If you are one of the 14 people reading this post, then would you please not let them know I intend to use math in my session? Thanks.

Starting with the end in mind, I want them to experience a PrBL (Problem Based Learning) unit that they can replicate at any grade level and with any subject. They must see that this can be used for not only a math problem but also for a Social Studies or English topic.  It will need a Driving Question. How about, "How can teachers create a 2 or 3 day problem that allows students to think critically while allowing for the inquiry process?" That will need to be improved upon before my session starts but it will work for now.

The problem we will be solving is a real life problem for me. I have a patio that needs to be re-worked. I'll give them the dimensions of the patio and the fact that I need new sand placed down for the tiles. They will need to figure out the amount of bags of sand to buy and whether I buy 5, 10, or 25 pound bags. I'll give them some info to help with their decision.  I'll use actual dimensions and costs. That will be good for the first edcamp but I'll have to come up with another scenario for the 2nd edcamp.

The chunks I will need are: (1) presenting the problem, (2) creating need-to-knows and questions (3) drawing a diagram of the situation (4) setting up equations that will be needed, and (5) solving and presenting the solution.  Between each of these I'll have the attendees working on the steps and asking questions/reflecting on the process.

People who come to my session will be getting the basics of PrBL. They will see it being used for math. They will see examples of the elements of a PrBL that they can take back and use in their classroom. But most importantly, they will NOT sit and wait for me - the old teacher - to talk to them for 45 minutes about what I think they should be doing in their classrooms. If I did that to them I'd want them to move down the hall to see if any of the Tech Ninjas are presenting. The Ninjas know how to do dessert that can be enjoyed like a main course!