Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Day Three...Trying to Avoid the Snap Back!

Today, June 15th, my educational soul sister, Sarah Greenswag, and I took the deep dive into crafting our first major PBL project. I’m so fortunate to have journeyed to California with the most amazing group of educators and Sarah is no exception! We share so many similarities besides the obvious love for history and small (ok maybe enormous, slightly unhealthy) obsession with Abraham Lincoln! Most importantly we share a vision that we want all students who walk through our door to leave as more conscious citizens. We both feel very passionately that our content isn’t the most important thing in our classroom; instead it’s how we make kids feel that will propel them to excellence in life. 

So today, Sarah and I worked on creating our first PBL project titled “Super(?) Power”. One of the beginning steps of PBL is to create a design question that you want you students to answer. Our DQ is “Has the United States fulfilled its responsibilities as a superpower in the post WWII era?” The resources PBL World provides are perfect for a "Type A" teacher like myself. Sarah and I spent the day working through the tasks and enjoyed hours of conversation about what our goals really were in the last few units of US History. Sarah and I hope our project connects students because they are the next generation of global leaders and we want them to see in this polarized political environment they don't need to solely rely on politicians and government to solve problems and be the leaders in the world! We want them to see that many people, organizations, and leaders can help. We want them to understand the role American has played and the global impact we’ve had since WWII. At the end of the project we hope that our students will see themselves as a part of a world community by studying America’s role throughout the Cold War and beyond. Will this work? Only time will tell! But don’t worry we will be very excited to share what we’ve created once we finish!

Working with Sarah and my team this week has made me realize perhaps the most important thing regarding successful PBL implementation, you must have a support system and colleagues to help you work through every stage of PBL. It is vital to have a sounding-board and support system of colleagues to navigate PBL as well as provide for a check on your educational practices. Often educators don’t make changes because it can be very scary to try new and challenging things if you don’t know that at the end of the day you’ll have someone to talk to and help you move forward.

As the end of the work day crept closer you would think that I would feel excited and ready to go but instead I feel scared! I feel like I want to do this but I’m afraid it won’t work. I feel myself still asking too many questions and thinking how will my content get covered and how will my students be prepared for the tests the are required to take.  I find myself not being resilient.  I find myself needing to take a deep breath and trust the process and rely on the amazing support system I have! 

As I've spent the last two days working on my first project I'm experiencing an excitement I haven't felt for a long time in my educational career and that feels amazing!

Projects v. Project Based Learning

I use projects constantly in my social studies courses. In fact, almost every unit in multiple disciplines I include small or large projects. Before attending Buck Institute I was feeling that I had ample times for student directed learning through projects. However, after a few hours at this conference I was exposed to the major differences between “projects” and “project based learning”. Our facilitator Jennifer D. Klein explained that we need to move from “dessert projects” to “main course projects”. After reflecting on the projects I'm using I realize that I have too many "dessert projects" and need to really implement "main course projects" in order for a deeper level of learning to take place.

Here’s a helpful image explaining the difference of “projects” and “PBL” from Megan Pacheco at New Tech Network.

One of the most powerful aspects of PBL is “Authenticity”. The last box of the image states that the “culminating event and presentations” must be “authentic demonstrations of deeper learning”. Buck Institute and PBL has shown me that in order for the deepest level of learning to take place you must create authentic moments for learning. You must connect the information to the students.

If you want to see an example of authentic learning check out this amazing project! California Proposition Project This is what I'm striving towards.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Day Two...Discovering what PBL can provide

Discovering what PBL can provide

What makes a good teacher? This is a question constantly being asked by politicians, policy experts, parents, taxpayers and many others including myself. What I find missing in the conversation of what education and classroom setting should look like is the student's perspective. Why aren't we more comfortable with asking the largest consumer of our product what they would like to see? Why do we continue to think that traditional education is the only answer in an ever changing world? Students need to have a voice but more importantly we need to listen carefully and respond authentically. What I find exciting is PBL allows for a safe environment in which students are eager to share their voice and teachers value what they say.

This exact question, what makes a good teacher, was asked to two superstars from Nueva High School in California, Leona and Briana Das. These young women provided a powerful keynote address in which they discussed their experiences in a PBL based school (I could go on and on about these two amazing girls!). Here are their responses: we want our teachers to have “Energy and passion” (B. Das). “Our teachers love learning with us” and “we are teaching them”. Our teachers are “learning along with us” and they are “not above us and our friends” (L. Das). PBL provides opportunity for student voice to be respected.

PBL provides students chances to fail and more important persevere through the "hard stuff". The Das sister's talked about the failure of their projects being as important as the successes. In fact they even mentioned that they documented their failures "very well". They weren't paralyzed by their research not working they knew they could move forward and make it better. Talk about a real-world strategy! Students absolutely should be convinced that they can change the world, and when it doesn't happen they will move forward to the next "big thing". PBL provides confidence, perseverance and opportunity for failure!

PBL allows opportunity for "vigor" to replace "rigor". My PBL facilitator Jennifer Klein is part of the reason I feel so excited about this journey. She pointed out that we shouldn't use the term "rigor". Do we want our students to feel stiffness and death in our classroom? No way! So instead she encourages us to use the term "vigor". Good education with the help of PBL can provide this much needed active and effective force in our classroom!

PBL provides much needed opportunities to move away from the "sit and get" model. It takes a lot to move away from the feeling that the only way students will learn is by the teacher providing the information and content. When we brainstormed as a group the characteristics of an ideal graduate our list didn't include anything relating to content. Am I trying to make all of my students historians and policy experts? No way! Instead I should be striving to light a fire for inquiry, foster problem solving skills, develop compassion and instill a desire to never stop asking questions and learning.

Before all my teacher friends start freaking out about adding more things to their plate I encourage you to take the viewpoint of my facilitator, Jennifer Klein, that we are "not adding to the plate we are changing plates today". Also, for all the parents out there, PBL doesn't mean you will now be scrambling to create more solar system models and family trees! Jennifer pointed out early on that "traditional projects create supermoms and superdads". Instead PBL will allow your child at any age to have authentic learning experiences they can be proud of! Now that's exciting!!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Day One... My head is spinning!

As I sit down to reflect on my experiences today I'm overwhelmed with excitement after the small taste I've been given of PBL World. During the opening session I was brought to tears numerous times as I watched students, teachers and PBL facilitators share their experiences and journey towards a deeper and purpose filled learning.  I'm so excited to see what the rest of the conference will provide but I can already tell that this opportunity is life changing, not only for the teachers but most importantly the students who have been fortunate enough to experience PBL World. 

My mind continues to race but here are some initial thoughts and questions after today:
  • PBL can provide an opportunity for students to realize that their work has meaning
  • We as educators want our work to have purpose. That's how we feel fulfilled and energized so why aren't we providing that for our students?
  • If we want change to happen we have to be courageous and be willing to take chances
  • We need to be willing to overcome the fear of being judged by our peers and instead embrace the opportunity to cultivate an environment of honest feedback and transparent classrooms
  • We as educators should be inspiring kids to do more than they think is possible
  • PBL can provide the opportunity to inspire, develop and strengthen young people to go and change the world
  • We need to challenge traditional teaching, classrooms and schools not because we need something new to try but because we owe it to our students
Miki Tomita, from the Polynesian Voyaging Society, said today "you don’t know what you need to learn until you find your teachers”. I'm hoping PBL will help me develop into that teacher that provides opportunity for purpose filled learning and brings my students closer to finding their purpose and way in life.