Exploring the Project-Based Learning Experience

I faciliated the first of a few PLC sessions with colleagues across my school district yesterday afternoon during a full PD day, with our focus on the theme of Project-Based Learning. I’ve been reading A.J. Juliana’s useful book on PBL (The PBL Playbook) , which we are getting copies of for everyone in my small group.

I pulled out a small PBL simulation project idea from his pages for today’s workshop as a way to walk us through the possibilities of PBL. The idea is to use the Global Goals for Sustainable Development resource site to choose a topic, explore that topic, discover information and action, and share out.

I was hoping the teachers might enjoy the simulation process, and would view it as a learning experience as both student and teacher.  They did enjoy it, expressing appreciation for the small-scale (about 45 minutes) version of something that loosely follows the overall flow of a PBL venture. They worked in small teams on this.

We used Google Slides for our work, since it is part our PLC networked space. (AJ suggests making a Public Service video on mobile devices, too. I like that, but didn’t want to overwhelm my colleagues. And they liked having some experience in Slides and Classroom)

I did a sample presentation on the Hunger Zero concept (above), so that I could experience what my colleagues will experience (who are thinking of what their students might experience in a PBL classroom), and to work through any problems.

Peace (an ongoing project),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Thanking the Colleague Who Taught Them Before You

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I try, as often as I can, to acknowledge the efforts that my fifth grade colleague in the grade below me does with my current students, as I often see evidence of her handiwork when they become sixth graders. I’d like to think our schools would be a better place if we did this kind of acknowledgement more often. None of us teach in a vacuum. None of our students learn in a vacuum, either. We all build upon what has happened before.

The other day, I sent my colleague (C.S.) this note (B. is our special education colleague):

Dear C. (colleague),
I am starting to look over some of the first literature-based open responses with evidence from text and they are a solid batch (with a few outliers). I am noticing a pretty strong understanding of the format, with students working to find and cite evidence, and the use of the T Chart organizer. As much as I say “we are building on what Mrs. S did with you,” they are just as likely to say “this is like what Mrs. S taught us last year.”
🙂
I am grateful for the work you do, C., as it sets the stage for sixth grade (as I hope the work I do will set the stage for seventh grade). Our earlier collaborations and discussions around open response writing (with B. as a bridge between us) is definitely making a difference.
Anyway, I wanted to let you know. Thank you.
Sincerely,
Kevin

Peace (acknowledged and appreciated),
Kevin

Considering Perspectives: There Is No Single Story

Beyond the Single Story

The topic of The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Adichie in the Equity Unbound course suddenly seems everywhere in my field of vision. First, of course, the professors who are collaborating in the Equity Unbound (Mia, Maha and Catherine) have invited the open participants to view the TED talk on this topic.

But then, at a meeting this week for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, a colleague who teaches at a middle school was sharing with us one of his educational ideas to broaden cultural perspectives with his seventh graders, and he mentioned how that very day, he had been showing the TED talk with his students to spark writing and conversation.

I nearly jumped out of my seat, to say, we’ve been talking about that, too, in Unbound Equity. I didn’t jump but I did talk to him later about the discussion threads unfolding online.

Which all got me thinking about the unit I am in right now with my sixth graders, around short story writing. We’ve been exploring Narrative Point of View, and the choices a writer makes in telling a story, and how different Narrative Points of View (first person, second person, third person) bring to light different elements of story.

Number crunchers of story

Right now, my students are flipping a touchstone text story from the start of the year (Rikki Tikki Tavi) and re-writing the story from the view of what was the antagonist, turning her into the protagonist. Some of my young writers are struggling with this shift in perspective — they get locked into a story as it is told (as if a writer can do no wrong) and can’t twist it another way. Others are excited about the freedom this shift gives a writer.

A phrase I have tried to repeat to them: Every character is a hero in their own story. Everything is perspective.

And all this discussion and conversation has me wondering if it is nearly time to consider bringing The Danger of a Single Story into my classroom, as an extension of our writing. I feel inspired by the work and insights of others in Equity Unbound and beyond. I need to watch it again myself, from the perspective of my young students, and consider the appropriateness for our learning space.

Meanwhile, one of the participants in the discussion thread on Twitter brought up an interesting perspective on digital interactions and story, and raises the question of whether a digital platform expands or contracts the story. This, of course, is an ongoing question …

Multiple Stories and the Digital World

Peace (at different angles),
Kevin

 

Word Walls and Sticky Notes: Where Novels and Vocabulary Collide

Word Wall with Context Sticky NotesI’ve been making a concerted effort with my special education colleague/co-teacher to spend more time helping our students make contextual connections to our vocabulary acquisition system. We have a lot of language-based disabilities and a handful of ELL students this year that need more support than ever. I’ve begun using Word Walls, for example, and we have been integrating the various words into games and activities.

This image shows our Word Wall with sticky notes in which students had to connect the words to the novels we are reading (Flush and Watsons Go to Birmingham) in context. They had to write a sentence about a character or scene, using one of our words from this week’s vocabulary unit. This was easier for the Watsons group than for the Flush group, since the them of the words were Civil Rights. But all students in all the classes found a way to success.

I’ve used Word Walls, but not with any real dedication through the year, so I am trying to keep it going and aim to be using the wall as a place for review and learning.

Plus, you can’t go wrong with colorful sticky notes and 11 year students.

Peace (on the wall),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: The Class of Infectious Curiosity

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I almost title this post “The Chatty Class in Room 8” or “The Class of Non-stop Talking.”

But I didn’t, because the more I thought of this one particular class of sixth grade students (out of four groups that I teach), the more I realized that the talkative nature is driven more by wondering and curiosity than anything else. I’ve had plenty of classes through the years where the talking was difficult to keep in check (and I am pretty lenient most of the time) and where small clusters of students (last year, it was a group of boys) think class time is social time all the time, and that the teacher’s voice is one to tune out.

Not this group.

These students always have their hands raised, always want to contribute to the conversations, whatever the topic might be. They always are asking insightful queries to their classmates during presentations. They bring us on tangents, true, but interesting ones, with odd angles of looking. They always seem to want to know more, more, more.

And I think that curiosity is infectious, is it not?

I noticed the leaders of the class — smart, strong students — being kind to others, by asking them to share more, explain more, think more, question more. And their classmates have followed their lead, which is quite interesting to watch and to see. They’ve already built on my work with them to create a safe space to wonder in.

So, even if the room gets loud at times, it’s the right kind of loud. The curious kind. The kind of talk every classroom in every school, everywhere, should be open to.

Peace (and wonder),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Starting the Year Write

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Three weeks in and my sixth graders are already writing up a storm. We’ve done a short story prompt (using a map of imaginary land as setting for an adventure); explored characters in a short story read-aloud with evidence from the text; designed a treehouse in their writing notebooks; and now are working on sharing and explaining their aspirations for life in our Dream Scene project. We’ve composed with media on the computers and doodled in the margins of text on paper.

I like to come out of the gate with a lot of different kinds of writing. This allows them to enter as writers from various directions — not everyone loves open response analytical writing, not everyone loves writing fiction — and allows me to get a glimpse of where they are at with skills and imagination and basic writing skills.

Some of my young writers are already amazing me with their skills. Others, they are already worrying me, too. My role is try to help my students at both sides of that spectrum, as well as those in the middle, to move forward and make progress, and find joy in the act of writing.

And so the year begins.

Peace (in text and beyond),
Kevin

Words into Art: Celebrating Dot Day

Dot Day Collage 2018

I’ve written about this project before, where my sixth graders write short Circle Stories (with a circular theme or featuring a circular object) and the “paint” on a digital canvas with their words, transforming stories into art. We had another successful Dot Day yesterday, and some of the stories made visual are evocative and creative.

This collage is just a few of the Dot Day Circle Stories that I found intriguing.

Peace (beyond dots),
Kevin

What ‘Dot’ Will You Make? Come Collaborate!

 

Tomorrow is International Dot Day, a celebration of creativity and imagination, all connected to Peter Reynold’s picture book, The Dot. It’s all about putting your own creative mark on the world.

I have a writing and art and technology activity planned for my sixth graders today (since tomorrow is Saturday).

What will you do?

Want to do something with me? I have set up an editable Google Drawing with some dots. Claim one and do what every strikes your fancy (but be nice). Or add your own Dot.

Go to our Collaborative Dots (and view the work below)

Peace (always invitational),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Surfing the Edge of the Data Flow

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I sat through a staff session yesterday at our school, where our school psychologist walked us through the use of new intervention assessment tool we will be piloting this year. All students will take the assessment and then we as teaching teams will analyze the data. It’s not quite Response to Intervention but we’re moving in that direction.

Good data, as we know, is valuable. Too much data, we know too, is overwhelming and worthless. I’m not making any insights into this new system. It looks fine and well-designed and likely will be useful for me as a classroom teacher. The sample reports bored down from grade overview, to class overview, to student overview, to skill overview. There’s a lot there.

I am, however, always worrying about losing students as people into the flow of data analysis. Schools are awash in data. We get reams of it from our state testing (a school year later after the assessment, which is not always too helpful) and from our trimester reading assessments (which take a lot of time to conduct but give me valuable insights). Add to that the regular classroom assessments, and soon it feels as if it is an avalanche we are surfing.

I remind myself to … breathe. And then to take each bit of data that is useful and, well, use it as best as I can. If not for intervention groups, then for classroom instruction and for writing workshop and for all the times I interact with individual students.

Otherwise, we are awash in noise.


Look What I Did – Fade to Daft flickr photo by hellocatfood shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

I remind myself, also, to remember: students are not data point, not now nor ever. They are young people, with strengths and weaknesses, some of which might be uncovered by data and some of which might be discovered through human interactions. They are complicated people with lives outside of school.

Just like us.

Peace (01100001 01101110 01100100 0010000001101100 01101111 01110110 01100101),

Kevin

PS — https://www.binarytranslator.com/

Seven Things Noticed After Seven School Days In

new school bike racks

We are now seven days into the school year (two weeks) and I thought I would take a breather to think about Seven Things I am already noticing with my new sixth grade classes.

Seven Things I Have Learned

  1. My students love stories. There was a real excitement in the air as I started a read-aloud of Rikki Tikki Tavi by Rudyard Kiping. I stretched it over three days, stopping at cliffhangers. They feigned anger at me, and then asked eagerly each next day if we would be reading more. Next week, I will see how well they shift into writing about stories. We also started a short story prompt that is inspired by an adventure map of an imaginary world … and the quiet hum of young writers diving into a story was magical.
  2. My students are insightful. I stopped often in the Rikki Tikki story, asking probing questions about literary elements and plot design. This sets the stage for the year ahead. There were many rich discussions about story-writing that emerged from those informal talks.
  3. My students love to doodle. I introduced the concept of sketchnoting — or visual notetaking — and as I read the story, their task was to do “active listening” while doodling. We used the doodles to summarize the story each day. They chuckled when they saw my own doodles, which are worth chuckling at. But they know they don’t need to be “artists” to sketchnote. Just look at me.
  4. Many of my students are struggling learners. I know this from documentation, of course, but I am also starting to see it in the first days of school. This means I need to be sure to use the various teaching practices I have gathered and learned — multiple entries to new vocabulary, visualize information, use collaborative learning techniques, think through different tiers of words and concepts before teaching, etc. — and be sure that no students are getting lost.
  5. My students are social. There are groups of boys who are definitely still settling into the school year. I try to balance tough rules with patient compassion, and provide time for social interactions. Eleven-year-olds are social creatures.
  6. My students are kind. I am seeing this every day in different ways. From helping neighbors with initial technology log-in snafus to holding the door for others to lending highlighters to noticing others’ kindness, these kids are keepers with hearts.
  7. My students will push and challenge my teaching. I can’t be complacent. I’ll need new tools and new approaches and new ways of thinking, of reaching my students. And I will be learning along with them.

Welcome to the school year.

Peace (open doors wide),
Kevin