Measure Seven Times

“Measure seven times, cut once,” was the proverb I was thinking of after the session on planning and coaching. The importance of scrupulous planning, developing a time line, and making every step of PBL meaningful while keeping a clear focus on the goal should never be underestimated by any teacher. Is it challenging and takes time? Yes! Does it often require reading of professional literature? Of course! Will the results be worth such efforts? Absolutely! The pay-off is a true learning experience for students, not just a product-making activity (makes me think of my earlier post Don’t Let Gorillas Live in Mountains).

I appreciate the time given in our session to explore online resources for planning and collaborating on a project. I was very excited to discover how many forms and graphic organizers were already created and avalible to us. However, I felt my goal as a coach would be to adjust/edit some of those forms, sparkle them with some Shiloh Elementary style, “translate” them into the language that most teachers “speak” in the building. So I did. But I found myself changing, editing a form every time I met with a different teacher. The route that  teachers would take for a project and the readiness of their classes would drive our professional decisions. It helped me see that all I had to do was to familiarize teachers with the tools and show their effectiveness. 

I felt that the past month was the time of true ITS-teacher collaboration experince for me. Event though results of our discussions were not always what I would call a whole project-based learning experience, but the planing piece was in place.  Setting expectation with rubrics and sticking to good compelling questions was our start.  Building  professional trust and strengthening relationships with my teachers were my bonuses .

Here is an example of the rubric for Native Americans Project (4th grade), the product of ITS-Teacher collaboration.

Here are examples (example 1, example 2, example 3) of final products of this unit.

Aim for Curiosity

Brain research shows that people learn better when they can emotionally connect to the topic we teach. Is it possible for teachers create such connection effectively for every lesson? Let’s face it –some topics are not very “emotional”.

Well, I started thinking about it and then I caught myself wondering, “Why am I thinking about it? What triggered my interest? Have I connected any emotion to this topic?” Yes, indeed! Curiosity took over and I was easily sucked into hours of professional reading and thinking.

If curiosity is emotions that can make our students want to learn, then how can we as teachers make sure to inspire such emotion?

  • “Hook” them! Use curiosity as a primary motivator at the beginning of activities; “hook” your audience. Did you know that it only takes about 25 seconds for your students to determine if what you show is worth watching or listening to? If during that short time they decide it’s “boring, you lost your students – their brain will not be actively involved. Basically, remember you have up to 20 seconds to make them believe that what you are showing is the coolest thing ever!
  • Questions matter ~ Create an atmosphere where students feel comfortable about raising questions and testing their hypotheses in discussions and brainstorming. Not only does this foster curiosity but it also helps to build confidence. Remember there is not such a thing as a “stupid question”.
  • Exploration, Time and Choices ~ Allow adequate time for exploration of a topic. If you are successful in stimulating curiosity, then learners will want to explore, discuss the topic. Provide opportunities for choices. For example, in a writing class, the student can explore a topic of his/her interest while accomplishing the goals of the writing task. Being allowed to choose a topic that is intrinsically motivating will help sustain curiosity. Project-based learning activities and authentic assessments are perfect examples of such practice in a classroom.
  • Modeling ~ Model curiosity. Ask questions. Engage in specific exploration to resolve a question posed, demonstrate enthusiasm. Don’t be afraid to think out-loud in front of your students.  

Here are a few resources that may help you “hook” kids’ curiosity:

  1.  Daily Writing Picture Prompts to trigger kids’ curiosity and creativity. Some images and topics are not appropriate for elementary students, but we can make our own paradox pictures with better quality topics. Just let me know if you are interested, and we can start building our own bank of unique pictures.
  2.  Geocube is an attractive online resource about Geography. Based on the principle of the Rubik Cube with six faces and 54 topics, it is a virtual exploration of our world. Move the Geocube around with your mouse and explore the faces and topics. Geocube provides an accessible way to read, see and watch what Geography is and what geographers do.
  3. 2day Sweet Search a daily assortment of the best content on the Web for history, language arts, science, news, culture and other topics. Kid- friendly content that can be easily integrated into daily classroom activities, and your topic will never be old!

Don’t Let Gorillas Live in Mountains!

 When teachers plan projects, where do they start? In my experience, they are often in a hurry to label the final product. Too many times, I heard teachers say, “I want them to do something in Wixie”, or “I want them create a Photostory on something”. Is that what projects are about – the product? What exactly is that “something”?

Recently, a teacher asked me to help her students record their voices for Georgia Regions projects. Both, the teacher and her students, seemed to be extremely proud of them, so I instantly got that “gotta see it” feeling. Then I opened a project. It was named “Blue Ridge of Georgia.” The very first slide had a gorgeous image of mountains with a huge, black… gorilla, sitting on the top of it! When I asked the student why he chose the gorilla, he proudly announced, “Because it lives in mountains.” “In Georgia?” I was still hoping he would catch his mistake. “Yes, in Blue Ridge, I found it in the stickers folder,” was his answer.

Well, even though I think a third grader should have done a better research than looking in a sticker folder, but what bothered me the most was the teacher’s response to my concern about the poorly executed research.  She simply said, “This is just their first project; I just wanted them to learn Wixie.”

This class spent about five hours in the computer lab, but what did the students learn? Was the process effective and worth the time? What was the purpose of the lesson? Learn Wixie tools?

Many teachers declare they integrate technology nowadays, but what they really do is use it to replace their favorite worksheets – “here is the task, go do it” kind of instruction. 

A product and project-based learning are two different things. The process of creating a product is project-based learning, and teachers’ role in this process is crucial. This is the time to plan thoroughly, coach diligently, monitor constantly, inspire, and teach students think, deeply and independently. This is the time when we don’t let gorillas settle in mountains…