Project-Based Learning as a Teaching Philosophy #swatca18 #pdtca18

40896FF7-433E-4C51-B153-DA3194FAB096This year I have the opportunity to present a session on Project Based Learning at both Palliser District Teacher’s Convention and South West Alberta Teacher’s Convention. You can download a PDF of the presentation below:

PBL as a Teaching Philosophy

This presentation is near and dear to me as it speaks to my beginnings in PBL; I started out designing a collaborative novel writing project that I have used with multiple grade levels. These projects may not always be the answer in the classroom, but certainly create exceptional learning experiences that students remember. As you read through the presentation, please feel free to reach out in the comments, or message me on Twitter: @mrdkeenan

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Don’t be Afraid of Change

Change is hard. In education, it can be downright terrifying.  As teachers, we pride ourselves on routine and having the answers for everything.  Often, a focus on routine means sticking to very specific types of teaching, assignments and assessments.  This can certainly make teaching more expedient and manageable, but I would argue that by introducing change, we often have the opportunity to make education better.  We give students a chance to experience different ways, new experiences, and some of that ever-vaulted creativity we are looking to instill in burgeoning minds.

I have changed enough in my practice and worked with enough teachers to know that you can’t change everything right away, nor should you.  Many of our practices are good, and are rooted in excellent pedagogy.  So start with something you’ve never been 100% sold on, something that doesn’t feel excellent when you teach it.  When I first did this, I found that I was so excited to get rid of the part of the course I felt was weak, the excitement got me halfway through the work it took to redesign it.

But what to do with it? That’s another challenge that teachers face when dealing with the unknown.  While there are enough theories and ideas out there to make your head spin, I would suggest picking something one of your peers is doing or has already done.  There is strength in experience, and you can always learn more about new techniques, but having someone who has already ‘walked the walk’ will give you a place to turn when inevitable challenges arise.  If you are having trouble with ideas or there is no one around to help, visit my contact page and drop me a line. Supporting teachers is what I do, and I am always willing to support as I can.  If you really have no inkling of how you’d like to change, check out Twitter, or some my previous posts such as: Creating a Buzz in your Classroom, Project-Based Learning: Writing a Classroom Novel. Also, if there is a post on a topic you are interested in that you would like to request, please do so through the contact page!  There will be more ideas and inspiration forthcoming!

Remember when you were amazing

I have had a great deal of fun on chats and in working with teachers over the last little while reminiscing over some of the greatest things they have done in the classroom. We don’t often take the time to reflect back on our ‘best work,’ but many of us have exceptional ideas that we have come up with during our careers that have been ‘shelved’ for whatever reason.  Maybe it didn’t fly with the class we had, or maybe it was time consuming and we put something more expedient in its place; whatever the reason, I challenge you to go through that shelf of dreams and resurrect some of the greatness that has been you in the past.  I have done this lately, and have a big one coming up in the next week, and I can tell you that it makes a big difference to the passion you show in the classroom.  These are the ideas that strengthen us as teachers, that give us purpose and let us dream a little. Often the ‘shelved projects’ involve collaboration, outside experts or help, organization, special supplies and preparation, and because they require that little bit more, they are memorable for our students!

I know this is the time of the year when we are tired, struggling, and need that little ‘something’ to get through to the end.  Maybe we can find that little bit extra in a project we put away.  It has worked for me this week, will it work for you?  Take a moment to talk about one of these projects in the comments, I will share some of them out on Twitter and maybe we can support other teachers in need of a boost in the final stretch!

Have a great night!

Collaborative Novel Writing Presentations for MPTC

This is the presentation that I gave today for the MPTC Div II and III.  Collaborative ideas for all three sessions are in this post as well, so find your sessions ideas and get writing, due date is Friday March 14th.  If you have questions or concerns, please email me!

Class Novel for Division II & III

From the High School session this morning:

IMG_6441 IMG_6440
From the Division III session this afternoon:

IMG_6442 IMG_6443

From the Division II session this afternoon:

IMG_6444 IMG_6445

Writing a Collaborative Class Novel GETCA

Here are the story details we came up with from the “Writing a Collaborative Class Novel” session today.  Remember, I will create our final compilation if we can get at least 5 stories together and submitted.

 

Our Talisman

Rook from a chess set

-metaphorical barrier or something that frees you
-made of wood
-chipped corner
-purple
-once owned by a great man
-under the chip, other colours of paint
Characters
Rottweiler 
-nervous
-talks, has a history with
-found the piece in the park
-missing a piece of his ear
Benedict
A great man
-has a stutter
-world champion chess player
-leads a solitary life, antisocial
Mildred
80 year old Ex-con
Tattoo that says ‘checkmate’ with a yellow king and a purple rook
Evelyn
7 year old girl who likes to paint
Rex King
Jazz musician
One legged
Dying of cirrhosis of the the liver
Settings and overall story lines are up to you, we discussed some initial plot lines in the session.  The only requirements for your story is that it involve the Talisman and at least one of our characters. Due date is Friday March 7th.
Happy Writing!

If they think it, learning will come…

If they think it, they will learn

If they think it, they will learn

I love speaking at teachers’ conventions because it gives us as professionals some time to have deep meaningful discussions about our practice and the time to reflect and process those discussions without having to run off and teach a class afterward.  One of the sessions I am presenting this year (writing a collaborative novel) inspires some great discussion around the use of time in our classrooms.  Teachers are often hesitant to start big collaborative projects because there is so much that can go awry with the processes and results.  We feel it is better to dole out learning in small, digestible chunks and ensure that students eat each piece.  What we miss in this perspective is that it does not give students the comprehensive picture of the discipline they are learning.  Inspiration is the driver for learning, and if we can inspire our students, they learn with hardly a lesson from us.

I would rather inspire students to drive their own learning than to be docile and ‘receive’ their learning from me.  I want curiosity, spark, innovation, passion in learning, as I’m sure we all do.  However, that kind of learning is messy and takes time, time that we often assume we cannot take.  When I was on the fence about project-based learning, about our ability to write a novel as a class and the time it would take, I thought how can I reach all of those outcomes I have to reach spending this much time on one section of the curriculum.  Yet when I sat down with a plan to make it happen, and I saw the students engaged in the work, it was easy to check off sections of the outcomes, because they dove further than I could have hoped, they involved themselves as I wouldn’t as an adult.  Our students, when inspired, will make a project a 24-hour a day obsession and give you everything they have.

If we can inspire them. 

That ‘direct teaching’ part? It still exists in a project-based classroom. Here’s the difference; instead of me sitting down to ‘teach a lesson’ and keep passive students engaged, students want the information because it helps them progress in their projects. It’s a wonderful shift for students and inspired by inspiring them to think, instead of forcing them to ‘learn.’  They are asking me to support them in finding information, solving problems; and I get to be a learner too!

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

Writing a Collaborative Classroom Novel: A Presentation

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 10.39.22 AMAs with my other recent posts, this is a presentation given for a local teacher’s convention in Alberta, this one for the Calgary Teachers. My presentation on Scribd can be found here:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/207208600/Writing-a-Collaborative-Class-Novel

This presentation is focused on working together in the classroom to meet our goals for young writers by having them consider and write long-length fiction. This process is highly effective in allowing students to understand the craft of the writer and overall structure of extended fiction.  We collaborated in the session on a truncated process like the one that may be used in class. Forthcoming will be a series of stories based on the following details we created.  Check back to find an updated post including the stories and final product.

Ralph 

  • sage like elderly man
  • long beard
  • isolated hermit
Gertrude
  • elderly woman
  • cantankerous
  • separated from Ralph in separate huts same forest
Sally
  • young hero
  • poor bumbling girl
  • simple,plain
  • pure heart
Bruno
  • conniving Uncle to Sally
  • dark
  • eyepatch
  • bald, goatee
  • local mayor
Little
  • Sally’s friend/pet
  • miniature talking ox
  • ridable by Sally
Talisman (object of power or interest)
  • golden orb
  • size of an apple
 Settings
  • Forest with huts
  • Town (medieval) Wexlin
  • tavern
  • main square or plaza
  • town hall
  • market
 Our connecting message (theme)
  • collaboration to accomplish a goal

Why Stepping Back is So Important

I had to “step back” today and go back to the beginning with my class around research.  We have been doing inquiry projects all year, and they have done fairly well with many of them.  However, this time around I made the questions a little more abstract, and the content a little more difficult to find.  They struggled.  Some students were simply typing their open-ended question into Google, and others were looking in the textbook for a section they were sure had to be there.  Oh so young to be trained to look for a specific answer! So today we went back to basics and read two articles that were seemingly unrelated to the topic the students were studying.  We broke it down and I gave them a three step process to figure out the meaning of the article, the connections to their work, and ways to possibly use their findings to guide where they looked next.  Then we were back to that magical learning process, and they understood research again.

Had we talked about all of this before? yes. Had they heard it from me several ways before? yes. Did that matter? no.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter if we have explained a concept 100 times in class; if students aren’t getting it, we need to take a step back. This goes for elementary social studies, high school english, or middle school science. We simply need to step back far enough every time so that the students are with us and can reach the concept we are putting out there.  It’s what Vygotsky talks about as the zone of proximal development, and it is our responsibility to get them to where they have the ability to understand. Even if we just taught it to them yesterday.  

I enjoy stepping back in my class, as it gives me pause to be creative and come at something in a new way.  I relish those ‘aha’ moments as I know many teachers do. Sometimes it’s nice to “Step Back” and write a blog post about it too.

Create a Buzz in Your Classroom {inspirational teaching, project-based learning, fun in the classroom}

Look, I know we many of us want that perfect room where anyone could walk in at any time and see peace, hard work and learning evident on the focused faces of our diligent students.  When I started teaching that’s what I thought I wanted, but the reality is so much more than orderly information dissemination.  In my classroom these days, the only time my students are quiet is when they are reading, and only because they can’t do that any other way.

Learning is messy stuff, and the best kind of learning requires some noise and movement to occur.  Think about the times when you really felt involved; either in learning, planning or at a meeting.  Were you sitting passively learning, or were you passionately debating, yearning for your ideas to be incorporated, arguing fiercely for your perspective? I am inclined to think the latter is where most of us fall.  So how can we argue that students will learn better with a litany of rules and a passive learning structure? I would argue that the best learning is done on one’s own terms, and with as little direct guidance as is required.  Enough background to understand, or know where to look, read, watch or develop the ideas, but also enough freedom that a student can go ask another student for support, can change the assignment to fit their interest, and a path to learning that can light a fire, not cause narcolepsy.

Take the time to ask what you can do with the curriculum, not how to cover it.  I would rather have my students take a step back from 200 lines of ‘must do’ items and tackle one ‘could we’ item that keeps them up at night thinking of the possibilities.

Like lighting a fire though, you must have suitable materials for learning, including a solid relationship with and knowledge of each student, otherwise you will have no idea what will strike a cord with them.  Also, you must know your curriculum, the expectations on you and your students, so you know how big the ‘dream project’ must be to encompass it.  Finally, you must let go of your fear; you won’t do it all right every time, but I can guarantee that quiet kid at the back who never gets in trouble because he is too busy with something creative in his desk didn’t get everything his teachers put out there either!

Thanks for reading!

Derek

5 Great Creative iPad Apps for Earth Day {iPads in Education, iOS, EdTech}

Alright, I wanted to write a post about iPad apps that worked with an Earth Day theme, and did a little searching online to see what had been presented.  There are some nice lists of apps (like these: 1, 2) that are focused on the earth, on history, on animals, but few that seem to actually present an educational method for teaching about the purpose of earth day.  While I am all for appreciation of our planet and the beauty contained within, I am more apt to direct students toward action on preserving our planet and appreciating our world.  So, in that light, this post is dedicated to ways students can create artifacts that show their planet love with iPads.

AurasmaAurasma

Aurasma is platform forcreating augmented reality overlays for things in your immediate environment.  What it enables students to do is create wording, video, images that they can ‘tag’ to a camera location, so when others come to that point, they see the content ‘floating’ with the image.  The obvious implication would be to have students tag things in their environment with some of the environmental considerations, so others could become informed as well.  The app is simple enough to use that a single teacher account could catalog all of the student work, or you could have students create their own free accounts.  For younger students, a teacher could pre-tag a school yard, classroom or school and give students the ipads to do a walkabout and learn about things in their environment. I am very excited about this app, and have at least one big project coming up with it soon!

 

Google DriveGoogle Docs

If you have access to Google Docs, or wish to set it up with your students, you can upload your activities for Earth Day and have a paper free learning day!  As Google Docs is connected online, students can share their work with others and reach out to others taking action for Earth Day.  Another option is to have all students collaborate on a document, perhaps a group of strategies to help their peers become more eco-friendly, then share the document and see the feedback you can get.

 

MinecraftMinecraft PE

I think Earth Day provides an excellent opportunity for students to use Minecraft educationally.  In a virtual world where supplies must be gathered, scarcity exists and it takes time to create things, students could be placed into a carefully designed scenario to achieve a goal. (irrigate, build shelter, create a rare item) As students work through the challenge, parallels can be drawn to our world, and the lack of availability of some resources, or the impractical way in which we use those resources some times.

 

PathOnPath On

This little app is so simple, but so connected.  Basically, it allows a user to take a picture and then draw a line that becomes the direction of the words the user writes ‘on’ the picture.  So, you put a path of words on the picture.  However, it also has some basic editing functions, similar to Instagram and the like,  and the ability to upload the finished images to social media.  I like the idea of students being able to find something that they want to make a social comment on, taking a picture and making the statement directly on it.  Added to that is the ability to then connect those statements, facts, information to the broader world either through a moderated school account, or their personal social media accounts.

 

TwitterTwitter

Ok, so I am cheating a bit with Google Docs and Twitter, as they are platforms, but there is no substitute for connecting students to the worldwide #earthday conversation as it is happening.  Either on the projector or on their own iPads, have the students listen to the conversation, and then join in, depending on their age.  If I were still teaching High School I would be having my students research and produce valid and poignant tweets using information they have found.  How can they state their facts and a perspective in 140 characters to create a call to action?  If you have your students add a custom hashtag, you can even archive the perspectives for review and discussion in class.

 

My point with these apps is that there are ways to actually get students actively engaged in Earth Day all over the app store if we are being creative with our uses of technology.  I want to make sure my students are learning something that matters to them about the earth the other 364 days of the year as well.  I am looking forward to discovering more ideas for Earth Day in the coming weeks. I know my planning won’t stop until April 21st.  Let me know if you have any great apps or ideas you plan to use!