Monday, June 26, 2017

My Journey into PBL: Reflection and Final Thoughts now you've probably read my first two installments of my journey into Project Based Learning.  If you haven't...

  1. My Journey into PBL: Learn, Set, Go
  2. My Journey into PBL: The Project
The key to growing and learning and becoming a better professional is to honestly reflect on the lesson, activity, or project.  To me, I reflect using three main pieces of information.  What went well? What will I change? What did the students think? I take a lot of stock in what the kids say, because they are the ones who truly live it, they are the ones I work to engage in my lessons, activities, and projects.  I NEED to know what they think.  And...they have good ideas!

First Up...What went well?
  • This project! I will definitely be using this project as a final to our study on Kansas History.  The idea of time travel, reality shows, and history is a great combination and allowed for some awesome ideas from the kids. 
  • The variety and depth of content knowledge that some groups discovered was amazing! The history of prohibition and speakeasies, 1920 fashion, the Underground Railroad. One of my favorites, that didn't make the judges top 3 was a documentary style reality show called "Keeping up with the Daltons" focusing on the most exciting time of the Dalton Gang.  Those kids became experts on the Dalton Gang.  I couldn't have taught them all that they learned, and to this day, they know more than cool! 
  • The grouping of teams based on interest. This worked out great, putting some kids with friends who they haven't had the opportunity to work with this year, but it also allowed for some teams to realize that they had similar interests in things. 
  • Having the students help me with the rubric. They did a GREAT job, and they really pinpointed the same qualities in a good presentation and visual aide as I would have. They had ownership in this project. 
  • Presenting in front of judges outside of the school.
  • The "soft-deadline" which allowed for peer/teacher feedback and the teams to get a chance to practice before the big day

What will I change?

First and foremost the biggest change I will make next year will be the timing of this project. Attempting to do this in the last month of school was a fun way to end the year, but it was a nightmare when it came to the schedule.  May is chaos. Most of the "bumps in the road" we encountered with this project happened because of timing. Two of the biggest challenges we had to "roll with" involved the soft-deadline and finding judges.

We are on a block schedule (I see my kids for 75 minutes every-other-day).  We had it worked out so that presentations would be on Monday, May 22nd.  The soft deadline was scheduled for the Thursday before that, with Mrs. Harris' class.  Our school was chosen to host regional track, which is an awesome opportunity for the school and community.  Due to crazy spring weather in Kansas the track meet was moved from Friday (the 18th) to Thursday (the 17th).  This caused our block schedule to swap days. Meaning the soft-deadline would now happen on Friday.  This was a problem because now there would be no school days before the final presentation on Monday for students to get together. And the biggest bummer about it, was that Mrs. Harris (communications teacher's class would be involved in the soft-deadline) was going to be out on Friday with a sub. Mrs. Harris is awesome with public speaking, acting, and persuasive techniques. I was really looking forward to her feedback. Oh well...there's always next year.

Judges.  Ugh!  This one was a struggle. Everyone I reached out to was busy with their last week of school, last day in-services, or out of town. Even community members, business leaders, and news outlets I contacted to find someone to judge were busy or out of town. Apparently May 22nd was the worst possible day to pick for final presentations. This left me literally combing through my Facebook contacts THE MORNING OF looking for anyone who could make it to the school by 8 AM.  The good news, I ended up stumbling on a former student who was now a stay-at-home-mom living in town. She came up, brought her son (the students LOVED playing with him and keeping him busy when they weren't presenting). Plus, she participated in drama throughout high school and college, making her a great resource for feedback to the students. Her notes were awesome! I'll definitely call on her again!

Ginger Lewman gave me a great idea, to live-stream the presentations on Facebook or Twitter and have a live vote.  I love that idea, but throwing that together the morning of final presentations was a little more stress than I wanted to put myself through. BUT it did give me a great idea for next year. I will still have all the teams present to judges at school, but the top three chosen by the judges will be posted on social media and voted on by anyone willing to watch!  I can't wait to try that out!

Look for this project, next year around the Feb-March time!

Lastly...and probably most important...

What did the students think?
I asked them to fill out a survey on their thoughts about the project, what they liked and what they would change.  Here are some of their comments, with my thoughts added below.

"We got to pick our own topic" 
"I liked that we had a choice on whatever we wanted to do." 
"That you let us choose what to do and we got to help make the rubric."
This is a common theme among many of their comments on the survey.  The LOVED that they had complete control on whatever they wanted to do. They were shocked when someone mentioned "alcohol" as a topic and I told them that would be an awesome topic.

"We were allowed to use our creativity without many constraints"
Seriously I was really impressed with what these kids came up with for their reality shows. I wish there was time and space to share all 24 ideas with you!  I really think they were amazed at the freedom...they didn't really know how to handle it at first.

"Presenting in front of judges" 
"Being able to fix things after practicing for the other class."
The presentations went great. Some were awesome, some weren't so awesome. But all teams learned how to create a persuasive presentation and deliver it to judges. They were nervous, but in the end, loved it!

"I wish we had more time."
"You should give us more time."
"Not enough time."
I will say...they had 7 days of a block schedule. I can't give any more time, but I can try to do a better job on teaching kids how to manage their time, create realistic daily goals, and reflect each day on how they did and what they need to do to improve. It's not about MORE time, it's HOW they use their time. It's my job as the teacher to help them develop the skills of effective time management. This can be done consistently throughout the year and not just during this project.

"Allow us to pick our teams."
For every person who said they loved their group, there were those who didn't. Every single time I have a project where I pick the teams, this comment comes up. I still rarely (if ever) allow the kids to pick their own teams for big projects. To be blunt, they are 13 and they suck at it. They all "think" they want to be with their friends, but in reality they get too distracted and goofy with their friends.  Plus...there's always those one or two students who get left out. Sorry kiddos...this one probably won't change.

"Give us a paper copy of the rubric."
This one shocked me.  I had quite a few kids say this, and I responded with "but you all had access to the rubric online, didn't you?" They did, but for many of them, they wanted that hard copy to feel in their hands. Again, it's about teaching kids to be advocates for what they need.  IF they needed a paper copy, I would have been happy to print it off, but not one person asked. I will remind them and hopefully do a better job of teaching kids throughout the year to COME TO ME and ask if they need something.  The worst I could say is no.  Plus this is a LIFE seek out the materials you need!

I LOVED this project and providing this opportunity for my students. I look back on how I used to do this project (where I was MUCH MORE controlling...and didn't even think I was at the time) and how this went. I can't imagine restricting any of their creativity.

Finally...I worked harder than I had all year! This was not a project where I could just give instructions and sit at my desk while they worked. I was right in the midst talking with groups, asking questions, listening to them talk, providing encouragement and trying to offer "realistic" options when they were dreaming just a little too big. (There was one group that had a great idea, but the work and time needed to pull it off would be VERY difficult. I warned them of this, but said they could still go-for-it...they did, and it didn't end well. Falling and learning from it are important too!)

At this point, I don't see myself moving to ALL PBL...a project here and there with some specific strategies incorporated all year, but I have never been an "all or nothing" teacher.  I like a blend of different strategies and ideas that help make my classroom engaging. This, of course could change, as I do more and more with PBL...but for now I'll look to add another one next year on top of this one and go from there!

Always learning, always striving to make my classroom better and reach more kids. The minute that goal is no longer with me...I need to leave.  And I don't plan on going anywhere!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

My Journey into PBL: The Project

Once I made my mind up and started down the path of PBL, it was done.  I find that once I make a true commitment to doing something, I find myself having to calm down, relax, and focus.  "OK...this is happening, now buckle down and figure it out."

I needed a way to organize my thoughts, figure out exactly how I was going to prepare for my PBL unit.  I had decided on a topic, by taking an old project I had done a few years ago, and using Project Based Learning strategies with it. Ginger was a HUGE force in helping me get all my thoughts organized into something that was workable, answering my questions, and helping me feel like I was on the right track. Eventually I decided on a title for the project.

"Reality TV Goes Back in Time."

The Launch: 
I struggled with a way to launch the project.  At first I thought about somehow using BreakoutEDU to merge the idea of reality shows and Kansas History, but after talking with Ginger, she convinced me to do something much more simple.  The key was for me to be PUMPED!  So the students would feed off of my energy.

I used Google Sites to create a page to push to the kids via Google Classroom.  There I included what they were responsible for doing as well as a link to the rubric, which they would help create.  Click HERE to view that site.

I wanted a way for the kids to see different types of reality TV shows. After thinking about it some, I decided that a Kahoot! game would be the just the thing to get my students excited about this project. I create a game using pictures of reality shows, and having students try to guess which show it was. They LOVED it...and of course were wondering WHAT IN THE WORLD DOES REALITY TV HAVE TO DO WITH OUR FINAL PROJECT?

Excitement.  Curiosity.  Engagement.  It was a successful launch.

Until it wasn't.

The site didn't work.  I had tested it out on other people, both inside and outside the district, but for some reason when I pushed it to the students, it was blocked by the filter.  Something our tech guy said shouldn't be happening.  But it did. So we rolled with it.  I projected the site on the board and read it aloud to them.

Driving Question:  (More of a "Driving Scenario")

WE HAVE DONE IT!  Time Travel is now possible, and the state of Kansas wants to take full advantage of this opportunity by increasing tourism to our state.  
What better way to do that than creating a new reality TV show that will be filmed "back in time." 
Our host, Caroline Sandiego (cousin of the famous geographer Carmen Sandiego) will be sent in the time machine back to a moment in Kansas History and will film the show. This way all can see the awesome past of our state! 
Your Task:  What show should she host?  You will pitch an idea for a reality TV show to a panel of judges.  The show will be set sometime throughout the history of Kansas and YOU must persuade the judges that your idea is the best!  The judges will then choose which reality show they will begin working on.

We had 6 work days available for this project.  We are on a block schedule so that's 6, 75 minute class periods.  One of those days would have time for a soft-deadline, which I had arranged to work with the 7th grade communications teacher. When the students were in my classroom, they would take turns with a "practice run" of their pitch presentation. This would happen in front of Mrs. Harris' 7th grade communications class. This would provide the teams with feedback coming from students that weren't in their normal classes, students would have the opportunity to learn how to provide meaningful and helpful feedback without being rude, and Mrs. Harris would get the opportunity to see the presentations. She is awesome at public speaking techniques and would be a valuable resource to these kiddos.

An example that comes directly from this "Soft-Deadline" and student feedback happened, when one of the teams, who's title of their show was "Speakeasies" was looking at their feedback from the communications class. The note said "I wonder why you titled your show 'Speakeasies'?"

The student read that and looked at me and was a little confused about that feedback.

"Well, what does it mean if your audience didn't know why you picked that titled for your show?" I simply asked him.

(Light bulb moment...) "Ohhhh...that we didn't do a good enough job explaining what a speakeasy was."


Because of the feedback from their peers, this group was able to make some adjustments to the amount of information they gave. This was invaluable to the groups progress.

In the end we had many awesome historic reality show ideas and pitch presentations. The top three reality shows chosen by the judges were...

Fashion from the Past:  Created by Korri, Maddie, and Braylin.
This reality show would bring fashion designers from today back to a time period (that would be randomly chosen by large spinning wheel).  The contestants would be required to make clothing using the materials and style of that time.  The clothes would be judged by past and present style icons.

Speakeasies:  Created by Quincy, Harrison, and Trenton
This show would take place during the time of prohibition in the 1920s and 30s.  Famous make-over couples from HGTV (such as Chip and Joanna Gains, and the Scott Brothers) would go back in time with the task of designing the hidden bars called Speakeasies.  The contestants would present their design ideas to a team of 1920s Bar Owners who wished to operate illegal bars under the radar. 

Barebacking Kansas:  Created by Tyner, Molly, and Ashlynn

This show was unique in that it would require going back into two different time periods.  Two families would either travel back to the time of the Homestead Act, or the underground railroad.  Each family would get a set of supplies and attempt to survive either living on the homestead and maintaining a farm through all the challenges that Kansas environment has to offer.  Or successfully escape along the underground railroad to freedom in the North. The show would document each family's journey. 

See...Awesome, right!?!?

The overall winner ended up being "Speakeasies"!  The boys dressed the part, presented a quality show, and persuaded the judges that their idea was the best.

Stay tuned for my post on the reflection including; the struggles, successes, and thoughts from the students themselves!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

My Journey into PBL: Learn, Set, Go!

I have played around with it.

I have pondered using it.

I have implemented certain strategies of it into my classroom.

But I have yet to take the plunge into the waters of Project Based Learning.

Until now.

This is the first of three blog posts I will do on my journey into PBL.  I split it into three parts because as I got to typing, I realized that there were actually three different posts within my story.  The path I took to get here, the details of the project itself, and my reflection.  I felt like it was important to include each of those pieces because, chances are, there is some teacher out there pondering the same things about PBL that I was.  Each phase of the journey is important.  So this section is titled, Learn, Set, Go! in order to explain how I got here in the first place.

I spent a good amount of this school year trying to learn more about PBL and what it can look like in a middle school social studies classroom. much time as I could between preparing lesson plans for maternity leave (which would start at the end of November), teaching a brand new class for HS students who are considering teaching (read about that class here and here), and trying to prepare for a student teacher starting in January.

I find I have to fit in professional development wherever I can.  Which means, social media.

I wanted to learn from the best, and there was no question who that would be.  Ginger Lewman, has known for awhile that I've been following her and wanting to learn a little more about PBL.  I think she could see my interest growing.  I LOVE the concepts behind PBL and what it does for empowering students.  I have struggled to figure out just how to implement it.  I needed training, but summers are out for me until my kiddos are more self-sufficient.  I already go to quite a few PD workshops in the school year.  I was struggling to find the time to learn more. (Follow Ginger on Twitter @GingerLewman)

This year, in August, Ginger started doing short little Facebook Live posts about PBL.  I tried to watch every single one.  I wanted to know more, I wanted to see how something like this could work in my classroom.  I learned incredible little tips about grouping students, soft-deadlines, and making students a part in the creation of the rubrics.  I used all of these strategies first semester, but not in a true PBL style project.  That would come later.

I knew that I would have a student teacher in the spring semester, and that would free up a little time to work on developing something that would be true to PBL, and it might offer me the chance to work with Ginger.  If I'm going to do this, I want to do it right.  I want to make sure that my students get to see the benefits of PBL in the classroom.

I made a decision.  I wrote it down.  "I WILL do a PBL style project in May."

I decided on a topic, by taking a recycled project I had done years ago.  It was close to PBL (or at least close enough that I didn't have to start completely from scratch), I bought Ginger's book, Lessons for LifePractice Learning, scheduled to work with her via Google Hangouts on my planning period, and had her help make sure I was on the right track and following all the "rules."  I really wanted this to be true to PBL.  I committed to sharing my story with her, so if she wanted to include it in the future, she could.  All of this to set the stage for transitioning my classroom
Want this book too? Click HERE   
The date was set.  I was launching the project on May 3rd with my 7th grade classes.  Reality TV Goes Back in Time was GOING TO HAPPEN!

This was definitely worth all the time and effort that went into it.  The students LOVED it and it helped end the year on a strong note!  It wasn't all smooth sailing...I ran into a couple bumps along the way.  I'll talk about those bumps and in my next post on the details of the project.

Stay tuned...