I am very happy to be able to announce that I was not disappointed by PBL World. It absolutely lived up to my expectations. The people at BIE are so down to earth, genuine and caring that every attendee is looked after personally. The vibe was a nice combination of relaxed and focused – just my scene.
The day opened with me just managing to get on the shuttle bus without getting to eat breakfast. I may have not gone to bed until 2am the night before and overslept a bit. I did manage to get to ride way down on the back seat in a yellow school bus, so that’s one life goal complete! When I arrived it was just a short wait to register and then it was straight in to the keynote – the very inspiring and passionate Stephen Ritz, an educator from the Bronx and founder of the Green Bronx Machine. Ritz’ story about literally transforming his school through the humble plant truly is nothing short of inspirational. No hyperbole. You have to watch his TED talk to understand what I mean. He advocates for a STEAM approach to education – the added ‘A’ stands for Art, Aspiration, Advocacy. Listening to the swift pace of Ritz’ enthusiastic recount of the rise and rise of his student-led Green Bronx Machine really was a great way to start the day. As I listened to him speak, I took note of some of his general philosophies about education and PBL. Here they are: PBL is evolutionary; ‘I am the conductor of an orchestra, I can’t plan an instrument’; ‘connecting kids back to their inner lima bean’; from 43% attendance to 90% attendance; 100% of graduates attend college or are in paid employment; ‘my favourite crop: organically grown citizens’; ‘the biggest bully in school is junk food’; ‘it is easier to raise healthy children than the fix broken men’. You can follow them on Twitter too @greenBXmachine
After Ritz’s keynote, we all divided up into our selected sessions. I chose the Coaching Clinic for the three days because the alternative was PBL101 which was probably not appropriate for me, haha. The clinic is being run by two BIE’s ‘OG’ or ‘original gangsters’ as they laughingly put it, Charity and Tim. For the whole day they had all 60 of us in the room actively engaged in activities designed to get us thinking about and experiencing PBL strategies and ways to engage others’ in the PBL process. They are really great role models for how to run PBL professional learning – knowledgeable, laid-back but confident.
Since I’m not a coach (someone who works as a non-teaching role and is responsible for delivering professional learning to teacher, often called administrators in the US), I thought some of the activities and information might not be relevant to me. However, I was quickly assured by Tim and Charity that even though I don’t have a formal title, I’m still often responsible for guiding others through their engagement with PBL … which is totally true because I spend so much time blogging about PBL and tweeting about PBL and running workshops on PBL, I guess I can pretend that I’m a coach too! I thought I’d just use some dot points to outline what I have learnt so far (I’m getting a bit tired, lol):
– Chalk Talk Wall: giving students a chance to come up and write on the whiteboard their ideas and questions about a topic or lesson. This can act as a stimulus for discussion throughout the lesson (get them to write on the board whilst you hand out sheets or rearrange desks) or it can occur at the end of the lesson as a type of ‘exit ticket’. Students could put their name under their contribution to assist formative assessment.
– Norms: this is the American word for expectations or values. All schools have these (especially those doing PBEL) but it’s important that you establish class norms when doing PBL. Put these on a slide on the IWB at the beginning of a lesson or have them displayed on a poster on the wall. Make sure you establish these in dialogue with your students and return to them often.
– Need to Share: this is a blank piece of paper or space on a whiteboard where you and your students record things that are important to share for that lesson – like edmodo group codes, reminders etc.
– Traffic Lights: using coloured pieces of paper on table groups so students can quickly communicate that they are experiencing difficulty etc. Red = we’re really stuck. Orange = we’re wondering. Green = we’re good to go! Tim recommended that you let the students play around a bit and flip them to different colours to get you running around the place. This is a fun activity that gets them thinking about you as a support person – that you’re always there to help and will when you can.
– Socratic Seminar: basically these allow you to generate understanding through discussion anchored in a text or video. Like me you’ve probably used this strategy heaps, but Tim and Charity had some great strategies for making it awesome. The group was way to big to do just one seminar, so we were divided and one team went outside. Firstly, we were given a text to read which at the top had three reflection questions and a space to answer them. Putting them at the top of the text meant that we read them first and thus they framed our reading. Then we were given 15 minutes to read and reflect on what we had read. Charity then had us rearrange the furniture so as that we had a smaller circle inside of a larger circle. She then gave us numbers 1-4 with the fourth person given the title ‘Pilot’ – the other three were deemed ‘wing men’. Each pilot sat in the middle and behind sat their wing men. The pilots began discussing the text using a series of question prompts that were projected on the IWB is necessary – these were called ‘connectors’. (One BIE member snaps when her students use a connector – I’d throw them a lolly, haha.) After about five to ten minutes of discussion, Charity asked the pilots to talk to their wing men to get their ideas about the topic and any questions they would like the pilot to ask the other pilots. At this point a wing man might choose to hijack a pilot and replace them in the middle. The pilots return to the middle and continue discussing the text. I suggested that this could be improved by the wing men being given specific roles like question asker, summariser and note taker. Someone suggested that this would be a great activity to do with teachers after they have read a text or watched a video about a new tech tool or teaching strategy. Someone else suggested using it as a problem solving or problem identifying strategy with a group of parents and teachers.
– Connections protocol: this is basically showing a slide with four questions on it and having students give rapid-fire or popcorn-style answers – just yelling them out from their seats. I liked this activity and was really impressed that Charity just waited for ages if no-one responded so the silence was kind of awkward and a teacher broke it with an answer. This felt weird at first but makes sense because one big problem with question asking is that most teachers don’t leave enough thinking time for students to answer.
– 30 second chat: this is a really easy activity but super effective. Essentially they got us to go to the other side of the room and chat with someone we didn’t know for 30 seconds, explaining what we liked/wondered about the text we had read and the activity we participated in. We definitely all spoke for way more than 30 seconds!
– Gallery walk: this is where teachers post their draft projects up on the wall for others to view. Playing some soft classical music creates a ‘everyone be quiet and work’ vibe as the teachers walk around an add post-its to the projects giving ‘what I like’ and ‘what I wonder’ feedback on specific aspects of the project. This was a cool experience and I will definitely be using this strategy with my students when they’ve created drafts for posters, plot structures, designs etc. Really cool.
OK, whilst that’s not all that I learnt, that’s a good list of the main strategies I took away from the day. Take-aways are what are important with professional learning, I reckon – these are the things that you’ll actually take into your classroom. I’ll be using ALL of those! Oh, and the text that we read was great – got me thinking about how I interact with others. I highly recommend reading it if you’re in a position where you run professional learning sessions or if you’re a mentor: What are coaches good for? By Jim Knight. I can’t wait for tomorrow – don’t forget to check out the twitter stream using the hashtag #pblworld.