Another big, big day at PBL World. This conference is one where there’s almost no time to tweet because you’re always busy and occupied with a task or conversation about your practice as an educator. That’s a very good thing!
The keynote speaker was once again super inspiring and intimidating. It’s like BIE have chosen these guys to make us question ourselves as human beings, haha! Both speakers have prompted from me a flurry of messages to my hubby Lee excitedly chatting about the power of PBL to empower young people to change their shitty world. So our keynote was Sam Seidel – I’m not sure how he’d define himself, but I gather he’s just a kid who has a dream to make education relevant, cool, accessible and meaningful for all students, especially those who are at risk. I really liked Sam’s keynote because he spent most of it reiterating the importance of ‘keeping it real’. I respect him because he was a teacher for a long time but mostly because he taught young people in correctional facilities. That takes heart and balls. I respect him because he took his passion for hip hop, one shared with the young people he was working with, and allowed this to inform his ‘teaching’ … it didn’t just give him an ‘in’ to curriculum, it was the curriculum. I respect Sam because he took his passion for justice for these young people and started a youth arts program – the Broad Street Studio – to support other young people who similarly loved hip hop and were at risk of being high school drop outs or worse, being incarcerated in the near future.
As with all great speakers, most of the time Sam was sharing his story with us and the story of his students and the students of other great teachers that have inspired him. I was in awe of the stories that came out of the Alternative High School Initiative, especially those from the High School for Recording Arts (HSRA) – a school started by a former musician and actor who realised that hip hop has the potential to give young people hope, purpose and community. It’s worth looking up 26seconds.com. I loved that the school centres on students problem finding and then problem solving – that’s true PBL! Sam introduced us to Hip Hop Genius – the “spirit of creative resourcefulness that comes out of limited resources” (they’re Sam’s words). It resonated with me because, as a public school teacher, I live this. It also resonated with me because, as a punk rock kid, I feel committed to the idea that we don’t need more to do more – it’s what you do with what you’ve got that matters and what empowers people. This creative resourcefulness is not just the spirit of hip hop, but the spirit of all DIY movements such as the hippie movement of the 60s, the punk movement of the 70s and the hardcore movement of the 80s. I loved that Sam reminded his audience that this is not about schools teaching hip hop; it’s about schools being hip hop – embracing the spirit of fuck you, I can and will do this cos we are here, we have heart, we have brains and we matter. It reminds me so much of my mate Tait Coles and his Punk Learning.
Sam’s message was about the necessity to add three more PBL ‘essentials’ to the eight that BIE have identified. The joke of course, is that the three new essentials are all the same: keep it real. But of course, they’re not all the same. According to Sam, essential 9 = keep it real world – get kids word out there in the world; get students enacting real change in their communities and working with adults. Essential 10 = keep it real work; make sure that the work in the project is the work that people do in the real world and that the assessment validates that – don’t get kids to write essays on how to dance, get them to dance for an audience. Essential 11 = keep it realavent (relevant – Sam’s pun, lol); ask the kids what they are interested in, what drives them and how they want to learn – give them a voice so the work has significance. I really liked Sam’s talk, just so you know.
The rest of the day I was back with the very knowledgeable, friendly and supportive BIE faculty members Tim and Charity who run the Coaching Clinic. I feel really lucky to have snagged them as my coaches … they work hard to model what great coaching looks like and what great PBL looks like. They know there stuff but aren’t arrogant and they are 100% approachable. Those deemed ‘edu gurus’ who preach about innovation in edu sure have a lot to learn from the BIE faculty!
This post is long already and because I woke up at 5am to write it and it’s now 5.49am and I have one last full day of PBLing in front of me, I’m going to just give you an overview of what I learnt during the day.
Accountability wall: right from the outset Tim had us writing up a quick action statement on a Post-It that we had to put on a poster outside of the classroom. This action statement made us accountable – this was one thing that we want to take action on relating to the implementation or introduction of PBL at our schools or districts. To be honest, I can’t even remember mine so I think I better read it today, lol. I do love the idea of an accountability to wall though!
Office-hours: this is when a teacher makes a block of their time available for students to check-in with you if they’re having trouble with something or have questions etc. Each students gets a ten minute block and so they must know exactly what they need help with. Essentially the teacher posts a blank piece of paper on a wall with the time available (inside of class hours typically, when students are at group work) and students sign up when they need to. I love this idea!
Differentiated instruction: providing students with up to four options for activities to work on. This was introduced to us as a means for professional learning – Tim joked that he emails out to his attendees a ‘PD menu’ before the session from which people can select their preferred focus topic and style of instruction. Charity showed us how she used written instructions in edmodo to support teachers who chose to do their own self-guided learning using resources she has shared in an edmodo group. This is a great for extension students – those teachers who already are at an advanced level. They both also advocated for small group sessions where expert teachers or students lead the groups through discussions and activities – the teacher doesn’t need to and shouldn’t run all sessions.
Wild cards: it’s not always possible to get to all students (or teachers if we’re talking about the running of professional learning at your school) and their questions or concerns. One cool activity to counter this is the use of wild cards. Basically a person writes their concern or question on a card anonymously and these all go into a box. These questions are then randomly selected and responded to by a panel of people – teachers, principals, consultants if for PL or teacher and ‘expert’ students if it’s for class work or just the classroom teacher, whatever is appropriate. It only needs to be a 30 minute session giving each question/concern a set time to respond to.
Use your quiet voice: yesterday we had concurrent sessions in the one space – Tim down one end with a group of people and Charity at the other end with people. I noticed that Charity was speaking in a very small voice to us – she didn’t want to disrupt Tim’s session. What this did was it made us all lean forward and listen intently to what she was saying. I don’t know if it was an intentional strategy to improve engagement (not that she needs to worry about this because everyone is always engaged when she speaks), but I figured it is a technique I might try in my room to see if my classes lean forward and listen, lol.
Digital project wall: this really is the genius, practical idea that I took away from yesterday. I think a project wall is a PBL essential – a space in your room where all PBL materials are made available to all students. This means the DQ, project outline, project calendar, rubrics etc are all on display. Charity showed us these really cool online project walls (they actually look a lot like my project outlines but in a digital format) that Maths teacher Jennifer Rust created using glogster. Just google her name and these titles to find her projects: The Math of Art, Just the Facts Ma’am, The Math of Giving. This is something I will definitely being doing next term – I’ll probably use weebly so I can link to stored resources like calendars, detailed product overviews, rubrics etc. Pretty neat idea … interactive project outlines and a digital project wall. Brilliant.
Classroom observation walkthrough: this is genius. This is about getting teachers (but also possibly parents, school visitors, principals and students) to walk through and observe your class in action and then provide constructive feedback via rubric. The rubric has all of the 8 essentials of PBL on it so it keeps the observer focused on what’s essential to PBL. One attendee – Sarah Smith – suggested making the rubric digital – like QR code on your classroom wall that they scan, opens up a gdoc with the rubric in it – great idea! I love also that Charity reiterated the fact that these are observations – for the benefit of the observer and the teacher – and NOT assessments!
Student work assessment: this is NOT what you think it is … this is about looking at student work and seeing what it reveals about the project design. Did the product that students delivered reflect the intentions of the project? If not, why not? The process is about giving warm (positive) and cool (constructive, feed-forward) to teachers about their projects based on what students produced. Tim when through the process of providing feedback in a non-threatening way and happily role-played the teacher receiving the feedback. Really enjoyable and valuable session and strategy. I’m going to ask my colleagues to check out my students’ work and see if it reflects the intentions of my project outlines – scary but essential for my continued learning as a PBL educator.
Soooo … that was my Tuesday and it’s not Wednesday and as I type this sentence I think NOOOOO I’m going to late for breakfast!!! I don’t want PBL World to end and want to make the most of today. I’ll let you know how it goes!!
Oh, I forgot to say that last night I went to dinner with the amazing international community of teachers attending PBL World – and a few of the BIE faculty – and it was bloody brilliant. I am blessed, blessed, blessed to have this opportunity to meet them all! Wow, I really am. Smiling on the inside and out. See ya!