Currently I am on the Texas Eagle train zooming across the US from LA to San Antonio, Texas where I’ll be meeting up with my educator mates at the International Society for Technology in Education’s annual conference (#ISTE13). It’s been an eventful two days since Day 3 of PBL World – let’s just say that it involved 14 hours of driving and a wedding in Vegas (not my wedding, that of my mate Jess Melkman!). This truly is one crazy adventure we’re on!
The last day of PBL World was very different from the first two. It was a lot more student-directed … basically the day revolves around us working on our products, ready for the final presentation – just like our students experience in PBL. The first two days was mostly spent working on our projects through activities facilitated by our instructors (I described these in my posts about Day 1 and Day 2) however the last day we, as students, were much more autonomous, as it should be once we’ve grasped the main skills and content necessary (through guided team-work) to be successful.
The keynote was Ken Kay who is a BIE board member, a key player over at http://www.p21.org/ and CEO of EdLeader21. Kay was organized to speak on the third day of the conference because this was the first day for the PBL Leadership Academy. His message, whilst at times relevant for the teachers in the room, was mostly directed at the leaders who are responsible for supporting teachers and coaches as they implement PBL. I enjoyed Kay’s message that teachers should not simply return to their classrooms and begin to implement PBL. We should take on a leadership role within our schools and wider community – including online communities. PBL teachers need to be willing to inspire and encourage and support other teachers whose students may similarly benefit from a pedagogy that directly engages students in the ‘4 Cs’ that Kay champions – Critical thinking and problem solving, Communication, Collaboration, Create a Community Consensus.
There were times during Kay’s keynote that I felt compelled to tweet my objection to how students were being represented as passive receptacles waiting to be filled with our knowledge about the 4Cs. I think this was unintentional from Kay and that I am quite defensive about young people who I value immensely. In summary, I want students viewed as active agents in their world now, not as future employees and citizens.
But maybe I was dissatisfied with Kay’s keynote simply because it didn’t tell me stories. Being an English teacher, stories are in my blood and strengthen my bones – I sometimes think I am made of stories. This trip Lee has even coined the phrase, ‘It’s all part of the narrative’ to help us deal with things that don’t go as we expected. Our boys chant it like a mantra, lol. So Kay’s failure to include stories of his own experiences as a leader left me feeling hungry for something real and true. A little later as I sat in my Coaching Clinic session participating in the ‘say something’ activity, my mate David Ross (one very important BIE dude who is also very cool and genuine) came and grabbed me so I could meet Ken Kay in person. Funnily enough, Ken and I realized that we’d been chatting on the bus in the morning as we headed in to PBL World. I was feeling kinda awkward cos I’d challenged some of his keynote ideas and thought he’d be defensive or aggressive (I’ve experienced this before and it was very unpleasant – some of you might remember who I’m vaguely referring to here, lol).
Thankfully Ken is nothing short of a remarkable, passionate and pleasant guy who really wants to engage in a true dialogue about education. From my ten-minute discussion with him, I could see that we were on the same page. Ken understood my concerns about seeing students as ‘future somethings’ rather than human beings living and breathing in the present with the capacity to act now. I definitely learned from him that the best way to engage leaders, parents and community is to focus on the 4Cs that students probably already have but need to strengthen and more importantly USE productively in the here and now as well as in their futures. It’s no good trying to engage leaders, parents and community about pedagogy, trust that they trust that we are the professionals who can select the appropriate methods to facilitate and enable young people to use the 4Cs for the good of themselves and their community – local and global. David’s decision to get me to have this dialogue with Ken just reinforces my faith in his wisdom as a BIE leader and teacher. Thanks David and thanks Ken for ‘getting’ me and my concerns as a teacher who too often sees adults treating kids as though they are living in a mandatory limbo for 13 years until they are deemed ‘ready’ for the world.
OK, so back to the rest of the day. Some great protocols and activities were shared by Tim and Charity, once again. As always, I’ll just rush through them for you – each one is definitely applicable to professional learning AND learning in the classroom.
Four square: nope, this is not the check-in app that my hubby so loves. This is an activity that encourages students to demonstrate and refine their understanding of a topic. Tim had us do this activity straight after Ken Kay’s keynote as a bit of a debriefing task. Four large pieces of paper are placed on a big table in the middle of the room (you’ll need quite an open space for this – so maybe outside or in the library would be best, Tim said doing it on the floor works well with students) each paper has a concept or key word on the top. The class is roughly evenly divided into four teams. The person at the front of the team has a coloured texta (marker for those US readers, lol) and each team has a different colour. The facilitator sets a timer to three minutes and then each person in the team takes turns to write a word or short phrase related to the word at the top of the page. So for us we had teacher, leader, vision, practice – Tim said it’s good to have opposing concepts if you can. The person at the front of each line writes first and then goes to the back of the line and the new leader writes their ideas. This continues on the one sheet of paper (each team has their own paper, I hope this makes sense, lol!) until the time is up. When the timer goes off, the teams revolve so as that each time is front of a different piece of paper and then the timer is reset and the activity repeats. If you can’t think of a new idea or word to write, you can put a star next to someone else’s idea that you think is awesome. My mate TJ came up with the idea of star stickers and limiting the number stars each student can use – this forces students to think of something original to write. When every team has written on each paper, then the teacher facilitates a class discussion about what has been written and these pieces of paper can then be posted to the walls as stimulus for students’ writing etc. Loved this activity!
Say something: This is just plain clever! When you want student to read an article that is lengthy and you want them to take time to think critically about what they’ve read, this is the activity for you! Tim gave us a lengthy article about PBL and every three or four paragraphs it had the words ‘SAY SOMETHING” printed in between the next paragraph. When you reach that point, you chat with your partner for a couple of minutes about what you have just read. If someone is a faster reader, they should take notes or write a couple of thinking questions whilst they wait to discuss. At then end of the discussion, the pair record one or two key points of discussion that arose from the paragraphs they read. I enjoyed this activity immensely as it made me put into words what I was thinking about the article – it didn’t hurt that the article was super validating regarding my ideas about PBL enabling and empowering young people to act now in their communities, lol.
Critical Friends Protocol: this is, I believe, a kind of ‘official’ BIE protocol for PBL. As in, I think they coined it but I’m not sure. I’ve always associated the idea of critical friends to BIE and it once again reinforces why I think their method of PBL is superior to others … it values the process of feedback in learning about pretty much everything else. The critical friends protocol is essentially a teacher protocol for refining project (a very cool process that was experienced by the those attending the PBL101 course) but I use the idea of it with students when they’re working on individual products. It means that although they are working towards an individual goal, they are still appreciating the importance of team-work in the guise of feedback. I just love the term ‘critical friends’ as well – I tell my students that we all want critical friends, they’re the friend that will tell you if your bum looks big in your pants or if your breath smells like garlic, haha. You can check our the critical friends protocol on the BIE website.
To end our time with Tim and Charity, we all created posters of our mission statements and action items. We posted these to the walls of the room and then participated in a Gallery Walk where we gave warm and cool feedback in the form of ‘I likes’ and ‘I wonders’ on Post-It notes. I received so much positive feedback and really useful constructive feedback that I got a little teary, I’ll admit it.
I ended up leaving PBL World a little early because of a nasty headache and missed the Ignite Sessions which is a bummer because I heard they were awesome. I also had to miss out on the last two days of PBL World because of my detour to Vegas (which was awesome and I have no regrets, no regrets) … the things about this conference (which truly isn’t a conference at all, it’s like a PBL love-in with hundreds of new best friends) is that you don’t want to leave and when you do you feel sad and suffer withdrawal, lol. You wanna come back. And next year, after lots of saving up and threadbare clothes, I probably will!!