Praxis: Putting Theory Into Practice

OK, so I’m taking a deep breath before I write this post because I know it is going to be a long one… apologies in advance if I’ve ‘suggested’ that you read it, cos I don’t think it’s going to be a quick read, well, it will be if you skim it, and by all means, skim it! This post should have been written a week ago, when the project it is about was still fresh in my mind, but, alas, life is life and I am only getting to it now, prompted by a colleague’s request to see my program for the project… which, of course, I did not have to share.

Praxis – what is it? Well, apart from being one of my favourite words in the world (I have a Major in Philosophy, which surprises most people since I am, um, me… and I discovered the word at uni thanks to that legend, Plato) it is the name I have given to a series of week-long immersive enrichment projects that I’m running with year 7 students at my school. Basically, I love PBL, and I want an excuse to do it deeply with a bunch of super motivated kids once every term – we all have our ways to manipulate the system to get what we want, and this is mine. This post is about the first official Praxis Project that I ran in week 3 of this term. This post is (hopefully) going to outline the planning I did before the project, as well as the different stages of the project itself. For each key stage (divided by the days of the week as this was a full week project) I will identify how it meets specific PBL elements, our school’s reporting proficiencies that are essential contemporary learning skills, our school values, Quality Teaching Framework elements, Kaplan and Maker Models of curriculum development for gifted and talented learners, and which disciplines are being touched on (this project was for Maths and Science, but also touches on Geography, PDHPE, TAS, and English). Now that I’ve written all of those down, I’m realising just what a huge task I have set myself. I think I might go make myself a cup of chai before I begin…

Before project preparations…

  • Project Outline: The idea for this project came from my husband’s obsession with rope-swings. When I asked him what the project should be about, he joked that it should be about rope-swings, and then together we came up with the idea of rope-swinging into Curl Curl Lagoon. The real-world context of a project is super important, as is the authenticity of the problem that students are confronted with as this gives their learning a purpose, and thus significance. I created the project outline below (keep scrolling!) using Canva which always makes things look pretty. Note that the project outline is quite loose, and not too detailed, as it is essentially a prompt for students, providing them with the overall structure of the project, but allowing scope for their own inquiry, and creativity. I printed a colour copy of the project outline for each student, plus an A3 colour copy that I laminated for our project wall. I also added a digital copy of the project outline to our Edmodo group.
  • Experts: All projects definitely need the support of experts from outside of the school environment, but Praxis Projects especially need it as these are curriculum enrichment projects run by a single teacher (a PBL expert – me, haha) and not a ‘content’ expert. Students are thinking above and beyond any content prescribed by a syllabus for their specific age or stage. The intent is for students to engage with adults throughout the project in a way quite different to the traditional teacher-student relationship. I knew I needed an expert on the local lagoon, so I contacted the local council and was super lucky to get some great resources emailed to me AND to organise for the council’s environmental officer to speak with the students down at the lagoon (Jason Ruszczyk – such a legend). I also organised for two of my friends to be available via Edmodo to chat with students – Joseph Stephens (a science teacher and former environment officer), and Simon Borgert (HT Maths). Finally, I needed experts for the final presentation – as a panel is essential to have students respond to questions from experts – and was lucky enough to find a number who were keen to participate: Tom Davidson, a geology enthusiast, and Silvvy Choi, a STEM educator working at Sydney Uni, plus two representatives from the Curl Curl Lagoon Friends group. Finding experts is really hard, probably one of the hardest parts of PBL, but it is also one of the most important – so stick at it!
  • Participants: the Praxis Project is open to 20 year 7 students – five from each of the four core classes. I visited each class and spoke with them about the project, and handed out application forms. Students had to be passionate about and/or gifted in Maths and Science in order to apply. I also spoke at a year meeting about the project, and asked all year 7 Maths and Science teachers to identify their top five students and from this list I tapped a few kids on the shoulder and suggested they participate. In the end we have 16 students in total – many students showed interest, but did not want to miss a week worth of school, and others are keen to participate in the next Praxis Project instead.
  • Learning Space: For PBL to be effective, it really is best done in an open learning space. Our last project was run in the staff common room which is about the size of two regular classrooms, and has no furniture set up – it was awesome. This project ran during HSC Trials, so the only space I could book was a computer room. I did my best to make the room spacious by removing a couple of the big tables (there are 8 big tables in the room), and moving the remaining tables towards the back of the room, freeing up space at the front for our ‘arc’ which is essentially our meeting space (think the waterhole). Whilst the students found a way to make the space their own – one student finding it comfortable lying under the computer table – we all thought a bigger space would have been better.
  • Resources: Ensuring you have quality resources organised before the project is essential. Ensure you have a lot of stationery on hand, but these are must-haves: Post-Its, coloured markers, Sharpies, blank paper (like a paper roll from Ikea, or butchers paper), BluTak, and scissors. Project packets are folders or containers that each team can keep all of the key resources/paperwork in – yes, I am referring to paper stuff, not digital stuff cos kids do mindmaps, plans, sketches etc – I bought some cool mini cases that cost $2 each from Kmart and in them I put their project outlines, some blank paper, and handouts about the lagoon that were emailed to me by the council. I also printed off in A3 and laminated a copy of the years 3-5 BIE rubrics for collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and innovation, and presentation, one for each team. I organised with my husband’s principal to borrow 16 lab coats – one per student – and made name badges for each student e.g. ‘Dr Max, Dr Levi, Dr Xander’ etc. These small touches really transform a project into a memorable learning experience – they are the things that make a difference for me when I’m at a conference, and I know my students appreciate them too.
  • Organisation: I used Edmodo as the place for online communication, creating small groups for each team, and adding Joe and Simon in as co-teachers. I created folders with key resources and digital copies of the BIE rubrics. Students also elected to use Google Slides and Google Docs to collaborate on their presentations and planning, and I put these into a Google Drive folder that we could all access. I also discovered how easy it is to use the Google Drive app to upload photos and video from my phone to share with the kids – amazing!

Monday…

Hook Lesson (also know to some as the ‘project launch’):

The first thing students did as they entered the room was put on their lab coats, and their badges. They were VERY excited about this! I love creating a super psyched environment right from the beginning – the students are basically engaged from the start, and it challenges me to keep this type of mood for the duration of the project. Once all students were in, I asked them to sit in the ‘arc’ and then I showed them a couple of videos – the first one was of epic rope-swing fails (I edited a YouTube video for this, cutting out those that were incredibly dodgy, or that had swearing, and adding a soundtrack), and a Science of Stupid video looking at the physics of tree-climbing. The students loved watching these, and made lots of remarks about the people in the videos. After the videos I generated some discussion with the group about their experiences with rope-swinging, focusing on the locations at which they did it, what the location (including the water) looked like, how successful they were at rope-swinging and why. We had six other teachers in the room during this activity – the year 7 advisor was filming us, one DP and my principal were there, plus three teachers from Wallsend HS who were visiting to check out PBL in action.IMG_6852IMG_6854

QTF: Connectedness. Narrative. PBL essentials: Challenging Problem or Question Kaplan: Present content that is related to broad-based issues, themes, or problems. Focus on open-ended tasks. Maker: It should focus on concepts that are important to several academic areas, with the goal of integrating rather than separating what is learned.

Project Introduction:

After we watched the videos and had a chat about rope-swinging, I handed out a copy of the project outline and read it out loud to the students. This generated further discussion, but I resisted answering any questions students had, even basic ones about the project, answering them with ‘That is an excellent question, I wonder what the answer might be’. This is an essential step, because PBL is all about students asking questions, and then using resources at their disposal to answer them. Following this initial introduction to the project, I had students go off to the tables (prepped with required resources), to write things they already KNOW that will help them with the project (content knowledge, skills, and basic information about the project) on blue Post-Its, and things they WANT or NEED to know about the project in order to be successful – and these were expected to be in the form of questions – (content knowledge, skills, and basic information about the project) on pink Post-Its. They were challenged to write as many as they could in 15 minutes, and then add their Post-Its to a poster on the wall that had the headings ‘Want to Know’ and ‘What I Know’, with columns for skills, content, and project information. This process is required for all projects, as it forces students to think critically about their prior knowledge and skills, as well as generating a whole range of questions to help them launch their inquiry. Once the students had written as much as they could, they were invited back to the ‘arc’ to discuss what they came up with. I had immediately identified two very outgoing students in the group of 16, and selected them as the two ‘presenters’ who would read through all of the know and need to know Post-Its to the group – this activity allowed them to identify where students were thinking similarly and differently, and to critically evaluate the quality of their questions. During this process, I typed up (on a Word doc projected to the group) all of the ‘need to know’ questions that the group agreed on as being serious and necessary to the project’s success. By the end of this process we had well over 20 different questions that the students felt they needed answers to – pretty neat! We chatted in an informal way about how they could find out the answers, but I wished that I had done this in a more formal way, as I think it would have helped scaffold/structure their inquiry a bit better – this would be the H (how) in the KWHL table. With a focus on this very long list of questions, I asked the group to identify which questions they felt might be answered by a site assessment of Curl Curl Lagoon, and I highlighted in green all of the questions they selected – these would guide them when we visited the lagoon later in the day.

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Following this I had students select the teams they would like to work in, with the suggestion that 4 would be the perfect number. We ended up with two groups of 4, one of 5 and one of 2. Maybe we only had 15 kids participate? I don’t know, haha. Anyway, typically with curriculum-aligned PBL (that is projects run with your actual classes) I suggest that the teacher always picks the groups, but as this is a one week only intensive project with a group of young people I do not know, I allowed the students to select amongst themselves.

Finally, we spent about 10 minutes as a group creating a project calendar that was an overview of the week, identifying what needed to be done each day in order to successfully complete the project – this was just written in text on a piece of paper, and it was noted that each team may end up at different stages depending on where their ideas take them.

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QTF: Connectedness, Engagement, Narrative. PBL essentials: Challenging Problem or Question Kaplan: Present content that is related to broad-based issues, themes, or problems. Focus on open-ended tasks. Maker: It should focus on concepts that are important to several academic areas, with the goal of integrating rather than separating what is learned. Proficiencies: Demonstrates strong organisational and time-management skills.

Discover:

The group was now ready to really get into the ‘discover’ stage of the project – which meant our site assessment of Curl Curl Lagoon. The first thing I had them do was identify what roles each team-member would be responsible for when down at the lagoon, as I didn’t want them just rambling around directionless. We identified four key roles and responsibilities: water-testing, catching specimens of marine life, taking photos/mapping the lagoon, and identifying suitable trees or locations for the rope-swing. Each team decided on who would be responsible for each role, and then I created a list so I could hand out resources (water testing kit, nets, camera, etc) to the appropriate students.

We walked down to the lagoon, which is only about 5 minutes from school, and met Jason Ruszczyk and one of his colleagues, who then took us down to the lagoon (well, a part of Greendale Creek actually) to discuss its current health, and some of the factors contributing to it. The lagoon is VERY unclean – and this was immediately noted by the students when they saw it. Jason was exceptionally knowledgeable, and shared his expertise with this group, allowing them to see how he uses technical equipment to assess the water quality. I was super impressed by his vocabulary – so many scientific words I didn’t know the meaning of but was very keen to learn. I think he was quite amused by the students’ driving question, and felt pretty confident that rope-swinging into the lagoon isn’t something anyone would want to do any time soon. The students asked thoughtful questions, and discovered that the health of a catchment is very complex in an urbanised and industrialised area. After Jason left, we continued to walk around the lagoon, testing the water quality ourselves at a range of places and recording the data, as well as taking a lot of photographs, and considering the suitability of the trees for rope-swings. Students also tried to catch specimens of marine life, but failed as the water is so deoxygenated that virtually nothing can live there. This was a really fun part of our project, and many of the students commented that they would have liked to return to the lagoon later in the week to think more critically about it – I know one team actually did meet there in the morning before school!

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On return to school we looked through a resource on the science of catchments (I learnt the words eutrophication and benthos) and the history of Curl Curl Lagoon that Jason shared with me via email, as well as excerpts of a long document on site inspections relating to water quality for recreational swimming. These resources were shared via Edmodo, and supplemented by students’ own research into catchments, and water quality. As students did their independent research, I added all the new words we learnt to our ‘word wall’ – this is a way of helping students track what they know, or should know, to be successful with the project. That ended the first day of Praxis! Phew! (Only four more to write about, haha – I can DO this!)

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QTF: Deep knowledge, Deep understanding, Higher-order thinking, Metalanguage, Explicit quality criteria, Engagement, High expectations, Social support, Students’ self-regulation, Background knowledge, Knowledge Integration, Connectedness Proficiencies: Demonstrates critical thinking about information, ideas and problems PBL Essentials: Authenticity, Sustained Inquiry, Key Knowledge and Understanding Kaplan: Integrate multiple disciplines into the area of study. Develop productive, complex, abstract, and/or higher level thinking skills. Develop research skills and methods. Maker: It should include process skills such as higher levels of thinking and problem-solving as a separate scope and sequence that is integrated with the development of content understanding. It must include input from scholars and researchers in academic areas regarding the importance of principles, concepts, skills, and values.

Tuesday…

Discover:

Students began the day in the ‘arc’ where I introduced them to the BIE rubric on ‘critical thinking’. The BIE have a range of rubrics that are free to download, and I have used all of them – from the K-2 rubrics, right up to the 6-12 rubrics. For year 7 I quite like the grades 3-5 rubrics, as they are thoughtfully categorised but not too dense on detail that they lose meaning. The 6-12 rubrics can be very difficult for students to use effectively for the first time. I spoke with students about the different categories (which nicely reflect the discover, create and share stages of a project), and the different aspects of each level – below standard, approaching standard, and at standard. I used examples from what I saw students do the day before, and pointed out aspects I would like to see them address that day. Given more time, I would have made students use the rubric to self or peer assess their current critical thinking, but as it was we just used it as a tool to focus their understanding of what it means to think critically during PBL.

Students were then directed to work in their teams to brainstorm everything they learnt the day before, using textas on a blank piece of paper. Teams then selected a person to share  with the group the five most important things from their brainstorming – this led to a great discussion/reflection on the previous day, and helped clarify some ideas for different students.

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The focus for Tuesday was to apply their new understanding of the science of catchments to the project, developing a proposed solution for the water quality issues at Curl Curl Lagoon. To help with this, I had them return to the document on assessing a site for recreational swimming, drawing their attention to a table that identified all of the aspects to be considered (PH levels, aesthetic quality, physical hazards, bacteria levels etc), and set the challenge for them to identify the ideal conditions for recreational swimming, the real current conditions at Curl Curl Lagoon, and their suggested solutions. This information was to be presented that afternoon to a panel consisting of myself, the principal, a PE teacher, and a prac teacher. This was essentially a formative assessment – it allowed me to see what students knew about the science of catchments, and their presentations skills. In the three hours leading up to the presentations, I saw students being very creative in their approach to research, with one team approaching a visiting rep from the CSIRO for his ideas, and seeking assistance from a science teacher. The presentations were held near the end of the day, and as I watched them I wrote down ‘medals’ and ‘missions’ for each team, which I then spoke with them about afterwards to help refine their presentation style, and the content of their presentations.

QTF: Deep knowledge, Deep understanding, Higher-order thinking, Metalanguage, Explicit quality criteria, Engagement, High expectations, Social support, Students’ self-regulation, Background knowledge, Knowledge Integration, Connectedness Proficiencies: Demonstrates critical thinking about information, ideas and problems PBL Essentials: Authenticity, Sustained Inquiry, Key Knowledge and Understanding Kaplan: Integrate multiple disciplines into the area of study. Develop productive, complex, abstract, and/or higher level thinking skills. Develop research skills and methods. Maker: It should include process skills such as higher levels of thinking and problem-solving as a separate scope and sequence that is integrated with the development of content understanding. It must include input from scholars and researchers in academic areas regarding the importance of principles, concepts, skills, and values.

Wednesday…

Discover:

Once again the day began in the ‘arc’ – this time we rewatched the Science of Stupid video on tree climbing, as well as three other videos – one on the physics of swings, and two on the physics of rope swings. I had found these videos the day before, as well as a range of other resources that I shared with the group via Edmodo. I’ll just remind you all that I am an English teacher, not a Physics teacher, and at no point did the students see me as an expert in Maths or Science. My job was to create the context for which they would need to discover and apply a range of scientific and mathematical skills and content. Many of these kids genuinely understood the ideas explored in these videos, but some needed it explained to them by their peers. The focus for this day of the project was to get students thinking about the maths and science of rope-swinging, and I knew that some would take this further than others, just like some had immersed themselves in the science of catchments more than others – that’s the whole purpose of a curriculum enrichment project, to allow students to push in the direction that most fascinates them. In saying that, I do think that this part of the project would have been enhanced had I organised for a physics teacher/expert to come and speak to the students in person about the problems relating to rope-swinging – and the students themselves identified this as a small weakness in the project also. I blame my disorganisation, plus also my genuine fear that if I invited in a teacher they might think that they needed to run a two hour teacher-centred lecture (so lots of prep), or that they might have talked down to the students, or argued that year 7 students aren’t able to deal with this level of maths/physics… so yeah, teacher fail from me.

QTF: Deep knowledge, Deep understanding, Higher-order thinking, Metalanguage, Explicit quality criteria, Engagement, High expectations, Social support, Students’ self-regulation, Background knowledge, Knowledge Integration, Connectedness Proficiencies: Demonstrates critical thinking about information, ideas and problems PBL Essentials: Authenticity, Sustained Inquiry, Key Knowledge and Understanding Kaplan: Integrate multiple disciplines into the area of study. Develop productive, complex, abstract, and/or higher level thinking skills. Develop research skills and methods. Maker: It should include process skills such as higher levels of thinking and problem-solving as a separate scope and sequence that is integrated with the development of content understanding. It must include input from scholars and researchers in academic areas regarding the importance of principles, concepts, skills, and values. It must not restrict the students’ opportunities to purse accelerated content, processes, or products.

Create:

Hmmm… at some stage we identified all of the problems associated with the rope-swing that needed solving (weight of swinger, height of swing, length of rope, depth of water etc), and then they got to work in their groups on their preliminary rope-swing designs, calculating the maths of their designs, and researching the physics they needed to know.  We had one team outside throwing ropes out of a second story window and measuring the angle at which is would swing, with the assistance of a PE teacher, another group was creating a prototype out of clay, whilst another was coding the rope-swing physics in Python (no kidding, this kid is amazing), and another drawing, and then designing in Sketch-up. This was all a bit messy, but I think that’s OK cos students need time to just try to work things out themselves. During the last period of the day they spent time with one of our DPs, who is a Maths teacher, whilst I was on class, and I am assuming that during this time some of their calculations were checked etc.

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QTF: Problematic knowledge, Explicit quality criteria, Engagement, High expectations, Social support, Student direction, Knowledge Integration Proficiencies: Applies creative and innovative thinking to learning. Monitors own learning, and applies feedback to achieve personal best. PBL Essentials: Public Product, Critique & Revision, Student Voice & Choice Kaplan: Encourages the development of products that challenge existing ideas and produce ‘new’ ideas. Encourage the development of products that use new techniques, materials, and forms. Maker: It should include process skills such as higher levels of thinking and problem-solving as a separate scope and sequence that is integrated with the development of content understanding. It should include an emphasis on development of types of sophisticated products integrated with the content and process.

(Preliminary) Share:

Wednesday is sport day at our school, but it was cancelled due to wet weather, so students chose to stay in Praxis and keep working on their project – I thought that was pretty cool! During this time they continued with their research, and preliminary designs, and I created a list of all the things they needed to include in their final presentations on Friday (I posted this to our project wall), and informally pointed these out to different students, who shared this with their peers.

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QTF: Narrative, Student direction, Social support, High expectations, Explicit quality criteria, Substantive communication Proficiencies: Monitors own learning, and applies feedback to achieve personal best PBL Essentials: Public Product, Reflection, Authenticity Kaplan: Encourages the development of self-understanding, i.e. recognising and using one’s abilities, becoming self-directed, appreciating likenesses and differences between oneself and others. Evaluate student outcomes by using appropriate and specific criteria through self-appraisal, criterion references and/or standardised instruments. Maker: It should focus on concepts that are important to several academic areas, with the goal of integrating rather than separating what is learned.

Thursday…

Create:

Beginning in the ‘arc’ again, the day’s focus was on ‘creativity and innovation’ and ‘presentation’ skills – as with Tuesday’s morning session, we read through the BIE rubric, and discussed the different aspects, and informally assessing each team’s progress through this discussion. I spoke specifically about the different types of presentations – informative, imaginative, and persuasive, and gave examples from the Jason’s presentation at the previous night’s Curl Curl Lagoon Friends meeting that I attended, along with a couple of the Praxis students. Students appreciated that a great presentations is informative, imaginative, AND persuasive, and this was reflected in their final presentations the next day.

I then had each team brainstorm the ‘maths and science of rope-swinging’, and once again had them share the top five things they need to know. This was really helpful for a couple of the groups who needed some extra information about this, as they could identify the teams from whom they could learn the most, and planned to spend time with them later in the day. I created a big list of all of the key terms students might need to know, and put this list on the project wall for students to see. I was VERY impressed with what they discovered, and really enjoyed being taught about it from a few very enthusiastic students!

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QTF: Problematic knowledge, Explicit quality criteria, Engagement, High expectations, Social support, Student direction, Knowledge Integration Proficiencies: Applies creative and innovative thinking to learning. Monitors own learning, and applies feedback to achieve personal best. PBL Essentials: Public Product, Critique & Revision, Student Voice & Choice Kaplan: Encourages the development of products that challenge existing ideas and produce ‘new’ ideas. Encourage the development of products that use new techniques, materials, and forms. Maker: It should include process skills such as higher levels of thinking and problem-solving as a separate scope and sequence that is integrated with the development of content understanding. It should include an emphasis on development of types of sophisticated products integrated with the content and process.

Share:

Students spent the rest of the day working on their rope-swing models and presentations. All teams chose to use Google Slides for their presentations as they could easily collaborate on the slideshow in real time. One team had taken it upon themselves to get help from the TAS faculty, with the HT of TAS generously giving up his time to help them build a scale model of their design – this was a group of four girls, and seeing their beaming smiles as they returned with their finished product made me hopeful that they will pursue TAS subjects when they get to choose electives in the later years of schooling.

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One student helped me to design invitations for parents, teachers, and selected year 7 students to attend the Praxis presentations the next day, and he also created a thank-you card to be given to teachers who helped them during the week, and the panelists attending the presentations.

QTF: Narrative, Student direction, Social support, High expectations, Explicit quality criteria, Substantive communication Proficiencies: Monitors own learning, and applies feedback to achieve personal best PBL Essentials: Public Product, Reflection, Authenticity Kaplan: Encourages the development of self-understanding, i.e. recognising and using one’s abilities, becoming self-directed, appreciating likenesses and differences between oneself and others. Evaluate student outcomes by using appropriate and specific criteria through self-appraisal, criterion references and/or standardised instruments. Maker: It should focus on concepts that are important to several academic areas, with the goal of integrating rather than separating what is learned.

Friday…

Share:

Students spent the morning session putting the final touches on their presentations, and their visual representations of their rope-swing. We then headed off to the presentation space (our school library) to get it set up – furniture was arranged including seating for guests, and a table for the panelists. The panelists each got four copies of the audience feedback sheet provided online for free by the BIE, and I made sure that there were stickers and some small toys for one panelist’s young daughter who would be attending also. I ensured the students negotiated resources with the librarian, and that they were responsible for the setting up, not me. Students set up their food on a table for refreshments, which was a nice touch also. Each student also signed the thank-you cards, to be given with a box of chocolates to the people who supported them in their learning during the week.

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Ideally each team would have run through their presentation, but there simply wasn’t time so all I could do was cross my fingers and hope for awesome… and boy were they awesome! It was so inspiring to see these young learners stand up there in front of a pretty tough panel, and pitch their designs and solutions as a team. Each presentation went for approximately 10 minutes, and all teams had to respond to questions from the panel at the end – and let me tell you, this panel wasn’t asking easy questions, especially relating to the practicalities of their proposed solutions, and the science/maths of their designs. I was scared for them, but they all responded confidently, and with good humour! I loved that their presentations were all original, and that they had considered how to be informative, and persuasive, as well as engaging. At the end, students joined their invited guests for light refreshments… a super successful event!

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QTF: Narrative, Student direction, Social support, High expectations, Explicit quality criteria, Substantive communication Proficiencies: Monitors own learning, and applies feedback to achieve personal best PBL Essentials: Public Product, Reflection, Authenticity Kaplan: Encourages the development of self-understanding, i.e. recognising and using one’s abilities, becoming self-directed, appreciating likenesses and differences between oneself and others. Evaluate student outcomes by using appropriate and specific criteria through self-appraisal, criterion references and/or standardised instruments. Maker: It should focus on concepts that are important to several academic areas, with the goal of integrating rather than separating what is learned.

Reflect:

Whilst it’s easy to think that once the presentations are done, that a project is over – but it’s not. It is SO important that you give students time to reflect on their learning, and on the project itself. After lunch, we re-grouped in Room 127 – a space that had become a second home for us all – and I had them complete the BIE project reflection sheet. This helped them think about their learning, what they enjoyed, what they found hard, what they would have liked to have done differently, as well as make critical comments about how they would have liked the project itself to be different. This can be hard for some teachers to read, but it is what we need to know in order to refine our practice. Students were also given an opportunity to read through the comments from the panelists regarding their presentations, and this produced some lively conversations within each team as they argued out whether they were correct or incorrect points being made, haha.

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The last thing we did as a team, not sitting in the arc, but sitting haphazardly around the room, was to go back through the 20 or so ‘need to know’ questions that they had generated during our first morning together… it was fun to hear them shouting out their answers, and knowing that they HAD actually found out the answers to the questions. As we packed up the room, a couple of students tried their best to keep their lab coats on forever, and many asked to take home small mementoes of Praxis – their name badges, posters from the wall, etc… that was pretty cool. Oh, and somewhere in there they wrote and sang me a thank you song… yeah, that was pretty cool too.

Proficiencies: Monitors own learning, and applies feedback to achieve personal best PBL Essentials: Reflection Kaplan: Encourages the development of self-understanding, i.e. recognising and using one’s abilities, becoming self-directed, appreciating likenesses and differences between oneself and others.

John and Greg: we need more leaders like you!

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking a bit about leadership and what it takes to lead genuine change in education. This isn’t an uncommon thing for a teacher to be thinking about these days, especially with so many examples of schools challenging the status quo for the singular purpose of providing better learning experiences and life opportunities for the young people in their care. My current rumination on leadership was prompted by my colleague who asked me if I read a certain edu blog. I said I didn’t, because I don’t read any blogs. She was genuinely shocked (bordering on dismayed) by my admission. It took me a little bit of self-reflection (like, 30 seconds, because otherwise I would have looked kinda odd to my friend who was waiting for my response) to work out what my reasoning is. For the first ten seconds I was certain it was egotism – not wanting to read anyone else’s blog because I have my own – and then I thought it was just because I’m busy – this can’t be true as I manage to tweet and fb and instagram and blog far too much for that to hold up – finally, in the five seconds before she would tell me I’m weird, I worked it out. I’m scared to read about the cool things others are doing because it makes me lament my own inability to do those things. I despair when I read about other teachers doing things that I know are impossible for me as a teacher to do – because of a range of restraints that my current edu context presents. Things like using iPads, BYOD, dynamic and flexible learning spaces, whole-school PBL and maker spaces… sigh, just writing about them makes me sad.

The reason that I’m writing this post is because I think it takes a certain type of gutsy, risk-taking, fuck you attitude as a leader to create an environment where whole swathes of educators are rethinking their role in the classroom. I think it takes real leadership to make a large group of adult professionals scared as hell. Yeah, that’s what a visionary leader does. They are immersed in contemporary ideas about learning, design, business and culture and they are enviably connected – both in digital spaces and in the ‘real world’. Frequently they are confronted by a new endeavour, idea or tool and they challenge their colleagues to grab it with both hands and adapt it to their specific educational context. I mean, they hound you, as a teacher, with the new, until you almost weep and beg for mercy. They throw out a vision with the hope that others can see it, envision it, embrace it and morph into something practical and real. This is the type of leader with whom you could happily read all the books and blogs in the world and never despair at a cool idea because you know that you could try it and if it failed, your failure would be held up as an example of awesome learning. Sigh… I’ll stop describing fantasies now, and get to reality. Really, I will.

For the few years I have seen two people become these leaders. They have different paths but I see that they have the same destination. John Goh is known, not only for his bright suits, but for his radical approach to leadership and his desire to change the very notion of ‘school’. I have watched him grow as a leader, from someone working insanely hard behind the scenes to change the very structure of his school, to someone who is actively advocating for other principals to follow his lead – not to copy his decisions – and to put the needs of students above all else. Greg Miller is perhaps less well known in edu circles, but charging forward on his own transformative journey in quite a visible and public way. Like John, Greg shares his ideas and experiences as a principal on his blog. His posts reveal a work in progress, an individual eager to change and challenge the current paradigm of education and to surrender biases and traditions to a new vision of education today. Every time he tweets me his latest blog post, I think, ‘Another one? He’s still at it? He hasn’t given up yet?’ I’m impressed. These days it’s SO easy to make small changes – surface changes – that make a school look as though it is forward thinking. Just like John, Greg has focused on the pedagogical as much as the physical and structural. Like John, he is treating his school like an experiment… that sounds awful, but it isn’t. What would be awful would be a leader who assumes that change is simply a new coat of paint and some new chairs, or a leader who assumes that once change has happened it has happened. No, having a leader who sees experimenting and movement and fluidity as integral aspects of a learning environment – for the students, teachers, parents, admin etc – is essential. Essential. Education is not immutable. No, no, no. We need leaders like John and Greg in education if we are going to have schools that we want our own children to attend. There are too many people playing it nice and safe out there and the only losers are the students. They learn from a safe model of teaching and learning that the best approach in life is one that is nice and safe. This is NOT the type of citizen we should be shaping. No, no, no. Daring and bold edu leaders birth daring and bold lifelong learners!

To learn more about these guys:

– follow John Goh on twitter or read his blog.

– follow Greg Miller on twitter or read his blog.

NB: I know that I’ve chosen two men as my examples of transformative, inspirational edu leaders. I know that there are likely just as many, if not more, female leaders out there who are on the level of these guys. This post isn’t about gender, but then again, everything is often about gender when there is such an imbalance in most parts of society. So, if you know of female leaders kicking ass as much as these two guys – public, catholic, private school, I don’t care – let me know so I can follow their journeys as well. Perhaps they aren’t sharing as publicly, or they’re not as well connected? A cynical slice of me imagines that perhaps female leaders are more reticent to challenge the established culture of a school and make the needed changes… I hope you prove me wrong.

 

2.5 days at the world’s biggest edu conference, #iste13

I don’t hide my feelings about ISTE. I’ve been twice before – my first year was thrilling, overwhelming, surprising and my second year was frustrating and disappointing. So why would I go again? Simply because I would be in the States at the time of the conference and my peeps were going to be there – that’s my Aussie peeps Jess, Moni and Ashleigh who each presented at the conference. Of course, I also wanted to test if my second experience of ISTE was coloured negatively by my own cynicism. So what did I learn?

I learnt that my gut instinct from #iste12 was right. For me. (Please keep in mind that I share what I think and feel – my own experience. My thoughts and feelings certainly aren’t shared by everyone.) Once again, I felt that the conference is far too big. Big. Big. Big. There are so many sessions that it’s almost impossible to decide which ones to attend. There’s not only presentations and workshops, there are spaces to connect with people (Bloggers’ Lounge, Newbies Lounge), the exhibition hall and the poster sessions … oh, and keynotes. There is such a range of topics being covered, but every year there are certain ‘buzz words’ that linger in the air and waft from one space to another – you simply can’t escape them. This year’s buzz words were: anything with ‘i’ in front of it (like iRead, iMaths, iLearn, iTeach, iDuh), flipped classroom, Minecraft, iPads, failure/fear, STEM (or STEAM or STREAM depending on your slant), Twitter and BYOD. So if you wanna be a ‘hip’ and ‘nerdy’ and ‘geeky’ teacher, I suggest you jump on to those bandwagons straight away, lol! Anyway, I don’t wanna hate on the conference too much, it is what it is and so many people get so much from it, good on them. I’m definitely with William Chamberlain when he says, ‘I don’t got to conferences to learn anymore. That’s what Twitter is for. I go to conferences to connect.’ (paraphrased)  but so true. I connected with a number of cool people, but not as many as I’d hoped. Not enough actual teachers are hanging out at the places designed for connecting – Bloggers’ cafe etc … that seems to be the reserve of the edu-celebrities. Sigh. BUT, in light of the fact that I’m a cynical little Aussie, I can appreciate why no-one wants to talk to me, lol. SO, I’m just going to spin to the positive and share with you what I did learn from ISTE this year.

Sunday (Day 1): After manically registering in the very big Ballroom A, I rushed to the main hall to join Ashleigh for the Ignite sessions. Interesting that they put these on the big stage this year – I think it was a little unfair to most of the presenters who were teachers, and not used to presenting before such a massive crowd. I mean, rad opportunity but so impersonal. The two talks that stood out for me were the one by Carrie Ross (all about how essential it is to create a positive classroom culture – a community of learners) and Dean Shareski (he spoke about being silly with kids – which is awesome because how can you not be, really? The opposite of silly is boring. It was a great talk – he’s a natural and so genuine). Both of the speakers grabbed my attention because they spoke about students with admiration, love and passion. After the Ignite sessions we did something … no idea what that was, ISTE amnesia? I do remember that we lined up for AGES for the opening Keynote – Jane McGonigal. Unfortunately before she spoke we had to endure the train-wreck that was the unveiling of the new ISTE ‘brand’ – essentially 20 minutes of cheesy promo referring to ISTE as a product. It ended with a t-shirt canon – no joke. I had shivers the whole time. NOT the good kind. If you wanna know what Jane’s keynote was like, just watch her TED talk. I found the whole thing frustrating and uninspiring. She spent most of the time trying to justify why games are worth valuing – duh. That’s so 2009. She barely touched on games and education. My expectations were high so my disappointment was big.

Monday (Day 2): I actually didn’t go to ISTE on Monday. I sent my hubby Lee in my place – I’ll let him write up his experience, lol. What I did manage to do was check out San Antonio a bit with my boys and then go out to dinner with some of my very favourite peeps – Suzie Boss, Myla Lee, Dayna Laur, Al Solis, Mike Gwaltney, Andrew Miller, Tina Photakis, Ashleigh Catanzariti and hubby Lee. It was great fun and involved Alfie, Lee and Dayna eating crickets and me getting a little drunk on a margarita and talking WAY too much, lol!

Tuesday (Day 3): I started the day attending the BYOD workshop about collaboration run by my mate Jess Melkman. It was, naturally, a really great session. She got us up and connecting with people we didn’t know and explained how she uses collaboration online and f2f in all of her classes – including seniors. After that Ashleigh and I planned to attend a couple of sessions that we managed to miss. We spent our time drinking margaritas and learning (kinda) about the Alamo, lol. Returning to ISTE a little tipsy (is there a theme?), we checked out the Newbie Lounge, met some great people (even if one admitted to unfollowing me on Twitter at some point because I rant too much – baaahha!) and chatted to amazing students at the poster sessions. The poster sessions run by students are always a highlight – I was taught how to use an app-builder tool and how to make a LED ring, so cool. We ended our ISTE day with the PBL Birds of a Feather run by Suzie Boss and Mike Gwaltney which (just like last year) was awesome. It was great that Lee and our boys got to attend (how cool is Suzie Boss?) and we all made some great connections that will lead to rad projects for our students later in the year. Brilliant! We all went to the EdTech Karaoke party later that night, and, well, yeah … my son summed it up when he said, ‘Mum, imagine if students came in here. Those teachers would be so embarrassed.’ Haha!

Wednesday (Day 3): I woke up in the morning at 7am and checked Twitter to discover that I now have a new Prime Minister – without an election. There was effectively a coup and our first female prime minister was ousted in a leadership spill and we once again have Kevin Rudd (aka Kevin 07 or KRudd) as our prime minister. It was like waking up in the Twilight Zone. Anyway, after a flurry or annoyed and confused tweets, I fell back into a broken sleep only to wake up in a fit at 10.30am realising that I had 30 minutes to get to the convention centre for my edmodo presentation with Jess and Moni. Oops! Luckily I can get ready fast and made it on time. It was a fun presentation cos we three got to share how we met via edmodo – true story! After our presentation we spent some time at the Bloggers’ Cafe but didn’t actually speak with any bloggers … I like that the space is informal, but also think it’d be good to have some kind of system or protocol for connecting with other bloggers – like an edu blogger speed-dating or something. It’s sort of awkward sitting around there not knowing who to approach or when to approach them. I know some love it, but after three years (and being someone who blogs a lot) I still haven’t found it to be a space that has a great impact on me as a blogger. Bummer. Finally, we all went off to attend Andrew Miller’s session on PBL and Blended Learning. It was so great – the best way to end ISTE. Andrew is a super engaging, funny and knowledgeable speaker who truly is passionate about students getting the opportunity to experience quality PBL. I took a bunch of notes and tweeted quite a lot from his session – you can read my notes below cos I’m too lazy to write them out, lol … I’m about to go swimming in the Texan heat y’all😉

PBL: bringing together divergent theories, strategies and tools #EDMT5500

My last blog post was about what my students in the Introduction to Teaching and Learning course at Sydney University have been learning about this semester. A lot of the conversations that we’ve had are around bringing together this broad range of ‘edu stuff’ in the classroom? Well, it’s become a bit of a running joke that my answer to everything is ‘PBL’ … but, for real, all of these things DO come together beautifully in project based learning. Let’s have a look at just how that can be the case.

I break my PBL into three parts (I call these ‘cycles of learning’ in my class) that roughly equates to the assessment that takes place during each project – they’re being assessed formatively twice and summatively once. Each cycle of learning engages with a variety of the learning strategies, tools and theories. (Sorry about the randomly coloured fonts … this post is kind of a thinking post for me as I prepare for tomorrow’s seminars, lol!)

PROCESS 1: EXPLORE/RESEARCH/INQUIRE/DISCOVER

BIE 8 ESSENTIALS OF PBL: In-depth inquiry, Driving Question, Need to Know and Significant Content

METAPHORS FOR LEARNING: Campfire, Waterhole and Cave

Punk Learning: students generating punk questions and designing own projects

DESIGN THINKING: Intending – Establish needs wants and goals. Defining – Name, list and describe what is involved. Exploring – Imagine, organize and analyze possibilities.

STRATEGIES: KWL table, speed-dating, think/pair/share, think/puzzle/explore

TOOLS: Diigo, YouTube, Edmodo, blogging, ClassDojo

THEORIES: Blooms Taxonomy (Remembering, Understanding, Analysing), SOLO Taxonomy (Unistructural, Multistructural), Quality Teaching Framework (Deep Knowledge, Deep Understanding, Problematic Knowledge, Higher-order Thinking, Engagement, Social Support, Students’ Self-Regulation, Student Direction, Students’ Self-Regulation, Background Knowledge, Cultural Knowledge), 8 Aboriginal Ways of Learning (Story Sharing, Learning Maps, Symbols and Images)

PROCESS 2: CREATE/PRODUCE/DESIGN/COMPOSE

BIE 8 ESSENTIALS OF PBL: Voice & Choice and Revision & Reflection

METAPHORS FOR LEARNING: Cave and Waterhole

DESIGN THINKING: Suggesting – Decide, present and explain your proposal. Innovating – Continually improve as you produce what is proposed.

STRATEGIES: hexagonal thinking, master and apprentice, think/puzzle/explore, goals/medals/missions,

TOOLS: Edmodo, ClassDojo, blogging

THEORIES: Blooms Taxonomy (Applying, Creating, Evaluating), SOLO Taxonomy (Relational), Quality Teaching Framework (Higher-order Thinking, Substantive Communication, Engagement, Explicit Quality Criteria, High Expectations, Social Support, Students’ Self-Regulation, Inclusivity), 8 Aboriginal Ways of Learning (Deconstruct/Reconstruct, Non-Linear, Symbols and Images, Non-Verbal)

PRODUCT 3: SHARE/PRESENT/CONTRIBUTE/PUBLISH

BIE 8 ESSENTIALS OF PBL: Public Audience and 21st Century Skills

METAPHORS FOR LEARNING: Campfire and Life

Punk Learning: self-assessment using the ‘Punk Learner’ rubric

DESIGN THINKING: Goal-getting – Judge, measure and evaluate your success. Knowing – Remember, integrate and apply what you learn.

STRATEGIES: goals/medals/missions, master and apprentice, think/puzzle/explore,

TOOLS: Edmodo, ClassDojo, Slideshare, Scribd, Blurb, Twitter, YouTube

THEORIES: Blooms Taxonomy (Evaluating), SOLO Taxonomy (Extended Abstract), Quality Teaching Framework (Engagement, Explicit Quality Criteria, High Expectations, Social Support, Connectedness, Narrative, Cultural Knowledge, Knowledge Integration), 8 Aboriginal Ways of Learning (Community Links, Land Links, Story Sharing)

Teaching teachers is fun but challenging …

For the last three months I have been working at Sydney University each Tuesday. I’ve been running seminars for the #EDMT5500 course, Introduction to Teaching and Learning – kinda mental, huh? I’ll admit that it has been a really challenging experience for me. Not because the content of what I have to teach is difficult of foreign to me, but simply because I have only two hours a week with these awesome people who have chosen to be teachers and I feel it simply isn’t enough time to get to know them. I mean, I’ve tried really hard to get to know their names and how they learn (super important to me as an educator) and to also cram into that time everything that I think a new teacher should know and be able to do.

Like most teachers (I hope), I believe that learning through doing is more powerful than learning through listening. I’ve done my best to have my students engage actively in the types of activities and learning experiences that I’d like to see them create for their students. But it is a challenge to not stand up the front and just talk about my experience as a teacher. You see, these guys are super excited to have a practising teacher in the room with them for two hours a week. They have so many questions about teaching and learning (of course I don’t know all of the answers), that at times we just fall into semi-casual discussions about my experiences and my beliefs. That last bit is the rub, of course … when I’m up the front and they are all asking questions, it’s hard not to believe that my ideas and opinions are the most important, the more right. I think that’s symptomatic of the ‘sage on the stage’ experience – feeling superior because of our location within the room and the attention we garner. This is problematic in high schools but it’s down-right dangerous in universities.

Anyway, apart from that little bit of self-criticism, I think that overall my experience has been super positive. Mostly I’ve just been skimming the weekly notes/PPT for the week and then running with my own ideas about what is central and most relevant for my students. They have been introduced to so many teaching approaches, strategies, tools, theorists, practitioners and activities that I think none of them really have a reason to start their teaching career as a ‘sage on the stage’ unless it’s what they truly desire to be. I hope that from our course they’ve been challenged to think differently about teaching and learning and that they’ve discovered that the labels ‘teacher’ and ‘learner’ can be applied to every individual who is participating in the learning experience.

Here is just a super quick list of what my #EDMT5500 students have been exposed to during the first 9 weeks of the Introduction to Teaching and Learning course. I’d really love it if you commented below with other approaches, strategies, tools, theorists, practitioners and activities that you think a new teacher should be exposed to before getting their first class!

SOLO taxonomy

metaphors for learning spaces

Blooms Taxonomy 

Quality Teaching Framework

Australian professional standards for teaching

8 Aboriginal ways of learning

– Elmore’s instructional core

– Tait Coles’ punk learning approach

Project Based Learning

– Design Thinking (iDesign)

– Thinking activities: KWL, speed-dating, think/pair/share, hexagonal thinking, master and apprentice, think/puzzle/explore

edmodo, Diigo, slideshare, scribd, YouTube, classdojo, Twitter

constructivism and constructionism

Seymour Papert

I’m sure there’s a bunch of other things we have covered but I can’t remember, lol.

Project Based Learning and the Australian Curriculum ‘General Capabilities’ (Part 3)

This is the third part of my posts on the Australian Curriculum’s General Capabilities and Project Based Learning (PBL). The first part is here. The second part is here. What is PBL? Read about it here.

Well it’s taken me ages to get to this last post. School and life has been hectic. Isn’t it always? I intended for the three posts to be completed for SDD Term 1 and it is now the end of Week 2. Luckily these General Capabilities are so straight forward and everyone always covers them with their classes, right? Oh, wait … no. That’s NOT the truth. Whilst Ethical Understanding and Intercultural Understanding are essential capabilities for awesome humans, they can so easily be overlooked when teachers feel pressured to prioritise content.

ETHICAL UNDERSTANDING

According to the AC website, ‘Ethical understanding involves students in building a strong personal and socially oriented ethical outlook that helps them to manage context, conflict and uncertainty, and to develop an awareness of the influence that their values and behaviour have on others’. This is pretty important stuff, right? I mean, in high school we’re often working with young people who simply lack resilience or a deep appreciation for their own values and how these can impact those around them. Why? Because they are young people finding their place within the world. But maybe it’s because they don’t understand or can’t appreciate the relevance of what they are doing RIGHT NOW in their school lives. To teenagers, school can often seem like they’re in a holding pen waiting until they’re given the chance to be morally responsible. In order to support our students to develop ‘personal values and attributes such as honesty, resilience, empathy and respect for others’ (Melbourne Declaration on Education Goals for Young Australians) we need to create learning experiences that foster and nurture these values and attributes.

Project based learning is about problem finding and problem solving. Not the problems in the back of the book, or the imaginary problems identified in a novel, but the REAL problems of our world that need addressing. It is in the driving question of a project that we see the centrality of problems. These problems might be based in the class (How can we design a learning space that supports the needs of all learners?), school (Can we, as students, prevent bullying in our school?), local community, (How can we educate our community about the impact that individuals’ decisions have on others?), national (Can we create a short film that will change politician’s attitudes to climate change?) or global (How can poetry be used to inspire people to donate money to combat the global food crisis?). The best problems, of course, are those identified by students through their own personal experience or through their own in-depth inquiry. To help students with their problem-finding, you could use this sentence from the AC as stimulus for discussion and brainstorming: Complex issues require responses that take account of ethical considerations such as human rights and responsibilities, animal rights, environmental issues and global justice. It simply is NOT enough to have our students writing persuasive speeches or research articles or poems about these issues, handing them in to teacher for a grade and ticking a box. We MUST empower our young people to actually actively take part in making a contribution to their world – to truly contribute their ideas to solving complex problems.This means ensuring that their learning has a public audience.

Of course, we can’t expect on class doing PBL to solve the world’s problems – but many hands make light work. According to the AC, Technologies bring local and distant communities into classrooms, exposing students to knowledge and global concerns as never before. With the capacity to bring others into our classroom vis Skype, edmodo, social media etc, we have the capacity to work together towards incremental changes to our somewhat shitty world. Giving students a taste of what their own personal capacity is, to develop their understanding of themselves as ethical human beings, is really central to our jobs as teachers.

Here’s a video of me talking about the importance of fostering Ethical Understanding in the young people in our care:

INTERCULTURAL UNDERSTANDING

One of the reasons I love the Internet is because it has made our world a little bit smaller. It’s made it easier for me to appreciate the shared nature of humanity and opened my eyes to the importance of connecting and collaborating with people all over the world. However, I do often ask myself whether that’s just me idealising the Internet. Chatting to my students and observing how they use the web, it seems to me that maybe it’s not actually being used in a way that bashes down contextual and cultural boundaries, bringing about a truly global community. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know that my students are connecting with other young people from all around the world – especially those who are gamers. But is this reinforcing cultural divides as they seek out others with the same or similar cultural contexts to themselves? For the AC, intercultural understanding assists young people to become responsible local and global citizens, equipped through their education for living and working together in an interconnected world.

Creating learning experiences that provide students with the opportunity to connect and collaborate with students from backgrounds different from their own truly does nurture intercultural understanding. During PBL, students develop essential 21st century skills as they establish connections with other schools or with experts from outside of school. PBL provides the students with the the ability to relate to and communicate across cultures at local, regional and global levels. Currently my Year 8 class is connecting with a small rural school (North Star Public School) in northern NSW in their attempt to answer the driving question What can we learn from the life stories of others? This project requires them the engage with a text that explores the life story of an individual from a culture very different from their own – for my class they’re learning about the peoples indigenous to North America and learning about the impact of colonisation on these peoples. They are also connecting via twitter, edmodo and skype with the North Star students to share their own life stories and in doing so they are cultivating values and dispositions such as curiosity, care, empathy, reciprocity, respect and responsibility, open-mindedness and critical awareness, and supports new and positive intercultural behaviours. The project covers significant content for both classes as they are actively engaging in their wider world and discovering something new about others and themselves.

There are many more learning experiences such as the one I have outline above that my students have enjoyed over the years because of project based learning. Using this approach to learning truly opens our eyes, as teachers, to the potential connections our young people can make with others. It doesn’t have to be connections from outside of the school either. At my school, we have a number of students from Japan, Korea and China, who spend one to two years studying at our school. My colleague ran a wonderful project at the beginning of the year where his Year 12 students planned and ran the introduction activities for our new international students. This was a awesome opportunity for all of the students involved to learn about other cultures and it gave them the chance to identify culture and develop respect. My goal for this year is to have one of my classes to work on a project with a class with Aboriginal students. I recently discovered the 8 Aboriginal Ways of Learning and am very keen to design a project that incorporates all 8 ways because I believe they are the ways my students learn also. Working at a school on the Northern Beaches in Sydney isolates my students from the potential to truly develop their understanding of the cultures of the original inhabitants of this country. It’s time that I use my PBL skills and the technologies we have available to break down these cultural barriers and create awesome learning experiences for both classes. I just have to find the right school to connect with!

As I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of the AC’s General Capabilities. I think it is essential that we continue to value our young people as the future of our world and support them as best we can to develop or strengthen these important attributes of awesome humans. I truly do feel that an approach to learning such as project based learning that is experiential, authentic and engaging provides our learners with the BEST opportunity to hone these very important values and attributes.

Just some things I have to say about edmodo …

At the beginning of this year, I was asked by the peeps at edmodo if I would agree to be interviewed by the Huffington Post for an article about edmodo. Um, hello – the Huffington Post? I always see their stuff being retweeted by my Twitter mates (and yes, I even occasionally read the articles which is a big deal for someone like me who skims everything!) – let’s just say I was a little bit stoked at the chance to be quoted in one of their stories! I also was stoked because I really love edmodo and it’s always super cool that they think of little old me down here in Australia – they really are a shining light of loyalty in the ever-increasing corporatisation of education. I really mean that. As you know, I’ve been using edmodo since 2009 and they have always made me feel valued as an educator and a contributor to their growing network of teachers and students.

Anyway, you can read the edmodo blog post about the Huffington Post article here and you can read the actual Huffington Post article here.

As is the way with people like me who live in the Southern Hemisphere, being interviewed proved difficult time-wise. To overcome this (and avoid me being up at 3am), the journalist (the very cool C.M. Rubin – woot!) sent me a bunch of questions to answer via email. Of course, I just rambled on and wrote waaaaaay to much and necessarily about three of the things I said were included in the final article. I thought someone out there might be interested in my original responses to the questions … maybe, haha. They were actually really great questions! So, anyway, here they are:

How have you used Edmodo in or out of your classroom to enhance learning? 

I’ve been using Edmodo with my students since May, 2009. I discovered it during a video conference on web 2.0 tools for education. It was a chance discovery because at the time my school was looking for an alternative to email and USBs as a means for students to share their work with teachers. I quickly discovered that edmodo is so much more than that!

Can you share any examples of things you have done in your classroom recently or even plan to do in the near future which illustrate the important added value/unique benefits of Edmodo versus other learning platforms/tools?

I’ve had so many wonderful experiences with Edmodo that it is almost impossible to choose between them! I think the there are three experiences that my students and I fondly remember. In March, 2012, I used edmodo to facilitate an online role-playing game with my students which became fondly known as #HG2212. Essentially, I created a Hunger Games narrative where students played the roles of the tributes or citizens of The Capitol. I used Edmodo’s unique features to organise the game – students changed their usernames and avatars to reflect their characters, all students joined a group called ‘Northern Ridges’ (our version on Panem) whilst some students were put in an ‘Arena’ sub-group and others in ‘The Capitol’. Over the course of two weeks, students used blogs, videos and Web 2.0 tools such as Voki (all embedded into the Edmodo group by students) to tell the narrative of their characters as tributes in The Arena. The Capitol residents determined which tributes lived or died and how this occurred. It was truly an amazing experience with students so engaged that they were on Edmodo at all hours of the night – they even downloaded the Edmodo app to their phones so they wouldn’t miss any action. Essentially this was a creative thinking and creative writing activity, but Edmodo allowed it to be immersive, interactive, engaging and fun! You can read more about it here and see student work as well: https://biancahewes.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/hunger-games-2212-my-rejected-iste-presentation/

Another amazing learning experiences was using Edmodo to connect my Year 10 class with a Year 10 class in San Francisco. My class was studying The Catcher in the Rye and I put a post on a couple of the Edmodo communities asking if any teacher had a class he/she who might want to help my students better understand life in America for teens. Within half a day I had lots of people offering to connect and ultimately chose one class – I would have loved to connect with them all and I plan to do so eventually! Our students joined an Edmodo group to chat about their lives and what they find difficult or inspiring. They also made videos and posted them to Edmodo, answering questions the other students had posed. It was such an eye-opening experience for my students! They learnt so much about American culture – especially the danger of stereotypes presented on television and in movies. My 15 years olds really believed that all American teenagers looked like the teenagers in Gossip Girl and were very surprised to find that this is not the case! Edmodo was the best place for this type of connection to occur as it is a teacher-monitored space where young people can develop those much needed collaboration and communication skills with a guide right beside them.

Finally, I’ve used Edmodo to get writing mentors for my students. My class were working on individual research and composition projects and I knew it would be impossible for me to give quality, personal feedback on all of their work. I decided to reach out to my Edmodo professional learning network and asked if anyone would be interested in mentoring a 15 year old. I had so many offers it! Eventually my 30 students had mentors from all over the world, including many states of America, South America and England. All of the mentors were registered teachers with Edmodo, which means that they were safe to work with children – something all teachers need to be aware of when considering these types of activities. Edmodo supported the mentor process perfectly as I could invite the teachers to join our class Edmodo group and then create sub-groups for each mentor and student. All interactions in these groups and sub-groups are visible to me, the teacher. This allowed me to assess the progress of each student and learn a little as well!

The internet is our children’s medium and many believe it is an unparalleled learning tool.  How does Edmodo handle the challenge of educating kids to be good digital citizens – can you share examples of what instruction (unique to Edmodo?) you believe Edmodo provides kids to better equip them for the social medial world they now live in?

I always so that Edmodo is the social network with training wheels. It’s a safe platform where young people can learn how to communicate and interact with other young people – and adults – whilst at the same time being guided and supported by an adult they trust, their teacher. By introducing Edmodo to students at a younger age, teachers are helping to develop the habits of mind that are essential for students to be good digital citizens. Students learn the important of a quality avatar that is non-offensive and presents them as a thoughtful and sensible person. They also learn the necessity to use appropriate language, to speak kindly and with compassion, to be supportive rather than critical and to ask thoughtful questions. One of the best lessons that students learn in Edmodo is the impact that a lack of tone can have on written text – they quickly learn how important it is to be clear in what they write! They even just learn the basics of managing a username and password!

Of course, I believe that Edmodo has some unique features that allows students to develop all of these skills. Edmodo has a massive user-base (over 10 million users, I believe) and this means that teacher like me can easily connect their classes with classes from all over the world, simply be requesting a connection in an Edmodo community. Providing students with a safe and facilitated opportunity to connect with students they do not know means that they can put their digital citizenship skills into action whilst being supported by their teacher.  Last year I ran a project where my Year 9 students used Edmodo to connect with Year 2 students from a local primary school. The students collaborated on a story-writing project and in doing so developed their ability to ask questions effectively, communicate their ideas clearly and give quality, non-judgmental feedback to young people they previously did not know. Teachers can see all activity in an Edmodo group and this gives them the ability to quickly post a comment and praise great digital citizenship, or to quickly address any potentially inappropriate behaviours.

Why is it about Edmodo that engages students most?

This is a question that I’m always asking my students and myself. I think that initially students are attracted to it because it looked like Facebook! Younger students are really excited about the idea that they can quickly connect with their peers online – something they may not have as much opportunity to do if they are younger than 13. Ultimately, though, my students have told me that what they like the most is the range of learning experiences that it provides them with. They love connecting with other students and teachers, they love using it to role-play and of course it gives them security knowing that their teacher as well as class resources, are accessible online 24/7. My students made a video about their thoughts on Edmodo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dgl6kxq2tMQ

If there was one thing you could change about the Edmodo platform what would that be?

That’s a really tough question! It has so many great features that we teacher have already helped them introduce – they really are quite responsive to teacher suggestions and feedback. I think the thing that I’ve asked for the most is an embedded points system so I can gamify my classroom when I choose to. Basically, it means that during role-playing projects my students can be awarded a certain number of points for posts and comments. I think that feature would be awesome. But really, to be honest, Edmodo is such a flexible platform that I can make that happen myself just by being a little creative with the badge system and the reactions feature. I’m really excited to see what they introduce next because it is always based on the idea of a teacher somewhere around the world!