I just spent a week learning with 11 year 7 students… and it was brilliant!

Last week I facilitated a week-long project with a small group of year 7 students, and it was an experience that really reaffirmed my commitment to a project-based learning environment for all students. After having watching the documentary Most Likely to Succeed in the lead-up to the Future Schools conference a couple of weeks ago, I was beginning to get despondent about my current attempts to introduce PBL into my new school. I worked really hard last year to try to give my students authentic learning experiences using PBL as my methodology, but despite my best efforts I found myself dealing with frustrated students who did not enjoy these experiences, complained about the lack of teacher direction, the amount of work, the accountability, and the fact that they felt they weren’t spending enough time focused on high-stakes assessments. There were, of course, some wins in there – some great moments where students really did inquire, create and present their learning in ways that challenged their own expectations of what it is to be a learner… but mostly I felt that they didn’t really ‘get it’, and by the end of the year I had many students telling me they preferred not to do PBL next year. Bummer, huh?

However, I’m a determined kid, and sometimes you’ve got to trust the education literature, your years of teaching experience (and that of others), and the vision you have for your own children’s education… so I have persevered, because I know that the first step to change is resistance, and I am committed to ensuring the young people at my school get the learning experiences they need to thrive in our crazy, crazy world. Seeing what Larry Rosenstock has achieved at High Tech High, I am completely inspired, and also quite intimidated. I WANT that learning environment for my kids (not just my two sons, but all of the kids I teach), and I know it can be created, if only in small amounts to start.

So, about a month ago our school was invited to participate in the cross-campus GATS project for year 7 students. All of our students are GATS, right? It makes it hard to choose who can be involved – we just didn’t have the time or resources to have it a whole year-group project, and to be honest that approach would not have been ideal… we need to start small with these things, and nurture a mood/culture of awesome that others are desperate to be a part of in the future. In the end we decided that we could have up to 5 students per core class (we have four classes) and that students would need to ‘apply’ to participate. We ended up with 13 applications, which is pretty good considering they had 3 day’s notice to get their application in. When the first day of the project rocked up, we were down to 11 – one decided to opt out (oh peer pressure, we’ll never erase you), and another was unwell. I decided that I would run the project in my free periods, plus during my year 10 periods which were covered by my DP; I chose to teach my senior classes and during those periods my DP supervised the year 7 students.

The night before the project as due to begin, I created a project outline to help guide my students’ inquiry, and provide a lose structure for their week of learning. I didn’t decide on the concept (this was determined by our college’s HTs T&L) which was equality (which should have been equity, as pointed out by my friend Tomaz, and my 14 year old son), and from that I developed an overarching driving question.

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Below is a super quick overview the project…

Day One: The very first step in all projects is the hook lesson/entry event – my favourite part of every project. For this one I used a modified version of the famous ‘blue eyes, brown eyes‘ experiment by Jane Elliot. I got the students together and randomly handed out 6 orange badges, and made the students put them on. These students were invited to help me set up a small ‘party’ with lollies, chocolate biscuits and cans of softdrink. They were told repeatedly not to eat anything. I then invited the students without badges to come and eat/drink, and asked the orange badge students to sit down on some nearby chairs. After this, I had the orange students set up a 5 chairs in a circle, and then 6 on the outer of the circle. I had one students set up some music and they began to play pass the parcel – however when the music stopped on an orange person they had to hand the parcel over to a non-orange person who got to open it and keep the gifts inside. The orange students had to pick up the rubbish (just newspaper) created by the non-orange students. Once the game was finished, I invited all of the students to sit down in a semi-circle, and we discussed what it felt like the be told you couldn’t participate in something fun, and had to do chores instead. The kids immediately picked up on what the project was about – well, they said discrimination, but we quickly got to the word ‘equality’, and we had a great discussion about why the non-orange people behaved the way they did (none of them stood up to defend the orange people, or offered them food or drink, or a prize) and what the orange people behaved the way they did (they were all compliant, even if they were visibly unhappy). The whole ‘party’ only lasted 20 minutes, but I could tell it was an experience that got them thinking.

The next session was all about introducing the project outline, and establishing what they needed to know to be successful with the project. To do this I gave them each a copy of the project outline, and a bunch of blue and pink post-it notes – on the blue they had to identify what they already knew (skills, content, project stuff) and on the pink they had to identify what they needed to know in the form of questions (skills, content, project stuff). They then took these and stuck them to butcher’s paper divided into K and W columns. I selected the most outgoing (read ‘potentially off-task/distracted) student to be in control of reading out each post-it, and deciding whether the know/need to know what a skill, content knowledge, or general project stuff – he also noted any repeats, and just kept one of them. This left us with a complete set of need to know questions – content to discover, skills to master, and practical questions about the project. As the students were working on their first stage of inquiry, I wrote up all of their need to know questions on butchers paper, and put them up on the wall as their learning goals for the week. Oh, and we also created a project calendar for the week, to help keep everyone focused! IMG_2885

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The following session saw students brainstorming all of the different factors contributing to inequality in our world, things such as gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, appearance, etc. You can see the results of the brainstorm below. From this, each team had to identify four contributing factors they were most interested in, then conduct some online research about each one, to be presented to the whole group the next day. The purpose of this was to help the students make an informed decision on the type of inequality/inequity that they would like to focus on for their team’s project. They were given time the following day to complete their research and create their presentations. This session ended with a big ask for these kids – reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and then discussing the gaps we see in our world between declared rights, and the received rights. The students were pretty shocked that this document was from 1948, and still many of the rights are not fulfilled. We also discussed the fact that sexual orientation is not explicitly stated, even if it might be implied, and we considered the consequence of this for many people.

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We spent the final session watching some YouTube videos to help them better appreciate the origins of the concept of ‘equality’, and some of the key thinkers that shaped how we see equality in our world today. The videos are below.

Day Two:

We met in the morning in our ‘arc’ which was basically 11 chairs arranged in an arc, facing the corner where all of our project stuff was on the walls. During this teacher-led session, we read through two of the BIE rubrics – collaboration and critical thinking. We needed to focus on both of these skills today, as they would be spending the whole morning session researching their team’s choice of four types of inequality. All teams chose to present their information using Google Slides, as this allowed them to collaborate as they worked. We spoke about the importance of verifying the sources, using a range of sources (not just the first three sites that come up on a Google search) and triangulating information. Both rubrics really helped students to focus their learning, which is great. (Oh, as an aside, whilst I was on class, my DP had the students peer-assess their team-members using the BIE rubric, and identify who they believed was the best collaborator in their team and write it on a post-it note which was given secretly to the DP. It was interesting to see the variety of responses!)

After recess, each team presented their preliminary research to the group. I encouraged the audience to give feedback using medals (things you did really well) and missions (things you need to improve) and this proved very effective – students noted that consistency in presentation slides was important, that information needed to be accurate, that too much written text was distracting, and that bright colours and images were appealing.

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The afternoon session was focused on each team selecting their focus area (they ended up with choosing inequality relating to gender identity and sexual orientation; religion; and appearance) and developing an inquiry question. I talked to them about the features of a great inquiry question by using the analogy of the houses – one storey, two storey, three storey with a sunlight – which I discovered when teaching ILP last year. The actual writing of the question was tough, and what they ended up with were pretty incredible for 11 and 12 year olds!

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Day Three:

Wow, it feels like this blog post will go on forever, and I guess that gives you an insight into the intensity of this learning experience for my students, haha – we were powering through! The third day was a shorter day (as students went off to sport after lunch), and saw the teams really begin to start some serious project work such as asking more questions about their chosen focus area, researching, making phone calls (to libraries, the council, the local mosque), visiting the principal, writing surveys and interview questions, emailing authors, storyboarding, etc. A huge day, with only one teacher-led activity: reading and discussing the creativity and innovation rubric to make sure they understood what it means to produce truly beautiful work.

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Day Four:

This day saw students continue with their work from yesterday, but also consider how their initial plans may need to be modified/adapted based on their research findings, and the work they did (or didn’t) complete the day before. This day was awesome because I did not need to run any teacher-led lesson, rather I just got to sit and chat excitedly with my students about their learning, and the work they were doing. It was a super fun day – a bit chaotic with students creating stop-motion films, taking photos of us all holding whiteboard messages, creating websites, cutting out paper people, and a whole lot more. By this stage the students had made the common room their home – and they chose not to leave it during recess or lunch, preferring to stay in and keep working than go out into the playground. Total. Win.

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Day Five:

Presentation Day! Students spent the morning working in their teams on their final products, and their presentation slides. I had organised for each student to bring in some food or drinks, and so we spent a little bit of time setting that up, as well as setting up the room. Each team also did a very quick run-through of their presentations, however we did find that we got stuck for time, and spent most of the time checking that the tech was working well. In hindsight I would have liked to have dedicated much more time for this rehearsal – probably a couple of hours. I spoke with the students about the importance of setting up the space to show the audience that this was an important event – we had a table set up for the judging panel (year advisor, HT welfare, both DPs, the principal and one of our PE teachers, who also brought along his year 10 class to watch as they are studying ‘difference and diversity’) with rubrics for creativity, and critical thinking, some whiteboards with question ideas, glasses of water, and the audience feedback sheets. We also put a copy of the audience feedback sheet on every chair, so the audience knew they were participants too. We made sure there were comfy lounge chairs at the front for the parents who were attending – parents are special people!

Each team got up to present for about 10-15 minutes, and at the end of their presentations they had to respond to questions from the panel, and the audience (including parents!). It was really great to see these 11 year 7 students step up and defend/justify/explain their ideas about equality to a whole room of adults, and peers. In fact, I got a bit teary listening to them, and watching the videos they had made. They impressed me so much – and it was lovely to be able to celebrate their learning with so many people. I gave them each a little certificate to say how awesome they were, and we got a team photo… I just don’t have a copy of it, sadly! Anyway, I hope you can tell that this was an awesome project, and I’m really looking forward to seeing them all present at our combined college presentation evening on the 6th April!

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Hey you corporate bastard who’s never taught a class in your life, get the fuck out of my classroom!

I’m mad. I’ve been mad about this issue for a while. If only you could be a Daddy Long-legs on the wall of my home sometimes, you’d hear just how mad Lee and I are about this. It’s an anger that needs to be expressed in a public forum beyond Twitter. And this is as public as I can get, being a lowly teacher and all.

Me and my crazy educator buddies on Twitter have been experimenting with technology to assist our students’ learning for many, many years now. Some experiments have succeeded, others have failed dramatically (like me trying to use wikis, lol). This blog has been going since 2009, which is when I started using Twitter to connect to those other crazy educators like me. It’s always been a place to reflect on and share my learning and the learning of my students. I’ve always been happy to share resources and ideas – just like the hundreds of other Aussie teacher bloggers out there. There’s never been anything behind this sharing other than learning. It’s never been from financial profit. We’ve always had fun watching each other grow and learning from our shared journeys. But this wholesome way of learning is being poisoned by some less than scrupulous humans and it pisses me off.

In the last five years there has been a disgustingly rapid increase in the number of humans wanting to profit from my learners, your learners, all learners. In the early days when ‘edutech’ wasn’t even a noun or adjective, there was simply a range of web-based tools and software that we teachers used or experimented with to support student learning and to give them an audience. These tools weren’t ‘marketed’ to educators, they were ‘found’ by us and used to enhance our students’ learning experiences. You know, and I know, that this is NOT the case anymore. Our freedom to think and choose and experiment is under attack. Why? Because the people in power in our schools (and sometimes our colleagues or even we ourselves) are being taken in by the edu conmen, the snake oil sellers, the homeopaths of the eduworld. Our schools are being bombarded daily via phone, email, social media, the post and in person by salesmen promising the latest in edutech ideas, gadgets, platforms, software and teaching strategies. They lure their victims with the soft caress of inviting phrases like ’21st century learner’, ‘neuroscience proves’, ‘60% of all learning is visual’, ‘the plastic brain’, ‘multiple intelligences’, ‘online automated assessment’, ‘student engagement’ and ‘online learners’. There seems to be no escape from these purveyors of promises.

So what’s my beef? You may be asking yourself, ‘Why are you so angry, Bianca?’ Well here’s, why, because these dirt bags haven’t even spent a single day teaching in a classroom. None! They sit in their little offices, brightened by multi-coloured furniture (think beanbags the colours of lolly pops) and think up ways to make money from those ‘gullible teachers’. They see us and our students as potential dollars in their account. They see us as tech dinosaurs needing to be saved by their revolutionary product. They PRETEND that they know something about education BECAUSE THEY WENT TO SCHOOL ONCE! I kid you not. It’s embarrassing that adults could believe that having been to school as a student (or being a parent of school-aged children) gives them the knowledge and experience to design products to improve education and then sell them to us. Um, no. You can’t. They even stoop so low as to invade our online PLNs with the sole purpose of getting our assistance to improve their products – you know, the products that they’re then going to try to sell back to us!!

Will this post solve this problem? Hell no. Of course it won’t. I’m not saying that I don’t want people innovating to enhance education – that would be daft. I’m saying that if you are an edutech start-up or whatever, think about enlisting humans with actual teaching experience – not in a ‘can we have a chat so I can pick your brains’ kind of way, in a genuine employee way. You know, if you value teachers enough to wanna ‘solve their problems’, then maybe you could have some working on your team for real. Better yet, why not spend a few days or weeks working closely with teachers.

Oh, and finally. If you have never been a teacher, don’t take a job in a field that you know nothing about. You can only lie for so long. Teachers are smart. We’ll smell the snake oil and make you look like the charlatan that you are.

Why I’m more excited about #pblworld than #ISTE13

Tomorrow is a big day for me. It’s the first day of my first ever PBL World – I’m going to attend some great sessions and meet some wonderful people. But it’s also the day that I’m presenting with my edu mentor, Suzie Boss. OK, she might not be my mentor technically, since she hasn’t a clue that I see her that way. She’s more like a role-model. She’s someone that I aspire to be like. I’m not going to explain why; just read her books, blogs and tweets and you can find out for yourself.

Next Monday will be the first day of #ISTE13 – another massive deal for me as a teacher who is keen on innovative and creative teaching methods, especially those involving the use of current and emerging technologies. So why am I more looking forward to PBL World over ISTE? After all, ISTE features hundreds of presenters from all around the world as well as very respected key note speakers. It’s also attended by 13,000+ educators. Well, I am excited for ISTE, but the nature of PBL World suits me better. It is a much more intimate conference that is structured (obviously) around a single teaching approach – project-based learning. However, I believe that PBL is so much more than one style, one way, one approach. It is so wonderfully flexible and dynamic that I often see the BIE 8 essentials as being like a blank jigsaw waiting for an excited teacher and/or students to scribble cool stuff all over it.

PBL World limits the number of attendees to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to speak with ‘experts’ or experiences PBLers, to ask questions and get answers, to share stories and worries. It means that the sessions will be more catered to your needs. I like that I can spend a few sessions focusing on time management and team dynamics in projects and then spend the next couple of sessions being inspired by creative and critical thinking strategies that have been tried and tested by actual teachers.

I also like that PBL World is not about egos. It’s not about individuals. It’s about teachers and students. Mostly it’s about students – the people who profit the most from we educators spending a week of our holidays hanging out with other teachers and being all PBL nerdy. I like that there really aren’t any PBL ‘big shots’ who we are all required to listen to in revered silence. There isn’t a guru who is untouchable in his/her PBL genius – you know, the type who has 50k+ followers on Twitter and only follows 20, and who never replies to your tweets. Over the last 3 years, I’ve found the PBL people to be some of the most genuine, caring and generous of the edu peeps I’ve connected with. No lie.

The main reason I’m more excited about PBL World, though? I know that my students will benefit from me being there. I won’t be sitting in a session and thinking, ‘Yeah, a gadget/web tool … so what?’ I’ll be in sessions that connect with me and my practice as a PBL teacher. I’ll be lapping up the ideas, the tools, the strategies shared by other practising teachers. We all have our own passions and our own preferences for how we teach – PBL is mine. I understand that lots of teachers are very, very excited about tech tools and gadgets and ISTE is their mecca. But me? I’m going to be in nerdy PBL teacher heaven this week … and I can’t wait! (I just hope I’m not disappointed, haha!)

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!

 

 

Using ‘Think, Puzzle, Explore’ for student blogging

My last blog posts asked for people to share their formative assessment ideas with me. I received a really great suggestion from my Twitter mate, Kim Pericles. She suggested using a ‘Think/Puzzle/Explore’ table in favour of a Know/Wonder/Learn table. I’d heard of it before, but this time it really captured my interest – funny how that happens, hey? I think it is awesome as a formative assessment tool and I will be using it in my classroom a lot this year. Oh, and for those of you who might think I’m hating on the KWL, I’m not – I used that more for prior-knowledge testing and generating student sub-questions for projects and then at the end of a phase of learning/project for reflection of learning. KWL FTW, I recko, haha.

Anyway, I started writing an edmodo post for my students about blogging and found myself using the ‘think, puzzle, explore’ idea to help them guide their blog posts. Here’s what I came up with:

What will you blog about?

There are three main types of blog posts that I would like you to consider writing each week (or after each lesson even!) … they can be loosely categorised by the verbs ‘thinking’, ‘puzzling’, ‘exploring’.

THINKING POSTS:

This is where you write about your thoughts on a topic, lesson, text, aspect of the project, etc. These posts are where you confidently show off your own knowledge and understanding! Be proud, share what you’ve discovered! Get excited! These posts are the passion-fuelled type where you can’t stop blabbering about something cool that you’ve discovered. Try to include links and videos and quotes from sources (like your text) to help you readers develop their understanding of your ideas. Backing up your arguments with evidence is a really good habit to get into!   

 PUZZLING POSTS:

Let’s face it, learning new stuff is really hard. Often we fail more than we succeed but through this process of trial and error we discover cool new things! These blog posts are the ones you write when you’re pissed off – when you just feel like it’s all too crazy hard and you wanna quit. You write these posts because something is puzzling you and you need to share that with someone, somewhere. Sharing is caring. Someone might just have the answer and reassure you! It’s better out than in, right?

 EXPLORING POSTS:

English poses a range of baffling questions (you’ll be asking yourself many of these – see the ‘puzzling post’) and delves deeply into humanity’s biggest dilemmas. That’s what makes this subject so awesome! These posts are the place where you ask questions – big, complex, challenging questions. These posts might be classified as tangential – this is a kinda smart-sounding word that means ‘random’. There’s always something that you want to know more about: a character or a scene in a text or the composer of a text or the latest piece of bizarre philosophy/psychology your teacher has tried to introduce. Use these blog posts to be curious; ramble on about what fascinates you …

Hunger Games 2212: my rejected ISTE presentation

I wasn’t ever going to blog about this, I really wasn’t. The project many of my Twitter friends know as #HG2212 was one of my most favourite learning experiences of last year – and a favourite of my students as well. That’s why I applied to present it as ISTE in San Antonio this year. Well, as you can guess from the title of this post, my presentation wasn’t accepted. I’m not writing this post to bitch about being rejected (because I think karma played a big role in my rejection and that makes things balance out in my head) but to share the project a little for the first time. Why? My very dear Twitter mate @carlaleeb asked me about the project today because a colleague of hers is about to teach the Hunger Games. My other great Twitter mate @pollydunning is keen to give this project a go as well.

I don’t plan to write a long and detailed post about the project. What I will do is share the recording of my presentation from edmodocon12 in August last year. It was a truly emotional experience sharing this project – yes, I cry in the video – simply because the project was such a moving learning experience. It was my life and my students’ life for two weeks straight, 24/7. There are some aspects of the project that I am not at liberty to disclose because they do not belong to me – they belong to Dean Groom who helped me nut out the project and sort out the annoying details that involved numbers. The idea for the project was also pretty much stolen from @Towney77. However, when I run this again this year I will definitely be simplifying the gaming elements and using edmodo much more cleverly to tally XP. It can be done.

So here is the video – be warned, it goes for well over half an hour and I do literally cry in it. You need to click on the link here and scroll down to my name and click on the little arrow beside it. It’s a lot of scrolling, haha!

I’d also like to share some of my students’ blogs from that project. Their writing still gives me goosebumps and will serve as wonderful models for my class this year.

Leefern R Skipberi

Harlow Lilywalk

Daniel Giunter

Leigh Walk-lily

Ruchit Seeaster 

Finally, I’d like to share the storify of the #HG2212 tweets carefully curated by my friend @missjessm. I am so very grateful that she did as it has given me a lasting record of the experience. Here it is: Bianca does Hunger Games

KEEP YOUR EYES OUT FOR THE NEXT … #HG2313

Project-Learning (aka PBL) for beginners #plsm13

This blog post is probably not written for you, even though you may have stumbled across it accidentally thanks to your search engine. This blog post isn’t even written for the people who follow me on Twitter, although a few of those do just happen to be in the group for whom this post is being written. This blog post is being written for the eager, dedicated, risk-taking and generous educators who will be attending the inaugural Project Learning Swap Meet at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum on January, 19th 2013.

I’m getting very excited about the event because I know wonderful things will come of it. I know that you lovelies who are attending will be bringing your questions, your experiences, your ideas and your enthusiasm to the day because you want to do more than just listen to people talk about new pedagogies or new technologies or new designs for classrooms. You want to plan and run epic projects that will bring your students into contact with other people from all over the place. You want to plan and run epic projects that will challenge your students to do/create amazing new things and to think in weird new ways. You want more for your students and you know that money can’t get that – the only thing that can get that is time, effort, risk, connectedness and heaps of crazy ideas.

Before you embark upon this day of mega planning and brain-melting mashing of inspired ideas, you probably need a tiny bit of background information about this project-learning stuff. You’ve heard of PBL (it’s pretty hip right now and before you know it the big guns will be here to sell you their wares and their methods) and maybe you’ve tried it out and just want to do more. You’re probably thinking, ‘Why are they calling it project-learning and not PBL?’ There is a good reason. We don’t want you to get carried away with the hype around PBL. People are starting to see it as a poultice for every edu ache and pain. But learning through projects is not a quick fix solution. It requires painstaking planning, tireless commitment, the willingness to get to know each and every one of your students individually, and a toolkit of daily quality teaching strategies. You can’t just download a PBL guide from the internet or watch a YouTube clip then go tweak an assignment or unit of work and think that it will solve your teaching woes. Oh no. Time must be invested if your students are to really get the most from learning through projects. Proper project-learning is completely personal and entirely do-it-yourself. Listening to a keynote, attending a workshop (even the one we’re running) or getting in an ‘expert’ to your school simply isn’t enough. You’ve gotta commit.

Below is a list of blog posts, YouTube videos, PDFs and websites that I recommend you look through to get a general picture of what learning through projects looks like. You don’t need to read them closely, just skim read – that’s what I do! Just get a feel for what these projects look and feel like for teachers and students. Remember that the difference between the types of projects that you did as a student and the types of projects we’re talking about is that the learning IS the project. It is THROUGH the project that your students will be learning content and skills – and a whole bunch of other random and unforeseen stuff! The project doesn’t come at the END of learning – it’s not an assessment although assessment is built throughout the projects – it comes at the BEGINNING because it is the catalyst for the learning taking place in your classroom. The project comes first. IT is all there is.

If you’re like me and you just never manage to read much, preferring to jump in head first and learn to swim through drowning (the perfect project-learning student!) then all you need to know is that there are three components to all great projects:

1. EXPLORE/RESEARCH/INQUIRE/DISCOVER

2. CREATE/PRODUCE/DESIGN/COMPOSE

3. SHARE/PRESENT/CONTRIBUTE/PUBLISH

The quintessential PBL video: PBL Explained by BIE.

An overview of a project that I ran this year with my students: The 8 Elements of Project Based Learning

A great article explaining why project-learning is different to doing a project: Main Course, Not Dessert

A video summarising research I’ve done into PBL and assessment: PBL: Is asking questions the answer?

Suzie Boss (amazing advocate for PBL) writes about new research into PBL: New Research Helps Make Case for PBL

Suzie Boss (again) writing about PBL World and some really great example driving questions: Yong Zhao: PBL Develops Students’ Creative Confidence

This is where most people start with PBL – with the BIE Freebies. I say ‘start’ because they need quite a lot of adapting to make them suit you and your students – you’re human beings after all, not robots! BIE Planning Tools

A seven-minute Pecha Kucha I did on PBL whist ISTE-drunk (it’s embarrassing): PBL PK

Another blog post by me (form ages ago) about why I like PBL so much: PBL + me = why?

I really love the model projects (year 1-12) shared on The Project Approach website: Project Examples