PBL: Managing the Mushy Middle

Yesterday I had the privilege of spending the day with 30 extraordinary educators. It was our second ever Project Learning Swap Meet and it truly was wonderful. The focus for this Swap Meet was on the ‘how’ of project-learning whereas the first Swap Meet had been focused on the ‘what’ and ‘why’. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about when I say Swap Meet, you can read about it here.

The day started in the expected disorganised style that is characteristic of me and Lee … we were creating ice-breaker activities as we drove into the city and once we made it to the Powerhouse Museum we rushed to set up the space and harass the very generous Peter Mahoney into printing off some stuff for us. It was pretty chaotic by the time the Swappers started showing up, haha. I found myself out the front unintentionally and crapping on in a poor attempt to entertain those who were on time whilst we waited for those who were not. I did manage to think up a vampire metaphor for people’s PBL experience to match the stickers I had to give out: the newbies (no projects attempted yet) are ‘no fangs’, the amateurs (one or two projects attempted) are kittens with small fangs and the pros (those who do PBL full-time) are fully-fledged vampires who ‘bite’. It made me laugh, anyway.

Well as soon as most people had arrived, we started discussing what everyone felt they still ‘need to know’ about project-learning. Everyone pretty much agreed that what was troubling them/challenging them was the process of running a project. Mike made the insightful point that many know what happens at the beginning (the project launch and the DQ) and the end (the celebration of learning) but many are still fuzzy about what happens in the middle. I nicknamed this the ‘mushy middle’ and it became a repeated metaphor that we returned to throughout the day. It’s great that the talk naturally turned to this, because really that was the focus for the day anyway- managing the process of PBL. The loose driving question that we came up with for the day (which we didn’t return to enough unfortunately), was ‘How can we make the PBL process killer for our kids?’ (Can you tell that Lee came up with that? His is a much cooler adaptation to my original question, ‘How can I best manage the PBL process to support my students’ learning?’)

Before the Swap Meet, I put together a small booklet of my ‘go to’ resources for managing the mushy middle of project-learning. As I said to Malyn today, even though these are resources that I have created and/or used for many projects, different resources work better with different students. It’s always about context – just try something with your students and if it doesn’t work, evaluate why and then try again or try something different. I wanted to share those resources with those of you who might similarly be struggling with the question, ‘How does PBL work day-to-day in the classroom?’. I sense that this concern is mostly to do with managing team-work (which is really bloody hard and I certainly don’t have the answer … just ask my students!) and the nature of assessment. There really isn’t one way to approach either of these issues – as I said above, it’s very much about trial and error, taking risks and being confident to discuss the problems with your students. I know this is very hard to do, but it is necessary to embrace the fact that PBL is essentially a messy process where the best thing a teacher can do is step out of the way and let kids work things out for themselves. Letting go can be very stressful for teachers, but nothing can replace the sense of liberation you will experience once you do, I promise.

NOTE: These resources are not in any particular order … just in case you read into how I upload them, lol.

Goals/Medals/Missions: I’ve written heaps about this in the past. This is a formative assessment strategy developed by Geoff Petty in response to the research of John Hattie and Black and Wiliam. You can google their names and find out cool stuff about assessment if you so choose. I use GMM in three different ways to help support my students’ learning. Firstly, as a daily learning reflection method. Students keep a simple journal in the back of their workbooks where they record their personal goals, medals and missions for that lesson. I don’t use this with all classes, all of the time. Often I forget. I am human. Secondly, I create checklists for the product being produced (poem, performance, speech, essay, story… whatever) with students identifying what must be included. This checklist becomes their self and peer assessment tool and students identify M&Ms at the bottom of the document for the work they assessed. You can download an example here: personal-essay-checklist. Thirdly, at the end of a project, I collect students’ individual project folders and I give them M&Ms for the skills and content I was targeting for that project – e.g. collaboration, presentation, creative thinking, knowing poetic devices, essay structure, narrative techniques etc. Always give more medals than missions – super important tip!!

Team contracts: When I first started doing PBL, I thought these were completely naff. I didn’t use them for years. Now, I think they’re really important documents for my students. Signing that piece of paper means you’ve committed to your team. It means that if you fail to do your bit, your team can justifiably by annoyed and there can and will be consequences. You can get a good team contract from the bie.org freebies section. It’s always best if students create their own contract, of course.

Project Management Log: This is another BIE document that I ignored for years in my attempt to avoid paper in my classroom. Just recently I’ve discovered the power of a management log whilst working with my Year 9 students. It takes time to fill this document in, but it is really worth the time. Like the team contract, it allocates responsibilites to each team member, but it also helps students to become more independent each lesson as they have direction in their learning. It’s as much about time management as it is about role/responsibility allocation. You can get a copy of the project management log document from the bie.org freebies section.

Learning spaces and metalanguage: The best project classroom is going to be a flexible space. I know we don’t all have those rooms with cool bright furniture on wheels, but we all do have access to open spaces like ovals and quadrangles. Make the most of them and get your kids outside when it’s appropriate. A great tip I stole from the peeps at New Tech High is using staircases as presentation spaces – the audience sits on the stairs and the speaker/performer stands at the bottom. This is the type of creative use of existing space necessary for a successful project-learning class. As you know, I think metalanguage is powerful and have adopted the names of spaces used at NBCS, inspired by an essay by Thornburg. You can read about my thoughts on metaphors for learning spaces here.

Project packets: The term ‘packet’ for a bundle of worksheets it so American – we just don’t use it here in Australia. When I say ‘packet’, I mean ‘packet’ in the Aussie sense – a bunch of stuff in a container. For me it’s an envelope of documents. Of course it doesn’t have to be an envelope (I bought plastic document wallets for 50c each at Officeworks), it can also be a plastic tray or a plastic sleeve folder. It is one packet of information per team. It contains only the essential documents required for project success: project management log, team contract, project calendar, project outline and supporting documents to guide them through the inquire, create and present cycles of learning. These stay in the classroom in a central space that students can access each lesson. They don’t go home – if they did they’d never return!

Project walls: A project wall can be physical (an actual wall space in your classroom), or virtual – online somewhere like a weebly, glogster or blog. It is a space for key project elements to be shared. It’s similar but different to the project packet. It keeps students focused and organised but also showcases the learning that has occurred so far. Essentials for the project wall are: project outline, driving question, student-generated ‘need to know’, project calendar, key project vocabulary and the lounge roster (in-joke, lol!).

SOLO Taxonomy: This is just another strategy to help students self-assess and monitor their learning. I’m not a SOLO guru but I know there are heaps of them online, so go find and follow them. Our mate Tait Coles is the gun when it comes to incorporating SOLO into a project-learning-style classroom. I really like SOLO and my students have had great success with it. Their honest self-evaluation can be enlightening and terrifying for teachers.

Punk Learner rubric: This is a piece of genius created by the aforementioned Tait Coles. He created this rubric with his students and passionately encourages you to steal the idea of a punk learner rubric, but to create one with your students instead of just using the one him and his students created. It’s all about context and significance. My Year 11 students used this rubric to self-assess post half yearly examinations – as with SOLO, the results are enlightening and terrifying!

Team work rubric: Similar to Tait’s Punk Learner rubric, this is about students self and peer assessment to start a conversation and reflection about their contribution to team goals etc. I had a great time creating a team-member rubric with my Year 9 class after some students failed to be effective team-members in the previous project. You can download pre-made rubrics from bie.org freebies page which is a great place to start.

Blogging: I think getting your students to start blogging really allows you to follow their individual experience of each project. It’s such a cool way to get into their heads and can be extremely enlightening! My Year 11 students have successfully used the think/puzzle/explore blogging protocol this year. You can read about that protocol here.

Need to Know: This is essentially a list of questions that students decide that they need to have answered. You can use a KWL table for this or just get them to sit in teams and generate a list of five things the definitely need to know in order to be successful with the project. This is a kind of sneaky activity because often you (as the teacher) know what kinds of things they will identify – but that’s what differentiates the typical classroom experience from the PBL experience – it’s about students identifying what they need to know and how they will discover that. I love putting these questions up on the project wall and returning to them each week to monitor learning – students like being able to cross questions off the list and it helps them see that they are learning.

Project calendar: I think this really is a PBL staple. It’s so normal and expected in the ‘real world’ (love that phrase cos it makes me laugh, is a school an unreal world? lol!) that we plan our projects, that we look to the future and organise our time in advance because we want to be successful and know that we need to negotiate time, money, space, people etc in order to be successful. I love the BIE project calendar – you can’t beat it. Download it from the bie.org freebies page.

Rubrics for products: I wouldn’t say that these are essential. After years of doing this PBL caper, I’m kind of getting suspicious of rubrics. I find them too prescriptive and constrictive. But that’s me coming from a place of much experience with using them in the classroom. I personally think that students don’t like using them and they don’t use them well. A check-list is better. If you are going to use them, create them with your students and make sure they are written in student-friendly language. You can use Rubistar to find pre-made rubrics as a model for what you and your students can create. I used a rubric created with my students for assessing rap-battles earlier this year. You can see it here.

Formative assessment strategies: You need HEAPS of these, and really a number of them are in this list anyway. Be creative with your formative assessment – use a variety of online, face-to-face, recorded, team and individual formative assessment strategies to provide your students with feedback on their learning. I wrote a post once asking for people to share their favourite formative assessment strategies – maybe you’d like to add to it?

The inaugural #OZPBLCHAT was awesome – thanks!

On Monday evening, despite feeling far from 100%, I moderated the very first #OZPBLCHAT. I was a bit nervous that not many people would join but the turn-out was awesome … it was so busy in the chat, in fact, that I could barely read any replies to my questions! I guess that would explain the picture below:Yup – the very first #OZPBLCHAT was trending in Australia and it was even showing above #qanda … OK, maybe just for a bit, lol. I was in awe of the great ideas and questions shared and asked by my fellow tweeters. It makes me feel happy knowing that there are so many teachers ready to give up an hour of their time to chat about a different way of teaching – yeah, it’s not the only way of teaching (I hope I made that clear) but is one worth giving a go. I’m not going to go into detail about what was discussed during the chat because I want the tweets to speak for themselves. I have to say a big thank you to my dedicated hubby @waginski who spent most of the chat retweeting awesome tweets and then spent a couple of hours on Tuesday putting together the storify of the best tweets. If you don’t know what a storify is, it’s just a selection of key tweets put into a sort of chronological narrative. You can read part one of the chat here and part two here.

Oh, and for those of you who couldn’t make it, these were the focus questions for the chat. Feel free to add your comments or further questions below:

Q1: What do you KNOW about PBL?

Q2: What do you WANT to know about PBL?

Q3: Why would/should you give PBL a go?

Q4: What have you LEARNT this chat?


Just another boring school project?

I’ve been unwilling to write a blog post for a week or so now … and that’s a big deal for me because I love writing my blog. I got a little bit grumpy by a post that I read about PBL and the suggestion that teachers create narrow questions and projects as a means to control student learning. You can read Ewan’s thoughts about PBL and design thinking here. His post hurt me and I found it hard to control my fury, unleashing a rather immature series of tweets about his post, and it made me feel heaps better. Ho hum, I am me.

But then I realised that what he did was awesome, it really challenged my way of thinking about ‘PBL’ (whatever that is) and how I approach being a teacher. This year has been chaos for me – in and out of class, feeling outta my depth with stuff – and I haven’t honed my students’ group-work skills as well as I would have liked. In fact, I’ve been controlling their learning all year. But is that such a bad thing? I really don’t know anymore. This year I’ve watched three year groups participate in a project that wasn’t very well designed and lacked the embedded skill-development, planning and reflection needed to ensure a project’s success. The projects weren’t terrible, they were just very loose and I’m not sure learning outcomes were achieved. Learning outcomes?! Yes – that is something that we teachers are responsible for. Like it or not. I would suggest that we teachers would be rather lax in our roles as education professionals if we just threw outcomes out of the window, tossed kids a problem and then hoped that they learnt something relevant to our subject as they grapple with it.

What people on the ‘circuit’ selling products to educators forget is that we high school teachers are subject specialists. You might wanna kill us, but we won’t die easily. I know I joke and say ‘let’s kill the teacher’ but really I have so much respect for educators who are P.A.S.S.I.O.N.A.T.E about their subject – why not share your expertise and been seen as an expert? Doesn’t mean young people can’t be in control of their learning – the pace, the form, the direction. I know this blog post is crazy untidy and directionless, but I’ll just leave you with this … if the projects that I set for my students are ‘just another boring school project’ well at least I help make their learning visible every day in class. My role is to help them see where the might get to and why it might be worth getting there. So there.

Oh, and here are some ‘narrow’ projects that I have ‘designed’ and will ‘teach’ for the next three weeks. You might see them as heavily teacher-directed, and you’re right – they are. And I like it that way – it’s appropriate for this point in my students’ learning careers.

The 8 Elements of Project Based Learning: A Model Project

As most of you know, the uber gods of PBL are BIE. I was first introduced to the BIE PBL ‘model’ from mate Dean Groom who handed me over what I still refer to as my ‘PBL Bible’ – a ring-binder full of the BIE Freebies that help teachers plan effective projects and keep students on track as they move through the different phases of each project. The cool thing is that you can use as much or as little as you want … PBL is a very personal process that (like all good teaching) should be tailored to the expertise and needs of the teacher and students. However, there are 8 Elements of Project Based Learning that can be called the ‘essential elements’ of PBL … keeping an eye on these and ‘testing’ your project design based on them can help you determine if what you’re creating isn’t just a ‘project’. I really like this statement from BIE contrasting PBL and traditional ‘projects’:

A typical unit with a “project” add-on begins by presenting students with knowledge and concepts and then, once gained, giving students the opportunity to apply them. Project Based Learning begins with the vision of an end product or presentation. This creates a context and reason to learn and understand the information and concepts.

I ripped the image below from the BIE website, you should really visit it cos it outlines the 8 Elements in a super-clear way: What is PBL?

So like I said above, whilst I’m not one for structure or rules, I do think that sticking to the above 8 elements of a quality PBL project is super important. Like BIE say, this makes for ‘rigorous, meaningful and effective Project Based Learning’. Anyway, I offered to share one of my PBL projects with the lovely Dayna Laur from BIE because she is showcasing how PBL can help teachers meet the Common Core standards at ISTE. In an email she asked if I could explain how my project meets all of the above 8 elements. So I thought it’d be nice to share that with you guys too … here goes! (Oh, and I rewrote the elements as questions … just so ya know.)

The Emo Project

Here is the project outline that I gave my students:

Does the project teach significant content?

Obviously a key component of the required content for English teachers to ‘teach’ is poetry. In Stage 5 (students in Year 9 and Year 10) we can choose whatever poets and poetry we like to teach however because my class is the Extension English class I wanted to challenge them to engage with more rich, complex poetry – that of Yeats, Auden and Eliot. Our Syllabus also requires Stage 5 students to spend time composing persuasive and analytical, critical texts that reflect their growing capacity to evaluate literary texts. This project required students to engage critically with the poetry and then develop their own personal response to it in light of the driving question. They had to present their interpretations in their essay and in their podcasts. Finally, our Syllabus requires students to stregthen their understanding of the ways in which texts reflect the world in which they were composed as well as relevance of the texts’ ideas to the students’ own world and experience. The decision to use a sub-culture they were all familiar with, ’emo’, and then encourage them to consider how poets from a different era may be classified as ’emo’ really engaged students in the process of researching context and connecting to the poetry as young 21st century kids. 

Does the project require critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and various forms of communication?

The students were confronted with a number of opportunties to engage in critical thinking and problem-solving during this project. The Driving Question is so open-ended that students were forced to ask a series of sub-questions in order to answer it. They did this through the use of a KWL table. Students spent time solving the problems of defining ’emo’ and considering cliche, stereotypes and prejudice in relation to the ’emo’ sub-culture. They had to think critically about the poets selected as possibly being ’emo’ and consider why and how they might fit this genre of artistic expression. Of course students also had to work out how they would write an essay in response to the question, requiring serious criticism of the poets, their poetry and their intentions. Often students collaborated online via edmodo and face-to-face in class to try and solve the problem of ‘how to write an essay’. Finally, students were required to collaborate on the podcast which was created in small project teams and a big challenge for all of the students was understanding the podcast form, its features and considering the expectations, needs and interests of their online audience. Lots of problem-solving went into this part of the project!

Does the project require inquiry as part of the process of learning and creating something new?

As pointed out in the last paragraph, students were pretty much responsible for their research into the poets’ context and the poems themselves. They also had to use all of the resources at their disposal to work out how to make a quality podcast – this meant looking online for tutorials and examples as well as collaborating as a team. What I found the most exciting about this project was the fact that I did not know one of the poems set for the students – had never even read it – and yet the students’ essays about it were phenomenal! The same can be said for the podcasts, I didn’t know how to make them, or what technology to use … the students had to do the research themselves, had to ask each other good questions and solve any problems they encountered in order to create something new – their podcast and their essays!

Is the project organized around an open-ended Driving Question?

Yes! The driving question wasn’t easy to write, even though it seems so simple: Why do emos write poetry? Let me tell you, there were so many versions of this question before I pared it right back to what it is now. I think the question is good because it is open-ended and I really was impressed by the range of responses the students developed. I loved the task of getting the students to write their initial hypothesis in response to the question and posting this to edmodo to share with the class. They then had to ‘test’ this hypothesis through the process of inquiry. It was also really worthwhile having them look back at their original hypothesis at the end of the project to see how their ideas had changed. I think a good driving question should have the possibility of being answered multiple ways as well as encouraging further questions.

Does the project create a need to know essential content and skills? 

Yes! As outlined above the students instantly had a bunch of questions that they wanted to know the answers to – these were put in the ‘I want to know/I wonder’ column of their KWL table. Because the students knew what the final product and presentation were they could easily identify the content and skills that they had to master in order to succeed. Every lesson the students were driven by their need to know something new in order to complete the project – they were encouraged to write a quick ‘goal’ at the beginning of each lesson that helped them focus on what they needed to do. Each student had a different ‘goal’ depending on what part of the project they were working on each day. At the end of the lesson they reflected on their learning and if they achieved their goals they got a ‘medal’ and if they didn’t, or they identified another need to know, they listed this as a ‘mission’ for the next lesson.

Does the project allow some degree of student voice and choice?

This project probably had less student choice than others but there was heaps of opportunity for student input. The students could select which poems they wrote about in their essays and podcasts. They also had the choice of whether to create a podcast or a vodcast (one team elected the vodcast). The format of the podcast and its content was completly up to the students as well which resulted in very different products – the perfect result of a PBL project!

Does the project include processes for revision and reflection?

I am a massive advocate for providing students with timely and effective feedback. This is particularly important with more formal writing tasks like essays where students can become quite anxious about content and form. Students submitted essay plans and drafts to edmodo and received teacher feedback on both. The drafts were particularly important as I used the annotate feature in edmodo to give them feedback on elements that needed some more work. Using edmodo students also shared their essays to get peer-feedback and ask for help from their peers. Students also used a self-assessmet checklist that clearly outlined the ‘goals’ for a good essay as well as room for the student and teacher to indicate the ‘medals’ (what they mastered) and the ‘missions’ (what they needed to work on). You can see that document below. I had a number of students continue to resubmit their essays until they were deemed ‘perfect’. This saw students achieve an unprecedented level of success in essay-writing that they had never experienced before. At the end of the project students all completed a project evaluation that helped them reflect on how the project helped them to learn, what they found hard etc. This was super useful information for me too because I ensured some of the questions related to my pedagogy!

Does the project involve a public audience?

Yes – the students presented their podcasts to their class and to our project ‘rock-star’ – author Craig Schuftan. You can read more about that by clicking on the link further down. The students’ evaluations of this project revealed that having Craig come and listen to the presentations as well as giving the students feedback as a professional meant heaps to them. It made them see that this was an authentic learning task – people really do write about poetry and create podcasts about literature!

Here is a link to completed emo podcasts.

Here is the letter I got from Craig Shuftan – our ‘rock-star‘, woot!

Here is the rubric for the essay and the feedback checklist using Petty’s ‘Goals/Medals/Missions’ scaffold.

Here is an exemplar student essay.

Surprise PBL driving questions for SDD

Next Monday I have to run a workshop with 47 teachers at my school on … PBL! Woot! First time I have presented on it to my colleagues so a little bit nervous about it.

I have decided to run this workshop just like a ran my last few PBL workshops, as a project! I only have an hour and fifteen minutes so it’s going to be pretty tight. What I realised with my last workshops was that designing the DQ proved super time-consuming (understandably cos it is one of the most important things – in fact, the most important as it determines the validity and success of your project). Because of time restrictions, I’ve decided to supply my colleagues with a driving question – they’ll get it as a ‘surprise’ in an envelope.

This morning I had to come up with nine driving questions … no easy feat UNLESS you have a super comprehensive epic website on driving questions that you can access. And ‘ta da’ I have one! This site is AMAZING and really detailed … I’ve read it through once (I think) and now I just jump to the tables and the bottom screen cos there are cool sample questions. I’ve taken 6 questions from there and also written some of my own … see if you can notice the sneaky one that I wrote in order to get some change happening to a part of my school.


How do we use our sense to discover the world?

How does climate affect the way we live?

How do drugs affect our health?

What makes a school safe?

How does our school impact the environment?

How do wars start?

What makes a good person?

How can we redesign our school library to meet the needs of 21st century learners?

What are the ingredients for a successful school?

I can’t wait to see what projects my colleagues craft around these driving questions … fun!

Achievement Unlocked: Bagged a ‘rock-star’

If you read my edu-dreams blog post earlier this year, you’ll know that one of my goals was to get a ‘rock-star’ to be the expert for at least one project this year. If you don’t know what I mean by a project ‘rock-star’ then you need to watch the BIE ‘Project-Based Learning: Explained’ video below:

I’ve facilitated so many projects in my English classroom now I’ve lost count and I reckon I’ve got heaps better at it through all of the fails, lol, but one of the things I hadn’t quite mastered was bringing in experts from outside of the school community. OK, that’s not 100% true: I have managed to bring a RedRoom poet to workshop poems with students, uber English teacher Paula Madigan has taught my students creative writing via video conference and journalists from our local paper have interviewed students about their passion project. That’s all been pretty sweet. Bringing experts from outside brings authenticity to a project, helps students to appreciate the meaning behind their learning and really amps up engagement levels. But the rock-star I bagged for my Year 10s got me jumping out of my skin with excitement.

A bit of back-story to help you understand my excitement …

My Year 10 class have been working on a poetry project answering the question: Can emos write poetry? I think I may have written about this project before. Anyway, below is the project outline given to my students, it should help you to understand the project a bit:

Now as you also may know, I’ve not been in class full-time this term which means I’m kinda like a virtual teacher. I spend the majority of my time ‘teaching’ via edmodo. During this emo project I saw my students a total of three full 50 minute periods. Everything else happened online. It really has been remarkable to see the work that these students have produced. If you haven’t read the poems set for the project (Auden’s Unknown Citizen, Yeats’s Sailing to Byzantium and Elliot’s Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock) then I recommend you do – if not to appreciate the beauty of the poems at least to appreciate their complexity. All poems are basically Year 12 Advanced English material in my opinion. My class are Year 10 Extension students and I only spent one lesson ‘analysing’ the Yeats poem with 15 of the 28 students – the other 13 were on camp and I refused to halt the learning because of their absence, they simply had to catch up via their peers. Don’t tell the kids, but I still haven’t even read the Elliot poem – but boy have they nailed it!!

The essay … teaching essay-writing to Year 10 is always tough. You want them to own their ideas and develop their own writing style, but at the same time you want them to write in a particular structure, with a particular voice. Because I was teaching online, I made a series of YouTube videos to help my students master the basics of English essay-writing. I then set them the task of submitting a draft for feedback online via edmodo and I also asked them to have their essay peer and self-assessed using a check-list. I just finished marking the final version of their essays today and they have blown me away – so glad we’re going to publish them as an ebook to be made available online. All students have been given the option of resubmitting their essays until they get 100% based on teacher feedback.

The podcast … another tricky task. I’ve never made a podcast. I don’t know how to. I do know what they are and I’ve listened to quite a few. My students were working in teams – as always – so I figured they’d be savvy enough to use their collective brain and the web to find out how to make a podcast and do it. They didn’t let me down. It was cool to see so many different tools being used – adobe, audacity, garage-band – and the different formats for the podcasts that were created aswell – some were highly structured, some impromptu discussions, some serious and others humourous. The podcast is actually where I got my idea for our ROCK STAR … yes, I did get there eventually, lolz. I was pretty much inspired to create the emo project by my reading of the book Hey Nietzsche Leave Them Kids Alone by Craig Schuftan. It was a text recommended to me for teaching Romanticism to Extension English students. I remember listening to Craig Schuftan’s The Culture Club segment on Triple J when I was younger (teens or twenties, I’m not sure) and wishing so much that I had his job. I was so into indie rock music when I was a youngster that I even wrote and published my own fanzine called ‘catacomb’ that I distributed (via public transport) to music stores in the city. Craig made the music I loved intellectual and cultured, he understood what I loved about music and philosophy and wove them together. Reading his book inspired the emo project – bringing about the driving question and the final product, the podcast. I even directed my students to his podcasts as exemplars of what they could produce.

The rock-star … and then one day, out of the blue, I was followed on twitter by @schuftronic. I was thrilled to bits to see that this twitter ID belonged to Craig Schuftan! Actually I was jumping around like a school girl and my hubby told me I was a git, haha. At that moment I knew I had my rock-star … I just had to bag him! I waited a week before I followed him back (not to look too desperate) and then sent him a DM asking him to be our emo expert. I waited and waited and two weeks later got a reply telling me he was interested and to send him an email. How awesome is twitter? We emailed back and forth and came up with a date that suited us both – he was coming to Davo High! I must admit when I told my students they were like ‘who is he?’ to which I gushed about his radio segment and book and they thought I was a git too, lol.

The week arrived when Craig was to come to my school to be our rock-star and guess what I realised? I’d booked him to come on a day when I wasn’t teaching! Idiot! There was nothing to be done except prep my students via edmodo and lament my own disorganised brain. During the day of the podcast presentations I was an anxious mess, freaking out that the podcasts wouldn’t play or that the students would forget what they were meant to say. But it all ran so beautifully and I have never been more proud of a group of students … they were so great. My HT sent me a mini video of Craig greeting my English faculty colleagues and he asked Craig to sign a bit of paper to stick in my copy of his book – I’d left that at home too, duh! One of my students bought Craig a box of chocolates and my colleague got him a bottle of wine. I am so lucky to have an amazing teacher replacing me at school – it is her first year of teaching and she has had to deal with visiting authors and organising student presentations! We’re going to be putting the podcasts on iTunes soon, so I’ll post them up here when they’re on!

Finally, I just have to say a massive thank you to Craig Schuftan. Whilst I wasn’t there to meet him, I did get to hear so many wonderful accounts of his visit to our school. My students were stoked to hear him speak about his time at Triple J, his own answer to our driving question, his tips on producing podcasts and his feedback on each of the student teams’ presentations and podcasts. I discovered that he had taken public transport to get to our school – not an easy feat considering we have some seriously shocking, 1950s public transport out our way. He really was our rock-star for the day! In fact, I want to share with you a little post from one of my students about Craig:

This comment reminds me that getting an expert from outside your school community is not about the subject or the content or the project … it’s about the little bits of unexpected learning and wisdom that are gained.

Thanks so much for sharing your time with us, Craig. It blows me away that you asked for nothing in return … but we can give you this: thank you a thousand times!

Protest Poetry Project (PBL) lesson outline

It’s 11.07pm and I’ve just made my first chai and opened a block of chocolate. This is me in serious lesson-planning mode. I’ve already scribbled my ideas into my art-diary where everything in my mind goes. Might give insight into my manic late-night planning sessions:

But what I need to do is put it in order. So that’s what the following post it, it’s my lesson plan for my Year 9 class tomorrow, haha.

1. Display ClassDojo and revise first three HOM. Quick discussion and drama activity for the next HOM – I think it’s THINKING FLEXIBLY. That’ll be important for poetry!

2. Check homework – students had to list three protest songs and register for edmodo. Have they filled in their edmodo profiles with learning preference, dream job and fav quote? I think they had to finish filling in their KWL chart and glue it in their books as well.

3. Speed KWLing: This is a variation of Speed Dating that I just made up, haha. Basically the students are going to sit in two circles, one in middle moves, one on outside stays put. Students have to select TWO questions from their ‘Wonder’ column and share these with their partner. If the ‘wonder’ is new, they add it to their own KWL chart, if not they just discuss how they will find the answer to their question (without the help of the teacher!).

4. Class comes back to campfire space and discusses their list of ‘Wonder’ questions and how they might work in teams (with the help of their poetry expert Mrs Hewes) to answer their questions. This list is typed up and put on the Year 9 Project Space on the classroom wall – this is the basis of their project ‘investigation’ phase.

5. In their project teams students share their protest songs and add them to a piece of A3 paper or type into edmodo using smart phone edmodo app. Groups then present their lists to the class and work together to compile a class list of songs.

6. (if time, probably not) Watch a protest song selected by me (Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’) and discuss similarities and differences to performance poetry.

7. Close lesson with homework: learning reflection: What skills/content did I master in English today? Post to edmodo group.

THE END!!! (Not really cos now I’ve got to plan two lessons for Year 8 and one for Year 10 and it’s not 11.25pm!)