I suppose I should not be entirely assumptive that my posts were missed these last couple of months, but personally, I am happy to be writing on the blog again. In my first true post since taking a bit of break, I give insight into the continued dissertation process and insight into some of the ground swell of project-based learning at my school. If you read this blog or even just this post. Thanks–it means a lot.
Update on the Journey through Dissertation Land
Pursuing a doctorate degree is not for everyone. I have several colleagues, friends, and family who tell me they do not know how I am doing it follow by an immediate jab at themselves along the lines of, “I know I couldn’t do it.” Well, they probably could, but getting to the finish line of your doctoral degree is a group effort, and your support system is everything. My jovial response–while meant to be a bit funny but also quite true–is I can do it because I do not have kids yet. There is some truth to this. My wife and I are expecting a little girl in January, which means I have until then to finish writing my dissertation. My world is about to dramatically change. I am thrilled! But the reality remains my opportunity to get my doctorate had a great deal to do with the support from my wife, friends, family, and not have a little one to raise. My parent friends out there know exactly what I am talking about. Besides not having a child yet, I also am incredibly driven. I have wanted this since my teenage years. The reasons have certainly changed over time (I may or may not have wanted a bullwhip, leather hat, and a child follow me around calling me, “Dr. Jones! Dr. Jones! when I was a youth), but the drive has remained. I want this for me, my family, and the students who might benefit form me being the most informed educator I can be.
That all said, I turned in chapter 4 (Findings) and chapter five (Conclusions & Implications) over the course of September and October. (In August, I took a few weeks to write an entry for an upcoming Sage Encyclopedia entry on project-based learning.) Currently, I am awaiting feedback from my committee, which should come my way around this weekend. In the meantime, I have been going back through the first three chapters and doing the necessary revisions to bolster my writing and have it reflect the needs of my committee and my study. There were days I thought I might never finish chapter 4. I labored over that chapter as I tried to give each of my cases in my collective case study a rich, thick description of their experiences. I remember distinctly sitting at the computer for two hours and only churning out a paragraph in some cases. Still, I finished thanks in large part of figuring out at what time and space I wrote best. For me, it was after the school day sequestered away at a local co-work space the city I live in created. There it was quiet and removed the worst of distractions (i.e. Netflix). Some days my mind was fried after school, but I found most days I could be productive and write for four consecutive hours and be satisfied with my progress. Figuring this out made writing chapter 5 much easier. I also found setting personal deadlines and allowing yourself some grace to miss them by a few days is okay too. I took nights off from writing, and I rarely wrote on the weekends. I realized to finish I needed to have a social life, and I needed something to look forward to after a long week.
Once I get my feedback, I’ll go through another heavy revision process and prepare to submit a final draft for defense in January/February. The timing will be tricky with my little girl due at the end of January, but I have juggled the crazy that is life before, so I’ll do it again when the time comes. Again, this will all be due to the support of my wife and family. Without them this degree simply does not happen.
I look forward to hopefully being Dr. Dad in February.
Project-Based Learning in my School House
I mentioned briefly above that I wrote an entry on PBL for an upcoming Sage Encyclopedia on Youth Organizations coming out in March. That entry was a firm reminder of why I am doing the work I am in my school where students are exposed more often to assignments lined with authenticity and the skills necessary to collaborate and complete a complex task. If you watched my former students who sat down to talk to me about their experiences with PBL, you might recall Tiffany. Tiffany is creating video for one of her advanced media classes that will showcase a good deal of what I wrote in the Sage Encyclopedia. If all goes well, it will be a piece that can be used in many forums for others to understand the long-term benefits for PBL instruction.
In addition, I have course teams at my school starting to craft projects as a more authentic way to assess their students’ knowledge and understanding. Specifically, our World History and US History teams have really stepped up. While many of the projects are what I might call PBL lite, they are on the right track and building towards authentic projects. I have enjoyed helping them in the process and seeing them excited about the results they are getting. They admit the work is hard up front, but they like how their students are engaging in history in way not seen when they finished each unit with a test or essay.
Our CTE (Career & Tech Ed) teachers are starting to move the needle on their PBL efforts as well. They are a group particularly well suited to make a powerful, authentic experiences happen for their students. There are music tech students working to create a radio station. The A/V students work closely with MTI Baths near our school to develop instructional videos for their products. The same program also produces four on-going productions throughout the year–a weekly news cast, a monthly documentary-style production, advisement videos highlighting our students, and a month variety show. Our marketing organization is the biggest it’s ever been, and we starting to see our healthcare occupation students engaged in role playing and mini-projects that could set up big opportunities in the future.
Finally, we have great community members who are engaging students in projects that may not have a direct academic correlation, but they strongly support these students’ soft skills development. One such project is with the WES Foundation and their partnership with our kids for the Power Flower project. Just some very cool stuff.
Alright, that is it my friends. I plan on posting regularly with a more detailed look at my dissertation pursuits and PBL in my school. It feels good to be back!