My Final Studio Expo: A Reflection

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Monday, April 28th, was a bittersweet evening for me, my colleague Mr. Nic Carroll, and our students. After four stellar years of student projects and the celebration of them each semester, that Monday became an important memory and mark in history for all of us. For me, it is an end of era that has changed my entire pedagogical perspective. I think back on my educational philosophies just four years ago and marvel at how much they’ve changed in that short span of time. I am in awe from what I’ve learned from my students and our experiences together. Within this post, I’ll be reflecting on my four years, but more specifically that night and the kids who all helped change my life. Continue reading

When the STEM Community Gets it Wrong

I call it the pendulum effect. American society has the interesting habit of fixating on something considered ‘the solution’ to any given problem–in this case education–and when we do this, we easily lose sight of the bigger picture. In essence, we go from one full swing of the pendulum in one direction to a full swing in the opposite direction where the pendulum stays locked often forgetting the pendulum is meant to swing both directions–consistently–at all times–in order to maintain proper momentum.

Recently, we had two of our juniors win a prestigious web design award that is partially sponsored by Google. The competition centered around a group’s ability to design, advertise, create a business plan, demonstrate functionality and market. My colleague, Nic Carroll, sponsored their group’s efforts and went with them to receive the award. (They won in all categories overall!) While at the Atlanta Google office and listening to Google leaders speak, Mr. Carroll was struck by how hard they pushed STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) as the solution to all educational woes and downplaying the efforts of studies in humanities and the like. This got both of us thinking. You see we’re both firm proponents of STEM, but like most ideas in education or business its merely a buzz word that doesn’t give credence to what matters most–critical thinking.

What we’ve learned in our time as PBL teachers using a humanities base is that it really isn’t about how much STEM is implemented into a program of study; rather, the onus should be on innovation, critical thinking and problem solving. All three of those concepts can be accomplished in any area of study if presented through inquiry. STEM is not the only solution and if we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves swinging the pendulum in the other direction to sit and stay once everyone realizes that our kids can’t write or draw off of history’s critical lessons or create with any new ingenuity due to a lack of art. It doesn’t have to or need to be this way. We can have both STEM and humanities working in conjunction, asking the right questions, and developing critical thinkers. I worry, however, that those in the technology businesses and large technology conglomerates will stifle the idea that the humanities are as important a resource as STEM studies.

What do you think? Isn’t a balance necessary. We’ve have a humanities-based PBL classroom for three years now, and we’ve seen tremendous growth in thinking and innovation through our program. We must be careful not to fool ourselves into thinking there is ever one, black and white solution.

2013: How Project-Based Learning Could Change Everything

Happy New Year!

Each new year brings with it a promise; a promise that this year could be the best year of our lives; a promise that we will form good habits and get rid of the bad ones. And we’re right–for the most part. We also know that truthfully it is quite hard to change bad habits, form better ones, and there is no way to predict what a new year will bring. Still, the promise of what could be is one of the many magical parts of life.

This particular year, for me, already carries with it at least one bitter disappointment. I falsely believed I would be a shoe-in to be approved to present at this year’s ISTE conference in San Antonio; alas, it is not to be. I found out about midway through December that my proposal was not accepted. It was initially a blow to both my pride and ego, but once I had a chance to think about it, I had to admit that I was also simply disappointed because what I get to do for a living is something I want to share with the world!

I was as wary as anyone when I first started to explore and research project-based learning (PBL), but I very quickly realized that this might be a game changer in public education. You see, our politicians are all looking for quick fix legislation to help improve student performance. I think most who would read this blog can agree that this will never help alleviate our educational woes. For instance, most recently, the state of Georgia passed a constitutional amendment that allows the state to approve more charter schools. The claim for the need for this direct change was that parents and students need more choice. I agree, but not with more charter schools that one, will only siphon more money away from money strapped public systems and two, many of them will never close due to parent outcry no matter how bad the performance of the school is nor how underfunded it is. No, I believe it is all about generating choice within our current public schools.

PBL, as well as problem-based learning, could be a very viable solution.

Don’t get me wrong, for a program like the one I helped to develop in The Studio, it does take a bit of money, or at the very least being very creative with whatever current technology a school possesses. Still, with the implementation of PBL programs within public schools, you immediately give students and parents choice. PBL involves a different type of learning and is renowned for its ability to develop very strong soft and analysis skills. The emphasis is taken off the teacher and put more squarely on the student, their choices, and ownership of their learning. Without changing everything about a school and by offering a separate program that becomes a part of the DNA of a school, all stakeholders involved have an opportunity to win. Our program isn’t perfect, but in many ways it is starting to thrive. Students entering their first year of the program dote on it constantly as do their parents, students are interacting with real world problems and developing an understanding of required standards, and maybe more impressive is that some students are falling in love with learning again–something that is often lost during middle school years. It isn’t for everyone, but that’s why it would be an option, a new way to learn, something different from the status quo–a choice.

My sincere hope is that this upcoming year will hold the promise of spreading this message, changing a few mindsets, and maybe helping those making big decisions to see there are still good alternatives out there don’t decimate what many consider to be an important staple to the freedoms we enjoy here in our country–the public school system.

For the record, I hope to attend ISTE nonetheless this year. Maybe I’ll have better luck in 2014!

Things to Come

This upcoming school year will bring new challenges and some exciting new puzzle pieces along with it. I’m always thankful for a transitional summer to re-steady my mind and take a deep breath before diving into another year, but I can’t help but be energized already about this upcoming year. I try to stay thankful that in a time when many teachers feel less rewarded by their efforts that I am doing something that I love and feel is making a critical difference in public schools.

Here are few updates coming down the pipeline this upcoming fall:

– It has been a long wait, but my first time contributing to a collegiate textbook will be realized in October. (Originally, it was supposed to be this summer. Gotta love publisher speed.) It is a minor portion but it thrills me that a few former professors of mine think highly enough of me to contribute.

– After an awesome two days powwowing with some fellow PBLers along with Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss, I’m excited to announce that I plan on applying to speak at next year’s ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference in San Antonio! Jane will be helping me through the process, so I stay hopeful that what I’ve been so excited about the last two years will be shared with a wider audience next summer.

– BYOD or BYOT… With our communities awesome support this next year may very well be the year that my school opens up wifi for students use this year ensuring that students can bring their own devices/technology to our classrooms. This is a revolutionary step for my system and for our school. Specifically it is a game changer for the Studio classroom, but if embraced, the entire school could really benefit from getting students logged into our system. Like any new technology introduced there are hazards and precautions to consider, but overall this will allow for high productivity for most students.

– Year 3 of The Studio… It is a victory in itself that we are moving into our third year of the PBL experience. I’m most excited about bringing more teachers into the fold and adding the collaboration effort. With the blessings of our administration, we’re taking PBL a step further in our community and school. That is certainly something to celebrate and be excited about.

There is much to be excited about, but I know that there are still great challenges ahead. I look forward to meeting them.

EdCamp Gwinnett

Just a reminder to join us starting tomorrow through this Tuesday at Lanier High School for workshops, talks, and discussions on PBLs roll in the modern classroom.

It should be a great gathering of like-minded and searching people. Be sure to register before hand if you’re going to be stopping by–click here.

Information:

When: June 4-5 from 9:00am to 4:00pm
Where: Lanier High School 918 Buford Highway Sugar Hill, Georgia 30518
Cost: Free
Parking: Free

 

PS – Sorry for the posting hiatus. I’ll have a lot of great stuff posted here starting next week!