Breath of Fresh Air

If you’ve read the blog recently than you know that earlier this week a few like-minded individuals, including myself, got together for what we deemed an un-PBL conference. The two days were both stellar experiences that culminated in some great vertical teaming with my middle school counterparts, new tech tools, and planning for a bright future for PBL in a few of our local schools. It was a small affair, but the intimate feel to the group allowed for some great collaborative sessions.

The bigger takeaways from the two days had to do with helping to shape what a grade 6 thought 12 model will look like in my school cluster. We are reaching an ever nearing pinnacle where solidifying a clear model is becoming necessary. It was encouraging to watch that model really start to take shape. From a personal stand point, I had a chance to consider new approaches such as devising more ‘entry events’ for new projects to heighten interest, working with students very early in the year to look closely at their schedules outside of school to see how much interference there is to finishing a project at times, and really developing a consistent format for formative assessments throughout a project phase. These are very doable improvements, but time and commitments can get in the way. It is my sincere hope that me and my colleagues can really execute some of these thoughts well this year. In a coming post I’ll address the concerns of how time consuming PBL feels and how daunting the setup feels too.

Finally, here are a few techie tools that were discussed and could be valuable to you:

1.) Wolfram Alpha – Amazing comparative search engine. This very well may change how our students research academically.

2.) LiveBinder – Not a Google Apps fan or expert? This could be a great place to have students organize and communicate digitally for projects.

3.) KickStarter – Need an idea for a project? Want to help students get their projects supported in the real world? Then check this beauty out!

A big thank you to Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss from joining us! (If you’re serious about getting PBL started in your classroom or school, these two ladies are a great place to start.)

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My Second Year of PBL Comes to a Close

Year two of my adventure in implementing PBL (project-based learning) into a large urban classroom setting came to a close officially yesterday at 11:45am eastern time. My students headed off to their summer, and my colleagues and I began the process of evaluating and reflecting on another year.

It was a good year. It had its share of tribulations, but anything worth doing will have its challenges; I’ve learned great lessons from both the positive and negative moments that arrived throughout the year. The number one positive to come out of year two is that there is officially going to be a year three. We will now have three levels of the Studio: freshmen year, sophomore year, and now junior year! I consider this a great success considering so many new programs in a time of economic turmoil and budget cuts easily crumble and fade quickly. Our numbers are strong for next year and we’ll be introducing a new teacher into the mix, which I am personally elated about. The point is we are expanding, growing, developing, learning, and still adventuring.

We all know that here in U.S. we are playing a testing numbers game, and we are no different in the Studio in the sense that we must answer to the same demands. It has been the hardest concept to win anyone over to believing that PBL is a viable and real way of learning in a classroom when tests so often determine a student’s fate for college and beyond. The good news here is that we continue to have success on high stakes tests and we’ve seen some improvement from last year even. We won’t have results from AP tests until July, but we’re hopeful that those numbers will reflect continued growth. Our EOCT (end of course test) scores showed an increase in ability with the 9th grade group as all but five scored in the EXCEEDS category and the remaining five made no less than an eighty-five percent on the exam.

Numbers on tests don’t tell the whole story though.

We have students who have earned spots for Georgia’s Governor Honors Program, a Georgia Tech summer technology group, the MARC (Model Atlanta Regional Commission) summer institute, as well as internships. (All of ours students are either 9th or 10th graders; most of them can’t even drive yet!) I couldn’t be prouder of their accomplishments and how they are using the skills developed in the classroom to achieve greater aspirations outside of the classroom.

I foolishly posted that my second year has come to a close, but the reality is that I’ll be right back at in another week when many local PBLers will get together for an informal conference for two days. It should be a great time to share and brainstorm for the future. In the meantime, as I reflect on a year just coming to an end, I say bravo to my students, my colleagues, and maybe even a little pat on my own back for another successful year.

Here’s to the future!

A Meeting of the Minds

On Monday, June 4th and Tuesday, June 5th, Lanier High School in Sugar Hill, Ga will be hosting a casual  and a bit informal PBL conference for a meeting of the minds in our county. There is no charge and there is no pre-paid lunches or anything like that; the conference is really just a chance to bounce ideas off of one another, share successes and lessons learned, as well as plan for the future.

If you’re in the Gwinnett area on these dates and you’re interested in joining us, feel free to register by clicking here. (You’ll also get your basic info for the event there.) Look to the right hand side and click the register button.

PBL gurus, Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss will be attending, teaching, and sharing. It really isn’t something you want to miss whether you’re already a project-based learning junkie, a beginner, or just curious.

Hope to see you there!

A Parent’s Guide to 21st-Century Learning

Edutopia has just released a great digital booklet on how to put a finger on what 21st-century learning skills really are and how they are reflected in project-based learning. Thank you to Suzie Boss for posting it first on her blog.

Here is a link: http://www.edutopia.org/parent-21st-century-learning-resource-guide

You’ll have to sign in to download it, but I’ve skimmed it and plan to send the link to my students’ parents this week. It does a really nice job explaining the what, how, and when questions that come along with shifting the common classroom’s focus away from more traditional settings.

I especially enjoy the emphasis on the four Cs: Collaboration, Creativity, Communication, and Critical Thinking

There and Back Again

Great starting point for any educator looking to get into PBL!

It has been a long, but very rewarding year. The year culminated just these past three days with a PBL workshop for my district with the aid and guidance of the ever lovely Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss. I mentioned them both in my previous post about PBL. Suzie is a writer for Edutopia and Jane was a classroom teacher for over twenty years, but both are authors of the book Reinventing Project-Based Learning. They were absolutely wonderful to work with.

We were allowed to bring about fifty teachers to this workshop. We aimed to bring as many teachers who were unfamiliar with PBL as possible. That little detail is important because if I haven’t made it clear in the past, I”ll make it clearer now–PBL scares people. Change frightens most of us and the paradigm shift that is needed for a teacher to be successful with PBL is no exception. The good news to come out of our workshop is that now we have several more advocates of PBL in my school and in my district! I consider this a huge win considering some the bumps and bruises a colleague and I endured to make it really happen at my school this year. (It was all worth it!) The three days were honestly the three most valuable professional learning days I’ve ever experienced. I suppose it should be noted that my passion for using PBL in large public schools does make going to this particular kind of professional learning a bit more motivational.

I promised myself I’d keep this entry brief. I am embedding a Prezi that I presented at the workshop this past week. I had several colleagues request it, so I see no harm in sharing it with you all as well. I encourage all of you to check out Suzie’s and Jane’s blog, and if you’ve never visited Edutopia then you certainly should soon. Happy project building!

(Click Link Below to get to Prezi)