Archive for the ‘Project Based Learning’ Category

When I was in college, the end of the semester always dragged.  I couldn’t wait for it to just be over so I could start the new semester, take the new classes, and just move forward.  I hated the wrapping up of the current semester: turning in the last papers, taking the last exam, and realizing I only used a quarter of the spiral notebook for a class.  Before the semester actually ended, I was already thinking about the new classes.  I would pour over my new schedule and happily shop for new notebooks and supplies.

Apparently I still have this character flaw.  I just want to be done with this year.  I hate the end of year wrap up, but I do get excited about next year.  I want to start planning now!

Today we got our (hopefully final) master schedule, so we know what we will be teaching. Mine doesn’t have any surprises, but I do have some new classes.  Next year I will be teaching Marine Pathways Algebra 1 and Marine Pathways Basic Math.  The level of math is not new, but the marine focus is.  The classes are also supposed to be project based as much as possible.  I can’t wait to throw out the textbook (so to speak) and find ways to make the classes both marine and student centered.

My other new class is 7th grade math.  Although I am not excited about traveling to the elementary school (half mile) every day, I think it will be interesting to work in a different environment.   Our elementary school is leaping into proficiency based and project based learning, and combined grade levels, all at once.  I think the teachers will be a little stressed out as they work out the kinks in their new systems.  My 7th graders will be the ones who are struggling with math, so again it will need to be hands on and project based.  Since I am not as familiar with the 7th grade standards, I will have to do a lot of work this summer to get ready.

I have already started to make lists of things I need to do.  One of the big ideas I need to reflect on is how skills, fluency, and process need to be balanced in a math class.  That one is going to take some time, research, and deep thought.  I also want to reconsider classroom routines; mine could certainly use some reflection and updating.  I hope to get as many summative assessments as possible done this summer which means being very clear on what students need to know.  And I need to develop ideas for projects and tasks, including identifying the standards they meet and the standards that can’t be met that way.

Of course, there’s always homework.  This is the end of my 5th year and I still haven’t found a good way to manage homework, especially for students who struggle with getting it done.  I really need to dig in to what I want homework to accomplish.  Is it practice, a chance to extend learning, review, preview, or just spiraling work?  I think once I pin down what I want to accomplish it will be easier to decide how.

I also need to start thinking about how to interface with the elementary school.  How many of their meetings should I attend?  Who will be my go to person there?  What supplies will I have access to?  Can I get a copy of their textbook (even though I probably won’t use it)?

I can really feel next year tugging me forward and the end of this year anchoring me in place.  Meh.  Only 13 days until I can pull the anchor and go.



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        So there’s this other crazy teacher (MA) at my school and together we took a leap into the unknown this week.  With little planning time, uncertain supplies, and a crazy schedule we did something unthinkable.  We offered 25 students the chance to free up their Fall second period by taking a week long, intensive version of the class.  We were surprised by the overwhelming response: 18 students showed up Monday morning, two weeks before regular school starts.  I’ll say it again: 18 students were willing to give up a week of the last part of their summer. Whew! We were amazed.

       What is this class they were so willing to jump into? We called it Summer Pathways 101 to distinguish it from regular school year Pathways 101.  The content of the course is all about process. We have two standards: Students will be collaborative and quality workers and Students will be self-directed and life-long learners.  How hard could that be to teach, right?  No math standards, no writing standards; seems like that should be a breeze! 

     Um, no.  

     Think about a conference you may have attended that lasted three or four days all day long. Think about how intense that was and how you were both wiped out and energized at the end (if it was a good conference).  Now multiply that by 17 students who are also both energized and wiped out.  By the third day of five. 

     We started the first day by jumping right into a group challenge.  We split them into four groups, gave them each 2 sheets of 4×8 cardboard, 50 yards of colored duct tape, a utility knife, a meter stick, and markers.  With these materials they had to build an object that would float long enough for one team member to navigate a straight course.  We loaded kids and materials into a bus and traveled to a local beach where they designed and built cardboard boats.

     Did I mention that about half of the kids were interested in the Arts Pathway and about half of them were interested in the Marine Studies Pathway?  And that these two groups were pretty distinct within our school?  And that about half were freshman?  The real challenge for them was how to work with people they would not normally be grouped with.  It was great fun to see them get frustrated and then work through it.

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     We only had three goals and it was so hard to achieve them.  We wanted students to complete a group project, an individual project, and a draft personalized learning plan.  We were asking them to learn how to work in groups to solve problems, to work individually to plan and execute a project with limited resources and time constraints, and to understand this new-fangled personalized learning plan.

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Our school has a modified block schedule, with four 70 minutes classes per day. Most classes meet every day, although there are a few that meet every other day. We run for two quarters (about 18 weeks), then all classes change and we go another two quarters. This means that summer planning tends to focus on first semester classes and second semester classes get short shrift (is that really a word?).

This coming week, I will be joining a bunch of people to plan our Pathways classes.  What’s that?  Well, we are starting these focused course options in the hopes that we will better engage our students and our community.  The classes are project based, bring in community partners, are standards based and proficiency graded.  Classes are cross curricular, so that students can get two credits in core academic areas.  And students are not locked in; they will have the flexibility to move into or out of a pathway.  We started last year with Marine Studies Pathway to meet the needs of a community that is surrounded by ocean (yes, I live on island, but there is a bridge).  Kids in Marine Studies can elect to take the Skipper’s Program and earn industry certifications.  To introduce kids to the idea of a pathway, we also offered an Intro to Pathways.  Now we are adding an Arts Pathway, and we hope to offer a Healthcare Pathway in 2015-16.

Last year’s pilot was a little rough around the edges, since neither students nor teachers really knew how to do education this way.  So this year, we are requiring all students to take Pathways 101 before they can enroll in a pathways class.  Pathways 101 doesn’t have any required academic content, but it is designed to teach students how to learn in a project based class, how to collaborate, set goals, work with community members, and generally take responsibility for their own learning.  This will be a fall semester course.  We are also offering Marine Studies in the fall that offers language arts and biology credit and in the spring that offers physical science and math credit.  The Arts Pathway will be offering History through the Arts in the Spring.

Tomorrow, we start planning all the classes, including those that don’t start until the end of January.  It should be an interesting week.

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This graphic of a Koch Snowflake (thanks wikipedia) in some ways describes what has happened to me at Twitter Math Camp (#TMC14).  I started out with just a few questions, but then those questions multiplied, and the new questions multiplied, and so on, until they all started to blur together.  Similarly, Koch’s Snowflake starts simple, but then each replication makes the image more complex, until it finally brings you to that snowflakey image that everyone recognizes.

In my questions, unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.  I wonder, do I need to let them replicate more, before I find that big question toward which they are building?  I think I at least have a feel for where they are going.  I started with questions about how to help struggling students, how to reach disengaged students, how to teach multiple levels in one class, how to use project based learning to get there, how to use standards based grading to report on that learning; unh, I’m out of breath.  But in my mind I can almost see the convergence point, the place where all these questions merge into one big question.  I can’t quite see the shape of it, but I know it’s there.

It is something to do with teaching multiple levels in essentially the same lesson.  So that kids in basic math, pre-algebra, algebra I and algebra 2 are all interacting with the same lesson at the same time, but from a perspective that fits with their level of learning.  The concept of multiple entry points resonate with this question, as do the multitude of rich problem based resources from the digital math community.  So for now, it seems my snowflake is this: how do I make this structure happen?

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Today was a snow day.  I should have used it to do some planning.  Or grading.  Or something productive.  But instead I reread a book for pleasure, The Circle of Ceridwen. A book with no connections to education at all.  A book to get in the mood for the new season of The Vikings.

But as it gets late, I start thinking about Friday’s field trip to Maine Maritime Academy and all the logistical things that need to be done.  And all the math we haven’t done in that class.  It hasn’t been a very mathy week, because the marine part of the class has taken precedence.  By Saturday, the kids need to know enough to pass the certification course for commercial fishing vessel drill instructor (also none as the cold water safety course).  Some of them (about a third) already have this certification and will be doing other safety related things.

So next week we need to get down and dirty on the math content.  I’ve noticed that some of my “Algebra 1” level kids may still be at a pre-algebra level.  I think I’m going to have to split that group, somehow.  And I am switching my only stats student to a better book.  Almost two weeks in, and we haven’t covered half of what I was hoping for, so I will have to look for ways to make up the time.

Speaking of time, I have noticed that it flows much differently in my MSP class.  Out of a two block period (150 minutes), I usually only get 40-50 minutes.  It is forcing me to really think about my priorities and objectives and really tighten things up.  This unit has been focused on the marine industry certification related to cold water safety.  I was able to pull some good unit, scale, and measurement learning targets out of the activities they did last week, but this week it has been harder.

On Tuesday, I did a short, DI type lesson on functions vs relations.  We also delved into domain and range, but I had some students really struggling with that.  Also, with my Algebra 2 group, it was review for some, but new for others. Because of our snow day today and the field trip on Friday, I probably won’t get them for math again until next week!

 And they all asked what functions vs relations had to do with fishing.  I told them I didn’t know of any connection, but it was a standard we had to cover.  (I hate giving that answer, especially when I suspect there is a good reason that I am too dense to see).  Ah, well. There will be other standards that do flow nicely out of their marine content.  

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It’s Thursday and first semester is almost done.  All that’s left is the make up exams and grading. Then we start the new semester on Monday.  I have been really stressed about the new Marine Studies class, but now I also have concerns about my other class.  Sigh.

I teach a special ed science class that alternates between physical science and life science year to year.  I have tried to have it follow the content of the regular ed classes in the past.  But the new physical science teacher is throwing in a lot of chemistry this year.  Yet another topic about which I know little.

My motivation to become a teacher had a lot to do with my preference for a high learning curve, but I didn’t expect it to be near vertical. Between chemistry, SBG, PBL, co-teaching, and marine studies I feel like I’m in an 18 credit semester while carrying an outside job. I don’t know when I will have time to breath.

And I am still. not. ready. for the marine studies pathway beginning on Monday.

(Forgot to post this, so I will now, even though the semester started a week ago Monday).

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Marine Studies Spring 2014 starts on the 27th. I am not ready. We are not ready.  We are insane.  Three of us will be teaching a two block class.  In two consecutive blocks, students need to learn content for Ecology, for ½ of their grade level language arts (the writing half), math, and marine industry standards.  I am in charge of math for 16 students whose levels range from pre-algebra to post-algebra 2 and share responsibility for writing standards for four grade levels.

We have promised project based learning, which I have never done before this year. We have promised standards based grading (whew, I tried that last year, so it’s not completely new.)  We have the first project planned, sort of. Last summer we talked about other projects, but it is feeling very nebulous at this point.  We have weekly meetings, but otherwise only talk when we catch each other in the hallway.  There is a facilitator to help, thank god, but we just haven’t put enough time in.

I have my algebra 1 standards.  Kids at pre-algebra will get supplements to catch them up.  I have my algebra 2 standards.  Kids who might have taken geometry will get algebra 2.  Geometry can come next year.  But I don’t know what to do for my one post-algebra 2 kid.  It looks like stats.  Stats would be a good fit, since every project we do will involve looking at data. But I don’t have a scope and sequence for stats; and my text is not core aligned; and I have never taught stats.  Twitterverse, I hope you respond to the plea I posted.

I have until the 27th to wrap my head around the stats and generate a list of standards for the student (and me). Or maybe the 28th, since the first class is a planned field day. I really don’t want to have to make it up as I go along, but I can’t just follow the text either. Not in a project based setting. Did I say we were insane?

I hope to document this semester of insanity.  I’m afraid the load is going to be too heavy to allow time for reflection, but I think the reflection is going to be critical to keeping the course moving forward. At the least, I will be able to look back and say hey, remember when we tried that crazy course?

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