Sunday, February 26, 2017

Monkey see, Monkey do

Walking out of church this morning, my little Owen started running towards the playground on the other side of the parking lot. My parents were walking with us and I said to them, "That's crazy! How does he even know where he's going or that it's stuff to play on over there!?" (I mean, sure... the playground at the park across from our house, I get that. But this is an entirely different play yard!) Mom, who spends every day with Owen, smiled and said, "I guess because we walked up here twice last week??"

Yes...we have hit that point in the ole' "growth and development" phase. You know, the point where you realize how important routines are, and it's not even that he's learning everything on his own, but instead, he's repeating what he sees/hears/does. To a passerby (like me, for instance, not knowing he had been to the church playground recently) it seems very much like these little ones are the most intelligent humans by saying and trying new things. In reality? They're replicating processes and phrases they hear from those around them.

At some point in a child's growth and development, we tend to forget this critical phase. We forget that they need to see and hear and try new learning more than once before it becomes part of their vocabulary and an essential piece of their daily routine. If I had a nickel for every time I've heard the words, "I taught them that" or "I talked about that" from myself and other educators, I'd probably be able to consider early retirement!!!! :)   And that's not bad! It's not a bad thing to introduce a new skill to a student. But it IS bad if all we do is introduce the skill and never provide context for that skill and never allow students to explore that beyond the initial introduction, because THAT'S where the magic happens!

Sure, Owen's still growing his depth of knowledge with these skills right now as he recognizes slides and swings (among other skills). Since we didn't just name them or let him play on them only one time though, he's beginning to get the concept of sliding and swinging. He seems to be grasping cause/effect now every time he climbs to the top of the slide and let's out a big "weeee" before he even gets moving, and with his pointing and screaming "ing! ing!" every time we pass a swing, we feel like he's able to classify this type of equipment too. But he wouldn't know those more advanced skills if he hadn't been introduced to swings and slides, allowed to play on them, allowed to fumble with their use, called them out as other kids were playing on them.... MULTIPLE contexts, various levels of application.

So take a look at the agendas you have planned for the week. What skills are you hoping to teach and/or assess with your students? What variety of opportunities are you designing into your work to allow (not just for repetition, but) for contextualizing of standards and skills? How will you celebrate a student's replication/regurgitation of a skill and name for them that this is the beginning of a deeper application of this skill?   Why are you still reading this!?!? Seriously....go look at your agendas and make sure you're doing your job and serving your child(ren) well!

Peace, love, and so much up & down on the slide!!!!


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Organizing Your Project Briefcase

When you're starting the design of a new project, or beginning to organize project documents into your learning management system (LMS), it's not uncommon that we all feel a little like this:

Am I starting in the right place? I have so many ideas!!! How do I provide enough structure to stay organized (and keep my students organized) while still allowing space for student driven exploration!?

Well...why not think of your PBL/PrBL unit design just as you do a briefcase!? (At New Tech Network, we do this quite often and even house our PBL/PrBL units in Echo, our LMS, and refer to them as "project briefcases".) Let me explain...

A briefcase is the structure that carries important papers and documents.
Within your briefcase, it's helpful to have file folders to organize/categorize those documents.
Within each file folder, you will find the documents which relate specifically to the categorized, labeled tab on each file folder. 

This is exactly the structure that we should be using when designing projects if we're going to support students from beginning to end with just enough structure to check in on their progress along the way without over-structuring the learning experience (which we know can...and will...crush any hope for inquiry)! The specific "structure" I'm referring to is that of "benchmarks." Not only should benchmarks provide formative feedback to students as they progress toward finishing their application of learning (i.e. their product), but they also serve as substantial tasks that groups/individuals need to complete in order to mark their progress along the way. That said, as PBL/PrBL units are designed, it will look a little something like this....

A driving question and problem statement serve as focal points to guide student learning throughout a project.
Within your focused project, it's helpful to have benchmarks that guide individuals/groups toward a finished product(s).
Within each benchmark, you will find activities and tasks which relate specifically to the benchmark designed to support students from start to finish.

You see!? Professionals don't carry around their whole desks (i.e. all of your content standards) to every meeting (i.e. every project) they attend, and they certainly don't dump all of their documents out in front of clients as soon as they sit down at a table (i.e. front load information and hope the clients are able to sort through it on their own)! Instead, they only take their project briefcase (i.e. a subset of standards geared towards a particular focal point) filled with labeled folders (i.e. benchmarks) that aide in organizing documents (i.e. activities and tasks) related to each particular folder category. 

In your LMS (ours at NTN being Echo), it would look a little something like this:

A sample project briefcase  (project title & image at the top with file folders easily marked as "Phase" or "Benchmark" and what product will mark student's progress)
A look inside one of the folders at the activities & documents students investigated & completed to support their progress towards this benchmark/phase.

If you're feeling at all like your project is a bit "scattered," or if your students don't seem to be able to make progress without your spoon-feeding them the next task or activity to attend to.... it might just be that they're struggling to dig through the intended purpose, or focal point, of the project. Perhaps there are too many "un-organized documents" for them to sort their way through.  OR MAYBE time just got the best of you and you HAD a great design and/or organization system, but ended up dumping resources into the nearest folder, whether it really belonged there or not. 

I beg of you.... while it's 64+ degrees here in Southeast Indiana this week..... PLEASE....start your "Project Spring Cleaning."  Go get your PBL/PrBL unit designs cleaned up which will set your students and yourself up for successful launch, but be sure to also clean up your LMS organization as well! 

Peace, love, and tab dividers,

Sunday, February 5, 2017

There's no "I" in SuperBowl Champ

"People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses or the problems of modern society" - Hall of Fame Football coach Vince Lombardi

Vince Lombardi is considered one of the greatest American football coaches in history, and one of the best motivators as well. The National Football League championship trophy, which is awarded to the winner of the Super Bowl, is named after him. With the Super Bowl being played today, there are some lessons from each team's effort tonight that can be transferred to our classrooms as well.

At New Tech Network (NTN), we define collaboration as "the ability to be a productive member of diverse teams through strong interpersonal communication, a commitment to shared success, leadership, and initiative." Collaboration during intense moments of problem solving plays a significant role toward successful school performance. So, what can we do to TEACH our students the necessary skills for becoming an effective collaborator? Here are a few resources of activities to support your project planning based on the domain(s) of collaborative skill building you've designed into your current project's focus:

  • Interpersonal Communication - Check out this resource, "Interpersonal Communication Strategies," for building, enhancing, and extending interpersonal communication strategies that can be used any day to teach your content standards. I also love the "digital strategies for interpersonal communication" on pg. 4/5 of this document!
  • Commitment to shared success - In this article, Andrew Miller reminds us how to make group work productive (and not just have kids working in a group). His reminder on "the importance of structure" is so critical to creating the time space for students to gain proficiency on the indicators of this domain on NTN's collaboration rubric
  • Team & Leadership roles - I love some of these 10 minute Leadership Lessons so much that I can't wait to build them into the upcoming PD sessions I'm designing to remind adults of the importance for being aware of the ways they lead teams.  The "Perceptions Exercise" on page 23 would be great as teams are forming (before they actually dig into problem solving together) whereas activities like "The Pretzel Activity" on page 20 are beautiful for teaching students how to take direction from others and improve progress through communication. 

On game day, presentation day, or any ordinary Tuesday, it's important for (you and) your students to remember that success comes down to how you contribute to conversations, work through conflict,  provide constructive feedback to team members, monitor progress of your team's efforts , and so on. Much of that comes together with wins for the team and that builds trust going forward. Are you making sure your student teams are championship worthy? 

Peace, love, and Patriots do it again....