Sunday, May 13, 2012

Playground Project Reflection 

  What I would really like to tell everyone is that I developed this project last summer and have been rigorously working on this day in and day out for months to make it perfect.  However, there is nothing farther from the truth then that statement.  
  This thought actually trickled into my mind when I was on a Saturday morning date with my daughter mindlessly digging in the sand.  I was trying to conjure up some ways to make learning the mundane math material (dare I say it) fun!  I thought 'here I am, a grown man, having fun digging in the sand and the school I teach at does not have any recess equipment for the kids.' Then I put my two thoughts together: fun and a playground.  'That's it - I'll have the students create their own playground!'
  With that one thought I was quickly off and running with ideas overflowing my brain, like an unwatched pot of boiling water.  First, the essential question came to mind. Then, the learning goals - then lets have the students create businesses.  All these thoughts keep coming to mind. The students will have to create a budget.  The budget will include buying equipment, making purchases, including tax on products.  They will to use a variety of math skills addition, multiplication, percentages, and so on. We can use Google Earth to purchase the land next to the school so the kids have to figure out the perimeter and area.  I was firing off these ideas left and right ready to finish this entire project in one day.   Then...I heard this little tiny voice, 'Da-Da' oh how I was quickly brought back to reality.  Then I realized family first - I'll have plenty of time to work on this during naptime.  
  What started out as a tiny little thought turned out to be one of the most interesting, educational, not sure where the road is going to take us journeys that I have ever been on.  I believed that I already had a motivated, overachieving math class to begin with.  Once I explained to the students what we were going to do - students were already talking to their neighbors on what they wanted their playground to look like.  On a daily basis the students were diligently working, asking intriguing questions to one another, performing at a level I had never see them reach.  I realized that the students were driving and I am just along for the ride.  You know what?  I enjoyed each and every minute of the trip! From the minute we started until the minute we stopped students were collaborating, creating, and taking control of their learning.  It was one of those moments when you really realize why you became an educator. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Over the course of the last two years I had the opportunity to be involved in PLP, first as part of a local team that developed a professional development plan for my school, and then as part of a cross-continental (Is that a word? Eh - even if it's not, I like it so I'm using it!) team whose work you have seen here.

Working with people from all areas of the continent is not an easy task. As I've mentioned before just simply trying to find a time that works for busy people in 3 different times zones was a monumental accomplishment. Once we found common times to talk and focus our project, then we all had to find the time to make the connections and put the wheels into motion in our classroom. As challenging as this was, I'm thrilled to have been a part, I look forward to the connections I have made with some amazing educators, and I'm especially grateful for the ways I have personally grown:

1. Last year when I started PLP, I liked using technology, I really wanted to use technology in my classroom, and I just had no idea where to start. Through my participation in PLP many of the things that were on my, "Man, I'd really like to do that!" list have been added to my, "Doing!" list. These things include blogging personally and for my class, having my students blog, having my students create a variety of projects, using Twitter for professional development, coaching other teachers online, and connecting with other educators and their classes using Skype.

2. I have become more transparent with my learning and my teaching. Through reflections on my blog, which have slowed down tremendously these last few months but will be back soon, I have been able to look closely at what is working in my classroom, what isn't working, and what I would like to do differently next time to make the learning experience more meaningful for my students.

3. I have tried to give my students more of a voice in their learning. I've always been a proponent of having my students choose projects to show their learning, but I never really gave them much voice in the actual learning piece. This year I allowed students to our curriculum by adding their own questions about the topic to our studies. While I am far away from actually flipping my classroom and giving the students full control of their learning every day, each project based learning activity gives me one more baby step of experience towards changing my classroom.

4. I've learned that when it comes to my students doing the same thing does not equal fair. I need to look at all of my students and adjust the way we do our projects to best meet their needs. With so many different and distinct learners, completing projects the same way for all students would just not provide everybody with the skills that they need to be successful when they move on from me. While I have always been one to differentiate for students, I've been doing more and more of that for all students not just for those students for whom it's required by law.

There are many other ways that I have grown as well, but these are the four big ones that specifically relate to our project. While all good things must come to an end, I'm hoping that this is not one of those things. I'm looking forward to continuing the partnerships I've established with the other teachers on my  this team next year so my new group of students can benefit from connecting with other classes from around the world!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Making Our Own Connections

It's not easy to get a group together to move forward on a project when everybody is a busy, busy teacher, and we are scattered across the continent. Professional schedules and personal lives mean that projects like this one, no matter how beneficial and positive we know they might be, often take a back burner to daily pressures that need to be taken care of RIGHT NOW!

Luckily for us, our group is pretty persistent. Everybody was able to check in and answer the questions on our project planning document. You can check out our thoughts here, and if you'd like please add your comments at the bottom.

We were finally able to make our own connection online last night to talk about where were were going with our essential question:

How can making global connections help me learn and grow in different ways?

We were focusing on specific things we could do to connect, when Jennifer brought up the word "mentoring" as she was speaking. Immediately that struck a chord with me, and it seemed to strike a chord with others, too. With teachers representing primary all the way up through high school and every subject area, we weren't sure if there would be one project or individual projects. But when mentoring came up, something clicked with our connection and the ideas were flowing:

Older students can mentor younger students.
Younger students can "teach" older students what they have learned.
We can be reading buddies.
Classes can write never-ending stories together.
Older students can teach and model good digital citizenship skills.
Whole classes can connect or small groups of students can connect.

These are just a few of the ideas we came up with during our chat, but really we all realized that the possibilities are endless!

Right now we have two pieces that we need to work on to continue moving forward. As teachers we are completing a "menu" showing which subjects we each feel we could incorporate connections. With our classes we're going to work on creating some sort of presentation to introduce our class to the others.

In addition to these two pieces we each need to decide how we're going to document the process, and we're also thinking about how our students could help us create a rubric to evaluate how the connections helped them learn.

Last night's discussion was really exciting. It showed me the power of connecting with others who have the same passion, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how our passion for this project will seep into our students.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

In the Planning Stages

Our first team Elluminate session got us well on our way to the beginnings of the project planning stages. After talking with our community leader and coach, Lani, we refined our essential question to be more student friendly. It now reads:

How can making global connections help me learn and grow in different ways?

After some positive comments during our last Year 2 Elluminate session we decided that it was really time to start thinking about what this whole project thing is really going to be all about. Sheryl has done a fabulous video about project/passion based learning, and that video helped us create some guiding questions for the team to answer in terms of what WE think about PBL and what it might look like when focused on our specific essential question. They include:

  • In which subjects do you see this project fitting into your curriculum?
  • What do our connections look like? (Ex: class to class, individual to individual, kids to kids, class to adult)
  • What does it look like to add the students’ voices to this?
  • What types of tools will we be using to make connections?
  • What will the schedule / timeline look like for completing this project? (Is it just one connection or are there many?)
  • Will we each create / contribute to the same product or will we each create something separately that meets the goal of the project?
  • How will the kids demonstrate the process (how they connected with others and what working together was like) and the product (something that shows what they have learned through the connections)?
  • How will we assess the process and the product? Which is more important? How can our assessment for this fit into the requirements for each of our progress reports / report cards?

Our team members are currently working on answering these questions from their own personal perspectives. We hope to meet again in Elluminate soon to discuss our responses. As people who are working on PBL units / working through this process, are you using guiding questions to help you develop your unit? We would love to see how other teams our working through this process and if / how your students are already involved in the work.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

First Elluminate Session

I also posted this in the PLP Community Hub

Last night, we held our first Elluminate Session as a team.  A big thank you to all of those who showed up and participated.  An even BIGGER thank you to Becky for being our leader and being the moderator and keeping the conversations moving!
For the group members that were not present Becky recorded the session in case you want to hear and see what was discussed. 

As a group we decided that we would create a better project if we focus our energy on one topic underneath the whole teacher/whole child.  The group decided that we would make the most impact under the connections category.
We also created our essential question (EQ) this is what we came up with: How can global connections help our students develop emotionally, physically, academically, and spiritually?
We discussed that: Connections that allow us to develop an understanding of the world using Web 2.0 tools. 
That was the majority of our meeting. The material we discussed is not set in stone, so for those of us that were not able to attend feel free to make comments and/or adjustment.  

We have not set a date for our next Elluminate session.  We look forward to your comments. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

What Does It Mean to Be Whole?

Our group started off with a bang by mapping out all of the different things we thought of when we heard the words Whole Teacher or Whole Child. After some rearranging and organizing, we came up with these Big Ideas:

I will admit that when I first signed up for this topic my brain automatically went to the Health / Well-Being group of ideas from the pictures above, and I was thinking that our focus would be more on incorporating active learning opportunities into our classrooms. But my teammates added so many more ideas that it really broadened my thinking about what it means to be whole.

As Maslow stated LONG ago, we have many needs that need to be met in order for humans, adults or children, to get to the point where they can do the kinds of thinking that we are now requiring in schools. While I was focusing on the lowest levels of those needs, The Physiological and Safety Needs, my teammates reminded me that there are other levels to being whole as well. Our group's placement of so many items around the theme of Connections shows how we can only be whole if our Social Needs are met. Esteem Needs are covered in the themes of Health / Well-Being, Creativity and Connections.

It looks like our group is on the right track. The activities and big themes that we are thinking about, when compared to Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs, seem to show how we can address the different pieces humans need in order to be a whole person. I suppose now the question is how do we take this and turn it into a PBL experience for us and our students.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Welcome to Our Space!

We are the Whole Teacher / Whole Child PBL (project based learning) team. Each of us is part of PLP, and we're working together across North America to create and implement a PBL unit in our classrooms. This space will help us be transparent with our learning and share what it's like to be connected and collaborating across the miles.

We're looking forward to sharing our work with you!