On Being Foolish

In A Whack on the Side of the Head, Roger von Oech recommends being foolish to stimulate creativity:

Look at the problem before you and say, “It’s not what everyone thinks it is,” and then give a different interpretation of what’s going on. Deny that the problem even exists, or maybe solve a different one. Doubt the things that others take for granted. Ridicule your basic assumptions. Expect the unexpected. Ask the stupid question that nobody else seems to be asking. Do whatever you can to shatter the established way of looking at things. You’ll find that it will stimulate your creative juices.

Where in school is there room for this kind of thinking? It won’t help kids on standardized tests. It might lower their grade on an assignment. Some teachers might feel disrespected or irritated.

It also might lead to new understandings of content and life. Students and teachers might come up with imaginative solutions to problems. As a side effect students might not be bored and might find school fun and relevant.

What does PBL look like in U.S. History?

I team teach American Studies, an integrated class of U.S. History and 10th grade ELA in a full time PBL environment. We have a daily, two hour block and students get two credits for it. This past year was our third year of this class. I often get asked about scope and sequence of the class. So I made a table overview of our class projects to give other teachers ideas of how to teach a thematic, PBL social studies class.

This is not meant to give out every detail of the projects, but rather to give ideas of themes, DQ’s, products, and audiences that others can adapt to their own local situation. I have also included some links to blogposts and other resources about certain projects. This is also my projects from last year only. My projects for next year will have some repetition and some new ones. I like to keep projects that go well and especially ones with good community partnerships. But I don’t like to keep everything the same as that gets boring for both me and students. Also the students change every year and there needs to be voice and choice each year.

Questions? PBL Consulting?  I can be found at my blog michaelkaechele.com or@mikekaechele onTwitter.

How to build a PBL Culture

Creating a great culture in a school is no accident. The key is to build a community of trust, respect, and responsibility among teachers and students. Relationships matter. Without strong relationships, there can be no community.

There are also intentional activities that can be planned to help build school community at the beginning of the year. This is especially important if this will be your students first experience with PBL. I recommend not starting the year off with a PBL project or class content, but instead with activities to build community and expose students to the PBL process. Simple, mini projects that teach the structure of PBL help expose students to how PBL works. Then when you start your first project students won’t be confused by the process and the lingo and can focus on the content.

I created this document to share activities that have worked for my school at the beginning of the school year to create culture and introduce the PBL process.

Questions? PBL Consulting?  I can be found at my blog michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele onTwitter.

 

Buck Institute for Education National Faculty

This post is totally selfish and self promoting. Skip it if that offends you :)

I am excited to officially be a National Faculty member of BIE. BIE is a leader in professional development of Project Based Learning and I will be doing PBL 101 workshops for them in the summer. I am excited by this opportunity especially since it is part time and I will remain doing my true love-teaching in the classroom.

I also am available as a consultant for workshops on various topics ranging from PBL, Standards Based Grading, inquiry and student centered curriculum, and more. You can leave a comment or reach me on my contact page.

 

 

10 Expectations that Students have of Schools

I like this short video 10 Expectations. It is what students should expect of schools and PBL meets these expectations very nicely.

When Students Take Over

My students made a video to document how they took over the Water Project last year.

Visionary Vagueness

Structures to "protect" us.

Structures to “protect” us.

Schools are overwhelmed with structures. Almost all of them are limiting. Don’t go off script. You have to implement this curriculum or policy. All students must… Bell schedule, hallway passes, class periods, subjects, graduation requirements, AYP, school improvement plans, … 

Most schools have layer upon layer of structures related to classroom management, behavior, standards, curriculum, assessment, and more. Almost everything structurally about school is designed to control either teacher, student or both.

My friend Kiffany Lychock uses the term “visionary vagueness.” This is the idea that there needs to be space in institutions for great change to happen. Leadership at all levels needs to give people the freedom to experiment with ideas, new and old. So how to “structure” visionary vagueness?

PBL is one of the few structures that allows for creativity, teacher judgment, and freedom for both teacher and student. It respects teachers as professional designers of student centered learning and students as agents of their own learning. Some people think student centered learning is a “free for all” but that is not the case. At the other extreme some people may think that all structure is limiting. PBL destroys both of these misnomers. It provides structure and freedom at the same time.

PBL is a structure that gives freedom for people to be innovative and student centered. PBL lets people think structurally about innovation and changing schools.

If you are interested in learning more about the PBL process, please drop me a note on my contact page about my PBL workshops.

Comparison Kills

comparison.001

Comparison slide

This past week we went to WMCAT, a local arts center and students worked on final art pieces to related to gender equality and women’s rights. One of the options that students could do was fiber art and sewing. I was very impressed with one of the boys who broke the gender stereotype and was excellent at sewing. I checked in on a new fiber art group the next day and asked “who is the best sewer?”

Appropriately, the girl identified by her classmates as the best responded with the above quote, adapted from Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is the killer of joy.”

It was a new quote for me and definitely got me thinking about how often we do this in schools…

Which is worse?

Which is worse?

  • Reading below grade level or living below the poverty level?
  • Achievement gaps or gaps in healthcare?
  • Failing M-Step (substitute your state test here) or failing to get enough food to eat?
  • Institutions without structured curriculum or institutional racism re-enforcing structural poverty?
  • Children who don’t know their math facts or homeless children who don’t know where they are sleeping tonight?
  • Kids who break the dress code or kids who are broken from domestic abuse?
  • Students who aren’t engaged in class or students whose families are stuck in the lowest class.
  • Kids who aren’t exposed to “rigorous” learning or kids who are exposed to drugs and crime in their neighborhood.
  • Students who don’t memorize the right answers or students whose civil rights are violated.
Photo by Urbanfeel https://www.flickr.com/photos/30003006@N00/3538568443

Photo by Urbanfeel https://www.flickr.com/photos/30003006@N00/3538568443

Should we start firing social workers to hold them accountable because of all of the domestic problems in this country?

Should we cut national funding to cities who have segregated neighborhoods with high poverty, drugs and crime?

Should we privatize police forces in areas with high crime rates to save money and give communities “choices?”

The United States is a world leader in child poverty. Maybe instead of all of the time, energy, and money spent by politicians on testing to blame schools and teachers they should try to spend some money actually helping the families of our poorest children.

But that would require a change in mindset to admit that our system isn’t perfect and is designed for those at the top to remain there. It would require admitting that people don’t choose to be poor. It would require empathy and compassion.

Maybe education alone can’t solve all of our problems.

How do we move to student centered learning?

Yong Zhao wrote an incredible, research based piece arguing the way that schools should be. It is a lengthy piece but you should read it in its entirety right now! No really, go do it.

Now that you have finished I want to respond to his recommendations at the end with some questions. I want to make it clear that my questions do not come from a perspective of disagreement, but rather that I find his writing to be a strong theoretical argument that I agree with. My questions come as a practicing teacher wondering how to implement his recommendations and from the challenges that I see in my classroom. Although I am a skeptical person, these questions are in the spirit of how to make this shift happen on the ground level.

My main question is how do we structure this kind of learning environment? I am going to explore this from two perspectives. First from an elementary point of view and next from middle and high school.

If we start students out in a school that is entirely student driven than I think it could work naturally. Students would never be “poisoned” by motivation killing things like forced AR reading logs, boring worksheets, and other adult proscribed manipulation. I do believe that humans are naturally curious and enjoy learning things that they choose to learn.

I truly can see this approach working and I believe that it has been done in systems such as Montessori and Reggio Emilia schools.

Developmentally students change in middle and high school and I have harder questions about Yao’s approach there. First of all, if students were in this kind of environment their whole lives and never experienced “traditional,” controlled schooling than maybe it would keep working for all students. I never seen this in action, so I don’t know. Part of being a teenager is finding one’s identity and I wonder if “fighting” against schooling would happen for some children no matter what the environment?

In my PBL school we have lots of voice and choice (but not the level of freedom that Zhao recommends of no classes or curriculum. We still teach to the standards). I see some students thrive when given the chance to explore their passions in class. I see other students whose default choice is to hang out and not do much when given the opportunity. They would rather play games, watch videos, or text/talk to their friends.

How do we handle this in Zhao’s recommendations? Do we allow students to “detox” from being forced to learn for a period of time? (this question deserves its own post). Is this a result of years of boredom in schooling that had no purpose to them personally? How do we shift students from a traditional, adult controlled model to a student centered one? How do we deal with students with little motivation? How do we deal with students who have personal and family issues that are much more important and often overwhelming to them than anything at school?

I would love to see a follow up to this theory piece dealing with how we should structure, if at all, student centered learning and how to successfully shift classrooms to it.