7 Remote Entry Events

This is the first of a series of posts about what Project Based Learning infused with Social and Emotional Learning looks like when teaching remotely. Is it the ideal situation? Probably not, but it is the reality that many of us are dealing with. I will share my ideas and what others are doing to hopefully inspire you to action.

Entry Events

Every project should begin with an entry event to prime the learner’s pump. We want to activate the prior learning inside of our students to launch the project. We also want to get kids excited about the topic that we are about to study. Entry events are a “hook” to the content that is coming and preemptively answer the age-old student complaint, “Why do we have to learn this?”

A good entry event captures both heads and hearts. An interesting problem creates cognitive dissonance while an empathetic situation generates an emotional perspective to the issue at hand. Different students will react more strongly to each, so including both engages more students into the project. Finally, the entry event should connect the content to the community and the final product.

One of my favorite entry event videos is posted below. Watch, laugh, and enjoy the plot twist. But then ask yourself, “What is the final product and community connection?”

Hopefully these teachers did more than just this simulation, but also tied this into a larger purpose. Sometimes rather than being a single experience, entry events are multiple activities that build upon each other to a culminating call to action.

Historically, by which I mean before Covid, entry events included things like simulations, inspiring videos, field work, guest speakers, a controversial article, open-ended science experiments, or a puzzling problem. Many of the best entry events require interactions between student and the community. So how can you launch an engaging project online? Here’s some ideas to consider:

Videos with Back Channel Discussion

Obviously, videos still work in remote learning, but just dropping a video into your LMS feed for students to watch whenever they feel like it, isn’t going to cut it. Make it an event. Schedule a time to watch the video together in live time. Have students active in a chat reacting to it as they watch. Show multiple short videos around a theme. Use videos from various platforms like TicTok, news clips, interviews, or science clips, not just movies or YouTube. Share videos of diverse people reacting to your topic to give them multiple perspectives.

It is important to set the stage. If you just show a video without any background, students may not react much. Instead hype it up by telling students we about to launch a huge project to set up the video before viewing it. Your enthusiasm toward the project launch goes a long way in selling the value of what you are about to embark on.

Video Conference Guests

Many teachers are using video conferencing to invite in guest speakers. One benefit of social distancing is that many adults are working from home and it is actually easier for them to commit to sharing with your class. They don’t need to take time off from their job or travel, but can easily join you for a few minutes.

Guest speakers don’t need to be national scientists or famous leaders. Your local healthcare worker or government official are more accessible and connect the project to your local community. Having trouble finding someone? Ask your students’ parents to contribute personally or if they have a connection in the field related to your project. Many teachers are uncomfortable with networking, but reaching out is a risk worth taking to move your project to the next level.

Virtual Field Trips

I don’t think anyone is scheduling field trips this year. The risks and safety protocols are too big of an obstacle. I prefer the term, field work, which implies that there is a purpose and task to be completed related to the project. But in lieu of physical trips there are hundreds of online options from virtual museums, webcams, or other virtual trips such as Google Expeditions.

Teacher Field Work

Another option is to do the field work yourself. My friend, Sarah Smith and her team go on a trip themselves, interview people, collect data and information for the project. They record their field work and edit it to present to students the information. Is this better than students doing it? No, but it is better than no trip at all. Personally I love this idea!

Home Field Work

Field work can be done at home. Tell students to go outside and collect bugs, leaves, water samples, or whatever else that you are studying. Have them observe patterns in their neighborhood or at the store (if they go). Assign data collection of how much time they sleep, read, exercise, and are online. This kind of field work is personal and relevant. Bonus: you can get them off from their devices and active.

Interviews

We may not be gathering with loved ones over the holidays as the virus is spiking, but a phone call or video conference with family members is a great opportunity to interview them to get their perspective on a historical event, current event, or cultural viewpoints. Tying content into family history is a powerful way to make it relevant. When students share different viewpoints with each other they can learn to appreciate other perspectives.

Virtual Simulations

Run a virtual experiment or record yourself in a science lab. Use a popular game like Minecraft or Among Us as the launching point. Ask students to design their own (safe!) experiments at home with adult supervision. Have them investigate scientific phenomenon themselves.

No matter what option or combination of options, you choose, an engaging entry event is critical for student buy-in to the project. Few of us consider remote learning ideal, but we can still engage students in relevant work with a little creative thinking.

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL workshops or consulting?  Connect with me at  michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele.

PBL and SEL through Elections

We just finished (at least I think it’s finally over) the presidential election in the United States. No matter what your political leanings, I think that we all could agree that the process in the United States could use some updating (abolish the electoral college anyone?). The amount of money spent on the campaigns this year was around 14 billion dollars, approximately double the amount from 4 years ago. I am sure that money could have been used for something more positive. And in the end we are left with politicians from two parties who seem more interested in preserving themselves than serving the American people. There must be a better way.

American politics is a great launching place for a PBL project focused on “How should we choose our leaders?” From the election process to the appointment of federal judges, there are many things for students to explore. Elections are a rich and relevant topic (I have long been interested in Elections and PBL).

I believe most students Americans have little understanding of how other democracies and elections function around the world and a comparative analysis could lead to students contemplating other options.

One such choice is sortition, the use of random selection in politics. What if we used a lottery to pick all of our political leaders? What if “regular” people ran the government instead of people with allegiances to a party and lobbyists? What might that look like? I can guarantee that we would have more women and minorities represented. Sortition is already used in the random selection of jurists for trials.

Malcolm Gladwell explores sortition in his podcast, Revisionist History The Powerball Revolution. I highly recommend giving it a listen. It turns out that research shows that humans are pretty horrible at choosing good leaders and that a lottery would give opportunity to people who would never enter politics because of the campaign process. Actually being a successful leader is a different skillset from winning a campaign.

Now I am not naive enough to think that we are going to shift from elections to lotteries at the state or federal level in this country. Our history and constitution make it virtually impossible. But what about testing the idea by using a lottery for student council selection in schools? This is what Adam Cronkright has implemented with schools in Bolivia. He facilitates a lottery where anyone who wants to participate is welcome and the winners are selected by chance. Then he helps these students work together to address issues of their choosing.

Democracy In Practice from Democracy In Practice on Vimeo.

What Cronkright has found is that a much wider group of students will participate in a lottery vs. a campaign. More importantly, even as the randomly chosen council begins meeting, he is unable to predict who will end up being the most valuable leaders from the start. His initial instincts are almost always wrong. The students that impress early because of their public speaking skills, often fall by the wayside as shy, quiet students gain confidence and take over in positive ways.

The end result is that students develop many SEL skills starting with self awareness but leading to social awareness and responsible decision making.

Throughout the process, Cronkright and his colleagues coach all students to be successful members of the student council. These students tend to problem solve more substantial issues in their schools, rather than just planning social events. Students improve their communication skills and learn how to negotiate compromises with each other. The variety of the types of students represented leads to a more democratic ideal. Students decide which concerns are most pressing, hear various viewpoints, work out collaborative solutions, and organize to implement them.

The student council is replaced yearly with a new lottery so a wider number of students are engaged in civic work, leading to future citizens who recognize the importance of civic engagement and are not afraid to do it themselves. I highly encourage you to learn more about this process in the links below and to try it out at your elementary, middle, or high school. It is never too early to develop SEL skills and a civic mindset in our students!

Further Research Sites:

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL workshops or consulting?  Connect with me at  michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele.