Category Archives: student centered

Do you trust students?

I have been trying to be authentic to my beliefs about learning. Hence the students are working on projects of their own design around the Vietnam War and the Cold War. My one class has five groups of 2-5 students each building a Tumblr feed, making a game, writing a children’s book, creating a rap video, and filming a documentary.

The other half of the class (about 20 students) is working together to make a Choose Your own Adventure style videos on YouTube. This is a very mixed group with students who have previously performed well and struggled in my class. Let me just say that they have blown me away. First of all a couple of them took charge and organized the group’s research assigning everyone a topic which they then decided to make into a timeline.

Next on the whiteboard they started mapping out the paths of the “choices” in the video.

Later they divided into roles as writers, directors, actors, artists, props, editors, and computer designers for special effects. We are putting an addition on our school for next year and the construction workers put up a temporary wall as they literally tore off the outside wall over holiday break. What opportunity did students see with this wall?

A place to draw scenes for their videos.

Even after being so impressed with their efforts I saw some of them shooting some scenes outside. I watched them for a few minutes. They were not in costume. They were not organized. The video camera was sitting to the side on a stand. They weren’t even using it!

They were obviously not using their time wisely. I went outside to redirect and Jake told me that he was using his phone since it had an app that added some special effects. I said ok and went back inside.

I guess I forgot about that part of the conversation because I started class the next day by complimenting them on their organization, their creativity, and their efforts. Then with the memory of them running around in a field yesterday, I gently reminded them to focus on the quality of their video. I told them their “process” of learning was great, but that all people would see would be their end product: the videos.

They quickly assured me that they were taking steps to address this including some costumes and props. A few minutes later they were begging me to come watch their movie trailer.

Once again they showed great things in what they were doing. I have blogged alot about giving students a chance to own their learning and they will do great things. The truth is that this project has been very hard for me for fear that the students will “fail” and not learn anything. It has not been easy to give up control.

My teacher eyes see kids running around in a field and I momentarily lose my trust in their efforts. Then they show me what they are doing and prove that they deserve it.

Letting go as a teacher is so hard…

How to win a war.

Last week I lost a war. This week I was determined to do better. The first thing I did this weekend was to actually complete the Venn Diagram assignment myself. I realized many weaknesses of it including poor design and poor choice of texts. I should have created structure before the assignment to help them understand the texts before asking them to compare them. The Library of Congress also did not really address the topics in the way that I wanted. 

So Monday morning I apologized again for the assignment and told students I was not grading it. I explained my intentions and goals of what I had hoped to accomplish and acknowledged how the assignment failed in its execution. I introduced a new challenging read related to the essential questions, but in this task did not ask them to do anything extra with the text, just understand it.

The rest of the week students chose a part of the story of the Spanish American War to tell and started developing materials for their videos. Students like this better, but it would be a stretch to say that very many of them are excited about the project.

Your Choice from marfis75

My larger solution is coming at the end of the project. We are planning the next project on the Cold War. I created a Project Briefcase with the standards and the topics of emphasis: McCarthyism  Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam. My temporary Driving Question is “How do you all want to study this?”

I have not planned how we will do this project, the audience, or what our final product will be. There will be no fancy entry event. Students are going to help design this project from day one on what they want it to be. I have given lip-service to this idea before but it is time to put my money where my mouth is: student designed projects. #winning

The one thing that we are planning for this project is a detailed simulation of the Cuban Missile Crisis. We feel this is worthwhile because the students have asked us multiple times including last week to do more simulations. Also it is taking a ton of time to research and set up on our part so there is no way that we can wait to start putting it together.

We are looking at this next project as a pilot for turning over our entire curriculum to the students. We have some concerns but it is time for students to take control of their own learning.

Student Designed Curriculum

Piles of sorted standards

Last year was my first year at a new PBL high school. Before school started I created a year-long scope and sequence of what topics our projects would be and what the final products would be. The projects gradually went from very specific teacher designed to more open ended ones. I included lots of student choice along the way and ended the year with open ended products such as our art fair.

I knew from the beginning of last year that I would be teaching the same students for two years moving up with them for this year. One of my goals was after students understood the PBL process to invite them to help me design projects. So at the end of the year I asked for volunteers and got around 10 per class (out of 50 students).

We set aside a time to meet during work time at the end of last year and I showed them a list of this year’s state standards. I had the standards all cut out into strips and asked students to sort them by topic which they had fun with. Then we spent another hour talking about project ideas, products, and authentic audiences.

So this year I have a very general scope and sequence based on the students suggestions. I have specifically designed the first three projects (the first one is not really a project, but a review technique that deserves a separate post, the second is the #MYparty election project which had to be planned since it is being implemented around the country, and the third is a more open-ended one on 9/11) but the rest of my year is fairly wide open.

I plan to continue to gauge student interests and get their help in planning the rest of the year as far as project ideas, driving questions, products, and authentic audience. Once again I do not want to limit students’ motivation, interests, or creativity by imposing all of my ideas on them. I am excited by the unknown paths that students and I will discover together this year. I truly believe that this is the most important part of any good curriculum: allowing it to be student-designed and focused.

I leave you with a quote from Postman and Weingartner “Unless an inquiry is perceived as relevant by the learner, no significant learning will take place.”

"I don’t know either"

Today I think we had a breakthrough in one of my classes. We are about a week into our PBL unit on genocide. I changed up the driving question from “Why do people hate?” to “Why do people tolerate hate?” I really want students to focus on the lack of action by the world to stop genocide in the last century and move them to DO SOMETHING about it.

South Sudan Slaves

We started off the first day with one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan as a guest who shared his story with us. The next day we talked about the scandal at Penn State and how no one intervened to help the victims. Then I introduced the driving question and we looked at this slideshow and students generated their own essential questions in groups. I told students that they would make mini-documentaries as their final product but it was going to be up to them to decide on what to do with them and to find their audience.

We spent the next few days researching. I got some pushback from some students that they did not know what “to do.” So against my goals of student-centered approach I created a template (again) to help guide them in their research.

But… we talked about my goals and purpose of the class moving from teacher directed and centered to student-centered. I told them that worksheets are the opposite of creativity.

One of my students spoke up and said that the problem was not with the research but that they did not know what their videos are supposed to look like.

I paused and responded, “I don’t know either.”

You should have seen the look on their faces. I mean how can the teacher not know what he wants for the final project.

I told them if I told them what I wanted that is exactly what they would do. But I wanted them to be creative and come up with their own ideas. I wanted them to make a video with a message for the world, not for me. Slowly I could see the lights go one. I think we turned a corner in class today. I think they are starting to understand what this class can be like if they take control and guide it instead of me….

To be continued…

How Should I Not Plan My Class?

This short post by Shelly Blake Plock has been on my mind since school let out. How can I not plan my class better? It ties into the post about Girls in Technology too. I want to make my class more student-centered and problem-based. I already teach the majority of my class as problem-based, but currently I create the problems for the students. I am thinking of ways to get students involved in creating the problems themselves.

Problems are supplies, unmotivated students,