Tag Archives: Project Based Learning

Maslow while you Bloom

This fall everyone seems to be worried about “starting the year with SEL” before launching into their content or “Maslow before Bloom.” There is a renewed effort to make sure that teachers are developing relationships and connecting with their students. Teachers are working hard to figure out how to successfully build class culture in an online environment that can feel isolated. So many have used creative strategies to make this happen.

I am in full support of all of this effort because I believe strongly in the power of culture in the classroom. Yet I think that there are some misconceptions, particularly around what it means to focus and teach SEL.

Not either/or

What does the “A” in CASEL stand for? I’ll wait while you look it up.

The research is clear that SEL competencies are best learned integrated throughout the day, not as a separate activity or class.

SEL is meant to be taught infused with meaningful content. So teachers don’t need to compromise on content. SEL should be embedded into everything in the classroom. You can teach SEL skills and content at the same time. You can Maslow while you Bloom.

Students who develop strong SEL competencies will be more successful academically. These are the skills that employers are looking for, and that society needs to solve global and local issues with empathy and love. They will make students more successful learners and better humans.

Not SEL

Not sure everyone understands what SEL actually means. What many people are really starting off the school year with is building relationships and being aware of students’ emotional states. Teachers are noticing the moods of students and being responsive to the trauma students may be experiencing due to Covid, racial inequality, poverty, or remote learning in general. While this is important work that teachers should be doing now (and always), it is not the same as teaching SEL competencies.

When looking at the actual list of SEL competencies, you will notice that they go way beyond checking in on your students emotional well-being. That is a great starting point, but SEL encompasses so much more. The competency are a complex set of tools students need for academic and social progress.

Not one week

Developing SEL skills in our students is not something that can be relegated to the first week of school and then checked off as done. It is something that must be prioritized for the entire school year. If you do meaningful activities to build relationships the first week and then week two shift into traditional, teacher dominated lessons focused entirely on content for the rest of the year, then that first week seems disingenuous.

  • If you only work on building relationships week one and then emphasize content, then how will students develop Self-Awareness of who they are?
  • If students are consistently passive listeners and never discuss your content in meaningful ways, then how will they forge Relationships Skills with each other?
  • If students only watch lectures, fill out worksheets, and take traditional tests, then how will students sharpen Social Awareness by applying content to their world?
  • If students only work through your lessons with no choices, then how will they build Self-Management by completing a project?
  • If students only read the chapter and take notes, then how will they exercise Responsible Decision Making through inquiry of their questions about your class?

Relationships and community building take time. It can’t be “accomplished” the first week and then moved on. The first week should set the tone for what your class will be like for the rest of the year, not some kind of one-off fun time before “real” learning begins.

We need to intentionally teach, practice, and assess the SEL competencies all year long. This won’t happen unless teachers make it an intentional part of their lesson planning. When you start each unit or project, choose one SEL competency or sub-competency that you will focus on developing in your students. Explain to them what it means and how they will be practicing the skill during the unit. Have students reflect on the competency and how they are using it throughout the project. Only by intentionality will all students see substantial growth in SEL skills.

Maslow while you Bloom means daily checkins on the emotional state of all of your students while expecting them to engage in content at a deep level. Teaching SEL means daily emphasizing student growth in the competencies using inquiry structures such as PBL while learning standards applied in authentic ways. SEL isn’t for the first week of school, it’s the reason that we do school at all!

Let’s Connect

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

5 Social Distancing Group Work Strategies

Many teachers and students have or are returning to face-to-face classrooms with Covid social distancing rules in effect. Wearing a face mask, staying six feet apart, and not sharing materials makes group work and collaboration seem impossible. But there are ways to use technology and our space to still have social interactions and use groups to achieve tasks including Project Based Learning.

Here are 5 suggestions to make that happen. (Sidenote: many of these strategies will also work for online distance learning.) See which ones might work for you:

1. Go outside

One of the simplest ways to social distance is to go into a larger space than the typical classroom. This way students can maintain proper social distancing but still talk to each other. Some schools are using the lines of a parking lot to measure that partners are far enough apart. As a bonus, we know that the virus spreads more inside, so taking kids outside is healthy too.

Teachers can still use talking circles by making them larger. Have student “pass” around an invisible talking stick by pretending to throw and catch it. While outside, students can talk louder so all can hear without disturbing other classes in the building.

If you plan to use outdoor spaces frequently inform students and parents with suggestions that they bring a yoga mat or towel to sit on, plenty of water, and sunscreen or hats. You will also need a backup plan for days when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

I realize that not everyone has this option due to climate, size of school grounds, safety concerns, or even school policies. A compromise would be to move your class to a larger space inside (if available) like a gym, cafeteria, or common space. Other options to consider are getting rid of your teacher desk and having student groups work in the hall. We need to be as creative as possible about where class takes place.

2. Collaborative Technology

For schools that are entirely virtual, technology is how students are working together. If you are teaching in person then use the same tools for collaboration. The Google suite of tools including Classroom, Docs, Slides, Sheets, Forms, Drawings, and Jamboard offer a myriad of options for kids to work on the same things while physically distant. Apple and Microsoft offer similar tools. Students can work in “groups” collaboratively online while sitting six feet or six hundred miles apart.

Another online tool to consider is Padlet, which allows for easily collecting of sticky notes from students. Think exit tickets or answers to a warmup question. But students can also use it in groups for brainstorming or tracking project process. Google Jamboard has much of the same capabilities.

Upper elementary and secondary students can silently communicate in a document. GDocs has commenting and a built-in chat feature. Students are used to texting so communicating this way is natural for them. Organize group discussions by posting a question in a Doc and having the conversation through writing. You could project it on the board for all to see. It may be awkward at first so try it out with a fun topic before diving into content. One trick that I use in group writing is to have each student write in a different font color to assess individually.

3. Protocols

Many of the protocols that we have used in the past can be adapted to social distancing. You can still use PBL protocols of Need to Knows, 4 corners, gallery walk, and the tuning protocol. Start off Need to Knows individually by listing in a journal or on scrap paper. Next the entire class shares in a GDoc. Finally have a whole room conversation while the teacher writes the top 10-15 on the board or butcher paper.

If you go outside or to a larger space, you can still have students go to 4 corners while maintaining distance. Gallery Walks can be spaced out in hallways or on outside walls of your building. Have students stand by their poster and rotate every 3 minutes in an organized fashion. The tuning protocol can be done via video with a tool such as Flipgrid or socially distanced outside. Another alternative would be to silently look at each other’s work online and leave written comments.

Harvard Project Zero has many Visible Thinking Routines. There are Visible Thinking Routines based on analyzing ideas, working with others, and for engaging in actions. I have created free online templates for many of them that can be used in person or remotely. Almost any protocol can be adjusted for social distancing with the help of moving to a larger space or using online templates.

4. Scrum boards

One of my favorite methods to coach students to manage their groups is scrum boards. Adapted from the business world, they are a project management tool to keep a team and the project on track. The basic form sorts tasks into three columns: to do, doing, and done. In the past teachers have used sticky notes and posters or bulletin boards to create them.

During social distancing use my GDoc student scrum board template or a business tool such as Trello to have students organize their project process online. Make sure that each group shares their scrum board with you to allow monitoring and to use it for conferencing conversations.

5. Video conferencing

Students and teachers working remotely are making extensive use of Google Meet, Zoom, Skype, or Microsoft Teams to collaborate. You can use video conferencing even when students are in the same room. Have every student bring in their own headphones or earbuds to keep the nose down.

Use random breakout rooms to have small group discussions about literature, articles, and classroom content. Combine it with a protocol to have proof of learning for assessment. Use fixed breakout rooms for project work time so that teammates can discuss their process as they work, even if they are not sitting right next to each other.

Most schools will not allow visitors, including parents. Use video conferencing to bring in guest speakers or content experts. Visitors can speak to the whole class via a projector or coach small groups on their projects in a breakout room. Due to Covid, many adults actually have more flexibility in their schedule to make a video visit than when they were working at the office.

Social distancing brings many challenges. Don’t try to implement all of these ideas at once, but pick one or two protocols and online tools to use extensively and slowly add others as needed when students are comfortable.

Let’s Connect

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