Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What did I get myself into?!?

So, just kicked off major project #2 today with ANOTHER group of kids. What on Earth was I thinking? (Ha.... what on EARTH.... I launched a project about other planets today!) My stress level: 11.5. WHat did I get myself into?! I haven't even finished one project successfully (though we are successfully through 40% of it!), and I start another one.... with an even LARGER group of kids.

Okay, so let's calm down here for a minute.... I've been trained. I've got resources. I've got a great support team. Stress Level: 9.0 getting better.

Update on Cyrano: Students are having a hard time turning things in. I've determined that with mastery-based grading, students don't feel the pressure to turn in the work on time. They say "oh I can do it again" or "what will happen if I don't?" There is a severe lack of intrinsic motivation. This is incredibly frustrating in general, but even more so because I spent time helping them to make connections to the book so that it would feel more relevant to them. Isn't that what PBL is all about? Teaching students how to take their interests and learn how to master 21st Century skills in a productive work-simulated environment? I thought so...

Anyway, back to the update. Students are working on analyzing the second act and completing a character analysis of Cyrano along with it. Many of the students have chosen to take on the artistic aspect with their character analysis and are creating collages or caricatures of Cyrano. I'm trying to emphasize with them that they simply cannot create large noses for Cyrano, because that does not fully describe him as a person. Walking around and discussing with students today: most of them don't have their playlists done, nor do they have their Act 2 Analysis done, and now they have the Character Analysis to do... A busy week a head for these hooligans, especially since we are starting Act 3 tomorrow!

On to the new project: Life on Planet X! I found the inspiration for this project from the book: Teaching Beyond the Test. If you are having trouble finding a way to jump into PBL, I strongly suggest this book. It has great ideas that are laid out for you including strategies for scaffolding projects and extending them to include other subject areas (perhaps have a colleague help you more fully develop some of these ideas, that's what I've done!). I had our lead Science teacher help me to better format this project for our students, as he hates using anything pre-made, and we had our kick-off today. We watched an awesome video clip and had a semi-productive discussion surrounding it. We are working this project with 30+ kids (instead of the usual 12-14), so we shall see how that impacts learning!

Students will be selecting their planets on Thursday and will then begin to develop a sustainable ecosystem on the planet: including creating organisms and defending their choices based on the environment of the planet. Students will be focusing on the study of  Energy Transfer and Ecosystems with this project. With any luck, we'll finish just before the Project Gala in December.

Stress Level: 7. Feeling like I can accomplish the day. Just need to remember to keep at it and that we aren't alone in our fight to reform education.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Entering the Battlefield: Classic to Contemporary Culture

Today, I finished my entry event for the Cyrano's Funk project I am implementing in my colleague's classroom. Based on my own thoughts, and having discussed the project with the hosting teacher, I've come to believe that this went over well with the students; perhaps not for the content of the project, but for the structure. Students at our school were more or less thrown into PBL, as were us teachers; and everyone has been in survival mode since. Let's break down my seeming success a bit....

"In general, how effective was the Entry Event in terms of student excitement and your delivery? Would you do anything differently next time"

For the Entry Event, I used the project packet as a guide, rather than as a script; so I was free to interpret it a bit more and make it more relevant to my students. I took into consideration the students that I would be working with, and discussed some of their interests with them ahead of time to try to reach as many of them as possible. We talked about their likes/dislikes as well as their interests in pop culture. With this information, I was able to come up with a rather large powerpoint that reached my students through some of their favorite facets: Funny Clips-Tosh.0; teen movies; music videos/song writing. While I knew that a powerpoint in general is not necessarily the most engaging, it was the medium I was most comfortable with using and I did not want my inability to use a technology to hinder my students' interest in the project. So, I made the best powerpoint that I could, using the information I was given from them.

Instead of just having students search Shakespeare on Twitter, I created a powerpoint that included short videos (a rap battle between Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss) and had students analyze how the characters were represented (without their names having been said or seen in the video via "Who is this character? How did you know?"). After that hooked the students in to caring a little more about Shakespeare and authors in general, we went through some of their famous movies and as they would shout out the name, I would shoot them down. For example, when looking at one movie poster a student said "10 Things I Hate About You," to which I quickly changed the slide and said "No. Taming of the Shrew". This went on with a whole series of their favorite movies and lead to a brief discussion on how all current movies and themes draw from classic inspiration. Many were surprised that "The Lion King" was really "Hamlet". We also discussed some of their favorite musical artists and pulled out lyrics that were drawn from classic literature, ending with the ever-popular "Love Story" by Taylor Swift.

Students seemed excited by this and almost challenged to come up with their own original work and prove to me that there were plots and story lines that had not already been created. I felt excited that they wanted to prove me wrong, because it showed they were starting to care about the event--and possibly the project!

Many of my students were able to make deep connections to the discussion on themes throughout time. They were able to draw on their own experiences currently (especially loss, friendship and grief as many of them have just suffered through losing a dear friend), and find connections to movies, songs and writing from classic to contemporary. Students took this a step further when we did the social media exploration and were able to see that they were not alone in their feelings. Students were able to use these common themes/feelings as a springboard to open up and have discussions with students they had previously not had much experience working with; which is helping to build a community inside of the classroom.

In enacting this entry event, I think I would make changes to the groupings that I did. I simply counted off students as a way to get them to work with people they previously had not. However, I feel that this hindered some of the discussions that could have happend early in the process. The next time I implement this (as has already been requested by other teachers!), I would consider letting students choose a partner and then squaring off the partners with a new crowd. I think that this would give the students some support and confidence in speaking with their group, as they already know someone else feels similarly; which could help engender more thoughtful discussion.

"Were you satisfied with how you led the creation of the Need to Know List? Were you able to get the students to ask good, valid questions?"

This portion of the entry was absolutely my downfall. I've run Need to Know lists with students before, but always on a topic I was more familiar with. Not all students that were asked made the need to know list, as they were things answered directly on the spot (i.e. Do we need to dress up?). However, I think my students were able to come up with a list that helped them identify their shortcomings and how to serve them, as well as their interests.

My students struggle with reading decoding and comprehension and were inquiring about the style of the writing and if they were allowed to use Spark Notes. I've determined that they are allowed to use them independently to help them process their understanding of the play, but that we will be reading the true script together (and acting it out!) in class. This class is full of students who are very boisterous and will benefit from being able to enact what they read. Many of them are very excited about the ability to perform.

I was not surprised that the students did not ask me much in terms of English content involved (What is a theme? How do we identify a theme? etc), based on the discussions we had had earlier in class on identifying common themes through various media throughout time.

Overall, I wish I had known more about the play and had attempted the project before I did the N2K with my students as I think that would have better prepared me for helping to prod them for questions. I'm also, by trade, a mathematics teacher, so while I'm good at helping students to make mathematical connections and come up with questions, I clearly faltered in the English curriculum. When I do this again, I will be meeting with our English department chair to discuss questions that students will address through the projects and methods of getting students to ask these questions themselves.

"Did the students' questions adequately link to the content knowledge, skills and process required for the project?"

Again, having had good discussions earlier, I was not surprised that I did not have to adress any content knowledge questions with the class. However, I plan on going over various literary elements that they need to be on the look out for before each reading period. Students certainly adressed their individual skills, or lack of skills, when inquiring about the ability to use SparkNotes to help comprehend the text, as well as asking the the writing style that the text is done in. I was impressed with their ability to see their own weaknesses and ask ways to empower themselves throughout the project. Process questions were not directly adressed through the N2K process, however students did ask about the ability to work with partners and the types of mediums they could do their projects through. This information, however, was adressed through the powerpoint that the student went through with me.

Overall, I'm very excited to see my students' reaction to the project. They genuinely seem excited to be getting direct guidance working through a project and seemed pleasantly surprised at the connections they could make to their daily lives. I can't wait to see how things go next week when we begin reading/acting out the first Act! Wish us luck!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Diving in to Cyrano's Funk

Well, I finished all of my PBLU courses (pblu.org if you haven't taken them!) and I am VERY excited about this school year. I'm down to just my capstone left and I'm working with a colleague of mine to implement an English project into her advisory class!

Why English? I always wanted to be an English teacher. When I went off to MSU it was between Math & English or Math & Spanish. I chose Math & Spanish (or well, a coin chose for me!). So, I'm living out the flip-side of my coin through this project.

The project is called "Cyrano's Funk" and was developed over at High Tech High and I'm very excited and nervous about diving into this! It's been a long while since I've had to discuss literary elements with anyone, none the less try to teach them, so we'll see how this goes!

Other projects going on:

Working on developing "Life on Planet X" (not an original name, I know, but I'm technical not creative), with our lead science teacher here and I will be implementing that next week as well. Two projects in one week? Am I crazy? Yes. Yes, I am.