Wednesday, January 9, 2013

PBL Fundamentals: The 4 C's

Most people who are engaged in curriculum development or who have researched into it in the past have heard of the 4 C's: Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Creativity. What I love about the Cyrano's Funk Project, and the Life on Planet X project is that students get the opportunity to engage in all four of the C's multiple times throughout each project. Let's go through them, shall we?

Critical Thinking

While all of the four C's are important for students to develop 21st Century Skills that will enable them to function well in the current and future work-place, as a math teacher, I favor Critical Thinking. In mathematics, I've found multiple ways to assess students' critical thinking skills, from various project challenges, to problem-based classroom challenges and super-items. I have come to think I am moving into the 3.0-3.5 range on developing these for mathematics. However, with the main focus of the two projects I'm working on NOT being mathematics, I've certainly struggled and learned a lot along the way! 

For Cyrano's Funk, we discussed various themes and how writing style leads to theme development throughout our reading of the text. To assess the students individually, I chose a few passages from the text and asked them more specific questions on style, tone and syntax. Each question had a multiple choice component with various answers, most of which I could see an argument for, and I asked the students to provide evidence or justification for their choice. Some examples of student work are below. As you will see, students didn't necessarily provide the amount of justification I had really hoped for, and I blame myself in that. I wish I had worked more closely with our English team to develop critical thinking formative assessments, aside form the ones we used from Glencoe, so that I had a better idea of how to create an assessment.

For Planet X, my awesome science colleague developed a lot of materials to help students practice synthesizing their knowledge for each of the major competencies (learning targets) that the students were learning. Students would do basic research and practice creating summaries that related all of the content they were learning. Students then have been using the knowledge they have attained to evaluate a series of planets for their viability in supporting life. 


Students in the Cyrano's Funk project were able to practice their small-group presentation communication skills at the Project Showcase day for the last marking period. Student groups showed off their final products/performances for groups of 5-10 students at a time. Students practiced succinctly conveying their messages through small presentations as well as participating in Q&A sessions.

Communication for the Life on Planet X students is all about honing their interpersonal skills. Planet X relies heavily on collaboration, so being able to communicate well within a group and convey your ideas or concerns is of vital importance. This has lead to us to discuss ways to communicate ideas within your group in a respectful manner, as well as how to resolve conflict of ideas in a peaceful manner.


Both of the projects rely heavily on students' abilities to collaborate with one another and with cooperating teachers. Throughout their projects, I have grouped and regrouped students using various strategies (interest inventories, strengths/weaknesses, technological skills & abilities, etc). After each opportunity for collaboration, I have had the ability to asess their skills through our use of ProjectFoundry's observation tools. I use ProjectFoundry's Project Skills self-assessment and advisor evaluation form observation tool. They are the same form, where advisors and students grade themselves on various skills based on what level of mastery they feel they have demonstrated those skills. An example of a form and the descriptors is below.


Creativity is one of the hardest skills to assess, as every student expresses their creativity through different means. In Cyrano, students used their final product as a creative outlet. Students' products varied from comic strips, to digital short films, movie trailers and rap battles. The possibilities were endless! For the Life on Planet X project, students are using their creativity in the imaginative creatures they are creating to survive on their planets, both in their descriptions and in their illustrations. Creativity is hard to measure over just one project, so instead I choose to simply track what kind of creativity students are showing me throughout various projects. For instance, is the student always choosing to include drawings in his final products or is the student branching out and exploring new means of creativity and including digital info-graphics or mini-movies? How a student expresses their creativity is most interesting to me, as I want to be able to allow students to have many forms of creative outlets. After all, not everyone will end up in a job where doodling will be an acceptable use of time. 


I believe that my students are well aware of the need to gain experience in all 4 of the C's as well as in other various areas of 21st Century skills. Many of them are motivated to move quickly into the work-force and are anxious to work on more real-world relevant skills. This is one of the biggest draws to our Charter academy, as noted by both students and parents alike--our ability to help simulate a work-place atmosphere where students can start practicing the skills they will need to excel in the future.

While they see the importance of working on all of them, the students are not well practiced in self-assessing their own growth in all of them. Frequently, I see self-assessments that have all questions answered with the same level "Proficient" or "Beginner," and it frustrates me that students don't necessarily see the value in seeing their own growth. I attribute this largely to their unfamiliarity with this type of learning and growing, but realize that I need to do more on my part to help instill in them an intrinsic motivation to better themselves on all levels, and not just on academic ones. Once I've done that, I hope that students will take better advantage of the multiple assessments that they can do to track their actual development of those skills because, as I said, while we have ample opportunity for assessment, they frequently underutilize this option.

Many of our students believe that if all they do is do the work, that they should earn 3.0 level mastery. Students are still working on grasping the mastery levels as how well they understand a concept as opposed to a mentality that they can keep trying something over and over again until they get the grade that they want. Frequently, what I see is students performing 2.0 level work repeatedly and expecting "more" to equal a higher grade. I can't blame them, because in a traditional setting they had the opportunity to do bare minimum work over and over again (ala homework) and turn in it for points, and the more points they had the better their score. I think this will be a struggle that we have with students as we assess them on more and more competencies and they begin to truly internalize what mastery and proficiency actually mean.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Getting it Done

Now that the reading is over, it was time for the culminating project process to start. Students were divided into teams by their advisor and myself. We created mixed grouped based on students' interests and abilities, as well as their comfortability levels with various technologies available to them throughout the building.

For the most part, the groupings worked well. We chose to create groups of similar sizes at first, but then noticed we needed to change up some of the groupings to allow for students' creativity to come out. This lead to a few groups of 4 and a few of two, as well as a few students who are working on the project individually (mostly due to attendance issues preventing a group project from being possible). 

When I run this project with my group of students next year, I think that I will do the groupings differently. I will survey students on their performance-mode interests, technological use interests, and act/scene interests and use that survey to create more homogenous groups. I feel that this would lead to better groupings because students would be more interested in their final-product (since they would all be grouped with the same performance-mode) and therefore more invested in the project. My particular group of students has a wide range of abilities and interests and are very motivated to work to create the optimal project, instead of just creating a project that "kind-of" seemed interesting to them, like the students I worked with this year.--Nothing against the students I worked with this year, I think they did a nice job pulling together and creating a nice final performance or product for each of their groups. I just know that the more interested a student is, the more they are willing to invest in the final product, and I would bet I would see more variety and professionalism evident next year. 

However, what I will say for my students this year is that they did do a nice job collaborating together. Again, I attribute this to the students getting experience in various collaboration formats throughout the project.  In visiting with students, or doing non-formal observations, I was able to see that students were better at solving their issues, and needed less teacher-input than during previous collaborative tasks. Students were able to state both (or all) of their sides, see the pros/cons to the sides and then ask for guiding input from either myself or their classroom advisor. It was nice to see that even when groups couldn't come to an agreement and we all agreed to disassemble the group that there truly didn't seem to be any hard feelings or ill-will towards one another; students simply recognized it as "unresolvable conflicting issues". Students were very supportive of one another, both in their own group, and in the class as a whole, of their different strengths and products.

The students we work with are not always motivated to keep track of things the paper-and-pencil way (or even in an e-format for that matter), so getting them to get organized was a challenge. The Management Logs below are examples from our groups, however the work had to be completed with MY assistance and input. Students would start a copy, give it to one student, lose a copy, rewrite the copy on lined paper, or scratch paper... everyone knows the "My Dog Ate It" drill. So the copies below are re-interpreted copies of their actual management process pieces, reassembled into one coherent list. 

I think that one of the big issues with using the management logs was that it was a different format than they are used to. Students are used to using ProjectFoundry, an online management system, to create and assign tasks for group projects. The ProjectFoundry proposal that we used for the students for this project allowed for students to see what ALL of the students in the class were responsible for, but not individual groups. In an effort to not have to create a separate and conflicting project, we had students opt out of using ProjectFoundry and instead do the management log on paper (of various formats as stated above, ha!). Next time I run this project, I will have student groups create a project proposal on Project Foundry specifically citing the learning targets that their group final product will show mastery of and then all students will have access to their tasks electronically at all times.