Define the Problem:
Last year, I found myself in a bind when creating my schedule. Thomson was moving to a 90 minute weekly PLC for all grade levels, and I was tasked with covering students for half of that time. I stared at the daunting content colors in front of me, realizing I had much more scheduled time with students on a weekly basis than I had in the past. At first, I tried to fill the time with a variety of tasks, but they didn’t seem to engage the students. These tasks involved all students working on the same thing, at the same time, with the same technology.
Passion Projects seemed to be the answer, so I decided to try this type of learning out with my 4th-6th graders. As I started to put all the pieces into place, I began to think I was crazy. How was I going to be able to manage a whole grade level that was working on different topics, at different stages in their project, with different technology tools? There was only one way to find out, so I took a risk and went for it.
As with anything new there come successes and challenges. I would have to say that my biggest success was the student engagement. At first, when I told them what we were going to do I didn’t get quite the response I wanted. They were moaning and groaning about having to do another research project. As the year went on I saw a huge change in my students. I rarely had to redirect students because they got to choose what tool to use and the topic they were most passionate about. I also found it to be a great way for students to collaborate with each other. I allowed students to use the following tools to show their learning, but didn’t limit them to these:
My biggest challenge was supporting and giving feedback on all the different projects. When I implement passion projects again this year, I will be very intentional about when and how I give feedback. Check out these resources on giving feedback while facilitating Passion Projects or Genius Hour in the classroom:
One thing I would advise is to have a way to track where students are in their projects because once you get this started they work at different speeds and it is hard to keep up with all of them. Some ideas and tools for how to manage many different projects at once include:
My biggest takeaway from this whole process was that our students needed to be risk takers. So many students were afraid to push the button and try something new because they were afraid they were going to break something. It took many conversations with them about being risk takers for them to finally see that they could do it. As a result of this learning, instead of library orientation this year, I tasked the students with creating a book (Book Creator) or a short video (PowToons) that explains different technology and library expectations. Doing this task pushed them to be risk takers from the moment they walked into the library this year. I know that there will be some growing pains when we begin our passion projects again this year, but that is the BEAUTY of education; you never know if you can do it unless you try!!!
Want More Passion Project Info?
Would you like more resources on starting Passion Projects in the classroom? Check out these articles and books!
"Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results." ~John Dewey.
Digital discussions have become regular practices in our everyday lives. From text messages and social media posts to blog and YouTube comment streams there are continued learning and sharing opportunities with global connections on a regular basis. Many of us are often hyper-active in daily digital discussions as we connect with friends, family, and world-wide audiences.
As we continue to implement the Jeffco Generations skills and Transform Tasks, digital dialogue and discussion opportunities present engaging opportunities to authentically develop skills and concepts beyond the basic acquisition of facts. Through participation in digital discussions with global audiences we are exposed to the challenges of content application, concept justification, and social understandings in our ever changing world.
The New York Times provides a number of incredible resources to educators and students for elevating digital discussion opportunities that engage learners in relevant and meaningful topics. Through The Learning Network, they began in 2014 with 200 Prompts for Argumentative Writing which grew to 650 Prompts for Argumentative Writing in 2016 and is now over 1000 Writing Prompts for Students in 2018. The prompts are broken up by topic areas such as Social Media and Smartphones, Gender Issues, Dating and Sex, Music, Literature and Art, Being a Teenager, School, Health and Nutrition, Science and Animals, Government and Leadership, Personal Character and Morality, and more. Under each topic is a list of questions that are linked to a short articles followed by more specific questions for students to consider and answer. The list of 650 prompts are also available via a handy PDF for easy access and sharing.
So how does this apply to our daily instruction as educators? Francis Bacon said, "Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man". Reading, writing and discussion are a critical components of our everyday learning and growth processes. As educators we know high quality instruction in any content area or discipline contains regular opportunities for learners to engage in reading, writing, and discussion to further develop critical and creative thinking skills.
Using the resources above, learners can be given a prompt and the associated article to read. Following the reading, learners can engage in a short writing activity to gather thoughts and develop ideas. Learners can then share their thoughts with others and ideas to seek feedback for further development and discussion. Some ideas might include:
Reading, writing and dialogue can and should take place in all disciplines, not just literacy. For example, math teachers can leverage prompts like #327 which centers around a distribution graph of how many A's schools hand out or #289 "Are You Afraid of Math?" and #290 "Do We Need A Better Way To Teach Math?". Science teachers can leverage the wide variety of prompts in Science & Health (1,066-1,146) involving Science and The Environment, Animals and Pets, or Exercise and Health. Art teachers have a vast array to choose from in Arts and Entertainment (75-248). Whichever discipline you teach, there can be resources for you to leverage to support students with engaging in reading, writing, and dialogue.
How will you leverage digital discussions as a way to Transform the Task and support learners with developing the Jeffco Generations skills? The Jeffco Ed Tech team is available to support you in thinking through ways you can leverage reading, writing and discussion with students in your instruction. We would also love to hear from you around how you are already leveraging digital discussions or have done so in the past. We learn a great deal from examples and experience so we invite you to share with us as we continue to grow together.
Back in my high school years, each ELA teacher required that students write a variety of essays. These essays were scored, entered into the grade book, passed back to us for a quick review of our grade, and then saved in our teachers' filing cabinets. At some point, usually in the late spring, the teachers returned all of our essays and asked us to pick the 3 best samples to create a portfolio. I'd make the recommended changes my teacher had listed and hit print -- good enough. Knowing that my teacher was going to be the only one who would be reviewing my work (again) did little to motivate me to think critically and improve my writing. Usually, my score did not change.
"If students are sharing their work with the world, they want it to be good. If they are just sharing it with you, they want it to be good enough." - Rushton Hurley
In my college years, after all my learning had been finished, I was again asked to build a portfolio as the cumulating task. After hours of scrapbooking and collecting artifacts, I had a beautiful 3" binder full of lesson plans, photos, and beautifully designed (and protected) pages only my professor would ever see. My hard work would never be looked at by a future employer or anyone in my industry. Although I was proud of the final product, much of my time felt wasted and little was actually learned by doing this task, with the exception of becoming a better scrapbooker.
If you think back to your educational years, I'd bet you have a similar experience building portfolios to demonstrate learning. Creating a portfolio of student work can be a very beneficial activity for both the student and the intended audience, but how we build them can be better than what I experienced. To do this, we can consider having students create digital portfolios. Essentially, digital portfolios are the same as a traditional portfolio, but what differs is the manner in which the learning is presented. What makes digital portfolios relevant is that they give students the ability to demonstrate growth of learning, skills, and reflection over time to an authentic audience. This authenticity helps build confidence and a sense of achievement for the learner as they share their work with the world. It also encourages them to go beyond "good enough." In secondary years, students can develop a brand or image for who they are as they apply for continuing education and seek employment opportunities.
"Digital portfolios aren’t just a way to archive work—they’re also an excellent vehicle for students to reflect on their growth and learning." - Avra Robinson
3 Types of Digital Portfolios
The Google Infused Classroom, by Holly Clark and Tanya Avrith, outlines 3 different types of digital portfolios that could potentially be created by students in any grade level or subject, as a demonstration of learning. If you haven't read this book, it's a great one to add to your library. Here is a brief synopsis of the different portfolio types:
The Process Portfolio:
The purpose of the process portfolio is to make students' thinking visible by documenting and reflecting on learning. Throughout this process, students create, reflect, receive feedback, and publish. Students' very best work is mixed in with work that shows improvement over time.
The Showcase Portfolio:
The showcase portfolio highlights a student's very best work. This type of a portfolio is an assessment of student learning. The students create and then publish only their final products. The 3" binder portfolio from my college years was an example of a showcase portfolio.
The Hybrid Portfolio:
As you might guess, a hybrid portfolio is a combination of a process and showcase portfolio. In this portfolio, students create, reflect, receive feedback, then select one (or more) of their favorite pieces to share with a global audience. A hybrid portfolio can be a great way to carry learning forward from year to year as a student progresses through grades. My first experience with the high school essays was a hybrid portfolio.
Digital Portfolio Tools
Although there are many options for creating digital portfolios, the new Google Sites and Seesaw are two of our favorite tools for this purpose.
"It sounds a little extreme, but in this day and age, if your work isn't online, it doesn't exist." - Austin Kleon
A few last thoughts...
The purpose of digital portfolios is to create an opportunity to share learning with a larger and more authentic audience. Sometimes this can feel frightening when thinking about student data and privacy. Instead of limiting an audience and locking down a portfolio, consider having students use their first initial and last name, or just a first name, to keep student work global but their identities private. Also, remind students not to share personal information such as their address or phone number on their portfolios.
As you are considering ways to integrate digital portfolios into the student learning experience, it is important to remember that not all artifacts have to be digital. Snapping a photo of a physical piece of evidence, or recording a video of a student speaking, is a great way to allow the physical and digital worlds to collide and create a bigger picture of what a student can do!
Want to Know more?
"The key to any great musician is an outstanding music teacher." - student
Spend a couple of minutes in Mr. Goodman's music classroom at Thomson Elementary, and you will discover he is one of those teachers. Sam's goal isn't to make every student into a musician; he knows that isn't a passion for every child, just like he admits to not loving football; however, he does hope to instill an appreciation of music into each of his students. To do that, he uses technology to help make music relevant and authentic.
Keeping it Real
Students select an instrument of their choice for the semester. The class starts together and talks about the goal for the day. Then, they get started practicing their instruments. As they practice, Sam moves from group to group, providing mini lessons and support to his students. Knowing that he can't support all groups simultaneously, he has created a YouTube channel that provides just-in-time support for students. Students can watch, pause, practice, and rewatch segments of the video, based on their individual needs.
Pulling it all together
Some of Mr. Goodman’s students head off to middle school and high school and continue engaging in their passion for music. He receives invitations from former students who are pursuing interests in sound engineering and instrumental music. For him, that is the best part of being a music teacher -- seeing his students grow an everlasting appreciation for music.
Interested in Getting STarted?
Do you want to know more about Ableton Live and The Push? Check out this district-approved software on Ableton’s website and watch artists use the instrument on Ableton’s YouTube channel. If you are interested in having students learn about creating beats and loops, but are not ready to purchase Push devices, you can experiment with Ableton's web-based program. Sam has also graciously offered to connect with any Jeffco teachers who have questions about Ableton software or the Push devices emai him at Samuel.Goodman@jeffco.k12.co.us
Lastly, YouTube videos and playlists are a great tool that can be used in any grade or subject to flip or blend learning for students! If you are interested in learning more about creating YouTube channels and playlists for student use, check out our Jeffco Ed Tech YouTube website to help you get started.
House and shark tank
Project-Based Learning (PBL) has been around for a while. I’ve read in a couple of different sources that it began in the medical field as a way to authentically prepare doctors to practice medicine. Professors would give students a scenario of a patient and they had to use existing knowledge, as well as research, to help that patient. It got me thinking about the show, House. Every episode is basically a PBL in the way the team works together to gather information and move forward in diagnosing the patient. Shark Tank is another example of TV shows gone PBL--or PBL gone TV shows--because the entrepreneurs have learned skills and knowledge through launching their business and presenting to the sharks. Maybe the allure of copying what's on TV is why PBL is gaining so much traction in education. No, I don’t really think that. I think the promise of authentic learning experiences, engagement, and development of future-ready skills entices teachers to explore using PBL in their classrooms.
The gist of PBL is that students learn through the project that is led by a driving question. Usually, teachers include community members, either in person or digitally, to make connections to the real world.
Although PBL is gaining traction, there are some arguments of critics to ponder when deciding if PBL is right for your classroom or school. One of the arguments is PBL lacks rigor and focuses too much on “soft skills.” Similar to technology integration, instruction doesn’t magically become better because you put a device in a student’s hand; PBL doesn’t automatically equal rigor and strong instruction. However, it can equal that when pedagogy and curriculum are the drivers. Jeffco has a planning template that combines what we know about the Gold Standard PBL and Jeffco Curriculum.
Jeffco's pbl planning template
This post is not about explaining what PBL is, but I would encourage you to check out Buck Institute for Education (BIE) for resources for implementing PBL. Jeffco also has a planning template that has BIE resources embedded to make it easier to explore as you plan. The document helps teachers think through the Jeffco curriculum and use project based learning as the vehicle to create student learning experiences that are authentic and rigorous.
Technology integration and Pbl
Two major premises of project based learning is inquiry for a student-led learning experience and authenticity in how they are applying their learning. Technology plays into both of those goals. Using technology meaningfully in the lesson/project design allows for students to be the drivers and teachers to give real time feedback along the way. Technology gives students the opportunity to be engaged citizens by connecting their learning to authentic problems or projects in their communities and beyond. Last, technology integrated into project based learning gives students many opportunities to learn the skills of computer and internet use in contextualized experiences. The combination of technology integration and project based learning can be very powerful in preparing your learners to be future ready. Check out Jeffco’s PBL Planning Document to learn and get started on planning a PBL!
Reflection is a crucial element of modern pedagogical systems. Today’s educational practices place a high importance on the ability for students to self-assess and build meta-cognition through reflection. Using Schoology for this task makes this work easy for both the students and teacher. Using digital journals, students can journal on their own device, on a classroom device or from home.
Building individual discussion threads only one time for each student using Schoology discussions is an easy way to support this practice. The following presentation identifies 4 easy steps to set this up.
Are you ready to start your students in digital journaling? Ask your school Digital Teacher Librarian or Educational Technology Specialist for support in getting started.
While you were away enjoying your summer, Google Classroom came out with brand new feature that allows both teachers and students to annotate PDF's and JPG's using the Google Classroom mobile app. Previously, students and teachers would need to have another app, such as Notability, to annotate documents.
Annotation tools within Google Classroom include the eraser, pen, marker, highlighter, and text tool. Using these options, Students can use the annotation feature to draw, sketch, notate, and write out their thinking. Check out the presentation below to learn how to use the annotation features within classroom!
Genius Hour = Engagement x Learning2
Fourth graders at Van Arsdale participated in Genius Hour, based on Google's 20% time. This is part of a movement to promote self-directed learning, innovation, creativity, and sharing. Students spend time devoted to a topic of their choice. It is more about the process than the product. Fourth grade teacher, Dawn Wiley worked with her DTL, Michelle McHugh, to tie Genius Hour to CAP. "Students were the ones recognizing the cross-curricular connections. They were the ones leading the learning,” remarked Dawn. "I was so impressed with them. Genius Hour brings learning full circle.”
Alyssa Davidson teaches 9th grade Earth Science at Ralston Valley High School. Instead of relying on a predetermined lesson plan, Davidson uses formative assessment to guide student learning and direct instruction. I recently observed Davidson to see how she integrated technology and formative assessment into her instruction. Upon entering the classroom on Monday morning students were immediately engaged in the learning content. Davidson invited students to take a short four question Socrative quiz to help determine where they were in their learning. Davidson clearly explained to the students that no points were attached to the formative assessment. This made students feel at ease and comfortable to answer the questions to their best ability. The class then discussed the answers to the quiz questions. To stay mobile in the classroom, Davidson controlled what appeared on the class SMARTboard through her iPad. Airserver is an easy, inexpensive tool to enable mobility in the classroom. By using the AirPlay feature on your iPad and Airserver software onto the device that is attached to your projector (laptop or desktop computer with a wireless card installed) you have the ability to mirror content from your iPad onto your projector.
What is the "backchannel":
The backchannel is a digital conversation that runs concurrently in a face-to-face interaction. For example, adults might turn to Twitter to join a digital conversation while watching a presidential debate or an awards ceremony. Where as, we might ask our students to engage in a literature discussion while listening to a read aloud or analyze information during a geography lecture. A range of tools can be used to facilitate this exchange. When working with students, Schoology, Padlet, and Today's Meet are all quick and easy tools which can be used to hold backchannel discussions in order to engage all your students in digital conversations that increase engagement, provide spaces for DOK questioning, and build a digital footprint of thinking and learning.