Thursday, April 26, 2012

Should I care if students like me?

I usually agree with Seth Godin but I think the tone of his post about Applause is wrong for education (I realize that he is talking about marketing). Particularly this quote:
 "Who decides if your work is good? When you are at your best, you do."

I think teachers often evaluate themselves too easily and blame students for their failures. I think students should have a say in evaluating teachers and how they teach. My concern is with teachers who dismiss all negative student comments and never consider if they are valid. These same teachers often assume that their teacher-centered methods are fine and that students need to adapt to them rather than vice-versa.

Too often I hear from educators comments such as "you can't please everyone" or it is not my job to "be a student's friend." Now while there is some truth to these axioms I am concerned about teachers who seem to ignore how students feel about them as a person. Some teachers even brag about students being disciplined or "put in their place."

So should teachers care if students "like" them? I think they should. Our first job as educators is to build relationships with students. How can students learn from or with us if they do not like us? Think back to your teachers (maybe way back for some of us). What do you remember? All of the content they taught you or how they made you feel? So I am concerned about teachers whose attitude is that is does not matter how students feel about them. This does not require us to be "best friends" or necessarily hang out socially with our students. But I do believe that teachers should get to know students personally. Students who enjoy you as a person are also more likely to enjoy your class.

So this week we had students fill out a long survey evaluating our school, the teachers, and our classes. I am the first to admit that I do not always accept criticism well (although ironically I really do want it). What came through on many of the anonymous surveys is that students do feel that I care about them and enjoy our class. I feel like I am doing a good job on my #1 goal for this year.

So I will go so far as to argue that making sure we have positive relationships with students is the most important and long-lasting part of our jobs. Will every student like us? Probably not, but we should try to build relationships with every student and impart love and confidence into their lives.

So Mr. Politician, #standardizethat

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Pop the Driving Question

This post is part of a series where I look at the "recipe" of PBL (problem based learning) and give an overview of each step and then explain how I have adapted it to the "flavor" of my teaching philosophy and style. I also use SBG (standards based grading) for my assessment method and that influences some of my methods. My hope is that it will be both a good introduction to someone new to PBL and a source of ideas for those who are already teaching with PBL.

by Earl - What I saw 2.0
The next step in the PBL process is to formulate a Driving Question (DQ) for the project. The purpose of a DQ is to hook student interest into the project and to frame what the project entails. All future pieces of the project should relate back underneath the umbrella that is the DQ.

My training included a complicated formula to make sure that you create a good DQ with all of the important details. The examples ended up feeling more like a paragraph than a question. They were very wordy and an adult would have to read them multiple times and break it down into pieces to understand them. 

Buck Institute has a planning guide to create DQ's that you can download and use based on the template above. It actually is a pretty good starting point if you have never written one as it is open-ended and even says that you can skip parts. But it also can become too much of a formula if followed strictly all of the time. I asked for an over the top example on Twitter and Geoff Krall sent me this beauty:

which I must confess is more engaging than some lame educational ones I have heard.

My Method
I don't care much for the template above. The examples I have seen got too wordy and were not student friendly. Instead I try to think of short, challenging questions that students will be interested in answering. I do not want to start off a project with a boring question! This is an important part of "selling" a project to students. If the question is too complex that students need to re-read it than simplify it. Students should be able to easily understand your DQ and they should immediately be interested in it as a valid question that they are curios about. When it comes to a good DQ, less is more.

My process begins by summarizing the theme or key learning point that you want students to think about for the project. Then I brainstorm a list of as many DQ's about the topic that I can think of. This is also a great stage to get some critical friend support and ask others for their ideas. No one is out of bounds. I ask my colleagues, family members, students, and even throw it out on twitter. I also share all of my ideas as I collect them. Usually an excellent question comes quickly out of this process and gets edited in the process to the final DQ.

For example for a project on WWII I might have used the formula to create: "How should have the United States determined if World War II was morally right before entering it?"  Instead I used "When is war just?"

For a project on slavery, racism, and genocide the formula might give me: "How can students at KIH produce a video to motivate Americans to prevent genocide?" Instead I came up with "Why do people tolerate hate?" This one actually got lengthened from "Why do people hate?" because I wanted to emphasize the continued lack of action by the world in the face of modern genocides.

For a project addressing standards of Middle East conflict and the history of the geographic spread of religions I debated on a couple different paths. Some of my suggestions were:  
  • Does religion cause all wars? 
  • Are social networks triggering social revolutions? 
  • How does technology change societies?
But I ended up deciding on "What will be the results of the Arab Spring?" because it tied into current events but required them to research backwards to make a prediction about the future.

Hopefully these examples give you a flavor for my opinion of a good DQ. Remember, keep them simple, student-friendly, and interesting. DON'T BE BORING!

Next post will be about deciding on students' proof of learning (POL) or final product that will demonstrate their learning.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

"Science is dangerous..."

"Besides, we have our stability to think of. We don't want to change. Every change is a menace to stability. That's another reason why we're so chary of applying new inventions. Every discovery in pure science is potentially subversive; even must sometimes be treated as a possible enemy. Yes, even science... Science is dangerous; we have to keep it most carefully chained and muzzled...

I was a pretty good physicist in my time. Too good--good enough to realize that all our science is just a cookery book, with an orthodox theory of cooking that nobody's allowed to question, and a list of recipes that mustn't be added to except by special permission from the head cook...I started doing a bit of cooking on my own. Unorthodox cooking, illicit cooking. A bit of real science, in fact. ...

'What happened?' asked Helmholtz Watson.

'I was on the point of being sent to an island.' Mustapha Mond"

 p. 225-226 Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

Old quote (1932) but pretty telling of the state of not only science, but all learning in most schools today.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Chicken or the Egg?

This post is part of a series where I look at the "recipe" of PBL (problem based learning) and give an overview of each step and then explain how I have adapted it to the "flavor" of my teaching philosophy and style. I also use SBG (standards based grading) for my assessment method and that influences some of my methods. My hope is that it will be both a good introduction to someone new to PBL and a source of ideas for those who are already teaching with PBL.

by ecatoncheires

The age old question of which came first applies to how many teachers feel when attampting their first PBL project. Where do you start designing a PBL project? Should you start with the standards or with an end product in mind? Should you start with an authentic audience and what their needs might be? In short, the answer is YES! There really is no right or wrong way to start to design it and different people start at different places.

I think starting with someone from the community who will partner with you in planning a project is one of the best ways. This ensures that the project will be authentic and serve a "real world" purpose or solve an actual problem as opposed to a fictional one. That said, I have yet to have a project using this method. The disadvantages are finding a community partner who is willing to dedicate the time and energy to plan, introduce, and assess the final projects. But if you have the opportunity and I have seen projects that have this is a great method.

My Method:
For my Global Studies class I started out by focusing on the standards rather than audience or product. I did have some products in mind that I want students to produce throughout the year such as video, hands-on art piece, graphic novel, debate, etc. I knew I wanted students to create a variety of products through various methods both on the computer and off. I also knew that I wanted my first products to be simple so that students could be successful while they learned the process and build up to more challenging products and more choice as the year progressed.

The way that I started with the standards was that I printed out a list of all of my state standards and cut them into individual strips. There were somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 of them. I then sorted them by theme ignoring for the most part chronological order of events. I was a bit overwhelmed by the number of them. Then I discovered that the standards had been graded into power standards of a sort and color-coded by which topics most commonly appeared on the state assessments. There were only 8 blue ones that are on every test and 9 green ones that one third of are on the test each year. The rest were the less common red ones. As I looked at the red standards most of them were actually sub-standards of the larger themes of the blue and green ones. So I ended up throwing away all of the red slips and focusing on the blue/green ones.

I explain all of this to bring out one important philosophy of PBL that would serve you well to accept. You are not going to "cover" all of the standards. You should intentionally skip some and focus on what you in your professional judgment consider to be the most important. The PBL philosophy is to go deeper on fewer things that students will actually retain and remember rather than shallowly hitting everything.

For a social studies class I also decided to teach thematically instead of chronologically. That topic probably deserves a post in and of itself, but this choice allowed me to combine events from different time periods and tie together the larger themes of history. For example I tied together the Black Plague with small pox of the Columbian Exchange in a project focused on disease.When we looked at the Arab Spring Revolutions we traced the tensions in the Middle East back to imperialism and all the way back to the origins of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Once I had the standards grouped by themes I put those themes in order creating a scope and sequence for the year. This gave me an overall plan and helped me visualize how the different projects would build off from each other.

The next step was to create Driving Questions, which will be my next post...