Monday, March 28, 2011

edcamp classroom

As I help prepare for edcamp Detroit I came across this post by M.E. Steele Pierce. She does an excellent job describing how empowering edcamps are by giving teachers control and choice in regards to their professional development. I will not regurgitate her thoughts here. Go read her post instead.

One quote from her post:
“Because edcamps are seen as unstructured, even chaotic, schools and district offices think there is no validity in them,” says principal Eric Sheninger. “I would like to see schools and districts give up that control.”

I have been thinking about why administrators may be slow to accept this kind of PD. I think it all comes down to lack of control of content and trust that useful things will get done. Control and lack of trust-how many times does this come up in education? That is why we have NCLB and RTTT. Politicians, the media, and the general public do not trust educators as professionals and seek to control the quality of schools through things like Common Core curriculum and standardized testing. We wouldn't want teachers or students to actually have a say in how learning will proceed.

Just as educators crave to learn with each other in an unstructured environment, so do students! Why not schedule an edcamp day or week at school? It would not have to be scheduled the day of, but perhaps the week before. Students could choose their own topics and sign up for a teacher's room to learn together at a certain time. The topics would be left up to students. Teachers would be present, but could be prohibited from speaking unless asked to. Who knows what students might choose to learn from each other? I guarantee that teachers would learn about students' passions and could then use that to influence their future lessons.

I know what some people will say. What if students just waste the day? (I never have students who waste time in my class. Ever! Yeah, right.) What if they just want to talk about Justin Beiber?

Again too much of school is about control and lack of trust. Let's give students a chance to show how they would use time to learn. So what do you think? How could you implement this idea in your class, grade, or even your entire building?

Monday, March 21, 2011

My best post ever!

I hinted on Twitter last week that I was anticipating great things. I mean we had our state tech conference and March Madness, but I also had a secret that I hoped would come true.

Well today I accepted a history position at Kent Innovations High. It is a new project based school starting next fall through our county intermediate school district. It is part of New Tech High that is spreading in the mid-west.  This school integrates the curriculum of the four core subjects into student centered projects. It also works with local businesses to give students real problems to solve. This model of school represents so much of what I believe is best about learning.

The crazy part about this job is that it starts right after spring break. The staff gets all spring and summer to get to know each other, be trained,  and design the curriculum! We will actually be given time to be prepared to make this work. The school space is also being re-modeled so that it looks more like a Starbucks than a traditional classroom.

I can not really express how excited I am about this opportunity. There have been disappointments the past couple of years that I did not want to express publicly, but I am seeing that it is all working out for the best now.

I will continue to blog here in a similar fashion, but the focus will naturally turn to what we are doing in this school. I will also probably blog about history more, but will cover all core subjects as our projects will be integrated. I hope we will also be helping students to use on-line tools to collaborate with others and share their learning. I will be calling on my online community to create interesting learning opportunities for my new students. I can't wait to get started...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

My MACUL11 presentation

I presented for the second time at MACUL this year on the topic of collaboration based on the video games my students made with students in Vietnam. Overall I was very happy with how it went. I had less attendees than last year, but great conversations. My goal going in was to get the audience to participate and not just have me talk at them for an hour. I created a backchannel for the session and at first was disappointed that no one used it, but then I realized that was because they were having real conversations instead!

I would like to thank @bruce1lj@kchichester@TheNerdyTeacher, and my tech support @toddhower for their participation in my session. (I would thank the rest of you but do not know your twitter names) It was fun to meet these people face-to-face for the first time in my session, and they definitely added to the conversation. The highlight for me was Skyping in my collaboration partner Gary Bertoia from Vietnam followed by four of my students at school. The audience was able to ask them questions and hear about our project from multiple perspectives.

Here is my Prezi which probably will not make much sense without the audio :)

I Ustreamed the session, but forgot to start the recording until I was a few minutes in. The video is not so great but you can hear the discussions. The skype calls start at about the 33:30  mark if you want to jump to that part.

Here is the Livebinder that I created for my session. It contains a lot of information that was not talked about in the session, but to help you in your collaboration efforts including tools, collaboration examples, places to connect, and the Scratch games that the students created.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Housing Theme

In my 8th grade applied technology class we do a unit where we build balsa towers. We start off talking about the history of building and architecture while investigating the strongest shapes that make up buildings. Students then research different design ideas on the web. We talk about the science concepts behind the project daily with opening discussions about force, mass, center of mass, loads, and buckling. Students draw their towers to scale measuring the angles and lengths to calculate whether or not they will have enough sticks to complete their design. After we break the towers students calculate whose tower was the most efficient. At the end I have had students write letters to our local mayor designing a tower for tourism or blog about their experience on our class blog. So we integrate math, science, history, and language arts into one project where students research, design, build, destroy, and evaluate.

But this project lacks a few things that I would ideally (see my ideals listed here) like to see: not enough student choice, the projects all tend to look the same, and too much of the structure of the unit is pre-designed by me. So I would like to expand this idea to a larger theme that could be taught by a single teacher, perhaps in an elementary setting, or by a team of teachers at any level. I like the idea of "theme" better than "unit" because I envision the teachers having some idea of what will happen but the students influencing the process so that where it goes and ends up is open-ended. 

For starters it would be a theme on housing. The unit would look at what kinds of dwellings humans choose to live in. It would emphasize the political, social, economical, cultural, and environmental factors that influence these choices. I was originally going to separate these suggestions by subject area but they are too intertwined so I will just list some possibilities. This theme is designed to fit an "all day" integrated project not just a one hour class.
  • Housing could be looked at in terms of the history of architecture from different countries, climates, and/or cultures around the world. 
  • Students could watch films like Garbage Warrior to learn about modern, environmentally friendly building methods. This film also brings up the problem of strict building codes limiting innovation.
  • Students could analyze the role of government in establishing building standards and codes and influencing building policy through laws and incentives. They could look at the advantages of quality control vs. the disadvantage of limiting innovation.
  • Students could study how the environment effects the shelter needs of humans in different climates. For example they could learn how and why Inuits chose to make igloos and Mongolians make yurts. 
  • Students could learn about recycled homes or innovative urban designs like this Chinese egg.
  • Students could learn about differences in impact between single family homes and multi family complexes and even communes.
  • Students could look at children's bedrooms around the world to compare differences in living standards.
  • Students could learn about the millions of people who have no "home" but live in shelters, shanty towns, refugee camps, or even in garbage dumps.
  • Students could learn how toxic or carcinogenic materials have been used in construction.
  • Students could go on local field trips to view historic and/or modern architecture. Students could visit "green" buildings.
  • Students could watch this TED talk about how the differences in engineering in Haiti and Chile led to contrasting results from the recent earthquakes. 
  • Students could interview architects, construction workers, and engineers in person or through Skype. 
  • Students could learn about differences between LEEDGreen Builtzero energy, and passive home designs. They could analyze how much of these programs are political and how much of them are actually environmentally responsible.
  • Students could analyze statistics about how humans live across the globe. Then they could create an infograph about how the choice of materials effects human health and the environment.
  • Students could research the dwellings of indigenous people and compare them. Students could have debates whether modern or indigenous dwellings are better for human life and the environment. 
  • Students could perform energy audits of their own homes figuring out the volume and square footage of their homes and finding cost/ square foot to heat and cool their homes.
  • Students might study an important architect such as Frank Lloyd Wright or a branch of design such as feng shuai.
Every group of students would not do all of these things but different groups would choose the topics that are most interesting to them and even suggest other ideas. Some students might choose to branch off into related topics such as environmentalism, capitalism, architecture, interior decorating, sustainable native plants, etc. The directions this project could go are almost endless. Hopefully it is obvious that intertwined in all of these ideas is math, science, social studies, language arts along with art and technology.

The cumulative project would be for teams to use what they learn to design, draw blueprints, and make a scale model of an ideal ecological dwelling (like this example). It may or may not look like a conventional house with conventional materials. It could be influenced from any of these activities from cultures around the world. Students would also have to provide a budget for the estimated cost of the materials of the home. They would have to show the energy consumed. Students would also present their homes to their peers (and broader audiences through social media) and describe the benefits of their models.

These are my thoughts for a practical theme based on my key beliefs of the best practices of student learning. What are your thoughts? What would you add/subtract? How could this theme or a different one be used for student-centered learning in your classroom?

cross-posted at TeachPaperless Blog