Saturday, 20 March 2010

Final Project Reflection

Setting up learning projects is like taking multiple diversions off the main path of a long hike up to a high mountain. At each signpost, you're compelled to stop and proceed down another (sometimes more challenging) path, then back to the main path. At any particular juncture, you might come across a captivating scene, which leads to further diversion. You might stop to take a photo, to better remember the scene. You might hear exotic birds or see strange plants or insects—and again another preoccupation ensues. You finally pull yourself away from the sight and make it back onto the main path. Along the way, and usually at a time when you find yourself scrambling up a slippery slope, you might come F2F with a fascinating person that you have to stop and talk to. Time slips away and the sky darkens, but you're not where you're supposed to be yet. You hurry along—only to find yet another signpost—a critical one as you're told to expect during the expedition. You proceed along one last side path—you recognize the value of this stop—you wouldn't feel fulfilled without having had this experience. You hurry back. You see the top as it starts to rain. You're tired, but driven to finish. You lift your foot up onto the final boulder ahead. The sky clears. The horizon offers the most spectacular view you have yet to see. Satisfaction ensues...

I might have got carried away with the trek analogy, but I do feel a need to divert and capture all the details to ensure that the project might work. I have learned that no matter the amount of planning and thinking that might go into a project, you have to be willing to abandon something, modify something, add something. You have have the students with you at every step and listen to their voices—their suggestions, their criticisms. You have to be willing to take risks, if you expect the students to. When working with English Language Learners (ELLs), you're tasked with two sets of outcomes: one the content, and two, the language. Have a look at the K-12 ESL Standards we've set out for ourselves as K-12 ESL teachers! How one captures the most salient outcomes for any particular task and really be able to measure growth is certainly one of the diversions to follow that hopefully leads to somewhere—i.e., the development of the second language (L2) proficiency. How to manipulate the tasks and the content within them to be authentic and meaningful is fundamental to any project? To ensure that students remain motivated and can employ learning strategies so that they forget that L2 learning is difficult as the 'adult' learners they are in high school? This hopefully happens when students are using technologies that have become commonplace to them and in which they feel comfortable already. It's amazing that now kids can talk with real experts via social networking and the myriad sites out there that would allow young people into a professional domain.

Presentation can also take on a new meaning. Presentations can be made public and posted on sites for others to peruse—like that of VoiceThread. This public product requires excellence be sought. Pride is associated with the product as it is public. Motivation again plays a role, and motivation is the key to good L2 success for ELLs.

Apart from all of this, all of the good things we educators want are at play in an online project such as this: the 'Six Facets of Understanding' that Wiggins and McTighe set out in Understanding by Design takes on with an applied meaning. Who could argue with 'self-knowledge,' certainly the highest of all learning and understanding. Let's hope that this Speak Project does offer students what it aims to do in terms of attaining a deeper understanding of collaboration and action, that ELLs are further developing their language discourse and proficiency, and let's further hope that this long trek up this mountain ends up with the same clear sky and fantastic views hoped for. But, if their are setbacks, falls along the way, the risk-taking has a value of its own, and I'm usually willing to go for it regardless.

Friday, 12 March 2010


I love language. This is a perfect word that describes what techies believe and describe as that perfect world where we as educators can finally learn to connect with our students and keep them endlessly motivated to learn. First off, I'd like to say that we have to remember that we're still human, no matter how far we go with technology and that the nature of being human is to be motivated to learn. So, fundamentally, we have the capability, and that no matter what seems to be apparent boredom in our classrooms, the desire to learn is still there. What we teachers seem be doing and what we're afraid might become more of an SOP is that students will become even less enchanted than they sometimes are in the classroom if we stay frozen in the 'Doing old things in old ways' or even 'Doing old things in new ways,' and instead the claims are that we need to move to 'Doing new things in new ways,' as described in 'Shaping Tech in the Classroom,' by Marc Prensky. I do agree with Prensky when he brings to mind the difficulty with teachers adapting to change—we 'digital immigrants,' but to consider a counterpoint, the younger educators—'the digital natives' are bringing the immigrants along. This process has consistently happened in the past and is safe to generalize to the future regarding technology reform.

We're listening to Dean Shareski, from Saskatchewan, Canada. He believes we (the ones in this type of course) are the ones who are making the change. I agree, but young people do have the drive and energy by nature, so let's consider that it's not just us, but it's us and them together. It's more like the critical mass factor—if we collectively believe we need a reform to match up with the new paradigm we seem to entering—more like beyond Web 2.0.

Implications are huge for all educators. How does all of this look and play out in the daily lesson? We seem to be heading to 1-1 starting in grade 6 here at ISB as Jeff has explained in his 'Next Phase...' post. But after looking at a more seamless integration of the digital world with our own physiologies—'Gesture-based Computing (2-3 years down the road) as described in the 2010 Horizon Report, are we sure we're heading in the right direction with purchasing more hardware? Are we sure we want to work on integrating what the kids claim they want: emailing and instant messaging 24-7? Are we swinging the pendulum too far to the left to try and keep up with it all--or where are we on the pendulum swing? At what point or is there a point where we can reach and balance and achieve 'edutopia'? It seems like educators today just need to be willing to take major tech leaps and have the kids go along with us. And as the 'Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project' concludes, we're the need seems to be to move away from the adult as the authority (which is fine with me) to: "The most successful examples we have seen of youth media programs are those based on kids’ own passionate interests and allowing plenty of unstructured time for kids to tinker and explore without being dominated by direct instruction." So are we prepared to move to this new education paradigm with aims of preparing students for the world beyond the work world? I definitely have more questions than answers here!

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Project Sketch

My ESL students (Gr. 9-11 'advanced' proficiency level) are reading Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. We've just started reading, but I see possibilities for setting up a PLN as described in this week's reading in Chap. 4 of 'Reinventing Project-Based Learning.' The focus of the story is the need for kids who experience trauma to be able to speak out and express themselves to someone they can trust. My students, who represent quite a variety of different cultural backgrounds, could use their blogs to first explore who they might trust (as this value varies from culture to culture) and who to go to for their own problems/issues—both within their own families, among their friends—f2f or online from their social networks, before branching out to other professionals at school or within the community. (Have a look at my ESL classes that have just set up their blogs. The 'What if?' post sets up for the reader the what the main character, Melinda, goes through in her experience.)

At the next level of involvement, would be a f2f meeting with their counselors (this could be set up in groups according to the counselor who is assigned to a particular part of the alphabet in the high school), to interview and get ideas on how young people can communicate about a trauma in their own lives (or that of a friend's), what community members are available in or outside the school. They'd be required to ask their counselors to send them a list contacts via email.

Next would be communicating with a professional in the community—asking for advice/ information on how to best deal with emotional trauma/problems, information on when to go outside their immediate comfort zone to ask for help as well as where to find professionals of different languages to communicate with. In class, we'd practice the text type for this type of writing and post these first on the blog for practice—they'd have a look as to what others are writing and I could look them over and give feedback before officially posting. Next, once communications start coming in, we'd gather the data and set up a database on, whereby the data could be entered as it comes in—a dynamic database—and one which might actually be used by the students who may be looking for contacts themselves.

For presentation of the data, in groups, using the data collected students could present a 'How to Manage Issues/Problems,' or we could generate some other possible topics, given the type of data that we have to work with. These presentations could be set up on Voicethread. ESLs do need practice and opportunity for rehearsal of their voices and Voicethread has worked well for this in the past. We also set up an ESL Ning last year, so another possibility is to reactivate the Ning and post all the work and presentations there.

This whole process isn't necessarily 'geeking out' whereby there's 'peer-based reciprocity,' rather it's more the 'qualities' discussed in Chap. 4 that include: constructing meaning, realistic, crossing disciplines, inquiring from experts, structuring learning so students learn from one another, reaching out to others and it would especially involve 'risk-taking' as ESLs are still grappling with both spoken and written proficiency. And, an added bonus for me is that I'm learning about the community (and how to better manage all of this) along with the students.

One last follow-up would be to invite Laurie Anderson, Speak author, to the Ning, with the possibility of further recognition for their efforts, if she were to 'publish' any of their presentations on her website.

I see this project involving a minimum of 15 classes. Rubrics would be used to evaluate each part of the project, including the writings and presentations. Past rubrics for online work could be revised and used as needed.

Regarding the NETS-T standards, this project addresses the following two standards specifically:
1. Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity: (b.) engage students in exploring real-world issues and solving authentic problems using digital tools and resources, and
3. Model Digital-Age Work and Learning: (b.) collaborate with students, peers, parents, and community members using digital tools and resources to support student success and innovation.