Dispelling the Myths of a Project

I love inquiry and projects, everyone who’s worked with me knows how much I love them. Here’s the problem. Not everyone loves them as much as I do because they have many misconceptions about what a project is and what one should look like. 

“Projects aren’t true assessment.”

Assessment is a well-rounded, multi-faceted practice that is based on many different tools. Quizzes, Tests, Exams, Projects, Performance Tasks, Worksheets, Standardized Assessments, and everything else we use to gather data about our students are a series of snapshots. True assessment requires many points of data to extrapolate what it is that we need to know and that is the level of understanding and performance in applying their knowledge.

“You aren’t assessing knowledge, only skills in a project”

You are the master of your craft. Your assessment tools is what you make of it. My various forms of rubrics and reflection are outcome-based and translate into the score type that I require from letter grades, levels of achievement, percentages and more. Evidence is everything. Feel free to email me and I’ll be happy to share my rubrics, help with editing yours or making suggestions for different tools to meet your needs. You can also check out my Ninja Plans uploads.

“I teach in an academic school. This doesn’t meet our mandate.”

I’m not sure where to begin with this one because I too teach in an academic school. I have taught in teacher-directed classrooms, student-centered classrooms, low-income, high-income, traditional and inquiry-based schools. A project is what you make of it. A dear friend of mine teaches in a Cogito program and we use many of the same projects with some adaptations to suit our contexts. A project is an application of the knowledge gained through instruction to demonstrated understanding. As the teacher, you are responsible for ensuring that implementation is meaningful and authentic to your setting.

 I’m sure there are many more myths, roadblocks or things preventing teachers from implementing more projects. I’d love to discuss this further with anyone that would like to do so. What “blocks” exist to implementing some of the projects you see or wish you could try?

Advertisements

Getting feedback from your students on your practice as a teacher

I have been meaning to post this for a while but I wasn’t sure how I wanted to summarize my experience for getting feedback on my own practice. I made myself vulnerable to my students. I was worried at first, not what their answers were but if I had missed something that I should have addressed earlier in the year. Alas, other than a student who was having a bad day with their friends, I was impressed with their answers and how much thought went into a lot of the answers.  When I proposed the idea to my students, they were hesitant at first. I explained that to them that it is their chance to give me a report card. They fell in love with the idea. Some took it as an opportunity to complain about things outside of my control, others gave some very valuable feedback. There were also a few “I like grade 5” and “I don’t like writing” type comments but it was great for me to see this range. None of them seemed to care that it was anonymous but I chose to let them say who it was from if they wanted to or if they wanted to talk to me about it. No one wanted to talk to me but a number wrote their name in the box anyways.

The idea came as I was talking to my mom about the course she teaches at the local university, she mentioned her course evaluations and how even though it comes at the end of the year, she loves them. I decided it was time that I gave my students my own course evaluation. I decided to do so digitally because paper is not my friend. The great thing about Google Forms is that it will put the answers into a spreadsheet for you if you want, show all answers to each question, or you can see each individual response. It can be anonymous or you can also require them to be signed in and log their username. I chose anonymous to get some very honest feedback – I was feeling brave.

Here is a link to a copy of the form I used if you’d like to see the questions.

The themes I pulled from their questions didn’t actually surprise me that much because a lot of it are my own personal beliefs about education and how I felt as a student.

The loved the following:

  • Projects (of all sorts)!!! (this came up with very specific examples)
  • Field Trips that related to their learning but also the ones that were just fun!
  • Hands on and building activities
  • Modeling and being allowed to then go and try it
  • Multiple rounds of feedback not only from their teacher but also their peers
  • Having choice in how they showed their knowledge
  • Variety of seating choices in a “soft” classroom.

The would have liked to see:

  • More nature stuff
  • More focus on Skills and Competencies (This one surprised me but made me happy because I wasn’t very explicit with this as I felt I was overwhelming them at times – apparently not so.)
  • More chance to co-create criteria.
  • More mixing of the subjects (cross-curricular projects, YES please!)

Some things they learned about themselves this year:

  • “I learned that every time I try and don’t give up I feel like I want to do it again.”
  • “That working hard will make feel you accomplished something and you will earn something good if you really really worked hard.”
  • “I learned that if i put a lot effort into it and i try to to do good i do good.”
  • “That I am a more you tell me what to do then I will understand better. That is what I figure.”
  • “i usually need music because it helps me concentrate.(better)”
  • “need activity”

What they had to say about me or advice for me for next year:

  • “To always have comfy chairs. But she is not going to be teaching so go teach other teachers. Come to my class!!!”
  • “shes pretty good and knows her stuff”
  • “get a class pet” (sorry, buddy! I’ll get a fish for my office and you can visit)
  • “Make all the work in to projects.”
  • “Music helps people”
  • “This year was really fun. I will miss you Miss.A.”
  • “i wish I could get the same teacher again”
  • “she was tough on me but I need it”
  • “more hugs” (admittedly, I  am not a touchy feely person)
  • “One of the best school years of my life and i learned so much and i had so much fun learning because we had fun activities to help us learn like amazing race and i had an awesome teacher who had things like yoga balls, comfy chairs, couch. thanks”

I am really glad I did this. I was nervous at first but it reallyI’d like to do smaller scale ones each reporting period and at the beginning of the year to really get to know the things my students are thinking so I can make changes along the way.

Would you be willing to let your students give you feedback? How do you think they would feel about your class? Have you ever done so? I’d love to hear!

 

PD reflection: Assessing Competencies

1.  What are you more certain of now after attending this PD?
The importance of ensuring that the competencies are visible and well understood by students. This really made me realize how important inquiry and reflection is for students. It really affirmed my dislike of pre-made resources as a primary mode of instruction instead of using it as a support for students who need that direct instruction and practice to build their skills prior to working on a project.  
2.  What are you less certain of now after attending this PD?
How to make the students understanding of them and how they are using them visible to parents. Should it be in Power School? Should the students be writing reflections that are sent home? Should we be recording/blogging/tweeting? What kind of exciting things can we do to make those connections more visible.
3.  How can you take what you learned at this session to hone your own practice as an elementary teacher?
I would like to continue to use them in the creation of my projects. I would also like to record my students talking about their learning more often. One thing I have committed to is putting the competencies into my project plans/write ups like I do with the outcomes and using them to base my reflection questions around them more explicitly.

Proud and excited students put forth amazing effort

The past couple weeks, my students have been working on a music video of their own to encourage people to do something. Religion is a rather tough subject sometimes as the majority of my students are not catholic. I have been looking for ways to take the lessons that they are to be learning and bring them to a worldly context that applies to everyone’s personal journey of faith, be it limited, devout or non-existent.

My students fell in love with the song Do Something by Matthew West early in the year. When I showed them the music video, I instantly knew they needed to make their own video. The kids planned and helped shoot the video and I put them together in iMovie for them over the weekend. When I showed the kids this morning, they were thrilled, excited and proud of the work. The reaction from parents and administration has also been extremely positive. I am so proud of the kids for taking ownership over this project and seeing the value no matter their personal beliefs.

Sometimes it is the little things that you forget

Yesterday I had the opportunity to be observed. Some really good feedback that reminded me that I can’t use the excuse of it only being the first few weeks of school anymore. We are almost done a month of school and students need to be aware of what they are learning and why they are learning it. I have decided to start building into my plans my 3 favourite questions from last year:

  • What are you learning?
  • Why are you learning it?
  • How do you know you are doing good work?

I also realized that I need a bit more structure to the day so thanks to the advice of some veteran teachers, I am taking my plans and lessons digital – making a daily notebook for my SMARTboard. I already put the I Can statements on the board so I can just blend them in. Students willingly accept that they are required to do a task but this was the push I needed to remember that the need to understand the why as well.

Being a second year teacher is actually harder than being a first year teacher in some ways because despite the experience, you have to rely on remembering all the best practices.

Here are the observation notes – September 23 Observation

Giving students experiences to learn from

One of my biggest take aways from this year is to create experiences for students. Allow them to gain skills and expose them to real world situations where the knowledge piece is put to use in the real world. By having students involved in the process of planning, my students looked for ways to connect the knowledge to the real world. Together we created critical thinking challenges and looked for ways to relate what we were learning to jobs we might have in the future.

Recently, my students looked for jobs that had to do with weather and the things we were learning in Science. We found out that weather was very important to many fields of employment and you needed to understand these concepts to perform your job.  One example was that a pilot would need to know how wind direction and speed affects the plane. Together we took it to the next level of how they could build a machine to measure the weather using the recyclable materials we were collecting. You can see our plan we developed here:  5A Design a Weather Machine Challenge

Next week we will get a chance to take our machines outside and test them out to see how effective they are at measuring the direction of the wind. The students will have the opportunity to market their machines and build plans as well. All of my students worked extremely hard and rose to the challenge. I am seeing higher levels of success because the students see a connection between skills, knowledge and the world.

Here are some photos from our build day

Taking Risks

This week my students took a number of risks in their learning. I am so proud of them. One of the biggest risks they took was reading in french and sharing with others. Here is one of the examples.

The students come together to support each other. We are aware that our french pronunciation may not be perfect and that sometimes our fluency isn’t as strong as we’d like it to be because we need to practice but these kids took a risk and wanted to share. This comes from building up their confidence and realizing that our learning is never over. We can revisit any of the tasks we do and that their skills from their current learning are ones they are building on from prior learning. I am so proud of the students and their willingness to keep moving forward.