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?

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.

Teaching second languages through inquiry and project based learning.

I am given a curriculum to teach French as a Second Language to my grade 5 students that looks something like this:

My Elementary School
Our Friends—The Animals
Clothes
My Home

 

Le Festival du Voyageur*
Four Holidays and Celebrations*

 

and other areas of interest.

 

Now I don’t know about you, but the last time I talked to a 10 year old, they did not consider animals their friends, they do not care about how to count in French and they most definitely do not want to to learn Valentines’ Day vocabulary so that they can do a word puzzle for any other reason than to waste a class period.

I realized this when we started our animal unit and looked at the worksheets I was given by our provincial government that would supposedly teach my kids all about animals. Since I had a sub, they started them and we essentially threw that out the window quickly. I went down to Calgary and walked around their zoo, talking to them about their rebuild after the flood and activities they did with students to help redesign parts of the Zoo. I also learned about why the penguin habitat looked like I was at one of the magnetic poles. This inspired my project to create a Grade 5 redesign of our local and rather boring zoo. Thanks to my amazing team member, she took my idea and helped organize it on paper.

Task:

Redesign the enclosure at the Edmonton Valley Zoo for one of the animal residents. The new enclosure needs to reflect the animal’s natural habitat in the wild. Your newly redesigned enclosure needs to include signs written in French that explain to the zoo visitors the following:

  • the parts of the animal
  • what the animal eats
  • where the animal can be found in the wild
  • what predators the animal has or what animals your animal preys on
  • the size, lifespan (in the wild and in captivity) of your animal, the number of babies it has and how often
  • the other types of animals that can be found in the same area as your animal

You will be presenting to your classmates the newly designed animal enclosure for your animal.

 

My students have never been so excited to learn or work on a project. I loved this quote from one of my girls who will tell it like she sees it:

“French hasn’t been my favorite subject but it is getting fun because we get to choose an animal and label it in French!”

I’ve started working with my French 7s on the vocabulary through using things like sports, designing their own Alberta based ice cream flavour, and soon we will be designing a restaurant, learning to order off a menu and cooking the food. We’ll rotate through the roles so they can all eat, serve and order.

I am starting to love going to French 7 and they are starting to hand in their work a little bit more often. By engaging their interests and giving them something to work towards, both of my grades of French are starting enjoy the class a lot more. Listening to myself and their reactions to things, I find I am going back to my love of the French language and the fun things that I got to do as an Immersion student. Bringing that to my students now makes me love what I do even more.

Building a culture of feedback in my classroom

Feedback is an important part of learning in my classroom. We go through many feedback loops on most tasks. Feedback helps us define the spirit and culture in our classroom. We use it to guide and encourage each other throughout our learning. Peer feedback is a tool for providing suggestions and encouragement to each other on specific tasks or in specific situations. It is not that to replace Teacher feedback, comments or grades. I’ve worked hard with the students to create a culture of fearless feedback culture in our class. I believe that everyone in the room is everyone else’s mentor and support. We use our best efforts to help each other become better at what we do. When each of us contributes our best ideas and efforts, we have a culture in which everyone regularly identifies and investigates how we can all improve and how we can work collaboratively to make improvements in our learning.

I wanted to share some ways to help develop a culture of feedback in their classroom.

1. Start with an activity to find out what they know about feedback. Some questions I asked my students at the beginning of the year in a brainstorm were:

  • What is Feedback?
  • When would we use feedback?
  • Why would we use feedback?

2. Next we moved into looking at Specific vs General feedback as well as Negative vs. Positive feedback.

Specific feedback provides details on what and how a person can improve what the feedback is about. If it is about a task, it points out exactly what the feedback is about and gives detailed reasons for the feedback. It also gives suggestions on how to improve that specific task.

General feedback is often seen as the feel good fuzzies and has little reason as to why it is being given. I think of it like someone sharing candy with me.

Not all feedback has to be positive but it must be constructive. Feedback is designed to motivate and help people not confuse or discourage people.

All feedback falls on a grid of Negative (or constructive) to Positive and Specific to General. I found this chart online and my kids really liked it.

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 9.25.37 PM

 

We then tried to come up with examples of each type of feedback. Here are some samples of student feedback.

Positive Specific – I really like how you used the transition words that we learned in class like ” until” and “finally”. They helped put things in order. 

 

Constructive Specific – When talking about the characters, use their names so that people who aren’t reading the book can tell them apart. That would help your summary make more sense.

 

Positive General –  I really like how much detail you put in your summary. 

 

Negative General – You didn’t write very much.

At first my students struggled with constructive specific feedback. They were very good at the warm fuzzies but it has taken a lot of work for students to be specific. The kids aren’t familiar with the vocabulary as I never really stressed it but I think they could categorize their feedback on this grid if I gave it to them. This was mostly due to the fact I was trying not to overwhelm them as all of this was very new to them.

3. We reflected a while later on how we knew when to use feedback. The kids really struggled with this so we did an activity identifying when and how to give feedback. I gave them a bunch of situations and we realized that feedback can come in many forms. The students prefer giving feedback at specific times and they have found leaving sticky notes on the work the best way to do so as. They do not like comments in Google Docs as much so I tend to print things off for them to use sticky notes if it is typed.

If your students are struggling with this, here are some steps you could use:

  1. Ask how to best give feedback – sticky notes, a conversation, ect.
  2. Share your perspective on the work but try to understand where they may be coming from. Ask for clarification on the person’s work if needed.
  3. Thank them for sharing their work with you
  4. Follow up with them. See if they need any clarification or if they would like more feedback. (My students have to write their name on the sticky notes so that the receiver can ask for clarification)

You may want to do an activity on giving feedback such as printing off writing samples and writing specifically the criteria you are looking for on the board. This will focus the students on one specific thing to look for.

The next thing to work on is how to receive feedback. My students took things very personally at first. They struggled to realize that constructive feedback (or helpful feedback) was there to help them.  I continuously had to tell them to remember feedback is an opportunity to learn from your peers and for them to use it as a chance to improve their work. I also had to ask them to remember how it feels to give feedback and be supportive of the student who gave feedback. It can be really challenging and make the students uncomfortable to give feedback initially. In the beginning, I had the students thank the person for their feedback and reflect on how they might be able to use the feedback. Now they are more comfortable leaving and receiving feedback. I still thank all the students for participating in the giving process.

If you are doing verbal feedback remind students to be present with the person they are getting the feedback from and remember how it feels to give feedback so they should be supportive. They should still thank the person for their feedback and share how they might be able to use the feedback they received.

The biggest thing for my students was the need to realize that the person who is giving feedback was trying to help so them. I needed to teach them to assume positive intent and that if something doesn’t make sense, talk to the person and ask for clarification. This could relate to misunderstanding in the work or feedback.

The next thing I’d like to try is having the students provide with examples.

My next steps with my students will be a reflection or discussion about how they respond to feedback. My plan is to use the following prompts:

  • Am I a good Getter?
  • How do you respond to critical feedback?
  • How do you respond to positive feedback?
  • Describe an experience where you would be uncomfortable to learn something new
  • What is one thing you could do to improve on how you receive feedback?

This is not a quick process. You have to have a very positive classroom environment for this to work. You have to build trust between your students and in the process. The students are quick to accept feedback from myself as a teacher but I see that they are still a bit hesitant with student feedback. I am starting to see improvements. This process is probably one of the things that the kids struggle with talking about to others. This is partially my fault for not pushing them to be very cognizant of the process and vocabulary that goes into it.

When you take this on, make sure you are consistent and continuously engage your students in doing so. I let it go a little bit in December and I found that when we came back to it in mid January, they struggled with specifics. There was improvement last week, when we did it again. We’re going to revisit the whole process again after teacher’s convention as a refresher.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, experiences to share or feedback for me! I always appreciate hearing about other people’s journeys in feedback.

 

 

Edit: This resource was shared with me on Twitter to help students get started with feedback and reflection. Hopefully it will help! Tips for providing Effective Feedback

Using Technology in the classroom

I really thought about this post and what I wanted to say about it. My past is filled with a love/hate relationship with technology. In my 3 years in my Education degree, 2 of them were written exclusively on an iPad or on my computer. My last year, I started to fall in love with paper and pen again.

I am bad with paper. I don’t like paper and I try to minimize paper the best I can but unless each of my students had their own iPad and Chromebook at their disposal, I will never get rid of paper. I like seeing what the students are thinking by writing things down. It is a different part of the brain. That being said, I am a huge fan of Google Drive submitted work. I can digitally hoard everything. I can give feedback as a student is working, They can collaborate, give and receive feedback to and edit and I can track everything they say and do. I really like the accountability.

What I don’t like is this: When technology is no longer the tool but the means of something. I love using Google Maps for geography. Sure we could make our own maps but this is fun and easy to explore while creating. What I don’t like about it is that I spend 1 hour teaching the students how to use Google Maps to do the assignment. The point isn’t that they can use the application rather that they can understand the learning that is happening.

I also don’t like when my technology doesn’t work. I have a SMARTboard in my classroom. I’d probably use my SMARTboard every day if I could figure out how to make it work. Instead, it is a glorified projector screen. Sad but true. It isn’t even mounted straight so that also bugs me. I could do without it. Actually I have. I would love to pull up a PDF and write all over it but instead I have become a fan of document cameras. They are amazing. I honestly think every classroom should have one. Once again, not needed. I am really good at quickly recreating things on a whiteboard. I have colours there as well. Don’t take that away from me… PLEASE! I love my whiteboard.

About 60% of my kids have their own tech that is useable for the majority of what we do in a day. I have access to Chromebook Carts all over the school if I need one. We are probably at about 75% of the way to being 1-1 between those who BYOD (bring your own device) and the ones at the school. I try to make use of them the best I can. I like having technology at my finger tips and finding ways for students to use it but I have to remember to balance it. We have our blogs but we also have a paper journal. I alternate using them based on certain activities, the point of what we are writing about and the classroom climate. Sometimes blogs just are not needed.

One of my favourite things about having technology at my finger tips is that I can record conversations, assessments and reading. I can look back at it and really know what is going on with my kids. I don’t have to be there every second but I still get the feedback as if I was. I take pictures, I tweet, I record videos and voice memos on a regular basis. The kids are used to it but what they don’t realize is their work becomes more important to them. I don’t have to find a fancy hook or wear a funny hat to do it but they want to show off their best work for the camera.