Thursday, February 21, 2013

Do our assignments destroy our students' love of learning?

The first two weeks of February are always filled with an abundance of learning from Edcampstl and the Midwest Educational Technology Conference (METC). When reflecting back on these events, I always look at the big picture. Many of the sessions I attended focused on student assignments, student projects, and student centered instruction. Are we doing a good job in these areas or are we assigning work that is destroying the love of learning for our students?

BYOD - This was a big focus for me this year as my district is looking at beginning BYOD in the near future.  Can BYOD help restore our students love of learning? I think YES! The power of BYOD lies in all students having greater access to technology resources and students working with devices for which they are familiar. As students learn the potential of their devices (they do more than just access Facebook), they will be more likely to create with these devices on their own time. Creating is a powerful force that can enhance our students ability to communicate in a variety of forms. As teachers, we need to harness the potential of student devices and quit assigning our students the same work with the same tool. WE need to let go of complete control of the learning process. WE say that teachers should facilitate learning but are we really doing that? Do our students have any control over how they learn content or show understanding of content? BYOD could be a tool that makes this easier for us. WE don't need to be the expert at everything (and in the technology world it is almost impossible). Let our students use the tools and apps for which they are the expert. I think we will be surprised on the products we receive.

But what about those students who do not have their own device or are not allowed to bring it to school? For them, they have greater access to the classroom technology. Give a student a computer with an Internet connection and watch how they can create too! Give these students the same choice on how they learn and show what they have learned. WE need to design lessons and projects that are not program specific. Everyone does not need to create a PowerPoint or a Photo Story. I am sure it is easier from a management standpoint to have everyone do the same thing but is it fair to the student? When we take away choice, we slowly destroy the love of learning.

Project Based Learning - At METC, I attended several sessions and presented one session that delved into project based learning. When students are involved in a well designed project based learning experience, their motivation is through the roof. A well designed project takes time to setup, but it pays big dividends by tapping into multiple subjects to cover multiple standards. And when presented with an authentic experience, you never know how far our students will run with their ideas. My co-presenter, Jason Sinden, discussed how this very thing happened in his classroom. Mr. Sinden used a zoo field trip as an entry event into a project based learning activity about endangered species. One group of students were so involved in this project, that they independently started collecting money to help their endangered species. Would this ever have happened if the class read about endangered species in their textbook and did a worksheet?

Project based learning is the ultimate example of being a facilitator of learning. Instead of being a presenter of knowledge, you are intervening with your students throughout the process. By facilitating, you can differentiate by jumping in when you are needed. This differentiation could be to assist a student who is struggling or to accelerate if they can take their learning and their project to the next level. Knowing the skills and content you want your students to experience, you can build in structures for success (knowing that these structures should be different for each student). In my district, we have the Center for Creative Learning where PBL is happening everyday. Often times I hear teachers say that they wish they could teach like our "CCL". I think they can and Project based learning is the answer. So when we only teach according to the directions of our curriculum guides and textbooks, and when we assign everyone the same projects, are we destroying our students love of learning? Could infusing PBL into our teaching help restore that love of learning? For more information on PBL, check out the Buck Institute for Education.

Passion based learning - As a subset of project based learning, I am intrigued by passion based learning. By involving student interests and passions into our students' learning, we are immediately giving students more control, voice, and responsibility to their learning. Josh Stumpenhorst, who blogs at "Stump the Teacher", shared how he is using this approach in his 6th grade classroom. Two years ago, Josh started Innovation Day at his school. During this one day, students had all day to learn about a topic of their choosing and then share that learning. He has continued this and is evolving the concept into a weekly activity where students spend one day a week during language arts class working on a "passion project". This concept fascinated me because of its potential. When students are learning about topics of their choosing, their motivation has to be through the roof! But what about our standards? I content that you can tie many of the Common Core ELA anchor standards into a passion project. Language arts is a great for including student passions. Students could write about their passion, persuade others about cause, or create some sort of visual presentation about their passion. Would students rather write on the topic you choose or choose their own topic? Should students be forced to write the five paragraph essay or could the writing be incorporated into a visual media?

Everyday I walk into classrooms and see the hard work being put forth by teachers. Teaching is hard work and it gets harder everyday. We teach more than content. We teach social skills, technology skills, thinking skills, and the list goes on. But even with our best intentions, are we destroying our students love of learning by:
- assigning the weekly homework packet?
- assigning everyone the same assignment/project?
- give students little to no choice in their learning?
- controlling every aspect of the learning experience?
- living and dying by the textbook, scripted curriculum guide, and our beloved PowerPoints?

Restore the love of learning, give your students some control and create experiences for them that are authentic. When students have that love for learning, teaching becomes more fun, more fulfilling, and more satisfying. Don't be a dictator of learning.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Blog Posting (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Top Ten Reasons to Attend Edcampstl

Edcampstl is Saturday, February 9 at Hixson Middle School in Webster Groves, MO. I am excited to attend my second edcamp and hope that many others will be joining me there. So why would someone want to give up a precious Saturday to attend Edcampstl? Here is my top ten list:

10. You will walk away with something new to try/share in your school.
9. Hanging out with a bunch of educators is always a good time.
8. The energy from all the participants who are willingly giving up a Saturday for professional learning is contagious.
7. Meet a wide variety of educators and continue your conversations online after edcampstl.
6. No staff meetings disguised as professional development here.
5. Meet people who will challenge your thinking and reaffirm your belief in education all in one day!
4. Learning from others outside your school is super powerful.
3. When hundreds of educators are voluntarily here, you know everyone is invested and ready to learn.
2. You control your own professional development experience for the day!
1. After leaving edcampstl, you will never view professional development the same again.

I hope you can join me at edcampstl. For more information, please visit the edcampstl website. 

Let the learning conversation begin!