Child’s Play: A STEM Language Arts PBL Unit

Last week I had the amazing pleasure to step into the classroom of one of our sixth grade language arts teachers. Stephanie Maxwell has developed a project connecting project based learning with a bit of STEM, toddler development, and language arts.

Before I share all the nuts and bolts of this project I have to tell you how excited I am to see this project unfold because we have teachers like Maxwell working very hard to merge the various subjects and topics to make high quality learning experiences.

At Bettendorf Middle School teachers undergo a series of steps in order to properly launch and execute their projects.

Teachers have to develop an idea that meets their standards. Some start with standards and others fit the standards to their ideas. Once an idea is constructed they will fill out a project planning form to sort their ideas and make sure they have all the components of a high quality project figured out.

From there they will then do a project tuning(see a video recording of one here) where they work with other teachers to fine tune and help with any questions or ideas that they might need help with in order to roll out the project. The tuning is a protocol and system that works.

At this point, teachers clean things up and then launch the project. For this project, Child’s Play, I was asked to come in and teach a STEM lesson for them to experience what the toddler’s will go through. I had them create Puff Mobiles. After one period of building and testing, students had to write and discuss how they could take this project and modify it to meet the needs of 2-5 year olds.

The students will be doing a ton of work to get ready for this project. This project has built in audience, the kids, that will be using their work to learn. The students will be building, designing, and researching what interactive learning station focused on STEM that they will create for the local Family Museum.

I think this is a great project with so much learning taking place as students work through the public, museum experts, and more to design a proper and safe learning station. Students are engaged in the content because they want to do a nice job. Their audience is more than just their peers and parents. Anytime you can blend science, history, and writing together you have a winner.

I look forward to watching this project unfold more as they are still in the early stages of work, but in the meantime feel free to check out all the hard work and things developed to make this project work.

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Classroom 2.0 Live Featured Teacher Presentation and Reflection on Student Voice, STEM, Teacher Tinker Time, and Pushing Boundaries

Saturday, May 17th I had the honor to be a featured teacher for Classroom 2.o.

It has been a while since I presented online. I did not want to have a boring presentation and wanted to cram as much in as I could.

I loved this chat. I loved that two of my students came online to speak. I left this open for any of my students who I work with to jump in. It is just another sign of the amazing student voice that we have developing in our school. I tried to convey not just student voice through action and in a general situation, but also through STEM activities. I wanted to showcase that student voice can look different based on the students and how you operate in your school.

Reflecting back I think the chat went well. I hope it provided benefit for others. As I continued to talk I was getting all fired up with my passion for student voice, play, tinkering, and just challenging ourselves to be better. I wish I had more time as an hour flies by when you get going.

If you have questions or want to know more about what I shared please reach out to me.

I plan on sharing out product descriptions, material lists, costs, etc. on all the projects I shared. I have some new ideas that generated from this presentation and will be sharing those soon.

Thanks to all who listened and joined. Thanks to my two awesome students who jumped in. This won’t be the last that we hear from them.

Here is a description of the presentation

We are so excited to have Aaron to help us wind down the school year and ramp up our motivation as our awesome May Featured Teacher! Aaron Maurer, known as Coffeechug, is a former gifted education teacher for Bettendorf Middle School in Iowa and is currently an Instructional Coach for the district. He was also a 6th grade social studies and literacy teacher prior to that. But his day doesn’t end there…after school he is a First Lego League Robotics coach, boys/girls basketball coach, and runs intramural football for 6th grade. Aaron was an Iowa Teacher of the Year Finalist for 2014 and is a member of the LEGO Education Advisory Panel. He advocates and operates several global projects and communications with students all over the world.

Aaron  and his students shared some of the amazing things he is doing with his students and teachers and three of his many passions: (1) STEM and the Power of Play, Tinkering, and Coding (including things beyond curriculum with after school programs, bringing students in to tinker and develop, and some of his current projects with robotics, Arduino, and Young Engineers of Today); (2) Student Voice, his heart and soul, where students are part of project tunings, and a student group called Iowa High Five (a group of students whose mission is to educate and inspire youth to reach their full potential as leaders) and (3) PBL which is being implemented school-wide in his middle school of 1100 students that incorporates a process called project tunings.

Recording (full): https://sas.elluminate.com/site/external/jwsdetect/playback.jnlp?psid=2014-05-17.0906.M.ACE02B5F35AA7E7975F015AAC6F794.vcr&sid=2008350

Tiny URL for Recording: http://hnyctt.me/cr20live-AaronMaurerFeaturedTeacher-5-17-14

Recording Chat: http://wiki.classroom20.com/May17_2014

Here is a list of all resources shared and discussed

http://www.livebinders.com/play/play?id=1327662

Here is an archive of the presentation

http://live.classroom20.com/archive-and-resources

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#GGEE Video 8: Project Tuning Process with Students

Today I tested out Google Glass by recording a Project Tuning involving several teachers and students. This project is going to be an amazing one. We would love any feedback on the project that you have to make it better.

A project tuning is a system we use where we provide teachers a chance to run through their project of instruction. The goal is to help them with any questions or issues they are having as well as offer as many ideas and advice to  help make the project better before launch.

One thing we are working on is involving students for the essential student voice piece. We have trained a few to do this tuning process and they are amazing. This is such a vital ingredient to ensuring projects are meeting the needs of the learners.

In terms of Google Glass, you can see that audio can be a concern. At times it was hard to hear so I added some text to help make sense of what was being shared. I will work to figure out ways to ensure audio is increased in a whole classroom in upcoming experiments.

I welcome any and all questions, comments, concerns that you have with either the project idea, Google Glass, or the project tuning process.

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Project Based Learning – Project Tuning Experience Enhances My Skills and Appreciation For My Fellow Colleagues

To start off the week I facilitated another project tuning session for a teacher. It went really well. I thought it went even better than the previous one I was part of last week. This is no way a slam to the other session, but a credit to the teachers who continue to take part and become better at this process.

For this session there were a few things that helped to make it run much smoother that I think needs to be incorporated into other project tunings.

1. Variety of staff – I think this is essential. It is imperative to conduct a project tuning with a good mix of teachers with different backgrounds. This session contained language arts teachers, an art teacher, a science teacher, and a gifted education teacher. Having different types of teachers with different types of background and thought processes really helps the teacher who is project tuning receive feedback from all angles. The previous one I ran contained almost all the same subject teachers at the same grade level. I think this can sometimes hurt because for so many years we as a staff have been trained and forced to work on the same page, do the same thing, test the same way, etc. that we were missing that broad spectrum of insight. However, I do think that as the staff continues to project tune and get better at the process we will get to a point where it won’t really matter who attends because we will all be able to do the sessions correctly. At this stage in the game, we need diversity and this was proven this morning.

2. Essential Question – Another key element is for the teacher to bring up the key question or struggle they currently don’t have an answer for. This really helps the group focus on what the teacher needs to get out of the session. By providing this roadblock in the project development the group can spend the time needed to help move the teacher over the hurdle. Getting that question is tough and sometimes be instant which leads me to…..

3. Overview Phase – I think the initial step is vital for the discussion. One difference between the two sessions I ran is that the first one I did not force the teacher to continue to talk for the entire time. This time I did(thanks Ben) and because of that the teacher shed some of her struggles which really helped frame the rest of the discussion.

4. Proper Time – we had to shorten the time, but one thing we discussed was to make sure we hold true to the Discussion time of 10 minutes. This is probably the most important phase for the teacher who is sitting outside the circle taking notes. We ran into the issue of not having enough time for everyone to speak due to time constraints(we used 7 minutes). 10 minutes is a must. This means we have to shed some minutes elsewhere and we have yet to find a perfect system.

As I review how I did as a facilitator I realize that I still have much work to do. I am learning new things each time. This is what I love about our staff. Working with a new group today I gained a whole new sense of appreciation for the amazing people in our building. With time to work with some of them I was able to learn more about myself and also how to become a better facilitator. Working with some of the same teachers from the last session I think we already improved on our questioning techniques and we are so excited to teach again. We have all found a renewed sense of excitement and I love it.

One thing that arose was the Step Up/Step Back idea. I need to find a good way of bringing to light these issues. Maybe just a reminder at the beginning ensuring that

  • Everyone has a chance for their voice to be heard.
  • Making sure everyone Steps Up and is not afraid to voice their ideas. Some of the timid teachers could have the best ideas and we need to hear them.
  • Making sure that if someone or some people are really occupying the air that they Step Back to allow others to contribute. I am guilty of this. I also have ideas(not always good ones) and I hate silence so I am first to jump in when I need to learn to step back.

This is my little reflection on another project tuning. I like to always spend time reflecting as I think it is important to me to becoming better at what I want to do. I have a long ways to go, but with each tuning I only hope to get better.

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Project Based Learning – Project Tuning Experience

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Say what? Project Tuning? Count us in!!!!!

Friday afternoon I met over my prep period with some other educators in my building to run a Project Tuning session for one of the projects a teacher needed help with. This is an amazing process that we learned when we visited High Tech High in San Diego.

We have now sent two sets of teachers out to San Diego and most have come back really excited for project based learning. This particular aspect of project based teaching is one of the best things I have experienced.

This past Friday, I was privileged enough to be the facilitator of the session. It was a great learning experience for myself as I had to be the one to run time and also keep teachers on track. I found myself feeling like a student again and I loved it.

I will post and share the steps that are involved in a Project Tuning session in a future post, but for now I want to share some things that I reflected on when I went back and wrote down some notes about the experience.

  • Project Tuning allows teachers to receive a mass amount of information and ideas in a limited amount of time without feeling berated or talked down to.
  • Project Tuning really forces the teacher who has presented the project to really think deep about their project.
  • Project Tuning is a process that will really unite the staff as we all work together to help each other become better at what we do.
  • Project Tuning makes teachers more aware of what is happening in the classrooms and also brings in a personal investment into the teaching process and classroom of others.
  • Project Tuning really helps keep teachers focused on the task at hand without wandering off topic which then leads to teachers walking away from a meeting without getting much accomplished

To elaborate on these key points I think that this is one of the most important processes I have ever been exposed to. Going through a few of these now I feel so connected to what some teachers are teaching and I can honestly say I have never felt that way before. In the past I simply did not have time to find out what others were doing and frankly did not care. Now, I walk away from a project tuning session and am excited about what others are doing. I will be following up on their projects. I will be checking in on the final projects. It is an element that is needed among staff members. We should care what others are doing.

I also think that the project tuning really gives people time to really think deeply about their project. With people constantly asking questions and discussing the project you walk away with many things to think about. It is a safe environment where everyone is really interested in helping the teacher out. There becomes an instant connection among the people involved.

Project tuning will bring staff together. As teachers start to project tune and mix and match with various teachers the staff will come together. Right now we get stuck only talking with members of our house or department. This process brings in all types of teachers to give the teacher a wide range of perspectives. This allows teachers to work and converse with other teachers who they simply don’t have time to see and meet with in our typical day. The unification will only make our school and teaching better.

As a facilitator I learned a few things myself. It is imperative that as a facilitator that one is not afraid to step in and get the teachers back on track. This can be hard as we are all educators. It does not make the facilitator more powerful when the meeting is over, but you will need someone to be able to interject and refocus the group. This is harder than it seems. I have big hopes to being a great facilitator. It is becoming a passion of mine. I have some improvements to make, but after one session I started to learn some techniques to help refocus. I could have done better, but this will come with time. As teachers, we can sometimes be the worst audience and the worse at following directions. In this process we all have so much that we want to share. As a facilitator it is important that things are shared at the right step and that teachers adhere to the process. In many ways we are just like the students we teach(and sometimes we are the ones that are just like the students that drive us crazy!!!)

I have not been able to stop thinking about the experience. I think it went smooth. I have written down in my reflection book some things I need to do better as a facilitator. I have two more project tuning sessions next week so I look forward to working on my goals I have set for myself.

I cannot wait to see how this project develops that I sat in on. We have some amazing teachers and this project tuning session will allow us to realize how powerful our staff really is.

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