Tagged: teaching

A Statement of Educational Philosophy

Philosophy of Education

Recently, I took some time to revisit my educational philosophy. I’ve written my philosophy a few times over the course of my career, and I find it interesting to note what has varied with each iteration. My beliefs have changed drastically over the course of my career, but my love for students and my passion for learning have remained steady. This “statement” is by no means perfect and continues to be a work in progress. Nevertheless, here is my recent thinking. 

Everyone should be a lifelong learner. The essence of life is learning. As I examine what I believe about education, I realize how much my educational philosophy has changed over the past 15 years. The constant in my career has been my need to reflect on my thinking, evaluate my own learning, and adjust my beliefs and my actions accordingly.

I used to think a teacher’s primary job was to know his content thoroughly and to present the material well, but now I think a teacher’s main role is to get to know his students, to uncover their understanding, and to help them demonstrate their learning well. Early in my career, I spent untold hours studying the content I needed to cover and preparing the presentations I would use in my teaching. These days, I devote the majority of my time to conferencing with my students individually and in small groups and to having them share their thinking visibly. While I appreciate teaching as an important part of the process, I believe learning should be the primary focus in classrooms and schools.

Learning is more than the process of gaining knowledge and skills. It requires constructing meaning and transferring understandings to new contexts; it includes meta-cognition and reflection. I believe learning should be active and passive, social and secluded. Activity, collaboration, and interaction should enhance and deepen understanding, but there must be time to process, read, write, and think quietly, too. I believe the most engaging and memorable learning arises from student-driven inquiry, where students ask questions, research ideas, evaluate answers, connect information, and share their learning. Project-based and problem-based learning develops the critical skills today’s students need to become deep thinkers and take ownership of their own learning.

My leadership stems from a passion to serve those around me and to help them become the best they can be. To serve them I listen carefully to hear their needs and concerns, I work with opposing people and polarizing ideas to find creative solutions and build consensus, and I strive to lead honestly and transparently building a common vision and a culture of care.

I know schools and classrooms must be places where all learners feel secure, valued, and able to take risks. Effective leadership focuses on the strengths of each individual to build relationships and develop leadership at every position within the learning community. As leaders empower teachers to take risks, teachers inspire students to grow into the creative entrepreneurs our society needs through the challenging, meaningful, purposeful, and engaging learning they experience.

My current philosophy of education consists of these ideas. Yet, as a landscape is changed by a river rolling through it, my philosophy will continue to be shaped and molded by future experiences, new discoveries, and further interactions with my community of learners. As a mentor once said, “We do not know where our train is going, but Someone knows.” I do not know what insight and changes the future holds for me, but the Teacher does—and that is enough for me.

Cleaning Up Collateral Damage

collateral damageMy day started early. The alarm chimed at 4:45 AM, and I rolled out of bed fumbling for my running shorts and shoes as I headed toward the bathroom. On the way I grabbed my phone hoping to check a few emails and do some multi-tasking for school while I prepped for my early morning jog.

Ugh. I saw the name in my inbox and knew this wasn’t how I wanted to start my day. Emails sent from parents in the middle of the night are never a good thing.

I considered waiting to open it. I started to close the Mail app, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to think about anything else during my run. The unknown contents of the message would haunt my entire workout. With a deep breath I opened the message.

Mr. Cummings,

*Todd came home very upset today about a conversation regarding his makeup work. Todd has missed 4 days of school due to illness last week. He had fever and felt terrible. He was very weak all weekend and could barely keep his head up during dinner tonight! The full school day exhausted him. There was evidently a test  scheduled in your class today, and Todd stated that you expected him to take the test because “you knew what the homework was, Todd; it was online.” I’m not sure how you feel when you are sick with fever, but Todd couldn’t even lift his head to drink enough let alone think about schoolwork.  He certainly wasn’t checking homework on the computer nor was he reading.

He went on to say that you conceded by allowing him to read tonight and take the test tomorrow. He knows he has quite a bit of work to make up, and we are making sure he gets caught up while continuing to do his daily work. He is still not 100%.

This week his PE time is already taken up with other academic commitments so he has no extra time at school. Thank you in advance for  your understanding and allowing him adequate time to get caught up. I can tell you now that he cannot take the test tomorrow as he went straight to sleep after dinner.

Sincerely,

Todd’s mom

Yikes! I’d totally blown it. Todd was a great kid and a wonderful student. He always gave his best and did quality work. I had known he’d been out sick, but I hadn’t realized how sick he was. Truthfully, I wasn’t even upset that Todd wasn’t ready to take the quiz. He just caught me at the completely wrong moment. When he walked up to speak with me about his situation, I was already frustrated by another matter. I was having a lousy day. Todd innocently walked into my frustration with horrible timing, and he’d received the brunt of my exasperation. I’d made a sick kid feel worse.

Looking back, I recognized immediately my first reaction to Todd was wrong. That’s why I quickly reconsidered and offered to let him take the quiz the next day. I think I intended for the modifying of my expectations to be an olive branch offering to Todd for my inappropriate response. Todd didn’t need an amendment; he deserved an apology. He deserved a teacher humble enough to own his mistakes. He deserved a better me.

I wrote Todd’s mom the following message:

I will apologize to Todd today. He bore the brunt of some other frustration and that wasn’t fair. Todd is a good student, and he is conscientious about his work. I really didn’t mean to speak harshly to him or make him feel bad. I was irritated over another matter (not related to Todd), and he walked into it unfortunately.

Todd can make up the reading and take the quiz sometime next week (the book is very short). I really wasn’t upset or frustrated with him. He just caught me at the wrong moment on a bad day, but that’s really no excuse. I’ll speak with him today and try to make things right. Again, I’m sorry; please accept my apology. My reaction wasn’t intentional, but it was an over reaction and wrong. Thank you for letting me know I upset him so that I can fix my mistake. He’s a great kid, and I enjoy having him in class.

Thanks-

Philip Cummings

Later that morning, I met Todd at the top of the stairs entering our class hallway. I apologized for my behavior explaining that I was wrong to treat him that way and that I really wasn’t frustrated with him. I thanked him for being such a dedicated hard-worker and told him that he had more than enough “deposits in the Mr. Cummings bank” to make a few withdrawals when needed. Todd smiled, accepted my apology, and appeared to understand. His parents were gracious enough to accept my apology, too. I appreciate such grace.

As a teacher (and as a parent), sometimes it’s hard to acknowledge my mistakes—to admit when I’m wrong, when I’m petty—to admit I’m fallen and broken. I want to be the best teacher I can be. My students deserve the best, and on some days, my best may just be an apology.

 *Todd is not the student’s real name.

An Idea: ELA Quads

Rectangle ABCD
by Illustrative Mathematics licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

One of the changes we’ve made in 6th grade this year is to combine our English and reading instruction into one English Language Arts (ELA) class. We still have two teachers and two classrooms. Marjorie focuses on writing instruction through Writers’ Workshop while I focus on reading through Readers’ Workshop, but instead of having separate classes and separate schedules. Two homerooms are scheduled to have us during a two-hour English Language Arts block. This is a step towards developing the humanities class we are planning to shift to in the future. I’m excited about the shift to (ELA) because it allows Marjorie and I to collaborate more closely integrating our teaching and it allows us greater flexibility and more control over individual student schedules.

With thirty-eight boys scheduled for a two-hour block of ELA at one time, we’ve been imagining ways to play with how our classes will flow and how boys will shift between the two workshops. We considered a block schedule grouping the boys and having them spend both hours with one teacher on alternating days, but we decided for now we prefer the boys both to read and write daily. We also prefer to divide up having our boys travel by homerooms.

In wrestling with these constraints, Marjorie and I designed a plan. Each boys will be assigned to an ELA quad. Within the quad each boy will have a reading partner and a writing partner, but their partners will differ depending on the workshop. The quads will travel together to the different classrooms and work together for small group lessons for the entire first trimester. The quad consists of boys A, B, C, and D. A and B are reading partners, and C and D are reading partners. A and D are writing partners, and B and C are writing partners.  The whole quad also doubles as a small group. At the end of the trimester we will “turnover the fruit basket” and place the boys in new quads with new partners. Because we are still getting to know the students and their personal learning needs, our first quads will be of mixed ability levels. However, we may adjust how we group the students as the year goes along.

I’m excited about the idea and the flexibility it affords us while providing some structure for the students. Our plan is to name each quad after an NFL team during the fall trimester, after an NBA team during the winter term, and after an MLB team during the spring third. (We want to avoid having groups of bluebirds and red birds.)

What do you think of the idea? What else do we need to consider? I’d love to receive your feedback about the ELA quad idea and ways we can make it better.


This is a pomodori post. My pomodori posts stem from my use of the Pomodoro Technique. I spend the first 25-minute interval writing a post and a second interval polishing, editing, formatting, tagging, and scheduling it. At the end of the second interval, the post is done.

The Story of Learning, Part 2

story of learningAs mentioned in my last post, I’ve struggled as I consider the question “What will be the story of learning in your classroom this year?” I’m a sucker for a good story. It’s why I love good books, great movies, and skilled teaching. All involve good storytelling, and I can get lost in a good story for hours and hours if time permits. I want our story of learning in my classroom to be a great story. It has to be a great story. My students deserve nothing less. But…I’m not sure I know exactly what that story should be yet. After all, I haven’t met most of my students yet. How can I possibly know what our story should be?

It’s important to develop my students’ voice. It’s important they have choice about their learning and have ownership of it. Their thinking matters. I know what skills, concepts, and dispositions they need to develop, but this isn’t really my story of learning. It’s theirs. As I’ve thought more about this question (while running 14 miles this past weekend), I’ve decided my students and I need to plot the story of our learning together.

Good stories don’t happen by chance. They have important elements that come together to create a powerful story. We need to consider those same elements as we plot the story of our learning. Here is a quick list of some questions I plan to work through with my classes as we develop the story of our learning together. We’ll start contemplating and discussing these together during the first few days of school.

Setting: Most of our story will take place in Room 218 at Presbyterian Day School in Memphis, Tennessee. Nevertheless, I want my students to consider the type of environment we want our classroom to be. What will be the tone and ethos of our room? What should we do to make the most of our space? What pledges do we need to make to each other to create the environment we want?

Character: What types of learners do we need to be? What attitudes and behaviors should we adopt to create a great learning story? How should we treat each other? What do you see as your strengths as a learner, as a reader? Where do you want to improve?

Conflict/Rising Action: What are the problems we want to solve? What questions should we explore? How will we handle disagreements among us? What are the internal and external conflicts that might get in the way of our learning? How should we address them? What will we do when we struggle or when things are hard?

Climax: What would be the greatest thing you could do this year individually? What do we want to accomplish as a group? What aspects of learning and school matter to us the most?

Falling Action/Resolution: What would need to happen in order for you to say you had a successful year in this class? When you look back at 6th grade, what do you think you’ll remember?

Theme: What is the main goal we want to achieve this year? What are the “throughlines” that tie all our learning together? What are the big questions about conflict (our grade level theme) we need to consider?

I’m out of time to write. Does any of this make sense? What other questions should my students and I consider as we “plot” our year together?


This is a pomodori post. My pomodori posts stem from my use of the Pomodoro Technique. I spend the first 25-minute interval writing a post and a second interval polishing, editing, formatting, tagging, and scheduling it. At the end of the second interval, the post is done.

My Professional Development Goal for 2014-2015

Professional Development

Professional Development Goal: Every year each teacher at PDS participates in a yearlong conversation with his/her administrator and colleagues that includes the following components: reading and research, reflection, goal setting, planning, collaboration, implementation and feedback.

As part of this process, each teacher will identify a professional development goal that relates directly to classroom teaching and learning. It should have practical application and impact in the current year, and it should align with the school’s broad institutional goals and/or institutional philosophies about teaching and learning. The goal should be measurable. Teachers who fully achieve their goal will earn $500.

Goal: Work together with the other members of the 6th grade team to transition from our departmental approach to reading, social studies, and English to an interdisciplinary approach to humanities that will merge the essential skills and understandings from the original classes.

Steps to Achieve Goal:  (Please include a list of books/articles/ videos that you plan to read or view during the summer.)

1.    Read the following texts to decide their appropriateness as reading selections for the course:

2.    Meet as a Humanities team 2-3 times this summer to plan for the upcoming school year.

3.    Meet weekly as a team during the 2014-2015 school year to continue developing curriculum, to check our progress, and to make revisions.

4.    Coordinate our plans with the STEM team to ensure seamless implementation and begin considering how reading and writing can be threaded into science and math instruction also.

Final Product: Our product will be ongoing observations and conversations with Susan and the team with a culminating discussion at the end of each trimester about the progress.

Note: I submitted this goal to my administrator in May before the end of this past school year. I’m just now getting around to posting it here as I attempt to re-establish my writing practices. Two of my teammates share this goal with me, and we are working on it together. I’m posting this on my blog for my own personal documentation and accountability. I also hope to track my personal progress toward the goal by blogging about it over the course of the 2014-2015 school year.

 

Bragging Rights

bragging rightsIn response to my unexpected class visitor on Wednesday, I decided to email my students’ parents to brag about the learning and interactions the boys had shared. I know the students and their thinking are the most impressive things in my room, and I deeply appreciate and love what I do and the boys with whom I work. When I email parents, I carbon copy the boys, too. I don’t want to talk behind their backs, and I always want to include them in the conversations about them.

This morning I shared with my feedback friend Jill Gough about my email to parents, and she suggested I share the letter here. Jill suggested it’s important to share how I interact with parents. The following is the message I shared with them earlier this morning:

6A Parents-

Wow. Your (our) boys are incredible young men! I have to share with you how impressive they are and tell you how much I appreciate your sharing them with me.

As you may know, we had visitors in our room on Wednesday in conjunction with the Project Zero conference this weekend here at school. Teachers from around the country and Harvard researchers spent the day observing the teaching and learning at PDS. In reading, we are in the early stages of a project-based learning unit that the boys are helping to design. The boys learning is impressive, and I was extremely proud to watch as they demonstrated their thoughtfulness and articulated their ideas to our guests. They also showed how kind and considerate they are. They were perfect gentlemen.

Our visitors were amazed. Working with the boys everyday, I sometimes forget how deep, intelligent, and mindful they truly are. In fact, they were so impressive that the primary Harvard researcher who is here decided to return to my classroom to spend the rest of the day (unannounced – yikes)! Our boys had moved on to their other classes, but I was able to spend the afternoon with Ron Ritchhart, whose work is the basis for much of what I do and how I teach. It was an honor for me, but it was really a reflection on your boys.

To the boys and to you, I want to say thank you. I am proud to be your partner and their teacher. We are two class “happy grams” away from a class party. Well, in my opinion, they earned at least a “double-whammy” and a class party for all they have accomplished these first two trimesters (and definitely over this past week)! We’ll plan to do that next Friday towards the end of C day, and this party will definitely be my treat. The guys and I will plan it out on Wednesday.

I just wanted you to know how proud and thankful I am and to brag to you about your boys. they are a wonderful blessing to me.

Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope you are enjoying the winter break! And thanks again.

Regards-

How do you interact with parents? What things do you share? Where does the student fit into the communication loop? Why do you do it that way? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Some Kind of Supreme – July/August 2013

Blackberry Supreme from Jerry's Snow Cones by ilovememphis. Used with permission.
Blackberry Supreme from Jerry’s Snow Cones by ilovememphis. Used with permission.

July and August have been wonderful and hectic. In July, I tried to focus on family and resting, but I spent all of August in the craziness that is the start of school. We have 4 kids, and Debbie and I are both teachers. This year there are four different school schedules and calendars to coordinate, and I am the family’s Chief Transportation Officer (primary taxi driver). In addition to that, my school and classroom were renovated over the summer. Woohoo! But I wasn’t able to get into my classroom until the week I started in-service. That’s a little later than I typically prefer to get started. Also, we made some adjustments to the daily schedule and our approach to reading at school, and I started training for my first marathon. (Hello 4:30 AM alarms.) All of these changes are good, but they’ve left me feeling a little scrambled, and I’d prefer to be more sunny-side up!

Unfortunately, something had to give, and I decided I just couldn’t give time to this blog over the past few weeks. I’m hoping to write more in September, but for now, let me share with you some “supreme” posts from my PLN that resonated with me over the past couple of months.

Best Advice – The Habits of Happiness from Leo Babauta

“I make a lot of lists — it’s one of my favorite habits — but this list seemed to have a magical power. It was a list of the things I was grateful for. Amazingly, there were a lot of things on the list, from things about my wife, kids, relatives, and friends, to things about my job, about nature around me, about my life.”

Most Honest – My Biggest Failure as a Teacher by Justin Stortz

“I wish I could tell you that we had an emotional heart-to-heart in the hallway that repaired our fractured relationship. I wish I could tell you that he began respecting me for the rest of the year. I wish I could tell you that he finished the year with a bang. But I can’t.”

Most Relatable – My PLN Saved My Teaching Career via John Spencer

“I know that some people market a PLN as a great place to go for ideas. And maybe it is for some people. Maybe a PLN is what you make of it. Maybe it’s a place where you offer what you can and you get what you need.”

Best Question/Reflection – What if the Temptation to Be Impressive is Keeping Us From Connecting? by Don Miller

“But tell me one flaw. I mean quietly over a beer, you know, just admit you cry while watching Oprah or you sometimes struggle with porn or you’re jealous of your boss and suddenly there’s a bit of velcro on your soul and we can connect. I’m not sure why it happens except maybe it helps me believe I’m not alone, that I’m flawed and you’re flawed and we are in this thing together.”

Most Useful – Making Thinking Visible with Technology from Clif Mims

“When connected with the visible thinking routines word clouds, digital posters, videos, podcasts, slideshows, digital sketches, online concept maps, cartoon strips, timelines, and much more can be used to help students provide evidence of their thinking and understanding. With a bit of strategic planning it’s possible for teachers to integrate the curriculum, use of technology to promote thinking and learning, digital citizenship, and 21st century skills into a single activity built around a thinking routine.”

Best Quote – “Try to be kinder.” ~ George Saunders (courtesy of Larry Ferlazzo)

Post I Want Every Educator to Read – Recess and Movement Breaks Are Needs… NOT Rewards by Chris Wejr

“The challenge for teachers and staff is to determine an appropriate balance of movement, noise, and quiet, calm time.  My concern is that we confuse our needs with student needs and sometimes observe behaviors as a choice to act out and misbehave rather than a message of what their bodies need.”

Most Disturbing (creative and funny) – My Innovative Underpants by Bill Ferriter

“Not wanting to surrender my place among the social elite, I toughed it out in boxers for the better part of a painful decade.  I wasn’t happy about it, but tightie-whities weren’t going to win me any friends and I knew it.”

Best List – How to Raise Good Geeks from Kevin Makice

“Being called a geek used to be an insult, but we all know it as a badge of honor and a label we willingly self-apply. Especially given the challenges of institutional education, fostering geekiness is often an intentional choice to get out of the way of our innate joy of learning.”

Most Amen-able – The Greatest Gift by Dean Shareski

“Routine is great if you choose it. Autonomy over time is part of what makes us human. Freedom is priceless.”

On My Nightstand – R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, and Ron Berger’s An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students 

What I’m Reading Aloud at School – Ingrid Law’s Savvy, Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan, and Gordon Korman’s No More Dead Dogs

My Most Popular Post for July-August 2013 – 10 Sticky Things From ISTE 2013

“Don’t get me wrong. Reading and writing is valuable me. Project-based learning is powerful. Class discussions are insightful. Simulations can drive home a point, and I still benefit from the occasional lecture, too. But I find walking and talking truly transformative. I had several walk and talk ”sessions” at ISTE, and they were some of my favorite learning experiences. I’m trying to figure out how to merge more of them into my learning now that I’m home.”

What about you? What have you read that’s resonating with you? What’s happening on your blog?

Some Kind of Supreme – June 2013

Blackberry Supreme from Jerry's Snow Cones by Kerry Crawford. Used with permission.

June has been a busy month. School hasn’t been in session, but teaching and learning has occupied a significant amount of my time. During the first two weeks of the June, Alice and I prepared and offered a Classrooms of Understanding workshop at the Martin Institute Summer Conference. I spent the next week helping with Camp Read-a-lot at PDS. Then, I immediately flew to San Antonio for ISTE 2013. (I’ll write more about ISTE later as I’m still working on my reflection.) My regular reading (especially my RSS feeds) has suffered a little due to all the busyness and I’m still several days behind where I’d like to be. Nevertheless, several posts and articles resonated with me and have been on my mind. So, here are the supremes for June 2013:

The Post I Most Want All My Colleagues to Read – Chris Wejr’s Is a School Awards Ceremony the BEST We Can Do?

“I believe we need to honour and highlight achievements and student learning but I wonder… is an awards ceremony that recognizes only a select few, and is often held a few days before our students leave, the BEST we can do?”

Best Share – Justin Stortz’s Hearts and Seasons

“The music of this year is fading. The laughter is turning into echoes, and the voices are growing distant. I’ll close the blinds and turn off the lights one last time. And I’ll count myself blessed for being able to teach and learn from this very special girl.”

Best Slide – Bill Ferriter’s The Only Math That Ever Really Mattered

Slide_MaththatREALLYMattered

The Ignite Talk I Most Wish I Could’ve Heard at ISTE – Jackie Gerstein’s Education 3.0: Altering Round Peg in Round Hole Education

“Education 3.0 is a constructivist, heutagogical approach to teaching and learning.  The teachers, learners, networks, connections, media, resources, tools create a a unique entity that has the potential to meet individual learners’, educators’, and even societal needs.  Education 3.0 recognizes that each educator’s and student’s journey is unique, personalized, and self-determined.”

Most Thought-provoking – Mark W. Schaefer’s The End of An Analog Life

“But there is still something chilling and profound about being the last of my kind who will ever have to throw his life away forever … piece by lovely, tattered, beautiful piece.”

Most Amen-able (and Best Post Title) – Justin Stortz’s (yes, again) I Would Choose for a Student to Fail

“If I had to choose, I will always choose for a student to find joy in reading, even if it meant failing a test. I care about the student more than the score.”

Best Reflection – John Spencer’s It Takes Time

“Sometimes I get frustrated that I’m coming up on a decade and I’m still making huge mistakes. I feel like I should be closer to my utopian dreams. And yet, just like learning to play an instrument or writing a novel, the journey takes time and has pockets of boredom and frustration.”

Bravest – Bill Ferriter’s (yep, again) Is Standardized Testing Changing Me for the Worse?

” Collaboration with colleagues has helped me to become the teacher that I am today.  My best instructional practices were polished with — and by — intellectually generous peers.  But I’m more than a little convinced that my “me first” thinking is nothing short of an inevitable by-product of working in a state that has decided that competition between teachers for contract protections is a good idea.”

Best Reminder – Leo Babauta’s A Secret to Dad Greatness

“This daily practice, of appreciating their love for you, will make your life better. It will help you be the role model they need, because someone who appreciates the love of others is a beacon of gratitude and humility and mindfulness.”

On My Nightstand – Grant Lichtman’s The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in SchoolRon Berger’s An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students, and Chris Lynch’s Inexcusable

My Most Popular Post in June 2013 – My Summer Reading List – 2013

“This year, I am more realistic. I have picked three professional learning books and four young adult novels, but I’m also planning to use the audio versions of a couple of the books to keep me company this summer while I train for the my first marathon, run errands, chauffeur my kids, mow my yard, and complete other daddy chores.”

What about you? What have you read recently that’s resonated with you? What’s happening on your blog?

July 3 Update – I mistakenly left out:

Funniest Post – Barbara Madden’s A Little Progress Is Still Progress, Right?

“You see, Southerners love us some prepositions. Dogs lie up under porches, children run on over to the neighbor’s house, and folks live right down over yonder.”

Diving Into Project-based Learning: Reflections

project-based learningNow that the project is over, I admit diving into project-based learning was beneficial. The students and I learned a lot, and I don’t think I would have taken away as much had I chosen to simply dip my foot in the pool. Not long after we completed our project, my principal asked if it was worthwhile and if I would do it again. My first response was “I don’t know…maybe.” Planning and managing the project was really challenging, and the daily classroom chaos stretched my comfort zone significantly. And yet. . . project-based learning engaged my students. They felt a sense of ownership toward their learning that I hadn’t really seen before. So yes, I’ll be doing it again. In fact, I’ve already submitted my professional goal for next year, and it’s once again focused on project-based learning. (I’ll share more about that later.)

In addition to accomplishing my own professional goals related to PBL, I want to do the following things next year:

  • Partner with another teacher so that I am not the only teacher providing feedback and guidance throughout the project.
  • Have my students identify and define the driving question for our project-based learning.
  • Provide more time and opportunity for presentation, peer feedback, reflection, and revision.
  • Spend some time early in the year teaching my students the social media skills I want them to have. I want to turn them loose with our class Twitter account, their own blogs, and perhaps even a class Pinterest account and let them promote their own work and learning.
  • Be extremely purposeful and thoughtful in identifying the “needs to know” to help guide the students’ research.
  • Identify a person or group that my students can formally present their projects to that will serve as a more authentic audience.

I also had hoped to have several students write guest posts about our dive into project-based learning. Several boys agreed to do it, but unfortunately, the end of the school year and sixth grade graduation prevented them from getting posts together before we parted for summer. Without the guest posts, I decided to offer the next best thing and share some of the comments they made about their work on our Google Feedback Form.

Here’s what the students had to say:

What was the most challenging part of the project? 

“The most challenging part of this project was finding what we were going to do for our project.” – L. L.

“The presentation, I had to restart and do the entire PowerPoint all over.” – J. P.

“To me, the hardest thing was making posters from scratch and not copying off another image from the internet.” – G. B.

“I think the most challenging part was when we kept thinking of different pages or ideas and where we should put them. Also, we had to wait on the other groups to finish their projects.” – W. M.

What are three things you did during this project to help your classmates or your team?

“1) I researched the matter and did what was to be done. 2) I showed others how to do this or that and showed them sites for research about their project. 3) I stayed on task about 90% of the time and used my time wisely.” – T. M.

“1) I tried to come during Flex time to work on the project for my partner. 2) If my partner was struggling, I helped him do his part. 3) I cleaned up the messes that we made while doing our project.” – S. S.

“I edited all the videos. (Insert imaginary bullet in head) I overlooked all the presentations, (wrong things, grammar, spelling, etc.) I also interviewed many people, and set up some more interviews.” – H. D.

“I made all the emails we sent to organizations. I made our presentations. I brought the group together to stop arguing.” – A. G.

What made the biggest impact on your learning during this project? Why?

“Finding out all that I did about homeless people during the research part of this project, and how many homeless people are really out there. It just completely changed how I thought of these people, before that I did not think that there were actually that many homeless people out there, but now I am more than happy to help out as well as overwhelmed by how many people who are out there that are actually homeless.” – A. J.

“It is finding that so many people today are still affected by racism because there are still groups even in America that are still as racist as they had been in the 1800s.” – J. H.

“The research made the biggest impact on my learning during this project because it taught me more about sweatshops and how it affects the people who work for them and their families.” – T. H.

“Working as a team I could not do it all by myself.” – P. M.

“I used to think that homelessness was just a small portion of the world and just happened in 3rd world countries. But from research, I realize now that it is everywhere.” – H. P.

If you could go back in time and start this project over, what would you do differently?

“I would go back and change the way we formatted the website. I do like our design that we have now though I think the pages could have been in a different order and we could have taken out a few.” – J. M.

“Work more on my research.” – H. U.

“Come up with a better slogan, I don’t think the ones I came up with were my best.” – L. A.

“I would have done more research for Diigo, and I would have learned how to cite my photos before I found a lot of them because I lost 5 photos and a lot of my time because I did not cite them right when I got them.” – W. P.

“I would have spent more time working on my research. I think I could have commented more on other people’s bookmarks.” – R. C.

“I would organize our priorities better and manage time better.” – A. C.

What is something you accomplished during this project that makes you proud?

“This project is going to a fantastic cause. It will truly help the people who are less fortunate.” – A. R.

“I think that I made something that will teach someone else about sweatshops.” – W. S.

“The one thing that I accomplished during this project that made me proud was actually trying to do something other than raising awareness. We found a chance to volunteer that really did make a difference in someone’s life. I have never done that before, so it really makes me proud.” – W. Q.

“Finishing the video made me proud. We had worked so hard to finish filming and find facts and the song we used at the end.” – D. B.

How did you apply what you learned from your research in your project?

“I applied the stuff from Diigo to help with our website design, and I used the facts page to put lots of facts on our page. I also used the quotes, pictures, and much more.” – J. F.

“I applied most of the facts and stats from our research into our infographic to make it as detailed as possible.” – C. F.

“I used my research in my project by making my logo. The cycle in the logo I came up from the research I did. Chronic unemployment is a cycle which is hard to stop, so we want to stop the cycle.” – E. N.

This is the eleventh (and final) post in this series on my “Diving Into Project-based Learning.” If you want to read more about my first experience with PBL, you should read about my professional goalmy research and resourcesthe genesis of the ideaour project brainstormsthe rubric designour need to knowour inquiryour innovationfeedback friends and going public.

Diving Into Project-based Learning: Going Public

project-based learningOne thing that interested me most about project-based learning is the idea of student’s sharing their work with an authentic audience. Most of the work my students have completed through the years has only been seen by me. In fact, the only reason they bothered to complete it was because I was going to give them a grade. Other people weren’t going to read those research papers or view those book projects. I can think of a few wonderful exceptions like our Wikipedia project at Millington High and the year my eighth graders performed Shakespeare at Harding’s Renaissance Fair but at least 95% of the learning my students have accomplished has never been seen outside my room.

My students created everything during our project-based learning unit with the plan to share it online. They even scanned the original, hand-drawn artwork into PDF format so that the students could share them on the websites they built. They wanted to share their  projects with the world, and we had grand plans, too. Unfortunately, time got the better of us, and we didn’t finish several of the projects or didn’t transfer the work to the real websites. I stretched our project-based learning two weeks beyond the end of the trimester, but I wasn’t willing to give it any more time.  (The third trimester is already pinched for time.) We left for spring break and really never found the authentic audience we’d hoped to find.

One of the things I wanted to do was to have my students tweet about their projects from our class twitter account. Unfortunately, I didn’t start the year teaching them how to effectively use Twitter so that I could turn it over to them. I failed miserably here. Next year, I want to do a better job of having my students share their learning via our class account and not trying to do it myself. It’s another thing I need to let go and allow the kids to do. A second thing I wanted to do was to connect the boys with non-profit leaders in our area so that they could present their projects to local experts. Unfortunately, I got too busy trying to manage the day-to-day, and I completely let these plans slip. Another fail. So some of the students’ work made it online, but it wasn’t really finished and we didn’t publicize it like I would have liked so it never really found an audience.

In all honesty, I still struggle with sharing work that is still in progress. That’s an area where I need to take more risks.  So I guess this is another area that I really need to refine in the future. I wanted an authentic audience for the students’ project-based learning, but finding a public was more challenging than I anticipated.

What do you think about going public with student projects? What has been your experience with promoting student work outside the classroom and school? What other ways might we create authentic audiences for student work? I’d love to know what you think.

This is the tenth post in a series on my “Dive Into Project-based Learning.” I’ve planned one last post to share some final thoughts on this first “dive” into PBL, and I’ll include some student comments and reflections, too. I should have it ready to go next week. I will spend the  rest of this week on the Martin Institute Conference. If you are there, please track me down and introduce yourself. If you want to follow the conference online, you can follow the #MICON13 hashtag on Twitter. If you want to read more about my first experience with PBL consider reading about my professional goalmy research and resourcesthe genesis of the ideaour project brainstormsthe rubric designour need to knowour inquiry, our innovation, and feedback friends.