A Lasting Impact
In my last post, "How do you know what you are teaching is important?", I mentioned my goal was to start reading a new book that was on my radar. I'm in the process of reading the book, "Hacking Project Based Learning", by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy. A very practical and fabulous book for anyone in education. It shares really sound ideas towards best instructional practices for any educator. While reading it, Rob Dickson (@showmerob) asked me about my experiences growing up and inter-disciplinary projects that I remember doing in school that made a lasting impression on me today. I struggled to think of many that truly would be considered Project Based Learning (PBL) as it lacked the connection to the real world.
As we look at our curriculum, the learning activities we design, the expectations of our district and school leaders, educators need to be very focused on how they will tie it all together. Look deeply in your day-to-day with students and take a birds-eye view overall with the year you have them. What are you doing that will truly make a lasting impact on them and the future? This is where Project
Based Learning comes in to connect content with deeper learning opportunities.
Project Based Learning- the Why
As Cooper and Murphy explain PBL in their book, I like two of the key goals they want to uncover:
In education we know that time is limited, stakes are high for testing and adhering to district initiatives. The book gives ways to tie this all in, but more importantly expresses that we don't have time NOT to do PBL. We can cover the same content through deeper and more lasting learning activities that will make students carry over these skills in life. Lectures, worksheets, and scripted activities may provide the content, but they are missing that deeper learning and lack connections to the real world.
Crossing the Starting Line
In all areas of my life, whether a personal goal or professional goal, I find crossing the starting line is way harder for me than crossing the finish line. My brain circles with ideas constantly, but putting those ideas in action is my struggle.
In December 2016, I ran across a cover of a magazine that caught my eye. The Time magazine story was one of a series called "Finding Home", that followed the lives of four babies born to refugees from Syria. This story had a lasting effect on me as a mother of young kids, I connected with the mothers uncertain of their child's future along with the number of refugee families in our district that are coming from similar or worse conditions, but with the same hopes and dreams my own kids may have.
My first thought was, how could I help? My second thought, how could I get others to help. My third thought, how would I start? That is where it ended. I would see news coverage and more magazine covers as the months went by, and I kept wanting to do something, but it needed to be more than just me. I knew somewhere in the answer lies the students in our classrooms. Through Project Based Learning the students could learn how they could be part of the bigger world and helping to take part in solutions. I knew that I could not press on them my one specific interest based on the Syrian refugee crisis. It had to allow some choice on their part and passions. Then via Twitter I ran across the Global Goals Project.
Global Goals Project
I stumbled on the Global Goals Project via a tweet in February 2017 and knew instantly that I had hit just what I was looking for.
Global Goals + PBL + Curriculum Objectives = Powerful Learning Opportunities.
The Global Goals Project was developed by global leaders to achieve three major goals by 2030.
Once I discovered the Global Goals, I still did nothing with them as the day-to-day priorities kept pushing them to the back burner. As a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, I jumped on to a monthly online call one day in early March. To my surprise, the two guest speakers pulled up slides and started sharing their work with the Global Goals. I was inspired as Amy Rosentein (@SkypeAmy) and Jennifer Williams (@JennyWilliamsEDU) shared the work they were doing with students to reach the Global Goals with other educators.
After that online call, I connected with Rebecca Chambers (@rachambers04), an instructional technology coach in our district, to start working towards crossing the starting line and getting a project going at her school. I wanted to then take our ideas and push out resources to propel other educators across our district and hopefully beyond to move forward.
I love, love, LOVE this post by Adam Welcome. When I can't seem to get past the starting line, reading "Just Get Started" puts it back into perspective. I always want to plan it out, make it perfect before I start or push it to others, get out all the possible "what ifs". My favorite line from him always propels me to push past it, "Stop talking. Stop planning. Start doing. and Don't. Give. Up."
Want to get started with Project Based Learning, have a project in mind you always wanted to do, but never crossed the finish line? Have a passion or interest you want to bring into your classroom? Want to join me in getting others to help tackle the Global Goals? Let's do it. Let's get started.
To help the teachers in my district, I created a Global Goals Project Starter Kit. The Global Goals website is an ocean of resources. The starter kit I created gives more of a step-by-step to get started and a variety of levels of depth to go through depending on comfort and time. Any level they cross will make an impact on student learning and on reaching the Global Goals as long as they get through Level 1. It ends at the highest level by connecting via the Global Goals Skype Collaboration with other classrooms across the world to share their projects or work on a project together. It also provides hints for what to look for in curriculum standards to connect to the Global Goals. Take this starter kit to cross that starting line for yourself and pass it on to other educators.
Global Goals Project Starter Kit
Every teacher should be looking closely at what they are teaching and determining what is important. As a starting point, educators can look at what their district values and creates as goals. Our district's curriculum department is a well-oiled machine that provides great support systems for our teachers. They align standards to curriculum resources, provide pacing guides, and even step-by-step lesson plans for the first 20 days of the school year. These are fabulous for new teachers and helpful when new curriculum adoptions are put in place.
They have an ongoing process for training district and school leaders as coaches to help guide teachers to reflect on their lesson successes and areas to improve. I get a chance to sit in on these coaching trainings, and a recent one caught my attention as they shared a presentation on one of the district goals of providing a "Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum".
The slide below was one they spent a lot of time on, and as the presenter explained, the center "Tested Curriculum" should be the focus, like a dartboard it is the target for the coaches to focus on when working with the teachers in their building.
The presenter went further to explain the focus helps teachers align the learning goal to the standards. Now as a lover of lesson design myself, I'm always focusing my instruction and fellow teachers on their lesson objective, learning goal, learning target, whatever you want to label it as. It really makes an instructor hone in on the activities and scaffolds of support they put in place to ensure they are helping students towards reaching that goal. However, as the speaker for this particular slide mentioned several times that that center circle of "Tested Curriculum" was the main focus and what we need to really target, I couldn't help feeling uneasy. Something was missing from the message that was being sent out to the leaders that would then share this vision with all stakeholders that would follow their lead. Something so important was missing, that I talked passionately about it with a colleague, and she suggested it should be the topic of my next blog post.
“If we only teach students the curriculum, we have failed them.”
~ George Couros
Our district's mission statement, "Omaha Public Schools prepares all students to excel in college, career, and life." resonates with me as one I fully believe in, value, and support. That last word, "life" to me is the most important as we truly don't know where life will take our students. I also know that what is focused on in our district trainings to the coaches that interact directly with our teachers, is what is paid attention to and put into action in our classrooms daily. I don't want the focus to shift off of the "Tested Curriculum" completely, but that is just one piece of the puzzle for success. Of course we want our students to be able to show they can meet the proficiency levels that are expected of them on state assessments, but if our district driving focus only stays there and we don't push further we will miss out on preparing them for what life truly has in store for them.
No one has a crystal ball into the future, but I found a recent post by Microsoft Reporter intriguing as they predicted ten potential careers of the future. The main skill for these future jobs centered around the ability of humans to provide unique thinking and creativity to be productive. If we keep too much focus on mastering "Tested Curriculum" will we miss out on fostering these skills in our students?
In the same coaching training mentioned at the beginning of this post, they shared a great sentiment, "Kids can’t learn what they have not been taught.” What skills do our students need to be taught to prepare them for life besides those to master a test? You can find a laundry list of proposed skills across online educational communities and there is value in so many. To provide a starting point, our district has included a variation of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills 4Cs by adding digital Citizenship to create the 5Cs:
My five year old son, Chase is a kindergarten student in our district, and his younger brother McKennon will quickly be there too. As a parent and educator, I have a unique lens and I really hope to see the district start to shift the focus to include more than "Tested Curriculum" to best prepare them for life. My own personal view, is that the skills in the 5Cs should outweigh the mastery of "Tested Curriculum" as it allows for the fostering of the unique thinking and creativity needed for careers of the future. Pushing beyond the 5Cs, I want my own children and all to find connections to what they are learning to the real world, and a method to doing that in the classroom is through Project Based Learning (PBL).
Don't get me wrong, I love to see Chase work towards increasing his reading level, creating writing pieces, and mastering his math packet. What I don't love is the lack of evidence of the 5Cs being fostered through his work and classroom experiences. The lack of how what he is learning connects to the skills he will need in life and as his part in society. The district has such strong support systems towards ensuring the Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum to master the "Tested Curriculum" that a teacher's day can be very planned out minute-by-minute for language arts and math blocks. The "look fors" that coaches are provided do not include the 5Cs, or allow time for Project Based Learning. The professional development opportunities rarely mention 21st Century Skills integration as it is not part of our district's focus. My hope for the near future is for all districts, including ours to continue to make strides in academic areas, but also to place a focus on and value the importance skills that can not be easily measured by a test.
Striking a balance
Having a section for 21st Century Skills in our district's Best Instructional Practices handbook is helpful. However, a teacher might find it daunting to incorporate the 5Cs and Project Based Learning in their lesson design with all other district expectations. It takes time, effort, and an instructor that sees its value. When I see a teacher purposefully plan learning activities with components of the 5Cs integrated it can be powerful. It is the perfect balance of knowing they are teaching what is important both academically and for life.
Below are some tips to serve as a starting point that will allow you to stay in line with your district's focus, but also work towards building life skills through the 5Cs and Project Based Learning to foster the 21st Century Skills.
An Educator's Guide to the 4Cs
Mother, wife, teacher, learner, information seeker, outdoor lover, & I guess now a novice blogger.