PBL & Common Core Tip: Instructional Time for Teaching Thinking Skills


This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >

Often, we forget to teach thinking skills to students. Project-based learning (PBL) by design, demands that these skills be taught and assessed.

Every PBL project has 21st century skills that are taught, assessed, and transferable across various disciplines.
How to teach and assess critical 21st century thinking skills, however, may not always be readily apparent from the way standards are written. Take these examples from the Common Core:

Reading Standard for Literature Grade 7: Analyze how particular elements of a story or drama interact (e.g., how setting shapes the characters or plot).

Math Standard – Linear, Quadratic and Exponential Models: Construct and compare linear, quadratic, and exponential models and solve problems.

If you unpack these standards, you can separate the concepts from the skills. Concepts like “elements,” “drama,” “quadratic” and “linear” emerge, but so do skills. In this case, analysis and comparison are embedded in the standards.

Analysis, for example, needs to be taught discreetly in order to scaffold instruction toward this standard, as a whole. Likewise, if you have a Math PBL project on Linear equations, then students also need to be skilled at making comparisons. When backwards designing PBL projects to the Common Core standards, be sure to include lessons and activities that teach not only the concepts covered in the standards, but the thinking skills embedded in the Common Core that support learning, across disciplines.

5 Tips to Avoid Teacher Burnout


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


Baptism By Fire! That’s what I call the first year of teaching. No matter how much preparation and mentoring you have received, you are building the plane as you fly it. To make sure you don’t crash and/or burn (yes, pun intended!), I put together some hard-learned lessons from my experience as a new teacher. In addition, these are good recommendations and reminders for veteran teachers. When you get hunkered down in the day-to-day while the year presses on, you tend to forget what really works well, because you are working so hard. I hope you find these five tips useful!

1) Push Out Content in Different Ways
You know what’s exhausting? Preparing PowerPoints, presentations and other lectures! Guess what? You don’t have to do this all the time. Yes, there is a time and a place for a lecture or direct instruction, but there is also a place for a variety of strategies to have students take ownership of content learning. Use jigsaw techniques, games that teach, reciprocal teaching and other effective strategies that put students in the driver’s seat of learning. Move from sage of the stage to guide on the side. While all lessons require preparation and planning, a variety of lesson types can not only keep your students interested, but also keep you energized to try new ways of teaching.

2) Go Home!
I mean it. Go home! There is always something more to do, I know it. But you know what? It can wait! Now obviously, you do need to stay late for events, meetings and tutoring with students, but you also need to set boundaries. It is easy to get sucked into the school building, so make sure you leave when appropriate. Go home to your family (or your cat, in my case). Let your students and peers know that you are taking care of your own self by attempting to have a life outside of school.

3) Establish Boundaries for Your Time
Of course this relates to the tip above, but it has more to do with the overall structures you have in place for your time during the school day. It’s OK to keep your door closed. Yes, there are times to work with students, but there is also time to put on NPR with your cup of coffee, check you email and commence your morning ritual. Your lunch is sacred, so make sure you take that time for yourself, too. If professional development is scheduled, keep that sacred as well, because it is some rare time you have to work on your practice. Students, parents and others will respect the fact that you set time aside for them, but also for yourself.

4) Use Your PLN
In a previous blog here at Edutopia, Mary Beth Hertz wrote about the importance of the “connected educator,” suggesting that we all make sure to network with fellow educators. Great teachers steal (and you’d be a liar if you said you were “borrowing”), so make sure you use technologies like Edmodo and Twitter to keep yourself connected to other educators, your personal learning network (PLN).

5) Know What You Are Assessing
Obviously, teachers should know what they are assessing, but sometimes we forget and start assessing everything. If you collect a formative assignment, only assess for a few things. Do you have to assess for conventions all the time? No, but there is a time and place for that. Do you have to assess correct answers in math problems? Perhaps not this time. Perhaps you focus on process-oriented feedback. Know what you are assessing, and be transparent about this to students. Not only is this manageable for students to digest later, but it makes the time you spend assessing and giving feedback shorter, focused and more efficient.

Again, these are tips, and may not work for everyone, but I think in general they encompass what I learned in the first years. You can only care for your students if you are caring for yourself. If you create and live in structures that allow you to work smart, then you’ll transition into a confident, veteran teacher so much more quickly!

Six Affirmations for PBL Teachers


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


All great teachers do great work. And not only that, but they also do different work. Great teachers are always looking to improve practice, steal ideas and try new things — all in order to meet the needs of their students. PBL teachers are no exception. Any teacher who is truly doing PBL would also agree that it’s different. There is something about being a PBL teacher that requires different work, and work that is especially capitalized when implementing a PBL project. Because I work with so many PBL teachers, I feel there are some things that PBL teachers should specifically be proud of. I present them in these six affirmations.

1) PBL Teachers Collaborate with Each Other
Although PBL teachers often start out with projects in just their own subject area, most create integrated projects with teachers of other disciplines. In that creation, they seek to learn about how different contents connect with their own in authentic and meaningful ways. PBL teachers bounce project ideas off one another and engage in critique, such as the Critical Friends Consultancy Protocol, to seek meaningful feedback that will improve their projects.

2) PBL Teachers Give Power to Students
Through voice and inquiry, PBL teachers constantly reflect on how students can have more power in their learning environment. Teachers move from structured to guided to open inquiry as they do more and more PBL projects with their students, ultimately empowering students to take major ownership of their learning. During projects, PBL teachers use group contracts, learning logs and more to give students ownership of not only how they show their learning, but of how they spend their time moving toward those learning goals.

3) PBL Teachers are Learning Environment Designers
When PBL teachers engage in designing a PBL project, they are looking to create an engaging experience for all students. They are not only looking at the big package, but also at the nitty-gritty. They utilize their teacher bag of tricks to provide a variety of different learning activities and lessons that will arm students with the skills they need to perform well on the project. Rather than simply replicating lesson plans from year to year, PBL teachers constantly innovate and create engaging learning environments.

4) PBL Teachers are Student-Centered
PBL teachers know it isn’t about them. Instead the focus is on the students. For instance, when crafting a driving question, they move away from convoluted, academic language toward challenging, student-friendly language. PBL gives space for differentiated instruction, and PBL teachers use that space. They know students can show their knowledge in different ways, and give opportunities to do just that. They create engaging entry events to hook students on the project. They look for constant real-world relevance in the topic, and they provide contexts for students to connect their lives to this work.

5) PBL Teachers Honor 21st Century Skills
Through instruction and assessment, PBL teachers honor 21st century skills through true leveraging. PBL teachers target specific 21st century skills to teach and assess, rather than haphazardly “doing them.” They teach the skills of critical thinking, collaboration and communication through targeting instruction. PBL teachers work to balance not only the learning of their content, but the 21st century skills as well.

6) PBL Teachers Really Plan
And I mean they REALLY plan! Anyone who has done a PBL workshop and/or designed a PBL project knows that the majority of the planning occurs on the front end. PBL teachers design a plethora of critical components for PBL projects from driving questions to rubrics and assessments. They plan the majority of the project upfront to ensure that they can work with students during implementation. They work to make sure all elements of the machine are ready to go before kicking off the project!

PBL teachers, you are rockstars! You harness and hone all of these skills concurrently. The work you do with students is especially unique and honorable. This Teacher Appreciation Week, know that you are not only great teachers, but also teachers who possess specific qualities that I believe are challenging and rewarding.

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