Learning by Doing: Students Write a Guide to Teen Psychology

Learning by Doing: Students Write a Guide to Teen Psychology

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 >

It’s always awe-inspiring when students take hold of a project and are given the power to lead it. They set goals, delegate, lead discussions, and critique each other’s work as if that were a normal process. I’ve just seen this with the eighth-grade social studies students at Shanghai American School. The students at my school have been engaged in a project in their class around the topic of psychology.

While this might seem to be outside the normal social studies curriculum, the teachers are experimenting with the adoption of the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards. The framework emphasizes inquiry and content, and also citing sources and communicating ideas to make a difference. The teachers modeled a PBL project around the overall framework. They dug deep into the C3 framework and found that psychology was explicitly included only in grades 9–12, but that “efforts are underway to better integrate behavioral and social science concepts in the K–8 age bands.”

This project could serve as an introduction to that content. What makes it particularly powerful is that it connects psychology to the teenage brain. The class was tasked with creating guides for teachers, parents, and other adults to help them better understand why adolescents do what they do. Why are they sleepy? Why might they have trouble focusing? Why might they be impulsive from time to time?

These are just some of the questions they sought to learn about and then to communicate their findings to a public audience. In addition, they had to offer tips and strategies to support adults working with adolescents.

Students broke into a variety of teams—copy editors, social media managers, writers, and more—to create the publications, publishing updates with the Instagram handle UnlockingtheTeenBrain.

The Students’ Perspective
Here’s how the student executive team—a chief editor, two art directors, two copy editors, and two social media managers—describe their project:

“We are writing an educational book on psychology, Unlocking the Teenage Mind. Four editions aimed at different audiences (parents, teachers, teens, and the community) have been written. Each contains different subtopics ranging from intelligence to social psychology, and each subtopic is geared to help the specific audience understand the teenage brain. For example, sections in the teachers’ edition contain tips and advice for teachers. The subtopics were written by different groups of students, who have done extensive research on their topics.

“We also had an executive team to guide the majority of the class, the content authors, in the process of writing the books. The executive team is divided into four departments or groups. Our art department is responsible for creating the layout and cover art; our social media managers manage the various social media accounts used to promote our book; our copy editors make sure our articles are perfect on every level; and finally we have a chief editor, the big boss.

“The content authors were given various tasks, starting with the selection of the topics they wanted to research. Topics ranged from motivation to social psychology. After selecting a topic, the authors would work in teams of four to write an article about how the topic relates to the teenage brain.

“The writers and the executive team learned many things, chief among them time management. Of course, both groups learned about many aspects of the field of psychology. In addition, both groups learned how to cooperate closely with peers, increasing their cooperation and collaboration skills. Both teams learned how to overcome problems such as poor grammar and lazy teammates, building their problem-solving capabilities. Yet despite the challenges, the entire class at crucial moments was able to come together and function as one being. The project helped build essential life skills and gave the entire class something they can refer to with pride.”

The Teachers’ Perspective
Teachers Brad Evans and Matt Zeman shared their perspective as well:

“As teachers, our learning for this project was twofold. First, we were immediately reminded that the more responsibility we transfer to our students, the greater the results. Our classroom authority was transferred to our executive team, leaving us as consultants. The benefits of creating situations for partnerships were profound and left us with a desire to place more ownership in the hands of the class any chance we get.

“Our second lesson was that content mastery improved dramatically among all students. In order to meet deadlines, students had to master the content. If they found themselves struggling with a concept, the small author teams were the first to respond, not us teachers. This responsive, collaborative environment was a far more successful vehicle for content delivery than more traditional methods.

“Our formative assessments were a resounding success: An overwhelming majority of students could easily prove their content knowledge and demonstrate application. We were once again shown the power of projects to create and foster an authentic learning environment that satisfies both content mastery and soft skill growth.”

The End Results
I’m very proud of these students. They invested a lot of time learning not only the content but the process and challenges of publishing a real-world product. You can learn more about the project here, and see the peer version, the teacher version, and the parent version of the book through iTunes.

The 3Cs of School Culture – Curation, Conversation, and Celebration

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 >

School culture is just as important as teaching practice, but work towards improving them doesn’t occur in a vacuum. In fact, teaching practice gives us an opportunity to build school culture, just as a focus on school culture can improve teaching practice. At the Shanghai American School where I work as an Instructional Coach, we have adopted a mantra in our team “Building Culture By Building Practice.” It has been a force that has driven our work and gives us a focus and meaning as a team.

Recently we asked teachers to partner with us on a professional development experience modeled after the Project Based Learning method. Our school is working on a guaranteed and viable curriculum, but we wanted to approach this process of curricular alignment in a fresh and meaningful way. Instead of taking the “deficit” approach where we communicate “Curriculum is not aligned, so align it,” we decided to focus on make the hidden curriculum visible to all which would lead to a place of refinement and reflection on not only curriculum, but also teaching practice. We answered the question “What is the story of learning” in our middle school. Parents wanted to know, teachers wanted to know, and administration wanted to know. More importantly, we wanted to curate and celebrate the great work teachers are doing everyday with students.

Through this project, 3Cs of school culture (similar to Fisher and Frey’s school culture pillars) have emerged for me and my team – Curation, Conversation, and Celebration:

Stories matter. Both teachers and students want their stories told. It is powerful o document experiences to learn from them. Why else do we watch documentaries? Part of purpose of curation wasn’t simply to have teachers fill out a form. A template doesn’t tell the full story of learning. In fact, simply curating standards, assessments and daily lessons aren’t that inspiring. We decided to curate both student and teacher learning through the use of Discovery Cards. In our Discovery Cards, we the coaches took on the heavy lifting. Instead of having teachers fill out a template, we had discussions with teachers and students. We curated driving questions and the overall description of the project. We also took photos of students engaged in the work to really make the learning come to life. Finally, we curated reflections from teachers and students, as we wanted to tell the story of learning of both teachers and students.

One misunderstanding of our professional learning project was that it was only about the Discovery Cards and Curation. In fact, the cards were a catalyst for powerful conversations. Once we curated one or more cards, we asked teachers to set up a time to engage in a reflective conversation on the project, task or unit we focused on. Teachers reflected on what worked, assessment practices, areas of improvement and more. The coaches helped teachers settled on dilemma or something to tune in protocols that occurred in staff meeting times. In summary, we had more organic, cognitive coaching sessions as well as structured conversations with protocols. Templates don’t align and improve curriculum and instruction, conversations and people do. Focusing on conversations can support a culture of collaboration and reflection.

The coaches knew we need to celebrate the work that teachers did. We decided to work on creating an anthology of learning which would include not only some of the information of discovery cards, but information from other partners and stakeholders. We included comments and questions from parents after they participated in a Gallery Walk of the cards. It included articles from the coaches and what they learned, as well as from administration and what they learned. We wanted teachers to walk away from the school year with a meaningful keepsake, and we will culminate that in a celebration to “book end” the project.

We hope to leverage as much as we can of this model moving forward. We have noticed teachers engaging more with us coaches in reflective conversations and invitations to come and visit classroom. We are also seeing a clear focus on talking about student work, curriculum and instruction. More importantly, we are already seeing a change in school culture. Instead of teaching in silos, we are constantly collaborating, opening our doors, and seeking constant refinement of our daily practice.

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