Why “Content Coverage” is Over: A Manifesto!

 

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 >

 


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OK, before you immediately react and make a comment, let’s take a breath! Yes, we live in an education world that is driven by content. We have standards, learning objectives, and the like. We have curriculum, texts, and pacing guides. We have high-stakes standardized tests, benchmark exams, and AP or IB tests that drive our instruction. I’ve taught with all these forces at work. It’s frustrating, and that is perhaps an understatement. Perhaps maddening is a better word?

Regardless, all of these forces move us toward coverage. We feel the pressure to go quickly through curriculum, because the forces at work dictate that there must be a lot of curriculum. But at the same time, we don’t have to admit to defeat by these forces. In fact, maybe we aren’t as rigidly committed to covering all this content as we think we are.

We Can’t!
“I can’t cover all the content.”
“I’ve tried, and failed.”
“I have covered it, but the learning is lost.”

When I hear these complaints from the teachers I work with about all the standards and content they must cover, I always talk about my pressures with AP exams. “World history in a year: go!” We all laugh, but it really is a bit true. We are expected to cover a lot (if not all) of the content for a world history course within a year. In an effort to prepare my students, I would assign a lot of DIY learning outside of school and would also create a plan to cruise through as much as I could. What I found, and what I’m sure many of you have found, was that not only were my AP results all over the place in terms of scores and achievement, but so were the grades in my class. By focusing on covering all the content, I was really doing my students a disservice. Instead of “uncoverage,” I was focusing on coverage. And we know that doesn’t work!

We Prioritize!
The interesting thing here is that many of us unknowingly don’t cover content. Even under all the pressures, we know that we can’t cover every single thing, and that some of it may get left behind. Or similarly, some things don’t get as much time as we would like. I always ask teachers what gets left behind. Many don’t want to admit it, but some things do. Maybe it’s a standard or unit at the end of the year, or maybe it’s a small assignment. But whatever gets left, it means something good. We’re showing that we prioritize. We know what our students really need, and so we plan accordingly.

When I reflected on my poor performance as a teacher in an AP class, I realized that I needed to focus on the important and big ideas, maybe even the big “buckets” that I knew were important for students to know. I even looked at past AP exams for patterns and trends. World religions came up many times, as did the Holocaust and World War II. These were some of the priorities that drove me, but other teachers have all different kinds. Their priorities could be exam driven, or their drivers could be personal factors or things outside of the classroom. Recognizing our priorities is in fact empowering. It allows us to own the facts that we don’t cover every last thing, and that we see the value of spending time on what matters to our students.

We Are Great Teachers!
From all this, it comes down to one major point: We are professionals. We know our students. We know what they need, and yes, we use curriculum and pacing guides as what they should be — guides! We assess our students. We differentiate and plan their learning accordingly to make a difference in the life of each student we have. It is time for all of us to own that we are good teachers, and not admit defeat to the pressures of content coverage. In fact, we make or need to make better decisions in terms of priorities and student learning.

In an effort to empower and affirm your work as an educator, please sign this manifesto by indicating your support below and adding your own points:

I am committed to deeper and life-long learning for my students.
I will no longer submit to the pressure to cover content.
I will prioritize learning for my students based on their needs and passions.
I will aim past the high-stakes tests, yet still expose students to them to ensure that they are ready.
I will use curriculum and pacing guides for what they are intended: guides, not set-in-stone learning.
I will continue to make the best decisions for my students, rather than let the pressure to cover content drive my teaching.

Meshing GBL With PBL: Can It Work?

 

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 >

 


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Project-based learning has essential components that make it unique to other models of instruction, such as public audience, voice and choice, driving questions, and teaching and assessing 21st-century skills. PBL requires that all of these components be present in a truly great “main-course project.”

Similarly, game-based learning has elements that make it unique, even in its many implementation methods. GBL can look like gamification, where game elements such as quests and incentives are used to make the unit of instruction into a game of sorts. GBL can also look like using games for instructional purposes, such as the popular Minecraft or even Angry Birds, to support student learning. Many educators may wonder how they can leverage GBL practices within a PBL project and combine them to form a powerful learning experience. It is possible, but only with careful combination and intentional implementation.

GBL to Teach 21st-Century Skills
An important component of a PBL project is teaching and assessing a 21st-century skill (or skills) within the project. This is frequently an area of growth for new PBL teachers, because it’s not often that we’re asked to do this in the classroom. GBL leverages using games in the classroom, and these games can be targeted to help scaffold collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and creativity. We all want our students to be risk takers, so introducing games that create a safe space to take those risks can support student learning a PBL project. While many games are individual in nature, many are also collaborative. Some games like Pandemic even require collaboration to solve problems together, rather than being competitive. Educators can select games aligned to one of the 4Cs to create low-stakes, fun opportunities to practice working together, communicating effectively, solving problems, and being innovative.

GBL as Content Lessons
You might use a game to teach students content, or have them practice with the content. Perhaps students are making recommendations to a senator about policies surrounding a local or national issue. In order to do that, they might play a specific iCivics game to support them in learning that content. There are already great games out there that can help students practice with the content or learn to apply it in a new situation. As educators plan a project and backwards-design the content and skills they want to teach, they can identify appropriate games that will scaffold the content. Remember, these games can be digital, board, or card games. If you, as an educator, want to make sure that the game will support learning, the best way to see for yourself is by playing it.

Games as Products of Learning
Many educators are leveraging games as products of student learning, whether as the content itself or as a demonstration of coding and programming skills. A game product can be a great choice as a demonstration of student knowledge. It’s important, though, that this choice fits the purpose of the project. Voice and choice aren’t arbitrary elements of a project — they align to the “why” captured in the project’s driving question. If making a game that wrestles with the content aligns to the purpose of the project, then it can be a great choice! In addition, a game could be a collaborative, team product, or an individual product. Paired with an excellent rubric, a game can align content and skills to learning outcomes and standards.

Games and Quests for Differentiation
Often in a gamified unit, students are given quests to accomplish that will help them learn content and skills. A PBL project might have some similar quests or mini games, and students may even have voice and choice regarding which ones they can or need to do. Through effective formative assessment practices, educators can help students select the most effective quests and games within a PBL project. Not every child may need to do the quest or game that you think he or she needs. Differentiation through quests and games is hinged on effective formative assessment.

Badges for Formative Assessment and Feedback
Badges alone will not create sustained engagement. However, there are some students who love to “collect,” and many of our students play games that support the gamer mindset. I know students who love to get the best armor on World of Warcraft or collect every single Pokémon possible. Badges can support this engagement. We also need to remember that not all of our students are collector types, so badges may not be the best tools for them.

If you do intend to use badges and incentives, ensure that the badges align to meaningful rewards, not just completion. Have badges that specifically address a 21st-century skill, giving or receiving feedback, or presenting to a public audience. These are all important aspects of project-based learning. Create badges that align to PBL best practices so that they support a better PBL culture and aren’t simply a way of saying, “Good job!”

Remember, there may be some elements of GBL that might take away from a PBL project. For instance, completely gamifying a unit could make it just a gamified unit and not PBL. Educators should use their professional judgment about when and where to leverage GBL elements in a PBL project, and they should be perfectly fine saying, “No, it doesn’t fit right now,” or “Yes, this can work!” Instead of trying to squeeze all aspects of GBL into PBL, find the right fit that will make your PBL project more engaging.

Have you blended game-based learning with project-based learning? What was your experience?

STEM Teaches Failure as an Opportunity to Learn

 

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 >


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With all the push for STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education, I think sometimes what we really want out of STEM education gets lost. STEM education came out of the need for more students in the fields of STEM. As scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, we want more students to find passions in these content areas and ultimately become leaders in the field. However, we can often get too focused on the content. We must remember that the pillar of STEM education isn’t just the content but also the mindsets behind it. 21st century skills are a critical component to STEM education. We want students who think critically, creatively, and collaboratively within the content areas of STEM. You can’t have one without the other. In fact, one of the critical mindsets that STEM education can foster is using failure as an opportunity to grow and learn.

Design Challenges
One of the key components of STEM education is design challenges. With these design challenges, students might work individually and in teams to solve problems ranging from robotic challenges to bridge designing to physics puzzles. By default, students will try out ideas that do not work completely. This is where great learning can occur. Because a STEM design challenge is set up with multiple opportunities to test ideas in a safe way, failure is viewed as an opportunity to learn. The design process takes time and therefore provides multiple opportunities to try and fail. In other academic environments, students often only get one shot at an assignment, which creates a fear of failure. With STEM design challenges, there is safety in failure.

Deeper Learning through Failure
When we “fail forward” we ask more questions—that is, we move forward and delve deeper into the inquiry process. For example, when students first design a bridge and it crashes to the ground due to weight issues, they will inevitably ask, “Why did this happen?” “How much weight did it hold?” “What new idea might I try out?” These questions require students to not just know that the idea wasn’t quite on track but also to understand why it wasn’t on track. These failures in STEM design challenges foster deeper learning through questioning. Students will then need to seek out further instructional resources from experts in the field, books and online readings, and their teacher. Failure fosters more learning; it doesn’t hinder it.

Failure in the Real World
We know that students learn more when they see how their learning connects to the real world. Often in STEM education, we partner with experts in the field to learn from them. Sometimes these experts aid in a design challenge or provide feedback and information on an assignment. For these STEM experts, failure is a natural part of their work. They are constantly failing and innovating. By working with STEM experts in the real world, our students can experience this type of failure and discover that it is just a natural part of both learning and life.

When we consider the components of the ASCD Whole Child Approach, we can see a clear and strong connection between STEM education and the safe, engaged, and challenged tenets. Students who recognize failure as an opportunity to learn experience a safe place to learn. They are engaged because failure opens up multiple paths and opportunities to learn in real-world contexts. And finally, they are challenged because STEM design challenges require complex thinking and problem solving.

What’s Your Intent? Developing Collaboration and Communication with Technology Tools

 

p21logoThis post originally appeared on Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), the leading national organization advocating for 21st century readiness for every student. P21 brings together the business community, education leaders, and policymakers who believe our education system must equip students with rigorous academic coursework and the skills to be successful employees and citizens. View Original >

 


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Driving Question: How do we use digital tools to develop students’ collaboration and communication skills?

Technology is a great tool that can enhance instruction and assessment, not replace it. Likewise, when we consider classroom collaboration and communication, we can leverage technology to enhance not replace. Technology alone is not a 21st century skill, but the use of its tools for developing the skills of communication and collaboration is. As digital footprints expand and as technology permeates schooling, we need to embrace its tools as part of instruction, but with an intentional focus and purpose.

What’s Your Intention?
It’s most helpful if we know how you intend to use the tools and for what purpose in the classroom. The first distinction is to be clear whether a tool is being used for instruction or for assessment. Careful choice is a must.

If you intend students to use a tool (as opposed to having students just pick it up like a library book), it is best to know its specific use so you model, give instruction and guide practice on how to use it. To avoid taking too much time, a limited amount of digital tools can help. From the examples shared below, know your intent for each and consider using a few rather than all the tools.

Care must be taken not to overdo the use of digital tools. Sometimes we have a tendency to get “tech happy” and in the name of student choice, overload the classroom with too many digital gadgets. This lack of focused purpose will be overwhelming and very frustrating for students. You will also feel this frustration if students are making bad choices.

Digital Tools for Instruction
These are tools that lend themselves to developing students’ collaboration and communication as students pursue projects or standards-aligned lessons. They enhance instruction; they do not replace it.

Skype in the Classroom – One great way to practice communication skills is through presentations with guest speakers and experts. Skype in the Classroom can help you find guest speakers for your classroom for intentional digital communication. In addition, classrooms can Skype with other classrooms. This opens up not just the opportunities for collaboration and communication, but also for cross-cultural conversations.

Scrumy – This is a great tool for project and task management. Students can use it to self-manage their work and collaborate effectively on a task. Tasks can be sorted into To Do, In Progress, Verify, and Done. Scrumy also allows for roles and tasks to be assigned to specific students in a group.

Padlet – Students can instantly setup an instant collaboration tool which captures conversations in real time. Students color code their writing so that you can guide student’s communication and collaboration work on a writing task. Links and other resources can be embedded as well. The conversation on Padlet can even be played back so that you can see the full package of the conversation.

Remind – Remind is used by teachers to keep in constant communication with students, but also parents. It’s a free app that can be used on many devices. You can send out reminders as well as resources and even voice clips. Not only can this help facilitate deeper learning through PBL, but also helps you model what effective communication looks like.

Digital Tools for Assessment
One of the best ways to use digital tools is to use the tools for intentional assessment. Whether formative or summative, digital tools can provide documentation of learning so that learning can tell a story and track a journey.

You should select these tools so you can assess how students are learning how to collaborate and communicate. In addition, the assessment should be focused on very specific quality indicators of collaboration and communication. What exactly are you looking for when students use that tool? Perhaps you are looking for “consensus building,” or “giving effective and polite feedback.” These are specific and measurable.

Edmodo is a free and intuitive tool that brings teacher-controlled social networking to the classroom. It allows you to control how and when students enter a classroom discussion. You can comment on their work, give quizzes, and make corrective assignments. They can post work for you or peers to review and make comments. It works on any web browser and connects to Google Chrome and Adobe.

ISTE is not an assessment tool but it provides resources for technology teaching. One of the critical ways to message effective communication and collaboration is digital citizenship. ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) has excellent quality indicators for what a good digital citizen is, and teachers can use these indications to build a rubric and assess students. With a focus on Digital Citizenship, you can combine the instruction and assessment of collaboration and communication and technology usage into one package.

All in All
As you consider the use of digital tools in their instruction or assessment of collaboration and communication, you need to be intentional and focused. Digitals can enhance the great instruction and assessment that is already occurring and help foster student engagement in learning how to be effective collaborators and communicators.

Not Just Group Work — Productive Group Work!

 

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 >

 


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We know that group work can be instructionally effective, but only if it is productive. We don’t just want busywork when students work in groups — we want learning! Work doesn’t always create learning, an idea that many teachers still struggle with. These teachers make the assumption that even with a clear task, group work will be productive. Conversely, many teachers assume that when building classroom culture, group work will be productive as well. Actually, multiple factors lead to effective and productive group work, but all must be in place to make it happen. So how do we create that structure for productive group work?

Clear Intention
The purpose of group work needs to be clear not only to the students, but also to the teacher. Do students even know the intended outcome for why they’ve been assigned to work in a group? Have those expectations been clearly set? Have students set those expectations themselves? These are questions that educators need to consider as they structure group work. In addition, there are many ways to do group work, from random groupings to teacher choice to something in the middle. All choices are good, as long as you have a clear intention. Teacher choice can be effective when the idea is guiding instruction based on assessed needs. Student choice is excellent for projects and extension assignments. Whatever drives the choice, the intention of the grouping must be clear.

Heterogeneous vs. Homogeneous
Similar to clear intention, heterogeneous and homogeneous grouping must be intentional in choice. There are pitfalls in both. Putting together students of similar ability may not always produce the desired outcome. If students in a low-achieving group do not have access to resources (teacher, materials, etc.) to complete the task, they will not reach the desired outcome. Sometimes, members of high-achieving groups fail to interact with each other, so teachers must ensure that culture is built for that. Similarly, heterogeneous teams shouldn’t just be “higher and lower kids” together, but instead carefully arranged. Sometimes the high-achieving students will take over and exclude others from the learning process. Educators need to think very carefully about their construction of homogeneous and heterogeneous groupings, and the intentions for both.

The Importance of Structure
As explained in the video about PBL, structured collaboration is key. You should not put students in groups and simply ask them to complete the task. Along with clear goals, teachers need to consider protocols and structures to facilitate effective group work. Whether it is a critique protocol or reciprocal teaching, these structures can help ensure that the group work moves along efficiently and with purpose.

Scaffolding Culture
How are you building a culture of collaboration in your classroom? Teachers should not forget the importance of scaffolding the skills needed for students to work in groups. Paired with a good collaboration rubric, where students know what is expected of them in terms of behavior, teachers need to scaffold skills such consensus building, effective communication, and the ability to critique. Educators need to explicitly teach and assess collaboration, a critical 21st-century skill, if they want their group work to be productive.

Individual Accountability
This can work in many ways. If you keep the group size limited, it can lead to greater individual accountability, because the work must be spread over a limited number of people. Clear and authentic roles can also lead students not only to value each other’s work, but also to realize that the task or project can only be completed when everyone does his or her role and work effectively. It is also crucial that an educator builds in formative and summative assessments from these group work sessions so that he or she can check for understanding and ensure that individual learning is occurring.

Productive group work creates collaborative learning, a model where all students contribute. It really builds a team where the learning and learners are interdependent. More of this shared work needs to happen in the classroom, but only when careful steps have been taken to ensure success.

How do you ensure productive group work with collaborative learning? Please tell us about your strategies in the comments below.

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