Designing Student Projects for Global Readiness

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It’s time to widen the scope of what project-based learning (PBL) can really do. We’ve used PBL to engage our students. We’ve used PBL to help students learn important content and address learning standards. We’ve used PBL to address 21st-century skills such as collaboration, critical thinking and communication. We’ve even used PBL to focus on professional practice and reflection.

These are all important goals and foci, but we need to continue to think and reflect on the power of PBL and how it can do even more for our students and for ourselves. The publication “Preparing Students for a Project-Based World” emphasizes that PBL is preparation for the world beyond the classroom, including issues of equity and the global economy.

What sticks out to me is one important word: world. If it’s a Project-Based World, shouldn’t we use PBL to continue to engage with the world beyond the boundaries of countries and cultures?

I think we need to take the attitude and mindset expressed by Sébastien Turbot who ran projects at the Paris School of International Affairs.

What is Global Readiness?
When students are global ready, they are able to meet specific competencies that allow them to be successful in the world around them. However, global readiness is more than simply being able to collaborate or communicate.

Instead, these skills are connected to important nuances of cultures, perspectives and equity. It isn’t just that students can collaborate with another person, but that they can partner and work within a global community and take action.

Students develop empathy and global sensibilities, as well as connect with people of different cultures and communities across our world. Global readiness really facilitates a complex mindshift from “me” to “us.”

Asia Society has Global Competency Outcomes and Rubrics to support teachers in creating and/or selecting goals to have students work on. These might include students “listening to and communicating effectively with diverse people,” “explaining the impact of cultural interactions” or “identifying and creating opportunities for personal and collaborative action to improve conditions.”

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills also has K-12 Indicators for Global Readiness that focus on the themes of Understanding, Investigating, Connecting and Integrating. Educators and schools should consider how to embed these indicators into the curriculum as students learn content.

It’s not about working on all the skills, it’s about the intentionality of what skills, when to address them and how to foster and assess them. All students of all grade levels can and should work toward global readiness.

PBL Can Change the World
Consider this project in process from math teacher Ginger Habel at the Shanghai American School. Students were challenged to design a playground for an actual school in Nairobi, Kenya.

Students had to learn scale, measurement and other various math skills to effectively complete the task. They also had to work around challenges that the school faced including flooding and that part of the school is also located on a hill.

Students selected supplies that were easily available for students to purchase there, and made sure the design was solid and had a feasible budget. Students shared their design with their classes and with the school in Nairobi as well.

Some students also created an Exploratory (a student-run learning time) to help raise money needed for the project. Not only were students impacting other students and communities, but they were examining various perspectives and cultures, as well as collaborating and communicating effectively to address an authentic task. Although the first iteration of this project occurred last year, Ginger hopes to continue to work on this project with her students this year as well.

PBL is the “how” for addressing global readiness. Global readiness calls for students to partner across the globe to solve problems in authentic ways. PBL requires authenticity, whether that’s investigating authentic problems, using authentic tools or meeting an authentic need.

PBL also facilitates technology integration, and global readiness calls for students to use technology to learn different perspectives and select media to communicate with diverse audiences. Students must learn content to address global competencies just as PBL projects are clearly aligned to content standards and outcomes.

As you begin to unpack the various global readiness indicators, you see a clear tie to the essential elements of PBL. Not only is there clear alignment, but by focusing global readiness on the “what” and the “how” of PBL, we can bring the world into the classroom and bring students out to the world.

In addition to using PBL for student engagement, we can create projects that are not only meaningful to students but have the potential to change the world.

A Global-Ready Curriculum

 

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 >

 



I am amazed by the students of my school and their ability to tap into multiple cultures. Recently I shadowed a student through part of her day. She was speaking Korean, her Native language, to her friends in the hall, English in the Social Studies classroom, practicing Mandarin with her Chinese teacher, and giving a presentation in French. It reminded me of resilience of students and the unique experience of an international education.

Although I have only recently joined the community of an International School on a more permanent basis, I have worked with many international schools in the past, and I even attended a 6-12 public school as a student with a focus on international topics. I took French my entire time there, and teachers sought to include global topics, questions, and themes into the curriculum. Most recently, I visited a school in Tokyo, Japan that had currently finished a curriculum audit and was working towards setting goals and next steps for their school and to meet accreditation expectations. They are exploring questions such as “How do we provide an international experience?” and “What does global and international education look like?” This school is not only trying create an experience that is uniquely international for students, but also supports and prepares them to be ready for that global world they are already living in.

Integrating Global Competencies
P21 has published Global Competence Indicators for grades K-12. They focus on the themes of “Understanding,” “Investigating,” “Connecting,” and “Integrating.” These indicators can easily be integrated into existing curriculum, just as many schools are already adopting 21st Century competencies of collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving. One strategy we worked on was having departments look at the indicators, identify which ones are already in the curriculum and which additions might be appropriate to teach alongside content standards such as the Common Core.

It is critical that if schools intend to adopt these competencies, then they must make a concerted effort to unpack the indicators, just as educators unpack standards. Unpacking allows teachers to identify the level of thinking students need to know, and the content and skills they will need as well. (To do this, I prefer using Webb’s Depth of Knowledge). As educators unpack the standards, they need to be wary of just looking at the verb, the context is important, as it might change the level of thinking. Unpacking also allows educators and schools to identify priority standards. The same is true for these global competencies. Educators and schools should not attempt to teach and assess all the global competencies, but instead select ones that are priorities and have currency in their curriculum. International Schools particularly have an opportunity to leverage this work as it is part of their identity and mission.

Use PBL as the Model
Just as project-based learning is being used to deliver content and develop skills from the Common Core, Next Generation School Standards and college and career readiness, PBL is a perfect method to teach and assess global competencies. Global competencies call for investigation and inquiry, a deep understanding of content and different perspectives, and taking action. With these competencies in mind, teachers can create highly authentic projects that require students to partner with the cultures of the world, reflect on their place in that world, and advocate appropriately.

My friend Rich Lehrer did a fantastic project where his students connected with students in Brazil, Africa and India to build efficient stoves. They not only learned engineering, energy and other science concepts but also about serious health hazards facing people around the world. They didn’t just build the stove for someone else, they students worked together across cultures and languages to build the stoves together, to learn perspective and to learn from each other. What I truly appreciated was that is wasn’t charity work – it was a partnership. Students learned from each other not only traditional content, but global competencies as well.

International schools consider global competencies as part of the “What” of their curriculum and project-based Learning as the “How.” Together they create students that will not only be global-ready, but engaged in the many cultures of which they are members.

Navigating a STEM School as a Non-STEM Teacher

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 >



Having worked at a school with a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), I often notice a tension. In a STEM-focused school, there seems to be value placed on the topics in the acronym itself, but perhaps less value on subjects not explicitly mentioned. This seems to me to be a problem.

Just because a school is focused on STEM—and the ideas presented here apply also to STEAM schools, which add a focus on the arts—doesn’t mean that history doesn’t matter. The same can be said for every other subject. As an English and social studies teacher at a STEM school, I struggled with this, and had many conversations with fellow teachers, administrators, and coaches to navigate the focus on STEM while meeting other priorities I had for learning in my classroom. Meeting the demands of the STEM curriculum and of the other courses in the full curriculum can be done—here are a few ideas about how to achieve that.

Respect Balance
We all have priorities, we all have beliefs, we all have values. As an English language arts teacher, I value the study of literature, and in fact, my standards call me to focus on literary texts. I needed to have conversations with other teachers to share this priority and to find ways to support the larger STEM mission. We had to balance curricula and find the appropriate times to work on specific standards. For example, I knew I could easily support a STEM unit with a unit on informational writing, but I also had to have time for my unit on poetry. An elementary teacher may choose to focus some of their day on STEM and other parts of the day on other important topics. Teachers should have conversations and map their curricula to find appropriate fits and to strike the balance we all need in supporting the larger STEM vision.

Implement PBL Units Together
As we know, project-based learning (PBL) and STEM are a great fit. A project can focus on an authentic issue in science or maybe an arts design challenge. There are numerous possibilities, and teachers across disciplines and priorities can find ways to work together to accomplish a common goal. Not every subject must integrate, but there should be some level of integration. If you teach many subjects (as many elementary teachers do), consider developing a PBL unit side by side with another teacher who shares your grade level. When we implement a curriculum through authentic projects, we can learn from each other and find meaningful ways to support a STEM vision.

Swap Lead and Support Positions
When you integrate, the focus shouldn’t necessarily be on the quantity of time required. We as teachers may feel that we should each be getting the same amount of time on a unit or project, but I think that shouldn’t be the highest priority. For example, I spent two to three weeks on the informational writing unit mentioned above, but the science teacher I was partnering with spent approximately five weeks on the project. I was an integral part of the project, but it wasn’t about the amount of time. I was the support teacher, but in a future unit, I served as a lead and asked for support from my math colleague. As you support STEM education and STEM units or projects, decide on who will lead and who will provide support, and switch it up to ensure all teachers and subjects are valued.

Focus on Success Skills
Everyone can support students in building success skills such as collaboration and communication. Teachers should collaborate to identify these skills and how students can demonstrate them. There should be alignment about expectations regarding these skills so that students demonstrate them at a point in time and also demonstrate progress in them as they move up in grades. These success skills can help students in any STEM field and are an easy entry point to collaboration for any teacher.

STEM education is a wonderful focus for learning, but it isn’t the only focus. Even in a STEM school, there are other priorities in terms of teaching and learning. However, we can learn from aspects of STEM education to push our thinking in terms of our own teaching. For example, as we started to collaborate to develop integrated projects, I was inspired by what other disciplines were doing. The science teacher wanted to do a design challenge, and our math colleague wanted to connect statistics to relevant concepts. Those are ideas any teacher might find appealing. Non-STEM teachers can find entry points into STEM education from a practical standpoint, and they can learn from principles of STEM to reimagine learning in their own classrooms.

Tips for Combining Project-Based and Service Learning

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 >



Service learning is a great way to not only take meaningful action but also teach important content and curriculum objectives. It is also a chance to build empathy and compassion and have students learn from others outside of school. Project-based learning (PBL) matches well with service learning as both focus on authenticity and meaningful work. When we use service learning as a focus for PBL, we can ensure that the experience is highly effective and impacts learners and also the larger community.

Here are some tips for how to create a PBL project with a focus on service learning:

Assess Community Needs
Teachers and students can find local partnerships to help focus the service learning and project work. It’s useful to provide students with a question to answer, as a way of providing focus for the work. With a partnership, students can find ways to assess community needs. Students can decide what they want to learn and how they will use that information. This is similar to a “Need to Know” list often found in a PBL experience. They should also investigate what data or information already exists to help them and figure out how they will go about collecting more information. The are many opportunities here to address real needs, but students and local partnerships need to work together to find a focus.

Align Content and Skills
Of course, it is always important to align the project to overall outcomes. Teachers can look for appropriate learning targets and standards to address, or solicit these from students. What do they want to learn? As a teacher, you can help them navigate how their project outcomes will meet course outcomes. PBL and service learning also provide an opportunity to teach and assess success skills related to civic responsibility, collaboration, problem solving, empathy, and critical thinking.

Learn From Each Other
Service learning should be a reciprocal relationship where students are learning from their audience and the audience is learning from the students. PBL often does focus on a public audience and product, but here you might consider how students will learn from that audience as well. How will students listen? How will you scaffold listening strategies for students to build empathy and respect? How will students share learning that is reflective of deeply listening to the audience they are serving?

Reflect Often
Reflection is a key component of PBL, and can also help students create more effective service learning products. Have students reflect often—before, during, and after the project—on what they are learning in terms of content and also in terms of empathy, respect, service, civic duty, and more. Reflecting on these topics and skills can help students internalize their learning and allow students and teachers to slow down to ensure meaningful action and learning.

Create an Action Plan
In terms of management, PBL leverages student-centered tools so that students learn to manage themselves. Team working agreements, task lists, and more all help students own the process. Once needs, and ideas for addressing those needs, have been determined for the project, students and local partners can create an action plan, in which they determine small, manageable steps to take to ensure great learning and great service. This is also an opportunity to co-create benchmarks and formative assessments that matter.

Evaluate the Impact
Once action is taken, make sure you take time with students to evaluate the impact. While PBL often has a public product and audience, we don’t always take the time to see or measure the impact. With all the great work students are doing, they and their audience deserve to know the extent of the impact of that work. How much of a difference did they make? Even realizing that there wasn’t much of an impact will still be good learning for students and teachers. This step also provides another opportunity to listen and reflect.

Celebrate Success
Don’t forget to celebrate. Students will have had some impact on their community and on themselves. Carve out time to celebrate where they were before the project and how far they have come. Celebrations can be traditional, like a gathering or party, but they can also involve discussions, letter writing, and even screening photos and videos of work from the project.

Service learning and PBL are nothing new. Teachers and students have long done amazing projects that serve others. We should continue to push ourselves to make our projects more authentic and more impactful. How are you implementing projects that serve?

6 Tips for Engaging Capstone Projects

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 >


Kids-Building-for-blog1
It’s that time of the year, the race to the finish, only weeks until school ends for the summer (at least for many of us). With the pressures of testing behind us, we often have a bit more freedom to create curriculum and activities for students. We can try out new ideas, give students more choice in what they want to learn, and celebrate the learning that we’ve accomplished this year. One way that many educators like to do these things is through capstone projects, year-end culminations that often invite students to engage in choosing what they want to learn, as well as how they learn it. Capstone projects are a great tool for personalizing learning, and they’re effective for creating even more student engagement. Here are some tips to create excellent capstone projects.

Ensure “Main Course, Not Dessert”
This is always a good reminder. While capstone projects often draw on the entire year’s learning, it’s important to pose this question to students as well as reflecting upon it ourselves as educators: What new learning will occur in this capstone project? This is key to ensuring that a capstone project isn’t simply a fun activity (although that’s still a good intention), and it helps in creating a project that’s more challenging and truly focused on new learning and experiences. This new learning could be in a different context or topic from what the class has done so far, it might require a variety of skills that they haven’t previously combined, or it could be a synthesis of sorts. Reflect on how you can ensure that there will be new learning in your capstone projects.

Take It To Another Level
Projects should focus on depth, not breadth. If you have the ability to allow students choice in what they learn, consider having them revisit a previously learned concept, topic, or skill. To ensure not only engagement but also “Main Course,” create rubrics with students that focus on their going deeper into the content. Instead of “meeting standard,” focus the assessment and learning on “exceeding standard.” When students engage with a challenge, we should take them beyond the opportunity to review learning by pushing the learning even farther in a capstone project.

More Voice and Choice
This is nothing new, but we can always think of new ways to offer choice to our students. At the end of the year, after we’ve pressed through most of our required curriculum and standards, we may have some wiggle room on what students can learn. We might offer choice in one way, but not in another. Perhaps we want to spiral review a writing skill for all students, but offer them a choice in what history topic they want to learn about. Or we might need students to learn a math concept that we haven’t yet covered in the curriculum, but they can choose how they want to learn it and connect that concept to the real world. Have students make personal, meaningful choices. See my previous blog about voice and choice for ideas about how to create more engagement.

Make a Difference
One of my favorite ways of taking capstone projects to another level is through service and making a difference. When students see that their work matters, they will be engaged. There are, of course, lots of opportunities to make an impact outside of the walls of the classroom, whether in the community or globally. There are also great ways for students to make a difference in their own lives once they understand the personal impact that’s possible. Start by asking then how they want to make a difference in their capstone projects.

Tell the Full Story Through Assessment
Often, capstone projects involve what could be called a portfolio of student learning, which includes many steps in their yearlong journey. These assessments, graded or not, are valuable artifacts that serve as a photo album of a learning continuum, rather than simple snapshots representing individual moments of learning. Capstone projects are about growth, and both teachers and students can use assessments from the capstone project as well as earlier in the year to celebrate the growth in learning. Students, parents, and teachers deserve to see this growth in order to be proud of their learning from the entire year as well as during the capstone project.

Experiment With “No Grades”
Often we use grades as a way to get students to learn rather than addressing a root problem — our students are not engaged. While you might want to grade students on their work, you might also try the experiment of moving students away from grades as a motivator, and instead focus on the learning. Rather grading every part of the capstone project, consider grading only the capstone component. This is also in ideal place to start the conversation with students about how they want to be and should be graded. Consider using capstone projects to start a culture shift away from grades and toward learning.

I love implementing and watching students implement capstone projects. I’m inspired by the ways that teachers structure these projects and by the amazing learning that students share. Capstone projects are truly an opportunity to create meaningful learning along with powerful engagement and impact. How do you create engaging capstone projects?

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