AP and PBL: It Works!


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 >


I know that many project-based learning teachers are fearful of fully embracing PBL due to the expectations around standardized testing. We need to honor that fear, because it’s not coming from a bad place. Why do we worry? Because we care about kids! Many of our kids are held accountable by the standardized tests they take. From Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate to end-of-course and graduation exams, we want to make sure that our students are successful. But how do we avoid the pitfall of only teaching to the test?

The Good News
Edutopia recently released a study that showed the success of PBL projects in AP government classes. These projects were deployed in two school districts that were different not only in terms of place, but also socio-economic status and demographics. Students who took the PBL course generally scored higher, especially in the areas that called for deeper understanding, where the knowledge is applied in performance tasks in the exam. This makes sense. PBL, with its emphasis on depth rather than breadth, creates learning that “sticks.” We remember learning in a context that is relevant and connected to the real world.

AP is Changing
CollegeBoard has released the major changes and a timeline for these changes on their website. A couple of key points they make around these changes are:

Greater emphasis on discipline-specific critical thinking, inquiry, reasoning, and communication skills . . .
Rigorous, research-based curricula, modeled on introductory college courses, that strike a balance between breadth of content coverage and depth of understanding.

Here we can see how 21st century skills, a major component of PBL, are being leveraged and honored in the revision. If we take the appropriate time to scaffold and assess these skills in our PBL class, we are preparing our students for the AP exam, no matter the content. Also, PBL does demand content knowledge, as we want students to learn the content in depth and apply in relevant context. In addition, multiple-choice questions are being reduced in the exams, with a greater emphasis on questions that require deeper thinking.

AP Classroom PBL Tips
Embedded AP Assessments
I wrote a blog on a similar topic about embedding standardized testing stems in a PBL project. For AP, it is very similar. The AP exams from the past are released, and teachers can continually go back and steal practice material from these exams. Instead of doing practice AP exams outside of a project, use parts that are relevant to the project. Find test questions to apply toward whatever content you might be targeting. These could be multiple-choice questions for a quiz on Friday or an essay question as part of the project. This will not only prepare students for the exam, but also give you great formative assessments to know how students are doing and adjust instruction as needed. Additionally, it includes the “test prep” within the context of a meaningful project.

The Meaty Content
As teachers look at past exams, they should analyze the tests for the content that is often tested or is worth a large part of the exam. We want this specific content to stick, perhaps more than other content. PBL can help the learning stick for these areas of the exam. It’s similar to power standards, where teachers target learning objectives that are heavily assessed, complex, and perhaps challenging. PBL projects are rigorous and complex, and can provide a great space to hit these major content areas of an AP exam.

Target Critical Thinking
We all want our students to be critical thinkers, and much of the AP exam requires a heavy deal of critical thinking, especially with the changes that are occurring. AP teachers should be focusing on the critical thinking skills needed as well as on the AP content itself. By doing this, teachers are preparing students to navigate critical thinking questions, tasks, and prompts regardless of the content they encounter on the exam. Consider using this rubric from the Buck Institute to support students in building their critical thinking skills.

Hopefully these tips will help teachers design and implement PBL projects that help students learn important content within the AP framework and the skills needed to access the AP exam itself. The AP exam is changing, and students are finding success on that exam through PBL projects. We as educators can support our AP students by creating learning that sticks through PBL!

Personalizing Assessments with Time In Mind


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 >

We already know about best practices in assessment. We know that we should use formative assessment to look for patterns in errors and adjust instruction. We also know that we need to have clear learning targets to assess, and that these assessments can be common. We know a lot. One area we don’t yet know as much about is how time factors into assessment.

Time is always an issue for educators. We never have enough, and we often feel we must rush through the material. Great educators try not to let time get in the way of good instruction. But even then, time can get in the way of better use of assessment. We use some sort of formative assessment exercise to check for understanding at the end of the day’s lesson; we give end-of-unit assessments; and our districts and states often take a specific week to give an end-of-course exam or grade-level assessment. What’s interesting here is that time is still the inflexible piece.

Why do we always assess students at the same time and let that be the governing factor for student achievement? We know that students each learn at their own pace. Some take longer; some take a shorter amount of time. We have the same high expectations for our students, but we also know students take different amounts of time to get to those high expectations. One critical element of personalization is that time is no longer the driving factor. Instead of relying on the Carnegie unit, students show mastery and are assessed when they are ready. Granted, so many outside forces are demanding our time, but how might we move past them to meet students were they are in the assessment process?

Create Rigorous Competencies

To start being more flexible with when to give assessments, you need to begin with the end in mind. Many schools that have become more flexible with when they give critical summative assessments create rigorous competencies from standards, including the Common Core. Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey also advocate for this:

“Grade-level teams or departments usually specify course competencies and corresponding assignments. Competencies should reflect the state standards while offering students an array of ways to demonstrate mastery, not just paper-and-pencil tasks. The competency assessments should be numerous enough that students can adequately gauge their own progress at attaining competencies; generally 7 to 10 per academic year is best” (2009, p. 24).

Competencies are built from standards and include measurable and transferable learning objectives. When designing a competency, you keep both academic and 21st century skills in mind so that the competency moves toward applied learning of multiple learning objectives. When you cluster standards and objectives like this, you can be more comfortable designing flexible assessments to meet these synthesized objectives.

Be Flexible When You Summatively Assess

It is perfectly appropriate to formatively assess the whole class after giving a lesson, and often educators formatively assess students individually. Through the formative assessment process, we can differentiate, give feedback, and meet the needs of students. When we formatively assess, we know when students are ready or not ready for the next steps. This is where time often gets in the way of good intention. If students are not ready for the summative assessment, why should we make them do it? It may be appropriate to allow some students to take the summative assessment after other students have taken it. Again, this should be a rigorous performance assessment that demands construction and application of knowledge. Summative assessments should only been given when students are ready, and, therefore, we must personalize when we give them.

Allow for Late Work

This is probably one of the most challenging shifts for veteran teachers. On the one hand, we want to foster good work ethic, which means adhering to deadlines; on the other hand, we want to be flexible to meet the needs of all students. The key here is to know what are you are assessing. Are you assessing work ethic or content? Students should never be punished for not learning content in a specific amount of time, hence allowing work to be late. Some educators find it appropriate to assess the 21st century skill of work ethic, but they in turn do not let that affect their content learning grade. Once you allow for late work, you can have students complete assessments, mostly summative, at various times.

The movement toward flexible time for assessment is obviously challenging, but these steps can make the shift more manageable—even in the face of immovable educational demands on our time. If we begin with the end in mind when designing assessments, we can use personalization to keep time as a malleable component to meet the needs of all students. This is a move toward true personalization of assessment.

Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2009, November). Feed up, back, forward. Educational Leadership, 67(3), 20–25.

The Project IS the Learning!


This post originally appeared on CompetencyWorks, a group designed to support the development of a community of people knowledgeable about competency education. View Original >


Typically, teachers launch projects after students have learned concepts and skills, or as a culminating activity in a lengthy unit of instruction. Also traditional projects generally follow a scripted, one size fits all design. What would happen if a project were launched the first day of a unit of instruction? What if unpacking that project resulted in students determining what is important to know and do in meeting the criteria for the product and presentation?

Welcome to project based learning that allows students to meet multiple competencies! As teachers struggle to work with the rigorous performance assessment demands of the Common Core State Standards, a well-designed project can be the vehicle for highly authentic, rigorous, and personalized learning experiences for students.

The Buck Institute for Education, one of the preeminent organizations with expertise in Project Based Learning, describes the eight Essential Elements of a PBL Project. Included in these elements is inquiry. We are all familiar with inquiry-based learning as an effective framework for the classroom, and similarly, the Project creates the inquiry to learn targeted competencies that integrate both content and 21st Century Skills. Instead of giving the project at the end of a curriculum unit, the Project is presented up front to students to create the “need to know,” the inquiry to engage in the project. In addition, this work is the frame around the learning while engaging the learner in the driving questions. This work is presented to a public, authentic audience. Students are given voice and choice in how they present their learning of competencies to allow for personalized and differentiated instruction. Students become the centers of learning, rather than the teacher. In turn, the teachers arm students with the skills and knowledge needed to meet competency through a variety of instructional activities.

The planning and preparation for a project that is designed to meet multiple competencies can provide teachers with the tool kit they need to retune their curriculum, assessment, and instruction paradigm to the new expectations of the Common Core State Standards.

The presentation and product of a project based learning opportunity allows students to demonstrate they have transferred the knowledge and skills of multiple competencies identified as essential in the project design.

The project IS the learning!

Competencies Builds Better Assessment Practices


This post originally appeared on CompetencyWorks, a group designed to support the development of a community of people knowledgeable about competency education. View Original >


Competencies have the potential to truly shift assessment practices in the classroom. If you took a sampling of the current assessment practices, including grade-books, you would see a variety of system in place. From elaborate weights and point systems, to standards-based and rigorous, assessment practices rub the gambit. With a competency-based assessment system, we have the opportunity to create exemplary, equitable assessment practices for our students.

Objective Targets – Competencies are hinged on targets in the content area. When designed well, they are aligned to state, national, or common core standards, and explain clearly the evidence needed to master. The competency promotes evidence of learning, regardless of how the learning is shown. Because of this, students are allowed to show learning in a variety of ways, because the competency isn’t hinged on the product of learning, but rather what needs to be in that product. Teachers who use competency-based grading system must truly understand what evidence of that learning is. In other words, the target must be clear. When teachers are creating assessments, they aligned to objective targets, not subjective products. With this, we can be confident that the assessment is accurate and objective, regardless of product.

Embedded 21st Century Skills – Districts and schools across the nation, and internationally are quickly embracing 21st century skills as a critical learning parter to content standards. From critical thinking and problem solving, to communication and collaboration, these skills are transferable across content areas and learning environments. Competencies must articulated these skills, and, more importantly, thereby leverage them as crucial to the assessment process. When teachers create and plan assessments aligned to competencies they are targeting 21st century skills. They are assessing them, and including evidence of those skills as well as the content knowledge.

Freedom to Fail – Much of our current assessment practices are still anchored in antiquated grading of practice. Much of the work that occurs in the classroom is formative, intended to check progress of students, encourage differentiation, and give targeted feedback to students. Why is it often graded? I know where this comes from. As teachers, we need leverage to encourage student work, but this is the wrong way to go about. What happens if a student does mediocre, but then performs well on the summative assessment? When the formative is counted in the grading, then the summative, which is supposed to show mastery of competencies, is negatively impact. This is bad assessment practice. It does not reward students at their best. When we embrace Competency Based Assessment, we reward students at their best, and allow them the freedom to make mistakes and improve along the way.

As schools and districts continue to adopt competency based assessment systems, they will be forced to wrestle with old, and often inequitable assessment practices. This work has the potential to be a catalyst for assessment reform that serves all students, rewards them for rigorous work, and honors them at their best.

Educators Evaluate ‘Flipped Classrooms’


This post originally appeared on Education Week. Editorial Projects in Education Is the independent, nonprofit publisher of Education Week and other high-quality print and online products on K-12 education. EPE’s mission is to raise awareness and understanding of critical issues facing American schools. I was honored to be quoted.

View Original >


Benefits and drawbacks seen in replacing lectures with on-demand video
By Katie Ash

A growing number of educators are working to turn learning on its head by replacing traditional classroom lectures with video tutorials, an approach popularly called the “flipped classroom.” Interest in that teaching method was in full view this summer at the International Society for Technology in Education annual conference in San Diego, where almost every session on the topic was filled to capacity.

The movement was inspired partly by the work of Salman Khan, who created a library of free online tutoring videos spanning a variety of academic subjects, known as the Khan Academy, which many view as a touchstone of the flipped-classroom technique. But, much like the Khan Academy itself, the approach is attracting increasing scrutiny—and criticism—among educators and researchers.
The term “flipping” comes from the idea of swapping homework for class work. Students typically are assigned the video-watching for homework, freeing up class time that used to be spent listening to lectures for hands-on activities and application of knowledge, which used to serve as homework. However, as most educators who have begun to use the technique are quick to say, there are a multitude of ways to “flip” a classroom. Some teachers assign a video for homework, while others allow students to watch those videos in class. Still others make videos for the lesson, but do not require students to watch them at all, giving students a variety of resources and allowing them to choose what they utilize to learn the required information.

But just as the Khan Academy has recently come under fire from some in the education blogosphere for what critics say is flawed pedagogy, the flipped-classroom technique has also garnered criticism from some who believe that flipping is simply a high-tech version of an antiquated instructional method: the lecture.

“My concern is that if you’re still relying on lecture as your primary mode of getting content across, … you haven’t done anything to shift the type of learning that’s occurring,” said Andrew Miller, an educational consultant who works with the Alexandria, Va.-based professional-development group ASCD and the Novato, Calif.-based Buck Institute of Education, which works to promote project- based learning in classrooms. “That’s not how all of us learn,” he said. “Just because you flipped your classroom doesn’t mean your students will watch the videos. How are you engaging your kids?”

Ramsey Musallam, a chemistry teacher at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory, a private Catholic high school in San Francisco, shares Mr. Miller’s concerns.

“Everyone initially thought that [flipping] was an innovative way [to teach] because we’re so rooted in this idea that students don’t like homework,” he said. “However, when you step back a little bit, what you’re looking at is simply a time-shifting tool that is grounded in the same didactic, lecture- based philosophy. It’s really a better version of a bad thing.”

Mr. Musallam, who is also an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco’s college of education, began flipping his classroom in 2006, but after noticing little difference in student learning despite the extra in-class time for labs and hands-on activities, he shifted his perspective. He still uses flipping as an instructional technique, but instead of giving students the video initially, they first go through an exploratory, guided inquiry-based period. Next, the students receive basic instructions and materials to complete lab work and observe the phenomena they are studying. Only then, “when I feel that they can’t form any more ideas on their own,” does Mr. Musallam make videos to address misconceptions and provide instruction, he said.

Delaying the direct instruction as much as possible increases students’ curiosity, he said. Using the flipping technique is not necessarily negative, Mr. Musallam said, but teachers should be realistic about what it really is. “I say keep the flip alive, but lower the volume and think about it like we think about anything,” he said. “It’s a thing you do in the context of an overarching pedagogy,” not the pedagogy itself, he said.

Sharing Questions
Jonathan Bergmann, the lead technology facilitator for the 600-student K-8 Kenilworth school district in Illinois, is considered one of the pioneers of the flipped movement. He and his former fellow teacher Aaron Sams began using the flipping technique in 2006 at the 950-student Woodland Park High School in Woodland Park, Calif., to teach chemistry.

Tips for Flipping
1. Don’t get hung up on creating your own videos. While some believe that students prefer to see their own teacher in the videos, others recommend harnessing the educational content that is already available on the Web. Resources such as the Khan Academy, YouTube EDU, and PBS can provide well-produced video content for your students.
2. Be thoughtful about what parts of your class you decide to “flip” and when. Deciding to flip part of your lesson will not automatically make it a better lesson. You have to be intentional about when to flip and clear about what the benefit will be for students.
3. If possible, find a partner to create videos with. Students enjoy hearing the back-and-forth conversation of two teachers, especially when one teacher plays the role of mentor while the other plays the role of learner.
4. Address the issue of access early. Survey your students to find out what technology they have at home, and find alternatives for students who lack Internet access. Alternatives may mean burning the videos onto DVDs or creating lists of places where students can go online.
5. Find a way to engage students in the videos. Just having students watch videos instead of listening to lectures doesn’t guarantee that they will be more engaged. Requiring students to take notes on the videos, ask questions
about the videos, or engage in discussion about them will help ensure that they watch and absorb the material.

The pair created videos of their lectures and posted them online for their chemistry and Advanced Placement chemistry classes during the 2007-08 school year. They required the students to take notes on the videos and come to class with one thoughtful question to share.

The teachers found that the technique allowed them to spend more time with students one-on-one and to provide just-in-time intervention when students needed it. They also noticed an uptick in test scores in the students using the flipped-class technique.
Soon they began visiting other schools that were curious about the method and hosting conferences on flipping. They recently co-wrote a book called Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day, published in July of 2012 by the International Society for Technology in Education and the ASCD.

“You need to figure out the answer to the question: What’s the best use of your face-to-face instruction time?” Mr. Bergmann said.
After the first year, he and Mr. Sams made adjustments to the flipped classroom, moving from what they call the “traditional” flip to the “mastery based” flipped classroom.

In the mastery-based model, students are not required to watch videos at home on a specific day. Instead, they are given an outline for each unit that includes all the resources they might need for each objective, including videos, worksheets, and textbook excerpts. They can then work through the material at their own pace, even taking tests and quizzes and performing labs when they are ready rather than as a whole class.

Using technology to create test-question banks that could be randomized, so that no two students receive the same test and may receive completely different questions altogether, made the mastery flipped model possible, said Mr. Bergmann.

‘Self-Paced Became No Pace’
Deb Wolf, a high school instructional coach for the 24,000-student Sioux Falls district in South Dakota, also uses the mastery technique. Instead of letting students have complete control over their pace, though, she sets deadlines to keep everyone on track.
“For students who had not been challenged in the classroom, this was an opportunity for them to just fly,” she said. “For others, it was an opportunity to take the time that they needed to move slower. And for some, self-paced became no pace,” and teachers had to step in and create deadlines.

Ms. Wolf began flipping her chemistry class at Roosevelt High School in the spring of 2008 after hearing about the technique from Mr. Bergmann and Mr. Sams. During the 2008-09 school year, all the chemistry teachers in her school flipped their classrooms, and the next year, the district applied for a federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant, which Ms. Wolf facilitated, that provided professional development for the district’s 35 math and science teachers around technology in the classroom.

“Most of them took away from that grant the idea that they could use technology to help provide students opportunities to master content in a variety of ways so that time became the variable, … not learning,” she said. “We didn’t have 35 teachers that all suddenly flipped their classrooms, but the take-away was that by harnessing technology, they provided students the opportunity to master what they didn’t master the first time.”

Still, engaging reluctant learners continues to be a challenge, said Ms. Wolf. “[Our teachers] realized that we were dragging [such learners] along. They may have been in class, but they weren’t engaged. I know that we weren’t meeting all of their needs in the traditional classroom, and I’m not sure that we were meeting their needs in a flipped classroom either,” she said.
Like Mr. Musallam, Ms. Wolf emphasized that flipping is one approach in a wider framework of instructional methods to help reach students.

“You can’t just hand the flipped classroom off to an ineffective teacher and say you’re going to transform the classroom,” she said. “It’s not going to make a bad teacher a good teacher.” Students and teachers at the Havana Community Unit School District’s 1,100-student high school in rural central Illinois will try their hands at the flipped technique when the entire school flips this fall. In a district where 65 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, Superintendent Patrick Twomey hopes that flipping the school will help address the inequalities that hamper the high school’s population of students deemed at risk academically.

“[In the current model], one student goes home to educated parents who can help him with his homework, while another student goes home and gets no help,” Mr. Twomey said. “In the flipped model, both of those kids come back to the classroom after receiving the content, and now all of the help with the homework is given by the expert in the field.”

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