What does project-based learning look like?

“Even as I write this, I am amazed at how much kids did in just 20 minutes. I can’t wait to see where they go next and what they do when I introduce ideas such as storyboarding, clay animation, etc. It will be interesting to hear their conversations about the things they notice outside of school–times when photos are manipulated, etc I didn’t realize how much they would learn from this one tool.”

via A Year of Reading: Discovering the Possibilities of Stopmotion in Grades 2-5.

People ask me all the time – so what does project-based learning look like? This blog post is a great example of a teacher explaining just that. It’s the details that stand out – the choice of a good tool, the thoughtfulness of finding the right balance between too much or too little initial instruction, and the reflection on what happened.

People think that project-based learning is more difficult for the teacher, but this article points out that the teacher used the same tool and same lesson plan for grades 2-5. The projects were age-appropriate and varied because students brought their own experiences to their projects, not because the teacher designed the lesson differently.

I often ask teachers to share in sessions what happens in their classrooms when they allow these experiences to unfold. These stories share a sense of wonderment at what students are capable of when given the chance. Yet it’s hard to explain exactly how this happens or what the teacher does besides “let go.” To many people, project-based learning seems like an “if you build it, they will come” kind of mystical promise.

Articles like this explode some of that mythology. It’s clear that the teacher is actively guiding students in their natural pursuit of learning. And it’s clear that for technology based projects, open-ended tools like Frames allow students to not only succeed quickly, but support longer and deeper experiences as students gain fluency.

Please read Discovering the Possibilities of Stopmotion in Grades 2-5!

Sylvia

Free Back to School Resource for Laptop Schools

It’s back to school time again in the US! Time for fresh new school supplies, backpacks, or maybe some new laptops?

studentsupportlaptopcover

Student Support of Laptop Programs – new laptops? old laptops? Are you getting the benefit of making students allies in your laptop initiative? Peer mentoring, student-led training on new hardware and software, student tech support and other ideas can be time saving, cost effective, and best of all, good for students and the whole learning community.

This whitepaper contains research, case studies, practical information that you can use right now, whether you have one cart or are a 1:1 laptop school.

Student Support of Laptop Programs (PDF)

Sylvia

Kids Use — and Teach — Digital Storytelling

Edutopia cover - Sept. 2009

California Kids Use — and Teach — Digital Storytelling

Veteran fourth-grade teacher Don Kinslow often hears colleagues say they would use technology if they had the time to get training. At Parkview Elementary School, in Chico, California, he has found a practical solution to this dilemma: He engages students as technology mentors.

This article appears in the September issue of Edutopia magazine as part of their stimulus funding series, “High Tech at Low Cost”, and is online here.

The story captures the essence of what many schools see when they include GenYES students in their technology outreach to teachers and the whole community. Don says, “It’s a simple idea, but it’s had huge outcomes.”

One of Kinslow’s students, for instance, was consistently reluctant to speak in class. For a book report, she narrated a digital story. “Her voice was clear. Her ideas were well organized,” Kinslow says. “For some kids, this was the first time they’d ever heard her talk.”

And we all know, this isn’t about saving money, it’s about giving kids experiences that change lives, either by being a GenYES student who finds her voice, or a student in a classroom where the teacher feels supported enough to try technology for the first time.

Part of the fun of this job is meeting teachers like Don Kinslow. He’s got great ideas and he tries things, lots of things. He’s given me some great stories to tell! If you’d like to read more about Don and his students, they are also one of the detailed case studies in my Student Support of Laptop Programs article. Their school uses laptops on carts and the GenYES students are part of the team a teacher can count on when they use the laptops for small student groupwork, digital storytelling across all grades and subjects, and special request projects for teachers.

By the way, don’t miss the article’s author, Suzie Boss, in the Edutopia blog lineup called Spiral Notebook.

Sylvia

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Tinkering School

Once a year at the TED conference, invited speakers from all fields and backgrounds gather to give short talks about their subjects of interest. The conference website holds a treasure trove of brilliant, moving examples of storytelling about things that matter.

In this 4 minute video, Gever Tulley talks about his Tinkering School. This is a subject I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, especially in regards to technology. My post a few months ago, Technology Literacy and Sustained Tinkering Time was about how looking at technology through the lens of tinkering makes more sense than approaching it through checklists and skill acquisition charts.

But I think this TED talk is nice because it shows kids doing things, and he talks about what is necessary to facilitate this kind of learning — time, materials, and openness to the serendipity of both success and failure. Time is such a key element. Time to think, time to change your mind, and time to work through frustration.

In the comment page for the video, there is a a lively discussion of how computers fit into this world of “stuff” for kids to mess around with. Some people look at computers (and video games) as taking children out of the “real world” of making things with hammers and nails, but I know that computers are not in opposition to children tinkering. Children, especially with open-ended, creative software tools can flow seamlessly between creating virtual and real things that have meaning to them.

This fits in perfectly with my work next week at the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. I’m looking forward to 4 days of tinkering with all the cool materials and software we bring in. According to Gary Stager, who leads the institute, teachers often see student frustration as a failure, and want to “help” students through it as quickly as possible. He says that teachers simply need to fine tune their reactions to differentiate between “mouth up” and “mouth down” frustration. No one wants to just leave a student stuck forever in an endless loop of problems. But to rescue them too soon means they never develop the problem solving skills they need. At CMK, the teachers learn that lesson by going through it themselves, tackling complex projects that have natural cycles of success, frustration, and more success.

Here’s a video from CMK last year, made during the event by one of the participants, that shows some of this in action.

By the way, there are a few places left, so sign up and come on down. What better way to spend a week than going to technology tinkering school!

Sylvia

Free ebook – Engaging the Whole Child

Update – this offer is now expired. You can still get the e-book for $9.95 (or $7.95 if you are an ASCD member) using the link below. Still a pretty good deal if you ask me!

Last November, our Working with Tech-Savvy Kids article appeared in the ASCD magazine Educational Leadership. The good news is that Ed Leadership is one of the best magazines around for thoughtful articles about education. The bad news is that these articles are not freely available on the website.

But now, ASCD is offering ebooks with article collections with a short period of free access.

Better yet, I was very pleased to find out that Working with Tech Savvy Kids was selected for inclusion in a new ASCD ebook entitled Engaging the Whole Child, the first in a series of Whole Child ebooks. Educating the Whole Child ebook – free download link (valid April 15 – May 6, 2009)

As part of ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative, ASCD wanted to share with a larger audience—including preK–12 educators, policymakers, and parents—some of the fine articles on the topic of engagement that were originally published in Educational Leadership in 2006–2008. From April 15 through May 6, 2009, readers will be able to access these articles through a free ebook download. After May 6, sample chapters will be posted on the ASCD Web site and the complete book will be available through the online store for a small fee.

Educating the Whole Child ebook – free download link (valid April 15 – May 6, 2009)

Don’t miss the window to download the ebook for free! Please share this link with friends and colleagues.

Sylvia

Update: Thanks to all the commentors who helped debug the link errors. They seem to be working now. The basic problem was pilot error, compounded by the fact that this is a LARGE download (366 page PDF) and the ASCD site seems to be very busy. Enjoy!

Student Support of Laptop Programs

studentsupportlaptopcover

I’m happy to announce a new resource for laptop schools – or schools planning a laptop implementation. Student Support of Laptop Programs (PDF) covers all aspects of creating a highly effective student support team for your laptop program. Research, planning tips, case studies, and practical suggestions are packed into 16 pages.

  • Student tech support teams in a laptop school
  • Student support for teachers and students using laptops in classrooms
  • How (and why) to include students on planning committees
  • Students as trainers and mentors for new users
  • How students can make a laptop rollout go smoother
  • How to train and sustain a student technology team in support of laptops

This is a great resource to share with your laptop implementation team. I hope you enjoy it and share it widely!

A special thank you to the fabulous teachers who shared stories about their wonderful students:

  • Ann Powers at Tongue River Middle School – Ranchester, WY
  • Debbie Kosvedy at Shadow Mountain HS – Paradise Valley, AZ
  • Steve Spaeth at Mt. Ararat Middle School – Topsham, ME
  • Don Kinslow at Parkview Elementary – Chico, CA
  • Cherilyn Ziemer at Northland Christian School – Houston, TX

Sylvia

Student-built computer/projector cart project

This terrific idea just came in from Don Kinslow, a GenYES teacher at Parkview Elementary in Chico, CA. His students built carts with computers and projectors, ready to go for classroom use.

Aaron the Cart Quality Inspector
Aaron, the Cart Quality Inspector

Here’s his story:

Step 1: I had cancelled a regularly scheduled GenYES meeting the week before we went out for Winter Break because many of the students told me that they had other obligations in preparation for Chanukah and Christmas. To my surprise, several students (Karla, Rosa, Aaron, Monique, Ana Cristina, Evangelina and Rebeca) showed up anyway begging to do something GenYES-like. So, I gave the okay. The students formed teams to work on this really fun and exciting project.

Step 2: Each team received a box with a computer cart to build, a refurbished computer, an LCD projector, a monitor, a keyboard, a mouse, speakers and a 25 foot long power strip. I showed them a cart that I had already built and prepared with all the technology devices. Then after observing my cart, they got to work…or was it play?

Step 3: The teams opened their cart box, read the instructions and started putting together what must have seemed like a 3D puzzle. Once the carts were built and ready for the technology devices, Rebeca and her GenYES friends decided to name their carts as if they were newborns. So, instead of Cart 1, Cart 2, and Cart 3, we got Mia Pink, Banana 2, and Roly Poly. Next, the teams got to work on setting up the refurbished computer, an LCD projector, a monitor, a keyboard, a mouse, speakers and a 25 foot long power strip on the newborn carts. This part was more challenging for the teams. Even though they had my example to work from, the quantity of cables to connect was difficult for a few of the students. So, Aaron, a 6th grader, who seemed to have more experience with this type of task, took on the role of Quality Inspector.

Step 4: With the computer carts finished and test run, GenYES students took them to their new classrooms and introduced Mia Pink, Banana 2 and Roly Poly to the receiving teachers. Of course, the teachers were super excited to get their new carts!

This is a terrific idea, and not simply because the teachers got equipment pre-configured and ready to plug in. It also gave a strong message to the whole school community that students can and will be responsible partners in using technology. These students built something of value, not for a grade, but for pride, and learned a lot while doing it. And yes, the names the students gave the carts are cute, but there’s more than meets the eye here as well.

Giving students ownership of their own learning is more than an abstract idea. In an institutional environment where everything is bland and uniform, having an identity stands out. Ownership can be simple and concrete, like the idea of giving the carts names or decorating them. Suddenly, they become more than just the object by itself. They start to represent the children – and are special, just like the children themselves.

If you doubt this, just ask these kids if Mia Pink, Banana 2 and Roly Poly are better than the other carts without names!

Sylvia

Magazines for the (technology) classroom bookshelf

source: stock.xchngSome of the best resources for a technology-using classroom are not found online! Technology projects need support and ideas from outside sources, and books and magazines can be terrific for that. Plus they come in a convenient format that is easy to carry, share, and sits neatly on the desk while doing the real work on the computer.

Magazines can inspire, inform, and offer fresh ideas. And they shouldn’t just be stuck in the back bookshelf, these resources can be used in whole class lessons, be resources for projects, and be part of an always up to date classroom library.

Many Borders and Barnes & Nobles have expanded their magazine sections to include magazines you may never have seen before. Browse these racks with an eye open for articles and visuals that can teach about design, media literacy, art and photography, do it yourself projects, and provide inspiration.

If you find a magazine you really like – consider getting a subscription. And yes, I know, it’s not free, but subscriptions are always a good thing to ask parents to purchase! Look for deals, these magazines are often discounted heavily with special offers for additional books or CDs. And don’t worry about them disappearing, because they will; just think of it as making room for new stuff. So if you find an article that is the basis for a really good project or lesson, be sure to make a high quality copy of it and tuck it away somewhere!

Magazines and their accompanying online resources are a great way to get inexpensive, up-to-date ideas and resources into the classroom. In this case, more is better because you never know where inspiration will come from and which student will resonate with an idea. Of course, with any materials not specifically written for the classroom, it’s up to you to be the ultimate judge about appropriateness!

Here’s a couple of magazines to consider:

Craft and Make – These two magazines are new, but have become instant classics. They celebrate the inventor in all of us, and show you how to do it with a decided techno beat. Every issue is packed with do-able, make-able projects that can be adapted for classroom use. The photos show how real people have constructed these projects, which makes them very real and accessible. The websites are also treasure troves of videos, podcasts, blogs and forums.

Before & After: How to Design Cool Stuff – this is a beautifully designed magazine about design. Some of your secondary students may be enthralled by the notion that every object that humans make is speaking a secret language that can be better understood. Color, placement, symmetry, use of fonts and typeface, and more are all dissected in clear language and beautiful pictures. The magazine is available in print, or even less for individual articles or in PDF form. There is also a blog that dissects design found in everyday objects. This latest post analyzes the new Pepsi logo design from a historical perspective, as a consumer brand, and as design. It’s fascinating!

Photography, Video, Audio magazines – There are quite a few magazines on these subjects, however, you have to be careful that the magazine is not all product reviews of stuff you frustratingly can’t afford – you may want to just pick up an issue on the newsstand now and then when you see a great article. Books are the better bargain here, and I promise to do a book roundup soon.

Computer specific magazines – if you have Macs and/or PCs, why not get magazines that cater to those platforms? They are fun reads, full of reviews, tips and tricks of the hardware that some kids will just soak up like sponges.

I recommend buying a month or two on the newsstand first. Some of these magazines (not the ones below) are simply advertisements disguised as magazines and not worth the money. Here are some of the tried and true:

Mac Life or MacWorld – C’mon, for less than $20 a year you get either of these great magazines with reviews, news, projects and access to a website full of videos and blogs. They are similar, but Mac Life has a bit of “attitude” while MacWorld is a bit more sober — so try them both and pick which works best for you and your students.

ICreate – For Macs, based in the UK. This one is a litter harder to find, but worth it. Gorgeous, with amazing ideas for creative projects.

PC World and PC Magazine – Again, two main choices with slightly different viewpoints.

Tech support and troubleshooting – if you have students helping with tech support, the magazines above are a great addition to the technical library. There is one online magazine that might be a real hit with older tech-savvy students – TechRepublic. Their emailed newsletters are full of tips and resources for network administrators and tech support professionals. This is going to be over the head of most students, but for some of those who are heading for technical professions, it’s a snapshot into the world of an IT career.

Last but not least – Wired magazine. This one is not project oriented, but explores the high tech frontier of all fields from around the world. The articles are well written and dense, but if we want students to learn how to be citizens of the 21st century, we should be sure that they at least get a glimpse of it.

Wired does have a “how to wiki” – and this could be a great source of project ideas. Featured today is an article on recycling e-waste. What a great project for a student or group of students! Does your school recycle computers, printers, and batteries? Could students form a committee to investigate this and propose a plan? All the facts are here to support this cause.

Sylvia

Free – Projects, portfolios and more for creative educators

Last week I mentioned the article What Makes a Good Project? Eight elements to great project design by Gary Stager in the Creative Educator magazine.

I hope you had a chance to look at the whole Creative Educator magazine, because it’s great. It’s published twice a year by Tech4Learning, publisher of creativity software for K-12 schools

The Creative Educator is fully available online, and in addition to the project article, this month’s issue has some great articles.

  • Universal design – tales from a 4th grade classroom about using software that includes ALL students
  • Bloom and Marzano for the 21st century
  • Digital Storytelling
  • Portfolios – and an interview with Helen Barrett, a pioneer and thought-leader of the digital portfolio movement
  • Lessons and ideas from classroom teachers using creativity software to enhance learning

The articles are all online, and every issue can be downloaded as a PDF.

 

Student-written help guides

Kern Kelley’s students in Maine have created a web-enabled comic book style help guide for the Google Doc applications they are using. Kern blogs at The Tech Curve about his students involved in student-centered ways to use technology.

This is a terrific project for students, and useful for a school! Since you create it yourself, students can add customized details about your server and network, remind readers about the Acceptable Use Policies, and make suggestions for using these tools.

I’ve blogged about student-created video help guides before, and all the reasons that these are terrific projects for students. These comic-book creations are another idea to accomplish the same goals!