Lee Hewes

is totes becoming a teacher…


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How can we use Horrible Histories to teach others about the Federation of Australia?

Tomorrow marks the beginning of my final week at Merrylands East Public School. It has been a fantastic school to work at for so many reasons. Amazing staff, great kids, a real sense of communion between classes, with students across stages and projects contributing to each others’ learning. What has been particularly awesome for me is the strong focus on project-based learning. It should come as no surprise for me say that I think PBL is awesome. I live with Bianca,  who’s been living and breathing the stuff for a few years now. We always talk about it, try to share our experiences with PBL with others wherever possible, for instance via #PLSM13 or Teachmeet. If you want to know a little of the reasoning behind why we thinks it’s awesome, you might be interested in reading a recent interview I was asked to do for Educational Experience here.

But anyway my last few weeks at MEPS have seen me working with students from TheWaterhole6, with the awesome Lisa Sov and Solange Cruz. Before going into the class I was asked by the teacher who I was relieving, @Holidaydreamer_ to get the kids to learn some Australian history, focusing on the Federation of Australia. Having discussed some ideas for a history project at PLSM13 earlier in the year, I though that this would be the perfect opportunity to see how the kids would go making a federation themed episode of Horrible Histories. The project outline is below.

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On the first day that I walked into this class of year 6 students I really had to think on my feet. Lisa was away sick and Solange had to take the morning off for reading recovery. So armed with the above outline, some links posted to edmodo during the holidays by Holidaydreamer_, and supported by a casual teacher I set to work introducing students to the concept and getting them to begin their inquiry. I was immediately impressed with how independent the students were and how quickly they took to the task of learning what they needed to know to begin the process of producing some hilarious skits. Sure, you had some groups working more productively than others, and some kids walking around trying to do less than what they perhaps ought to have been doing; however, at least they weren’t sitting there idle, becoming brain-dead listening to me speak boringly about events that happened years ago, and about which I know very little!

Having said that, I have done some learning about the federation myself, and to help students think about what they might like to produce, I made the below video giving a rough timeline of the events leading to the Federation. It has some errors, which I pointed out to the class – nobody’s perfect, especially not me!

The kids are now at the stage where they are either editing, filming, or just about to film. I’m getting excited about the final product and I look forward to sharing it soon. We are going to have a screening in the school library (or hall) this coming Thursday, it’s going to be well smashing.

Here are some things that I would change if I had my time running this project again.

1. Set deadlines for each stage of the project from the outset so that the students know where they should be heading to, and by when.

I didn’t know this class at all before beginning this project, so I was unsure how they’d go with the whole thing, and how much time they would need to do what was needed. In retrospect I probably allowed too much time for researching/inquiry and not enough time for students to create awesome. I still think, however that the final episode is going to shred and I can’t wait to see it. Also, when I did see that too much time had elapsed between inquiry and production, I set an assignment on edmodo for groups to come to class and present their work – they came through in an impressively reliable fashion. Having students present their learning before moving on to making stuff is a great avenue for formative assessment, I’ve now discovered.

2. Make smaller groups

The Waterhole, whilst it at times seems like one class, is actually two. There are around 52 students all learning together, in an open learning space, created through the removal of a dividing wall between two classrooms. This means that there must always be at least two teachers on class and also makes group work potentially more difficult to organise.
When I came into the Waterhole, they already had pre-established PBL groups, so I had students work in those. There are seven PBL groups, meaning there are around 7-8 students in each group. They’ve been doing really well, however, if I were to begin the project again, I’d probably make more groups, perhaps ten, with five or six students in each group. I think that this would allow each group member to have a legitimate and purposeful role, and minimise the likelihood of students losing focus, thereby passing more work on to their teammates.

3. Choose a connecting class in a more convenient timezone!

I managed to speak with Stephen, who is awesome, about connecting with the Waterhole so that we could share our learning about the Federation. However, as they are in New Hampshire in the States, the time difference makes it impossible to talk or connect during school hours. Things like this can be worked around by creating introductory videos, etc., which I’ve done in the past, but this is extra work that we just didn’t have time for – a Skype connection would be more convenient. We will be posting the final video to the project website and I’m sure that Stephen’s class will watch it, enjoy and comment so the integrity of the public audience will be maintained.

Anyway, I think it’s going well. As I’ve mentioned, the final presentation takes place this Thursday. Students have been given a deadline of this Tuesday to submit their video files to me so that I can edit them and put them all together to make the final episode. I’m really looking forward to it, and I’ll post more here after everything’s done! In the meantime, here is a photo I took of one of the groups as they worked on filming their skit. Fun times.

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MTeach is over. Now back to school!

Last Friday I submitted the final assessment for the Master of Teaching (Primary) degree at the University of Sydney (USyd). What an excellent feeling it was to think that the next time I walk through the gothic, sandstone entries to the quadrangle at USyd it will most likely be to graduate and say a final, triumphant and emphatic, “Goodbye!” to Hogwarts. I must admit, having spent so much of my adult life around USyd, it was kinda sad to be saying goodbye, too. My kids have both been going into USyd on a regular basis since they were both in prams! My youngest used to sit and watch Batman DVDs during developmental psychology lectures in my undergrad years.

Any way life goes on and in my case, I’m going back to primary school!

So for term 3 I was on a 9 week internship for my final professional experience. The reason I haven’t been doing much posting over here of late is due to the fact that most of my blogging has been going on over at the #MEPSMarkets project weebly. That’s basically where a lot of the stuff I did during my internship happened.

I was working with an awesome group of year 2 kids at Merrylands East Public School. We learned heaps about gardening by calling in a gardening expert to help us revamp the school garden, grow some veges and run a farmers’ market. It was loads of fun. The expert, Brenden is coming back tomorrow so the kids from 2C can tell him about everything they’ve learned. He’ll then help the kids as they harvest all of the things that are ready so that they can sell some yummy food at their own farmers’ market on Wednesday. I’m getting quite nervous thinking about how it’s all going to go but hey, I’m sure it’ll go well. What could possibly go wrong? Haha.

The harvesting of the veges and the farmers’ market are not the only reason for my return to school this week. I’ve been very fortunate to have been offered a five week block of work at MEPS, and this is where it gets really interesting. Firstly, I’ll be moving from year 2 up to year 6. “Fine, that’s fair enough, fairly regular sort of occurrence”,  I hear you say. Secondly, I’ll be going into class with the lovely Solange and Lisa, where I’ll be filling in for @holidaydreamer_ while she is away on long-service leave. Basically, I’ll be in a big, open learning-space doing a lot of team teaching. “OK, open learning-space, team teaching. This is starting to sound more interesting,” I hear you say. Yes, it is, and I have the feeling that I’m going to learn a great deal while I’m there, is my reply. Thirdly, and finally, my eldest son is going to be in my class. Yep, that’s right, you read that correctly – my eldest son is going to be in my class.

Now this is going to be interesting, in a good way. Both of my kids are awesome and we get along really well, plus if he doesn’t do his work I now get to make him pick up papers in the playground. Win win.

Seriously though, I definitely didn’t think that when I decided to become a teacher I’d end up in the classroom with my son on my first week out. I know from experience, however, that having your own kids at school with you is awesome. Both of my boys have been in classes at MEPS while I’ve been there and it’s been really cool to go up and say hello to them while they’re in the playground. I’ve really enjoyed having them come up to my classroom at the end of the day before heading home via the service station to get a Slurpee.

For the next 5 weeks I won’t have to wait very long for them to get to my classroom. One will already be there and the other will only have to walk straight across from next door. Like I say, life goes on. 🙂


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Introducing the BIE K-2 teamwork rubric with @2CMEPS.

Last Friday, 2C and I were finally able to get around to using the BIE K-2 teamwork rubric for PBL together as a way to get the students beginning to self-assess how well they’ve been collaborating with each other. There is a screenshot of the rubric below; as with many things, there is stuff I might like to add/modify down the track, but I think it’s a pretty cool little rubric for a few reasons.

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It’s largely visual, making it easier for kids who aren’t strong readers to use the rubric with their peers. The language is also largely positive – ranging from “still learning” through to “almost always”. As a friend of mine from the MTeach course pointed out to me on Instagram where I posted a photo of the rubric, this kind of language is good because in addition to being largely positive it also acknowledges that perfection is not the end goal. For example “almost always” is the achievable goal as opposed to “100% of the time without fail” (remembering these students are in K-2) which is probably unrealistic unless you’re some kind of superhuman 7 year-old robot – like me … well, maybe not the seven-year old part, but I am a superhuman robot, just ask any of my friends.

One of the things I would like to change is the picture for the fourth item down “I share my ideas with my team.” One of the first things that one of the students asked when I introduced the rubric in the lead-up to Friday was “Why is that man shouting at the woman?” Another thing that my brother said to me when I posted a photo of the rubric to my Facebook page was “I really like the fourth one down – spit in a woman’s face.” LOL!

Given these comments, I think it’s fair to say that the picture for this section of the rubric could probably be changed. Haha. So anyway, how did the kids go with using the rubric? I think they went really well. Here’s what we did.

On Thursday night I went and got a copy of the rubric printed on A3 paper and laminated. I did this so that I could model using the rubric with the class. The students had already seen it and I’d already run the concept by them a couple of times, but I wanted to go through using the rubric together so that the kids had an idea of how to use it and a little more confidence in using it for self-assessment.

So at the beginning of the day on Friday morning I pinned the rubric to the project wall and the students and I evaluated how well we thought I had been collaborating as a team member over the past few weeks. We did this referencing both individual teams, as well as the whole class itself as a massive team. I think this is a good idea because, as mentioned by one of my stage 1 MEPS colleagues at a TPL meeting last week, it might help to prevent the formation of attitudes in students whereby they only ‘work’ for their team and not others – the whole class is the main team to which theirs is a contributor.

I can’t remember all of their evaluations right now, but thankfully the rubric is still pinned to the project wall for me to take a photo of for my own records. I must remember to do that tomorrow.

Here’s some of the stuff I do remember. I tried to give them prompts and ideas as we evaluated my work as a team member. For example, I told them that I wanted to get an expert gardener in by the end of my second week and that I was able to get Brenden in, so in that case I had completed my work on time. I then said that I had originally wanted to use the rubric together in my second week but hadn’t managed to get around to it, so in this case I hadn’t done my work on time. I was hoping that my partial success rate would lead to a “sometimes” rating, but the kids in 2C are tough critics an they gave me a “still learning!”

From memory I got a “sometimes” for listening as I’d failed to fully take in what one of the kids had said while we were out in the garden. As I said, I need to take a photo of my assessment, so when I do I’ll post it up here so I can remember how I went. Here is a photo of the one of the students writing down how I went on the final line under “I treat my teammates with respect.” I think I got an “almost always” for that – awesome.

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Armed with their newly acquired assessment skills, I then asked 2C to have a go at assessing their own collaborative behaviours over the past few weeks as they have worked in their teams. I was sure to emphasise the notion that this whole process was aimed at improving everybody’s ability to work together and that it didn’t matter if they still had space to improve. I reminded them that I was “still learning” to do my work on time and that I only “sometimes” listened to my teammates. I told them that this was valuable information as it showed me the areas in which I still need to get better.

I have to say that I think 2C went really well. They all managed to complete their rubrics, and many were able to provide specific moments as ‘evidence’ of their collaborative behaviour. As it was Eid al-Fitr late last week, many students were away. Whilst this means that these students will need to acquaint themselves with the task next time we do it, it also meant that I was able to get around to most of the students as they completed their rubrics, giving them tips on how to elaborate on their assessments. See the photo below for a sample of one of their completed assessments.

I hope that, as 2C repeat this process in the following weeks, their capacity to work in teams improves and that they also get better at the process of reflection. I’m still trying to think of the best ways that I can observe and assist this and I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes.

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Visit from Youth Community Greening

Last Friday the kids in 2C were lucky enough to get a visit from Brenden at Youth Community Greening. If you don’t know who they are, you can find out more about Youth Community Greening here. 

To be honest I didn’t know anything about this organisation, and it was only through a lucky coincidence whereby I parked alongside a Community Greening car on a visit to the supermarket that I managed to find out about them. I was planning the project that we’re currently working on at the time so I thought I’d give them a call. A few phone calls and emails later and I was in contact with Brenden who agreed to come for a visit. What a fantastic connection this turned out to be.

This is a brief recap of the day.

Brenden arrived at the start of the day at 8am and immediately began to bring gardening equipment, trays of seedlings, etc. over to the vegetable garden. He met with Ashleigh, John and I, we introduced ourselves and began talking about stuff. What we do, what he does – that kind of stuff. John also showed Brenden which areas of the garden could be used for the @2CMEPS farmers project. Then Brenden came and met 2C!

This was really cool.

Brenden is an Aboriginal guy and as such he knows a lot about Aboriginal culture and tradition. So pretty much the first thing that he did was sit down with 2C, take out a didgeridoo to play a song for the class and ask them to guess all of the native animals that were being portrayed in the song. So cool!

He then explained some of the meaning behind the artwork on the didgeridoo and told 2C of how the instrument had been passed down through his family and was given him by his uncle. He then told the class that he didn’t want to pass the didgeridoo on any further because he thought it was too special! Who would wanna give that away? 🙂

Brenden was a natural with the kids and they were really engaged and interested in the experience. It was really cool to be a part of the whole thing.

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Brenden then led a class discussion on fruits and vegetables, healthy eating, food and how it relates to the garden, and a few other things garden-related before heading out into the garden with 2C.

The kids were unsurprisingly excited about this, and quite a few of the students had been waiting for the opportunity to get out into the garden since the first mention of ‘getting their hands dirty’ during my initial Twitter Q&A with them before I arrived. The first thing Brenden did was get the students to head out into the garden and rip out all of the unwanted vegetation from the previous crop, weeds and rubbish, etc. from the predesignated garden areas.

The vegetation was placed into the chook coop and the rubbish, plastic, etc. separated as best as possible from everything else and placed into a bin. It was a bit chaotic at times, as you might expect when a bunch of seven or year-olds get out to work in the garden, but I thought it was completely brilliant!

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We then gathered in a circle and Brenden spoke to the class about the process of plant growth before giving some of the students a chance to plant a few rows of seeds.

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This whole process took a little longer than initially expected and by this time it was pretty much time for recess. Brenden joined us in the staffroom for some morning tea and was able to make some connections with some of the other teachers and forge some plans for future visits to the school!

We have an upcoming day later in the term to celebrate Indigenous culture and Brenden plans to come back to perhaps establish a bush tucker garden and lead a native flora walk around the school with some of the older students.

I think this is really cool, because to me it means that other classes, in addition to 2C will now be able to benefit from Brenden’s visit to the school. Epic!

Additionally, after recess Brenden worked with Mr. B’s class who learn in the classroom next to ours, they planted the seedlings that he brought with him to the school. Again this shows that Brenden’s visit had an impact beyond 2C’s classroom, really stoked.

I had a chat with Brenden before he left and he is going to send me his timetable for the rest of the term. He plans to come back to check on the garden later in the term to see how 2C have been going with their ‘Friday Farming’.

I can honestly say that this has been one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences of my journey to becoming a teacher to date. 🙂


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Farmers Tonight: what makes a good interview?

Today marked the beginning of the second week of my internship at Merrylands East Public School. We’re continuing the farming project, and as I’ve previously mentioned, we’ve been hoping to get some expert gardeners involved to share some of their knowledge and expertise as students begin to work in the garden.

Over the weekend I was able to contact one of the people from Youth Community Greening and it just so happened that he will be free this Friday to come to the school and run a workshop on urban gardening with the students. This is a great opportunity for the class to learn about caring for a garden, with links directly to the focus science and HSIE outcomes for the project and term 3.

The class has been spending quite a bit of time in the garden, using a health checklist to assess the health and condition of various garden items, learning about adjectives that can be used to describe them, and taking photos of their items to support their conclusions. In the lead-up to the arrival of the gardening expert we thought it might be a good idea for students to share what they’ve been doing through a series of short video interviews to be shown to the expert. That way, when the expert arrives, he can watch the interviews to get an idea of where the students are in terms of horticultural expertise.

In the interest of making these interviews as structured and effective as possible, I thought it might be a good idea to discuss some of the features of an interview with the students. To make this process a little more interesting and entertaining for the students, I decided to have my son interview me so that I could share this with the class for the purpose of critique. The video is below:

As we watched the video with the class, Ashleigh and I would periodically pause it to discuss some of the good and bad aspects of the interviewer’s (my 8 year old son) and the interviewee’s technique. The main things we focused on were clarity of expression, eye contact with the camera, the use of descriptive language, adequate rehearsal/practise, and turn-taking when talking. I annotated the video on the IWB as we went along. A screenshot of my annotations is below (please forgive my handwriting):

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The plan was to then have students break into pairs and begin to plan their own scripts, and I modelled this process using the script that we had used for the Farmers Tonight video. I also had students focus on asking and answering the following four questions in their interview:

What is the item?
What condition is the item in?
Why is it in this condition?
How can we sustain or improve its condition?

The class had already answered these questions and contributed them to a poster for the (rather large) project wall in their room, (I didn’t manage to blog about this, perhaps I will later) so I thought that they’d be able to plan their scripts without too much trouble. That’s where I had a bit of a fail and the process began to come a little unravelled. This is where I think it went wrong:

1) Firstly, and (I think) most importantly, although I went through my previous script with the class, and revised the questions they had answered last week with their poster, I failed to give them any proforma to structure and organise their interviews. This resulted in many of them becoming quite confused by the whole process, with only a few of the pairs able to work independently to put pen to paper. My failure to produce a proforma was mainly due to a lack of time, with pressure from the university and family commitments, however I was also wary of the interviews becoming too formulaic and contrived. In light of the fact that the students are very young and only in year 2, and given today’s experience, I think that the students are going to need a proforma to provide scaffolding for them as they develop their scripts and conduct their interviews.

2) Secondly, I think that the students might have been better able to complete their scripts if I’d organised the grouping more appropriately. I had the whole class out in the garden, in pairs, all working on the same thing and I think this lead to a bit of a free-for-all. I’m not sure how best to group them, but when I get the class to again attempt to complete this activity on Wednesday, I think I’ll have half the class in the garden working on their section of the interview (with a proforma) whilst the other half works on their section of the interview (with a proforma) on the class balcony. I think that the best way to do this would be to have the interviewees in the garden where they can see and describe their item, whilst their partner works on their introduction, questions and conclusion. The pairs could then reunite in the garden to record their interview.

3) Lastly, I misplaced the garden checklists from the previous activity! Many students couldn’t remember which garden item they were assessing, LOL! I’m going to fix this up by giving each group a project ‘packet’ to organise all of their things. I’ll also try to be more vigilant in allowing enough time at the end of each session for the students to gather their things and put them in some designated space.

So, today was fun, there are things I’d do differently if I were to live it again, but as Ashleigh said: “You live and learn”!


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Entry event (hook lesson) for #MEPSMarkets

So on Monday I arrived for the first day of my nine-week internship at MEPS (Merrylands East Public School). As mentioned in my previous post, I’ll be working through some more PBL with an awesome class of year 2 students. The project poster below was also included in that previous post, but I thought I’d include it here again because it’s so EPIC (lulz).

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More details about the project plan can be found in my previous post but the main ideas behind the project, which should be evident in the poster above, are to get the students into the garden to learn about how to maintain and/or improve its condition, to learn about sustainability and eco-friendly living and to plan, advertise, organise and host a farmers’ market at their school, involving members of their community. The focus HSIE and science outcomes are displayed down in the chicken’s thought bubble. Of course, it’s a cross-KLA project but not all of the outcomes are listed on the poster for obvious reasons.

Before the project gets into full swing and the kids are busy getting their hands dirty and tending to the garden I wanted to take some time to reflect on how it’s been going so far, specifically Monday’s entry event (or hook lesson) which I think went pretty well.

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So in the lead up to entering the class on Monday, Bianca and I discussed what might be the best way to get the students interested in the project. As the need to knows for the first stage of the project are all about sustaining a healthy garden, we both thought that the best way to get students interested in this was to get them all into the garden to check it out.

To add structure to this experience, the class was organised into gardening groups, given a clipboard, and the following proforma. Their task was to walk explore the garden in their gardening groups and to each take turns choosing a garden item before assessing its health/condition, adding some adjectives to support their assessment of the item:

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I think this worked well in generating interest in the project for the following reasons:

a) It was a hands on/outdoor activity

b) Students were allowed to choose which item they were interested in based on whatever made it salient to them

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c) Rather than have a whole project dumped on them, students were given something that wasn’t too daunting – the project outline was shared with them in the following lesson.

I will take photos of some work samples from this lesson to share here, but I’ll need to remind myself to do that when I’m in the classroom and have access to their checklists. Below are a couple of photos I took as the students were engaged in the activity.

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Beginning my internship at MEPS.

It’s been a very busy couple of days for the Hewes family as I have recently begun my nine week internship at the awesome Merrylands East Public School. I’ve enrolled the boys while I’m over there, which is a bit exciting and also means that, as it’s a bit of a commute, and the school has an early starting time of 8am, we’ve all been getting up early to make sure we all get to school on time. Below is a photo of the boys in their new MEPS uniforms.

The boys seem to be settling in very well and enjoying themselves. We were pleased to see Mr. 12 return yesterday afternoon and get straight into his homework, which was set via edmodo, and Mr. 8 very much enjoys getting to spend time with the rabbits and chickens over at the vegetable garden at recess. 🙂

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While I’m over at MEPS, I’m working with Ashleigh Cantanzariti and @2CMEPS, a class of wonderful year 2 kids. Last week we had a class conversation on Twitter so the kids could ask some questions and we could get to know each other before I came to the school to begin my first day. I did this before my last practicum with Michael Sky and both times have been great fun and an excellent way to generate anticipation and excitement before the first day.

One of the major undertakings whilst on my internship, and one that I’m massively excited about, is the #MEPSMarket project. It’s a PBL project that I’ve planned to run over nine weeks, separated into 3 smaller, but intrinsically linked projects (each running for 3 weeks) whereby the students establish a section of the garden, design a #MEPSMarket logo, visit a farmers’ market and plan and run their own farmers’ market at the end of term. The project poster for their project wall to be introduced tomorrow is below:

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I’ve started the process of establishing connections with some expert gardeners to provide some feedback and guidance for @2CMEPS as they begin to make their way through the first stage of the project. One of the more promising avenues has so far proven to be a NSW government initiative, Community Greening, who are directly involved with establishing community gardens throughout NSW.

Another, more spectacular connection we’ve made, which may or not eventuate, due to an obvious and understandably busy schedule is through Costa Georgiadis, who has also worked closely with Community Greening in the past.  Costa is passionate about the positive changes that can come through community and school gardening, so it would be excellent if he were able able to get involved. Here is a snippet of our very brief conversation on Twitter. Fingers crossed 🙂

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I am also lucky enough to know a few people who have been involved in community gardening and have some expertise in this area that they are willing to share by connectig with @2CMEPS, so things are looking good at this stage for an authentic connection for their project.

I still need to blog my first and second day reflections, but so far it’s been a fantastic start to the journey at MEPS.


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Evaluating Project Awesome (Part 2)

Continuing on from my last post I’m going to assess how well #projectAwesome13 went in meeting the final 4 essential elements of project based learning from BIE.

 

Need to knows

The driving question for project awesome was ‘How can we teach others about the importance of sharing life stories’? In order to answer this question, students needed to know the features of a life story.

What makes a life story interesting? What can we learn from the life stories of others, and how can this information help/benefit others? What are the key events that make up that particular person’s life story? What are the key events in my life that I think are interesting, memorable and worth sharing?

Students designed project products which also demanded that students knew how to see through the process of production from beginning to end. Most of these products included a technological aspect, with many students deciding to create videos.

All of the life story products were planned using mind mapping and timeline tools with which students brainstormed and sequenced their interesting and significant life events.

For the students who made videos, these timelines were used to create a script which then formed the basis of a voiceover for their life stories.

For Project Awesome, I’d say the established need to knows were:

Concepts (life stories – around the DQ)

Knowledge (life stories – around the DQ and also of language features used by others to create an interesting life story)

NB: for above we read and analysed The Little Refugee as well as several ‘Draw My Life’ videos to help students gain this knowledge.

Skills (the technological skills to create their products and the ability to plan and produce these by the presentation deadline; presentation and team-work skills)

Project Awesome was my first ever attempt at PBL and I think it went pretty well. However in regards to establishing need to knows, I think that in future I’d like to think through this aspect of a project in a bit greater detail at the planning stage.

In fairness, planning for #projectAwesome13 was a little unconventional, as much of the planning was done via Google docs with Michael living in a rural community some seven or eight hundred kilometres away. Also I was honestly very excited about the idea of being lucky enough to try PBL during my practicum, so perhaps it’s understandable that some of this was overlooked at the planning stage.

Having said that, however, as mentioned above I think there was still a lot that students needed to know in order to get through Project Awesome.

 

Voice and choice

I’ve mentioned this previously, but one of the things I’m really happy with is that at the beginning of #projectAwesome13 we gave the students the choice between two DQs. As I’ve already said, this resulted in a conversation with students around the differences between the two and how this altered the projects, making one a little bit more tricky than the other. I’ve also previously mentioned that students ended up going for the trickier project.

Some good things about this were:

a)    giving students the choice between two DQs allowed them some ownership and direction over what they were doing

b)   by choosing the trickier DQ and project students were openly accepting to be more challenged

c)    the trickier DQ and project permitted a greater range of products, this allowed students a greater freedom to choose what they were going to do and make in answering the DQ

One day I’d like to have the kind of classroom that (at least from time to time) that has the kind of trusting teacher-student relationship whereby we can look at the curriculum together and negotiate some cool, student-led ways in which we can approach it together. This didn’t happen with Project Awesome, but I still believe that we gave students a good deal of freedom (and responsibility) as to how and what they were doing. 

 

Incorporate revision and reflection

Reflection … aagh, there’s that word again! Lulz.

I think that #projectAwesome13 did pretty well in relation to this element of PBL.

The project included a project wall, on to which we’d post things related to what students were doing. The project wall also had a KWL table which we referred back to quite regularly, noting down things that the students had learned and making sure that we had answered the ‘want to knows’.

We also held a couple of Skype sessions with the year 8 students from Davidson High School in which students discussed what each of the classes had been learning. These were quite good, informal discussions between the classes whereby Bianca, Michael or I would pose a question for one of the classes to answer, a student or two would nominate themselves to answer it and share what they’d been learning. These discussions characteristically focused on similarities and differences between the texts that they were reading.

Typically, each session would begin with a discussion of what we had been doing in the previous session, allowing students to recap and figure out where they were.

One of the final tasks that the 3456 students had to do was complete a short interview video answering the DQ. This was a reflective task in which students revisited the KWL table and were asked to again focus on what they had learned, giving at least one answer to the following three questions:

  1. What have you learned from reading The Little Refugee?
  2. What have you learned from connecting with the Davo kids?
  3. What have you learned about the importance of sharing life stories?

Finally, students presented their work at an end of project presentation, and several of the students got up to speak to the parents and other students about what they had been learning.

I think when incorporating revision and reflection into projects like this it is important not to ‘force it’. Something like a project wall with a KWL, KWHL, PMI or some other reflective table or tool is good because it allows you to go back and discuss what everybody has learned and assess how well the project is going.

The DQ itself is also a good way of evaluating where everybody is at, and I found myself looking at the DQ and assessing whether or not we’d looked into it deeply enough.

 

Public Audience

The public audience for Project Awesome included YouTube, where students were posting their video introductions to the Davo kids, their answer to the DQ and also their final products if they were making videos.

The year 5 & 6 students also have class blogs and wherever it was appropriate they would post #projectAwesome stuff there too, for example the 6 word memoirs that they did at the very beginning of their project, as well as their video products at the end of the project.

I’ve mentioned that they connected with the Davo kids, who provided an audience for what they were doing and making in class as well a peer group to discuss what they’d been learning.

Finally, Project Awesome culminated in a presentation at which the class presented everything they’d been doing to their parents, grandparents, and the students in years K – 2.

We weren’t able to track down an expert, or ‘rock star’ for the project, and this is something that I should have considered more deeply at the beginning. Some of the students filled out Anh Do’s contact form at his website to see if he’d be interested, but as is understandable, given the short notice, his people didn’t respond.

Having an expert is something that I think would add a degree of authenticity to a project and something that I want to make happen in future.

Well, there you go. That’s my evaluation of #projectAwesome13, my first ever attempt at PBL. Now I can stop spamming with #projectAwesome13 stuff!

I think it went pretty well, and I’m pretty keen to have another go during my upcoming internship.


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Evaluating #ProjectAwesome13 in relation to BIE’s ‘8 essential elements’ (part 1).

I’ll have to warn you. This post is quite long. I didn’t intend for it to be, it just ended up that way. I ended up cutting this task in two. I’ll post about the other four elements later.

I’m not much into the word ‘reflection’ as a descriptor of the process of evaluating how things have been going.
Maybe it’s because I’ve heard the word used so many times at university and elsewhere that it seems to have been ‘watered down’, not as meaningful as perhaps originally intended, or maybe it’s because I’m a cynical bastard who wants to pick things apart. I do think however, that if we are actually intending to add some purpose to the process of what many call ‘reflection’, we should be doing more than simply looking back on past events, revisiting them, seeing what happened. We should be evaluating what went well and what didn’t, with the intent of utilising this insight to increase the likelihood that similar events will have better outcomes in the future.
I hasten to add that this evaluative process is probably what most people are doing when they speak of ‘reflection’. But I stand by my assertion that reflection is not strong enough a word.

Insomuch as it might seem a mere matter of semantics, I reckon the word ‘evaluation’ is better, and that’s what I’m going to use from now on.

I recently completed my second prac, a month-load of fun up at North Star Public School. Whilst there, my supervising teacher (the awesome Michael Sky), the class (The Phenomenal 15) and I worked together on ‘Project Awesome’ – a PBL project on life stories.

The purpose of this post is to evaluate (reflect on) how that project went. As part of this evaluation I’m going to assess how well the project was able to achieve, or approach achieving the 8 essential elements of PBL as provided in this checklist here by the BIE.

1. Significant content

When we first started planning this project, Michael and I were unsure whether or not we had significant content covered. However when I revisit some of the stuff that the 3456 kids did, I become more confident that #projectAwesome13 had significant content at the core of its focus.
To begin with, this was a project focused on the NSW English Syllabus and, whilst I’m satisfied that students were able to achieve the intended syllabus outcomes of the project, I think that they learned more than that.
For example, I consider skills such as extensive planning and working toward a deadline as important skills for primary aged children to learn, and even though I hadn’t necessarily considered this as much as I should have at the time of planning the project, these skills were absolutely essential for students to learn in order to get their products finished on time.

For evidence of how tough this was at times, you can look at some of my previous posts, if you want.

Admittedly, some students were better than others at this planning process and definitely need to hone their skills in this area, but I think that with additional interesting and motivating projects in future, these skills would develop quite naturally.
Also, the 3456 students connected with a year 8 class from Davidson High School as part of this project, and this connection lead them to consider the lives and perspectives of those living in a different part of Australia. There were several classroom discussions around how, despite their differences, students from each of the classes were ultimately not as different from each other as they might have originally thought. ‘Different but similar’ was a phrase that regularly came up in class.

I believe the above to be important issues for primary students to engage with and I have confidence that significant content was a strong focus of Project Awesome. Rad.

2. 21st Century Skills

I don’t think that skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication and problem solving are necessarily 21st Century skills, but I definitely agree that they’re important skills, worth practising and it’s debatable whether anybody would learn them very well in a ‘traditional’ or ‘drill and kill’ classroom.

Here are some memorable ways that I think these skills were demonstrated by the NS kids during project awesome.

Critical thinking/problem solving

We all considered important aspects of sharing life stories:

Why is it important to do so? How much do you know about your family history? How can your experiences benefit, enlighten those of others (vice versa)? What makes a life story entertaining? What are the key themes, messages of that person’s life story, what can we learn from those? How are you going to visually represent your life story? How much time will that take?

These are some of the questions that we continued to revisit throughout the  project, I’d call that critical thinking.

Much of the problem solving came through students working through how to get their products completed, both through technical difficulties and keeping the process manageable within the timeframe, by the deadline.

Collaboration

I think that there are at least a couple of senses of the word collaboration. One sense might be ‘everybody working on the same thing, all of the time’. And if that’s your sense of collaboration, then I’d say that collaboration was not fundamentally part of #projectawesome13.

However I think that there is another sense of the word collaboration which includes working together toward some kind of common goal, a shared interest, at various times, at varying degrees of intensity, depending on what other commitments each party might have.

In the absence of shared goals, a further sense of the word collaboration might involve the shared conversations and feedback which occur as people discuss with one another what they are doing and why, and help each other toward achieving this goal by sharing their insights.

As students worked together through Project Awesome 13, the latter two senses of collaboration above were certainly part of their learning experiences.

For example, answering the DQ ‘How can we teach others about the importance of sharing life stories?’ was a goal that the class shared, revisited regularly.

Part of this process involved continual updating of a KWL table which was on the project wall at the back of the room.

Also, as the students were working on a range of products depending on choice, they tended to work together in groups based on the type of product they were creating, for example, those making their own life stories in Minecraft tended to work together in collaborative groups, as did students making ‘Draw My Life’ representations of their life stories. This was a naturally collaborative process.

Additionally, even when students were working on different products to their peers, they would often provide feedback, encouragement and direction for others’work – much in line with the latter sense of collaboration above.

So I guess I’m confident that Project Awesome included collaboration as one of its elements.

I also think that the end product of a project dictates how much collaboration takes place, there would be less collaboration on a single person PowerPoint presentation than a class garden, for instance.

Communication

I could be facetious and say that the manner in which this ’21st Century skill’ was part of/developed through/used during #projectAwesome13 ‘speaks for itself’ … but I won’t.

I’ve mentioned how students were providing each other feedback and encouragement throughout the process of developing their products. There is also the fact that at the very beginning of the project Michael and I gave the students the choice between two projects, involving slightly different DQs and products. As part of doing this we ended up discussing the difference between the two projects, and ultimately getting students to commit to completing the project which we all thought was the most challenging.

There were also some deep classroom discussions around some of the themes in The Little Refugee (the picture book we analysed throughout the project). The students connected with a year8 class at Davidson, and had several discussions via Twitter and Skype around the texts they were reading in class, their pastimes and daily life in general.

Also, the things that the students were making as part of Project Awesome were fundamentally communicative, visual representations of their life stories.

Finally, the project ended in a presentation whereby students showed their parents what they had been doing in class, with several of the students explaining some of the process to those present, including the students in years K-2! 🙂

Taking the above considerations into account, I would say that #projectAwesome13 helped students to further develop their collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving and communication – AKA ’21st Century Skills’. I would say that important elements of the Quality Teaching Framework such as substantive communication and higher order thinking were part of the above situations too.

3. In Depth Inquiry

In the checklist linked to above, BIE defines this as a process whereby “Students are engaged in a rigorous, extended process of asking questions, using resources, and developing answers”.

I’m unsure of how ‘in depth’ the inquiry was as part of #projectAwesome13, but students were definitely engaged in a process similar to the that described above.

As we read The Little Refugee students had many questions to ask about Anh Do’s experiences as a refugee and subsequent life in Australia. As we connected with the Davidson students, each group had many questions to ask of each other, many of these questions and discussions related to making connections between the texts they were reading and the lives they were living. When it came time for students to create their own representations of their life stories, there were many questions around what constituted events that might be deemed interesting enough (or not) to share, and how was the best way to do this. The students used mind maps, timelines, HTML code (when creating 6 word memoirs) in order to plan and share their stories. The creation process itself resulted in many questions, particularly around the technical difficulties that arose for some of the students.

When focusing on the DQ, there were also the discussions around certain issues and recurring themes already mentioned above.

When I say I’m not sure about how ‘in depth’ this inquiry was, I mean that I’m unsure that the DQ was looked in to at length by all of the students, however I might be a little too self-critical here. After listing some of those things I can now see that there was a lot of inquiry and learning that took place throughout the course of the project in addition to that around the DQ itself.

4. Organise tasks around a Driving Question

I’ve already discussed how Michael and I gave the students the choice between two DQs, a decision which ultimately lead them to choose the DQ that was the most challenging of the two. I’ve also mentioned how the DQ was revisited throughout the courses of the project. The DQ was also put up on a project wall which was continually updated as we completed the KWL table posted on the wall.

So perhaps my previous concern regarding how in depth students’ inquiry was in relation to the DQ is unnecessary. I can however say with confidence that #projectAwesome13 was organised around a Driving Question.

This post has ended up more mammoth than I’d intended. I’ll post a follow up with the remaining essential elements later.


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Project Awesome is coming to an end!

Driving along the Croppa-Moree road yesterday I was thinking about how coming out here for the short time that I have will be an experience I’ll always remember fondly. It really has been epic.

A significant contributor to the epicness has been the fact that I’ve had a supervising teacher who has been very accommodating in terms of allowing me to try stuff, to work through things together and to do a lot of team teaching – to step away from lesson plans and rigidly structured ‘learning’ experiences and to have a go at doing stuff that the kids might be interested in AS WELL as learn from.

A fair amount of the stuff we’ve been doing has been related to Project Awesome which, sadly, is coming to an end.

Last week we sent out parent invitations to a presentation of the students’ work which is set to happen at 2pm tomorrow.

Image

The students have been busily working on their products to show at the presentation and some have now finished. Some have chosen to make artistic representations of their life story, some have chosen to make games, some have chosen to build representations of their life story in Minecraft, film a walkthrough of their Minecraft world and include a voiceover, and others have chosen to make Draw My Life videos.

It has been a bit of a challenge for Michael and I to help the students get through everything in time for the presentation tomorrow. This is partly due to the diversity of the products mentioned above, but also due to the fact that, of course, there are timetabled subjects and other commitments to uphold as part of the regular school day.

In addition to this there have been arrangements outside of the normal school timetable such as cross-country events, NAPLAN, a middle school project at Warialda High School and the ICAS, which have taken time away from classroom teaching.

Looking back at how busy the last few weeks have been, I think it’s actually quite impressive that the students have achieved everything that they have in the time that I’ve been here!

Below is a photo showing how #projectAwesome13 has been very much cross-KLA, and the range of ways in which students have been sharing their life stories.

CrossKLA

On our tally at the end of the day today, we counted that 8 out of the 15 students in the North Star 3, 4, 5 & 6 class had finished their products. This means that we need to help 7 students get through what they need to have finished tomorrow before the presentation at 2pm. LOL!

Two of these students will be finishing their Minecraft projects whilst the other students will be finishing off their Draw My Life videos.

To finish off the project each student will also be contributing a short video response to the DQ explaining what they have created and what they have learned through the project. These responses will be combined with video responses from the Davidson High School students to produce a collaborative video answering the DQ.

As with everything, time is a massive constraint on what you can actually achieve, and in retrospect, this project could have gone over a longer period than the four weeks that I’ve been up here on prac. This is all part of the learning experience however, and overall I’m really happy with how things have happened. It’s been a great intro to PBL and I can’t wait to give it all a go again soon.

I definitely need to sit down at some point and write a post on how things might have been improved and how I might use this experience to help me plan more effectively for future projects, but so as I don’t forget, and to help with that future post, I’ll write down a few things now.

1. Use a project calendar:

I didn’t use a project calendar this time around, and even though it’s most likely impossible to remain 100% on schedule with anything given the business of your average school, I do think having some kind of schedule outlined from the beginning or early stages of the project would have helped.

2. Try to anticipate where hiccoughs may arise, allow time to work through these, allow a little more time on top of this, and then add some more time for the unanticipated:

This is kinda related to the calendar suggestion above, and also to what I have already alluded to regarding time constraints. Michael and I began working with students on this project by my second day here at North Star, and have allowed a project session for nearly every day that I’ve been in the classroom. Even with this much time going to the project, all of us in @northstar3456 have been working very hard to get the project completed on time. Several students have had days away from school for whatever reason, the timetable disruptions mentioned above have taken time away from the project, there have been technology issues of varying descriptions, there have even been days when we have been without a classroom due to repainting! With this in mind, it’s important to try to allow enough time for each project. I’d even go so far as to say allow more time than what you might initially seem as reasonable. You really do never know what’s gonna come up!

With experience I’m sure that these things become easier to anticipate, and there will become fewer and fewer kinks to ‘iron out’ and, as mentioned above, a project calendar should also help – even if only insomuch that it allows you to allow time around some of the pre-scheduled interruptions.

3. Be prepared for a slow start:

Much of the slow work of this project happened at the beginning. Michael and I began planning for this project a long time ago through discussions on Twitter and collaborative planning via Google docs. Also, the beginning of the project in the classroom seemed to take a while to take off, and it wasn’t until half way through my second week of prac that I really felt like things were beginning to kick off. I think this is good, as you are laying the foundations at the beginning for all of the fast-paced and cool stuff which happens later.

4. Use some metaphorical learning spaces:

I’m not sure if that’s what you’re supposed to call them, but I know that Bianca uses spaces and places in the room called the ‘waterhole’, ‘campfire’ and ‘cave’, etc as metaphorical terms for the way students are working. I didn’t use them for this project, but given the collaborative and social nature of much of the project-learning process, as well as the periods of solid, independent working that is involved, I think that having some of these metaphorical ideas around physical and mental learning spaces would definitely be useful.

I think these would come in useful primarily to get students into the right frame of mind for approaching the different stages of each project, and the type of ‘head space’ or approach to working that each stage requires.

Something to implement in future methinks.

5. Go back and revisit the DQ as often as possible:

This is important because I think doing so will help keep all of the project in focus. Doing so, however requires time which, as I’ve said several times already, is a precious commodity.

Of course, there is a heap more that I need to learn and there are sure to be things that I am overlooking at the moment, but I’ll come back to this later when the project is over and I’ve the benefit of a little more time to think about it.

For now though, I would love to share this link to Phenomenal 15 edublog from this afternoon. It shows two of the completed products made by a two of the year 3 students. They both have done really well in getting these finished and I think that both of these are excellent. Can’t wait to see and share the rest when they are all finished!