Lee Hewes

is totes becoming a teacher…


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Project Pokémon! Year 1 #PBL inquiry into Australian insects and Japanese pocket monsters.

This week I’m launching my first whole class project with my year 1 class, the @Lionfish1L for 2015. The idea came from a recent trip to the Daintree Rainforest over the summer holidays. Whilst there, I was lucky enough to see my first ever Rhinoceros Beetle, cruising around the rainforest retreat where we were staying. Being a lover of insects and social media, I naturally picked the fine specimen up to take photos for my friends on Instagram.

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The photos sparked a Twitter conversation between myself, @pipcleaves and @debimoa, both of whom are experienced Japanese teachers. They informed me that Rhino Beetles, known as kabutomushi or helmet-bugs, are popular childhood pets in Japan. Pip said that at one point she and her children had three of them living in their house! We got to talking about how cool it would be to have one as a class pet and pretty soon we had formed the basis of a class project all around Rhino beetles, Australian insects and Pokémon.

I started looking into where you could buy rhinoceros beetles in Australia and found that they can be quite tricky to source. During my research I found a company in North Queensland that sells Rainbow Stag Beetles, a tropical rainforest beetle that’s similar to rhino beetles, only much more spectacular in colour. I’ve set up a terrarium and currently have a lovely specimen living in my home. They really are marvellous creatures, albeit nocturnal and somewhat shy. It’s been a bit of a learning curve trying to keep the terrarium at the right temperature and humidity and figuring out how to get it to eat.

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The project outline is below. The basic premise is that students learn as much as they can about Australian insects and Pokémon, as well as how to draw cool cartoons. They will then create their own Pokémon based on an Australian insect of their choice, draw some awesome cartoons and put them on a blog to share with a class from Tokyo – I’ve managed to connect with year 4 class, @TISGrade4 on Twitter and they have already studied the project outline with interest!

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I’m going to launch the project tomorrow by showing my class their new beetle, letting those who are keen to check it out, and getting them to play a flash game on ABC Splash in which you explore an Australian garden searching for insects. Needless to say I’m excited about this project and can’t wait to see what fabulous creations my class come up with over the following weeks!

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Planning for project-based learning in primary school

Below I am going to post a .pdf of one of my typical programs for a primary school #PBL project. I’ve been asked to share this before and have previously given this link to Drew Perkins from the BIE, but I thought I’d also post it up here so that I can more readily look back on my awesome in years to come – lulz.

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You should be able to download the .pdf from the link above the photo, but failing that, you can get it via the link to the google doc here.

You will see that up the top, along with the project outline showing the DQ, need to knows, product and audience are a bunch of syllabus outcomes. These are here because, as a responsible teacher, I like to plan with the curriculum in mind. In actuality, not all of this content was explored as well as I would perhaps have liked, but it’s good to aim high! Also, as is always the case with #PBL, there is content that unexpectedly sneaks its way into the project, leaving you surprised and stoked with what has naturally and authentically been ‘covered’, with purpose.

I also like to plan for proper project-based learning, so you will see that I have outlined how the 8 essentials will be given the respect and consideration they deserve. As Bianca and I have said on numerous occasions, if you’re not including ALL of the 8 essentials, you’re not doing PBL. You might be doing elements of, but not the actual ‘thing’, ugh.

You will see that I have also attempted to give a weekly run down of what the class is expected to be doing. This is, of course, fairly vague and open ended because project-based learning is considerably less teacher driven and students are expected to have greater ownership over the learning process. If the program had a massive chart of explicit lessons, it would look like a traditional unit of work, not PBL.

To give an example of what I’m on about, I’ll briefly explain what’s happening with my current K/1 project which has unexpectedly become bigger than Ben Hur.

Last term we were working on some imaginative stories for a class of students in Wagga Wagga, NSW. I went overseas, the class over in Wagga were very slow in communications, and the project kinda went downhill. When I returned I started thinking about how I could ‘rescue’ the project and still keep it PBL. I decided to share the stories with Bianca’s year 7 class and we are going to publish them as a compilation of short stories with illustrations made by her class. We’ll be sharing them with our local libraries.

As we’ve an assembly item approaching, I thought it would be nice to perform one of the stories for the school. We have chosen our story and started practising and making costumes and props. I have had close to zero creative control over the process of costume and prop creation, aside from making a couple of templates for dragon wings and some of the complex Sellotape engineering required in order to keep them intact. You can see some of the works in progress below. What my little 5 and 6 year old students have done has truly astounded me. Powerful, student-driven #PBL #FTW.

No amount of lessons plans could have predicted that this!

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The best kinda structure’s no structure at all.

I’ve probably said this before but I reckon I’m pretty lucky to be working at Merrylands East Public School. It’s an innovative school in many ways; we have the change in opening hours (based on research) to support student learning, the absence of school bells, but perhaps the innovations that I find most valuable are the focus on student-centered  pedagogies.  At MEPS we have been allowed the freedom to experiment with alternative approaches to curriculum delivery, with the support and encouragement of the executive. My students have been relatively successful with project-based learning and I’ve now run cross-KLA projects with students in kindergarten, year 1, year 2, and year 6 on a range of focus subjects such as science, history and English.

As this year I’m on infants with a K/1 class, one of the things I’ve been encouraged to introduce is play-based learning. I’ve been doing a bit of reading on the topic and from what I’ve read, play-based learning involves providing students a range of opportunities for play, observing as they gravitate toward the activities which interest them, and building the curriculum around these natural interests by introducing inquiry questions based on what the kids are doing. I like how this article describes it as the emergent curriculum.

I thought awhile about the best way to implement play-based learning in my classroom. Some had suggested different ‘learning stations’ – tables with a range of different activities to which students rotate on some kind of timed system, with a chance to explore each activity. I thought this sounded OK and started thinking of ways the @K/1MEPS kidz could start getting bizzie wid play.

I found this cool thing posted on fb and these cool things at a local department store:

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I also like the idea of adding some dress ups and having a science style station where kids can plant their own seeds into some little clay pots that they can decorate and watch as the seeds sprout and grow into awesome little seedlings for them to care for. I’d like them to eventually plant them in the school garden so we can continue to care for them at school but if they want to take them home, I’d be down with that, too. 🙂

Anyway, not having everything that I wanted for them to get stuck into and not exactly sure how I wanted to introduce play-based learning into my class, here’s what I did.

We’ve been ordering heaps of organic veges and getting them delivered to our house and as a result have been accumulating a heap of cardboard boxes. I decided Friday was going to be the day so I brought them to school in Kombi Wheezer along with my newfound love – the Stickle Puffs! How did I structure the process?

I put the Stickle Puffs on a table with a cloth so kids could start to stick them together and create stuff and I put the boxes on the classroom floor. I chose some kids to go over to the Stickle Puffs and some to play with the boxes. Then I sat back and watched for a bit  before eventually helping them with their creations.

The kids were really into what they were doing. I didn’t get a single student ask me to leave the classroom to go to the toilet or get up to get their drink bottle from the back of the room. They were too interested and engaged with what they were doing. In addition to this there was natural problem solving going on.

Some kids had decided to make cardboard cars and others had decided to make stages for puppet shows. Both of these activities necessitated that students find the best way to keep their creations stable enough for proper use. Kids were experimenting with which materials and designs worked best for this. They were down on the floor, cutting away at the boxes, sharing sticky tape, staplers and opening up PVA glue; changing designs and materials as they saw appropriate.

Students were moving in between groups deciding who best to collaborate with and how they could help achieve the best design. They were naturally grouping themselves in pairs, triplets or quadruplets – based on their interests and approach to learning. I saw kids who wouldn’t normally choose to work with each other happily working away together trying to get their creations off the ground.

When it came time to go home, they didn’t want to pack up!

So with little to no structure at all my students have shown me in which way to direct their learning. The best kinda structure’s no structure at all. Of course, I’ll be facilitating and supporting their learning along the way, but I’m looking to continue taking a back seat. I plan to support them through channeling their inquiry – see questions below.

It says in this epic article, “Through play, children learn to take turns, delay gratification, negotiate conflicts, solve problems, share goals, acquire flexibility, and live with disappointment.”

I agree with this statement. Not only have I seen this in action in the play of my two sons, I could already see it in action in my classroom during our brief foray into play-based learning yesterday.

I also agree with the sentiment in this article that all too often educators expect children to behave like miniature adults when they think fundamentally differently to adults and their brains simply aren’t wired to think in this way. Kids need play.

Here are some of the questions I plan to introduce as we continue our classroom play in future. I’m sure that many more will arise.

Why is that box leaning in that way/collapsing?

How can we make it more stable?

What are the best materials to use/why?

Have you ever been to the theatre?

Shall we look at some stages?

Why do we need more than one wheel?

Why did you choose to put that there?

What will your puppet show be about?

What other materials do we need?

What can we do with the cars once they’re built?

Anyway, that’s enough rabbiting on from me. Check out some photos of my wonderful students as they were hard at play yesterday afternoon! 🙂

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And here’s a photo of something I made with Stickle Puffs with my nine year old last night – just for fun. I’m hoping my students will make something like this for their future puppet shows. Play-based learning #ftw!

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Project-based learning, group work and natural differentiation.

If you’ve ever heard it said that PBL ‘naturally differentiates’ and wondered how, I can give you an example of how this has worked for me with my class of kindergarten and year one students and the project we’re currently winding up. It’s a collaborative research project about Australian animals, with the final ‘product’ to be a bunch of paper slide videos to share with another kindergarten class from Promise Road Elementary over in Indiana, America. We’ve just finished the first of five videos, with the rest to be filmed at different points throughout the upcoming week.  So anyway, what of all this group work stuff?

I can’t remember where I read it, pretty sure it was in a research article in some educational research journal a while back, but it went a little something like this – for any task to truly be defined as group work, it must involve the completion of something to which all group members must contribute, and something that without any one individual’s contribution, all members of the group will fail to complete the task.

Paper slide videos are a fine example of such a task. They typically involve a number of slides in excess of around five, so that each member of the group must create at least one slide. These tasks also require students to decide to commit to one of a number of roles such as paper slider, narrator or camera person. So paper slide videos necessitate collaboration. Without a meaningful contribution from each individual the fate of the whole group is doomed to failure. This necessity for each member to contribute, coupled with the varied nature and number of roles is what lends this task so well to differentiation. Let me explain.

To successfully complete a paper slide video, students need to plan ahead of time what is going to go on each slide so that they know which art to contribute and which lines to write. They also need to decide who is going to narrate each slide, writing out lines based on whatever the topic is that they have been researching. We’ve been using the proforma you can see below, completed by one of my students. Now with students of the age group in my class, not all will be capable of the writing necessary to complete the proforma below, some may not be capable of planning ahead in such a way, either. So it is naturally the case that the more capable students in this area either step up for, or are assigned this role, as was the case on our current project. Have a look at all the planning that was done by the leader of The Platypuses.

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Now whilst not all students are going to be capable of this amount of writing, all students should be able to contribute some artwork for at least one of the slides, some more so than others. Below you can see that one of the students in this group, whilst being unlikely to do much of the talking in the final video, nor much of the writing in the planning or scripting, was able to contribute a whopping four out of seven slides worth of artwork!

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The two kindy kids in the group contributed one slide each, you can see them below.

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With all of the planning done by the student who completed the proforma, he didn’t get around to creating a slide, so he’ll be completing the opening slide at some point before his group can go on to film their video. When it does come time to film, students will need to commit to roles that provide them a suitable challenge and that contributes adequately to the overall group task. Not all students will be comfortable or capable of speaking for an extended period of time on film, so they may be given only one slide to speak over. Others will be quite comfortable speaking, so may be given a number of slides to speak over. Someone will also need to be the camera person whilst another will need to be the paper slider.

All of these different roles provide a range of differentiated opportunities for students to contribute in a meaningful way to the project and feel successful and comfortable with what they are doing at school. Plus it’s fun.

Whilst a paper slide video can be made by students outside of a PBL classroom, the fact that I’ve designed this project around a Driving Question and have been lucky enough to find a public audience has really driven the relevance and motivation for students to complete this task. I also believe that it has added to the quality of the end result. I can’t wait to get the rest of the videos filmed and uploaded so that we can share them with Promise Road Kinder Panthers. I know also that my students are gonna be proud of all their hard work, learning and collaboration. PBL win!

 

 

 

 

 


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Kindy PBL: paper slide videos.

This year I have been fortunate enough to be given a temporary block with my very own class of kindergarten and year one students. For this term I have designed a project around the weird and wonderful creatures that are native to Australia. It’s been a joy to implement and watch as my students have been engaged and learning about some of the creatures we have here in our country. They have been researching with stage 3 students, using a range of paper and web-based texts, compiling their information and are now at the stage where they can put all of their learning together to make an informative video for some kindergarten students in the US who know very little about Australia in general, but much less about the creatures we have over here. If you look at the video below, you’ll see what I mean. Polar bears! #Lulz, #adorable.

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Anyway, we’ve been working really hard to get all of the videos planned, designed and created so that we can upload them all before the end of term so that the Promise Road Kinder Panthers can view them when they get back from spring break. We’ve used this rubric, and whilst the language of the instructions is probably not suitable for children as my students, I didn’t bother changing it as the basic concept is all they need to understand. Put down your plans for each slide in the boxes provided, write down what is going to be said and who is going to say it. In future, I’d probably simplify the language but I don’t think it’s a massive issue as all of my groups have managed to plan their videos. You can see some examples of the planning below. It’s actually been quite good as a formative assessment tool to see how much students have learned about the content, as well as for basic reading, writing and spelling skills.

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As is always the case with project-based learning, I’ve found that some groups are progressing through the project more quickly than others. So as it stands at the moment, I have some groups who have yet to finish their slides, some who are practising for their video, and one group who has managed to finish their video. You can see it below, I think they did really well!

I love how you can hear them collaborating and whispering to each other as they remind each other of who is the next narrator! To make things fair and to ensure that everybody gets a role, I’ve made sure that the kindy kiddies in each group have been assigned at least one slide to illustrate and narrate. In this video there are two kindy kids in the group. One kindergarten kid narrates the opening slide and the slide with the information about what bilbies eat, whilst the other (quietly) narrates the final slide, followed by a repeat farewell from the whole class! The rest of the slides are narrated by year ones.

So anyway, there you have it, children can engage in project based learning as early as kindergarten. And they can enjoy it!

Thanks for watching!


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So we’re all eggs? Collaborative levelling up, @K1MEPS stylez.

Last year I had a go at using the K-2 teamwork rubric, generously provided by BIE, with the class I was working with at the time. I wrote about it, you can read it here.
Anyway, after my experiences working with the rubric there were a few things that I thought I might like to change a little to make it more effective for my class.

Some of these were:

Changing some of the icons to make them a bit more visually appealing, relevant and perhaps more personalised for any of my future classes. Don’t get me wrong, the icons on the BIE rubric are fine, but as with anything, it can always be better adapted to better suit individual contexts. If you read the post I linked to earlier, you would have learned that one of students had asked, “Why is the man shouting at the lady?” when we were discussing the ‘share my ideas’ icon, bless!

So with what I’ve just created, I decided to go with pictures of the Australian echidna at a few key stages in its life cycle. I did this for a few reasons:

1. We’ve been working for a little while on a project about Australian animals so I knew these images would be relevant to my students.

2. We recently learned that a baby echidna is called a ‘puggle’ and I couldn’t resist incorporating that word into our regular classroom discourse into whatever way possible. For those of you who don’t know (as I didn’t until a week or so ago) ‘puggle’ is the name given to a baby monotreme (echidna or platypus).

3. The different stages in the life cycles of monotremes show quite visually the levelling up process that I’m hoping to occur as students get better at collaborating with their peers. It goes: egg < puggle < echidna. My students are very young and respond well to visual cues, so I thought this would work quite well.

From experience, last time I also thought it would be helpful to add a space to put some comments and suggestions on how to get better. Last time we ended up flipping over to the back of the rubric and using that space for comments. However this time I added some space under each of the criteria to put some goals for the next time students work in teams. It’s not much but I think it will help.

One of the other changes I decided to make was adjusting the criteria for what constitutes a good team member. Again, it’s not that any of the criteria on BIE’s rubric are in any way deficient. it’s just that I think that any specified criteria would be more powerful, effective and relevant to students if they came up with the criteria themselves. My theory is that students are more likely to take ownership over any criteria and be more committed to working toward it if they themselves had come up with it, rather than having simply been given it at the beginning of a task or project and expected to live up to it. So that’s what we did.

We had a class discussion about what it means to be a good team member. I reminded K/1L that we’d be beginning to work increasingly in teams as we draw nearer to the end of our project, and that success with their paper slide videos would be dependent upon everyone in the team working together to complete the video. I reminded them that if any individual failed to complete their part of the video, they would be unlikely to get it finished, so we needed to consider how best to work in a team. This is the criteria we came up with:

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So at the end of today we went over the criteria again. I explained that we’ll be referring back to it regularly and that as we all get better at teamwork we’ll get greater team privileges and responsibilities. We discussed the progress from egg through to echidna. I think it was received pretty well.

One of my students asked, “So we’re all eggs?” and I said “Yes. Even I’m an egg. We’re all on the same team here and we all need to get better. I need to listen to you, you need to listen to me and we all need to work together.”

You can see the current version of the rubric below. I’m looking forward to us all becoming collaboration echidnas, with our epic spikes of teamworky goodness!

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Lessons from the bowl: bringing skate culture to the classroom.

Positive peer assessment and feedback is something that I really want to nail in my classroom. Well, perhaps more correctly, this is something that I want my students to be really good at. Whilst I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to achieve this, or what it’s going to look like, one thing I do know is that I would like it to look very similar to the kind of interactions seen at your typical local skate park.

Now if I ask you to conjure up images of skate culture in your mind, you could be forgiven for thinking of long-haired, scruffy looking dudes with tattoos and extremely casual clothing and for perhaps even wondering why I would want to bring anything like that into the classroom. Sure, you do see scruffy looking dudes down at the skate park, but if you’ve ever noticed the consistent positivity and supportiveness of the interactions between skaters, you’d probably understand why I think skate culture is perfect for the classroom. I’ll explain what I mean.

Both of my sons have been learning to skate for several months now. They started by going to some lessons at a skateboarding school called Gromtown, not far from where we live. My boys are now confident enough with their craft that we pretty much have our boards in the back of the car full-time and are making regular trips to Kierle Skate Park down in Manly. We even took the boards with us in a packed car on a recent camping trip, knowing that at some point we’d stop for a skate along the way! Here’s a short Instavid of my 9 year old son having a bit of fun at a sweet little park up in Queensland.

Anyway, whilst hanging at various skate parks with the kids, I’ve noticed a lot about the learning culture in what might be described as an outdoor, teacher-less, peer-guided classroom.

Embracement of failure, support through error while learning:

Making mistakes is a massive part of learning pretty much anything, but this is especially true while learning how to skate. It’s not like anyone gets on a board and can straight away drop in on a half pipe, quarter pipe or bowl. On the contrary, it’s fucking scary, and fraught with danger! Skaters are aware of this, and typically support each other through the process of whatever it is their peers are trying to learn. No one laughs or jeers when somebody repeatedly fails to lay down a new trick, no one taunts another skater for failing to complete a personally created track around the bowl.

In fact, it’s the complete opposite. I’ve seen it repeatedly now and I’m consistently impressed by the positive discourse of the bowl. When a skater fails at whatever they’re trying to do, the standard response is something like, “Aw, so close!” or, “You almost made it!” This is often followed with a discussion about how they might be able to improve what they’re doing and a repeated attempt at achieving their goal. And this goes on, and on, and on throughout the day!

There’s a lot of empathy in this, too. I watched recently as a couple of older, quite adept skaters worked for quite some time on some tricks that they were each independently trying to achieve. As one of the pair repeatedly failed to complete a particular thing, his learning partner said in an understanding tone (albeit in a funny fake voice), “frustrrrrrrrating.” He knew his friend’s pain.

Collective commitment to improvement and the challenge of getting better:

No one’s at the skate park to become worse at what they’re doing. They’re there because they want to be a better skater. I think this explains a lot about the aforementioned empathy and supportiveness. Skater kids know that learning to skate is hard, they know that mistakes are potentially painful; the experienced remember what it was like when they were less experienced, they remember what it took to get better. They empathise with their fellow learners and they try to help each other along the way. There’s a collective commitment to improvement; skater kids get it.

Along with this commitment comes a recognition and acceptance of personal and peer challenge. I watched recently as one skater said to another, “I’ll give you 5 bucks if you can get it in the next 5 goes.” Now, of course, I don’t condone financial incentives in the classroom, and I’m not particularly a fan of contingency-based classroom behaviour systems, but I saw this as an awesome moment of formative assessment. This stranger knew where the skater was at, where they wanted to go, and provided some incentive for getting there – he set the challenge. If this skater fell short from a teaching perspective, it was perhaps from providing some instruction, but the way I see it, all involved knew the goal (learn move), there were at least a couple of potential medals (peer commendation, $5) and with each attempt, those in the surrounding section of the park provided feedback and missions. Positive, supportive learning environment #ftw

Purpose and investment:

Skating means something to the learners at the bowl. They’ll typically go down there with particular goals or foci, and they’ll keep going back until they achieve what it is they’re focussing on. My kids have been trying tying to learn how to perform a 50/50 for a few sessions now, they keep asking to go back and will continue to ask to go back until they nail it – there is real personal investment in what they’re trying to achieve.

I think this is possible with classwork too, in particular PBL projects. I believe that if you make the project interesting enough, provide an audience or expert whom students respect and whose feedback they value – if you have students work toward making a product that they consider worth sharing, that they will invest in learning what it is they need to know to get it off the ground.

Peer feedback:

I briefly touched on this above, but at the risk of reiterating I think it’s worth emphasising that skaters are absolute guns at peer feedback. They go to the bowl with cameras to photograph each other and check visually on how they’re going. They’re constantly giving each other tips, challenges and extra motivation to get better.

I’ve tried to give advice to my kids on how to get better at certain things with their skating, and as is natural with children, sometimes they might not take on as much of the advice from their parents as their parents would like them too. The saving grace of the skate park, however, is that the parent can simply advise their child to ask for advice from their peer skaters. As my kids have been trying new things and getting frustrated at times with their skateboard-based learning, I’ve often suggested they ask one of the kids that is pretty good how to approach what they’re trying to do. I’ve then watched as some older stranger happily shares with my kids whatever advice they can offer, gives a few demonstrations, watches my kids attempt to replicate and then offers some extra advice.

So anyway; as I’ve said, I’m not exactly sure how I’ll get there, but I know for sure that the approach to learning inherent in skate culture resembles in many ways the learning culture I’m gonna work damn hard at developing in my classroom.