Lee Hewes

is totes becoming a teacher…


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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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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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