Lee Hewes

is totes becoming a teacher…


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Horrible Histories at MEPS.

So I’ve just finished working at the wonderful Merrylands East Public School. My last several weeks saw me working on a history project with year 6. In my last post I explained what the project was about – basically we all had to learn about the Federation of Australia, and I tried to put an interesting spin on it by getting students to work towards creating an episode of Horrible Histories based on the content. As is always the case with PBL, the project was naturally cross KLA (cross-curricular). You have the obvious links between subjects which shouldn’t be put in separate baskets anyways, like history and literacy, but there were some interesting links that came out of this project, too. Mainly to do with the creative/performing arts.

For example, I wrote a theme song for the project, uploaded it to YouTube and included it as the introduction to the final product. If I’d had more time with the class, I probably would’ve got the students who were able to play the guitar to record the song, others to write the lyrics, and some others to sing it. However, I was pressed for time, so it ended being me who did all of those things. You can watch it below, but be warned, you’ll wanna turn your volume down a bit and if you’re not into bad singing, it’s not for you!

The other, more obvious link given the nature of the project was between history/historical inquiry and drama/performance. Students really had to think about their intended audience, for example, it wouldn’t necessarily be a good idea to parody a predominately Australian show given our original intended audience was a year 5 class from the US. Students also had to get creative with how they were going to make the content funny! So part of the research process involved not only the research focus on content but also which shows would be likely to be popular both here and in the US.

A great application of this came from one of the groups in their skit entitled, ‘The Colonies of the Smurfs’. This group were aware that The Smurfs weren’t specific to Australia and were likely to be well known internationally. The group rolled with the idea of conceptualising the different pre-federation colonies, with their independent taxation and defense systems as separate smurf villages. The push for a federalised taxation system comes into the plot when Vanity Smurf has to travel between villages to get a new mirror from Grouchy Smurf, who then demands a high tariff for trade. The various smurfs then discuss how the system isn’t working for them and how a nationally organised tax system would be better. The concerns around defense are heightened when Gargamel attacks the colonies and they have trouble getting together to defend themselves. Papa Smurf and Brainy Smurf then decide that it’s a good idea to establish a national defense force. All of the skits in the episode are fantastic, and I’m stoked with what the students managed to do!

I wanted students to be as self directed as possible with the whole thing, so in terms of explicit teaching of the events leading up to and surrounding the Federation, there really wasn’t much. Of course, I pushed the content where I saw the need but let’s face it, the last time I had to learn stuff was about 20 years ago, so I’m hardly an expert. I wanted it all to be student work and, for the most part it was. I mainly stepped in for editing, song writing, green screening and set control! The final episode is online at the weebly, this too was designed and created by one of the students who put in a very professional application to me via edmodo to put herself forward for the role. Go year 6! Please have a look at the final product and leave a comment, it’s so important for students to have an audience for their work, thanks! 🙂

 


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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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Getting amped for a visit from Community Greening.

Tomorrow Brenden from Community Greening is coming to visit the class to (hopefully) set us straight on getting a decent little @2CMEPS market garden happening. This is exciting for several reasons, perhaps most importantly because it means we all get to see Mrs. Cantanzariti hang out in the garden with all manner of creepy crawlies. Some may even be venomous!

It’s also exciting because it means that the students in 2C finally get to do what many have been asking me about doing since my first morning in the classroom – get their hands dirty.

Brenden is going to bring along some seedlings of various description, some seeds so that he can do a lesson on how things grow. The kids will get to clear weeds from a small section of the garden, prepare it for planting, as well as plant some of their own herbs and vegetables so we can watch them grow.

I’m sure it’s going to be an excellent morning of learning, and the weather forecast is for a mostly sunny day with a decent winter maximum of 21 degrees. Win.

The other, slightly more nerdy but equally important reason for me finding this visit so interesting is due to the timely manner in which it is all taking place. In a way, I see it as serving as an important secondary ‘entry event’ for the class project.

The students have generally been interested in the work they’ve been doing, and the previous session (hook lesson) where we walked through the garden to do a health-check on some of the plants seemed to work well. However it has been a bit of a struggle to get the project chugging along as well as I thought it might have been. I’ll get to some of the trickier stuff later, but for now I’d like to focus on this idea of a second entry event.

I’ve been reading PBL in the Elementary Grades over the last couple of weeks as I try to better understand the whole process of working through PBL with primary students, particularly those in the younger years, as I’m currently working with a year 2 class. It’s been pretty helpful, and also quite reassuring as I seem to be working through PBL in a very similar manner to that set out in the book.

What I found interesting, and something that Ashleigh pointed out to me via text message as we discussed the project the other night, was the suggestion that sometimes a single entry event may not be enough to get K-2 students completely ‘hooked’ on the project. Sometimes students in this age group might need more hands on experience in order to fully understand and become interested in what it is they will be doing.

One of the major reasons offered for this is that the long time-frame for some projects might make it harder for younger students to think about creating and presenting a product for (what may seem to them) a largely intangible, distant event in the far future.

When I think about myself discussing the prospect of running a farmers’ market with year 2 at the end of term, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that for some of the students I may as well be talking about going to the movies in the summer holidays. It’s just such a long way away.

To be fair, the project is broken into 3 smaller/shorter contributing projects, but I think that the duration of even these smaller projects may be difficult for some of the students to adequately comprehend.

The above mentioned book suggests to let the students explore the topic through some hands on work before getting to the challenging work of creating and presenting a product, and I think that’s largely where I may have gone wrong. Sure, I’ve been spending time out in the garden with the students, but mainly for less hands on activities focused on looking at plants for the purpose of producing some video interviews.

Don’t get me wrong, I think they’ve been learning from what they’ve been doing, particularly about structuring their compostions for a particular audience, but I guess we’re just all itching to get our hands dirty.

I’m really looking forward to the visit from Community Greening tomorrow and I think (and hope) it will be the perfect way to get us all back into the garden and reignite the students’ interests in it all.

NB: I have more to say about what the class has been doing around their interview work, but that really deserves a post of its own.


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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

and

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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How is Dewey Finn’s class project in ‘School of Rock’ project-based learning?

DQ: How is Dewey Finn’s class project in ‘School of Rock’ project-based learning?

Oh, God of Rock, let me to count the ways.

Focus on Significant Content

If you’re looking at significant content in terms of the school curriculum, the School of Rock project, ‘Rock Band’ definitely falls short in a whole range of areas. If you focus however on the creative arts, perhaps more specifically at music – the project totally nails it. The kids gain an appreciation of rock music, writing, rehearsing and performing their own song, designing their own stage show and outfits, working together to pull off an absolutely epic performance.

Students in Dewey’s class learn that rock is “not about grades, it’s about sticking it to the man” and that “one great rock show, can change the world”. By working together they learn about the importance of working hard collaboratively toward a shared goal.

It’s true that Dewey’s ‘rock band’ project doesn’t focus on “teaching students important knowledge and skills, derived from standards and key concepts at the heart of academic subjects”, so is therefore likely to fail to live up to BIE standards of significant content. However with a bit of thoughtful tweaking I’m sure ‘Rock Band’ would be able to do so.

There are a range of ways that Mathematics, English and HSIE could be a focus of a project like ‘Rock Band’, I’ll leave that to your imagination. For instance, the students could calculate the costs of the fabric needed for costume design, or the costs and potential earnings of going on tour, what social commentary might be included in their lyrics, but that probably wouldn’t make a very exciting movie!

Develop 21st Century Skills

I’ll separate these into subheadings below.

Critical Thinking/Problem Solving

Dewey encourages Summer, in particular, to think beyond the grades. There is a quote in there about grade grubbing where Dewey says “Summer, if you grade-grub one more time, I will send you back to the first grade, you got it?”. Haha.

When Dewey sees that Zack’s father is harshly critical of him outside of school, he  arranges a learning experience around getting Zack to think deeply about his frustrations around his father’s criticisms, and turns this into an enjoyable experience of songwriting. The class sings together an awesome song with a chanting chorus of ‘Step off!’

Students are also encouraged to think critically about conformity: “Rock isn’t about getting straight As. It’s about sticking it to the man”.

There is a bit of a classic line somewhere in the film where Dewey (pretending to be concluding a lesson in front of the principal) says “OK kids, we will continue our lecture on the Man when we return”. Haha.

Collaboration

There is collaboration abound in ‘Rock Band’. Each of the students are assigned their individual roles which all contribute to the success of the project. There are the obvious band roles, but you also have more behind the scenes, supportive roles such as security, band manager and roadie crew. Dewey even assigns himself a role – lead vocals and shredding guitar!

This is probably a good moment to raise the point that PBL should be about the teachers too. Dewey is very much a part of the project and I don’t think that it should be about, “Here you go, kids. This is what you’ve got to do, now go off and do it.” Of course, students should be capable of working independently, but if you’re going to have any proper awesomeness to your work, I reckon that you need teachers who are inspired like Dewey and ready to get in and get amongst it with what the students are doing.

Dewey again drives home the collaborative nature of ‘Rock Band’ when asked by Zack why he wants the band to play his song. Dewey replies, “Cos that’s what bands do, man. They play each others’ songs”.

Perhaps the most comedic collaborative moment in School of Rock is when the whole gang work together to feign terminal illness (Stick-it-to-the-man eosis), thereby ensuring their place in the competition!

Communication

A whole bunch of communication goes on throughout ‘Rock Band’.

Everybody needs to communicate effectively when working out their individual parts. Of course, Dewey has a facilitatory role in this, for instance when suggesting when and where in the song certain people should come in.

“We need some “Ooh la la las in there too. Let’s try that again from the chorus”. He gets excited with this when practising the song and says “I’m gonna rock a solo there if that’s ok with you? And then you can solo later, but just let me rock a solo there, I can feel it!”

At the final moment before going on stage, Dewey conducts an informal vote whereby the class decides on which of their two songs to play. Suggesting they play Zack’s song he says:

“We should play Zack’s song. It rocks harder. This isn’t my band, it’s our band. What do you say?”

Also, upon learning that Zack has written a song that is really cool, Dewey emphasises the importance of communication by saying to Zack “No more secret songs”.

Engage students in in-depth inquiry

After learning that the kids have what he considers poor knowledge of rock music, Dewey gives each of the students a CD to go home and listen to.

Dewey adds a degree of specificity to the process by giving suggestions to some of the students:

“Laurence, Yes. That’s the name of the band. Listen to the keyboard solo on ‘Roundabout’. It will blow the classical
music out ya butt!”.

“Rush, Neil Pert, one of the greatest drummers of all time, Study up”.

To Tomika:
“Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon, listen to the vocal solo on ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’, alright?”

There is a scene where the class produces a mind-map of rock and all of its genres on the black board.

MINDMAP

Zack and Dewey study what makes an awesome guitar stage move by watching a whole bunch of seminal guitarists.

The whole class works through a slideshow of the Ramones and watches a heap of live performances.

The drummer inquires into technique by watching a video of the Who.

Organises tasks around a Driving Question

There is no real driving question for ‘Rock Band’. However if Dewey were to include one, I imagine it would be derived from his philosophy that ‘One great rock show can change the world’.

Some example DQs might be “How can we put on a world changing rock show?”, “How can we put on a gig that will change the world?” or “How can we create a set for the Battle of the Bands?”

Establish a Need to Know

BIE suggest that projects should begin with an entry event which generates interest and curiosity on the part of the students. The entry event for ‘Rock Band’ occurs when Dewey grabs his instruments from his van and gets all of the students jamming. He frames the whole thing around a fictitious inter-school band competition, supposedly meant to happen during the next quarter, for which they were not yet meant to be practising!

Some of the need to knows are established when a new class schedule is organised and written on the board:

8:15 – 10:00 ‘Rock history’

10:00 – 11:00 ‘Rock Appreciation and Theory’

and then band practise ’til the end of the day.

Encourage voice and choice

Summer voices her disappointment to Dewey after being given the role of groupie and, albeit under the threat of notifying her parents, is given the role of band manager.

After being given the job of roadie, Tomika says to Dewey “I don’t wanna be a roadie, I wanna be a singer”. She shows that she can sing and is given the part by Dewey.

After learning that Zack has written a song, the whole class listens to it and Dewey suggests that the whole class learn his song.

Incorporate revision and reflection

Dewey could probably have done a bit better with this aspect of the project, in terms of incorporating it the whole way through, however there are some good, reflective moments in ‘Rock Band’.

A little way through the project, Dewey organises a discussion with the students to get them thinking about what they have been doing and why:

“You guys have been doing really well and if I was going to give you a grade I’d give you an A, but that’s the problem, rock ain’t about doing things perfect. Who can tell me what it’s really about?”

Not long before the gig Dewy gets the students together to discuss how they’ve been going and where they need to go:

“Ok tomorrow is the big day. You’ve played hard in here, people and I am proud of every last stinking one of you. Let’s just give this everything we’ve got. We may fall on our faces. But if we do, we fall with dignity! With a guitar in our hands and rock in our hearts! And in the words of AC/DC “We rock tonight, to the guitar bite. And to those about to rock, I salute you”

After Dewey is busted for not being a teacher, the kids are left feeling a little lost, and take a moment to reflect and decide what to do:

“There is no project. He just wanted us to play a show so we could make some money.”

“What are you so bummed about, we had 3 week vacation? Yeah it was a waste of time but it was a lot better than school.”

“It was not a waste of time.”

“Mr. S was cool. We worked too long and too hard not to play the show.”

The students then go to pick up Dewey from his house, working around his refusal to join them at the performance, they reflect on their learning, using Dewey’s own words:

“We did what you told us to. We stuck it to the man.”
“Come on, man. Quit goofing around, this is serious business. One great rock show can change the world.”

Finally, after the show, they reflect on their performance. Dewey is initially upset because they didn’t win. The students turn his mood around:

“It’s not about getting an A. The pistols never won anything. Don’t let the man get you down. We played a kick-ass show.”

Dewey: “We did, didn’t we. It was unbelievable!”

Include a public audience

The whole ‘Rock Band’ project is built around creating to songs to perform at the ‘Wrok!’ battle of the bands.

School policy dictates that relief teachers cant’ take students on field trips, so Dewey goes to great lengths to get approval for this from the school principal. He takes her to a pub and plays her Stevie Nicks on the jukebox. This lightens her mood and gets her to commit to making an exception.

He does this by telling a complete  lie about taking the kids to see the philharmonic orchestra who play things like Mozart, Beethoven and Enya! Lol.

So there you have it. I always knew Dewey Finn was epic. This is just further proof.

**DISCLAIMER**
Excerpts are taken from the Paramount Pictures film ‘School of Rock’. I do not own, nor do I or intend to profit from this content whatsoever. “Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.”