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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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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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.

Monday

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.

Screen shot 2013-07-25 at 9.02.14 PM                    Screen shot 2013-07-25 at 9.02.45 PM


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Beginning my internship at MEPS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Evaluating Project Awesome (Part 2)

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

 

Need to knows

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concepts (life stories – around the DQ)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Voice and choice

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

Some good things about this were:

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

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

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

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

 

Incorporate revision and reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Public Audience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Project Awesome is coming to an end!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CrossKLA

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

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

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

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

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

1. Use a project calendar:

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

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

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

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

3. Be prepared for a slow start:

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

4. Use some metaphorical learning spaces:

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

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

Something to implement in future methinks.

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

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

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

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