Lee Hewes

is totes becoming a teacher…

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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.


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):

Farmer Screen Shot 2013-07-29 at 9.38.04 AM

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”!


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.


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!


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.


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.

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.”


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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Significant content

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

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

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

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

2. 21st Century Skills

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

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

Critical thinking/problem solving

We all considered important aspects of sharing life stories:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

3. In Depth Inquiry

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

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

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

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

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

4. Organise tasks around a Driving Question

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

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

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

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Project Awesome is coming to an end!

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

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

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

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


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.


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!

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Life Story Timelines

So we read the Anh Do book, we watched some YouTube videos, and we got the students thinking about their own life stories and how these might have some connections or similarities to the narratives that they’d read/seen in class. The next thing we wanted to do was to get the students thinking about how they would go about sharing their own life stories – what they would include and why, which form they would choose to represent them.

I thought using a timeline might be a good idea to help students document significant moments in their life. I also thought some kind of mind mapping tool might go well with this to help students think about some of the events, people and situations that surrounded each of these significant life moments.

So I quickly made up these two things:



Mind Mapper



NB: the year 3 & 4 kids used the mind mapper with less clouds, 5 & 6 used the one with more clouds.

I went through the plan with Michael before the lesson, and I’d initially wanted to get the students using the above tools immediately in relation to their own life narratives. However Michael suggested that I model the process with the class first using The Little Refugee text as an example. I’m glad that he suggested this and that I followed his advice, because not only did this prove to help students with their planning in a later session, it also gave us an opportunity to revisit and reanalyse the text.

I modelled the process by going through the book and picking out what I thought were the first couple of significant moments in The Little Refugee. The first significant moment being Anh’s birth in Vietnam during the war, the second being his family’s decision to leave their life in Vietnam behind to travel to Australia, in a fishing boat, in search of a better life.

After putting these two events on the timeline and going through the brainstorming activity with the class, students broke into their ‘critical friends’ groups (more about this later) and mapped out the rest of The Little Refugee on to their timelines.

This was cool to see. There was a lot of noise and the students were getting down and looking through the text, analysing it and picking out the key moments in Anh’s life. I really enjoyed seeing them all doing this.





Michael and I let them work at this awhile whilst we went around and helped students where they needed or asked for help. We then got back together as a class and jointly constructed the rest of the timeline. It was pleasing to see that most of the class were in agreement about which were the key events in Anh’s narrative.

I asked the students if they were confident in using the timeline and mind mapping tools to help plan their own narratives for next lesson, to which they said “Yes”, and this was epic because it was beginning to feel like everything we’d been doing was finally making more sense.

Project Awesome was fairing well!


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Trying to make a PDH lesson a little more interesting with a clip made in Minecraft.

I recently embarked upon my first (month long) block of practical/professional experience as a primary teacher at Cabramatta public school. It was an epic commute, and a thoroughly enjoyable experience, which I’ll write about later. Continue reading