Lee Hewes

is totes becoming a teacher…


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

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

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

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

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

Embracement of failure, support through error while learning:

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

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

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

Collective commitment to improvement and the challenge of getting better:

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

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

Purpose and investment:

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

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

Peer feedback:

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

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

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

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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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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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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.”