Lee Hewes

is totes becoming a teacher…


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.


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.



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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Entry event (hook lesson) for #MEPSMarkets

So on Monday I arrived for the first day of my nine-week internship at MEPS (Merrylands East Public School). As mentioned in my previous post, I’ll be working through some more PBL with an awesome class of year 2 students. The project poster below was also included in that previous post, but I thought I’d include it here again because it’s so EPIC (lulz).


More details about the project plan can be found in my previous post but the main ideas behind the project, which should be evident in the poster above, are to get the students into the garden to learn about how to maintain and/or improve its condition, to learn about sustainability and eco-friendly living and to plan, advertise, organise and host a farmers’ market at their school, involving members of their community. The focus HSIE and science outcomes are displayed down in the chicken’s thought bubble. Of course, it’s a cross-KLA project but not all of the outcomes are listed on the poster for obvious reasons.

Before the project gets into full swing and the kids are busy getting their hands dirty and tending to the garden I wanted to take some time to reflect on how it’s been going so far, specifically Monday’s entry event (or hook lesson) which I think went pretty well.


So in the lead up to entering the class on Monday, Bianca and I discussed what might be the best way to get the students interested in the project. As the need to knows for the first stage of the project are all about sustaining a healthy garden, we both thought that the best way to get students interested in this was to get them all into the garden to check it out.

To add structure to this experience, the class was organised into gardening groups, given a clipboard, and the following proforma. Their task was to walk explore the garden in their gardening groups and to each take turns choosing a garden item before assessing its health/condition, adding some adjectives to support their assessment of the item:

Screen shot 2013-07-25 at 8.53.40 PM

I think this worked well in generating interest in the project for the following reasons:

a) It was a hands on/outdoor activity

b) Students were allowed to choose which item they were interested in based on whatever made it salient to them


c) Rather than have a whole project dumped on them, students were given something that wasn’t too daunting – the project outline was shared with them in the following lesson.

I will take photos of some work samples from this lesson to share here, but I’ll need to remind myself to do that when I’m in the classroom and have access to their checklists. Below are a couple of photos I took as the students were engaged in the activity.

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


Beginning my internship at MEPS.

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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.


Project-learning Swap Meet, 2013. #plsm13

Late last year Bianca and I went out for an impromptu dinner meeting with one of the guys from BIE. He was here to visit PBL school Parramatta Marist and naturally, given all the awesome that Bianca has been doing over the last few years, was interested in meeting her to talk about PBL. As is often the case, I tagged along (we tend to do a lot of stuff together). One of the things that came from the meeting was the idea of holding some kind of conference (for lack of a better word – we were thinking more like a meeting, or get together, something informal).

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