Lee Hewes

is totes becoming a teacher…


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Minecraft across the curriculum: K-6.

A few weeks ago I presented at a teachmeet at the the Sydney Powerhouse Museum, AKA the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. The topic was STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) + X (STEM+X). The idea was to share some of the things you have done and/or are doing in your classroom or workplace around integrating STEM with other KLAs, for example, a STEM and PE project would be STEM + PE.

When I was asked to present, I thought it would be a great opportunity to share how I’ve been using Minecraft in my classroom over the last few years and how it really can be used across all subject areas. Just like the ‘play’ within the game itself, what you do with it in the classroom is only limited by your own creativity and that of your students. Below I will share some of the cool things that my students and i have done and how they link to KLAs across the curriculum.

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Science

Above are some screenshots of some science projects that I have run with my students. Last year, my students completed a project with the driving question, “How can K/1L show their learning in Minecraft?” One of the groups made a representation of a silkworm life cycle by building the different stages and then sharing a screencast and overlaid audio to demonstrate what they’d learned.

Now, not only does this video demonstrate sound knowledge of stage 1 science outcomes, it also demonstrates how my students have achieved outcomes in the English syllabus by creating multimodal texts and reflecting on their own and others’ learning.

The other screenshots are of the seven buildings my year 1 class made during a science project in which they had to build a city in Minecraft. The driving question was, “Can mini MEPS people design a dream city?” Again, this crosses outcomes across both the science and English syllabuses. There was even a bit of stage 1 mathematics in there as we discussed the different areas and volumes of the buildings and had to count and measure distances between windows and doors with pinpoint accuracy. Plus it was loads of fun. My class still love visiting Lionfish City!

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Technology and Engineering

Above are some screenshots of some work done in a Minecraft mod called Computer Craft. With this mod you program a little computerised turtle to build and dig for you. I made mine build a house for me and at the moment I have students from year 1 through to year 4 working regularly on Thursday mornings and within my year 1 class on a Friday to challenge themselves to do the same. Some of them are up to the point where they can get it to build four walls, and I will be teaching them how to write a ‘for’ loop in Lua so they can get the turtle to change inventory slots when it runs out of blocks.

It’s a really cool mod, because unlike more basic programming tools like Scratch, you can actually switch between  a visual, block style editor and a programming editor which allows the keener kids to get a sense of what’s going on with the actual language itself. If kids can understand that, then they are taken a decent step towards a proper understanding of programming.

Now, computer programming isn’t in the NSW primary curriculum yet but there is strong talk to suggest that it soon will be, and kids who are doing this kind of stuff in Minecraft are already ahead of the curve.

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Mathematics

I have been using Minecraft a lot this year for extension in mathematics. For example, if a kid in my class totally nails what we are working on during our first lesson, there is no need for them to be sitting with the rest of the class who need further practise or additional (pardon the pun) help from me. In many cases I set them a Minecraft challenge, such as building a clock to show me a certain time to the half hour (as above) or showing me the difference between two numbers by building a series of towers and writing the number sentence on a sign (as above).

As with the videos shown above in the science section, last year my K/1 class made some maths themed Minecraft videos in order to demonstrate their learning. One group made houses out of 3D objects such as rectangular and triangular prisms, another shared knowledge of equal groups (multiplication), while another made a truly impressive and remarkable maths game in which are presented with a series of addition problems which increase in difficulty as the game progresses. Watch the video to see how it works. Again, these videos cross outcomes across several KLAs.

So, that’s the STEM stuff covered with Minecraft, how about the + ‘X’? Well, my friends, read on to find out!

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English

I’ve already mentioned how making videos in Minecraft is great way to work with the English syllabus. There’s a lot of teaching and planning that goes into each video as kids storyboard and write scripts to plan for what they will be saying over each video. Of course, as they speak over each video, they have to make sure what tey are saying is clear and audible – hence, talking and listening!

Above are some screenshots of videos about Minecraft castles and dragons made by the K/1 Koalas last year. We read a bunch of stuff about castles and dragons and watched a whole bunch of videos to make sure we knew enough about each topic to speak over our videos. Again, it was loads of fun. Who wouldn’t want to learn about castles and dragons!?

My students also do a lot of writing about what they do in Minecraft. You see screenshots of a Minecraft story written by one of my students very early in the year using Storybird, as well as some great writing by another of my students using Kidblog. It’s a cute little Minecraft love story which she wrote at home and then brought in to school so she could type it up on her blog and search for digital images to add to it.

I also teach my kids to search for images that are ‘labelled for reuse’ so that they are aware that it’s inappropriate and illegal behaviour to go around breaking copyright laws. All this at age 6!

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Visual arts

Now, there are any number of ways you can link art with Minecraft. You could get kids to do cool Minecraft paintings and artworks, or you could get them to make some interesting visual art themed builds based on their favourite artists. The limit is only placed by how creative you are in your thinking.

With my class, I decided to make an epically large, life sized gigantic creeper out of cardboard boxes and papier mâché. It took weeks and we had heaps of fun and made A LOT of mess. I still need to finish off the ‘pixels’ on top of his head and make it waterproof with some outdoor acrylic varnish. The kindy kids at school want to use it to post sight words on and do a weekly creeper hunt to find him located in random spots around the school. See, there’s that cross-curricular Minecraft stuff in action again – sight words!

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PDHPE

Above you can see screenshots of a video I made for a year 3 class a few years ago, all about sun safety. It’s all about a zombie who sets off to go fishing with his friend, Ralph. He is a very sun smart zombie and before he leaves the house he makes sure to put on his sunscreen and a hat. When he meets Ralph, he discovers that he is not so sun smart and has forgotten to protect himself. He subsequently bursts into flames!

I made this as a lesson intro but you could quite easily get students to make similar videos about a range of health related issues, such as healthy eating and hygiene. Again, the only limit is your creativity.

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Music

More videos made by me. One is of a cute little Japanese song called ‘The Frog Song‘ which I learned with the same year 3 class for whom I made the sun smart zombie video. I made the song by tuning note blocks in Minecraft and linking them to pressure plates to walk across. I then took a screencast of me walking across them to play the song. The other video is one I made of note blocks being linked to red stone circuits in order to play the intro Black Sabbath’s ‘Iron Man’, I got the timing a bit wrong, but hey, it was my first attempt and red stone circuitry is tricky!

I am yet to do this with a class, but when I do, I would love to teach them the frog song and get them to go and build it Minecraft using red stone circuitry, maybe when I get a stage 2 class. It will be loads of fun.

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21st Century Skills

By now you would have heard a lot of talking about the need for kids to be equipped ’21st Century Skills’ such as communication, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, digital citizenship and ICT capability. How do we teach these skills? The ICT capability component is quite obvious with Minecraft, kids need to be able to navigate their way around a 3 dimensional computer world, using computer controls, while learning basic coding skills and knowledge of things like ip addresses in order to log on to your class server. However, what about some of those other skills?

There is a lot of ‘incidental learning’ which takes place on a Minecraft server. For example, in the screenshots above you can see a wither (a three headed Minecraft monster which flies around shooting flaming skulls at anything that moves). Now, obviously you don’t really want one of these flying around your server shooting at everyone and destroying all of your builds. Last year, however, one of my students purposely spawned one of these creatures in our class world, and it set about causing destruction. This prompted a server shut down and a lengthy class discussion around what it means to be a good digital citizen. How your online actions affect the online experience of those who share the same space. My students agreed that the wither spawning had not been a good idea and the student involved went on to write an apologetic blog post about what he had done and why it had been a bad idea. A blog post by a year one student regarding digital citizenship!

I also run a school Minecraft club on Wednesdays and Fridays in which I set club challenges using a Minecraft challenge generator. The amount of collaboration, communication and problem solving which goes on in these short meetings as students work together to meet these set challenges is amazing. Sometimes I jump in the world to help them solve these problems, but mostly I’m just there in the background watching as they work through the challenges together, all the while creatively mining and building away.

So there you have it, these are just some of the ways I have used Minecraft ‘gaming’ in my classroom and I’m sure I’ll find more awesome ways in future. You can see my presentation below if you’re interested, but I’ve basically just written you through it. Thanks for reading!

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1tFqVc9A-ezVC73hkkkFA8rInyMLQTAi0_gcmbaMvVIU/edit?usp=sharing

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Planning for project-based learning in primary school

Below I am going to post a .pdf of one of my typical programs for a primary school #PBL project. I’ve been asked to share this before and have previously given this link to Drew Perkins from the BIE, but I thought I’d also post it up here so that I can more readily look back on my awesome in years to come – lulz.

K:1L PBL

 

 

 

 

 

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You should be able to download the .pdf from the link above the photo, but failing that, you can get it via the link to the google doc here.

You will see that up the top, along with the project outline showing the DQ, need to knows, product and audience are a bunch of syllabus outcomes. These are here because, as a responsible teacher, I like to plan with the curriculum in mind. In actuality, not all of this content was explored as well as I would perhaps have liked, but it’s good to aim high! Also, as is always the case with #PBL, there is content that unexpectedly sneaks its way into the project, leaving you surprised and stoked with what has naturally and authentically been ‘covered’, with purpose.

I also like to plan for proper project-based learning, so you will see that I have outlined how the 8 essentials will be given the respect and consideration they deserve. As Bianca and I have said on numerous occasions, if you’re not including ALL of the 8 essentials, you’re not doing PBL. You might be doing elements of, but not the actual ‘thing’, ugh.

You will see that I have also attempted to give a weekly run down of what the class is expected to be doing. This is, of course, fairly vague and open ended because project-based learning is considerably less teacher driven and students are expected to have greater ownership over the learning process. If the program had a massive chart of explicit lessons, it would look like a traditional unit of work, not PBL.

To give an example of what I’m on about, I’ll briefly explain what’s happening with my current K/1 project which has unexpectedly become bigger than Ben Hur.

Last term we were working on some imaginative stories for a class of students in Wagga Wagga, NSW. I went overseas, the class over in Wagga were very slow in communications, and the project kinda went downhill. When I returned I started thinking about how I could ‘rescue’ the project and still keep it PBL. I decided to share the stories with Bianca’s year 7 class and we are going to publish them as a compilation of short stories with illustrations made by her class. We’ll be sharing them with our local libraries.

As we’ve an assembly item approaching, I thought it would be nice to perform one of the stories for the school. We have chosen our story and started practising and making costumes and props. I have had close to zero creative control over the process of costume and prop creation, aside from making a couple of templates for dragon wings and some of the complex Sellotape engineering required in order to keep them intact. You can see some of the works in progress below. What my little 5 and 6 year old students have done has truly astounded me. Powerful, student-driven #PBL #FTW.

No amount of lessons plans could have predicted that this!

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Observation at another PBL school: a kinda ‘out-of-body experience’.

Today was a great day. Bianca and I were lucky enough to be asked to visit the International Football School on the Central Coast. The IFS is a recently established independent school with a focus on project-based learning and, as the name suggests, football – and when I say football, I mean the type of football which many of us call soccer.

Basically, kids who attend IFS are kids who have demonstrated a strong interest in and talent for soccer and are committed to training every day in the interest of pursuing a career in soccer. They train for two hours every morning, under the tuition of professional soccer coaches before going to class to learn the NSW syllabuses under a project-based learning pedagogy.

Bianca and I were asked to visit the school for the day to share our own approaches to and experiences of project-based learning, before observing classroom practice to give general feedback and suggestions.  I enjoyed the informal, casual approach to the day, the learning that I witnessed occurring and, perhaps most selfishly, the opportunity to be in a PBL classroom other than my own and see first-hand how this works.

Below is the brief and informal presentation I gave to Shane, Karen and Todd in the morning to introduce myself. Basically we just spoke about of some of the reasons for doing PBL, things that should be included when planning a great project, and some outlines of projects I’ve either done or am doing, before jumping straight into teaching and learning.

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1XRtcey-8xTZhuVm-sfjYcOmksLRuiMiEztvdqK7rkXU/edit?usp=sharing

The project that Shane, Karen and their students are working on atm is based around getting kids to design and develop their own ‘Sideshow Alley’ – the kind of thing you see at places like the circus or Luna Park where you get to place ping pong balls into clowns’ mouths and throw darts at balloons. The students, all in stage 3, have to research and design their own versions of these games, build them, before advertising, promoting and hosting their own sideshow alley for the younger kids at the school.

I was honestly impressed with what I saw. The enthusiasm, engagement and self-direction of the students was fantastic. If I were to offer any word of constructive criticism for Karen and Shane, it would be to consider how they could make the audience for their project more public. Perhaps by approaching a local operator of a business similar to a sideshow alley, Timezone or something.

Anyway, I should probably address my somewhat hyperbolic ‘out-of-body experience’ reference.

For me, visiting Shane and Karen’s classroom felt very much akin to that. It seems that there are increasingly more educators leaning toward PBL here in Australia, all at different levels of knowledge, expertise and experience. There’s no official ‘training agency’ for PBL and I think that’s the way it should always be.

PBL is about inquiry, and the very nature of inquiry is that you don’t have any or many of the answers. So you can never be an expert at inquiry unless you are willing to admit that you know very little. To be an ‘expert’ at PBL, you have to be an expert of the, “I know very little” mindset.

Another thing about PBL is that as a teacher you are constantly moving around. There is constant discussion, chatter, collaboration and noise. You’re involved and invested in all of this and, at times, not entirely sure of where all of it is heading. It can sometimes feel quite chaotic and it’s not until the project is finally over that you have some time to thoroughly reflect on how it all went.

Today, observing was a release from that. I was able to watch other PBLers in action, to speak to the kids and teachers, to learn with them and from them; to watch, listen, engage with and feel what it’s like to be in a PBL classroom. It was like having a bird’s eye view of my own class – an ‘out-of-body-experience’.

Coming from MEPS, I was also interested in how students were engaging with the open and flexible learning spaces. You can see some photos below. I particularly liked the spaceship table that the students had set up for collaborative learning.

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Later,  I visited the stage 2 classroom. I’d introduced Todd to genius hour earlier in the morning and he was enthusiastic about the concept. So much so that he decided to launch it with his class straight away.

After lunch at IFS, students have a bit of  ‘quiet time’. Today, this took place in terms of independent, personal interest research – AKA #geniushour, #AdventureTime, or whatever else you want to call it. I walked into a class of learners researching their genius hour projects and this is some of what I saw.

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I also saw students independently researching spiders, football players, basketball, NRL, Minecraft, fortune-tellers and dinosaurs.

Next,  students showed me some shelter designs for their ‘Survivors’ project. You can see them below.

 

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Take from this what you will. I took a further enthusiasm for learning.

 


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The best kinda structure’s no structure at all.

I’ve probably said this before but I reckon I’m pretty lucky to be working at Merrylands East Public School. It’s an innovative school in many ways; we have the change in opening hours (based on research) to support student learning, the absence of school bells, but perhaps the innovations that I find most valuable are the focus on student-centered  pedagogies.  At MEPS we have been allowed the freedom to experiment with alternative approaches to curriculum delivery, with the support and encouragement of the executive. My students have been relatively successful with project-based learning and I’ve now run cross-KLA projects with students in kindergarten, year 1, year 2, and year 6 on a range of focus subjects such as science, history and English.

As this year I’m on infants with a K/1 class, one of the things I’ve been encouraged to introduce is play-based learning. I’ve been doing a bit of reading on the topic and from what I’ve read, play-based learning involves providing students a range of opportunities for play, observing as they gravitate toward the activities which interest them, and building the curriculum around these natural interests by introducing inquiry questions based on what the kids are doing. I like how this article describes it as the emergent curriculum.

I thought awhile about the best way to implement play-based learning in my classroom. Some had suggested different ‘learning stations’ – tables with a range of different activities to which students rotate on some kind of timed system, with a chance to explore each activity. I thought this sounded OK and started thinking of ways the @K/1MEPS kidz could start getting bizzie wid play.

I found this cool thing posted on fb and these cool things at a local department store:

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I also like the idea of adding some dress ups and having a science style station where kids can plant their own seeds into some little clay pots that they can decorate and watch as the seeds sprout and grow into awesome little seedlings for them to care for. I’d like them to eventually plant them in the school garden so we can continue to care for them at school but if they want to take them home, I’d be down with that, too. 🙂

Anyway, not having everything that I wanted for them to get stuck into and not exactly sure how I wanted to introduce play-based learning into my class, here’s what I did.

We’ve been ordering heaps of organic veges and getting them delivered to our house and as a result have been accumulating a heap of cardboard boxes. I decided Friday was going to be the day so I brought them to school in Kombi Wheezer along with my newfound love – the Stickle Puffs! How did I structure the process?

I put the Stickle Puffs on a table with a cloth so kids could start to stick them together and create stuff and I put the boxes on the classroom floor. I chose some kids to go over to the Stickle Puffs and some to play with the boxes. Then I sat back and watched for a bit  before eventually helping them with their creations.

The kids were really into what they were doing. I didn’t get a single student ask me to leave the classroom to go to the toilet or get up to get their drink bottle from the back of the room. They were too interested and engaged with what they were doing. In addition to this there was natural problem solving going on.

Some kids had decided to make cardboard cars and others had decided to make stages for puppet shows. Both of these activities necessitated that students find the best way to keep their creations stable enough for proper use. Kids were experimenting with which materials and designs worked best for this. They were down on the floor, cutting away at the boxes, sharing sticky tape, staplers and opening up PVA glue; changing designs and materials as they saw appropriate.

Students were moving in between groups deciding who best to collaborate with and how they could help achieve the best design. They were naturally grouping themselves in pairs, triplets or quadruplets – based on their interests and approach to learning. I saw kids who wouldn’t normally choose to work with each other happily working away together trying to get their creations off the ground.

When it came time to go home, they didn’t want to pack up!

So with little to no structure at all my students have shown me in which way to direct their learning. The best kinda structure’s no structure at all. Of course, I’ll be facilitating and supporting their learning along the way, but I’m looking to continue taking a back seat. I plan to support them through channeling their inquiry – see questions below.

It says in this epic article, “Through play, children learn to take turns, delay gratification, negotiate conflicts, solve problems, share goals, acquire flexibility, and live with disappointment.”

I agree with this statement. Not only have I seen this in action in the play of my two sons, I could already see it in action in my classroom during our brief foray into play-based learning yesterday.

I also agree with the sentiment in this article that all too often educators expect children to behave like miniature adults when they think fundamentally differently to adults and their brains simply aren’t wired to think in this way. Kids need play.

Here are some of the questions I plan to introduce as we continue our classroom play in future. I’m sure that many more will arise.

Why is that box leaning in that way/collapsing?

How can we make it more stable?

What are the best materials to use/why?

Have you ever been to the theatre?

Shall we look at some stages?

Why do we need more than one wheel?

Why did you choose to put that there?

What will your puppet show be about?

What other materials do we need?

What can we do with the cars once they’re built?

Anyway, that’s enough rabbiting on from me. Check out some photos of my wonderful students as they were hard at play yesterday afternoon! 🙂

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And here’s a photo of something I made with Stickle Puffs with my nine year old last night – just for fun. I’m hoping my students will make something like this for their future puppet shows. Play-based learning #ftw!

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Project-based learning, group work and natural differentiation.

If you’ve ever heard it said that PBL ‘naturally differentiates’ and wondered how, I can give you an example of how this has worked for me with my class of kindergarten and year one students and the project we’re currently winding up. It’s a collaborative research project about Australian animals, with the final ‘product’ to be a bunch of paper slide videos to share with another kindergarten class from Promise Road Elementary over in Indiana, America. We’ve just finished the first of five videos, with the rest to be filmed at different points throughout the upcoming week.  So anyway, what of all this group work stuff?

I can’t remember where I read it, pretty sure it was in a research article in some educational research journal a while back, but it went a little something like this – for any task to truly be defined as group work, it must involve the completion of something to which all group members must contribute, and something that without any one individual’s contribution, all members of the group will fail to complete the task.

Paper slide videos are a fine example of such a task. They typically involve a number of slides in excess of around five, so that each member of the group must create at least one slide. These tasks also require students to decide to commit to one of a number of roles such as paper slider, narrator or camera person. So paper slide videos necessitate collaboration. Without a meaningful contribution from each individual the fate of the whole group is doomed to failure. This necessity for each member to contribute, coupled with the varied nature and number of roles is what lends this task so well to differentiation. Let me explain.

To successfully complete a paper slide video, students need to plan ahead of time what is going to go on each slide so that they know which art to contribute and which lines to write. They also need to decide who is going to narrate each slide, writing out lines based on whatever the topic is that they have been researching. We’ve been using the proforma you can see below, completed by one of my students. Now with students of the age group in my class, not all will be capable of the writing necessary to complete the proforma below, some may not be capable of planning ahead in such a way, either. So it is naturally the case that the more capable students in this area either step up for, or are assigned this role, as was the case on our current project. Have a look at all the planning that was done by the leader of The Platypuses.

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Now whilst not all students are going to be capable of this amount of writing, all students should be able to contribute some artwork for at least one of the slides, some more so than others. Below you can see that one of the students in this group, whilst being unlikely to do much of the talking in the final video, nor much of the writing in the planning or scripting, was able to contribute a whopping four out of seven slides worth of artwork!

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The two kindy kids in the group contributed one slide each, you can see them below.

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With all of the planning done by the student who completed the proforma, he didn’t get around to creating a slide, so he’ll be completing the opening slide at some point before his group can go on to film their video. When it does come time to film, students will need to commit to roles that provide them a suitable challenge and that contributes adequately to the overall group task. Not all students will be comfortable or capable of speaking for an extended period of time on film, so they may be given only one slide to speak over. Others will be quite comfortable speaking, so may be given a number of slides to speak over. Someone will also need to be the camera person whilst another will need to be the paper slider.

All of these different roles provide a range of differentiated opportunities for students to contribute in a meaningful way to the project and feel successful and comfortable with what they are doing at school. Plus it’s fun.

Whilst a paper slide video can be made by students outside of a PBL classroom, the fact that I’ve designed this project around a Driving Question and have been lucky enough to find a public audience has really driven the relevance and motivation for students to complete this task. I also believe that it has added to the quality of the end result. I can’t wait to get the rest of the videos filmed and uploaded so that we can share them with Promise Road Kinder Panthers. I know also that my students are gonna be proud of all their hard work, learning and collaboration. PBL win!

 

 

 

 

 


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So we’re all eggs? Collaborative levelling up, @K1MEPS stylez.

Last year I had a go at using the K-2 teamwork rubric, generously provided by BIE, with the class I was working with at the time. I wrote about it, you can read it here.
Anyway, after my experiences working with the rubric there were a few things that I thought I might like to change a little to make it more effective for my class.

Some of these were:

Changing some of the icons to make them a bit more visually appealing, relevant and perhaps more personalised for any of my future classes. Don’t get me wrong, the icons on the BIE rubric are fine, but as with anything, it can always be better adapted to better suit individual contexts. If you read the post I linked to earlier, you would have learned that one of students had asked, “Why is the man shouting at the lady?” when we were discussing the ‘share my ideas’ icon, bless!

So with what I’ve just created, I decided to go with pictures of the Australian echidna at a few key stages in its life cycle. I did this for a few reasons:

1. We’ve been working for a little while on a project about Australian animals so I knew these images would be relevant to my students.

2. We recently learned that a baby echidna is called a ‘puggle’ and I couldn’t resist incorporating that word into our regular classroom discourse into whatever way possible. For those of you who don’t know (as I didn’t until a week or so ago) ‘puggle’ is the name given to a baby monotreme (echidna or platypus).

3. The different stages in the life cycles of monotremes show quite visually the levelling up process that I’m hoping to occur as students get better at collaborating with their peers. It goes: egg < puggle < echidna. My students are very young and respond well to visual cues, so I thought this would work quite well.

From experience, last time I also thought it would be helpful to add a space to put some comments and suggestions on how to get better. Last time we ended up flipping over to the back of the rubric and using that space for comments. However this time I added some space under each of the criteria to put some goals for the next time students work in teams. It’s not much but I think it will help.

One of the other changes I decided to make was adjusting the criteria for what constitutes a good team member. Again, it’s not that any of the criteria on BIE’s rubric are in any way deficient. it’s just that I think that any specified criteria would be more powerful, effective and relevant to students if they came up with the criteria themselves. My theory is that students are more likely to take ownership over any criteria and be more committed to working toward it if they themselves had come up with it, rather than having simply been given it at the beginning of a task or project and expected to live up to it. So that’s what we did.

We had a class discussion about what it means to be a good team member. I reminded K/1L that we’d be beginning to work increasingly in teams as we draw nearer to the end of our project, and that success with their paper slide videos would be dependent upon everyone in the team working together to complete the video. I reminded them that if any individual failed to complete their part of the video, they would be unlikely to get it finished, so we needed to consider how best to work in a team. This is the criteria we came up with:

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So at the end of today we went over the criteria again. I explained that we’ll be referring back to it regularly and that as we all get better at teamwork we’ll get greater team privileges and responsibilities. We discussed the progress from egg through to echidna. I think it was received pretty well.

One of my students asked, “So we’re all eggs?” and I said “Yes. Even I’m an egg. We’re all on the same team here and we all need to get better. I need to listen to you, you need to listen to me and we all need to work together.”

You can see the current version of the rubric below. I’m looking forward to us all becoming collaboration echidnas, with our epic spikes of teamworky goodness!

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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.