Lee Hewes

is totes becoming a teacher…


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My year of edu-awesome.

If you’ve already read the title of this post, I retrospectively apologise. If you haven’t already read the title, I firstly question why you are reading this post without having previously read the title and apologise in advance for use of the ‘edu‘ prefix on what was already a perfectly legitimate word with independent meaning to begin with. The reason I make these apologies is due to the fact that it’s become a bit of a laugh in our household that some in education (or at least in the Twittersphere) seem to chuck the edu prefix onto pre-established words in the hope that this somehow makes the use of these words more relevant and meaningful when it comes to education. Beyond that, I make no further apology, and if you’re still interested in reading, this post is a personal reflection on what, for me, has been an awesome year of learning.

Oh, wait – one more apology – this is a completely self-indulgent reflection on my own personal experiences in education and as such there will be minimal backslaps or appeals to a wider audience, etc. So if you’re still down for it, please feel free to read on.

Completing the MTeach

So last year, frustrated with how things were going (or not really going) with a research degree in psychology, and following a longstanding passion for and interest in both education and psychology, I decided to apply for a place in the Master of Teaching (Primary) degree at the University of Sydney. It’s had its ups and downs, like anything in life, but I can honestly say that embarking on the journey to becoming a teacher – a journey which I consider to be perpetual – has been one of my best life decisions. There are somewhat obvious reasons for this, such as my aforementioned passions for psychology and, in  particular, developmental psychology; but those are of a lifelong nature and not specific to 2013 so I’m gonna leave those alone and proceed to bang on about my MTeach experiences in 2013.

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Rural Prac

In May I travelled up to North Star, NSW to complete a month-long practicum at North Star Public School with Michael Sky and The Phenomenal 15 – a class of 15 students in years 3, 4, 5 & 6. This was a fantastic experience for so many reasons. Firstly, I was away from my family for the whole month. Now this was not good in and of itself as, of course, I love my family deeply and being away from my wife and kids for a month was obviously difficult for all of us. However, being away from home for this period meant that I was able to focus my efforts more-or-less entirely on becoming a better teacher, in the absence of all of the constant business that being a family man entails. I’m very grateful to Bianca for taking on sole responsibility for the children whilst I was away and I’m sure I’ll make it up to her at some point, if I haven’t already. A pair of Doc Martens, perhaps? Tickets to see something cool at the theatre? I’m open to suggestions.

Another thing that was cool about going to North Star was the necessity whilst I was there to try to cater daily as best I could for the needs and abilities of learners in all of the year groups across stages 2 & 3. North Star Public School is a small school with only around 30 enrolled students, and as a result there are only 2 classes at the school; a K-2 class and a class for students in years 3, 4, 5 & 6 – The Phenomenal 15. Now Michael does a fantastic job in my personal opinion and for the most part I took on his advice and more or less followed his routines whilst planning and implementing lessons as best I could, trying to make them as interesting and engaging as possible. Where I think this really went well was with the life stories PBL project we undertook with The Phenomenal 15 while I was there. I documented as much of Project Awesome as I could while I was up at North Star and wrote some reflections when I returned to Sydney, so I think it’s documented well enough, and I won’t go over it all again here. I will say, however, that I’m massively grateful to Michael for allowing me the opportunity to give PBL a go whilst I was at North Star, it gave me an invaluable chance to gain some experience with this pedagogy and some insight into planning and implementing sequenced, connected and sustained learning experiences for students – as opposed to disconnected lessons. It also helped with the projects which were to follow at Merrylands East Public School – another highlight for 2013!

Briefly, another thing I will say about Project Awesome is that I found that PBL allowed for differentiation to occur quite naturally, particularly by allowing students voice and choice in the products they were creating. Some students created games, others artworks, whilst others created videos using moviemaker and screencasts of Minecraft builds using QuickTime. I feel that this range of products catered for students’ interests and abilities whilst allowing Michael and I to adequately support them as they completed the challenge of creating their products.

MEPS

So for terms 3 & 4 of this school year I spent much of my time at Merrylands East Public School. I didn’t wind up here by accident and, as with my prac at North Star, I became interested in working at MEPS through connecting with some of the people who work there via social media. So earlier in the year I asked John Goh if he’d be willing to let me complete my MTeach internship at MEPS and he said yes – and what an epic experience it was.

I knew that MEPS was going to be a cool school, that’s why I worked hard to get the chance to go there. There were a few issues with the administration team at USyd that had to be sorted out, and some red tape and miscommunication from the uni nearly stopped me from being able to get to either North Star or MEPS, but anyway that’s a long and boring story.

MEPS is quite a distance from my home and as the school has changed its teaching hours to 8:00 – 1:15, it meant that I had to get up quite early to make it to school on time. These factors (cool school, long way from home, early start to the day) made it a logistically and logically wise decision for me to temporarily enrol my two boys at the school for the time that I was there. We only had 1 family car at the time and it didn’t make sense to send the kids to school with Bianca to sit in her staff room from 6 – 9am doing nothing, and as I said, I knew MEPS would be cool so they came with me. And they loved it.

So anyway, here’s what happened.

2C

For term 3 I was working Ashleigh Catanzariti and a lovely class of year 2 students. Whilst with the class we undertook what turned out to be a really exciting project all based around the school garden. Again, I documented this as best I could while I was there so I won’t go into it in too much detail here. I’ll try to pinpoint some of my key lessons from this below:

Getting an expert in is a good idea

We bagged Brenden from Community Greening. Brenden is a horticulturalist who does a lot of work with schools around Sydney helping design, revamp and develop their gardens. The kids from 2C really enjoyed Brenden’s involvement in the project and it drove their motivation to continue to maintain and care for the garden whilst I was there. If you’re ever involved with any kind of authentic project at school, I’d highly recommend getting an expert involved to give students advice, an audience and community connectedness to their work.

Weebly, Edmodo, etc. are fantastic formative assessment tools

For the farmers’ market project I designed a website using Weebly which we used for a whole bunch of stuff throughout the project. Much of this was based  around class activities where students would draft comments to later post via iPads, laptops or PCs in class. However, I did encourage students to go on and comment whenever they wanted to from home. I moderated these comments and would get a notification on my phone whenever a student’s one popped up, asking for me to approve the comment. I found that through moderating these comments I was able to not only assess how students were going in relation to literacy and give feedback and help accordingly, but I was also able to see through their conversations when we might need to have a class conversation on digital citizenship and internet privacy. For instance, I noticed at one point that one of the students had posted a reply to one of the other students and had perhaps not considered what impact this comment might have on the other student, so I told her that I couldn’t approve the comment and we then had a class discussion on appropriate Internet etiquette.

Rubric self-assessment can help foster collaboration

As part of the MTeach students have to undertake an action research project during their internship. As part of the research we had to collect and analyse both quantitative and qualitative data on our topic of interest. Given the importance of the general capabilities in the Australian Curriculum, in particular personal and social capability and the fact that 21st century skills (such as communication and collaboration) are fundamental to PBL (one of the eight essential elements), I decided to focus my action research on getting students to self-assess how they were going with their teamwork. We had students in 2C regularly complete the teamwork rubric from BIE and this constituted the quantitaive (percentage of certain responses) and much of the qualitative data (depth of reflection on rubric comments) of the action research project. I collected additional qualitative data via comments on the project Weebly and analysed how much of a collaborative focus these comments took over time.

The write-up of the action research ended up being some 50+ pages long (with an additional 40 pages of collected data), so obviously there was a great deal to consider. My main findings were this:

Self assessments became more ‘honest’ over the course of the project

At the beginning of the project students predominately reported via rubric (52% 0f responses) that they ‘almost always’ helped their teammates, or almost always listened to their teammates. In contrast, very little student responses declared that they were ‘still learning’ (4% of responses) any of these behaviours. Over the course of the project the percentage of ‘almost always’ responses dropped to around 34% whilst the ‘still learning’ responses increased to around 16% of responses. I took this as evidence that kids in 2C were starting to think more honestly about their collaboration and were becoming less likely to respond by completing the rubric in order to show what might be considered an ‘ideal’ response and beginning to show how they actually thought they were going.

The qualitative data showed a similar pattern whereby students’ rubric reflections became more detailed and elaborate, explaining more about how they were thought they were going, giving specific details about what they were doing in class at certain times as examples of how they were getting better at collaborating. The Weebly comments also showed that students were increasingly beginning to use more collaborative language in their comments, sometimes even mentioning the rubric specifically. I’ll chuck my final report up on my files page later so you can flick through it if interested.

Teamwork was a strong focus for me this year and ties in well with my later experiences working with year 6 at Merrylands East.

The Triple Trouble Express, AKA Year 6 @ MEPS

So after finishing my internship with year 2 I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to work with year 6 for five weeks on a temporary block whilst one of year 6 teachers was away on long-service leave. Now this was a completely new experience for me as the year 6 cohort at MEPS is taught together in a massive, open learning space by a team of three awesome teachers. Whilst there I was asked to cover the history and science content that would usually be covered by @holidaydereamer_, the teacher whom I was relieving. I can’t say that I did so well on the science side of things, although we did have a few interesting lessons, but I am pretty chuffed with how the history went down.

Whilst working with year 6 at MEPS I  was asked to have students learn about the Federation of Australia. We did this by creating an episode of Horrible Histories based on the events, people and places involved in this historical event. I had so much fun with this project and I’m pretty sure that most of the students did too! Some of the scenes that students created for the final episode were so creative, showing how well they understood what they’d been learning and how they were able to adapt it to create skits which I think are hilarious. My main lessons from my experiences with year 6 and Horrible Histories again quite fittingly are focussed on teamwork and collaboration.

3 – 5 students is a good group-size

I’ve said this in a previous post but I’ll say it again anyway. The groups that were set up for this project had about 6 -7 students; I think this is too many. I think this allows for some students to take on most of the work whilst others may tend to drift away a bit and disengage from the project. I think having smaller groups would provide opportunity to establish roles, contracts, etc., giving each student in the group responsibility and accountability. With a large class like the cohort at MEPS  this would mean that there are more groups to manage but I think that each group would create a better final product in the end. Also, I think part of my problem was that I used the pre-established class groups from the beginning of the project as I didn’t know the students and anything about the group dynamics. It makes sense as I figured the groups had worked together before so they should work together well again – I guess this is really a matter of knowing the students and how they learn. In all I think the project went well, I guess what I’m saying is that in future I’d get to know the students as best as possible to begin with before assigning groups, whilst at the same time ensuring groups consisted of around 3 -5 students.

Team teaching can be awesome

As I mentioned before, this year’s cohort at MEPS was taught by a team of 3 teachers. I’m not sure that team teaching is everyone’s cup of tea but I actually really enjoyed it. Whilst I was with year 6, Solange and Lisa, we also had Jo working with us on her final prac at UWS. This meant that there were actually 4 teachers working together and collaborating to help the students learn!

I found it worked really well.

The general routine was that Lisa would take the kids for the morning session and we’d be doing something mathematically related, either Jo or I would run something for some time after this, up until recess or a little while after, then Solange would return and we’d do something literacy related and towards the end of the day we’d work at getting students to tie up the loose ends on any other project stuff they were doing or something similar. Of course, it wasn’t always as routined as that and things happened all over the place to throw us off kilt – mostly John walking through with a whole bunch of random teachers and principals from all over the shop, lol.

What I learned from all of this team teaching stuff was the importance of being flexible and adaptable. When there are many teachers working together, with students working on multiple projects – I had Horrible Histories, Jo was organising a poetry slam, students were working on blogs, we had individual interest projects happening on Friday and elsewhere (Adventure Time [Genius Hour]), as well as all of the regular mayhem of school – you need to be able to work around what everybody else is doing with the time you have available. This is a bit of a challenge, but a challenge that I found enjoyable and rewarding. I’m not sure exactly why that is; it’s no doubt due to the awesome team at MEPS but also, I think, in some degree down to the fact that I’m pretty easy going most of the time and have no massive drive for control. Whatever it is, I’m definitely open to giving collaborative teaching a go in future.

So there you have it. Those were some of my highlights of what I consider to be a fantastic year of learning.  I haven’t even mentioned #PLSM13 and the massive journey involved with that in 2013, perhaps I’ll reflect on that later. I also didn’t get into my experiences as a ‘freelance’ (casual, #lulz) teacher. It feels good to be going into 2014 with my teaching qualifications and I look forward to whatever happens next. It’s difficult to find full time work out there, and whilst I’m happy to work casually for the time being, I’m really looking forward to getting my own class and doing epic things.

Thanks for reading.

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Horrible Histories at MEPS.

So I’ve just finished working at the wonderful Merrylands East Public School. My last several weeks saw me working on a history project with year 6. In my last post I explained what the project was about – basically we all had to learn about the Federation of Australia, and I tried to put an interesting spin on it by getting students to work towards creating an episode of Horrible Histories based on the content. As is always the case with PBL, the project was naturally cross KLA (cross-curricular). You have the obvious links between subjects which shouldn’t be put in separate baskets anyways, like history and literacy, but there were some interesting links that came out of this project, too. Mainly to do with the creative/performing arts.

For example, I wrote a theme song for the project, uploaded it to YouTube and included it as the introduction to the final product. If I’d had more time with the class, I probably would’ve got the students who were able to play the guitar to record the song, others to write the lyrics, and some others to sing it. However, I was pressed for time, so it ended being me who did all of those things. You can watch it below, but be warned, you’ll wanna turn your volume down a bit and if you’re not into bad singing, it’s not for you!

The other, more obvious link given the nature of the project was between history/historical inquiry and drama/performance. Students really had to think about their intended audience, for example, it wouldn’t necessarily be a good idea to parody a predominately Australian show given our original intended audience was a year 5 class from the US. Students also had to get creative with how they were going to make the content funny! So part of the research process involved not only the research focus on content but also which shows would be likely to be popular both here and in the US.

A great application of this came from one of the groups in their skit entitled, ‘The Colonies of the Smurfs’. This group were aware that The Smurfs weren’t specific to Australia and were likely to be well known internationally. The group rolled with the idea of conceptualising the different pre-federation colonies, with their independent taxation and defense systems as separate smurf villages. The push for a federalised taxation system comes into the plot when Vanity Smurf has to travel between villages to get a new mirror from Grouchy Smurf, who then demands a high tariff for trade. The various smurfs then discuss how the system isn’t working for them and how a nationally organised tax system would be better. The concerns around defense are heightened when Gargamel attacks the colonies and they have trouble getting together to defend themselves. Papa Smurf and Brainy Smurf then decide that it’s a good idea to establish a national defense force. All of the skits in the episode are fantastic, and I’m stoked with what the students managed to do!

I wanted students to be as self directed as possible with the whole thing, so in terms of explicit teaching of the events leading up to and surrounding the Federation, there really wasn’t much. Of course, I pushed the content where I saw the need but let’s face it, the last time I had to learn stuff was about 20 years ago, so I’m hardly an expert. I wanted it all to be student work and, for the most part it was. I mainly stepped in for editing, song writing, green screening and set control! The final episode is online at the weebly, this too was designed and created by one of the students who put in a very professional application to me via edmodo to put herself forward for the role. Go year 6! Please have a look at the final product and leave a comment, it’s so important for students to have an audience for their work, thanks! 🙂

 


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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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Beginning my internship at MEPS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Evaluating Project Awesome (Part 2)

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

 

Need to knows

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concepts (life stories – around the DQ)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Voice and choice

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

Some good things about this were:

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

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

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

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

 

Incorporate revision and reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Public Audience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Project Awesome is coming to an end!

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

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

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

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

Image

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

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

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

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

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

CrossKLA

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

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

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

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

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

1. Use a project calendar:

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

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

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

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

3. Be prepared for a slow start:

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

4. Use some metaphorical learning spaces:

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

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

Something to implement in future methinks.

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

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

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

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