Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Reflective Teacher Day 24: Learning Trend

     There is A LOT going on in education right now. Some of it not so good, some of it swawesome (sweet + awesome) While it is difficult to narrow it down to one trend that captures my attention, there is one that am I doing right now that  has caught me attention that I would like to investigate and expand more. That trend is the movement towards project based learning or PBL.
      Part of my interest is due to the 20 Time Project that I have been doing for the past 2 years. I think this form of authentic learning has even more relevance in the face of the push for testing, testing, testing, testing and more testing. Did I say we test like a lot? But for the longest time I think educators thought that authentic learning and standardized testing are polar opposites. I have never really believed that students learn well by "teaching to the test." Not that I have completely ignored the fact that my students have a test to prepare for, but I certainly have never made it the only focus of what we do in class. So how does project based learning fit into the world of testing? Well.....
     Sometimes I think what educators forget in the world of high stakes testing is the impact that this shift has had on the students. Trust me I have had many conversations with students about testing. They don't like it any better than we do as professionals. So, why not venture out of that comfort zone and try something like project based learning, where the students have more choice, more freedom and more interest than a classroom focused solely on testing? To me, it's teaching them what they need to know for that high stakes test without them really knowing it. (Shhh....don't tell them!) If you do it right, plan it out, you can still meet all the criteria that testing demands. I truly believe that as educators, we have more capacity to change to any situation that anyone throws at us, we just have to get that "comfort monkey" off our back. Once we do that, there is enough talent and brilliance to make anything work.
     One of the shifts in this new round of testing is the emphasis on students being able to produce something, to be given a problem that they have to solve given a set of parameters. Isn't that what PBL is all about? Shift the role of the teacher from the sage to the guide? You set the guidelines (Again, aligned with whatever standards are given to you), make sure the students understand the goal, give them the tools and turn them loose. They need to practice all of the skills that are expected of them. What better way to do this than with you helping them? Isn't that what we are supposed to do? Isn't this "teaching like the test?" (See what I did there??) Model what they are suppose to be doing on the high stakes test so when they get to it, they are like "Pffft....I got this!"
     Finally, there has never, ever in the history of teaching been a better time to dive into PBL right now. Are you serious? Technology? Devices? Wifi? What are you waiting for??? Don't tell me you don't have time. If it is worth it, then it's worth the time. Work smarter not harder y'all!! I started small with 20 Time and now have plans to expand it more and more. Now in all fairness I teach a class that lends itself to the PBL style (Contemporary World Issues) but I believe anything can be adapted to this model. Math. English. Science. Anything. The key is finding out how. And there you are covered: others are doing it. Connect. Get in touch. For goodness sake: Google it! It's what the kids do! So go ahead: baby step it. Just a little. Try a project instead of a test. Play around with it. Talk to colleagues. Join twitter and find out what others are doing. The time is right. Banish comfort and stretch yourself! I can always help too, ya know!

Pretending you know what you're doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you're doing even if you don't and do it.

Laugh at perfection. It's boring and keeps you from being done.

People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
---The Done Manifesto  

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