Thursday, July 8, 2010

Transforming Successful Activities Into Projects

After reading Boss and Krauss’ book I am beginning to think that most of my “projects” are closer to activities as I didn’t leave time for reflection at the end, and I didn’t begin by asking questions and establishing relevance to my student’s lives. This past year I did a style unit with my fifth grade students where we did a T chart comparing blues, jazz, and country by listening to the music, performing a piece of music in each style, and they even composed a short blues piece. I ended the unit with a test where students looked at three pictures and chose a picture to represent each style and then explained how the picture represented the different styles to them. This activity could be turned into a project by asking students to investigate the different styles and present their findings on the style to teach the class, versus me telling them about the styles.

Another successful activity that I did this year was that I had my fifth grade students listen to Mozart’s “Lacrymosa” and then we listened to the rock group Evanescence’s version of “Lacrymosa” which uses the bass line from Mozart’s piece as the basis for their song. We listened and moved to the two pieces, and analyzed the uniting element of the two pieces (the bass line), and analyzed why a break up song written in 2000 would reference a song about death written hundreds of years before. It was a wonderful activity that got students analyzing music, and listening to classical music with excited and eager ears. Next year I could turn this activity into a project by asking students to break into group’s to investigate the piece “Lacrymosa” and the history behind the piece, another group could investigate Mozart, and another Evanesence. Then we could listen to the songs and compare and analyze the music. After we compare and analyze why a composer would use an existing song to create their own work, I could ask students to get into groups and use a “quote” from a classical song as their bass line and then create their own composition over it. Students would need to use 21st century skills of collaboration and working in teams utilizing technology to gain information, and they would work to develop empathy toward other composers that lived in different times and places from them.

I am excited to go back to my district this fall and work towards incorporating 21st century skills such as utilizing current technologies, and collaborative teamwork into my teaching. I believe that I have experienced the pitfalls that I have in the past is because I was blindly trying to figure out how to scaffold projects on my own using my limited experience and knowledge to design my projects. One aspect of why I experienced pitfalls is that I had issues with the management of collaborative groups, and wasn’t sure how to solve problems when I encountered them. I think that my projects will be more successful next year because I have ideas and strategies for how to set up collaboration groups successfully and how to handle teamwork issues as I encounter them. This course helped me to learn where to start, gave me strategies for how to design more meaningful projects and assessments from the design stage and has given me the confidence to loosen up and attempt to go back next year with the mindset of a planner and facilitator instead of a conductor and teacher.

Current Practices I Need to Discard!

In order to design projects that inspire debate and controversy, allow students to learn how to work together, and that involve authentic meaningful assessment I will need to change the way that I plan for projects. I used to have an idea in my head that projects should not last too long because I did not want anyone who viewed my plan book to think that we weren’t learning new material or covering content because we stayed on one project for a long period of time. I was afraid to take the time to model and discuss the skills that students would need to work in groups, and I was afraid to take too much time to go back and reflect upon what the project meant to students. Reading this book helped give me the validation I needed that the amount of time that you spend on a project doesn’t matter, as long as you have evidence that students have grown and are working on fulfilling learning goals. Designing a project that takes 20 class periods to complete these last few days was a great exercise for me to get over my ideas about how many projects and content objectives I should be covering in a specific time frame. This exercise helped me to focus more on what really matters which is what the students are getting out of their experiences in my classroom, not how long they spend on them.

Another belief that I need to throw out is the way that I design and implement my assessments. This year I tried to focus on designing assessment that focused on student achievements and abilities instead of on content based procedures on a checklist. I did a good job of working towards that improved way of thinking about assessment, but after taking this course now I want to extend that goal. This upcoming year I am going to create assessments that focus on student’s growth and achievement as well making the assessments authentic and meaningful to the students.

Another strategy that I would like to throw out is the strategy of layering technology over old ways of teaching. In the book in chapter four it discusses common pitfalls, and I am guilty of layering a technology like websites, or the smart board to trick myself into thinking that I am implementing new strategies when I am really just layering simple technologies over my typical ways of teaching. I need to work this year to talk with my technology teacher and my principal to express my desire to get technology into the hands of my students, not just me, and use that as a vehicle to improve my projects and teaching practices. Having students utilizing technology will truly incorporate 21st century technologies and skills into my teaching, and will help me move towards a new more relevant way of presenting information to my students.

Key Ideas from PBL

In the book Reinventing Project-Based Learning by Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss there were two elements of Project Based Learning that really resonated with me that I am excited to implement to help me bring my teaching into the twenty-first century. Chapter seven discussed strategies for keeping a project flowing and working through pitfalls, and chapter nine gave strategies and examples of how to create meaningful and authentic assessment for students. In addition to those two big ideas, the book also offered many new technologies and resources that are available for educators such as wiki pages, blogs, podcasting, screencasting, and online forums that I was not aware existed. I am very excited to bring these technologies back to my classroom and work to implement them in the fall.

The idea of creating and implementing projects for students is not a new one, and I often do project work in my classroom. In my attempts to create successful projects I have encountered many roadblocks along the way, some that I was able to overcome and some that caused me to give up on a project before students completed it. In chapter seven Boss and Krauss explain several aspects of how to set up a project to prevent pitfalls, and how to keep the project going when a pitfall is encountered. In the second paragraph on page 113 the authors give a case study where teachers worked to create this great lab setting and asked a question they thought was wonderful only to have students walk over to google and find the answer in a matter of seconds. I loved the idea from that scenario that good projects are based on a question that cannot be answered just by going to google. A good project needs to be designed to encourage debate, struggles, and experimentation between students that teaches them new ways to view the world around them. Later in chapter seven on page 122 a teacher Michael McDowell states that the traditional classroom leaves no room for students to fail and provides shallow risk free learning. That statement really resonated with me, in combination with the idea that projects that I create need to involve debate and controversy. In future projects I will use self-assessment during planning to test my essential questions on google to see if they can easily be answered or if they will spark debate and a real project based experience.

Another idea in chapter seven that caught my interest was the strategies for how to improve team dynamics. This past year I designed a project where my third grade classes worked together to compose and perform a musical. During the script writing process I had them work in groups several classes in a row and I switched the team members that worked together each class session. In one of my classes I had a few students that it did not matter which group I put them in, they were always fighting with the other students and their classmates were constantly calling me over to let me know that they were not sharing, participating, and cooperating. I loved the teamwork building strategies on pages 123 and 124 such as a using a teamwork contract, keeping a commentary on teamwork in a journal, filling out a teamwork-scoring rubric, and filling out a self-assessment focusing on the assets each student had to offer a team. I plan to implement these team building strategies when I go back and I am eager to see if these strategies help with the management piece of teaching, so that more of my time is spent on asking questions and broadening understanding instead of fixing problems that arise.

In chapter nine there are numerous examples of how to design and implement assessments for class projects. On page 144 Carmel Crane explains that the most important aspect of assessment is that it provides “feedback that matters to [students]”. If I want to create passion based learning it will be important for me to figure out how to design the project and assessments so that students reach my end goal in a way that is meaningful to them. I believe that creating authentic meaningful assessments will encourage students to see how the learning we do in the classroom relates to real life and will create a lasting impact on their learning.

Assessment that Works

Yesterday in class we focused on assessment and discussed what a good assessment looks like. What struck me in our textbook chapter, and our class discussion was the idea that good assessment shows the learning process and growth of a student, and it is has feedback that is meaningful to the students. So yesterday afternoon I set about to think how my partner and I could make assessment meaningful to our students. My goal for today's work is to continue to look at our assessment options to try to ensure that our assessment does have meaning outside our classroom. I think our project of having 5th grade students research and then compose a song to sing at their graduation will excite them and create a meaningful experience, because in the end they will be able to share all of the hard work that they have done with their friends and family at their graduation.

Below is a page I found on assessment in the arts that had some ideas on assessment. I liked the fishbowl conversation idea, as it gave a way to represent and document the learning process and discussions that take place in a daily classroom.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Digging Right In

I am posting now after 5.5 hours in a classroom looking at the textbook, and working with a fellow music educator to revise a plan. When I started the day I was quite hesitant (as I posted earlier) about how to get students to compose, and I was very worried and hung up on the intricate details of the project. Five and a half hours later, I am feeling MUCH better about the project and excited that I am starting to work on something that will actually work. At this point I have a timeline of the project, a rationale, and what the hook, objectives, and 21st century skills students will walk away with.

Although it isn't easy - it is nice to shed old ways of thinking and step away from the details and look at the big picture. A fellow educator of mine keeps telling me "work smart not hard", that students are capable and eager to get their hands dirty - we just have to let them. I need to continue to shed those layers of obsessive compulsive behavior and trust in my students and their abilities. I am going to let them work together to create the lyrics and not worry about composition software - and let the students teach me something new! Here's a good day of shedding, and a positive outlook for tomorrow and continuing the work!

Beginning the Project with hesitance

Today we started work on partnering up with a fellow classmate to collaborate on a project for our students to work on based on the Project Based Learning Model that is interdisciplinary and involves technology. My partner and I decided to work on a 5th grade graduation song composition unit of study. I heard the idea yesterday in class and thought it would be a really wonderful end of the year project to observe students progress with the elements of music.

My biggest fear at this point is falling into the pitfall of layering technology over my existing way of teaching. I am currently struggling with how to incorporate technology into the writing part of the process. I know that there is finale and noteflight as available software to students, but if If I am thinking about my previous 5th graders - using a program like that would stifle them. The students not in band and chorus are struggling with their rhythm notation, and the names of the lines on the staff - and I want a program that goes around that issue and gets to the heart of their creativity.

Does anyone know of a composition software that allows elementary students to compose in a less traditional way?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Each Journey Begins with a Single Step

I love technology but will be the first to admit that I am FAR from the cutting edge. I am creating this blog as a starting point for incorporating technology, social networking, and student's interests into the classroom. If teachers are going to ask students to explore new territory, they also need to venture out into uncharted territory themselves. I will be chronicling my crazy summer of 12 credits of graduate work in 5 weeks, while planning an August 21st wedding. This blog is my first step in branching out, utilizing technology that is available to me and my students, and bringing my teaching into the 21st century.