Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Engaging Students with Project Based Learning

by Dr. Nancy Betler

As an educator, it is important to continue to learn and grow.  I currently teach students who are gifted and  continually need to be challenged.  At the end of the last school year I reflected on how the year had gone and decided that although things went well I wanted to push my students to another level.  There was a need to help them grow even further.  During my research on how to help students grow I came across the strategy of Project Based Learning.  Project Based learning is active learning that is student-centered.  Students learn about a subject through the experience of problem solving and creating a project.  According to the research, Project Based Learning helps the students develop flexible knowledge, effective problem solving skills, self-directed learning, effective collaboration skills and intrinsic motivation.  This was just what I needed to push my students. The Project Based Learning environment changes the roles of students and teachers and puts learners in the driver’s seat.

My next step was to discuss this idea with the teachers who I work with at my school.  I wanted to get their insight and collaborate with them to help enhance my growth as well as student growth. The teachers I connected with were enthusiastic about trying this with our students.  We planned how we would implement this active learning strategy during the next school year.

Over the summer I developed and adapted two Project Based Learning projects based on what I had found on the subject to use with my students.  The initial project I started with was to have the students answer questions about a cupcake bakery in our project Cupcakes Configurations.  After being introduced to the project with cupcakes students were required to work in groups and develop the best way to package cupcakes for transport. The students had to discuss potential problems when transporting cupcakes.  They also had to make a list of possible solutions.  They had to create and defend their model.  They also had to discuss pricing and decide on a fair price.  This was more complex and had more pieces than what we had done in the past.  The teacher I was team teaching with and I were excited to get started with the students.  We could not wait to see how they responded to this learning opportunity.

When the problem based learning questions were introduced during our math lesson the students were thrilled.  There were leading questions and the students had to incorporate multiplication and division.  They were allowed to work in pairs or groups of their choosing.  The students began to work immediately and started to plan their strategies.  This process was different for us as teachers since we had to let them plan rather than take our usual role of teaching the topic.  We could guide but not give direct instructions on how they should answer or what they should produce.  They had to be prepared to present to another class their final finding.  We had to let the students be active learners and it was amazing!

The quality of their solutions and the models they created were fantastic.  Students were able to incorporate technology as they presented using PowerPoint or their Gaggle accounts. Some students created video demonstrations, some created songs to get their points across and others developed full scale models.  One student dressed as a giant cupcake to give her presentation.  It was a positive process for all involved and the teacher that I was working with and I decided that this would not be the end of Project Based Learning for the school year.  I wanted to work with the students and help them learn through there various learning styles.  Not every child learns the same way and it is essential as an educator to make sure that the students have opportunities to learn in different frameworks.  One student said that “this was the first time I felt that my project for an assignment was actually my project.”

Through collaboration with another teacher, we determined that we would also use Project Based Learning for another group of students.  We decided to have the students solve the following problem based on our curriculum.  We used a project that had already been developed and added to it.  Students were told that the state fair would no longer be held at its current location.  They were then told that the governor had chosen their team as the representative and event coordinator of their region.  It was their job to convince the governor and his advisors (an unbiased group of students from your school) why the state fair should be held in their region.  The students once again were allowed to pick their own groups and were guided through the process.  We met with the students to confer and go over the question, their solutions and the rubric.  The student projects were once again outstanding and incorporated different learning styles and the use of technology.  The final step was that the students presented them to other students in our school.  They presented with rave reviews. Project Based Learning definitely has helped my student develop the 21st century skills of critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity!

As a result of the research, collaboration with my professional community and student learning I grew as an educator through the use of Project Based Learning.  I shared this information and the work that my students completed with our Talent Development Department.  I contributed to our district wiki some of the problems and enhancements I have used.  This is something that I am proud of as a professional.

This October I will be presenting with another teacher, Melissa Mooney, about Project Based Learning at the North Carolina Association of Elementary Educators Conference.  We will be sharing an overview of the process, tips, lessons and student projects.  It is exciting to me that I am now considered an expert on this topic.  My pedagogical knowledge has bloomed on this subject.  During this school year I have grown professionally in response to the need of the students.  The students needed to be challenged more and to be able to use this approach to teaching in which students explore real-world problems and challenges has really helped my students grow. Next year I plan to continue to integrate Project Based Learning into my instruction.  I plan to refine what has already been created as well as create new ones.

To learn more about Project Based Learning and how it can be used to enrich learning experiences and engage learners, check out the archives of a recent #cmsk12chat, which I co-moderated  with Joshua Lemere. The archive for our PBL-focused chat can be found here.

Dr. Nancy Betler is a Talent Development Teacher at Eastover Elementary and primarily works with gifted and high-ability students in grades K-5.  As a National Board Certified Teacher, she fully embraces life-long learning and has recently earned her doctorate degree.  Nancy is also heavily involved with the North Carolina Association of Elementary Educators (NCAEE) and serves as a Board Member. She looks forward to connecting with you on Twitter @nbetler and being a part of your PLN!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Disciplinary Literacy

by Dr. Steve Masyada

My turn to blog! Hi! My name is Dr. Steve Masyada (I just earned it, so I can at least use it a couple times before it’s pretentious, right?), and I am a consultant with the Social Studies Section within the Division of Curriculum and Instruction at my friend and yours, the Department of Public Instruction. There are so many things that I could talk to you about, but I thought for my first blog post, I would focus on literacy. Because reading, of course, is fundamental. So, we have all heard about traditional concepts of literacy, and as good teachers we do a pretty decent job overall of getting our kids prepared as readers and writers. How many of us, however, have paid attention to the idea of disciplinary literacy? Moving forward into the next school year, much of our work here in the section will be focused on helping teachers at all levels, but especially in the elementary grades, develop ways to approach disciplinary literacy in their classrooms. 

What is Disciplinary Literacy?

In simple terms for our purposes, disciplinary literacy refers to the ways in which the different disciplines within the social studies consider the world. A historian considers the world differently from a political scientist, who in turn views through a different lens than a geographer, who sees the world in a light different from a cultural anthropologist, who most certainly has a different take than an economist! Beginning in kindergarten and going all the way through the high school courses, we should be helping our students understand the different ways in which each ‘lens’ can be used to develop questions, research and explore topics, and consider ways in which we can interpret primary sources. Actually, I have a wonderful graphic for you here! In this graphic, you will find a description of each of the lenses and the types of questions that some considering something through that lens might ask!  Over the course of the next year, we want to spend more time with you exploring how disciplinary literacy, as we illustrate in the graphic, can work for you. Click here for a full sized version of the graphics below.

Resources for Learning More

Naturally, we in the Social Studies Section have begun compiling a number of resources for you to use as you explore the elements of disciplinary literacy. 

Our Webinar Series: Did you know that we hold FREE webinars at least 4 times during the school year? We do, and we want you to come! Webinar Four on this page was developed to expose participants to disciplinary and you can find a number of relevant research and resource links under that webinar (please be aware that we are still transcribing and videoizing (is that a word?) the webinar itself, but the presentation is there!). You will also find links to our webinars on inquiry and the C3 Framework on that page! 

The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework: On this page you will find the newly released College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework. This Framework, a model for standards and curriculum development, contains a significant section on disciplinary literacy and its role in quality social studies instruction. While we here in North Carolina are NOT using it to create new standards, it DOES inform our work with curriculum! Check it out! 

Summer Institute 2012 Resource: This site, used during NCDPI’s 2012 Summer Institute, contains some quality videos discussing literacy within the social studies disciplines and also includes a very good document discussing what it actually means to be disciplinary literate.  I encourage you to explore the site deeper as well. You find a number of useful links from that wonderful summer of twenty aught twelve! 

Contact Us! 

Well, sadly, my time here on the blog is done for now. Please know that any questions you have concerning this or any other issue relating to the social studies can be answered by any of our consultants! Contact information can be found at this link. We hope to hear from you! 

Dr. Steve Masyada is currently a K-12 Social Studies Consultant with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. He currently serves as one of the NCDPI representatives on the NCAEE Board, and has spent over 12 years in public education, 10 of them in the classroom. He recently earned his PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Florida, with a focus on civic education. To learn more about social studies in North Carolina, visit their wikipage here. Steve is a tweeter, and you can follow his tweets @SocialStudyMasy. He hopes to hear from you soon!