Thursday, April 17, 2014

Project-Based Learning in Teacher Education

Teacher educators are sometimes guilty (me included) of teaching students about effective pedagogical approaches instead of teaching students through those effective approaches. Over the past two semesters, I have been intentional about explicitly modeling effective pedagogical techniques and providing time for students to reflect on potential applications for their future classrooms.

One approach to teaching and learning that I want my students to be comfortable with is project-based learning (PBL). To have students explore trending topics in educational technology, I've designed a PBL task for my Technology in the Classroom course. My students and I will meet via Google Hangouts, I'll pose the challenge and set some parameters, and then I'll turn them loose. Instructions for the PBL task are below.

  1. Choose a partner.
  2. Choose one of these trending topics in educational technology:
    1. 1-to-1, flipped learning, BYOD, gamification, or gaming
    2. Record your names on this Google Spreadsheet.
  3. Find information & resources related to your topic. Learn enough about it that you could talk about it to someone else without sounding like an idiot.
    1. What is it? What are the benefits? What are the pitfalls? What details would a teacher need to know?
    2. Record your responses to these questions on the Google Spreadsheet.
  4. Connect with educators who are interested in, experts in, or involved in your topic.
    1. Twitter search, hashtag, Google+ community, blogs
  5. Develop 3 questions for educators who know a lot about your topic.
  6. Reach out to educators about your topic and try to gather some responses to your questions. In addition to getting real-time answers, you may also find answers in blog posts or other places. You’re trying to get responses before we come back together at the end of class.
    1. Think about how to get your questions out to a broad audience as well as to specific people you’ve targeted.
  7. Record what you find out from others on the Google Spreadsheet.
  8. Join our GHO at 5:30 to share, process, and reflect!

This is my first time with this particular assignment, and I'm very much looking forward to learning alongside my students. As I revise this task for future sections, I realize that I need to remove some parameters and provide only a question that needs an answer. I'm hoping to gather feedback from my students about how to improve this learning experience and incorporate more PBL into our teacher education program.

After students complete the task, we're going to come back together in a Google Hangout to reflect on the experience. I'll be using the following questions to guide the conversation.

  • In what ways does today’s information-abundant society change the role of the teacher?
  • What does school look like when the teacher no longer has (or needs to have) all the answers?
  • What are some implications for your future classroom?
  • What are some other ways I could have structured today’s class so that you could learn this content? What would be benefits and limitations of those different approaches?

Have you considered your own thoughts about the questions above? Teachers who don't embrace the implications of today's information-rich society risk quickly becoming irrelevant. It's imperative that we engage other educators in conversations about implications for schools, teaching, and learning in light of the abundant information our students have in their pockets.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Discussing Effective Assessment Practices with Pre-Service Teachers

Today at 12:30 pm ET, Kurtis Hewson will be a virtual guest speaker in my assessment course. Kurtis is my #edteach colleague and a valuable member of my PLN. He will be speaking with some of my pre-service teachers today about balanced assessments and considerations for designing performance tasks and rubrics. The conversation will be live streamed below.

Kurtis created this Today's Meet backchannel for the conversation. Feel free to watch the live stream and join the conversation via Today's Meet. We would love to hear your perspective. Kurtis also graciously shared these resources to support and extend the conversation. We hope you'll join us today at 12:30 pm ET!

Monday, April 7, 2014

7 Questions to Consider Before Assigning Homework

Does the homework matter?

In the bigger picture of the school day, the school week, the school year, and the students' overall educational experience, will the homework have any impact? Is the homework relevant to the students' lives outside of school? Can you say that the homework truly matters?

Do you value family time?

Students spend the majority of their waking hours at school, away from their families. When you account for dinner, bath time, sports practice, creative arts, and other commitments, there is very little downtime in the evening for most families. Often, homework eats away whatever downtime is left. If we want to raise a generation that values family time, we need to respect their time with their families.

Are you maximizing instructional time during the school day?

As a parent who values family time, I want to be assured that teachers are maximizing instructional time during the school day. Are the learning experiences that you design during the school day valuable, relevant, and necessary? If teachers focus on designing rich learning experiences during the school day, homework can become a thing of the past.

Is the homework for students or their parents?

Consider what you're really measuring when you assign homework. Is the homework a measure of student learning or a measure of parent involvement? My 6-year-old daughter currently has a month-long homework assignment asking her to draw the moon each day as part of a unit on the phases of the moon. As a space nerd, I totally appreciate the homework. However, this homework is for me, not for my 6-year old. She is not independent enough to be expected to work on a month-long homework assignment, not even taking into account the lack of visibility on cloudy days and that the times of moonrise / moonset don't always align with bedtime. There have been several cloudy nights when we've relied on the Internet to draw the moon. What does this mean for our students who don't have the kind of parental help at home that is necessary for this type of homework?

Are we preparing students to be good citizens?

Some teachers assign homework in an attempt to "prepare students for the real world." I don't think I want to live in a world in which people come home from a day at work only to fill out worksheet after worksheet and struggle to find time to do something fun with their families. We need to foster good citizenship, which involves balancing time between work, family, and community engagement.

Is the homework differentiated?

If you've decided that the homework you're assigning is, in fact, valuable and worthwhile, have you considered that not all students need the same homework? If the purpose of the homework is to review important concepts or extend students' understanding, then of course not every student will have the same needs for review and/or extension.

Are you planning to give meaningful feedback on the homework?

If you're asking students to spend their time away from school doing schoolwork, I surely hope you are planning to spend at least that much time giving meaningful feedback and using the work to guide your future instruction. As a former classroom teacher, I'll admit that I did not do this well. Homework can easily pile up and become a low priority for the teacher. However, if this is your typical practice, I urge you to reconsider. Show students that you value the time they invested in the work by investing time of your own.