Posts Tagged Project-based Learning
A Note from Tim: Forsyth County Schools in Georgia is beginning its sixth year in implementing Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT). In this post, Instructional Technology Specialist at South Forsyth High School, Carla Youmans, shares her experiences of facilitating BYOT in the SFHS Media and Instructional Technology Center.
Many school systems and businesses have started to permit students and employees to use their own computer devices within school or at work. It saves money, allows for a certain level of comfort, and ensures that more individuals have the capabilities of working digitally. Many people refer to 21st Century Learning in a BYOT/BYOD environment. Perhaps we should begin saying BYOT/BYOD in a digital, personalized learning environment. Our educational system, parents, and society expect high rigor for and from all students. Since more students are taking AP or IB courses than ever before, more students must be capable of high performing work. Therefore, in a BYOT/BYOD digital learning environment we must create a space where students learn and develop skills that set them apart from each other (creativity, problem-solving, innovation, etc).
Steps in the Process
We follow five simple steps in our Media and Instructional Technology Center. The first step is to read. We want students to read for information — to understand, to question, and to infer. As they read, the next step is to collect valid, accurate and reliable information. Many students immediately want to create a new product; however, they have no data or research to support the reasoning for the new product. So, once they have read and collected information, we want them to critically think — What have I learned? What more do I want to know? What can I share? What do others know? How could we together build something greater? This is where the fourth and fifth steps come in: to collaborate and to create.
When we can help students understand this process and follow it then we believe we have pushed them out of their comfort zone where great things can happen.
Empowering Students to Drive the Learning
Encouraging teachers to use BYOT/BYOD in our digital learning environment is best achieved through a project-based learning approach. We teach with a “use what you have to show what you know” mentality that empowers students to drive their assessment by encouraging student choice and student voice in as much of the projects as possible. What does this really mean? It means: possibly having 30 totally different projects submitted by 30 different students to assess the same exact standard. WOW! What a shift from the much discussed “differentiated” classroom to a “personalized” classroom. Imagine all of the students in your classroom learning the way that is best for them? AMAZING!
Transforming the classroom may be scary for some teachers. First of all, teachers are known for writing great directions that explain “exactly” how they want a project to be completed. When we give students packets of directions to create a project, we take away all of the problem-solving, creativity, and innovative pieces that they may add. Secondly, high-achieving students who typically receive a 99 on an assignment and ask “why didn’t I get a 100?” may be caught off guard when they “use what they have to show what they know.” Our current system has molded them to be step-by-step direction followers rather than inquisitive problem solvers and creators.
We never stop learning. Surprise yourself and your students. Allow them to create their own assessments and watch your project based BYOT/BYOD turn into a phenomenal student-centered digital learning environment.
One of my responsibilities as the instructional technology specialist this year is to observe classrooms and provide specific feedback on the effectiveness of BYOT and technology integration in classrooms. We have talented professionals in our building, but I still see lessons in which teachers chew down every bit of information and then monitor their students’ digestive process during “busy-work” activities. Then again, there are some lessons that are plainly too difficult for students to explore independently, and as a result they disengage, give up, and never succeed. Such lessons always remind me of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and make me think how little instruction has changed since 1986!
One may skip this post after seeing the word rigor in it, knowing how overused and often misunderstood this term is today. From parents to administrators, everyone demands that teachers turn their classrooms in rigorous learning environments. What does this mean? What does rigor look like in a classroom?
R is for relevant and I is for integration. Research from International Center for Leadership in Education shows that higher relevance and integration of subjects leads to deeper understanding of a topic. Complex problems of the real world can be solved only by developing new knowledge built on analytical explorations of existing evidence. Therefore, we need to stop teaching a higher-level real world application one discipline and one worksheet at a time. Common Core Standards demand higher-order thinking and deeper understanding of objectives and connections between them, too. Winnie the Pooh is a great character, but we need to move away from just describing him to finding connection with today’s world, friendship in our lives, and traits that can be useful in our future. We need to move from “covering” curriculum to “uncovering” its depth, and it cannot be done one subject at a time! We must revise our teaching and move towards PBL (project-based learning), stacking standards, and making every activity relevant. BYOT is a perfect tool that fits right in PBL environment.
G is for geographical change. Rigorous, project-based instruction forces geographical changes in a classroom. Get rid of rows of desks facing the white board – they are simply not effective. Instead, think of a mobile set up: easily movable furniture and sitting areas for group work and collaboration. Ideally, put in two active boards for presentations and constant back-channeling. Turn walls and static bulletin boards into dry-erase surfaces on which students can brainstorm ideas, take notes, plan, and work collaboratively. Unleash BYOT – it is a perfect platform for collaboration and communication. Providing endless opportunities to learn about diverse cultures, perspectives, and relevant topics, technology brings down classroom walls and makes the world a smaller place for students to explore. The geography of learning today is limited only by teachers.
O is for ownership. We should stop planning and micromanaging every step in student learning and set clear expectations for their work instead. Our expectation should be extremely high! No teacher should ever dumb down the curriculum just because she/he has “one of those classes this year.” We must focus on students’ progress, not their grades! We must become coaches, cheerleaders, and critical friends to our students. Students must become producers of knowledge and be allowed to choose how to show their learning. They need opportunities to think critically about evidence they read, hear, or see, participate in collaborative discussions, and express themselves in a variety of ways. BYOT offers unlimited possibilities and infinite tools for teachers and students to communicate, collaborate, think critically, and demonstrate their own learning in creative ways.
R is for reflective learning. Common Core Standards require much more than teaching basic reading and writing skills. Students must become constant, independent, and flexible learners. They need to know how to learn, unlearn, and relearn things. They need to clearly express themselves, learn from each other, listen and evaluate different points of view, and adjust their own thinking based on evidence. Our job is to make students aware of their learning targets and individual gaps and to map out the next step to progress their learning. BYOT brings necessary flexibility and support for collaboration and communication. It changes the spirit and focus of classroom culture and turns it into a student-centered and student-driven environment. BYOT makes it possible to flip instruction and reserve class time for discussions, “uncovering” the curriculum, and students’ reflection on their own learning.
Many teachers still believe that BYOT is a magic wand that will create a rigorous atmosphere in a classroom. It is not true! Rigor is all about quality of instruction and high expectations. BYOT is just a steroid that makes it stronger and everlasting, even when it is Ferris Bueller’s day off.