Tag Archives: literacy

PBL and how things have(n’t) changed

“The first thing you have to do is to give up the idea of curriculum.”  Dr. Seymour Papert

My heart did a little flip when I read this statement in Seymor Papert’s Project Based Learning, an article 15 years old and yet many of the ideas are still so true and relevant, and sadly have largely yet to come to fruition.

Papert clarifies the above statement by wanting to do away with students learning a particular thing on a particular date, often for no particular reason.  Instead he insists learning should happen in context, with real problems and with immediate application.

Over the years my students of all ages have always done some sort of environmental unit or focus on a problem: litter; energy consumption; e-waste. These “problem topics” naturally lead to students wanting to find a solution, or to find out more about the problem.

Last year my Early Years students (4 & 5 year olds)  looked closely at how our devices and electrical items are built by taking them apart. They noticed all the waste and electrical pieces that came with a broken item.  

Now these children couldn’t solve this problem–but we upcycled by making all sorts of structures and robots out of the pieces and later visited a local recycling centre.  We learned more about what materials can be recycled, and we were happy to note batteries could be recycled.

We also learned more about the metals and minerals in our cell phones with the help of our 5th grade buddies who were studying similar problems for their Exhibition Project.  We worked together as a class learning about these problems, articulating them in different ways and documenting our learning together with the App, Adobe Spark.  

PBL in Early Years: Look Closer… at our Devices

I think about how our cross grade learning supports Paperts bold suggestion of doing away with grade/age segregation altogether:

“We’ve given up the age segregation which is just as, I think, wrong and harmful as any other kind of segregation….Kids working in communities of common interest on rich projects that will connect with powerful ideas.

Great minds working together.

Great minds of all ages working together. Photo courtesy of UnSplash.  No Attribution needed. 

The Buck Institute for Education (BIE) Introduction to PBL “defines standards-focused PBL as a systematic teaching method that engages students in learning knowledge and skills through an extended inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and tasks… students are pulled through the curriculum by a Driving Question or authentic problem that creates a need to know the material. “

My school’s PYP curriculum with its Central Ideas and Lines of Inquiry can potentially complement this definition, but at times I have struggled with feeling like I have successfully implemented PBL in my classroom.  It’s the assessment piece and still having to report on a set of Learner Outcomes that I feel can hinder teachers from feeling free (enough) to explore PBL. Papert goes on to discuss portfolios as an improved form of assessment:

“ So, as I see it, the trend towards portfolio-based, so-called authentic assessment is very good, but it’s very limited unless it goes with throwing out the content of what we’re testing.”

My school’s portfolios are a move in the right direction.  First of all, we have portfolios as a form of assessment (in addition to traditional report cards, and formal and standardised tests, etc.) with basic agreements about what goes in them to maintain some consistency.  We are currently in the process of moving away from paper based portfolios to digital portfolios.  Teachers are spread out on the continuum of acceptance & readiness, oddly enough, it is our Early Childhood Educators leading the way.  

On the path to success.  Photo courtesy of Picography, by Dave Meier. http://picography.co/

On the path to success. Photo courtesy of Picography, by Dave Meier. http://picography.co/

This is perhaps not so odd, when one considers we had been looking for a platform that would support our focus on Documentation of Learning that was individualised, & often child directed, and with a focus on concepts and skills over specific “Learner Outcomes.” The assessments are on-going, formative and include elements of a project based or problem solving approach. Early Years teachers quickly embraced the platform Seesaw, which allowed them to document all of the above.

Many teachers in the primary school, whose teaching may be described as more traditional (all students working on same task) are working out how to best use the platform.  Many are taking photographs of pencil and paper assessments and uploading them to our digital portfolio system where there are right/wrong answers.  Some are beginning to show pictures of kids actually doing, solving, creating, inventing, making meaning, etc. But many are reluctant to get too creative with posts as they want to know the portfolio system inside and out before introducing elements to the the kids.  They are not (yet) open to the idea that they could be learning right alongside the kids and figuring it out as they go.

Which brings me to Papert’s idea of the importance of teachers learning alongside the students:

“What we need is kinds of activity in the classroom where the teacher is learning at the same time as the kids and with the kids. Unless you do that, you’ll never get out of the bind of what the teachers can do is limited by what they were taught to do when they went to school…. We don’t allow the kids to have the experience of learning with the teacher because that’s incompatible with the concept of the curriculum where what is being taught is what’s already known.”

We must be open to new ways of teaching and learning.  Photo courtesy of Picography, by Tasja. http://picography.co/

We must be open to new ways of teaching and learning. Photo courtesy of Picography, by Tasja. http://picography.co/

How true the above statement is: How often have I avoided introducing a topic or tool to students when I wasn’t fully comfortable with it yet myself.  This is only natural, but with the pace at which things change and technology develops, this practice and mindset needs to shift.  Teachers need to be seen as co-learners and co-constructors of knowledge, not simply bearers, because we can’t possibly know it all, and the curriculum can’t possibly keep pace with today’s changing world and reflect the interests and abilities of its students.

I can only hope that 15 years from now someone will read this post, find it true and relevant, and note how much things have changed.

Digital Stories Revisited

In 7 essential skills that aren’t taught in school, there is an Andy Warholesque 15 minutes of fame kind of quote:

“Your goal is not immortality,

but a momentary piercing

of the ever-shifting zeitgeist.”

I would argue that one of these of these essential skills is being able to tell a story and spread your message not only digitally, but in a way as to engage and influence people.  

Pixabay attribution free image +google drawings

Pixabay attribution free image +google drawings

Last year, I began to explore this idea with my small group of Early Years students with a vengeance.

With only 7 children, and a relatively open curriculum, I had the luxury of working individually with each of them (or in small groups) on different digital storytelling projects throughout the year.  Using Book Creator, we began by creating class ebooks based on books read in class.

*Note: I am a huge Book Creator fan.  I have been introducing it to all the first grade students (and their teachers) this past week using this short presentation. Feel free to make a copy/download.

One of these ebooks was our own version of Todd Parr’s, “It’s Okay to be Different.”  Students thought long and hard about what made them different from other students in the class.  One said, “It’s okay to speak Spanish.” Another declared, “It’s okay to call your dad  Mausi.”

IT”S OKAY TO BE DIFFERENT:

Once downloaded as an epub to our ibooks library, and shared to our class blog, the students could view the digital book at any time, just as they might a real book.  They could then view and revisit the ebooks they had created on the ipads, on the desktop and projected onto the wall.

When revisiting their digital stories, I noticed that different digital viewing formats offered different possibilities and extensions of the learning experience. 

Projecting an ebook onto the wall initiated a re-arrangement of chairs for ideal viewing (theatre style.) This sudden re-arrangement of the room provided a provocation for different feelings and connections. The children suddenly felt the seating reflected a train journey, leading to a mini inquiry into riding trains.

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The viewing experience of projecting eBooks onto the wall prompted a completely new inquiry: riding trains!

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Students became focussed on creating their own tickets–those with little interest in print now had an authentic reason to practice their SBB’s. (Swiss Rail System.)

We projected clips of moving trains onto the wall and the children rehearsed packing bags , catching trains, and punching tickets…eventually making their own tickets, using the local Swiss SBB logo as our guide.

Of course this spin off was unrelated to our ebook…but the process of revisiting our work and the way in which we viewed the book prompted an entirely new and unexpected learning inquiry.

We also re-visited our Books as epubs in the iBooks library. (Books created on different iPads were eventually Airdropped onto all other iPads so the students could access all books on any iPad, acting as a traveling library.) The portability of the iPads allowed us to bring them to our Buddy classes.  We shared the stories with a wide range of ages—all of them impressed by our school’s littlest learners.  It also prompted discussion: “Wow, how did you do that?” and provided an opportunity for the students to develop their oral skills.  Other class teachers—viewing over the students’ shoulders, learned something, too and were motivated to create their own ebooks.

We also uploaded all creations to our class blog so they could be shared at home with family members, or at school assemblies.  All comments made by others were revisited in class, helping to build the confidence and perseverance to make more ebooks.

Finally, viewing the ebooks on the desktop helped build other skills—the understanding that different devices provide different views of the same thing, but perhaps more importantly– the patience and fine motor skills required for small hands to maneuver and click with an aging mouse!

With each new ebook we tried to blend a different app or or learn a new process.  

With our next ebook, we focussed on another element of our “All about me Unit”–our favourite things. The children explored the instant alpha tool in a separate photo editing app, Juxtaposer.  We developed our fine motor skills and attention to detail further as students carefully traced around a photo of their bodies to erase the background, before adding it to their favourite page in the book about favourite things. 

ALL ABOUT ME:

Next, we blended video, pictures and sound and tried out the (then new) comic book feature in Book Creator when we made a Quiet and Loud book.  The students needed to think of two juxtaposing ideas for the book–(doors are quiet, but slamming doors are loud…very challenging for 4 year olds–they needed help with this. )  Now familiar with the book making process, the students slowly began taking more ownership of the design elements of making a book—selecting the colours of their page, their font and basic layout:

QUIET AND LOUD:

It was around Thanksgiving when my fabulous Ed Tech Coach, Jocelyn Sutherland brought us an iPad stand.  We immediately jumped into playing around with Stop Motion.  She initially tried a simple claymation technique using playdough…

…which we eventually modified to create the word ‘Happy’ as the “intro” to our class Thanksgiving ebook.  The students developed many literacy and digital skills while making the “title page” alone–

  • letter recognition/formation–we created the letters we used to make the stop motion video in Letter School and learned to take a screen shot
  • importing screen shots into Pic Collage for easy printing
  • more letter formation using playdough
  • intro to spelling–that the letters that make up Thanksgiving must go in certain order
Early Years students learning Stop Motion movie making techniques from 5th Grade Buddies. Photo, my own

Early Years students learning Stop Motion movie making techniques from 5th Grade Buddies. Photo, my own

Interested students learned the process of making stop motion videos using Stop Motion Studio App with the help of our fifth grade buddies.  I documented the entire process in our class blog here.

This began our lengthy exploration into stop motion as a digital story telling tool and prompted the evolution of moving from ebooks to pure movie making magic.  I plan to continue to document and reflect on the learning process in future posts.