Sometimes when you start out a project, you're not sure of where it will end up. For our personal projects for our inventions unit, this was very much the case. I had an idea of how to go about it. But how it would actually unfold, that was a big question mark.
On Friday, I was a very proud teacher of my students. They showcased their personal projects including their process journals and a variety of ways to present their findings as products to parents, students and administrators.
Before we shared our work with the wider school community, each student had the opportunity to share to their classmates. Was I ever blown away by the level of thought and effort my students had put into their projects. As each student stood up to share their work, there was a very evident sense of pride in their work. They each shared their work with confidence in a way they hadn't done before. They spoke about their research, their findings, their passion for learning.
No two projects were alike, no two students had shared the same learning journey but yet the amount of knowledge and understanding was phenomenal.
I loved seeing the students so excited to share their work with their parents and the parents were just as proud of them as I was. One of my favourite moments of the day was when a mother approached me with teary eyes to tell me how incredible it was to see how much work her daughter had done on the project and how much she had grown through the process. It made my heart warm.
My students are so proud of it that they don't want to stop sharing and we are going to continue to share with our buddy class on Monday.
This project has made me come away with some important lessons:
1. Student choice is a way to get students to buy-in to learning.
When students choose what they learn, how they will learn it and how they will present their findings, they often do more and to a higher quality. When they feel the internal want to learn, it doesn't even feel like work. Sometimes simply giving students a framework is all they need. I told them they had to pick a topic, show their learning process and create a product in the end but beyond that, their learning choices were completely in their hands.
2. Focus on skills leads to better results.
This unit of inquiry, I spent less time focused on content and more time on skills. My students learned about different ways to gather research and the importance of process vs. product. They explored different technology tools and ways of presenting their work. We discussed time management, organization and how others can be critical friends for each others. We looked at making small manageable goals each day and each week rather than taking on the project as a whole. We focused on gathering research questions that drive your learning, rather than just looking at everything. Through all of these conversations and discussions, not once did I say you have to tell me the past, present and future of your invention or why we need that invention or who invented it or when was it invented. While a lot of those things were discovered through the project, so was a lot of other information.
3. An unknown direction can work.
I've always been taught plan with the end in mind. However, this time, I wasn't sure what the end would look like or even what the project would be like week by week or even if it would be a multiple week project. This project became larger than expected and better than expected. It never meant to be an exhibition or a project the students spent hours on. Sometimes its okay to go with the flow and have something evolve as you go. Sometimes I don't have to plan everything (which I feel more comfortable doing) and still know that the final result will work out in the end.
After 5 weeks of learning, it all came together on one day in one room. Everyone left that Friday beaming with pride and excitement. Not every day does what you are doing make sense, but on that day, the final piece of the puzzle as we ended our unit fit perfectly.
There's something to be said about students doing what they want to do. When students are engaged their learning is far superior. My Tuesday was all planned out as usual but I wasn't sure if we were going to be able to Skype another class or not so I simply left a question mark on the schedule for the day. Of course when the kids came in that morning, they asked what the question mark was and I said I wasn't sure yet and we could decide later. What I didn't expect was to be greeted with pleas of doing their 'home learning' work for a period. Of course sticking with the attitude I've taken on this year (Go With What The Students Want), I said sure. Little did I know what would transpire.
Let's take it back 3 weeks ago though before I get there. I had gotten back from my trip to Vietnam and inspired to change up my homework from my visit to a friend's classroom at the International School of Ho Chi Minh City, I decided to try this 'home learning' approach but wanted to take it a little slower the first time round to see what would happen.
The first week I gave my students the question "How have inventions changed to impact our lives?". From there, I asked them what they thought about that question and what they already knew. We decided to focus our question a little bit more individually and each of them came up with an overarching question they wanted to explore. Topics included how makeup changed to impact our lives, food colouring and even refrigerators. Then we explored where we could gather our information from using our new MISO Charts. Media - videos, websites, pictures, books, magazines, etc., Interviews - family, friends, teachers, experts. Survey - what survey questions would gather good data. Observations - what could we see and learn about. It was amazing that the students weren't familiar with resources outside of the internet really. So one of the first things we did was take a trip to the library and learn how to find books using the online catalogue and the dewy decimal system. This week we also brainstormed a list of other questions that would help them answer their larger question.
As we began week 2, we had some serious discussions about our mountain analogy of needing to help everyone get to the top of the mountain but more importantly, the process of getting to the top was more important than actually being at the top. As we explored the topic of process journals, my students explored our DP students Art Books and added postits in it of ideas and strategies of how we could present the information we found in our process journals. This included things like various charts, labels of pictures, timelines, more than one draft, building lists of ideas etc. Then it was time for them to be like the DP students and begin their own journey through the process. We had some time in class but primarily it was something they could work on at home. To be honest, by the end of the 2nd week when we checked in as a class and reflected on our work, I was a little disappointed my students hadn't gotten into more. I thought for sure if they had chosen their topic they would want to learn more about it. Puzzled by it, I decided to forge on and give them another week of exploring their topic with research. I was curious to understand if it was just because this was the first time we were doing it or if I just wasn't putting the right spin on in.
The third week I tried something a little different. I had more checkins daily. Each day we would check in to see what they had accomplished the night/day before in class. I started sharing more of what some students had produced with the class and sharing more about different strategies they could use. Instantly, I had students coming into school each morning wanting to show me what they had done in school so I could show the class their work. I also had students begging me to give them more time in class to work on it. By the end of the week, I was flipped in my thinking and completely amazed by the depth some students had gone into. The students were learning with their parents too asking them question about the project but more importantly sharing what they were learning and developing that home school connection.
So now we are into our fourth week where students have now turned their process into a product and what an array of assignments that have started to take form! We have PowToons, bulletin boards, books, models, presentations, documents, Wordles, diagrams, iMovie, pictures and so much more. The quality of their work has gone up and the students are really excited to share what they've learnt. It also gave me a lot of opportunity to have discussions with students about the presentation of their work. How does the sizes of their titles impact its effect? What about colour and organization? How fast should the speed of text on a slide be in order for the reader to view the presentation/video?
That question mark on Tuesday that barely found it's way into the schedule that day for a period turned into an entire afternoon. When it was time for break, my students just wanted to keep going. When break ended and I said it was time for our Math Battle, they begged to keep going... and going... and going... right until the end of the day. Who am I to get in the way of their learning? Every child was engaged in 2.5 hours of work that they wanted to do. They are learning more than I could have planned for and will ultimately teach each other more than I could cover. They are inspired to research, take notes and then share their knowledge.
Next week we plan on presenting our findings to the class with our final products. My class would like to hold an exhibition and invite other classes in. Again, not something I had thought of at all but will go with what they want and see where it goes. I am excited to see what the final products turn out to be after 4 weeks of hard work from them.
At the end of the day, cancelling a few lessons for the sake of student choice and voice was just what my kids needed. Perhaps what I need more of is just a few more afternoons of those amazing little question marks.
This past Friday, our class had a pretty big deadline. We had to finish our personal narratives, to turn them into audio books, then create and lead assembly followed by a parent share time in our classroom.
No pressure at all.
By the Monday, we had all finished our final copies of our personal narratives but most students were still on the creating of the audio recordings. It became a bit more complicated than expected when we decided to record in iMovie first. This would allow us to reduce the background noise. Then we had to save it as a file, open it in QuickTime and save audio only before importing into Garageband. From there, students were able to edit and add effects to their recordings. Some students chose to record directly into Garageband, however, it created its only problems when students forgot to unselect the metronome and had clicking sounds going throughout the entire recording.
On Tuesday, it was time to look at the assembly, even though some were not done yet. Our class brainstormed a hefty list of ideas they wanted to do, as they always do which included:
- news report about how to make a personal narrative
- commercial advertising their stories
- original music for their news report
One thing to remember is that the news report and commercial had every person in it (as per their request). The students broke into teams and started on their plan. The editors started setting up in iMovie and the videographers got into position with their ipods to record. Due to the time crunch, I wanted to have all the recording for the commercial done by the end of the day. Maybe not the most realistic but still. I found myself slowly creeping into the driver's seat as I tried to move from having one group record in front of the green screen after the next. With limited time, it's easy sometimes to slip back into old habits of guiding the situation more than you should or really need to. Sometimes it's easier to lead because you can get to the same teaching point faster and have the same outcome as your students.
At some point I realised this and put a student in charge of getting the rest of the recording done. Therefore it wasn't coming from me any more with directions. Of course, it continued in the same manner. I really hadn't made the process any more efficient. It is more powerful for them to have more ownership of their work.
I hadn't seen the commercial in 2 days and so I wandered over to the child who was working on it. I was completely blown away. I had no idea he had the tech skills to do what he did - without my help at that.
Then we started brainstorming for our parent visit. They were so thoughtful of their parents and really wanted to make coming to the classroom an 'experience' for them. They carefully planned games, chose songs to dance to and decided how to set up the room. They created a welcome banner and also organised a presentation to explain the events of the afternoon.
I again would have liked more time to see where the students could have pushed themselves farther but sometimes you don't have those extra few minutes. While they executed their plan well, I would've liked to give them more time to practice before their parents came.
Sometimes holding on to what you think you (and your students) need is what you don't need. Be willing to take a risk with your students and see where they lead you. Because chances are, what they'll do on their own, will be far more than you expected of them.
A couple of weeks ago a group of 5 girls in my class were outside drawing at lunch. I wandered over to them to see what they were up to. "Ms. Mac, we are drawing unipigs and we want to have a unipig day!" Puzzled on what a unipig was, I inquired further - a pig and a unicorn all in one. I asked the girls if this 'day' was going to happen at home or at school.
"Can it happen at school?" was what I heard in response with the 5 innocent faces looking back at me. For a moment I paused and pondered before replying with, "Sure...But there has to be an educational component to it." From there it just took off!
That night the girls went home and by 5pm, they were on a Google presentation collaborating, commenting and coming up with how they were going to make this day happen. Within 30 minutes, they had already planned 2 lessons and created a Google presentation to use for their lesson. The document was shared with me by the time I got home from work and I sat there amazed at what had just happened.
The next day the first question I got from them was when was this going to happen. Putting the breaks on for just a second, I suggested that we meet to go over what they had planned and then we could discuss a date. At the break, we gathered in the conference room the 5 of them on one side me the other and they began talking me through their plans.
First up was a math lesson. They were going to create a menu of all the different cupcakes, cakes and beverages offered at the Decimal Dessert. Students would solve problems based on the open and closed word problem questions the girls had come up with. For the second lesson, the girls were going to have everyone design a cupcake in their writing books. Then, everyone would have to write a story incorporating the cupcake with the focus on developing their senses with taste, touch, smell, sight and sound. It sounded reasonable to me and we planned for the following Wednesday to be the day.
The excitement continued to build as the girls created more drawing for the day and modified their menu up until the last moment.
On the day, it was a very different experience for me as I stepped into the student role and actually did their lessons. I was incredibly proud of the girls and the way they conducted the lesson from start to finish. When students' hands went up, they were right there for support and even marked as they went. I loved that one when one student raised his hand and said excuse me and our PYP coordinator went to see if he could help, the student said he was actually wanting to ask the 'teachers' a question which gave me a good chuckle.
The biggest challenge for the girls was their excitement. They were all so excited by the event that they sometimes would talk over each other when giving the lesson. But how can you fault enthusiasm really?
It was a very reflective experience for me as well. As I did the lessons as a student, it reminded me of the little things that are helpful for the student to understand the instructions and tasks better. It was also interesting to see the girls modelling what I would normally do as well - the way they got the classes' attention, how they addressed students, approaches to questions. I saw the classroom truly through the eyes of my students.
Beyond this afternoon, I have had more students wanting to take risks and share. Two days after, I had a boy come in with a presentation about some action outside of the classroom that he created and wanted to share and I received an email from another student asking if she could present something she designed on the weekend. Perhaps sometimes it just takes one small step sideways to begin leaping forward.
I am glad I let go of the class for the afternoon and handed it over to the girls. It meant so much to them and they were so proud of what they accomplished individually and together. They developed their presentation skills, reflected on their work, communicated their ideas to others and challenged their peers academically. And the fact the girls also organised to each bring a few cupcakes in for the celebration to end the lesson was just the icing on the cake.
Finally, done (ish). Or so I thought. In my mind, my website was ready to show my students and we could begin using it as a resource for learning and sharing within our classroom and with the greater community.
We have been studying communication for the past week so I did a lesson about how visuals, colours and logos can communicate certain ideas and feelings. I then showed my students our new site and said, "What do you think?" Their reaction - it was good but parts of it were boring because it didn't show them as a class. Secretly as a teacher I was thrilled about this response and had even hoped for it. So I simply asked, "What do you like? What do you want to change?" and that is when the real magic began.
My students told me that this website should have more of 'them' throughout it. So they split into teams and each took on a part of the website. A few students started to create a new banner for the class site. It was important to them that they identified us as 5EM and include our school crest. This was who they were and conveying that on the homepage was important to them.
Also on the homepage, they wanted to have a class picture. So of course what else would we be but have a class photo shoot? It was great to see their personalities shine.
One of the best things I felt they did was create an introduction video for our homepage using iPods to record the video and iMovie to create the video. The video was inclusive of every student where each student said hello. The team in charge of the video wanted to celebrate the different languages spoken within our class. Any student who could speak another language said hello in their language. I felt that showed the diversity of our class and our identity as a real community coming together from various backgrounds. As part of this video, another team created an original piece of music using GarageBand. The students tried to included different instruments and think about what message the music could convey. Together, the two groups merged their products and the music was added to their iMovie project.
We used a number of pictures the students had taken on their digital scavenger hunt the week before to be part of the banners on each of the other pages. They wanted to see their faces on every page and I couldn't agree more! I love having the students be the photographer in my class and seeing the class through their eyes.
There is a section where I(the teacher) am supposed to update my students' parents on what is happening in our class and what is coming up next. I told my students this spot should probably stay. But of course, my students asked where they could share their thoughts of the week. Good question! So I threw it back at them - How did they want to share with their parents and friends? The word collaboration was key to them - everyone needed access to it and everyone needed to be able to help each other easily within it. A Google Document was one option but it would be a little messy some students thought. So another student suggested Google Presentation. Bingo! The solution to our problem. The students asked that I create a template where each student got 1 slide to decorate, create and comment on. This is how the weekly 5EM Files was born. It is now going to be an optional activity for the students that can be done as part of their weekly homework or if they finish their work and have some free time. All of this was their idea and it was a little shocking they all agreed to doing more work. Who would've thought that something that was dreamed up by my students late Thursday afternoon would blossom into a full class participation activity by Friday afternoon? Is it perfect? No. Is the spelling all correct? No. Is the grammar all correct? No. Punctuation? No. BUT... those are conversations that can be had in the future. Those are conversations that students can have with each other. Those are conversations that can foster teamwork and further collaboration in the future. Students will be able to learn the need for peer review before publishing a piece of work. It is more about the process than the product in my classroom.
The final piece of the students took ownership over when the icons that linked students to the different resource page. All of the icons originally looked like the PYP UOI icon below until my students said they wanted to make their own. In design teams again, they decided what image could convey the specific subject. Using iPods, they took the photos and then imported to their Macbooks. In Preview, the students cropped the images to become circle images and I was able to add them to our sites. They each link to a separate page full of different resources for that subject.
I love that my class was so engaged in this process and focused on making what they wanted a reality. Our website is now a place that is just as much theirs as mine. They are proud of the work they created and are excited to bring their parents to the site over the weekend. What I am most proud of my class for is not just creating their website, rather, working together as a class community in an inclusive manner to create something that they feel they have ownership of, that they were able to use their skills and prior knowledge in a meaningful way and that they realised that everyone in our class has something to offer.