Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Experts & Newbies | Bloggers on Project Based Learning: What's up with PBL in the Elementary Grades?

Experts & Newbies | Bloggers on Project Based Learning: What's up with PBL in the Elementary Grades?: "EDITOR'S DESK | John Larmer We're working on a new book about PBL in elementary school, part of BIE's PBL Toolkit Series. As a former high s..."

As Project-Based Learning (PBL) grows, it's nice to see resources that help teachers implement a curriculum structure that helps kids think critically, gain depth, and find context to their lives. I had the chance to read the book prior to publication. Preorder it when it comes available. Well worth reference.

Thanksgiving Parade rejects Mayflower kin | | The Detroit News

Thanksgiving Parade rejects Mayflower kin | | The Detroit News

This article at face value was startling. An organization of direct descendents from the Mayflower colonists are denied a spot in the Thanksgiving Parade? Definitely grabbed my attention. The organization made 4 separate attempts to know what was wrong with their application or other reason why they were not included. While they received no response, the news writer included this quote from Anthony Michaels, president and ceo of the MI Thanksgiving Parade Foundation, who runs the parade:

"We get hundreds of applications from groups and people — all kinds that want to be in the parade," Michaels said.

"We're setting this up to be an entertainment-oriented parade, so we want to make sure everything has entertainment value."

Among the new entries this year are floats from DTE, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Strategic Staffing Solutions. DTE has been a financial backer of the parade for years. The utility's entry this year will be titled "Energy and Our Future."

From The Detroit News:

Hmmm, the red highlights show part of my thinking. Mr. Michaels' comments might be interpreted as saying that Cultural history has not the value of say, Utilities and Insurance companies. One wonders what Project Inquiries students could do around this topic, or perhaps for public understanding of the relationships between culture, politics, and business. When or how should the three be intertwined for effective decision making.

There is another lesson in this experience. I wondered what might be the reason(s) for Mr. Michael's foundation to reject the group. May be the group has a political agenda which its presence might overshadow the focus of the parade--like a protest that they'd spring during the parade. So I did some digging.

1. I googled their name to find their website.
2. Reading through the website, I searched for the organization's agenda, both public and hidden.
3. Searched for links of other groups that are linked to the organization.***
4. Searched for similar groups.***

I couldn't find anything underhanded or subtly sinister. My point for this research reaction is that knee jerk posting creates lots of contentious statements (rants?), which denies a substantive dialog. Having students do due diligence prior to responding is a good tool to hone, especially in this digital age.

*** One place to do this is at Google Advanced Search. Open "Date, usage rights, numeric range, and more". Under "Page-specific tools:" are two options to choose from:
Find pages similar to the page
Find pages that link to the page
Paste a website in either and find out who they are referenced and related too.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

21st Century Learning Skills...Tools for Making it Real

My kids do a lot of problem solving in the games they play. They play online games such as World of Warcraft and Wizards 101 where they work in teams with other players to complete quests. Often the tasks can only be done through collaborative strategy, problem solving, and communication. Lack these skills, a player is mercilessly booted from the team to make room for someone who can fit in this group concept.

They play Farmville with their grandmother. The Facebook game is about growing crops and raising livestock, and selling products for "money" to expand the farm. They barter and exchange goods. They tutor their grandmother in the nuances of the game to gain the most output from their farms.

My youngest used the Nintendo DSi to record podcast stories with friends, sometimes grabbing the digital camcorder to shoot video tales. In Little Big Planet, they create new levels, which are uploaded via the PS3 to share with a global user group.

Many schools politely tell children to leave these tools and skills outside the building.

In unstructured time, they use 21st Century Skills but lack deep understanding metacognitively. How can anyone hone expertise if they don't know the structures for what they do? In school, where they spend 7 hours a day--almost half of their waking time, these skills are little practiced. Often instruction is the conversation between teacher and student, or content is delivered by the teacher with few opportunities for students to discover the content themselves through inquiry. Students need "mucking about" time with concepts. Traditional teaching tends to be a "I told you about xyz". Telling is theoretical. Doing is permanent.

Here are a variety of tools that can support students practicing communication, collaboration, and critical thinking with in a learning context, which benefits them for academic achievement and life skills in a global community.

Team Building
Students need practices in these skills, especially communication and collaboration. Teambuilding and icebreakers can be effective when students do multiple experiences, and reflect after each session.

Free Online Communication

Voice or video chat: Now students and outside experts and mentors can have conversation around the work anywhere, anytime, and for free. Students can maintain collaboration experiences while not in the same building or country.


Rubrics are excellent tools for assessing students' growth in 21st Century Skills. It's important that students are part of the evaluation process, both of themselves and their team members. A good rubric brings clarity to expectations.


Blogging is a way for students to comment to a broader audience, publish works and ideas, and engage in relevant dialog. Blogger integrates well with users of Google tools and apps. WordPress also has great functions.

Reviewer Publications

Students need avenues to voice their opinions. Shape and express ideas to a general audience based on their learning of the current curriculum and learning targets.

Collaborative Editing & File Sharing

Resources for asynchronous sharing and real-time editing of data are important for developing and refining ideas during and outside of school.

Survey and Polling Tools

During inquiry, students need tools to more efficiently gather data from peers and other audiences who can inform their explorations of study. All are online.

Creating, Collaborating, and Publishing Content

There are social network tools that students use to exchange ideas and develop content such as Twitter and Facebook. Wikis are great for developing a Social Education site where students and teachers can share ideas, develop content, and problem solve. All within an environment used for learning and exploration through the 21st Learning Skills. (Example would be this very site)

Web 2.0 Tools

To develop 21st Century skills as educators we need to learn and use the tools ourselves.