Tech4Learning is once again privileged to host a High Tech High Intern in the month of January. On Thursday, I got to meet this year's intern, Nicholas Harding, to help discuss and plan the work that he might do while at Tech4Learning.
I think I have an idea role at Tech4Learning to lead an internship because I am involved in: marketing, curriculum, training, and media devleopment. This makes it is easy for me to come up with a range of tasks students could complete as part of an internship. But which ones are interesting and allow them to create something that demonstrates how their skills and hard work can create something valuable?
Last year, our HTH intern Jacob Meyer designed beautiful backgrounds like this one that are now part of the media library in Tech4Learning tools!
As Nicholas and I began talking about his interests, I could see that he loved writing. Not writing for marketing, but writing stories and interesting, imaginative stories.
As a company that provides creative tools for students, we have lots of potential tools for telling a story. While I love digital storytelling with Frames, I didn't think this was the format that would most interest him.
I have always loved Choose Your Own Adventure© style stories and suggested this as a potential format, showing him how you could design this type of story in Share using a basic template.
It was fun to watch his mind start buzzing as he shared two archetypal characters he likes write from and how he might use this format to intersect their stories. When we began looking at what sort of deliverables he could write down for each week on his internship form, the scope of doing real project work hit me once again.
Many of the teams at Tech4Learning use an Agile system to help manage projects and time. This system comes out of software development, but we use it many different areas to manage projects done by our marketing, curriculum, and creative team.
Once of the things I like about our scheduler is that it forces us to take a look at the actual steps to success as well as estimate the time we think it will take to complete them. As we looked at trying to break up the process into component parts, the month-long intership started looking way to short!
I was struck by how much planning for the internship reflects the process of planning for project work in the classroom.
The rest of the day my mind began buzzing with ideas. Not ideas for the project (ownership of that belongs to the intern), but things I could be thinking about to encourage other students and educators to tackle big projects like this in the classroom. I even discovered that I had arleady written a lesson on writing a Choose Your Own Path lesson plan!
First, as a company that produces blank-screen software, a final product like this helps clarify they type of things that can be done when students are given license to take time to create. This would have the potential to inspire teachers to support projects like this in the classroom and to set expectations for students about the type of work they can and should be producing.
But even more than thinking about the final product, I am excited to witness the process of creating something at this level and to see where watching and supporting Nicholas's process takes me, the mentor!
The Common Core State Standards for Mathematics begin with eight Standards for Mathematical Practice. These aren't content standards, but behaviors, expertise, and habits of mind necessary for successful work with math. Great math instruction pairs content standards with these standards of practice to ensure student success with math.
In preparing for an upcoming workshop on Implementing the Standards for Mathematical Practice, I was trying to find some specific practical actions to help educators successfully instill these habits of mind in their students.
While teacher modeling, task selection, and discussions are crucial to success in these areas, I found myself circling back to questioning strategies again and again. (Too much time with Bloom's?)
Here are examples of the types of questions you can ask to build student expertise in the area of focus for each Standard for Mathematical Practice.
1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
• Before we move on, are we sure we understand this?
• What are our options?
• Do we have a plan?
• Are we making progress or should we reconsider?
• Why do we think this is true?
2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
• What if...?
• How else can we...?
• Does this always work? Why?
3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
• Why do you think it's true?
• What is an acceptable argument?
• Does this always work?
4. Model with mathematics.
• How could we break this down?
• What does this remind you of?
• What do the numbers show?
• How are the values similar? Different?
5. Use appropriate tools strategically.
• What can we use to...?
• What else can we use to...?
• What would work the best?
• What can't we do with this?
6. Attend to precision.
• Should we recheck our work?
• Is it appropriate to estimate?
• Is this quality work?
7. Look for and make use of structure.
• What is happening here?
• What goes together?
• What can we do first?
• Can we break it down? How?
8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.
• Can you describe what is happening?
• How is that the same? Different?
• How is that different?
• Where did we see that before?
• What do you think will happen next?
While student expertise with math still requires deep understanding of the math
content standards, building these behaviors and habits of mind help provide them
with the disposition to "see themselves as capable of learning mathematics and using
it to solve problems." (Adding It Up: Helping Children Learn Mathematics)
Asking questions might just be the best modeling you can do, since the ability to ask effective questions is essential to success with math.
One of the more subtle features in Pixie 4 is the addition of a Backgrounds folder to the Library. Unlike clip art stickers, which float above the paint layer, backgrounds exist behind the paint layer. In essence, that means you can paint over a background without destroying it!
To access the Backgrounds, select the Library button on the toolbar.
You will see folders for habitats, locations, story scenes, writing, and more.
Find a background you want to use and drag it onto the page just like you would a sticker. The image will fill the entire background. Now you can easily use the paint tools to illustrate characters and events on the scene.
For example, have students design or illustrate themselves as narrators or tour guides at famous locations around the world or in different periods in history.
In the Classroom
Yes it may be quicker to add clip art, than use the Paint tools, but creating original illustrations with the paint tools makes project work unique to the creator. While the process of adding clip art to the page is quicker, sometime searching for unique or specific clip art images or photos eats up valuable time. Original illustrations and diagrams can also help you gain insight into students understanding and comprehension.
The backgrounds in the media library are great for projects where students:
- Paint plants and animals in a biome
- Show a complete food chain in the context of a habitat
- Draw themselves exploring sites around the world
- Send themselves back in time
- Trace the routes of explorers or animal migrations
- Write and illustrate a story
Create your own story starters
Staring at a blank page, whether it is a sheet of paper or screen on the computer, is not the easiest way to trigger imagination or get students writing. To spark ideas, add the background to different pages in a Pixie project and save it as a template.
For example, in this story starter, available from the Trading Post, there are 4 pages with a uper hero theme to help students begin writing their own story.
All images are backgrounds so it is easy to add text and paint to each page. Use the storyboard view to duplicate and rearrange.
The Pixie 4 media library is added to on a regular basis (I added 4 more backgrounds today), so new additions will continue to inspire your students.
Pixie is pretty easy to use. You can see that when a lab full of Kindergartners is buzzing as the latest feature discovery sweeps around the room. But with young learners whose brains and skills are still developing, you may want to try to make their experience even easier!.
You can make changes in the Pixie 4 preferences to change what students can see and do. You will find the preferences on Macs under the Pixie menu and on Windows under the Edit menu.
Adjust the number of recent projects
If you are concerned about students ability to navigate to open files, increase the number of recent documents that Pixie displays under the Project menu. That way, when students click Project and Open, they are likely to see their files.
Set the default panel to show the Paint tools
Most projects with young learners involve drawing and painting. By default, Pixie opens to the Option panel. At the General Preferences, use the Open to: pull-down to choose Painting.
Now when young users launch Pixie the Paint tools show immediately. Here is a sample from Aspen at age 2. She already found the 3D paintbrush. Now at age 3, she loves to explore the spray can shapes and add letters and numbers as well as butterflies and hearts.
Remove Sharing options you aren't using
If students will not be collaborating on the same file, exporting to FTP, or publishing their work to K12Share, turn these options off in the Features Preferences. This will remove these buttons from the Project menu and Export panel!
Choose what shows in the Library panel
In Project View, you can also hide things you might not use too often. For example, in the New panel, you may want to hide Specialty (sizes) and even Pics4Learning to simplify choices.
In the Open panel, you might also choose to hide options like Desktop. If you have already set the Recent Documents high enough, students may have to scroll to see these anyway and you may not feel you need to hide them. Students with more experience, can always click Show to see more option.
Create your own activities
Pixie comes with hundreds of pre-designed curriculum templates, and easy to create your own. You can create activities with locked objects, default text boxes, and even custom sticker captions. You can also use Save as Activity to simply include instructions students can listen to (Options menu, Edit Instructions) or open a blank document with a specific Stickers folder already open (Project>Current>Default Library Category).
Once you have created the activity, go to the File menu and choose Save as Activity. Since activities automatically Save As, simply put it on the Desktop or in a common folder for students to open and use. If the save using their name as part of the file name, it will be easy to find in recent documents if they need to work on it later!
And don't forget to join the Trading Post! The Trading Post is Tech4Learning's file swapping site that included hundreds of educator-created Pixie templates.
Customize even more!
These subtle changes to Pixie will make it even easier for your youngest users. Here are more instructions if you want to customize even more.
October 13-19 is Earth Science Week! Here are some ideas for creative projects to engage students in Earth Science topics included in the Next Generation Science standards and build informational text skills and writing skills included in the Common Core State Standards.
Editor's Note: Best ideas for authentic project work are in the Issues section at the end.
1. Sun and Spheres
Create a digital textbook on how the sun’s energy affects each part of the Earth’s spheres: lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere.
2. It’s Going to Erupt!
Create a news report about an upcoming volcanic eruption. Be sure to include an interview with a geologist explaining why they think the volcano is about to erupt and the hazards that will follow.
3. Greenhouse Gases
Diagram and explain how greenhouse gases affect how the Earth’s atmosphere traps heat energy from the sun.
Find more videos like this on Tech4Learning
4. Topsoil Label
Design a label for a bag of topsoil. Be sure to include reasons to buy this bag, state how and where it formed, give its composition, and suggest how it can be used.
5. Cave Development
Choose a limestone cave, such as Mammoth Cave in Kentucky or Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Design a brochure or interactive kiosk that can be used by visitors to the park to learn more about how the cave formed, what features they will see and how these features developed.
6. Mass Movement
Create an animated simulation demonstrating the impact landslides, mudflows, slump, or crepp has on the environment.
Until the 1960’s there was widespread skepticism about continental drift. Create an animation demonstrating how Pangaea formed and then broke apart, describing the process and including details to overcome skepticism.
8. It’s Not My Fault
Create an animated presentation on the main types of faults: normal, reverse, and strike-slip faults. Describe each fault and create an animated simulation to show how they move.
9. Enormous Eruptions
Create an interactive presentation that illustrates a cross-section of a volcano, labeling the magma chamber, pipe, vent, crater, and lava. Animate the process of an eruption.
10. Get in Front of the Weather
Illustrate and animate the four different types of fronts: cold, warm, stationary, and occluded. Be sure to include the direction it is moving and the kind of weather at each type.
11. The Rock Cycle
Tell the story of the rock cycle from the perspective of an igneous, metamorphic, or sedimentary rock. You might also show a drop of water in the water cycle or nitrogen through its cycle.
Find more videos like this on Tech4Learning
12. Journey to the Center of the Earth
Write a narrative for a trip to the center of the Earth, describing each layer you are travelling through and how the temperature and pressure are changing. Be sure to include diagrams and even animation.
13. Ocean Expedition
Tell the story of a visit to a mid-ocean ridge in an underwater ocean vessel like the Alvin, including the features of the ocean floor near and along the ridge.
14. Volcanic Docudrama
People have lived near volcanoes for thousands of years. Choose a major eruption and tell the story of the eruption. Be sure to include benefits of living near volcanoes such as hot springs, and rich top soil.
15. I am the Fog
Craft an original narrative that personifies fog, addressing how it forms as well as the impact it has on coastal and valley communities of plants, animals, and people.
16. President of the Spheres
Who should be president of the Earth’s spheres? The sun? Oxygen? Craft an argument that includes reasons why your chosen component is most crucial to the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere.
17. The Best Real Estate
Use what you know about weather and climate to inform others where they might want to buy a home depending on the weather they like. Be sure to include climate zones, leeward and windward sides of mountain ranges, altitude, and ocean currents.
18. Hybrid Haven
Many states, and even cities, are looking at sponsoring and promoting the use of hybrid cars. Explore the advantages and disadvantages of these vehicles and craft an argument about the costs involved and whether this is money well spent.
19. Drought and Soil
A severe drought in a farming region threatens to produce another Dust Bowl. Create a public service announcement about soil conversation. It should identify the danger of soil loss due to erosion. It should also describe the steps farmers can take to conserve the soil.
20. Flood Plains
Should the government insure everyone against flood damage? Should there be rules restricting where houses can be built? Research the controversy around flood plains and housing. Develop a plan to reduce damage that includes costs and who should pay for them.
21. Earthquake Assessment
Earthquakes cause damage to buildings and other structures. In an area with frequent earthquakes, list the top 3 structures that should be seismic safe and describe ways to modify them to make them able to withstand serious earthquakes.
22. Energy Conservation
Explore how your school uses energy. Choose one type of energy use and develop a plan that summarizes your findings and proposes suggestions for reducing energy use in this area.
Young students are often asked to retell stories. In fact, from Kindergarten to Grade 3, the Common Core Standards explicitly ask students to be able to “retell [recount] stories." While this may not be the most engaging student task, it is one of the most straightforward ways to assess reading comprehension.
While you can easily find activities online that you can print and have students put familiar stories in sequence, this doesn't help student develop a passion for reading literature or gaining knowledge. Take a hint from the maker movement and excite students in retelling by asking them to create and customize. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Create an ebook library
Instead of distributing a worksheet asking students to put scenes in order, have students publish their retellings as electronic books. Post these on your schools web site or iTunes stream to create a digital collection. Distribute the books to other students in the class for examples of authentic leveled readers! Who knows how to create a text both interesting to and written at the level of a first grader better than an actual first grader?
Retell in comic form
Retelling stories through the comic genre is a lot more exciting than a worksheet! The visual nature of comics helps students cement ideas through nonlinguistic representation. Because of the limited space for text in a panel students must summarize, helping them learn to analyze the content of the story and evaluate which information is critical to share, an instructional strategy backed by research. (Marzano et al., 2001).
Extend stories with patterns
And its never to early to ask students to be authors themselves. Books with repeating patterns (a hallmark of literature for emerging readers) like Mary Wore Her Red Dress by Merle Peek are perfect starting point for young authors. As you read the stories, the cadence of your voice and intonation will help them feel the pattern. Explicitely identify the pattern, and have them customize their own page. You can even start with a template, like this one my son came home with in Kindergarten.
Find more videos like this on Tech4Learning
Adapt a favorite story
Students in grades K-12 are expected to be able to "determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development" (Reading Anchor Standard 2) as well as "read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts" (Reading Anchor Standards 10). In the early grades this translates as more direct retelling, but if students truly comprehend ideas and themes, have them create their own adaptations of a story.
You see this in the common teacher practice of reading Cinderella stories from around the world or when students modernize a fairy tale. You can also have students create new endings to familiar stories or create variations of the same story. Melissa Aspinwall's 2nd-grade class at Taylor’s Creek Elementary in Hinesville, Georgia used Jan Brett's The Mitten as a model for their class story called The Adventure Hat, which showcases student learning about the animals and habitat in their region of Georgia.
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Combining visuals with text gives students an opportunity to demonstrate learning without struggling to tell their story using only words. Recording student’s narration provides an opportunity for nonthreatening practice as they record, listen, record again, listen, and finally save. The recordings also provide performances you can use to assess fluency.
While there are lots of standards out there that touch on retelling, take it a step further and personalize retelling into metelling. Yes, including photos of students as characters in the story is a great way to engage them in the story, but I am thinking more along the lines of first person accounts that demonstrate point of view and empathy.
In a literature context, this means going beyond identifying character traits and taking on the role of one of the characters. To give this an authentic spin, have students create a digital scrapbook for a character. Many kids have seen their parents creating scrapbooks about their lives. Yes students should collect photographs and visuals that relate to character traits and events, but developing a scrapbook for a particular character provides students an opportunity to:
What students choose to put in the scrapbooks will indicate their knowledge about the character and their actions. They can include quotes from texts they are reading as well as write journal entries from the first-person perspective.
Writing in this way helps them develop empathy, a skill essential to design thinking and 21st century success.
Rather than a biography ABOUT a person or even a documentary on a time period, increase the thinking involved by having students create a docudrama about a specific person from history or animal in a particular habitat. This form of metelling is a great way to combine informational/expository and narrative writing in Science and Social Studies. It also provides a compelling opportunity to go beyond using information text to transforming it into a compelling narrative.
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When retelling involves creating, student work looks and feels like the products they see in the world around them. Having students create to retell and put themselves into the retelling, motivates and engages them by providing a more personal connection to the content they are learning in the classroom.
From the moment they wake up in the morning, animated cartoons and powerful digital stories surround our students. Animation and digital storytelling provide a myriad of opportunities for high-level performance tasks that engage students in Common Core Standards for English Language Arts.
Having students create content-rich and learning-focused animations and digital stories connects the work they do in the classroom to their media-rich world in which they live!
While animation and digital storytelling imply a focus on technology, projects that involve them are all about writing. In particular, creating an animation or digital story provides students with opportunities to write in all three forms mentioned in the standards: argument, informational/explanatory, and narrative. (Appendix A, page 23).
Here are a few examples of writing projects you can support with an animation and digital storytelling tool like Frames.
Video Biographies – Informational/Explanatory, Narrative
Many students are familiar with documentaries have watched Ken Burns Baseball series or have seen an A&E Biography on television. Asking students to take research information and transform it into a compelling story for a video biography lets them see how media often blurs the lines between information and narrative. Playing with this helps make writing more interesting and empowers students to be more critical consumers of information.
Find more videos like this on Tech4Learning
Student-created Tutorials – Informational/Explanatory
In a flipped classroom, students explore a variety of resources (such as videos, web sites, simulations) at home and then return to class to address misconceptions and explore additional questions with their teacher. One way to help students cement information in the classroom is to have students write and create their own explanatory tutorials. Elementary teacher, Katy Hammack found this was a great way to get students to practice grammar.
Using and publishing these student-created tutorials demonstrates that you value student time and effort and that the work they are producing in school has meaning.
Public Service Announcements - Informational/Explanatory & Argument
The Common Core Standards emphasize a student’s ability to write sound arguments as crucial to college and career readiness. Writing persuasively requires students to both comprehend and analyze information, learning to think critically. When students watch television, or even online videos which almost always start with ads, they see numerous public service announcements.
A PSA is designed to get people to change their behavior on important issues, making them relevant practice in argumentative writing. Ellen Phillips and Marielle Crespo, educators in NYC, asked their students to help raise awareness about trash at a local playground. The students felt empowered by the response their PSAs generated from the community, including a local Park Ranger.
Another great project for argument, informational/expository, and even narrative writing is to have students promote a book they have read through a movie-style book trailer.
Focus on Research and Informational Text
The Common Core Standards for English Language Arts “insist that instruction in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language be a shared responsibility within the school.” We see this most prominently in the additional of Reading: Informational Text standards which apply not only to English Language Arts but across the subject areas.
Science and Social Studies, with their wealth of information, data, and primary sources are great places to implement animation and digital storytelling projects that require students to “gather, comprehend, evaluate, synthesize, and report on information and ideas.”
Historical Docudramas - Informational/Explanatory, Narrative
Primary sources “require both the use of technology and by nature are authentic and complex.” Creating a docudrama using primary sources like letters, diaries, and essays from historical figures, helps students build empathy and learn how to add “voice” to their narratives.
Find more videos like this on Tech4Learning
Creating an animated or video interview is another great way to have students utilize primary sources and informational text as they combine explanatory and narrative text writing.
The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts also state, "The need to conduct research and to produce and consume media is embedded into every aspect of today’s curriculum" so that students develop the ability to “analyze and create a high volume and extensive range of print and nonprint texts in media forms old and new.”
What more fun way, for both you and your students, than animation and digital storytelling!
The beginning of school is always a fun and crazy time. Kids are winding down from summer break (as are you) and schedules and classes are still getting settled. But with all of the business, setting the tone for a year of making with Pixie and Wixie is important.
While Pixie and Wixie might be just about the easiest tools for elementary students to learn, they are open-ended which means you and your students still have to decide what to do!
Here are eight ideas for first projects to get students using technology, including information about software skills they have to learn to complete them.
Sorting Activities - Click and drag
If you are working with primary age students who do not yet know how to use Pixie or Wixie, have them begin with some simple sorting activities to evaluate their knowledge and understanding as well as ability to use a mouse. Both Pixie and Wixie include a Month-by-Month section with a folder for September which includes basic activities like Pack Your Backpack, Seasons Sort, Home or School, and Johnny Appleseed apple sort.
Introducing My Family - Paint and add clip art
Whenever you introduce new technology skills, you need to stay light on content. You can't ask students to do heavy lifting in both areas at the same time. This is why All About Me projects are so popular for introducing a new technology! Pixie and Wixie contain an All About My Family template students can use to practice with paint tools and stickers.
Even though primary-age students will not be reading a tutorial, use the steps in the Level 1 Recipe so that you, or a classroom aide, are familiar with the steps in the process. You can find tutorials online for using Pixie to make this project on Windows and OSX. This tutorial is in the training tab in Wixie.
This recipe ends with students printing a table tent, which makes for a fun way of sharing information about students through a classroom walk. If you are using Wixie, students can still print the table tents, but can also share the project online with classmates and family.
There is also a longer six-page All About Me project that repeats many of the same skills and makes for an adorable movie.
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First Week Greeting Card - Web cam, paint and type text
You can also print two-page projects as greeting cards. After the first week at school, have students use this print feature to write a short note home about their new class.
Using a laptop or computer with a web cam, go to the Stickers tab, click the Web cam button and capture a picture of your students. You might also try taking their picture in front of a greenscreen so you can use the magic wand tool to remove the background. Have students use the paint tools to decorate the background.
Add text to the second page and when you print as a greeting card, you can fold into quarters and the text will show inside the card! If they aren't ready to write or type on their own, record their voice for an electronic card and share the project URL with parents in an email.
Classroom Rules - Add text and model tools
As you start out the year, have your class work with you to come up with a set of class rules. Pixie and Wixie include a template in Teacher Tools you can use to simply type text. You can, of course, start with a blank page, and add your own clip art and painted details.
Work together on an interactive white board or have students create their own pages you combine together into one project in Pixie or Wixie.
Goals for the year - type text, add clip art, add voice
Before you can achieve your goals, you first need to set them. To get students thinking about successes they want to have this year, have them create a short list of academic and personal goals. Pixie and Wixie include activity templates to support this and are easy to customize so that each student's page can look unique.
These are great to print and keep in student folders or even taped to their desk. If you are going to publish the goals online, have students click the Record button and recite their goals, further cementing their connection to them.
First Week Newsletter - text and clip art, print or PDF
After students are settled, give them the responsibility of creating a class newsletter to share student learning with parents and families. Giving students responsibility like this helps give ownership in their learning and is a great way to break down teacher/student barriers and establish your class as a learning community.
Rotate the canvas in Pixie and Wixie to a portrait orientation to start from scratch or open the Newsletter activity in the Templates folder. Print the newsletters for students to take home, simply post a link to the project URL on Wixie, or export as a PDF and share on your classroom web page.
Vacation Snapshot - all tools, postcard export
Wixie includes some fun print and image export options including postcards and comics. Instead of the traditional, what did you do this summer, have students create a picture postcard from one place (even if it is their home or backyard!). Then, ask them to write to your class as if they were sending you a postcard.
Both Pixie and Wixie include a single page activity you can use to print, fold, and glue. You can also create two pages and print as a table tent. You can also create two-page e-postcards that not only include images and text, but audio narration as well. If you are using Wixie, or Pixie with K12Share.com, post the project URLs on your classroom home page so the class can explore the places students have been.
Character Education Comics - all tools, comic export
Many teachers discuss character education issues like bullying right away to start the year off right. If you aren't quite ready to hit this topic, you could also focus on comics as a fun way to discuss effective study habits, similar to a social story!
Comics are a fun way to tell a story and also supports Marzano’s instructional strategies of non-linguistic representations and summarizing! Then, choose Publish and print as comics, or choose Image>comic>pdf to create one page that shows all of the panels.
If you are looking for more even more ideas, browse the activities library for inspiration, explore the lesson plans on Creative Educator, or download the Common Core Guides for Pixie, or the Wixie guides for Common Core, Virginia SOLs, and Texas TEKS.
At almost every workshop I lead on implementing project-based learning, collaboration is a major topic of concern. Based on their previous experience working in and using collaborative projects in their classrooms, everyone wants to learn how to get students to work together successfully.
Many, if not most, students don't really like working in teams either. It isn't easy to get group consensus, or even persuade others to move forward with your ideas. Inevitably someone does all the work and someone doesn't do any.
But working in teams needs to be seen as a gift. This precious resource allows you to overcome the things you aren't good it. It is an oppportunity to learn something new, to meet someone new. It is a chance to play and have fun during the process, even if the project or problem you are tackling isn't fun.
Teaching collaboration is like teaching anything else - as much an art as a science. There is no easy solution, but a variety of strategies you can employ to help learners with a variety of skills and styles learn to utilize the strength of a team to reach their goals.
Remember that your job isn't to make it easy to work in a team, or even to solve a teams problems. When a student comes up and complains that someone isn't doing their share of the work, your response should be, "What do you think the rest of your team can do to change that?" The idea isn't just about transferring responsibility to your students, but making them partners in the educational process.
I created this poster to share my feelings about teamwork and get students thinking about their work on a team:
Working with your students to establish norms for group work is a great way to start, before you even begin worrying about composining the perfect teams or choosing just the right set of roles. Begin by talking with your students and working together to discuss behaviors they need for successful group work and will use to guide who they work in groups or teams.
This is not a list of rules to give to your students, but a contract you work to establish together. Like any brainstorming session or discussion, give all students a chance to make anonymous contributions before the discussion. You may want to ask them to name the one thing they hate about group work. Then use those as the foundation for a list of actions and behaviours students can do to avoid them, such as:
- Try new things.
- Share freely.
- Communicate politely.
- Be a Learner.
- Become an expert.
Working with a team to complete a project is not very different than working with yourself. You just have to do the same things with other people. Here are some things to remember to help make your teamwork a success.
Commit to Team Goals
Make sure everyone participates in developing the team’s goal and the work the team will do to get there. Is everyone on the team ready to go the extra mile? If not, you might want to reevaluate the goal and the work you plan to do to reach it.
As you set the goals and begin working, make sure the goals are VERY clear. Make sure to stop every once in a while to evaluate whether the work you are doing will help you meet your goals.
Talk to Each Other
Make sure you communicate information, ideas, and achievements with everyone on the team. Remember to ask questions if you don’t understand something and to help others when you do understand. Share what you are doing. You do not want team members to struggle to find information you already have, repeat work someone else has done, or misunderstand a concept important to your work. Speak clearly and directly, and get to the point.
Listen to what every team member is saying. Ask team members to share their ideas. Encourage everyone to contribute.
Remember to stop often and take a critical look at the work your team is doing. Conflicting ideas can help your team determine the best course of action and encourages new ideas. Critiques are directed towards work, not people, so be sure to be friendly, relaxed, and open.
Be sure to push yourself to explore new ideas and strategies. You will be the most open to new ideas if you are working in areas you are not comfortable.
Encourage and Support
Be supportive of work and ideas from every team member. Since great ideas come from unlikely places be sure to encourage other team members when they take risks or try something new.
Creativity comes from unexpected places. Let a new idea take you in a non-standard direction; you may find that is makes your work more effective.
When the team does good work, celebrate. Take pride in the great work you are doing. Success for one is success for all.
The list can go on and on. This is a great discussion to have as a school faculty as well. If you are implementing project work across a number of grade levels, look at the list above and have a discussion about which areas you might want to focus on at each grade.
Establishing norms isn't simply providing a set of rules. Bring up goals important to you, the manager of the classroom, just make sure your students integral to the discussion and norm creation. This will help make them part of your classroom learning team and is essential to the beginning of a successful project.
Download a PDF of Your Team is a Gift as our contribution to your team.
Enjoy your gift!
Think of your district’s implementation of Common Core as a gift to reconnect with colleagues, share and disseminate best practices that work with your students in YOUR classrooms, explore new ideas, discuss how to engage students in learning, and have frank discussions about what it means to be educated.
My favorite part of the new standards is that they are a list of expectations, not a list of what to teach. They open the door for teachers to determine what an actual performance looks like for students in their classrooms, as well as how to support their students in getting there.
The Common Core Standards are not a curriculum! By focusing on “results rather than means” the Common Core State Standards are designed to trust teachers to use “whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards.”
They celebrate that teachers more than any other single factor help students learn and grow. Standards alone don’t stifle creativity. High-stakes test to evaluate student performance… well, that’s an entirely different topic.
Results opens the door to project work
In my opinion a project approach is the best way to engage students in meaningful performances that demonstrate they have achieved the results mentioned in the standards. The standards are even structured to support an integrated model of literacy where students write, speak, listen, and present about the literature and informational texts they read.
Projects make it easy to integrate work across standards. Posing a problem or challenge engages students and gives them “voice and choice” in how to address or solve it. For example:
The media specialist at school was seen crying the other day because she can't get kids interested in checking out books from the library. The Principal has asked you to help!
Students could choose to promote reading in general, or choose a book or story they love and determine how best to promote it. They could develop a new book cover design that is more attractive or contains a more exciting summary.
They might create a poster or video with a “celebrity testimonial” or “bandwagon” approach to persuade other students. Having watched numerous exciting trailers for movies they have gone to see, they may produce an animated book trailer.
Find more book trailers like this
Creating any of these “products” to encourage others to read a particular story forces students to move beyond their own experience or at least relate their experience to others. As they learn to think about audience, utilize the tools of propaganda, and persuade, they build powerful skills for effective communication.
Projects like this also help students build skills and develop performances that meet a variety of standards. A project like the one above would address grade 3 Language Arts standards:
- RL 2. Recount stories, including fables, folktales, and myths from diverse cultures; determine the central message, lesson, or moral and explain how it is conveyed through key details in the text.
- RL 3. Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.
- RL 5. Refer to parts of stories, dramas, and poems when writing or speaking about a text, using terms such as chapter, scene, and stanza; describe how each successive part builds on earlier sections.
- RL 6. Distinguish their own point of view from that of the narrator or those of the characters.
- RFS 4. Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.
- W 1. Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons.
- W 4. With guidance and support from adults, produce writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task and purpose.
- W 5. With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editing.
- SL 2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
- SL 4. Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.
- L 1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
- L 2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
- L 3. Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.
Successful projects usually include a design element and require data and data analysis to complete. Any sort of design involves measurement, area, shape, and other geometric concepts. Strong arguments are supported with data and statistics shared in charts and graphs. Projects, in other words, are great ways for students to apply mathematical concepts, calculations, and skills.
The Common Core State Standards also include Standards for Mathematical Practice. This set of standards encourages teachers to help students develop the habits and dispositions that are essential to future success in mathematics. They include:
- Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
- Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
- Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
- Model with mathematics.
- Use appropriate tools strategically.
- Attend to precision.
- Look for and make use of structure.
- Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.
Standards for mathematical practice are like norms for group work, they should be hanging on every wall in our classrooms! If you, or your students, have ever worked on a project in your classroom, you know that to be successful, they need to apply almost everyone one of these!
So if you are spending your professional development days before the start of school discussing and addressing the new Common Core Standards, consider it an opportunity to make connections and design exciting authentic projects that will keep you all engaged during the school year.