Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Powerful Protocols

Andrea Behling
Columbus Signature Academy New Tech
Columbus, IN

Protocol: A code prescribing strict adherence to correct etiquette and precedence (Merriam-Webster)

Protocols within the classroom are a necessity. They help guide instruction in a way that outlines clear expectations in order to maintain structure and direction. By its definition, a protocol can be as simple as the ever so common Think, Pair, Share: “Find a partner. Discuss your answer to question number one with your partner. Be prepared to share to the class.” However, if done well, protocols can be the backbone of instructional practice. Along with providing structure to any given activity, they intentionally integrate practices that will help our students develop skills that help them find success and stretch their potential in a collaborative working environment.

Likewise, as educators we can use protocols to structure discussion to achieve results that are aligned with our professional goals. I have found using protocols to be much more efficient than simply “having a discussion” around a certain topic. And let’s face it: sometimes adults need to brush up on those skills that lead to success by collaboration, too. School Reform Initiative is a fantastic resource to use for finding protocols appropriate for every occasion. From reading texts, to understanding learning styles, to analyzing data, there is a protocol to use to structure each activity with direction and intention. Here are four protocols that I have found most useful within my PBL instruction as well as within my working environment with other educators.

1. Affinity Mapping

There is no better way to create a set of classroom norms or agreements than by using an Affinity
Map. With this protocol, students are asked a question based around the idea of a successful classroom environment. For example, “What things do YOU need for this to be a comfortable and successful learning environment?” Students use sticky notes (one thought per note) to craft their ideal learning environment for that classroom based on items that naturally go together and form clusters. From these clusters, we write our agreements for each class period. The idea of creating agreements as a class as opposed to posting a set of teacher-created classroom rules feeds buy-in and comfortability. Students are more likely to follow these agreements if they have a hand in creating them. Additionally, the silence and anonymity of the protocol allow students to safely put forth their needs. What you have at the end of the protocol is a living document that the students have the responsibility to uphold, as well as revisit and make necessary changes to it throughout the year.

To another degree, my co-teacher and I have used Affinity Mapping in our US History/English 11 integrated course as a way for students to find themes throughout the state standards. Although it generally becomes a slight variation from the original protocol, I have students sift through our standards for the course and find themes throughout American History. They will generally find the natural categories like War and Conflict, Human Rights, Ups and Downs of the Economy, Powerful Leaders, Innovation, etc. Using this protocol is beneficial because it engages each student with those standards, and asks them to think critically about which events throughout time naturally fit together. We then use these student created clusters to drive the themes for our projects throughout the year.
Affinity Mapping also has many uses in the professional environment. Most recently, the staff at my school has used this protocol to help reevaluate our student outcomes. In our summer retreat, we were given the prompt, “What skills, attributes, or characteristics will a 2022 CSA New Tech graduate possess?” We used the protocol to identify different areas in which we would like to see our students succeed after graduation. Through this, we found clusters that aligned seamlessly with our already existing student outcomes. A school or department could use this same process to create new student outcomes that serve as goals for developing their students.

2. Chalk Talk

This protocol gives students the opportunity to have a conversation without using their voices. It
opens up a great opportunity for those students who are not as comfortable speaking in front of their peers, but have lots of insight to add to the conversation. In particular, this protocol can be very useful to help gauge students’ prior knowledge. Whether at the beginning of a semester, a new unit, or even
a single day’s lesson, you can use specific questions, phrases, or words to get students thinking and digging into their prior knowledge about your particular topic. For example, at the beginning of our World Religions project, I might post a piece of chart paper with the name of the major religions we will be studying to see what students already know about this topic. One thing I make sure my students do with the Chalk Talk protocol is to circulate the room multiple times, and engage with each board at least twice. This could be writing their own thought, responding to or branching off of someone else’s thought, or by simply putting a star next to an idea they really agree with. By seeing each board multiple times, they are able to engage in a real conversation around each topic through the paper. The most important rule of this protocol is that students remain silent – the conversation happens on the paper, not with their voices. 

My favorite way to incorporate the Chalk Talk into my classroom is to use it as a reflection tool either at the end of a project or the end of a semester/year. Four pieces of chart paper, each with a different reflection question, hang around the room and prompt discussion from students. This is not only helpful for students to reflect on the work that they have done, but as a facilitator these paper conversations are invaluable to improving my classroom and practice. To reflect on a single project, I would use questions like, “If you could change one thing about this project, what would it be and why?,” “What is the one thing about this project we should keep and why?,” and “How do you see (insert history content/theme of project here) in your life?” When using this protocol to reflect on an entire semester/year, my questions are more general such as, “Which project this year had the greatest impact on you and why?,” and “Which project should we definitely ditch for next year and why?” Again, this form of conversation helps students who are not as comfortable speaking out to have their “voice” heard in the discussion. Likewise, since the comments do remain anonymous, it can help students to be more honest and open with their thoughts about the project or class.

Professionally, our staff most recently used a Chalk Talk at our monthly staff meeting as a protocol to guide discussion around supporting students. The prompting question our administration posed for us was, “What do we do well in our classes and activities to create a caring school climate, and actively involve parents in helping their child to succeed? Where do you see gaps, or barriers?” We spent a few minutes exploring our own thoughts on this, and then had a chance to respond to other thoughts on the board and use those to inspire ideas or new questions. This discussion will help guide work that we do to build a better school culture as the year continues. As adults, it might be even more difficult for us to abide by the rules of the protocol (specifically keeping silent). However, using this protocol strictly allowed for deeper thought and contribution for all staff members as we begin to address goals for our school culture.

3. Tuning Protocol

The tuning protocol is one that is integral to our collaboration as professionals at my school. Before launching any project, we try to make it a point to bring our project idea to a Critical Friends
Group or Professional Learning Community in order to get feedback from our peers. The protocol that we use at my school (very similar to the one outlined by Edutopia in the article linked) is a short protocol that requires the presenting teacher to remain silent while others give warm and cool feedback as well as suggestions or ideas for further exploration or cross-curricular opportunities. This is the reason I always make sure to include teachers from a variety of subject areas in feedback sessions for my projects. I cannot stress the value of this process in my own personal practice as I have developed as an educator. Too often as teachers, we find ourselves in our own “bubbles” while still trying to teach collaboration to our students. This protocol offers us the opportunity for professional collaboration, and the chance to get “fresh eyes” on a project idea, whether to enhance a new project idea or to add elements to a repeat project. Plus, as they say, two heads are better than one. The more heads that are involved in tuning your project, the better the feedback will be and the more authentic and engaging your project will end up!

This protocol can also be very valuable for students as they start to hone in on a plan for a final product during the project process. Once each group has a solid idea in their head of the direction of their project, I like to have students participate in this protocol for the same reasons I like it professionally – the more ideas, the better! The timing of this protocol for students can be a little bit tricky. We want all groups to have their own ideas formed before participating in the protocol so as not to “latch onto” an idea from another group, but rather to offer and accept feedback from their peers. One part of this protocol that I love for students is that the presenter must remain silent and simply take note of the feedback from their peers. This way, they are focused on taking in all of the feedback and ideas and are not tempted to defend their work or ideas. The restrictions of this protocol, including time restraints, help build skills of both giving and receiving critical feedback. The key is making sure they follow the rules!

4. Zones of Comfort, Risk, and Danger

Like some of the protocols I have already discussed, there are so many ways to use this one with your students. This protocol involves students listening to statements and indicating their level of comfort
with that action based on concentric circles in the room (NOTE: when I use this protocol, I invert the order of the circles. The “Comfort Zone” is the outside circle and the “Danger Zone” is in the center). The way that I consistently use this protocol is at the beginning of the year to get a gauge of where my students stand with both skills and some content knowledge that is necessary to my class. We start out with easy statements such as, “What is your comfort level with: Swimming with sharks? Singing in the shower? Skydiving?” to get them warmed up, and then get into statements that are more specific to my class. These include statements such as “What is your comfort level with: Writing a one page paper? Deciding whether or not a source is credible? Identifying causes and effects through history?” This protocol not only gets students up and moving around, but also offers a safe environment for them to talk about areas that are specific to a high school history class that might make them uncomfortable, which is especially helpful for me with kids that I have never had in class before. This protocol can also be used at the beginning or end of different units as a pre- or post-assessment of content (or skills!).

Zones of Comfort is not a protocol that we have used professionally at my school, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a use for it! I see this protocol as an opportunity for administration to get a feel for their staff at the beginning of the year for a variety of different topics. This protocol can be especially effective for a staff that has several new members or a school that is undergoing some major changes. As an administrator, these statements can be based around the idea of professional responsibilities and school culture, and can lead to a conversation about the staff as the springboard for school culture. Another way to use this protocol professionally is to explore changes happening in a school. What changes are coming? How comfortable are certain staff members with getting on board with those changes? What about executing them? Having people move in and out of their zones of comfort without having to explain or defend their position right away allows for honesty which can spark really powerful and effective conversation within a staff.

Protocols are powerful because they provide a built-in system for students and adults alike to follow. Protocols create direction and help you more effectively meet goals. The structure of protocols can help you focus on the real purpose of your activity, whether that is in the classroom or a staff meeting. While these are four of my favorite protocols, there are so many more out there to explore. Whatever you are looking for, there is a protocol for you; so start trying these out in your classroom and/or staff meetings!

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Benefits of PBL Collaboration

Veronica Buckler
Columbus Signature Academy New Tech
Columbus, IN
Collaboration is a key element in the PBL process, but it is often overlooked when discussing the benefits of PBL. In fact, it is usually the one tenet of PBL that we get the most grief about from some of our students. During every project, our classes go through the Know and Need-to-Know process to set the stage for the necessary workshops and lessons for a successful outcome. One Need-to-Know I can just about guarantee is, “Will we have groups?” The group of students that I hear from the most on this are our high-achieving ones. They tend to struggle, or just disagree, with the need for the collaboration aspect of academics. However, I believe they are missing out on some of the significant benefits of collaboration. Below, I have listed my top five skills associated with collaboration our high-achievers (and all students) gain from engaging in a PBL environment.

Learning How to Listen

Our highest achievers are usually, but not always, our most vocal learners. They love to be the first person to share their responses, to take a guess as to the correct answer, or to display their knowledge on the board. This can also be the case when working in their groups. They know a correct answer and are eager to dive right into completing the task. However, this can lead them into encouraging the group to move on without allowing for that crucial brainstorming step.

Just recently, I held a literary circle discussion with my Honors English students. I invited a few other students to participate and engage in a higher level discussion of the book, Life of Pi, which we were reading at the time. I had two fairly articulate and analytical students take charge of the conversation right off the bat. The fact that they both have North Compass personality traits also assisted in this demonstration of speaking before listening. They had rather insightful and thought-provoking ideas about the book and its themes, but did not leave a lot of room for others to step in and share their own ideas. When it came time for others to speak up, the more reserved students ended up surprising the more vocal students, forcing them to reconsider their own views and better understand a part of the story. This was a great moment for all involved because it allowed the “take charge” students to learn from the more reserved students. Furthermore, the more reserved students had the chance to teach their classmates a new perspective. It allowed all present to see the merits of taking a moment to listen for a new understanding.

Sharing the Workload and Responsibility

The shared workload, or the lack therein, is usually what causes some parents and students to question the benefits of collaboration as well as the practice of tying a student’s grade to the success
or failure of that collaboration. I would like to offer, instead, that this is precisely why a student should embrace PBL; simply because this is exactly what happens in the workforce. We as adults must rely on others to complete their parts of the task, and when they do, we get to celebrate as a team and know we were a part of a successful venture. On the other hand, when others do not follow through, we experience the need for problem solving and a hasty dash for task completion. Now I am sure this does not sound fair or glamorous, but I boldly suggest this is what allows us to learn accountability and community. We learn from the appreciation or disappointment created by our group members, the dissatisfaction of our work, and the necessary feedback that comes from invested parties. Sharing the workload also allows each student to become an expert for the group as he/she focuses on a specific aspect of the final product. It allows students to display their talents to the group and the class, while also being able to learn from others’ talents, as well as teach their skills to others.

Trusting in Others

We start building trust and relationships in our class through our first project, A Walk in the Woods, by sharing personal narrative stories in nature and learning how to tell our stories with emotion and personality. After this project, our students have a chance to feel more comfortable in their group projects and sharing in class. In our second semester narrative project in Global Science Perspectives, our community partner, local theater owner, Robert Hay Smith, encouraged our students to be comfortable with their work and each other’s performances during our Dystopian Masterpiece Theatre. While at the Harlequin Theater, his place of business, he shared an anecdote from his work as the stage manager of a play where he unfortunately missed his cue for a soundtrack at a specific time. A fellow actor supported this blooper by improvising the missed cue into his own delivery. Mr. Smith soothed some of our students’ fear of failure on stage by addressing the wonder of the theatre and its flexibility with mistakes and improvisation. This was a very timely lesson for our students, who are currently working together to create an experience on stage, trusting that each member of the “troupe” will perform their piece skillfully to the success of all.

Succeeding with Others

Through collaboration, students have the opportunity to share in each other’s successes. This is comparable to the shared success and encouragement players have as a part of a sports team. Working together to succeed is a great feeling and allowing students to be a part of a larger goal helps build
confidence, but it also helps build lasting relationships. The same can be true for the classroom, too. When students work together to be a part of a presentation, they can share in that success and build a relationship with their comrades.One of our second semester projects, Dystopian Masterpiece Theatre, which I mentioned above, asks the students to write and perform their own dystopian plays. Students get a chance to learn from the creative process of a think tank, while also having someone to share in the elation of stepping outside their comfort zone and succeeding. During the project, students are stressed about the performance and often develop stage fright. After the performance, students express their joy in the presentation of their work and reflect over the highs and lows of being on stage. For every project, we encourage this same process of celebrating and reflecting on their process, their successes, and their failures, which allows students to continue to learn what works for them and what does not. Our reflecting usually involves gathering up into a tight circle and having each student share a rose and a thorn from the project. One skill, process, activity that went well for them, and one that did not go well. We then ask how they would design this project for next year to make it even better and more engaging for the next class.

Holding Others Accountable

The last skill that our high achievers learn from PBL collaboration is the ability to have a difficult conversation with a peer. This often occurs when one group member asks to see the work of another group member who is not performing to expectations. This is something adults in the workplace have to cope with no matter the job specification. It is also a tough conversation to have with a group member who is considered to be a close friend, or that has seniority over the worker. Too often this conversation leads to some kind of confrontation or accusation, between students, or adults.
In order to equip students with the skills to deal with these conflicts, we teach our them to establish a group contract with agreements and steps for accountability, such as agreeing to contact
group members when absent, or agreeing to letting one student get up and walk around when they need to. Steps for accountability include the twenty-four hour check-in rule: if something someone said is eating away at you and you cannot let it go, you must check in with the person within twenty-four hours and address your feelings about the matter. Early on, we role-play these steps and work on the best way to approach a conflict brewing in a group. Since the group is dependent on each other for success, we encourage students to think of strategies that allow for everyone to feel heard and be supported. By setting up this framework, we ensure that when a student finds his/her self doing all of the work, that student has the chance to learn through collaboration, build a stronger group relationship, and potentially succeed in a more unique and creative way by having this conversation together. 

Our goal is to always encourage rigor and in depth knowledge of content throughout a project. Yet, we have also found encouraging the soft skills of collaboration, agency, and oral and written communication pushes students to be more well-rounded, employable applicants in the workforce. A PBL environment builds into a student the ability to not only excel on their own, but to also excel as part of a group, or more specifically, a community: a community of high-achievers, leaders, followers, and every other student who has unique traits to bring to their groups.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Building Culture Begins in the Staff Room

Trisha Burns
Columbus Signature Academy Middle School
Columbus, IN

Are you wondering how you can build culture in your school? Are you wanting to teach students how to model positive collaboration skills? I would like to propose that these culture “non-negotiables” begin with the staff.  I definitely don’t want to say that CSA Central has it all figured out when it comes to adult collaboration, but we do our best to foster collaboration with each other.  The four things we purposely do to help us collaborate together effectively is having a shared work space, Critical Friends Group meetings, Friday meetings with a structured agenda, and integrated projects.

Shared Work Space
I remember touring CSA New Tech High School while I sat in my first PBL 101 class (now PBL Jumpstart) almost 10 years ago.  Their staff room was amazing!  It had a huge table where they had their meetings in the middle and individual desks along the side, but they were all together.  I LOVED THAT!  Actually, it probably helped in my decision to teach at CSA as much as the model of project-based learning itself. It intrigued me that a staff could work so closely together.

So when I came to CSA Central, I was surprised that they didn’t have a whole team workroom.  However, that would soon change.  Our plan, our design, our agreements have developed significantly since the first year of having the work room, but we have a great shared place.  This room has a place for us all to meet together for our weekly meetings. It has two smaller sections of tables, one for the 7th grade teachers and one for the 8th grade teachers.  It also has two other desks for the special ed and ELL teachers to work in there with us.  As 8th grade teachers, we use the work room almost 100% of the time when we are not with students.  It makes it easier to plan projects and stay on the same page with issues that come up since we have a shared space.  Prior to the creation of this room, our team meetings, no matter which of the 4 schools I worked at, would be in a staff member’s room.  I was a part of 8 years of successful meetings in other teachers’ classrooms, but it says something when a space is shared so well among adults.  Students get to see how we work together just like what we ask them to do. Sidenote: Can you find 3 CSA Central facilitators in this pic of our workroom?

Critical Friends Group
Every Wednesday, the whole CSA Central staff meets together first period. We meet in order to give/receive feedback on something we are working on in class or to focus on a specific skill we want to collectively and professionally develop in order keep us all on the same page. When we are in the creation process, we present our ideas to the staff, and they either help us continue our brainstorm or tune what we have already.  The brainstorming protocol we use is The Charrette Protocol, but if the the project is more developed, we use the Tuning Protocol with modified time limits. If neither of those protocols work for you, then find one that will on the National School Reform Faculty (NSRF) website. The important part of a protocol is that it helps us have meaningful, structured, and productive conversations. Sometimes we use this time to do professional development or share some of our individual ideas with the whole group.  Just this last week, the person who helps train engineers to work together at Cummins, a large engineering company in Columbus, came and showed us the activity she uses with their employees. We used this as an opportunity to see what she does with them and think through how we can apply it for our students all while we learned a little bit more about each other.  We schedule our CFG’s on our cabinets in the teacher work room. Our Wednesday meeting time is a perfect time for us to share our ideas and receive feedback in a safe environment, and it also helps us stay on the same page in our planning of our projects.

Friday Meetings with Structured Agenda
Every Friday morning, we meet as a whole CSA Central staff for what we call our “Nuts and Bolts” meeting.  We use this time to plan CSA Central culture building activities for our students like our beginning of the year project, The Race to Real-World Readiness, our middle of the year recharge session, or even the end of the year presentations (Personal Education Development Talks). This, also, involves 6th grade activities to teach them about our program, brainstorming and putting into motion ideas to help us continue to fine tune our identity as a school within a school and as part of a K12 Pathway for our district, and planning of our school tours and visits when other schools come to check us out.  We also use this time to share dates of other activities and events going on so we all stay in communication with each other.

We seemed to always do a great job at the beginning of the year coming up with our working group agreements and group roles for the staff in order to make sure we would share the load. However a few weeks later we would forget what our roles were and would have to go check out a poster when we wanted to remember what our agreements were.  Last year we started posting them at the top of each of our meeting agendas.  We begin (most) of our Friday meetings with the Connections Protocol.  Here is the structured agenda we have now use and that works best for us.  Then when it is time for the next Friday’s meeting we just make a copy of the last week’s agenda, and work from there. 

Integrated Projects
There is nothing like doing an integrated project to help you develop your collaboration skills.  Students can observe their teachers learning how to work together.  When you are used to working by yourself in your classroom working with only your content, it can be difficult to adjust for the first couple of integrated projects. There’s a learning curve, when you have to share your time with another teacher and collectively figure out what classroom management looks like when you are both with the students.  It is not always easy to work with another adult to create and facilitate projects, but it is a great way to develop more authentic projects and help the students see how their teachers work together too. Here are some resources from the New Tech Network on team teaching and/or working in an integrated classroom.

Staff Culture is a great place to start as you are creating school culture.  What you want to be important to your students, you need to model as a staff.  We have worked really hard to develop an atmosphere of collaboration for both the students and the staff.  Like I said, it isn’t always perfect.  Communication still can break down.  Sometimes spending so much time together isn’t a great thing, but one thing I know is that we all want what is best for the students, and we want to model best practices for the students.

What does your staff do to develop school culture? What next steps can you take to build a culture of collaboration among your staff? For more information about building culture check out The PBL Playbook  podcast and its most recent episode, Creating a PBL Culture .

Monday, June 25, 2018

Project Management Tools

Trisha Burns
Columbus Signature Academy Middle School
Columbus, IN

Do you drown in the middle of your projects?  Do you find it hard to keep track of the different groups and where they are in the process?  You are not alone!  PBL teachers are constantly looking for ways to better manage the process, and I would like to share the three tech tools that we use on our team at Columbus Signature Academy Central Campus to help us facilitate student-driven learning. Our goal is to create learners who can self-regulate and become agents for their own learning. We know it takes time to develop these skills, so we use these project management tools to help facilitate the students’ content learning, their navigation through the project, and help them use their executive functioning skills. 

1. Benchmark Checklist

Benchmarks are like the milestones in your project, the checkpoints the students need to accomplish and get feedback on so there are completed final products (and no surprises with the quality). When you get in the messy middle of the project, the groups get to different benchmarks at different times. I’ve managed this process several different ways. I’ve listed the benchmarks on the board in my class, and they move a post-it note that has their names on it through the benchmarks as they go. They are only allowed to move the post-it note when a teacher tells them too. However my favorite way to manage the process is with a Google Sheets table. 

This is a table that we created for our carnival project.  It is our go-to spot for all information for the project.  All teachers are given editing rights to this sheet and students are given viewing rights.  When you do integrated projects, or even when you are working with your special ed teacher or ELL teacher, it is nice for everyone to see the progress of the project.  Teachers (and students) know that if there is an “x” in the spot, it means that group is done (and approved) for that benchmark, and they can move on. If it is blank or if there is a “come see me” note, the group knows they need to work on it.  

You will notice both individual benchmarks and merged cells which were group benchmarks.  We link this to our learning management system (itslearning) for students to always find.  This really helps groups self-regulate and plan their next steps for the project.  It is also great to do your benchmark checklist digitally because there are times in projects where your students need more scaffolding, and you need to add a benchmark.  

Where do the benchmarks come from? How do you determine what goes on this checklist? It is all part of your project planning, your students’ need to knows and next steps, and what is needed from your community partners to have a successful final product. For some help on how to benchmark and scaffold, check out this resource from Magnify Learning, Scaffolding & Benchmarks. 

2. Google Keep
We recently discovered Google Keep for a “To-Do List” app.  Google Keep is used to save lists,
pictures, thoughts, and reminders. You can share them with people and organize the order they show up on the app or website. When my team of teachers learned how to use it in an unrelated faculty meeting, we knew immediately how we could use it to help facilitate our groups for our project. It was fun to actually use something you learn in a faculty meeting the very next day!  

Groups created their "Next Steps" list using Google Keep, and they shared it with the teachers. You can look at Google Keep on your laptop or your phone.  It was really convenient to walk around to groups and check in on their next steps list by looking at my phone.  We also had some groups who would put names beside their “Next Steps” so the group members knew who was working on what during that class period. One of my favorite parts about Google Keep is that it makes a mark through what is finished.  It is easy to see what the groups have accomplished and not just what they have left to do.

Another way we used Google Keep during our carnival project was to keep track of students’ strikes.  When we would have students who weren’t working with their groups or who were off task, we were able to keep track of it on a list that was only shared with the teachers.  So even though there were 4 teachers doing this project, we had open communication (digitally) for issues we were seeing with groups.

3. Google Forms
I love google forms!  These are surveys that you can create for free through your Google account.  It takes the information from the survey and gives you a spreadsheet of responses.  My team uses these at several different points of a project.  We have used them for group contracts, for selecting groups, for group check-ins, for project reflections, and any other time we need to collect data quickly (like for a field trip or t-shirt size).  

This is an example of a Google Form used for a group contract.  After we created groups, we gave them some time to complete this form.  Upon reflecting, this wasn’t our favorite way to collect group contracts, but I wanted to share it in case it works for you!

Here is the Google Form we used for our Carnival.  We know we will want to do the carnival project next year, so we had the students complete this form. We will share the results with next year’s students so they can have the data they need for similar booths they decide to have for their carnival (after the teachers look through it first, of course!)

At our school, we have to give the student lunch codes to the cafeteria for students who want a sack lunch for field trips.  Google Forms makes that data collection a breeze.  We have the survey set to collect the student’s email addresses, and we can turn that into the cafeteria. So Google Forms can be used for a lot of different purposes!

Project management is key.  It helps facilitate the students on the path of becoming agents of their own learning, and it keeps you from being surprised  when the final end products are turned in or presented. When you take the time to check in with groups, it is valuable feedback time. You are setting your students up for success. 

We know all of our time is valuable, so why not use some tools to help you save some of your time. When you are feeling overwhelmed in the middle of the project, see if there is a way to incorporate one of these tech tools to help you manage the workload, or better yet, go ahead and plan to use them in your project from the beginning!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Understanding the Structure of Presentations

By: Caleb Abshire
Columbus Signature Academy New Tech
Columbus, IN

Mark Twain once said, “It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” The reason a good speech takes so long to prepare is that all good speeches tend to be like trees, at least in their structure. Where a tree has a trunk, branches, leaves, and roots, a speech has a thesis, segues (anecdotes or jokes), visual aids, and facts and statistics.  While a tree pollinates the ground, a speech should be planting a seed in the mind of one’s audience. The elements that make a presentation different are also what make public speaking a powerful form of communication: tone of voice and a direct relationship to one’s audience. However, both of these rely on a well-built and sturdy foundation.

The Roots
The roots of a presentation are its facts and statistics. They are what allow a presentation to stand upright and feed the presentation the nutrients it needs to really blossom. Without solid, credible facts and/or statistics, a presentation can easily be toppled and proclaimed to be a lie.

The Trunk
Carrying the facts and statistics throughout the presentation is the trunk of our metaphorical tree, the thesis statement or motif. A presentation must always be focused, well scoped and purposeful. A presentation without a point is afternoon-tea talk. A thesis could be anything from “I like bananas” to “Bananas are going to cure cancer,” so long as you stick to it and make it strong.

The Branches
The main reason trees are so loved is that they provide lots of resources. They provide shelter, shade, food, oxygen, paper, pencils; practically everything in use today has probably used some part of a tree in its manufacturing. Trees can provide so much of this because of their branches. Likewise, a presentation should give food for thought, a place to put our thoughts into words and act on them, a reprieve from having to fight our own fights, and a record of what humanity is thinking through each sentence.

The Leaves
The leaves of the presentation are the visual aids and jokes or anecdotes used throughout to make the
thesis easy to remember. They make a presentation pretty and are what start the fire in people’s hearts first. Leaves are a tree’s respiratory system; visual aids and anecdotes are a presentation’s. A good visual aid grabs the audience’s attention and reminds them what’s going on. If trees were just wide blocks of wood, they wouldn’t be very fun. Visual aids, jokes, and anecdotes provide the volume to cover a wider breadth of material without suffocating the audience. 

Voice and Audience
A tree doesn’t have a voice to provoke emotion in people; it can do so without one. The speaker must be the voice of the presentation. It is important to know one’s audience in order to prune the “tree” directly to them. Some may say that a tree is much prettier when it was planted for them, and in the same way a presentation is much more likely to be listened to if it was pruned for the audience. Trim the bits that the audience won’t particularly enjoy and substitute with something more relevant, and then present in such a way that the audience will listen by using all of the capabilities of expression given to us as humans.

My Trees
Over the years here at CSA I’ve written and given many presentations. At the end of each project (which we have one of in each class every month) we have to present our findings in a concise and followable manner to score points on our “Oral Communication” Rubric. One of my favorites was presenting my idea for clean renewable energy in a project we call “Shark Tank”, stylized like the eponymous T.V. show. That project was fun for me because I was so proud, not only of my shake-to-charge battery, but because I knew I had a solid presentation to back me up. I had a trunk that focused on the need for a clean, renewable energy source. My mathematics became my roots, and my technical drawings my branches. My stories about working with my dad on electronics provided the shade and beauty that my presentation would have otherwise lacked. My presentation didn’t win, but I was still proud to see that my tree’s seeds had been sown. 

About the Author: Caleb Abshire is a junior at Columbus Signature Academy New Tech. He loves his whole family, including his three younger siblings. He enjoys reading and writing and physics, as well as video games and music.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The 6 R's of Summerrrrrr--May 2018

Trisha Burns
Columbus Signature Academy Middle School
Columbus, IN

Ahhhh...summer.  We are always so excited to see it come, and we are sad to see it go.  As teachers we joke around saying things like “sure we get the summers off.”  The “teacher in the summer” memes make us smile and cry all at the same time.  Regardless if you feel you have a summer “break” or wonder how in the world you ever have time to teach in the first place, there are certain things all teachers should try to do over the summer.
Refresh and Reflect

 I love that I get to facilitate for Magnify Learning in the summer.  It means every summer I go through the steps of planning a project from a beginner’s level.  I love getting to be refreshed on the basics of PBL so often.  It doesn’t seem to matter than I’ve been doing PBL for 10 years and facilitating for 8 years, I still love getting this refresher!  I get to share experiences and my best practices while giving feedback and learning from other teachers across the country. New project ideas are an added bonus to a summer PBL workshop!
 I know not everyone is ready or able to be a facilitator, but throughout the summer we should spend time reflecting on our best practices and refreshing on the basics of our teaching methods.  Maybe you could search project libraries for new project ideas. Maybe you spend time on Pinterest getting new scaffolding or workshop ideas, or maybe you sit down with your team of teachers at a local coffee shop and reflect how your previous year succeeded or failed to live up to last summer’s expectations.  One opportunity that is very beneficial is signing up for a PBL Advanced course. You get to capture the basics of project planning, but you get to do it with a more in depth focus now that you have some experience under your belt.  Whatever you decide to do, take some time to reflect and freshen up on your PBL skills.  
Read and Receive
Hi. My name is Trisha Burns and I am a professional development junkie.  I remember when I
first heard about Project Based Learning.  I was so excited that I was going to be able to go to a week long professional development workshop.  Little did I know it would change my teaching career so significantly.  By taking a week out of my summer, I was able to, with my fellow 8th grade math teacher, plan a whole new curriculum! We had more project ideas than we had time for in the school year. Although 10 years later I don’t still use the same projects we created, I do still use the protocols and planning methods I learned that week.
Summer is a perfect time to learn something new. If you are new to PBL, you should sign up for a PBL Jumpstart course near you, or do some reading through the Magnify Learning blog to become more familiar with the PBL process and culture of your classroom.  Regardless if this school year is your first year of using PBL or your 10th year, there is always something new to learn.  Sometimes you don’t even know what you don’t know, and if that is the case, I suggest Twitter for you.  Follow Magnify Learning @magnifylearning or get yourself involved in #PBLchat and begin to learn best practices from other schools or teachers.  I know several organizations have come together to put a framework around PBL at HQPBL. It would be a great place to read about the research supporting PBL and what experts would say is the framework around PBL.   However you decide to learn this summer, take some time to read and receive new information that will make you a better teacher for the upcoming year.  
Rejuvenate and Relax
And the fun part. Don’t forget to take time for you this summer.  Take time to relax; take time to rejuvenate. The best thing you can give your family, your team members, and your students is a happy and healthy you.  As much as I like to learn new things and to reflect on the last year, I also like to be able to pursue passions or adventures that I don’t get to experience during the school year.  
If you look at the calendar you may panic.  The summer is so short, and it will go so fast.  How can you make a plan?  Which of the 6 R’s of summer, do you need to make a bigger priority this summer? If you normally spend your whole summer becoming familiar with your curriculum, or planning your projects, or learning something new, don’t forget to take some time for yourself to relax.  However, if you normally spend your whole summer relaxing, don’t forget to think ahead.  A little preparation can truly help you get the year off to a good start and maybe you can stay relaxed a little bit longer into the school year.  
How do you spend your summer?  I would love to hear about the professional development or “aha” moments you have this summer and that you plan to use to help your upcoming school year be more successful.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Top 5 Reasons to attend Magnify Learning’s Indiana 2018 Open PBL Workshops

Summer is the perfect time to get refreshed and re-inspired for our jobs! It's also when you actually have a enough time to get some professional development in without feeling overloaded by the hundred other tasks you have to do. Maybe you've been considering trying project-based learning in your classroom or are interested in learning more about it. You might have been wondering how it works and if it's for you.

Our summer Indiana June 2018 Open PBL Workshops are a great option for exploring project-based learning!  If you aren't sure if you want to take four days to get some project-based learning training, here are five reasons to attend:

1. Learn- Our PBL Jumpstart workshops are an excellent opportunity to build your foundational knowledge about project-based learning and develop your PBL skills. We will provide you with the PBL basics and process so you can begin building your own project. If you've already been using project-based learning, then we also provide PBL Advanced workshops to help you refine your PBL craft and dive deeper into the PBL process. Our facilitators are PBL certified classroom teachers who have tried, tested, and implemented their own PBL units. They are PBL practitioners who have walked through the process, and are well-equipped to guide and support you through it as well.

2. Create-During the course of the workshop you will be given guidance and space to design your own project-based learning unit. You’ll have opportunities to ask questions, attend workshops based on your need-to-knows, and create a unit based on your content area. You are the expert of your content and students, so the design of the PBL unit is entirely up to you. We are there to support you as you build the framework for your very own PBL! 

3. Collaborate- Our workshops are all about working together! We run through a series of protocols and practices which create an atmosphere of connecting and collaborating with one another. Throughout the four days you’ll have multiple opportunities to interact and receive feedback from other teachers. You’ll have work time where you can brainstorm with other teachers, and you’ll have opportunities to work one-on-one with your facilitators. Many of our facilitators walk away feeling a sense of camaraderie with their staff and the teachers they meet. Many of them stay in touch and develop a new community partner or fellow collaborator! 

4. Explore-You will not only get to explore the PBL process, but you will also be staying in a city where there are lots of opportunities to explore. Check out the sights and experiences Columbus and Indianapolis have to offer! There are lots of parks, walkways, art districts, shops, and places to eat delicious local food. Try out the famous Zaharakos ice cream in Columbus. See the city of Indianapolis along the beautiful Canal Walk. We've even put together some ideas for you: Explore Indianapolis and Explore Columbus Take some time to recharge, have fun, and see what these cities have to offer!

5. Transform - Project-based learning implemented with fidelity has the power to transform your school, classroom, and the lives of students. It isn't just a fad or quick fix. We truly believe it is the best way to teach and the best way for students to learn. Not only is it empowering to design our own curriculum; it’s exciting to create learning opportunities that are engaging and meaningful to our students. We know that we’ve done our job, when teachers are already wanting to go back to school and try out their projects and it’s only the middle of the summer! 

Any one of our PBL participants will share with you that the four days of training is a small exchange for the positive returns project-based learning will bring you and your students. Plus, now through the end of the month you can take advantage of our Early Registration special and receive 20% OFF! Just use the PROMO Code PBL2018. We hope to see you at one of our Indiana June 2018 Open PBL Workshops this summer!

Monday, April 23, 2018

What to Expect When You're Expecting (to Attend a Magnify Learning Training)

Andrew Larson
Columbus Signature Academy New Tech High School
Columbus, IN

It is -5 degrees outside (or at least it felt like it for months), so ask yourself this: are you ready for the summer? My guess is that if you are reading an educational blog right now, you are probably also thinking about your next educational aspirations. We hope those aspirations include taking a four-day Project Based Learning journey with us. Please navigate over to the Magnify Learning website for registration information. 

If you have already decided to attend a PBL training this summer, ask yourself these questions now. And don’t just ask them; answer them as well. If you feel like it, write those answers down. 

1. How do you view your role in the classroom? If you come to a Magnify Learning training, you will be greeted by your friendly facilitators, whose job is to guide you through a process of discovery about Project- Based Learning. Yes, it is true that they will teach you everything they know about best practices on the topic of PBL, including how to structure a PBL unit, scaffold student learning, assess student progress, and manage group dynamics. They will refer to themselves as facilitators and not “teachers” or “trainers” because that is how they view their role. The definition of facilitation is to make something easier than it would otherwise be, and that is how PBL educators come to see their role (both in trainings and in their own classrooms.) 

It should be pointed out, though, that both in your training and in classrooms full of students, there will always be a healthy blend of instruction from the teacher (who will henceforth be referred to as the facilitator), collaborative learning, individual research, and exposure to all modalities of learning that will be relevant in students’ futures. You may consider recording your instruction or asking a colleague to observe and take notes during your class in advance of the training, with a specific focus on your role in the classroom: are you the focal point, or more of a facet? Both roles are appropriate for a PBL facilitator, though at different times, and in different ways. 

Some educators have a false construct of PBL as an environment where we give up control and students are free to explore in an unstructured, noisy and chaotic environment. This is by no means how your facilitators will expect you to proceed with students once your training is complete. While it is true that PBL thrives when the learning environment is flexible and when the instructor encourages interdependent learning, and yes, it will probably be a bit noisier at times than a traditional classroom, it is very structured, overall. So if learning to facilitate PBL is a goal of yours, but you are not sure what that looks like in a project-based room, then carry on! 

2. How comfortable are you with not having all of the answers? The training itself will be a
project; this is by design. Your facilitators want you to feel what your students will feel. This will be uncomfortable at times, especially on the first day. You may feel overwhelmed and there will be moments when you think (or say), “Why don’t you just tell us what to do (or how to do it)?” Naturally we know that students have these thoughts and say these things, but do you answer them? Probably not. In all seriousness, though, your facilitators will not have all of the answers, especially as they pertain to your specific school environment. 

Your PBL facilitators do the same things that you do with your students: they take content knowledge, get it in the hands of the learners, and ask them to apply that knowledge in new ways (such as developing a PBL unit that will work in your classroom, and with your students). What they will do is give you all of the content knowledge that they have, and go ask you to apply it to solve a real world problem (by creating your own PBL project).

Educators that implement PBL should be comfortable admitting that they do not know the answer to certain questions. There is a “sweet spot” somewhere at the boundary of the content knowledge you have and where your students can go with that knowledge (that you share with them). If you never find yourself admitting that you don’t know the best way to solve a particular problem, that may be an indication that your students need a bigger challenge. 

3. How well do you know your standards? The reason this question is so important to consider is because it is crucial that mastery of content remain in the forefront of what students walk away with. PBL, though, goes further than simple proficiency; we ask students to apply their content knowledge in order to solve an authentic problem or connect with their community. Your students need to be able to demonstrate that content proficiency and have the many additional layers of 21st Century Skills in their toolbox. Magnify Learning will recommend that as you make a shift to the exciting and sometimes daunting world of PBL, you take a close look at your content standards and pick out a collection of them that you feel either a) have traditionally been challenging for students or b) that you struggle to make relevant for them, or c) might fit together well in an authentic context, even if you previously did not feel empowered to bring them together. 

Additionally, though, PBL offers innumerable value-added components to good classroom instruction, including team collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. The aspects of PBL that are not explicitly focused on content can be challenging to manage, but then again, that’s why you are coming to the training! Your facilitators will help you find a balance between delivering content effectively and asking students to apply that content to new situations, all while the students are learning new and invaluable skills that will serve them well into their futures. 

4. How do you get feedback, and how do you receive that feedback?   
A large component of the training is focused on feedback, both from your facilitators and peers. This aspect of the training is one that participants consistently report helped them refine their ideas so that they actually work in the classroom. This aspect of the professional culture that will be built in the training is more than just a way to make the projects better; the use of feedback tends to become a part of the DNA of classrooms, too, as participants will take the feedback tools and teach their own students to use them.  

No need to be afraid. The culture of the training will allow for constructive feedback to flow freely and without fear of judgment. We only ask that you come into the training with an open mind and a willingness to listen to the input of others. Your work will be better because of it. 

5. Who is in your professional network, and how do you leverage the resources and knowledge in it? This goes along with the facet of feedback. And for the most part it just comes down to interacting with others that share common educational interests and experience. If your district already requires that you participate in a Professional Learning Network, wonderful! Perhaps that group can explore PBL topics together or offer feedback on instruction or ideas (projects or otherwise). 

In the social media realm, be sure to check out the ever-growing network of individuals and organizations talking about Project-Based Learning. Naturally, start with @magnifylearning. There are a lot of healthy and progressive discussions happening regularly, including #PBLchat on Tuesday evenings. 

Since you already have enough to do preparing for your classes, we’ll call that enough homework in preparation for a great Magnify Learning PBL training session! We look forward to seeing you this summer, and don’t forget about the discount when you bring a group!