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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
@andrewmlarson

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! 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Behind the Curtain of PBL



By: Trisha Burns
CSA Central-Columbus Signature Academy Middle School
Columbus, IN 
@BurnsTrisha

There is a balance between teachers teaching what is required and empowering students to drive their own learning.  In fact, it can be one of the scariest parts of starting PBL in your classroom.  However, this is where you have to make sure your project design and facilitation skills are on point.  Think of the project as a play.  Anyone who has ever been to a play knows that there is just as much going on behind the curtain as in front of it.  

Before the project begins, there is a lot of work that goes on behind the curtain.  Teachers start with
Photo by Monica Silvestre from Pexels
standards, authentic problem ideas, and employability skills that they want to teach and create a project with.  They contact possible community partners and create a list of breadcrumbs, or a trail of clues that the students need to know or be able to do during the project.  Once they have the breadcrumbs written those can become a list of possible need to knows that they make sure goes in to the entry event, which launches the project and hooks students.    

On project launch day, the students receive the entry event and generate their list of need to knows.  If the teacher was intentional with placing breadcrumbs in the entry event, the students asked the questions that the teacher needed them to (and more, because students are way more creative that teachers!) In front of the curtain, the students are driving the project and behind the curtain, the teacher breathes a sigh of relief because the students asked about the content the teacher needs to teach.  The facilitator organizes the students “need to knows” in the order that the questions need to be answered and now behind the curtain, the director has their project calendar in which to build their scaffolding.

Students begin to define the problem they need to solve by summing it up in a driving question.  They should be able to use clues from the entry event to answer these three questions: 
  • Who are we in the project?
  • What are we doing?
  • Why are we doing it?

Again, behind the curtain, the teacher planned the entry event with clues in it.  On the stage, the students define the problem which (again) will be even better than what the teacher anticipated.

Next, it is time to get a community partner who can help solve the problem with you.  Behind the curtain, the teacher has already contacted a community partner and has a plan on how it could possibly work.  On the stage, the teacher facilitates a protocol, like a chalk talk, to have the students generate a list of possible community partners.  Again, behind the curtain the teacher breathes a sigh of relief when their possible community partner has been written down. The other thing that happens behind the curtain is that the teacher is given a list of other community partners that he/she never would have thought of on his/her own.  This is HUGE.  The teacher could have just given the community partner to the students and said that they wanted to work with them, but by directing this play (or facilitating the classroom), the teacher was able to give the students’ a voice and the project becomes better than expected. Furthermore, the students gain a sense of empowerment in the project and their learning.

What happens when the students don’t follow the cues or the breadcrumbs the director gives them?  Let’s face it, there are times that actors decide to improv a little, and it makes the director nervous.  However,  if it is a non-negotiable content cue they missed, the director should feel free to lead the discussion or protocol in a way to make the actors realize they need the information.  There are times in my classroom, if I’ve tried to facilitate and ask questions, and they aren’t picking up on my hints, I just flat out ask them or suggest it.  If it isn’t a content non-negotiable, let it go.  This is part of giving up some of the “power” of the play.  Behind the curtain, the director gives himself/herself a pep talk, readjusts the script to make the changes, and then moves on.

The project moves along. The shows goes on, and the director/facilitator begins to see that a lot of  his/her work is done behind the curtain, before or at the beginning of the project.  His/her role switches into giving individual group feedback based on a group's solution or on a group's performance.  The director also spends time facilitating the actors/students to adjust their own progress. Sometimes students need more help than was expected; it’s okay.  The facilitator creates more scaffolding to build the students’ knowledge up and  help them successfully complete the project.  

The most rewarding part of the “play,” is at the end of the project.  This is the time that the teacher is more than excited to step back and let the students get the glory for all of their hard work.  And then when it is all said and done,  the teacher goes back behind the curtain and reflects on the project. This is the time to think through what he or she learned throughout the process. This play has ended, and now it's time to begin planning the next one!





Friday, April 6, 2018

College and Career Readiness: What Should it Really Look Like?


Andrew Larson
Columbus Signature Academy New Tech High School
@andrewmlarson

The modern American high school is busy preparing students for the future, yet we have no idea what the future holds. Has this always been the case? Not to the extent that we are now realizing. As automation replaces some jobs and paves the way for new ones, the new worker needs to be ready for whatever opportunities the future presents.

What, then,  does college and career readiness mean today? I reached out to those for whom the memory is fresh: alumni from Columbus Signature Academy New Tech High School, our Project- Based Learning school in Columbus, Indiana.

I asked them what they most appreciated and most lacked as they moved into the college and career phases of life. Their comments are a good reminder of what matters most in school, as well as a hint of what is hopefully the future of American schools. Here is what they told me.

I was shocked. The college workload is relentless (as most of us recall.) Mason Nowels, Class of
Mason Nowels
2013, went on to study Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati. “
I found that I was not prepared for the amount of work I got. At all. I can't count the number of nights that I have spent working until 11 or later. I also wasn't prepared for bad grades. I was a straight A student in highschool and after the first test in Calculus 1 I called my mother freaking out because I thought I got a C.  You have to work REALLY hard in order to get all A's in college. Also going to your professor and complaining that something is too hard won't work. They will offer to help you learn it, but they won't make it easier. If you want to pass you need to know the content.

There is no getting around the “shock and awe” that college freshmen experience. However, as with all things in life, what matters is how we react to those shocks. One of the attributes of success seems to be possessing a Growth Mindset. Having a growth mindset means finding the value and lessons from failures, remaining open to feedback and not viewing it as a threat or insult, and understanding that you will not be good at everything, notat first.

PBL, as a model, emphasizes growth mindset and as such, has measurable benefits for developing persistence in college. According to the New Tech Network Student Outcomes Report for 2016, NTN graduates that went on to a four- year college persisted at a 92% rate. In the age where being accepted to and starting a college education does not mean finishing it, this is an encouraging statistic.

With practice comes growth. Will it be hard? Yes. Will you struggle? Definitely. Will you make it to the finish line? With a growth mindset, you have a much better chance.

Katheryn Henderson
Katheryn Henderson, CSA Class of 2014, remarks that she lacked confidence in high school. Thankfully, her growth mindset and interpersonal skills have taken her far in her career at Indiana State University. "I have great oral communication skills, but I couldn’t make a phone call to ask for donations or sponsorships (while my boss listening) without freezing up. Now one year later, I can make phone calls with no hesitation. My confidence finally paid off when I made the Dean’s List for Fall 2017.”

Education needs to be personalized. Josh Gray, Class of 2013, found a rigidity in our educational system that he wished were not there. Coming from Josh, that is a strong statement as he sought out one of our district’s vocational pathways (in which he thrived) and finished his high school career in a paid School- To- Work internship in mechanical engineering. He remarks, “I wish we, (the
Josh Gray
school as well as the students) had more of a focus on roundness….by that I mean being more capable in a variety of areas instead of extreme focus in one area.  I had to learn skilled trades such as plumbing, welding, machining, etc, in addition to what I knew already about engine theory, in order to be as useful as others, most 10-15 years older than I. Allow kids to seek a pathway they choose and enjoy...a self led education but with the addition of curricula that helps them be competitive and well rounded.” Josh also references growth mindset and communication skills as a key factor in his high school education. “A huge part of my success career wise has been my ability to communicate and remain fluid in capability.”

Adulting is hard. Shella Moss, Class of 2014, experienced the difficult reality that you just have to figure out so much on your own. For her, personal finance was most challenging. “I honestly wish that there would have been a class or project to help you manage money. School debt, credit cards, car loans. How much to put into savings how much you should
Shella Moss
spend on groceries, how to coupon to save the most of your money, etc.! I have learned all this with time and have used online resources  to guide me in the right direction.” Shella is not the first student to make this remark, and in response to this feedback, we have recently added a Personal Finance course for seniors and it has been very well received.

My takeaways from these student comments are very much that they seem to point towards a skill set that combines the best of all worlds. We need to strive towards a future where content fluency is balanced with flexibility. We need to continue to equip students with the communication skills and approach to challenging situations that will allow them to navigate them well and succeed. Last, we need to do everything we can to help students realize that high school is a “practice run” for adult life, but it is, at best, a poor simulation of reality.

In the end, though, Mason advises that it will work out for the person who approaches the workforce with the right mindset. “As far as careers go, all I can say is DON'T PANIC. Employers expect a learning curve for entry level positions.”

Being ready may, in fact, be a relative term. College and career readiness may, in truth, be a paradox. There may be no such thing as ever being truly ready. But alas, it will come. When it does, we hope that the skills we work on in high school are the right ones for the workforce of the future.