Friday, August 14, 2015

What Did You Learn at School Today? What Will YOUR Students Say?

Every new school year I begin my planning ritual.  I type my class lists, revamp my website, and change the number of years taught on my teacher profile.  Then, I reflect on my summer of learning.  I always start the summer with a plan to read professional texts to improve my quality of teaching the following school year. This summer was quite the gift because not only did I read some new gems, I also revisited many books I read previously. I have so may ideas in my head, but my hope is to fit the philosophies together to deliver the best learning opportunities to my students this year. I will highlight these texts in future blog posts since each author and topic deserves its own moment to shine.  I also believe it is important to share how I will or have used the ideas discussed in my own sixth grade classroom.

One of the texts I revisited was Thinking Through Project-Based Learning by Jane Krauss and Suzie Boss. This is one of my gems since I recently used it as the textbook for a university course I taught for teachers called, "Project-Based Learning and STEM".  Even though I know this book well, I often revisit the chapters on inquiry. These chapters are wonderful reminders to teachers that project-based learning doesn't have to fit a specific mold. It meets the needs of our students and the learning targets. It also reminds us that project-based learning is often interdisciplinary, which can range from several days to weeks depending on the content. As a writer's workshop, science and social studies teacher, the interdisciplinary approach to meeting the learning targets are ideal.  Students are able to integrate concepts and ideas from other disciplines. I am always reminded that most careers are interdisciplinary, just like teaching. We need to create experiences in our classrooms that are modeled the same way.

This is especially important this year.  Last year our 6th grade schedule allowed a time for science, social studies, and project-based learning.  This year, project-based learning will be integrated into our science and social studies time.  Fortunately, I teach with an amazing group of teachers who value the importance of inquiry-based learning.  We have already looked at our schedule and our learning targets to make sure we are able to integrate our PBL opportunities appropriately, as well as look for new ideas.

As luck would have it, my husband welcomed Suzie Boss to present at Franklin School District on Project-Based Learning.  Of course I jumped at the chance to attend.  Meeting Suzie Boss in person, walking through the project planning process with her, and being able to ask questions was such an amazing experience. I like to select project ideas from headlines or local issues and I noticed my writers and scientists do as well.  I was glad to hear Suzie use examples she called, "Ripped from the Headlines" in her presentation.  She also shared the great resources from the Buck Institute for Education. I love the graphic below because it shows the design elements, as well as the role of the teacher.

My goal this school year is to continue to create inquiry-based experiences for my students in all subject areas.  If they are seeking knowledge through research and asking questions, they will acquire a deeper level of knowledge. This means my mini lessons need to be shorter! (Reminder to myself.) My time is better spent as a facilitator and conferring with my writers.

If each experience is not memorable due to student voice and choice, inquiry-based and personalized, will students retain the learning?  Will they look forward to what you have in store for them tomorrow? Most important, will they leave empowered with the skills to recreate the experience on their own? My hope is my students will end each school day with a new piece of knowledge, maybe even a gem to inspire a Passion Project during the school year.

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