25 March 2008

Cutting edge of project learning - robotics

Early this morning, driving to work I heard this incredible story about high school students beating MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a competition - TWICE, four years ago. Today, that team is being interviewed on NPR, the students and the teacher, because they have an all girls team in regional robotics competition at LA. This robotics team is project based learning in its' finest.

The students drive their own efforts to build the robot, plus they work with feeder (middle) schools to train the students there in building and operating robotics, plus they raise funds to be able to travel to the competitions. The teacher, Fredi Lajvardi, puts in tons of hours after school and on weekends - the majority of which is volunteer - he doesn't get paid by the school district for his club work. I think the key here on the project learning aspect is this - the students are willingly 100% responsible for all the work done by their club.

Naturally, in the course of this participation students learn science and math. They also build incredible social skills. As a side benefit, students get prepared to be engineers and many of the team participants have gone on to a university with scholarship money. The training they provide to the students in middle schools is their volunteer work, which pays off when those middle schoolers understand more about math and science plus they're ready when they arrive at high school for robotics.

Kudos to Fredi and his determination to make all this available to his robotics team!

Click here for radio interview and slides at NPR.

Click here for the Falcon robotics web site.

24 March 2008

Service learning and the environment

I find planning for service learning doesn’t need to be exotic. When I think about it, the elements of project based learning are present in the current project we are working on: 1) students performing construction activities, 2) students are applying prior knowledge to learn, and 3) peer to peer collaboration is present. The one addition for service learning is that the students are helping others or helping the community with the effort being made.

In the barrel project discussed yesterday the students are helping others become aware of the environment. When the colorful barrels are placed around the zoo they will naturally draw the attention of visitors to the zoo. That attention alone is subtlety supporting those seeing the barrels to take care of the environment. Lastly, the essay that club members will collaborate to produce seals the effort to promote behaviors of recycling and reusing.

- This work involves the entire community as high school students around AZ have an opportunity to become involved and make a difference at one of Arizona’s most important cultural, educational, and environmental organizations.

- This project involves student and visitor education ... students learn about recycling, conservation, wildlife, and habitats as they create the barrel designs. Plus, visitors are visually reminded to recycle by the student art work.

- The barrels being used are actually being re-used so the work is doing what the end result is promoting.

Service learning can be fun, educational, and support the community. Have any good ideas for a service learning class effort?

23 March 2008

Project Learning and Earth Day

One activity I'm doing with a club I sponsor after school, the Blue Planet Society, involves the Phoenix Zoo. The zoo has invited high schools to paint barrels with an environmental theme, which will then be placed around the zoo as containers for recyclable items. On Earth Day the zoo staff will judge the essays submitted with the barrels in the Environmental Connections Essay Contest. The schools/groups that win the Favorite Barrel Contest and Environmental Connections Contest will receive a free Zoo-To-You Outreach program of their choice.

The students are having a blast in the painting and the essay is coming along. I am enjoying watching them arrive at what to paint. They split into two groups and each group has really struggled with the "right" thing to paint. There's a lot of social dynamics occurring that I didn't anticipate. Then we had to move into who was going to paint and we ended up asking a very talented student, who's not in the club. to help us. The essay effort is being headed by three students and we will have a draft later this week.

Besides the social stuff, everyone is learning some painting concepts. Plus, everyone is participating in the ideas we all present in the essay. There is that, what I call, "project richness" that takes place when you have students exchanging ideas, challenging each other, asking questions, and trying to fit in with each other ..... a very active project indeed. I am asking students to write a two paragraph summary about what they learned by participating in the project.

We need to submit the completed barrels and essay in two weeks. One thing, no matter how well we planned, we are getting jammed with running out of time. But, the students are committed to getting it done so I'm sure we will. Click here to see the Phoenix Zoo site about the project in general.

I will keep you posted on our progress. Here are some photos of the work we are doing....

Business meeting to make a plan.

Putting on the primer.

Adding the design work.

16 March 2008

Do pedagogy and inpsiration mix?

Well, I kept asking myself what inspiration has to do with project based learning and service learning ... and I didn't have any answers. Ever been drawn to something without understanding why? I was drawn to a Tony Robbins video on TED.

After watching it, I was clear - so glad I don't always need a reason "to do" something. This video clip is 20 minutes well worth your time - for the quality of your life and thus the quality of your teaching. Everything he discusses relates to pedagogy.

What did I learn? Well, too much to mention here but I did grasp that learning/teaching are heavily dependent on unseen forces. In my role as an educator, I think all teachers have made a plan for achieving what we want to deliver in our personal effort to fulfill students' education - either consciously or unconsciously. Mine is conscious choice at this juncture.

During the drive of our teaching career we are going to make some "decisions of destiny" and each choice we make will bring into view certain choices ... those choices are what we end up focusing on and thus shaping our world.

What I find most interesting are his six traits - so to speak - that each of us contain. Yes, we use them all but use some more than others. The one we choose at any time will drives us in that period .... and they are: certainty, variety, significance, connection, growth, contribution.

I can see how different students in different classes are driven by those at one time or another... sometimes all the time. Like the class clowns are the "significance" since they disrupt the class to get 100% attention. The students who "aren't doing a drawing unless I get a ruler" would be "certainty." Another is "variety" which is those students who are asking more and more questions about the same subject but in different ways or on related topics.

This is the first time I've seen Tony, although I've heard of him for years. If you take the time, I think you 'll be pleased and find this a meaningful talk for yourself and your students. I'm going to show it to mine this week.

Tell me what you think.

14 March 2008

Research on service learning in public schools

Service-learning in K-12 schools works for teacher because it integrates classroom instruction with service by students. That service can go across the curriculum, touching more than one subject area. Because service learning is working on issues in the community it provides opportunities for students to enhance utilize critical thinking skills. It must have clearly stated learning objectives, meet real community needs, and include time for students to reflection.

In a study done by W. K. Kellogg Foundation, participating youths explained their benefits in service learning programs in personal and social responsibility, self-efficacy, motivation to learn, improved academic skills, leadership skills, avoidance of risk behavior, interpersonal skills, and connection with heritage. Read the report

Schools can implement service-learning programs in a number of different ways. They range from school-wide service learning, which involves every student in the school, to grade-wide service-learning, which involves all students in one or more grades, to service-learning as part of an individual course.

Interesting teacher facts on service learning…
- Nationwide, 83 percent of public schools with service-learning offered some type of support to teachers interested in integrating service-learning into the curriculum
- The most common types of support provided to teachers included support for attending service-learning training or conferences outside of the school (66 percent), financial support for costs associated with service-learning projects or programs (58 percent), and mini-grants for service-learning programs or curriculum development (45 percent)

Why do public schools participate in service learning?
The top three responses were as follows:
- 53 percent of schools said that they encouraged student involvement in service-learning to help students become more active members of the community.
- The other most frequently cited reasons were increasing student knowledge and understanding of the community (51 percent)
- meeting real community needs and/ or fostering relationships between the school and surrounding community (48 percent)

Information for this blog was obtained from http://nces.ed.gov.

11 March 2008

Get ready, set and go to digital learning materials - for free

Hey, what if we got rid of the textbooks and allowed teachers to share digital texts and course materials? Then any teacher can modify/translate/contextualize that material for their class ... oh yeah, it's all free to do this. Would you use it? I would in a heart beat. This video below, Richard Baraniuk, shows this has already begun around the world ... it's being realized right now in an effort called Connexions.

Earth Hour - a global blessing

Originating in Sydney in 2007, the Earth Hour campaign has now gained global attention. As a result, on 8pm March 29, 2008 millions of people in some of the world’s major capital cities will unite and switch off for Earth Hour. See what is happening in your city and how you can get involved.

This is an awesome way to support the Earth and help educate our students by getting them to participate in a simple action. Yet and still, this promises an opportunity where they can behave to demonstrate their understanding of being a global citizen.

Get involved and learn more at the Earth Hour website.

09 March 2008

Cool, free tech stuff for learning tools

Technology is here to stay and as educators we have to learn it and, if we are lucky, keep up with it. Here are some tools you can use for free, each has a different level of skill requirements.

Get "Pro" version of Google Earth for free.
Read how and learn about how to apply it in your lessons here.

Productivity: documents, presentations, file storage, database, and more
Zoho is a suite of online applications (services) used from an online server. The applications are free for individuals and some have a subscription fee for organizations.

Virtual World
Quest Atlantis (QA) is an international learning and teaching project that uses a 3D multi-user environment to immerse children, ages 9-15, in educational tasks. QA combines strategies used in the commercial gaming environment with lessons from educational research on learning and motivation.

Chat Rooms
1. Yaplet: a simple idea: Add anonymous, no-registration chat to any Web site. Yaplet is a browser sidebar that can also be popped out as its own browser window.
2. ChatMaker: make your own chat room.
3. Chatzy: make your own chat room

Presentation – Collaboration
1. Multiple people can work on a document at the same time: Just 2 Easy, Zoho Writer, Solodox.
2. White board that allows multiple online users – up to five – at the same time: Scriblink.
3. White board that allows multiple online users and you can paste in other docs too: Skrbl.
Squeak is a "media authoring tool"-- software that you can download to your computer and then use to create your own media or share and play with others. It is free and downloadable here.

1. A web-based software for creating WebQuests in a short time. When you use zWebquest, you will not need any of writing HTML code or using any web editor software. zWebquest creates all the necessary files and puts them on the server automatically.
2. Filamentality is a free fill-in-the-blank tool that guides you through picking a topic, searching the Internet, gathering good Internet links, and turning them into online learning activities.

Provided by Education Reporting, Inc website for reports, trends, and news on K-12 education.

Educator summer fun and learning too

Walden Woods Project
Application are being accepted for Approaching Walden, a professional development summer seminar for high school educators and graduate students. This six-day workshop is professionally as well as personally enriching, and provides teachers with the skills needed to lead their students in a study of their home community. This place-based, interdisciplinary workshop uses Henry David Thoreau's ethic and his experience at Walden Woods as a model.

National Parks Seek Teacher Rangers
The Teacher to Ranger to Teacher (TRT) Program links National Park units with teachers from low income school districts. Under this program, selected teachers spend the summer working as park rangers, often living in the park. They perform various duties depending on their interests and the needs of the park, including developing and presenting interpretive programs for the general public, staffing the visitor center desk, developing curriculum-based materials for the park, or taking on special projects.

Wild Studies Summer Science Adventures
Dive, hike, and explore endangered environments in the Bahamas, Costa Rica, and Baja Mexico with Wild Studies. Learn about local environmental issues, earn graduate credit, and participate in data collection for conservation organizations. Teachers travel and participate free with just 7 or 8 students, travel with 4 students for just $300.

Have a summer opportunity for teachers? Le me know and I'll post it here.

08 March 2008

Top Three: Project Based Learning Research Sources

It seems there are more and more educators and education focused groups talking about the benefits of project based education these days. Here are my top three sites for reputable research on the benefits of using project based learning in class:

3. Research Supporting Student-Directed Project-Based Learning
This reports provides research on the brain,
constructivism, best practices in learning, student motivation, learning environments, learning communities, and assessment. Well worth your time to read and worth keeping for reference.

2. This report is one of several reports being prepared for The Road Ahead, a program of the National Foundation for the Improvement of Education (NFIE), a nonprofit foundation of the National Education Association (NEA). The Road Ahead is funded by Bill Gates, co-founder and CEO of Microsoft Corporation, from proceeds from his book by the same name.

1. PBL Research Summary: Studies Validate Project-Based Learning
Multiple research sources show the efficacy of an authentic form of education that expects students to immerse themselves in a topic and meaningfully demonstrate acquisition of skills and knowledge.

What are your best resource sources for project based learning?

06 March 2008

Service learning - in action

Here are three sites with examples of existing service learning projects that students created and implemented. A good read for teachers and students!

1. Environmental Clean-up Day
Connecting with the Community
3. GreenWorks! Great Ideas

Service Learning Projects and Lessons
Complete manual that can be downloaded to review and implement the entire picture of “how to” use service learning.

05 March 2008

What is service learning?

National Youth Leadership Council
Service-learning is a teaching method that enriches learning by engaging students in meaningful service to their schools and communities. Young people apply academic skills to solving real-world issues, linking established learning objectives with genuine needs. They lead the process, with adults as partners, applying critical thinking and problem-solving skills to concerns such as hunger, pollution, and diversity.

Maryland Student Service Alliance Maryland State Department of Education
Maryland is the first state in the nation to require high school students to engage in service-learning activities as a condition of graduation.

Service learning is a form of project based learning in which academic goals are accomplished through community service. Service learning is neither an add-on nor a diversion from the curriculum. It is a powerful approach to teaching that provides kids with authentic learning experiences in which they learn academic content in a real-life, real-world context. Properly implemented, service learning develops citizenship, responsibility, and many other positive character virtues, making it a highly effective character education program in and of itself.

New Horizons for Learning
Service learning projects emphasize both the service and the learning. By applying classroom content to community settings, service-learning is a way to provide more authenticity and purpose for classroom learning. By contrast, community service emphasizes the habits and skills of volunteerism.

04 March 2008

The perfect service learning opportunity

I think the perfect fit for service learning is working with K-12 students and teachers. It’s a total win-win for everyone. From what I have seen do far, students win by participating in engaging activities where they practice what they have learned and also learn new ideas by collaborating with peers and experts. It’s not always easy in service learning, there'll be bumps in the road, but the work being done is applying learning rather than doing book learning – sitting in a class and talking about it. Seriously, think back when you got your driver’s license. What was more engaging and required more of your attention … sitting in class talking about the rules and behaviors of driving or actually sitting behind the wheel and driving down the street. See what I mean.

In my mind I see a K-12 class partnering with a SLO to complete a campus/community project. The SLO would supply the materials, since schools are short funded, and the students supply the labor. The teacher assembles the lesson plan, based on Standards that apply to the content studied in class and the work being accomplished by the students. The scope of work determines variables like work schedules, transportation, insurance, feeding the students, and so forth. This scenario seems to be a perfect press and district office opportunity to promote what is “’right” about education today. Do you agree?

An important question, how will success measured? For the K-12 class there is 1) the assessment they will take in class, 2) the results of the project, and 3) the life skills they develop. But, I'm not clear how a service learning organization (SLO) measures their success. When I worked at Fortune 500 companies the measure was based on a couple of factors: 1) budget, 2) customer satisfaction, 3) schedule compliance, and 4) internal controls. SLO’s are large organizations so they must have some similar measures: 1) the amount of work accomplished in a certain time, 2) amount of volunteers provided during a project or time period, 3) amount of money donated compared to funds raised? Or, is it that funding drives decision making to determine what work an SLO performs with volunteers or where they perform their work? If you understand how a SLO measures success please let me know.

In the mean time, SLO’s, if you are interested in this type of partnership let me know. I am interested in it for my classes. I also think it’s worth promoting to teachers and administrators in my newsletter.

03 March 2008

Service Learning: it’s the effort –right?

Two weeks I had a disturbing experience I want to share. I contacted two national organizations offering service learning opportunities. The first one was offering inner city project opportunities and the second was vaguely described as looking for volunteer coordinators. I sent emails to both form their web pages.

The first sent me an automated response with contact person email information and I replied to that. My reply was speedily returned as undeliverable. I went back to the web site and sent a feedback form about what happened. That produced a response from a person who sent me another email address and phone for the same contact person. I sent a new email to the contact and that was returned as undeliverable. I called the number of this person and heard a voice, left my message, and then nothing. It’s been two weeks and I’ve heard nothing.

The second opportunity responded promptly to my inquiry in a short message, one sentence, something to the effect that they needed volunteers and was I interested? I didn’t respond. Why? Not inspired.

I’m a teacher. I have organized high school students into doing service work, without all the lofty terms. They just want to make the campus a better place. I did it by providing information, facilitating discussions, and fanning the flames of their commitment to the campus and neighborhood.

I think that the keys to effective service learning and stirring up volunteer efforts in a community are:

1) Make the connection: sparking an interest about a specific issues or challenge
2) Allowing potential participants to take a level of responsibility in the issue/challenge
3) Meaningful action to resolve the issue/challenge
4) Local organization to administrate the action
5) Time for reflection on the “good” being produced

I don’t think throwing money at service learning is going to accomplish meaningful work or even increase numbers of participants. And, I think speakers that talk without making the connection are mere advertisers to an action item on the “looking good” agenda.

Students and people want to help, they want to pitch in and do some work. If you don’t have participation in your program then I guarantee you … you aren’t doing the five points above.

I hope we don’t run an excellent teaching method, service learning, amok because all we’re doing is throwing the almighty corporation dollar, or even worse - the almighty donation dollar, in an effort to run enough advertisements to peak interest and fill some volunteer slots in a plan.

What to do? Let’s keep this real and stay focused. Teachers are the resource for the five point plan because they already have the connection with students. Let the teachers promote the opportunity. I know, from my own experience in a classroom, it’s possible to instill service learning in the minds and heart of our future leaders while people are having fun and learning too. Organizations that partner with teachers are taking a step in the right direction.

02 March 2008

Are you a literate educator?

I have always thought a literate educator was one that knew the language and could draw metaphors with it, as well as write and read. What do you consider the qualities of a literate educator?

What peaked my interest was learning how to make a podcast the other night after arriving home from school. Creating one is something I’ve been meaning to do, so I sat down at the trusty laptop and got a Googling. Within 20 minutes I had found the article that worked for me to explain the procedures and the parts I needed, which weren’t much. With a microphone hooked to my PC and free software I’m able to get started in the world of podcasting.

As an educator, I think I can turn my podcasts into a handy education tool for students. But why make the effort? They will listen. How many students have MP3 players in your classes? About 50% or more in mine have ‘em. Students obtain more knowledge from watching a 15 minute clip that they do listening to my 15 minute lecture, even when I’m using a PowerPoint presentation. I’m thinking the time has arrived to redefine a literate teacher for my view.

There is so more media available to teach with nowadays besides books, paper, and a pencil/pen that the students will use. We as teachers have to take the leading edge in integrating technology into our lessons and classes. Here are my skill requirements for a literate educator in the not too distant future ….

Blogs: can produce a blog at regular intervals for lesson use or to communicate with other educators

Email: must be fluent in sending, receiving, and managing email

File Management: manipulate files, upload or download, and is well organized in maintaining and storage of files, including bookmarks of favorite web sites

LCD projectors: with this linked to the teacher computer the entire world, via the internet, can be used in a classroom lesson.

Podcast: develop, produce and share content relevant podcasts

Peer Collaboration: skillful at using online resources in lessons where students and teacher can have dynamic discussions, including being able to navigate social networking sites

Texting: understands how to receive and send text messages

Web page building: demonstrated success in constructing an informative and interesting web page

Wiki: makes use of this tool in publishing lesson content or to manage student discussions

What are the requirements you see as necessary?

Visit my web site at educationreporting.com.

01 March 2008

Social networking links with educators

Social networking is here to stay. Surprising to all us old folks like me, it’s clearly a trend that is useful, convenient, and can be fun too. I jumped on board a few months ago to explore my passions of project based learning and service learning. I discovered many similar minded people like me around the world and many doors have been opened....folks serious about improving K-12 education!

I want to suggest, if you are working on a project and want to develop some contacts to receive quality feedback … check out the social virtual world. I must admit I was somewhat skeptical at first, sure it takes time to meet folks, nothing happens overnight, but the people I found and those who found me were helpful to my work. I’m happy to say I’ve had no strange experiences.

Here are my top choices…

Classroom 2.0
This is mostly educators around the world from all age groups and content areas.

Ning in Education
This is a larger group of educators around the globe with more subjects discussed in the forms than Class 2.0.

This is my personal account, once you have an account you can discover many education groups inside. Send me a message if you can’t find 'em and I send you an invite.

There is more opportunity to meet groups and individuals here than in Facebook, groups are easier to access. Here you'll find some serious minded groups on education reform that have global participants.

Online Instruction
This is more technology minded conversations but still very useful for group and peer learning.

Weekly Innovations
Check out the videos here, they have some excellent points on reform areas in K-12 education.

These are teacher networks offering discussions and materials that can be helpful too ….

K-12 Service Learning

Education Technology

Environmental Education

Discovery Educators Network

Earthday Network

Google for Teachers

Education World

All these links have the potential to open thousands of doors. Good luck!
Do you have any social networking links to suggest for others?

Visit my site at educationreporting.com.