Teaching in a Problem/Project Based Learning Classroom

PROJECT BASED INSTRUCTION – #EDUBLOGSCLUB PROMPT 17

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Teaching in a project based learning environment is:

  • exciting
  • fun
  • loud
  • interesting
  • chaotic
  • engaging
  • different everyday

It is not however easy. If a teacher is looking for a simple and quiet environment, a project or problem based classroom is not for him or her…. for that teacher, my suggestion is to stick to the ole’ worksheets and sit back and be bored! A project based classroom is an incredible place to be, but it is work!

Case in point… my classroom. Yes, for the last 9 years I have taught art, but prior to that I taught Economics, Debate, Reading, Creative Writing, Career Investigations, Math, Speech and Theatre and in all of these courses, I used project based instruction. So from a veteran twenty year teacher, I feel like I am a perfect advocate for this type of instruction and learning environment!

So how does project based instruction work? Here is an example..

Over the last few months my art 2 – 4 students have been learning to create logos and to screen print their design on shirts. This project has been a huge undertaking and has lingered on and on!

One of the hardest parts of project/problem based instruction for the teacher is understanding that your schedule, your bundled curriculum, and your lesson plans might just have to be thrown out of the window for the good of the students!

EEK! Yes, I did just say that! But, what I have learned is that while I might have to adjust my plans to make problem based learning work, it is worth it. And, in order to give all of my students time to process and consider the problem or the process, I have students work through the project in stages or increments with breaks for other assignments built-in (this also catches me up on my bundle..) So for example, here is my logo design screen printing project timeline:

Early February: Create a logo for art using a custom graphic and just one color. Students created this by hand and/or digitally. The students that worked quickly set their design aside and moved to a different project. The students that worked slowly were given a couple more class days to work and then had time outside of class to continue working on their own time. Students were told at this point to bring a tshirt and a frame for their screen.

Late February: Students learned how to cut green screen film. This was time-consuming. As the students completed this they were able to adhere their film to their screen and print.. if they brought their supplies. However,  after a couple of class days, students were asked to move to a different assignment and finish cutting as they had time between other projects.

March: Students were expected to have frames and shirts at school. Some did. Some didn’t. As students would complete a different project they were given time to continue their screen printing project. This ebb and flow of the project worked to my advantage as students would get excited when they would see student’s completed work and then want to figure out how to finish their project. I would completely move on and not mention the project for days at a time.

April: Not much happening on the screening of shirts. We were busy with other projects and contests. If a student wanted to work on this project, I let them. But I pretty much ignored it until the late April when I gave a hard deadline that we would be finishing the project the first week of May.

This forced those that had been procrastinating or forgetful to get busy! This was a week of seeing months of on and off work completed.

And why now after all of this time? Because the second Tuesday of May is the day we take our big group picture where everyone wears their creation!

I can’t wait to show those off! I wore one shirt yesterday and am wearing a different design today!

So do all of my students have shirts to wear?

NOPE! And that is one of the real life lessons from project based instruction. I gave lots of opportunities to work, create, problem solve and get help, but in the end, the students had to complete the work for themselves. This week I had one of my oldest, most advanced students get left behind because she missed too many deadlines and never got her green film adhered to the screen. Sad, but that’s part of life and truly one of the best lessons learned with project based instruction.

Do I consider the project successful?

YES! The joy on student’s faces when they successfully created something that could be worn is worth the effort! Besides the fact that I cover a truckload of the required essential skills (TEKS) in this one project, I pride myself on the fact that these students leave with tangible job skills.

Do all of my project based lessons take so long?

YES and NO! Some project based instruction is fast, some is slow. After years and years of this type of teaching I have learned how to weave the projects and expectations of lessons in and out and have multiple things going on in my classroom at one time. This process works for me.. but it would drive some teachers crazy. I get that.

 Is project based learning or problem based learning?

Let me give you an example… I teach four sections of art 1. I really wanted to do a problem based instruction unit on ceramic molds. I knew that this would not work with all of my art 1 classes. So, three classes did a manageable PROJECT based ceramic project where they learned how to create a clay monster and a clay box.

This was PROJECT based… meaning I knew the exact outcome I wanted, but the students still had to experiment, learn and explore the entire process and create a product.

The remaining class whose class dynamics were right for the PROBLEM were given the option to do the project like the other classes or take on the problem. They of course, chose the problem which was to experiment, learn, explore and create using ceramic molds.

The outcome of their problem was not a given. I refused to be anything more than a facilitator and mentor. They loved the process and worked tirelessly for weeks!

For me, the difference between the project and the problem is the willingness for me to let go of the final product. In the world of art, students are constantly working with a project based instruction model.

But when I used problem based instruction, I have to take a step back and let the students drive the process. This happens less often as so much of what we do is for contests. However, when we do, magic happens!

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So in the end, whether you are interested in using Project Based Instruction or Problem Based Instruction, I challenge you to just do it. Giving students hands-on applicable work transforms classrooms, student’s attitudes about school and gives student’s a sense of pride and ownership. Yes, it is a lot of work, but it is SO WORTH IT!

Fine Art Assessments

The Edublogs Club prompt #15 was over assessments… it was last week’s prompt and I was drowning in the teacher ocean so the prompt has had time to ruminate in my brain before trying to put my thoughts in print.

This morning, as I get ready for the “Parade of Champions” that our community is having for our school’s state champion girls soccer team and our theatre team, I wanted to reflect on the reality of assessments in the world of fine arts.

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While I might be tempted to say that assessments in fine arts aren’t necessary or accurate, the truth is that assessments are important in EVERY discipline. However, appropriate and authentic assessments are crucial. A rudimentary objective test completed on a scantron is never going to accurately students much less assess fine arts students or programs. Fine arts people don’t process the same way that math/science or english/history students primarily process. This is not to say that fine arts dominate students can’t do well on standardized tests…this is contrary to my experience.

But these tests don’t reflect the whole student. 

Therefore, I think that one of the best authentic assessments for fine arts programs (and all programs for that matter) is to evaluate the sum total of the year. While it’s fun to take a snapshot of success and boast about the quality of our programs based on one big win. If we are a one dimensional program, then the students suffer. The same goes for academics. If everything we have, all of our resources and our efforts are spent on getting students to do well on the state mandated test, but in the process student’s miss out on mastering the rest of the content, then we have failed… but who wants to acknowledge that.

That is one of the reasons why I am so proud that I can say I am part of a fantastic fine arts department at Stephenville ISD. Stephenville High School fine arts students are well rounded students within their disciplines, but are also strong academically and are leaders in the community!

My case in point.. the recent big win by the SHS Theatre Team. UIL (University Interscholastic League) is the governing body for Texas extracurricular events and last week, UIL hosted the state meet for One-Act Play and Theatrical Design. Advancing to the state competition is tough. At this competition, UIL crowned the State Champion Theatre Team. This team is made up of the school’s competitors in UIL Film, UIL One-Act Play and UIL Theatrical Design. SHS won State Champion because of the well-rounded team approach. In order to win, students had to show an amazing variety of skills and an incredible commitment to their work. Students began working on these contests in August of 2016! Film students created in the fall and turned in their work in January of 2017 and advanced to state in March. OAP students performances started in February with the state meet in April, but many students begin working on one-act play in August or earlier! Theatrical Design students started as soon as the topic was given in May 2016, really got to work in August, turned in their work in February and if they advanced, went to State in April. From start to finish, more than 300 SHS students participated in these contests… that is 30% of the student body at SHS.

But that isn’t all we do, it just happened to be the most public as this success came with a plaque, a parade and a pep rally.

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Don’t you just love the fact that we had three of our theatrical design students at the parade and peprally via giant head and facetime?! These three students were at the UIL State Academic meet for Literary Criticism. I tell you, we have well rounded kids!

But all of that while fun, isn’t exactly my point.

My point is that assessments need to define what they are really measuring. So many of the assessments that students are given, don’t measure content knowledge or content mastery, but test taking abilities and game play. I want assessments to measure mastery, not the ability of students to handle high stakes testing that capture a moment in time.  Yes, I am fully aware that these kinds of tests are necessary. I have a junior that is living in the land of ACT and SAT. But I don’t believe that school and student mastery should be assessed in this same manner. I want my students to be given the opportunity to prove their knowledge and ability based on a year’s worth of effort.

So am I pushing for portfolio assessments? Yes and no. As my advanced students are deep into AP Art Portfolio creation, I understand the value of such an undertaking. The portfolio is the best representation of what they can do within a time frame and within a set of guidelines. In art world, this means 24 to 29 of the best pieces that the student has created, 12 developed around and exploring one theme. The depth and complexity of this portfolio is not something that I can do with all of my students. But I could have students build and add to their portfolios each year to finish their high school career with a portfolio that they would be proud to show to a grandparent or even would-be employer.

As our district moves to a 1:1 digital environment, I have looked at having students create and curate their own digital portfolio. Our district has used BulbApp, our elementary students are using Seesaw, my advanced students have tried blogs.. the list is endless.

And that in and of itself becomes one of my negatives. As times change and new software becomes available, it is so hard to figure out what to keep, where to put it and who can access it. Usage agreements are ever changing. Parent policies and parent permissions are ever changing. So it’s hard. And I can’t store thousands of artifacts for my students. Not in real life or digital!

Because of that reality, I can’t support portfolio assessments completely.

So my suggestion is that we assess programs and schools on the sum total of the year, not individual kids, not a single test, not a single anything!

We get so caught up in individual student success and or failure and it shouldn’t be that way. I have students miss my class Thursday after Thursday for mandatory math tutorials because they haven’t passed the Math STAAR yet. It doesn’t matter that art is the only thing that is keeping some of the kids in school, they are yanked in mid-lesson, mid-project.. hopefully this approach pays off.. but at what cost to the student.

At the end of the day I am more than aware that there isn’t a perfect answer or a best case. Only a mixed bag of problems and no real solution. That is the world of education. However, the EdublogsClub prompt asked me to consider the role of assessments in education. So this is my wish.. authentic assessments that evaluate a year of effort.

And how would my program fair?

Here is my year end assessment (yes, I know it isn’t the end of the school year yet… I still have a state competition, a congressional competition, and a local competition to complete..):

  • SHS Art students have created work for numerous contests and have a great many awards locally, within the state and beyond.
  • SHS Art students have participated in numerous community service events and have given freely of their time and talents.
  • SHS Art students have created art work using at least 6 different media and have created more than 1000 pieces of art this school year.
  • SHS Art students are active within all student body organizations from Soy Importante to National Honor Society, from FCCLA to Robotics.
  • SHS Art students have been accepted to colleges and universities,  claim an art field as their degree path and begin with college equivalent hours from the AP Drawing and 2D Portfolios.

I’d consider that to be a satisfactory year end assessment for a program!

Super Teacher Giveaway

super teacher

It’s the time of year when we need a reminder.. we teachers are super human.

Right now, I am buried in deadlines and am drowning in the very real needs of students. I figure I’m not alone in this!

Well, it just so happens that the blog prompt on #Edublogsclub for this week is to do a giveaway. Perfect timing!

So I made up this Super Teacher graphic and thought I’d use it for a giveaway. Sure, you are all welcome to just right click and save as.. but I’m talking about a real giveaway.

Like a tshirt, or a clipboard, or a poster. What do you think?

Comment on this post with what you would like for your Super Teacher item and I’ll choose a couple of people to send gifts to!

Nope, it’s not teacher appreciation week… but man, we need to be appreciated every week!

Enjoy you Super Teachers!

 

 

The Pendulum in Education

The pendulum: used to describe to the tendency of a situation to oscillate between one extreme and another.

That is why the image of the pendulum works so well when talking about education “best practices” and trends.  After almost 20 years in the classroom, I have had the opportunity to learn and use a number of teaching methods. Some are worthwhile. Some are not. But every few years the new “great” thing comes out and all of us educators have to sit in professional development sessions and hear about how if we will use this new method our classrooms will be transformed. They never are.

Yes, I’m a bit cynical.  But after all of these years and reading and researching and actually doing the job, I realize that the catalyst for change, the red ball in my picture above is never a teacher in the trenches. The catalyst is a politician, a higher-education researcher, a group of specialists, a retired administrator.. someone that personally benefits from suggesting this new better thing. The catalyst of the pendulum shift is on the outside and only sees what happens from one point of view.

The best classroom instruction change agent.. a would be pendulum shifter… that I’ve ever heard was at our district’s convocation this past August.  His thoughts were radical! (well not really, but they might as well have been watching the response of the people in the audience..)

He asked teachers and administrators to think creatively and to be engaging in their instruction. He asked teachers to invest themselves personally in the process and not worry about the tests so much. (scary stuff for sure.)

Yes, he was selling his books and yes, he made a nice chunk of change for the presentation… but he was living in the trenches and doing what he was asking us to do. (You can find him at Teach Like A Pirate.)

Huge difference. His ideas came from seeing education from the center of the pendulum. While he was pushing for change, he was also being hit from the other side by the realities of his classroom.

pendulum

In the end, it was a nice presentation and we went on doing what we’ve been doing.. because there wasn’t an outside force that required change. There wasn’t any follow up, no required test, no paperwork followed.

hmmm. interesting. So I guess this reality becomes my question.

How do we in education become internal catalysts for change that we know is needed?

How do we, in essence, change the direction of the pendulum?

Do we have to wait for the hit to come back at us?

Do we have to absorb the changes in one direction before we can send change back in the other direction?

Lots of questions.

Processing this pendulum concept empowers me. Often I feel completely on the outside of the educational process and that my world doesn’t matter to anyone or anything beyond my students and my classroom.

But that is not the case.

All of us. Every. Single. Teacher is part of the the great pendulum and while we may not the be red ball catalyst, we do impact the structure of education.

With every hit (new law), we respond.

With every thud (new research), we react.

With every swing (new method), we learn.

Our ability or inability to absorb pendulum shifts with grace directly impacts our students. So instead of focusing on the bruising impact that some of these shifts in education policy leave on teachers, I’m going to remind myself that I’ve always loved to swing and that the pendulum and all of its back and forth is just a swing set and I’m going to hold on and swing high!

Winterguard, bruised knees and a powerful performance

I love watching Maddie perform. So much of our life is defined by the limitations that are put on her, that when she is able to participate in LIFE with her peers, we celebrate!

One of Maddie’s passions is colorguard/ winterguard. Participating in an event that is so hard on her body is costly to her. The exhaustion, sore muscles and constant bruising is a high price to pay, but worth it because she loves the sport.

Maddie is on Stephenville High School’s winterguard team and they have their championship competition on Saturday. On Tuesday, they were able to perform for the student body. They performed beautifully and it is always wonderful for their peers to see the amazing things that they are able to do!

Enjoy.

My Working Space

Welcome to my Week 2, #edublogsclub post.

The prompt asks me to share about where I get my work done, how my space is organized and any tips or tricks that I want to share.

To begin,  while I spend more hours in V-21 than anywhere else, I don’t know that I really get all that much work done.. at least between the hours of 7:45am and 3:40pm. I typically work on my graduate classes or projects for myself after hours at home. But for this post, I am going to focus on my classroom.

The Physical Space

Here is a glimpse of my classroom on the first day of school. After almost twenty years teaching, I still love the clean and organized room at the beginning of each year. It’s kind of like the “new car smell.”

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As reflected in the pictures, I have a lot of space. Good thing… I have a lot of students and two class periods a day I teach Art 2, Art 3 and AP Art and have students in both the front and back classrooms at the same time.

And then there is the real life part of this post…

This is what my corner of the room looks like today…. img_9545-2

Yes, it is cluttered! Yes, it is visual chaos.

I do my absolute best to keep the space organized, but it really gets tough. One of my best teaching qualities is my commitment to differentiation for all 120+ students. The downside is that giving personalized instruction and projects to every student who comes into my room takes lots of materials, time and space!

The aesthetics

A few years ago while taking graduate arts education courses, I learned about the Reggio Emilia approach to classroom management, education and space planning. While I still have way more useless stuff on my bookshelves than I’d like, I really took the mindset of environment as the third teacher to heart. The research discussed in the Reggio Emilia Inspired classroom resonated with me and pushed me to activate ways for students to use the “hundred languages of children” which included sculpture, painting, drawing, touch, texture and so forth.

Further, in bringing this philosophy into my classroom, I was challenged to discard the primary colored plastic tubs of the typical American classroom. Why do we find it necessary to hide supplies from students? So I stopped. One of the biggest changes was the way I stored my colored pencils.  It was a small thing in the scope of a large classroom, but it has been great!

The back story on this was that our tennis coach asked me one year if I had any need for the plastic tubes that tennis balls come in. I said yes not really knowing what I would use them for. Well, the tubes are PERFECT for colored pencils! The clear containers were exactly what Reggio Emilia called for! And because they look cool and are organized, there wasn’t a need to hide them in a closet. Even better!

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Tips and Tricks

An efficient classroom is not only one that is organized, but one that makes sense. I have been in classrooms where there were exact procedures for folders, late work and so forth, but these procedures didn’t make sense or were not consistently enforced by the teacher.

So my biggest tip for life in education is to create procedures that you are not only willing, but capable of enforcing and carrying out EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.  If you can’t commit to the procedure, then don’t bother.

For example, my students know that when it is getting close to the end of class, they had better have their space clean, supplies put away and be seated, or they won’t be dismissed when the bell rings. No one leaves the room if anyone is standing. Done. And even then, I have to say it almost on a daily basis. I don’t say it ugly, but I have to say.. “Where are you supposed to be?” or “If you plan on leaving when the bell rings, you need to be seated.” or any of the many variations on the same theme.  It’s a boundary. The teenagers in my room know that it is there, they expect it to be enforced, but they are going to check.. every single day. That’s the job of a teenager.

And you know what? Because I enforce such a seemingly insignificant procedure, I don’t have many problems in my classroom. Why? because my student’s know that the rules are the rules and I will follow through. I don’t have many rules. I don’t have arbitrary or crazy ones. I have simple, easy to enforce meaningful rules.

So that is my biggest tip and trick for classroom organization and management. Keep it simple..and keep it going. Every single day.

Man, I had so much more to say, but my soapbox is only so big, so I’ll step off it now and save my other organization tips for another post.

Final take away

At the end of the day, whether you work in a classroom, in an office, at your kitchen table, or from your bed, create for yourself a space that is inviting and a place that works for you. Sure, we all want to say that we want it to be more  organized.. but do we? Sometimes somewhat organized or loosy goosey is what resonates with our personalities and I don’t feel like apologizing for my stacks of project piles on the corner of my desk. Neither should you.

So thanks for stopping by and I hope enjoyed a glimpse into my world.