Projects, Problems and Challenges

img_8209Activities within a classroom are designed to give learners the best opportunity to acquire  knowledge and apply understanding. In the same vein that we teach that mathematical strategies are comparable to a technician’s tool belt, to be used at an appropriate time to solve certain equations. By giving students exposure to all three styles of learning can be easy to scaffold.  Here are some examples from my Primary School classrooms:

Project-based learning (PBL): Bottle tops for Bruno. In essence, our Primary Round Square Club (PRSC) joined with a local charitable organization to collect PET bottle tops. In turn, we donated these bottle tops to another local company which melts them for manufacturing other products. That company then purchases a wheelchair for children with severe disabilities, in this case, a boy named Bruno. Our entire school became involved in the initiative, with the PRSC and my Grade Fives leading and organizing everything. Bottle tops had been collecting for months and on the donation day our team set up in one of the main halls of the school. On the beamer above our heads, our Donation Table & graphs on Google Sheets was live updating data as students handed in their donations. Set up in 15 different donation booths, students were able to track their contribution to their class grade level and against the overall total. The PRSC & 5th grade students used Chromebooks to collaborate to create the graphs and tables needed to show the content to our school community. The initiative spawned a mini-Arts festival as a million bottle tops can be spread liberally across the school. Applied to Maths, data handling lessons flourished as manipulatives of all shapes, sizes and colors flooded classrooms for two weeks. From Kindergarten to Grade Five, Art galleries sprung up, which students used as an opportunity to post an perspective video where they explained why they made various artistic choices.

img_8179Challenge-based learning (CBL) – is closely aligned with the inquiry based approach used in the IB’s Primary Years Programme. Our students have a Central Idea and Lines of Inquiry which they use to explore concepts. Our current unit’s Central Idea is “Different strategies can be used to resolve conflict and maintain peace” while our Lines of Inquiry are: 1) People’s points of view may differ and this may influence their actions. 2) There are different causes and resolutions of conflict. 3) People make decisions whether to repair and restore relationships where harm has taken place. A good explanation of Kath Murdoch‘s inquiry cycle can be found on her blog which is an excellent source to help deal with the bigger questions of how to implement inquiry and challenge-based learning.

Problem-based learning (PBL): commonly exhibited by the students in the classroom in a variety of opportunities. This example centers around their new educational blogs. Students were given iPads and accounts on Easy Blog Jr. Initial lessons helped the students to understand how to log on and navigate their new platform. From the very start, their questions dictated the learning path of the class as they wanted to share interesting discoveries of what is possible on the blog. In Math, construction of 3D shapes spurred students to ask how to take a photo to keep a copy of their structure. Another time, students recorded themselves reading aloud their independently written stories to conclude our storytelling unit. That desire spurred video editing and uploading those final pieces to their blog. Each time the students have encountered an obstacle, they have shown developing thinking skills to find solutions and share their understanding within the group.

In reality, the three styles of learning are not used exclusively from one another. In fact, healthy classrooms apply each one effectively to suitable opportunities. Without a doubt, the students benefit from repeated exposure throughout their school careers in order to master these vital life skills.

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Fight the Empowerment

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“Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead

 

What a powerful image.

When I’m writing a new blog post, the biggest struggle is always to have the idea to get started at first. Of course many aspects of the content become immediately accessible within my mind, but I find it extremely difficult to actually start without a previously determined idea. Usually that focal point comes from one or two sources of an image which I choose to be my header; or I write a title, which then gives the editorial slant I intend to take about a topic. However this time, after watching an inspirational TED Talk about student action Extracurricular empowerment by Scott McLeod; two songs leapt into my mind. A mini battle of the bands ensued for the right to title this post. Since we are talking about  empowerment of students using technology; the word power floated upwards, like the cream to the top of milk. Rage Against the Machine’s 1991 song Take the Power Back not only has power in it’s title, but also contains strong verses about making the content of the curriculum relevant to learners and shaking up archaic educational structures. In the other corner,  Fight the Power, a 1990 track from Public Enemy makes a similarly strong statement about making change and advancing progress. As you can see from the title of my post, remixed title of these songs was the winner. Of course, as I wrote my first paragraph, many other songs containing the word “power” have bubbled to the surface of my consciousness including The Power by Snap! and Powerslave by Iron Maiden. Feel free to add your contributions or suggestions of great “power” songs in the comments below.

Now that the title and beginning of my post has been taken care of; the discussion of  technological empowerment in an education, has one key component to it: how educators can empower students and how students can empower themselves. I am lucky in that my classroom has a variety of technology at the students’ disposal. They have access to visualizers, digital cameras, iPads, Chromebooks and Smartboards and as a result, students are proficient with their application within the classroom. As a teacher, I post information on our class website and Home Learning tasks on our Google Classroom. Students have the ability to self-monitor and direct their own learning once they understand the established protocols. Before fully switching over to a digitized classroom, homework was previously posted on the board and copied into student agendas. Time consuming and apt to important details being missed. Once students had access to technology, often in the form of personal telephones, a quick picture of this list a

The French philosopher Rousseau's du Contrat Social inspired European political reform.

The French philosopher Rousseau’s du Contrat Social caused widespread European political reform.

nd out the door they walked. Now, with my curriculum so digitized, students are already accessing content related to their learning on their commute home. Students are adept at using technology collaboratively for learning purposes.  As students mature, they often choose to be involved in clubs and activities which make a difference in the lives of others. There is a deep engagement in Round Square, Student Council, Model United Nations and Global Issues clubs. Youth are naturally forming their opinions on issues related to their local community, school or personal life.  Students join groups which are often used for discussion and sharing of content whether it be for educational or personal use.  Jean-Jacques Rousseau posed that “Man was basically good”  and from the desire to be good, a social conscience is formed.

In our How We Organize Ourselves inquiry on Fair Play we discover which individuals and organisations have promoted human rights. They look at the actions taken by others to address problems and want to contribute. The outstanding TED Talk by McKenna Pope Want to be an activist? Start with your toys is an excellent example of how youth can leverage positive change. Students connect with local experts and sometimes leaders in their field. One student  pursuing his inquiry had the opportunity to interview the CEO of the National Civil War Museum and have a personalized tour via Hangout. Our Primary Round Square Club uses Google Docs to plan the logistics surrounding the school dance. The Primary Student Representative Council uses To collect feedback about school initiatives  and communicate developments throughout the year. As part of their exhibition action the students participated in a JR Action showing how they can make a difference in their own personal lives. Their final product was filmed with multiple iPads and the final movie edited and published across the school platforms by the students.

McLeod posits that “we must get out of the way and allow them to be amazing”. As an educator we want to create the structures and opportunities to allow our constituents to Achieve your Potential, Pursue your Passion & Fulfil your Responsibility as our School Mission states. Natural curiosity, fused with an interest in action; arises in a collaborative environment. Students want to develop their leadership capabilities and we as Educators always encourage the active pursuit of their goals and dreams.