One of the key pieces of the Critical Skills Classroom is the parallel nature of the learning experience. Kids and teachers are co-learners, engaged in the same cycle and experience, with kids focused on learning content and skills and teachers learning this new way of teaching while they continue to learn their kids. The teacher cycle begins earlier (in planning) and lasts longer (with reflection on the entirety of the experience- often on the drive home from school.) I’m happy to share Monica Quirk’s reflection on one of her first challenges with her 8th grade FACS students. She’s a student in my Instructional Design class and graciously allowed me to share this. Our school has a huge race every October to raise money for technology. I have my students for about 15 days and then I get a new group, so I do not have time for a challenge that will take several weeks for them to solve. I thought this would help with community building and our use of technology.
Dear 8th Graders, I am the Witch Way to the 5K coordinator and need your help. The race is quickly approaching and as you know, all the money earned goes directly to our Technology Fund. Last year we raised over $35,000. We were able to purchase several Chromebooks and Laptops, as well as a Poster Printer. I would like to display posters printed from our new printer for the racers and the spectators to see. These posters should promote healthy lifestyles, including eating healthfully and staying active. I have heard that your FACS classes are learning about the 5 food groups and the 6 essential nutrients needed to promote good health. I would like you and your team to come up with a poster design by Oct. 22. The posters will be viewed museum style and voted on by a panel of judges. The three posters will be displayed at the Witch Way to the 5K race on Sat., Oct. 25. Good Luck!
I just finished my challenge lesson and had a few minutes before my next group. I thought I would reflect while it was fresh…. This group that came in was very excited to help out with the race, but a bit disappointed they weren’t cooking today. They definitely bought into displaying it so the town could see. One boy even said we should post them along side the roads in the community so the racers will know what to do before the race 🙂 So I was walking them through the brainstorming sheet to guide them toward a plan. I noticed right off that they could communicate well with each other and had a lot of ideas but no one was writing down the ideas. So I quickly shifted my focus from collaboration to planning as my disposition. (Note from Laura: Remember, Critical Skills Classrooms always focus on not only content learning, but also practicing carefully targeted skills and dispositions.) I gave them examples of what I was hearing and how they could list those ideas to help them stay on task, that they were actually planning, not just “winging it.” I did let them wing the sketch prior though. As I said they should have a sketch first, they quickly reminded me that using the technology would be easier and they could find images and ideas as they researched – so smart!! So gone with the sketches. I observed who was participating and adding information. I had never used the Brainstorming Sheet front the Toolkit page 1. I really liked how the kids have to identify the problem (top box), and we set up the criteria together (bottom box). They used the middle section to put notes found and ideas discussed. Great tool. Laura, thanks for helping me think through ONE skill. I guess we all teach multiple, but to truly focus on one feels less overwhelming for me and the students. They were on task and had few difficulties. Another thing I liked about this challenge was the students were able to complete a real life task without taking up weeks of precious class time. The challenges don’t have to be long and involved just relevant. They did decide to finish what was left outside of class, so they could cook the next class!! They added to their plan sheets what needed to be done by who and when. Cooking is a great incentive too!! A bit of encouragement for those just starting PBL, it takes time to let go of the original plan, to make messes and go the direction of the kids but it really pays off. It’s amazing how much they can do when you let them! The thing I love most about this is that it’s not perfect. Things didn’t go exactly to plan and the teacher had to adapt and adjust as they did, which means she had to be totally present and aware of what was going on. This teacher was willing to step to the side a bit, let her students make the challenge their own, and work with what they were bringing to the problem (rather than insisting they work within her framework) Learning is messy, no matter which side of the desk you’re on, right? Thanks for letting us see into your thinking!