Sunday, 28 September 2014

What Were We Thinking?!


I Think Therefore I Am Dangerous by JohnE777, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  JohnE777 

Our little cross curricular action research project in grade 7 at Glendale Sciences and Technology School did in fact take place late last winter and early spring, and boy, what an incredible experience it turned out to be! It's been a while since we finished in early May, and it's taken this long for us to get our heads around what we accomplished... and didn't accomplish. I've copied the details of our project below from the first post about this project, and added my italicised notes where applicable. All of that is followed by some observations at the end.

Project Name:
Increased Engagement Through Purposeful, Self-Directed Cross-Curricular Learning
Increased engagement... oh yeah, but not at first for all kids. We observed that the kids who were most difficult to engage were the automatic A's; kids who were very used to getting top marks with minimal effort. We correlate this to the phenomena of the 'study sheet.' These kids are very good at the remembering part of Bloom's Taxonomy, but beyond that were a bit more frustrated. This told us a thing or two about the sort of assessment we didn't want to focus heavily on, but certainly not discard. After all Bloom's is a taxonomy, not a hierarchy, right?




Description:
We will:

  • Blend core curriculum subjects for seventh grade
    • This was a big challenge, but we got better at it, or maybe I should say the students got better at it. As time went on and we got deeper into the taxonomy of Bloom, it seemed that blending knowledge within contexts and in purposeful ways became more natural. Kids started looking for connections between sources of knowledge.
  • Develop peer teaching methods that utilise both seventh grade homeroom spaces
    • Pretty easy this one... we just stopped thinking of our subjects as mutually exclusive to the others and opened up our minds to the curricular connections that emerged.
  • Students will become responsible for their own learning
    • They had to learn this... we had to be patient while they learned this:)
  • Students will become meaningfully engaged in the learning process 
    • Without a doubt, they did, especially the marginal kids working in the "old" way we had done things (rigid subject specific timetable, independent study within individual subjects, traditional assessment etc.)
  • Students will develop a sense of wonder, curiosity, purpose
    • A bit easier in the context of our inquiry based school... but something we continue to nurture.
  • Students will demonstrate their understanding of learning concepts using chosen methods to make their learning visible
    • Voice and choice... we learned we couldn't teach responsibility for personal learning unless we were willing to give up some responsibility for that learning.
Product/Activity:
Through the exploration of blended learning environments, project based learning and self-directed cross curricular learning, the aim is to engage students wilfully in the process of teaching and learning so that their perspective changes toward it. We intend for them to realise that learning can be fun when it is done with consideration for personal interests, individual strengths and elements of choice that leverage both of them.
We dedicated an inordinate amount of time talking and reflecting about the learning process in general, and then with specific kids about their personal learning strengths and tendencies. We really focused on the importance of personal investment and knowledge of self as applied to learning and sharing what we know... 

Measurability:
Our baseline measurement will be twofold. Firstly we will compile a qualitative set of data relative to observed levels of engagement prior to the first integrated project attempt. Secondly we will participate in the first integrated project. Understanding that this first attempt to learn differently will come with growing pains, and that we will need to see some degree of increased engagement to justify further exploration, we will initiate a second round. We will then reflect, retool, re-calibrate and refine subsequent projects. We will compare and contrast levels of project sophistication, advancing skill sets and deepened understanding displayed during each round, and record progress.
We did all of this, but it was frustrating. We needed a new 'rubric' that was adaptable to an incredibly diverse array of project ideas and output from students... so we made one up:)

What will this look, sound, feel like?
  • contracting for grade
    • We didn't follow through with this, but we believe we should this year...
  • choosing partners or no partners based on goals… choice is the rule of engagement 
    • Kids worked it out, but it didn't come without emotions and conflict... a bad thing? Not in the end when they realised they were able to figure out how to get to "yes."
  • student developed projects
    • This is the part the kids loved... we saw output and correlations we could not have predicted:)
  • teachers will support and inspire
    • Support? I think we did a good job there... Inspire? Honestly ow that we've had some time to reflect honestly and receive feedback from the students, I will have to say yes.
  • others in school will ask questions about projects and process to nurture inspiration
    • We have interest emerging from just about every faction of the school... but we'd be happier if it was actually everyone:) Working on that...
  • students will choose metaphors to represent the blending of curricular ideas in their projects
    • They all wrote represented their "personal legend" or "learning story" at the end of the year... what an awesome thing to be able to read, view, hear and experience those!
Time line:
January - May 2014
Proposed Experience/Activities:
  1. January- Integrated Project round #1
    1. Week 1: Pre-teaching
    2. Weeks 2-4: First attempt
  2. February- Integrated Project round #2
    1.  Week 1: Reflection- Evaluation of first round and reflection re. how to improve and what is needed for support
    2. Week 2-4: Second attempt
  3.  March- Integrated Project round #3
    1. Week # 1: Evaluation of second round and reflection re. how to improve and what is needed for support
    2. Week 2-4: Third attempt
  4.  April- Data analysis
    1. Compile and analyse data with a purpose to decide whether this is a learning format we will continue to utilise, and especially to determine if it could work in a three way partnership (we will have three 7th grade classes next year)
    • There is no doubt in my mind that we saw enough evidence of optimised learning that we should continue to nurture another project with three classes this year instead of two. We do have three new teachers on an expanded team of 5 form 3, but we'll figure out hoe that will work over time. Collective reflections indicate that, although tremendously stressful at times, (probably mostly as a result of the need for us as teachers to be collaborative and communicative at a whole new level,) our process worked for kids, and it worked for us. More to come... for sure:)
There will be more to say as we continue to take a deeper dive into self-directed, self-motivated cross-curricular learning. For now perhaps the best story comes from Hailey... a shy student who began using a sewing machine as part of one of her projects. A tapestry of some sort was created as a metaphor for a particular element of Canadian history. The neat thing is, after saving all of her babysitting money for months, she bought her own sewing machine and is now driving her mom nuts over the cost of fabric. She has become a seamstress and a designer, and for the first time in her school career, she also received honours at the end of June:) We like to think our little experiment had something to do with all that.

Stay tuned for round two...