Webinar Date: January 23,2013
Would you like increase student engagement and personalize the learning experiences for your students? What if you could do that and increase the amount of material covered? In this session, join Catlin Tucker as she covers how to facilitate focused student-driven projects using asynchronous, online discussions that engage students in collaborative group work using an online learning platform. She will show how you can create more opportunities for students to work together explore, problem-solve, think critically and create! Catlin will present three different multidisciplinary project structures that can be facilitated in a blended learning model -combining work in the physical classroom with work done online – to increase student engagement and personalize each learning experience.
LORI: Welcome to today’s webinar, “Using Blended Learning and Student-Driven Projects to Personalize Learning and Increase Engagement,” brought to you by SimpleK12. My name is Lori and I am here with Catlin Tucker, and we are so excited to have all of you here with us today.
Now, we do have lots of great webinars coming up. Hope that you will join us. You can register for those upcoming sessions including those days of learning inside the teacher learning community. Now this webinar is brought to you free today, thanks to our sponsor. Dreambox Learning motivates all levels of learners to achieve math proficiency. The result is increased achievement, deep understanding, and lifelong confidence in math. Please take a minute to visit our sponsor at the end of the webinar today.
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Once again, we do have a backchannel discussion open for this session. The Titanpad is a great place for you all, as attendees, to take notes and chat with one another. I went ahead and sent that link out through the chat area of GoToWebinar. I’ll go ahead and send that out for all of you again in just a moment.
Now, we will have some time for some live Q&A at the end of our session today. Feel free to submit your questions through that questions box of GoToWebinar. Now, it does tend to auto collapse but if you click on that orange arrow, the question box will open and you can type in your question.
Now, a little bit about our presenter, Catlin Tucker has taught high school English for nine years and online college level writing courses for three years. She’s combined the skills required to teach in both mediums to create a unique teacher-designed approach to blended learning. Now Catlin has written Blended Learning in Grades 4–12: Leveraging Technology to Create Student-centered Classrooms to support other educators and successfully integratingtechnology to be more effective, efficient, and innovative.
Catlin, it is a pleasure to be here with you today!
CT: Thank you for having me.
LORI: I will go ahead and pass the screen to you.
CT: Can you see that okay?
LORI: It looks great. Great job, Catlin!
CT: Alright. Hi everyone! So I’m really excited to be with you today. I’m going to start by apologizing. The teacher next door is doing a World War II simulation in the trenches and it sounds a little bit like there’s a warzone behind me so that’s what those noises are. But I’m excited to talk with you about blended learning and kind of a blended approach to student-driven projects, whatever kind of label we put on those projects. Whether it’s project-based learning or some people are kind of pursuing inquiry-based learning or problem-based learning, all of those kinds of different approaches to learning are wrapped up in this kind of idea of student-driven projects where students are in the role of kind of driving the project forward.
With the goal of hopefully personalizing learning and increasing engagement and making what students are doing in the classroom a little more interesting and relevant to their lives. I’ve been teaching ninth and tenth grade English Language Arts—it’s actually my twelfth year in the classroom. I taught online level courses and so I’ve had a lot of experiences in both mediums trying to work with students to facilitate large-scale projects.
So we talk about project-based learning, the things that I or student-driven learning or whatever label you want to put on it, there’s some core similarities. So these projects are really inquiry-driven. Students have to ask questions, find answers to those questions. Hopefully, it’s very student-centered where like I said, they’re driving the process. The hope is that these projects are really relevant, they are rigorous and anyone who’s familiar with the Common Core has heard the word rigorous all over the place.
And so these projects are meant to be quite challenging, oftentimes they link different classes so students can begin to see the connections between English and History, Science and Math as they’re pulled together in these projects.
A lot of the most interesting PBL types of approaches to learning really help students tackling challenges that exist in their world. One of the barriers or the challenges I’ve encountered as a teacher of teenagers is that they often enter the classroom feeling like, “How is this relevant to my life? I can’t really make a change in the world,” and I want to show them that that’s not the case. That they can absolutely have an impact on real issues that are in our community, in our school community, and at large.
Oftentimes, these projects require critical thinking and problem solving. Students have to collaborate, they have to have conversations. There’s elements of reflection where they try to figure out what have they done, where can they improve and hopefully at the end, they’re able to create something.
So a lot of this language will remind teachers of Bloom’s Taxonomy and really focusing on more of those higher-level thinking skills as opposed to kind of the lower-level thinking skills that have been, classically, kind of associated with tasks that happen in school.
My goal is to shift from the traditional instruction or way of kind of teaching where the teacher is really the sole source of information and that teacher disseminates information to his or her students, and instead with a project-based approach, having students drive those projects, all of a sudden we’re able to create these communities in our classrooms where students work together. Of course the teacher’s a big part of that. They oftentimes are responsible for creating the structure, providing students with the steps that they’re going to take for moving forward in a project, that students drive the process and the teacher’s more of a facilitator—helping to guide them through it.
This is my classroom and my students and even though there’s about 31 to 33 students jammed in my small classroom at one time, I try to embrace the chaos at times when you’re doing student-driven projects because they need to move around the room. Sometimes they’re working in pairs. I don’t have any actual technology in my classroom so I have to be nimble in my approach to integrating technology.
I have to leverage the mobile devices that students are walking into my classroom with whether that’s an iPod touch or a phone or a tablet of some kind. And just sometimes they’re working in pairs to problem solve or they’re sitting in circles and having conversations about what is their project, where are they at, what are they struggling with. And so, the more we can make our classroom spaces that really welcome and encourage that collaboration and the communication that’s necessary to a project-based approach, the better.
And there’s a lot of alignment, so for those of us who are thinking about the Common Core and how we can make the shift and what role might student-driven projects or project-based learning play in that, it’s important to highlight some of the areas of emphasis that really align the Common Core with project-based learning.
So the Common Core emphasizes communication but not just face-to-face communication. They—it emphasizes the online communication as well. Students have to be able to have one-on-one conversations, small group discussions, teacher-led, student-led conversations.
So what’s kind of refreshing to me about the Common Core is really the way it honors both formal and informal conversation and communication as well as those communications that take place face-to-face and online, and when we start to blend online work with face-to-face engagement in the classroom, we have opportunities to kind of teach students how to communicate in all of those different realms.
The Common Core also puts a lot of stress in the English Language Arts section and in the Math section about real-world relevance. That students really need to see how would their learning apply to the world outside the classroom. So they’re able to transfer those skills when they enter college, when they enter a career.
There’s an emphasis on higher-order thinking in the Common Core which, as I just highlighted, when you talk about a student-driven project or a project-based learning, very much, it requires that they’re analyzing and synthesizing and problem-solving and creating. There’s a value placed on research because if students are trying to solve a problem, they’re trying to drive a project forward, they need information, they have to do research.
And I don’t know about your students but my nine and tenth graders are not very good at doing research. They don’t really know how to find information. I mean, they know how to do a Google search but once they get that information, they’re not very good at evaluating that information, deciding “Is this credible? Can I apply this? How can I use this in the context of this project?”
And then of course the Common Core really wants us as educators to be weaving in technology and teaching media literacy so students can use tools and technology very strategically, and using a student-driven approach, is really helpful in that sense but for many of us who are traditional teachers, we think about group work. There’s a lot of challenges that come with traditional group work.
When I first started teaching 12 years ago, I loved the idea of group work. But the reality of group work was very different. Oftentimes, conversations were really unfocused and had very little to do about the task at hand. I never felt like I had enough time to facilitate quality group work or quality PBL assignments.
There was no equity in contributions. Oftentimes, I would have one student kind of take charge, some of the students just wouldn’t really contribute or the person with the best handwriting had to do everything.
So, the interesting thing about engaging students in projects and student-driven kind of assignments with technology is it creates a layer of transparency that was never there for me in the past.
So when students are collaborating on something like a Google document, I can go up to the file, check revision history and I can see every single time a student contributed to a Google document or a Google presentation or something that they’re working on collaboratively.
So I really appreciate that visibility and oftentimes, if I’m honest, the results of traditional group work that just happened in the context of the classroom was that the finished product was really disappointing. So when we start thinking about student-driven projects and project-based learning or problem-based learning, no matter kind of what label we put on it, there tends to be some similar stuff involved.
So these are the six steps that, generally, I would say most of the student-driven projects or project-based learning types of assignments that I assign, move through.
So, stage one, there is a driving question, and if you’re working with younger students you’re probably, as the teacher, designing that question, and figuring out what you want your students to answer.
As you move into middle school, high school, I love the idea of allowing students to pursue their passions, to come up with their own questions, to individualize learning by allowing students the autonomy to decide, what are they going to focus on?
Stage two is exploring and discussing the question or the problem or the issue to have a better sense of it—a better understanding.
Stage three is research and although it’s kind of relegated to stage three in this breakdown, I would say that most of my students are researching throughout a project.
Stage four, they’re designing solutions, they’re creating something. Stage five is reflection. And the last stage—stage six is really where they publish and hopefully share whatever they have created over the course of this project. And the projects can be small-scale, where they take a week or two and some of them are larger-scale. I’ve had projects, student-driven projects that last up to two months depending on the scope of the project.
As a high school teacher and even as a—if I was teaching middle school, I might—if I wanted to pursue a student-driven project related to a unit or a theme or something that we’re studying, I would really want to engage my students’ voices in that conversation. I would want them generating their own questions, related to this kind of overarching idea or theme and one of my favorite web tools is called Padlet.
It’s so simple. It’s just a virtual post-it note board and what you can do is have students brainstorm their own driving questions and if they’re working on iPads, you just double-tap the screen and they add their ideas, their comments, their questions up on the Padlet wall and then as a teacher, once you’ve captured their suggestions for their own driving questions, you can change the privacy settings on a Padlet wall so that once they’re done adding stuff to the wall, you can change the wall from a write wall to a view wall so students can view what they’ve added, what other kids have added.
You as a teacher can go through some of their driving questions and decide which one of these questions is really going to make for a dynamic project. So that’s one way to kind of get students engaged in that process. And some of them, once they’ve decided what aspect of an issue or a topic or a theme they want to focus on for a project, it’s important that they’re able to discuss, that they have time, the time and space to discuss what is the nature of the topic or their question or the problem or the dilemma.
What do they already know about this topic? Can they think of limitations or constraints that might be associated with this—for trying to answer this question or tackle this problem and are there possible options for resolution? And whenever we pull in these conversations, again we kind of personalize the process. The students are able to work through how—what they’re thinking, what they’re bringing to the table in terms of a project. But I’m also a big advocate for taking those conversations online.
As every teacher knows, the equity issues in group work where you have a couple contributing and then a lot of students not doing much work, those are mirrored when we have conversations in the classroom. Often, we have what I like to call discussion dominators and then you have the really shy students who aren’t going to perk up and add their ideas.
So by taking them online with the discussion platform, I use Collaborize Classroom, there’s discussion platforms embedded and lots of learning management systems so if you’re using Schoology or Edmodo or one of those, you can use the discussion component there, Collaborize Classroom just does really structured discussions very well.
And so I’ll post a question related to the project we’re doing and have students share what aspect of the project are they going to focus on? What do they already know, what do they need to find out? And by taking those conversations online, students have more opportunities to engage in a time and space that’s convenient for them to really work through some of the issues, to get other perspectives, like other students kind of weighing in on their topic or what they are working on which is really helpful for students to kind of get those other perspectives and learn from the peers that are sitting in their classroom but also to have opportunities beyond the classroom to engage with them.
I try to pair up the online discussions always with a class discussion. So pulling groups together or having just kind of random collections of students share out about what is their project, what are they focusing on, what challenges are they encountering? So they have a support network. But when you have students engaging in the classroom, and they’re having conversations either with their particular group or partner, a lot of times it’s hard to check in with all of those students in real time as a teacher.
And so one of the things I’ve tried to do is use audio recordings as a way to keep my thumb kind of on where every group is, where every student’s at and so I often encourage them to go out in the quad, tell me where they’re at with their projects, what are they struggling with, what do they need support with, where are they having successes and to leave me a message. Either leave me a message on my Google voice, which anybody who has a Gmail account can set up a Google voice number. It’s not your actual cell phone number, but you can get alerts on your cell phone every time someone texts your Google voice message or leaves you a message. A lot of my students who have like an iPhone just record a voice memo or if they have an Android, they’ll use an audio recording app. Record kind of a little check-in and then just email it to me, and as a teacher, that also allows me to kind of individualize the way in which I follow up with students.
So, I can tell if a student is having a hard time or if they’ve hit a barrier and they’re not quite sure what to do. In a way that I never could before when I was trying to kind of go around and meet with students which I just never had time to do effectively.
Stage three is researching the problem and this is a really interesting stage because for their work to be significant, they have to be able to find information, they have to assess the credibility and this is all here in the standards. So the Common Core wants students to be able to research for informal and more formal research projects. They have to assess the credibility of sources, they have to be able to cite from sources and analyze what they’re finding, and that all takes practice.
And as a teacher—you know as an English teacher, particularly, I’ve always taught the research paper and it is an arduous task, teaching the research paper. There’s lots of moving components and whenever I finish teaching the research paper, I have come to one conclusion, which is my kids need to do more and more research because they need to continually get better at it.
So building in research components to a student-driven project or a project-based learning kind of a project, really allows for the research to continue. It’s not just we’re writing a research paper and you’re researching but it’s built into many of the kinds of things that you’re asking them to do in that kind of a project.
We have one—now actually two computer labs in my campus and so as much as I can, I try to get my students into the computer lab to do research in real time. That way we can talk about how do you search smarter, what are some tips for searching, to make sure you’re finding good resources. How do you check the credibility and so we go through some of that and if I was working with even younger kids, we might do a bit of the research together.
If I was lucky enough to have an iPad one-to-one, it’ll be great to just be sitting in their groups in the classroom, doing that research together and be able to have formal conversations about those or informal conversations.
One of the research tools that somebody shared with me in a conference a while back and I had not heard of was InstaGrok and InstaGrok is an interesting alternative to beginning at Google by just doing a Google search. It’s not something I would use necessarily, it basically will search a term and then it creates what almost looks like a mind map and it moves.
Of all these resources related to your term or similar term searches and you can actually see which ones are videos, which ones are documents or websites and students really respond to the movements, the visual nature, the mind map aesthetic of it and so if you’re working with younger kids, it’s kind of a fun tool to use for research. It makes research a little bit more dynamic for them and they still have to be taught how to evaluate the tools or the resources they’re finding, because not everything is credible or is particularly strong but it is a fun tool to use.
Step four is having students design solutions to answer their questions, to address some problem that they are researching, that they’re trying to get to the bottom of. And so that’s been really be interesting for me is to see what students do and as they design and implement solutions, or design some kind of project, or some kind of resource that they’re going to share about their topic, I encourage them to make the most of the basic technology that many of them have access to. So if you’re in a one-to-one program or one-to-one classroom, having students make the most of their microphone, their built-in microphone, their built-in camera, take pictures, take video, do Google searches straight from your device.
Most of my kids are working from cell phones and so they have all of these basic tools right there at their fingertips so as they’re working on their project I remind them, take pictures, take video, record interviews, or record your reflections on what’s happening, do quick Google searches if you need to find answers. But make the most of that technology and then hopefully, through that process, they’re creating something that they can share.
So one of my groups when we were doing a challenge-based project last year, they dug into poverty and the idea of poverty in our community and the number of people, children that are going hungry and they organized an entire food drive on our campus, they documented the whole thing, they learned how to put on an event of that kind of magnitude for a campus of over 1,700 kids.
And then they put together a Prezi to share out and designed a website so that other kids who might also want to tackle a project that size would have a place to start. So encouraging them to make use of tools to build websites, design Prezis and push that out into the world is really a powerful aspect of a student-driven project or a project-based learning approach.
The fifth step is reflection and I think that this, like research, can be built throughout the project in lots of little ways. You can have them kind of doing traditional writing reflections, how are things going, checking in, what are they learning, what is surprising.
But you can also take that online. So Penzu is an online journal where kids can just type their reflections and what I like about Penzu is students can embed media so if they’re taking pictures during their projects, and they want to organize images with what they’re recording about where they’re at with their project, they can organize it that way. They can lock journal entries; they can easily share journal entries. It’s a very dynamic but very simple tool for them.
And it’s kind of fun because they get updates. Every few months, Penzu will send them an email that says, “Hey, look what you wrote on January 12th last year” and then they’re publishing and sharing, I think if we can create an audience that’s bigger than just us as teachers and the students in the classroom, the better.
We have this opportunity to tap our students into really a global audience. And the more we can utilize that, to kind of give them an incentive to do their best work and to really teach them that they can make a difference, the better.
And what better way to individualize our instruction than by really giving students the reins and the autonomy and allowing them to figure out what they want to pursue, what’s interesting to them, how did they want to go about it, who do they want to work with, what do they want to create?
And so one of my favorite project structures that is already put together is a project structure out of Apple that is called challenge-based learning. And I’ve done two challenge-based learning projects over the last three years and both have been super interesting and exciting for the students. It gives them a level of freedom and independence while still giving the teacher a structure that makes it possible to follow.
And really my hope is that from these projects that are very student-driven—that our kids start to develop kind of a flexible knowledge, to become more adaptive, they are able to apply what they’re learning in the classroom to more novel situations which is what we want, you want them to be able to transfer those skills.
I hope that being able to have a say in what they focus on will motivate that self-directed learning, teach them how to problem solve. Not only on their own, but together because I can’t always be there to answer questions and teach them the real power of inquiry, how asking questions can really open the doors to interesting learning experiences and cultivate some of those 21st century skills that communication, collaboration, research, and ideally at the end of the day to shifting from what is kind of the norm in terms of traditional teaching where students tend to be—they tend to be fairly passive observers to kind of shoving them into a much more active role where they are generators of information.
So, I’m happy to take questions and if you guys have them for me, if you want to get in touch with me after today, I am on Twitter, I’m easy to find. I have an education blog, I blog all the time about Edtech Com topics and I love to connect with anybody who’s interested after the webinar.
LORI: Great, Catlin, thank you so much for a wonderful presentation, I’ll give you just a couple of moments to catch your breath and then we’ll take some Q&A from our attendees. So if you do have a question for Catlin, please feel free to submit it now through that questions box of GoToWebinar. Now this webinar has been brought to you free today, thanks to our sponsor. Dreambox Learning is a deeply personalized math learning experience that differentiates content, pace, and sequence for the highest levels of student achievement with over 1,200 lessons, Dreambox motivates and guides all levels of learners to persist, progress, and achieve math proficiency. Now the result is increased achievement, deep understanding, and lifelong confidence in math.
Also, I want to take a moment to pop back in to the Teacher Learning Community at SimpleK12.com, share with you where you can find some additional resources if you’re wanting to learn more, underneath our courses tab, a great place to start would be underneath our link for blended learnings. Some fabulous webinar recordings there.
Also, scrolling down here to tools for student projects, another great place to start if you’re looking for some additional resources and wanting to learn more. Also if you’d like to go back and access any of Catlin’s previous presentations here at SimpleK12, you can do a keyword search for her name up here at the top. We’ll change this dropdown to Webinars then click on that green search button; it’ll take you to a listing of all of Catlin’s unique, wonderful presentations here at SimpleK12, all 36 unique webinars here inside this Teacher Learning Community that Catlin has done for us in the past.
Some great information there inside of the Teacher Learning Community if you’re wanting to learn more. Okay, Catlin, let me go ahead and get your contact information up here on the screen. We got a couple of questions coming in here. Lots of positive comments.
Deborah said, “Great presentation. Thank you so much.” Another thank you from Britney as well. Question from Maria, she says, “When working with all the websites that you mentioned, how do you tell the students about those links? Do you send them on by email or do you share them in class?”
CT: Usually, I have—so we have a class website and within that website I have the daily agenda and so I just put, if we’re going to be working on links or if they’re going to be exploring things at home, I’ll just put the title of the website with the link and then whatever task they need to do. So my students primarily work off of our Google site website.
LORI: Okay, great! Another question coming in here, “With high stakes testing, the big focus at our district is teaching of writing. How can I incorporate PBL and teach writing essays at the same time?”
CT: What’s interesting is when you take conversations and collaboration online, everything they have to do in the online space requires reading and writing, and then as a teacher, you know whenever I do the challenge-based learning, the last two times I’ve done it, I have built in a—the first year I built in kind of a classic research paper and the next year I did an argument paper because I was shifting to the Common Core and I wanted them to choose a topic related to what they had focused on and kind of argue some aspect of an issue.
So there’s ways to work it in for sure but what I love about having them collaborate on Google documents and have discussions in other topics on Collaborize Classroom is—or reflecting using Penzu—is they’re constantly writing, and the more they write, the better they get.
And the Common Core stresses particular kinds of writing so you have your informational and your argument, your narrative—for English narrative but the argument and the informational, I think that there’s definitely ways to build those components into what they’re doing and if they’re publishing their ideas in a website, then they really are going to have to do some informational type of writing on that website, so teaching them those skills and embedding it into the project, I have found to be pretty easy to do if you’re aware of kind of what the Common Core wants students to be able to do in terms of writing, and technology is a real key component to their writing standards.
LORI: Great, Catlin, thank you so much. I think we have time for one more question. I did see this question a few times today. Wondering if they can have copies or if they can access a copy of your presentation maybe on your blog?
CT: No, I don’t have it posted on my blog but I can try to get it up there. There’s a presentation that has some pretty dense media that links—the screen casts were not working today but they’re—it’s just a challenging one to post but maybe I can make it a PDF and then have a link.
LORI: Okay, great, Catlin! Thank you so much again for a wonderful presentation. It’s been a pleasure being here with you today, as always. I look forward to being here with you again for some future sessions.