Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Inquiring Minds: KWL

During the beginning stages of Project Based Learning (PBL), I had my students to brainstorm ideas of what it meant to have civil rights. It was interesting that they could only reference the Bill of Rights knowing that they had the right to bear arms and had the right of freedom of speech. After having the students to view Voices and Choices that defined and explained what civil rights were and how they could be infringed, I introduced the guiding question, “What can I learn about the past Civil Rights struggles to help resolve current issues that still exist today?” This question would drive the project, giving it purpose; it is what begins the inquiry process.

I then chose videos from the past civil rights movements on United Streaming and YouTube that involved women fighting for the right to vote, children being forced to work, racial segregation, and the disabled being denied equal access to public places.

Students formed questions that they were left with after viewing the videos, and they were instructed to record them in their reflection journals so that I could get an idea of how developed their questions were. At first, a lot of the questions were written in such a way that would only provide a "yes" or "no" answer or would not lead to further inquiry through research.  I wondered what would happen if I showed examples of good open-ended questions that would be excellent for research and would lead to further questions?  After giving feedback by sharing good examples of open-ended questions, the students learned how to revise their own questions. Daniel Callison, the Associate Professor and Director of School Library Media Education at Indiana University in Bloomington, stated, "Renovated and revised questions will give one important indication of the student's progress through the information selection, analysis, and synthesis process." It is further stated about the importance of "Looking for evidence that the questions evolve in detail and complexity that show they are driving their thoughts." This article in School Library Media Activities Monthly shed light on the importance of recording information to show evidence of the progress of one's thinking and questioning.

After learning how to analyze questions for detail and revise them accordingly, the students decided what aspect of civil rights that they wanted explore based on interest.  After making a decision, they completed a KWL: What did they know about the topic, what did they want to learn about the topic, and what research would lead to information that would help answer their guiding question? The students divided their ideas according to what they knew and what they wanted to learn. Again, they focused their efforts on writing strong, detailed, and open-ended questions that would guide them in research and further their inquiry. Improvements were made and they spent two days exploring their new topic of interest, moving from the past to the present-day civil rights issues that they wanted to solve.

Before discussing what a good, open-ended question entailed, Some of the 5th grade questions were as follows:

Did men fight for their wives' right to vote?

When did children go to school when they were working such long hours?

How old were kids when they started working?

After the Civil War when slavery was abolished, why would African Americans not have equal rights?

How many special schools were available for the disabled?

Are there any cures for the disabled?

Are all races guilty of discrimination?

Some of the above questions are not open-ended and would not lead to further inquiry. After discussing how to formulate a good question using specificity, I had the students to go back and revise their original questions. The students asked deeper, more thought-provoking questions that in some way involved overcoming the civil rights struggles. The following are some samples:

How do you amend or pass a law?

How can a house be made disability friendly?

In what ways could we use existing laws to fight sweatshops?

Why are women paid less than men when they are equally qualified? Why is this a global issue?

Why is child labor more of a problem in certain parts of the country than others?

How do we begin a non-profit organization to stop child labor?

Why are child labor laws not enforced when it concerns agriculture?

Why is racial profiling a concern among law enforcements?

Why is segregation a bigger issue than it was during the civil rights movement?

The students also deepened their thoughts and asked more critical thinking questions that couldn't necessarily be researched, but had them looking at the world through a different lens.

If Rosa Parks hadn't refused to give up her seat, how would that have affected the outcome of the Civil Rights Movement?

What would the world look like today if the African Americans had given up fighting for freedom?

How would disabled people live their lives if George H.W. Bush didn't approve the ADA?

Why are small children of the early 1900's doing work that grown men struggle with?

If women still couldn't vote today, what would our country look like today?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Step One of Action Research

I had the privilege of attending Project Zero at Harvard this summer and the question was posed about understanding: What is understanding and how does it develop? The answer came in many forms such as having the students to engage, embrace problems, and persevere at challenging tasks. In addition to this, they question and explain what they learn and embrace the opportunity to learn from mistakes. This all involves being curious and questioning for deep thinking that leads to complex knowledge. That is when I decided that I needed to further explore how to develop a disposition of inquiry among my students so that they can deepen their level of critical thinking.

I have always wondered why a lot of my 5th grade students aren't curious and questioning about the content they are learning in my English classroom. Most just take information at face value or as the truth without ever wanting to know the "how" and the "why." After all, grammar and writing is usually not the favored subject when it is taught in a traditional way. When questions are asked, they are usually not detailed or do not range below surface-level questions that are more in-depth.

Research question:  How can I create a disposition of inquiry among my students?

I tried project-based learning,(PBL), in my classroom for the first time last year, and through my research I learned about inquiry-based learning. I am left wondering if PBL enhances inquiry verses using the traditional style of teaching. What would happen if I showed examples of good open-ended questions that would be excellent for exploring the answer through research and would lead to further questions? How can I ask the right questions and to lead my students to revise their questions that are not open-ended? What are the ways to teach the inquiry process and make it routine in my classroom? I want to be intentional about answering students' questions with a question that will make them think, problem-solve, be decision-makers, or find a way to answer their own questions.

I have begun a new project this year that will be a combination of project-based, problem-based, and inquiry-based learning, where I can apply my research to find ways of showing evidence of developing inquiring minds among my students.

Problem Finding & Formulating Questions for Research for Problem Solving

Finding Problems:

Problem Finding to Problem Solve from kim trefz on Vimeo.

Problem Finding to Problem Solve from kim trefz on Vimeo.

Inquiry to Guide Research:

Inquiry for Guiding Research from kim trefz on Vimeo.

Voices and Choices for Civil Rights

Voices and Choices for Civil Rights!!!

We are currently underway to answer our PBL guiding question: What can I learn from the past civil rights struggles to help resolve current issues that still exist today? This is a great site that defines civil rights, helps one to understand injustice, and provides information on how to learn methods of actions to overcome the struggles: start a movement, begin a campaign, start a petition, amend a bill, pass a law, advertise, capture photos, etc.

What can you do to make a difference today?

PBL: The Fairness Project

We have begun a new journey with project based learning using the social studies curriculum on civil rights. Before beginning, I realized that I would develop one guiding question that the students would all be responsible for answering regarding the topic of their choice: What can I learn from the past civil rights struggles to help resolve current issues that still exist today?

I had the students to first explore the areas of the civil rights movements that involved gender, age, race, and disability by viewing videos on YouTube and United Streaming from the past and present to gain enough knowledge to make a decision about what their interests would be. They were required to focus on inquiry, formulating questions to help them discover where their real interests lay, as well as give them a sense of ownership by allowing them to make a decision based on this.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Project-Based Learning Presentation

Friday, May 21, 2010

Playing the Whole Game

During the reading of David Perkin’s book Making Learning Whole, I was able to make connections to the way that I manage my classroom and I discovered so many other ways that I can teach for understanding. Practicing skills on a regular basis without the real world application of how it works doesn’t allow students to make the connection and see the importance of what they are learning. Perkins used the analogy of baseball practice: the practice of pitching, catching, hitting, and throwing. He discussed how working on the small parts prepares one for the big game. It’s not until you put it all together to play the whole game of baseball that you see the importance of practicing the small parts.

When setting my goals for the year, I knew that I wanted to try “playing the whole game” in the classroom. I knew it would be a challenge and somewhat of a risk, but I wanted to further investigate project-based learning and give it a try. The students would be given the chance to develop autonomy, decision-making and problem solving skills, and apply the English content in the process. Learning grammar in isolation does not give the students the opportunity to see how it is supposed to work through real world situations. Throughout the project, the students were provided formative assessments that gave them the feedback that they needed to help them grow as writers. They were able to work on the hard parts and improve according to individual needs.

The best part about project-based learning is that the students were able to “play out of town.” They were able to take the grammar and writing, the higher-level reading skills, and the science and math that they were learning and apply them to the project as they made generalizations about their guiding questions of their space topic. They found a problem that they needed to solve and they come up with a hypothesis about a possible outcome. They used a KWL thinking routine to help them with inquiry that would guide their research. After investigating and exploring their chosen topic, they ultimately came up with a solution where they had to weigh their options and decide if their solution was worth the risk.

Through the process of PBL, the “hidden game” revealed itself. Reciprocal teaching occurred where the students were guided but were allowed the role of the teacher. They self-managed by using a rubric of expectations, a time-line, and a problem-solving guide that allowed them to organize their thoughts, record their findings, and reflect on what they discovered along the way. This opportunity allowed the students the freedom to be inquisitive and explore their curiosity through research. They definitely benefited from “learning from the team” as they collaboratively worked together on a daily basis to problem-solve. The end product involved a reflection paper, a model representation of their project, and the use of technology (prezi, iMovie, powerpoints, and glogster) to present their discoveries to class.

There are many things that I would do differently the next go-round of PBL, but that is part of playing the whole game. Now I will work on the hard parts as I will expect my students to do, and through my continued reflections, I hope to fine-tune the experience for my next year’s students.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Just a Guide on the Side for PBL

After grouping the students together according to interests, they used their guiding questions for the focus of their research. This was the first thing they wrote down on the guide that would be used to organize all of their information for PBL. Before they began, they listed all that they knew about their topic and what they wanted to learn. From this, they began step 1 of the guide where they sought out a problem that needed to be solved. Step 2 involved forming a hypothesis about what they thought the solution or outcome would be as they thought about possibilities. During step 3, they continued with the guiding question in mind as they recorded more direct questions about their problem to help direct them in their research process. After recording several specific questions, they refined their problem statement in step 4, and they began step 5 of their research by using Diigo to bookmark, highlight, and organize all of the information pertaining to their project.

I have recorded one PBL group per class that provides an example of what their thoughts were at step 6 of the research process where they already had a possible solution to their problem. I asked them to provide insight about what they had discovered throughout the project.

Researching to Solve a Problem from kim trefz on Vimeo.

Researching to Problem Solve from kim trefz on Vimeo.

Researching to Problem Solve from Dawn Trefz on Vimeo.

Researching to Problem Solve from Dawn Trefz on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Researching with Diigo

Using Diigo for Research from kim trefz on Vimeo.

The students are learning to use Diigo which is a social networking website in which they are using for organizing their online research. They have the ability to save articles from reliable websites that support their topics, and they have the option to highlight and make notes as they share their discoveries with others in their group.

The students are now ready to begin their research with the goal of solving a problem regarding their space mission/aviation topic of choice. They will use their guiding questions and the more direct questions pertaining to their topic as they look for possible solutions throughout valid websites. They are learning to narrow their search through Googling specific topics, analyzing sites for validity, bookmarking the sites that are valuable for solving their problem, and Using a collaborative group created on Diigo that will allow them to share and store their information that they have gathered.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Isn't It Possible to Combine Project/Problem/Inquiry-Based Learning into One?

I have continued my research to try and gain a better understanding of project-based Learning and I came upon this Voicethread that separately defined project-based, problem-based, and inquiry-based research. After carefully reading the definitions, I started to wonder if it was possible to be able to conduct research that was a combination of all three.

I feel that the students are definitely involved with project-based learning since they are covering a real world topic of space missions and aviation. They have been completely responsible for their own learning and decision-making as they have written and chosen their guiding question for research. They are currently in the process of researching and will ultimately come up with an end product that they will present to their classmates as well as another school who we are collaborating with.

Throughout this project, the boys have been made aware of the necessity to independently find a problem regarding their topic that they are to ultitimately resolve. This would fall under the category of Problem-based Learning, for they are following steps to problem solve by writing a hypothesis, formulating more direct questions to guide their research, and looking for ways to solve their problem as they are fully aware of many possible solutions. In the end, they will present their findings to their peers as they demonstrate an understanding of the whole problem-solving process.

Inquiry-Based Learning involves the boys formulating their own questions, thinking critically, and problem-solving. They have been guided throughout this process, but have been given the opportunity to make their own choices. They are seeing the relevance of the application of grammar as they take notice of how it affects the way messages are conveyed as they reflect on their learning through many written responses. The boys are also making global connections as they solve real-world problems that are taking place outside of the classroom.

After researching, I found a rubric that covered some of the criteria that I have mentioned, and I was able to tweek it to fully meet the entire expectations of what the boys are to learn throughout this project. I thought that it was important to incorporate technology not only in their research but also in the presentation of the end product. I have never seen the boys so motivated and eager to partake in an assignment as they have been throughout this whole proecss.

Here's another great Voicethread that is worth checking out!
Check out this blog for getting started with PBL.
Here's another great blog!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

PBL: What I Know About Space and What I Want to Learn

Today we went over the project-based learning rubric that will be used as a summative assessment of the students' project. After the criteria was discussed and questions answered, the boys began using their problem-solving guide to record their guiding question. As they began reflecting on what they already know about their topic and what they want to learn, I recorded their conversations. It was pretty amazing to see them so motivated and enthusiastic about this project!

Untitled from kim trefz on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Student Reflection: Problem Finding

Untitled from kim trefz on Vimeo.

As we are still brainstorming for our project and refining our guiding questions, the boys have been writing reflections in response to videos and articles they have read. I want them to get in the habit of thinking about finding problems that they would like to further investigate before they problem solve. Because this is student-directed, I want the boys to search for what interests them so they will be highly motivated and more willing to push through the difficult challenges they will face through this entire process.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Guiding Question for PBL

I have done extensive research on PBL and have found a fabulous site that offers many resources such as videos, articles, helpful downloads, etc. from Buck Institute for Education: Project Based Learning for the 21st Century. I have had my boys to brainstorm possible questions that could serve as a guiding or driving question for further investigation of this space mission/aviation project. The decision to use a broader question vs. a narrow one would allow the boys to not be limited in their research but could go in an unexpected direction according to the questions formulated. I am not exactly sure if I am making the right decision for 5th graders, but I did find an excellent web site that clearly defines what a driving/guiding question should look like.

Effective Driving Questions:

Driving questions are also called essential questions, project questions, and umbrella questions. Effective driving questions include the following features:

1. Are open-ended. Driving questions lead to debate and discussion, and therefore, are motivating to students.

2. Are objective. Driving questions do not imply whether something is good or bad, better or worse.

3. Focus and drive the project. Students use the question as a springboard to formulate their own questions. All learning and research in the project are geared toward answering the driving question.

4. Focus on key understandings. Generally each project will have about five overarching ideas; the driving question subsumes all of them.

5. Are answerable. With diligence and dedication, students are able to answer the driving question. While it should not be an easy process, it should be manageable.

6. Require research, investigation, and reflection. Driving questions may have yes-or-no answers; however, your students need to support their answers with the research and knowledge they have acquired throughout the project.

7. Call on a student's previous knowledge and help students apply their learning to new situations.

8. Link basic skills and concepts to students' lives and the real world. Students are more motivated and involved when the topic they are studying is relevant to their lives and to the real world.

9. Integrate standards from a variety of disciplines. Interdisciplinary lesson plans promote teamwork among colleagues and encourage students to make connections between disciplines.

10. Encourage multiple approaches to problem solving. Driving questions allow for more than one way to solve a problem and express the solution.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Day 1 of PBL: On a Mission

Today was the beginning of our project/problem-based learning where I began by sharing with my students about entering a realm of the unknown to let them know that I am a risk-taker as well as a learner. It is so important to create an atmosphere of having a growth mindset and modeling for the students that I am not afraid of failing. Does that lessen the uncomfortable and uncertain feeling that I have about what lies ahead? Absolutely not! However, I will proceed with only a positive frame of mind as we all embark on a new adventure!

At the beginning of each class, I briefly defined project-based learning as a project that is student-directed. This is an opportunity where they will discover answers to questions through real world investigations. I asked them to brainstorm what they imagined their roles to be during this process, and they shared the following responses:

team players
collaborative workers
providers of feedback
technology users
recorders of information
risk takers
problem solvers
decision makers

I then asked them to activate prior knowledge by sharing the top ten reasons for going to space as well as the drawbacks from it. As they shared their answers, I typed them on our Wiki to gather all of their brainstorming ideas. They ended class by writing a reflection that had them thinking about deciding when risks were worth taking and when they weren't.

Throughout this project, I will be integrating the required grammar and writing skills for 5th grade English and I am using the science curriculum as the topic for the project. The students will apply pronouns: personal, indefinite, interrogative, demonstrative, reflexive, as well as pronoun/antecedent agreement. The writing skills that they will be strengthening will involve adding strong supports to the claims they make. All of this will done in the context of their writing as they work toward the completion of their project.

The next step will include the viewing of various videos and the reading of articles regarding space flight and space missions. They will record questions that they would like to further investigate, and after compiling the results, a final list of guiding questions will be posted from which students will choose. They will be grouped according to interests and they will find a problem to solve.

Monday, January 18, 2010

On a Mission with Project-Based Learning

My fifth grade students are beginning a project on space missions and aviation. I have been reading a book called Making Learning Whole written by David Perkins. He uses the metaphor of playing the game of baseball as he relates it to effectively teaching for understanding. He makes a valid point when he talks about baseball players going beyond practice of pitching or batting but being part of a team, running bases, and applying what they have practiced. Players don't just stop there; they play the whole game. What seems to be occurring in many classrooms is the students aren't being led beyond practice to understand how the whole game is played. They practice the skills in isolation but never really see the relevance of how it is important in their lives. Project-based learning allows the students to discover answers to their questions through real world investigation. It is so important for our students to be problem solvers and decision makers. Incorporating skills along the way allows them to see the purpose and function of how they apply in their lives.

I decided to begin with the science curriculum and integrate the grammar and writing skills that need to be covered. I have posted the project on our class wiki where a lot of the work will be a collaborative effort. Independent reflections and essay writing will be expected as well.

The project will be guided by the questions that the students ask about space missions and aviation. There will be several authentic activities along the way to promote critical and creative thinking. I am just excited by the possibilities of the project since there are so many directions it can take, but the goal is for the students to play the whole game for learning.