Decenter Yourself

Grant Wiggins (of UbD fame) recently blogged about how good teachers decenter themselves: the process of the teacher taking him/herself out of the center of the learning process. The article itself is a worthy read as he talks through the why and the how, but the list below reminded me of what we will see as we continue our shift to inquiry driven instruction (PBL).

7 Characteristics Of Group-Worthy Tasks

I should note that some of my thinking about this issue was prompted by reading an article by Rachel Lotan in Educational Leadership on “group worthy” learning tasks from 2003, via a fine book on group work in mathematics written by Ilana Horn. Here is my slightly-edited version of the Lotan-Horn criteria for group worthy work:

  1. Focus on central concepts or big ideas that require active meaning-making
  2. The challenge itself has ambiguity or limited scaffold and prompting so that student meaning-making and different inferences about the task and how to address it will emerge.
  3. Are best accomplished by ensuring that multiple perspectives are found tried out in addressing the task. This not only rewards creative and non-formulaic thought but undercuts the likelihood that one strong student can do all the key work.
  4. Provide multiple ways of being competent in the task work and the task process
  5. Can only be done well by a group, but are designed to foster both individual and group autonomy. (The teacher’s role as teacher and direction-giver should be minimized to near zero).
  6. Demand both individual and group accountability
  7. Have clear evaluation criteria


Are you hung up in rows?

Photo Credit: Ron Cogswell

If you’ve started implementing the inquiry driven instructional practices you picked up during your PBL training, you might have realized the difficulty of doing collaborative work in a room with a bunch of rows of desks. Rethinking your learning space can be one of the most daunting things you do in the classroom because it involves so many different aspects of the physical space that you have known and loved for so many years. Kind of like finally going through on that new haircut and leaving the only one you’ve known since high school.

This is an area I have spent a lot of time reading up on over the last 5 years. Several of my colleagues in education are way better at the whole abstract visualization process than I am, but they don’t mind me borrowing their wisdom to share with you all. Third Teacher from Cannon Design is one of the leaders in learning space design.  The videos below show the entire process from identifying there is a need for change through the final look using only available resources (meaning, not buying lots of new furniture). Spend a few minutes and see if you’re ready for this process. If so, let me know. I’m always happy to help work with you and your students to find just the right layout for your learning space. If you want to borrow their book from me to get some ideas of your own, just let me know that, too. Mitzi and I both have copies we’re willing to share. Check out these additional resources, too.
Remake Your Class Part 1: Planning for a Collaborative Learning Environment

Remake Your Class Part 2: Building a Collaborative Learning Environment

Remake Your Class Part 3: Exploring a Collaborative Learning Environment

Using Rubrics to Assess Critical Thinking

Photo Credit: jenhegna1

It’s an on-going concern that we cannot adequately/accurately assess critical thinking in our students. Buck Institute has a new book out titled “PBL for 21st Century Success: Teaching Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, Creativity” that spends part of its pages in this area. As the leaders in PBL training, I respect their content and what they have to offer educators.

Take a look at this blog post where John Larmer, BIE Director of Product Development, shares insight into using the rubrics listed below. Keep in mind, allowing voice and choice in the creation of the final rubric is the best answer to holding students accountable to the expected levels of proficiency. They know what the expectations are because they helped CREATE them. When you’re having to respond to a question about the subjective nature of PBL (and similar) assessment, this is your best defense.

PBL – On-Time Topics

Photo Credit: kjd

PBL units can be the most engaging to students when designed around current topics that learners can relate to. That can be difficult for newer PBL teachers who aren’t as comfortable going through the planning process.

Mike Gwaltney has a blog post sharing a unit he put together based on the current conflict in Syria and how it pertains to what the United States can do. He links to the actual documents that are used in the decision making process. These are documents that students probably never knew existed and are never discussed on the news channels.

What I think will benefit you the most from looking at Mike’s blog post is his process.  He lays it out starting with the Driving Question and works his way through documents to share and then some facilitating the group work. It is really well done. Look at its framework and try to put a workflow in place for you to do the same in your classroom on a moment’s notice.

Without further ado, Mike’s unit:

Who Chooses War in a Constitutional Democracy?

While you’re at it, go find Mike on Twitter and ask him some questions and tell him thanks for sharing a great blog post.

STEMbite for Your Classroom

Video is a great way to engage your students in the learning process. It’s even better when the learning is about every day items they can find around them. STEMbites does the work for you. I bet you can find some creative ways to use their content either as warm-ups for the day’s content, or even use it as an entry event for the PBL work you have planned.

Dive in. Enjoy. Be sure you Subscribe to their YouTube channel to get the latest updates.

Nature is so amazing… No, seriously, it is crazy! To understand just how incredible our world is, you need to pull back the curtain and see all the science and math that underpins every part of our day-to-day lives.

With STEMbite, you can explore the world like like never before – through the eyes of an enthusiastic young teacher. Subscribe to this channel for engaging, bite-size lessons from a unique first-person perspective through Google Glass.