Global EdCon Project Reflection and Launch!

Monday, November 18th at 8 pm EST, I will be doing a presentation on the global PBL I attempted with my students last year called The #Malala Project. I am so, so nervous to present! I decided, however, that I would ask myself to do the very thing I ask students to do everyday…take a risk, be a true learner! So here I am, procrastinating by blog going about it instead of making up notecards to go with my slides. Teaching seems so much easier than presenting. With presenting, you need to be able to tell a good story…it has to have an engaging beginning, building to an exciting middle, wrapped up by a clean, clear cut ending that leaves the audience feeling satisfied, but somehow wanting more. A tough job for sure, especially if done virtually! So perhaps what I will do this week is present to my students, give them a rubric and ask them to grade me! Ha!Ha! What an interesting concept! What if we had to regularly give students rubrics for them to grade our teaching? I shall try it this week and report back what I found…surely I am not the first to think of this.
At least I was able to finish my Haiku Deck slides in preparation for launching The One and Only Ivan Project as a part of The Global Classroom Projects 2013-2014 Launch on November 22, 6 am EST and then again November 23, 3 pm EST. scary and fun, all at the same time!

PBL-An Empathy Builder for Teachers… Who Knew?

I have to admit, when I considered using The One and Only Ivan as my first core novel in 5th grade, I was a little worried. I know that most kids love animals and I thought that would be motivating for students to launch into a PBL on some aspect of animals; however, I, myself, am not a huge animal lover. I mean, I have two cats, I had a cat growing up, my dad had dogs and I loved them, but I just was never one of those kids who wanted to be a veterinarian, nor was I a kid who had folders for school with little kittens on them. I am embarrassed to admit this actually because it makes me seem a little hard core, but so be it, “I yam what I yam!” as Popeye says.  After I had children of my own, my love for animals also decreased a bit. Not sure why, except to say that my primary love became all about my kids.

But, I decided I could fake it. Did I have to have this huge amount of empathy and compassion for animals to teach this unit? I hoped not. One thing I didn’t expect to happen, was the change that occurred and is occurring within me! The more I learn, the more empathy I have for animals, and animals of all kinds! It seems so silly when I look at it now. Of course the teacher also learns while teaching! I am not, nor have I ever considered myself, “Teacher: All Knowing and #1 Person in Charge!” I am co-learner, chief facilitator, but first and foremost, co-learner. Project based learning has been an incredible vehicle to teach my students, but most surprisingly, it has taught me more than just content. It has taught me about my own heart.

Why Blogging Needs to Be in My Curriculum and Why My Students Need It!

The day before yesterday, I brought my students to our computer lab to blog again. It was so wonderful to see them so excited about writing! 

It has taken me a few years to develop a system of how to teach students to blog. It has also taken me a few years to effectively incorporate writing skills I usually taught in other ways into a blogging curriculum. And, I hesitate to even use the word curriculum because I think it is only the beginnings of one. I have also not done this alone. With the help of fabulous technology teachers, Andy Hanes and Jennifer Robinson, we really are starting to make it come together for kids, and ourselves!

We began the year with showing students what blogs were: what was the difference between an article and a blog? I then asked my students to make a list of what they would like to read about. My colleagues and I responded by making a Mentor Mob list of blogs that fit their criteria and were safe for them to read. After giving students about two 1/2 hour periods in the computer lab to simply browse and read, we began to have discussions about questions they had regarding the blogs. Some questions were: How can we tell if the information is coming from a reputable source? What do we do when information is really mixed in with opinion? Can we use blogs as sources for research? Why do some blogs have pop up ads or ads on the screen and some don’t? What formats do we prefer…the writing on the right side of the page? The left? Do we like pictures on the page at the top? Is the page too busy for us or too boring? They commented on being annoyed when someone didn’t capitalize the word “I” or put too many exclamation points. They loved it when someone was able to tell a clear story and put lots of details in. 

We are taking part in the Student Blogging Challenge on Edublogs, but using KidBlog to blog. As a teacher, the ability to check my students’ writing before they post, as well as approve comments before they are posted, is extremely important to me. For the challenge, students needed to first write an introduction of themselves so we checked out a couple of examples and talked about which one we liked best and why.

This brings me to our class we had two days ago. Students were so excited to write and read other classmates’ blogs! During class, I was able to individually conference with students who had finished and submitted their blogs for review. It was differentiation at its’ best! I could help students with their specific writing difficulties and build on their strengths. Some students needed to understand how to appropriately use colons, some needed help with organization and learned how to cut sentences out and move them to a different place so that it made more sense, some students just wanted reassurance and praise. Yes, there was time to individually praise students! We are learning about compound subjects and predicates and next time we blog, I can have them copy and paste a favorite sentence into a Word Doc, or better yet, something collaborative, like Pirate Pad. We can then highlight subjects and predicates using their own writing. We can also take that opportunity to share why they love that particular sentence they wrote the best!
When my colleague, Jennifer, who was working with me at the time, asked students why they loved blogging, their responses said it all:

Because it’s fun!
Because real people are going to see it that aren’t us!
Because when I make mistakes, it makes more sense when I have to fix it!
Because we get to learn more about our classmates and people we
don’t know!
Because it isn’t made up, it’s real.

My students need this kind of writing. They need it because it means something to them, it motivates them to learn and be better readers and writers. They need it because it builds on their interests, taps into their creativity, invites them to be collaborative, and begs them to think critically. What more could you want as a teacher?

The One and Only Ivan Global PBL

I should have written this post a long time ago. Actually, I wrote a post and some how, the whole thing got erased! Anyway, I was inspired to write again, by someone on Twitter. So I must thank her.

The One and Only Ivan is a story based on the true story of the gorilla, Ivan, who lived in a circus-themed mall for 27 years alone in a cage without ever seeing another gorilla. After National Geographic featured Ivan in a story, “The Urban Gorilla,” there was public outcry to help save him and put Ivan in a better situation. Katherine Applegate learned about Ivan and wrote a beautiful, simple story about Ivan. This novel promotes empathy in a way that is simple yet poignant and also brings up many issues dealing with the capture and caging of animals.

I attended PBL World in Napa Valley this past June. As part of my attendance, I created this project based learning unit with the help of many incredibly talented teachers and also the help of the National Faculty of Bucks Institute of Education. Now, John Scott, my friend and librarian, is helping me teach this wonderful story.It is listed as a project on the Global Classroom Projects wiki. Here are the goals of this project:
Students will read the book, __The One and Only Ivan__by Katherine Applegate.
Students will engage in self directed learning by researching the question, “Do we have the right to capture and cage animals?”
Students will engage in a project that employs and builds their empathetic skills.
Students will collaborate and communicate with each other, and with students from cultures around the world.
Students will create one book together by answering the question, “Do we have the right to capture and cage animals?
Students will decide as a global community which wildlife organization they will donate all proceeds made by the sale of the book.

The beauty of this project also includes the opportunity for teachers who want to try PBL but do not know quite where to start and would like to support from others who are doing the same thing! We will all work on the same driving question and if teachers want or need the support of resources, they are right there on the project page to utilize. I also used 21st Century Fluency Project to plan the unit and those who join are also able to use it.

I believe in project based learning to teach students in a way that is meaningful and motivating, and the learning that happens is far reaching beyond what traditional teaching can accomplish many times. I believe in global collaboration as a means of teaching students empathy and not only tolerance, but a true understanding and appreciation of people that are different from them. Global project based learning has the potential for unbelievably, powerful learning! I hope other teachers and students will take the plunge with me!


Yesterday, we held the first ever Project Learning Swap Meet 2013 Baltimore! For the last month and a half, I planned and planned and with the help of Bianca and Lee Hewes, the originators of this beautiful unconference, my husband Andy Hanes, my two incredibly supportive colleagues, Frannie Morrissey and Jennifer Robinson, I wouldn’t have been able to pull it off! The day began with a video message from Bianca and Jim. Their enthusiasm about PBL and mission was inspiring to say the least. 

Although we had a small number of participants (only 12), we had a great conversation about what we thought PBL was and what we knew it wasn’t. Everyone at the Meet were pretty new to PBL, but enthusiastic to learn more about it. After a short break, we gathered in a classroom to Skype with Suzie Boss! Suzie had just returned from a trip to Turkey at 2 am in the morning, Portland time. She generously woke up early in the morning just to Skype with us. This was such an incredible part of the day! Participants were able to ask her questions and get ideas, a lot of ideas, to use directly in their own classrooms. It was like a personal tutoring session about PBL from an expert! So, so cool!

Although some participants weren’t able to stay, we gave resources and offered our Edmodo group again as a space to share our PBL journey and also, most importantly, get and offer support. After that, we ate lunch and chatted about what we thought we wanted out of the rest of our day. We then helped participants form driving questions for their projects and plan a bit. I loved watching new connections happen between people and also watching new enthusiasm about PBL grow. 

A few of us have talked about doing a second PLSM14 in February or March but holding it on a weekday so that more people can attend. I look forward to sharing and growing from our new PLSM13 Baltimore community on Edmodo and hope it continues to grow and grow!

Too Much to “Due”, So Little Time!

Well, the school year has begun and I am beginning to get panicked about how much I want to do. I certainly do not have to do all of the things on my list, but I really want to do them! #1 on my list right now (besides teaching my students, of course) is Project Learning Swap Meet 2013 Baltimore. I suppose I should explain how the whole thing came about.

After attending PBL World in Napa Valley, California this past June, I was completely inspired to spread the PBL love to everyone and anyone who was willing to learn and listen. I facilitated a little information session this summer I called “PBL and Summer Sangria” at my school and had a decent turnout. However, I really wanted to do something on a larger scale and perhaps connect with people on a regular basis who were into supporting each other through this PBL journey. I thought of doing an EdCamp but wasn’t excited about getting sponsors and quite frankly, didn’t know if I could do an EdCamp only about PBL. So, I was Tweeting away one night when I came upon Bianca Hewes Tweet which requested people to sign up for #PLSM2013. Lucky for me, I met Bianca in Napa at PBL World in June! I clicked the link, read about it and wanted to go right away. Bianca and her husband, Lee, also a teacher, described Project Learning Swap Meet as a DIY event to exchange ideas and resources about project based learning and the participants would then set the activities of the day based on what the participants wanted. Hopefully, there would be time to begin planning or revamping an existing PBL with help from the group! It was an unconference about PBL! So very cool! The problem was I lived in Baltimore and PLSM2013 was in Sydney, Australia. I decided to Tweet Bianca and Lee and ask them if I could borrow their idea and try it here in Baltimore. They said yes and the rest is history!

So, here I am, trying to get 40 participants for #PLSM2013Baltimore on October 5th. I asked Suzie Boss to speak to participants and she agreed. She spoke at Bianca and Lee’s first meet last January and they said she was incredible! Thank you Suzie Boss! I also need to finish my list of resources to send to participants prior to the event. This blog was on my list, so at least I am finishing this!! LOL

Now, I just need to finish planning two PBL units I begin in about a week and a half (one on Creativity and the other using the novel, The One and Only Ivan), finish my submission to present at Global EdCon in November, revamp my World Class 4 Kids project on Skype so that three classes will be able to choose and connect with each other on a spread sheet, finish signing my kids up for Kid Blog and Biblionasium, and figure out what and how I will teach my first Mathalicious unit! Piece of cake! Is it happy hour yet? Lol 

Project-Learning (aka PBL) for beginners #plsm13

Bianca Hewes

This blog post is probably not written for you, even though you may have stumbled across it accidentally thanks to your search engine. This blog post isn’t even written for the people who follow me on Twitter, although a few of those do just happen to be in the group for whom this post is being written. This blog post is being written for the eager, dedicated, risk-taking and generous educators who will be attending the inaugural Project Learning Swap Meet at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum on January, 19th 2013.

I’m getting very excited about the event because I know wonderful things will come of it. I know that you lovelies who are attending will be bringing your questions, your experiences, your ideas and your enthusiasm to the day because you want to do more than just listen to people talk about new pedagogies or new technologies or new designs for…

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Why Am I Struggling with Assessing Creativity?

Let me begin by emphatically stating that my last few days at PBL World 2013 were truly inspiring! All of it was inspiring, truly it was. However, I must admit that on the 4th day, I was confused, at some points irritated even, after Yong Zhao gave an incredibly thought-provoking keynote speech. I was not irritated at all with his keynote but what followed afterwards. I must first explain the two points of his keynote that stuck out in my mind the most. #1 Yong Zhao does not like the Common Core Standards. He went into great depth regarding why and it made sense. He began with the name itself, “Common Core.” Why do we basically want students to be common to their core? I am oversimplifying greatly here, but I am sure you get the gist. #2 What these standards do is to help produce more of the old factory-style students that lack creativity or more specifically, lack the opportunity to be creative. Zhao further explained that schools have been like meat grinders producing little sausages that are all the same, ‘common’, if you will, with the same ‘core.’ I agreed! I totally agreed and thought to myself, “No more! No more will I be a part of that process, on whatever level. My students will not be treated like little sausages.” His keynote speech ended and off I went to attend a session called “Creativity and Innovation.” I was pumped!

This next workshop was to teach us how to assess creativity and innovation. I was confused…wasn’t this in direct opposition to what Yong Zhao was talking about? Should we be assessing the only thing that young students had left that was all their own? Should we make a rubric to attribute value to that human spark that is so beautiful and unique to each individual? I was perplexed. As the workshop progressed, I realized that some of this was about figuring out what behaviors creative people have to help students become more creative. The “value” portion of the rubric was what I really took issue with. I began wondering about how to create a PBL that specifically targets creative thinking with significant content, and for some reason, something about it does not sit right with me at all. I wonder where early van Gogh and early Picasso would have been had we held their work up to a rubric. Would they have continued their creative pursuits? How would Frank Lloyd Wright have faired at age 11 or 12 with a creativity rubric? Would it have squashed his creative spirit? I hope not. Maybe it all would have gone well, maybe it would have even been better for them. I just think we need to be very, very careful with assessing creativity and innovation. I am young in my thoughts regarding many things and realize I learn by doing, so on with my next idea!

I began to think about creating a PBL to begin my year with my new 5th grade students. The driving question, which is still a work in progress so please do not judge, may be, “How do we decide what creativity is?” or “Should we decide what is creative?” or “How will we decide what creativity is?” It seems I am always drawn to the philosophical type PBL projects, but it is what it is. I teach at a Quaker school so it makes sense. I am so excited to embark on this new adventure and will be working on it all summer. Any thoughts or ideas would be greatly appreciated! I will be sure to keep you posted.

PBL World 2013…and It’s Only Day 1!

Wow. Wowee, really is all I can say. Today has ben an incredible ride. I began with being nervous about whether or not I would meet new people. I quickly decided to let that go and just allow the day to bring what it would bring because it always does regardless of my worries.

We started with listening to Steven Ritz, the founder of The Green Bronx Machine! I have seen his Ted Talk before and he was even more inspiring in person. There were so many take-aways, but my fav was, “It’s easier to fix unhealthy children than broken men,” and one I probably shouldn’t mention but I will, of course, which was something like, “Better to have kids pollinating plants than each other!” Great stuff! I live in Baltimore and my wonderful city known as “Charm City” could really benefit from doing this kind of PBL. We are the heroin capital of America, I believe, and I know we can take all of that great entrepreneurialism, albeit illegal entrepreneurialism, that is going on everyday and put it to much better use.

I attended PBL 101 with Gina Olabuenaga after our wonderful keynote speaker and was not disappointed. I love, love, love that finally, for once, we learned how to do something by doing it! YAY! Modeling does and can take place in teacher trainings! We actually learned how to plan a PBL through experiencing it. I loved being able to see what a smaller version of PBL was compared to a larger scale PBL. I loved learning more about driving questions and receiving a tool to help us create them–how to implement the “Tuberic!” I have been looking at it for the past year trying to figure out what it was and how in the heck I would actually be able to make it.

Next, I attended a Tech Bootcamp on blogging with Suzie Boss, Bianca Hewes and Andrew Miller! They discussed their experience with blogging and gave tips on how to write for particular audiences and how to get an audience. The greatest take away I received from that was to be provocative and unafraid, but also careful. Write to be true to yourself but be smart about it.

The day ended with me connecting with my two new friends, Jill Cohen from North Carolina and Tina Photakis from Australia! How great it is to learn about education issues in different parts of the world! We are explorers in a new land, really. We are educational explorers exploring in a new land of technology and global connections where the world is truly our classroom. I am excited, honored and humbled to be a part of it.


Project Based Learning…I Think We Really Did It!

I have been learning about project based learning for the past two and a half years. I have read blogs, studied various websites proclaiming to teach it, participated in live chats, taken online classes, followed Twitter feeds, talked to teachers teaching PBL, and repeated that process again and again and again. Still I had questions: have I ever done it, wasn’t that what many of my students’ projects were anyway, and well, if I hadn’t done it, what was the difference?

Finally, FINALLY! I attempted to have my students experience what my understanding of a true PBL was and to heck with my own fear of “not being able to do it right!” It may not have been pretty all the time, but I think it qualifies. I began with a topic that was a little mature for my students, but we made it work.

I took part in a online live chat about how to globally connect with other classrooms around the world. I ended up learning about Malala Yousafzai, a little girl in Pakistan that was shot for being outspoken about girls’ education. A teacher from Australia asked, “How can we support Malala?” and I decided to bring it to my students. I also brought it to my colleagues and they had some really great ideas! We decided to share some of Malala’s diary entries with students and part of a documentary that was made about her. That was enough for students to be engaged. They jumped right into action! They wanted to raise money for her, write letters petitioning her nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, make posters, and pamphlets raising awareness about girls’ education. I decided to ask Michael Graffin, co-founder of the Global Classroom Project if he would help me by allowing me to start a global project and list it on his site. He asked me to write a guest post blog which he would post on his Global Classroom blog. He then helped me create the wiki space called, The #Malala Project! I began Tweeting the idea of supporting Malala by teaching about girls’ education barriers and Michael Tweeted and re-Tweeted. The idea took off and eventually, we had other classrooms from around the world participating!

Unfortunately, time and the “regular curriculum” constraints took hold and the #Malala Project had to wait a bit. When we were able to get back to some of it, I decided I had to backtrack a bit and give students background knowledge about the issues concerning girls’ education in order for them to learn through completing a project. This is where that darn “driving question” came into play. Now, I have heard so many opinions about driving questions, ranging from: you don’t always need them to, they aren’t that important all of the time to, you have to have a good driving question. I am of the opinion that not having a good driving question is like having a ship with no rudder. For me, the rudder was a hard one to build. Luckily, I am never afraid to ask for help. I am also being formally evaluated this year at my job, so I asked one of my colleagues on my evaluation team and they helped me come up with a driving question: How can we change cultural perspectives to that everyone has a chance to be educated? This was advanced for fourth graders but I thought once they understood what cultural barriers actually meant, they would be able to research and learn which ones were keeping girls from being educated what they might do to help. 

The lesson on cultural barriers was tough  at first but they understood it. We began by exploring what “cultural perspectives” are through looking at the example of Ruby Bridges, the first African American little girl to attend an all white school in New Orleans, Louisiana. I created a Thinglink to continue our discussion. My goal was for students to use what they know about the Civil Rights era, Ruby Bridges, and what the cultural perspectives were at the time that impeded her ability to have equal access to education.

Heidi in Cultural Perspective glasses.jpg

The picture above is me with my Cultural Perspective glasses on. This idea (the glasses) came from an incredibly talented teacher, Jillien Lakatta.

I followed all of this up with videos and brainstorming ideas about cultural perspectives using a Mindmeister map. Specific details can be found by visiting this Google Doc link.

I then created five resource lists using Mentor Mob so students could explore on their own. They completed an initial Learning Contract that I explained would be revisited and revised if necessary and asked them what they were interested in doing and how they thought they may do it? Some wanted to create brochures and do public service announcements in our dining hall, some others outside in the courtyard where middle and upper schoolers frequently walked by, I heard poster ideas, and movie ideas. Students got into groups based on their interests and one student decided to work alone. And then, that darned “regular curriculum” crept in again and more waiting until we had more time.

Again we came back to our project. I had students re-visit their learning contracts and get back into their groups. They talked again about their ideas and made a plan about how they would use their time. They set a goal and assigned tasks that each member would have to complete. We went to the lab and I had the jitters. Would anything happen? Would this be total chaos? When we got to the lab, another class was running late and I had the opportunity to ask them some questions. I first asked, “Do you like it better when I tell you what to do more or when you have more freedom about what and how you will learn?” One student replied, “Well, it depends. Sometimes I like it better when you tell us what to do, but I like it more when we have more freedom, but it’s just harder.” “How?” I asked. “Well, you have to think more, you have to collaborate more with others and then agree on what to do more and that’s hard sometimes. You also don’t get your idea all the way. It’s your idea with someone else’s idea mushed together…which is ok, just harder.” Most of the students liked to have more freedom with what and how they learned but they all agreed it was harder. Another student said he too liked it but “it was harder cause you had to think more.” I couldn’t have asked for a better response!

The time in the lab was wonderful! Finally students were working harder than I was! They were motivated, focused, chatty, but chatty about what they were learning! There were two to three other teachers in the lab with me observing me for my evaluation, but really observing and assisting students in their quest for information.

Students needed to make decisions about what information they needed to include for their projects, their brochure, their movie, their Power Point presentation! They were all using different technology and teaching it to themselves! Two groups had never used Publisher before. They used the templates, explored and guess what?! They figured it out! One student taught her group member how to make a Power Point presentation. And, they were all learning about different things! Some students were learning about child labor and how that prevents girls from being educated. Others were learning about water and how the lack of it prevents girls from being educated. They learned about what a Life Straw and a QDrum was and how having these things could dramatically improve the lives of girls and entire communities!  I was able to teach a mini-lesson on using an apostrophe when writing “girls’ education.” Some students problem solved on their own by figuring out how to make bullet points and other students learned because they needed to learn it! That was the thing, they needed to learn! They wanted to learn because they had choice in what they were learning and how they would show it.

After the first time in the lab, we went back to our classroom and talked about what should be included in a rubric to assess projects. Students came up with five criteria and decided a 1-3 scale would work best. 1 would mean “Needs Improvement”, 2 would mean “Met expectations,” and 3 would mean “Exceeds Expectations.” The one piece that I added was that I wanted students to present their project to an authentic audience, but they could choose their audience. We all agreed that the 9th graders they worked with occasionally throughout the year would be great practice but wouldn’t count as the audience. We also agreed that when our projects were finished, we would revisit the rubric to see if we wanted to add anything to it or even change it.

Along our travels, we learned about an organization called 10×10. It was incredible timing that they made a documentary called Girl Rising. It was all about supporting girls’ education around the world and how supporting the education of girls heals entire communities. My wonderful team of teachers I work with decided they would support renting the movie (which wasn’t cheap!) so that we could host a screening! Although the screening will take place during the evening (it is PG-13 and definitely needs parental guidance), students that come will be able to present their projects and share their information as people enter to see the movie. We cannot wait!

I have learned so many things by attempting this PBL. I have learned more about the power of connecting globally. Had I not been a part of that live chat, this idea would never have been born! I have learned that collaboration and risk taking are key in my professional growth. Asking questions and asking for help are so powerful for me as a learner. I learn from others, I model for my students when I do that and when I share that I do that. I have also learned that the more control I give up, the more my students can learn. Much of the work for PBL takes place ahead of time and at the beginning. Support by checking in and conferencing with students along the way was very important. I asked students what they needed from me before each session in the computer lab and they told me. Sometimes they said they just needed support by finding out something by using Google and sometimes they needed actual materials like a glue stick or poster board. They knew I believed in them and their ability to take charge of their own learning. The more I saw them do it, the more excited I got and the more confident they became. I also saw the incredible opportunities there were to teach skills along the way. Next time I will do a rubric with students a little earlier. I am not positive it will be better, but I will try it just to compare the difference. In addition, PBL in my book is not meant to be done alone. I do not think it would have been as successful without the support of other teachers in the lab. I think having another adult to work with is also important for me as a teacher! It’s nice to be able to bounce ideas off of each other and reflect on the process.

I am not sure how long it will take me to stop thinking about and reflecting on my first real PBL experience, but I think it will be a long time. I can’t wait to try it again and I hope it’s soon!

To see the wonderful work of my students, please visit The #Malala Project wiki.