Thursday, 27 November 2014

Studio Schools Trust Workshop


Today I am delivering a short workshop based around my experiences during the first leg of my Winston Churchill Memorial Trust research trip to the USA.

If you are here, I hope you find the workshop interesting and productive! If you are somewhere else in the world you may find the resources of interest anyway.


Use the Google Docs during and after the session.

Google Docs Here

Blogs & Articles 

Here are some of the blog entries and articles about my trip so far:

Multiple opportunities for making PBL work in schools
Interview with Edutopia

Many thanks and good luck!


Tuesday, 24 June 2014

#7 Day 2 @ PBL World: Sam Seidel - Keeping it REAL and empowering teachers

A fascinating day #2 @ PBL World 2014 

Today's blog update will focus on the keynote speech by Sam Seidel about how we can KEEP IT REAL through PBL and empower teachers to make a difference. 

One day when I was chillin' in Kentucky Fried Chicken, 
Just mindin' my business, eatin' food and finger lickin',
This dude walked in lookin' strange and kind of funny,
Went up to the front with a menu and his money
He didn't walk straight, kind of side to side
He asked this old lady, "Yo, yo, um is this Kentucky Fried?"
The lady said, "Yes man", smiled and he smiled back
He gave a quarter and his order, small fries, Big Mac! 

You be illin'... 

I have to admit, I did wonder how Sam Seidel would follow yesterday's inspirational speech by Steven Ritz, but opening up with a rap from (the highly under-rated) Run DMC complete with crowd participation just about did the trick. So why Run DMC? What does KFC have to do with Project Based Learning? Or even education? Am I actually in 1970s Parkchester, NY and not Napa, CA? Well... Here is the method in the madness...

Students Need Real Projects

Sam Seidel's point is smart, simple and genuine. The reputation of the hip-hop artist is founded on authenticity: "what you have and what you do has to be real" says Sam and "... just as the rap artist relies on keeping it real, so too should we" as PBL educators. He then proceeds in 180 seconds to outline four clear reasons why. These are the soon to be widely circulated "Hip Hop Essentials of PBL" that will make sure you keep it REAL in your classroom:

1. Real World

Projects need to be real world and involve students "getting out of the building" to make a connection with people and places beyond school. This drives up student engagement as they see, hear and experience the connection between their learning and real life.

2. Real Work

Rather than pretending to be a scientist or placing themselves in the shoes of an architect, they need to go and meet with an expert in the field, interview a member of the profession or work alongside an established employee. This gives students a sense of what is possible and also drives up the standard of their work as they are held to account by real-work standards.

3. Relevant to Student Lives

Projects need to be relevant to the culture, interests, communities and lives of students. PBL can give students voice and choice, thus making learning relevant to who they are and what they are passionate about beyond the walls of the school. This can be powerful, particularly for those students sometimes marginalised in a regular 'factory-style' school environment.

4. Real Issues 

Finally, students should have the opportunity to tackle real issues that affect their lives, schools and communities. These problems could be global in scope, however, as Seidel points out the issues that often mean the most to students and serve to 'respectfully engage them' are the ones on their doorstep. 

PBL projects of this nature can often lead to projects where students have a tangible impact on their schools, communities and even governments. Sam himself has been heavily involved with community projects in including Get Your Green, a project at High School for Recording Arts in Minnesota. Students at HSRA are "... using their musical talent to promote a movement. Improve the health and well-being of all communities through environmental activism, eco-entrepreneurialism, and math, science, and engineering." Its a sophisticated piece of work, impacting positively on their community by raising awareness about real-world issues whilst also driving up student engagement.

The 'Flip': PBL to tackle real-world problems and challenges

So, to get back to Run DMC. What on earth does ' be illin' mean anyway? 

Sam proceeds to inform a the room of 600 teachers, and, though I may be making a bold and general assumption here, a room with a low proportion of people educated in hip-hop culture, that: "'Illin' is an example of what in hip-hop has become known as a 'flip'". A 'flip' uses a phrase with usually negative connotations to denote something positive ('sick' actually meaning 'good' is another example). This, according to Sam, is another important lesson from hip-hop culture. Rather than sinking into the abyss of unemployment, poverty and neglect, the community of The Bronx during the 1970s (one of the birthplaces of hip-hop), gave birth to a genre of music that has been dominant in pop for the last 40 years. In the same way says Sam, "... what if we flip it, what if teachers could actually be using a PBL approach to tackle real issues in their classrooms, schools and communities?"

In Rhode Island students have already started to do just that, designing their own school, which the state department have agreed to open when the design is complete. Now that is a real-world project. They have not 'adjusted' to regular high school, but have instead taken the initiative through a creative PBL project to alter the status quo permanently.

Teachers too have taken on the challenge through the Business Innovation Factory, utilising their expertise as professionals in tune with the challenges and opportunities facing practitioners in the classroom to develop solutions to these problems. Adhering to many of the principles of effective PBL, the Business Innovation Factory uses design thinking and gives staff space to collaborate, explore, problem solve and effect change through sharing their solutions. See a video of all this in action here.

Sick Lessons
It turns out then that hip-hop has some 'sick' lessons for teachers and leaders interested in PBL. Effective PBL is not convoluted, teacher-driven, couched in the language of curriculum standards or motivated (only) by the need for students to pass tests. Whats more, PBL can be so real-world, that it could even permeate how teachers plan and undertake professional development and how they go about solving the problems that face practitioners every day in classrooms and schools. Effective PBL is real-world learning. So real world that students and staff could, in Sam Seidel's words, "work together to re-design the very system they are part of." So, keep it real people.  

Watch this interview clip for more of the thinking underpinning Sam's speech:

 More from #PBL World Day 3 tomorrow!