Saturday, February 28, 2015

Teaching Empathy...A Reflection

Compassion and empathy are two things I value very dearly in life. In fact, I think they are some of the most important things we should be teaching and modeling for our students. Yet they are very different. Read the following definitions below (gleaned from

Compassion: a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow FOR another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.
Empathy:  the intellectual identification WITH or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

The two capped words speak volumes to the difference. While it is crucial to think compassionately, it is essential to practice empathy. Compassion is a much more passive activity. It is a feeling for somebody, a recognition of one's struggles. Yes, this may affect decision making and lead to action, but it is not as powerful as empathy. 

Empathy calls for people to actually try and experience the feelings and thoughts of a particular person or group. The best way of putting this is walking a mile in their shoes. Empathy is a call to intimately place yourself in the mind and heart of another person. If this is really done, it has the unmistakable ability to foster action and critical thought to complex problems.  Thus, it is one of the reasons I think it is necessary to teach for empathy. To better prepare our future leaders to confront issues we can't even comprehend, I want empathy to be at the forefront of their thoughts and actions. This may be idealistic, but yet it makes me hopeful and excited. A world full of empathetic people and leaders is a world in which change is not possible, it is expected.

I wrote those words nearly four years ago. Time flies. Over those four years I have learned a ton, overcome setbacks, and launched some big projects. I am truly grateful for where I am today. As much as I have changed and evolved over those four years, I continue to cultivate a practice of empathy. Practice is the key word. I am not perfect, but this practice is one of the most important facets of my life. The more I practice empathy, the more joy and gratitude I carry in this life.

But enough about me. Recently, I came across the above post as I scanned older parts of my blog. I reread the above post more than a few times. I sat and reflected on my practice as an educator. Am I currently expressing this practice of empathy with my students? Am I modeling the practice of empathy as I teach? Am I teaching empathy? Can you teach empathy?

I though about recent events. I thought about Eric Garner. I thought about Michael Brown. I thought about my students' questions. I thought about world problems. I thought about Nigeria. I thought about Syria. I thought about Egypt. I thought about Greece. I thought about ISIS. I thought about Los Angeles. I thought about inequality. I thought about climate change. I thought about the endless problems in the world.

Am I doing enough for my students?

To be honest, I am not sure. How can we teach and practice empathy with students today? Is it social media? Is it mindfulness? Is it community action? Is it conversation? Is it Skype? I would love to hear what you think.

I may be a bit older, but I still believe what I wrote:

Thus, it is one of the reasons I think it is necessary to teach for empathy. To better prepare our future leaders to confront issues we can't even comprehend, I want empathy to be at the forefront of their thoughts and actions. This may be idealistic, but yet it makes me hopeful and excited. A world full of empathetic people and leaders is a world in which change is not possible, it is expected.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Space to Create


Until very recently, I never thought of myself as a creator, as someone with the potential to create.

Why would I be a creator?
My traditional schooling experience trained me to memorize and regurgitate. The best students were the most compliant. Original thoughts and ideas were not rewarded by the rubric. Each paper needed to be double-spaced and written in Times New Roman.

Society told me to consume. Wear clothes from the same retail outlets. Listen to music from the same radio stations. Read the book featured at the same bookstores. Watch television from the same stations.

Yet, I always felt different. I felt drawn to the underdog. I relished the non-linear argument. I sought the non commercial. I loved being non-compliant. I was fascinated by those who stepped outside the box.

I never tied the allure of divergence to the opportunity to create. Slowly, I am. My conversion to creator has been slow. You could say it has taken a lifetime. More than anything, I work to embrace this new mindset. I fight the urge to think my ideas are nonsense. I fight the urge to hit cancel instead of submit. I fight the urge to constantly ruminate on what others think. I fight the urge to believe my creation is less than others. I fight the urge to stop my work before I begin (I almost stopped writing this post before I started).

My biggest goal is to throw caution to the wind and follow through. Being a creator means being at ease with discomfort. The discomfort that anything could come of your ideas, your creations.

So this brings me to the question at hand — How do you make this space for yourself?

I make space for me to practice; practice this new notion of creating. I make space for me to practice a new mindset. I make space for me to sit with discomfort. I make space for me to accept the uncertainty of being a creator. I make space for me to struggle with my perceived inadequacy. I make space for me to be excited. I make space for me to be empowered.


I read more. I connect more. I build relationships. I reach out on Twitter. I learn from giants. I study those I admire on Medium. I listen to inspiring podcasts. I mediate. I write. I write some more. I drag myself out of bed at 5:00 AM. I drink coffee. I drink a lot of coffee.

I value my hours teaching. Kids are natural creators, full of innocent imagination and potential. I am often inspired by my students. I value my co-founders. I listen to their feedback, I soak in their ideas. I push to fight for my own.

I walk around with post-it notes. If I run out of post-it notes, I use my hand. I write every idea down. For some reason, my best ideas occur in the car and in the shower. Sometimes this makes recording the flash of inspiration rather difficult. Yet I do it anyway. I empty my pockets at night and organize my ideas. I use my ideas to start new projects bright and early the next day. I use my ideas to improve projects I am working on.

So, I give myself the space by shifting my own personal paradigm. I can create anywhere, at anytime. I don’t need to make space, I need to discover the space that is already there. I simply need to slow down and acknowledge the amazing creative potential of each moment. To live a creative life is to realize that the space to create comes at all different moments and in all different places. You need to be ready to use it.

…If that all fails, I jump on my surfboard and flounder in the ocean.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Are We Thinking About Digital Pedagogy?

I'll just go out and say it. Most education technology is a waste of time and money. This is a shame. Schools, districts, and teachers spend millions of dollars on devices, programs, and software. Stakeholders are wowed by flashcard apps, promises of data, and effortless school improvement. Check out the badges we can give our kids! How exciting is this online lecture! Students can complete worksheets online!

Most education technology seeks to make incremental changes of efficiency to the current paradigms of education. Education technology claims to make learning more efficient, standard, and easy. The pedagogy behind instruction remains the same. Somehow we confuse this for innovation and disruption. Are we even thinking about the pedagogy of new digital learning?

Unfortunately, school systems are missing a major opportunity. Our new technologies can be used to facilitate exciting and revolutionary pedagogy. It is easier than ever to create online communities to discuss, engage, and create knowledge. With a tweet, a message, or a post, students can share their voice, experience, and knowledge. Through collaboration, teachers, students, and communities can work together to solve problems and build progress. To use education technology for powerful purposes, we need to think about our pedagogical goals. If we do this, we can create spaces for critical pedagogy through our digital technologies. 

This was the promise of Web 2.0 tools. Education technology would serve 21st century pedagogy. Education technology would empower learners to be creators, thinkers, and sharers. Jim Groom and Brian Lamb make this point in the context of MOOCs. MOOCs, as originally designed, sought to be open, collaborative exchanges of ideas, discussion, and information. That intent has been usurped. Groom and Lamb write, "MOOCs, currently being reimagined (and resold) by proprietary environments designed for scale and simplicity, lack the basic Web 2.0 premises of aggregation, openness, tagging, portability, reuse, multichannel distribution, syndication, and user-as-contributor."

The above mentioned premises -openness, tagging, reuse- alongside ideas of collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication should drive education technology. Great educators are thinking about digital pedagogy. They are using the awe-inspiring ability of digital technology to embrace a critical pedagogy. Believe it or not, it isn't that hard.

Blogs, wikis, and websites allow students to create content and comment on real issues that matter to them. Skype and Google Hangout give students a chance to interact with and learn from other students around the world. Podcast and video move students to be creators, not just consumers. Technology can give students a voice. Technology can guide students to reflect and create. Technology can facilitate critical thinking and discussion. Technology can enhance collaboration and teamwork. Technology can be the innovative force we want it to be. But first, we must think about the innovative pedagogy we stand for. Think first about digital pedagogy and the goals to be accomplished.

In closing, I want to leave you with a few examples of teachers using digital technology to enhance a critical, progressive pedagogy. For them, it is not either technology or pedagogy, it is a synergy of the two. Here are two quick exemplary examples of digital pedagogy. Beth Sanders uses class hashtags to give students a voice. Using the hashtag, students share work, engage in critical dialogue, and inform peers about social issues. Kelly Arl used Today'sMeet and Padlet for student reflection and dialogue during their celebration of I AM LMS Day, an annual day of activities and reflection on the diversity that makes their school unique.

How do you use technology to enable a digital critical pedagogy?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

What is PBL?

In a previous post, I discussed why we need more PBL and creative learning. Why not spend just a few seconds answering a crucial question, what is PBL? How does PBL as a pedagogical approach enable students to be creative learners? Of course, a simple blog post will just scratch the surface, but let’s get started.

What is Project-Based Learning?

“Project-based learning is a dynamic classroom approach in which students actively explore real-world problems and challenges and acquire a deeper knowledge.”

“Project-Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge”

Timothy Monreal (also known as me)
“Project-Based learning is a freaking great way to engage students, promote problem solving, and make creativity the norm.”

This video explains PBL and gives a real world example. Watching this video gets me so excited. I love designing project-based learning units. Seeing students dive in, attack a problem, and learn in great detail is a wonderful sight. I never know where students will take a project, and I love learning from them.

There are key differences between the projects parents (I mean kids) do and project-based learning. Take a look at the chart for further explanation.


Let’s work through an example:
Each and every year, fourth graders in California complete a mission project. The teachers give the students exact specifications, tell them exactly what it should look like, and then makes them complete it at home. Students learn nothing except how frustrated their parents get building missions. This is not PBL.

How would this look with PBL?
Teachers and students work to develop a driving question. For example,
  • How did Native Americans view the mission system?
  • Should California missions be funded as state parks?

The students look deeply into these questions to produce something that is shared. This could be journal from the eyes of Native Americans, or a presentation about funding state parks. When it is completed, the class shows their work to authentic audience members, perhaps a local tribe or city councilwomen. The necessary content is not only learned in the process, but it is contextualized, relevant, and engaging.

This is SERIOUS fun. This is a transformed classroom. This is 21st century learning.

Intrigued, excited? Go down the rabbit hole to learn more.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Competition and Bullying

I recently came across an article named "Steve Hargadon: Escaping the Education Matrix" by Luba Vangelova. 

The article recaps Hardagon's cross-country education tour. He's logged over 400 interviews, speaking to all sorts of eduction stakeholders.While the article has many interesting points, one in particular blew me away.

“We’re placing kids in an artificial environment,” he says, “telling most of them they’re not good at things, and then expecting them not to explode at each other? Of course they will. The ‘mean girls’ thing is not a natural part of childhood—it’s more a reflection of how kids are being treated than a reflection of kids. It’s shocking that we put up with it.”

Wow! Like major wow!

I never made this connection before, but it makes total sense. The idea is totally congruent with my thoughts about competition in the classroom. I just never brought competition to this logical conclusion. If we incentivize eduacation as a zero-sum game, where some "beat" others, it is completely natural that kids will think they can oppress, control, or bully others. The saddest part about this? We setup these systems knowing we could do better. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

8 Essential Elements of Project Based Learning

8 Essential Elements of Project Based Learning

Whether you are a first-time PBL teacher, or a seasoned practitioner, it is a great exercise to reflect upon the essential components of a meaningful project. The Buck Institute, a pioneer and thought leader, offers eight essential elements for project based learning. As co-founder and Chief Learning Officer of CrowdSchool, I constantly use these eight essential elements to pair pedagogy with the development of our web application.
1. Significant Content: As Suzie Boss writes in Time to Debunk Those PBL Myths, there is a distinction between coverage and deep learning. While it may be true that a teacher cannot ‘cover’ it all with PBL, projects can and should emphasize important knowledge and concepts related to standards. Rather than passive interaction with content, PBL challenges students to interact with, to challenge with depth, and to think critically about content.
2. A Need to Know: Instead of pushing information on students or bribing them with rewards, the project itself can motivate students to seek knowledge. An entry event, something such as a discussion, problem, movie, expert, or field trip, hooks students into inspiration and engagement. This is not so much an assignment, as it is a quest or personally important mission.
3. A Driving Question: The Driving Question helps guide students in their path of inquiry and highlights the major theme or point. It give students a ‘sense of purpose and challenge’, clarifying some of the expected outcomes.
4. Student Voice and Choice: Intrinsic motivation shines when students take responsibility and ownership over their own learning. Choice allows for projects to become personally meaningful and relevant to students. It also makes sense for teachers to gradually allow more voice and choice as their experience with PBL grows.
5. 21st Century Skills: This has been a buzz word for some time. How do schools develop more critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication? Filling in bubbles on standardized tests is not the solution. On the other hand, giving students the opportunity to do things like presenting a unique idea, creating tasks after a team brainstorm, or shifting through internet resources allows them to practice skills and build valuable experience.
6. Inquiry and Innovation: Students like a good question just like the rest of us. Better yet, students love to answer questions they pose. Students are more than able to create new questions, test ideas, and interpret conclusions. In fact, students can learn from failure, if we set up the right environment. ‘With real inquiry comes real innovation.’
7. Feedback and Revision: Often times this step is neglected or rushed. High quality, impressive work is often the result of multiple iterations and authentic feedback. The teacher, along with peers, participates in a cycle of review and coaching, rather than consternation. Rounds of improvements stress the fact work should be of a certain standard. PBL also shows that learning is a process, rather than a race with a start and finish.
8. Authentic Audience, Publicly Presented Product: I was once at a school where teachers joked that student work often went to the secret file folder. That folder shared a home with the Grouch, it was the trash. How do you think that made students feel? Schoolwork, just like any work, is more meaningful when other people benefit, or are inspired, by it. Introducing final projects to a public audience like parents, community leaders, professors, or the Internet opens up a world of possibilities. Students are valued as learners and individuals. Talk about high expectations!
Here is a basic rule of thumb to keep in mind when designing and working through project-based learning:
Student must perceive it (the project) as personally meaningful, as a task that matters.
We all want to, and deserve to complete, work that matters.

Monday, February 9, 2015

8 Quotes from Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Paulo Freire was a Brazilian educator and philosopher who famously wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  For Freire, education is never a neutral proces, it is a political process. This political act can never be divorced from pedagogy. Education is specifically designed and taught to serve a political agenda. These ideas comprise tenets of critical pedagogy. Freire's work inspires me to demand more of myself as an educator. Here are eight quotes from Pedagogy of the Oppressed I find especially enlightening.

1) "Many of these leaders, however (perhaps due to the natural and understandable biases against pedagogy) have ended up using the 'educational' methods employed by the oppressor. They deny pedagogical action in the liberation process, but they use propaganda to convince" (68).

Teachers often teach how they were taught. I certainly did at first. Rows, lecture, and unflinching obedience were my models. My job was to keep kids quiet. My job was to talk and command control. Their job was to sit quietly and listen. This is what I thought education was. These methods must be broken, but one of the most difficult steps in a teacher's journey is overcoming the way they were taught.

2) "Worse yet, it [banking model] turns them [students] into 'containers' to be 'filled' by the teacher. The more completely she fills the receptacles, the better a teacher she is. The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are" (72)

Traditionally, the best teachers were the ones who had the most control. A master teacher was one who could keep his students absolutely silent. Why don't you reread that? To this day, teachers feel uncomfortable with a classroom full of dialogue and debate. This past weekend I talked to a marvelous teacher piloting an inquiry based approach to standards. She gushed about student projects and their creative collaboration. She discussed how her students worked with each other to create photography exhibits and videos. Yet she said, "even with the success of my students it just feels wrong. Students shouldn't have the choice to work on the floor or a couch."

3) "And since people 'receive' the world as passive entities, education should make them more passive still, and adapt them to the world. The educated individual is the adapted person, because he or she is better 'fit' for the world" (76)

A passive education create passive people. In some sense, this is exactly the point. Past economic models needed obedient workers ready to do the beck and call of the boss. If people do not believe they have the ability to think, to question, to differ, to change, they will move through life unflinching. They will do exactly what others tell them to do. They will be totally reliant to those with power. Many adults are skeptical of massive pedagogical change in education. After all, very few people have control over their lives. How could it be possible for schools to empower all students to be innovators, leaders, and change agents when they were told to sit down and be quite?

4) "Banking education treats students as objects of assistance; problem posing education makes them critical thinkers" (83).

There are pedagogical approaches that empower rather than devalue. Allowing students time and autonomy to develop and share passions may sound radical, but really it is simply humane. Inviting students to identify problems and create solutions may be hard to fit into a schedule, but is surely more relevant than scripted textbooks. Constructing knowledge with students may lead to uncomfortable conversations, but also reinforces the value of their experience. While no pedagogical practice is a silver bullet, approaches like problem based learning, inquiry learning, and genius hour value the child as more than an object.

5) "Dialogue further requires an intense faith in humankind, faith in the power to make and remake, to create and recreate, faith in their vocation to be more fully human (which is a privileged of an elite, but the birthright of all)"  (88).

What does a pedagogy of love and trust look like? What does it look like if we give students more freedom and control because we believe in their potential and promise? What if we planned for the best instead of expecting the worst? What if we cherished each individual, each culture, and truly believed that no one was better than the rest? What is we asked, what is the best thing that could happen? What if we taught kids, not subjects?

6) "People are fulfilled to the extent that they create their world (which is a human world), and create it with their transforming labor" (145).

I was once on a call with an education organization that shall remain nameless. I asked them about providing creative learning opportunities and open-ended projects to students in low income, urban schools. The response was shocking. It angered me. The representative of the organization claimed that students in low income schools could not enjoy projects and opportunities of the sort. They were too far behind. They needed to catch up and could not focus time on non-academic activities. What type of message does this reinforce? Only a certain class is qualified enough to create, engage, and question.

7)  "Manipulation, sloganizing, "depositing," regimentation, and prescription cannot be components of revolutionary praxis, precisely because they are component of the praxis of domination" (126).

Reward. Punish. Reward. Punish. Reward. Punish. How can we find new ways to motivate (control) students? There is a whole niche of education technology devoted to this behaviorist outlook on the world. How many sports teams reward students with tickets or prizes if they read a certain number of pages? How many schools hold elaborate ceremonies for those who perform the best on quizzes and tests? Schools are masters of manipulation. They create program after program to design students exactly how those in power want.

8) "The atmosphere of the home is prolonged in the school, where the students soon discover that (as in the home) in order to achieve some satisfaction they must adapt to the precepts which have been set from above. One of these precepts is not to think" (155).

School is competition. Inherent to the structure is the idea that some should fail. The system incentivizes destructive behavior. I should do whatever possible to get a leg up on my peers. I am disincentivized from supporting my classmates because they are my competitors. Parents get trapped into a mindset of awards and certificates without thinking of the implications. Every honors bumper sticker explicitly reinforces the notion that we don't mind seeing some students held down as long as others are held up. Therefore, I must play the game of school. My parents encourage me to do so. I must do exactly what teachers tell me to do. I must blindly accept every word, idea, and thought. If schools ordain those who succeed and those who will fail, I must play their game. The rules of the game are set from above, yet it does not matter.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Why Project Based and Creative Learning?

Once upon a real time, my uncle started an engineering firm. It was quite successful, and he still works there today. Throughout his time at the firm, he has worked with many very ‘successful’ college graduates, the so-called best and the brightest. He says recent grads consistently ask for two main things.

  • One: They ask, “So do we get every other Friday off?”
  • Two: They ask, “So what do you want me to do?”

You see, engineering is a job where employees are asked to solve problems, to innovate, and to think outside the box. Engineers are not simply expected to wait for orders. Unfortunately, this is not what we teach in schools.

In school, we teach there is only one right answer, and it needs to be memorized. In school, we teach the instructor alone holds the knowledge, and students need to wait obediently to access it. In school, we teach that curiosity and creativity are only fine within certain parameters. In school, the grade one ‘earns’ is more important than the idea or innovation one creates.

Its not just engineers who are asked to think like this today. Increasingly, we have a workforce and a people who are asked to engage differently with the world. Yet, schools teach skills that match a world full of automatons and factory workers, not creators and makers.
This is why we need a learning that is not only more engaging and enjoyable, but also more relevant and purposeful. We need young people who are comfortable with, and know how to, tackle big problems and big ideas. We need young people who aren’t afraid to think different, make mistakes, and learn from failure. This is the opportunity creative learning presents. I believe one of the best ways to implement creative learning is through project based learning (PBL). Look at how we can re-imagine schools with PBL.

  • Students can build a fair immigration policy, not memorize a speech.
  • Students can create sustainable development plans for their community, not finish worksheets.
  • Students can investigate global warming, not read textbooks.
  • Students can design systems to halt disease, not take standardized tests.
  • Students can design their schools, not sit passively in a desk.

Projects-based learning is an essential pedagogy to educate the creative learners the world needs.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

3 Things for #EdTech Startups to Think About

Last Saturday I attended Forward Thinking: Learning How to Achieve in the EdTech Space at General Assembly Los Angeles. The session, led by Vivy Chao, was great because of its collaborative structure. Vivy treated the session as a casual dialogue, even introducing it as an edtech coffee chat.

It is obvious that Vivy is a remarkable educator; she allowed the attendees to actually participate and drive the conversation. Small group activities and discussion produced a rich, shared experience. Multiple stakeholders, founders, teachers, and parents, learned from each other through collaboration and communication. We, the attendees, experienced different perspectives and viewpoints to take back to our various ventures and careers. From the interactions and thoughts of the group, I came away with three edtech takeaways.
1) Disconnect between entrepreneurs, engineers, and teachers: Great engineers make great software. Great entrepreneurs make great companies. Great teachers make great impact in the classroom. Here’s the rub - Engineers and entrepreneurs are not usually teachers, and teachers are not usually engineers or entrepreneurs. They are all each extremely important in their own domains, but do they get a chance to interact, to talk, to learn from each other? As Vivy said in the chat, “Do you edtech developers and startups know the daily life of a teacher, of a student?”

How can we get teachers, technologists, and entrepreneurs to work together? An amazing product, a real game-changer, will benefit from the amazing synergy of all stakeholders. All should work together in order to make a product that is a game-changer in the classroom. This will make real change.

2) Equality: I’ll go there because I think we have to. There are big time inequalities when it comes to technology access in schools. Whether it be infrastructure, devices, or curriculum, “teachers of low income students tend to report more obstacles to using educational technology effectively than their peers in more affluent schools (link).”

Who are edtech companies designing their products for? Are developers designing products to be used solely by those with easy access? Is edtech reinforcing vicious cycles that lead to the serious problems of digital divide and digital inequality? Can we creatively think of technologies that are accessible and relative to all students?

3) Pedagogy: No quantity of iPad purchases, cute flashcard apps, or behaviorist approaches to classroom management will truly transform classroom. This is my biggest pet peeve. It’s great your product is visually appealing. Some would argue (not me) that its fantastic kids can gain badges or score points. Bravo that you made an addictive product. Here’s the big question? Is it actually an innovative and disruptive way to increase student learning AND engagement?

Education publishers and mainstream edtech startups generally see technology as a way to make the status quo (lectures, standardized testing, behavorism) more efficient. They are focused on incrementally improving the instructional educational paradigm which leaves a vast number of students disengaged and disconnected from actual learning (i.e. sharing lectures on video, doesn’t necessarily make school more engaging). What is the educational theory behind your edtech project? What are the pedagogical foundations of your edtech technology? This matters.

Much thanks to the great people and companies I learned from @needcollegehelp, @YangCamp, @MOEO,

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Project Based Learning, Some Research (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this series, I covered some general academic research on project based learning. Part 2 is focused on the educational theory behind project based learning. The structure is slightly changed for this post in an effort to better describe the academic articles. My ultimate goal is to bridge practice and praxis (Thanks for the comment Torrey!).

This is an ongoing series. If you want to recommend any research for me to cover in the future, add a note or send me a Tweet. You can also add a submission to the PBL publication here.

Title: “Getting a Grip on Project-Based Learning: Theory, Cases and Recommendations” 

Author(s): Michael M. Grant (2002)

Brief Summary: Grant (2002) writes, “This article examines the theoretical foundations of project-based learning, particularly constructivism and constructionism, and notes the similarities and differences among implementations”(p. 1). Project based learning focuses on constructing knowledge through collaborative and cooperative inquiry learning. As students work together to develop personally meaningful investigations, they are engaged and invested in their own learning.

My Takeaways: The theoretic influence of constructivism is often cited in the rationale for PBL. Constructionism, learning through the social construction of an idea or object, is less referenced. In my opinion, more educators should become familiar with the theoretic underpinnings of constructionism as a teaching methodology. The article also discusses some barriers to implementing PBL. Both learners and teachers may not be used to the emphasis of group collaboration and find assessment difficult.

Title: “Process and Product in PBL Research

Author(s): Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia (2000)

Brief Summary: The article seeks to glean insights from the process and product of PBL used in medical schools. The authors, Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia (2000), look closely at this process through the context of their experience studying project based learning with younger students. In relation to PBL, the article discusses theory building, lifelong learning, participation, and the role of technology.

My Takeaways: The authors spend some time discussing how the design of PBL influences how groups collaboratively build knowledge. The goal is to move students away from deducing an explanation from an event or diagnosis to offering an explanation for an event or diagnosis. It is the idea that students can move away from finding text-based answers and towards improving their own theories and questions.

Author: Wim H. Gijselaers (1996)

Brief Summary: Gijselaers (1996) seeks to contextualize problem based learning models with cognitive psychology and the learning process. Gijselaers describes fundamental principals of cognition relevant to both the practice of, and the instructional design, of PBL. Gijselaers also looks at opportunities to improve the effects of PBL on student learning.

My Takeaways: Gijselaers (1996) writes, “Until twenty or thirty years ago, education was dominated by the view that learning involves filling students’ head with information.” (p. 14). While there has been much progress moving away from this belief, standardized tests and rote learning reinforce antiquated views of learning. If we know learning is a constructive process, our actions need to reflect this. There is also a portion of the article devoted to metacognition. Metacognition, the skill of self-monitoring one’s learning, is an essential skill to build at an early age

A link to the referenced research can be found in the title of each summary.

To see other installments of the research series go to the PBL collection on Medium or link to Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3

Monday, February 2, 2015

Are We Listening?

If you are a regular Medium reader chances are you heard all about a certain post by @AndrewWatts. This post, titled “A Teenager’s View on Social Media”, blew up. It went totally viral.

There is nothing terribly shocking about this. Things like this happen these days, good for him. I was not inspired or necessarily affected by the post. It was a nice read, engaging and informative, but I didn’t think much more about it until a few days ago when Mr. Watts posted a followup story.

In “The Power of Blogging”, Watts writes how the viral post changed his life. His post opened up doors and provided him excellent opportunities to sit down with Silicon Valley giants. While basking in the sunlight of metamorphic fortuity, he stressed a valuable message, teenagers have a voice and should be heard.
Some exact words if you fancy:
I am just a teenager (an older one at that) and what this experience has taught me is that our input is valued and that our experiences are valued.We just have to have the courage to write them down and express ourselves, even if people tell us that we shouldn’t.
This struck me. Do I really listen to my students? Am I giving them a voice? Can they share their struggles, thoughts, and opinions with me?

I like to think I am a progressive teacher. I steer away from grades and behaviorist discipline. I give them open-ended projects, and fairly high degrees of choice in the classroom. I try new things and work to connect with their lives.

But am I really listening to them?

At the end of class the other day, I put this question to two periods of eighth graders:
What is one thing adults should know about your lives?
I told them to write a response on a piece of paper, no name necessary. When they were done they put them in a stack and left the classroom. Below is a sampling of what they said.

I didn’t include them all. Some others were funny, some were silly, and some were serious. A grand majority (like 80%) mentioned being stressed, or tired, or busy. Wow. I am not very old, and that is not the childhood I remember.

My students weren’t complaining or exaggerating. They didn’t want me to feel bad for them. They were just being honest. This is their reality. I see it with them, I see it with my high school sister. I never really listened.

Their responses impacted me. Their voices were heard. Thanks to the teenagers who motivated me.