Beth Holland

Food for thought…


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Design Thinking and PBL

While project-based learning has existed for decades, design thinking has recently entered the education lexicon, even though its history can be traced back to Herbert A. Simon‘s 1969 book The Sciences of the Artificial. So why the resurgence of these ideas?

Lately, I have heard teachers and school leaders express a common frustration: “We are _______ years into a _______ initiative, and nothing seems to have changed.” Despite redesigning learning spaces, adding technology, or even flipping instruction, they still struggle to innovate or positively change the classroom experience. Imagine innovation as a three-legged stool. Many schools have changed the environment leg, but not the other two legs: the behaviors and beliefs of the teachers, administrators, and students.

Consider this conundrum: much of what we know about teaching comes from 16+ years of observation as students. In no other profession do you spend that much time watching the previous generation before being told to change everything once you take control. Without the framework or scaffolding for that change, it’s truly unreasonable to tell educators, “OK, start innovating.”

If we look at the science of improvement, systematic change occurs between the contexts of justification (what we know) and discovery (the process of innovation). What if we view PBL and design thinking as possible bridges between those two contexts? What if these frameworks could serve as the justification for discovering new classroom practice?

>> Read the rest of this article on Edutopia.


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My Technology Workshops NOT about Technology

Are you a teacher? Do you know a teacher? Have you ever spoken to a teacher? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, please keep reading…

This summer, I’m teaching eight DIFFERENT workshops with EdTechTeacher in Atlanta, Chicago, and Boston. Some of them are very obviously technology based: The iPad Classroom, The Chromebook Classroom, iPads in the Elementary Classroom, and Google & Chromebooks in the Classroom. During these workshops, we will be hands-on with all sorts of devices, tools, apps, extensions, and other digital features. However, I have been doing considerable research for three of my other workshops that are more focused on process and pedagogy and less on the tools themselves.

Project-Based Learning, June 25-26 in Chicago

Project-Based Learning (PBL) encourages students to engage in inquiry, explore real-world contexts, and share their learning with others. Now, there is a huge difference between teachers asking students to complete projects (think exploding volcano, giant posters, and short videos) and incorporating PBL as an instructional strategy. Though many teachers may feel as though it’s difficult to fit in PBL given the constraints imposed by state curricular requirements, standardized tests, in these two days, we are going to prove otherwise.

Sure, we will use some digital technology. In fact, participants are encouraged to bring anything that their students may be able to access in the next school year. However, the focus will be more on the pedagogy and how to ignite student curiosity in order to encourage them to engage in deeper thinking about a particular subject. Don’t believe me? Sign up and come find out!

Digital Portfolios, July 9-10, in Boston

Digital portfolios have almost reached buzzword status. Students are using Google Sites, Blogger, Weebly, KidBlog, Evernote, and a whole host of other online sites to create these compilations of their work. However, in my workshops, we may spend the entire first day using paper.

Alvin Toffler, the futurist, wrote “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” If truly literate people will be those who can easily adapt and evolve as emerging technologies change the ways in which we communicate, create, and think, we need to provide students with an opportunity to keep track of not only what they learn but why and how.

I have a post about all of this coming out on Edutopia in June. In the meantime, here’s some of the background information that won’t be published and what we will be doing on Day 1 of this workshop. First, we are going to look at Understanding by Design by Wiggins & McTighe. Rather than focus on portfolios as the final step in a learning activity, we are going to examine curriculum with the idea of beginning every unit, project, and even school year with the concept of reflection in mind. Here’s what that may look like.

Original Learning Objective New Learning Objective
I want my students to demonstrate their understanding of the relationship between ecosystems, habitats, and animal traits. I want my students to document their discovery of the relationship between ecosystems, habitats, and animal traits.
I want my students to make  a personal connection to the characters in the book/story/novel. I want my students to share how and why they made connections to the characters in the book/story/novel.
I want my students to understand how US involvement in WWII set a precedent for responses to future conflict. I want my students to identify “lessons-learned” from WWII and explain how those lessons could be applicable to how they personally respond to future conflicts.

In all of our EdTechTeacher Summer Workshops, we stress the importance of beginning with clearly defined learning objectives. During this Digital Portfolios Workshop, we are going to do the same thing. Once we have identified our objectives, then we will explore what may be possible with regards to the actual digital component.

Reading, Writing, & Research, July 16-17 in Boston

There has been considerable research published in the last 18 months about the effectiveness of reading and writing with digital tools. As I’ve written on several occasions, I strongly disagree with much of this research as it focuses on the device rather than the process.

Whether your students have access to iPads, Chromebooks, laptops, or smart phones, digital tools can have an enormous impact on how students access and analyze content as well as how they then communicate their understanding through written text. Yes, we will explore a number of tools. However, our primary focus will be on how we teach reading, writing, and research strategies given the functional improvements afforded by technology – whether it be Google Docs or pen & paper. Seriously, come find out!

Differentiating with Technology, July 23-24 in Boston

I think we can all agree that students learn in different ways and at different speeds. When in the classroom, I had students who constantly needed a challenge as well as those who needed considerable support given their specific learning needs. From text-to-speech and speech-to-text to alternative assessments, we are going to take a deep dive into the concept of Universal Design for Learning in order to develop tools and strategies that both support and enrich.

This will be the third year time that I have taught this workshop and every year it evolves to address new capabilities as well as meet the needs of my participants. I think differentiating for students is a challenge for all teachers and this workshop is a great place to start.

Come Play!

I work with an amazing set of instructors. We have workshops in 5 cities this summer on a whole host of topics. Again, if you are a teacher, know a teacher, or just want to learn for yourself (you don’t have to be a teacher), please pass the word along and come play!

ETTSummer


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The Backstory of “Fitting in PBL”

This year, Greg Kulowiec and I added a Project Based Learning (PBL) module to our EdTechTeacher T21 Online Courses. While reading through the discussions, I found two recurring themes of interest:

  1. There was still a lot of confusion about the difference between Project Based Learning and having students complete projects. I like to think of it this way: The former is an instructional strategy that encourages students to engage in inquiry and engage in a real-world context. The latter is a form of assessment that typically does not appear in paragraph form.
  2. I got a ton of “Yeah but…” comments. As in “Yeah. I agree, but I don’t have time.”or “Yeah. Sounds great, but I have to get through my curriculum.”

With those two things in mind, I went on a quest to find great examples from excellent teachers who ARE fitting PBL into their curriculum. I can’t thank Meghan Zigmond, Kyle Pearce, Jodie Deinhammer, and Christine Boyer enough for their help with this post.

>> Read “Fitting In” PBL on Edutopia

Shameless Plug!

I am super excited to be teaching a Project Based Learning  workshop June 25-26 in Chicago. Come play with me!

ETTSummer