This past summer I had the opportunity to work closely with four teachers in a new project that defined new roles. We wanted four innovative teachers to think about spending extra time with us to help us develop a set of instructional experiences. We called these new positions “Curriculum and Innovation Teachers” or C&I for short. What resulted from this extra month of work over the summer was a series of G21 projects that we populated into Schoology, our learning management system. Before I get to the projects, please permit me to go into a little more detail about our aims.
Several years ago I wrote a plan which helped establish a blueprint for the type of instruction we knew would help benefit students in Goochland when we had a 1:1 program that support it. I called this our “Innovation Plan” and I don’t aim here to re-hash the thirty-eight page document here. However, there were a few important things in that plan that are worth pointing out.
- What might we expect with the expenditure of money for a 1:1 program? A benefit of some sort, we’d hope, right? The thing is, there will be no academic benefit to students in a 1:1 program if the pedagogy used in the classroom hasn’t changed alongside the introduction of the tools. Meaning, if we’re still teaching the way we did before the 1:1 came, then something is wrong.
- We see motivation and excitement about learning wane as students get older. We label this “engagement with school.” And so we have to address learning head-on. Who is responsible for learning? Let’s let students own their learning. By designing instruction around learner-centered approaches, we hand-over control to students. When students feel they have control, they take ownership. The best example I’ve seen of this thus far has been our approach with Scrum.
- Projects offer us an alternative to traditional assessment. Projects many times include skill development and opportunities to apply knowledge. Using a student’s performance at tasks designed by the teacher allow us to capture evidence of understanding and application in a more real-world way.
- We need, as educators, to engage with quality exemplars of good instructional design. Our work started with looking at a “gold star” project aligned to the best practices established by the Buck Institute, a leading source for project-based learning resources. We spent time together dissecting the project, looking at how it aimed to engage learners, support the standards, and above all else, gave students choices in the learning activities. Our first project was a re-write of one of their example projects, to more closely align it to the Virginia SOL and adapt it to our technology.
- Finally, deeper learning. We had to make sure everyone was on the same page about what deeper learning is, and what it’s not. Our aim in every single experience was to approach deeper learning. So much of the design of a quality PBL is the same as the aims for deeper learning: tight integration with standards, student voice and choice, problem-solving, developing an academic mindset, developing communication…
As August approached, we took stock of what we’d come up with. So much of the work was done in my absence, so it was amazing, from my perspective, to stand back and take a look at what these four ladies–Krystle Demas, Sarah Smith, Beth Ferguson, and Jennifer Gates–were able to produce. We introduced these projects to teachers in grades 3-8 with a series of “Launch Parties” at different schools.
Today, our C&I projects are located in the Resources section of Schoology for elementary and middle school teachers. Projects cover all content areas, with many overlapping. We created a chart to capture which content areas were covered with each project. Finally, we produced a document for distribution to our friends (PDF with hyperlinks) in other parts of Virginia so they could get a peek at our work.
This January-February we will be making a recommendation to our school board to expand these roles to a total of eight C&I teachers for the upcoming summer to continue this work. In addition to writing these curricular documents, these teachers are honing their skills, becoming coaches and trainers, and are able to creatively re-think our approach to instruction. As a result of their work, everyone now has access to high-quality exemplars of what’s possible when we change some of our ideas about pedagogy and provide world-class tools in the hands of each one of our students.