Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Student Centered Classroom

Recently I was one of the trainers in a professional development session titled, “The Student Centered Classroom.”  As I talked with the many participants I couldn’t help but wonder how I made my classroom student centered.  I was able to reflect back on my time in the classroom and think of my own experiences.  While planning for the PD I also kept coming back to one question in particular, “Who is doing the work in your class?”

I taught Project Lead the Way pre-engineering curriculum – the curriculum really blended well with student choice and voice.  I always tried to provide students several options to demonstrate mastery of an objective.  One of the most powerful learning techniques in pre-engineering is to realize there are several ways to accomplish one task.  Often times, those solutions have positives and negatives when compared to others.  However, these differences provide a communication piece vital to explain thinking and reasoning to students.

I saw several great projects in the 10 years I taught pre-engineering.  It was simple for me as a teacher too.  The students and I would come up with what the product should be able to accomplish.  Students then chose a pathway to get there.  At first, students did not know how to respond.  However, they quickly learned that as long as they accomplished the task they would be graded fairly.  As time progressed students began grading themselves.  Though I had to have conversations about grading because students were often much harder on themselves. This was important for me as a teacher because it taught the valuable lesson of self-reflection. 

The room quickly became a place for students to display their own work.  I would have students telling me they wanted to take their project and show it to the principal or others.  They took great pride in their work.  It also became an environment for students to challenge each other.  Students began to offer input and suggestions without being critical of others, which is a skill we can all benefit from.  The conversation level in the room was amazing - lots of big words with correct associations.

Obviously this is my story.  I am not trying to convince anyone this is the way to go even though it may sound like it.  This was just the way things happened in my class.  Looking back I wish I had kept data on how it all went down, but it was just how class went.  After a while this is what the students and I began to expect from each other.  I expected the best from them and they expected the best from me.  Most of the time all they needed me to be was an “expert” opinion.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Common Core

The education world is becoming more focused on a new set of objectives called Common Core.  Some folks literally cringe upon hearing about it.  Any time something like this comes along I always try to take a step back and see how I can deal with it.  While I know I can’t satisfy everyone with my beliefs that common core is a good thing, I will explain some ways it is already embedded in schools.

For starters, one of the main goals of common core is for students to explain what they know rather than just provide us the same information we just provided them.  It’s no longer about, “Select one of the following choices: A, B, C, or D.”  This idea also provides greater opportunity for in-depth knowledge.  I think we know that when students feel comfortable talking about solutions they probably have a good understanding of it.

The part I like most about common core is the idea of proving mastery of content.  One of the beauties of technology is that it allows several different ways for a student demonstrate knowledge.  Additionally, there are always new and innovative programs being released that allow the student to show it in a different way.  As an eLearning coach this year I have seen some truly amazing projects completed on student netbooks.   To an extent, I expected those amazing projects to happen, but not to this degree.  Students are continually finding ways to “one up” the last project they completed.  That is very rewarding.

When I think about my career in the classroom as a Project Lead the Way pre-engineering instructor I thought about how common core was already embedded naturally.  No two products ever looked the same.  There were some advantages and disadvantages to each one.  However, when the students were done with the projects they not only felt rewarded by their accomplishments, but also understood the “why” behind it.  Furthermore, these differences in products often encouraged conversation to happen among students.  They asked each other why they chose to design a product in a particular manner.

In essence, I really believe the movement to common core standards is going to allow us to do much more.  We will be able to create environments in which students can converse with other students throughout the country on different projects to get ideas or develop a better understanding.  We are also going to be creating an environment in which students become the center of the classroom because it is going to be the student’s job to demonstrate mastery and provide rationales for decisions.  We will also continue to develop an environment in which students have high expectations and move more toward independence.