Saturday, February 16, 2013

Fun, Meaningful Project: Wiring Project

Students get excited every year for the wiring project.  They know it's coming, they know it's awesome.

Once the project gets started every kids immediately is engaged, there's no way around it.  There are too many ways to personalize this project, too much student choice to not let the be successful   The project is nothing short of a BLAST.

Kids come back year after year and say "This is the hardest thing I've ever done, and I'l never forget it."

The key to making this project a success each year is scaffolding and setting kids up for success.  Every year I reflect with students and add a new piece to make the project better.  Here's the project from finish to start....

Finished Products:

To get to the final project students were given three phases with due dates to keep them on track.  Each phase had a card to go with it.  The cards were green (planning), yellow (caution/work phase), red (finishing phase).  The cards looked like this Planning phase card below:

I recently added the ability for kids to integrate some technology.  Students (11 year olds) have been working on using Google Sketchup to make 3D models of their projects:

Student samples:


Student had a working circuit and attached it to their shoebox.  Since this was difficult for some students I created image laden directions should they need it:

They learned about circuits and how to hook up circuits 
(Classroom content and grade level expectations outlined by the state)  

Here's the video they used that I made when I flipped the classroom:

Before wiring they needed to design their space using the project packet:

Wiring Project Packet:

And it all started with teaching them how to splice wires: 

Why was this engaging?

Students were given the freedom of choice.  They could choose a room in a house, a store in a mall, a part of a car, a part of a plane, a resort, anything.  I didn't care.  They could choose to use technology, the could go old school.  They moved at their own pace, designed to their criteria, I sat aside and helped and guided them to success.

How was it graded?

Scoring guides were made by the class.  I only graded based on their knowledge and expertise with our content (series and parallel circuits) not their ability to wire.  Outside of that the students made their scoring guides.  Here's an example they made:

Moral of the story:

Use your content to design engaging projects and solve real world problems through student choice.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Reimagining "School" for all learners

I'm reading about a new way to think about "school", here are some of my takeaways: 

Key question:
If we don't "Teach" it to the students how will they know they learned it?  And how will we know?

  • Any change, such as this brings "excitement and momentum, mixed with discomfort and disequilibrium."
  • Moving away from classrooms that function in isolation, and toward collective intentionality and a team committed to thinking and learning collaboratively within a shared framework.
What does it mean to developing intentionality:
  • Type, condition and placement of furniture
  • Values, roles, organization of materials
  • Use of wall space
  • Way aesthetics invite learning
  • Ways we can share ownership
All furniture is evaluated based on condition, purpose and placement

Materials were questioned as to age and condition.  Looked at for potential for formal instruction and open-ended learning.

Careful selection of materials and placement of furniture supported creation of spaces within the classroom for:
  • Publishing areas with writing utensils, book making supplies
  • construction areas with block, moldings, ramps, pulleys, etc
  • mini-ateliers with wire, clay, paint, sewing
  • dramatic play areas full of costumes

Teachers and students work together to develop environments responding to interests, desires, expectations and possibilities.

Entryways to spaces are purposeful and reflect the students and teachers in the room.

Replacing of pre-made items with student generated materials.

Physical shifts are easy, conversations must be had to transition spaces from teacher-centered to child-centered, teaching to learning, every choice reflecting our values and our identity.

Shifts in time must also reflect these values:
  • Minimize large group lessons and replace them with small group, collaborative and individual work.
  • Differentiate for children
  • Create time and space to analyze the BIG questions
  • Balance formal instruction with inquiry
  • Reinforce collaboration
  • Develop strategies to encourage on-going projects
  • Analyze standards in borader more informed ways
  • Nurture interests and intrinsic motivation toward relevant meaningful work
Professional development must reflect these values.

Change is not always pervasive or linear.  Each teacher has the right to have space and encouragement to construct their own shift.

HOW we learn far outweighs WHAT we learn.

What we learn has to stretch far beyond memorization and google-able results.

A space where our learning Includes:
  • Critical thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Creativity
  • Research
  • Innovation

As children seek to answer their questions their autonomy, ownership, collaboration, and engagement increases.  Excitement momentum and accomplishment also grows.

Inquiry and projects are not separate from rigor or releveance but interwoven.

Challenge:  making this learning visible and making the process transparent

Does this sound amazing!?  

Exactly where I would want to work and what I want for every one of my students.  I think I work EXTREMELY HARD to make this space real for my students.  I teach middle school.  Did I mention that all the above descriptors were for a pre-school.  That makes it even more amazing.

Our school is investigating what is called the Reggio Emilia model for primary school students.  With all the latests and greatest research surrounding our earliest learners we are investigating what works best. (more research here:

This investigation got me to thinking about the personalization we give every student in their learning.  Why can this model not only make for a great preschool, but for a great ANY school.

Here's an interview from a school right here in St. Louis: Maplewood

Background info:

Here's what we're reading: Article

Here's where we are going to visit:

What if a High School modeled itself after this model?  What about a corporation?

Modern companies are working hard to make DESIGN be an essential part of the learning and collaboration of 21st century workplace.

Design with Intent:

Influence behavior through design:

Office Designs:

Collaborative Work spaces:

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Never Work Harder Than Your Students: Chapter 4

We are reading the book: Never Work Harder Than Your Students with our 2nd and 3rd year teachers as they come into our district.  Here are some of my main takeaways from the chapter:

  • Supporting students means thinking differently about misconceptions during your lesson planning.

  • Develop interventions before students fail
  • What if we provided the net below the tightrope instead of being right when they fall?

What if we prevented failure instead of predicted it?

  • Proactive support is merely matching your teaching style to students' learning styles
  • We all have the belief that ALL of our students can achieve given the right conditions.


Specifying what students MUST know - what they already know = What we need to teach

Intervention Plan:

  1. Plan in place before a student fails.  The plan is communicated to students, parents, and posted.
  2. Plan has a red flag mechanism, something that sets the ball in motion.
  3. Plan has steps that are immediate results of the red flag.  IF_______ THEN _______
  4. Plan has roles and responsibilities for both the teacher and the student.

I'm Confused....

  • Take steps to clear up confusion before it begins
  • We know which problems they are going to get wrong, but we let them anyway.
  • When students are confused it may not be for reasons we think. Listen first.
  • When you run into trouble have:
    1. A range of explanatory options for students
    2. A thorough understanding of your content

ASIDE: Discovered in the chapter:

Demystify The Process!

  • We tell students to study but don't teach them how to study.
  • Make the process as explicit as possible
  • Clearly explain the purpose of each assignment or activity, if you can't maybe you shouldn't be doing it!
  • Provide all the necessary steps in written directions
  • It's not "DUMBING IT DOWN" it's ensuring success.
  • It's unrealistic to think students can act like experts as soon as they are introduced to new material.

Remove Supports SLOWLY!

  • Tell students it's a support and that you will remove it when they are ready
  • Don't change the learning task, change the supports to get students there.
  • Don't change the task, change students' role in relationship to the task.


  1. Identify what support is intended to do, so you know when to remove it
  2. Look for ways to ween students off of the support
  3. Allow room for struggle

Interventions are for BOTH sides of the triangle:

  • Often we use programs like Response To Intervention for students struggling to meet the expectation.
  • We miss the opportunity to intervene with students who already "get" our material.
  • Both groups, high and low, need support and interventions to ensure success.