Monday, April 6, 2015

Pure Genius Week 10: Student Voices

I've really enjoyed this book, but this chapter was really powerful. I was impressed with all of the students, but especially the ones who did projects on their own, not for a class or a grade. Share any thoughts that were sparked by this chapter, ideas you might have, student experiences you know of, maybe even an experience that you had.

Next week we will read the next chapter, "Moving Forward." We've only got two more weeks left in the book club. Now is the time to catch up on your reading and commenting.

22 comments:

  1. In my experience, I think the culture of the school and the demographics of the school can play a huge part of experiences with student projects. I cannot get half of my students to complete projects during a school day on a project for a grade. I don't find that my students are intrinsically motivated to go above or beyond. I think most of this is related to the lack of student buy in... students don't really relate to the idea that they need the skills to take them further in life. I don't know how to create that desire in students. I offer students projects with choices, allow them to seek out their own topics, and I rarely see results. The students lack a sense of creativity and motivation, which is disappointing. When trying to challenge students to think outside the box, I'm often met with complaints that the assignment is too "hard".

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    1. Your comment about a school's culture being a big factor in project success hits precisely on many teachers' and students' frustrations. The culture can change from grade to grade with the clusters of students whose personalities permeate a class. I see this most clearly as I teach the 'same' course four periods a day, but the reality is that I teach four very different groups of students that require varying approaches. Every student deserves a chance to experience collaboration and group activities, but we as educators are trained to turn the tide when the current goes the wrong direction. We should make no apologies for rescuing the educational climate when we try a project and students are not receptive to that approach.

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    2. I completely agree with Tammy's comment. The culture can definitely change from grade to grade and even from classroom to classroom. Some classes may have many students who are intrinsically motivated and will work hard no matter what is given to them. Other students may need some extra help/different teaching strategy to get the project started/completed. I go from room to room(cart) in an elementary school and even within one grade level the style of teaching must change depending on what room I am in. As for Megan, (up above) I would keep challenging students to think 'outside the box'. Students need to be introduced to this kind of thinking. Maybe try to break down the project into smaller parts to try and spark their creativity, or try adding class dojo points to your classroom so they can see a visual for their hard work.(one of the options that is preset in class dojo) Worth a try!

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    3. Tammy's last two sentences are very powerful and meaningful to me. I think that sums up my educational philosophy. One method to increase the 'buy in' factor that has worked well for me is the gathering of pre-assessment data/information to create more compatible groups for collaboration. While scaffolding based on abilities is very important, creating groups based on interest level or personality type can drive collaboration for some students who are not motivated by grades. In my twenty years of teaching I am nowhere closer to having "it" figured out, but I am always looking for ways to arrive at a combination within groups that drives the momentum of that group's creations, especially in areas where student choice and voice are concerned. Lindsay ends her post with, "worth a try!" That should be every teacher's motto, IMHO.

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    4. I agree that the culture and demographics can make a huge difference when creative, out of the box thinking is not valued or deemed worthwhile. I have seen this in our schools and understand her frustration. It seems to take a little extra to make these types of projects relevant to real life. Trying new approaches, providing external motivators,and grouping by ability or interest all sound like great ideas. I also know I have to make myself comfortable with the fact that things may not go as I planned, knowing that I may never figure "it" out, but trying nonetheless.

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  2. Every other week we take some time in the afternoon for the kids and teachers to do some learning they would not ordinarily do in school. The students decided on what groups we would have and then decided which group they would like to join. We have one group that is titled "Military Tactics and Strategies". This group is studying battles of ancient time and battles of today to try and compare and contrast the tactics and strategies to see what is the same and different over time. No one is getting a grade for it, they are just doing it. We have a total of 21 groups in grades 6-12 that are doing this every other week.

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  3. This chapter reminds me that one experience I can provide students is a discovery that learning is a way of life and a source of enjoyment. I mention this in light of some of the student examples in the chapter occurring apart from a grade or a class and those two components really don't fit with many of our teaching assignments. While there are creative ways to involve Wettick's ideas in a school setting (and I am now more aware of those as a result of this book), I think my assignment as an eighth grade math teacher requires more definition to the curriculum than perhaps some of the liberties Inherent in the student examples in this chapter. I am starting to see Wetteick's ideas as more of a philosophy that I can appreciate and use to inspire students even as the freedoms may not be applicable to the course work required of my students.

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  4. I work in 8 buildings and demographics play a HUGE role in what goes on in the buildings. These ideas would work in one middle school and two high schools in my area, but the appreciation and success of the projects depend greatly on the evaluating administrator. The reality is that we can't be as free and creative with curriculum if your administrator is a textbook guy who is strictly published materials first. Some of schools celebrate everything, while others instead provide EC opportunities outside of the school day to create a completely different culture. Parents who are innovators breed the next generation; poverty tends to breed poverty (Payne). I would love to try some student-led projects in class and hope to break the generational cycle for some kids and show them that creative thinking can be highly rewarding and that the world truly is a small place we share, with many adult mentors anxious to support upcoming generations!

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    1. Well said! I agree that the generational cycle is so hard to break through but these students need to know that they can be different and use their creativity for school related projects.

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  5. I started my career as a librarian in an elementary school. It was a very small school with approximately 20 students in each grade, first through sixth. We didn't really have a gifted and talented program (as it was called back then) but we had some funding. I was asked by the GT Coordinator to create something to interest these kids and help them learn at a rate more geared toward their motivation level. We created an after school group called Time Travelers and it was so much fun. Each of the eight weeks we met, we escaped to a different culture and/or time period. Everything for those two hours would revolve around the topic for the day, snacks, clothing, books, and crafts. At the end of the 8 weeks, we invited the parents in to showcase what the students had learned. Each student had to create a "final project" to teach the parents about a place or time they had enjoyed learning about. I can't believe how creative these 3rd and 4th graders were. We had everything from power point presentations, to clay models and culinary masterpieces. The kids gave an oral presentation explaining what they chose and why. The last day was the best because everyone was able to see just how creative these little ones were given only a little bit of guidance and a whole lot of freedom to use their imagination.

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  6. The experience that touched me the most was when Madeline Clark talked about failing. This is so real-life. When students become innovators they need to realize that all of their ideas and trials are not always going to work out. Failure is a part of life. I also liked when Paige mentioned that she learned to stand up for herself, stay confident in her beliefs, balance a busy schedule, etc. She essentially learned to become who she is through becoming an innovator. I have not been an innovator, nor do I know of any of my students who have become innovators. A lot of my students work after school, have bad home lives, etc., so becoming an innovator is not a priority. I think it would be a great skill for them to learn so they can discover new skills that they possess.

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  7. I am glad they included a person talking about failing. Many authors only include the positives. Not all groups are going to reach their goals and I think teachers need to include in their lesson plans the possibility of failing.

    Our school is doing Project Based Learning. So far no grade level has failed in their projects. I hope that they allow students to experience stumbling blocks instead of solving them.

    It was also good to read the positives and how students have succeeded beyond high school.

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    1. There is a lot to be said about the learning opportunities that arise when projects fail. It mimics real life. Students who are able to experience that in a safe setting are more likely to bounce back and persevere later on in life, in my opinion. I have been helping a couple different classes work through Genius Hour projects and most students have had to re-imagine their initial ideas. They have learned to show flexibility and think on their feet, and I think that will serve them better in real-world settings.

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  8. Our Agriculture teacher does a great job giving students the power and ability to develop a voice that is heard not only at school but in our community and on a state and national level. Through his Community Calf Project, he and his students raise calves from birth to maturity. Students are involved in all stages of this project, including publicity, community outreach and project development. This year, he has added a “service learning” component to his class, where students are responsible for developing and planning a project of their own as well as seeking support and implementing the project. I have watched these kids grow all year. They have written grants, called local and state officials and mentors and even presented at local, state and national levels. These kids have gained a new confidence and they now seek out opportunities rather than waiting for the teacher to suggest them. This program continues to grow and I look forward to seeing where it goes in the future.

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  9. I really enjoyed this chapter because it touched on many aspects that I feel are important in education. One being the value of failing. I have done some of my best work when failing. Another being that the value we deem from a project is not reflected just in a grade nor is a grade necessary to reflect our accomplishment. I hear to often from students, "Is this for a grade?" I would like our school to afford students the opportunity to be engaged in learning activities that would not normally happen during the school day. I feel this could demonstrate the rewarding nature of creativity and contribute to our students being life long learners.

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  10. I was also impressed with the accomplishments displayed by the students in this chapter. And like Megan, I too often see students who are unmotivated to complete a project or, if they do complete a project, dedicated enough to see it done well. (One of my duties is supervising academic support). I am currently reading A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink, which I may add is pairing nicely with Pure Genius. After finishing the chapter “Meaning”, I believe more than ever that we as teachers need to provide meaning to our assignments so that the students will take ownership of their projects.

    I too found Madeline Clark’s prose on failing the most touching of the Students’ Voices. I have watched helplessly as my son, who successfully navigated high school, struggle in college. I have had to stop being a helicopter mom and let him fail. This has been one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do as a mom.

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    1. I too found Madeline Clark's thoughts on failing enlightening. I've witnessed my own girls overcome failures that later became a hiccup or turn in the road. So often I observe parents that do not let their children fail, giving excuses for them. When students don't fail, they fall short of getting up, rebooting, and succeeding. The students working on the "The Madeira Beach" project offered critically, good questions. "How would a professional do it", "What are the needs of the customer", and "Am I asking the right questions?" These are the exact questions that I should remind myself at Individual Education Plan conferences.

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  11. This chapter was very inspiring to hear all of the projects and ideas of these students. I couldn't help but feel a bit discouraged however as I feel that education has become so standards based and there is so much focus on standardized tests that it limits the freedoms for many teachers to experience some of the things that the students shared in this chapter. A few people in the comments mentioned the power that demographics play in the success of projects like this in the school as well and I have to agree. I think that in some areas parents place more importance on school success which translates to more effort on the part of the student for these creative projects. If students are not receiving the message at home that school is important then it is hard to find meaning in what they are doing and will not want to think creatively or complete a project to the nest of their ability.

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  12. I was really interested in the Pete Freeman talking about making something from nothing and how that sparked an interest in him. I hadn't thought of it like that and he inspired me. He then went even further to talk about changing from having Jeopardy! winners to innovators. I truly have felt this way for a while. Most students now can find information about something that has already been created/researched/discovered at anytime now and do it more quickly than we can. I do think it is important that some of this knowledge is ingrained, but I do think we need to be teaching students how to learn and how to create more. Students need also to be given a drive. A lot of students, because information is so available now, do not have any great passions or desires and if we can spark that in them, then they might go even farther and have a feeling of purpose.

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  13. We recently hosted a parent session on how to help your child handle disappointments and/or failure. I really enjoy concepts such as trial and error and seeing students go through these emotions in a setting where the stakes aren't incredibly high and they can take risks. The conversations sparked through these experiences truly help students shape who they will become as an adult and how they will handle the things that life throws at them.

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  14. I work in a special 9th grade pullout program with kids who struggled in middle school. Because my students have not always been strong students, I spend a lot of the day coaching them through situations. I teach them that learning is hard but worthwhile and I also teach them how to pick themselves up after a failure. You do not have to know everything, you just have to know enough. If kids do not understand the material, I break down the material to show students that they understand more than they think. I find that if I help teach my students that it is ok not to be perfect students, they work hard for me and find that they are more successful than they thought possible. Many of my kids have parents who were not successful students either, so the parents do not always know how to coach their kids to be successful in school. I know it is hard to fail, but I think we sometimes learn more from our mistakes.

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    1. I taught special education and spent many times also coaching my students them through situations. I really like what you said about "not having to know everything, you just have to know enough." That was a hard lesson for many, but such a good lesson.

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