Synergy: Selecting next projects

Our team has over 300 observation journal entries from which to brainstorm questions and projects. See Synergy: Complexity~Simplicity, Collaboration & Brainstorming for the beginning of this work.

After Monday’s work in class, our learners were prompted to use a quick-write to reflect on the process of narrowing the project ideas using the idea wall as shown in the Synergy: Complexity~Simplicity, Collaboration & Brainstorming blog post.

The prompt:  Do you think our Synergy team’s project possibilities are accurately and fairly represented? Why or why not?

“I think they are accurately represented because it’s easy to see and understand, as well as find one in a group of many that you are passionate about. I think we should have a survey. I think they are fair to everyone’s choices, and I like that everyone got three post-it notes.” ~ BM

“I think our Synergy team’s project possibilities are more accurately and fairly represented with the idea wall system, because we thought of what projects we were most passionate about, and then as a class they were organized into groups on the wall, according to their topic. With the other system they were categorized under tags that each of us individually had tagged, in our own language, and five out of 300+ of our tags were represented with that system. I think this left out a lot of other project possibilities that many people in our class feel passionate about.  In my opinion, both of these systems were flawed, but I am excited about many of the projects, and with both I was able to see one or two projects that our class had identified, that’d I’d love to start working on.” ~ OK

“I think that the project possibilities that are represented are fairly represented but we have more ideas that we can add to the wall. Also I think the tagging system was very complicated and hard to understand, but we did a good job of cleaning it up and getting everyone to use the same tagging language to tag their posts.” ~ MB

“I believe that our Synergy team’s project possibilities are mostly accurately and fairly represented, but I don’t think that’s true for everyone. Every team member has put there idea up on the idea wall, but everyone does not understand what each idea means.” ~ OV

“Everyone definitely had an equal say in what we have so far, so I think it is apparent that the data we have is fair. I think the idea wall represents our project possibilities accurately, but the Posterous tags do not. I think the idea wall works because it represents what stuck with people. It specifically represents PROJECT ideas, while the tags also represent random observations that projects cannot be done on.” ~ FS

“I don’t think that our Synergy team’s project possibilities are accurately and fairly represented through our Posterous Idea Wall. I don’t think they are accurately represented because we have over 300 posts and there are bound to be posts that are as equally important to us that we forgot about. Others aren’t represented well, because they are thrown into a miscellaneous category. When something is put in a category like this, people tend to skip over it and ignore it. For example when people are choosing project possibilities that interest them, they will probably skip over the “Other” categories and head straight to the ones that have titles. Although there are some down sides to our wall, like the ones I stated above, our Synergy class has made significant progress through this exercise.” ~ DJ

“Well, I did but now I have realized that they really aren’t. Before, I thought that they were because of the sticky notes and Posterous posts, but now I think that they are not. Today at the end of class, we tried to decide on a number of project ideas for the poll. I thought that we should vote because the final numbers were 8 and 12. Someone suggested that we use 10 because that is between 8 and 12 but some people weren’t satisfied.” ~ CC

Based on the feedback from our young learners, we have learned that we need to work with our team to create a better understanding of the “folksonomy” aspect of tagging our observation journal posts in Posterous.  From Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age by Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss:

“Folksonomy” refers to the social taxonomy or classification system that evolves as users collectively make sense of what they find on the Web.  Users associate “tags” or keywords to the content they bookmark, and they can see how others have treated the same material.

The easiest way to understand the power of bookmarks and tagging is by using it.  [p. 22]

We are working to develop a common language with our tags.  We are learning by doing as recommended by Boss and Krauss.

After more work and reorganizing the Post-it Notes from the idea wall, the team decided to use Poll Everywhere to formatively assess the team’s thinking and preferences.  We (Bo Adams and Jill Gough) created the topics for the poll based on the top 10 tags from our Posterous blog.  Our learners decided that these categories, shown below, were similar to the categories from the idea wall.

As you can see, we definitely need to work on developing a common language and understanding of tagging.  School, for example, is a pretty broad topic for project selection.  There were 82 posts tagged with school in our Posterous observation journal site.

Here are the results after the first poll.

Our learners discovered that their categories were too general.  If you wanted to work on the KP Challenge, did you select school or cafeteria? If you were interested in organic food or obesity, did you select environment, cafeteria, or health?  Fortunately, the Post-it Notes contained more details.  Our learners then asked to eliminate the general categories where they showed no interest and add more specific categories to eliminate some confusion.  For a quick glimpse into their discussion and work, we offer the following iMovie*.

Here are the results after the second poll.

Serving as their coaches, we now had to intervene.  PowerPuff does not meet the standard of project or problem for our course. We want our learners to work on projects or problems that effect more than half of one grade in our division.  Our learners were assured that we would help them work on this project outside of class if they are serious about pursuing this as a community issue.   One of our learners made a motion from the floor to poll again with the category PowerPuff removed.

Again, there was discussion coupled with questions.  Could the KP Challenge and Line Cutting choices be grouped together?

In groups, our learners’ next task was to use the technique of brainwriting to share, connect, and contribute to the team’s ideas of the selected topic.

Learners are now working on project concepting using a worksheet we adapted from BIE.

For the projects where there are less than 4 teammates, how will they cover the internal, team “leads” for each essential learning needed? Will these teams choose to push forward on the project they have selected, or will they choose to join forces with another team?

[Cross-posted at Experiments in Learning by Doing]
[*NOTE: iMovie video effects have been added to the movies because of a new school policy about student images on faculty blogs.]

Synergy 8 Update – Week 3

Last week in Synergy 8, our team of 26 established and integrated our triad of foundational course-communication tools – Schoology, Posterous, and WordPress. After all, a learnopolis needs an infrastructure for advanced communication. Additionally, we began utilizing and practicing our #1 tool in Synergy – the observation journal. In the upcoming weeks, our team observations will allow us to develop projects of our choosing that address community needs about which we are curious…and about which we care.

This week, on Monday, August 29, we began Synergy with this short piece:

We wanted to use a compelling hook for enlisting the students in a prototypical project. By engaging this project as an “alpha project” for this semester’s Synergy 8  team, we could “learn by doing” within the context of a project – a project started by last year’s Synergy 8 crew. After watching the video, we coached the team through a process of determining methods and action steps for researching the perceived problem of keeping Malone Dining Hall clean. Based on the team’s gamestorming, we focused on four possible methods: 1) direct observation of Malone, 2) interviews with homerooms regarding KP, 3) interviews with Malone staff and director Robert Nash, 4) student body survey.

On Tuesday, we used Poll Everywhere to explore how we might operationalize our teams. Based on the results, we decided to jump into a “spontaneous lesson plan shift.” If we were playing football…we called an audible. We used the results to walk through eight mediated journal prompts created on the fly. We explored graphical analysis and numeracy, and we examined some misconceptions about what the Poll Everywhere data were telling us. The data revealed some teamwork issues, too, and the team members proposed solutions to the issues. We then implemented a solution and retook the Poll Everywhere survey.

Now, the Synergy 8 team is distributed in sub-teams, and we are working to develop the action steps needed to implement our community problem-solving. Before jumping in too deep, though, we paused to read Dan and Chip Heath’s Switch chapter on “Finding the Bright Spots.” We believe there is so much to learn from the example of Dr. Sternin and the Vietnamese-nutrition project. Now we plan to:

1. Enlist the community as partners in the problem-solving process, instead of swooping in and acting like we have all the answers.

2. Study the bright spots of what’s working and strategize how we can do more of that good stuff.

3. Empower the community to sustain the change needed to improve the situation.

Through this alpha project – the KP Challenge – we are addressing a serious community issue, we are bridging the work begun in Synergy 8 2010-11, and we are modeling a project process that can frame future projects that we undertake in Synergy 8. All the while, we are integrating content and skills that are typically distributed and segregated among various “departments.” We are engaged in a scientific process, we are collecting and analyzing data, we are discussing human psychology and sociology, we are drafting persuasive pieces and developing interview questions and protocols.

I cannot wait to see what tomorrow brings!

A World of #PBL Possibilities

I am training myself to see more #PBL possibilities. Through the years, and from reading such works as Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind and Carol Dweck’s Mindset, I am convinced that being an artist largely involves practicing the acts of looking and seeing. Why would becoming a “PBL-ist” be much different?

Here are a few examples of how I am practicing being a PBL seeker, with resulting ideas for PBL. Oh…that’s project-based learning, problem-based learning, etc.

1. Using TED talks to spur thinking.

Each morning, thanks to an RSS feed, I watch at least one TED talk – it’s delivered to my computer, like a newspaper to a house. Before I even touch that beautiful red “play” arrow, I ask myself, “What is this going to show me that could be related to PBL?” This morning, I watched Geoffrey West’s “The surprising math of cities and corporations,” which I have embedded below. Throughout the talk, I imagined middle schoolers studying our city of Atlanta – understanding its historical growth, its environmental and business challenges, its political scene, etc. In my mind’s new PBL-eye, I could see students collecting the type of data that Geoffrey West describes, and I could see the students Skyping with other students in other cities as they exchanged city data and ideas. I could see them applying science thinking and sociology thinking and economic thinking to some of the issues our city faces.

2. I use my iPhone and iPad to capture pictures that spark inquiry and curiosity in me.

This week, I happened upon this growth in a nearby building. I wondered why this was growing here…what is it…how could we prevent it from growing here again? What a strong possibility for students to integrate science, math, history, and persuasive writing to enact a plan that addresses this unanticipated indoor fungi!

3. I combine #1 and #2 – I think in my mental Rolodex about what I have photographed and what I have seen on TED.

For example, with colleague Mary Cobb, I recently completed the 6th annual hanging of the Junior High School Permanent Art Collection (this is one of my greatest joys each summer!) This year, as we hung student art, we discussed Amit Sood’s TED talk, “Building a museum of museums on the web,” which I have embedded below. Can you imagine the “coolness” of students building such an online gallery of our JHPAC? Then, can you imagine this resource potentially being linked with Amit Sood’s project? The JHPAC could be another virtual gallery alongside the MoMA and the Louvre.

4. I listen to and talk with faculty.

Colleague Danelle Dietrich has become increasingly interested in various capabilities of the TI-Nspire (a graphing calculator and software). On Thursday of last week, she was sharing her excitement as she was thinking about the mathematics of leaf veins. She had some great ideas for importing leaf images and studying the vein-ation of the leaves. We started to brainstorm about the relationships of blood vein-ation to leaf vein-ation. Then, we hypothesized about the relationship of computer networks and communications veins to leaf veins and blood veins. Can you imagine students writing letters and websites to city politicians explaining their study of the communications systems of Atlanta and the need to rethink the vein-ation of our networks around town?

What ideas are you imagining? It all starts with imagination…just like a young child imagining a pretend world. We are only limited by our capacity to realize our imaginations through creative expression. And our capacities can expand – with teamwork, practice, and persistence.

Get your #PBL-lenses on!

Calculators, Spell Checks, and Ideas

As a regular thread of my educational contemplations, I wonder about the use of calculators and spell checkers in our learning. The debate is more than just about those tools – it’s really about the heart of learning, automaticity, and retained knowledge. I have a colleague that uses this analogy to try to convince me of her side of the argument: “Bo, are you teaching your boys to tie their shoes, or will they forever wear velcro?”

Recently, Bill Ferriter posted a brilliant piece entitled “Can Texting Help Teens with Writing and Spelling?” Instantly, it reminded me of Jill Gough’s extraordinary post, “Calculator is to Arithmetic as Spell Checker is to Spelling???”

This morning, when I re-read both posts (I am a “stack reader”), I was reminded of the 6+1 Writing Traits Rubric that I have been studying with colleagues for the past 18 months. Finally, I had the Eureka Moment (sorry…I mean Coffee House Moment, Steve)! Texting and spell check and calculators may never help with conventions. BUT…I can imagine, as Ferriter and Gough suggest in their posts, that these tools make it easier for kids to spend more time in the other 5 areas: Ideas, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, Organization, and Voice (and the direct or comparable areas in numeracy and mathematics).

As I understand the Bard Method of writing, one major tenet is to write often and to write often. We learn by doing. Failure is part of the practice. We don’t reinforce bad habits to an unrepairable degree when we fall while learning to walk or talk. Why do we assume mistakes always reinforce bad habits?

According to Ferriter and Gough, these tools are not crutches. I offer that they may even be wings for getting off the ground with ideas, organization, etc. May be worth testing the hypothesis, don’t you think?

The World Becomes What You Teach

Yesterday, in a Center for Teaching brainstorming meeting, one of us suggested some curriculum-design work that would go beyond traditional subject-area or departmental curricula. Then, this morning I read David Wees’s blog post about Zoe Weil’s TEDxDirigo talk. In the 17 minutes and 24 seconds, Zoe explains the brainstorm idea perfectly…