Questioning what one knows…

I had a student last week explain the frustration that I was causing in her life. She expressed a confusion in that, “Mrs. S. you make me question everything I thought I knew about school.”

At first, I thought that I should somehow be offended, but that wasn’t an appropriate response. I understood the importance of what we are doing in that student’s very honest remark. She had no ill intention behind the comment, but an understanding on her part that what she thought was “school” was, in fact, not the best that “school” could be. Her education is just beginning. I also began to understand that her personalized education had never been taken into consideration before.

I am constantly reassuring students who are new to a TPBL classroom that what is truly important is that students learn the material–not simply finish it. In my education, I was trained to finish things. I remember taking home my 6th grade history workbook in order to “get ahead”. I was sure that would make me stand out amongst my classmates and my teacher. However, my teacher had a different response. Instead, we were punished for working ahead. I think often about that day in class. The fact that I remember wanting to learn at a different rate, as a bad thing, sticks with me even today.

I know that many teachers feel a certain frustration when approached with personalized learning. TPBL allows me to help every student approach a problem in a way that he/she can accomplish the material. It allows the students and the teachers to work in a synchronous fashion to help each student learn the material. It allows every teacher to be a facilitator of learning and not a pitcher of knowledge.

The result? It’s very simple. Students begin to understand that they have a voice in their own education. They begin to realize that education has no walls. And without walls, classes have a purpose. Their voice matters. A generation of students who understand that their voice matters can only be a generation of which we can be proud and confident. A generation that can solve a problem and make a decision without having to question whether a teacher had ever taught them how to answer that question.


When at first you don’t succeed….

Our biology/English course recently dived headlong into the world of dichotomous keys. It’s a relatively simple concept to master, but the idea behind the use of dichotomous keys is lost on students. Students view the simple choice between A and B as normal practice in many classes. But the difference is that in those classes they are often told exactly how to define A and B.  A popular video “I Choose C” makes the rounds at teacher’s in-services to demonstrate how the educational system takes the creativity from a student and gives them a tool to solve a task in the classroom–choose C. Not very helpful for the young lady in the video who is being asked to do a task for which she hasn’t been specifically trained. A dichotomous key–on the surface–seems like the same concept. Students must identify one or the other characteristic and move on in order to identify any particular organism.

When our students first begin applying the use of a dichotomous key we begin small–with beans. Even if they don’t quite understand the use, most students can identify a black bean if necessary. When they had to apply a dichotomous key to conifers the task grew more challenging. What we are always amazed by is that the students are often more challenged with having to make a decision from their own knowledge and trust their decision going forward. How does one identify “leathery” in a two dimensional sketch of a conifer branch? The fear of being incorrect in the decision makes some students panic. We always tell our students that they need to make a logical, well-thought out decision and go forward trusting that they have applied the basic tenets they have learned, experienced, and tested. Then trust that their application will lead them to the correct solution. And sometimes, we warn them, they will be wrong. And when they are wrong to evaluate the solution and process and go forward–try something different.

We need our students to graduate with knowledge, but we need more students who are capable of applying knowledge with the understanding that getting the correct solution the first time is a rare occurrence. When at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

What does a typical class look like?

Teachers often inquire what a typical class looks like in a TPBL or hybrid classroom.  Experienced teachers may use the term chaos. Multiple days in the past five years, that word has been used by the teachers involved as well. I have grown to love students who are active and moving. In a typical classroom, it is not unusual to see students moving from group to group in a collaborative effort to improve everyone’s work. It is not unusual that an entire classroom is being utilized–not just the desks and white board. It is not unusual to have students use technology to extend the learning outside the walls of the room–or simply asking permission to ask another teacher down the hall. It is normal to have students talking and testing concepts and sharing out information to everyone in the classroom. It is normal to have students sharing problems with someone else and asking “what do I do?” It is normal that plans may change for that day based on what the students understand or discover. It is normal for multiple assessments to be done on any given day to identify where the class needs to go. It is normal for students to find a single problem that leads into multiple problems to solve.

So when someone asks how do I stand the chaos? I simply smile and ask them to ask my students that same question. I know the answer they will get.

You hurt my brain….

Yesterday we received the largest compliment ever!!! A student informed us that through her mistakes everyday she is learning the material. As teachers we want our students to succeed, but the speed at which they succeed is always a debatable point. If they succeed at everything new, the first time they attempt it, is it rigorous enough to be called learning? I did not learn to walk the first time I tried. I also almost drove my driver’s ed instructor into the ditch once. Students need an opportunity to struggle. And an opportunity to step outside of easy and really have to, as another student so eloquently puts it, “you make my brain hurt.” Don’t be afraid to allow your students the opportunity to learn to walk. If we carry them the whole way what will they do when you aren’t there?

Listening to a World Champion taxidermist explain the design cycle

Armour’s AHS bio/English course along with our math counterpart visited A Tail for Tales Taxidermist to gain a greater understanding of the design cycle along with a lesson on how content areas can not be contained within a single classroom. Thank you Larry Wold—you are the best.