21st Century classrooms and learning

Session with Chris Lehmann and Marcie Hull (SLA).

Chris’s slides are excellently designed–appealing visually, clear and crisp, to the point–great example for good presentations.

Chris–(directly quoting here!)

  • We work best and learn best when it matters to us. Some kids don’t know what matters to them though, yet.
  • We always need to remember we teach kids first and our subjects second.
  • Student Centered. It’s not about us. It’s about the kids. “It’s about the work they do. Not the work we do.”

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance–story about mechanic who honks the horn to test it has done a more authentic science experiment versus teacher doing an experiment in science that already knows the end result. Authentic learning is important.

  • It has to be passionate and it has to matter. (He is sharing story of a group of his students who worked with their teacher and found a brand new way to process biodiesel. The students have filed two patents on it this year. Two communities overseas are going to build it. ) He asks do you think these students get to class on time everyday?
  • It should be metacognitive. We need to think about thinking.
  • It should be technology infused. The technology should be “ubiquitous, necessary and invisible.”
  • Understanding driven and project based.
  • Purpose of projects is not the project, it is deep understanding.

We now have the tools to bring Dewey’s dream into existence. But how do we prevent technology overload?

“What’s good is a better question than what is new.”

Best collaborative technology tool is the one we all agree to use together. It doesn’t matter which one it is.

His fear is segmentation.

He thinks tech should do five things in classroom:

research, collaborate, create, present, network

Tools don’t teach but they can change how we teach. Need a good pedagogical framework to harness the tools.

So you ask teachers: “What are your goals and what tools get you there?” not, I want to do a wiki project.

Their school is centered around their campus goals and core values. So lessons are planned around that(Understanding by Design method). All teacher professional development rotates around that method as well.

Projects are used as the ultimate assessment, and they use the same assessment terms for all projects. They haggled out as a faculty what their five evaluation categories would be.

So they have common core values, common evaluation rubric–so instead of students spending 20-30% of time trying to figure out the adults and how they are being assessed, they can use that time more productively.

Their UBD process

Link to his “understanding by design” templates and tools for designing lessons that ask the big questions.


Step One: What are the big ideas–

identity matters–finding what makes us human is important. How do I find out who I am separate from my family.

Then think of the skills and content needed to digest that–need to analyze metaphorical language, Danish family structure, etc. etc. skills are put in context.

Step Two:

How do we authentically assess? the authentic assessment isn’t a test–it’s something kids put their hands and hearts into, if you are doing project based learning.

Chris turns the pyramid of assessment with tests on top and projects counting less upside down. The test is at the basic level of understanding– is a dipstick that you use to see where they are–but the project is the ultimate test of understanding.

Authentic assessment isn’t just the “end game” but an ongoing process.

Sample projects and units from SLA and specific unit plan examples here. They do an end of year reflection as a faculty and it is summarized and shared. Example of students creating a public service announcement on some chemicals identified as dangerous by the CDC. great example making chemistry real.

Sharing project called “9 weeks to change the world” that their English teacher did. Kids had to gather info online, use RSS feeds, had to find a change agent, and develop their own elevator pitch on that issue and then actually make the elevator pitch to the person. Or if the person was remote, they made podcasts, used email or Skype to communicate. Used the tools they needed, not certain tools.

The clarity of this approach for their school is clear. Teachers have a pedogically sound way to approach their curriculum design, students know what’s expected, and everyone is focused on the larger meanings, not the “facts” but on what’s important behind these facts. And when we visited SLA for edublogger, it was clear that this gave students a real investment in their school and their learning. The teachers asked critical questions–students felt free to debate and discuss things with their teachers–because they were all focused on the deeper understanding. Chris talks about how important our role as providing scaffolding is. And we guide students as they come up with their own ideas.

I think this is why it’s hard to replicate what is going on at SLA. It is a new school and everyone began with this foundation and buy in to it. When you have an existing school climate, there’s a training/learning curve and also a resistance level to looking at ways of designing curriculum or lessons, even if it makes great sense.

I’m wondering about stories of existing schools that have adopted UBD and how that has worked and what were the obstacles? How was it brought into the school? How did leadership help?

Barbara Barreda (a principal) is sitting next to me and is talking to me about the importance of leadership in bringing this to teachers. She suggests starting small with one unit. Then adding expectations over time.

Does anyone have examples to share from their own districts of how bringing UBD into the school has played out?

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