Better Together: An Example Explained

Jen Sigrist, director of teaching and learning at Van Meter Schools and former social studies teacher, is leading the social studies team to create blended curriculum as part of the Iowa Communities of Practice and Innovation (IACoPi) pilot to scale project.

Social studies is an important part of the 21st Century learner’s education. It is the one content area where students can make sense of and connect all the other fields of learning into a common frame of reference. It’s the doorway to becoming a responsible, global citizen. 21st Century learners are more connected with the world than ever before, and it takes an understanding of social sciences as a whole to participate in this environment -Jen Sigrist

The social studies team is truly working together to accomplish the unprecedented work of Iowa Communities of Practice and Innovation (IACoPi). The team consists of classroom teachers, special education literacy specialists, project-based learning experts, and district level administration. The collaborative dynamic is working, and Sigrist explains the group was cohesive from the beginning. “We are challenging each other’s thinking. We are connected by our drive. We are passionate about improving social studies education, so it is meaningful for our kids.”

To support the improvement, many IACoPi social studies educators attended the Buck Institute on Project Based Learning professional development. The professional development supports the mission of the social studies group, the promise of Iowa Core/Common Core, and the goal of IACoPi. Project Based Learning invites students into the content making the learning and assessment relevant, meaningful, and authentic. As educators across the state continue to address curriculum, the need for a paradigm shift becomes evident, and the need for educator collaboration becomes necessary. Iowa Communities of Practice and Innovation brought passionate professionals together, and amazing work is being accomplished.

Housed on a Moodle server, the social studies curriculum is impressive. Since its birth, the project has evolved, and the metamorphosis was inspired by a need to create essential content. The blended curriculum is aligned with universal constructs. “When you think of the stereotypical social studies education, it is irrelevant. Relevant is global citizenship, empathy, information literacy, civic activism, and civic responsibility.”

One of the many collaborative gems is the global citizenship project. Sigrist and the team knew to be effective, the curriculum would have to center around current issues. The blended ecurriculum is designed to be malleable. The community will utilize the adaptable work to meet the needs of students and their respective districts. The blended learning format is not about covering the content, but about students uncovering.

There is no doubt, teachers working together will benefit Iowa students. The enthusiasm is evident in the work, and the relentless journey to improve is impressive. Jen Sigrist believes in the curriculum and the quest, “I am proud of the way we are working together, proud of the type of unit, and I am sold it is the type of thing kids need, but teachers have not been given.”

Educators involved in the Iowa Communities of Practice Innovation blended ecurriculum mission will meet the end of July to further develop and examine curriculum.

#IACoPi feature post authored by Erin Olson (@eolsonteacher)


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Making it Real

Guest Blogger-Marcia Powell (@marciarpowell) is a high school science teacher at West Delaware.

Today, my family went to the club tour for our 4H group.  It’s a chance for all the kids to showcase what they are bringing to fair, including their goat project, their woodworking efforts, or that photograph of which they are so proud.  And as we sat around at the picnic at the end, I couldn’t help but think about the parallels between this and project based learning that I hope to put into my science classroom.

First of all, the kids had a broad area to explore, and a project was their summative experience. The roadmap to success was filled with learning the nitty-gritty details necessary to be successful.  There was reading, writing, thinking, designing, and planning to be done, not as an isolated skill, but with the goal of helping the student be successful in the project.  Technology was integrated naturally, as it was needed for research, reflection, and generating the reports and posters that went along with the topic at hand.

Science should be like that, and it’s dismaying that it isn’t.  It’s not, as a 3rd grade student told me today,  “a way to prove what we already know.”  It’s a chance to invent something new.  And that inventing of new understandings is exactly what we hope will happen for our students.

So this year, I will use the end product I want my students to produce as the focal point of my planning.   I will examine my standards and see if they match that product, and if they don’t, I will align them.  My benchmarks need to become the roadmap I need to use to increase understanding for that summative product, rather than the final product being a fun project at the end.

A simple shift is all that matters, and the shift must come from the perspective of what the teacher and his/her class believe is important.  For me, the biggest change in this is finding ways to use a public audience to make the learning real and relevant.  Instead of just planning a bridge, I may ask students to site a new bridge that I know needs building in my city.  I may ask an architect to come in, rather than making the mistake of telling kids that they can be an architect ‘when they grow up.’

Project-based learning is a natural way to increase the rigor and the relevance in our curricula.  Combining the possibilities of project-based learning with the reflection that is critical in blended learning can fundamentally shift our notions of content and significant inquiry. I’m looking forward to the challenge.  Can you join me?

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Brief Overview for the July #IACoPi…

Guest Blogger, Monte DeArmoun is a 7-12 Social Science Instructor at Northwood-Kensett Jr./Sr.  Are You Ready For July’s #IACoPi Meeting?

We are a month away from meeting at the Sheraton Inn West in Clive for our July training and the continuation of the development of blended units for the modules. Hopefully you have been prepping yourself for using the eCurriculum this coming school year since our last meeting in April. The “Facilitating eLearning in a Blended Classroom” course is wrapping up for most of the CoPi group and starting for the Social Studies teachers. The CoPi Design Team has been planning the July training focused on providing the best possible training for you. There are roughly 20 members that have met via conference calls since the April training. Below is a tentative agenda:

Thursday, July 28

8:00-10:00 Registration

8:30- 10:00 Meet to socialize/network (Breakfast provided)

10:00-10:10- Welcome and agenda overview

10:10-11:00 Scope & sequence conversation

11:00- 12:00 Web 2.0 walkabout/Poster session

12:00-1:00 LUNCH (provided)

1:00-2:00 Symbaloo introduction and overview

2:00-2:15 BREAK

2:15-5:00 Module work

Friday, July 29

7:00-8:30 Registration and Breakfast (Breakfast provided)

8:30-10:00 Innovation Fishbowl

10:00-10:15 Director Jason Glass, Iowa DOE

10:15-10:30 BREAK

10:30-12:00 Module work

12:00-1:00 LUNCH (provided)

1:00-3:00 Module work

3:00-3:30 Blended Pedagogy video activity

3:30-3:45 Closing

I am part of the Design Team and member of the Blended Pedagogy subcommittee. During the Blended Pedagogy segment on the July training date we will discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of teaching in a Blended Classroom. See you all in July! “Better Together”

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Living the Project

Guest Blogger – Leslie Pralle Keehn (@LPralleKeehn) is a 7-12 Social Studies teacher at Northeast Hamiliton CSD

The first IACoPi Buck Institute on project-based learning took place June22-24 in Coralville. The venue for the event, the Coralville Public Library, was quite fitting in terms of the themes of project-based learning. To paraphrase a favorite show of mine, libraries offer learners of all ages a place to hunt the white whale aboard the Pequod, fight alongside Napoleon, sail with Huck and Jim, ride a sad train with Anna Karenina, or live alongside the Swiss Family Robinson. Libraries, and books, let the reader be in the moment. In project-based learning (PBL), it is equally important to let the student “be in” the project.

PBL can be an opportunity for students to realize that they can do whatever they want to do and be whoever they want to be. PBL should offer a real-world role for students, providing them with an opportunity to be the change they want to see.

As the teacher, we should provide an outlet for students to not only create a meaningful project, but to present that project to an authentic audience. The role of the audience inspires the desire to create a “finished” final product.

Giving students “voice and choice” in the project allows them to take ownership. Ownership, student- inquiry, and passion will produce results far superior to those of a purely teacher-driven project. Let students discover or feed an interest within the context of your driving question (the question that communicates the purpose of the project and focuses on a philosophical or controversial issue). Never forget the “Why should I care” component. Students should be inspired by the project.

Finally, make the project the main dish. Pre-teaching the project or adding the project as dessert causes disconnect between students and the project. Give students the opportunity to filter learn through the project; even “drill and skill” work with commas can be part of an end project letter to the editor. Let students apply learning to the project throughout a unit. Revision and reflection through continued learning allow students to gain mastery of concepts and skills.

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A Mouthful of Metaphors …

Inspired by the Buck Institute facilitators: Jen Cruz, Erin Sanchez, and Andrew Miller

(created and edited by Shaelynn Farnsworth and Tim Hadley)

“My Advice for Those Educators Just Starting Out With PBL(Project Based Learning).”

-paralleling Ron Koertge’s poem “Do You Have Any Advice for Those of Us Just Starting Out?”

Give up sitting behind your desk. Get out there. Leave

your classroom or building. Go out into the world, and bring your students.

It’s all right to use food analogies. PBL is the main course, not the dessert.

The meat and potatoes of the lesson. Delectable steak, medium rare;

a slab of butter melting, dripping onto the new baby reds.

Avoid daily, traditional lecture. Let the lesson grow organically. Start

with the End in mind. Be wary of neatly packaged textbooks

promising hundreds of “proven examples”

they LIE.

Not surprisingly, students like to share and explain

their work. A public audience ups the stakes.

Surrounded by experts interested in

their deliverables.

Often teachers need to be opportunists.

Seizing upon one headline or one connection,

pushing students into the world around them

headlong into the throes of Living History.

The more relevant the project, the greater the purchase.

You, who are embarking on PBL, listen: reflecting on

your lessons, dark chocolate is sweet, sure, but fleeting.

It is that buttery, juicy steak that keeps you full.

Now get going!

(Nancy Movall and Tim Hadley on the last day)

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Buck Institute: Lie, Cheat, and Steal

Guest Blogger – Tim Hadley ( @MrHadleyHistory), Social Science Instructor at Pekin High School

“I teach you to lie, cheat, and steal, and as soon as my back’s turned you wait in line?” -Dr. Gregory House, main character from House, M.D. This quote is used in the context of Dr. House scolding his colleagues for not taking every possible avenue to fulfill their hippocratic oath to heal the sick. The scene is not only one that can play out in any hospital, but could easily be transcribed to the classroom setting.
The Buck Institute, with the philosophy of Andrew Miller (@betamiller)  – “lie, cheat, and steal” has retooled this phrase to apply to educators. Espousing Project Based Learning, the Buck Institute is encouraging classroom leaders to use every opportunity to engage students in learning beyond the four walls of the classroom. By choosing to use Project Based Learning, online environments such as Iowa CoPi, are giving students the opportunity to interact with content as never before.
Dr. House has no problem with being willing to deviate from the norm to solve a patient’s condition. We as educators should not only wish for students to reach optimum engagement, we should be willing to make it a reality, with whatever means necessary. Project Based Learning serves as a vehicle to make this happen, will you be one to step up and drive?

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Introduction to Moodle

This summer, the teachers in the IACoPi project are gaining an understanding of Moodle, one of the Learning Management Systems that will be used to deliver the on-line content of the blended classroom. The teachers are supported by AEA staff and are traveling through the various modules as both students and teachers. This allows participants to understand moodle, see potential problem areas, and also the advantages that moodle has to offer as compared to other on-line delivery systems.It also allows participants the opportunity to review the on-line eCurriculum, as well as consider the implications of teaching in a blended classroom. The units the teachers are working with form the backbone of the ecurriculum. Adopted for the state of Florida Virtual School (FLVS) and the National Repository of Online Courses (NROC), Iowa teachers are evaluating and enhancing the different modules adding content and activities appropriate for our students as well as aligned with the Iowa/Common Core Curriculum.

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