This is the latest in a series of blogs from the teacher cohort.
By Sue Mellon
As a member of the initial Fluency cohort, I spent a great deal of time thinking about ICMA or “Inquiry - Case Making - Advocacy.” Instead of having students select a topic for research, it was an obtainable leap to engage students on a path of inquiry. In terms of case making, the Pennsylvania standards include opportunities for argumentative and persuasive type writing and so the start of case making is there. For me, the notion of students as thought leaders and real world advocates was a new and promising consideration.
As I participated in the ICMA work with my Fluency cohort, I ventured out to see what other educators might be doing to promote youth voice. I read about Harvard’s Project Zero with specific interest in the “Agency by Design” project. I loved the tagline “Empowering Young People to Shape Their World.”
My Fluency cohort visit to Detroit to learn about Allied Media Project’s work with “Humanizing Schooling” convinced me of the importance of students connecting learning to their life. I loved the videos that the students created on the water crisis in Detroit. The honest stories regarding the purpose of education mural with troubled teens were inspiring.
Project Based Learning or PBL was another reoccurring result of my searching for what educators were doing. I agreed with the statement on Buck’s Institute for Education site, a site devoted to PBL, that “Projects enable students to solve problems and address issues important to them, their communities, and the world.”
So when the opportunity to learn more about PBL through a grant funded training arose, I immediately applied. It was a wonderful two days with other educators who care deeply about student success. Our summer work was followed by an externship visit with a Pittsburgh company and we had another group meeting to share with each other the things that future employers want in the individuals that they hire. We were asked to try PBL and report back.
Well, if I was going to try PBL in my teaching, of course, it needed to include the fundamentals of my Fluency experience. I decided that a project using the Speck monitors would include aspects of both technology and data fluency that I desired.
PBL has a central theme or focus and I chose the following: With the hope of optimal health for the AVSD community, what information about indoor air quality (IAQ) is valuable?” Because of my position supporting gifted students, I find myself frequently reading the Pennsylvania standards for English Language Arts and mathematics. I knew that many aspects of PBL work had a place to help students develop their proficiency in English Language Arts.
I spoke with several members of the English department at my school and it seemed that 11th grade English was a good time and place for PBL work. The English teacher for juniors, Kelly McConville, was more than positive about working with me on this PBL. We quickly decided to work 100% inclusively which meant that we had learning support students and advanced students not in AP working side by side. This decision for 100% inclusion was an integral part of our planning. The idea that everyone’s ideas had value was paramount.
Since November, we have been meeting for “PBL Thursdays” and are about halfway through our project. We just completed first presentations and I am pleased with the level of student engagement. It is truly time consuming to plot and plan this PBL. I find that most of my time outside of school is devoted to thinking and creating materials for the next phase of our work. In terms of reflections, I am only just beginning.
In the grant reporting out process, I was questioned on how PBL, Speck monitors, and English class can go together. So, you can understand, please view our focus and standards document with this link.
Finally, the work going on with AVSD PBL was featured in this article regarding the grant funded training through ASSET, Inc.
As an educator, this experience has been one of highs and lows. I have felt fear at times. I know that my PBL partner, Kelly, shared her night time ruminations before the first presentations with me. For other educators, I think that honest communication about this emotional roller coaster from PBL is valuable. The true test of this adventure or edventure will be changes in the students’ skills and attitudes. My partner can evaluate the ELA skills. For my part, I have already given a pre-project survey regarding youth agency and plan to administer a post survey at the end of the year. It is my hope that these juniors view themselves as true agents for change in the world.