Saturday, December 12, 2015

It's a Test!! A push for Project Based Learning.

I'm writing this post at the end of a long day of testing my algebra 2 students. Topic? Quadratics.. graphing and solving. Yup, it's a rough one. I have the responsibility of teaching 3 classes of Algebra 2. And my 3
classes are populated with the kiddos that, for whatever reason, have a dislike or a disconnect with math. Now, I'm honored that my admin team believes in my ability to connect to, and motivate this wonderful group of kiddos. And believe me, these kids are great. The majority have creative spirits, broken math confidence, and an element of anti-establishment that creates an entertaining yet challenging classroom environment.

Truthfully, these kids are some of the brightest in the school. The hard reality is that the traditional nature of the school setting prevents them from showing their talents. As a father of five, and a passionate teacher, I see how academic structures can be confining. And that those that flourish in a traditional setting do so, in large part, because they have the ability to memorize, and sit through direct content style classrooms. But not every kiddo has that ability. Some need to be able to explore content in different ways.

I'm a veteran teacher at this point. I'm 11 years in, and I've got a pretty good handle on how to help kids learn. But here I am looking out across my classroom giving "another" math test. And a few are going to do great, but I'm watching kids draw frowny faces, question marks, and dripping fake tears onto their tests (seriously!). Sure, we can say that they didn't work hard enough. They could have tried harder, put more time in outside of the classroom. But, for me.. I see that I'm just another math teacher failing them.

These are the kids that need the projects, and the creative connections to pull the content and interest from them. These are the kids that needed more from me than just comedic (some would call silly) lessons that are full of energy. Sure they laugh and sure they simulate interest, but these tests won't reflect that they gained a ton of quadratic content knowledge.

Imagine these kids spending 2 to 3 weeks exploring quadratics through a rocket project in which they get to build a rocket to reach a certain height or go a certain distance. Maybe they construct trebuchets or catapults, or maybe we simply do an experiment bouncing a ping-pong ball into a red SOLO cup....? Or maybe not that one. And then after they do that, they get to present their learnings not in a test, but in any way they would like. Maybe they create a movie, an art project, an essay, or whatever creative presentation they come up with.

SO how do we make this happen? It's got to come from a culture change in the schools. Teachers will need the inspiration and time to create an environment that is more project based. It's near impossible for a single teacher to plan, develop and implement a project based learning environment without sacrificing a life outside the school. And let's face it, I have a big life outside of school that I don't want to jeopardise!

It also is going to take a lot of work from teachers to break away from the traditional teaching setting. The notion of teachers talking just to hear themselves talk will have to go away to make way for student exploration and questions. For some this will be completely and terribly difficult. These teachers believe that worked for them works for their students. And that simply isn't true. These kids need a new type of learning environment.

If the idea of a project based learning environment sounds like something your own kids would thrive in, take the time to get more involved in the school district. Help us push for change that is more in line with what we know if best or better for our kids. If not, most school districts will stick with the same old type of education that you and I thought was boring 20+ years ago!

To see this type of learning in action, please watch this video. It's amazing, and it's what I'd love to be a part of as a teacher, but also as parent to a kiddo attending such a school.

And finally, thanks for continuing to follow and support The Teacher Dad! You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and now on Pinterest to keep up with my father of 5/teacher antics!