Monday, 23 September 2013

Piloting Student-Led Project Based Learning

I had been a flipped classroom teacher for two years when I had the privilege of being accepted as Apple Distinguished Educator, class of 2013. As I talked about in my previous post, this is where I came across iBooks Author and how it became part of my life.  It is also where I felt like what I was doing with my students was not enough. I wanted to make learning a different experience altogether for my students by making them take more control over their learning process to empower them. It was soon after the ADE Institute that I started thinking about how I could implement a Project Based Learning in my classes. By this stage, all my classes have been flipped, so I was done making all the screencasts, meaning, I could shift my focus from having materials ready for my students, to new way of learning, using the resources which I've already created. After brainstorming with a colleague, I decided to approach my principal to ask permission to pilot it in my Calculus class in the new school year. The reason why I chose the Calculus class was because of the following.
1) It is the only class that I am completely autonomous. I am the only teacher who teaches this class and only one section of it exists.
2) Calculus class, unlike the AP Calculus class, isn’t bound by any external exams and students who take Calculus would need to take Calculus in college again anyway.
3) Calculus class is mainly composed of students who don’t really like math and they take Calculus because they don’t want to take Statistics. So, I thought trying new things would actually be more fun for this group of students.
Thankfully, my principal gave me the green lights to go ahead.
The basic idea was to have an iBook as a year long overarching project where their learning will be logged. Each unit of the course will be a chapter of their book. It will contain the concepts of that unit, their learning activity for the unit and a personal reflection of their learning process. The three basic questions they need to address are : What is it that I need to learn? How am I going to learn it? and How will I show that I have learned it? The book will serve as a digital portfolio of their learning in Calculus.
So, I had to come up with a concrete structure. It all seemed great as an idea, but how would the day to day running of it look like? I was feeling overwhelmed at the thought. It wasn’t until days before school started for the new year, that I sat down to plan out the structure.  I realised the first step was to think about what my gradebook would look like. What did I want to assess? What are the things I valued as a learning process for my students?
Following is an excerpt from my Calculus Syllabus that outlines the structure.
Class Structure and Policy
In this Calculus class, we are implementing Student-Led Project Based Learning. A year long, ongoing project is an iBook of your learning process. Each unit will occupy one chapter of the iBook and that chapter will be assessed at the end of each unit. A clear rubric will be given for the assessment of the iBook. Within each unit, learning teams will form and decide what learning activities they will take on to master the content of each unit. Screencasts of all the lectures will be available for you to view to help with the learning process. You will no longer be given a unit test to demonstrate your understanding of the content, however, quizzes will be given to test your mathematical skills. Following is the breakdown of each assessment component.

Daily work/Activities
  • Daily work and activities grade is based on successful completion of the deadlines set by students, individually or in learning teams.
  • There will be a pool of points from which one point will be deducted for each missed deadline. A larger deadline for the unit completion will be set by the teacher.
  • At the beginning of each unit, learning teams will present a proposal of what learning activities they will take on with mini deadlines they have set to the teacher.
  • Same type of learning activities can be used maximum of two times throughout the year.
  • For each unit, you must form different learning teams. You may work with the same person maximum two times throughout the year. You may have maximum of three people in each learning team.
  • All your daily work and learning activities will be included in your iBook.

  • Quizzes will be testing your actual mathematical problem solving skills.
  • Quizzes will be given three different times within the unit. You may choose to take it anytime you like and as many of the three times that you like.
  • The best scoring quiz will be your final score of the quiz which will be uploaded to Powerschool.

iBook Unit Assessment
  • iBook chapter of the unit needs to be completed according to the rubric given.
  • Each student will submit their own iBook chapter.
  • Each chapter needs to include: introduction of the concepts covered, learning activities you have taken on to learn the concepts, demonstration of understanding that came from the learning activity, and finally a reflection piece of your learning process.
  • Due date of the chapter will be given by the teacher and you will be penalized 10% for one calendar day, 20% for two days late, and no credit beyond that.

Class Participation/preparation
  • Students are expected to participate in class discussions, oral presentations, group work, and projects.
  • The class participation/preparation grade consists of a pool of points from which one point will be deducted from when participation or preparation is not fulfilled.

Final Exam
An exam will be given at the end of the semester which will include the content of all the units covered throughout the semester. It will in a traditional exam format.

Grading: The following components will be used in the evaluation process. Each of these areas is
is compiled to reach a cumulative grade for the semester.

  • Class Participation/preparation   : 5%   
  • Daily Work/Activities : 15%   
  • Quizzes : 25%   
  • iBook Assessments : 40%   
  • Final Exam : 15%

I stand by the philosophy of each educator needing to find the method and structure that works for them. There is no single recipe that works for everyone. Teacher’s personality, demographic of the student body, dynamics of the classroom all play a part in it. I encourage you to try implementing few different things until you find what works for you.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

My Relationship with iBooks Author

I was first exposed to iBooks Author when attended the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute in Bali, March 2013. I spent forever being utterly confused as how the program worked and what was the point of it all. It wasn’t until I started creating my own iBook that I actually saw its full potential as a learning tool. My first class, first day back from the institute, my students were taking a test. Normally I’d be, “woohoo, kids taking tests… quiet time for me to do some work” but not this time. I sat there feeling angry and was thinking what was the point of all this. Yes, my students were taking a test but it hit me that a test was a terrible way of showing their learning. Things needed to change. After spending the day in anger and frustration, I decided to approach my team. You see, because there are multiple teachers teaching the same course, we need to have common assessments. So unless we come to an agreement on our assessment, there was nothing I could do.

My precalculus team were receptive in trying out the iBook as a project for our students. Soon after that, I was able to set up a department iBooks Author training from one of our Ed Tech members (Tim Bray). Students were also very receptive to the project. The product of their efforts were astonishing. Their books could easily be used as a textbook. They demonstrated their understanding of the topic clearly and were able to use a lot of creativity to make the book interesting. After the iBooks were completed, we had a peer assessment class where they viewed and critiqued each other’s books. During that time, I would frequently hear “whoa, that’s so cool!” They blew each other away in the way they presented the topic. The iBooks Author project was a success! Here are few of the statements made by students when I asked them to reflect on the project.

"I personally enjoyed doing the iBooks author because I can create a book of my own using the knowledge I know. Compared to other projects, I was interested in my own project for the first time."

"Wow, what a fun project! The project was fun; I learned to use iBooks author, a new program! I think that my book was very creative, and that a lot of my classmates had very creative and sophisticated projects. The peer assessment was also very beneficial because I got fresh eyes to look at my project. This type of project is beneficial to our learning, and I hope that we do more of these in the future"

"I really enjoyed the ibooks project. It was my first time to write a book and I was surprised how easy it is to write a book because I am not that good with computers."

It was from this that I thought about a year long iBook project as their digital portfolio. My next post will be about how I used this idea to pilot my Student Lead Project Based Learning class.

Below are some screenshots I have taken from various student created iBooks from my classes.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

How I Structure the Class Time in My Flipped Classrooms

The whole purpose of flipping my classes was to have more time to assist students in the learning process. To make the learning process more meaningful and engaging for them, rather than having to listen to me speak. I strongly believe that, a well structured class can take the learning to a whole another level for your students.  

Most common question I get asked is, “How do you know if your students watch the screencasts? How can you make sure that they come to class prepared?” This is one of the main reasons why teachers can be hesitant about trying this method. So, what did I do to make this method work for me? The most important thing I have learned is to have students’ “buy in” with the method. If students believe that this is something that is worth investing their time and energy into, they will do it. And once they start seeing the benefits, they are willing to try out new techniques and go with you on this ride.

So here is my typical structure, in a nutshell. I have adopted some of the Kagan Cooperative Learning Strategies in my day-to-day running of the class.
1) I group the students in mixed ability groups, 3-5 students per group. 4 is ideal but sometimes the numbers in class does not allow the perfect grouping.
2) I set a task for them to complete while watching the screencast at home. Previously, I have asked them to come up with concept questions, but this year I am asking them to take notes on the lecture.
3) They come to class with their notes, which I check for completion, and we spend the first 6-8 minutes at the beginning of the class for them to go through their notes in their groups. At the end of their sharing session, I throw a few concept questions to different groups to check for understanding.
4) I give each student a handheld whiteboard and I ask them to solve a question I have selected from the textbook. After a minute of solving on their own quietly, one member in each group is selected to explain step by step to the rest of the group how they went about solving the given question. This process happens for 5-6 questions, while each member in the group is taking turns in explaining the steps to others. I will step in and explain concepts and/or methods of problem solving to the whole class when needed.
5) For the remaining of the class, they are given time to work on individual practice problems, ask questions and just solidifying their understanding of what they just learned.

The above structure is for the day-to-day lecture learning classes. The verbalisation and repetition of explaining helps with the retention of the information and it also creates an engaging,  comfortable and cooperative learning environment. Students, in their reflection and feedback, have all said that they enjoy the group discussion, as it keeps the class interesting and really helps them to understand the concepts better.

Having said that, each teacher needs to find a structure that works to their teaching style, their personality and the dynamics of the classroom. I have tried number of different things and I’m still tweaking as I go along. Through reflection and student feedback, I am confident that we all can find a structure that each of us are happy with that engages our students in a dynamic way.

Below are some images of students working in groups explaining their solving process to each other.