Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Pushing the (and my) Limits

I am embarking on some big changes in my courses this year. Am I a little nervous? Absolutely. Is it possible that I’ve taken on more than I should have? Possibly. Does that matter? No. The world is changing quickly. The classroom isn’t keeping up. Waiting one second more to provide my students with the education that they need and deserve would be borderline criminal. Each second that we wait to move forward is another student’s curiosity extinguished; lost to the educational status quo. So I’ve done my best to put together what I think is the best possible education I can give this kids. I know there will be missteps along the way, I know my curriculum won’t be perfect right out of the gate, and I know that I still have a lot to learn. But I also know that my passion for this profession and desire to provide my students with a “world class education” will carry me through the rough points.
The biggest changes this year:
Project Based Learning (#pbl)
My 6th grade class will be primarily project-based learning. We will spend the first semester working on skills and content through C-SPAN’s StudentCam. Students will have “voice and choice” in deciding their topic of study through this year’s theme - the Constitution and You. Students will research, write scripts, edit, film, narrate, and create a video project based on the theme in small groups.
My World History class will participate in 8 project based/thematic units throughout the school year. These authentic assessments will make up the majority of their course grades. 
The Flipped Classroom:
While studies argue both ways, I’ve decided that while the “flipped” classroom may not be the perfect answer (and I can think of a couple of my twitter friends specifically who will not be happy with this choice), it is a step in the right direction. My 8th and 9th graders will be doing “flipped-lite”. They will get the information/material in class on Mondays instead of doing it on their own outside of class - this will help them transition into what they will do as seniors when it will be truly flipped (which is what my government class will be this year). Flipping the class will allow more time for class discussion, work with primary sources, and student interest based discovery. I want to give students as much control over the curriculum as I can. I’m pushing outside my comfort zone on this one, but you have to give up control, as Andrew Miller (@betamiller) would say.
Citizenship & Service Learning:
Each of my classes will plan and carry out some sort service project. I will be putting an emphasis on creating an informed, positive, helpful citizenry. Students will be encouraged to pursue a course of study that allows them to help others through the learning process. My 6th graders will focus on a community project, US History classes on a national project, World History on a global project, etc. 
Standards Based Grading (#sbar)
My World History class will see not only an emphasis on project based learning and global citizenship, but a change to standards-based assessment and reporting based on rubrics adapted from the Waukee model. Each theme focuses on a specific set of standards. Students will participate an practice activities to help them meet each of the standards by the end of the unit. Students that do not “meet expectations” will be given additional opportunities in the following unit(s) to demonstrate competency in the skills and standards. Anyone who has looked at #sbar at all knows I could go on for pages about this topic, but I’m trying to keep it simple. This is probably the area in which I feel least prepared. I know how much work others have put into preparing for this process, and that’s intimidating, but I’ve put a lot of work into researching my material, developing and locating quality assessments (thank you BIE), and studying as much of Waukee’s materials as they’ll let me look at (thanks Steph Wilson!). 
The Global Citizenship module created by @nmovall ‘s ingenious #IACoPi will be the basis of my curriculum for my “Geography” elective this fall. However, I know that only using it in Geography will reach a handful of students to start with, so I’ll also be using it to supplement my Government, Econ, and World History classes. Differentiation and modifications will need to be made for students who overlap with the elective. I’ll be looking for a partner social studies classroom to complete the summative activity (UN Summit) with.
A Touch of C-SPAN
My fellowship with C-SPAN will also serve as the basis for a distinct flavor in my classrooms. In addition to using StudentCam in 6th grade, the Video Library, Timely Teachable Videos, and the C-SPAN Classroom webpage will provide invaluable access to primary and secondary sources, current affairs, and authentic history. I’ll be using Brian Lamb’s BookNotes - interviews with political and historical non-fiction authors about their works - to supplement and enrich content. I hope my #ela colleagues appreciate my effort to hold up my end of the social studies/language arts relationship.
As I look at these changes I know I will need the support and guidance of my Twitter PLN - especially as I work to complete my graduate work in May. The goal is to blog about at least one of these six components each week throughout the year. I’m hoping to document the process, get suggestions and feedback, and maybe even inspire others to push the boundaries of their comfort zones. Because I’m certainly stepping outside of mine. This is what I’ve been working on for the last 4-5 months. As the days fly by and we close in on two weeks to the day that students will step inside my classroom, I can only do my best and hope that I can pull this off. However a stumble or struggle is not the end, it is an opportunity to improve. 

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