Several years ago I showed a Vice News episode to my advisory/PBL students about the Syrian refugee crisis. A student of mine approached me after the activity to express her interest in this topic. The conflict in Syria was something she knew little about, and she wanted to know more. She decided to do a project on Syria. The driving question for her project, which she chose, would be how the conflict in Syria began. She would demonstrate learning by organizing the series of events that led to the conflict into a digital timeline. Again, her choice. With my guidance the student wrote project goals and created her own project rubric.
My student dove deep into research and quickly came to the conclusion that she wanted to do something to help or contribute in addition to her original timeline project. She organized a holiday pie fundraiser in the community. She turned the fundraiser into a group effort by recruiting students from our advisory. They made and distributed marketing materials, made order forms, and made their own "take-and-bake" apple pies to sell. The student still completed her original project and used her timeline as a marketing strategy to sell pies. She shared her timeline to various social media pages along with an ad for her pie fundraiser. The visual helped connect potential pie buyers with the cause.
What is Student-Directed Learning?
This project is the epitome of a student-directed learning experience. This student called all the shots from the beginning to the end. I provided guidance but the learning experience as a whole was entirely directed by the student. Student-directed learning by definition involves student choice at every step.
Without student choice you do not have student-directed learning.
1. Students choose what they want to learn.
2. Students write their learning goals and determine their own learning objectives.
3. Students choose how they will gather information.
4. Students partner up with community members of their choosing for expertise and collaboration.
5. Students choose how they will demonstrate learning.
6. Students determine an authentic audience and choose a method of reaching that audience.
7. Students establish a method of assessment and criteria for evaluation.
Ways to implement student-directed learning:
Student-directed activities: some teachers may throw in a student-directed activity once in a while into an otherwise teacher-centered curriculum.
Student-directed curriculum with teacher-directed objectives: other teachers will design a learning environment that is dominantly student-directed but will themselves lay down a framework around specific objectives. I see this as the most common form of student-directed learning as teachers have the unfortunate task of meeting standards. Imagine how wonderful teaching would be if students didn't have standards. Students could learn about whatever they want to learn whenever they want to learn it. Genius hour for more than an hour! Anyway, this is the type of student-directed teaching you'd likely see going on in my class at any given time.
Authentic student-directed learning: the final way of operating a student-directed learning environment is to give students full control of their learning from start to finish. Teachers do not place any parameters on the learning experience. The project conducted by my student on Syria is an example of authentic student-directed learning. Some would say it is not student-directed learning at all if every step above isn't directed by the student. I would tend to agree, but understand that it is much easier to implement in theory than in reality. There are obstacles to consider such as state standards, district philosophy and mission, class sizes, class structure, and district/staff/parent/community support.
I worked in a very progressive school for most of my teaching career. I didn't face many of the obstacles just mentioned, yet I still found myself choosing learning objectives for my students here and there. I did this for a couple of reasons. One was because progressive or not, we still needed to follow the same state standards as everyone else. I also learned that students need input. They need "sparks" as Wayne Jennings would say. The Vice News episode in the project example above was such a "spark" for this student. It was the introduction of a topic that sparked interest and questions. It is okay to plant the seed even in a student-directed learning environment. I showed a Vice episode to my advisory every single Monday morning to start off the week. I did this because they loved it. Every time I showed an episode of Vice at least one student turned the episode topic into a student-directed PBL project. I have Vice News episode guides and student-centered extension activities in my TpT store. This is a bundle I used with my students, the episode about Syria included in the "War and Peace" bundle - Vice News Series Bundle.
Benefits of student-directed learning:
The student mentioned in the Syria example not only learned the details of an important and current global issue, but gained numerous critical 21st-century competencies as well by learning how to learn. When students direct their own learning they take ownership. They are invested in the process and the outcome. An intrinsic motivation to learn emerges. The motivation for some, a passion for learning, has been buried deeply in students that have spent much of their academic careers in a teacher-centered learning environment. Allowing students choice, autonomy, room to fail, and opportunities to construct knowledge through experience sets the stage for lifelong learning. The alternative is a teacher-directed environment where information is given, answers are right or wrong, learning is passive, 21st-century skills are glossed over, facts are memorized and forgotten weeks later. There is little meaning or relevance, therefore, learning is shallow.
I'm elated to say that I don't see a lot of teachers running classrooms anymore that are completely teacher-centered. There are so many amazing student-centered learning activities that I see educators implementing such as STEM, maker education, inquiry, experiential learning, project-based learning, problem-based learning. There are so many cool ideas out there. You can teach in a traditional environment and still implement student-directed teaching activities. Start small. If your curriculum is largely teacher-directed right now, consider adding a few student-directed learning activities in here and there. See how they go. If that goes well do more until your entire curriculum is student-directed! You won't regret it.
Student-directed learning resources:
A great student-directed learning activity to start with is project-based learning. There are so many amazing PBL resources out there. My TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot is dominated by PBL projects right now. Feel free to check those out. I have a project-based learning bundle that includes a manual on how to get started with project-based learning in your classroom. This product is designed to move your classroom from teacher-directed to student-directed. If you are a beginner to project-based teaching or student-directed learning this may be a good resource for you. You can also go back to any number of my previous blog posts on project-based learning. Start here with "What is Project-Based Learning, Anyway?" I also like the Buck Institute. They work hard at spreading PBL love and have great tips and resources for using project-based learning in a more traditional learning environment.
Coming up in the student-directed learning series:
Stay-tuned for more from my student-directed learning series. Expect to see some future blog posts on the following, among others.
1. What does a student-directed learning environment look like?
2. What does the teacher do in a student-directed learning environment?
3. Student-directed assessments. I'm really excited about this one. I submitted an article to be to the Reformer, an education magazine through ASCD. I was accepted from a pool of over 500 submissions! My article on student-generated rubrics will be published in February. I will add a condensed version of it here.
4. Student-directed parent/teacher conferences.
5. List of student-directed learning activities.
6. What teachers are doing in their student-directed classrooms.
If you have questions about student-directed learning or would like me to write a blog post on a specific aspect of student-directed learning that I haven't mentioned, please reach out.
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for more on experiential education.
I have only been out of the classroom for a little over a year. Not long ago I started this blog and was quickly blown away by how much I seem to have missed in only one year out of the education scene. I questioned if I had been completely aloof for a decade, or if educational trends have just emerged that rapidly. I'd like to go with the latter, as my entire educational career has been in a progressive learning environment. It was literally my job to keep up with what was working for students a what wasn't, and to adjust my practice in response.
I have spent the last four months completely immersed in education. I have read dozens of books and hundreds of articles on education. I have participated in professional development courses and conferences. I have been completely in over my head, drowning to be blunt, in social media as it relates to education. Pinterest is littered with the trendiest of trends when it comes to learning, and everything else for that matter. The list of top educational trends of 2018 listed below was created strictly out of observation and experience. I have not run any fancy analytics programs or produced any actual data. So do with that what you will. You can take is as a grain of salt, or you can see for yourself.
Many of these trends aren't new. We implemented several of the trends listed here with full force where I taught (others I have never heard of until recently). They have made such a strong presence in the educational scene within the last couple of years because we know they work for 21st century students. So many of these emerging trends are based on the rapidly evolving world we find ourselves in. What used to make sense or what we used to do just doesn’t make sense anymore. With the world changing as quickly as it is, we are forced to really consider these ideas. Social media and other forms of technology have completely altered the way we communicate and learn. Notice patterns as you read the list. A few themes that I have identified include: student-centered learning; hands-on learning; inquiry-based learning; connecting content with the real-world; student choice and voice; technology and innovation. The overarching theme is a student-centered model necessary to develop the skills needed in the 21st century. Therefore, I don't see these trends going anywhere.
Up until now there has been a lot of buzz and a lot of talk about these concepts. Turn these trends into practice in your classroom if you haven't already. If you've just been playing around with these ideas with your students here and there, try to start implementing it as if it's the norm, because these trends are likely here to stay. There is a reason they are trending. Go with that!
Top 20 Educational Trends of 2018
1) Social-Emotional Learning -
"Social emotional skills" is a buzz phrase in education now because those are the skills students need in the workforce today more than content. Content information they can find in seconds anytime, anywhere.
2) STEM/STEAM -
Stem and steam are hot right now. No pun intended! Both strengthen many 21st century skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and more.
3) Maker Education -
Maker education is a new one for me. I have used "maker" principles with my students without realizing that what I was doing had a name. Students identify a problem and then make something as a solution to the problem. There are a lot of free webinars on edweb.net on maker education. I highly encourage checking those out.
4) Differentiated Learning -
Differentiated learning is providing variety to fit student's individual needs. A lot of teachers are using strategies like "choice time" and "task cards" to provide a differentiated learning environment. Direct-instruction or passive learning can still dominate a differentiated learning environment, however. As an experiential learning educator that is not preferred in my opinion. Check out "personalized learning" below to see another option for meeting student's unique needs.
5) Flexible Seating -
Flexible seating is having a variety of seating options in any given learning environment. It might mean couches or bean bag chairs in a reading corner. A high-top table with stools for projects or activities that require sudden movement, a large community table for cooperative learning activities, etc.
6) College and Career Readiness -
Having a 4.0 GPA just doesn't cut it anymore as far as college and career readiness is concerned. There are competencies students must have to survive and thrive in the 21st century workforce. Just because a student got straight A's doesn't mean they are ready for what comes after graduation.
7) Blended Learning -
From my understanding, blended learning is a combination of classic schooling with online learning. I'm realizing, however, that it's not that simple. I think people that practice true blended learning have a precise understanding of a much more complex picture than just a mix of tech and teacher. I think there is a little personalized learning thrown in there as well, among other principles that are still a bit of an enigma to me. I'd like to learn more about blended learning. If there is anyone reading this that has significant experience with blended learning, please private message me. It would be wonderful to have you guest post about it on this blog.
8) 21st Century Skills -
This one is highly interconnected to the others. The other trends listed here provide learning opportunities to develop the essential skills needed in the 21st century.
9) Project-Based Learning -
My pride and joy. My entire career has been dedicated to project-based learning. Check out some other blog posts I've done on PBL.
10) Genius Hour/Passion Projects -
I hear these two words constantly. They possess the same elements as project-based learning, but are brief, temporary assignments in passing, as supplements to curriculum. Authentic project-based learning is more substantial or tends to be the curriculum itself. For those that assign passion projects in class and have genius hours, is that statement true? I have heard about teachers creating entire courses on passion projects. To me that's the same as project-based learning. Feel free to correct me if that's offbase.
11) Brain-Based Learning -
The point of brain-based learning is to teach or provide a learning environment that takes the brain and how it works into consideration.
12) Trauma Informed Practices -
This is really interesting to me, but I don't know very much about it unfortunately. I worked with high-risk students for almost ten years. Every one of them had experienced one trauma or another. If you're interested in this, ACES is a great place to start. Other than that, I have little to offer. Because of that, I will be having a school counselor guest post about this in the near future. Stay-tuned!
13) Alternative Grading Systems -
This concept is simple. Some schools are starting to move away from strict A-F grading systems. Many combine letter grades with portfolios. Others have eliminated grades all together and complete narratives for each student instead. The purpose is to reduce academic related stressors.
14) Personalized Learning -
As compared with "differentiated instruction" listed above, personalized learning doesn't stop at arranging your classroom or modifying lessons to fit various needs and skill levels. Differentiated learning is great if it's your only option. Personalized learning on the other hand addresses student needs and skill levels in addition to backgrounds, homelife, learning styles, intelligences, and most importantly in my opinion, interests. Students direct their own learning in a personalized learning environment. Lessons aren't modified by the teacher. Students are designing their own educational journey with teachers there to facilitate. I'll do a blog post on this concept in the future.
15) Problem-Based Learning -
PrBL is a cool tool that I wish I was much better at. Rather than students receiving a lecture with numbers and stats on a real-world issue, students learn about said real-world issue by making their own observations, asking questions, exploring the issue, brainstorming solutions and acting on those solutions.
16) Gamification -
I'm going to be completely honest. I know nothing about this. But it's a serious buzzword floating around out there. It does make sense to incorporate gaming into schools. I say that only because technology is here and it's here to stay. These games are only getting better and better. My reservation about it is the hold it has on students - the addictive nature of it. I'm sure there is someone out there to defend both angles. I don't know. What do you think?
17) Lifelong Learning -
Lifelong learning encompasses all of the trends listed here in one. It is having the tools to learn long after "schooling" is over.
18) Growth Mindset -
There is a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. A growth mindset acknowledges that skills can come through hard work and determination, vs. fixed mindset which is the opposite. Promoting and encouraging a growth mindset with students is a major trend right now.
19) Self-Assessments -
This is when students take an active role in a learning outcome. Students grow by periodically self-assessing. They learn how to fail, pick themselves back up, go back to the drawing board, modify and try again. To take it a step further, students can even create their own assessments. I have my students create their own project rubrics. That rubric template is available in my TpT store. Check it out here - Student-Generated Project Rubric.
20) Authentic Presentations -
Finally, my favorite part! I am a huge advocate for project-based learning, and an authentic presentation is an important component to PBL. An authentic presentation is one where students share their work and their acquired knowledge with an authentic audience, one that is relevant and public. There are so many advantages to doing authentic presentations. I wrote a blog article on this concept a while ago. Feel free to check it out for more information - How to Incorporate Authentic Presentations into your Curriculum.
None of these trends are used independently from the others. They are all interconnected. Just because you're focusing on lifelong learning doesn't mean you should put social-emotional learning or college and career readiness on the backburner, for example. They all share common themes. They all consider the needs of 21st century learners.
For resources on many of these trends, as most of them fall under "experiential learning", feel free to check out my TpT store. As of right now project-based learning dominates the store. But with project-based learning comes authentic presentations, lifelong learning, gamification if you wish, self-assessments, personalized learning, and more from the list of trends above. This is the last day of a winter sale on my high school PBL bundle and "how to" guide. Check out Experiential Learning Depot to get to this resource and others. I'm working on some maker and stem resources and will have those posted soon.
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on TpT, Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for more on experiential education.
Happy New Year, Everyone!
I talk about experiential learning a lot in my life. It's in the name of my blog and my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot. I consider "experiential educator" to be my job title and path of focus. "Experiential learning" is strongly built into my daily lexicon and philosophy of education. I find people asking me on a regular basis to explain what I do as an experiential educator. A lot of people come wanting to know more about experiential learning and how they can work it into their curriculum. The good news is that it's a great learning tool for people of all backgrounds, learning styles, skill levels, and interests, and it's fairly easy to implement if you know the essential components. There isn't really any bad news other than there are some misunderstandings floating around about what it is and who can benefit from it.
Based on Instagram alone, I have noticed that experiential learning is often associated with outdoor education. The Instagram hashtag, #experientiallearning, is loaded with photos of students hiking, traveling, and getting their hands dirty. This can be experiential learning, but isn't always, and outdoor education is certainly not the only form of experiential learning. So let's iron out what it is exactly and how you can utilize it with your students.
In short experiential learning is learning through experience. It's getting actively involved in learning. Hands-on activities aren't necessarily experiential learning activities, however. There are specific elements that make is different. Project-based learning can be experiential, as can inquiry-based learning, problem-based learning, community learning, service learning, and simple hands-on activities, just as long as the following characteristics of experiential learning are utilized:
What is Experiential Learning?
1. Students are actively involved -
Students should be actively, not passively, learning through the learning experience at hand. What experiential learning IS NOT is lecture-based. Students should be involved.
2. Students have the freedom and support to make mistakes, and outright fail at times -
Part of learning through experience is gaining skills and knowledge throughout the entire process, not just from the outcome or final grade. Allowing students to feel they can fail, revise, and try again takes off some pressure and encourages an attitude of willingness to improve. This is an important competency to have in life-long learners.
3. The experience is personalized -
An activity is experiential when it's meaningful to each individual student. The activity should meet the diverse need, backgrounds, interests, goals, learning styles, and skill levels of each student.
4. Students see a connection between the content and the real world -
Connecting an activity with real-world context helps students find meaning and purpose in what they're doing. The brain needs real-life connections to retain information.
5. Students can see purpose in the activity -
Students should know why they're doing what they're doing. If students see their final score as the sole purpose of the activity then something is missing. With purpose comes an intrinsic motivation to learn.
6. Student-directed -
Student's should have control and investment in their learning. Any experiential learning activity should be student-driven or at a minimum, student-centered.
7. Reflection -
Reflection is a big one. I believe that reflection should be a key component to any instructional approach, not just experiential learning. Students should have ample opportunity to look back at their successes and failures (which there will be in experiential learning). They should analyze their work, not just the final outcome, but the entire learning process. It encourages acceptance of constructive feedback and continuous self-improvement through life.
Bonus: use the community as a resource -
Community outreach is a huge plus when it comes to experiential learning. It might mean bringing students out of the classroom to utilize a community resource, or bring community resources into your classroom. You could bring community experts in as speakers, helpers, or teachers. Utilizing community experts in an important part of project-based learning, but I think it enhances ANY learning experience and shouldn't be limited to PBL.
Now, here is an example. I am technically a biology teacher. I teach the basics of neurology, and when I do, I invite someone from the University of Minnesota neurology department to come in to talk about their research. In the past they have brought with them an actual human brain, a resource I am personally unable to get my hands on. That is a valuable resource that brings out some of the elements of experiential learning listed above.
Now take a hands-on activity that you like to do with your students. Do the above elements fit in with the experience? If they don't it's not exactly experiential learning, and you may not be getting the outcome or understanding of the content that you're hoping for. For example, you might have your students doing a lab in chemistry. It's hands-on learning. It's not a worksheet, so that's experiential learning right? Not necessarily. If it's a prescribed recipe then students are missing the personalized learning component. The experience isn't student-directed. It may not connect with the students' reality or the real-world. It is not active learning, it's passive. Just because it's hands-on does not make it experiential. Go through the checklist with a favorite activity to see if it's experiential. If it's not, consider modifying the lesson to make it experiential. The outcome is a student that has a lifelong passion for learning and actually understands and absorbs the content.
For experiential learning resources check out my TpT store Experiential Learning Depot.
I like the article below on experiential learning. It's a long one, but it would act as a great manual for educators new to experiential learning. I also give it credit for helping me out with this blog post. "Best Practices in Experiential Learning" - prepared by Michelle Schwartz
Happy holidays everyone, and a great final week before break if you're still working!
Key Components of Project-Based Learning
I'm back with more on project-based learning! Yay! Anyone tired of it yet? I will never tire of PBL because it's such a powerful learning tool. The beauty of it is that is can work for anyone, because the projects are personalized.
There are a few elements that are important to consider in project-based learning, otherwise your students are just doing projects. Projects and project-based learning are different. I've talked about this before, so I won't get into detail. What I will do is explain some of the key components of project-based learning that sets it apart from other approaches to learning.
PBL Tool Kit:
Before I do that, I want to announce a product I just released in my TpT store, called "Project-Based Learning Tool Kit." It is a package of everything you need to implement student-directed projects in your classroom. Students design and execute their projects using the templates included in the package. This is the ideal outcome for any project-based learning environment in my opinion - the ultimate student-centered classroom! The tool kit incorporates the following elements of project-based learning:
Key Elements of Project-Based Learning:
1. Innovative final product - students conduct research or gather information on a topic of their choosing. Students then assemble that information into a final product that will demonstrate learning. Students are quick to settle on a poster board or slideshow presentation because it's easy. An innovative final product moves away from the cut and paste approach and gets into deeper learning. Check out a list of final product ideas from a previous Experiential Learning Depot post - 82 PBL Final Product Options.
2. Community Experts - this is a critical component of project-based learning. The idea is that students learn about their project topic by communicating and collaborating with direct sources. Students might conduct an interview with the expert or shadow them. The community member might assist them with their project by providing materials, a working space or expertise. This element helps students build a community network, among other things.
3. Authentic Presentations - an authentic presentation is one where the final product is shared with an audience outside of the boundaries of the classroom. The purpose is to motivate quality work and make an impact on the community. One of my students did a project on grieving the loss of a parent. She created a blog as a resource for those in a familiar situation. It would have been unfortunate if she only presented that project to her classmates, as she wouldn't have met a relevant audience. In addition to presenting to the class then, this student published a blog and marketed via social media so that her blog could meet those in need of resources and support during their time of grief.
4. Self-Assessments and Consistent Feedback - I have my students self-assess periodically throughout the project process using my generic PBL rubric, or their student-generated rubric. I meet with them to go over their self-assessment, provide feedback, and allow them time to revise and improve their work. Peer and community expert evaluations are great as well.
5. Project Reflection - This piece is so important. When a student's project is complete they should always look back on the experience. The ability to reflect, adjust and improve is an important life skill.
My students use this checklist when designing their projects to make sure they've covered all their PBL bases.
Great PBL Example:
I want to give you a quick idea of project-based learning by telling you about one of my all-time favorite student projects. Keep in mind, this was a senior project. Not all projects have to be this elaborate. My student worked on this project over the course of a year. But it's a great example because it really hits on all of the reasons project-based learning is GOLD.
Forrest was interested in botany. Around this time I was taking a course on teaching biotechnology. One day we were talking about it, and he told me about an article he read on algae farms, and how it was being harvested for fuel. This is how his senior project came to be, from a simple conversation about his interests.
Forrest's final product, he decided, would be harvesting algae and processing it into biofuel. He started volunteering at the University of Minnesota greenhouse. He contacted Brett Barney from the U of M Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering. Forrest worked alongside him in his lab to gather information on how to start his own crop. Dr. Barney even GAVE Forrest algae and materials to get him started.
The Algae Biofuels Summit just happened to be taking place in Minneapolis around that time. Forrest got in touch with Advanced Biofuels USA to negotiate a deal on a ticket to the conference. They offered to donate his entrance to the conference free of charge as long as he agreed to write an article for their newsletter on his experience.
Read the rest of his article here.
The bottom line is that this student discovered an interest, asked questions, gathered information using a variety of world-class experts on the topic, created an innovative final product (harvesting and processing his own algae), and shared his work with an authentic, public audience. I don't think he even realizes today, seven years later, the immense impact this project had on his life. Only this experience could have resulted in the skills and knowledge that he gained. Completing a poster board on algae as a biofuel wouldn't have had the same impact. See what I mean?
What are some cool projects your students have done? What do they gain from the experience in addition to content knowledge? There are so many amazing ideas and cool projects going on out there. I see them everyday. Brag about yours students!
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources.
Personalized Learning Buzz Words: What are they and what do they mean?
I talk a lot about personalized learning in this blog, which I'm not sure I've ever explained. I just talk about it here as if everyone knows what it is. Everyone likely has a basic understanding of it based on the words themselves. It's learning that is personal. Students learn by having their personal needs met and interests considered. Personalized learning by nature accounts for and works around differing abilities and skill levels.
Some words associated with personalized learning that I often use here include: competency-based learning; autonomy, mastery and purpose; differentiation; student-directed; mastery-based; proficiency-based; interest-driven; project-based; and self-efficacy.
This article does a really great job of defining these words and explaining why they're important. As a parent I want my children going to school where the meaning of those terms are considered and applied to my child's education.
What approaches do you take to personalize learning in your classroom? I'd love to hear some ideas. Have a fantastic weekend, everyone!
Hope, Agency, Mastery and Other Terms Educators are Redefining, by Anya Kamenetz
Happy college season! For some, that season is long over, having completed early applications over the summer. Phew! Now all you have to do is wait! For some, you're still trying to get everything figured out. Preparing application materials for deadlines, considering a gap-year. Maybe even wondering if college is for you at all. I get that. I've been there! College is truthfully not for some in my opinion. You do you!
There is a lot to consider when choosing your path. If the path you have chosen is to go to college, your job isn't over yet. You still need to find a great fit. There are a lot of variables to consider, such as tuition, financial aid and scholarships, location, academic programs, and acceptance rates. If you're interested in exploring college options, check out this FREE college search activity that helps you determine what you are looking for in a college experience, and which schools will best provide that experience.
And if weighing those basic options wasn't challenging enough, colleges also differ in how they're grading student work. In fact, some colleges are not grading at all. No A-F grading system, no failing, no GPA. Some schools do this to mitigate the pressure of grades; to measure learning based on student-performance, quality of work, and growth; and/or to provide detailed feedback on student work to foster the desire to improve.
This post isn't about which assessment method is better. It is about providing information and alternatives. It is up to you to determine which method is the best for you. Consider your learning style, interests, past experience, and goals moving forward.
I've compiled a list of colleges and universities in the United States that offer alternatives to the traditional A-F grading system. Check them out, and who knows, maybe this is just what you need?
Note: this list is not exhaustive. I'm sure there are others. Do your research. If you have a particular school in mind, but wonder about their assessment approach, find out!
Narrative Reports - a narrative report is a detailed, written evaluation by the professor on student work and progress. It often times is the entirety of the student's transcript. The purpose of this is to provide important feedback and opportunity for growth. Some schools provide grades with the narrative, but is typically the choice of the student. The following colleges provide narratives on transcripts.
Colleges with Alternative Grading Methods to the Traditional A-F Approach:
ePortfolios - many colleges and universities have turned to ePortfolios rather than letter grades. ePortfolios are online portfolios where students submit evidence of learning. The portfolio can then be shared online.
No fail grading systems - some schools have eliminated failing grades entirely along with GPA's. Transcripts usually include alternatives to the A-F grading system along with narratives.
What's interesting about this is that there is a huge range. It's not just super-progressive schools that have taken on new methods of student grading. It's private and public, ivy-league and community colleges, traditional and progressive. They're all great schools trying to do what is best for the students. So don't think you can't consider a school that doesn't offer a failing grade. There are no rules! Do what is right for you. To figure that out you may have to do some soul-searching. Happy hunting, and good luck!!
Encourage students to learn new skills with project-based learning:
Try something new and you might be really impressed! I created a project-based learning resource on trying out new skills, choosing one to master and sharing the experience with the community. This would be a great project for teachers and students that are new to project-based learning. It was written with middle and high school students in mind, but could be adapted to just about any age or skill level. Project-based learning by nature is personalized, so student choice is a theme throughout the project and all of of my products on my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot. Check it out - Project-Based Learning: Learn a New Skill.
What is project-based learning, and how do I implement it in my classroom?
My experience and philosophy of teaching is all about project-based learning. I talk a lot about PBL on LinkedIn, Pinterest, right here on my blog. Almost all of my curriculum is PBL. I've made the assumption that every reader knows what it is. I'm here now to explain!
In short, PBL is learning through projects that are innovative and relevant. Students gather information on a topic or problem through questioning, learning activities, and community collaboration. They share their new skills and knowledge beyond classroom walls in such a way that their final product and presentation make an impact on the local and/or global community.
I came across a children's book about sea turtles at the library, and grabbed it for my kids. By the second page I discovered that the book is a beautiful illustration of project-based learning at it's finest. Check it out...
Follow the Moon Home by Deborah Hopkinson and Phillipe Cousteau Jr.
This book exemplifies project-based learning principles. Yes, this is just a book. It's not even based on a true story as far as I know. But it's not unrealistic. This is what project-based learning is, and it's taking the world by storm. Schools and teachers everywhere are taking note and implementing PBL in classes of all ages and backgrounds.
I had a few students a couple of years ago who were interested in skateboarding. They could have easily done some research on a famous skateboarder, pasted some information on a poster board or Powerpoint, presented it to the class, and called it a project.
This is what they did instead:
Said students decided to create their own skateboard clothing brand. They named their company (Abstract Skate Co.), designed a logo, and met with a local screen printing company who taught them how to screen print AND set-up their own screen printing workshop at the school.
The students met with a local business, JAMF Software, for business tips. JAMF ended up giving the students a grant to set up their own screen printing studio at the school and any merchandise needed to start their business. The students met with marketing professionals from JAMF for tips on branding their product. They printed shirts and skate decks, "hired" out another student to write their business plan, planned and hosted a launch party for their brand. Now that's authentic project-based learning!
Although the brand never really took off (students graduated and went their own ways), the lessons learned and skills developed from this one project are profound. If they decide to take another stab at it in the future, they will have the skills to do so successfully.
There are a lot of benefits to project-based learning, but in my opinion the most important are the development of skills essential for success in the 21st century, intrinsic motivation to learn, and a life-long passion for learning. A poster board project on Tony Hawk would not have produced the same learning results.
Take a look at this handy visual that I put together below that compares a standard project with project-based learning.
Want your students to do projects like Viv and my skateboarding students? Check out my PBL bundle below or any variety of other project-based learning resources on my TpT site (Experiential Learning Depot.) The projects are in keeping with the PBL principles mentioned in this post. They are low prep and train students to critically think and have their own ideas! The result is student-directed learning. Win!
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Project-Based Learning: 20 Integrated Projects for Student-Directed Learning
Check out the following resources as well if you're interested in project-based learning. Both resources will help you decide if project-based learning is right for you before you make any big moves.
Passion for Learning by Ronald J. Newell - great book about project-based learning, focused on MN New Country School, an authentic project-based learning school. See how they do it!
I participated in a live webinar a couple of weeks ago about project-based learning that was really inspiring. Check out the recording version of it. Buck Institute -
Project-Based Teaching: Fine Tuning Instructional Strategies for Deep Learning
Follow me onPinterest (Experiential Learning Depot) and my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot, for more educational resources.
I hope you give PBL a try! If you have any questions or are looking for more resources, reach out or keep coming back to Classroom Unbound. There is sure to be more on project-based learning in the future! Have a great school week.
I have been a project-based learning educator my entire teaching career. Aside from my student teaching experience, I have only worked in a school that emphasizes project-based learning. It is such an amazing tool for learning because it connects students with the community, makes learning relevant and interesting, and builds skills that couldn't be acquired through lecture alone (or lecture at all for that matter). I have seen students produce some pretty outstanding projects over the years that went beyond poster boards and class presentations, because project-based learning should be innovative and authentic. One of my students worked with various renewable resource experts in the community including the University of Minnesota and Advanced Biofuels USA, who were able to get him a free ticket into the Algae Biofuel Summit. He was surrounded the top biofuel experts in the world, listening in on presentations on the most cutting-edge research at the time. His final product was to grow algae and harness his own fuel, which he did successfully with the help of community experts. He wrote an article for Advanced Biofuels USA's newsletter on his experience at the conference and growing algae. This would be considered an advanced project, but really highlights what PBL is really about. He could have easily just researched algae as a biofuel, slapped some information on a poster board and presented to me. That would have been your everyday classroom project. What he did instead was authentic project-based learning where he connected with the community, worked with esteemed experts, shared his new knowledge with a relevant audience, and took part in finding a solution to a global crisis.
I had another student that was interested in sea turtles. She did some basic research, came back to me and said she was going to do a Power Point presentation on sea turtles. I told her that creating a Powerpoint on sea turtle facts and presenting it to me wouldn't be authentic or innovative. It wouldn't make an impact on her learning or the community. I gave her a few tips and she went back to the drawing board. She came back to me with this plan: by doing a little more research she quickly found out that all 7 species of sea turtles are highly endangered. Sea turtles are endangered for a variety of reasons, but she found that it was in part because of tourism. She decided to make a brochure with tips for tourists, what they could do to help protect turtles on their vacations. She could have given me the brochure and called it a day, but that wouldn't be true project-based learning. Instead she emailed and called hotels around the world asking if they would place her brochure in their lobbies or attach a link to her brochure on their websites. Later that year we took a tropical biology trip to Costa Rica. She brought her brochures, and distributed them in hotels. Her brochures may still be sitting in these hotel lobbies today. That is authentic. She shared her final product with an audience that could make a difference. Her project made an impact simply because of her choice of final product (brochure) and authentic presentation (on display to a relevant audience).
Students naturally gravitate toward poster boards as their final product when doing projects for whatever reason, likely habit. Check out some alternatives to the standard poster board that I've compiled below. By the way, poster boards aren't always bad in my opinion. It depends on the content and audience. Poor use of a poster board would be plagiarized information slapped on the board and presented to the teacher or class. An example of an effective poster board project would be displaying results and conclusions of a science fair experiment, and using the poster board visual in an actual science fair! The picture below is a photo of a student who learned about sex trafficking in Minnesota. She connected with an organization called Breaking Free in St. Paul, which is a shelter and counseling program for women and children "breaking free" from the sex trade. My student decided to organize a clothing and food drive which she would later donate to Breaking Free survivors. She decided that her final product would be the actual donations, but wanted a way to present her project. She put together a poster board to use as a presentation tool in an event at the upcoming Stars Spring Conference (an awesome alternative ed. career and life skills competition). Rather than post a bunch of shallow information on prostitution she used her board as a supplement to her project. She used it as a tool to raise awareness on the issue.
Start a Project: PBL Cheat Sheet:
There are a lot of final product options beside poster boards. The successes achieved in the the example projects mentioned earlier would not have been possible with a poster board and class presentation. I created a graphic organizer years ago when I noticed some of my new students struggling with the concept of project-based learning. The purpose of the graphic organizer was to help them take a great topic idea and turn it into an authentic project. They essentially chose from a list of final product ideas and authentic presentation options. At some point they will feel comfortable designing projects without the graphic organizer, but it's a good tool to start with. You can download it for free from my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot. I also have a product called "Project-Based Learning: 20 Integrative Projects for a Student-Directed Classroom". This is an instruction manual and project bundle for teachers that want to implement project-based learning into their curriculum, but aren't sure how to start. The projects are great for project-based learners at any level, but are designed to gradually acquaint students and teachers to student-directed, project-based learning over the course of a year.
Check out this extensive list of final product alternatives to poster boards!
82 Final Product Ideas for Project-Based Learning:
1) Create a magazine
2) Write trivia (Kahoot is a great online trivia game program)
3) Make an interactive exhibit
4) Make a board game
5) Engineer a moving model (ex: demonstrating synaptic transmission)
6) Write a song on a project topic
7) Write a poetry book
8) Create a photo journal
9) Make a scrapbook
10) Write and illustrate a comic
11) Paint a mural
12) Create a gallery (ex: photography, paintings, drawings, sculptures)
13) Hand-make a craft/artifact
14) Design a lesson plan
15) Make a video tutorial
16) Start a Vlog
17) Write a blog
18) Make a website
19) Produce a podcast
20) Write a screen play
21) Create a storyboard
22) Choreograph an interpretive dance
23) Organize a debate
24) Work with local legislators to write a bill
25) Make a calendar
26) Organize a mock trial
27) Make a 3D model
28) Make a documentary
29) Write a newsletter
30) Write a news article
31) Write a lab report
32) Artistically perform (dance, song, etc.)
33) Craft Showcase (Ex: handmade bags, scarves, DIY projects, wood working)
34) Make a video promotion
35) Put together a career portfolio (resume, work experience, reference letters, evidence pages)
36) Create a piece of artwork that illustrates the project topic
37) Slideshow (works well for volunteer experiences, field trips, school travel, etc.)
38) Make a quiz
39) Write a book (biography, short story, novel, etc.)
40) Create an awareness campaign poster for an issue important to you
41) Create a Facebook page (works well for characters in books, business page, or group)
42) Create a spreadsheet portfolio (appropriate for event planning for example)
43) Make charts and graphs (to illustrate survey results for example)
44) Design a t-shirt (school shirt, shirt that raises awareness on an issue, etc.)
45) Make a decahedron, aka "Bloom Ball" (check out this fun example and bloom ball template)
46) Create a map
47) Make a puzzle
48) Design an escape room (Lock Paper Scissors Co. has a "how to" guide at the bottom of this webpage. This website offers kits for purchase, but you don't need to, and wouldn't want to in purchase one in this ase, because CREATING one is the final product for the student project.)
49) Design a travel brochure
50) Make a business card (Ex: for a character in a book, for a business, for volunteering, etc.)
51) Make a flier
52) Write a journal or diary (on an experience such as a health plan)
53) Write an instruction manual
54) Create a theme poster
55) Make blue print (floor plan for the setting in a book, one's dream school, interior design) - Google Sketchup is a great, free program for this.
56) Write a petition
57) Write a persuasive speech
58) Write a business plan
59) Record an interview and publish it using the free Storycorps app
60) Create an online portfolio (for showcasing creative and/or professional work, or student could create a portfolio page for a person they are studying - Crevado is a free efolio maker)
61) Create a billboard style advertisement
62) Write and illustrate a children's book
63) Make a concept map
64) Write and perform a monologue
65) Make a simulation (digital, written or performance)
66) Make an animation
67) Create a timeline
68) Make a diorama
69) Make a diagram
70) Write an informative speech
71) Make a fortune teller (I had a student that created over 100 fortune tellers with information on teen pregnancy. A fortune teller is a kids game made out of paper. She decided rather than put numbers inside, which is normally what you do, each triangle would have statistics on teen pregnancy. She randomly placed them all over the city, in bathrooms, on the city bus, etc. The nature of the fortune teller begs people to pick it up and look at it because it's an interesting thing to find sitting on a bus. You can't help but pick it up and look inside. It was a great way to raise awareness). Click here to learn how to make a fortune teller.
72) Make a graphic organizer
73) Make a postcard
74) Compile a book of interviews
75) Organize a game show
76) Produce a news segment
77) Put together a time capsule
78) Make a collage
79) Put together learning stations
80) Design a set and give "visitors" and "tour" (would be good for a book project)
82) Organize an event in the community
Hope everyone has enjoyed there weekend and good luck with the upcoming school week. Feel free to share your stories of project-based learning successes. I'd love to hear about some final products your students have used that weren't listed here! My eyes and ears are always open for new and exciting ideas. Thanks for reading!
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To provide innovative educational resources for educators, parents, and students, that go beyond lecture and worksheets.
Sara Segar, experiential life-science educator and advisor, curriculum writer, and mother of two.