project based learning

What!? Did you say I can use my HOMEWORK to build my BUSINESS PLAN!!? 

YES! Now students can leverage the power of school projects to develop business plans! So basically you can have your business up and running by the time you graduate! 

Dont waste another school project by throwing it away after it gets graded! That is a waste of time, a waste of money, a waste of your energy!! If you are going to do homework, focus it on your passions and focus it on your future!! 

PBL=Passion Based Learning

Many school districts are trying to move their teachers toward Project Based Learning and the teachers are already grumbling. I can see their point. It seems like every time there’s a faculty in service they are told to do something new or different. I overheard one group of teachers at a local restaurant talking about being told to use PBL at a district training and then being told by their principal it wouldn’t help raise test scores so forget it. Wow?!

Much of the “new” about PBL is a focus on accountability and assessment which equals (in a teacher’s mind) more paperwork. Really, PBL is not anything new, it’s what good teachers have been doing forever… Facilitating students as they find their passion. Teachers who love their work and enjoy their students listen to them, converse, and learn their interests. This is the foundation of PBL.

I worked with a preschooler who loved vacuum cleaners, well really, he was obsessed with them. He took apart his mother’s and she was livid. First I talked with TJ and we set some ground rules for his exploration, such as we would not take apart things that did not belong to us and we would ask a grown-up before we did. I contacted a used appliance shop and explained my situation. The gentleman was really accommodating. He gave me several vacuums he was not going to sell, some various manuals, old and new, he did not need, and a whole lot of advice about how to approach vacuums safely. Then TJ and I researched how vacuums worked and explored the inner workings. As his interests began to evolve into other electronics and gadgetry we looked back and reflected on the projects he did by using portfolio to guide the reflection. One of the most interesting to me was an art project he did where he “designed” a futuristic vacuum from recycled materials. Well folks, this was back in 1988 and we didn’t have the Internet or digital cameras in our classroom! I can only imagine how awesome this would be today.

PBL is really just about good teaching and helping students explore their passions. If we would approach it this way with teachers I think they would be more likely to get on board.


Signs you’re a Project-Based Learning teacher: your classroom is a disaster zone of recyclables on a regular basis.

My room is such a mess today and I don’t even care. It’s a productive mess. My kids who are done are doing giant floor puzzles that are adding to it and these pictures don’t even do the whole thing justice. But they’re talking about simple machines, discussing their designs and readjusting them as they test things, and working together (for the most part - only one minor meltdown today so far). I’ve had a parent, a physical therapist, and the principal walk through and no one has batted an eyelash. It will all be cleaned up before we go home today, but in the meanwhile, learning is happening here.


Today we’re announcing a new program to celebrate individuals who are serving as positive agents of change in their own communities and schools. Each month, Tumblr and our partners in media and civil society will profile these Champions here on Action (@action), and share their story.

In recognition of Earth Day, our first Champion of Change is Ana Humphrey, an inspiring 10th grader from Alexandria, VA. Here’s Ana’s story in her own words:

What started as an initiative to make science active and increase environmental awareness has grown to become a force of 200 students putting science into action to improve the local environment. The students we teach take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to real life, improving their own community. My peers and club members have become teachers and mentors. As the club president, I have learned how to lead other students and channel knowledge and passion into projects with real-world implications. Given the tools and opportunity, students of all ages can become drivers of change in their community.

For me, science has always been a verb. Science has been the art of discovering how the world around me works and of getting my hands dirty. Science has been the lens through which I study challenges and the tool I use to create solutions.

However, at many schools, science is taught as a noun. Learning science means copying from a textbook and listening to lectures. Early on, my hands-on experiences with science at school was limited to lessons from a traveling science teacher that rotated through all of the grade levels at two different schools.

That changed when I entered my 7th-grade life science class. We worked with the organization Earth Force, who challenged us to solve real environmental issues in our community. Through that experience, my peers and I completed a project where we planned and executed the restoration of a wetland with the help of the National Parks Service and other local environmental organizations. As the class leader, I saw first hand how project-based learning could inspire students to become involved both in their own education and in their community. We learned the content at a deeper level and become a force for change. I wanted other students in my community to have the same opportunities that my classmates and I had been given.

I decided that the best way to give other students in Alexandria, Virginia, the same opportunity was to develop and teach hands-on science lessons. Under the name Watershed Warriors, I wrote a grant for the local Green Ideas Challenge, a grant competition held by Act for Alexandria, and was awarded $2,000. Through this funding, Watershed Warriors teaches 5th-grade science through hands-on activities related to the environment and helps students review for the Virginia 5th-grade standardized science test. Over a two-day classroom event in the spring, the students complete a hands-on lab identifying wetland plants and start a wetland garden of their own at their school. Over the spring, the students take care of the plants and continue to make observations. At the end of school year, the students take a field trip to a local wetland and transplant their plants, aiding in restoration efforts and applying their knowledge in the field.

As I transitioned to high school, I faced challenges with time commitments and course load. I realized that the best way to sustain the program was to continue it as a school club. Inspiring my peers to join me not only increased the capacity of Watershed Warriors, but it reinforced my belief that as young people, we care out our environment and want to work to protect it.

Another $1,200 grant has allowed us to expand. We now teach at three different elementary schools and incorporate an additional two lessons per school throughout the year. In this school year alone, we will reach nearly 180 students, over half of which live in under resourced communities.

What started as an initiative to make science active and increase environmental awareness has grown to become a force of 200 students putting science into action to improve the local environment. The students we teach take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to real life, improving their own community. My peers and club members have become teachers and mentors. As the club president, I have learned how to lead other students and channel knowledge and passion into projects with real-world implications. Given the tools and opportunity, students of all ages can become drivers of change in their community.

Humble Beginnings

Start of my turn based combat programming, very simple to start with but I have most of the code to implement Initiative checks, automatic enemy response and the turn system resetting once I finish the Player and Follower Scripts.

The Idea is to have 4 stats (strength, speed, vitality and spirit) Which will effect the damage of weapons and health values of characters. I also plan on including armor sets, 2 attacks per type of enemy and ability’s (skill tree system). The scripts have been created with this in mind so although the GIF shown looks simple it takes 200 lines of code to reach this point.


Looking for Alaska board game. Appx. 6 hours of work, but it’s done (cards and all)! Can’t wait to use this in my English I class with my freshmen on Monday.
Thank you for an incredible book, @fishingboatproceeds!

Notes: The question cards -
Comprehension - comprehension/analysis/plot questions about the novel
Life - real-world scenarios and thought exercises related to the novel
Truth - FAQ questions about alcohol, drugs, DUIs, and more.
Dare - Creative, often physically engaging activities, such as “Perform an obituary at Alaska’s funeral as the Colonel.”
Happy to send game instructions and more details to anyone upon request!
How ‘twisted’ early childhood education has become — from a child development expert
Early childhood development expert Nancy Carlsson-Paige: 'Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that we would have to defend children’s right to play."

Never in my wildest dreams could I have foreseen the situation we find ourselves in today.

Where education policies that do not reflect what we know about how young children learn could be mandated and followed. We have decades of research in child development and neuroscience that tell us that young children learn actively — they have to move, use their senses, get their hands on things, interact with other kids and teachers, create, invent. But in this twisted time, young children starting public pre-K at the age of 4 are expected to learn through “rigorous instruction.”

And never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that we would have to defend children’s right to play.

Play is the primary engine of human growth; it’s universal – as much as walking and talking. Play is the way children build ideas and how they make sense of their experience and feel safe. Just look at all the math concepts at work in the intricate buildings of kindergartners. Or watch a 4-year-old put on a cape and pretend to be a superhero after witnessing some scary event.

But play is disappearing from classrooms. Even though we know play is learning for young kids, we are seeing it shoved aside to make room for academic instruction and “rigor.”

I could not have foreseen in my wildest dreams that we would have to fight for classrooms for young kids that are developmentally appropriate. Instead of active, hands-on learning, children now sit in chairs for far too much time getting drilled on letters and numbers. Stress levels are up among young kids. Parents and teachers tell me: children worry that they don’t know the right answers; they have nightmares, they pull out their eyelashes, they cry because they don’t want to go to school. Some people call this child abuse and I can’t disagree.

I could not have foreseen in my wildest dreams that we would be up against pressure to test and assess young kids throughout the year often in great excess — often administering multiple tests to children in kindergarten and even pre-K. Now, when young children start school, they often spend their first days not getting to know their classroom and making friends. They spend their first days getting tested.

The most important competencies in young children can’t be tested—we all know this. Naming letters and numbers is superficial and almost irrelevant in relation to the capacities we want to help children develop: self-regulation, problem solving ability, social and emotional competence, imagination, initiative, curiosity, original thinking — these capacities make or break success in school and life and they can’t be reduced to numbers.

Yet these days, all the money and resources, the time dedicated to professional development, they go to tooling teachers up to use the required assessments.

It’s in low-income, under-resourced communities like this one where children are most subjected to heavy doses of teacher-led drills and tests. Not like in wealthier suburbs where kids have the opportunity to go to early childhood programs that have play, the arts, and project-based learning. It’s poverty — the elephant in the room — that is the root cause of this disparity.

Here’s an article I wrote ages ago on learning/MBTI stuff.

We all know that children have individual personalities of their own and that everyone learns differently. Some of us are more hands on than others, some prefer the abstract world, and some would like tangible puzzles to solve. Let’s take a look at some different personality combinations in children based off of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Knowing your child’s personality type will help you figure out the teaching philosophy that suits her best. After an overview of different personality traits, you’ll see a list of teaching philosophy options and how they best match your child’s traits.

Essentially, there are four letters that go into making up an MBTI personality type and each of these letters corresponds to one of four categories.

One can either be:
       -  extroverted or introverted
       -  sensing or intuitive
       -  thinking or feeling
       -  judging or perceiving

Extroversion, iNtuition, Thinking, and Perceiving give me my type as ENTP. But what do all of these letters mean?

Below is a list of personality traits (identified by letters), try to recognize which letter in each set describes your child best. Keep in mind that it can be very difficult to assign all four letters, so even if you can only pick one, it’s a good start!

Personality Traits

  • Is your child introverted or extroverted?
    (E) Extroversion: Extroverts tend to have a marked tendency towards interacting with and being very expressive about their thoughts and feelings; may be dramatic or over-reactive.
    (I) Introversion: Introverts tend to focus on an inner world; process and internalize information, will likely prefer to work alone rather than in a group; slow to approach people.
  • Is your child intuitive or sensing?
    (N) Perceive world through patterns, connections, may not always be aware; aloof.
    (S) Perceive world through five senses, like facts, uses common sense.
  • Is your child more of thinking or feeling type?
    (T) Things must make sense to them, may be preoccupied with winning or being right.
    (F) Will have a tendency to be less composed and enjoy harmony over disruption.
  • Is your child perceiving or judging?
    (J) Take information in, process it and draw conclusions, typically neater, prefer structure and regulations. Do not like fast change or unexpected routine changes. Planners.
    (P) Take information in and likely create with it, typically messier, and like to take their time; likes a flexible schedule.

Now that we’ve put at least a few letters together, let’s go through the different personality types.

The Rationals: Let’s keep calm and carry on

  • The Puzzle-Solver (INTJ) “I want to figure this problem out, no matter what.”
    Young INTJs are perfectionists who always wonder “why.” INTJs are independent, focused, serious and intense. When given a problem to solve, INTJ will attack it relentlessly until they understand it. They want to be intellectually stimulated and may find themselves debating with others on ideas.
  • The Leader (ENTJ) “I’ll show you how to do this efficiently.”
    Young ENTJs are systemic and concerned with being right and tend to find themselves in positions of leadership, whether they choose to be in that role or not. ENTJs are careful, orderly, and methodical. They dislike arbitrary rules and regulations.
  • The Scientist (INTP) “I looked to the stars and wondered how they were formed.”
    Young INTPs tend to keep to themselves and are typically focused on the abstract world, be it writing and literature, science, or art. They like to discover new facts and think about possibilities.
  • The Inventor (ENTP) “I just discovered a new mushroom!”
    Young ENTPs dislike following or being ordered around. They enjoy getting reactions out of people (even out of teachers) and may talk loud or fast. If a rule doesn’t make sense to them, they will likely break it and wonder why they got in trouble.

The Artisans: Let’s discover the physical world

  • The Tinkerer (ISTP)  “I took apart a watch today and almost got it back together.”
    Young ISTPs are curious problem solvers and tend to focus much on logic. They are independent, unstructured and shy, and may be easily pushed around. They tend to enjoy working with physical puzzles like Legos.
  • The Go-Getter (ESTP) “Look at how fast I can run!”
    Young ESTPs are very gregarious and frequently athletic. Although they can be extremely competitive, they also want everyone to get along even when they want an established “winner” and “loser.” They value teamwork immensely and like making an impact with their accomplishments.
  • The Artist (ISFP) “Sometimes, I prefer to be alone and express myself through art.”
    Young ISFPs tend to keep to themselves and focus on concrete forms of expression; they typically greatly enjoy finger painting, talking with one or two friends, and going on calm walks. Disharmony upsets them greatly, although they might not express their discomfort immediately.
  • The Impact-Seeker (ESFP) “I bet you I can squirt milk out my nose!”
    ESFPs are spontaneous, unstructured and flamboyant. They love to get reactions out of people and will typically be the “class clown.” They are good natured, naturally love people and focus on in-the-moment sensations. They typically prefer hands-on, creative and collaborative group activities.

The Guardians: Let’s keep order

  • The Dutiful (ISTJ) “But the rules say…”
    Young ISTJs are quiet, dutiful, and don’t like treading on toes (unless someone is doing the wrong thing). They enjoy concrete facts and specific feedback. They can be very sensitive and closed to experimenting as they tend to prefer using established methods.
  • The Manager (ESTJ) “This worked before, why won’t it work now?”
    Young ESTJs tend to adopt positions of managing others willfully. They tend to think they have the best system for doing things “right” and have a natural ability for seeing what has worked in the past and what hasn’t.
  • The Nurse (ISFJ) “I’ll take care of anyone, because everyone deserves to feel good.”
    Young ISFJs are typically very concerned with how other people feel. If another child gets hurt, an ISFJ will likely be the first to be quietly on the scene, attending to the wounds (physical or emotional). They tend to do their duty to their peers and be on their way.
  • The Cheerleader (ESFJ) “You can do it! I believe in you!”
    Young ESFJs thrive on everyone getting along harmoniously. They tend to like gossiping and can accidentally hurt other people’s feelings, although they don’t try to. When they discuss others, they view their information as factual. They like to cheer others on and see them to success.

The Idealists: Let’s keep the peace

  • The Protector (INFJ) “Sometimes, my fantasies seem more real than real-life.”
    Young INFJs are very quiet, dreamy individuals. They may not always be aware of what is going on around them because they are so focused on their individual perception of the world. They will likely develop a very strong emotional attachment to a few things and people, and protect them no matter the cost.
  • The People-Pleaser (ENFJ) “Let’s not fight, please.”
    Young ENFJs are inherent people-pleasers who do not like criticism that can be construed as offensive. They are very sensitive to others’ wants, are warm and caring, and will typically have a large circle of friends with whom they make sure to always feel comfortable and secure.
  • The Dreamer (INFP) “I wrote a poem for you today about my feelings.”
    Young INFPs are a shy, dreamy and sensitive group. They tend to be very peaceful, and prefer one-on-one contact and discussion. They like activities and communication to be consistent with their value and prefer cooperation over competition.
  • The Creator (ENFP) “I stapled a giraffe to some stars because maybe animals can go to space one day.”
    Young ENFPs tend to have a diverse, large group of friends and like to fantasize about all kinds of things. They like harmony and exploring new people. It’s been said that an ENFP has never met a stranger. They will typically use their large imaginations to create wonderful works of art.

It is important to also identify other values such as the child’s need to:

  • Get along with others in harmony (especially “feelers”)
  • Have healthy competition (commonly seen in extroverted thinkers or ExTx’s)
  • Have a project or puzzle-based learning environment (common in Rationals, Idealists, and Artisans)
  • Have a structured environment (Guardians)
  • Have concrete information relayed to them and sensory activities to participate in (common in Artisans and Guardians)

So now that you have (hopefully) established your child’s personality type, what method  works the best for them?

Montessori and Play-Based Methods: iNtuitives and Creative Artisans

If your child is an intuitive (INTJ, ENTP, etc.), or a creative Artisan (ISTP, ESTP, ISFP, ESFP), it is important to place them in an environment where they can solve problems at their own pace. Testing child’s capabilities through solving problems will also make them feel more accomplished.

Extroverts and introverts alike thrive in play-based environments, although introverts in particular do well as they have a high need for one-on-one contact. There is just enough interaction in a Montessori school that the young introverts will be socialized, and extroverts will be satisfied and still able to focus on work.

Academic and Traditional Methods: Guardians and Practical Artisans

Most children learn better through play and hands-on activities than through rigid learning; however, there are benefits to the more traditional styles of learning for SJs (ESTJs, ISFJs, etc.), who like order, structure, and predictability. Some SPs (ISTPs, ESFPs, etc.), who are concrete, factual learners may also benefit from traditional academic methods.

This particular method has a lot of stability (which is necessary for the young Guardian to feel secure) and has enough practical application that all sensors (ESFPs, ISTJs, ISTPs, etc.), will feel a degree of satisfaction. It is important to remember that Artisans can fall into either category of method, and it is important to establish whether they are more creative and hands-on or practical and factual.

Remember that every child is an individual, and that it is important to take the time to assess their individual needs and wants. As a parent, it can be hard to understand a child who is very different from you, but hopefully the information provided in this post will help you better assess your child and put them into a learning environment that will allow them to learn the best while still enjoying themselves.

I was told I was too old.

I was recently told I probably wouldn’t be hired for a full-time teaching job because I’m too old.

Even though I’m more tech-skilled than any of the teachers on the campus.

Even though I’ve been teaching PBL (performance/project-based learning) style since the ‘80s. (Homeschooling and private schooling.) I am the queen of PBL. I can PBL any topic dozens of ways.

I’ve been differentiating lessons since the ‘80s. There’s not one subject I can’t differentiate in 12 different levels and ways. Try me. 

I was a Constructivist teacher before many teachers teaching today were born. I  was way ahead of my time in education. (Most homeschoolers were/are.)

I am more familiar with more curriculum designs and methods than any of the other teachers in that county. Guaranteed.

Even though I’m a huge fan of alternative seating/alternative classroom style/delivery, etc.

Even though I’m a published author.

Even though I am more familiar with social media than any of the other teachers. I was one of the first on twitter and tumblr for heaven’s sakes. In their first week if not their first day!

I just don’t receive that I’m too old. I don’t. I will not be stopped because of my age. I’m proud of my age. I have friends who never made it this far. 

And maybe it’s not just my age. Maybe they’re wanting young, tight flesh walking those halls. I suspect that to be true as well. Sexist, ageist, pigs. Hey, my husband still finds me attractive. That’s all I care about. And besides, just because I’m not a size 3 doesn’t mean I’m not healthy. 

The students love me. I have a little posse with me everywhere I go. Some of them call me mom, others call me grandma. I’m a soft place for them to fall. They come to me for comfort and hugs between classes. I’m not going to stop being me with those kids. I’d rather be a comforting fluffy pillow than a prickly young thing anyway. (Not all the young ones are prickly. I am not implying they are. But some of them…)

The advantages of hiring me over a younger teacher in his/her 20s and 30s:

1. I’m past child-bearing age. I will not need maternity leave.

2. My nest is empty little-child-wise. That means I have more time to devote to extra-curricular activities. (My twins sons with autism still live with me but their father is devoted to their care.)

3. I have more compassion and insight and empathy than a younger teacher.

4. You can get a seasoned teacher like me for half the price of another teacher my age because I changed careers late in my life. 

I’m a bargain. And if you don’t hire me - you’re missing out. 


InoSakuKarin roommates for you~

Tension could only be found in the tightness on the guitar strings Karin kept behind her closet door since seventh grade. Nothing else about her living situation fed the rigidity of her mind. Not the rent, the location, and certainly not the pale blond beauty she had been working alongside for over two years now.

No, she and Ino had been friendly partners at the firm for long enough to know and respect the space of each other. After moving in with each other and living so well in the same place, Karin was almost forced to admit she got along well with Ino.

Ino’s longtime childhood best friend who had started living with them last month was a different story.

Keep reading

Project Based Learning...
  • Me: On Monday, we will start our new PBL unit on the California Missions!
  • Student: Ooooh! I already know a ton about missions!
  • Me: Oh really? How did you learn about them?
  • Student: My neighbors are Mormon!
  • Me: ...?
  • Student: So I already know all about how missions go door to door talking about their special book! Are we going to do that for our final project?
Why I Teach in a “Traditional” Public School (and love it!)

It’s no secret that public schools get a bad rap.  So many discussions in the education world are about how public schools are failing and need to be replaced.  In my area, public schools are constantly getting taken over by charter schools.  Teachers in training are warned away from teaching in public schools.

But that’s not the side of public education I know.  I’ve spent the last four years teaching in a traditional public school (for what it’s worth, my school is 70% free and reduced lunch, 86% students of color, 51% English learner) and the four years prior training in various urban public schools.  Every day spent working in public education has made me more committed to public schooling.  It’s by no means perfect (and I know for every positive story, there are negatives), but in my experience, it is not the big bad world portrayed in our current dialogue.

Here are just a few of the things I love about my experience in public education:

1. I teach ALL students.  

The kids are, without a doubt, the #1 reason I love public education.  I became a teacher because I wanted to work with whichever students walked through my door.  In just a few years of teaching, I’ve taught students from all over the world…Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Mexican, Chinese, Native Alaskan, Chilean, Tongan, Filipino, Native American, Salvadorian…and more.  I’ve taught students with Autism, emotionally disturbed, partially deaf, ADHD.  I’ve had homeless students and students with privilege in the same class.  All of these students have enriched and expanded my world.  

I appreciate that public schools open their doors to whomever shows up on their doorstep.  I know too many of our public schools are segregated, but I believe that public schools are also our hope for a more democratic society.

2. The teacher and school become part of the community.

I got hired mostly by chance in a town only 20 minutes from where I was born, but it could have been a world away.  I had never spent any time there other than driving by the exit on the freeway.  But teaching here has really made me part of the community.  After a few years of commuting, I bought my first house four minutes from my school last fall.  I love going to the supermarket and seeing my students.  When I had surgery last month, the family of one of my student’s sent me balloons from their flower shop.  Teaching has also made me more “in tune” with the issues the community faces, especially as a poorer neighborhood in the middle of Silicon Valley.

3. I am unionized.

I know, I know.  Unions get a bad wrap.  But I love being unionized.  I appreciate having a clear contract that spells out how many hours I work and how many students I teach.  Like every other teacher I know, I put in way more hours than I’m contracted for, but I appreciate being able to leave at 2:45 when I need to.  I am not a lazy teacher, but I like that staff meetings are held to an hour and that I get paid for meetings held over that time.  My contract helps teaching be sustainable for me.  Also, I have never had a problem with administration, but, as a bleeding-heart liberal (and LGBTQ teacher), I appreciate the extra rights I have in the instance that an issue did arise.

4. There is lots of room for innovation.

I have seen so many cool things happen in public schools.  I student taught at the Mission Hill School in Boston (google it!), which was way more cutting-edge than most charter or private schools I’ve seen.  As opposed to many charter schools with clear agendas, my school gives me a lot of freedom to practice teaching the way I believe.  

I believe my classroom is progressive, well-managed, and academically rigorous.  I teach workshop-style and with project based learning.  I use no “behavior system” or strict discipline.  Yet my students are well-behaved and in control.  Some of my students do have academic struggles, but they also make huge gains.  My students generally make 2+ years growth in one year.  These are the things charter school brag about, but they also happen in public schools across America every day.  My classroom and teaching is not unique. 

For those entering the teaching profession…

My advice for you would be ignore the talk and truly consider public schools…if you are dedicated to and prepared for teaching all types of students.  Not every public school is a good fit for new teachers, but I’m willing to bet there are fantastic public schools in most communities. By “fantastic”, I do not mean affluent: I mean there are public schools successfully serving under-resourced students all across the country.  There are more happy public school teachers out there than you would even imagine!

For those who rail against public schools (especially those public schools serving under-resourced students)…

Take the time to actually spend time in public schools.  I welcome anyone who finds him or herself in Northern California to stop by my classroom. 

To school “reformers”…

Stop dismantling our public school system and put your energy into actually supporting public schools. Make ALL schools more like our successful public schools!

Stay Focused!

Every subject or type of teaching has its own challenges.  One of the hardest parts about Elementary teaching early on was (and sometimes, still is) the fact that you are required to teach every subject.  Not only that, but…you’re expected to excel at teaching every subject. 

That’s why one of my main pieces of advice for elementary teachers (though it probably also applies to all teachers) is to chose areas to focus on each year.  The goal eventually is to be strong in everything, but there’s just too much to master at once.  Give yourself slack if there’s something you’re weaker in, and just chose that as a point of focus the next year.

I’ve taken this approach, and I believe it’s really helped me become a stronger teacher while avoiding feeling overwhelmed.  I chose a few areas, set goals for myself in those areas, do a lot of research especially over the summer but also into the year (mostly books, but some internet, conferences, conversations with mentors) and really watch how I do with my students.  Some goals take a few years, while others are sufficiently “passed” quickly.

Here are my past and present areas of focus as an example, but everyone’s will be different:

Year 1:

  • Classroom management!!! 
  • Setting successful routines and expectations
  • Social-Emotional education, especially based on “Responsive Classroom”
  • What do fourth graders even need to learn?

Year 2:

  • Reading Instruction: how to go beyond the HM reader and set up a Reading Workshop
  • Creating successful Project Based Learning units (social studies and science)
  • Working with English Learners
  • Spelling instruction: Words Their Way

Year 3:

  • Reading Instruction: stepping beyond my second-year Reading Workshop to include Daily 5 and better Guided Reading
  • Incorporating spelling into my Reading Workshop block
  • Math Instruction: Small group, Math Workshop
  • Transitioning to the Common Core standards

Year 4:

  • Academic Teacher Talk: Now that I have the structures of Math and Reading Workshop in place, how do I ask rigorous questions and better prompt student learning?
  • Writing: How can I incorporate small group, targeted instruction into my dedicated writing block?
  • Teacher Activism: More research into the history of education, create a clearer ideology for myself, and learn more about how I can advocate for teachers and students.

It’s fun for me to think back at the things I focused on my first few years because I really feel successful in those areas today.  Clearly, my focuses have also gotten more specific or “advanced” as I’ve gained more experience, which is also exciting.  I would definitely recommend all new and early teachers chose a few focuses every year.  I would also love to hear other teachers’ goals and areas of focus for the next school year!


Presenting our Fourth Grade Zoo - the final PBL project of the year for my classroom! 

Throughout this project, students completed the following activities:

  1. An entry event involving a simulation of camouflage.
  2. Guided research of five ecosystems: tundra, rainforest, desert, temperate forest, and grassland.
  3. Exposure to various readings, videos, and online games and simulations related to animal adaptations, ecosystems, and natural selection.
  4. A simulation involving different kinds of bird beaks and animal diets.
  5. Construction of life-sized animals for our tie-in to the math standard of conversion of measurement. 
  6. Creation of original sketches of animals with one adaptation for each of the five ecosystems studied. 
  7. With the assistance of the art teacher, creation of wire armatures coated with tin foil, then covering in plaster and painting with water colors.
  8. Formal literacy task on their animal and its adaptations, taking students through the entire writing process (final copies pictured above).
  9. Final sketch of their animal with its adaptations labeled.
  10. Notecards for their presentations and practice public speaking. We presented to family and community members tonight and will have our zoo open to the other students on Tuesday of next week.

Documents I created that you are free to take!

If you would like any more information or a list of additional resources I have gathered throughout the course of the project, I am more than wiling to share!

Living in the Infinite, Not the Finite.

“If you live in the question you are infinite, if you live in the answer, you are finite.”

I really liked that quote. To me, it sums up the differences between Problem Based  and Project Based Learning. Project Based Learning, by definition, begins with the end in mind. The final product, whatever it is, is already known to the learner. What exactly the final project looks like is up to the students and may vary from student to student or group to group, but the end is clear. In “real life” I suppose that there are quite a few situations where this is a valid form of thinking. An architect is designing a house or a store. You have been asked to make a bridge, or build a robot, or  design a 21st century classroom.  The end is always clear.  (Of course there are levels and sublevels and the true definition of a project based unit has sort of melted over the years, but I think the idea of Project Based Learning remains the same: The project is part of the problem and is already pre-defined.) 

I have had difficulty in actually truly defining what constitutes actual projects in Project Based Learning. Of course, we all know that since it is a constructivist model of learning that the student is the discoverer of the learning, instead of the teacher being the all knowing distributor of learning. Kids get to learn for themselves, which I think is the better approach to learning. But when the end is already determined, one wonders how much true learning is already taking place, and how much is the students previous knowledge is actually just completing the assignment. For instance, I can recall science labs that were used to demonstrate a concept that actually could be pretty much figured out without even doing the lab. Chemistry class was the worst at that. The reactions were discussed prior to the lab, and if one merely read the book or paid attention to the teachers notes, one could figure out the results of the lab without even doing it. For instance, if we talked about precipitation reactions and the teacher talked about the sodium sulphate reaction with copper(II) chloride, and then we DID the sodium sulphate with copper(II) chloride in a lab, we knew that we will get a particular colored precipitate whether it worked or not. We were living in the answers in chemistry. We already knew how the answer was going to look.  We already knew how the frog would look before we dissected it, we already knew that the plants would move towards the light after we discussed phototropism. For much of what we did in science labs, we lived in the answer, and I suspect that still is the case. 


Keep reading