I need help!

Discussion in 'General Education' started by Peregrin5, Aug 28, 2013.

  1. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    Aug 28, 2013

    Just had the first day today, and it was quite a whirlwind. All of my science courses went great, but I'm teaching an elective class this year, and I can tell off the bat that I'm going to have issues.

    If you remember from previous posts, I decided that I would teach this course primarily based off of PBL, meaning that the main form of assignments are projects, students will largely have to manage themselves while I coach them through the projects, and the projects will address important issues and be focused on creating impact in the school and community.

    I'm not sure I can pull it off.

    Let me give an example. Today, after going through the syllabus, I asked students to think of what it would look like to treat each other with kindness and respect. The most they could come up with was "be kind", "be respectful", "be nice". Some didn't even take it seriously and gave me answers like "give them money."

    There were some issues I didn't realize until I got in there:

    This is the first time I am teaching 7th and 8th graders together. The maturity differences between them are very stark. Many of the 7th graders were openly blurting, and generally being fairly immature with their answers.

    Secondly, this is the elective that nobody wants. They have to take it because they didn't get into art or music, or they didn't care enough about an elective to pick one, so they're in mine by default. The group is generally what other teachers refer to as the "bottom of the barrel".

    Thirdly, I don't know at all how I am going to teach students the skills needed for project based learning. How do I teach collaboration? Working in a team that values kindness, respect, and responsibility? Personal management? The teacher who previously taught this course kind of just made it a free-for-all, and students frequently went to a computer lab and just played games. Some of the students who had it for 7th grade, are in it for 8th grade again, and they're used to the lack of classroom management. I've never had students testing boundaries to this extent on the first day of school before.

    I'm quite at a loss here. I was expecting to run a class in which there would be a lot more personal and group freedom and responsibility, but with the way they abused that freedom today, I can tell I need to teach them much more foundational basic skills, and just get them to take this seriously.

    I hate to diagnose a class on the first day of school and possibly create a self-fulfilling prophecy, but from the symptoms I am seeing, I am going to need to give this class major interventions, and I'd like to plan them earlier rather than later.

    Is there any advice or resources anyone can provide?
     
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  3. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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  4. Tasha

    Tasha Phenom

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    Aug 28, 2013

    I can't remember what kind of elective this is, but here's what I might do.

    First project, assign a topic and give a list of roles and responsibilities. Create a generic rubric that fits this project, but can apply to future projects. Part of it should be to give themselves a grade and tell how they earned it in 2-3 sentences, and to do the same for everyone else in the group and turn it in to you. Next project, give choice of topics and assign product type. Third project, allow topic and product choice.
     
  5. novalyne

    novalyne Rookie

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    Aug 28, 2013

    I taught for the previous two years at a new school that decided to use a PBL framework for all classes and all learning. All faculty went to intensive professional development over the summer, and had all sorts of wonderful ideas about the high level of learning that was going to happen using a PBL framework.

    I can tell you that all it took was that first project for all of us to realize that kids can't just start "doing" PBL. (I was teaching 6th grade science, but all grade levels and all subjects encountered the same sorts of issues that you are seeing.) We were led to believe that real-world problems would lead to high student interest, and that students would thrive on choices and take charge of their learning. Nope, that never happened.

    We had to implement a gradual release model - the first projects were very much teacher-led, and really they never became as student-led as we anticipated. Our particular population (very low socioeconomic, 2nd language learners, struggling learners) just did not have the internal skill sets and maturity levels in place to be successful with PBL.

    We had to implement very specific benchmarks and learning topics in advance, and then lead them through the projects. Originally, we were told that students needed to identify their own learning needs and request "workshops" from the teacher, and then take knowledge back to their groups. That never, ever happened, in the entire two years I taught there. We still had to have traditional learning opportunities (lecture, reading, practice) in order to ensure that the students mastered the standards. (Our fancy new school was BY FAR the lowest in the district on all of the standardized tests except for language arts, and we could tell that students just weren't mastering the standards.) And group management never really gelled, either - we still had the same issues with off-task behavior and one student doing all the work, and groups just didn't seem willing or capable of managing themselves without teacher intervention.

    We finally started calling what we were doing "hybrid PBL". It never became as open-ended as we had hoped it would be. The only suggestion that I can offer is to go ahead and add the structure that you think the class needs, at least until they get a handle on all of the different components that PBL does differently from more traditional learning. You will probably have to walk them daily through exactly what their goals for the day are. You may have to specifically tell them what their focus is, because they may not be able to come up with even small "next steps" on their own.

    You can still do real-world problems and challenges, and you can still have a lot of student choice in the final product. But be prepared to lead them each step of the way through the process and model, model, model. I agree with your assessment that they're probably nowhere near ready to do it on their own yet.

    Our school used a model called Engage, at a website called engage2learn. I found that it did not mesh very well with science (too much emphasis on individual student research questions, not much time for labs and hands-on activities, and the expectation is that through research, students would somehow internalize the difficult abstract topics that really need to be explained and practiced). But it worked very well for our language arts department, so it really depends on what your projects are about. (Specific content vs. broader skills and processes).

    I'm not trying to be negative - I really do believe that PBL, in the right context, can be ONE form of learning for students. I just don't believe that it's the ONLY way to learn, and I don't believe that it's necessarily always the best means for students to learn very specific topics, skills, and objectives.

    Best of luck to you! I'll be curious to see how it goes in your class. I want to do some PBL at my new school, but I'm a little gun shy after my experiences over the past 2 years.
     
  6. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    Aug 28, 2013

    1.You can definitely teach collaboration.
    Go over the rules and the basics of it. I did the same thing in my Current Events class regarding class discussion. Having a class discussion seems like a simple and basic idea, but I felt that they had to be taught and I was right. I explained basics such as raising hands, waiting one's turn, what type of comments are inappropriate, how to disagree, how to have a passionate but considerate debate, etc.
    If I didn't do this, they'd be blurting / shouting things out all the time and have side conversations.
    This is my 3rd week and in some classes sometimes I still have to remind them, but I have gone over the expectations, and will do it again if it comes to it.
    So, collaboration can be and should be taught.

    2. Even if they don't want the elective, you can still make it fun for them. And the fact that the previous teacher gave them more freedom and everything was more laid back shouldn't matter. This is a new year, new teacher. Kids understand that concept. Even if you just took over a class, kids still understand that every teacher does things differently.

    3. Don't expect them to be responsible and mature with time management, and to be able to handle a lot of personal and group freedom. You have to teach that as well. I would start off with a LOT of structure and slowly give them more and more freedom if you think they can handle it. Kind of like learning how to ride a bike, you don't take off the training wheels until they can handle it, otherwise they will crash.
     
  7. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    Aug 28, 2013

    Thanks for all of the help guys! I will definitely need to break it down for them. Frankly taking on this class is already overwhelming me. I have no textbook, no curriculum, no standards, no set goal. They just gave me the class and said go. I really wish I declined.
     
  8. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    Are there any good resources such as curriculum for teaching the skills of project based learning to 7th graders? Something highly specific? The resources I can find are all very general and not very useful for teaching things like team work and collaboration work ethic, and producing quality work. A general starting PBL project that is highly specific and mapped out day to day would be great!
     
  9. Loomistrout

    Loomistrout Devotee

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    Heck, many teachers can't cooperate in group situations, work as a team, respect each other or be responsible.

    I recall in the late '80s attending a workshop based on the Johnson and Johnson model (coop' learning). After "instruction" the presenter divided teachers into groups to practice cooperative learning - independent practice I suppose. One of the social skills we were supposed to practice was taking turns and ensure all had a chance to input ideas or decline. To facilitate this the instructor gave each group an object (eraser) with explicit instructions that only the person holding the eraser could talk. The leader of each group (chosen) was supposed to state the problem to solve and then pass the eraser around the group for comments. Four of the teachers were from the same school and knew each other. I was fifth in the group and had no previous relation with any of the others. I sat back, curious, to see what would happen. Right away one of the teachers spoke without having the eraser. The leader replied then asked if anyone else had a comment. This person was passed the eraser and spoke. The conversation continued between these four teachers as I watched. When time was up the instructor asked groups to share their experience. Leader from my group boasted how well they did even though I was never included in any of the group problem solving.

    My long-winded point is most groups fail not because of the content or project but more likely because they don't cooperate. Students (and many adults) need to be taught exactly what to say when they agree-disagree, to take turns, share responsibility and other interpersonal skills. Some teachers argue cooperating and interpersonal skills are far more important in terms of the real world of work than the project itself.

    Consider: Projects could be weighted 50% cooperation (using a check list of skills) and 50% project. There's a game, "cooperation squares", which is an excellent start in teaching kids from different backgrounds, ages to share and take turns.
     
  10. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Aug 29, 2013

    So in over my head here.

    But I think the question you asked was simply too hard, particularly for the first day of school.

    Maybe today you could start Suvivor: Peregrin.

    Tell the kids that they've somehow landed on Peregrin Island. It's full of natural resources, so they'll be OK. But there's nothing. They've got to build their civilzation from scratch.

    So their first job is to figure out what they need.

    Let them brainstorm... no idea is off limits. Then, if necessary, help them organize their ideas into what they need in terms of:
    - shelter
    - food
    - health
    - protection
    - other

    Maybe have then break down into groups and decide what their priorities are as a group, then compare notes with other groups. Perhaps they'll see that others have come up with things (like the need for some sort of tools or utensils) that they've forgotten.

    From there maybe tomorrow you can build onto cooperation and rules and what happens if someone doesn't buy into whatever "legal" system they set up. Is there someone in charge? Or do we vote on every single thing-- like whether to use palm reeds or grass or wood for the roof. Does everyone's vote have equal weight-- even those who know nothing about roofing?

    How do they divide up the workload? And what happens if someone refuses to pull his weight?

    I think my first project would be along these lines-- setting up the framework for how you start a project.
     
  11. krysmorgsu

    krysmorgsu Cohort

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    Aug 29, 2013

    Alice, I love this!
     
  12. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    Aug 29, 2013

    I love this as well!!:eek:
     
  13. readingrules12

    readingrules12 Aficionado

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    Aug 29, 2013

    Pereguin,

    With 7th and 8th graders, when it is in their language they love it, when it isn't they hate it. I would change it to a class of building friendships and becoming a leader. They are so into friends and also being a leader. The book "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie is really good and has excellent history thrown into it. You can get the book for pennies online or free at a library. They will get a kick out of it even if it has been around awhile. Remember there are three main things that 7th and 8th graders mainly think about:

    1, Their friends
    2. Their friends
    3. Their friends

    Good luck to you
     
  14. TamiJ

    TamiJ Virtuoso

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    Aug 29, 2013

    Can you work on team building, expectations and routines before jumping into all of this? At our school they expect us to do that the first several weeks and I can´t tell you how much a difference it makes having the time to put all of that together. Maybe they really need to warm up to each other and to you, and work on some team building before jumping right into the course. I don´t know if you have that luxury, but it might help to work on those areas first.
     
  15. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    Aug 30, 2013

    I would love to, but I always hear the phrase "team-building exercises" but no one ever really explains to me what that means! Are there good resources that I can use?
     
  16. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    The only way I can imagine teaching teambuilding is through exercises where they are depending on each other to solve a problem, or create something, and it's designed in a way that everyone has to have their input.

    You can just create your first project one that is very easy, take your time with it and model everything. They will learn through that, and then each time you reinforce those skills and model less and less.
    Remember your goal is not to have them do the perfect project right away with the perfect collaboration, but to meet them where they are now and take them on that journey to be independent from you, and become teammates who can rely on each other, take turns in being the leader and create something through that process.
     
  17. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Still making this up as I go along

    How about playing the stock market?

    You could start with a basic lesson on what stocks are, how they flucuate based on anything from natural disasters to political change. And explain to them what the Stock Market is.

    The give them a set amount of money, and let them buy stocks. They can pool their money-- and invest some conservatively, while investing some involving a bit more risk. Or they can work on their own or in groups. The point would be, at the end of the marking period, to have the most possible gain AS A GROUP. So if I lose my $500, that negates the $500 that someone else gains.

    You could narrow the focus a bit-- perhaps give them a list of the best/worst performing 30 stocks (without telling them which is which.) Let them know where they can find out a stock's history, in the event that they want to do the research...

    Or have them plan a class trip to some US destination at least 500 miles away, and then maybe a foreign destination. They have to agree on a destination. (How? Simple majority? Consensus?? ) They need a hotel, an itinerary, restaurants, sightseeing. For the foreign trip they need to work out language issues as well as currency issues. Someone will have to figure out who has a passport and who needs one. (Do you want to get into who has a green card??)

    They could start a charitable foundation. They would have to agree on the type of charity, and what it would do with the funds it raised. And what they would do besides raise funds-- would there be any sort of practical, hands on help for those who needed it? How would the foundation be run?
     
  18. Croissant

    Croissant Comrade

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    Aug 30, 2013

    I still remember playing theatre games the first couple of weeks of high school drama class. They got us all really comfortable with each other, often forced us to work together, and they were a lot of fun. I definitely think that could qualify as team building.
     

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