A Day in Texas

I’ve been at home for a couple of days doing some planning for upcoming events — and trying to find a better Linux distribution for my netbook.  Linux can be a real time-sink for someone like me, who would really “..love it if my computer could do this too.”  Anyway, I settled on something called Crunchbang Linux, a derivative of Ubuntu with the Kuki (pronounced “cookie”) kernel inserted in.  Kuki has been enhanced for the Acer Aspire One’s peculiarities.  I hope that those last two sentence impresses you.  I don’t understand it worth a flip, but it’s working just great, and I’m blogging on my Netbook right now at Starbucks.

The Athletic & Fine Arts Center.

The buzz from my day (Monday) at Region XI in Texas is still ringing in my head.  I knew that it would be a different sort of day, when I walked into the “Fine Arts Center,” whose sign actually read, “Atheletic and Fine Arts Center.” I walked in, through a wrought-iron gate, across a high cellinged entranceway, through another opening out into a huge football statium.  OMG, I’m going to be soooo late.

I walked back into the entranceway where there was a ticket office, a worker having just entered through the glass door.  I followed her in and asked about the Region XI event.  In typical Texas friendliness, she ushered me out to some double doors, just outside the gate, and up some stairs, where folks were preparing a huge room for the event — the inclined celling echoing the statium seating above.

It was a good day, however, with, by my approximation, between two and three-hundred folks.  The intended audience was library media specialists, but many of them brought teachers, principals, and even superintendents with them.  The topic was contemporary literacy and the information environment that it rises out of.

I took three things away from the event.  One was the graying,  yet rather aggressive school librarian, who launched her hand into the air when I asked the younger educators among us to share their experiences with social networks.  She insisted, and many concurred, that social networking was no longer the exclusive domain of the young.  This rang true, considering a blog I recently discovered, Social Networking Watch.  In a January 14 post, (Older Adults Among New Members on SNS), Mark Brooks graphs Social Network Service members by age, revealing that a full 36% are older than 44 — 7% older than 64.

The second thing I came away with was a story about a fourth grade class who visited the local Rotary Club (May have been Lions Club) to inform community leaders of how they were using technology in their classrooms.  They did their presentation, and then went about talking withmembers during lunch, taking pictures and video clips, and conferring with each other in the back. 

In the back, they were mixing the content they had collected and they ended the meeting with a video conveying what they had just learned about Lions Club International (May have been Rotary Club). The members were so impressed that the local Chamber of Commerce commissioned the class (4th graders) to attend one of their meetings and to create a promotional video for the organization.

The third thing (and their may have been a fourth, but I can’t remember) was a conversation that we had at the event and that I am starting to have with myself — about project-based learning (PBL).  What got me started on PBL was another conversation I had with a superintendent from California recently, where he reminded me that PBL is outlawed in his state.  All instructional techniques must be directly related to standards and research based — and project based learning was not allowed.

I remember when this happened and it was years ago, so I’d figured that this edict had faded away — and most certainly there are many inventive educators in California who have found ways to include PBL in their classrooms.  But I wonder if there is some distinction about what that Texas educator did and what many of us usually think of when we have students doing projects.  My notion of projects has been to have students take a topic that is curriculum related but something that they have a genuine interest in, and then asking them to research, become an expert, and then prepare some sort of presentation for the class.  It might be a personal performance, a multimedia product, or just a report.

The distinction I wonder about is the difference between project-based learning, and job-based learning.  In this example, the students were working on a project, making themselves experts, and producing an information product that might be of value to other people.  Another example, I heard from Rowland Baker of TICAL, whom I worked for last week in Arkansas.  The EAST Project (Environmental and Spatial Technology)

…focuses on student-driven service projects through the use of the latest in technology. EAST schools are equipped with classrooms containing state-of-the-art workstations, servers, software, and accessories, including GPS/GIS mapping tools, architectural and CAD design software, 3D animation suites, and much more. Students find problems in their local communities, and then use these tools to solve them.

Rowland told me about an Arkansas school where students, involved in the EAST project were saving their county millions of dollars a year.  One of the students wanted to learn how to use GIS and GPS, so he started studying how the local farmers used water (552,000,000 Gallons a year).  He learned, through his study, that with a series of reservoirs, ditches, rises, and pumps, farmers to recycle more water instead of having to drill new and deeper wells. [link]

This is a pretty dramatic example.  The simple difference that I see is that a job-based learning activity produces something of value to others and its value/impact extends beyond the walls of the classroom or school.

There is NOTHING new here, and I am not suggesting a change in educational terminology.  It’s just that the idea of learners using their education as a tool for benefit or change is one that deserves repeating every now and then.

You can learn about the water project and others from this TICAL podcast.

7 thoughts on “A Day in Texas”

  1. I am so excited about your blog post. I am very new 1 month to blogging and po
    sting. I am so intriqued by the whole network and 2.0 applications. I am a
    teacher of ESL students. I really want to get a 25,000 grant for technology for
    my school. Your posting opened my eyes and now I just have to explore the
    difference between “my” idea of project based instruction and the new idea of
    project based instruction. I am reading your Classroom Blogging book. the first
    book in a long time that I am turning back and forth in and feeling like my head is in chaos
    with all the cool ideas.

  2. Minnesota used to have project based learning in the profiles of learning–which was dumped for standards based learning. Unfortunately, in education we seem to have an “either or” mentality and PBL is in the tank despite research that shows its benefits. I think project based learning has a great deal of value–but it does have it disadvantages in terms of time and effort and probably the most important–schools can’t check it off in nice, neat checklists.

  3. My most hated comment- “But, what about standards and testing.”

    Most project-based learning is standards-based. I view project-based learning on a continuum of teacher control. At one end of the continuum, the teacher places a lot of constraints on the project so that students have opportunities to learn exactly what the teacher wants the to learn (well, students never really learn “exactly” what you expect, but that is a different comment). At this highly constrained (or structured) end, the teacher also constrains the resources and final product. At the other end, the teacher places no constraints on the topic, resources, and final product. Most projects will fall somewhere in the middle of that continuum.

    Additionally, it is easy to make sure that students are exposed to specific concepts and details by using benchmark activities. Interspersed within the project you can include short lessons / activities that are more teacher-centered. These lessons support the project by helping students make specific connections to “what the experts say.”

    Krajcik, Czerniak and Berger provide a great structure for planning projects in science in their textbook. (Teaching Science in Elementary and Middle School Classrooms: A Project-Based Approach) Krajcik also has large scale evaluations of implementing project-based science in Detroit. If you want to measure it by artificial standardized tests, it works. Students in project-based classrooms performed better than those in “traditional” classrooms.

    Of course, teaching in this manner does take more time than just doing content transmission & regurgitation (present & puke?), but it is “standards based” and students actually learn the material. The fallacy of “standards-based” teaching is that if we continue to teach the same old way, but to “higher standards” students will learn more. The problem is that the same old way is not effective.

  4. Davd, I am wondering what the Cali guy meant ‘outlaw’. Surely New Technology High, and their original showcase PBL school in Napa is in California. I’m in Higher Ed, where exams are a sign that academics are often poor at formative assessment during the learning process, and an exam is a very good way to assess at the end. I’m a PBL trainer, and experience tells me that when you put PBL into a Web2.0 only (yes, ban office automation software), teachers become better at formative assessment and better at conversational learning with student. PBL remains however, difficult to give definitive measurements for, given than the soft skills are not represented in summation exams and testing much of the time. The skill here is to find a set of ‘standards’ that can be applied to lots of Web2.0 technologies – and assessed as such – together with the skills in co-operation, co-production, presentation, effort etc.,. In my view it is possible to create better curricula and learning frameworks with PBL – and often these schools form connected relationships with similar schools. Thanks. Dean

  5. Unfortunately, the problem in California is the cost to have computers installed along with state-of-the-art work stations available in the classrooms.

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