Daily Archives: January 8, 2006

Lurked in the chatroom briefly during EdTech Talk Brainstorm 17A and caught part of the conversation relating to an ultimate multimedia classroom and Dave was pondering what he would do with his class if and when he got an opportunity. There were a few suggestions from the skyped in panel of brainstorms that might cover some of the wide array of tech tools but to me, the answer was immediately obvious. I typed in - "Get them to solve a problem."

Dave typed back, "What do you mean, Graham?"

I then in my best typing skills briefly outlined a Problem Based Learning scenario. Pose the issue/problem and then the students use the various tools to come up with their own solutions. I'm no expert but running a school wide PBL program has been part of my job role over the past three years. Jeff Flynn picked up on my chatroom jottings and brought them back to Dave's attention and it seemed to hit the mark.

So, I thought it would be appropriate to provide some links to the methodology of PBL, especially as practised when I work with teachers and classes at my school. Firstly, when I wanted to get a definite process, I found this outline on the TSOF website. Quotation Slab:-

Problem based learning recognises that students are more likely to be engaged:

  • when their learning is relevant and meaningful,
  • when they are involved in identifying the focus and
  • when they are dealing with real life issues where the 'answer' is not a forgone conclusion.

This is the basic model, our teacher-librarian and I have used to implement our program. I've also poked around a little bit at Temasek Polytechnic's Problem Based Learning site where there are other great links to more reading. I'll round off with a few links to my own unit plans for PBL over the past few years - 2003 Animal Real Estate and 2005 Natural Disasters.

Basically, Problem Based Learning can be applied to any area of the curriculum and in any educational setting. I have read about it being used in medical school as well as in junior primary classrooms when deciding on a class pet. I'll have to dig some more samples off the school server to load onto my RWLO account and anyone who is interested (anyone?) can check them out.

Reading another exceptionally thought provoking post from Borderland, Deschooling Revolution and the section The Power of Dialog. This post started as a draft comment for Doug, but the more the thoughts unfolded, I find it hard to be concise and frankly, to stay on track. So, I'll stick my thoughts here and throw a trackback Borderland's way.

Doug, your post resonates with me on a few levels. But it was when I got to this section, my own thoughts started racing off to their own conclusions.

The best I can do to work for change on my own is to question the moral righteousness of activist pedagogy, and concentrate on simply cultivating human connections with students and their parents through dialog. The time for sweeping changes may be overdue, but I don’t see how educators are going to initiate that process. The problems we confront are not merely institutional, they are embedded in the relationship between schools and society. Sincere dialog may be the most practical revolutionary stance a teacher can assume at this time.

While we approach the delivery process of education down under differently to the States, there are many parallels to be made. I think that as educators, we have dodged meaningful dialogue and exchange of perceptions with parents for a long time now hiding behind jargon, government mandates and vague philosophies in a bid to keep them at arm's length. We're never going to get away with the "I'm an expert in a unique profession" line that say a geophysicist or structural engineer can, because as a teacher, I'm in no position to challenge his or her methods or knowledge.

One of the unique aspects of teaching is that everyone we come into contact with has at one time been a student themselves which then gives them an opinion (in their mind) on how classrooms should be run and what content should be taught. But their opinions are more often than not coloured by their own educational experiences. If everyone stood and recited their times tables when the parent was at school, then why isn't my child doing the same? Standards must be slipping is the inferred notion. It's a bit of a cruel paradox, parents know deep down that things have changed and their kids need new skills to survive in and beyond school......but.......what are those teachers doing with my child's education? Isn't anything we learnt relevant any more?

So we, the teachers, have to let them know that the curriculum we teach does cover essential time honoured skills but the future is approaching very fast, if it isn't here already. So if we don't want politicians dictating educational policy, we want parents on our side. And we need to make sure that they know what we do and why we do it in our classrooms, what our expectations for their children are - basically become more transparent as professionals. So, a small goal for myself in my classroom duties this year is use technology to keep parents in the loop, explain the curriculum as it goes and while probably not approaching the transparency that will be needed, hopefully I can at least work towards becoming opaque. I know that a couple of weeks into the start of the 2006 year will be the annual Acquaintance Night at my school. What will I say on that evening that will open me up to a more meaningful dialogue with the parents of my students for the coming year? An opportunity will go begging if I hide behind the razzle-dazzle of promised new technology (another IWB) or the platitudes of local middle school structures. I've got to say here's what I have to teach (curriculum) and here's some of the ways I'm going to help the kids with their learning (methodology). Usually teachers on this particular night lock down their presentations so tight as to avoid unwelcome or awkward questions from their caregiver audience. How refreshing it would be from their perspective to have their child's teacher allowing the parents to set the agenda and share the direction of the conversation. It's risky because it leaves the teacher (in their mind) open for criticism, a sitting target for parents keen to score credibility points with their peers. But that's assuming that freedom will bring out the worst traits in people who just want to be assured that you have their child's best interests in mind.

Maybe if these technologies achieve nothing else, using them to keep parents informed and with the flow of learning may help to get them onside and be willing to give me, the teacher, the trust and scope to operate freely interpret the curriculum and skills continuums in ways that my experiences tell me will engage my students.