Friday, January 19, 2018

I Did Not Always Believe In Projects

I am going to be very honest with you all.

     In school, I learned best through lecture.  I know it sound silly, but I preferred lessons where the teachers/professors spoke the entire class because I always left class with what I believed was the information I needed to be successful.  I definitely felt like I learned more than I did when we were given projects.  In school, I also loved taking tests over projects.  All I had to do was study the right answers and spit that information back out on paper.  They were also way better than many of the projects I did as a student.  Many of the projects I did as a student were things like "make a five slide powerpoint" or "make a poster about [insert topic here]."  I wince at even calling them projects, but that is what I knew projects to be.

    When I was in my first year of college, I wanted to imitate my favorite teachers.  The way they lectured was more like storytelling, they told captivating tales and I enjoyed absorbing it through that method because I knew that they were like a sage on the stage.

     But that is not the sole way my students learn.

   My students are not like me, and that is okay.  I honestly think that if my students would have to sit through a whole eighty-four minutes just listening to me talk I think both them and myself would be bored and it would be like a baaaad trip to the dentist.

      So as a teacher I was left with two options.  I could hold on to my past and teach with what I felt comfortable with, or I could grow and work to meet the needs of my students to prepare them for their future.
    I chose the latter.  I want to make sure my students develop critical thinking skills, writing skills, communication abilities, and are comfortable using technology because that is their future.  I want my students to go on to do incredible things.

     But when I started out teaching, I was confused on how best do it.  Remember, my experiences were projects were "make a collage" or "build a powerpoint."  Because when I was a student technology was not what it is today.

     Discussing George Couros's Innovator's Mindset, engaging with fellow educators on twitter, and attending conferences where our central themes were to design PBAs have forever changed the way I will teach.

   You will not find projects from me that say "make a collage."  My goal with designing projects is to make them honestly authentic and relevant.  I can think of when I taught westward expansion this year, I wanted to have students create facebook pages for different groups of people living out west.  But that is not relevant to my students, because they do not use facebook, so instead I designed a Twitter Chat for my students to participate in as if they were different groups of westward settlers.  Wow did it have profound effects.  I have continued to use these types of projects to promote innovation in my students.

    I have seen the excitement in students as they do these sorts of projects.  I have seen the students debate back and forth.  I have seen students develop great videos, shark tank presentations, blog posts, and more.  For a recent unit, I decided to forego a traditional test in exchange for a menu of options for students to choose from.  Students begged me for a traditional test because it was "faster and easier" to which I always replied, "Yes it is that but aren't you learning more?"  Students always grumbled out a "yes" after.

   Now, I am still a supporter of note-taking.  I think that is a skill that may change but it won't go away.  You need the basic recipe before you bake the cake.  However, I want to change the way I give notes to my students.  My next step will be to take my typical presentations and convert them into Screencastify lessons for students to watch at their own paces and take notes off of them.  My hope is that doing this will open up more time in class to allow students to be innovative.

     I have noticed that an increase in projects in my class has helped me encourage student innovation in the classroom.  Students are more willing to take risks and are more engaged in class.  They love the opportunity to authentically express and apply their knowledge.  I may not have believed in projects when I was a student, but that was my past.  As a teacher, I believe in projects over tests because I believe it is best for my students' futures.


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