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Week of May 31st, 2010

As Americans celebrate Memorial Day, at the Coöp we’re asking ourselves what educational counternarratives can help us bring about a revolution in democratic, authentic education – a kind of education that recognizes the values of passion and responsibility in nurturing and protecting our freedoms, joys, learning, and world.

Specifically, we’re looking for and posting about success stories of healthy and sane education delivered in public schools despite reigning popular opinion that the only way out of the mess we’re in is to test students and punish teachers more.

Please share with us your local examples of break-out authentic education, democratic education, project- and problem-based learning, service learning, student entrepreneurship, and reinvention of school. Please also share with us your visions for the same.

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Discussion

5 thoughts on “Week of May 31st, 2010

  1. my final project for all my government students, after AP exams for some, and state exams for all, is the final fun project. The criteria are quite specific.
    1. You cannot do an essay or a research paper.
    2. You must spend at least 4 hours (most spend far more)
    3. Show me that you learned something.

    and hopefully, have fun while you are doing it.

    I do give extra credit.

    Let me describe just a few of the projects over the year.

    Dennis T did a comic book, 10 pages, 9 fully drawn and colored frames on each page, telling the story of the year with the butt of the joke being the teacher (me)

    Karen L produced a video illustrating Pink’s “Dear Mr. President” using still photos that was fantastic

    Jessica M produced a bird’s nest in which there was an egg labeled the American System of Government. The nest was hung using three leaves. On each leaf was one of the first three Articles of the Constitution. Pull out a leaf, the nest tipped, and the egg crashed to the floor.

    I have skits, computer games, sets of songs, a Government Twister game, epic poems, raps, poetry, power point presentations, needlepoint of the Preamble and the titles of the 7 articles, a time capsule, – everything imaginable other than an essay or a research paper, often demonstrating deep understanding, and allowing the student to demonstrate what they’ve learned in a format they enjoy or with which they are comfortable. I do allow group projects as well.

    The highlight of my year is the day the projects are due, and I stay in my room with the larger ones and use the weekend to go through the rest. The following Monday I set up as many projects as I can to let the kids explore. Thereafter they can play the games they have designed, watch the skits, use the classroom computers for the powerpoints and music videos, to see what their classmates have don.

    I would argue this is authentic learning. What say you all?

    Posted by teacherken | May 31, 2010, 8:21 pm
  2. It’s great to have you here, Ken – thanks so much for reading and commenting!

    The amount of personal meaning students can put into these projects definitely speaks to the assignment’s authenticity to them. The creativity your students show is a testament to the choice they enjoy and responsibility they take for finishing the project and year on high notes.

    Do you have students who struggle to meet the 4-hour requirement? How necessary is it? Is the number of students who don’t make it small enough so that you could mentor them out without quantifying this expectation?

    Do the kids find places outside the classroom to share and publish their work? So many of the pieces you describe sound like such great metaphors for learning – I think they could help lots of people learn. How does the extra credit work? What is its purpose? Would publishing projects for an outside audience remove the need for extra credit as a motivator? Would audience feedback prompt revision as effectively as in class incentives?

    What do you think of the AP curriculum? I would love to read a conversation between you and Aaron on AP social studies courses and tests. Do you think the curriculum gives your students enough authenticity and relevance throughout the course? Does the pacing allow for all the learning opportunities you and they would like? How would you amend what you’re asked to teach and what students are asked to learn? What are their other assessments like? As a middle-grades guy, I am voraciously curious about learning up and down the education ladder.

    Ken, it’s wonderful to converse with you here!

    All the best,
    C

    Posted by Chad Sansing | June 1, 2010, 10:07 pm
  3. Chad – you asked a TON of questions. Let me offer BRIEFLY what I can (I get up at 5 am, it is now 10:15, so I am pressed for time)

    Do you have students who struggle to meet the 4-hour requirement? Rarely – since they have several weeks w/o other h/w other than takehome final

    How necessary is it? It is mandatory. It makes the difference between doing something with effort and not

    Is the number of students who don’t make it small enough so that you could mentor them out without quantifying this expectation? Very rare – more likely to not even do the project

    Do the kids find places outside the classroom to share and publish their work? A few have posted stuff to youtube, or on their own websites. They do share directly with friends

    How does the extra credit work? What is its purpose? It is usually given for great creativity/imagination, or a lot of extra effort. In one sense its purpose is to allow kids who do not test well to pull up the assessment average, which in the regular classes is 50% of the grade and in AP 80% (I do not set the weights).

    Would publishing projects for an outside audience remove the need for extra credit as a motivator? It ain’t there as a motivat0r; but it is a reward for exceptional work.

    Would audience feedback prompt revision as effectively as in class incentives? Probably not for most of my students.

    What do you think of the AP curriculum? I would rather not teach it, because it limits my flexibility. I have to worry about coverage – for example. there is no defined pool of Supreme Court cases, so I have to be sure we at least touch on something like 80 or so. And I have to prepare them to write in an odd fashion because of how Free Response Questions are scored. I am by far the best qualified/prepared to teach it in our school, and no one else wants to take it on.

    Do you think the curriculum gives your students enough authenticity and relevance throughout the course? Does the pacing allow for all the learning opportunities you and they would like? Not as much as I would like, but technically it is a semester course at the College level, and we spread it out 45 min/day throughout the year, so I have some flexibility. Part of the relevance may come from guest speakers – I have brought in nationally known journalists, members of the House from other states who are friends, parents and acquaintances with relevant positions in government and politics. We do a number of activities not directly tied to the AP exam. They learn how to do polling. In even years with elections there is a lot tied to the political/electoral processes.

    How would you amend what you’re asked to teach and what students are asked to learn? Not gonna go there – would take far too long to explain.

    What are their other assessments like? Most of their other assessments are either multiple choice a la what they will see on AP exam (except the questions are harder) or Free Response Questions, either from previous AP exams or some I make up myself. I do “curve” the scores on my assessments, but then, one can argue the AP exam has multiple level of curves in how it is scored.

    That’s all I have time for.

    peace

    Posted by teacherken | June 1, 2010, 10:24 pm
    • Ken – thanks for sharing so much! Let me know when you have time to continue the conversation – three last questions that come to mind regarding grading, curving, extra credit, and minimum time allotment: do you think these are crucial systems/motivators for students socialized to the AP track or for learners in general? How would assess students ideally since you work with pre-assigned weights? And is time the primary factor in effort?

      I apologize for all the questions – I just seem to have a lot of them all the time, especially for myself. I so very much appreciate your willingness to engage with the questions above and to answer them so directly.

      Also, I love the speakers, polling, and election work as examples of community engagement and education. It’s awesome that you take the time and care to create your own pool of Supreme Court cases – that ought to be something citizens do – and are able to do – as part of knowing their country, communities, rights, and histories.

      Best regards,
      C

      Posted by Chad Sansing | June 1, 2010, 11:11 pm

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