Bringing Parents and Guardians into Your PBL Projects


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


Providing your students with a public audience is not only a critical part of the project-based learning process, but it’s also a great strategy for building authenticity into assignments to create work that matters. We often leverage our students’ parents and guardians in this process because 1) they are easily accessible, and 2) they are our partners in their children’s learning plans. Why not then continue and build this partnership in PBL? John Larmer wrote a great blog about how to build parent support for PBL, and one of the best ways he mentions is to keep them involved in the PBL project you launch in your classroom. Here are some strategies to consider as you leverage parents for your next PBL project.

Use Technology
I know many teachers use technology tools like Edmodo in their PBL projects, and Edmodo has a way to set up parent accounts. Use Twitter as a backchannel chat with a classroom hashtag to communicate. Use Skype to bring in parents who are experts on content and skills as well as for entry events.

Parents as Experts
Our parents and guardians are experts not only in a wide range of job-specific content areas and skills, but also in hobbies and other outside interests. To explore this resource, send home a survey to ask parents about their interests and areas of expertise. As you discover what is just phone call away, start building a huge database of experts who can support your PBL activites before, during and after the project.

Parents as Assessors
If you plan to have parents or guardians as part of the assessment process, make sure to orient them to the rubrics they will be using. Don’t think that they need to look at the entire rubric. If you have a team of parents and guardians assessing a presentation, for example, jigsaw it! Or perhaps just have them use a checklist along the way as well. The other key piece here is to have parents and guardians give growth-producing feedback. Give them stems such as “I like . . .” and “A good next step would be . . .” This will help focus the feedback and keep it balanced.

Parents as Planners
One very powerful way to make parents or guardians a critical part of the PBL project is to involve them in the planning process. Having a content expert with you in the planning stages can help ensure that all gaps are filled and that you’ll have more eyes to ensure a quality project. In addition, seek out parents who are familiar with the Critical Friends Group critique protocol, because they can provide excellent feedback before you launch the PBL project. (Don’t forget to involve the students in your planning process as well).

Thank You!
It’s easy to forget this part. Please say thank you to your parents. Record a class video. Have students write thank you notes. Send a letter home signed by the class. This seemingly little piece can go a long way toward a continued partnership with your parents and guardians.

As you partner with parents in your PBL projects, remember this one piece of advice: just ask! You aren’t going to get anything if you don’t — and the worst-case scenario is still the same. But keep asking! Before you know it, you will have many parents and guardians who are more than willing to help in whatever way they can. This will lead to a better school community and buy-in for authentic PBL.

Flipping the Staff Meeting


This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >

Educational leaders, I have an important announcement for you! (You’ll get the joke later). We are always pressed for time. Many of us do not have collaborative planning time, or if we do, it is limited. There is never enough time, and so we have to be creative, both in creating space for work and in changing how we would normally spend our time. The staff meeting is one place where we can be creative with time and refine it to meet our professional learning goals. Here are some things you might do to restructure and “flip” the staff meeting.

Quit the Announcements – You know what gets old at a staff meeting? Announcements. At every staff meeting, I was always frustrated when we spent 15–20 minutes going over logistics and making announcements. You can record these announcements, create a document, or send an e-mail and spend the time asking clarifying questions instead. This way, you can save time for better work; work that teachers will find more meaningful.

Teacher Led PD – Based on needs assessments of teachers, we create targeted professional learning activities. Frankly, we don’t need to do this creation ourselves. Our teachers have great ideas, and we can ask them to share these ideas that are aligned to faculty and staff needs. We can co-create professional learning sessions. Build your teacher leaders and have them model great instruction by leading focused professional learning.

Ongoing Protocols – Discussions can sometimes get out of hand. We are educators, and often we love to talk…and talk…and talk. I’m guilty of this as much as the next teacher. Let’s honor the talk, but also focus it. Choose professional learning protocols to use in staff meetings. Perhaps it’s a critique protocol or looking at student work protocol. Regardless, your staff meeting can now become a time where revision and reflection occur, and student learning is the focus of the time.

These are just three ideas you might use to start flipping your staff meeting. It can be a valuable time for professional learning, but only if we are creative with that time and shed some of the “traditional” ways they have been used. How do you foresee flipping your classroom for the upcoming year?

Don’t Forget to Play!


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


Play has earned some inaccurate baggage of connotations over the years. When we talk about playing in education or play time, many would push back that it is not appropriate to play in classroom, or that play is not good learning. This could not be farther from the truth. I think Fred Rogers put it best:

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”

Remember when you were a kid and were always playing? You often made mistakes, but those mistakes never got in the way of you trying again, trying something new, and ultimately coming to a place of success. Wouldn’t it be great if we got just a little more of that into the classroom?

Why Play?
Play does so many positive things for us in terms of learning. When we play:

We build skills like confidence
We strengthen relations with others
We develop creative skills
We problem solve and tinker
We learn to be flexible

People who play learn to question something, predict an outcome, and evaluate their predictions through the process of play. When we play, we persist through challenges — and we even enjoy it. Play builds excellent social and emotional skills and helps create a culture where those skills are valued at school. Probably one of the most important aspects of play is the way it treats failure and mistakes as non-punitive, ensuring that we have opportunities to learn from whatever went wrong. Yes, play makes failure fun. I love the use of the word “tinker” to describe play. It’s serious work, but it’s also fun work. Play values the process of learning as well and the product.

Elements of Play
The Strong, an organization devoted to the study and exploration of play, has broken down the elements of play. They use this great equation:

Play = Anticipation + Surprise + Pleasure + Understanding + Strength + Poise

Their Elements of Play graphic breaks down this equation in emotions. For example, anticipation is associated with interest, readiness and ultimately wonderment. Understanding is associated with empathy, skill and ultimately mastery. When I look at these emotions and descriptors, I get excited about creating them in my classroom. I want to work in a room where we create things like joy, ingenuity, awakening and even balance. I’d love to foster these elements of play by actually creating time to play.

Ideas for You
The Museum of Play is just one organization that champions the cause for play. They offer many resources including studies, activities and also great quotes about play. In addition, as you play with students, you can teach and assess creativity. As articulated in an earlier blog on creativity, it is important to break down what creativity means for students, encourage play, and set creativity goals as they play over and over again. You can develop Makerspaces in your schools and communities to foster tinkering and play in all kinds of contexts. Use game-based learning as a model, and create either “gamified” units or use games as part of the instruction. There are so many possibilities for embedding play in your everyday instruction. From these possibilities you can help reframe failure. It can be become not only non-punitive, but also a learning opportunity. More importantly, the forgiving context of play can make failure fun!

As you head back to school, don’t forget to carve time out for playing with kids. Let’s honor the reality that all of our students are kids, and because of that they need time to play. Although play may look different from 1st grade to 12th grade, all kids want to play, and we can use play to motivate students toward being creative, toward collaborating and tinkering in our classrooms, toward creating high-quality work and assessments. Also, don’t forget to play as an educator — you need it, too! Like I say to my fellow educators and students, “Let’s have some fun and fail forward!”