I have been using my students’ blogs as digital portfolios for several years. By the end of the school year, they reflect each child’s learning in many subject areas from the first weeks of school until the last. In addition to showing the development of our writing skills, we make podcasts of our reading fluency at different points in the school year, and use webtools to show our learning in language arts, mathematics, science, social studies and health.
This exciting and demanding opportunity for my students to serve as ejournalists at Canada’s National Rural Congress is the “exam” I’ve been preparing them for. I think this is the future of education: authentic tasks; embedded, mobile, BYOD technology. What students can memorize and spew back on a Biology or English final has no ability to tell me how they will perform in a high pressure situation like this. But I think they’re up for the task.
Science and health lend themselves easily to PBL (passion or project-based learning) in my mind. But I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it all work in a social studies unit about relationships, rules and responsibilities. I want this to be based on what the students are interested in. Yet there really is nothing about the words “relationships,” “rules” and “responsibilities” that has the ability to inspire passion in most six-year olds. But then I thought about our six Nintendo DS gaming devices.
I am trying to shift my teaching, make inquiry the centerpiece, and have my students be the leaders in their learning. The biggest challenge I face is that my students have no idea how to work together. As teachers we need to steal back the time necessary to make community-building a priority in our classrooms.
“This year I’ve decided to teach solely through a Project-Based Writing approach,” wrote Heather Wolpert-Gawron last September. “I’m defining PBW as a series of constructed units built around authentic assessment, authentic audience, and authentic learning that incorporates the multiple writing genres. It’s all about blurring the lines between school life and the real world.” That happened in a big way when her 8th graders were invited to present at the 100-Year Starship Symposium. The best part? “Finding out I don’t always have to be the expert; I can model learning as we explore this new content together.”
If we’re going to help our students develop the focus they need to think deeply about things — to acquire Howard Rheingold’s “Infotention” — then I think most schools will need some ground rules, made in collaboration with students after lots of conversations around these important topics.