Thursday, November 30, 2017

PBL's and Constructive Feedback

Liberty kindergarten students presented their
books to Miss Sparkles at the Bismarck Public Library.
Excited dancing from foot to foot, little arms pulling their moms, dads and aunties into the library,
I witnessed the birth of young writers recently.  I attended a special evening Project Based Learning (PBL) celebration held at the Bismarck Public Library.   After interviewing members of the community, the kindergarten students wrote books about community helpers and presented their writing to the library. 

Young authors' eyes glowed as they learned their classroom book would have a barcode and be checked out by the community!  Their book would be featured in the LOCAL AUTHORS section of the library! Gasps and claps filled the room.

In the process of making their books, the students began to learn about constructive feedback.

How can we help students learn to give
and receive constructive feedback?

Constructive feedback focuses on facts and specific examples that help the students clearly understand strengths and areas to grow.  It lets the other person know that everyone is on the same side.   Its main purpose is to improve the quality of the product.   It offers specific advice rather than general comments.  To be successful, it demands a growth mindset.  As each PBL adventure begins, we always ask, "What do we want the students to know, think and do?"  The challenges we encounter:  How do we meet the standards?  How do we best help the kids attain quality work?   How do we push the students to grow?  How do we encourage them to think deeply and critically?  How do we help them really think and not just spit out facts!  One of the most vital elements to a successful PBL is embedding time to allow students to give and receive feedback on their learning throughout the project.

2nd and 5th Graders were 
"Feedback Friends"
for 2nd-grade Habitat PBL.
High quality student work is a hallmark of Gold Standard PBL, and such quality is attained through thoughtful critique and revision. Students should be taught how to give and receive constructive peer feedback that will improve project processes and products, guided by rubrics, models, and formal feedback/critique protocols. 
from Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning: A Proven Approach to Rigorous Classroom Instruction, by John Larmer, John Mergendoller, Suzie Boss

How can we foster constructive feedback throughout PBL's?  (Not just at the end)

4th Graders collaborated to show
story sequence and plot using Lego.
Arguably, the most important piece of the puzzle, that must be in place before deep learning and growth can occur, is the development of a strong growth mindset culture.  Students must feel safe to fail, ask questions, be frustrated, and try new things.  Once this strong culture is established, only then will kids be able to provide and receive constructive feedback.

Five years ago, when we began the PBL journey, I learned very quickly that students need to be taught how to give constructive feedback.  I vividly remember working with a class of third graders on google slide presentations.   One group was working for about five minutes before they were at each other's throats.  They were defensive, attacking and ANGRY!  "HE CHANGED MY SLIDE!"  I  pulled the kids away from their computers, took a few deep breaths and they began the process of learning how to collaborate and listen to others' ideas.   By the end of the hour, I had goosebumps watching them listen to each other, seeing them take pride in working collaboratively, witnessing them become part of a creative group.  That same group that was ready to draw blood, were working cohesively, effectively and respectfully.   "I'm done typing.   Do you want to add anything I forgot?"  It was beautiful.

What are some tools/strategies for students to
use for self-reflection?  Peer reflection?

3rd Graders presented "Then and Now"
projects at the Heritage Center
Last month, the 3rd graders traveled back to the time of covered wagons, long dresses, and sod houses.   The driving question challenged the kids to decide how they could preserve the past for the future.   Students knew they would be presenting at the ND Heritage Center and took it very seriously.  Throughout the PBL, through constructive feedback check in's (formal and informal), students reflected on how they were meeting their learning targets.  As they worked on their small group projects, students often were naturally asking classmates for feedback.
During presentations at the heritage center, one museum curator joked with a transportation group, "I'd hate to get a flat tire then!"  To which the students replied, "Actually, rubber wasn't invented yet, but they did get broken wheels..."  Several minutes later, the museum curator walked away, extremely impressed with the depth of their knowledge!

What are some successes/challenges
with constructive feedback?

According to Charity Parsons, a BIE blogger, "In Gold Standard Project Based Learning, teachers - as lesson designers and project managers - have a unique opportunity to craft experiences which encourage a growth mindset."   
This leads me to wonder how teachers can also grow through constructive feedback.   At a staff meeting, we recently engaged in a schoolwide "tuning" protocol.   We divided into groups so there was one representative from each grade at a table.  Specialists, PE and Music also spread out so each group had a mix of expertise.  Staff then began the process of sharing their grade level's current PBL driving question, the products, process and the authentic audience.   After a set time, the other grade levels and specialists gave constructive feedback to each project.  At the end, grade levels returned to share the feedback.  All classroom teachers and specialists left with a better understanding of what other grades were doing, ideas of how to support that learning,  while simultaneously getting feedback for their own PBL. 

How can we provide opportunities for teachers to receive constructive feedback throughout PBL projects?

Twitter Questions: 

Q1:  How can we help students learn to give and receive constructive feedback?

Q2:  How can we foster continual constructive feedback during PBL's? (Not just at the end)

Q3:  What are some tools/strategies for students to use for self-reflection?   Peer reflection?

Q4:  What are some successes/challengers with constructive feedback?

Q5:  How can we provide opportunities for teachers to receive constructive feedback throughout PBL projects?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Co-teaching: How to Make it Work

Teachers and specialists learning about using
Wordle as a tool for writing reflection.
Photo Credit: Misti Werle
What a great workshop! One of the best I’ve been to in a long time - the strategies were quick and easily adaptable for all levels. My co-teacher and I shared lots of thoughts on how to implement immediately. We are currently co-planning a unit on modern civil rights struggles. With help from Anne Beninghof, who gave us many different models and expectations, we’re sure to be successful! 
-Angie Siewert, LMS at BHS

What is co-teaching, you might ask yourself?  Many Library Media Specialists, Levels of Service teachers and General Education teachers attended Anne Beninghof’s training on co-teaching in October.  According to Anne Beninghof, co-teaching isn’t defined as teachers taking turns teaching in the classroom, but teachers teaching together.

Teachers and Specialists sharing ideas.
Photo Credit: Misti Werle

“Co-teaching is one of the most powerful skills for promoting student growth.  It makes the teaching I get to do as an LMS authentic and purposeful.  Anne’s workshop on co-teaching provided us with an abundance of strategies we can use through co-teaching to meet student needs  It not only gave us quality skills we can utilize, but it also provided a model of what effective co-teaching would look like.  I am super excited to work with my fellow colleague by co-teaching in the area of reading.”
 -Michelle Kuhn, LMS Solheim

Anne Beninghof is a special education teacher, by trade.  She co-teaches with general education teachers at her school.  She spoke to BPS teachers about what a co-taught classroom might look like and what it does not look like and gave a lot of tips and tricks to make co-teaching work. She also showed the teachers different, quick but effective strategies for any classroom.

The co-teaching workshop was one of the most valuable workshops I have attended. Anne Beninghof is a master teacher! The techniques she shared were simple, yet powerful. I appreciated that we were given time to prepare a lesson with our co-teacher and able to implement some of the strategies we learned immediately.” -Robin Kress, LMS

 Anne shared that when you enter into a co-taught classroom you will see both teachers active in the teaching.  There is never one teacher waiting in the wings, but both teachers working with, teaching and helping students around the classroom. Co-teaching can look different in many ways.  Co-teaching can have each teacher taking turns teaching to the whole group, while the other teacher is monitoring behavior, quietly collecting observational data, or helping one individual with the lesson while the other does the teaching.  Also, co-teaching can have both teachers running small groups in rotations to differentiate instruction or lead different parts of a lesson.  In any scenario both teachers are busy working with students throughout the whole lesson and each adding their own expertise to enhance the lesson.   Anne shared that when you enter into a co-taught classroom you will see both teachers active in the teaching.  There is never one teacher waiting in the wings, but both teachers working with, teaching and helping students around the classroom. Co-teaching can look different in many ways.  Co-teaching can have each teacher taking turns teaching to the whole group, while the other teacher is monitoring behavior, quietly collecting observational data, or helping one individual with the lesson while the other does the teaching.  Also, co-teaching can have both teachers running small groups in rotations to differentiate instruction or lead different parts of a lesson.  In any scenario both teachers are busy working with students throughout the whole lesson and each adding their own expertise to enhance the lesson.  

Teachers learning about the Plickers App.
Photo Credit: Misti Werle
“I had not attended a workshop for a long time and did not know what to expect. The Co-teaching workshop was very valuable. It is definitely something that I will be able to implement in my classroom. I would have to say my favorite part of the workshop was the simplicity of the techniques that can be used. Our Library Media Specialist and I are looking forward to working together to enhance our student’s knowledge of the content.”
- Kerry Oberlander, Classroom teacher at SMS

The main problem most teachers and specialists discussed during this training was TIME.  How do two teachers involved with co-teaching find the time in their busy schedules to do the co-planning that is necessary for a well-planned co-taught lesson?  In order for co-teaching to work there needs to be common planning time put into the schedule to put together quality lessons.

It might seem difficult at first to figure out what each teacher might be doing during a lesson, but here are some quick and easy ideas Anne Beninghof listed on her website,, to help you get started:

Teacher A leads the lesson while Teacher B could be:

  • Writing color-coded notes on the board or laptop
  • Echoing key words from Teacher A
  • Pulling up an online site (thesaurus, encyclopedia, media) to support instruction
  • Providing kinesthetic tools, manipulatives, aids, and props
  • Counting down, giving time clues, or managing a visual timer
  • Prompting engagement with directions such as: “Stand up if you …, Turn and talk about …,  Stomp your feet if …”
  • Going on-the-spot to websites to show visual images
Although co-teaching can be challenging, there are a lot of benefits to having two teachers working together, using their own expertise in guiding a lesson. Anne has included many resources and tools on her website to help you get started. 

Here are a few more comments from teachers and specialist about Anne Beninghof’s co-teacher training: 

“Not only were my co-teacher and I able to plan, but throughout the training, strategies were shown and used that can be added to our toolbox for students. We are looking forward to implementing what we learned and creating a video to show others at our school what co-teaching looks like.” Alisha Kelim, LMS

“The Co-Teaching workshop gave my partner teacher and I some valuable time to be able to plan.  I also loved that being there together gave her and I a shared understanding of what co-teaching is.  I also loved all the little strategies and techniques Anne Beninghof shared with us - they were so simple but yet very impactful.  I learned things that I could implement the very next day along with developing a co-teaching relationship that will continue to grow long after the training!
-Stacy Olson, LMS

“Amy Dahmus and I have co-planned and co-taught one math lesson on fractions so far. It required lots of planning and prep. We over-prepared; this lesson will become 2 lessons.”
-Dana Gendreau, LOS

“We have already reflected on our lesson and have thought about our next steps on extending it in the future.  The advantage of the lesson was differentiating by dividing the class into two groups.  It was helpful to have the time in class to prepare. “
-Amy Dahmus, Teacher

“Nola Steier and I have completed our initial planning and can’t wait to implement ideas that we learned in Anne Beninghof’s Co-Teaching class.  We have developed a planning doc to which we can each add elements of the lessons. We will begin implementing our plans soon and are eager to reflect with each other after the sessions. We are anticipating great rewards through the power of co-teaching.”-Andrea Edstrom, LOS

“After being completely engaged by Anne Beninghof for two days of awesome learning, I was equipped with a new toolbox of strategies to use with students; along with a partner teacher to engage in co-teaching.  The best part - students win in all scenarios!!”
~Andrea Weikum, LMS Sunrise

“This is the second time that I have been able to attend a PD led by Anne Beninghof. Quite simply, she is amazing. Not only does she give you the competencies to lead a strong and effective co-teaching environment, but she also gives you the skills and the toolkit to lead exciting and innovative lessons for all modalities of learners. She helps you scaffold, plan, and differentiate with highly effective, research-based practices that are engaging and fun for kids. A wonderful experience!”-Michael Jacobson, LMS at Grimsrud, Roosevelt, and Highland Acres

“Kate Vig and I are co-planning right now, using many of the strategies we learned about in Anne Beninghof’s Co-Teaching workshop. We are excited about the opportunity to team teach a couple upcoming projects this year. We appreciate the time we had to collaborate and learn!”
-Kat Berg, LMS

Twitter Tuesday Questions:

What does co-teaching look like?
How will we find the time to plan for co-teaching?
How will we project to the students that we are both classroom leaders?
What roles will each teacher play in the classroom? How do we coordinate our efforts to help the entire class succeed?
What are some of the ways teachers can complement one another during co-teaching?

Thursday, November 09, 2017

MakerSpace! MakerSpace! MakerSpace!

"A Makerspace is a place where students can gather to create, invent, tinker, explore and discover using a variety of tools."  - Diana Rendina

Today was one of those days, when the stars aligned and a lesson plan came full circle.  I love teaching with ozobots.  Students are intrigued by how they work and willing to do any type of learning in order to get to use them.  For today’s lesson, I created a math review for second grade.  Each station had a problem or direction for students to complete and they also practiced drawing lines and codes for the ozobot.  There was one ozobot per four students and absolutely no reminders were necessary about patience and taking turns.  Instead, I witnessed students teaching students and overheard discussions about what worked and what they wanted to change.  Then we wrapped up and had a whole class discussion, through which they planned out next week’s lesson. 

Photo Credit – Megan Crawford

Chris O'Brien stated, "As a rule of thumb, project-project-based learning and school makerspaces work much better to motivate students than any marble jar, point system or promise of pizza ever could” (2017).  When students complete maker-based projects, they are creating real world things.  Throughout this process there is an opportunity for success and also for mistakes.  Students have the opportunity to make changes or improvements, to think deeper.  As a library media specialist, my role includes empowering students to be creative thinkers, problem solvers and producers.  

True or False? Creating a Makerspace is expensive…  This is exactly why I do not care for true and false questions – it can be done with a high or low budget.  I would like to point out ways you can start out with a low budget. 
  1. Recycle – start a school wide campaign to collect paper towel rolls, toilet paper rolls, tissue boxes, cardboard boxes, plastic bottles and paper.
  2. Throw away NOTHING – save bubble wrap, packing peanuts and the box it came in.
  3. Donations – Post a list of items to get you started: pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, duct tape, masking tape, googly eyes, fabric, thread, yarn, wire, plastic spoons, styrofoam cups, straws and paper plates. 
  4. Take advantage of the other popular trend – “simplifying”  When families wonder what to do with toys your kids outgrow suggest they donate them to the school library – Legos, K’nex, Lincoln Logs, Jenga, and Magnatiles are great additions to any Makerspace. 
  5. Garage Sales – I actually had a student pick up and ozobot at a garage sale and donate it to the library. 

You can start a makerspace with a few well-placed baskets of “stuff”, however if you are looking for low cost items to purchase, consider Strawbees, Origami paper, Geoboards, Legos, hand-sewing projects and Stop motion Animation.  When you have more money to spend consider Little Bits, Ozobots, Snap Circuits, Sphero, Makey-Makey, a green screen and a Lego wall. 

Makerspaces take on many styles.  In our district alone, each school that has one looks different.  One elementary has a very successful club that meets after school.  Others have a space in their library that teachers can bring their students to, and then there are those like mine that have a few items teachers check out and use in the classrooms.  My advice is to start with what you are comfortable with.  For me it is ozobots, which opened doors to collaboration with teachers and engaged learners.  Although I am still very new at the Maker Movement, I invite you to join me on my journey. 

Twitter Questions:
  1. What experiences are you trying to create with Makerspaces?
  2. What learning goals and outcomes do you want to achieve in this space?
  3. How would a Makerspace benefit visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners?
  4. What standards and learning goals can be met through Makerspaces?

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Outdoor Recreation is where the fun begins!

Fishing at North Dakota Game and Fish
“Huff Hills was one of the most fun days through my entire high school years!”                                   
~Missy Domagala- now a freshman at NDSU (pictured on right)

Outdoor Recreation is where the fun begins with being active! 

Is there a better way to spend your Physical Education class than being outside and participating in fun and exciting activities in the community?
First fish he has ever caught!

Outdoor Recreation is an elective class that meets two hours at a time, once a week for the whole year.  We partake in different community activities that give students the experience outside of school to promote lifelong fitness and wellness.  Outdoor Recreation allows for the students to enjoy the outdoor environment and learn to find exercise beyond the gym. There is something that can be said about enjoying activities in the outdoors and taking in the fresh air.  This class can spark an interest in an outdoor activity that you never knew of or tried.  As the OPENspace Research Centre puts it: “Physical activity in the natural environment not only aids an increased life-span, fewer symptoms of depression, and lower rates of smoking and substance misuse, but also an increased ability to function better at work and at home.”
Forty feet off the ground conquering fears
at the high ropes course!

“Outdoor Recreation was a great experience for me, it allowed me to try new things in an outdoor environment which I loved! Being able to try those new activities, that I probably never would have tried on my own, was really an eye opener to new things I could enjoy as a hobby on my own time.” 
~Brenna Hanson- now a freshman at UND (pictured on right)

I personally believe that by having an outdoor program and exposing students to different activities that they might not have the chance to do on their own will positively impact their lives.  The students may find some hidden strengths and hobbies that they may want to pursue further beyond the classroom experience.
“We got to do things that I’d never do on my own.”                                             ~Heidi Hilz- now a freshman at NDSU (pictured on left)

Having this class as an elective for students provides an alternative for those that do not care for competitive, physical education gym activities.  However, we are still in the school environment.  The social aspect is present, and students can still have some independence and grow confident in themselves.  “Your child spends most of their academic life in the classroom, but well-rounded secondary schools recognize the invaluable benefits that fresh air and nature can offer to each student’s personal well being” as stated by an outdoor teacher from the Independent Lakefield College School.
“I really liked outdoor rec. It was fun and really active. It's a class where you get to go outside and be active instead of being in a classroom all day. My favorite activity we did was when we went to the high and low ropes course. I highly recommend this class.”                                       ~Brady Oberlander- senior LHS (pictured on right)
Legacy High School is creating memories within our Outdoor Recreational class that will last a lifetime. Whether we are kayaking, playing sand volleyball, hiking, golfing, curling, ice skating, sledding, skiing, fishing, throwing horseshoes, shooting archery or conquering our fears on a high ropes course, my students are engaged in lifelong active learning.  These activities allow students to be free and individuals.  Hearing the students laugh when we go sledding is priceless, an activity that most of them say, “I have not done this in years; I forgot how fun it is.”  Seeing the smiles and excitement when we go to Huff Hills proves that ALL students are having fun and trying to learn the activity.  A true sense of belonging is created when students support and help beginners to learn and take on the challenge of the ski hill. 

Huff Hills Ski Trip
I am hoping to inspire a love of nature and outdoor opportunities that my students can do to be active in the community.  They learn that lifelong fitness opportunities do not require going to the gym.  Learning can be fun!
“It was amazing! Very fun experience!”     ~Haley Starck- senior LHS (pictured on right in pink coat)

Come check out the fun in Outdoor Recreation 
by watching the video.
Thank you students Kailey Weigel for making the video and 
Alexi Ness for the video clips!

Twitter Tuesday Questions:  
  • How can we expose our students to new experiences that can positively influence their lives?
  • Being outdoors is healthy for everyone! How can you add an outdoor element to your daily life?
  • Competitive vs Non-competitive. Which type of activities to do prefer? How can we recognize that difference in our students? 
  • Offering Outdoor Rec gives students more choices. Share one simple thing you can change right now to give students more choice.
  • Lifelong learning is important for everyone. What’s one thing you want to learn?