A Call to Question

I finally have found some time to update so here goes it. First some updates. I finally have a class here working diligently to catch up and get their 1001 Flat World Tales stories Posted. I have had a lot of contact with Terry Smith (Missouri) and Dean Meyer (Michigan) about pairing students up for collaboration and revisions. The wikis for this have been working well, and I have enjoyed setting up a wiki for the Carol Morgan School elementary classes. After playing around with it, a little I found it very easy to edit the navigation page, to build internal and external links, and to customize the site. I have a few ideas for future workshops for the CMS staff here kicking around now. George tells me that his kids will have their stories up and ready by the middle of next week and it is neat to see his kids engaged in the writing process. I also paired George up with our elementary writing specialist and she is pretty excited and is tossing around the idea of getting some of the younger elementary kids going on it as well. It was fun to see her get more and more excited as the details of the project became clearer and clearer. I think that is the nature of these international collaborative projects that once you understand how special the learning interactions can be, it is hard to think just inside your own classroom walls anymore.

Other related but different news is that I have led one of my 5th grade classes into the Comparing Our World project that Chris Craft started. Along with Kim Cofino’s class and Chris’ class we will be doing a cultural survey of our respective cultures based on aspects such as dress, food, traditions, sports, economics, etc. While this project is not as extensive as the other cultural project Kim is doing, International Teen Life, this will serve as a nice smaller scale project as we head towards the end off the school year. God, did I say that? It is hard to believe that there are only 2 ½ months left in the school year. It was nice to be able to Skype with Chris this week and toss around ideas and logistics to make his project even stronger. Thanks Chris for being open. Among some of those ideas were formation of some good essential questions to drive student learning and the outcomes for the project. It is our hope that with these in place, the reflection piece of this project will pack more punch for the students and will enable them to see the “bigger picture’ of why these types of international, cross cultural collaborations are essential for learning in the 21st Century.

This all brings me to my final point which I just touched on above, questioning. I am sure many of my readers (do I even have any??? Who cares I’m on a roll) are familiar with the work of Jaime McKenzie and his push for using questioning to stimulate higher level thinking and problem solving skills in our classrooms. As a science teacher I embraced much of what he preached and was happy with my kid’s results. With the right questions, kids are forced to actually think, and we get away from the regurgitative (I don’t think this is a word but I like it so it will stay) state that educations still seems content to languish in. We also get away from having to use plagiarism sites such as turn it in.com to check the originality of student work. With good essential questions there typically is no “right” answer ands they push the students to synthesize information that is presented and to form and opinion or viewpoint based on knowledge. I think this falls in line with what Clay Burell has been also discussing with how teachers might be the death of blogging. Really it all comes back to good educational design in the classroom, starting with the teacher asking him or herself, what is the essential understandings(s) I am trying to reach with this, blog, wiki, podcast,etc. Before we encourage staff to take this technological leap and to use these technologies, we first have to make sure that sound pedagogy is behind it. After determining essential understandings we then should consider what are the big, open ended, questions that we can ask our students to facilitate the higher level, critical thinking skills that we want our students to posses when they leave our classrooms. I feel without these aspects to any unit, assignment, etc. we are simply teaching traditionally, herding our students, and these technologies as Clay notes, simply become more technologically advanced methods of homework collection.


Kim Cofino said...

I love Jamie MacKenzie's work. I wish I could attend his seminar this summer, but the timing just isn't right.

There's nothing wrong with a nice, fun, small-scale project to finish off the year! Not every project has to be a huge in-depth monster like the Teen Life project our 8th graders are doing, they just need to have some insightful questions leading students to meaningful discovery behind the work. I could spend weeks just thinking up the right "essential questions" for a unit. Questioning is an art....

Justin Medved said...

People do read your posts :)

Great stuff keep it up!

It's all about good questions. In today's schools much time and energy is spent at tackling the prevention of plagiarism, if only that same focus was applies to the questions being asked and the assessments being given. Everyone would be better for it.