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Posted by on in Inquiry-Based Learning

As I began my student teaching about ten years ago, I attended the first-day-back faculty meeting, during which the building principal chastised teachers, “Don’t use worksheets! They’re not best practice!”

Thinking about what she said, the same two questions come to mind now as they did back then: What should teachers be using instead? Can all worksheets really be that bad?...Let’s focus on answering the second question (which will then naturally help to partially answer the first).

So, here are three reasons to embrace (some) worksheets, reasons that are based on my work as a teacher.

1. Worksheets Can Promote Higher-Order Thinking

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Posted by on in Inquiry-Based Learning

    Once you have a solid project idea, getting it down on paper and delivering it to your students can be a daunting task. At the beginning of the planning process, you often don’t have much more than a blank slate and a job that involves creating directions that will hopefully help to bring to life the project you’re envisioning. I have been designing project based learning directions for several years, and I have found that working with certain features in mind helps to (1) provide me with a solid direction, and (2) assist in making my directions that much more effective.

    Here are ten features to always consider when creating project based learning (PBL) directions for your students.

    1. Essential Question: After you and/or your students have created your project’s essential question, make sure it “hits them in the face” wherever they turn for as long as they are engaged in the project. One way to ensure it’s everywhere is by including it at the top of all project-related materials, such as your directions (think, branding). We want students to see the essential question as much as possible as a continual reminder that everything they are learning falls within its context.

    2. Checkpoints: When students are engaged in PBL (or any type of long-term activity) never wait until the end to see what they know/don’t know. In other words, a final product should never come as a surprise. At certain points in your directions, perhaps after more complicated steps, include something like, “Teacher conference/approval before moving on.” This way, you can consistently gauge “where students are” and then adjust your instruction accordingly.

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    Posted by on in Inquiry-Based Learning

    Marshmallow fluff

      When I taught fourth grade, I was initially met with skepticism from other teachers when I started to regularly engage my students in project based learning (PBL) and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). I think much of this apprehension existed because some of my practices did in fact perpetuate the myth that PBL was fluff and that the “real” teaching and learning takes place through more direct instruction. However, as I continuously reflected upon and refined my craft, many of these doubters went from, “That wouldn’t work with my students!” to “How can that work with my students?”

      Looking back, I still think some of my original PBL practices were forgivable, simply because I had to begin somewhere (Don’t we all?). But, there are definitely some bits of advice I wish I had been given prior to getting started.

      That being said, here are five ways to avoid project based learning fluff.

      1. Focus on the Right Academic Standards: When planning a project it could be tempting to simply start with “cool” ideas, as opposed to first exploring what should be taught based on academic standards (or a standards-aligned curriculum). As a fourth grade teacher I participated in an elementary level STEM initiative. Following the initial professional development I went to plan my first STEM unit, only to realize my curriculum was a bit outdated. So, rather than wasting time designing learning experiences aligned to old standards, I first created an updated makeshift pacing guide to ensure any units I put together would be future proof (until a change in standards, which has still yet to happen).

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      Posted by on in Inquiry-Based Learning

      inquiry learning

      This post was written by Erin Murphy (@MurphysMusings5) and was originally published on her blog.

      The energy in Mrs. Bauer’s sixth grade science classroom is almost palpable. Groups of three to four students are out of their chairs leaning over their tables to get a closer look at a petri dish placed in the center. In the dish, two small insects scurry around. The students carefully move the dish and its inhabitants to get a closer look. Questions and proposals fly in the air and students rapidly jot notes in their science journals.

      Teachers like Mrs. Bauer make inquiry-based instruction seem second nature. However, over the last ten years, my work as a classroom teacher, coach, and now administrator has made clear there are some common myths circulating about inquiry in the classroom.

      Myth #1: Hands-On Experiences = Inquiry

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      Posted by on in Inquiry-Based Learning

      Last week I participated in the EdLeader21 conference in Denver, Colorado (highly recommended). Two of my highlights were Jay McTighe’s (@jaymctighe) two sessions – one on curriculum design and the other on project based learning – and a closing session on design thinking by two members of Stanford’s d.school.

      Throughout the conference (and also during much of this year’s in-district professional development), the primary theme that served as the basis for all of the work was the 4Cs: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. In fact, the EdLeader 21 website sells 4Cs rubrics (free for members), and Jay McTighe’s latest book (which I purchased after watching him present, but have yet to fully read) also contains rubrics for these skills.

      Should these skills be graded?

      First, let’s keep in mind there is a difference between assessment and grading. Whereas the goal of assessment is to improve student learning, grading (or a grade) is generally used to evaluate current level of performance. And, I don’t think anyone would necessarily argue against assessing these skills, at least within the context of learning experiences.

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