Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Reflection on the Justice and Peace project

The mantra in my head during the last weeks of the project process was inspired by a colleague at a meeting a few weeks ago: "I am not afraid of failure." Not that I was worried or anything...

The projects were complete and presented earlier in the new year, and I don't think they failed. One goal was for a "richer" experience for my students than what last year's final project in the class provided. Goal achieved. I hoped to understand better how the CBL process works. Mission accomplished. And along the way I witnessed good thinking, enthusiasm about topics such as community, environment and abortion, and good learning -- about those content areas, technology, and about, well, learning.

But there was room for improvement. The quality of the "solutions" was uneven, though as the presentations were carried out, I saw some good research, some good design, some creativity. At times directions were not followed. Some creative ideas were left by the wayside due to procrastination or for other reasons. Some groups did not take their efforts as far as they could've, would've, should've.

I feel that I discussed the project well enough in class, nudged and prodded, offered feedback and clear directions and guidelines. But those guidelines were not always met. So, based on my own reflection and feedback solicited from students, what will I do differently next time?

1. Maybe I won't present it all at once. Students seemed confused at first by what the "solution" would entail. Maybe I will just have them ask the questions and seek the information and then ask, "What are you going to do with this?" I'm not sure about this yet.

2. Be even more of a cheerleader. And be more insistent about thinking "outside the box" (cliche, I know). Make clearer that "variety of sources" does not mean "different websites."

3. Verify that my written feedback is getting through. I wrote comments on Google docs, but I'm not really certain, now that I think of it, that they were read. I assumed too much.

4. Be more insistent about students documenting roles, responsibilities and deadlines. I feel that our students are used to getting things done by hook or by crook, and all that matters to them is having a final product by a final deadline. It wasn't clear to them that for me, the process was important, too (though it should have been clear, and more so for the 25% or so who actually accessed the rubric provided well in advance on Moodle). For some, collaboration skills are lacking. You can't complain that your classmate let you down if you and your classmate did not reach an agreement about what she would be responsible for.

5. Have another look at the timeline. Too much time? Too little? Most students seemed comfortable with the time given, but I saw them working toward the end of deadlines. One group wished they had learned about the project early in the semester.

Surprisingly, the technology aspect was not too troublesome. I had, I think, two students come to me with issues regarding uploading material. But I also had students editing video and creating websites, in some cases without previous experience.

I don't teach this course in the current semester, so I'll have a while before I go at this particular assignment again, and it's going to have a different flavor. I am in an interdisciplinary collaboration of my own with colleagues who will focus in various classes on "re-imagining Detroit." I'm excited to see where that may lead... next year.

Calendars galore

Even as a teacher interested in ways that technology can help the classroom experience, there is one area that I had been avoiding: calendars. Some teachers make homework assignments available online. I resisted at first, just as I resisted when our school tried to implement a homework hotline that made the information available during after-school hours. My reasoning was that if I tell students verbally and write it on the board, that should be enough. Having the information available at all times gave students an excuse not to pay attention in class.

Which seems a bit silly now, of course.

What changed my mind was that there are always a number of absent students. And now instead of students coming to class and asking, "what did I miss?" I more often have e-mails. After responding to plenty of those over time, I decided there must be a better way. So, for a while I tried to remember to post assignments in a particular spot on Moodle. (Moodle has a calendar feature, but since I don't have different sections separated out, it won't do the job for me). That didn't last too long.

Now, after trying out a couple of personal calendars on Google, I am doing a full-fledged experiment with Google calendars for homework. One for each class. We'll see if I can get into the groove and remember to post, once a week, as I do my plans. I hope it will save time overall, with fewer e-mails to respond to.