January 21

It all comes down to #stories

I posted this on Facebook tonight, with a comment of, “#familyresemblance, my dad’s oldest brother and my youngest son.” Within seconds I had a bunch of “likes” and “loves” (and a “wow”), many of them from people whom I rarely interact with on Facebook. What caught people’s attention? Not how handsome these young men are, but the #story. Images of two young men frozen in time at similar ages, separated by nearly 80 years, yet genetically entangled enough to closely resemble each other. One who obviously spent time in the military. The other, we have no idea (yet) of he present or future, but we would like to know more. Our stories are what bind us together as humankind.

A few days ago, I was checking out at the grocery store. The clerk made a silence-filling comment we have all heard many times, about yearning for the end of her shift so she could go home. Oftentimes, I would have smiled and nodded or similarly acknowledged her comment without engaging. Instead, I responded, asked her more about her work day, and by the time we finished conversing, I knew a ton, not only about her work day but her family life, her dog, and where she lived. Why was she so open? Maybe I was the first person in the day who had actually tried to create a connection? Who showed an interest in her beyond being the person scanning items and telling me the total?

My #oneword for 2022 is #truthful, and one way I can be more truthful is by being present, being curious, actively engaging with others, reinforcing the importance of their stories.

October 21

Palettes, Storyboards, and Cadences

The 2021 #writeout theme is Palettes, Storyboards, and Cadences, which meshes well with my recent reflections regarding layers of color. My musings started as I was madly turning peppers into jelly; peppers of all the autumn palette — shades of yellow, orange, red, combined with others that were green, reflecting the green lawns and other vegetation still in a robust phase of life.

 

The flavor palettes of the resulting jellies are also layered, with the melding of the aromas and different levels of spiciness. My recipe has been pretty straightforward – take a bunch of whatever peppers are on hand, de-seed and finely chop them (hurray for food processors), then boil them with pectin and sugar. Five minutes in a boiling water bath to seal the canning jars and the job is done! Since the medley of peppers has been different for each batch, the resulting yumminess is one-of-a-kind, never again to be exactly duplicated.

Simultaneously, the tree and shrub color palette here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon has been gradually changing for six weeks or more, seemingly with the softer yellows and oranges starting the cadence, followed by a crescendo of vibrant colors of deep orange and red. Recently, after a long period of drought, the skies have been leaden, with low-hanging clouds and rain, which further sets the striking colors in relief.

The precipitation and autumn breezes have caused many leaves to fall to the ground, where they are being trodden underfoot. As time passes, they will decompose and enrich the soil, helping the earth regenerate itself. 

 

As the season marches forward at its predictable pace, a few outliers have emerged, such as this iris which seems to have forgotten it is meant to bloom in June. This reminds me of myself at times, especially when I get vocal about the necessity of #PBL projects being #authentic and #relevant instead of a pretend situation. When students are asked to write a letter or make a proposal, or tackle a #community problem, yet their work is never presented to the #audience in question, it diminishes the importance in their eyes, and lacks #realworld validation.

This and a few other iris arrived at my garden in early spring, a donation from another gardener in my new town. I am steadily building up the outdoor spaces, which eighteen months ago looked mostly like this, with a solitary earthworm plowing its way through the clay. I have added several tons of compost to the ground, and planted many flowers, shrubs, and a couple of trees, many of which attract pollinators and other wild critters who are native to this area.

Today, there is a growing abundance of edible and ornamental flora and fauna:

Nature is one of the best teachers, reminding us that if we honor it, follow its cadences, and learn by observation and experimentation, it will flourish. And, in the process, we will be nourished and also flourish.

October 25

A Bedazzled Day

It was one of those bedazzled days that needs to be pulled up from the archives periodically. In a single day, my #Meliora students:

  • Asked to take on more responsibility for their learning. Not their project work, where they already have a lot of #voice and #choice, but in learning the more basic, some would call drudgery, content related to the US Constitution and Government.
  • Offered thoughtful, practical ideas to make our Google Classroom environment function better. Not only does this demonstrate the maturity of their thinking, it shows they trust me to listen and to respect their ideas.
  • Asked to present a “surprise” at the end of class, which was a compilation of (200ish!) photos from a variety of project deep dives and outings over the span of several years. This helped all of us acknowledge our sense of isolation. By reliving some shared experiences, the students are trying to strengthen those weakened human bonds. Additionally, the new students in the class were given a glimpse into the exhilaration that comes with working together on a #project.

One of the great things about my #PBL practice is that many of my students return year-over-year. Not only does that allow me to continue to help them deepen their #criticalthinking skills, they move into a #mentorship role with new students and further develop #leadership skills.

I recognize the sharing of memories among returning students may have made the new students feel left out, not part of the club. I welcome ideas of how to bridge that gap, to ensure new students feel included.

September 3

Conversations through poetry #remix

I was touched by the reaction my #clmooc friend Sheri had to this post and to my poem of anguish, a plea for a change in our society’s approach to the events taking place. Sheri remixed my poem into this beautiful piece of art, both visual and poetic, which offers hope. My friend Kevin picked up the threads and wove them into yet another poem, furthering the tenor of hope.

My response to them and others in this conversation. Let’s continue this poem-versation!

 

Harvest is upon us,
hues saturate.
Rest is coming,
a time to reflect.

Anger, discontent
soften to conversation,
fertilize new thinking.
We hum, then sing
songs together.

We dream of renewed life,
envision new growth,
dare to share.

This fresh view ignites,
bursts into new song,
blending our voices of all colors.

Together, we plan for a new spring,
scattering seeds of peace,
renewing our promise
of vibrant life for all.

August 31

Be angry and sin not

My Christian faith compels me to process events through the eyes of Jesus. As I am blasted by the neverending news reporting of the civil unrest taking place in the United States, I am crushed with sadness. Everyone has a position, and many positions are hostile and confrontational; “Kill the pigs!,” “He was a criminal,” “we need Law and Order!”

As I think of what is recorded in the Bible about Jesus’ life, I am reminded that he taught love, gentleness, grace and mercy. He regularly spent time with the outcasts of society, those crippled, maimed, adulterers. The only times he showed anger were in his judgment of the religious leaders who were using the Law of Moses as an excuse to be harsh, dispassionate and as a money grab.

What if we applied Jesus’ teachings to our everyday life? What if we spoke with kindness rather than condemnation? What if we truly tried to see people’s lives through a filter of grace? What if we learned to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?”

As rage, distrust and violence has swirled around me, Ephesians 4:26 has come to my mind often, “Be angry and sin not.” We should be angry when injustice happens. Instead of responding in kind, we need to respond with love and compassion, and seek justice and peace. 

If enough of us apply Jesus’ teachings, we will be able to attain what is said in Isaiah 2:4, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” That is my deepest wish.

Be angry and sin not

Say his name
sketch his likeness
tell all the world
how much you miss him.

Not everyone accepts
acts of destruction
as cries of anguish
craving to be heard.

I seek to understand,
to enter in to your pain,
to offer a safe place
for you to lament.

I am bruised
from all the anger.
Voices of all colors
loudly talking
and not listening.

I implore you!
Let us beat swords
into plowshares,
together sow fields of peace,
and rejoice in the harvest.

 

April 20

Poetry

When I first saw this cloud shape as I was walking this evening, I thought of a Boeing 747, the ultimate “jumbo jet,” an aircraft we seldom see anymore. As a young adult, I admired them as the princess of the sky, and even flew on a few.

As I continued my walk, the cloud began disintegrating. My last glimpse was of this:

A sense of melancholy overtook me, as my mind turned to September 11, 2001, “9/11.” I believe all of the aircraft involved in that terrorist attack were smaller ships, but nonetheless had a strong association. Perhaps this is because of our current situation, with the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on our lives, our well-being, and our economy.

Once again, I took an idea from my #CLMOOC friend Kim and created a poem with only single-syllable words. Hers was inspired by waterfall poetry, mine is just… mine.

I see
a shape
a plane
no
a cloud
I think of
large craft
men in suits
wives in heels
glam, safe
then
nine-one-one of two-oh-oh-one
crashed
stunned
pained
dazed
slow mend
now
two-oh-one-nine
germs
ill
spread
dead
fear
lone
no trust
sad

 

May 13

Celebration!

For the past several months, I have been alternately a coach, cheerleader and nag in supporting a group of five teens as they have created and iteratively evolved a #project for National History Day (#NHD), a #process I detail here.

The students successfully advanced through two regional competitions. The stage was set for the last leap as they presented themselves before a panel of judges at Illinois History Day, the final round of competitions from which national delegates are chosen.

In theory, the interview is moot, as the judges are instructed to assess the projects based solely on the concrete evidence – the product (in this case a documentary) and supporting documentation (annotated bibliography and process paper). Having some insight into human behavior, I believe these informal interviews nonetheless influence the judges in their conclusions.

Initially, the group of #Meliora students was confident as they answered the judges’ questions. Then, they were asked about something they were unprepared for. They would have probably been best served by saying they didn’t know the answer. Instead, they fumbled around and several students gave conflicting information.

They left the interview totally dejected, knowing they had flubbed, and convinced they had lost their opportunity to advance. A few hours later, they glumly presented themselves for the closing ceremony, where the national delegates were to be announced. There are only 18 projects which advance from each state to the national level, and my students were in competition with dozens of other Illinois students. They understood the stakes.

We all agonized through the obligatory announcements. Finally, the moment of truth arrived. Ploddingly, the announcer named the NHD qualifiers for other categories. She arrived at documentaries, backtracked, then spoke… “Senior level, group documentary… Colleen Moore…” Hysteria erupted among the Meliora contingent, beginning with the parents. The students were stunned, then raced up to collect their medals and to await the photo opps. Jubilant, I ran with my camera to capture their joy.

For a glimpse into how the #iterative process embedded in this competition (and in #PBL in general) helps develop a variety of skills, from critical thinking to creativity, take a peek at their product for the first competition:

And the one which earned them a spot at NHD:

Of course, they are not done. They will be revising their documentary one more time before heading to the University of Maryland in early June.

April 26

#PBL as a #process within a #framework

Recently, a team of five #Meliora students uploaded a newly refined version of their history fair project. Next week, they will be competing at Illinois History Day, the last step in their quest to qualify as national contestants.

National History Day (#NHD) provides a good example of the Project-Based Learning (#PBL) #process and #lifecycle. Students are first challenged at a local/school level to create a project, within a specified #framework. As pointed out in the High Quality Project Based Learning Framework, and by John Spencer, high-quality PBL is not a free-for-all, but rather #learnercentered work conducted within the boundaries of a defined structure.

The NHD project framework consists of the following specific criteria:

  1. Must strongly incorporate the annual #theme (the 2018-2019 theme is “Triumph & Tragedy in History”).
  2. A choice of five categories: paper; exhibit; performance; documentary; or website. This variety offers students abundant #voice and #choice in the product they create. Ultimately, the product serves as their primary #evidence of #learning.
  3. Constraints for each project category. For example, documentaries cannot exceed ten minutes in length. Conversely, they should not be much less than ten minutes long, (an unspoken rule) because if students cannot find ten minutes of evidence to support their argument, it suggests they have not looked into their topic deeply enough.
  4. Supplementary documentation, including an annotated bibliography and a process (#reflection) paper.
  5. #Public #presentation (#communication) before a panel of judges at each level of competition. The judges use identical evaluation criteria for each category of project, focusing on the clarity and strength of the argument the students develop in defense of their thesis statement.

Nearly every discipline uses a framework or blueprint for their creative work, it’s a writer’s workshop structure, an engineering process, the scientific method, or a design thinking framework. ~ John Spencer

Students have complete voice and choice in the topic they explore, as long as their thesis and argument fit within the framework. In past years, Meliora students have explored topics as diverse as “The Tucker Torpedo,” Women’s Suffrage, Michael Jordan (national contender) and Soul Train (national contender). The topics chosen reflect the students’ interests, while at the same time requiring them to conduct thorough research.

In many cases, the students started their journey with superficial knowledge. As they dug deeper, their knowledge and critical analysis expanded. Not only did they learn more about their chosen topic, but more importantly (shhhhh, don’t tell them), they developed a much deeper understanding of the historical context, content, and relevance.

In my role as #facilitator, I did not “teach” them about their topic. Rather, I asked them many open-ended questions: “Why did [event] happen?” “What else was happening in the [country, world] at the time?” “What was life like at that time?” “How do you know?” I also helped them locate resources, and persistently asked them to use proper research methods.

This year, the most significant #mindset growth this team made was arguably related to an interview they conducted. That one 20-minute activity (plus the preparation work) exponentially boosted their confidence and their belief that they have significance, not only in the teen world, but also the adult world.

As I also write here, students who participate in National History Day create multiple #iterations of their product, refining their work between each level of competition. Since the project framework remains constant, they invariably are faced with making tough decisions as to which evidence is most relevant to their thesis argument. There is frequent anguish as they remove a favorite quote or an image they love, even as they recognize that a particular element is less important than others they need to include.

This refinement process is an excellent tool for helping the students develop #criticalthinking skills. When they are struggling to make decisions and ask my advice, my standard response is, “In what way does it support your thesis?” Often accompanied by sighs and groans, they make the correct decision.

This is the documentary going to competition next week:

For the truly dedicated, here is the team’s first version:

April 23

Intersections of poetry & improv

My friend Kim recently wrote about how she and her students were writing poems using inspiration from three words provided by the students. She describes how in the first iteration, the poems were very literal in their interpretation. Kim then worked with the students to brainstorm imagery related to the words. Finally, she challenged them (and herself) to write a poem using the three words without the poem being about any of the words. As she understates, “[t]his was much more difficult!”

Kim’s observations parallel the learning process of improv, a new-ish endeavor of mine. At the beginning of a set, the performers typically ask the audience to provide one or more words that are then used as inspiration for creating scenes and story lines. Just as Kim describes, emerging players often create scenes that stick close to the literal words, whereas more experienced players use them truly as inspiration and wander much further afield in associations and connections. As a result, their scenes are richer and more satisfying, to both the performers and the audience.

Developing any new competence takes time, practice, encouragement and constructive feedback. I’m fortunate to be learning to perform improv at a studio which swarms with supportive, encouraging instructors and fellow performers. This nurturing environment is part of the culture, fostered by the owner and artistic director.

In our schools, we have the same opportunity, and responsibility, to develop and sustain a culture which encourages students to grow into their full potential.

 

April 15

Another example of how and why #PBL works

A few days ago, I informed a group of five #Meliora students that their history project had advanced to Illinois History Day, the last step in their quest to become contestants at National History Day.

I see these students face-to-face one day a week; the rest of the time they work individually and in a virtual environment using collaborative tools such as G Suite for Education and Trello. I informed them by email of their victory, expecting some kind of happy dance response. And received silence.

The next day, my phone rang. “Um, Miz J, we have been working on updating our project narrative. Can you look at it and give us feedback?” They had arranged a face-to-face meeting among themselves and gone to work.

This is a fine example of #intrinsic motivation, and an outcome commonly seen in #PBL (project-based learning). As I describe here, engagement was maximized by giving students #voice and #choice over their project topic, and also over the format they used to develop their product.

They have been working on this project (along with other things) this whole semester. This long exploration exemplifies “sustained inquiry,” an integral element of Gold Standard PBL, as defined by PBLworks. Multiple factors have sustained the students’ interest. Initially, they were intrigued to find out more about the subject of their project, Colleen Moore. They researched using books, clips of her silent movies, online archives, databases, etc.

Once they wearied of these forms of investigation, they experienced a fresh spark when they interviewed Ms Moore’s grandson. His descriptions of her, and other connections he pointed them to, renewed their enthusiasm for digging deeper into evidence of her life and influence.

The inquiry process takes time, which means a Gold Standard project lasts more than a few days. In PBL, inquiry is iterative; when confronted with a challenging problem or question, students ask questions, find resources to help answer them, then ask deeper questions – and the process repeats until a satisfactory solution or answer is developed. ~ PBLworks

Another important factor in the students’ continued enthusiasm is the public audience, another tenet of Gold Standard PBL. At each level of competition, they present their project before a panel of judges. Invariably, the judges express interest in their work and in their process. The judges also provide the students with specific suggestions on how to improve their work.

This encouragement and critique from the outside audience spurs the students on to create yet another #iteration of their project (also integral to Gold Standard PBL). The stakes are also higher at each level of the history fair competition, which intensifies both the focus and the stress.

The challenge is to ensure the students are experiencing an appropriate level of stress. As this Psychology Today article states, “You experience good stress when you feel a sense of control over the event in question. No matter how your body may respond in the moment, you know you’re going to come out fine on the other side—and perhaps even better for the experience.” My observation is this group of students is functioning within this range. Their ultimate goal is to advance to the national level of competition. At the same time, they are staying grounded, taking one step at a time, to each subsequent level of competition.

The current iteration of their project may be viewed here.