So, I’ve been thinking more about the Project Zero conference (Learning Together: Leading Together) I attended a few weeks ago in Washington, DC. (I already wrote a brief post about this conference.) One of the final speakers,Project Zero researcher Tina Blythe, talked about finding your driftwood–that piece, that nugget to take back to your classroom and your practice. Well, I brought back a lot more than that. I will admit that I am a collector at heart and bring things back from pretty much anywhere.
Here’s a list of key ideas I am holding onto. The list got kind of long, once I started writing. That’s the way it is with a good conference.
A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE
The global outlook at the school and in discussions about art was noticeably different. I am thinking a lot about the potential for being more global, or maybe just more outward looking, as the ‘why’ for the interdisciplinary work my school is investigating. I’m not sure why it felt so different; it’s not as if we don’t discuss the world at my school. We do. I suspect that a lot of the difference was the international participants. Even though this is an area that is hard to quantify, I was struck by it almost immediately. Plus, I am definitely going to look into the Out of Eden Learn project where “walking parties” join journalist and National Geographic Fellow Paul Salopek as he walks 21,000 miles retracing the spread of humans across the planet.
There was a lot of talk about the need to slow down and recognize the time it takes to think and wrestle with ideas. (David Perkins from Project Zero spoke about this, but others also referenced this need to slow down to think.) Thinking critically about complex ideas is easier said than done; we need to recognize this and help students enter and identify parts of the thinking process. In addition, we need to be aware of when we are taking thinking shortcuts (which we will need to do sometimes in the interest of time and return on investment), and what those shortcuts mean. One of the things I am thinking about with this is homework and quantity of homework. Are we assigning thoughtful work or just work? If it’s just work, what’s the point? All it does is get in the way of spending time really wrestling with something that is substantive.
UNDERCURRENT (in a good way, not in a creepy way) of USE OF TOPICAL WORLD EVENTS
While this wasn’t THE focus for any session I attended, it a given in a lot of the work showcased. This connects with the global piece above. I saw a lot of evidence of effective use of very current events (spread of Zika, refugee crisis, etc) to focus class investigation. This kind of study necessitates an interdisciplinary approach as well as slowing down to learn about the issue from many vantage points. Victory! In this area we also saw evidence of student directed learning. Maybe this was in connection to events that were being studied, but there seemed to be a lot of this. It dovetails nicely with a lot of conversations we have been at my school.
VISIBLE THINKING ROUTINES
This is a big Project Zero thing (Making Thinking Visible) and something that really interests me. As a former elementary/middle school teacher, using graphic organizers, color coding information, making charts and graphs is right up my alley. What I notice is that this kind of work often fades away in high school settings. These strategies are frequently seen as the supports that are used until students can just write about all of this in a paper. However, with complex ideas, it’s important, at any age, to break pieces apart, gather, group, and regroup information. The tyranny of text is real, in my opinion. Text is not always the best format or at least not the only format. The idea that we can support students in deep, slow critical thinking without helping to make thinking patterns visible is unrealistic. This works directly in support of deeper, more interdisciplinary, global study.
STUDENT AND TEACHER DEMONSTRATIONS OF LEARNING
At conferences there is often a feeling of teachers as a learning community. The people who attend are there to learn. However, another thing that was on display at the conference was schools hosting Exhibitions of Learning. These might be students displays but also might be teacher displays. I loved this idea that learning was on display by all members of the school community. In the session on teacher displays, the format was that teachers made 3-fold science boards, just like students do for science fairs. Teachers share an idea that they tried to implement, their results, and reflections. Others give them feedback on their work as the tour the learning fair. This was a big take away for me. I love to talk with colleagues about teaching ideas. However, I have my regulars with whom I talk. This exhibition of learning is a great idea for sharing across disciplines and promoting a culture of continued growth.
Finally, I was impressed by the seriousness with which WISC (Washington International School) went about incorporating Project Zero ideas and work into their community. Once they decided this would important school-wide, they committed to spending serious money and time with PZ researchers in their school for 2 years. They view it as a significant commitment; one they acknowledge they are still working to realize.
Phew. That’s a lot of drift wood.