Synergy2Learn, #EduCon 2.4, #Synergy8 – Questions are the way points on the path of wisdom

How are you engaging learners in community-issues problem solving? Is your school contemplating and implementing more project-based learning? Do you find it challenging to dig into high-quality PBL? Do you wish you could share stories (like around a campfire) about how to utilize real-world issues to guide instruction, curriculum, pedagogy, and learning? Wish you were elbow-to-elbow with a tribe engaged in a project about PBL?!

On Saturday, January 28, Jill Gough and Bo Adams will be facilitating a conversation at EduCon 2.4: “Synergy – Questions are the way points on the path of wisdom.” We hope you can join the conversation. We plan to 1) share our stories about Synergy 8, 2) elicit others’ stories about how they engage in deep-level PBL at their schools, and 3) ask and respond to a big “What if…” question – What if we built a network of people who were taking on the challenges of community-issues problem solving with adult learners and student learners alike?

We might even start a blog to help connect us all…Synergy2Learn. Let’s build something together…It’s About Learning and Experiments in Learning by Doing!

“I thought Contagious was bad. Can it be good too?” #Synergy

“I thought Contagious was bad. Can it be good too?”  was an early reaction to Kiran Bir Sethi’s TED talk on day one of Synergy.

Have you been introduced to Kiran Bir Sethi, the founder of the Riverside School in Ahmedabad?

On day one with our new Synergy team, we used the TED talk, Kiran Bir Sethi teaches kids to take charge, to introduce Synergy to our new learners.

More from the backchannel:
(Remember…a backchannel is for quick, collaborative note taking and sharing ideas…we encourage our learners to take the editor off of their shoulder and record ideas.  They can polish their writing later when they journal on the ideas that stick.)

  • Inspiration is contagious.
  • kids are doing things for each other instead of adults doing things for kids
  • Contagious; Laughter, Happiness i can- get infected
  • laughter is contagious passion is contagious. i can.good feelings can be contagious
  • The “infection” is slowly spreading
  • 100,000 children stopped and took the time to think “i can.”
  • I think it is about kids being able to change things, not just adults
  • this sounds like synergy.
  • kids can make a change- just find something you want to change and act on it
  • one week of kids doing their part can change so much.
  • I think one of the main points of the video is that kids can change the world no matter how old they are.
    when adults give kids a chance they take it and actually make a change
  • the teachers are the people that believe in us and say “you can”
  • this video shows how much we (8th graders) can help so many people or things
  • the children are using teamwork to change people’s lives like synergy
  • contagious is a good word
  • its good to have the “now” mindset rather than “later”
  • the words “i can” is very important because service, and helping is contagious. You must “infect” minds with the “‘i can bug”. Children must be aware, enabled, and empowered. Take your studies out of the classroom, and change billions of lives. Go from ‘i can’ to ‘you can’ to ‘we can’.
  • I think we have all said “i can” at one point. What these children do, and what Kiran Bir Sethi is saying is almost exactly what Mr. Adams and Mrs. Gough are telling us.
  • Contagious -“i can” -aware: seeing the change -Enable: be changed -Empower: being the change Teacher told me, to… i can! Simple tool kit, sent to india schools Children will thinking of solutions Kids Teaching parents to write&read
  • contagious, infect “I can” aware (seeing the change) enable (being the change) empower (lead the change) “you can” “we can”
  • I think in synergy We will take charge

Amazing!  Isn’t this what we want for our learners?  Actually, isn’t this what we strive for from our citizens?  Aware…Empowered…Enabled community members mobilized to effect positive change.

How can I continue to strive to become the teacher and adult described by two of our Synergy team members?

Teachers are the people that believe in us and say “you can.”

When adults give kids a chance they take it and actually make a change.

Give kids a chance…live the message “you can.”

Get infected…spread the “I can” bug.

Participating virtually – schedules and spaces that fit learning

My child, A-Sunshine, has not been able to go to school for the past two days.  Yesterday, my schedule allowed me to work from home in the morning while her dad taught his classes.  We then traded locations so I could work while he took care of our girl.  A-Sunshine was mildly annoyed with both of us because by lunch she felt better and wanted to go to school. (She is SO my child – I always want to be at school.)

Alas, still under the weather, she could not go to school again today. Our schedules were not so flexible today.  We both had to be at the same meeting at 7:00 a.m.  I stayed home with A-Sunshine but attended all of my professional obligations using technology.

I participated in our PLC-F meeting at 7:00 this morning via Skype.  We are in the midst of developing a common lesson on PBL for our PLCs.  We used a Google doc to collaboratively plan and document our developing lesson which gave me the opportunity to contribute rather than just listen and interact verbally.

When the meeting ended, I continued collaborating with one of our Math/Science PLC facilitators on the lesson plan for today’s meeting as well as her current project with her student-learners in Science.  Then, Bo and I took a few minutes to adjust our class plan and homework assignment for our Synergy team.  Continuing through my “planning” period, I answered lots of email and took 2 phone calls from colleagues to plan projects.

During the 3rd period of the day, I arrived (virtually) in the elementary school for our weekly CTIS meeting with the Deans of IT.  I joined this team meeting via iChat.  We used several Google docs to do some brainwriting and other gamestorming to think, share, and plan together.

I attended the History PLC meeting via iChat and Google docs during 4th period.  We discussed cryptography, World War II, and numeracy as we continue to work on this team’s SMART goal to integrate numeracy into U.S. History.

Lunch with A-Sunshine was next with an announcement that she wanted to go to school.  “I am not sick; you need to go to Synergy, Mommy!”  Sweet and true.  All of the color is back in her face, and she is very active – art, math, reading, money, and fashion show.  So we are off to school so that I can learn with my Synergy team.

During this week last year we were all at home because of snow and ice.  Part of our Learning for Life vision statement calls for an essential action that utilizes 21st Century Learning Environments.  I don’t feel absent from school today.  I have participated in every activity planned for and by me today.

If we were to have a “Snowcation” again this year, how prepared are we to have class virtually?  Have we considered what tools and strategies we would employ?  Do we have a plan for contacting our student-learners, and do they know the plan?  Have we checked our online presence to make sure our learners know how to find all class resources?  Are we using our technology as teachnology?

Passionate Motivated Learners: 2011 Google Global Science Fair winners

Meet this year’s Google Global Science Fair winners:

  • Lauren, 13, studied the effect of marinades on the level of  carcinogens in grilled chicken. (Google n. pag.)
  • Naomi, 16, proposed that making changes to indoor environments to improve indoor air quality can reduce people’s reliance on asthma medications. (Google n. pag.)
  • Shree, 17, discovered a way to improve ovarian cancer treatment for patients who have built up a resistance to certain chemotherapy drugs. (Google n. pag.)

Listen and watch as they share their thinking and learning at TEDxWomen:

The idea that sticks with me comes from both Lauren and Shree.  Lauren said she emailed approximately 2oo different people for space to work to work in a lab, and she got 1 positive response, 1.  Shree says she emailed all the professors in her area asking to work under their supervision in a lab and got rejected by all but 1 professor.

It makes me wonder about PBL in school.  How often do I fall in the 1 positive response category?  Can we mobilize teams of learners to do meaningful project work? Work and learning driven by the questions, passions, and interests of the learners?  Will our disciplines serve their projects?  How can we configure time to accommodate rich meaningful project work?

Check out the photos posted on the Google Science Fair Facebook page.  Talk about presenting to an authentic audience, wow! Look at the panel of judges.  The list includes Nobel Laureates, scientists, and technology visionaries.  Notice the technology at each station; these presentations are dynamic and interactive without trifold display boards.

We should also celebrate the 15 finalists from Mississippi, Georgia, California, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Calgary, Singapore, Texas, Chennai, Cape Town, and New Jersey.

From Top 15 finalists from Google’s international Science Fair by Rachel King published by ZDNet:

And from Matson, John’s article Down to the Final 15 at the First-Ever Google Science Fair published by Scientific American:

We are in the positive response category in several ways.  Bo Adams (It’s About Learning) and I co-facilitate Synergy, a non-departmentalized, non-graded, transdisciplinary, community-issues-problem-solving course for 8th graders.  Our 8th grade advisement program, LEAP (Leadership Experience Advisement Program) engages in a year-long experience to take on a global issue or social-justice concern with a locally enacted project.

We would love it if you would share your positive response actions to help us add to our toolkit of ideas, strategies, and actions.


Google. “Hats off to the winners of the inaugural Google Science Fair.” The Official Google Blog. 12 Jul. 2011. Web. 11 Jan. 2012

King, Rachel. “Top 15 finalists from Google’s international Science Fair.” ZDNet. CBS Interactive. 11 Jul. 2011. Web.  11 Jan. 2012.

Matson, John. “Down to the Final 15 at the First-Ever Google Science Fair.” Scientific American. 11 Jul. 11. Web.  11 Jan. 2012.

Enrichment Activity: The Fibonacci Sequence & Series

What do we do with or for learners that enriches their view and learning of patterns and math?  How to we inspire learners to connect math and patterns to real things?

In our Algebra I team, we’ve been discussing how to offer enrichment learning and activities to promote growth for learners who master topics quickly.  We don’t want to make it “harder” or a “higher pile” so what do we do?

While I was researching video for my previous post, If a picture is worth 1000 words, what is video worth?, I ran across Nature by Numbers:

The Nature by Numbers video then made me think of Vi Hart and her post Doodling in Math: Spirals, Fibonacci, and Being a Plant [1 of 3].

The combination of these two videos is awesome.  Which is more engaging to you?  Could we design enrichment opportunities that promote communication, collaboration, creativity, and investigation of real world patterns and beauty? Could these enrichment opportunities lead to project-based learning and integrated studies?

Meet Aidan, Grade 7, Young Naturalist Awards, 2011 and read The Secret of the Fibonacci Sequence in Trees to learn about his redesign of solar panels based on his observations of trees and a connection he made to Fibonacci.

Wow! This is the type of learning – PBL – that I want for my learners.

Collaborative Learning through Peer Observation

While we need to continue working with some of our learners on the essentials from first semester, we must begin the necessary work to learn the essentials of second semester too.  DD and I took about 30 minutes right after homeroom this morning to discuss the upcoming unit on exponential functions.  We actually over planned and had to back down from our original conversation to make time for our learners to have group work time to finish analyzing and correcting their December exam.

We decided that I would come team teach our collaboratively planned lesson during 7th period.  As it turns out, I actually had the opportunity to observe, participate, and reflect instead of team teaching.  It was incredibly valuable to me as a learner.  I knew the plan and had the opportunity to observe the lesson.  I could listen to the learners discuss their thinking and questions.  I could observe and take note of the successful inquiry method DD used to facilitate the discussion while her learners took charge and “drove” the experience.

Here is a copy of our email exchange during the day:

From: DD
Date: Wed, 4 Jan 2012 11:02:49 -0500
To: Jill Gough
Cc: BA
Subject: Intro to Exponents Lesson


Thank you for helping me think through this lesson and helping me teach it today; I thought it went well.  The kids were more engaged than usual.  Attached is the Notebook document.


From: Jill Gough
Date: Wed, 4 Jan 2012 11:16:51 -0500
To: DD
Cc: BA, BC, WB, SM
Subject: Inquiry driven lesson on exponents today.

Wow, DD!  I loved your inquired based lesson on exponents today.  Your willingness and ability to let the learners lead the lesson is amazing!

You started with a think-pair-share to offer your learners an opportunity to reflect what they already knew about exponents.  We heard “I’m a genius” a lot, but was the tone sarcastic, confident, or some of each?  You then let groups share out what they knew which created that “dinner table conversation” in your classroom.  A+; you know how I love that. Their struggle to communicate because of a lack of vocabulary drove home the point that they needed a common language.  I love how you got them to tell you the vocab rather than telling them what they’ve forgotten. I thought your follow-up questions and prompting were excellent.

I loved that you recorded what each student said and then revised it with them when revision was needed.  Again, brava.

Then, you asked for a vote:  True or False?  Is –3^2 = (-3)^2.  And the results showed 7-True and 7-False.  Split right down the middle…interesting (and expected)!  You then challenged your learners to “prove” it and offered them two GREAT hints!  I love that you encouraged them to work in a group to “hash it out”, and you said that you learned something about Google today.  [FL] picked right up on the Google hint and used it as her justification.  [FL] also used the Googled information to explain why the answer was false.  It was fantastic that when you prompted your high schooler, who was working in isolation, to choose me as his partner, [CC] turned to him and offered to convince him that her group had the correct answer.  [CC]’s confidence to go to the SMARTBoard and use order of operations was so GREAT!  The longer she talked, the more students listened…and asked questions!  It was a GREAT “tangible moment of success” for [CC].

Then, you asked a deeper question which again caused amazing conversation between your learners…you asked them to evaluate x^2 when x = -4.  A GREAT formative assessment question to check for understanding while “leveling up.” Wasn’t it interesting that all of the boys thought the answer was –16 and all but one girl thought the answer was 16?  Your reiteration of “use order of operations” was perfect.

Finally, you asked another T/F:  Is –2^3 = (-2)^3.  While you asked for a vote, you didn’t bother to record the vote (they all had the right answer), because it was more important to ask why?  Show me why it is true.  And getting them to make a rule…GREAT idea.  You worked on their numeracy, fluency, and vocabulary with one problem.

The atmosphere and tone of your class was very comfortable and collaborative.  Students appeared confident and comfortable asking questions and saying that they need help.

Thank you for letting me join in the fun!

From: DD
Date: Wed, 4 Jan 2012 11:22:25 -0500
To: Jill Gough
Subject: Re: Inquiry driven lesson on exponents today.

Wow, you’re fast.  I didn’t realize all of that was accomplished.  Thank you for the email.  I am writing up lesson notes for future because just looking at the notebook document was not very helpful.

From: DD
Date: Wed, 4 Jan 2012 14:42:10 -0500
To: Jill Gough
Subject: Lesson Notes

I wrote today’s lesson up, so I could use it next year.  Will you see if I left anything out?

Here is an incomplete list of what I learned:

  • We are smarter than me.” The lesson we developed together was better than the lesson I planned in isolation.
  • Given enough wait time and a series of good leading questions, our students will recall and teach the vocabulary and the theory.
  • Student engagement is high when their questions drive the lesson.  DD’s delivery “covered” what we planned, but the children determined the order.  Their questions demonstrated their readiness to learn.
  • Recording what they say – even when not completely correct – and revising it in with them as the conversation improves the ideas and notes is awesome.
  • I should have captured snippets of the class with my video camera.
    • I was very impressed with CC’s confidence and leadership.  I regret not having captured it on video as evidence of her good work.  Don’t you think her Grade Chair and parents would love to see her in action in algebra?
    • FL also had impressive moments that should have been captured on video.  Her use of technology to determine the correct answer to the T/F question was good, but her description of how she learned was excellent!

Who are/were the learners during this peer observation?  What is the value of having a peer observe your lesson?  It is just difficult to “see” all that happens while you are facilitating a lesson.  What is the value of being the observer of a lesson?  Can you see the learning that occurred during this brief visit?

Peer observation….it’s about learning.

How do we use the December exam as formative assessment?

Our learners took exams (summative assessment) prior to the Christmas break.  But, can’t we use the exam as both a summative assessment AND a formative assessment?

I’m interested and curious about different strategies and methods used to help learners process and reflect on their exam experience and the accumulation of what they know.  Since each learner will have different bright spots and strengths, what strategies are used to differentiate for intervention and enrichment?

In Algebra I, we aim to get “in the weeds” about this reflection and intervention.  We want every child to reflect on what they could demonstrate well and where they need additional help.  We do not want them to move to high school and geometry next year with any doubt or weakness if we can help now.  But, how do we know who needs help?  We collect data, but we let our learners do the data collection.  We need to be informed; they need to be informed.  We are a team working toward the goal of mastery or proficiency for all learners.

Our process:

  1. Return the exam to the learner on the first day back.
  2. Have each learner complete the exam analysis and reflection form (shown below) to identify strengths and areas of need.
        1. Circle the number of any missed problem.
        2. Begin, and possibly complete, correcting missed problems to review the material and determine if any error was a simple mistake or if more help is needed.
        3. Write the reflection about strengths, struggles, and goals.
        4. Report results on our team’s Google doc. (This is a copy; feel free to explore and “report” data to see how it feels. You can view the results here.)
  3. Meet in team to review all results and analyze for groups to design and provide necessary intervention and additional learning experiences.
  4. All assessments 2nd semester will have questions from first semester essential learnings to offer learners the opportunity to show growth and to help with retention.

Okay…so I am a member of the Algebra I team, but it important to note that all members of our math PLC in the junior high follow approximately this same strategy for exam correction and reflection.   We are also shooting for this level of analysis with our science PLT and our US History PLT.  We have made it to stage one, having a table of specifications, and we hope to start working toward using the table of specifications for student reflection and growth.

We would love it if others would share methods and strategies for helping learners grow from an exam experience.  How do students reflect on their work?  What opportunities are offered to help students carry the essential learnings from first semester through second semester and/or into the next level of learning?