Tag Archives: innovation

Synergy 8: the wish, the plan, the needs…

We are approaching the end of the time we will devote to our Alpha project so that our teams can move into their Beta project.  As is our practice, Bo and I are more directive with the choices during the Alpha project stage in an effort to help our learners understand how they will develop a game plan, communication strategies, collect data, and identify community issues as a team.

We used Jamie Oliver’s Ted Prize wish as a prompt for writing to find closure for our work on the Alpha projects.  If you have not watched Jamie Oliver’s TED Prize wish: Teach every child about food I think you would enjoy taking 22 minutes to listen and learn.

We asked our learners to:

  1. Read Jamie Oliver’s Ted Prize wish.
  2. Create a one-pager about your sub-team’s Alpha project using Jamie Oliver’s – “The Wish,” “The Plan,” and “The Needs,” using one of your Ignite-lite revised  slides as a visual.
  3. Post this one-pager on each sub-team members’ wmslearns blog.

We hope this experience and activity offers our learners an opportunity to find closure as a team.  We also hope Jamie Oliver’s TED talk provides inspiration and offers an example of Synergy 8’s essential learnings in action.

I wonder how much we know about what is important to our students.  How much time do we tell them what we think they need to know, learn, and do?  How much time do we let them tell us what they need to know, learn, and do?  Won’t they learn the same things either way?

We can easily find math, biology, health, writing, history, etc. in Jamie Oliver’s talk, research, and learning just by listening.  (Can you believe the volume of sugar consumed by one child in the first 5 years of elementary school just from milk?)

Shouldn’t we listen to their questions, issues, and concerns and find our discipline within the topics of interest to our learners?  Will we?

Here is just one of the wishes from our current Synergy 8 team.

We wish to rid [our community] of littering and engage everyone in our movement to make recycling contagious.

Our plan is to find the locations that have litter on campus, where they require more trash cans, and to keep the campus cleaner. We are going to do this by surveying the students to see their opinions about the matter.  Then we [want] to change the trash cans to make them more efficient towards the environment and more convenient for the students.

This sub-team contacted our Assistant Director of Facilities and asked one question.  Here are snippets of the electronic conversation:

Our group is doing a project about recycling and littering on campus. We were wondering if you could tell us what can be recyclable in the small bins located in each class room. We are going to make signs for each bin so people can know what they can recycle. Thank you so much for your support.

We do “single stream” recycling, meaning anything recyclable is put in one bin instead of separate bins, so anything plastic, paper, or metal can be put in those bins. When you’d finished designing the signs, I’d love to see them before they are printed.

I replied to SJ:
Thank you for the quick reply to our 8th graders.  Your quick response, especially when at a conference, shows them that their work is important and valued.  We appreciate your help as we learn more about recycling at [school].

You are very welcome! Would it help for me to come to your class and talk about waste? Thursday and Friday are pretty open for me. I wouldn’t have a formal presentation ready, but the kids could ask questions.

Just the simple act of asking questions can lead to powerful learning, support, and change.

Jamie Oliver’s wish:

“I wish for your help to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity.”

Do you have a wish?

What are the wishes of our children?

Have we asked?

“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.

PBL Field Guide: Where are you starting?

I’m reading Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age by Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss published by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).  This field guide encourages the user to focus on and record details that matter.  Blogging these reflections is strongly encouraged.

The first reflection asks “Where are you starting?” [p. 10]

  • Where are you starting your journey?  Why?
  • If you have already used the project approach with students, what did you like or dislike?
  • What would you like to learn to do better in the future?
  • Do you have regular opportunities to collaborate with colleagues?
  • Where do you turn first to sound out new ideas for your classroom?

Our Learning for Life vision statement calls for six essential actions in our community to embrace the challenges and opportunities for 21st century teaching and learning.

  • Integrated Studies – Studies that integrate rather than separate
  • PBL – Problems that require critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration
  • 21st Century Learning Environments – Schedules and Spaces that fit learning
  • PLC/Critical Friends – Teachers in teams supporting learning and innovation
  • Balanced Assessment – Assessments and Feedback that promote learning and growth
  • Global Citizenship – Content and Relationships that connect us to the larger world and the world to us

I have been using pbl in the math since 1996.  In 1996, I was appointed as the laptop program coordinator at The Kiski School.  I embarked on a journey to develop real-world data collection lessons for our learners to search for data online to mathematically model data, real data.  See Phases of the Moon…Middle School Connections with Trigonometry and Science, Stopping Distances, and Turnpikes, Toll Roads, Express Lanes as three examples.

Since 2010, Bo Adams and I have been facilitating a PBL course called Synergy for our 8th grader learners.  Synergy is an interdisciplinary, non-departmentalized, non-graded, community-issues, problem-solving course.  See Synergy 8 Update – Week 3, Synergy 8 Update – Week 3, Part II…Game Plans from Bo’s blog It’s About Learning, Synergy: a course I’d love to take, then teach from J. Burk’s blog Quantum Progress, and Synergy: Complexity~Simplicity, Collaboration & Brainstorming from my blog.

I like teaching with inquiry and data collection through projects because of the engagement, interest, and questions from my learners.  They are in control of the curriculum.  A book does not bind their learning.  Their questions lead to new questions and new learning.  They find application of what is to be learned.  I like that my classroom is student-centered, conversational, loud and active.  Learners feel empowered to ask and answer questions.  Watch our learners in actions (Synergy 8 Update – Week 3, Part II…Game Plans and Synergy: Complexity~Simplicity, Collaboration & Brainstorming) to have a glimpse of how in charge of their learning they have become now that they are in a PBL course.

Bo and I continue to work on assessment and feedback for our learners.  The same is true for our Algebra I team.  We are working on a formative assessment plan for our learners to help them level up in the skills and competencies of our essential learnings.  For examples of our rubrics see:

We have a good start, but assessment and feedback is an important area of learning for my teams and me.

Bo and I serve as the co-directors of our Professional Learning Communities (PLC), which provides us daily and weekly opportunities to collaborate with colleagues.  I meet daily with the math and science teachers in the Junior High.  Bo and I meet weekly with the JH English, JH History, and JH Language teachers.  We also co-facilitate the PLC Facilitators PLC.  We regularly sound out ideas for essential learnings, projects, lessons, pedagogy, and assessment in these team meetings.

The Algebra I team practices pbl as a team and conducts peer observations as a form of lesson study.  See Beginnings of Lesson Study ~ We rather than me and Lesson Study, Observation 2.0, Algebra I, Jet Plane for examples.  Bo and I plan, implement, and debrief regularly to improve and hone our skills.  Our most important team of collaborators is comprised of our Synergy learners.  As a 26-member team, we learn together.  We brainstorm ideas and strategies together.  We give each other feedback.

So, that’s where I am… Where are you on your PBL journey?   How have you constructed your support and learning team?  Who and/or where do you turn for motivation?  Who serves as your sounding board?  How are you using current pedagogy and technology tools to learn by doing?


Boss, Suzie, and Jane Krauss. Reinventing Project-based Learning:  Your Field Guide to Real-world Projects in the Digital Age. Eugene, Or.: International Society for Technology in Education, 2007. Print.

Synergy: Complexity~Simplicity, Collaboration & Brainstorming

Our Synergy team is at the halfway mark, time wise, of the semester.  For the past 9 weeks we have been recording images, questions, and thoughts in our observation journals.  We use a common space, a Posterous group, to communicate, collaborate, and connect ideas.

The challenge now upon us…What data mining strategies should we employ to uncover community issues that, as a team, we want to study, investigate, problem-find and problem-solve?  We have over 300 posts.  It seems daunting, almost overwhelming to sift through our data.

Via his talk at TEDGlobal 2010, “How complexity leads to simplicity,” Eric Berlow was our “guest expert” to help us think about and learn that “complex doesn’t always equal complicated.”

A couple of key insights that stuck with us include:

[Use] the simple power of good visualization tools to help untangle complexity to just encourage you to ask questions you didn’t think of before.


The more you step back, embrace complexity, the better chance you have of finding simple answers and it is often different than the answer that you started with.

Here is a quick trailer and then approximately 4 minutes of video from Monday’s Synergy learning experience to show one of our attempts to find simplicity on the other side of our complex task of data mining for new projects.


  • If you facilitate project-based learning, how do you empower students to determine the team projects?
  • What other methods would you recommend to us for putting students in “that driver’s seat?”
  • How does assessment for learning change when immersed in PBL?
  • How would you assess the various learning demonstrated in the video?

We would love your feedback.

[Cross-posted at It’s About Learning]

PBL PD – The Kindezi School

Through the support of our school, Bob Ryshke and the Center for Teaching, Bo Adams and I connected our learning with the learning and experiences of the adult learners at The Kindezi School.  The conversation and learning on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 centered around PBL (project-based learning, problem-based learning, place-based learning, passion-based learning,…).

Bo posted Kindezi – PBL – CFT yesterday to record our plan as well as our projected learning and experiences.  While all of these teacher-learners have iPads to learn with and use in their daily work, they have Windows-based computers.  We used Keynote to hold and display our resources which has made it difficult to share our resources with the Kindezi teacher-learners.

So here is my version of the morning, learning, and shared resources:

After quick introductions, Bo read a passage from Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath.  We read the story of Jerry Sternin from chapter 2, Find the Bright Spots.  You can read the story we chose to read at the blog post Switch, Don’t Solve Problems—Copy Success.  This blog post has an exclusive excerpt from Switch.  While we have experience using PBL with our student-learners, we are not experts in the Kindezi community.  We came to learn as well.

Bo and I facilitated a discussion of current PBL practices at Kindezi where teaching-partners spent 10 minutes preparing a presentation of one successful PBL experience done this year and gathering an artifact to show as evidence.  Bo and I shared two videos of the work and learning happening in Synergy.  See Synergy 8 Update – Week 3 and Synergy 8 Update – Week 3 Part II…Game Plans for our evidence.  The PBL presentations from Kindezi were varied and interesting.  I hope that these teachers will share their practices in a more public venue soon.

To help calibrate our current PBL practices we looked at the following from Linda Darling-Hammond’s book Powerful Learning: What We Know About Teaching for Understanding.

Also summarized from Darling-Hammond’s book, we discussed the following expectations of PBL.

Then we learned to seek “i can” infection from Kiran bir Seth

Can we find connections between the curriculum and the current PBL practices of others at Kindezi?  We asked for an attempt to coordinate practices, to add to an existing PBL idea, write about contributions that other classrooms could make to join and support these lessons.

We concluded our time on this day with the following community PBL idea for this community.  We do not expect these teachers to take this as a “do now”.  We hoped to show a path to find a collaborative learning project that the community could build together.  Can we plan a school-wide PBL where every learner can make a contribution?  Is it possible to build a meaningful lesson that where any age learner can learn, grow, complete complex age-appropriate tasks, and contribute to solving a problem in their community?

Tearing Down Walls

We live in an increasingly connected world. Yet barriers to connection continue to operate in schools. Kathy Boles at Harvard has described school as the egg-crate culture. With some exceptions, teaching can be an isolated and isolating profession, unless teachers and administrators work to be connected to other learners. It is far too easy to go into one’s classroom and teach…relatively alone…siloed. Classes right next door to each other, much less across a building or campus, often have no idea what is going on outside the four walls in which they are contained. And departmentalization makes for an efficient way to deliver content in neat, organized packages, but departmentalization is not the best parrot of the real, inter-connected, messy-problem world.

What can we do to step closer to modeling and experiencing real, inter-connected problem-addressing?  How do we communicate with each other when we are assigned classrooms where we can be siloed?  What could greater connectivity look like for learners of all ages?

Recently, learning partners Jill Gough and Bo Adams submitted a roughly made prototype of a three-minute video to apply for a speakers spot at TEDxSFED. It’s about “Tearing Down Walls.” It’s about experiments in learning by doing. It’s about learning.