The More Things Change...

...the more they stay the same. That's how the old saying goes, right?

I can't think of many places this is more true than in education. As an educational technology instructional coach, consultant, and now as Erin and I move forward with Project Based Awesome, I am faced with this reality every day. It can be, to say the least, disheartening.

Whenever I do a training, it's with the select few teachers in a school or a district who embrace change. They want to get better. They want to try new things. Fail fast and fail forward, as they say.

I always share the epiphany I had when I got to pilot a 1:1 Chromebook setting in my ELA classroom, and how it was transformative for my teaching and my students’ learning. Thinking on that now though, I need to be more intentional in explaining how it achieved this transformation. That’s what this post is for.

I’m departing for a week from the nitty-gritty of specific aspects of what constitutes Project Based Awesome (our pod will still focus on that this week). This blog post will look at the broader vision of the importance of pedagogical change and embracing new ideas and approaches to teaching and learning in the 21st-century classroom.

Looking back at my last few years as a classroom teacher, I worked hard to change my pedagogical approach to teaching. More standards-based grading. More project (or problem) based learning. More of me as a facilitator of learning and less of a dispenser of knowledge.

After all, with these shiny, new devices in front of every student, and a phone in every student’s pocket, I was no longer the smartest person in the room (although that statement may have been debatable prior to that as well).

This wasn’t always the case in my classroom. Although I was never much of a lecturer, I also didn’t do much to embrace a student-centered classroom. There were times (more times than I’d like to admit) that we were just jumping through hoops to earn points for the students.

It wasn’t until I shifted my focus, as a teacher, away from me and placed it squarely on the students that the learning environment shifted. My classroom became student centered. Through the use of constant formative assessment, student reflection, standards-based grading (more on this in future posts and pods), authentic learning experiences, integration of educational technology, embracing the process and learning from our mistakes, and me being the guide to help focus and drive students along, (#TeacherSherpa) my students really started to learn and grow the way that I had always hoped they would.

That is where project-based learning fits. Through this type of lesson design, the students sit at the epicenter of all of the aspects I listed above.

They are immersed in authentic learning experiences.

They come to embrace failure as a learning experience, not an end product.

They learn to assess and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses through a new way of looking at grades and personal reflection.

They entangle themselves in 21st-century learning experiences which promote creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication.

They stop trying to just “play the game of school.”

That is why Erin and I believe Project Based Awesome is so valuable to teachers and students alike.

Here’s the kicker though: it’s not easy. It forces teachers, students, administration, and parents out of a comfortable box. All of the stakeholders need to be willing to change to see a positive outcome. But I can make you a promise: that if you try these things, if you are willing to push the envelope, and challenge the old norms of what teaching is supposed to look like, you will see growth in your students.

I used to have a T-shirt that had the phrase "Innovate or Die" with some cartoonish-looking dinosaurs riding bikes emblazoned on the chest. It was a Specialized mountain bike brand T-shirt, not anything to do with education. And although the messaging might not be as dire as that, I still think it's an apt statement.

If teachers, schools, and students are not willing to innovate, they'll continue to do the same things they always have, and in this ever-changing world for which we're preparing students, that just is not enough.

Innovate or Die, indeed.

Until next time… peace.


chris butlerComment