Deep Learning Practices

This was a week filled with diverse readings on learning and assessment strategies with a common thread of deeper immersion for student learning. It was also a slap on the hand for the teacher who interferes, interjects or influences the process too much (myself, many times). The readings have strategized ways to achieve deeper learning through either challenge based learning, Project Based Learning or Design Thinking. The readings have definitely been eye opening for what I need to do more to make more authentic deep learning experiences for students.

Measuring and Assessing Students

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While reading John Hattie’s greatest factors that effect learning I noted that student self reporting of grades is most effective. Therefore, for a unit/lesson that I teach I would focus on more formative assessments by checking in with students and using some PBL assessment forms such as self reflection questions. These formative assessments should be low risk to give frequent, easy to assess summaries of successes and gaps. This would be a break from the norm for me.

For the end product there should be a summative assessment where students explain, present and justify their end product be it digital work, tangible product, an event or a service. The individual student/group would present their end product to their peers and teacher or a wider audience outside the classroom walls.

Challenge Based Learning

My favorite way to engage students would probably be Challenge Based Learning clearly links a big issue that is relevant to students and ‘challenges’ them to engage with it in their own way and address it. I also like that it splits up the project into three clear success criteria: Implementational Success, Instructional Success, and Student Success. This is useful for assessing the process while students work on the challenge and for teacher reflection purposes before launching another unit like it.

Most Successful Challenge/Question

The most successful challenge to a 7th grade Humanities class that I taught was when discussing ‘Human Movement’ and why it happens about two years ago. I showed them the picture (below) of Omar Daqneesh, a five year old boy pulled out of rubble in Aleppo, Syria after an air strike in August 2017.

I asked the students, “What can you do to help other children like him? These children were never asked if they wanted to be part of the war in Syria and yet, their lives are affected by it. Look at your life and his life.” This resonated so deeply with the students that they spent time after school, during lunches, recess etc. for planning fund raising activities. They had successful bake sales, a movie night, a Color Run etc. and donated thousands of Saudi riyals to UNHCR (their choice).

Experiential Learners

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It is exciting to live in a world filled with opportunities for experiential learning such as Google Cardboard (cheapest option) that would expose students to a learning experience that would live with them. However, education projects that are using Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) in blended learning make the lessons richer. In the future there will be even more innovations.

I love the idea that VR can be used for The Coral Reef Interactive to experience ocean acidification as developed by Stanford University. There are now other VR experiences for the degradation of our oceans. So VR is making great headway into STEM subjects but also into Humanities where you can get a 3D view of Petra, Jordan with AirPano or play a game based on Ulysses by Homer. It is also being used for immersive journalism as by Nonny de la Pena.

I have not used these tools before but would love to use them in class.

Project Based Learning

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I have used project based learning previously in class but felt that it has lacked structure, effective check in’s and autonomy for the students. Upon reflection there are several areas that need strengthening:

  • There were too many learning standards being targeted
  • Sometimes the essential question was not strong enough to resonate and be relevant for students or there was no essential question just a topic
  • Research on the challenge/essential question to identify their area of interest was not deep enough
  • Group/individual formative assessments were not targeted towards specific content and learning goals.
  • Summative assessment lacked an explanation of final product (digital work, tangible models, an event or a service in the local/global community)

I think that the initial planning of the unit with learning objectives should be stark and trimmed down. Second, there has to be an essential question that touches the heart of students, that matters to them. Third, the kind of formative assessments to be carried out by teacher and student (self assessments) should be preplanned carefully. Fourth, students needed time to come up with how they wanted to explore the question and their rationale for it. Fifth, as a teacher, I need to remember that I am a mentor (as they are for me) and that I am not in charge of managing the student projects.

Experience with Project Based Learning in Humanities

There are two projects that stand out during a Humanities unit on ‘Human Rights’ and one during ‘Conflicts within Nations’ in Social Studies. The Human rights unit was based on the UDHR Article 4. Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Noura (my student) planned a project which included a presentation as part of the research and a school rally against bonded labor in India as the taking action outside class part. As all protests are banned in Saudi Arabia, Noura had to get special permission to hold a protest rally in the middle school. She got her permission, a speaking horn, her friends and classmates to protest with her. She posted pictures on an instagram, facebook and twitter account that she had set up. She managed all of her project details herself after running them by me. She was self motivated and driven.

The second project was an interdisciplinary one on the English unit of ‘Historical Fiction writing/reading’ and Social Studies unit ‘Conflicts within Nations’. The two students who really liked baking researched the French Revolution and assumed the role of a baker for their historical fiction writing. They also researched a recipe of a cake baked during the French Revolution time period (1789 to 1799) as part of what they might have sold in their bakery. They made a delicious Brioche cake. However, the students working on this project needed constant reassurance and guidance to make their end product. They wanted to follow their passion of cooking and baking but were unsure how to pursue it. Unlike Noura they were not self driven or motivated.

Thus, I believe that the kind of student and their background makes a very different Project Based learning or Challenge Learning experience for the students and teachers. This sets up the stage for ‘differentiated’ learning for the different type of students we have in a class, those who need more structure and those who can find their own way independently. This is something that I would include in future lesson plans.

Design Thinking – pluses and need to try it out

“art_05” by andyshine is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

I would like to implement at least one unit that incorporates Design Thinking with all its LAUNCH phases:

  • look, listen, learn (interview, watch introductory videos)
  • ask questions (react to the above)
  • understand (research, discussions etc.)
  • Find the main ideas and plan your product, activity, service, etc.
  • Create a prototype
  • Highlight what they have accomplished, take feedback and fix

What I like most about Design Thinking is the opportunity to work in groups as it allows students to work on their collaboration skills. Second, sometimes the student who wants to work with their hands (painter, baker, musician, sculptor, etc.) gets a chance to do it. They are able to express themselves in unconventional ways that hold meaning for them. Third, the idea of presenting your work digitally, in a tangible form, as a sponsored event or as a service to the community while accepting feedback to ‘improve your final product’ is wonderful. It gives students opportunity to learn in an authentic environment where you have to tweak your final product and the teacher is also forced to give specific feedback while not getting a chance to be biased as she has to explain her reasons.

Course 5 Project

I would like to use a challenge question or design thinking techniques in the 7th grade Civics classroom on the topic ‘Citizenship’ and ‘Different Forms of Government’. They could be combined and taught together.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Photo by Jesse Collins on Unsplash

Generating an essential question that students can relate to is not hard. I think, I have an advantage because of my background. I am also someone who went through the process of becoming a naturalized citizen. That part seems easy. However, I need to work on the planning and organization skills that are needed to implement a design thinking project. As I will be co-planning with another teacher who knows his class, I will have help.

What will I and the students learn?

Through the process of implementing a Design Thinking or Challenge Based Learning, I will grow in formulating formative assessments, being a mentor, setting up simpler and succinct rubrics for the summative, finding appropriate material for the students to ‘look, listen and learn’. This could start with interviews of immigrants to the US.

I have taught Social Studies units where students have made prototypes like a cardboard prototype of an American tank used in the Desert Storm operations in Saudi Arabia, a sculpture of prisoners blindfolded under the infamous Sri Lankan law ‘Prevention of Terrorism’. This kind of ingenuity adds to the classroom learning. I do believe that students should be able to choose what kind of end product they make as it will allow deeper learning when their interests, hobbies and passion are being tapped.

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