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Teaching is a vocation. It can be described as a profession, but for me, it’s where I belong and I truly believe I am in the right place. Sometimes it surprises me to think of the number of students we may have influenced – even in a small way, but what I don’t think we consider enough is how much our students impact on our lives.

Currently in Year 9 PBL Social Studies, we are running a project that is a modified version of last years successful GreenUp project. This year the social networking site ning was used again, A Convenient Reply, in response to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. I have to admit I haven’t been as engaged in this project as last year and I have been struggling to be as active online with my students. I felt I have failed to encourage reflective practice and that I realised I needed to do something about it.

So last week, I was teaching in the Old Study Hall (like the good ol’ days) with my team teacher Sak Vuki, when I decided we needed some visitors. I was able to ask some boys from our class from last year to visit and check out the work our students were creating for the 2050 urban environment they envisage. Similarly to last year, the project focuses on geographic and environment concerns, however, this time our local area of Westmead is not specified.

I like how this student refers to his learning experience in his blog entitled, “My Honest Retrospect. He is honest and genuine in his response and I have been able to provide feedback to him through observing his writing.

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When the Year 10s visited, they commented that they were really impressed with the standard of work the students were creating and were interested to hear the theories behind their proposals. It also made me consider what would be the next positive experience (and highlight of my week!) which would take place the following lesson.

I decided to ask these same boys (and a few more of the top-bloggers from last year!) to work in small groups with my Year 9s and show how they developed as young writers last year through our blogging project. The Year 10s were more than willing to lead these workshops and they showed their growth from “Blog 1” to their final blogs they were composing which were brilliant!

The class room visit from the Year 10s had a three-fold effect. This involved all of the learners in this learning experience. The Year 9s felt motivated by the encouragement, the Year 10s demonstrated powerful leadership qualities and for me, it was rewarding to see learning continue in the workstations that were placed around our room.

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So that was last week. I hope the week ahead has moments that are as rewarding as these, where my students are engaged and actively participating in their learning environment.

The close of the school term is fast approaching yet I have not stopped to reflect on the achievements of our first project for our 10th Grade students. This year, I teach two double classes of year 10 with two different team teachers.

Our first project involved the students examining aspect of the Vietnam War in relation to Australia. The entry document we presented was designed using Zoho Notebook which modeled for the students the tool we were expecting them to use through the duration of the project. So through the study of Vietnam War it tied in nicely with looking at the overall migrant experience of different groups to Australia. The final product of the project involved the students collaborating within their groups in order to create an e-archive, a collection of resources that needed to be located or created.

I particularly was impressed with the creativity and originality behind some of the diary entries that students composed.

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The response from the students was varied, particularly from the across the three different classes. I strongly believe that in order to achieve a positive and engaging learning environment it is essential for the teaching and learning strategies to be varied. It is not enough to simply say student centred learning is the answer, “Here’s the project, off you go!” The unrolling of the project still needs to have a structure. I find the projects I design have ‘phases’, and you will recall this from the “Write on, Write Now” project that we completed last year with 9th Grade students.

So the first ‘phase’ of “Voices of the Other” was to learn about the impact of the Vietnam War.
It is easy to identify the foreign ‘other’ as purely the enemy, an oppressive force which must be crushed for freedom to survive. Although governments may fundamentally disagree which can lead to war, the individual soldiers involved often have little say. They are plunged into deplorable living conditions in an environment filled with the foul stench of death. It’s kill or be killed. Such events leave lasting scars – it is this very real human experience which you will be asked to explore through this project.

This is what interests me. The human experience. This isn’t what is assessed in our School Certificate exams but I feel it is so important to expose our students to this reality.

As the individual component, students needed to visually represent their understanding of the Vietnamese migrant experience. What I enjoyed next was the students working on their final product – creating the e-archive of their chosen migrant group.

One student describes the experience of the young migrant he created and explains why he is not happy in his home country:

I’m scared. I’ve been scared for a while. Death is now the only thing i think about. Being blown into pieces because I took a bad step or was at the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s been getting to me and this book is the only book I have left. My house, my clothes, my friends, MY RIGHTS gone! They were taken away from me today!!

It all happened so fast. All I remember is entering my house with dad, mum, and my younger brother. We had all gone out because dad had finished his time in the army even though the war is still going on. I can still hear the echo’s of bombs and gun fire as i sit in a tent made out of newspaper and the rubble of blown up buildings. We came back all tired and happy about the night. Dad had been awarded medals while me and my brother ate the left over oregano pizza we were able to take home. I didn’t even enter our house before dad was yelling to get out. I was right at the door and that’s when the smell hit me.

The smell of gas from the stove hit me filling my nostrils and taking over my lungs. My sudden reflex was drop to the ground. While mum jumped to cover the “habibi” of the family, Jean-Paul. Dad being the fit, army experienced, old man he shut the door and jumped to cover me. I closed my eyes and covered my ears as we waited for the bang. It took a few seconds for the bang to happen. When it did i felt all the wind be sucked inwards towards the house before the heat and the debris hit me. The noise lasted for a second but the damage that it did to my ears is still taking its time. As soon as all the debris had rested I pulled myself out. Dad was still alive but needed a rest. Mum summoned the energy to climb off Jean-Paul. He was fifteen but now he wasn’t recognisable, Neither was mum or dad. Their clothes were burnt, their skin covered in ash and cuts, I’m guessing by the looks of shock on their faces we all looked the same. We walked around for a while looking for anything that survived. The only things were a picture of mum and dad’s wedding, my journal and Jean-Paul’s half burnt sling shot. Now I’m here, homeless, bruised and sick and tired of fearing for my life. So far dad has decided that were going to travel to my aunties how were we will live until were back on our feet. Until then, I will be wondering through cities picking up any pens I find on the street and get down when people tell me to. No one deserves this life.

It was striking to see how much this student engaged with his created individual. An individual who we were able to learn so much about during the five diary entries this student composed for the e-archive.

One group chose to focus on the genuine migrant experience of one of our boys parents. I was awe-struck with the sincerity that each member shared as they traced the history of the experience of this family. The student even interviewed his mother and TRANSLATED the interview as part of his collection of resources. This story wasn’t invented. It was genuine. It was amazing.

One student reflected on his learning throughout the project:

War has always been part of my world, whether it be because of terror, dictatorship, or civil issues. From my parent’s homeland of Lebanon, to Iraq, Afghanistan, and all the fights that have broken out in between. Most of the time, all it results in is death of civilians and soldiers while the old people who choose to incite and declare war sit around on their high seats, behind walls of defense. However, this project has lead me to believe that with war, there is also the life that can come from it. People may flee, migrate, or become refugees, however, most if not all occurences of this result in a better life for the next generation, a life of peace, without war, and disputes that flare up in their homeland. This is something that has happened for me, but something that is happening everyday. With war comes death, yet also strangely, life.

But I was mostly struck by this comment, which in many ways confirms for me the learning that occurred during this project. To gain a better understanding of your self and those around you, surely indicates that the young people in our care each day are life long learners beyond the classroom.

Reflection
I’m the only person in my group who is not of Lebanese background and i felt a slight disadvantage when i was outnumbered to study the migrant experience of the Lebanese, however my experience has opened me to a greater understanding of my colleagues cultural background and what their families have gone through.

Learning about the civil war and the migrant experience of the Lebanese has made me understand more about what the Lebanese people have gone through and why they would move to Australia. It has also made me curious and interested in the experience of my many Lebanese friends.

What is it exactly that builds a positive learning environment where all participants are actively engaged in the learning that is taking place? Obviously, there are numerous contributing factors but one that cannot be underestimated is the influence and direction provided by the teacher.

The content of the project, the project design and project implementation are all crucial components that have the ability to either switch our students on or rather devastatingly have the power to turn them away. As a teacher fully committed to Project Based Learning I have seen projects be part of both extremes. The question is how do we build projects that engage our students and ensure quality learning is taking place? I believe the answer lies within the relationships that are formed between all members of the class room – between students, students and their teachers and between team teachers themselves.

The connectivity that is formed through this communication is essential. It allows for a ‘link’ to be formed between the ‘worlds’ we live in and allows us to better understand what sorts of projects our students would be motivated by, by simply asking. In other words, when I have a project idea, one of my first actions is to put it to a few students and get their feedback. It works.

It works because from the outset of a project, when the entry document is ‘unveiled’ the students must find within them, a natural desire to set to work in order to reach or rather ‘create’ the final product. The ability to recognise the potential of an idea will generally come from the very students we expect to be able to complete the project.

It is with deep regret that I confess to my absence online over these last couple of months. My blog lies dormant yet students I have taught seem to be reflecting on their learning consistently. I was reading Tanuj’s blog and was struck by his ongoing commitment and dedication to learning. He reflects on the ‘goals’ he has set himself and I am astounded. His journey has been a joy to a part of and when our paths crossed the other day, I was reminded of the passion and motivation I took to class with me each lesson last year. We were a community of learners in a student-centred learning environment, filled with positive attitude and most certainly rewarding experiences.

I have been longing for the return of that enthusiasm and today my prayer was answered.

Project Based Learning brings with it many challenges but one first and foremost can not underestimate their students and be willing to share the journey of learning together. Simon Breen brings the term ‘team’ to team teaching. Forever we have read literature on a true team teaching relationship. One example is where one teacher is seen by the students as the primarily facilitator and the other as simply crowd control, this model I truly believe is detrimental to a positive learning environment and difficult to overcome.

Ideally, team teaching is shared. I don’t believe that shared is synonymous necessarily with equal workload. I do believe that team teachers model what is it they expect their students within the PBL framework to achieve – an environment where collaboration is essential.

Our initial lessons of direct instruction where we engaged with the students from the outset – Simon even donned a wig to present an image of the 1960s which made our students even sit on the edge of their seats and listen to the story that he was able to tell in order to set the context our integrated lesson on the Power of the Spoken Word.

In addition to this, we were also careful in planning to integrate our subjects for when we taught Letter to the Editor as well.

Today, we were able to launch our new Social Studies project, "The Voices of the Other." I was able to design this entry document using Zoho Notebook. I experienced the frustrations that I am expecting the students to experience themselves using this program as they also stop and develop their own e-archive based on the experience of one migrant group to Australia.

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We also facilitated the forming of the "Know" and "Need to Know" List as we were both familiar with the entry document and the expectations of the project as well as the outcomes that need to be met in the rubric. The students are certainly observing a united team teaching relationship and I am certainly aware of it too.

This last week I have been robbed of my opportunity to go to school each day and be greeted by the beaming faces of my students on their way into our classroom. Unfortunately, I was not well enough but it gave me a fabulous opportunity to include a quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth as my facebook status, “Out, out damn spot.”

However, rather than moping around I took this opportunity to stay in touch with my students through our online learning. Year 11s emailed (albeit a little ancient) assessment drafts and content inquiries while Year 9s kept me up to date using google doc and our moodle communication as well. It was nice to find out how things were unfolding at school.

I was also able to provide feedback to my students from their recent Book In A Day project by uploading their tremendous stories using Voicethread. I had briefly used this in our Green Up project and watched Yr 10s also use the program for a Commerce assessment. I was amazed at how simple this program was to use and I was also extremely satisfied as it proved to be an effective way to provide feedback to our students.

After commenting on my Young Napoleons I also commented on Old Major’s books as well. I really enjoyed it. If you would like to provide some comments to the following Books then please do. I would appreciate it and the boys would love it too!

**NAPOLEONS**
The Bloodline
The Day of Reckoning
The Wrath of King Julius
Obama’s Reign
Leonidas and the Nobles

OLD MAJOR
The Cost of Freedom
The Graduate
Golden Grandpa

Far too often teachers feel the need to go in to the class room and shut the door. In this sterile environment students are forced to listen, (maybe) read and work quietly for the whole period. The teacher anxiously examines their watch (while students secretly check their phones for the time) and when the bell goes exits the room more quickly than thought humanly possible. Interestingly enough, the bell is a blessing to the students as well. p11807003

One of my key concerns within our 21st Century class room is that it is essential for teachers to model the skills that we are expecting students to be able to grasp using multiple tools that demonstrate varied teaching and learning strategies. Recently, I was able to incorporate the use of Google Docs in order to share ideas with teachers in order to collaborate during the planning stage of “Write On, Write Now.”

During the project, we then implemented this on two levels when it came to student involvement – which is why the teachers needed to show they could use this effective tool before we exposed the students to it. Firstly, they needed to create a document and share it with their group facilitator (detailed instructions were provided on our moodle) and it allowed for consistent communication between teacher and student. This was invaluable as it allowed me to gauge the growing understanding of my students around the key concerns presented in Animal Farm. Secondly, during the actual Book in a Day, the students used this tool as an effective way to share their contributions to the book they were making.

I actually read this book today, The Blood Line. It’s a great read – some tense corrections needed but overall a captivating short story – remember it was written by a group of 9th Grade students! Their concern was abuse of power and corruption, sit back and follow the pursuit of power that brothers Niko and Dimitri embark upon in the country of Elbayza! The Blood Line

Get your own at Scribd or explore others: Education

The five students who composed this story worked collaboratively from the beginning of the day through planning, discussion, allocation and editing. This end product was clearly contributed to by each member of the group - and although a little gory in parts they have certainly impressed me. I would love to know your thoughts too!

So last night - after being confined to home all day sick (sob) I was planning for our next Social Studies project and decided to share my ideas through the Google Doc with Dean Groom and it wasn't long before Twitter friend and History guru Annabel Astbury joined us a a collaborator and contributed extensively to adding the mystery to the project. All of a sudden history was revamped through collaboration through this amazing tool..Meanwhile, Twitter followers were offering encouragement and it was then that we were joined by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach from America(!) also joined as a collaborator!

I am so grateful that our learning community certainly extends far beyond the four or so walls of each of our schools and that we are able to be part of the wider community of learners who wish to fully engage our students in our care in our classrooms. This project planning has transformed into a learning experience that will take our students away from relying on books and facts and will ask them to consider deeply the impact of war on the human experience. Our students will be taken beyond the classroom and embark on a journey of understanding the human experience during war.

I’ve really enjoyed sharing my stories with you about the projects I have developed for our Yr 9 Social Studies class. I may not have explained that at our school Social Studies is a subject that integrates English, History and Geography. I have had my ups and downs over the year but I always remember that I am there to provide engaging learning experiences for my students and to help make a difference.

I was able to put together a little imovie for you – it’s about 20 minutes – but for me it captures the positive learning experiences my students have shared over these last few weeks where English has been embraced by Yr 9. For the most part, the kids are the cameramen. We shared some collaborative feedback for Book in A Day under various headings rotating around the class as you will see in the film. I then asked the boys to form two questions that would be the basis of their filmed discussion.

This is evidence to me that the evaluation process is not limited to just a sheet a paper but can be enjoyable and interactive too! Let me tell you – I have an absolutely amazing class!

Day Two of Book in a day took place today – and after two days of immersing our Yr 9 students in an intense writing process where their creativity flourished and enthusiasm was evident I am certainly more than content.

Over the last two days I have been a part of a project that engaged our students entirely. Even during phase one of the project I read to the students in order to model positive reading practice as I read to them with sincerity and shared with them my love of literature. What was even more satisfying was having students arrive at lunch time for purely voluntary reading sessions. We lifted the barrier of stifled creativity and formed the world of Animal Farm within the walls of Our Barn!

Our reading network was supported by teachers through the practical tool of google doc. I discovered this to be one of the most manageable and incredibly basis tools to effectively respond to students as we ensured their understanding of the key issues in Animal Farm were fostered and commented on. It is no secret now that I was Napoleon and I know that I am so impressed with the way I was able to observe the students in my online care improve their writing skills.

If this wasn’t satisfying enough my class was so engaged as we continued to learn about ways to develop imagery in our creative writing pieces though various literary devices. Today, I was privileged to see my young Napoleons meet their group members (unveiled this morning!), tackle the stimulus, undergo planning and the collection of our stories entitled * Thunderstorm: A Collection of Short Stories on the Use and Abuse of Power. in order to produce their amazing work.

Again, Year 11 Advanced English were invited to come and mentor for one period and they were able to provide invaluable feedback to our students. This system certainly benefited all students involved and really brought English to a whole school level – bridging a gap between senior and junior English students. I was also so pleased to see our acting Principal visit and support our students.

One element we added yesterday was the drop box on our moodle where students were expected to upload their final group product – their book – AS WELL AS their individual contributions. This effectively ensures that all students certainly were actively participating in the project today and were not cutting and pasting from the internet.

Again, I would like to share some samples of brilliant work with you. I managed to work with each of the students in Year 9 over the last two days and I have been struck by their insight, creativity, organisational skills and ability to work under collaboratively under pressure. As I dismissed my crew today I commended them and recognised each of them as accomplished and published young writers. They are remarkable.

Today when I arrived at school a strangeness filled the air. Today was to be DAY 1 of “Book in a Day” with our Year 9 Project Based Learning students. Yesterday I announced that it would be Boxer – the embodiment of loyalty, Squealer – the manipulative and Mollie – with her unfailing pursuit of freedom that would undergo the task set before them. Each student needed to accept the challenge to work in an intense environment where they would need to plan, collaborate and compose one short story surrounding the central thematic concern allocated to them derived from Animal Farm. This short story would in the end be part of a compendium of short stories called;

Twilight: A Selection of Short Stories on the Brink.
(beautifully entitled by Brad Horsburgh)


Writer'Sbrieffinal

We also gave them guidelines for time frames for when they should be completed their planning in order to meet the overall deadline. I was so impressed with the work the students were producing as a team! They were keeping each member of the group accountable which can sometimes be neglected in the classroom. After they had established their plot outline, key characters they wished to introduce, setting it was time to write. Students were also required to make subtle links to the stimulus video designed by Dean Groom. This was achieved through detailed description with close attention paid to similes, metaphors and personification in order to create imagery which is absolutely essential to successful creative writing.

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Another level that we incorporated into the proceedings from today was to have one Year 11 Advanced class come and mentor the students two hours into the day. Shereen D'Souza kindly brought her class who were extremely helpful and enthusiastic to the hard working Yr 9 boys. This offered an opportunity for another 'voice' to provide feedback and offer advice to these young writers who were beginning at this stage to feel the pressure!

This group worked remarkably well on a number of levels. Planning strategies, time management, clear message and consistent narrative voice. A collaborative and well polished submission from Year 9 students which met all of the requirements of the task!

It's also important to acknowledge that we kept technology to a minimum throughout this project and during today. The students used google docs to effectively share their work in progress (1000 words each) that needed to combine to form the overall short story. They had already mastered using this tool in phase one of the project that I mentioned yesterday. In addition to this, each group allocated a graphic designer to become familiar with the program they needed to publish their work in - saving their work into a pdf format using indesign and finally uploading using lulu.

In the final hour of the day it was a joy to see each student beaming with a sense of accomplishment! There certainly was agreement in the air as we confirmed our room was indeed filled with accomplished young writers!

I am really excited about where things are going with Year 9 at the moment, especially in Social Studies. Our PBL projects seem to be targetting the interests of our students and I am watching them develop even further as the young writers I saw emerge during the blogging that occurred throughout the GreenUp Project.

With this project, we considered two mandatory skills that every student should master – reading and writing. We adopted a Phase 1 – Reading & Comprehending with a focus on the core text Animal Farm followed by Phase 2 – Creative Writing. This time it was important to me that all teachers actively provided feedback to students using google docs. The students were able to select their online community using our school moodle site where we gave them options for groups of Napoleon, Squealer, Snowball, Mollie, Moses and Boxer. We ‘sold’ the group by using blurbs beautifully composed by our new recruit Brad, that in many ways introduced the characters the students would meet throughout Animal Farm as well as bread crumb key issues that might arise in the novel. The introduction for Napoleon was:

“Napoleon emerged from the farmhouse, wearing both his medals, with his nine huge dogs frisking round him and uttering growls that sent shivers down all the animals’ spines.”

“Napoleon was now never spoken of simply as ‘Napoleon.’ He was always referred to in formal style as ‘our Leader, Comrade Napoleon,’ and the pigs liked to invent for him such titles as Father of all Animals, Terror of Mankind, Protector of the Sheepfold, Ducklings’ Friend, and the like.”

A wise man once said, ‘Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ Is it ever just to have a single person have absolute control? Why is power so seductive? Does it bring out the best or the worst in people?

Choose Napoleon to explore notions of power, control and the corruptive influence of absolute power.

From here, the facilitator of the group was able to set reflective tasks where they could monitor the students understanding of the text throughout their google doc as well as provide feedback on overall structure, spelling and grammar. Having a group of 23 as your responsibility was entirely manageable and the teacher could even set extra work and share the one document among all of their “Napoleonites”

CHAP 3 + 4

Comrades…

It is great to see our numbers growing and that everyone is engaging with the key concepts of Animalism. Old Major of course was very influential in planting the seeds of equality in the population of Manor Farm. It was of course.. ahem.. it was sad to see him pass but this just means that the need has risen for new leadership and new ways of achieving goals…

Please show me that you have understood this by answering the following questions. This is more than just comprehension – show me that you clearly are understanding the issues that are occurring and of course make observations on other characters. Remember always, that we Napoleonites are naturally equipped to take this farm to new levels!

How are the ideals of Animalism sacrificed in Chapter 3?

What is the impact of the Battle of the Cowshed? Why is it significant in Animal Farm’s history?

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What grew more satisfying was to see students engaging with the text and I was able to provide immediate feedback:

In my opinion if Old Major had been alive, to witness the relationship between these two extravagant pigs, he would have kicked himself. He would have thought, after all the explanation that he gave about: the way rebellion should work, we have these two pigs fighting to become a leader. This is all happening after he told the animals- “In order to achieve something we all must work as a team”. Excellent quote and reference to the text!

I think what we managed to achieve with MANY thanks to Dean Groom was to lower the ‘tech’ requirements in this project and have the kids read and write! By using google docs, it allowed for a manageable and very practical wasy of sharing work and providing feedback to our students.

Of course the next phase was to demonstrate creative writing skills – which will be assessed in the School Certificate AND the HSC – through Orwell’s excellent writing style. My class came up with some FANTASTIC work as we added our to our narrative building blocks.

In order to establish an awareness of description, we firstly considered our bland sentence (as a class):

“The tree grew in the playground”

We revisited our similes, metaphors, personification and adjectives so we could effectively ‘paint a picture’ using skillful imagery that is formed as a result of incorporating these literary devices. Each student completed the modifications of adding each technique at a time and I was simply astounded! Year 9 is incredible!

Our next step was a collaborative task which was to continue the narrative that began:

I opened the door and there before me was

The most impressive submission was entitled “The Beast”.

I opened the door and there before me was the most majestic animal I have ever seen. Its mane was as glorious and as bright as the sun in the morning sky. The glossy fur that laid upon its body was smooth as a freshly picked rose petal. Its stance as prestigious as the Queen of England. Its legs carries the courage of 90 brave soldiers put together. Blood was leaking from its recently killed prey, off its razor sharp teeth as his eyes gazed with rage. Still this threatening beast had the beauty of the Mona Lisa.

Each of the responses to this task provided me with evidence that my Yr 9 students had certainly demonstrated creative writing skills. We added to our narrative building blocks – setting, structure, characterisation, plot development and enjoyed a number of learning activities that saw the students continue to refine their writing styles.

I am really looking forward to the final product this week – Book in a Day – we are ready!