Archive for March 2008

Cutting edge of project learning – robotics   2 comments

Early this morning, driving to work I heard this incredible story about high school students beating MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a competition – TWICE, four years ago. Today, that team is being interviewed on NPR, the students and the teacher, because they have an all girls team in regional robotics competition at LA. This robotics team is project based learning in its’ finest.

The students drive their own efforts to build the robot, plus they work with feeder (middle) schools to train the students there in building and operating robotics, plus they raise funds to be able to travel to the competitions. The teacher, Fredi Lajvardi, puts in tons of hours after school and on weekends – the majority of which is volunteer – he doesn’t get paid by the school district for his club work. I think the key here on the project learning aspect is this – the students are willingly 100% responsible for all the work done by their club.

Naturally, in the course of this participation students learn science and math. They also build incredible social skills. As a side benefit, students get prepared to be engineers and many of the team participants have gone on to a university with scholarship money. The training they provide to the students in middle schools is their volunteer work, which pays off when those middle schoolers understand more about math and science plus they’re ready when they arrive at high school for robotics.

Kudos to Fredi and his determination to make all this available to his robotics team!

Click here for radio interview and slides at NPR.

Click here for the Falcon robotics web site.


Posted March 26, 2008 by Jack in project based learning, robotics

Service learning and the environment   Leave a comment

I find planning for service learning doesn’t need to be exotic. When I think about it, the elements of project based learning are present in the current project we are working on: 1) students performing construction activities, 2) students are applying prior knowledge to learn, and 3) peer to peer collaboration is present. The one addition for service learning is that the students are helping others or helping the community with the effort being made.

In the barrel project discussed yesterday the students are helping others become aware of the environment. When the colorful barrels are placed around the zoo they will naturally draw the attention of visitors to the zoo. That attention alone is subtlety supporting those seeing the barrels to take care of the environment. Lastly, the essay that club members will collaborate to produce seals the effort to promote behaviors of recycling and reusing.

– This work involves the entire community as high school students around AZ have an opportunity to become involved and make a difference at one of Arizona’s most important cultural, educational, and environmental organizations.

– This project involves student and visitor education … students learn about recycling, conservation, wildlife, and habitats as they create the barrel designs. Plus, visitors are visually reminded to recycle by the student art work.

– The barrels being used are actually being re-used so the work is doing what the end result is promoting.

Service learning can be fun, educational, and support the community. Have any good ideas for a service learning class effort?

Posted March 25, 2008 by Jack in service learning

Project Learning and Earth Day   Leave a comment

One activity I’m doing with a club I sponsor after school, the Blue Planet Society, involves the Phoenix Zoo. The zoo has invited high schools to paint barrels with an environmental theme, which will then be placed around the zoo as containers for recyclable items. On Earth Day the zoo staff will judge the essays submitted with the barrels in the Environmental Connections Essay Contest. The schools/groups that win the Favorite Barrel Contest and Environmental Connections Contest will receive a free Zoo-To-You Outreach program of their choice.

The students are having a blast in the painting and the essay is coming along. I am enjoying watching them arrive at what to paint. They split into two groups and each group has really struggled with the “right” thing to paint. There’s a lot of social dynamics occurring that I didn’t anticipate. Then we had to move into who was going to paint and we ended up asking a very talented student, who’s not in the club. to help us. The essay effort is being headed by three students and we will have a draft later this week.

Besides the social stuff, everyone is learning some painting concepts. Plus, everyone is participating in the ideas we all present in the essay. There is that, what I call, “project richness” that takes place when you have students exchanging ideas, challenging each other, asking questions, and trying to fit in with each other ….. a very active project indeed. I am asking students to write a two paragraph summary about what they learned by participating in the project.

We need to submit the completed barrels and essay in two weeks. One thing, no matter how well we planned, we are getting jammed with running out of time. But, the students are committed to getting it done so I’m sure we will. Click here to see the Phoenix Zoo site about the project in general.

I will keep you posted on our progress. Here are some photos of the work we are doing….

Business meeting to make a plan.

Putting on the primer.

Adding the design work.

Posted March 24, 2008 by Jack in project based learning

Do pedagogy and inpsiration mix?   1 comment

Well, I kept asking myself what inspiration has to do with project based learning and service learning … and I didn’t have any answers. Ever been drawn to something without understanding why? I was drawn to a Tony Robbins video on TED.

After watching it, I was clear – so glad I don’t always need a reason “to do” something. This video clip is 20 minutes well worth your time – for the quality of your life and thus the quality of your teaching. Everything he discusses relates to pedagogy.

What did I learn? Well, too much to mention here but I did grasp that learning/teaching are heavily dependent on unseen forces. In my role as an educator, I think all teachers have made a plan for achieving what we want to deliver in our personal effort to fulfill students’ education – either consciously or unconsciously. Mine is conscious choice at this juncture.

During the drive of our teaching career we are going to make some “decisions of destiny” and each choice we make will bring into view certain choices … those choices are what we end up focusing on and thus shaping our world.

What I find most interesting are his six traits – so to speak – that each of us contain. Yes, we use them all but use some more than others. The one we choose at any time will drives us in that period …. and they are: certainty, variety, significance, connection, growth, contribution.

I can see how different students in different classes are driven by those at one time or another… sometimes all the time. Like the class clowns are the “significance” since they disrupt the class to get 100% attention. The students who “aren’t doing a drawing unless I get a ruler” would be “certainty.” Another is “variety” which is those students who are asking more and more questions about the same subject but in different ways or on related topics.

This is the first time I’ve seen Tony, although I’ve heard of him for years. If you take the time, I think you ‘ll be pleased and find this a meaningful talk for yourself and your students. I’m going to show it to mine this week.

Tell me what you think.

Posted March 16, 2008 by Jack in Inspiration, pedagogy

Research on service learning in public schools   Leave a comment

Service-learning in K-12 schools works for teacher because it integrates classroom instruction with service by students. That service can go across the curriculum, touching more than one subject area. Because service learning is working on issues in the community it provides opportunities for students to enhance utilize critical thinking skills. It must have clearly stated learning objectives, meet real community needs, and include time for students to reflection.

In a study done by W. K. Kellogg Foundation, participating youths explained their benefits in service learning programs in personal and social responsibility, self-efficacy, motivation to learn, improved academic skills, leadership skills, avoidance of risk behavior, interpersonal skills, and connection with heritage. Read the report

Schools can implement service-learning programs in a number of different ways. They range from school-wide service learning, which involves every student in the school, to grade-wide service-learning, which involves all students in one or more grades, to service-learning as part of an individual course.

Interesting teacher facts on service learning…
– Nationwide, 83 percent of public schools with service-learning offered some type of support to teachers interested in integrating service-learning into the curriculum
– The most common types of support provided to teachers included support for attending service-learning training or conferences outside of the school (66 percent), financial support for costs associated with service-learning projects or programs (58 percent), and mini-grants for service-learning programs or curriculum development (45 percent)

Why do public schools participate in service learning?
The top three responses were as follows:
– 53 percent of schools said that they encouraged student involvement in service-learning to help students become more active members of the community.
– The other most frequently cited reasons were increasing student knowledge and understanding of the community (51 percent)
– meeting real community needs and/ or fostering relationships between the school and surrounding community (48 percent)

Information for this blog was obtained from

Posted March 14, 2008 by Jack in K-12, service learning

Get ready, set and go to digital learning materials – for free   Leave a comment

Hey, what if we got rid of the textbooks and allowed teachers to share digital texts and course materials? Then any teacher can modify/translate/contextualize that material for their class … oh yeah, it’s all free to do this. Would you use it? I would in a heart beat. This video below, Richard Baraniuk, shows this has already begun around the world … it’s being realized right now in an effort called Connexions.

Posted March 11, 2008 by Jack in Curriculum, learning, technology

Earth Hour – a global blessing   Leave a comment

Originating in Sydney in 2007, the Earth Hour campaign has now gained global attention. As a result, on 8pm March 29, 2008 millions of people in some of the world’s major capital cities will unite and switch off for Earth Hour. See what is happening in your city and how you can get involved.

This is an awesome way to support the Earth and help educate our students by getting them to participate in a simple action. Yet and still, this promises an opportunity where they can behave to demonstrate their understanding of being a global citizen.

Get involved and learn more at the Earth Hour website.

Posted March 11, 2008 by Jack in environmental stewardship, green education