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I had my Intro to Engineering students turn in an “up to now” version of what will become their final presentation for the project we are currently working on. I wanted to write a bit about it because it is shaping up to be a very important assignment and I’m learning a lot about project based learning through it.

First, I love that the assignment requires them to think through what they’ve done so far because it is open ended. I didn’t include a rubric like I would for other assignments. So they didn’t have a checklist of what to include, they had to come up with it on their own (although they are on teams, so of course they can talk to their teammates about it). Now that I am giving feedback on the assignment, I’m getting a variety of slide decks and it’s giving me some insight into how the students see the project so far. Some are focusing just on the Inventor modeling they’ve done and less on the construction and some are the exact opposite. And with Classroom’s grading tools, I can quickly give appropriate feedback to everyone. The screenshot above shows one example where the student has a good mix of evidence, but even then there is always room for improvement. You can see in the screenshot that I am giving individual comments on slides and then an overall summary as a comment on the assignment. So it’s this assignment that’s giving me the place to help the teams process what they’ve done so far but then also guide them toward next steps.

I’ve also learned that PBL is very hectic and managing it requires deadlines like the one for this assignment. What I mean is that it is difficult to have a deadline for one specific part of the project, like 3D printing a part for their automaton, because different groups are reaching that point at different times. Some groups have laser cut, some haven’t. Some groups have consulted with their artist several times outside of class and some haven’t. So an assignment like this allows for the teams to show me what they’ve done so far and a good entry looks different for every group.

One thing we obviously need to work on is documentation of ideas. We do plenty of work practicing brainstorming and then actually brainstorming, but most slide decks I’ve seen so far have no evidence of it. It could be that they have it in their notebook and just didn’t include it in the slides and so I commented to most of them that they should include it. But for some, I think they are forgetting to document brainstormed ideas altogether and so we need to work on that. Maybe we could create a template of some sort to make it obvious that it needs to be documented? We’ll see. Always improving!!

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That blog title sounds ridiculous! But if you’re reading this you probably see what I’m getting at here. I’ve got lots of thoughts on TpT, but nothing revolutionary that hasn’t already been said more eloquently by countless others. Make stuff because it makes you better, share the stuff so others can get better too. Seems obvious. But whatever.

This Twitter thread really got me thinking today, thanks to Val Brown for starting the conversation. The article she’s linking to is about teachers making money on Instagram by selling their stuff, mainly on TpT.  If you hadn’t seen the article or this thread, click through, scroll down, read a bit and then come back.

I’m not sure how I feel about this… still organizing my thoughts. Read it and I do want to hear your thoughts.
https://t.co/GNnFayyRFu

— Val Brown (@ValeriaBrownEdu) September 1, 2018

Reading through the replies made me think a lot of things, but the one that stuck with me today and forced me to sit down and write is this: if our students’ “jobs” are school, then aren’t grades their “pay”?  I got here because the concept of “good teaching” came up and the general convo is about teachers making more money in various ways.  So logically, why not pay more for better teaching right?  I love this concept! I get better all the time, so MONEY PLEASE!

https://giphy.com/embed/qVOGUmHt5z7aw

via GIPHY

But as soon as there’s money involved, everyone wants objectivity. And “good teaching” is not that. You can’t rubricize it! Well, you can define a few things that good teachers do and then try to tie salary to those things. But as soon as you get specific on anything you’ll just start getting a lot of that thing and less trying new things, less innovation. So circling back around to students, the same thing is true for them and their grades. The more I try to define specifically what I want to see from them in exchange for a good grade, the more I see of that thing and the less I see trying new things, less innovation. And this is harmful to kids. Not all kids learn/grow the same way, the same pace, the same amount. And so trying to box it in is futile and dangerous. That’s exactly what grades do.

So putting it all together, here’s my thoughts on both problems:

  1. We have to pay teachers. Duh.
  2. Paying more for “better” teaching is only going to get us more of the same when we know that’s not actually better teaching.
  3. Therefore, pay teachers the same reasonable salary and give them freedom to do what’s best in their classrooms without fear.
  1. We have to give students grades. (I disagree, but it’s my current reality anyway.)
  2. Paying more for “better” learning is only going to get us more of the same when we know that’s not actually better learning.
  3. Therefore, pay students the same reasonable grades and give them freedom to do what’s best in their classrooms without fear.

These positions are not revolutionary. They are simple concepts. Of course the whole thing gets derailed as soon as someone shouts “but that’s not fair!”.  Neither is what we do now, friend. Neither is what we do now. 

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