The Race to Real-World Readiness: A Culture-Building Project By: Trisha Burns

In July, I wrote a blog and shared ideas on culture-building projects you could do at the beginning of the school year. Since my last blog, our school launched and just finished our own culture-building project. It started with the Entry Event. The flyer we gave to students was meant to imitate a race flyer. It discussed the training sessions (workshops) that they would be attending during the project as well as introduced the three questions we wanted them to address in the final products. 

  • How will you run? (End Product: Quick Ignite Talk style presentation)
  • How will we run? (End Product: Create Classroom Expectations)
  • How will we tell others about our race? (End Product: Small-group share outs on plans for the year)

After we launched the project, we did the know/need to know chart and wrote a problem statement with the students. Then we spent time decoding texts by reading articles on why people choose to be in a PBL school. Our next step was to have students create a product to represent their “why” for choosing a PBL team as their mode of learning. The students could choose whatever format they wanted such as a picture, a poem, a letter, etc. Once we had defined the problem, we gave the students the rubric for the project so they would know what the expectations were for the different parts of the project. From that point the training began. The four core teachers split these 6 training sessions up in our content area time to teach our expectations and introduce our 8th graders to how PBL works on our team.

Training Session 1: Race Map
The Race Map session was an introduction to the 6 Steps of Problem Solving we use in all of our projects. In this training session (a workshop), the students watched an episode of House Hunters as a quick 22 minute example of the problem solving process. Every episode follows the same pattern as our problem solving process. First, they define the problem. Then they get the solution criteria (what the husband wants, what the wife wants). Then they explore three possible solutions before choosing their solution. Then they run their solution (by moving in), and then they reflect and celebrate how they made the right choice. After they watched the episode they did a short activity where they sorted the pieces of a PBL into what phase they belong in. It was important for the students to understand and know that every project will follow the same “race map” of the 6 phases.

Training Session 2: Race Mindset
In the Race Mindset training session we discussed the difference between having a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. We also taught the students how we use the word “agency” to learn how to exercise the brain muscle. We watched clips from a Rocky movie that demonstrates both a fixed and a growth mindset. Then we discussed the different domains of agency (meeting benchmarks, growing from setbacks, seeking challenge, seeking feedback, finding personal relevance, impacting self and community, using effort and practice to grow, actively participating, building confidence, building relationships, and tackling and monitoring learning). You can find out more about these on New Tech Network’s Agency Rubric. We related these domains to both running a real race and running the “marathon” of making it through the school year successfully. Then the students graded themselves on the rubric and set an agency goal for the year.

Training Session 3: Training Partners
The training partner session was geared towards helping the students get to know themselves and others they will be working with this year. This training session was broken into two days. The first day, we did the Compass Points protocol from NSRF’s website. This helped the students get to know more about themselves, how they work in a group, and how others can help them be more successful. On the second day, the students had to use a bag of legos and help each other build a structure. After the activity, each student used the New Tech Network Collaboration Rubric to reflect on how he/she used collaboration skills during the activity. Through this activity students learned who they will be training with and “running” with as they complete projects during the school year.

Training Session 4: Race Etiquette
The race etiquette session was designed to teach students about the norms and appropriate behaviors in the classroom. During this two-day training session students completed a chalk talk discussing what New Tech Network’s three pillars of trust, respect, responsibility mean to them. They also discussed CSA Central’s expectations of being academically, personally, and socially responsible. Then they combined their thoughts on the two onto a matrix. From there, they were able to generate our team expectations for this year. As we progress through the school year, the only task left for them to do is to fine tune the “unacceptables” or the little details that we are noticing may not fit in to the expectations that the students generated and voted on. This training session taught the students how we expect them to behave during our “marathon” as well as gave them voice and ownership in the norms and agreements of our classroom.

Training Session 5: Race Rules
In the Race Rules training session, the students learned how they will be graded by our team. At CSAM we have weighted our grades so that out of the 100% a student can earn, content is 60% of their grade, and oral communication, written communication, agency, and collaboration each account for 10% of their grade. We completed a math worksheet where they had to find the weighted grade of a hypothetical student based on each of the categories we grade. Then the students had to find their own weighted grade by making goals for each of the categories in their math class. We wanted students to make the connection and see that just as knowing race rules is important to complete a marathon, understanding expectations for grading is crucial for completing the school year.

Training Session 6: Race Sponsors
Race sponsors make the race possible, and we wanted to make sure the students know about the organization responsible for our PBL school. We are attached to the New Tech Network here at CSA. So this training session was for the students to realize New Tech is so much more than the high school they will go to next year. They did activities which included having some time to actively explore New Tech’s website, analyze an infographic on what sets New Tech graduates apart from traditional school’s graduates, and find project ideas on New Tech’s website that seemed interesting to them.

For the final product of this project the students had to answer four questions. Each of these questions and the tasks associated with them served as a piece of the final product. The questions were as follows:

  • How will I run?
  • How will we run?
  • How will we tell others about the race?
  • What does it mean to “race to real-world readiness?”

How will I run?
Since the students used the Ignite talk format as seventh graders at the end of last year, we thought it would be a great way to get the students to present their goals without a lot of scaffolding on how to design their presentations. In their Ignite talks, students give a short talk (5 minutes) using a maximum of 20 slides that automatically transition every 15 seconds. We decided to have students answer the question “How will I run?” by presenting a shortened version of this. They had 5 slides that transitioned every 15 seconds in which they presented their three goals for the year. Each student presented an agency goal, a collaboration goal, and either an academic or personal goal. They first had to create an outline and get feedback on it from both their peers and teachers. We used this time to talk about/review with them the writing/speaking expectations here at CSAM. This was a great glimpse into what students know they need to work on as they begin the new year.

How will we run?
We left this part of the rubric empty and brainstormed with the students what it should look like. However, we realized this section would be answered by the Race Etiquette training session and by the expectation posters that will be posted in all of our classrooms. You will notice this part of the rubric looks incomplete, but we realized it was something that all students would have and would need to agree on. Therefore we decided to not grade it individually.

How will we tell others about the race?
I remember as we started this part of the project thinking, “Wow, we just unleashed their creativity!” Students had the ability to choose how we would tell others about CSA. For example, some groups chose to design a t-shirt. Then we had all 7th and 8th graders vote on their final design for our team shirts this year. Other groups decided to work on creating PSA’s for CSA. We will have these videos, brochures, and posters for different audiences when they come visit or ask questions about CSA. One of these groups chose to create a bulletin board for our hallway. Their idea is linked here: bulletin board.Each student at CSAM will have a little running man to move as they meet their goals this year. This is completely student designed, and they are putting it up in the school for us.

Another big group of students planned tours for different audiences and incorporated what they would want to see if they came to visit CSA Central. They ended with a script, identifying places in Central they would want to stop at on a tour, and a schedule for how they would run the day during a group’s visit. Some groups chose incoming 7th graders to give this tour to. Others chose teachers from other schools, new students, universities, and people from other countries. They had the counselors and the assistant principal come in to give them feedback on their plans. There were two groups who didn’t really fit in to any of those categories. One group wanted to have a 5K run/walk to tell others in the community about our program. They wanted to highlight different projects along the course of the run/walk. Another group wanted to have a game night to invite all the 6th graders in the district and at the end make sure they all get information on joining CSA.

In conclusion, we as teachers learned a lot about our students during this project, and they learned a lot about us and our expectations for the year. Although the actual content wasn’t the focus of this project, we set the students up for success for when the projects do begin. Our goal is for all students to be successful in our project-based learning environment and in this marathon called the 2017-2018 school year. The race has begun. Ready, set, go!

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