Tag Archives: Shelburne Community School

Sam Nelson’s Bright Spots & Belly Flops

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What’s the plan?

Here’s a quick reminder of my focus question for this year’s Learning Lab:

How can social justice be a lens for personalized, student-designed curriculum?

Here’s how — at this moment anyway — I would adjust the wording of my focus question:

How can students use social justice as a lens for designing curriculum?

This is nit-picky, but having the word “personalized” is redundant in this context. Anyone who’s worked with students to design curriculum knows that there are myriad layers of personalization when it’s students who are steering the ship.

Not-shockingly, students working at the curriculum design table use their own experience and perspective to develop activities and outcomes that lean into creativity, flexibility, and exploration. You know, the things represented by this idea of teachers providing student voice and choice in learning. They want want to build, dig into projects, and work toward complicated solutions, rather than monochromatic, binary finish lines.

And it makes things so darn fun for everyone involved.

It took some time to find an on-ramp for bringing social justice to the design table with students. I’d broached the subject a few times early in the year, but we collectively decided that looking at issues within our community (that of Shelburne, or Vermont in general) seemed like a great time to get started with using social justice as our lens. This brought us to the unit we’re currently wrapping up, the one I’ve very generically been referring to as our “Community” unit.

Here’s a broad overview:

Our original goal was to engage 8th grade students by digging into issues within our community connected to social justice. While doing so, we’ve been simultaneously working to connect and collaborate with the Science Leadership Academy Middle School (SLAMS), a pilot school in inner-city Philadelphia. After meeting the entire faculty at this past June’s Middle Grades Institute, a connection with one of their teachers, Hilary Hamilton, sparked an idea. First, have our students explore issues within their respective communities. From there, connect our students with a goal for them to determine what defines both the similarities and differences of our communities.

Cool stuff. And we’re off and running.

Not only that, but it was a crew of 8th grade student leaders — all of them members our twice-weekly student planning committee (SPC) — that just brought the house down at the Middle Grades Conference on Saturday, January 12th. Included is the Slides presentation that they used (yes “they”;  I would estimate that in our 25 minute presentation I probably spoke for about six minutes total), as well as some Twitter hype from the day.

What are the bright spots?

The biggest thing I’ve been really happy about is the fact that our work regarding social justice — something that is of course relevant but can also be uncomfortable and is far-too-often underrepresented in curriculum — has felt meaningful to students.

I think this is largely due to the amount of choice and freedom to explore issues we’ve provided. But one of my biggest worries going into this year was that any content connected to social justice (in particular, topics centered on injustices or inequalities regarding race, gender, sexuality, etc.) would feel “preachy”, handed-down, or like a teacher mandate. Per student feedback, it hasn’t. Awesome.

Using the concept of intersectionality has been really helpful.

It builds on the work, and allows for a second year, of a former student — Heidi — to come into the classroom and teach. This also paired beautifully with students using “social identifiers/identities” and breaking down what they mean, whether they’re “fixed or fluid”, and which lead to privilege, discrimination or both.

To wrap this up, students then applied each of the social identifiers to their own lives.

Difficult work, and sometimes with unexpected results. A great example: most middle level students have little to no clue what their socioeconomic status would be considered. This leads to really interesting conversations about their role as household dependents while moving closer and closer toward independent adulthood. Love it.

Another fun and originally unplanned activity involved a movie.

After using a short clip from the film Crazy Rich Asians as a conversation-starter for social identities, students were really interested in watching the rest of the movie. We ended up doing so, but with a bonus task. Students were challenged to use “Social Identifiers Bingo” to match when particular social identifiers showed up in the film. It was a small, but engaging activity that, I think, ultimately enriched the viewing experience. It’s also a really funny and largely poignant movie. Well worth a watch.

Finally, I’m really excited about the project that students are currently engaged in. Using the Design-Thinking framework as a “playlist”, each student group (formed by students filling out an inventory on social identifiers they’re interested in pursuing), students are working on tangible products.

These products must work as a response to a driving question that, in the “Define” stage of Design-Thinking, students crafted to capture an issue within our community. The learning has been project-driven and hands-on. For the past two weeks I’ve done very little “teaching”, but have instead been roving between groups working to put out fires while asking questions to spark creative thinking or problem solving.

So fun. My favorite type of work as an educator.

What are the belly flops?

I like wrapping up this blog post with a focus on the not-so-great. I recently had the chance to read Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code(shout-out to Bill Rich and Jeanie Phillips for their deep discussion via podcast on the book). In it, one section centers on the nearly incomprehensible success of NBA coach Gregg Popovich.

One thing I was struck by was the description of how he gives feedback to his players. Before, during, and directly after games the feedback he provides is all positive; celebrating and reinforcing the good. It’s not until later, in one-on-one discussions, after he’s confirmed with a player that they are ready for dissecting the not-good, does he go into constructive criticism.

I love the idea.

Coyle explains how it goes along with why the “sandwich feedback” format isn’t the most effective way to deliver constructive criticism. To have meaningful advice about means of improvement surrounded by praise leaves the recipient with a confusing takeaway. Rather, crush the positives regularly, and when it’s the appropriate time for both members of the discussion, dissect the negatives.

Also worth noting: this section of The Culture Code also highlights that, at times, Popovich has been cited for giving very direct, unvarnished feedback to players. Some might call it intense. However, this in-your-face feedback is also a product of the relationship-building that Popovich values and cultivates with his players. It may be raw, but it’s built on honesty and trust.

Love it. So here are my negatives. My belly flops.

Represented as a simple, bulleted list:

  • Figuring out when to present social justice to the student planning committee. I broached the subject a few times early in the year and it wasn’t well received. In hindsight, I’m okay with that because this unit on community has clearly been an effective on-ramp for using social justice as a curricular design lens;
  • Realizing that the “Social Justice Framework” I’d created during the summer is pretty obsolete and limited in focus;
  • The way we included our transferable skills during phase 1 of this unit (the research and conceptual phase) was pretty convoluted in nature;
  • Even the process of students getting their independent work in and providing feedback in a timely fashion was pretty ineffective (one of the challenges of a full 6-8th grade unit; we’d suddenly have 80 sets of notes to try and provide feedback on…);
  • Group/project burn-out. We’re feeling it a bit, which is typical for a longer-termed project. Always something we’re trying to improve on; how do you balance engagement, collaboration, timeliness, and deadlines to keep group members focused, civil, and optimistic?

Where are we going?

I’ll turn to the Slides presentation from the Middle Grades Conference one last time for a glimpse at where we’re going. I think this “Road Ahead…” slide captures what we’re thinking and where we’re hoping to go:

One final note: as I worked with the student presenters for some final tune-up prepping, they saw this slide and we started talking about where we’re going with our curriculum. It was a brief chat, but meaningful. It was only five students, but they represented an array of ideas, hopes, and means of creating engaging and enriching curriculum. I wrote down as much as I could, knowing that we’d continue the discussion with the rest of the SPC this week.

That quick chat where the students showed such strong agency and ownership of the learning process was a microcosm; one representing not just the power, but the necessity to always have students at the table for curriculum design.

Something that will, indeed, be firmly in place as we continue to move ahead.

Phys ed 2.0: More learning, less suffering

Personalizing PE

peer PLP collaborationIn this era of personalized learning, it’s not just the jocks that find P.E. enjoyable.

At Crossett Brook Middle School and Shelburne Community School, students employ cool technology, develop creative projects, and pursue personal interests and goals while developing autonomy, healthy habits, and deep understandings.

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Therapy dogs in Vermont schools

Who let the dogs in?

For some students, being ready to learn when they arrive at school is a big ask, and more than a few carry trauma or mental health burdens through their day. And that’s why more and more, schools in Vermont are adding therapy dogs to their staffing rosters.

And they’re seeing some pretty pawsitive benefits to the arrangement.

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How to bake an inspiring kickoff video

Launching a new project cycle with inspiration from the last one

"Video in the Classroom"Organizing your realia — testimonials, storytelling and artifacts — from a round of projects can feel overwhelming. So much footage! So many interviews! ALL THE IDEAS!

Resist the freakout: here’s a recipe for pulling your footage together to inspire a new cycle of learning with lessons from the previous rounds.

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The rise of the project-based PLP

A new recipe for Personalized Learning Plans

Crossett Brook PLPsRather than trying to get students to care about existing PLPs, some schools are revamping their PLP process to start with what students care about. They are asking students to pursue their passions by crafting projects based on their personal interests and deepest curiosities.

The new recipe that is emerging: start with a cool personalized project and then build the PLP around it.

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The student architects of Shelburne VT

Making math real-world relevant

real world project-based learningWould you tell the school board how to redesign your school? Students at Shelburne Community School, in Shelburne VT, did just that.

They were tasked with redesigning the school’s outdated “kiva” space. Using Google Sketch-Up, they created three different designs for renovating the space, and presented those designs to a panel of local architects, and their school board.

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The Maker Movement and transferable skills

Making as evidence of transferable skills around Vermont

makerspaces and project-based learningDuring the past year, EMMA has visited schools around Vermont to fuel the conversation about maker-centered learning.

As we reflected on each of EMMA’s visits, we continually noticed that maker centered learning provided evidence of students applying cross-disciplinary transferable skills.

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4 ways Vermont educators are sharing their practice

The #everydaycourage of being seen

#everydaycourageTake the iconic back-to-school prompt for students — what I did on my summer vacation — and give it a twist. Imagine how students might respond to the prompt What I think my teacher did on summer vacation.

A lot of us wish other folks knew how hard we work during summer: the workshops, the team planning time, the reflection, the resource-gathering. So a lot of us should share out all the work we’re doing.

Let’s look at four ways Vermont educators are sharing their practice.

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Flexible pathways in proficiency-based learning

Choose Your Own Adventure

practice for proficiencyIn Sam Nelson’s classroom, students choose what they learn, and how. Through the use of learning scales and targets, Nelson sets guidelines for students to demonstrate proficiencies in whatever they choose to study. Between the two systems — flexible pathways and proficiency-based learning — students negotiate a curriculum that keeps them engaged and satisfies their curiosity about the world around them.

How does it all work? Let’s take a look.

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Take project-based learning to the next level

3 ways to plan for PBL 2.0

take project-based learning to the next levelYou’ve dipped your toe into project based learning. You’ve planned an entry event, shared  a high quality driving question, managed student teamwork, created scaffolds, and helped students finish a meaningful project to present to an authentic, engaged audience!

Whew! Well done.

But we know you. We know you’re a total rockstar and you and your students are already looking ahead to your next PBL cycle. So many problems to solve! So many ideas to toss around, and so much excitement from the feedback your community gave students on their work.

While your next PBL idea’s a-percolatin’, take time to reflect on these three key areas, and take project-based learning to the next level.

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4 Project-Based Learning resources for parents

How do you explain PBL to families?

project-based learning resources for parentsThe popularity of Project-Based Learning (PBL) has grown significantly with teachers and students, but what about parents? When students walk out of school, do they communicate their excitement about PBL to their families?

Let’s look at some resources for helping parents understand why PBL is so engaging for students.

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Idle-Free Vermont in Shelburne

8th grade scientists tackle carbon emissions at a busy traffic circle

community based learningThis past year, Shelburne Community School middle grades students took part in Idle-Free VT‘s ongoing efforts to reduce carbon emissions from idling cars near schools.

The students’ outreach efforts led to a 79% measured reduction in carbon emissions at the school’s traffic circle, while an unanticipated response from drivers led the students to initiate a change in the study’s protocol.

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Negotiated curriculum at the unit level

Set boundaries, then let students drive the conversation

negotiated curriculumNegotiated curriculum is the idea that you can assemble a curriculum for your class by entering into negotiations with your students: you, as the teacher, have certain non-negotiables or standards you need students to meet, and students tell you what or how they want to learn. That’s a huge concept, and impossible to wrap your head around without seeing it in action.

Social studies educator Sam Nelson shares how he implemented negotiated curriculum in his classroom, beginning by tackling just. One. Unit.

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Will we see you at Dynamic Landscapes 2016?

Check out these dynamic educators

Dynamic Landscapes 2016Are you heading to sunny Burlington, VT this Monday and Tuesday (no really, it will be sunny and warm) for Vita-Learn’s Dynamic Landscapes? It’s a perfect opportunity to mix business with pleasure.

If so, check out our Tarrant Institute partner educators who are presenting! Feel free to store some of those ideas, haul them back to your classroom, and liven up these last few weeks of school!

What’s that you say? You haven’t created your conference schedule yet either? You do not have that sort of time to plan. Let us take care of that for you. Here’s your own personal schedule:

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Interactive map tools for creating deeper place-based learning

Revisiting the possibilities of student-created geographies

Tarrant Institute tool tutoriallsThe rate at which technology changes has reached a dizzying speed, with new tools and platforms emerging constantly. But what hasn’t changed is students’ curiosity about the world and their need to explore their own place in it. Young adolescents in particular, burn with the urge to make and personalize. So what does it look like to tap into that urge as it pertains to physical landscapes?

Yes indeedy, folks, it’s time once again to talk place-based learning and edtech.

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Middle schoolers helping locally and globally

The Great Shelburne Pencil Drive

In which we discover a direct link between Shelburne, Vermont and …Ghana?

middle schoolers helping globally and locallyLast week I had a chance to visit Shelburne Community School to see some underwater robotics. It’s one of several stories I walked away with that day that touched my heart and I feel compelled to share.

As we walked around, talking to students about their robots, learning about all the different opportunities students have throughout the year, we were invited into a side room and discovered an entirely different kind of building going on.

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