Friday, July 31, 2009

Summer Sleuth-Day 3-Preparing to Present

Today, the students examined what they had gathered and worked to solidify a solution. The students worked really well together to formulate the key areas they would discuss for the presentation. The students decided to focus on the areas the letter addressed which was energy-efficiency, safety, Olympics and general knowledge of PAVs. The students felt based upon the information they gathered, they could explain the best way to use PAVs for the 2016 Olympics. I was so proud of the to really utilize the facts they had at hand to come to their conclusions.

The greatest part of the day was how they used Google docs and Mywebspiration to work on their presentations. I used Google docs and Mywebspiration a lot in my classroom the previous year. Google docs and mywebspiration allows multiple people to work on a document at the same time. Mywebspiration makes you wait in line to edit but it is pretty quick to allow you to edit next. Google docs allows you to work on a different slide at the same time as someone else.

I informed all the people working in summer sleuths of the technology so that they could use it as well. We all used Google docs while some of us also used mywebspiration as well. Basically, I created five dummy google accounts called sleuthyellow followed by a number. This helped me to know who was doing what when it came time to edit. I created a presenation with 16 slides. This is so that each group can work on different slides. The students choose which topic they wanted to talk on. I told them which slides they would work on and they went to work on their slides in the computer lab. They not only worked during the summer sleuth program but some worked in the evening at home. This is one of the beautiful aspects of using Web 2.0 tools. It doesn't require the students to have a special program or load the document on a USB. They can access from any internet access.

Check out this picture of one student working on the presenation.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Summer Sleuth-Day 2-The Helicopter

The helicopter visit stole the show the second day of sleuths. In the middle of first day, we found out that we will have a helicopter visit in the afternoon. We decided that we would surprise the students. They were already going to be outside testing how to control the turns of an airplane. We would just move the students to another part of the field to see the helicopter arrive.

It was so cool seeing the students investigate flight. The morning consisted of the students examining flight through whirligigs, puddle jumpers and copters. Although I knew the purpose of the investigation, I had not tried out the puddle jumpers or copters. Since I had older students, I figured we could figure it out together. I was so glad we did. It was fun to learn along side students.

To make sure the students understood what they were investigating, we did a brief discussion at the beginning of the day. We reviewed the know and need to know list. We marked through questions that we had answers to as well as questions that are not necessary to solving the problem. I lead them into how they still had questions about flight. I asked them if would be helpful to investigate flight. This helped to lead into the day's activities of investigations of flights. It is important in PBL that you lead students into the activities by showing them how it answers their questions. This enables them to still maintain ownership of answering the problem while you also guide them through understanding the content.

As we prepared to complete several flight activities, I explained how they are studying two main things. What causes the object to fly? How does what they do with each type of flight device, changes how the object flies? The whirligigs were just paper cut outs that resembled a flower, they never flew but students were able to see how air moved through the pedals. The puddle jumpers were basically one plastic propeller attached to a stick and copters were balloons attached to propellers. The students wrapped up the investigations after lunch with a balsa wood created airplane. This was the main investigation in that it enabled them to see how the wings affect direction.

Students were amazed by the arrival of the helicopter while they were flying the balsa wood planes. They bombarded the helicopter and airplane pilot with great questions that would help them solve the problem. Check out the great pictures from the day. Again, I do not have the ability to show the pictures that contain the students with high visibility.

First Day of Summer Sleuth: Excitement and Jitters

The week of summer sleuth contained so much intensity and work, I didn't have time to write a daily log. I am finally back at home! I am able to take apart each day and write a reflection piece. Please accept my apology for all who were anxiously waiting my daily report. I hope I do not disappoint in my reflection. I have video and more pictures if that will make up for it!

The first day of the summer sleuth was a mix of nervousness and excitement. My nervousness stemmed from two different places-lack of science knowledge and working in front of a seasoned educator. My main reason for nervousness was my lack of science background. The problem the students would solve involved knowledge of science, specifically aerodynamics (planes). Most of the investigations the students will complete are science with one math investigation. Since I was responsible for conducing two of them, I was concerned I would not get the students to understand the concept. I barely understood it! Although this drove my nervousness, it also was the basis of my excitement.

The power of PBL is in the lack of knowledge of the educator. Not a lack of knowledge of subject area or learning but a lack of a solution. You are not supposed to know the answer to the problem. There is not even a right or wrong answer. You are only supposed to know how to help the students go through a process and make sure they stay on track to getting a solution. You can be an expert on certain aspects of the problem but it is so much better if you bring in experts. The most wonderful aspect about PBL is that doesn't require you to have the expert knowledge or the answer. The students figure it out and support their solutions as a team.

My second source of nervousness was working in front of a seasoned veteran. Although I have done PBL, this would be my first time to work with someone with years of experience. I also have never done this model for PBL. My main source of concern was creating the task statement at the beginning and formulating the solution at the end. I was so glad my nervousness quickly diminished once I met with my mentor in the morning. I told her my areas of concern with leading the class. I was so relieved when she agreed to lead the creation of the task statement since I was nervous about it.

My nervousness about working with a veteran turned into excitement by the end of the day. She was so helpful and geat to work with that day. She was able to pick up on things with students that I missed and I was able to do the same for her. She helped me to see the value in working with someone else. In the end, I got to work alongside another teacher who can tell me what I could do better and what I am doing well. She had such affirming words for me at the end of the day. I really thought I was going to mess up the Bernoulli's experiments. She assured me that I did really well and didn't have any suggestions for me in the area of improvement. I was glad to know I was doing a lot of things right.

The actual day went faster than I thought it would. The morning consisted of meeting the problem, creating a know/need to know list and gathering information. All 75 students in the summer sleuth program were introduced to the problem in the lecture hall through a video with John Webber, a high level official within Illinois Department of Transportation. The problem is about whether personal air vehicles would be a viable solution to Chicago's every growing traffic problem and their possible selection for the 2016 Olympics.

The students returned to their room to discuss the problem. I explained to them that when you solve a major problem, it is helpful to think about what you know and what you need to know about the problem. The students created a list of things they knew and didn't know about the problem. As expected, the know list was much shorter than the need to know. However, it was surprising that the students did actually know some things about aerodynamics and personal air vehicles. It is important that if the students do know something, to make sure we back it up with sources. After creating the list, I told the students before we can solve the problem, we have to get answers to what we need to know. Fortunately, we have four different information gathering opportunities for them to get answers to some of their pressing questions.

Students moved on to various investigations to fill in answers to their need to know questions. Students broke into four different groups to discover information about personal air vehicles (PAVs), energy in a vehicle, Chicago blue-green games and olympic events. The investigations varied from researching to actual experts. It was interesting how the PAV expert was actually not an expert at all. It was a person who agreed to share the powerpoint of the actual PAV expert. The students believed he was an expert and reminded me that it doesn't always have to be a real expert. The second expert was a mechanic who explained how a car versus a hybrid car worked. The remaining two were research items in the computer lab. I liked this idea of students branching off and coming back together to share what they learned. It creates a co-dependency in the group. The students returend from their session to get instructions for lunch.

The afternoon consisted of sharing information from the morning and investigating Bernoulli's principle. I was so glad that this portion went well. The students really got a kick out of the vacuum and garbage bag demostration. The students had not only fun but gained a lot of insight from the various experiments around the room. It was a total of 8. The only thing that went wrong was my inability to show the video on Bernoulli's on Youtube. The school's internet kept going down so I was not able to show it. I was glad the students were able to articulate the principal and finish the definition when my mentor wrote "as the spee dof a moving fluid liquid or gas increases, the presure within the fluid ____ (decreases)".

The day wrapped up with a reflection in their log. This is something I can't wait to implement in my classroom this upcoming school year. Each day the students had questions to answer in their log about what they learned that day. I know I will have students answer with the remote system but I think I will also have students write periodically as well. The first day of summer sleuth's turned out to be full of items to be implemented in my classroom.

Just as promised. Check out the pictures of the day. Sorry for no pictures with the students. I do not have their permission to publish.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Preparing to Coach

Today was a lite day. The main purpose was to get ready for Monday. We started by looking at the agenda for the week again. We clarified any items as well as made changes based upon unforeseeable situations. We went over each activity for Monday and made sure we had all the materials in our boxes. We wrapped up the day in our respective rooms and set up for Monday.

The best part of the day was being able to tour parts of IMSA. It is an amazing building. I can image being a student who would want to be there. To see some of my tour, check out the photos on flickr.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Today was the final day for the first phase of the institute. It was one of the main times where I got to see other participants perspective. The focus of the day was on completing the first phase of a PBL in front of an audience. The audience consists of participants and facilitators who act like your students. Facilitators and participants can offer feedback to improve the problem.

We split into two groups to make the best use of time. Each person presented their potential problem including any prior knowledge of the person and their type of students. Next the presenter gets the audience to complete know/need to know chart. This allowed us the ability to practice questioning to the information that we want students to know. We also were able to see what other turns the problem could take when presented. The final part of the presentation included creating the task/factors (also known as problem statement).

Awesome Activities

Nate got into the large garbage bag. After a few movements, he discovered laying on the ground in a fetal position would be the best way to conduct the experiment. He used his hands to close the bag around his neck and shoulders. I proceed to turn on the shop vac and place the hose in a small hole on the side of the bag. After about five minutes, all the air was sucked out of the garbage bag. Nate began to try to move and could not. Nate being of about a 5' 7" height and an athletic build should have been strong enough to move in the bag--right?

To understand what was happening, we conducted a few more experiments. One was called the Spool and card. This is where you put a straw through a spool. You place the spool on an index card while your finger holds the card from the other side. Blowing as hard and long as you can, you release your finger and the card stays stuck to the spool for a few seconds. Not supposed to happen right? Another experiment included ping pong balls and a straw while another involved the folding of paper and blowing. With each experiment, what you would think would happen did not. After careful questioning by the facilitators, I was able to understand air pressure or the Bernoulli's principle. It states as the speed of a moving fluid increases, the pressure within the fluid decreases.

Reading the words was hard for me to understand but once I started connecting it to the experiements it became clear. This was one of the most amazing days of the institute. For the first time, I experienced the power of high inquiry in an academic setting. No one told me anything. Everyone just asked me questions and allowed me with my own vocabulary form my understanding.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Fun Filled Day of Designing

It is quickly apparent from the day's activities that there is a lot of work to create a PBL. Although it is a lot of work, it is definately worth it. It is also easier if you do it in a team. It appears from the facilitators that it will get easier but the work transfer is definitely different in a constructivist environment. When you teach the traditional way, a lot of your work is inside the classroom. You do spend some time outside of the classroom preparing but not a great deal. It almost seems most of your time is spent grading. After you have taught for a while, a lesson only takes 30 minutes to prepare and sometimes you repeat what you have done.

However, as a result of today, I know that when a classroom is changed to a PBL environment the bulk of the work is without the students. It is a methodical process where you think about what your students will be able to do, choose what standards they need to achieve, think about potiential situations in the area that fit and start to map the process out. I found mapping and development of the actual problem statement/question process to be the most difficult. The mapping process includes thinking about all the directions that can result from your problem. This can take a lot time and would be most helpful when you get with other people.

For example, I had a hard time even thinking of a potential issue concerning some of the big ideas in Algebra 2. One of the big ideas in Algebra 2 is understanding the characteristics of parabolas, hyperbolas, ellispes, etc. I could not think of any potential situation that includes those items that would be open ended enough. I approached the facilitator with the math background for help. She never taught as high as Algebra 2 so she took me to another room that contained facilitators preparing for the next week summer sleuth program. It was an absolutely wonderful. I received three ideas in less than 10 minutes. THE POWER OF COLLABORATION! One of the ideas was about cartoon animation such as recent films by Pixar. The animators start with basic shapes to build the 3-D image. This aspect connects geometry and algebra perfectly. Another idea is to create a sculpture or design that involves the shapes. Another idea was to have my students teach younger students about the shapes. Another idea was designing roller coaster or other objects that encompass that shape. Without even trying I got ideas for both geometry and Algebra 2. YES!

The other difficult portion of PBL is creating the problem statement. I didn't get far with this part of the planning. However, my past experience reminds me how critical this portion is to the process but also can be difficult to plan. Designing a statement that does not require a yes or no answer can be difficult. I have found that doing this with other people helps to make it easier. I left the yesterday excited about planning a problem with my co-workers. I can't wait until tomorrow!

Monday, July 13, 2009

My First Day

As usual I was the first to arrive to the institute. I immediately sat as close to the front as possible. People started to trickle in a little before 8 am. It seemed as if people came in groups. They were probably from the same school or district. I am sure by the nature of the institute I would so on find out.

Introductions confirmed my assumption. The entire group varied from local Chicago area to Australia. Once the Australian participant spoke, I realized I was not the farthest traveled in the room. My guess about people in group was under estimated. One particular group was a total of ten. They came from Aurora, OH. The group was also a mixture of teachers and administrators. The Australian participant had an interesting role as principal of professional development for teachers. Image teachers getting special help with their development on a regular basis.

Soon after the introductions we acted as learners and were immersed in a PBL scenario. Right before being immersed, the facilitators requested we do the following things:
  • Suspend our disbelief
  • Engage in the situation with an open mind
  • Recognize that you don't have to know everything
  • Be comfortable with some discomfort
  • Know that your emotions and intellect are connected
  • Engage in intellectual risk taking
  • Own this problem
  • Look to the problem for direction and coaches for support and guidance, not the answers
  • Work the problem
These points would soon be realized in every way as we worked to be advisers to the Illinois Department of Transportation. I was completely prepared to suspend my disbelief, engage, not willing to know anything, own the problem and work the problem. However, I was not expecting to be uncomfortable often and feel so emotional in a moment of discourse.

The problem involved personal air vehicles and deciding whether Illinois should use them to alleviate congestion. I was very shocked to be uncomfortable at two different points in the process. I was not sure at what we were supposed to do in an activity and once I did have more information it still didn't seem to be possible to complete. I don't like having things uncomplete. I go between charging through and giving up. I experienced both of these thoughts in a span of 20 minutes. I am so sure my students feel the same way with some of the projects I completed. The weird part of it all is that it was not as if the facilitators were not helpful during the process or could not help me more. It was just a personal issue I had to overcome.

The second time to be uncomfortable was towards the end of the project. I was charged with leading how we would put our presenation together for our recommendation. I had an uncomfortable dialogue with the person charged with writing the comments down. It started out as something I thought was simple. We were dividing items into why we said yes or no to a recommendation. It turned into an elaborte discussion of the meaning behind the topic of current transportion system. I moved from uncomfortable, defensive, confused and finally common ground. It was an amazing moment for me. I got to see what is healthy dialogue between participants in a PBL. It is okay to disagree and then finally come together.

The day wrapped up with looking at the experience from a teacher's perspective. We discovered the careful planning that occured in the background. We wrapped up the day with HOMEWORK. I was so amazed that they gave us homework to do. It was an easy assignment. Read an article, make notes and be prepared to talk about it tomorrow. The article is very insightful and reminds me of why I support a constructivist pedagogy. I can't wait for tomorrow.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


I have arrived in Aurora, IL by way of Chicago. I am so glad that I decided to try to find another hotel that was less expensive than the recommended hotel of the institute. The Candlewood Suites is so great! You can click on the link for pictures I took of my room. Since I am going to be here for two weeks, I would rather be in a location that is more like a home than a hotel. It is also a great deal at $70 a night!

It is really late and I am beginning to regret that I took a late flight. However, my regret is balanced by the fact I was able to see my husband one last time before I left. My flight did not leave until around 6:30 p.m. even though it was scheduled for 6:18. Although I will probably not fly United Airlines again, I did like the fact that I had lots of leg room on the plane. I got into Chicago around 8:30 p.m. Getting luggage and the rental car location took another 45 minutes. Ace was very friendly and helpful. I would recommend anyone use them. Getting to Aurora took another 30 minutes but it was straight highway which I always like :). I made it into my room with two large pieces around 10:30.

It is now midnight and I am dedicated to blogging everything I experienced as promised. The most interesting part of today is I possibly found a person who would be willing to be a guest lecture for my math classroom. My seatmate has an agricultural engineering degree even though he currently works in sales involving oil and gas. He still is very involved with higher level mathematics and said he wouldn't mind speaking a couple of times via video conference if his company doesn't mind. It is always beneficial to talk to people around you while traveling. You never know who you are going to meet. The last time I traveled I met a woman who worked in child services dealing with statistical data.

Well, that is all for today. Talk to you tomorrow!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Getting Ready for IMSA

I can't believe the time is already here. The summer is passing by quickly. Tomorrow, I will be on a plane heading for Aurora, IL which is about 45 minutes from Chicago. I will be attending the Illinois Science and Math Academy's PBL Coaching Institute for the next two weeks. I have wanted to attend this institute since I came across it during a search two years ago. Thanks to Funds for Teachers, I am able to attend the institute.

The institute enables teachers to understand how to implement problem based learning in the classroom. According to IMSA,  problem based learning (PBL) is focused experiential learning organized around the investigation and resolution of messy, real-world problems. Problem based learning is a subcategory of project based learning. The first week of the institute is focused on participants being learners in a problem and then creating a problem for our own classroom. The second week is what I am really excited about which is mentoring middle school students the next week with a coach. Although I have implemented projects in my classroom for the last four years, I am excited to have a coach to show me any pitfalls or areas of strength. 

I will be posting messages, video and photos about my experience everyday for the next two weeks. Please follow along and comment.