Friday, April 17, 2009

Managing a 21st Century Classroom

The following is a post I made to my Authentic Learning Blog about a year ago. At the end of the post, I will explain how a classroom like this is managed.

What does a 21st Century Classroom look like? About ten minutes before lunch today, I looked around my classroom. I grabbed a pen and paper and walked around the room recording what students were doing.
  1. Three students sitting at a laptop using Audacity to edit a podcast they made for literature circles.
  2. Two students adding titles and descriptions to Morpheus Fortuna's Flickr page.
  3. A student typing his blog entry on "What is Project S.C.A.T.?" (Stop Contamination at Trinity)
  4. Three students quietly reading newspaper articles to research for Project S.C.A.T.
  5. Two students using laptops to research the history of the Trinity site (taking notes in Microsoft Word.)
  6. Two students looking up Trinity stock prices on Yahoo Finance and recording in a table on a wiki page.
  7. Three students down the hall using an iPod and Tune Talk to record an interview with a teacher whose father died from asbestos exposure.
  8. Two students sorting through printed material and dispersing to students according to topic.
  9. Two students researching the chemicals Trinity dumped on our school's neighboring lot.
  10. Four students using laptops to research and record websites and small blurbs on a wikipage
  11. Two students saving pictures to network folder
I rang the classroom bell to let students know it was time for lunch and I heard a collective groan as students slowly pulled themselves away from their work.

Do you think that's what a 21st Century classroom is supposed to look like?

A year later, my classroom looks much the same, but the tools have expanded exponentially. For example, instead of just creating podcasts, students are using a flip video to create movies. Blabberize, Voki, Voice Thread, GoAnimate, ToonDoo and Glogster are just some of the web 2.0 tools students use to demonstrate knowledge of the content areas.

How is this possible in a fifth grade classroom? What are the management techniques employed? First of all, this doesn't just happen. Students don't arrive on the first day of school knowing how to use the tools and knowing how to work independently and collaboratively. This all takes time and patience. Starting out small in the beginning of the year, teaching mini lessons, and raising expectations as the year progresses are critical.

Behavior management is key. I am lucky in that the school I teach in has quite a few programs in place that produce respectful citizens. A program called Responsive Classroom is employed district wide. By the time students reach fifth grade, they have had five years of morning meetings and are well-versed in what it means to be a community learner.

In addition, our district adopted the Olweus Bullying Prevention program. This is a comprehensive program designed to reduce and prevent bullying problems among school children. DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) is another program taught at the fifth grade level that not only teaches students about avoiding the dangers of drugs and alcohol, but also uses play acting to equip students to resist peer pressure.

With the combination of all of these programs coupled with the interest students have in what they are doing, I can honestly say behavior issues are minimal in this 21st Century classroom.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dog for Obama

The Obama's have chosen the new "First Dog." Check out our research to help them make the decision.

(Special Thanks to my partner Denise Whiteman.)

Click to learn more about Hypoallergenic Dogs.

Check out past President's pets.

Click to view our wikispace.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Wikis, Blogs, and Diigo

Web 2.0 has changed the way we as educators look at technology integration in our classroom. I used to think I was so tech savvy, because I had a website and my students made Power Point presentations. Web 2.0 tools opened my eyes to a whole new way to use the world wide web to make my students not only more tech savvy, but global collaborators. Below I will tell about two tools that are ever present in my arsenal and one more tool that I haven’t opened up to my students yet, but plan to now that I know the possibilities.

I discovered wikispaces about two years ago at a conference, and since then I can’t believe I ever lived without them. Wikispaces can be used as an easy website interface, as a place to provide links for students, a place to provide information for parents and a place to showcase student work. There is no html code and ftp uploading or any of the other things that make web design so awkward. An example of a wiki acting as a website would be Mrs. Abernethy’s Global Gorilla Wikispace.

Wikis are much more than glorified websites, however. They can be used to collaborate. Students can work together to create a website even if they’re not on the same computer, in the same room, in the same city or in the same country. My first experience with interactive wikispace work was on Project Lemonade, an international collaborative project my students participated in last year. As a part of the project, my students worked together collaboratively to create their own interactive wikispace called Project S.C.A.T. The collaborative nature of wikispaces is what makes them a true web 2.0 tool.

Here is a great video on how and why to use wikis in a classroom.

Wikispaces provides their own interactive tour on how to get started. Included is an introduction and how-tos on personalizing your wiki, adding files and pictures, and personal settings. Wikis can be as open or as protected as you choose. For use with young students, it’s best to set up the privacy settings for them to be sure they are safe.

Blogs can be used in a multitude of ways. They don't always have to be for typical journaling. I create new blogs for topics we are learning about. They make it simple to embed student projects or provide a place for students to interact with each other's projects by leaving comments. This year we have created blogs for our class election, for the Revolutionary War, for Literature Circle projects, for Science, for Pi Day, for PSSA Preparation and more! The students enjoy being able to share their work with family and friends. They really love it when someone leaves a comment on their blog!

When first setting up a blog, it is important to set up the correct comment protection. I choose comment moderation and allow anyone to comment. That way you are not shutting out opportunities to collaborate globally with people who may read your blog. On the other hand, no comments can be viewed on the site unless you approve them first.

Allowing students to blog creates another set of concerns. Gaggle provides very safe blogging that can be opened up to the public or closed off to just the classroom or the school. Regardless of what avenue you take for student blogging, it is the teacher’s responsibility to approve or reject all posts before they are made public.

Here are some tutorials (one for Blogger and one for Word Press.)

I have been using Diigo for about a year to accumulate, highlight, and code websites for my own consumption. Only recently have I realized the possibilities for classroom use. Creating a group with my students can change the way we collaborate and share resources on research projects. Jennifer Dorman is an expert at using Diigo in the classroom.

Check out this SlideShare Presentation:


In addition to all of the academic standards, meeting the National Educational Technology Standards NETS is a challenge all teacher face in this 21st century. It may seem a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. With the help of Web 2.0 applications and the access to global participators, we have all the tools we need to create projects rich in content and skills that meet all the standards.

Many teachers get overwhelmed and frustrated as they try to meet and check off each standard on a lesson by lesson basis. This is not the way to do it. By employing project-based learning, online and offline collaboration and web 2.0 tools students and teacher can meet dozens of standards at once and create a love of life-long learning in their students that reaches far beyond the classroom walls.

Last year, my students participated in an international collaborative project. As part of the project, students decided to go after a large corporation who had abandoned a site neighboring our school. The company was charged with dumping hazardous waste, and my students decided to go after the company to clean it up. (See the Project S.C.A.T. post on this blog for more details.) In this project, students made a comprehensive plan, created multimedia products, wrote letters, researched history, interviewed local citizens, researched chemical compounds and more. In one project, they met almost every NET standard in addition to reading standards, writing standards, Social Studies standards and Science standards.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Is PBL Worth it?

In my last post I justified the use of Project Based Learning (PBL) in the classroom with the help of my fifth grade students. In this post, I am going to take a deeper look at reasons some say PBL is just not worth it.

Collaboration Issues: Some say that teaching students to work collaboratively can be impossible. I disagree. If we don’t teach our students to work together when they are young, they have no prayer of working together to change the world as adults. Paying particular attention to the makeup of groups at the beginning of the year is crucial. As the teacher gets to know her students and as they become a community, this becomes a less important factor. Mixing it up from project to project is one way to keep students from falling into bad habits. In my classroom, collaborative groups can be formed a number of ways including student choice, random draw, or teacher choice. Because we are a community of learners who have learned to respect each others’ strengths and weaknesses, we rarely have problems. When we do, it only takes a gentle reminder to get students back on track.

Content Acquisition: Some say that students working on a piece of a project only learn that piece. What about the rest of the content? When my students are working on a big project, it is true that we generally divide the topic into manageable group topics. For this reason, different groups of students become experts on a piece of the overall topic. However, when the project is pulled together in the end, students share their knowledge with the rest of the class. They learn the rest of the content from their peers. Of course, they will always know their piece best, because they have not only learned the content, they have taught the content and in the end they own that content. Knowing the part their piece makes in the big picture only makes the content more understandable.

When I speak of PBL and how it works, I am generally speaking in terms of my own fifth grade classroom. Since it is April, my students truly have become a community of learners. When given a topic, they get right to work brainstorming ideas, collaborating with their peers, and creating awesome projects.
Just recently students completed a collaborative project on the Revolutionary War. Each student was responsible for researching an event that happened during the War. They were required to complete a “Who, What, Where” worksheet and take that information and write a summary. From there the students were on their own as to how we would present the information.
The wheels started spinning. They brainstormed ways to use all of their favorite web 2.0 tools in order to create a cohesive project that tied all of their projects together. Below is their final project. The timeline includes all of their summaries. In addition, each student chose a web 2.0 tool to expand on the summary. The links to their projects are included. (Works best if you click for full event details.) Please explore and enjoy.

Here's one of my favorite projects: Revolutionary War- Battle of Saratoga

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Proof is in the Project

Project based learning is deeply seated in research as an effective way to engage students and produce better test scores. As the body of research builds, I decided to do a little research on my own. What is Project-Based Learning (PBL)? If you’d like to see PBL in action, spend some time with Mrs. Abernethy’s Global Gorillas. Whether students are reading, performing science experiments, or preparing for the state standardized test, students are deeply engrossed in a collaborative, project-based environment. How do they feel about this type of learning? View the results of a recent survey below.

Survey in a Google Document

Survey Analysis

1. When asked whether technology has helped them learn better, students responded unanimously, “yes.”
2. Given the choice between a paper-pencil test and a project for a grade, 83% chose project.
3. Students were asked which they would prefer to do the most to help them learn. Their choices and responses are as follows: read a book (15%), have the teacher tell you (12%), or work in a group (73%).
4. Students were given a list of projects they participated in this school year, and they were asked to choose the project they liked the most. A description of the projects and the results are below:
a. Class Election: Students participated in a simulated election. Click to see how the election worked. Students participated in a primary, held convention parties, gave speeches, planned campaigns, and participated in debates. In addition, the electoral vote process was employed in the actual class election. Before the election took place, students went to the polls to see firsthand how it was done. Later in the week after watching Barack Obama get sworn into office, our new class president and vice president were sworn into office, too. To learn more about this project go to our Election Blog.
b. Literature Circle Projects: Students are required to read one novel per month. Each week students create projects to demonstrate comprehension of the novel they are currently reading. Students are given latitude to exercise their creativity and they really do. From web 2.0 tools to paper-pencil, regardless the medium, students show what they read. To learn more, please visit our Literature Circle Blog.
c. Dinosaur Collaboration: Our class does quite a few collaborative projects with Mrs. Blazosky’s first grade class in Clarion. This is one of those projects. Students have been collaborating to build a Dinosaur Blog. My fifth graders created projects to teach her students about dinosaurs. Her students responded with projects of their own. From movies to Toon-Doos, the multimedia is rich. In addition, the fifth graders edited posts done by their younger collaborators.
d. Morpheus Fortuna: A traveling bog turtle, Morpheus makes his rounds to various classrooms around the state of Pennsylvania. Students enjoyed their visit with Morpheus and created movies and more for his blog and wikispace. It was meaningful to them that other students in their state would be reading and viewing their projects.
e. PSSA Projects: Students created their own projects to give tips for PSSA test taking. They created movies, interactive Power Point presentations, and other media rich projects. They shared their knowledge with other test takers across the state on a PSSA Blog.

Student results were as follows:
a. Class Election: 34%. Although this project was done at the beginning of the year, students chose it as memorable. Some reasons given were personal in nature. For example: “We got to choose our class president.” “…I got to run for Class President and we got to do awesome commercials.” “I remember doing signs and voting for Cassie.” ”I was a candidate till the primaries.” In reality, the students probably remember this project so vividly because it was so real and correlated with real life happenings (the Obama election.)
b. Literature Circle Projects: 23%. Some comments include: “What made this project memorable was that you had to do one every week. And I would always try to make the best one I could.” “Because we did them so often and their were so many different things to do.” “I’ve done tons of stuff for it, easy and hard. I’ve done things I’m very proud of during Lit Circles.” In my opinion, the variety, the hard work, and the use of web 2.0 tools will be very valuable skills for these students in the future.
c. Dinosaur Collaboration: 19%. Student comments: “Dino project because I made a video.”
d. Morpheus Fortuna: 11%. Student comments: “He was awesome and so much fun to do projects on.” “…I liked taking him to music and gym..”
e. PSSA Projects: 11%. Student comments: “Because I had a lot of fun, I learned a lot, and I got to work with a friend.”

(To view more complete answers and answers to other questions, please take time to view the Google Document.)

What all of the student comments have in common is an enthusiasm for learning. Students enjoy working collaboratively with other students in their classroom and with others via the world wide web and video conferencing. In this day of state standardized testing, how do you justify project-based learning? Let’s turn that around. In this time of testing, how do we justify not using it? If you need further proof that project-based learning is effective, meaningful and worthwhile, please visit our website, and take a look around.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Exemplars of Project Based Learning

Exploration of Three Exemplars of Project Based Learning featuring:

“More Fun Than a Barrel of . . . Worms?!” - Diane Curtis, Edutopia

“Geometry Students Angle into Architecture Through Project Learning” - Sara Armstrong, Edutopia

“March of the Monarchs: Students Follow the Butterflies' Migration” - Diane Curtis, Edutopia

The Edutopia examples of project based learning run the range from first grade to high school, but they all share some common themes. Engaged learners, collaborating in real life problem solving abound regardless of the project or the age of the students. The projects cross multi-disciplinary boundaries and teach the learner a multitude of process skills. These include and are not limited to: planning, setting goals, researching, reporting, brainstorming, synthesizing, and presenting. In a project-based environment, content is based on what students wonder about. The curriculum is student driven and affords the learner real world experiences. It is an “I wonder” curriculum based on what students wonder about.

Although the projects appear to be student driven, the teacher plays a very real guiding role. Responsible for infusing curricular standards while maintaining a facilitative role is much more difficult than standing in front of the classroom. The teacher must be willing to think outside the box. Making connections from student interests to real world application and curriculum and standards don’t just happen. Time management and outside planning are crucial. The role of the teacher is to be supportive, encouraging, open-minded, and flexible. The art of active listening, providing resources, and process monitoring are just a few of the skills the facilitative leader of a project-based classroom needs. They need to be able to give up their own power for the good of empowering the learner. Creating life-long learners becomes the goal of a good facilitator. All in all, the teacher is a mentor and a coach that impacts student learning by creating authentic experiences for the students.

The students in a project-based classroom have a different role, too. No longer are they the passive digester of spoon fed knowledge. They must take responsibility for their learning in a way the traditional student never did. The students need to develop a desire to learn and key into their internal curious nature. The learners need to become creative problem solvers. The textbook no longer gives the answer to the problem. Communication, collaboration, and decision making are skills important to all students in a project-based classroom.

In all aspects of the three examples, students were given meaningful learning experiences. The projects they were a part of became a part of them. Given a paper pencil test at the end of each experience would most likely show that the students learned the skills teachers deemed necessary to meet curricular standards. What this paper pencil test would not show is the realistic relevance and depth of the student learning. The final products including verbal explanation and tangible products gave a much wider view of their learning. These were not experiences that would easily be forgotten after the “test.”

Creation of a Schoolyard Habitat

About nine years ago, my students and I embarked on a PBL (Project-Based Learning) experience. While learning about animals and their habitats, the class decided to create our own habitat for native species in our schoolyard. We began with a persuasive writing exercise to convince the schoolboard and administration to allow us to transform a part of school property. This was only the first of many letters the students wrote during the project. Letters to local business owners afforded us the opportunity to buy tools and plants for our project. Students even convinced businesses and individuals to donate plants, mulch and tools. A newsletter created by the students went home with with everyone in the school explaining the project and making the plea for help.

In addition to writing skills, students did research on multiple topics. They learned through the National Wildlife Federation that we could become certified as an official Schoolyard Habitat. I learned as an educator that there are national standards that can be met just by doing the project. I now had justification in case anyone questioned the validity of our project. After researching the requirements to become a certified schoolyard habitat, students began researching plants and animals native to our area. They also used mathematical skills to map out an area of the schoolyard to create the habitat.

After a lot of preparation, in the spring of 2000, the students were finally ready to break ground. A year later, the habitat was certified as a Certified Wildlife Habitat. Students were recognized in the local newspapers and we were interviewed on television by a local broadcast station.

The schoolyard habitat still lives today, and is maintained by my fifth grade class each year and students who volunteer to help during recess and after school. In addition, there is a schoolwide cleanup of the habitat in the spring on Earth Day. Go to our website to learn more about our Schoolyard Habitat or click below to watch the powerpoint.

Uploaded on authorSTREAM by jabernethy

Saturday, January 10, 2009

CountriesThat Visited

Above is a Wordle created at The countries found in the wordle are the countries that visited Mrs. Abernethy's Global Gorillas Classroom Website in 2008. The size of the country correlates with the number of visits from that country. Therefore, countries that visited more often are larger. A total of 67 countries visited in all!