Expressive Arts Project-Based Learning Project

Map of Project Steps


I working again this semester with a faculty member at UNI that teaches an Expressive Arts Integration teacher education course and thought I’d share the project map I’ve created the more or less maps out everything we’re doing.

To give a little context to what we’re doing and what we’ve done in the past, this is a project where small groups of UNI teacher candidates are paired up with small groups of elementary students. The UNI students teach a series of lessons to the elementary students using one of the following art themes: drama, music, visual arts, and dance and movement. This is a project that the professor has done for a number of years, but since the closing of Price Lab School, I’ve been involved in making this project happen from a distance.

While this semester is logistically a little different, what happens is that the UNI students learn about using the arts to teach content in meaningful ways, by preparing lessons for when they travel to the school to teach to their small group. These lessons are done collaboratively, both planning and teaching. In the meantime, commercials are recorded and posted online for the students in the schools to watch. I think both the UNI and elementary students enjoy the videos, especially when the students respond, either in their letters or by creating a commercial of their own and sending it to UNI. We also do some low tech handwritten letters to the students to help them get to know each other more. I am actually a big fan of handwritten letters since it seems everything else is so digitized. It’s always fun to get real mail!

Finally, after the students go out to the school and teach their lessons, they create some kind of documentation artifact, such as a book, poster, etc. that documents their day and the learning that took place. The elementary students are then each provided a copy of the documentation as a form of capstone to the experience.

What I like about this project is that it is a real project. Everything that’s done in this course centers around preparing for this experience. I also like amount of autonomy and student choice that the UNI students have in creating their lessons. There are some requirements, but overall, they have a lot of choice in what they teach and how they do it.  Like all good projects, it takes a lot of time and planning, but it’s worth it, because it’s real.


Making Distance Collaboration Work

Video Conference with CALWe hear often today that we need to be collaborating with others outside of our classrooms. It isn’t enough that we only talk within our own schools and districts. We should be talking with other educators and students outside of our schools, but what does that really mean? Until recently I really didn’t know what it meant, even though I believed we should be engaging in those kinds of activities. So I thought I’d briefly describe my recent experiences facilitating collaboration between UNI students and CAL elementary students.

What we are doing here at UNI is connecting with rural schools and one of them is the CAL school district. One of our courses takes all of the UNI students out to CAL towards the end of the semester for a full day of the arts. Leading up to that culminating event are a number of smaller events and one of them is a video conference between CAL and UNI. We are doing that today in fact and my biggest take away is ensuring that we make every moment a learning experience, both for the CAL students, but also the UNI students.

For CAL students, they are excited to learn more about who the UNI students are: What’s your favorite color, do you have any pets, what’s your favorite thing to do outside? These are just a few among a host of questions the CAL students have had. For the UNI student, their learning surrounds becoming a teacher. What questions should we ask? What do we do if they don’t say anything? How do you relate to students on their grade level? What do I do if I freeze up and don’t know what to say? These are just a few of the things we talked about here at UNI between groups.

As I look at the learning that’s taking place for students at both ends, I can see truly see the value of collaboration, especially with those outside the school. Which brings me to my point. If we are really going to take advantage of collaboration and not simply collaborate in name only, we really need to be deliberate about what the students are learning when they collaborate. It isn’t enough to open Skype, the Polycom, or Google Hangout. There has to be substance to what the students are doing. It sounds so simple, but even today it took us a minute to really discover where we needed to target our learning for the day.

What I’m trying to say then is that collaboration is only as good as you make it…so make it good. It truly makes a difference.

Are we worried about becoming irrelevant?

I asked a group of people yesterday if we were worried about becoming irrelevant and the response has stuck with me. We were talking about the big push in K12 for 1:1 computing. As the discussion unfolded I threw it out there and asked at what point do we become irrelevant if we don’t meet the needs of learners coming from 1:1 schools and if we aren’t preparing our graduates enough for teaching in a 1:1 school? Nothing specific about the response from the people in the room stood out, but rather it was more what wasn’t said. The looks on some people’s faces said more. It felt as if some in the room thought that what I said was absurd or that I’m out of touch with the demands of the higher education classroom.

But here’s the thing, I can see a future where students either transfer away or simply don’t attend colleges and universities that don’t create the type of learning environments where students can work together with other students and experts to solve real problems. The needs of students are changing. They have different interests, different learning preferences, and they aren’t afraid to shop around for education that meets their needs.

As we talked yesterday, one thing that came up was that a number of the 1:1 schools in Iowa aren’t being effective, which I can’t argue with. I know there are schools in the state that just bought a bunch of computers, gave them to the students, and hoped for the best. But, there are a lot of schools that are doing amazing things with the technology, whether they have 1:1 or not. They are implementing learning environments where students are the focus, not the teacher. The students are doing all the work. The students are guiding their own learning. Is it happening everywhere? No. Does that mean we shouldn’t respond, knowing that this type of learning is best practice? No. We need to respond and respond loudly. But we aren’t. Most colleges and universities aren’t, or if they are, we don’t hear their stories. I know we get hung up on the technology and how that is only going to distract from learning. But what if it doesn’t or even better, what if it does distract? Not from learning, but from the way we used to learn. What if learning changes?

I’m in a curriculum theory and development course right now and something we’ve been talking about is that the curriculum should reflect three distinct groups: the subject matter, society, and the learner. My concern isn’t that instructors aren’t teaching their content well, but rather that they might not be considering the needs of society and the learner. They are experts for sure. There’s no debating that. However, how they leverage their expertise depends on their consideration of the learners and the society in which we all live. These things do effect the way we use our expertise. But for many instructors, they are teaching to the past without look towards the needs of the future or even the present. I think we’ve been too quick to discount the latest generation. They are unique and with that have unique needs considering the changing landscape within which we live.

So how are we going to respond?


Technology without PD is like a Car without a Driver

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If you’ve been following over the last year or so, you might remember that I was given the opportunity to create a learning environment that provides the means to create learning experiences that are transformative in nature. For more information about what I mean, go here and scroll to the middle of the page to the Emerging Qualities of Effective Teaching Continuum.

As the last year has progressed, we were actually able to implement my design in a classroom (the TEE room or Transformative Education Environment) in the College of Education and this semester is the first semester where we have teachers using the classroom. I’m extremely excited and happy with how things have turned out, but this is just the beginning.  Because all I’ve done is bought a bunch of stuff and then put it in a classroom. Remember, my task was to create the means or the potential for transformative teaching and learning to take place.

The reality is that transformative education doesn’t just happen because a bunch of equipment and furniture was put in a classroom. Rather, there has to be professional development around what it means to be transformative, which is now going to be my focus moving forward with the grant.

I’m currently working with faculty on in the college to create and implement a PD series that is aligned to the TQP Transformative Model (see link above). As I was designing the room and aligning it to the model as much as I could, I clearly could see a connection for needing a certain amount of technology in the classroom. Therefore, as I move forward with creating PD I’m being very conscious of the role technology has and how it can be used effectively. Therefore, I’ll be leveraging TPACK as I work with others on campus to offer PD for faculty and students.

TEE PD is in it’s infancy and I’m hoping to take this semester to do a small pilot and then ramp up in the fall. This is certainly an exciting time for me and will certainly be an exciting path ahead.

Rote learning: A necessity but not for the classroom

At UNI we are still in the transition to Google Apps and the last major transition is from our old calendar platform to Google Calendar.  As I was reading the email I noticed that instead of having formalized training sessions on how to use Google Calendar, there was a link to where users can find training on all apps.  This left me wondering, why aren’t we doing this for all rote training needs we have?

As a technology specialist and educator, I understand that in order to reach innovative use of technology in a course, it is necessary to have some “how-to” knowledge about the technology being used.  Typically (going to generalize here) this is taught in large group sessions in a very rote way.  Click here, this feature does this, and so on.  We’ve all attended these trainings and many, including myself, have led a number of these sessions.  I’m wondering however, if we’ve reached a point where we no longer need to concern ourselves with teaching rote knowledge.  If we have very good tutorials on how to use X or what X is, do we really need to take up time “teaching” this when we are all together?  Wouldn’t we be just as or even more effective if we hand picked the videos we wanted our colleagues or students to watch so they can gain that rote knowledge that’s absolutely necessary for being successful?  Then, couldn’t we spend more time learning about how we can be effective with this technology in our courses?

I believe we have entered a point in society that you have to be a lifelong learner.  You simply cannot function without that essential characteristic.  At UNI, I’d say nearly all the people I work with would more than be capable of lifelong learning and I’d imagine many of you would agree you see the same in your colleagues.  However, as educators, have we truly embraced what it means to be a lifelong learner?  Do we take the initiative to learn new innovations as our organization adopts them?  I don’t think we have and I think we are wasting time organizing formalized training sessions on the latest innovation.  I know I’m guilty of this, we all are.  But I think we have a professional duty, as educators, to learn about new innovations as they become available in an asynchronous way.  I’m not saying you need to be an expert in every innovation, but I do think you need to be knowledgeable enough to either have a discussion about the innovation and/or be able to use the innovation in a basic sense without having to sit through an hour or even a full day workshop.

I’m going to shift gears slightly, but remain on the same topic.  I think we need to begin developing this literacy in our students as well.  How much time do we spend in education teaching students rote knowledge?  When was the Civil War?  What is the atomic weight of Boron?  What is the formula for calculating the surface area of a parallelogram?  We need to stop teaching our students how to do these things in our physical classrooms!  The answers to these questions can be found online and are very well articulated in a variety of mediums.  Why, I ask WHY do we still use low level rote instruction?  We’re good at doing it, but someone else is better and they’ve decided to share it with you for free (usually)!  Send your students to these resources online to learn this knowledge and then in class have them apply the concept they learned at home, the library, a friends house, etc.  It’s the application of the concept that get’s interesting and is where students have questions and is where our efforts as teachers should be.  Helping students apply knowledge in a meaningful context.

I’ll end by saying that rote learning, is necessary, but it shouldn’t be the only kind of learning that takes place.  I remember when I was in student teaching, my university supervisor asked me, “When are you going to develop the low level knowledge needed for your students to be able to answer the high level questions you’re asking them?”  This statement has remained with me ever since.  Before we can synthesize, create, or analyze, we need to first be able to understand the concept in its most basic form.  I think advocates for reform forget this, especially those who are critical of the flipped classroom.  I think flipping is exactly what we need to be doing, but it’s not the only thing.  It’s just one piece in the puzzle.

My comment on: To Control Technology or Unleash It

I just commented on Dr. Daniel Frazier‘s post “To Control technology or Unleash It” and thought I’d post it here as well. You can read his full post here:

My comment:
Dr. Frazier,

I agree with you, that if schools are going to remain relevant, we need to begin embracing technology in all forms, especially having devices for all students to use. However, I’m going to play devils advocate here for a minute, even though I whole heartedly feel the same as you.

How does the district change and establish a culture that encourages the type of learning environment that is relevant for our young people? How does the leadership approach issues like allowing cell phone use in the classroom when there are over 600 students in the middle school? Essentially, how do they create a plan that doesn’t create a culture of chaos and backlash from the teachers? While there may be some leadership issues that should be addressed, I think we also need to look at the context of the school. They are a larger middle school, at least by Iowa standards, and we are quickly approaching the end of the school year, albiet there is still a few months left.

From the non administrator standpoint, I would probably impose the same type of ban on cell phones at this point in the school year. This would only be a temporary ban until the end of the school year, because I’m guessing that the teachers aren’t knocking on the principal’s door to start using these devices. Then for the rest of the school year I’d start building a movement amongst the teachers and a number of student representatives to begin creating the type of learning environment that is supportive of cell phones, computers, etc. This process is going to take more than the summer, but I think great strides could be made to begin making real change in classrooms by the end of summer, where any ban on cell phones can be lifted.

I think the key with situations like the Pottstown Middle School is to have a plan and a lot of patience. The decision to allow any new innovation shouldn’t be a top down decision. It also can’t be a bottom up one either. There has to be discussion and there has to be a plan in place that makes full use of them in the classroom. If not, then it’s almost better off not allowing them at all.

Sorry for the long comment, but you are touching on something many people overlook when it comes to “new” innovations. It’s the process we go through as we adopt the innovation that is going to be the indicator of our success. If we don’t do it just right, the results might not be what we want.

Great post!



My experiences with blended learning

Note: This blog post is being used as part of the UNI Teacher Quality Partnership Course Redesign Summit that will take place from June 1-7, therefore, this post may seem a bit out of context for those not participating in the summit.  However, feel free to leave comments and interact as you see fit.

I’ve had a few experiences with blended learning as a student, some good and some bad.  My first experiences were during my undergraduate course about distance education.  This course was taught in an entirely blended format.  There were face-to-face meetings on campus and there were also a number of interactions using a learning management system.  Like many things, the first time you try something is rarely the best experience and mine was no different.  Having never taken a course that met at a distance, I was unprepared for the online experience of the course, in particular, the online discussions.  I’m typically a more reserved person when it comes to discussions in front of my peers and this transferred to the online environment.  When the time came for discussions it was difficult for me to engage with others in the course.  I’d have something I would want to share so I would post it in my forum, but I rarely received feedback from anyone else in the course.  Essentially I thought what I was posting was wrong and no one was telling me otherwise so I went on that assumption.  I felt isolated.  As time went on I continued to feel more and more isolated and in the end my performance in the course suffered.  The problem with this first experience was that I didn’t feel like I was noticed by others in the course.  This is what is called social presence, which has to be facilitated and cultivated by course instructors.  If instructors fail to do this, students tend to fall into the same situation that I found myself in during my first blended course.

However, my second experience was much different from my first.  I enrolled in a distance masters program where all the courses were taught primarily at a distance.  In each of the courses, we only met physically about once or twice a semester and, for the most part, the people I began my courses with were the same throughout the entire experience.  This helped each student develop relationships that will last a lifetime.  There were many typical class activities, such as readings, lectures, discussions, and collaborative group work, that were done at a distance with people from all over the US.  The key for the experience was being able to work asynchronously, but still on a schedule to ensure we progressed through the course together.  This way we could learn when it was most convenient for us.  Also making this a positive experience were the instructors who were flexible and responsive to the needs of the students.  If something needed to be changed, they worked with the entire class and modified the course accordingly.
Reflecting back on the experience, there were a number of changes from my first blended course to my last.  The biggest factor has probably been time.  About 7 years has elapsed since my first experience and during that time a number of advances, both intelectual and technological, have been made with blended and online learning that have made them easier to design and teach.  This isn’t because blended and online learning is an easier format to teach through, but instead, we are better able to identify and change problem areas both in the design process and once the course is underway, which in the end makes the entire process easier.  While we will share and discuss many of the resources and strategies you can use to design effective blended learning environments, I underlined a few words above to have you start thinking about how you and your students interact in your courses.  Even though there are a number of contextual differences between my experience and the ones you create for your students, these are still common themes that will appear in nearly all blended learning environments, so think about these themes in your context and what it means for your students.