Hey all,
I need some help: Do you have some good ideas for how to integrate EVERY SINGLE CLASS in my school? I teach grades 5-8 in a charter school. Many of my students are very bright, but some struggle with getting basic skills in. They ALL find it difficult to stay engaged in traditional school so they've come to us. This year (our first year), they've done better, but I know we can do better for the kids by blurring the lines between "school" and the "real world." I want to have separate projects, but no separation of classes next year--students would move from room to room, working on creating solutions and solving problems, but they'd not be moving from room to room every 42 minutes (or 90, or whatever).

I know this is ambitious, but if you do this already, even if it's on a smaller scale, I want to pick your brain!

Tags: Based, Learning, Project, charter, engaging, integration, problems, real, school, solving, More…students, world

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Mixed-age groupings can work really well. What are you wishing for--reducing "grade" awareness, kids working together across age levels, kids just being together, individualized instruction, project-based groups? There are many possibilities. Do you need a basic format for day-planning, or a long-term vision? Sounds like you're exploring some really interesting possibilities. Please clarify what you'd ideally like to see.
Perhaps I should explain a little more. My background is in gifted education and social science. I'm well familiar with the traditional interventions of schooling. Currently (our first year of this program) we have the students split into readiness groups for Science and Math and all together for Social Studies. We don't have a Language Arts class, since it's actually kind of a redundant class; we utilize reading and writing everywhere and when I see a need arise for a certain Lang Arts topic, we have a quick workshop or two to address that specific need. We operate on the philosophy that kids learn best when they have a NEED to learn the topic, so I try to create all sorts of Language Arts needs in their regular classes.

In all their core classes, we run with a Project-Based Learning philosophy, where I introduce a topic, students learn the info needed to either create the product or solve the problem. I try to spend minimal, if any time in a "teaching stance," but act more in an advisory/mentoring capacity.

We also offer "flexible learning time" where students work in self-selected and self-directed literature circles, foreign language studies, extra grammar/spelling/typing practice (as needed per individual), and various independent projects.

So while this approach seems to be working decently well (remember that this is the first year of the program, so there is sometimes room for improvement), I want to ramp up academic opportunities dramatically. As I've mentioned previously, I do not want the students to have a "school-world" vs "real world" view. I want to make school as authentic as possible. SO--I want to STOP the Social Studies/Science/Math disconnect between classes and teach them ALL together in a project based format. Students won't move from class to class during the day. They'll move from project to project in a week or less, but will have various activities they'll have to complete each day for the duration of the project. These activiites will mirror directly (as is possible) the real world application to the state standards.

They'll be working in mixed-age groups, that are mostly similar-readiness and/or similar interest & learning styles. We already have reduced grade awarenss, age-mixing, some individualized instruction and project based groups. I want to take this to the NEXT level of learning: classroom 2.0. Oh, did I mention we heavily use technology tools to collaborate and work? I'm also shopping for a class who'd be willing to try out this journey with us, collaborating across the distance.

I know--it's an ambitious project and I'd like to see who/if anyone has done this sort of thing and what advice they could offer. I think i have the long-term vision. Day to day planning takes care of itself. I guess I'm looking for ideas for CONCEPTUAL project topics that can be broad enough to encompass various disciplines, but not end up being "trying to cure cancer" projects.

*whew* I'd love some help, but if it's not out there and someone's willing to work with me on it, I'll be doing some collaboration/planning with a few colleagues and we'll be implementing this plan during the upcoming school year. :) PLEASE help!
Hi Ginger,
I've been using a "Week's Work" format for class for 20 years or so. When the kids come in on Monday, all projects for the week are listed. Kids go about accomplishing the work during class work times and as homework (about 45 minutes or an hour each evening). It takes a while to get students used to this system of choosing the order and depth of projects, maybe about two months at the year's beginning. After the initial struggles and experimentations, students begin to feel really in charge of themselves. Then, motivation soars. I don't have to be a nag or police-person; they watch over themselves. Through this system, students learn time-budgeting, self-pacing, initiative, creativity, and cooperation. By this time of the year, included in the week's work is "Contract Work." This allows the students to take total charge of even project selection.
With Weeks' Work as I use it, students consider school their "profession." They have ownership of their learning. I've been very happy with how it goes. I get college grads coming back to tell me that this system provided the platform for them to "learn how to learn." Some say they still use the Week's Work system, just by assigning it to themselves.
If you are interested in this format and need some ideas for getting started, I'm glad to help. (By the way, I have fourth and fifth graders, and get to keep students for two years. That helps enormously, as the old kids teach the new ones how to do Week's Work.)
YES! You understand what I'm asking! "...it takes on the unpredictability of a life of its own..."

That's what I expect, since that's what life truly is. We can predict, steer, adjust, and guide, but ultimately, we need to take opportunities, or decide to let them pass. That IS real life. Do I dare subject 5th-8th graders to this unpredictability?? Why not? They've proven to me that they CAN do what we're trained that they can't do: stay focused for 1.5 hour long classes; think in ways that "children" supposedly can't; successfully present at teacher conferences, engaging and exciting educators to how things COULD be going in the education field; as a few examples.

I like your idea of consulting a game developer for many reasons. The kids LOVE games and I want to know how the creators think and plan in order to emulate similar stimuli in our environment. Also, they DO have to multi-layer their work in order to appeal to various levels/complexities of ability, interest, and topic.

Planning backward will be essential and the students have demonstrated quite admirably their abilities to overcome the traditional schools' motivations (grades, social status) and work for learning and self-betterment. Sometimes, they even decide to volunteer themselves for the betterment of the whole! :) Believe it or not, many students take the initiative, arranging to come to school early/late in order to complete work that's not even been assigned to them. But that's this year's work. It's time to ramp it up, now that I have a core of "seed students" who will continue with me for the next several years. I can't wait to see the places we go!!

Thank you for your help--I will take your advice seriously and share it with my colleagues as we begin our mapping of 2007-08. We'll see how it goes!
Yup! Start by posting all homework on a blog. I use one for Middle School, one for High School English, and one for three Math classes. We are at classblogmeister. Once the kids all have accounts and understand how to blog, you will find it is difficult to reign them in! The 5th graders will likely know more than the 8th graders. Provide all parents and students with the website address. I have linked to the school's website, too. We are almost done with the year, this may be all for which you have time this year. I have kids begging me to blog over summer break - it is contagious.



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