Inquiring, Sharing, and Igniting Idea Sparks with 5 Corners

On our third and final day of our Lanier Schools Academy Institute, we participated in a fun and engaging activity that reminded me of the Harvey Daniels written conversation strategies.   Lanier High teacher Brooke Webb and LSTC Rhonda Stroud led us through a variation of the Four Corners learning activity, dubbing ours Five Corners because we had five questions to contemplate in small groups about our district LMS platform, Desire2Learn.  Our essential question was “How can eClass (Desire2Learn) help my students with PBL?”

Brooke and Rhonda ensured we were in mixed groups of grade levels and subject areas by giving each teacher a sticky note numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5.  We then went to our assigned table (1, 2, 3, 4, or 5) so that each group has an established starting point.  Each table had a question for the group to consider; the basic protocol was that you wrote your individual response, and then the group discussed and shared the responses.  We spent roughly 5 minutes at each table before rotating to the next “station’ or table with question.   You could also place a check mark next to responses from your peers that reflected your own practice or experiences.

As we moved through the stations, we could see what other groups had written and shared.  After we added our own responses and placed a check mark next to all answers that applied to our own practice/experience, we discussed the ideas shared from the other groups.  We rotated through all stations until we returned to our station that was our starting point.

We then looked at the responses shared by all groups at our initial station and grouped the responses into categories and tabulated our response to collect data to look for trends and patterns in the responses.  Some groups created simple bar graphs or charts by hand; we had a teacher in our group who was an Excel expert, so she created a beautiful graph for our group.

We then did a large group share out; this part of the activity was especially meaningful as fellow teachers not only shared the data, but teachers had the opportunity to talk about specific responses.  This small and large group work gave us ideas and strategies for using Desire2Learn in our classrooms and was a terrific springboard for the mini-lesson on Desire2Learn presented after the activity by Brooke Webb.  The learning experience and subsequent mini-lesson left me feeling energized and excited about incorporating Desire2Learn into my daily classroom instruction as well as PBL experiences for my students.

After we finished the activity and mini-lesson, Brooke and Rhonda hung up our work as a gallery on the ends of bookcases in the library (our beautiful learning space for the week) so that we could browse the work more closely during our collaborative work time and breaks.

This is another great variation on written conversation strategies that can encourage inquiry and crowdsourcing of ideas and knowledge.  I’m already thinking about how I can use this with my 11th and 12th grade readers and writers come August!  Kudos to Brooke and Rhonda for leading us through a rich and meaningful learning experience!

On a side note, the learning space also facilitated this learning activity.  I felt right at home in our beautiful media center because the Artcobell tables and chairs on wheels supported this kind of learning activity that involved movement as well as small group to large group work.  Over the last three years, I’ve been lucky to work in a library or classroom space where I had this kind of furniture; the one year I did not, I was absolutely miserable and felt stymied by immobile heavy tables and chairs.  These kinds of learning experiences are much easier to facilitate when you have a learning space that supports the design drivers of the kind of learner experience you’re trying to create.  As more schools incorporate inquiry driven and active learning activities, I think it is more important than ever for schools to closely examine their learning spaces and determine what they need to change in common learning areas as well as classrooms to support the vision for learning.

Sharing and Broadening Our Thinking With a Perspective Walk

Today was the first day of our three day 2017 Lanier School Academy Institute, a professional learning experience for returning and new to the Lanier cluster teachers.  This academy provides teachers of all grade levels and subject areas opportunities to talk about project based learning across the Lanier cluster, to unpack how our cluster thinks about PBL, and to share and brainstorm ways we can craft meaningful and authentic PBL experiences for our students (and ourselves!).  I will be joining the faculty of Lanier High this July as an 11th grade English teacher, so I am excited to participate in this three day institute.

This morning we worked in small groups to take an inquiry stance on PBL (project based learning).  We began by sharing PBL experiences we had implemented as teachers and discussed insights, successes, and what we might do differently moving forward with PBL.  Next, we contemplated and discussed these questions about PBL in our small groups:

  • Benefits?
  • Drawbacks?
  • Misconceptions?
  • What’s your perspective?

After we brainstormed our list of ideas for each question, our facilitator, Dr. Kyle Jones of Lanier High, asked us to pull out the one idea from our list of ideas for each question.  He then asked us to distill the idea to its essence and to write each “essential” big idea that stood out to us as a group (consensus!) on a medium sized sticky note.  Each group then shared out their responses for each question; similar responses were “bundled” together by Dr. Jones to be placed in a slice of the perspective walk “pie”.

Once Dr. Jones had placed the responses for the first question in the perspective walk slices, we gathered in large circle around the perspective walk pie.  He then asked us to look at the responses and to step inside the slice that resonated most strongly with us.  You could not “straddle” a pie with a foot in two slices; you needed to choose one that you connected with the most.   Once we had selected a slice, we then turned and talked in our small groups about our ideas and thinking about the response we had selected.  Once we engaged in small group talk, we then had an opportunity for three groups to share out to the entire group.  We repeated this process for each question, and for each round, Dr. Jones asked for volunteers to share who had not previously shared before though you could also add to the discussion if you had previously volunteered to share.

For our last round, we first considered the question, “What is your perspective?” where we picked a perception about PBL that we found most important to address or challenging.  After we discussed this question, Dr. Jones challenged us to think of ways to change that perception, and after small group discussion, we then shared out once more.  Approximately 50 teachers participated in the perspective walk, so this is an activity you could do with a large group or combined classes as well as an individual class.  During our lunch break, Dr. Jones took each group of responses and hung them on the mobile dry erase board that is our “parking lot” of ideas (more on this tomorrow).

I found this activity to be powerful because I got to hear so many interesting ideas from my fellow teachers, and the small and large group conversations gave me food for thought and pushed my thinking as well as “idea sparks” for the upcoming school year.  This is an engaging activity with tremendous synergy that is participatory and builds on the power of crowdsourcing ideas and the social aspect of learning.  I cannot wait to try that this activity with my new students this fall!

I hope to do some additional posts about our thinking and other great learning activities we’re engaging in this week in our institute.  Kudos to Dr. Jones and all the Lanier cluster teachers for such a provocative and fun morning of thinking and sharing today!