Showing Student Work in Public

I have long been a believer in students making their work public. When I started teaching my school was working with some of Ted Sizer’s ideas, and “public exhibition of mastery” was an important one of those ideas. I came to believe that when students control their learning and  are expected to show the results of their learning in public they do amazing things. So I have tried over the years to create just such an environment. I have learned that it isn’t an easy environment to create. Sure we can have students write blogs or create web sites. These are not too difficult to create, assuming the web filters aren’t overly restrictive. But my experience is these digital public venues, for all their strengths, just don’t pack the same punch as a student standing in front of a perfect stranger, looking them in the eye, and explaining some piece of work the student has done. Something really magical happens when these are the expectations.

This year we decided to create a new public exhibition event at our school. We participate in SkillsUSA, and we decided that students who go to the state competition would participate in our own event before the state event. Our local Chamber of Commerce recruited a couple dozen volunteers who have some expertise in the projects the students are doing. We bought the volunteers breakfast, invited the school board and top administrators, and suddenly we had our first annual Merlo Expo! Our school secretary said it went from a backyard bbq to a full blown Quencieta! It got complicated quickly. But our school community stepped up and made it a really special event. Our leadership class and their teacher really did an outstanding job with the details. The whole office staff did a great job with the logistics. The support from the whole school really made it a fantastic event.

The results were simply amazing. We have a couple dozen new industry supporters who think highly of the school. We heard nothing but fantastic comments about our students and their work. Our students were really excited about the feedback they were getting on their projects. Many of the students have already begun adjusting their projects in preparation for next weeks SkillsUSA event. That is something that has never happened before; in the past the state event was the first, and often last, public viewing of the projects. The students are considering feedback from a variety of real people, and making adjustments based on that feedback. One student called me over in the afternoon and told me one of the industry people told him his project would be better if there was an app for it. So he started sketching out plans for an app. That is simply awesome.

I think of equal importance is that the district administrators were able to come and interact with the students and see what the students are actually doing and learning. I don’t think we let them do that enough. We like to complain that district admins only care about the numbers. But when do we give them something else to consider? They see the numbers; they see the test scores and graduation rates and attendance and all the rest of the data. We complain that there is more to learning than that, and there really is. But when do we invite them to come and see the learning? I, for one, intend to invite them more often.


Yet Another Example of Great Professional Development


Yesterday I had the wonderful fortune to be able to attend an Edcamp. It didn’t take much to convince me to go since it was held at the little elementary school in Yosemite Valley. Yes, THAT Yosemite, the one that also happens to be a national park, and one of the most beautiful places on this earth! It never takes much to get me to take the drive to Yosemite. But give me the chance to go there and hang out for a few hours with other educators who want to talk about how we can all get better at what we do, and I am in! Throw in an Instagram pre-session, and I don’t know how to stay away.

The edcamp model is  something fairly new to me. You do not have to sign up months in advance and walk a stack of paperwork through the school district system hoping it does not get misplaced. Once the paperwork is done you find yourself going through the program and figuring out the schedule for the event. Nor do you have to submit a proposal for a presentation for the conference to get a free admission. All you have to do is sign up for a ticket. They are free, and usually on Saturday (at least in my limited experience) so you don’t have any district paperwork! Can I get a woot for no district paperwork? You do have to sign up, because they often sell out! But that is not the best part. The best part is the way the sessions are scheduled.

When you check in at an edcamp you are given a pen and a piece of paper and asked “what do you want to learn about?” You write down a topic and it is placed on a schedule board. All of the different topics are clustered into logical groups and assigned rooms and times. Yesterday several people wrote that they wanted to learn more about Minecraft, so a Minecraft session was held during the first session in the multipurpose room. John Miller, @room162 on twitter, was on hand and is a passionate user of Minecraft in the classroom and attended the session to lend his expertise.  Other people had heard of “App Smashing” and wanted to learn more, so a session was held on that. A session called “Things That Suck” was a big draw, and a lot of fun. The great part is that the schedule is built that day, based on the needs and interests of those there that day, not months ahead of time! You get to learn about what you want to learn about.

I really wanted to learn, as Jon Corippo says, to “Avoid the Suck.” (Jon is on twitter @jcorippo) The suck is that time in the middle of an assigned project when the enthusiasm has waned, but the work isn’t done. Jon says when the teacher says “I am going to give you lots of time for this project” students hear “I don’t have to start this for a long time!” There was a session about avoiding the suck. I don’t think I found a silver bullet on this topic, but I am thinking about it a little differently.

Because I often present at conferences to “pay my way” I am often stressed out going in. I am worried about my presentation; have I prepped enough, am I going to have network issues, what if no one comes… Traditional conferences are all about sage on the stage. If you know me and my classroom style it is anything BUT sage on the stage. I don’t do direct instruction well or often. I do not like being the expert in the front. At an edcamp there is no sage on the stage, just a group of people talking about a topic they are all interested in, and that, in my book, is great professional development.

From here on out, if there is an edcamp in driving distance, I am in!