Project Management

This last week our school held our first-ever open house, followed the next day by our expo. The open house was an opportunity for people in the neighborhood to come see what our students have been doing. Really it was a recruiting event; we are a school of choice, no one comes to our school because they have to, they come by choice. We need to recruit students so that we can pay the bills. By showing kids what our students actually do those that are interested in doing that will come.
The second event, the Merlo Expo, is an opportunity for our students to share their work with local business and industry leaders, and for those leaders to provide feedback to the students. The local Chamber of Commerce recruits volunteers to come hear the student presentations. This year we had about twenty-five volunteers come and work with our students and leave them with written feedback on their projects. It was amazing.
In looking through the feedback, a common theme emerged, this one from Facebook-

Wow. Just attended the Merlo Expo as students prepare for the SkillsUSA State Conference next weekend and wow! I saw some amazing projects and project management skills that would put these young leaders in jobs in a heart beat! -Jonathan Buyco

Project management was a common theme. The business people consistently said that the students demonstrated great project management skills, and how important that is. It was a little eye opening because I had never thought of that as a goal. We talk about time management, but that is a different thing. There were no comments about time management, which is a standard we specifically address. Folks were talking about project management.

Our new free little library all stocked up!

A photo posted by Merlo Institute (@merloiet) on Apr 3, 2015 at 8:35am PDT

These projects are all different. They are all student-designed projects that came from the question “What are you passionate about?” I couldn’t possibly manage all of these projects. One group published a book about Ballet Folklorico, and another built an underwater robot. One group published three children’s books, and another created a “Little Free Library” for the school.I could not manage these, there is not enough time in a day, nor do I know much about these topics. They needed to manage the projects. I need to remind them that is a job skill they have. In the future I need to be sure all of my students develop these skills and know it!


Final proofs for #SkillsUSA Career Pathways #SkillsUSACA2015

A photo posted by Merlo Institute (@merloiet) on Mar 19, 2015 at 11:58am PDT


About those quizes…

Yesterday we held our annual SkillsUSA Regional Competition. For those that don’t know, SkillsUSA is a national student led career and technical organization. Students compete in career or leadership related events. Welding students, for example, are presented with materials and drawings and asked to produce the piece depicted in the drawing. Leadership students might present their student designed and implemented community service project. It is, I believe, a fantastic way to assess what students are learning in the classroom. Which brings me to the point of my blogpost this morning.
The Washington Post this morning ran a story by Valerie Strauss called “How we teach kids to cheat on tests.” The story does a pretty good job of summarizing what happens when we put too much importance on the test score, or the quiz score.

This morning Daniel Ching  @danielpching published a blog post “The importance of process” in which he talks about the importance of providing feedback throughout the process of learning, and grading that process.  Too often we educators put all of the grade on the final test, and the students loose out as a result.

So lets go back to the SkillsUSA event yesterday. I was asked to run the Quiz Bowl event. This is sort of a “Jeopardy” type event where students, working in teams of 5, are asked a variety of questions. Questions include basic math, geometry, science, world and national politics, current events, and career related questions. It was fascinating for me to watch how students solved problems. Yea there were obscure questions where everyone in the room threw up there hands and said “whats a minority whip?” They were 10th and 11th graders after all. But for other questions it was interesting to me to watch the students break off into twos and threes and come up with their own answers,  talk their way through the questions, and come to an agreement on the answer. I could easily see strengths and weaknesses for each student. More importantly the students could see their own strengths and weaknesses. They were arguing for their answers, and providing  evidence to support those answers.

Photo by David Varela. Used with permission.
Photo by David Varela. Used with permission.

I learned much more about what these students knew by standing in the room and listening to them talk to each other than I ever would learn from the results of a test. Just as I learn more about what my students know by listening to them as they prepare for their presentations.

My students typically participate in the Career Pathways Showcase. In this event they prepare a presentation where they demonstrate what they have learned. On Friday a group of students was preparing their presentation and one of them said “We should bring the books we read as evidence of  our learning. We could talk about the books.” Another group decided to bring a stack of their mistakes, and talk about what they learned from them. I didn’t tell them to do these things, they decided it was the best way to demonstrate their learning.

I think these SkillsUSA events are much better assessments of student learning than any test. So no, there is not going to be a quiz on this on Friday.