Friday, 4 April 2014

Epic Failing - Live in Class and Online

Friday - last period. It's the last day of the week, at the end of the day. Perhaps this is not the greatest time to reveal a new project, but I'm running out of time before June, so I go ahead, showing them the shared Google docs each group will be using to plan their project. I send them home to work on it.

Friday - 9:00 pm. I realize I forgot to transfer the homework questions/notes into all the documents - I only did the one that I showed in class. Argh! Only 3 students have logged in so far (and they couldn't work because of my mistake). Is this good or bad? I had told them they needed to login more than once to allow people to post first, and then to comment later.

I am risking failure as a teacher, attempting to innovate with a big "PBL" (Project Based Learning) culminating project: each group is making a pinball machine. They are still getting the same content as the rest of the grade 8s, but we are going about it a different way, in the hope that we can better engage my struggling learners, and provide deeper (scaffolded) challenges for my more advanced learners.

The project will be a real "DT" project that brings together all their current core subjects (except French, which I could probably work in if I really tried).

The only problem is, I don't feel like the students haven't caught my vision yet. Hmmm.

Saturday morning. I go online; there's almost no change since last night. Apparently I don't have any early risers in my class. I'm a bit panicky so I send a reminder tweet for class to get online and participate.

Saturday afternoon. Filled with dread, apprehension, not enough kids are participating!!! I begin to ponder what it would look like to photocopy worksheets for the rest of the year!?!

Sunday morning. We finally hit a milestone: one group has had all members log in at least once. We're off to a start, but it's still a work in progress.

So I started last weekend with both apprehension and anticipation. It's a huge project, complex, requiring responsibility and independence. It opens the door for students' creativity, collaboration, and problem solving. I'm excited, but I'm also terrified I'm going to fail.

Will my students get on board? Will they buy in? Will they fail? Fail to understand the material (taught in a different way)? Fail to do the work? If so does that mean that I have failed?

As I ponder what we've done so far I suppose I can call the start of the project at least a partial success. Hopefully (if I can keep good documentation) I can learn from my mistakes for another year. Kind of like a video game, as Sean Jenkins puts it.

Failure is good, healthy, and a normal part of growing up in particular, and of life in general. However, just because these are true doesn't make experiencing it any more pleasant! A child learning to walk falls down, often crying from the unpleasantness of it all, but almost always they hear the encouragement from a trusted adult: "Get back up". In fact there is a movement growing that seems to suggest that kids don't have ENOUGH risk in their life anymore, and that their isolation is to their detriment. See for example this National Post article about "risky" playgrounds.

I'm thankful though that my admin and superintendent(s) have seen fit to allow us to make attempts at innovation. We may be about to do an Epic Fail, but on the other hand we might be about to do something great! We won't know until we try!

Sukh Sandhu
I searched the cupboards at home last year and pulled out my (28 y.o.) sister's Fisher Price roller skates. You know the ones that go over shoes? I put them on my 4 y.o. last summer, along with helmet, gloves, knee pads and elbow pads. I know I know I may have been a bit overprotective, but he's sensitive and it was his very first time, so I prefaced his skating time by trying to prep him mentally: "you will probably fall down - if you do, what do you do next? Get up again. Right!"

Learning to walk as little kids we probably fell over a lot, but for each fall we got a little bit stronger! (plus they weren't really bad falls since we were generally closer to the ground at the time.) Imagine if we DIDN'T fall over? We would not know how to handle it when we it (eventually) happens to us as adults! Or imagine that we were TOO AFRAID of falling? We would spend the rest of our lives slithering, wallowing and crawling along the ground!

The story goes that as Caesar stepped over the Rubicon river, and pointed his troops towards Rome, he stated they were beyond the point of no return. There was no turning back: "The die has been cast". Thats the way I'm feeling right now. Fail or succeed I'm committed. So let's just ride into this new frontier and see what happens. I'll keep you posted (no doubt Live on YouTube, just like Pierce and Jeremy).