Happy List: Parramatta Edition


Over my spring break, I was VERY fortunate to have the opportunity to visit and exchange ideas with 9 amazing campuses in the Parramatta Diocese in Parramatta, Australia.  After five days of school visits and workshops, my brain is full of an overwhelming array of memories, snapshots, ideas, and exchanges.  There are too many details to capture in my typical On the Map accounts which in the past have tended to synthesize my ARIE trips in more-or-less chronological day-by-day entries of my PBL adventures.  Instead of capturing this trip in this way, I have decided to describe how this trip has enriched my Happy and my Hack Lists.  This article will describe the additions to my Happy List.  After I’ve had a few days to reflect on my notes, I will write another article that digs into the things I’m adding to my Hack List as a result of this wonderful trip.



The most important beautiful and happy memories I gathered at each campus involved students who were happy to learn.  Student engagement was very high at every campus I visited.  Students were very enthusiastic while telling me all about their work.  Several students gave me impromptu workshops on elements of Project-Based Learning (PBL) and on the specific things they were learning in their projects.  A ten-year old taught me about high modality words while explaining to me how she was using them to make her PSA script more persuasive.  Several teams practiced their presentations with me and asked for my feedback.  One team tried to present twice to me so they could immediately apply their feedback.  At one campus, PBL has raised student engagement enough to increase their attendance from around 60% to over 80% over the course of the project with several days at 100%.  When I saw this data and heard about the challenging context of this campus, I cried because it hit me that PBL was impacting these hard-to-reach kids in meaningful ways and our work had a little part in that.



In every campus, there was evidence of PBL documentation in all classrooms.  All classes had wall displays with Knows and Need-to-Knows, rubrics, group contracts, driving questions, and other artifacts (sample products, past products, workshop summaries, etc.).  I was really happy to see Knows and Need-to-Knows lists that were quite messy because they had been clearly updated over the course of the project.  These appeared in class walls and in students’ work areas.  I saw evidence of some amazing PBL systems that were infusing the seeming chaos of PBL with content and 21st century skills learning.  I observed and heard some great accounts on how students were using group contracts as tools to organize their teamwork and hold their teammates accountable.



At every campus, I met dynamic, hard working, thoughtful and professional staff members who were giving PBL a real shot.  All teachers had designed and facilitated at least one project.  Some teachers were already on their 3rd project even though we are still in the first term of the school year.  There was clear collaboration among teachers who were together navigating the challenges of PBL.  Teachers were already committing to the hard work involved in preparing PBL units because of the engagement and deeper learning they were observing in their classrooms during their projects.



The teachers were very thoughtful and forthcoming while sharing their successes and their challenges.  It was really validating to hear how much each campus had to celebrate and to commiserate over our shared PBL struggles. We spent time exchanging strategies in order to better implement Knows & Need-to-Knows lists and rubrics and to improve  Content & 21st century skills scaffolding and assessments.  It was exciting to brainstorm new strategies to improve these PBL elements.  



The hospitality at each campus was really beautiful.  Another week of their wonderful tea times and I might have struggled to fit into my business clothes.  One student was so excited by our visit that he bought us Vegemite.  After our Vegemite picture was posted, other campuses gave us other food gifts to counterbalance the odd acquired taste of Vegemite.  The people at each campus were so friendly and warm – truly some of the nicest people I’ve visited during my ARIE trips!


I’m also grateful that I got to work with the great ARIE team.  I don’t have many pictures of them because we had to separate ourselves into smaller teams in order to visit our 25 partner campuses.  Instead I have tons of pics of Ray and I touring Parramatta since he was my observation partner at most of my school visits.  We had a wonderful time that gave me lot of ideas and that filled me with a lot of inspiration to take back to my students next week.  What a wonderful way to recharge and get ready for the final stretch of the 2016-2017 school year!  


Thank you to all the Parramatta leadership team and to all the Parramatta schools that hosted me (St. Francis’s, Holy Family at Edenton, Holy Family at Luddenham, St Aidan’s, St Matthew’s, Our Lady of the Way, St Oliver’s, St. Bernadette’s, and Xavier College).  My mind and heart have been enriched by our exchange – thank you very much!


p.s. A special thanks to Tim for taking time out to show me and Ray a kangaroo family on our way to one of our school visits and for all his wonderful insights that added texture to our observations.

ARIE in Almaty, Kazakhstan

Friday, February 17, 2017 to Sunday early morning, February 19, 2017:


Friday afternoon, February 17, Stephanie Ehler and I flew out of the Austin Bergstrom Airport and started our long trip to Almaty, Kazakhstan via Washington, D.C. and Frankfurt, Germany.  At each stopover, we were lucky enough to have just enough time to reach our next gate for the next  boarding.  I spent most of the flights unconscious.  At one point I fell asleep before we were allowed to adjust our seat backs and Ehler watched me sleep with my head lolling forwards and backwards.  She adjusted my seat for me when this was allowed and I had no idea until she told me.  During my few hours of consciousness, I outlined the DCTM manual on STAAR testing and read a few chapters in a brand new book from Summer, Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman.  This book seemed really appropriate for my trip towards a country in the middle of a very cold, snowy winter.


We finally arrived in Almaty between 2 and 3 am Sunday morning, February 19.  We passed through Customs and found our luggage with no problems.  A driver met us and drove us to our hotel.  I was very happy to find that our hotel, the Sherapark Inn was very clean, comfortable and fancy.  Nearly all the people working in the hotel’s guest services looked Asian, but spoke Russian.  That combined with the way my key turned on the power in my hotel room made me feel like I was in a cold, Eastern European version of China.  Due to all my sleep on the planes, I was only able to sleep a couple hours before our lunch meeting with our hosts at 1 pm later that day.  During the hours I was awake, I drafted this blog article.


Sunday, February 20, 2017


At 1 pm, we met our main hostess, Tánia, and our driver in the hotel lobby.  They drove us to a sky resort within the Mahalangur Range.  This mountain range is famous due to Mount Everest.  On the way to the resort, we learned a little about Tánia’s school.  It is a private secondary pilot STEM school that will serve approximately 100 students when it opens.  When we arrived at the resort, we look a sky lift up the mountain and met with our translators, Arái and Ardák, at a nice restaurant decorated like a wooden hunter’s lodge.


At the restaurant, Stephanie and I tasted horse meat for the first time.  It was part of a delicious salad we ate at the start of a large lunch.  We also drank hot expresso and thyme and ginger tea.  These beverages were so soothing up on the cold cold mountain.  We ate a delicious cheese-filled flatbread and also another good dish with lamb, sauce, and plain flatbread.  Unfortunately, our inner fat kids, Kimmie and Sheila, were not up to the task of making significant progress in all our lunch courses.  We ate until we were stuffed and there was still plenty of food left.


While eating, we got to know a little about Tánia, Ardák, and Arái.  Our translators are cousins who grew up in Almaty and who speak very good English due to schooling abroad in Switzerland and Vancouver, Canada.  Both looked Asian adding to my sense of being in a cold Russian version of China.



After our lunch, we went for a short, brisk walk around the resort.  It was cool to be surrounded by so many skiers.  If the slopes didn’t all look like black diamonds and if it hadn’t been about 20 years since I’d last skiied, I’d be tempted to try again.


We took the ski lift down with our hostesses and then drove back to the hotel.  I was so jetlagged and full that I was passed out for nearly the whole car trip back to the hotel.


Back at the hotel, Stephanie and I rested before meeting again to plan Day 1 of the ARIE training.  During my rest time, I did some physics problems for fun from Shaum’s Outlines in College Physics.  I also finished drafting this blog article.


To prep for our work meeting, Stephanie ordered room service like a boss.  She ordered fruit, mushroom soup and a fancy ham and cheese sandwich with fries.  The cream of mushroom soup was outstanding!  She went all out on the room service because the exchange rate made all the food very reasonably priced.  After eating, we looked over our Day 1 visuals and planned who would lead each session: we scheduled Stephanie to lead the Project Launch while I would lead the Project Ideation session.  After we settled this, I spent some time in her room grading and publishing this blog article because her internet was working faster than in my room.


When I returned to my room, I found out that the internet still worked well, so I finished grading all my students’ grant proposals.  I had to leave fairly detailed comments because I will not be able to give them in person feedback prior to the end of the trimester due to this trip.  I updated the linked rubric chart above so that students could visually see what rubric parts they earned full (green square) and partial (yellow square) credit.  Later I will copy paste the scores hidden behind these squares via Conditional Formatting into companion score sheets in order to generate my students’ project grades.


Monday, February 20, 2017 – Day 1, ARIE Almaty Training (Project Launch & Project Ideation)
We opened Day 1 of the ARIE Almaty training by facilitating a compass icebreaker activity.  Participants divided themselves into 4 groups: North (risk taking people of action), South (compassionate includers), East (big picture people), and West (color-coded detailed people).  Each group discussed their personality type’s strengths and challenges.  We discussed the importance of recognizing other people’s differences and how these can be leveraged to strengthen teams.  Early on they recognized the benefits of having teams composed of a variety of compass points.  We suggested that they facilitate similar teambuilding activities with their students in the future to guide them to similar realizations about teamwork.


After this ice breaker, Stephanie facilitated a Project Launch session.  She introduced the driving question and asked teams to read over the project challenge rubric carefully.  Then the participants divided into into small teams and started compiling their Knows and Need-to-Knows based on the driving question and the rubric.


The teams came up with fairly detailed lists of Knows and Need-to-Knows.  It was clear that they had already started reading about project-based learning (PBL) because their Knows column included things such as: the 6 A’s, 21st century skills, scaffolding, creativity, and team work.  They had a wide variety of Need-to-Knows that included questions about: student engagement, entry event organization, project calendaring, assessments, selection of project themes & topics, 21st century skills, mixing PBL with traditional teaching, appropriate levels of content, and peer assessments.  I tried an experiment and placed a symbol that looked like a red paperclip next to items that would be addressed in the session following Project Launch, Project Ideation.


After lunch, we started a session on Project Ideation.  All teams worked very hard during the work sessions built into this interactive workshop.  During these sessions, participants selected their standards, brainstormed project roles, contexts, products, and audiences, and drafted driving questions. At the end of Day 1, participants gave each other Critical Friends feedback (I Likes, I Wonders, and Next Steps) on sticky notes.


Then they updated their Knows and Need-to-Knows to include their new learnings and new questions after one day of training.  We pointed out that the items labeled with a red paperclip symbol were items we hoped to get to in the Ideation session.  Several participants indicated that they had learned things related to these items by crossing these out and updating their Knows lists with related items.  Some participants came to us with follow-up questions relating to the red-paperclip items that were only lightly touched during the Ideation session.  I liked how the paper clips held me and Stephanie accountable to our session goals.  They also helped us to make early course corrections when participants helped us realize when we hadn’t communicated as clearly as we had intended.



Tuesday, February 22, 2017 – Day 2, ARIE Almaty Training (Rubrics, Calendaring Scaffolding & Assessments)

We opened Day 2 with a hands-on activity intended to show participants the value of rubrics.  The participants divided into teams and created marshmallow houses.  Nearly all the houses included walls and rooms made of additional materials not supplied by us. I’d never seen ARIE participants add so many extra materials to their houses.  I wonder if the cold climate in Almaty made them treat the house walls and roofs as essential items.  Several minutes into the building session, Stephanie secretly took aside a couple participants and handed them a rubric to guide the building of their product.  Their responses to this new tool were mixed.  Some felt that this new assessment stifled their creativity.  Nonetheless, they played along.


After the building time, the teams tried to assign grades to each other’s houses.  During these grading sessions, some of the non-rubric teams discovered the rubrics that they didn’t have.  Following the feedback sessions, we held a full group discussion about how rubrics can serve as tools for students and for teachers.  The participants were quick to point out how rubrics could add consistency and remove subjectivity from grading products.  They also noticed that the rubrics sometimes stifled student creativity and wondered whether it might be worthwhile to withhold the rubric from students until after the early brainstorming phases of the project.


Following this activity, we facilitated a session on how to create Rubrics.  Once again, our participants applied the knowledge in the workshop with a lot of focus and work ethic.  By lunch time, every team had fairly detailed rubrics that included several rows of rubric criteria aligned to several different learning objectives / standards.



After lunch, we facilitated a session on how to integrate assessments and scaffolding into project calendars.  After the participants had used their work time to build a project calendar, we ran an activity to get them up and moving again.  The participants, organized in 3 teams, competed in a game called, Don’t Blow the Kings.  Their team’s mission was to blow all the cards off their tables except for the 4 king cards.  After the activity, we shared observations related to each team’s collaboration strategies and discussed how these connected to challenges and strategies used by typical PBL teams.  We closed the day by letting participants update their Knows and Need-to-Knows.  Once we again, we held ourselves accountable by labeling items related to calendaring, scaffolding, assessments and rubrics with a paperclip symbol.  The follow-up discussions around these labeled items helped us to wrap up the day by sharing more strategies and clarifying key points with participants.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017 – Day 3, ARIE Almaty Training (Entry Events, Project Management, Work Time)


In the morning of Day 3, we covered different types of entry events.  Then we gave participants time to outline their entry events.  Prior to lunch, we ran a casual version of Critical Friends to provide participants with feedback on their entry events.  In the afternoon of Day 3, we facilitated a beta version of our brand new, revamped Project Management session.  In the new session, the students explore resources related to 4 aspects of project management: agency, collaboration, inquiry and personalization.  These 4 were selected because improving students’ levels of agency and collaboration makes them more effective at completing projects.  Improving the levels of inquiry and personalization in projects makes students more motivated to complete projects.  Building systems that improve student efficacy and motivation leads to projects with more student engagement.  In the future, we will expand on this beta version of Project Management 2.0 by adding more resources to each station and by creating passport stations that enable facilitators to hold small group workshops on each aspect of project management.


Thursday, February 23, 2017 – Day 4, ARIE Almaty Training (Critical Friends, Open Q & A Sessions)


During the early morning and early afternoon of Day 4, we held formal Critical Friends sessions to provide participants with feedback on their projects as a whole.  Stephanie acted as facilitator and I was the timekeeper.  In these sessions, we held them to a strict version of the protocol so we could limit the lengths of the sessions and prevent them from becoming defensive trial-like sessions.  The participants as a whole presented a wide range of very creative projects that spanned many disciplines.  Some of their project products included: investment portfolios, shadow plays, budgeting apps, mineral maps of Kazakhstan, fountains, startup business products, and books about traditional Kazakh games.



Following the Cortical Friends sessions, we held an open Q & A session with the participants.  Because the staff are highly involved in the design of their school they asked a broad variety of questions that included questions about PBL and about school design and logistics in general.  At the close of this session, our gracious hosts surprised us with many Thank You presents.  They were each very beautiful and thoughtful.  They gave us beautiful flash drives and journals covered with traditional Kazakh designs.  They gave us really neat paper weights that were apples made of a onyx.  They also got us poster renderings of some of Saulé’s artwork.  My piece of art was a collage that compared a famous rendering of a Kazakh tribeswoman with a painting by Vermeer.  Vermeer is one of my favorite artists so this gift was uniquely apropo to my art tastes.


Amazing Almaty Highlights:


Throughout the training days, Tánia thoughtfully provided us with many opportunities to visit beautiful tourist attractions in Almaty.  She arranged for us to eat at great restaurants for many of our lunches and dinners. Every meal we ate was delicious.  We enjoyed horse meat more than we expected.  We got to taste horsemeat that was grilled, boiled, and in sausage form.  All forms were very tasty.



On our last day in Almaty, she arranged for us to take a walking tour of the city with an American ex-pat named Dennis who is the author of the Walking Almaty blog.  Dennis took us to the most famous Orthodox church in the city that is inside the Park of 28 Panfilov Guardsmen.  He took us inside the church and explained its history and details about its construction.  Then we walked with him to the Green Bazaar and tasted Kazakh snacks: dried apricots, almonds, cheese, and camel’s milk.  We ended the tour by shopping for souvenirs in a shop connected to a famous chocolate factory.



Overall, this trip was very beautiful.  It was filled with many happy memories of working hard and playing hard.  We are grateful for all the hard work of our wonderful hostess, Tánia, and her amazing cohort of teachers and university partners.



Post-Script: Hello, my name is Stevie


Throughout the trip, I was seriously jet-lagged.  On the night, we revamped the Project Management session, Stephanie caught me typing with my eyes closed while bobbing my head wildly about like Stevie Wonder.  She dubbed the sleepy, semi-productive version of myself, Stevie.  In nearly every car ride, Stevie took over and I passed out between all our beautiful Almaty destinations.  Here’s a picture of Stevie in action.


209: ARIE in Fort Worth, Texas

On Monday, June 27, 2016, Sarah DiMaria, Victoria Vanzura and I arrived at the Applied Learning Academy in Fort Worth, Texas and found our participants were already present, seated and ready to go.  This was our first sign that this group was ready to learn about Project Based Learning (PBL).  We opened up the session by introducing ourselves and telling a few stories about why PBL was a big part of our teaching style and why each found PBL effective.  I talked about how I realized in grad school that I needed to work with younger students when a middle school student attending a Physics Circus session told me she was not going to consider Science as a career because she was too creative for Science.  This experience convinced me that I needed to teach students before they got to college and I needed to teach Science in engaging ways that uncovered “how” Science knowledge is made. Victoria talked about being voted the Student Who Slept Most During Class in high school and how PBL has enabled her to design and facilitate learning experiences that might have kept even her awake in high school.  She also recently had the experience of teaching her former high school teachers about PBL at an ARIE PBL training in New Braunfels.  Sarah talked about how PBL has made her students more willing to communicate about mathematics and more game to try out complex mathematics problems.

During our first session, Project Launch, I really appreciated how actively involved the participants were in each of our activities and discussions.  We had many volunteers share what they learned from the Compass activity and share interesting observations related to Kevin Gant’s TED Talk on PBL schools.  While they created their Knows and Need-to-Knows, several groups painstakingly dissected the Project Challenge to develop very complete lists of Knows and Need-to-Knows.



During the Project Ideation session, many participants embraced the processes we used to backwards design project ideas.  Some participants were a bit intrigued about the strategy of choosing and analyzing standards prior to brainstorming project ideas; they agreed to trust the process and sample our way of creating project ideas that are fully grounded in the standards from the outset.  By early afternoon, each team had dissected their standards, brainstormed products, and crafted a driving question for their favorite product.

Prior to kicking off a peer feedback session, Victoria showed them a video about the power of peer feedback called the Austin’s butterfly video.  The video showed how helpful and detailed feedback combined with multiple drafts can dramatically improve product quality.  After discussing this video, Victoria introduced the Critical Friends sentence stems and set up a gallery walk in which participants provided written Critical Friends feedback to 3 other project ideation forms in the room.  After this feedback was disseminated, we gave the groups time to use their feedback and the Project Challenge rubric to improve their product ideas and driving questions.

The last workshop we offered on Day 1 was Entry Events.  After sharing the characteristics and tech tools for 4 different types of entry events, we gave the participants some time to brainstorm their entry events.  Then I shared with participants our Critical Friends template that they needed to complete to present on Day 3.  I walked them through the template and explained the key features of their presentation and shared when in the next two days we would provide more support related to each of the features.  Thanks to the strong focus of our participants, we were able to facilitate a densely packed Day 1 of training while still releasing the participants at 3:30 pm instead of 4 pm.

Prior to leaving the training session site, Sarah, Victoria and I reviewed all their Know and Need-to-Know charts in order to prepare for tomorrow’s workshops.  Also during Day 1 we found time to bundle and prep all our materials for the upcoming hands-on activities on Day 2 and 3.  All in all, Day 1 was a great success.  I think we built an early rapport between our audience, ourselves, and PBL by sharing our PBL stories.  We were able to build on this positive momentum to guide our cohort through the Day 1 sessions.  Really not bad for our first training session without our most veteran lead trainers, Stephanie Ehler and Steven Zipkes.

On Tuesday, June 28, Day 2 of Foundations Training kicked off with a workshop on Rubrics.  In one of our rubrics activities, our participants posed as junior architects building model homes out of marshmallows and toothpicks.  After some limited build time, the teams provided each other with feedback and then we had a debrief discussion about the importance of rubrics.  Several participants were forthcoming about the pros and cons of using rubrics.  One pro is that expectations are clear for teachers and students.  One con is that the many constraints in the rubric can slow down team’s work progress.



For the remainder of the morning, we workshopped how to create standards-aligned and 21st century skills rubrics and gave time for participants to apply what they had learned by creating rubrics for their own projects.  In the afternoon, we facilitated workshops on Scaffolding and Assessments.  The participants worked diligently.  By the end of the day, several teams had scaffolding pyramids and tentative calendars that included learning activities and formative/summative assessments for their project’s targeted TEKS and 21st century skills.

On Wednesday, June 29, we started the morning training by facilitating a workshop on Project Management.  We had a great discussion about different project management scenarios and various teachers’ comfort levels with each.  We gave participants time to set project management goals for their students in the domains of time, student work, people, and space/resources.  Then we let the participants rotate through stations with mini-workshops on those domains.  Many teachers asked a lot of questions during the mini-workshops and a few admitted to having some realizations that were making them feel more and more comfortable with implementing PBL in their classrooms.

For the second half of the morning, we provided opportunities for teams to use work time to finish their presentations / project drafts and to attend impromptu workshops based on their need-to-knows.  Victoria led a workshop on how to support English Language Learners in PBL projects.  Sarah led a workshop on how to use Twitter to network with other educators.  I led a workshop on how to access resources that discuss how to create a positive student culture based on constructive critique.



In the afternoon, we broke up into 3 Critical Friends sessions and modeled how to run the Critical Friends protocol to provide detailed feedback on early drafts of projects and products.  I was impressed by the creativity and the rigor embedded in the projects I reviewed.  Many participants had a positive experience with Critical Friends and could think of several contexts to apply the protocol.

We closed out the day by discussing the importance of PBL celebrations and by staging our own closing ceremony for the participants.  Sarah handed out certificates while Victoria and I headed up an Arch of Honor that grew as participants walked under it and then extended its length.  The participants played along with our celebration and cheered heartily for each other and received their certificates with a lot of enthusiasm.  This method of celebration was an experimental version that departed from our usual Cupid shuffle dance mob.  Considering the physical constraints of our training room, I think the Pomp & Circumstance celebration was a nice fit for the space and our participants.  I think Sarah, Victoria, and I might have enjoyed the celebration enough to carry and elevate everyone’s enthusiasm.  It was such a sweet way to end a training filled with many hard working and creating educators.



Special thanks to Adriana Jacobi for hosting me throughout this trip, for introducing me to the really cheap, delicious authentic tacos, for the great restaurant suggestions (such as delicious cheap sushi for lunch on Day 2 and Curly’s Frozen Custard), and for all the great conversations.  Also special thanks to Czech stop for having gas and ALL the tasty treats.


208: ARIE in Clearwater, Florida

On Sunday, June 19, ARIE trainers, Steve Zipkes, Stephanie Ehler, Stuart Ray, Sarah DiMaria, Stephanie Hart and I arrived in Clearwater, Florida after a 10-day trip to China.  Throughout our very long commute from Hong Kong to Florida, I received many birthday greetings from friends in person, online, and via text.  These greetings capped off the many birthday cheers from the evening before during our final dinner in China.  What a way to kick off year 40!

When we arrived our hotel in Clearwater, we were joined by ARIE trainers, Adam Fishman, Jennifer Thompson, Victoria Venzura, Tyeron Hammontree, and Michael Chambers.  We arrived just in time to briefly plan for the start of the training the following day and to watch the Cleveland Cavaliers historic game 7 win over the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.

On Monday, June 20, Stephanie Ehler, Stuart Ray and I took the day off to recover from jet lag, to run errands and to finalize the design of the Think Forward PBL Academy Advanced Track sessions.  Stephanie and I started off the morning by doing some much needed laundry.  Both of us had nearly used up all of our clean clothes during our 10-day China trip.   Then we picked up Stuart and went shopping for workshop supplies and spent time working together on our Advanced sessions.  Later in the evening, we got to debrief with the ARIE team on Day 1 of the Foundations PBL training on our hotel’s scenic restaurant patio.  Then, Stephanie, Stuart, and Sarah closed out the evening by spending several hours working together on Advanced track sessions.



During our Day 1 Foundations level Debrief, I learned that our trainers were having many positive interactions with the Clearwater participants.  Stephanie Hart was the lead trainer for Day 1.  She managed to coherently and energetically lead the Day 1 Project Launch and Project Ideation workshops – no small feat considering her  lack of sleep due to jet lag.  Our facilipants, Adam, Tyeron, Sarah, Victoria, Michael, and Jennifer, circulated throughout the training room to offer support to our participants during the Day 1 sessions.  They were impressed by the focus and work ethic of the participants and the depth and breadth of their project ideation brainstorming discussions and products.



On Tuesday, June 21, I joined the ARIE team consisting of Adam, Jennifer, Stephanie H., Victoria, Michael, and Tyeron to lead the morning sessions in Day 2 of the Foundations track training.  In the meantime, Stephanie E. and Sarah kicked off Day 1 of the Advanced track training.  In the morning, I facilitated the Rubrics workshop of the Foundations track training.  The participants started to impress me early on while they sketched their end products during the warmup of the Rubrics session.  I enjoyed seeing the wide variety of products in the room and enjoyed seeing how willing participants were to share their end product ideas with me.  The participants were also very enthusiastic and game architects during our Marshmallow House activity.  During the debrief of this activity, several participants volunteered some perceptive comments that debriefed the activity and tied it to the importance and purpose of rubrics.  One participant described how the specificity of rubric criteria can help both teachers and students.  One participant wondered if time should be allotted for free brainstorming prior to introducing students to the constraints in the rubric.

During the middle to the end of the workshop, we walked the participants through drafting a 3-column Content and 21st century skills rubric for their project.  A few of the instructional coaches in the room helped me explain to participants how the 3 rubric levels connected to Marzano’s thinking levels so that participants could better understand how to integrate PBL with district initiatives.  The participants were very productive during the rubric work times.  Several groups even continued working through our mid morning break.  Many teams came up with  solid rubric drafts by the end of the morning.  All in all, I felt like the Rubric session went very well.



During Tuesday afternoon, I joined Stephanie E. and Sarah to support participants going through the Advanced track of the PBL training.  This smaller group of participants was also very enthusiastic and focused. I affinity grouped their Goals and found that their goals clustered around better implementations of scaffolding, rubrics, assessments, project calendars, student choice, authenticity, and professional development.  In the afternoon, the participants worked together to compile strategies for scaffolding and assessing Agency.  This was the closing activity for a session on Agency lead by Stephanie.  Following this workshop, Sarah lead a session on Inquiry through the lens of looking at student work.  I worked with a group of teachers to analyze Calculus student work using the Looking at Student Work protocol.  While working through this protocol, we had some very interesting conversations about how to scaffold mathematics, how to integrate mathematics with other contents, and how to interpret student work.




On the evening of Tuesday, June 21, Steve Zipkes treated our team to dinner at the Columbia.  Founded in 1905, the Columbia is the oldest restaurant in Florida.  The restaurant served up delicious Spanish and Cuban food and featured fresh seafood and excellent table-side food and drink service.  I ordered a delicious baked stuffed grouper dish; the fish was stuffed with crabmeat and a very nice tart tropical fruit butter that cut nicely through the buttery richness of the fish and the crab.  For desert, I got to eat caramelized torched crema and surprise birthday flan.  The waiters sung Happy Birthday to me in Spanish.  It was another sweet way to celebrate my initiation into the 40 Club.



On Wednesday, June 22, Stuart Ray and I led the Advanced PBL trainings on Scaffolding and Assessment.  Prior to that, I again enjoyed breakfast on the hotel patio with the beautiful bay views.  Stuart was the lead trainer for the morning Scaffolding session and I was a facilipant.  I enjoyed playing the Scaffolding Bingo game with the participants.  We created a bingo card with 9 scaffolding activities.  Then we found teachers who had 2, 3-4, 5, and 6 strategies in common with us and asked them what was the subject they teach, their favorite food, and their favorite television show.  This activity helped me to get to know some of the teachers I had interacted with the day before.  Stuart led workshops on scaffolding best practices and on workshops.  He and I also supported participants during work time when they broke down their target standards and brainstormed scaffolding activities for theses standards.  We even brought in an extra facilipant, Adam Fishman, to help out one of the participants who taught an Electrician certification course because Adam has many ideas and taught Electricity courses at Manor New Tech.  Adam and Dan had long conversations throughout the work time.  They exchanged enough ideas that they had to move to a side area to continue those conversations during workshop time.



In the afternoon,  I ate lunch at Panera with half the ARIE team and then took a quick power nap.  By that point the jet lag was starting  to make me feel like a machine alternating between ON working phases and OFF sleeping recharging phases.  After my nap, I led the Assessments session for the Advanced track participants.  Just as in the morning, the participants asked many deep and nuanced clarifying questions when I presented my workshops on Assessment Design and Assessment Implementation.  During the two designated work times for unpacking and analyzing standards, planning responses to assessment data, and brainstorming assessment formats, I had some cool conversations with participants.   While helping out Nidal.,  I learned that sometimes standards are written in ways that do NOT explicitly list the verbs in the standards.   Sometimes, they are written in the way that clearly infer verbs that are not directly mentioned in the standard. During one of the activities, I had participants vote with their feet by moving to one of 4 corners representing an assessment format in order to get information related to assessment scenarios.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that participants landed at 3 of the 4 corners for each of the scenarios that I presented even though I designed this activity to have what I thought was one clear winner per scenario.  Hearing the participants’ justifications for their responses helped me learn new ways to use the assessment strategies in the activity.  By the end of the session, many of us (the participants) and I) were a bit tired.  Several of them thanked me for leading a session that “stretched their minds”.

In the evening, I again slumped into an OFF state and napped deeply for 3 hours.  Then I met with Stuart Ray and Stephanie Ehler to plan the Advanced Authenticity session.  I quickly slipped into an ON state and shared many ideas for the session.  I ordered a sandwich through room service that was a pretty delicious French dip sandwich; I snacked on this treat during our brainstorming session.  We created a draft of the handout and the slides before our meeting ended.  Stephanie was sleepy enough that I asked her if I could finish the slides because my mind was shooting off many ideas on how to complete them.  I quickly packed and then dedicated one dense hour to finishing the Authenticity slides.  Just as I was fixing to fall asleep, the hotel fire alarms went off and I had to trudge outside along with all the other hotel residents.  I met Steve, Stuart, and Stephanie outside in the parking lot.  Fortunately they allowed us back into the hotel pretty quickly because soon after I arrived back at my room I quickly fell into an OFF state.



On Thursday, June 24, Steve Zipkes, Stephanie Ehler, Stuart Ray, and I spent our final day in Clearwater training teachers.  We enjoyed our last breakfast with beautiful bay views.  Stephanie, Stuart, and I led two advanced sessions: one on Project Management and one on Authenticity.   As we struggled to facilitate sessions while fighting still persistent jet lag, our motto was: Find a Way.  During the project management workshops, I really enjoyed swapping strategies with participants on how to better manage projects.  During the authenticity workshop, we continued to brainstorm and share strategies on how to ramp up management processes to accommodate more authentic projects.  Stuart closed the training with an impromptu workshop requested by participants on the New Echo.  As the training closed, several participants expressed a lot of gratitude for the training and wished us luck on our endeavors to found a new school.



For my moment of zen, I found out after the training that Adriana Jacobi is willing to host me while I’m in Fort Worth next week for another ARIE PBL Foundations training.  Whoohoo!  I’m looking forward to catching up with her.  🙂

207: ARIE in China

From June 9 to June 19, 2016, six trainers from Advanced Reasoning in Education (ARIE) embarked on our first Project Based Learning (PBL) training tour of China.  Stephanie Ehler, Sarah DiMaria, Stuart Ray, Steven Zipkes, Stephanie Ehler and I facilitated three 3-day trainings in Hohhot, Beijing, and Shenzhen.  During our workshops, we all enjoyed working with many passionate, creative and hard working teachers, translators, professors, and administrators in China.  We hope that this PBL tour will be the first of many opportunities to collaborate with educators striving to implement PBL in China.

On  Thursday, June 9, our team flew from Austin to Chicago to Beijing, China.  We arrived in Beijing on Friday, June 10.  Our host professor from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Dr. Guoli Liang, and a team of teachers and translators en route to a PBL Conference in Hohhot welcomed us at the Beijing airport.  We all gathered for one big group picture before splitting our full ARIE team into two smaller PBL training teams.  Stephanie Ehler, Stuart Ray and Sarah DiMaria left Beijing to facilitate a 3-day training in Hohhot.  Steven Zipkes, Stephanie Hart, and I remained in Beijing to lead a 3-day training at the Zhongguancun No. 3 Primary School.  On our first evening in Beijing, Professor Liang took Steven, Stephanie, and I to a traditional noodle shop that prepared fresh noodles from scratch.  The noodle dishes were delicious!  What a great first meal in China!




On Saturday morning, June 11, Steven, Stephanie and I visited the Zhongguancun No. 3 Primary School.  We were taken on a wonderful school tour of this unique campus and we met with our translators Professor Xiang  and Professor Zhu to prepare for Day 1 of our PBL training the following day.  The Zhongguancun No. 3 Primary School was one of the most amazing and beautiful schools I have ever visited.  The school had so many features that promoted positive culture and innovative teaching / learning styles.  The fitness facilities included an indoor pool, an indoor and an outdoor track, a stadium with rock climbing wall and 2 full size basketball courts, and several dance / yoga studios.  The school itself was divided into six sub-schools that were branded by the six colors of the rainbows.  The school within a school design created learning community spaces that had the intimacy and closeness of smaller schools.  Within each school, the classrooms were arranged in pods that were designed to promote collaboration among classes.  These pods included large common work areas and 3 to 4 classrooms separated by dividers that could be opened to integrate classes that housed different grade levels.  In addition to these classrooms, there were many specialty classrooms that promoted different types of learning: tea rooms, etiquette rooms, science labs, art studios, wood / metal workshops, libraries, computer labs, etc.  The staff work rooms were very inviting and had modular furniture that supported collaborations of educator groups of varied sizes.  The beautiful Hall of Achievement auditorium that housed our PBL training had tables, seating, lighting, and large project screens that made the room look like the site of a TED Talks conference.  Gardens flourished in many classrooms and throughout the school grounds. Overall the school was really beautifully and deliberately designed; it felt like every detail, large and small, served to create a positive innovative learning space for students and educators.  (For more school tour pics, go here.)



On the afternoon and evening of Saturday, June 11, two college students volunteered to take Stephanie and I to the Forbidden City.  We arrived in time to tour the grounds for a couple hours.  The Forbidden City was so vast that we only got to walk through a small section of the grounds.  It was so amazing to walk through a place that was filled with so much beauty and that was steeped in so much culture.  I felt very humbled while appreciating structures that were several hundred years older than the USA.  After the Forbidden City closed, our tour guides took us to gardens and pavilions located on a large hill at the very center of Beijing.  From the top of this hill we were able to see amazing views of the Forbidden City and many parts of Beijing.  From these great heights, we were able to notice and appreciate the symmetry of the buildings in the Forbidden City.  On our way back to the hotel, we got to experience public transportation in Beijing by taking two buses.  The busses were very cheap (2 RMB ~ 30 US cents) and fun to ride.  On one of the busses, a family asked Stephanie if their shy son could practice his English with her and she spent some time chatting with him.  She talked with him with the same patience and enthusiasm that many of our Chinese hosts extended to us while we attempted to speak a few Chinese phrases.  Throughout our stay here, I really enjoyed the Chinese people’s reactions to my attempts to speak Chinese.  Many people gave me a lot of positive encouragement and helpful tips that helped me learn more Chinese words and phrases.  (For more Forbidden City pictures, go here.)



On Sunday, June 12, Steven, Stephanie, and I kicked off the PBL Training in Beijing with approximately 100 participants.  I started off the training with our project launch.  From the start our participants worked very diligently while taking notes and compiling their Knows and Need-to-Knows.  Stephanie led the Project Ideation session.  We had to work very hard with the participants to help them understand how to choose national standards and how to use these to start brainstorming project products and driving questions.  Over the course of the conference we began to understand the differences in the ways the USA and China communicate their curriculum expectations through standards and ancillary materials.  In the USA, we have very detailed standards that give the specific topics and skills that students need to learn at each grade level and content.  In China, the national standards are very abstract and broad and are supplemented by more detailed curriculum goals that are contained in nationally prescribed textbooks.  Once we were able to understand the differences in our systems, we were to communicate with the Chinese teachers in ways that helped them to select specific curriculum goals grounded in national standards and use these as springboards for project ideas.



We celebrated a successful Day 1 of training by eating at a Hot Pot restaurant.  We enjoyed the excellent food, service, and company at our dinner.  The food was spicy enough to numb our mouths in a way that surprisingly tasty and pleasant.  A performer did a dance during our dinner that involved fan flourishes and some cool, quick mask changes.  We shared this beautiful fun meal with teachers from Finland, Professor Liang, some translators, and Laura, a professor from Stanford University.



On Monday, June 13, Day 2 of the PBL training, Stephanie and I facilitated workshops on Rubrics, Scaffolding and Assessments.  We were joined with a new translator, Liting who had attended an ARIE PBL training in Manor Texas in 2014.  She was also Kevin Gant’s translator during a PBL training he led in Chongqing and Beijing in 2014.  It was so great to have a translator with several PBL experiences join our team.  She was able to help us add more depth to our presentations that built on the knowledge we shared the day before.  She was also very good at project management.  She was great at keeping work sessions on time and letting us know when participants needed more or less time to complete tasks.  On Day 2, we presented workshops and facilitated work sessions that enabled the participants to draft a project rubric and a scaffolding and assessment plan for their projects.  Many teams drafted their rubrics and scaffolding / assessment plans in their conference booklets AND on chart paper.  Twice during the day, we gave the participants opportunities to give each other peer feedback on the project elements.  On the first peer feedback session, they presented their rubric drafts and received feedback that related to a checklist of good rubric characteristics.  On the second feedback session, they presented their driving questions, products, scaffolding and assessment plans and got feedback on the alignment and authenticity of their projects.  During each of the feedback sessions, the participants were very engaged while they presented and gave feedback.  They started to give each other many good ideas that helped them refine their early drafts of their projects.

We closed Day 2 by revisiting the PBL training rubric and giving the participants time to work on their Day 3 presentations based on the rubric expectations.  We gave the teams opportunities to choose their presentation format (Powerpoint or Chart Paper) and to sign up for Critical Friends sessions.  We were surprised that the teams nearly evenly split up into 6 teams who preferred to present by chart paper and 6 using Powerpoint.  The teachers worked diligently on their rubrics and also helped up prepare for Day 3 by updating their Know and Need-to-Know charts.  They circled their resolved Need-to-Knows and added an arrow pointing to the Know column.  They also added new Need-to-Knows based on the PBL Training rubric.  We collected these charts and our translators translated the unresolved Need-to-Knows in order to help us frame our workshops for Day 3.  (For more Day 2 training pictures, go here.)




During the evenings of Day 2 and 3 of the PBL trainings, Stephane and I lingered near the school while waiting for Steven who was presenting the PBL Leadership Track of the training to administrators in the evening.  During his 2 hour sessions, Stephanie and I spent most of our time resting in a nearly coffeeshop called Naan’s Coffeeshop.  It was a really beautiful space that was decorated with mismatched chairs, chandeliers, indoor living trees, and many bookcases.  The most beautiful bookcases extended from the floor of the lower level of the shop and extended to the ceiling of the second floor of the shop.  We enjoyed their specialty toasts.  They were similar to large slices of Texas toast seasoned with cinnamon, caramel, and fresh whipped cream.  We also enjoyed their coffee  in several forms (expresso, lattes, etc).  Each morning we stopped at Naan’s for several coffees to go (or “takeaway” as they call it in China).  In the evening while we were waiting for Steve to finish his leadership training, Stephanie and I took our time and used the space and its drinks and treats to relax and mentally recharge after our long days of PBL training.   The bears posing with us in the pictures below were used  to label tables so waiters could give customers their correct orders.  On our first day at Naan’s we did not understand what the bears were for so we kept trying to return our bear.  We thought they were trying to sell us souvenirs we didn’t want.  We felt pretty sheepish when we finally realized why the waiters were so insistent that we hold on to our bear.



After these recharge sessions, it was easier for us to resume our preparations for the upcoming days of training which usually occupied us till it was nearly time for bed.  During our preparation sessions, we practiced explaining our visuals in ways that captured the essential ideas in the slides in ways that were as clear and concise as possible in order to help out our translators.  We also made minor adjustments to the sessions to include participant deliverables that gave participants opportunities to make their thinking visible and to practice applying the content in the session.  For example on Day 2, we included a Scaffolding Assessment graphic organizer that had participants plan scaffolding activities and their associated formative and summative assessments on chart paper.  Creating this visual helped our participants brainstorm and display instructional ideas that started bringing their projects to life.  I was able to connect their ideas to project calendars while presenting the Project Management workshops on Day 3.

On Tuesday, June 14, Stephanie and I led the final workshops of our three-day training.  In the morning, Stephanie led a workshop on Entry Events and then gave participants time to brainstorm entry event ideas.  For the remainder of the morning, Steve, Stephanie and I co-faciilitated sessions on Project Management.  We led mini-workshops that offered tips on how teachers and students can better manage projects by managing time, student work, and people.  We tried our best to connect our presentations to the unresolved Need-to-Knows from the previous days.  We closed the morning by having one team present their project and facilitating a model Critical Friends session in order to show participants what they had to look forward to after lunch.

During the afternoon, the remaining teams presented and received Critical Friends feedback.  The teams who presented on Power Point added a Critical Friends slide and translators uses this slide to type out their Critical Friends feedback.  The teams who presented using chart paper had their Critical Friends feedback written on large white boards.  After the sessions, the teams took pictures of their Critical Friends feedback (I Likes, I Wonders, and Next Steps) before the boards were reset for the next Critical Friends session.  The feedback that the participants gave each other was very detailed and practical.  Many of the tips could be used to improve their projects.  The project themselves were very creative, engaging, and complete.  Many teams were able to present fairly complete rubric drafts, entry event ideas and scaffolding and assessment plans.  We were very impressed by the amount and quality of the work the participants produced during our 3 day PBL training.  At the end of our training, we took many groups pictures including the group picture featuring our translator team shown below.  We exchanged some heartfelt and sad goodbyes with our translator team because we had grown close over the course of working closely together over the 3 days.  (For more Day 3 Training pictures, go here.)



On Wednesday, June 15, Stephanie Hart and I were not scheduled for any trainings or meetings.  Instead we followed Professor Liang’s suggestions and ventured by ourselves to the Summer Palace.  We showed our taxi driver an iMap screenshot of the Summer Palace location and we were off!  We were surprised by the size and beauty of the Summer Palace.  The grounds included many palace complexes that surrounded a small lake.  During our explorations of the place, we visited all the grounds that surrounded the lake.  It took us six hours to finish walking through and viewing the sites that surrounded the lake.  We explored beautiful temples, museums, gardens, palaces, and performance spaces.  We climbed many old and beautiful bridges and stairs to reach our sites.  We finished our tour by eating at a restaurant in an open market alongside the lake.  The water views were very peaceful and refreshing.  The whole day we strolled around in a reverie taking pictures of one beautiful site after another; it was like walking through paradise.  I felt like I had stepped into the most beautiful free exploring video game ever.  After exploring the palace, we showed another taxi cab driver a screenshot of map site that was supposed to take us to a flea market area of Beijing.  Two hours later, we landed in what looked like a garment district.  We walked around for awhile and couldn’t find the flea market area so we gave up and used our hotel business card to direct another cab driver to take us back to our home base.  By the end of the day, Stephanie and I had trekked 8.6 miles.  (For more Summer Palace pictures, go here.)




On Thursday, June 16, Steven had has first morning without presentations or conference meetings.  Professor Liang arranged for a driver to take Steven, Stephanie and I to the Great Wall of China.  On the tour bus to the wall, a kind woman gave us freshly picked apricots and plums.  We ate some on the bus and packed some for snacks during our trek on the wall.  We took a chair lift to the top of the wall and then proceeded to climb up and down the many steps connecting the towers of the wall for three hours.  The climbing was fun and very challenging.  The towers gave us time to take breathers, enjoy refreshing breezes, and take astoundingly beautiful pictures.  Again, I was very humbled by China’s very rich and old culture.  I felt so small and insignificant compared to the vastness of the Wall’s history and physical size.   While on the Wall, we learned the following valuable lesson: do NOT ever buy souvenirs near the wall grounds.  These were overpriced.  The souvenirs that were in the tourist area that was a tour bus ride away from the wall had more reasonable prices and the vendors were more willing to drastically cut and negotiate prices there due to the high competition among the many shopkeepers in this tourist area.   Before heading back to Beijing, Steve, Stephanie and I enjoyed a very delicious lunch with tasty dumplings, pork ribs, and Peking duck.  (For more Great Wall pictures, go here.)




Thursday evening, we traveled with Professor Liang and several teachers and administrators to Shenzhen.  Our plane was delayed so we left the airport around 11:30 pm and arrived in Shenzhen around 2:30 am Friday morning.  We arrived at our hotel close to 5 am.  It is a good thing I can fall asleep nearly anywhere.  I slept on the plane and the bus to the hotel.  I was able to combine these naps with another 1.5 hours nap in the hotel before it was time to wake up and help with the final day of PBL training in Shenzhen.  The previous two days of training had been facilitated by the other members of our ARIE team, Stephanie E., Sarah, and Stuart.

On Friday, June 17, our full ARIE team reunited at the No. 4 Yucai Primary School and co-facilitated the final day of PBL training in Shenzhen.  It was so great to see Stephanie E., Sarah, and Stuart again.  No. 4 Yucai Primary School was another beautiful school.   We presented our workshop in their spacious library.  During workshop breaks, we toured the school and several classes asked us to come inside and take pictures with the students.  The students were so happy to take pictures with us and to practice talking English with us.  They were very excited to have us visit their campus.  Just as in Beijing, I was impressed by the enthusiasm and work ethic displayed by the participants as they wrapped up their projects and participated in the Day 3 workshops and activities.  They asked MANY good questions.  I could sense that they were trying to learn as much as possible in order to be successful in their first attempts at PBL.

Due to the number of participants and technology constraints, we conducted Critical Friends in gallery style.  Each team presented twice and received written feedback using the Critical Friends sentence stems (I Likes, I Wonders, Next Steps).  A translator, Evelyn, followed me during my gallery walk and helped me to understand the presentations so I could give feedback.  They were very enthusiastic about my feedback.  Some of them kept taking pictures while I wrote out my I likes, I wonders and Next steps.  They did this even while I reassured them that I was going to give them the post-it notes that held my feedback.  To celebrate the end of a successful session, we did the Cuban shuffle with all the participants and took many large group pictures.  The participants were very coordinated.  We were able to fit a surprising number of dancing participants in a small space due to their great dance coordination and cooperation.  (For more Shenzhen pictures, go here.)




On the evening of Friday, Jun 17, we gathered the entire ARIE team, teachers and administrators from Shenzhen, and teachers from Finland for a celebratory dinner.   We ate at a very good Japanese restaurant.  We ate many courses of meats cooked hibachi style.  The froi gras with caviar was amazing!  After dinner, we watched a beautiful fountain show set to inspiring music.   We also picked up desserts and coffees at a Costas Coffee shop.  Stephanie Hart and I ate these in Steven’s room while helping him prepare for his keynote speech on the following day.



On Saturday, June 18, we had a whole day to rest and regroup.  The entire ARIE team ate lunch together at a very good craft burger restaurant.  I spent much of the day working in Stephanie Ehler’s room on an Assessment training for the Advanced track of the Think Global PBL Academy.  Stephanie played very soothing music in her room that really helped keep me in the zone.  Despite a spotty internet connection, I was able to get the session 95% complete on this day – a huge relief since I will present this session for the first time on June 21 at a PBL training in Clearwater, Florida.

In the evening, we attended the closing ceremony for the Shenzhen PBL Conference.  We listened to very kind speeches that expressed a lot of gratitude for the PBL workshops from teachers and administrators.  The principal of the school emphasized the importance of using instructional strategies that went beyond the textbooks.  After the closing ceremonies, we had another celebratory dinner.  This time we ate at a very good Chinese restaurant.  We gave many toasts to celebrate the success of the training.  Then we also started celebrating my birthday on June 19 a couple hours early.  Our Chinese hosts gave many birthday speeches and toasts.  I felt showered with good luck and many good wishes for the future.  What a magical way to celebrate my birthday! 🙂




Overall our trip to China was really amazing!  Our 10 day trip felt like it lasted for months because it was densely packed with many great experiences.  I now feel really inspired to learn how to speak more Chinese and to collaborate with many more teachers in China and throughout the globe in the future.  The trip made me feel very hopeful for the future of education in America and in China – we have so many great things in common.  I met many teachers who also love to teach and who also love to learn innovative instruction methods that better prepare students to positively impact their present and future worlds.  I truly hope that ARIE can continue to build partnerships with educators in Chine that will provide many opportunities for us to collaborate with teachers on implementing PBL in more classrooms and schools.