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Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Packet is Dead! (or at least it should be)

Remember the packet?  I mentioned “the packet” the other day in a workshop could see that everyone knew exactly what I was talking about.   The packet – a number of “worksheets” stapled together that students can work on independently -in theory, not so bad, in practice, not so good.  Not too long ago, there was a Youtube video, of a student ranting against the packet- (warning – “strong language”).  The video went viral, mostly because everyone understood what this student was talking about! 
However, not all packets are created equal.  Some very good project-, problem- and challenge-based learning activities start with something like a packet, but questions, challenges, and resources send students far beyond the packet.  The thing is, there are simple ways to get students to work independently, creatively, collaboratively, and thinking critically.  Why not avoid the packet all together?  You can present interactive problems with links, collaborative discussion areas, brainstorming centers and student workspaces using simple technology tools.   
Take a look of these sample projects and launch your project with the same creativity and learning objectives you expect from your students (and look like you are some kind of techno-geek in the process).  

These simple tools offer students (and parents) 24-7 access to the project that they can never lose:

Wiki – this wiki is a great example of how a problem can be presented, resources linked and places provided where students can work and share with other students.  This problem was presented to teams of teachers in the problem-based learning style. 
Livebinders- I am a great fan of Livebinders because they are so simple to use.  You can insert documents, provide links and resources all in one nice neat package (note I did not say packet!))  This one presents a challenge to students, provides links, resources, rubrics, and even a place for them to share their finished products.
Blendspace  provides a place for you to insert text to present the challenge and then places that you can link websites, photos, videos, etc. to give students different perspectives to study.  This is a great way to share informational text for common core standards. 
Ted-Ed provides a really simple interface where you can start students out with a challenge via video (or just provide a video to get them thinking) and you can then supply “The right questions” to get them thinking and learning.  You can provide links to information, and collaborative sites to enrich the lesson or project.  Here is my most recent critical thinking problem on graffiti presented Ted-ED style.
Google web site and docs – This is a great mock-up of a class web page made by the people at ITSCO for their AMLE work session.  They used a Google site with links to separate Google docs for the students to work on in small groups.  They provided a large group timeline for the entire group to work on and an exit quiz using Google forms for assessment.  What a great way to leverage all of these free Google tools to provide resources, a collaborative space and assessment.  The ITSCO people did a great job with all of their mini workshops at AMLE, you can check out their other workshops and resources  with this link.  Top quality work!
Web page I attended a PBL workshop last year, where Mr. Cooper was kind enough to share his website with us.  He shared some great examples of how a teacher might use a website to present students with a project, provide resources, etc. (Note:  he has a place where you can “print the packet” for those of you that ask “what if a child does not have access to technology at home?”) 
Want apps?  Check out apps for challenge based learning which provides suggestions for apps for launching and supporting a challenge based learning project from start to finish.

Setting up a SCAN scenario for discussion can be a great way to launch a problem-based learning experience with your students.  You can attach links customized to reading levels, and get them to see a problem from different perspectives before they get started.

Although, I might not express myself in the same way as Jeff Bliss has in his viral youtube video (although, I am pretty sure I might have in high school!) I agree that “if you want kids to come in here and get excited for this, you gotta make ‘em excited!”  PBL’s and technology are a great way to achieve that goal.  Ditch those packets, as Bliss says “you gotta take this job serious, it is the future of the nation!”

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