Portfolio Entry #2: Best Things I Used from Other Sources

The goal of the portfolio is threefold: to document some of the work I did this past year, to take the time to reflect and learn, and to share with the larger community I am lucky to have through this blog.  I will be posting a portfolio entry a day until it’s done.  There are eight entries, one for each year of my career thus far.  Questions, comments, and thoughts are always greatly appreciated, but are even more so for this.  Previous entries are here.

I’ve found the teaching truism, “good teachers borrow; great teachers steal” to be an inspiration as I progress throughout my career.  The more I teach, the more of what I do comes from others.  This year, I stole three different things I would highly recommend to any teacher who could use them:

– My highest recommendation goes to the Right Question Institute’s Question Formulation Technique (QFT).  Someone on Twitter recommended the QFT to me last summer, and it was a perfect tool for an inquiry-centered class.  The questions I got each time I used this were phenomenal, and in many cases, became the foundation for my class.  I wrote about using the technique here.  Coincidentally, I was at a conference last week where I got to meet the folk from RQI. Over dinner, I told Dan Rothstein about my use of QFT, and how it seemed to work like magic.  Dan explained to me the science behind its brilliance: it combines divergent thinking, convergent thinking, and meta-thinking.  I could not do this full justice, so for further information, I’ll plug his book.

– I’m a big fan of the Buck Institute’s work around project-based learning.  Unfortunately, I only made time to use one of their Project Based Government units: The Better Budget Simulation.  It’s a great unit, that really helps students understand just how complicated government decision-making is.  It was even more powerful in that we did it as the Congressional “Super Committee” was failing to make similar decisions.  At the heart of this, and all Buck’s curricular units, is a very simple algorithm that can guide any inquiry based unit. For any given situation students are in:

  1. Have students create a problem statement
  2. Students draft a list of what they know and what they need to know to address the problem
  3. Students write questions about what they need to know (note to self: insert RQI here)
  4. Either as individuals, in groups, or as a class, students learn what they need to know
  5. Re-craft the problem statement, and repeat the cycle.

– Finally, one of the highlights of my year was Citizenship Night, where students presented their work from Project Citizen.  My next entry will go into more detail on the unit, but anyone looking to get their students independently and actively involved in policy should look to this curriculum.

Next Entry: Best Unit