• A2 STEAM EXPO, In Person Again

    Posted by Nathan Hatt on 9/16/2022

    It was late autumn 2015, and teachers at A2 STEAM had just successfully completed their third biannual EXPO when the article entitled “Gold Standard PBL: Public Product” was published. John Larmer, editor in chief of the PBLWorks blog, discussed the merits of the “Public Product” and the significance of presentation at the end of a project based learning unit. For the A2 STEAM community, this was an extraordinary validation of our collective vision. After two EXPOs in the first year of A2 STEAM, we were finally beginning to find our groove. Collectively, as teachers and staff members reviewed Mr. Larmer’s recommendations for this phase of PBL, they nodded heads, exchanged knowing glances, and patted each other on the back. This was the confirmation we needed. Not only had the A2 STEAM EXPO been a wonderful occasion for the community to come together and celebrate our young learners, but it was also an exemplary PBL Event.

    Due to the circumstances of the global health crisis, we have not been able to properly enjoy the contagious energy of EXPO since the autumn of 2019. While we were able to return to in-person learning in the spring of 2021, and our Project Based Learning curriculum last autumn, we have not had a formal, in-person, EXPO event in nearly three years. For many students, and some teachers, Autumn EXPO 2022 will be our first time coming together to present our public products and share our learning with the community.

    So what do we have to look forward to at EXPO? What did Mr. Larmer write about nearly seven years ago that felt so affirming for pioneering A2 STEAM staff? Primarily, he identifies that the “Public Product” is usually the most recognizable feature of PBL. The Public Product is the centerpiece of student work at each EXPO.

    “In some non-PBL classrooms you might find, say, a challenging problem, some degree of authenticity, student voice and choice and even, occasionally, sustained inquiry. But when students make their work public – that is, when it’s seen by people beyond their teacher, classmates, and maybe parents – it probably means a project is happening.”

    He also makes a case for buy-in. The ambitious vision of a PBL school is that learning ought to be interesting and, moreover, valuable beyond the traditional student-teacher feedback loop. Through a project, students are motivated to learn because they see the value of their efforts today. While it is possible for school-aged children to be motivated to learn in order to maximize their career opportunities, they are more likely to develop critical skills and understandings if the rationale is readily apparent. Simply stated,

    “When students just turn in their work to the teacher or make a presentation to the class, they (typically) don’t care as much as they do when sharing their work with people from the “real world.”

    There is also an emphasis on the importance of multiple check-ins throughout the project. While EXPO is a culminating event, students have had a variety of opportunities to formulate their learning through social experiences. This is done in many ways, but one unique feature of PBL is how “experts” are leveraged for learning.

    “During a project, experts can act as advisors and ask students deeper questions to prod their thinking and improve the products they’re creating... At the end of a project, experts can ask students questions during presentations that a teacher or other students might not ask – and preparing for this is a great exercise in critical thinking, as students try to anticipate what the questions will be and how they will answer them.”

    Experts can be defined as professionals who work in a field aligned to a domain of learning, but also people who have certain intersecting interests and passions that can help students evolve their understanding throughout a project. Opportunities to collaborate with a project based learning unit vary from question and answer sessions, workshops, project kickoffs (entry events), lectures, and importantly, critique and revision sessions. If you are interested in this kind of project involvement, please fill out the following survey: tinyurl.com/pbl-expert.

    As valuable as it is that adults assist to help improve projects before EXPO, it is also valuable that audience members engage appropriately with projects at EXPO. Projects require a tremendous effort during each unit, and their presentations are the culmination of weeks of inquiry and problem-solving. To create a public product, students must personally engage with a challenging, open-ended question, think critically through a process of social inquiry, collaborate to develop creative solutions, and present their understandings and solutions to an authentic audience. The best way to engage as an audience member is, first, to maintain an awareness of the project as it unfolds. On EXPO night, family members should come prepared to ask appropriately critical questions about the project with respect for the effort that went into it. Excellent questions are usually open-ended and use the language of PBL, such as “How did you answer your Driving Question?” You can ask “Tell me how your Public Product is a solution to your challenge?” A great question also might be “How did you collaborate with your team?” There will be more information shared soon about how to prepare for EXPO, so look for messages from your child’s teacher, administration, and the PBL Coordinator.

    This autumn, we will host three EXPO events. This will allow us to take advantage of larger school spaces, which will be helpful in preventing the spread of communicable diseases. It will also give students the time and space they need to give excellent presentations, and families more opportunities to find parking in a timely manner (please consult last year’s parking map to identify good locations for street parking during school-wide events - https://www.a2schools.org/Page/12980). Our EXPO events this autumn will be organized by grade-level bands:

    • Lower Elementary EXPO (grades K-2):
      Thursday, December 8, 2022, from 5:30-7pm
    • Upper Elementary EXPO (grades 3-5):
      Thursday, December 15, 2022, from 5:30-7pm
    • Middle School EXPO (grades 6-8):
      Thursday, November 10, 2022, from 5:30-7pm

    The Middle School EXPO will come in mid-November before both elementary EXPOs in order to correlate with the end of the first trimester, and both elementary EXPOs will take place in mid-December before winter vacation. We are still setting PBL goals for the winter and spring, but a flexible plan is being considered at this time. Collectively, we are working to consider our authentic audiences for projects before we put dates on the calendar. Mr. Larmer, again, reminds us to push back on the notion that “every project requires ‘a big showcase – that should not be the end goal of every project; sometimes having a few experts do real critique of student work is more powerful.’”

    To put it succinctly, EXPO encapsulates the mission of A2 STEAM: Provide an environment where students, staff, and the community are actively engaged in project based learning through a student-centered approach with real-world applications. Foster students who lead and contribute to the world around them. Larmer connects to this purpose at the end of his article thusly,

    "There’s one final benefit to having a public product: the proud moment when students present their work to the 'real world' is often a memory they will keep for the rest of their lives."

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  • Virtual EXPO - Spring 2022

    Posted by Nathan Hatt on 3/25/2022

    Congratulations to the A2 STEAM community on another successful Virtual EXPO! 

    It’s quite impressive what our teachers and students are able to do in such a short amount of time. We are very appreciative of our parent community and every stakeholder that has taken a role in shaping our projects and facilitating learning on a daily basis. Once again, we have another unique collection of artifacts that represent collective learning through authentic public products hosted here on our Spring 2022 EXPO website.

    If you're still wondering just what the deal is with PBL at A2 STEAM, check out this short video below, "What is PBL?"

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  • Virtual EXPO - Autumn 2021

    Posted by Nathan Hatt on 12/7/2021

    Hello A2 STEAM families! Please join us from 5:30-6:00 PM on Thursday, December 9, 2021, for our first-ever virtual EXPO!

    Please click this link to explore the EXPO website for Autumn 2021!

    A2 STEAM Virtual EXPO

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  • Invent A Game!

    Posted by Nathan Hatt on 5/15/2019 4:00:00 PM

    In this edition of the PBL Corner, we continue our ongoing conversation featuring the many voices of A2 STEAM. Part three of our series will focus on the our Field Day project, a phyical education unit that has been in the development for almost two years.

    The idea to design a field day started with the notion that older students in a K-8 building benefit from the opportunity to act as mentors for the younger grades. Over time, this project has developed into something truly spectacular. Embedded in the process for students are iterations of critique and revision. What has helped this project to grow is educator Jason Willard's own revision along the way.

    In educator Mike Kaechele's article "Critique and Revision Isn’t Just for Students" some tenets of revision are outlined, all of which are evident in Mr. Willard's process:

    • Set Clear Expectations
    • Offer Multiple Modes
    • Model How to Receive Feedback
    • Validate Student Voice
    • Handle Unfair Criticism
    • Demonstrate Vulnerability and Humility
    • Become a Warm Demander

    I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Willard, his students, and the audience for the project this week. Here is what they had to say:

    Mr. Kaechele concludes his article with the following passage:

    "Critique and revision isn’t just a protocol to improve students’ final products in a project. Critique and revision of everything in your class builds a strong culture of trust as students learn the skills of disagreeing with authority in respectful and productive ways. It teaches students to have a critical lens, but with a bent toward solutions. Respectful critique trains our next generation appropriate ways to change the world!"

    As PBL educators, we all must be responsive leaders. Mr. Willard shows us a good example of how we model these expectations through authentic project work.

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  • Just Jump In!

    Posted by Nathan Hatt on 5/1/2019 4:00:00 PM

    Are you a parent who is interested in being involved in PBL, but not sure how? In this recent post from the PBL Works blog, author Leslie Edmonds shares a few ideas for connecting with PBL in your child's classroom.

    Just Jump In! Parent and Community Involvement in PBL.

    Edmonds identifies a few big ideas in her article, and we'd like to connect the dots here at A2 STEAM if any of those seemed appealing:

    • Chaperone a Field Trip
      Our Field Trips are most often aligned to PBL projects. By reading grade-level newsletters or reaching out to your child's teacher via email, you can learn about PBL-related trips and lend a hand if you are free and so inclined.
    • Invite Members of the Community to Join the Fun
      Do you know of any local businesses, community organizations, or municipal offices that might feature well in a PBL project? Let us know! You can email grade level teachers or me, the PBL Coordinator (hattn@aaps.k12.mi.us) to make a meaningful connection! If you yourself have a passion to share, please fill out the community experts form here (Community Experts Form) and we can match you to a project!
    • Stay in Touch on Social Media
      Follow us on Twitter @A2STEAM, and don't forget to follow your child's teacher as well. You can also keep up with PBL initiatives by following me @HattMr. You can find us on FaceBook simply by searching for A2 STEAM.
    • Learn Along with your Child
      Lots of the work that kids do in PBL, even starting in their first year at A2 STEAM, is complex. There are lots of ways to keep up, but don't foget to ask your child about their project!
    • Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
      If there is anything about PBL that still remains a mystery, please reach out! Don't forget to browse our website and look at our promotional videos on this blog to learn more.

    PBL is a new way of learning. It's all-encompassing and happens in many different ways. Let's continue to learn together!

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  • Spring 2019 Middle School EXPO

    Posted by Nathan Hatt on 4/11/2019 3:30:00 PM

    Hello families,

    I hope that you are excited for the first ever middle school Spring EXPO! There are a few ways in which this EXPO will be different, even from the fall MS EXPO.

    MS EXPO Announcement F2018

    In the fall, most projects were very much a work in progress. We relied on audience members to provide thoughtful feedback as students were still in the process of creating their public products. In most classes, students will be prepared to present their final products. In some cases, students will be presenting portfolios as a result of their learning throughout the year or over the course of a term. Check out the Open STEAM Lab with your student to see what they've been working on with Mr. Van Loo. In some cases, students might be interested in feedback and will solicit feedback from families. In some cases, the public product will be an experience. Check out the Water Protectors exhibit in the Multi Pupose Room to see the comprehensive work of 6th grade students since the last major EXPO.

    We are looking forward to seeing A2 STEAM families at EXPO this coming Monday, April 15th, 2019, from 5:30-7:15. All families are welcome!

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  • Inquiry

    Posted by Nathan Hatt on 3/6/2019 4:00:00 PM

    In this edition of the PBL Corner, we continue our ongoing conversation featuring the many voices of A2 STEAM. Part two of our series will focus on the many forms of “Inquiry”.

    PBL Works describes "Sustained Inquiry" thusly: "Students engage in a rigorous, extended process of posing questions, finding resources, and applying information." Contributing PBL Works author Charity Moran Parsons writes on the PBLWorks blog: in her post titled "Sustained Inquiry in PBL as a Tool for Social Justice," "Throughout the course of a project’s path, justice will be given in the ways we can continue to leverage the students’ questions, ideas, and concerns about the matter at hand. As students work to formulate their answers to the driving question, we can provide opportunities for students to reflect upon the questions they began with, any answers they may have uncovered, and any new questions they may discover."

    Sustained inquiry comes in many shapes and sizes depending on the discipline and mode of understanding. There are many phases in inquiry, and it should be noted that skill-building is often an important pre-cursor to a fully student-driven approach.

    I had the opportunity to interview students, teachers, and parents over the past two weeks as we have been discussing the importance of a Inquiry in our PBL work together. Here is what they had to say:

    "Sustained Inquiry" doesn't end at the conclusion of a project. It doesn't end when a student leaves school. Inquiry is sustained for a child when they own their learning and pursue their interests outside of the walls of A2 STEAM.

    As we continue our community testimonials, I invite you all to share how your child has taken their learning beyond A2 STEAM.

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  • A Public Product

    Posted by Nathan Hatt on 2/20/2019 3:30:00 PM

    In this edition of the PBL Corner, we begin an ongoing conversation featuring the many voices of A2 STEAM. Part one of our series will focus on the value of a “Public Product”.

    John Larmer, Editor in Chief of PBL Works (formerly BIE), explains the importance of a Public Product well in his article on the PBLWorks blog: “Gold Standard PBL: Public Product”.

    “Of all the Essential Project Design Elements in Gold Standard PBL, you could argue it’s “Public Product” that most makes PBL stand out as different from traditional instruction. In some non-PBL classrooms you might find, say, a challenging problem, some degree of authenticity, student voice and choice and even, occasionally, sustained inquiry. But when students make their work public – that is, when it’s seen by people beyond their teacher, classmates, and maybe parents – it probably means a project is happening.”

    I had the opportunity to interview students, teachers, and parents over the past two weeks as we have been discussing the importance of a Public Product in our PBL work together. Here is what they had to say:

    Mr. Larmer concludes his article with the following passage:

    “There’s one final benefit to having a public product: the proud moment when students present their work to the “real world” is often a memory they will keep for the rest of their lives. We like to say PBL is transformative for students; you can bet that was true for the young people in the projects highlighted above.”

    As Ms. Toon says of our own work, of which I hope we take to heart, “What if we could help them hold on to those memories?” What public products has your child helped to make this year? What products do you hope they remember?

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  • Introducing PBLWorks!

    Posted by Nathan Hatt on 2/11/2019 8:00:00 AM

    PBL Works

    The Buck Institute for Education, our institutional framework for PBL, has rebranded to PBLWorks!

    Learn more here from editor in chief John Larmer: https://www.pblworks.org/blog/rip-bie-long-live-buck-institute-education-because-pblworks.

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  • Maker Culture at A2 STEAM

    Posted by Nathan Hatt on 1/16/2019 3:00:00 PM

    The Maker Movement has been described in different contexts and co-opted by a variety of movements, from a vision of a revitalized Arts & Crafts movement, to hacker culture, to counterculture, to a third industrial revolution. According to Kevin Kelly, senior editor of Wired magazine, and founder of the maker-friendly catalog Cool Tools, “The skills for this accelerated era lean toward the agile and decentralized. Therefore tools recommended are aimed at small groups, decentralized communities, the do-it-yourselfer, and the self-educated.” Participants include engineers, hobbyists, tinkerers, and artists of all kinds.

    At A2 STEAM, values and activities from the maker movement are present in many places. When students participate in a design as result of learning in a PBL project, they are makers. Students are makers in the STEAM lab with engineering and design challenges, computer programming, and industrial art. Students are makers in art and design. The maker space is a designated area for maker-centered learning to live and thrive.

    From an interview on the blog Museum Questions, author and Researcher Edward P. Clapp describes the types of experiences that can happen in a maker space thusly, “Design challenges aren’t the only pedagogical tool… Something that we do is what we call a design hunt: looking at ones environment and identifying design… At a very young age, just tinkering with materials is a big thing, too. We have seen educators alternate between what we call “messing around” and “figuring it out.” Young people mess around with tools and materials in a tinkering way, without an objective, and then work with an objective in mind and try to figure it out. The objective can be anything – design a better garbage truck or make a ball roll down a track and into a bucket, for example… The whole idea of becoming sensitive to design and noticing the designed aspects of the world can help young people surface issues they are interested in addressing or problems they are interested in solving. Problem solving starts with nurturing a sensitivity to design.”

    There are many approaches to maker-centered learning that aren’t centered around full-scale projects. Many opportunities arise that are. Our goal at A2 STEAM is to make sure that teachers and students have access and opportunity to the resources that support this kind of learning as needed.

    Dr. Liz Gerber, author of the Design Thinking card game Mockups, has, through the course of her work with design instruction at Northwestern University, developed some processes and recommendations for maker learning. One of her recommendations for efficient access is the Maker Cart, a mobile maker resource repository. We are proud to announce that we are now taking Dr. Gerber’s advice and have just finished assembling our own Maker Cart! It currently houses lots of great fabricating materials such as rubber bands, popsicle sticks, markers, glue, fabric, craft paper and many other traditional materials. It also houses a set of electric cardboard cutters and has the capacity to house more sophisticated tools as we continue to develop our vision for this initiative.

    Sometimes the only thing getting in the way of a great idea is resources at hand. As it is our mission to ensure that maker values evolve and endure in our programming, the cart will help to make sure that ideas blossom into artifacts.

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