Monday, April 4, 2011

A short conversation with...Tyler Rice @MrTRice_Science

Tyler Rice

How long have you been teaching?

6 years

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

Yes and no. I’ve always believed in patience, caring and student-centered instruction. I’ve always adhered to the importance of inquiry in all content areas, not just science. I’ve always wanted to integrate technology into my instruction.

I think the biggest change has been the move towards project based learning. Although I had some vague understanding of this concept early on in my career, I still felt like I had to do a lot of those “teacher things” like lecturing and giving big tests.

Another big change has been the evolution of my beliefs and practices about assessment. Early on in my career, I had little idea that there were other options out there besides just giving kids grades and using grades to reward the behaviors I wanted and to punish those that I didn’t. I knew I wanted to move to portfolio based assessment eventually but couldn’t see how that would reconcile with my traditional experiences with evaluation. It wasn’t until the last 2 or 3 years that this really changed for me. I have people like Alfie Kohn, Sir Ken Robinson, Dan Pink and Joe Bower to thank for that.

Has Twitter played a role in your evolution as a teacher? If so, how?

Absolutely. I have been exposed to so many new ideas and practices through Twitter that it’s hard to remember what I got from Twitter and what I came across via other avenues. Twitter has also led me to outstanding blogs that I have learned a lot from. Finally, Twitter and blogging have given me an outlet for my educational voice. The affirmations that I have received via Twitter and blogging have helped me to become more confident and secure in my educational philosophy. I work in a very small school with mostly very old-school colleagues. I really didn’t realize how many like minded people were out there prior to Twitter.

Can you share a few thoughts about how you use Project Based Learning in your classroom?

My use of Project Based Learning is constantly evolving. That being said, I am confident that I’ve hit on a great model and just need to get better at it. My students experience science via an inquiry based, real world oriented context that I feel is ideal.

In a nutshell, my students learn science content in the context of projects. These projects involve a significant amount of choice and inquiry. Although I teach some lessons and facilitate certain learning experiences (we call them milestones) along the way, the project is theirs. I try to deliver the content that they need when they need it. Ideally, each project culminates with some sort of presentation or performance for an audience. This increases effort and engagement dramatically. After each project, we reflect on the project and they evaluate themselves. Unless I feel the grade they’ve given themselves is way out of line, they get the grade they claim.

Although I think Project Based Learning is absolutely the right way to go, I am still learning how to facilitate it effectively. I feel that I get better at it with each and every project that my students tackle. Three things about Project Based Learning that are important to get across to many teachers are: 1. CONTENT DEPTH OVER BREADTH: there are certain concepts that my students will not be exposed to in my classroom. I’m okay with that. Some teachers are not. 2. STUDENTS WILL LEARN A LOT OF CONTENT within the context of a well designed project - they just won’t all learn the SAME content. 3. YOU HAVE TO DIVE IN AND DO IT! You have to accept that some of your projects will bomb. You have to learn from every project, good or bad, and move on to the next project.

Tyler blogs here

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