Papa’s Got a Brand-New Bag

I very much enjoyed this class and the approach that was taken. I did not know what to expect when I started the program and the class and I was happily surprised. I hope that all the other classes take this approach but I won’t hold my breath.

I learned by example and from doing. This makes everything more concrete and enjoyable. I will definitely employ project-based learning with as many lessons as I can. I think that it is a more powerful method than the memorize and regurgitate method. I am sold. Papa’s got a brand-new bag and new style of teaching. I think it’s going to be a hit and top the charts with the students.


Alaska Studies Final Reflection

What did you as a teacher learn about project-based learning?

Accountability. So often does this term, when used in the school setting, refer to punishment, blame, and guilt. My experience engaging in project-based learning with Peter Pappas taught me that accountability can be empowerment.

Peter and Angie communicated clearly at the beginning of our courses, that they wanted to do more than just preach, that they wanted to show and practice what it means to be culturally responsive teachers with the use of an iBooks publication, which is to be published for a public audience. When the structures were laid out and we as MAT students assigned ourselves, from that moment, the choice were ours to make.

With that came freedom, independence, determination, and accountability. As students, we were accountable for our own contributions to not only our own learning, but also the learning for our group. An open-ended topic with numerous approaches, we faced challenges ranging from group dynamics, personal advocacy, peer review, and celebration.

In my experiences working at an alternative high school in Juneau, students often express discomfort in being given a choice. Many students are victims of an abuse of power and control, and independence can be overwhelming; I know this, because as I was working through the project, I realized that my own upbringing was causing me to crash hard into the essence of project-based learning. When I attended elementary school in Korea, children suffered corporal punishment for getting an incorrect answer in a spelling test…we were eight years old. So much of my life has been about showing teacher-pleasing behaviors in attempts to fit into a square mold that my amorphous identity could not possibly do so.

I think looking back on these past three weeks, I want to research ways that I can help students feel safe in approaching decision-making. I am especially interested in working with high school students because for a lot of our teens, they are stuck between a hard place and a rock of expectations…they are “old enough” to know what is right and wrong, yet they are “too young” to make decisions for themselves. How do we teach students to become critical thinkers, if we cannot even empower them to be comfortable with their own strengths? Once we learn to recognize where we stand, only in relativity to our past experiences (and not in competition with one another) can education become a personal victory, and not a chore to be checked off for our parents, teachers, and the judges of this world.

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Project-Based Learning Reflection

My experience in Alaska Studies class was an overwhelmingly positive one because of the learning format.  As soon-to-be student teachers, we got to learn from the perspective of the student, a technique which I found to be invaluable.  As teachers, we were immersed in the experience of the learner, an experience which can either be engaging and empowering or dry and force-fed depending on the presentation.  I liked that ALST 600 was a course which was in direct opposition to the style in which I learned as a 1990s and early 2000s public school student.  We turned the traditional classroom model on its head by becoming our own teachers through the project-based learning model.

I think that project-based learning has provided me with a window into the perception, processing, and experience of the learner that I was not able to directly experience as a student in the primary and secondary grades.  I did have the opportunity, however, to experience lots of self-guided learning with my viola professor in college, so this has greatly influenced my desire to make the learning process more adaptive and engaging for my own students.  Experiencing project-based learning has allowed me to expand my own teaching toolbox and add more tools that challenge the student to empower him or herself and seek out knowledge on his or her own.  I love how project-based learning puts the impetus for learning in the hands of the student, in contrast to the authoritarian teacher-driven methods of old.  I personally believe that this is one of the ways that we as teachers can improve retention and increase engagement with our students.  Research is no longer a drudging task, but an opportunity for exploration, discovery, and creativity for the student.  This is groundbreaking when we consider the historical “sink or swim” memorization expectations for students in the not so distant past.  Without project-based learning and other methods of innovative student engagement, students are less likely to create meaningful connections about the information they are exposed to in school.  Students are less likely to learn the critical thinking skills needed to question the social structures and power dynamics of the status quo.  Without those critical thinking skills, a student can easily become another cog in the wheel of the machine.  Project-based learning is a way to teach students independence and self-empowerment.  Project-based learning lets students know that the ability to learn is inside them, just like David Katzeek said when he visited our class.

Writing a textbook on Alaska as a class was an enlightening and eye-opening experience for me, and it revealed many opportunities for personal and group growth that would be valuable to students in any classroom.  The project not only taught the subject, Alaska history, but it taught the skills needed for learning – the building blocks of the learning process.  We researched Alaskan history, but we also actively used our skills of teamwork, collaboration, cooperation, critical thinking, analysis, and synthesis.  Many of the skills that the iBook project fostered are in alignment with the skills and values I strive to teach my students in El Sistema-inspired music programs.

Through writing the iBook, I learned the value of giving students projects and assignments that challenge them to think critically and be global citizens.  Our project was proof that students both strive to achieve greater heights academically and are able to internalize knowledge more successfully when challenged to think critically and demonstrate their knowledge in a creative format.

Some of the most amazing aspects of this project were the personal, interpersonal, and community-minded transformations that it fostered.  Writing individual lesson plans for the iBook spurred many of us to develop deeper connections to the material we were studying and writing about.  Working as collaborative teams on our regional chapters pushed us to come together and make sure that we were accurately and sensitively conveying the history of the region we were assigned.  This required much humility, and it challenged us to hone our listening skills and our ability to compromise.  As we compiled and edited our chapters, we used our critical thinking skills to determine which information we wanted to include in our chapter and how we wanted to present it.  Communication skills were crucial for our groups to navigate this process and make sure that everyone’s voice was heard in the final product and to make sure that everyone’s contributions were woven together with a unified voice.  We used our critical thinking skills to determine which sources would prove most useful for our project, discerning to discover which sources provided us with unbiased, up to date, and accurate information.  One of the most transformative parts of the process was the final editing and reviewing phase.  I felt that this part of the process allowed us to deeply analyze our work, confront our own personal biases, and hold our product under a critical lens to determine if we had presented Alaskan history in a balanced and culturally sensitive way.  By the end of the process, I felt like we as a class had learned more about how to be culturally responsive teachers and citizens through a process of researching, making, doing, internalizing, and analyzing.  After working on our iBook project, I feel that project-based learning is an incredible way to teach students life skills through a process of exploration and experiential learning.

ALST 600 Final Reflection



Project-Based Learning: What did the teacher in me learn?

What a wild and quick three weeks it has been. Probably the biggest learning I had from this class was the gentle reminder that I don’t have to be an expert in the material I am teaching to effectively facilitate student learning. I will not ever be an expert in everything- and that is O.K.  The beauty about project-based learning that Peter so vividly showed us is it is about empowering students to do the learning on their own. They are the one’s that are doing the research, exploring what interests them, using their creativity and compiling their results into a final product. It allows the teacher to look at the bigger picture and facilitate the environment in which students are learning, but allows the students themselves to own what knowledge they will take away from the project.  It is important to remember that I don’t have to be an expert on everything that is introduced into a classroom.  It is also important to remember that learning should go much deeper than that what the teacher thinks is important to learn.  Project-based learning allows for this.

In this class, we were broken into groups of five or six people.  Therefore, the project required us to work together in groups- another very important life skill.  We had to not only deal with different communication and learning styles, but we had to together produce and complete a product that we were all in agreement on.  For our particular group this was not difficult.  For some groups, there were some intergroup dynamics that had to be addressed.  Working with others is not always easy.  Introducing this fact to students, and also introducing them to ways in which they can more effectively work in a group, could be a very powerful tool for the future.  Showing students that the norms that a classroom might create, as well as the purpose, goals and objectives of a particular lesson or unit, are also helpful to utilize and set within a group during a group project.

This was a condensed course and project, therefore, one thing it was lacking was adequate time. If the goal of the project is to have students learn about each others work, then in the future I will need to give the time to have them do this. In this course, we sort of ran out of the time to truly learn about ‘Alaska’, rather, I learned a bit about my section of Alaska that I researched- as well as the section that I edited for a different group.  I learned much, but a ‘teacher learning’ to take home is that amount of time a project like this may require.

Overall, I really enjoyed the project.  I learned many interesting new online sources, technologies and ways of going about research.   We were shown many tools to make the classroom more interactive, fun and technologically creative.  Thank you, Peter, for doing such a wonderful job.  I really enjoyed everything that you brought to Juneau with you.



Project-Based Learning

(Clip art: Girl Hanging Upside Down)

You just experienced project-based learning.
What did the teacher in you learn?

I learned many transformative things through project-based learning:

  1. I learned about the power of a flipped classroom. We spent our time in class wisely, learning important teaching strategies that finally put a lot of things together in my head. I learned so much about making teaching about the students not the teacher.
  2. I learned about the power of uncovering information for myself. Researching through books, videos, the internet and talking to people made me grasp the information on a much deeper level.
  3. I learned about the importance of a real audience. The iBook is to be published, and for that reason I cared so much about the sources, the perspectives, the words and the tone because all I thought about throughout the process was the people who may read the book.
  4. My last and probably most transformative lesson about project-based learning was about the power of social learning. I was completely blown away by amount that each of us learned through editing and revising our work together.


Them rutabagas ain't edumicatin' theirselves.
Them rutabagas ain’t edumicatin’ theirselves. Credit: Peter Fraser Dig on For Victory

Being Flexible

If there’s anything I’ve learned from undertaking projects, its time management is your friend and the project will almost always end up different than you expected. This is true from my experience composing music and programming software – by the end, you rarely recognize the final product in relation to the notes you started with. This is true of project based learning, too. Our initial outset for an iBook was intimidating – and its clear from our work-flow – the place we ended was different than expected.

I feel this is necessary – and its something I understand as a musician and educator. The idea you have at the beginning is rarely the idea you end up with. Being flexible is incredibly important. As an educator, you need to be able to step back and reconsider your lesson plans and workflow, often in the middle of a class. It takes a deep understanding of your subject matter and your students. You kinda have to be ready for everything.

We had the benefit of being teams. We weren’t an educator lost to make the changes on our own, but rather had the Super Cadre and some awesome instructors to help us achieve the best project possible.


I feel there’s been varying opinions on what we really learned about Alaska and its rich history – but I have to say I feel I learned a lot. I doubt I’d pass a test, but I feel I really internalized much of what I researched deep in my being.

Honestly, another approach and I wouldn’t have been as interested – I was researching into the night until the last minute digging deeper into the story of the West Coast. Only sleep could conquer my insatiable desire to learn more. I read so many things I knew were impractical for our iBook intro or my lesson just because I was interested. I read things about other regions because I wanted to know more.

An assigned series of primary sources and readings would have been less interesting to me – I was initially afraid of the self guided research, but I found so much that intrigued me I ended up with far more than I could use in a practical way. Even if my research was limited by being an outsider, I feel my desire to provide an honest narrative of Alaska and its history helped me feel confident in my contribution.

Conflict and Beer

The conflicted nature of a project is it needs to be well defined at its outset, but also willing to eschew any of its standards along the way to succeed. I think this is what made our iBook stressful but successful (that would be a good motto for a personal trainer!). Just imagine how you would feel about our final product if we hadn’t had the last day where we edited with essential questions and balance in mind…

It feels scary if we didn’t have that amazing day – and there has to be time for students to reflect on their progress, too. If they just finish a big thing and have no chance for reflection, it makes the final product less impressive.

That means its time to step back, relax, and take advantage of finishing a project like an adult.

ALST 600 Final-The Messy Work of Learning

mr messyThis iBook project was a challenge for me on many different levels. First of all, our objective seemed too vague. I feel like we needed a lot more guidance so that we would have a clearer more cohesive picture of what our end product was supposed to look like. I understand that giving students a choice is empowering but, a completely hands-off approach can be bewildering.  From a teaching perspective, I feel that students need to be clear about their objective in order to be successful.

Working with iBook is interesting and fun but one of the biggest issues I had was finding balance between style and substance. How much of that iBook page is me and how much is linked to others work? How much of the book should be devoted to flora and fauna and wildlife, and how much should be devoted to multicultural issues, politics and history? We only had a limited amount of time so in order to do our best work we needed a clear plan of attack.

I took a class last year where we discussed how to structure successful literature circles.  Supports need to be put in place early on in order for the groups to become autonomous as the year progresses. Specific roles are assigned within the group, regular teacher/student conferences are scheduled and student reflection journals are checked in order to evaluate student understanding, time is carved out for group reflection/evaluation time.

This is the kind of structure that I think would benefit any kind of group work in any class.  I understand that we are in a graduate class but, considering the nature of the project, a certain amount of structure is essential. I would have like to see some time carved out for teacher/group conferences in order to really look at the work, individually and as a whole, to see where it is going.

The editing/proofreading groups we had at the end of the class were amazing. If this could be structured into the process early on, it would be extremely helpful. It allowed me to see what other people were doing, which gave me ideas on how I could improve my work. It also created a space where I could get at least five other pairs of eyes on my work proofreading and evaluating for content.

This project was a great learning experience. At the beginning of the class, you said that you consider yourself to be a designer of learning experiences.  Struggling through this process of putting an iBook together, I clearly see the importance of design- scaffolding, clear objectives, and varied and frequent assessments. With the right preparation and supports in place students can be successful doing the messy work of learning.