#TriCon17 Preconference: Projects, Capstones, Quests

Session description here.

Day 1

We started the session by talking about 16 Habits of Mind and reflecting a bit on ourselves and our students as learners.


Purpose and Pedagogy 

When thinking about pedagogy, think of these three clusters:

  • Antiquated: What to cut?
  • Classical: What to keep? (It’s not old; it’s timeless!)
  • Contemporary: What to create?

Learner metaphor: “I learn like a ______ because of _____.” (from Allison Zmuda)

Good activity to get student voice to the table, and to think about curriculum/pedagogy. How do students view school? How are they feeling about the learning that is being asked of them?

Think about this in the context of adult learners, too. The way we learn changes based on the context. We may be learning well from the people in this room right now, but perhaps we wouldn’t learn as well when we are back with the full faculty. Why? Think about context for learning and how it has an impact on how students (or adult learners) view learning.

Contemporary learners and contemporary teachers

Contemporary teacher job description:

  • self-navigating professional learner
  • social contractor
  • media critic, media maker, and publisher
  • innovative designer
  • globally-connected citizen
  • advocate for learners and learning

My thoughts about these roles:

  • They sound awesome, like a road map of what kind of teacher I strive to be. I think I do ok on many of these roles.
  • They also sound overwhelming because they represent a huge shift in thinking and being.
  • Let’s say there’s a traditional school filled with traditional teachers, and let’s say that that school wants to reimagine teaching and learning so that all teachers meet the expectations in this contemporary job description. My first reaction is that it sounds extremely overwhelming and daunting to make those kinds of shifts, especially if it is not done intentionally and with adequate support. These roles do not happen naturally; teachers, leaders, and learners need time, space, freedom, and support.

Personalized Learning

From the slide deck (link here):

Our Definition of Personalized Learning “Personalized learning is a progressively student driven model where students deeply engage in meaningful, authentic, and rigorous challenges to demonstrate desired outcomes.” — Zmuda, Curtis and Ullman (2015)

Important words in the definition:

  • progressively student driven
  • meaningful (it means something to me)
  • authentic (don’t use the term “real world”…is school the fake world??)
  • rigorous
  • desired outcomes (working toward competencies/standards, maybe not just for a mark/grade)

Guiding question: How would you like your students/peers/faculty to be?

This brings us back to the habits of mind. It doesn’t really matter what habits or what system you are using (habits of mind, IB attributes, etc.). The point is that you pick something, stick with it, and do more than lip service. They must manifest in observable behavior.

The implementation of a certain system is often the source of agony. Maybe it’s not the actual habits/system that is the issue. The real goal is to have meaningful experiences.

Definition of habits of mind:

Characteristics of what intelligent people do when they are confronted with problems, the resolutions to which are not immediately apparent. — Costa and Kallick (2008)

4 Attributes of Personalized Learning

  • Voice
  • Co-creation
  • Social construction
  • Self discovery

We discussed each attribute listed above and connected them to the 16 habits of mind (HOM) that we started with. Notice that each attribute has many connections to the HOM. For example, when thinking about co-creation, you need to listen with understanding and empathy, think about your thinking, think interdependently, etc.

These attributes are developed when you design a project using the quest planner below.

Contemporary Quest

We used the compass below to help us think through our problem. This is something that students (and teachers) as a pre-planning exercise.

I’m not gonna lie; I struggled with this. It definitely was one of those things that put me back into my students’ shoes and made me realize how hard it can be to clarify your thinking sometimes. (The good news is that I broke through the wall eventually, so don’t worry!)


We used this blank quest planner to document our thinking and plan our project. Once I got through the initial wall and frustration, it became something that I really enjoyed using to think through my ideas and how I could solve the problem I want to address.

Day 2

Quote of the day: “If people don’t believe that they are constantly growing their toolbox, you might want to work on that before giving them new tools.” –MJ

We started the day with a bit of discussion/reflection about the practicalities of implementing something like the compass quest planner. We discussed the idea of “initiative overload” and bringing these ideas back to teachers who are already feeling overwhelmed by so many new things. Heidi reminded us that this does not have to be about adding on or being “one more thing.” She brought us back to yesterday’s discussion, in which we looked at curriculum as having three categories (antiquated, classical, contemporary). This framework (the planning compass, combined with the habits of mind and four attributes) for sure is contemporary. So, in order to make room, we would have to take a minute and think about what we can cut. How can this framework be used to modernize or update current curriculum, and what antiquated tools/methods can it replace? These questions must be considered before any attempt to actually bring it into practice at our school.

We then discussed the idea of cutting content, and how sometimes our curriculum is attached to our ego. We get so attached to what we teach because we take pride in what we do and we attach ourselves to “MY UNITS.” Sometimes because of that attachment, we lose our focus on the WHY and the purpose behind why we teach stuff. Why do they need it? That’s at the heart of this.

Our discussion led Heidi to shout out the late, great Grant Wiggins and one of his earliest articles, “The Futility of Trying to Teach Everything of Importance.”

Capstone mini discussion

To do a true capstone, students need to have experience with making some of their own decisions and playing and active role in the design of their project.

Our definition of what a capstone is:

  • needs to be between co-created and student-created space
  • needs to be in manageable chunks/checkpoints that are appropriate to the age/grade (putting it in some sort of organizational flow on behalf of the students)
    • Remember there is a big difference between chunking things and actually managing the chunks.
    • Idea: hang a chunking timeline on the wall and each kid could put his/her name on the timeline
    • Students can go to the teacher (mentor) when they think they are ready to move on to the next step. Teacher can give the green light.
  • students have some kind of influence over the audience who is evaluating/judging the work (different challenges require different audiences)
  • because of the myriad of topics/territories, there has to be some kind of common evaluation metric (so the capstone teacher doesn’t go off the rails trying to make specific content rubrics for every kid)
    • think about growth over time as a metric

Some thoughts/reminders

  • Needs to be a feedback loop; regular checkpoints and meetings for students and mentors
  • A capstone is a cumulative demonstration of learning.


All the tabs

I have a million tabs open right now, all of things that I don’t want to forget. So, in order to shut my laptop down and close my tabs, I’m posting the links here.

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