Welcome to our blog

This is the story of two educators on one journey. Each day we will record our reflections on the process of being involved in an innovative educational environment. The decision on our part to leave the public education system was deliberate due to our growing frustrations over the factory "one size fits all" model of education. This model has dominated the educational landscape and is not designed to meet the needs of the 21st century learner. Step one in our journey was to find a place that would allow us the freedom to break out of the system. We needed a chance to just breath and facilitate learning in the ways that we both know are best for children. That step has led us to Rosemary Beach Florida to work with the students attending the OH Institute. The OH Institute is a unique educational environment that we find humane. The curriculum focus is on the individual learner with an infusion of technology project based learning. Currently, it has 20 students in grades 4-11 all of whom are seeking something different than what the factory system of education has to offer. This is where our adventure begins...

Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday March 28:


It has been awhile. Today was the day that I was thinking to myself that the thing that will be the death of this model is not that it is not a great way for kids to learn but rather than in being flexible nothing is defined. Questions that come up for me are things like: When the schedule/attendance is flexible to allow for students to travel and play sports where is the line drawn. Today we have two students leaving at 3:00pm to go and see a movie. I think a lot about all the mixed messages that we have received this year in terms of saying that we stand for "student choice" in their learning to "wait a minute why are the kids not reading the classics and other things that they need to be prepared for their SAT test and college?" It is the constant message of "be innovative,do what you want to do, make it your own" but really just kidding you need to "get kids into a box, deliver the traditional curriculum in a recognizable way, and measure all students using the same measuring stick." Frustrating...

I feel really good about the curriculum that we have designed this year and am very comfortable talking about it to anyone that comes through. What I am not comfortable with is being held accountable for things which were not made clear to me. I am use to working at a very high level but I am also used to being held accountable by someone that has made it very clear to me what my job is. That is not to say that I have been given a simple checklist in my previous work but rather I have been given a framework and allowed to create systems based on my areas of expertise and by collaborating with other professionals.

The environment I am in this year is amazing in so many ways but expectations and what this school is all about is not clear.

What I do know for sure is this:
  • I would choose this journey again even if I knew then what I know now.
  • Students learn so much more through PBL.
  • I have learned an amazing amount of things this year.
Today was a busy day but a creative one for the students. It was nice to see them buzzing around and working on planning their projects.

Wednesday February 9


A good day. Mysterious package takes a good deal of time and after music I felt like I had completely used up my patience. I even took about 2 minutes after they left to sit quietly before going back to school. That was actually very helpful. Today we accomplished a good deal of work including our writing, mailing our package and skyping our friends in Wisconsin. I will check later to see the results of destination math and I feel guilty missing the math because of music.

Speaking of music, it went well with both older bands today. The second group did VERY well with all songs and they are progressing way ahead of schedule which is interesting as they have less overall musical experience.

We also got some work done on Social Studies for MS with the idea of using a venn diagram to compare and contrast differences and similarities between Inca and Maya civilizations.

Monday February 7


It's been awhile since we wrote on this blog. For me it is partially because I am now blogging on my PBL blog daily and partly because things have gotten extremely busy in a good way.

Today was a good day overall. Students are working on projects and they are all in different stages. This always becomes a challenge to manage. Some groups are practically wrapping up while others are still digging around and writing really high quality entries in OHpedia. It is interesting to see the quality and depth of student work. Certain students just really get into the process and create some amazing projects while others are just skimming the surface. However, what I do think is that even the ones skimming the surface will remember their content better than a traditional lesson. There seems to be something about the way that they have to interact with the content that makes it stick a bit more than the traditional style of content delivery.

I am pretty tired overall and need to go to a meeting.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday January 21

Another busy day with project work. It was amazing to see how each of the students are reacting tot he structured projects. Interestingly enough the ones that say that they do not understand PBL or know what they are working on are the same ones that are fighting against the structure. It is like they want to not have structure to allow them to have the excuse of not understanding the work. Once they get the structure they have to work and they fight against it. One student literally had Randy or me checking on him every fifteen minutes because he did not want to work.

The middle school wiki is starting shape up very nicely in terms of presentation. It looks clean and has good information on it. I do worry about plagiarism and am going to suggest to Randy that we do a mini lesson on not cutting an pasting things into the writing(unless they are quotes and cited correctly).

I am concerned about some of the high school groups. One group in particular is having personality issues. One individual in the group had conflicts with his last group as well. Two other groups are looking like one member is working on their portion of the project while the second member is sitting back and not doing too much. I am going to look into helping all of the groups navigate working together productively. One step I think I am going to see if Randy agrees with is a mini check in with all groups first thing on Monday. That will allow us to "see the work" and see who is working on which pieces. Another idea might be to have a critical friends protocol in place to view the work once it is finished. I wish that I had thought about having the groups set up some norms for working together before we actually started the project work. This is something that I want to add to future projects. The last idea that I have in this arena is to have them rate themselves and their partner privately. This might help us gain some feedback into how they are feeling and where we need to support them in their work.

Overall project days are really flying by quickly!

Productive day today with projects. I had the Mysterious Package group re-organize their blogs so that the tabs are subject specific. I hope this will help with organization and finding work as well as serving as a more efficient digital portfolio. Today was also the last day for the Florida Five and that will greatly change the dynamic for the students in terms of music, social and academic work. This will likely have it's own set of difficulties, but at the same time, provide opportunities for leadership with new students.

I worked with Mason on his project planning form and I think that I can be a big help in simplifying the process to make this OHpedia less daunting. I think the project will give the students a feeling of accomplishment when they are done.

Monday January 17th

Today was neat because it was nice to enter a slower pace for a bit and work more closely with high school. I am able to better see their perspective on the guided more traditional pbl.

We did some more navigation with elementary and it is neat to see them actually get better from last time. These lessons are especially interesting to me because of the incredibly strong tie between math and geography. I'm going to keep this a theme that they receive every so often. I would like to look more into repeating themes like this with math so they get repeating practice with inquiry so they can continually grow with their skills.

Today the structured pbl work moved forward nicely but I cannot help but watch the students stop thinking because structure squelches thinking. Structure is almost the enemy of PBL work if it is meant to be student centric. Students need to understand the process and be able to navigate their way through it. However, adding this step by step, check in before moving on is teaching students again that the facilitator/ teacher is the one that controls the learning. Sometimes we think we are just nuts to keep fighting the system because it is so ingrained. But I cannot help but wonder where is the passion or spark for learning that students have when they get to decide what to learn and explore?

The more structured the PBL process the more work it is to get the students to do high quality work. The trick of structure is that to the outside "eye in the sky" it looks good and makes sense. I mean who wouldn't want to see student check ins and structured points along the way that guarantee that the students are covering things? However, once the structure becomes the thing that is driving the process then it becomes a teacher centric project not a students centric process. Students need to understand the basic steps and process of PBL but they should not be pushed into a lock step process if true excitement and learning is to occur. The more structured the PBL is the more teacher directed it becomes and the closer it comes to the traditional lecture type classroom. It teaches students that they are not to be trusted to make judgements within their own learning. Students are taught to wait for the teacher/facilitator to tell the what to do. There is not meaning construction anymore but rather construction of an assignment that the teacher tells them to do.

I will push on because the light at the end of this structure PBL tunnel is that students will have been exposed to the process again and they will be able to choose their remaining projects for the year.

Friday January 14:

Amy: What a whirlwind of a day. We had four visitors this morning three of which are potential new facilitators. One was the assistant principal from Freeport High School which was really interesting. He was able to tell the kids why they block things like Youtube (lots of inappropriate things). We did a lot of PBL work the first block with some technical glitches but things were fine.

Second block we had a group of visitors from Alys beach. They were interested in what OH would be like if it were a bit bigger and possible relocated to Alys beach. It was a lot of fun talking to them about what we do and why it is the right way to go with education. Our conversation went until 1:00pm and then we went to lunch. Randy took on the bulk of kidwork today which I really really appreciated.

One thing that struck me today was how good it was to be able to talk to people about what we are doing and why we are doing it. We spend a lot of time mired in the daily work and often forget to look at all the amazing things that we are accomplishing. It was a day that reinforced that we are here for a reason.

Thursday January 13:


FLVS day #2. Wow the day seems to pass so slowly when it is FLVS day. If it is this way for me as a facilitator I wonder what it is like to the students? Don't get me wrong I had plenty of things to do but they were all mainly what I call passive facilitation. Thank goodness for Randy's field trip to the beach where the students were finishing their inquiry math lesson by using a sextant for navigation. The reason that I say thank goodness for Randy's field trip is because Anastasia came back with a really cool stinky jaw bone. She and I spent the about 15 minutes trying to figure out what it was and that was the absolute highlight of my day. We looked up images and saw some pretty icky but neat things. There is nothing better than the excitement that a student gets when they find something cool to explore.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. I think that the older kids are getting a lot of work done which is good. Next week we will block out their second semester coursework and start with check ins.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wednesday January 12

Wednesday January 12

Today was a quick moving day. I was happy with elementary's ability to work for many intervals with a level of independence. I graded their writings today and they all seem to be progressing well. They did not get a writing frame today so they had to work on their writing without a certain level of support.

Amy is doing a really great job working with middle school and high school with their PBL work. She is able to organize them well and get them to continue to get a product down each day.

Music went well with all groups and I feel that the concert will go well. I still have some honest concerns about our youngest group, but oh well. . .that's how they roll.

Overall, I do loose a bit of sleep over the fact that we aren't doing any "outside" the box stuff, but I guess I understand why and I know the daily work is visible and important. I don't know when I'll take Davis and some others to the beach to do sextant navigation or get some field trips going. I understand that this is putting my own interests at the students (such as Three Idiot day and so on), but I've always gone the "pied piper" route and it has yielded my some very good results. I think I'm going to have to let this one go this year.

I'm feeling the same feeling I felt in October on my loss of freedom and ability to "play". Things are serious now, and that does lead to good work getting done, but I'm not real happy. I understand the importance of our guided PBL for elementary, middle school and high school, I just don't feel the work fits me. It's more like a workout that I have to focus on instead of a song I'm playing "from my heart." I'll keep this mostly hidden and do the right thing for the kids and everyone else at OH so that things keep going.


Today was a great day in terms of having the freedom of not being attached to FLVS. It is a little hard to do such a structured PBL because it takes both facilitators into the "do what I tell you to do" realm of instruction. This is not what we want to do so I try very hard to provide choice for the students whenever possible. I also stay upbeat and positive to allow for the students tofeel good about the structure. On the plus side of the structured PBL I find the students to be very engaged in the writing process. I enjoy reading their blogs and their reflections are helpful in the planning process.

About the structured process in general I do know that it is slowly killing Randy because it does not allow him to be the best facilitator that he can be. However, I also truly believe that by being this structured now we will have freedom to do great projects the rest of the spring. I guess that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel a bit more than Randy.

Right now there is a lot of momentum for the OH model with the addition of new students, trying to hire additional facilitators, and planning for students to travel to Telluride. It is hard to be in our position not knowing where we will be next year. We want to stay but are waiting to hear if OH will be able to afford us financially. Meanwhile we are supporting the hiring of other facilitators which may turn into our replacements. It is kind of an awkward mess.

However, what I know for sure is that whatever is meant to be will be. There are things that I can control like how hard I work and what I give to the students. I cannot control what other people think of me or whether or not they see the value of what Randy and I do. Today I am consciously choosing to focus on what I can do and not what I cannot control.

Monday January 10

January 10

Today was what call a mind blowing day(in a good way). We started a new schedule of PBL work three days a week and FLVS work two days a week. It was a bit stressful on the students because we took away their crutch/excuse for not fully engaging in PBL work. Randy did a nice job with the rationale of how school is an institution that teaches students not to think. It is set up as a "wait until I tell you how to do it" model not a think about it and figure it out model.

However, the PBL work was amazing. We did not get anywhere near finished but man what a day of PBL. There was no FLVS to get in the way and I seriously think that the students were going through a little withdrawal. They wanted to be able to check off their FLVS work.

What I like about starting this out today was that we gave them an entire week after winter to try and be done with their FLVS classes. These were classes that should have been done by close to two weeks ahead of winter break and some are still trying to get them done. It was a bit of a shock for them to come in and have us let them know there would be no mindless FLVS today. I did let them know Friday we were most likely going to move to this direction so it should not have been a total shocker for them.

Elementary Math continues to be a frustration. EDU 2000 was suppose to be ready to roll and now it is more messed up than ever. The students are now facing more and long assessment pieces at the end of chapters. The comprehensive post test is still 116 questions long. It is an important piece for us to keep because it will hopefully become revenue generating. However, the kids are not able to move on with their learning which is frustrating. Thank goodness Randy and Tim are working on the inquiry math component to allow for authentic high quality math experiences for the students.

Randy - Today was a busy day that went by as fast as lightning. MS and HS were starting their O-pedia projects and the middle school had the added course of the social studies video that they will use for their blogs. Elementary got started on using the wiki site today which is a new skill for each of them. This site is dedicated to their recycle project alone at this time and should be a good source of documentation for the project.

Music was a bit crazy. The elementary is not able to function as a band. I'm not even sure why to be honest, but it seems to be a combination of new members last week, a lack of rhythm, and the fact that they don't practice at home. Not a problem, but I have to change my schema on how long this process takes where my old music class it was much faster. I am having Mckenzie and Connor play with them to help keep them together and that should be fun for all.