Friday, November 22, 2013

Blog: How to Get High-Quality Student Work in PBL

John Larmer's Blog ( has a recent post reflecting on student quality work in project based learning.  I highly recommend the read and resource it provides especially in light of our movement toward project based learning and how we can ensure students have structure and a definite set of tools to determine progress and learning.

The article is highlighted with some key questions in his reflection on quality project based learning:

1.  Was there a use of rubrics and examplars to help students understand the quality of work expected?

2.  Did the project include effective formative assessment?

The author references 8 Essentials for Project Based Learning found at:

He specifically refers to revision and reflection.

3.  Did the students have enough time to revise and polish their work?

4.  Did the project feel authenticate enough to motivate students?  Did they care?  (Great question!!)

5.  Do my classroom and my school cultivate a culture of quality?

The author refers to High Tech High ( as a standard (some of us have visited the one in Napa) and he encourages the use of PBL rubrics (

As we develop our skills in project based learning and move into new common core curriculum, the most important aspect of our planning has to be in spending our energies into developing the answers to the last question.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Home Grown Achievement

Three years ago Corcoran High School Athletic Director was searching for a Varsity Girls' Tennis Team coach.  Little did he know the coach he was searching for was right under his nose - literally.  Coach Lerma knew he could not leave the kids in the cold, and decided he would take the bull by the horns and coach our girls.  It is interesting to see what has transpired the last three years.

Coach Lerma added to his teaching and athletic director daily and annual schedule a commitment to provide opportunities for success for Corcoran High School girl tennis players.  He took a group of girls with little playing experience prior to high school and helped them develop some skills and habits in tennis competition that brought them to the pinnacle for their team on November 6, 2013:  an undefeated 22 and 0 season with the first ever Corcoran High School Valley Championship in Girls' Tennis.  It is ironic this is the school's 100 year anniversary.  The last three years included a League Co-championship and advancement to the Valley Semifinals in 2011, Valley Runner-up in 2012, and League and Valley Championship in 2013.

These girls had just about perfect attendance in June, practicing in 100+ temperature, Monday through Thursday.  They relied on each other to not just practice basic skills to improve, but they also took their coach literally when he asked them to expose their teammate's weaknesses, thus making practice that much more meaningful. In a nutshell, they became better as the season progressed.  They not only practiced hard, but they did what John Wooden called "perfect practice."

I think the lesson in learning we can take away from these "role-models" is how the coach and the team took care of the first things first:  mental discipline and a mindset for growth as Carol Dweck (author of the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success)  would describe.  Their coach offered, "There are no clocks in tennis. The students had to be convinced the only way to win their matches is to defeat their opponents."

They learned to win, mentally.  Coach Lerma also shared the students had to learn a "killer instinct" which is something that did not come naturally to this group.  As he put it, "They were too nice in June; competitors in August.  Because they had this mindset, they then could become focused by season's end."

I also think part of that mental toughness comes from a mindset they learned and practiced in the classroom.  The team has an outstanding 3.6 grade point average.  I think of what Stanford football coach David Shaw says about Stanford athletes when he was asked how great students can be good football players.  His answer:  these kids already are competitive, and they already are familiar with that desire to do and be the best.

Here are a few quotes that sum up the teams' mindset from a few of our teacher/coaches:

Watching the first tennis match of my life was awesome to see what you girls were able to do. Very tough mentally and ALL of CHS is very proud of you guys and Gals. 

Mr. Freddie Lopez

What an accomplishment and way of keeping composure!  The toughest minded girls at CHS!  

Mr. Miguel Alvarez