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Playlist HTH "We Chose Our Own Adventures" Project
HTH "We Chose Our Own Adventures" Project
This project's final product: the "We Chose Our Own Adventures" book

This what all our work led to: a published book. If you're thinking about doing this project, take a look at this first, to see if you want to do something like this with your students!

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PBL Resources

These are "generic" project-based learning resources. I've included them because they've helped me out, and I'm hoping they might help you too!

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Basic Project Documents

I start my projects out by filling in a "project plan" like the one under "PBL Resources". Then I distill that plan into a "Project Sheet" that I share with students and parents. For this project, I also included a "list of deliverables", which provided clarity about the project to me (and, I hope, to the students).

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Step 1: Journalling

"We Chose Our Own Adventures" was inspired by "Choose Your Own Adventure Week", a week in which students chose to either do a 72-mile hike, or create a new business. So students started the project by journalling in class about their experience of the week in order to capture their memories while they were fresh.

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Step 2: Real-world writing purposes scavenger hunt

The next step was to introduce students to "real-world writing purposes", a concept that I got from educator and writer Kelly Gallagher. I did this by doing a "scavenger hunt" in which students looked for examples of each writing purpose in newspapers and magazines.

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Step 3: 1 Topic = 18 Topics

At this point, students come up with a topic that interests them. Initially, I encouraged students to focus on what they did in the "Choose Your Own Adventure Week" (see step 1), but it quickly became clear that many students found more fertile ground elsewhere in their experience, so we ended up with topics ranging from fencing to burritos. Some students struggled to come up with something they were passionate about - for these students, I found one-on-one conversations to be the best way to help them find something to start with. Once they had their initial topic, it was time to turn it into 18 topics using the six real-world writing purposes (students used the graphic organizer below to fill in three topics per writing purpose). I modelled filling in a graphic organizer based on my own topic (Moonlight Beach, a beach that I, and many of the students, visit regularly), so students had a sense of how to tackle the task.

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Here are some examples of student work. Their suggestions for "analyze/interpret" are a bit weird - that's because my own understanding of "analyze/interpret" was shaky at the time too!

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Step 4: "Quick Writes"

After students write their "18 topics", they write five minute "quick writes" in their notebooks about one topic from each "real-world writing purpose". I structured this in the following way: first, I would write a quick-write based on my own "1 topic=18 topics" (which was written on the whiteboard). I wrote my "quick-write" on my laptop, which was linked to the projector so the whole class could see what I was typing in real-time. I gave a running commentary on my thought process as I typed. After I'd written one, I set the timer for five minutes and the students wrote in their notebooks. Then I wrote the next one, and and so on (my intern also wrote a couple sample quick writes).

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Step 5: "Idea Development" Graphic Organizer

Now is the time for students to decide what they're going to write about. Most students will choose one of their quick writes to develop. Some students realize at this point that they aren't very excited about the topic they've been working on, so they change their topic entirely (usually, the process of writing about something they didn't care about has helped them to recognize what they DO care about!). The following graphic organizer helps them structure their writing and figure out what they need in order to write a strong first draft.

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At this time, students also write down what they were writing about in a spreadsheet:

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Step 6: Find a "mentor text" and reverse-engineer an outline from it

At this point students shift away from their own writing to study a professional example of the "real-world purpose" that they have chosen. I tell students that they should read their mentor text the way an engineer looks at a jet engine - they should "reverse engineer" it, so they understand how it is put together. In this section, I'm including some examples of students' "reverse-engineered outlines", as well as good sources for mentor texts.

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I've made collections of possible "mentor texts". You can see them here:

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Step 7: "Bad Writing"

All credit for this step goes to my intern, Dean, who found author Neal Pollack's "Bad Writing" exercise in 826 National's excellent book, "Don't Forget to Write", and adapted it for our project. When the students do Dean's "Bad Writing" exercise, they adapt paragraphs from their mentor texts.

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By identifying the "good" characteristics that they were removing from the mentor texts, students generate a list of characteristics of "good writing" that we use as a checklist for the rest of the project:

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Step 8: Hand in the first draft

Students "hand in" their first drafts by sharing them with me on Google Drive. I then make comments on each one. This is the only time I gave feedback to ALL the students at once on their essays (of course, I give lots more feedback on a case-by-case basis!). Students have some time in class to make changes based on my comments.

Step 9: "Scissors" Critique

This critique session is all about high-level structure - that is, what order the paragraphs come in. In order to do it, each student brings a printout of their piece, and the teacher provides everyone with scissors. Students cut their pieces into paragraphs, and give them to other students to reassemble. For details, look at the presentation below:

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Step 10: "Big Picture" Critique

This critique session is about making sure that readers are getting what you think they're getting from your piece! Dean and I ran this session by first publicly critiquing a piece by a volunteer, and then having students critique each other in small groups, reading each other's pieces and filling in the graphic organizer below.

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Step 11: Looking closely at beginnings and endings

Most of the time, the toughest parts of a piece of writing are the beginning and the end. Unfortunately, these are also the parts that people are most likely to read! At this point in our project, students looked at a whole bunch of articles in order to identify different "categories" of beginnings and endings, from which I made a field guide. This turned out to be too unstructured for some students. If I were doing it again, I'd provide a set of categories with space to find examples, as well as space to add further categories. In any case, I've included both the graphic organizer we used, and the field guide that we generated.

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Step 12: Hand in the final draft

Students "hand in" their final drafts by sharing them with the teacher on Google Drive. The teacher then puts the final draft into a folder shared with the editorial team (a team of ten students). where each editor can record the status of each piece. Also, one editor creates a list of every author and title (this will be the basis for the table of contents). One more thing: at this point, a small "design team" has studied published books and come up with a standard format for every piece. This format is shared with every author, and they are expected to submit their final draft in the correct format.

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Step 13: Copy-editing the work for publication

The teacher divides the pieces up between the editors, and creates a spreadsheet where each editor can record the status of each piece. Also, one editor creates a list of every author and title (this will be the basis for the table of contents).

Step 14: Interior and Exterior Design

The design team compiles all the articles, formatting them where necessary, and decides what else to include (table of contents, acknowledgements, etc.) The design team also designs the front and back cover, and spine (Dean was in charge of this when we did it). At this point, you need to know what publisher you'll be using, so you know what format the manuscript will be uploaded in. You can see the final manuscript and cover in the resource"We Chose Our Own Adventures - The Book", at the top of this playlist.

Step 15: Uploading the book to the publisher

It's easiest for the teacher to do this, and it will take longer than you think. There are a few good online publishers nows - for this project, we used CreateSpace, but they are by no means the only option! MAKE SURE you check in advance to see how long it will take for the book to be published! I always end up paying for rush delivery, but that doesn't need to happen to you!

Step 16: Exhibition (the book launch party)

At High Tech High, we call the public event at the end of a project the "exhibition" - which is a bit misleading in this case, because we ended the project with a book launch party at a local coffee house, and there wasn't anything on display, so it didn't look much like an "exhibition". Students volunteered to be emcees, and either volunteered or were chosen to read excerpts from their pieces. For two days before the exhibition, we rehearsed (this makes a big difference on the night). We also had live music at the exhibition (I think this tends to really bring an exhibition to life). You can see photos from our exhibition here: http://alecpatton.weebly.com/we-chose-our-own-adventures.html

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