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Playlist HTH Poet Laureate Project
HTH Poet Laureate Project
This project's final products: the book and the website

This what all our work led to: a published book, and a website. If you're thinking about doing this project, take a look at these 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.

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My project prototypes

One of High Tech High's maxims is "do the project yourself first". You do this for a few reasons: in order to understand what students will need in order to complete the project, in order to find out whether the project is worth doing, and in order to provide students with a "model" so that they understand what they are doing in the project.

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Step 1: Everyone is appointed "Poet Laureate" for a specific time period

On the first day of the project, each student came in to find a folded sheet of paper at their desk. When they opened it, they discovered that the "Omni-temporal Poetry Society" had appointed them Poet Laureate for a specific time period in American history. You can see a sample "certificate of appointment" below:

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Step 2: Critiquing the Prototypes

At this point, I showed students my prototype poem and explanatory essay (see above). I didn't show the presentation yet, because that wasn't a priority at this point. Students read through my prototypes, filling in the graphic organizer below. This was a scary process for me, since I was putting my own work up for critique (but only fair, since the students would be putting their own work up for critique very soon). Out of this process, we came up with a list of "characteristics of a good poem" and "characteristics of a good essay" that everyone could refer back to.

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Step 3: Researching the historical event

At this point, students started researching their historical event. This meant first they needed to choose an event, and then they had to find out about it. To facilitate this process, I provided a list of links to high-quality online history resources, as well as a set of seven questions to guide research.

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Step 4: Starting to write poetry

This was the first time many students had written a poem (and those who had written poetry were, for the most part, unfamiliar with rhyme and meter), so I created a "field guide to poetry", we read poems and looked for specific forms, characteristics, and devices, and students did early, low-stakes assignments such as writing about their event to the tune of a song ("Yellow Submarine" works very well for this). This is also the point that students start work on their first draft - the Poem Planner helps them with this.

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Step 5: Starting to write the Explanatory Essay

In order to bridge the gap between their research and the first draft of their essay, I had students write what I called a "stuffed outline" - a structure filled with raw research, which can then be stitched together. I used this approach because this is the way that I write, and for the most part, it got good results. However, it increases the likelihood that students will inadvertently plagiarize others' work, because it can be difficult to keep track of what in the stuffed outline is yours, and what is somebody else's.

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Step 6: Critique

Once students wrote initial drafts of their poem and explanatory essay, they critiqued each other's work using the graphic organizers below. For more general information about critique, look at the resources listed under "PBL Resources" in this playlist.

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Step 7: The Book Launch Teams

In addition to writing their poem and essay, and giving a presentation (which I'll get to soon), every student was in a teams responsible for one aspect of producing and launching the book and website. In hindsight, I wasn't able to find QUITE enough work for everybody, and some of the groups were more effective than others. Still, overall the outcomes from these groups was positive. I started this process by giving students a "job spec" that explained the responsibilities of each team, and had them write application letters based on an actual letter I'd used to apply for the job I'd had before I was a teacher. I then read their applications and assigned them to teams, had each team set goals, and then gave them time to work .

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Step 8: Presentations

Once students made changes to their essays and poems based on critique, and the final drafts went to the copy-editing team and the designers, it was time to create presentations. I launched this portion of the project by giving my own presentation about the event I had chosen (you can see it under "My Project Prototypes", above). Students identified the strong and weak elements of my presentation, and we developed a grading rubric based on that.

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Step 9: 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, so it didn't look much like an "exhibition". The venue had been secured by the "venue liaison team", and the evening was organized by the "event management" team. 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). The resource below is a link to my website, where you can see photos from the event.

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Step 10: Archiving the project

At High Tech High, every student has a "digital portfolio" - that is, a website where they display the work they have done in their projects. I tell students "the project didn't happen until it goes in your digital portfolio", because without a record, it just disappears (and more to the point, they can't show the work they've done to colleges or people the want to intern with). So at the end of the project, students create an archive of their own work, and put it onto their digital portfolio. In this project, creating the archive was a two-step process: first, students collected their drafts in a folder on Google Drive, then they created a page on their Digital Portfolio.

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