Virtual Teamwork & Project-based Learning with Katie McClain

Katie McClain - Broadcast Journalism/ Film Studies Instructor



In this episode of The Prep Period Podcast Katie McClain, a broadcast journalism/film studies instructor for Northwest Career and Technical Academy in Las Vegas, Nevada will discuss how to teach project-based learning from a distance and help students to work in teams online.

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BRIAN: Welcome to the prep period podcast. My name is Brian Bean and like always, I’m your host. And today we are going to talk about how to teach project based learning from a distance and how to teach kids to work in teams online more effectively and our guest today is going to be Katie McClain from the Northwest Career and Technical Academy.

BRIAN: So, welcome Katie. Now, before we dive in too much, first things first, let’s get our listeners a little bit more familiar with you. So, Katie McClain has been the broadcast journalism/film studios instructor for Northwest Career and Technical Academy in Las Vegas, Nevada. All right and so, yeah, you’ve also focused on career skills such as workplace readiness, skills certification, and you’ve always been dedicated to helping teenagers and young adults prepare for their futures as contributing adults in society. That sounds really proper like. Anything you want to add real quick?

KATIE: Yeah, I teach video production at Northwest in Las Vegas. You’ve covered that. I’ve been here for three years and I’m loving it. So, yeah.

BRIAN: That’s great. That’s great. Now, when I read through kind of the the pre-stuff that I do before we do these podcasts, I got real excited because I noticed we’re going to talk a lot about project-based learning.

KATIE: Yes, my favorite!

BRIAN: Yeah. My teaching model is basically one giant project-based learning mechanism. So, this is something near and dear to my heart and so it’s kind of fun. Now, I know from a lot of personal experience that teaching project-based learning can be kind of tricky in person depending on what you’re doing, what the circumstance the environment, your students. It can get tricky. I can only imagine what it would be like trying to do it online remotely. So we’ll get to that in a minute.

KATIE: Yeah.

BRIAN: It is such a critical component to most CTE courses. Right?

KATIE: 100%

BRIAN: So, you know what, let’s just dive right in. How do you do that from a distance? How do you pull that off remotely?

KATIE: Okay so, there’s three things when it comes to like, learning, right? Like when-when students go to school they learn three things. The one thing that they do is they focus on, like, the memorization of terms and like-like any-any theories or anything like that. Like you get to learn that, right? Then you go in and your second thing and you have your performance, right? Your technical skills. What can you do? Like, what is the end result if I gave you a project. But, in CTE there should be a third wheel and that’s your workplace readiness skills, right? And these are the things that make project-based learning, either from here or from afar, the successful stuff. Because you have to learn how to write an email. You know my students I had to teach this year how to write an email to somebody, right? How to work in a team – how to call yourself reliable, you know? Those-those different things that you have. So, when it comes to project-based learning you’re thinking: okay, if we-if we work on the the memorization and how it works and what it does, right, and we take what you’re doing, we just need to remember that process that we have afterwards, right? We need to know a checklist, okay? So, if you were to go to work and you had your boss and he said, “I need this video edited,” do you think he means, “Oh you can get to it next week” or do you think he means it right now, right? So-so when they come to these (we’re all virtual right now) when they come to these project-based learning like, things basically you have to-you have to provide that list of steps and you have to get the kids thinking of these things instead of doing it for them. Like, when we started this year I said, “Alright this year’s virtual. It’s different with my video two kids and those kids run like our news and the YouTube and all that stuff. And, I say, “What do you want to do? What do you want your news to look like? What does that look like?” You know? And, they started coming up with these ideas and I’m just like, “Okay great. So, what are the steps that we need to do to get there?”

BRIAN: yeah

KATIE: And then they started telling me these steps. And so those are the different things. And that’s how you make it work. You have the kids think. I feel like all the time in school when you’re in english or math, they’re telling you, “Learn this. Do this. You do this, you do this.” And, they don’t teach that – “How do I think of, how to do this by myself.” So, then when they have a project my kids are responsible for a video a week and, I mean, over the 40 different kids you have you have different ideas, different shows, everything. And so, between the 40 kids I have in that group, we do 15 different shows a week. And two of them are live, right? But that’s because they’ve gotten into the mindset of – they know how to do it, they know what it means, and now they’re actually practicing it. But it has to be those workplace skills. So, I think we’re going to talk about teamwork but project-based learning from a distance is all about asking them to (think about) “How does this work?” Right? Like, “How would I get there,” and “How would I do that for myself,” instead of having like your mom or dad or teacher say, “Okay, add two plus two and that equals four.” There’s no formula. they have to think that. And that’s something that kids don’t get experience, unless that’s CTE, right?

BRIAN: Yeah. No, I think you’ve-you’ve touched on something very-very critical. I think a lot of times teachers when they’re teaching in person, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of holding the kids hands. But, yeah, when you’re teaching remotely you can’t-you can’t do that. And, I love your-your concept here of emphasizing that this has got to be, you-you’re-you’re developing a skill that you’re going to use someday and mommy and daddy aren’t going to be there. So, you’ve got it. And so giving them that sense of ownership, I think, probably would be critical. Would you agree?

KATIE: Oh, a thousand percent! I mean, this next lesson I’m setting up next is on, we talked about reliability, right? And I’m going to have them evaluate themselves. But I’m also going to give it to another classmate and have their classmate evaluate them. My kids have been in their class for 1-2 years together, so they kind of know. But I think working in these groups it’s just-it’s just one of these things that they have to be self-aware. And, especially in this environment. And like, how you said, I can’t come up with the ideas. So, it’s like, when a student emails me saying. “What am I missing. I said, “I have no idea. Can you go figure that out,” you know? And then they realized, “Oh, I do have access to figure this out. I do have the tools to be successful. I can do this,” you know? Like, on my own. Because that’s what our whole point in CTE is: to be able to transition our students into the workplace and be people that the industry wants to hire. Yeah, you know? But they don’t want-a boss doesn’t want to micromanage. I don’t know maybe some bosses do but I sure hate micromanaging.

BRIAN: Alright, you know, it sounds like oversimplifying. It sounds like you’re oversimplifying a complex problem. But the reality is-is that it doesn’t have to be more complex than that. You can literally look at a student, be like, “I don’t know. Go figure it out,” and I think a lot of kids grow up in the system with teachers that sometimes don’t do that. And so, they’re used to allowing the teacher to be that crutch, and so I love that idea.

KATIE: And it’s hard. And to just finish that point is, it’s hard because you would have the-the students look at that and teachers always want to be the favorite teacher, right? It’s just our-it’s our complex. It’s why we go. We want those little thank you cards in the mail, right? And so, when we’re sitting there and we’re saying, “Okay figure it out,” now you’re figuring out, okay, the line between being their teacher and being their friend. Because, I feel like some teachers like going in there and being the children’s friend. And I don’t like to run it like that. I want them to know that they can come to me if they have any issues or anything like that. Because I am their teacher but I want them to also know that I’m not going to play around in their class. If they’re missing, they’re missing. And I tell them, I say, “Hey.” And I, and you have to go through those emotions of not being well liked or somebody tweeting something and then another student sharing it with you about you on, you know, their instagram, right? Like, just caring about, you know, everybody. But that’s what it is. So I get it when some teachers get afraid to be like, “I don’t know” you know? Llike and that’s where that line is right?

BRIAN: Oh for sure. I love it. Now you kind of alluded to this earlier and you know if we’re gonna-if we’re gonna talk about things that are tricky to pull off, project-based learning at a distance yeah that’s tricky. But getting teams to work or getting kids to work in teams from a distance and managing and navigating that conundrum for teachers. So what is your secret to doing that successfully online? Getting kids to work together as teams?

KATIE: My kids pick what they want to do. They pick their topic. They pick like if they want to be an editor or they want to just write scripts or they want to do something. They see if there’s they have someone that they know in the class and said okay we can be in this groups and I keep them in that group all year long and and and I think that’s hard sometimes when you want to switch up the groups and you want to do stuff. But it’s it’s hard to measure growth when you’re constantly changing groups and stuff. So-so-so we use google classroom or not google classroom google meet for our stuff. And google meet has gone through so many different changes. Like recently. But they just came out with their breakout rooms and it’s really cool because it’s built into the program where I can assign them different breakout rooms and kind of join them as if I was walking around the class so they have a nice.

BRIAN: eah zoom does that, it’s a great feature.

KATIE: Yeah yeah yeah. And i saw that too and I was like what what a good way to do that. So putting them in teams is hard. But let me tell you my two-my two classes that run those shows try about different classrooms.So I do have students that are in one class and I have students in their group that are in the other class. But since they are such good friends over the years you know I said okay let’s try to make this work and you could see if a student wants to work with his buddy he’ll do anything he can to do it you know? So putting those like-minded individuals, I’ve had some students that never knew each other before and I put them in a group and they actually work amazingly well together you know? Because they have similar interests. So I think getting to know your students these breakout rooms and just trying to do stuff is is just a way to make it work online I guess.

BRIAN: Well and you touched on something that is-that is fundamental that I think is often overlooked and it’s not just applicable to CTE or go to any classroom and that is that you empowered your students to take ownership of the project building. Okay? So what is it that you want to do what role do you want to play instead of just assigning them at random or or leaving it up to the team to work it out? You-you give them like okay what do you want to do? What role do you want to play? So in a situation like that what if you have two students want to play the same role? Do you put them in different groups or let them work it out or rotate? What’s your secret?

KATIE: So they kind of come up with their ideas together. But let me tell you I have some students that work on multiple shows. Because so I have a student that writes for our movie review show Screen Hawks right? But the writer also hosts our homework hotline show where once a week we go on Twitch and we actually answer students questions about their homework. Kind of like the old where you can call PBS right and say hey help me with my homework. We do that but we do it live on Twitch to try to help with the homework but –

BRIAN: Oh that’s awesome.

KATIE: People like to wear multiple hats and I never want to put someone in position that you hate because it’s like going to a job that you hate right? Like it’s like oh I have to do this job. So if a student says hey I want to do this but I also want to try to do this. I’m not going to stop them from trying but I will like stop them if it’s becoming too much. And I do have students that do take on so much and I always are constantly being like are you overwhelmed are you okay it’s okay if you’re not okay. You know and that’s what I put my teacher face on instead of my boss face.

BRIAN: …You’re pulling teeth to get him to do anything. For a student who’s like I want to do it all I want to do how much more can I do I mean that’s the those are kind of problems you pray for as a teacher.

KATIE: Oh yeah it’s it’s silly it’s silly and it’s it’s and sometimes I push students and I say hey I think you’re gonna host this show. How do you feel about that? And I see their reaction and they say let’s just try it once. I’ll always make everybody try a different position once so that way I can say yep they did it you know? But at the same time I mean you know when I put people in front of camera that are super super shy I’m saying let’s just try it once see what it’s like. But usually they I never see them on camera ever again because they’re back writing the scripts because they just like writing you know?

BRIAN: Tell them to get into tell them to get into doing podcasts.

KATIE: Yeah yeah yeah yeah exactly. Well with their camera off so there you go.

BRIAN: As I say that as I know that someday stukent’s gonna broadcast this as a video and everyone’s gonna see.

KATIE: Oh yeah no they loved it.

BRIAN: Alright, so okay there is another thing that you mentioned in our pre-show that I that I really want to get and sink our teeth into this because you you you said something and I’m gonna call you out on it all right you said the willingness to do the impossible I believe was your exact words the willingness to do the impossible. How do you cultivate in your students willingness to do the impossible because that’s a that’s a big task right there. How do you do it?

BRIAN: Actually let me clarify first what do you mean by impossible?

KATIE: So impossible is like stuff when I say let’s do this right? And you just automatically go you know glass half empty like that will never happen like that’s a horrible idea like no like this is not good right? So when I say impossible I think of think of something that like your friend would say. Hey let’s try this right? And obviously if it’s not dangerous or illegal then you know like you could say ah that’ll never happen right? So so you automatically think that so that’s what I mean by impossible.

BRIAN: Okay so how do you get him to do that? How do you get him to cross that line?

KATIE: So things that are hard I can get done right away. Things that are impossible take maybe a couple trial and errors. But basically and my students will tell you that I think come up with some insane ideas sometimes like starting this doing 15 shows a week right on YouTube. Obviously it was a struggle at first to get the students in routine and get it done but they produced this past semester or this past quarter 10 episodes you know? And and it it took a lot a little bit of pushing for me and a little bit of me saying okay but it took it from them because they said I said what do you want to do right right? Be like in the beginning of our podcast right? You say what do you want to do? You want to drive it. So some of my students are like I want to run a show about anime reviewing right? And what do I say? That sounds like a great idea. How is that going to look right? And then they start driving their stuff but if I told my kids in the beginning of the year that they were going to do 10 episodes they would probably look at me and be like I don’t know you know. Like can we do this? Can we get this? I-we started with zero followers and I said okay at the end of this year we’re gonna have 200 followers. How are we gonna get there? And they’re like okay by putting good content we do our social media like they learned how analytics and stuff and they’re actually seeing this and so impossible would be some of our big ideas like this live homework hotline show that we have going on you know? I get tutors from every club trying to get community service hours so they can get their like court or whatever to graduate you know? They come and they tutor and we run this live show every week and it’s at first it was kind of scary and nervous you know? But now we built like that community and everybody shows up we have a good time for like half an hour we leave. And so we came to the realization that we wouldn’t have a homecoming this year and I was like what if we ran a live homecoming on Twitch? And they were like what? And I said yeah we all dressed up and we host a live show. What is that going to look like you know? And they’re like okay okay and they got into it and we broadcasted it on Twitch it was two hours long. Every show came with their own episode it was all 80s theme. So the whole playlist was all 80s music you know? And everybody dressed up had those lights and stuff and we had over 500 viewers whether from our school or from Twitch. But I mean either way yeah at the end the kids were like I can’t believe you did that and that’s what I told him in the beginning. I said think about it think about when you’re in high school as a junior right are you going to be sad that you missed homecoming or you’re going to be like hey we were in a virtual homecoming and I we thought Miss McClain was crazy. But we did it you know and now i’ve seen these kids see this stuff and I said look we have over 100 views so we celebrated for that. We have over 200 views we celebrate for that you know? And then they started battling and getting into it. But these impossible things that I’m thinking of from these kids that I think they’re seeing that they’re possible. So next year we actually have more live shows you know? Because these kids are stepping up saying I think I want to try something live now because I see that we can do it. And I’m like okay let’s do this. But if I look at the other schools and we look up other schools as news all the time not to say anything but I feel like my kids have seen what we can do and now they’re just trying to make it even better so that when other schools get to YouTube and all these different things we’ve already done it you know? Like they want to be the first so that’s that’s what I mean by you need to be that teacher. And if a student comes up with you with an idea you can’t say no I don’t think that’s going to work you have to have that willingness to be like that’s a good idea.

BRIAN: I love it. And it kind of seems like the theme of this episode is you know we’re going to oversimplify the complex but really it sounds like the the trick is just simply to take on the attitude that there is no such thing as impossible. You want your kids willing to do the impossible. There is nothing that’s impossible. There’s a way to do it. Let’s just go find out.

KATIE: We’re-we’re paving the way for these kids to go into the industry and get a job and realize everything that they learned was just the beginning of what they can do. Like-like you said so yourself you know? You create. You were a teacher you created the program and now you’re here doing a podcast with me right? Who would have thought but we need to empower we want to empower these kids to think hey this is right and that’s what you want you know? Like you want these kids to go out and be our future because when I’m in a retirement home in Boca somewhere I want to be able to watch tv and say I taught that kid one time you know? Like and maybe they’ll send me a check for a hundred dollars on my birthday. I don’t know but we’re supposed to figure it out.

BRIAN: You want to be like I know that guy and your kids are like you know the president like I taught him in school.

KATIE: I taught him. That was that was my kid and I am very proud of it and I build that relationship. So, afterwards I can track them and I know a lot of my kids have gone to the local university here in state and out of state for broadcasting and they’re doing great and they’re so happy that they stuck with the program for the three to four years that they were in my school that they really want to continue it and do something awesome and that’s what I think is lacking sometimes especially. We’re in this time where we’re social distance we’re not around each other. Kids are weird. They don’t turn their camera on. They don’t want you to see them for some reason. Like they’re sleeping or something right but you you empower them to do something and you could see all the great things that the kids are doing and I always tell them every time it’s because of your hard work is why we’re here. I don’t I didn’t do anything. You guys did it. I just gave you the tools to be successful and I think if more CTE teachers focus on what tools can I give my student right now maybe if you’re teaching like mechanical technology you don’t want your 18 year old cranking on your car outside right? But what can I do differently that will empower them to think about these topics and stuff themselves? And I love projects because anyone can memorize anything. Anyone can pass a test. But what can you do at the end of the day? And that’s what this whole thing is about and I’m so happy I’m here to share that.

BRIAN: I love it! Well thank you very much for coming on to our show. I sure appreciate that. I know that I got inspired from it. Makes me wish you’re still in the classroom and and so thank you very much for joining us.

KATIE: No absolutely! Check us out on HMG news. We’d love to have you subscribe. I’m just kidding.

BRIAN: Absolutely! I’ll put that in the in the afterthought. I’ll put on a link for you.

KATIE: Okay thank you! Now thank you for having me. This has been a great experience and I hope a lot of teachers learn from this.

BRIAN: What an episode! Thanks so much to Katie for joining us. You know for any of you who are interested it’s just amazing how much stuff that her kids are pumping out of that class. So if any of you are interested you can go to YouTube and then do a search for HMG. It stands for Hawk Media Group. HMG News and you’ll find it. It popped actually. I did it and tested it myself and it the it finished it for me. Before I got done. It’s apparently it’s pretty popular stuff. They come out with about 15 shows a week. So that’s worth checking out. You can also go to and then do a search for Hawk Media Group News. Apparently HGM News was already taken on Twitch so they had to do actually spell out Hawk Media Group News. And that’s how you can find their live stuff. They do things like gaming tournaments that their students are producing as well as their homework hotline where they actually have student driven peer tutoring for kids all over the country. Definitely worth checking out. You know for my final thought of the day I just I was I’m inspired by what Katie’s doing. Particularly with this concept of willingness to do the impossible. By-by reframing what impossible means and just eliminating that completely you kno. And it reminds me of a concept that I was once taught about the idea of sense making for your for different people particularly. I think this works really well with students where they’re faced with something really really challenging or a confusing situation when a teacher can-can provide some sense to that. And one of the best ways to do that is to give them a mental map of where they of where they’re trying to go and more often than not that map’s going to change. It’s going to evolve. It’s-it’s probably wrong and definitely incomplete to begin with but they need a starting point. So you give those students that starting point and say okay here’s where you’re at here’s where you want to go, not quite sure how you’re going to get there but let’s get you going get you get you started and reframe that concept. You know what this isn’t impossible. This is something very doable and you’re going to do it and I love that concept. Instigate that in your teaching. I think you’ll be able to see amazing things from your students. So with that we’ll sign off for now. As always if you have anyone that you think would be interested to be a guest on our show have them email me at [email protected] brian bean just like the vegetable so [email protected] thanks for tuning in thanks for staying awake stay healthy love y’all


Speaker: Katie McClain - Broadcast Journalism/ Film Studies Instructor


Katie McClain has been the Broadcast Journalism/Film Studies Instructor for Northwest Career and Technical Academy (NWCTA) in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Katie also focuses on career skills such as workplace readiness and skills certification. She has always been dedicated to helping teenagers and young adults prepare for their futures as contributing adults in society.


Katie’s Classroom Channels:

Class News YouTube Channel


Additional Links:

Prep Period Podcast Episode #3 Transcript

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