Saturday, May 11, 2013

Project Based Learning

Recently, a few of my colleagues have asked for some insight about PBLs. Although I am no expert in this area, I have been able to compile a few helpful resources to help.

Here are my Top 10 PBL Insights

10. Community Based
I always wanted to travel the world and make a difference. I wanted to set up schools in developing nations, go save the rain forests, even care for children affected by HIV/AID internationally. Although I still believe that these are powerful pursuits--which I hope to someday get to--my grandmother always reminded me: You don't need to look past your own backyard to make a difference. Although global change is extremely exciting, don't get ahead of yourself. There are so many issues and projects that our own communities and families can benefit from! Reach out to local agencies or even the families in your school, and see what they need. Chances are: your message will be more powerful, you will build meaningful relationships between your school and the community, and you will change the lives of families at your own school if not your own students!

9. "Curators of Content" 
At the NJECC conference that I just attended, the Keynote Speaker, Dirk DeLo, said that he considers his teachers "curators of content". They are expected to collect as many pieces of their content from various sources in order to develop a curriculum for their students.
In a PBL there is the same expectation. It is your responsibility as the teacher to incorporate as much content as you can in each project. The real challenge is to do this in an organic way. For example, instead of having students write an essay at the end of the PBL about their findings, have them continually post information to a class website. Students will still be articulating their findings; they will still be demonstrating the ability to develop complex ideas, but it will be embedded in the project, allowing for better understanding and most likely a stronger project. At the end, students may even want to change initial findings--allowing them to reflect on their own learning and growth in a way that a final paper may overlook.

8. Get Down with the Mess
I am a very organized person. I separate my closet based on color; I have spaces for each and every type of bill I receive; I have a brilliant system of desktop folders. However, if you ever saw my living room when I am in the middle of a craft project, you would think that I am a complete disaster. As I have gone through a few PBLs, I have realized that this type of learning functions in a similar way. The  setup must be organized, but the execution will be sloppy.
What should you think about before?
      -How much time will this take?
      -How will students know what their objectives are?
      -How will I save work to allow for continual progress?
Types of areas to create:
Types of ares to expect:

7. The Discover Process
PBLs come with several challenges. Out of all these challenges there are two main issues: you are not an expert in every field, and you may not have a resource to help with every challenge that arises. In order to lessen anxiety around these two complications, our school uses the iDiscover model. This model encourages students to think about places where they can locate information. It also allows for experts outside the classroom to become an intergal part of any project. I think about it as eliminating the middle man; so often I have tried to become an expert in a field that I have no prior knowledge about in order to convey my attempted understandings to my students. It seems much more efficient and accurate to have someone who has devoted years to the study of a specific idea discuss it with my students.

6. Choices and Challenges
Recently, I overheard a clip from a professional development class for physical therapists where the expert stated that it is the therapists role to know the choices that could be used to treat a specific problem and be able to provide a set of challenges to a given patient. As a teacher using PBLs in your classroom, you are doing the same thing. Your responsibility is to provide choices for different ways to address specific issues. You are also there to provide challenges for students as they advance through their projects.

5. Give Them the Words
It is impossible to have a conversation without the foundational jargon of a given field. As teachers, how could we talk about learning without specific, agreed-upon words that enable us to discuss our classrooms, students and theories. In a PBL, this is imperative. We cannot expect students to discuss projects in areas they may never have been introduced to without the fundamental words for that field.
If you have an expert come into class to discuss a specific topic, have him or her list and define a few key terms that are common and intergal to the project at hand. Then, create a space--in the physical classroom or an online extension--where students can continually access these words, their definitions and any attached resources.

4. Who Gives the Grade?
Although the phrase "because I said so" seemed to work in my household growing up, it doesn't fly in the classroom. Provided a meaningful project, where the grade is given based on the real-time effectiveness of the project is a much more powerful motivation to students than any teacher-imposed edict. So, let the community help judge the success of the project. This can be done through evaluations, goals or even expert evaluations.

3. Character Ed through PBL
One challenge of PBLs is assessment. Check out the KIPP Character Report Card as a possible authentic, continual assessment. When how hard someone works is directly connected with how much another person's life is improved, the stakes become high and valuable.

2. High Tech High School
Any time that I am struggling putting together a PBL, I watch this video for inspiration! CHECK IT OUT.

1.  What Moves YOU?
As educators we know that students perform most when they are self-directing. The same goes for you. Pick a project that you love! Collect info! Make it happen!

What are other PBL insights that you can share? Feel free to comment below!

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