Since going through those first few PBL experiences, I’ve had my perspective and bias towards teaching and learning changed many times. When I have conversations with other educators about moving towards PBL or Genius Hour, I hear many of the same questions I had when I started.
Turns out, the best advice, insight, and perspective came from other teachers doing this type of teaching and learning in their classrooms. Below I share some stories that were included in The PBL Playbook of veteran high school teachers doing the work.
We like to think with the frame of continua rather than dichotomies simply because things are rarely on or off, black or white, ones or zeroes! Flipping from one end to the other may not be the best solution for you! You may choose to slide more in one direction as suits your experience, the student’s experience, the purpose, type of project, and so on.
I absolutely love planning authentic learning experiences. I get to use my creativity to plan and implement them. It does take lots of pre-planning – finding resources, usually videos, and purchasing, gathering, and organizing the resources used.
I also love watching how excited learners get doing them. There is 100% engagement. I’ve said before that being an experiential educator, there is lots of pre-planning but the learners work harder than me during classtime – as it should be.
- A state of flow
- Interdisciplinary standards and skills are addressed
- The focus is on learners learning rather than teachers teaching
- Often are minds-on, hands-on activities.
- Learners do not ask, “Why do I need to know this?”
- The learning activities are open-ended so learners put their “selves” into their projects.
- Projects are long term not finished in one class period.
- Troubleshooting and iteration often occur.
- The learners become a community of learners sharing ideas, asking for help, brainstorming.
She also provides a range of resources for digging deeper into this topic.
Our current project is our most ambitious, and I am excited that the teachers of the three other year 8 classes will be doing the project with us!
The Textbook or a Problem to Solve
In 1920, Sister Domatilla published the results of her experiments with a new kind of pedagogy called ‘the project method’. Writing in The American Journal of Nursing, she explains her concern that “old methods of teaching” do not give students “a genu…
My only question about the power and potential of First League is how many students it impacts? Too often such activities are restricted to a lunchtime club. I think that this applies to a number of STEM projects. I have a real issue with Fullen, when he says in A Rich Seam that the answer for ‘personalisation’ is often out of class:
We collected over 2000 cards from local businesses which was good but we only had one disc cutter so it too a long time to cut out the bracelets. Actually making the bracelets took a long time with split rings so we changed to regular rings. We got a lot of orders and spent nearly every lunch time making the orders. We were still making and delivering them on the last day of school! We met with a jewellery store buyer in Birmingham and she is giving us a table at a street event in the summer which is awesome.
Apologies if I have misread (or poorly read) your reflections Graham – and I think what you are doing is awesome – I am just wondering about the rest of the students.
Proposal: Changing your high school structures to match the thinking of Finland, New Zealand, Ken Robinson, and many others will halve your class sizes and stress levels.
It’s easier implemented as a full school and not in a seperate programme.
Teachers design a menu of interdisciplinary projects based around themes or phenomenon that have a focus on key existing curriculum.
All non-teaching / personal time slots are simultaneous for all. This means all teachers, rooms and resources are timetabled for simultaneous use, meaning each teacher shares the load and you have smaller student numbers to monitor on either a project and mentor group.
Consider Zoning groups of classrooms into Project zones. The usual 5 teachers from 5 rooms are timetabled into the zone to each mentor their smaller number of students.
All teachers take on a general academic mentoring group to focus on learning and project progress.
Teachers share the planning and monitoring of projects which makes the measuring of progress more palatable than traditional standardised teaching and marking.
Projects can be designed generically enough around a theme or phenomenon that they can be simultaneously offered to different age groups with appropriate expectations for outcomes. This can save teacher workload.
I’d ask anyone who is criticizing PBL in the classroom to talk to the teachers and students who have had this opportunity. I’d ask them to look at what students are creating, making, and building during this time. I’d ask them to talk to the parents about their students’ attitude towards learning.
I give two answers to the question above:
Try it for a day and see what happens. Start small and build from there.
Teach through the project, instead of using the project as an “end-of-unit” assessment that takes more time than a multiple choice test. When kids learn during the project, the time constraint goes away.
This is not intended to be an exhaustive or comprehensive list. However, these seven broad topics present hundreds of relevant challenges that our students can and should have opportunities to address.
Portfolios helped me visually see where my students were struggling and where they were exceeding my expectations. Portfolios also allowed for student choice in the assessment process, which as we know lead to student engagement and ownership of their learning.