This class has been a challenge. Not because I do not understand Project Based Learning, but because I simply have not had time to process and create. I feel that the aspects of Project Based Learning that I understand best are the Driving Question and the Entry Event. The Driving Question is essential to PBL, because it guides the inquiry. Students should be required to dig into the material and come to their own conclusions. In order for this to happen, the question must be open-ended and not tied to a specific event or time period (if possible). The Entry Event is where you grab the students’ interest. If the Entry Event is not compelling, if the problem or project you present is not interesting, then Project Based Learning will not attract the students any more than direct instruction because the work will just seem like work.
I don’t think that there is anything about Project Based Learning that I don’t understand, but what has challenged me most is managing the process. I understand the concepts, but I know that I struggle with balancing direct instruction and independent learning. I tend to instruct too much or let the students have so much freedom that they don’t really know what to do. The key is to try to prepare as much of the material ahead as possible. I know my students will need some instruction on source citation and on research. I also know that they will need some guidance on organizing their notes. I can prepare materials in anticipation of their questions. Another key to my struggle with managing the process is time. I need to be sure that I have time to check the students’ work so that they can receive feedback. Formative assessments aren’t really formative if you never grade them. Because of time constraints in the past, that has actually happened. I hope that by preparing all of the rubrics ahead of time (I know; it’s obvious) I will be better prepared to evaluate the students’ progress and determine their needs as we progress through the project.
I came into this class without any real expectations about what I would learn, but I have learned so much. PBL is similar to Understanding by Design in many ways, so I was familiar with the process of backward design and driving, or essential, questions. What is different, is the focus on the project teaching the content, rather than demonstrating understanding of the content. Using the project to teach makes so much sense. As I read the class materials and the textbook, I realized that this was what I already believed. What I didn’t know was how to implement it. Having to create an organized website for someone else to use has helped me to focus and to plan ahead. If I had come up with my project ideas during the school year, not as part of a graded class, I would have jumped in and expected the students to figure things out with me, without any support materials in place – no rubrics, no templates, no instructions. I would have conducted an Entry Event and orally given the students directions. This is what I have done in the past. So having to create a project for a grade has forced me to slow down and plan out every aspect of the project before using it. I have learned to slow down and to plan ahead. I have learned to force myself to pay attention to the details. I am still plugging all of the details into my website, I have a lot of materials to create, but I feel more organized and my ideas feel more well-thought-out than in the past.
I plan to use my Lead an Expedition project with my students this year. We start school next week and will probably start the project in mid-September. We will not work exclusively on the project, because we need to spend time on literature as well, but I am excited to see how it plays out. Since this is supposed to be part of a larger, year-long project, I plan to work out the details for part II as soon as possible and possibly implement that part of the project this year. As a teacher leader at my school, I plan to encourage other teachers to work collaboratively with me to develop this project, and a couple of others I have in mind, into interdisciplinary projects. This particular project would work best with social studies, but I have a couple of ideas that would work well with science as well.
In all, this class has been invaluable to my education. I didn’t necessarily learn any new content, but I have learned to slow down and prepare in detail. Now I just need to learn to speed up the process of preparing materials.
Here is the link to my PBL website. I am still determining the overall project title, but I have renamed the Part I project to Lead an Expedition. If I have time, I may reorganize the site to separate the three projects that make up the larger, year-long project.