Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Project Based Learning - Phase 1 Complete

Late last year, I joined Twitter with a teacher account. Initially this was simply an afterthought. Something else to add to my personal website. The personal website having been an idea that someone suggested to improve my chances of getting a new job. As it turned out, I discovered a world (literally) of connected educators, excited to share, communicate and who were talking about their job as often as I want to. As well as all the new acronyms I now know (GBL, BYOD, BYOT, STEM), I learnt all about PBL (problem based learning) from the outstanding collaborators that roam the PLNs (personal learning networks). And so, I thought I would try this project based learning idea that everyone was raving about. I 'tweeted' that I was hoping to do this and whether anybody had some advice for me. The tweeting teachers did, and sent me some great ideas and readings such as this from Miss Noor.

I let the ideas simmer for a week or so, designed my own PBL task, and then, set it for homework.

I gave the students a goal: Evaluate whether using as much as possible renewable paper combats or aids the effects of global warming. Their assignment then had four parts, each with a different due date: I broke the assignment up into four parts. Part 1 - research the learning objectives, Part 2 - Class discussion, Part 3 - 200 word judgement of the situation in their own words and Part 4 - Designing a promotional item to educate the public on this matter. (For the whole assignment click here) and for the facilitated discussion help cards click here

My thoughts were that at least if this trial fails, then the class time wasn't wasted. We continued with normal science lessons at school; experiments, videos and activities, however, where appropriate I identified the links to the assignment. We also had one whole lesson as a facilitated discussion about our assignment.

PBL wasn't intended to be completed for homework however considering the excellent returns I got and how much I learnt about my students' abilities, I will (and have already started to) do it again. Of course giving the assignment for homework meant that lots of students missed the first due date. However, I am not worried about the missed due dates at all. Only a very small number of students did not return part four, the rest however, completed part one, two and three by the end of term. In addition, over an informal coffee, a colleague at a different school mentioned that her students didn't know anything about global warming despite having just completed a whole assignment about it. She said that all the students did was "copy and paste". Having heard the discussions and arguments my students had about global warming, having seen the opinions they formed in their "200 word judgement" and seeing some excellent presentations, I KNOW that my students learnt something. What's more, each and every one of my students had a newly formed opinion about global warming, each backed up by a different combination of reasons from their research and from our class discussions. I even had written proof of this!

The project also gave me an excellent sense of students understanding of research methods, their ability to process research, how well they manage their time, their presentation and organisational skills, but most of all, how much support students needed to feel comfortable expresssing their own opinions about academic material, not just the opinion that was expected of them.

All in all, a successful trial. Now, can you imagine the power of PBL in the hands of an experienced teacher? Or in my case, with a bit more polishing, tweaking and development?

It seems I have become and advocate for PBL. 


  1. Your post has inspired me to try again at PBL! It is always very time consuming but your students worked on the project outside of school as well as in school. I also liked your fireworks project!
    -Cathy Laguna, Milford Middle School, Pennsylvania

  2. As you (and Mrs. Laguna) discovered there is a lot of work and monitoring required. My first year with PBL was, frankly, quite miserable and I'm not sure I would have continued if not for two things: (1) Our school is 100% PBL in all classes and the teachers were there to help and they assured me that I wasn't alone in struggling my first year, and (2) Around the 4th month of school I suddenly had a very successful project complete which told me I could do this.
    Keep at it. Add another 1 or two projects in the next school year (or semester or whatever you are on there). And I'm working on an e-book (will be free) on getting started with PBL that I will have on my blog in a few weeks (http://edutechmusings.blogspot.com/2012/04/crowd-sourcing-ideas-for-getting.html ). Best of luck and keep visiting PBL Chat for ideas and help.

  3. Love the look.
    Justification could be easier in eye.
    More Science would increase enticement.
    How about studystack etc.

    Now for the guts.
    Yes it is well worth while because it takes the teacher into the learner's realm as they navigate for success.
    During this lurking you have seen your student's stratergies [or not] and been able to differentiate on an eLearning continuum rather than "marks".
    So tenacity and habits of mind [or NZs Key Competencies] come into view and you become the holistic teacher you should be and we grey hairs never were.
    Keep turning the head as you run, watch for stragglers and those becoming increasingly disengaged as the posting gets to thier saturation.

    Thank you for being you. We are all learning with you, and having fun too.