Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Project Based Learning

If I'm bored with marking, what are the chances that the students are bored with the assessment? Now I am all for academic excellence and rigour however I don't see any reason why assessments have to be so... dull. Hence, last year I had a go at designing my own project. I tested it with a class over a few weeks as homework tasks to see how it goes. You can see the blog post about it here. This year however, I managed to convince the whole science department that we should use the project as an assessment rather than using a test. I am SO glad that we did. 

The project: The world and your school are becoming increasingly digital. To combat global warming, some individuals have suggested that one should use as much as possible paper however only from renewable forests rather than only using email or the internet. They argue, that by using more paper, more forests need to be planted which in turn combats global warming. This means that the more paper you use, the more forests will be planted which helps to combat global warming.Your goal: Evaluate whether using as much as possible renewable paper combats or aids the effects of global warming. 
Step 1: Research The first part of the project students are asked to research key ideas to help shape their argument. Research is based around photosynthesis and respiration, transpiration, the carbon cycle, effects of global warming and deforestation. 
Step 2: DiscussionAs a class we then have a discussion about the effects of global warming, deforestation and whether in fact using paper from renewable forests could combat the effects of global warming.  
Step 3: EvaluationStudents are given fifty minutes in class to write an essay that explains whether they are for or against using as much paper as possible and why.  
Step 4: DesignStudents are asked to produce any kind of marketing material eg. a poster, brochure, tv or radio advertisement, etc. that educates the public on what to do and the science behind it. 

I had hoped that by completing a project such as this,  the quality of student work would be improved as students are given feedback and the opportunity and encouragement to improve throughout the whole project. It was really rewarding being able to support students in this way and resulted in students who have a history of not achieving, doing an outstanding job because they felt that the "pressure" of the assessment was spread out. Students felt like they could make a mistake and it would be OK because the mistake would be identified and they could go back and fix it. Students could also see how close they were to getting a higher mark so often would put in a little more effort because the steps to the end goal was so much clearer. Edmodo made the process of giving feedback SO much easier as all the work, updates, feedback and so forth were all in one place. And of course, it is all ready to be exported to My Portfolio with the ICT department when creating student portfolios. 

Other highlights included students feeling that they had a better understanding of the science of the topic than they had with traditional assessments where they were asked to study for a test. I suspect that this is due to the assignment tasks being focussed on processing information through sorting, analysing  and evaluating, rather than traditional recall and application type questions. Students also really valued being given the opportunity to give their own opinion in science, rather than being asked to recall and apply facts, they were asked to interpret research much like real world scientists and then draw appropraite conclusions. Students then had to take it a step further to actually consider how the public perceives scientific ideas and best to educate them into better decision makingBy being asked in the final step to create a promotional item to educate the public, students were also challenged to reduce their whole project to a few simple ideas. It was also really rewarding giving students the opportunity to use their creative talents in science, a subject not traditionally associated with creativity in schools. I especially loved the "paper rap" a student made!

Future Directions 
  • Cross curricular links: In order to improve the links to learning outside the classroom and to help students see that their subjects are linked and related, I would love if this project completed in science, could be synchronised with the teaching of transactional writing in English and/or song writing in music, digital design etc. Even better would be if this could be assessed across a range of subjects.
  • Participating and Contributing: As this project addresses a global issue, we could even spend some time actually educating the public about deforestation.