Monday, December 14, 2009

TIES 2009: Project Based Learning-What Does it Look Like, and How Can I Do it With My Students?

In the afternoon session, I attended a session on Project Based Learning (PBL) by John Mergendoller, Executive Director of The Buck Institute for Education . I have used some of the Institute's materials when conducting PBL workshops, so I was interested in what they had to say.
Dr. Mergendoller presented the example of "The Monkey Project", a simulation where a school board has to decide whether to teach Evolution, Intelligent Design, or both in their curriculum. Students research both sides of the issue, and overcome their personal opinions to develop their project. Teachers in the example facilitated and managed the process, where students were placed into teams and created a script of a "Mock School Board Hearing."

After watching a video similar to the one above, Mergendoller had participants "Think/Pair/Share and discuss whether we thought this was a good project.
The project was approximately 6 weeks, and was a rather large undertaking. For some in the audience, they felt that it was a larger project than they were comfortable with. Mergendoller said that the technology on this project was only for research, and wasn't essential to the project. TIME however, was essential to a project like this. Both to create, and for students to complete.
Planning, planning, planning is very necessary for something like this!
He also noted that the students portrayed had very high skills, though there were "average" students in the groups.
What are the Project Essentials?
  1. A Need to Know-A reason to complete, Interest, and Value
  2. 21st Century Skills-Collaboration, Presentation, Feedback, Critical/Creative Thinking (Wide agreement about this as a needed goal in our schools today. If we want them to have these skills, we need to allow them the opportunity to do it!)
  3. Inquiry and Innovation-Aim for projects that allow students to conduct research and develop a new solution to the problem. (It needs to be new to them.)
  4. Driving Question or Challenge-Key. (Showed an exerpt from Why Don't Students Like School? -Illustrates why making the question clear is so important.) Mergendoller said that questions can be provocative: Is our water safe to drink?, Should Truman have dropped the bomb? Open ended: Which city is more prepared for a pandemic, Minneapolis or Coon Rapids?
  5. Student Voice and Choice-Used the example of the Edvisions schools, where students are fully in control of their learning. Let students do as much as they can. Where is the sweet-spot on student input?
  6. Public Presentation-Communication is not stressed enough in today's schools. This provides community support for what you are doing in your classroom as well.
The projects should contain significant, authentic content and have built in critique revision.

Working Inside the Black Box: Assessment for Learning in the Classroom, shows that teachers who use formative assessment show increases of 16-25%. He said this is a structural problem in our schools today.
He closed with a quote from Ron Berger, author of "An Ethic of Excellence" on critique and revision. We need to allow time for students to experiment, time to critique unfinished work. When managed well, this fosters a sense of classroom expectation and pride. Group ownership of standards is seen in sporting, theater and dance. "If you do well, I do well." Why not in the classroom?
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