Monday, June 26, 2017

My Journey into PBL: Reflection and Final Thoughts

OK...so now you've probably read my first two installments of my journey into Project Based Learning.  If you haven't...

  1. My Journey into PBL: Learn, Set, Go
  2. My Journey into PBL: The Project
The key to growing and learning and becoming a better professional is to honestly reflect on the lesson, activity, or project.  To me, I reflect using three main pieces of information.  What went well? What will I change? What did the students think? I take a lot of stock in what the kids say, because they are the ones who truly live it, they are the ones I work to engage in my lessons, activities, and projects.  I NEED to know what they think.  And...they have good ideas!

First Up...What went well?
  • This project! I will definitely be using this project as a final to our study on Kansas History.  The idea of time travel, reality shows, and history is a great combination and allowed for some awesome ideas from the kids. 
  • The variety and depth of content knowledge that some groups discovered was amazing! The history of prohibition and speakeasies, 1920 fashion, the Underground Railroad. One of my favorites, that didn't make the judges top 3 was a documentary style reality show called "Keeping up with the Daltons" focusing on the most exciting time of the Dalton Gang.  Those kids became experts on the Dalton Gang.  I couldn't have taught them all that they learned, and to this day, they know more than me...so cool! 
  • The grouping of teams based on interest. This worked out great, putting some kids with friends who they haven't had the opportunity to work with this year, but it also allowed for some teams to realize that they had similar interests in things. 
  • Having the students help me with the rubric. They did a GREAT job, and they really pinpointed the same qualities in a good presentation and visual aide as I would have. They had ownership in this project. 
  • Presenting in front of judges outside of the school.
  • The "soft-deadline" which allowed for peer/teacher feedback and the teams to get a chance to practice before the big day

What will I change?

First and foremost the biggest change I will make next year will be the timing of this project. Attempting to do this in the last month of school was a fun way to end the year, but it was a nightmare when it came to the schedule.  May is chaos. Most of the "bumps in the road" we encountered with this project happened because of timing. Two of the biggest challenges we had to "roll with" involved the soft-deadline and finding judges.

We are on a block schedule (I see my kids for 75 minutes every-other-day).  We had it worked out so that presentations would be on Monday, May 22nd.  The soft deadline was scheduled for the Thursday before that, with Mrs. Harris' class.  Our school was chosen to host regional track, which is an awesome opportunity for the school and community.  Due to crazy spring weather in Kansas the track meet was moved from Friday (the 18th) to Thursday (the 17th).  This caused our block schedule to swap days. Meaning the soft-deadline would now happen on Friday.  This was a problem because now there would be no school days before the final presentation on Monday for students to get together. And the biggest bummer about it, was that Mrs. Harris (communications teacher's class would be involved in the soft-deadline) was going to be out on Friday with a sub. Mrs. Harris is awesome with public speaking, acting, and persuasive techniques. I was really looking forward to her feedback. Oh well...there's always next year.

Judges.  Ugh!  This one was a struggle. Everyone I reached out to was busy with their last week of school, last day in-services, or out of town. Even community members, business leaders, and news outlets I contacted to find someone to judge were busy or out of town. Apparently May 22nd was the worst possible day to pick for final presentations. This left me literally combing through my Facebook contacts THE MORNING OF looking for anyone who could make it to the school by 8 AM.  The good news, I ended up stumbling on a former student who was now a stay-at-home-mom living in town. She came up, brought her son (the students LOVED playing with him and keeping him busy when they weren't presenting). Plus, she participated in drama throughout high school and college, making her a great resource for feedback to the students. Her notes were awesome! I'll definitely call on her again!

Ginger Lewman gave me a great idea, to live-stream the presentations on Facebook or Twitter and have a live vote.  I love that idea, but throwing that together the morning of final presentations was a little more stress than I wanted to put myself through. BUT it did give me a great idea for next year. I will still have all the teams present to judges at school, but the top three chosen by the judges will be posted on social media and voted on by anyone willing to watch!  I can't wait to try that out!

Look for this project, next year around the Feb-March time!

Lastly...and probably most important...

What did the students think?
I asked them to fill out a survey on their thoughts about the project, what they liked and what they would change.  Here are some of their comments, with my thoughts added below.

Likes:
"We got to pick our own topic" 
"I liked that we had a choice on whatever we wanted to do." 
"That you let us choose what to do and we got to help make the rubric."
This is a common theme among many of their comments on the survey.  The LOVED that they had complete control on whatever they wanted to do. They were shocked when someone mentioned "alcohol" as a topic and I told them that would be an awesome topic.

"We were allowed to use our creativity without many constraints"
Seriously I was really impressed with what these kids came up with for their reality shows. I wish there was time and space to share all 24 ideas with you!  I really think they were amazed at the freedom...they didn't really know how to handle it at first.

"Presenting in front of judges" 
"Being able to fix things after practicing for the other class."
The presentations went great. Some were awesome, some weren't so awesome. But all teams learned how to create a persuasive presentation and deliver it to judges. They were nervous, but in the end, loved it!

Dislikes:
"I wish we had more time."
"You should give us more time."
"Not enough time."
I will say...they had 7 days of a block schedule. I can't give any more time, but I can try to do a better job on teaching kids how to manage their time, create realistic daily goals, and reflect each day on how they did and what they need to do to improve. It's not about MORE time, it's HOW they use their time. It's my job as the teacher to help them develop the skills of effective time management. This can be done consistently throughout the year and not just during this project.

"Allow us to pick our teams."
For every person who said they loved their group, there were those who didn't. Every single time I have a project where I pick the teams, this comment comes up. I still rarely (if ever) allow the kids to pick their own teams for big projects. To be blunt, they are 13 and they suck at it. They all "think" they want to be with their friends, but in reality they get too distracted and goofy with their friends.  Plus...there's always those one or two students who get left out. Sorry kiddos...this one probably won't change.

"Give us a paper copy of the rubric."
This one shocked me.  I had quite a few kids say this, and I responded with "but you all had access to the rubric online, didn't you?" They did, but for many of them, they wanted that hard copy to feel in their hands. Again, it's about teaching kids to be advocates for what they need.  IF they needed a paper copy, I would have been happy to print it off, but not one person asked. I will remind them and hopefully do a better job of teaching kids throughout the year to COME TO ME and ask if they need something.  The worst I could say is no.  Plus this is a LIFE SKILL...to seek out the materials you need!


FINAL THOUGHTS:
I LOVED this project and providing this opportunity for my students. I look back on how I used to do this project (where I was MUCH MORE controlling...and didn't even think I was at the time) and how this went. I can't imagine restricting any of their creativity.

Finally...I worked harder than I had all year! This was not a project where I could just give instructions and sit at my desk while they worked. I was right in the midst talking with groups, asking questions, listening to them talk, providing encouragement and trying to offer "realistic" options when they were dreaming just a little too big. (There was one group that had a great idea, but the work and time needed to pull it off would be VERY difficult. I warned them of this, but said they could still go-for-it...they did, and it didn't end well. Falling and learning from it are important too!)

At this point, I don't see myself moving to ALL PBL...a project here and there with some specific strategies incorporated all year, but I have never been an "all or nothing" teacher.  I like a blend of different strategies and ideas that help make my classroom engaging. This, of course could change, as I do more and more with PBL...but for now I'll look to add another one next year on top of this one and go from there!

Always learning, always striving to make my classroom better and reach more kids. The minute that goal is no longer with me...I need to leave.  And I don't plan on going anywhere!

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