Beginning on the Evolutionary Path

Today marks the beginning of my evolutionary journey as a teacher. It was my first foray into incorporating PBL and elements of Neil Fara’s Project REAL approach. I have moved my desks into groups around the wall to facilitate a meeting space in the centre of the room, a “campfire” see Bianca Hewes‘ use of metaphorical spaces, and gave my year 7 humanities class their first PBL project.

Nothing went to plan. What was the plan? They would relish the freedom (and responsibility) being offered to them, a chance to have a voice in their education. I was hoping they would be excited by the project, by my inclusion of music into the classroom, by being able to decide their own groups and subtopics, by…by doing something student-centred. My spiel to them to explain why I am taking this approach is that as future citizens they will need to be able to understand, communicate, collaborate and connect. My aim with this approach is to have them develop these skills while producing a worthwhile product for a real audience.

The Project’s Driving Question: What is the legacy of the Ancient Greeks?

Observations: getting into groups was far harder than I imagined. What I thought would take minutes took MANY minutes. There were fights over who should or shouldn’t be in a group, why they didn’t want this or that student. Then came choosing topics: choice was determined by who had their group ready first. Two groups were fighting over doing myths/literature, with names being written and rubbed off the board several times until a compromise was reached. Two other groups were fighting over Art, so we broke it down into sculpture and pottery.

What was most interesting about this was that an activity I expected to take little time (getting into groups and choosing a topic) actually took most of the period. From a teacher’s perspective this was frustrating but I enjoyed seeing them wrestle with these social issues and working out compromises. There was a lot of social learning, that we don’t assess, going on – and that was the satisfying bit. What’s more, they were actively involved, not passively being told what to do.

In other words, it was messy! Therein lies the risk and the freedom. Real learning should be messy. Next lesson we discuss the look of the final product, the audience and when to “ship”.

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