Project LEGACY Day 3

Today saw some progress in research on the topics the groups chose: students started answering the focus questions for their topics. What I found most disconcerting about the lesson was that, despite my instructions, groups still didn’t know what to do next. They had textbooks with information in them on their desks, copied sheets with more info, the focus questions written out to answer based on their research…but there was a disconnect between all of that and what THEY had to do. Several groups just did not know what to do next. So I sat down with the groups, even reading the information aloud to them in some cases, and asked the focus questions again to which the students had to answer based on what was said. It was frustrating! I think that either 1) I didn’t explain the process properly, 2) they can’t read or 3) they just don’t know how to research on their own.

I keep telling myself that this is a process and that each successful task and project completed will help them to develop the required skills for effective, student-directed learning. Essentially I feel that they need to be taught HOW to learn, or rather how to “un-learn” the passive learning style that they’ve been engaged in (and I, as one of their teachers, am partially to blame for this) for most of this year (if not back in primary school). I feel a bit sad when I think back to their bright, shining faces at the beginning of the year: they were ready to learn, eager for new experiences, willing to take risks…what happened? Basically they got what every other year 7 student has been given in every year: a quick lesson in compliance and passive learning based on the outdated factory model of schooling. Sit-down-shut-up-and-learn-these-facts-regurgitate-them-and-move-on! I had high hopes for something different for my teaching style this year, so where did I go wrong?

I “chickened out”, to put it bluntly. I didn’t take the time to learn more about project-based learning (which I knew was something that would help me to evolve in my teaching) and put it into practice. In LINCHPIN, Seth Godin terms this reluctance to take risks “The Resistance” and my lizard-brain saw to it that I caved in to the (perceived) pressure to do what everyone else was doing and which has “worked” for so long. Ahhh, the wasted opportunity!

But we can’t mull over past mistakes. The fact of the matter is that I am now purposefully evolving my teaching and trying something different. There will be successes and plenty of failures – but that is okay. If I show my students that it is okay to make mistakes then maybe they will be willing to try new ideas, to think “at the edge of the box” (another Godin term). What’s more, if they see that what is important is not the mistake-making, but the learning that takes place when you reflect on mistakes, then I will be a happy teacher.

Back to the project: To end the lesson, I reiterated the need to show outsiders (HT, principal, etc.) our product before the ship date in Week 10 (it is currently week 7 of term 3) and hopefully that will help to motivate them to put in the hard yards to get it done. Next time we’re in the computer room – let’s see what happens.

Project LEGACY Day 2

Day 2 was less messy than day 1. I didn’t incorporate music into this lesson (music as background/working noise) as some students were focusing on it rather than the task. I intend bringing music back after we’ve discussed rules of use as a class.

Groups were re-established, with some members opting out of groups and joining others. Some groups even abandoned topics they’d fought over for new ones (“Sir, can we do weapons and armour instead of myths?”) which made me laugh when they realised how much they’d fought over it yesterday.

I talked about the need to produce a meaningful product for a real audience, not just for assessment by the teacher. After discussing who would like to learn about the influence the ancient Greeks had on our culture, we decided that school students, teachers and people interested in Ancient Greece would be our audience. The type of product came down to a whole-class youtube video or a webpage that had group-made videos, powerpoints, resources, etc. The struggle today was getting them to generate prompt questions (who, what, where, when ,why, how) for their topics which they would then research the answer to.

Some groups were really into it, using textbooks, sheets, pictures, etc to complete the process. Other groups were stagnant. I brought the class back to focus by pointing out that in order for our product to ship on time, we would need to have everyone working in each group and each group working. I put the onus back on the groups to motivate members and deal with the social issues – with freedom comes responsibility.

Next lesson I intend to focus the class’s motivation by pointing out that the Head Teacher, other classes and even the Principal would be invited to view our final product before it ships to the web. This will hopefully help them to take extra pride in their work. I will also point out that when it hits the web, outsiders will be able to comment on it.

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”.