Project Illustrate: Engaging the Audience

Interview with Year 1
Interview with Year 1
Interview with Year 1
Interview with Year 1

 The next step in the process was to meet our audience to survey them on what they liked in picture books. After a nice stroll down to the local primary school, we had a fun time interviewing a range of students from Years 1 & 2 on their reading habits, what characters they liked, etc.

Interviewing Year 2
Interviewing Year 2

It was great for me to see my students working closely alongside students from our feeder primary school. In fact the majority of my students once went to this school. They also enjoyed dropping in on some of the old teachers (sorry for the disruption) but part of my reasoning for engaging with their audience was to re-establish those connections and the connection to themselves at that age, and being able to harness that for the future.

Interview with Year 1
Interview with Year 1

After the event, back in our own classroom we moved onto the next step in the PBL/Design Thinking Process which was INTERPRETATION.

There was much discussion about what the primary students liked (and what WE thought they’d like) and what implications this has for the end product. We gathered all the data from the surveys so that all the students could share in it and utilise it in the next phase IDEATION.

One comment that I thought was rather cute, was when my students talked about how uninhibited the kids were, the way they physically grabbed onto them and made that connection with them. It showed to me the excitement and wonder that is possible when we push the edges of education and allow deeper understanding of each other to occur.

Interview with Year 1
Interview with Year 1

Project Illustrate Day Two

So the students are all excited about engaging with primary school students to find out what they like about picture books. We’ve decided to create surveys that groups will use to find out more about what the target age group like (characters, plots, etc).

In groups they developed their questions and the hardest thing for me was to step back and let them wrestle with it. I had to stop myself from suggesting, though I did help when I was asked by the students. Not trying to be in charge was unusual, but also exciting for me as it means I am encouraging them to be active participants in their learning.

What’s next? To get the results of the surveys and interpret the data collected. Then we can begin working on the books themselves. Of course, as we move through this process I’ll need to supply them with information about elements of picture books to develop their knowledge. But what is important here is that the project comes first, getting that initial engagement, finding out what they already know (no busy work here thanks) and then filling in the gaps in their knowledge as we go. I am going to encourage the learners to give me feedback on areas they need to know more about, but I am making that conscious decision to move from the front and centre of the room to a facilitating role.

Project Illustrate

    Day One

This time of the year I get sick of doing things the same old way and I get off my butt and try something different.

Today I introduced my year 8 English class to Project-based Learning. They have an assessment task due in a few weeks and rather than teaching them all about picture books (the topic) and then constructing the end product, I decided to dip my toe back into the PBL pond (see previous posts for my last foray into PBL) which I’d been longing to do. I clearly explained to students the difference between assessment of learning and assessment for learning and how our needs in completing the product would drive the learning that will take place. Just as before, I also want them to develop 21st century skills of collaboration (the project can be completed in pairs), communication and connection.

To make it even more engaging than just “you’ll make this picture book and a teacher will mark it” I told the students that we’d have to engage with our audience (7-9 year olds) and that to do this we’d have to visit a local primary school. We haven’t nutted out what the audience assessment will be yet, but it has certainly added that element of danger (?) to what we’re going to accomplish – that is, students will be accountable to a real audience.

Today we started by discussing (using Think:pair:share and a KWHL chart) what students already knew about picture books, why their favourites were their favourites, what they might need to know to complete the project and how to go about getting the skills and knowledge needed. There was a buzz in the room as these students were engaging with a different way of doing things, and I was certainly buzzing too. I had them first period and then again last period and I was so energised (and so were the students) that it didn’t seem like last period on a Friday at all.

This is only the beginning of the project and I know that the project will have its ups and downs, but right now I just want to share the excitement I feel at beginning to do something different.

What are my aims for this project? I want the students to learn how to make a great picture book, I want them to learn how to collaborate with others, I want them to engage with the world outside the classroom, I want them to experience frustration when things get tough and elation when it all comes together.

Most of all I want to see the proud looks on their faces as the present their books to a real audience.

Shipping the Product

Today was ship date for our first project. I have to say I am happy with the final product and I am even happier that the students got to work together to develop their collaborative working skills. I feel like the end product (a website) is a meaningful product that will show the students that they can put something “out there”.

Even better, from a PBL perspective, is that they (and I) have seen that they can do it, they can work together to learn something rather than just being fed facts to remember.

Getting it together

Today we were in the computer room: students working on their part of the project, me working on the webpage at For me there was a sense of excitement as I demonstrated to the class what we were working on and how their parts fit together with the evolving product. As groups were finished I invited each group over to see what I’d done to their information.

Aside: due to internet filtering, students are unable to create their own website so I had to manage the details for them. So, unfortunately the final product is my vision, but I’ve tried to get students’ okay on each of their sections, which is the best I can hope for at this stage.

As I was working on this, students had to work on another personal interest project and submit it to edmodo. Unfortunately some were playing games and mucking around, which annoyed me. Here I was working hard to make a real product for a real audience using their info and they were wasting time! Part of me says, “what do you expect? They’re kids and they’ve done what you asked! Get over it!”

What I’ve found interesting about this whole process of PBL is that, at the moment, my students are happy to hand in whatever, to just “get it done”, so to speak, without really looking at what they’ve created and who they’re creating it for. Part of the problem lies with me, perhaps I didn’t make my case strong enough in the beginning, but I think it is also the mindset we’ve created in our students: ‘get the answer and move on!’ I am hoping that with further engagement in the PBL process and being able to see the “real world” results of our first project will spark greater engagement in the future.


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”.