So we are two months in and we have been hard at work trying to change the world…project by project. We have had some amazing things happen, some ok things happen and some failures. I have had days where I am so excited to share what is happening in our classroom with anyone who will listen and then there are days that I drive home ready to burst into tears because I feel so out of control. At the end of every project my students are asked to reflect on what went well, what didn’t go so well and what they learned from the process. When I feel like crying I do what I ask my students to do and reflect. I take what I have learned from what we have been doing and try to find ways to make it better. I love what my students are doing, I believe in what we are doing, but I often struggle to find a way to feel in control. Managing a project based classroom is probably my biggest challenge right now. I am by no means an expert at all, in this post I will outline how I am trying to keep it all together.
Taking my cue from Don Wettrick’s blueprint in Pure Genius we embarked on our project based learning by looking for issues around the school that the students could find solutions for. The kids were super excited and had some really great ideas. As mentioned above we had some amazing things happen, some ok things happen and some failures.
Project Development Cycle
When working on our projects my students go through five steps from start to finish.
- Brainstorm projects and write up a proposal.
- Work on project until completion date.
- Reflect on the project.
- Negotiate mark with teacher.
- Start Over
They are required to complete a proposal that includes:
- The issue that they will be exploring / coming up with a solution.
- Step by Step instructions that includes a completion date and mini goals to get there.
- At least 3 curriculum expectations that they will be covering as they complete the project.
- How many points their project is worth.
The proposal has been a lifesaver and pain in the ass all at the same time. Once the proposals are complete they are what keep the students on track and give them guidance. It makes them accountable and really helps them to stay motivated (for the most part). However, getting the proposals completed is tough. Since the students have never mapped out their own learning before they require a lot of guidance and help. It is really hard for me to give each person / group the attention that they need. There is one of me and 30 of them!! So I have recruited some former students, friends of mine who work from home, our former VP who is now retired and a set of Grandparents to come in and help me with this process. This has been a huge help, especially in the brainstorming stage.
Another challenge I have found with the proposals is that since the students all started their projects at the same time most students were finishing up their first projects all at once. This meant that I was having to negotiate / conference with students when they finished but then they required help to get started on their next project proposal. This was very overwhelming for me and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it!! But we all powered through and got them all going on a second project. I am finding now that we are at the mid way mark, most students have such different deadlines it makes it so much easier. I have the ability to negotiate with only a few groups a week as well as helping those who need it on their next proposal or those who need help on the projects that they are working on.
Once the proposals were completed and approved, the students got going on their projects. It was a lot of running from group to group to group but other than being tired at the end the day it was manageable. I was able to move around and support students with their projects. However, where it became unmanageable was trying to figure out who was finishing up, who needed to work on their reflection, who needed to negotiate and who was starting the process all over again. I had my students sharing their proposals with me in google classroom and was attempting to keep track of all of them there. I found this very difficult so I decided to use the board below to keep myself and the students updated on who was at each stage. For a couple of weeks I fixed this board up every morning and then would go over it at the beginning of each class. I found it very helpful for me for a bit and just recently found it hard to stay on top of. I have now abandoned this method and am trying out a new tracking method.
I have moved from electronically looking at the proposals to having the students fill out a project list (they add their projects to it as they go), I ask that they hand write or print out a copy of their proposal and I have created a file folder for each student to keep track of all of their projects. Now when they get a proposal approved a copy of it goes into that folder and I put what the project is, how much the project is worth, and when it will be completed into a spreadsheet. I have new whiteboards with every student on it with their project and dates and I will update my whiteboards probably once every two weeks or so.
My next step is to create a google form that I think I will fill out once the proposal is approved. I am hoping that this will provide me with a spreadsheet where I can sort the students and keep track of each of their projects etc, we will see how that goes.
We are very much in a trial by error / learn by failure situation in my classroom. If you have a PBL classroom and have any suggestions I am SO open to any help you might give.
Thanks for unlearning with us.
Cheers, R 🙂
“School District of Ashland.” Project Based Learning Schools (3rd – 12th Grade) / Project Based Learning, Ashland Elementary Charter School, http://www.ashland.k12.wi.us/Page/1290.