6 Essentials Of Project Based Learning
I started reading Hacking Project Based Learning by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy yesterday. I love PBL and use it, but I feel I need a better framework and more ideas on implementing it in my chemistry classroom. I want to get better at PBL and I think I found the right resource to help.
As the teacher in me always pushes my students to process information in multiple ways to learn it in depth and be able to apply it, the student in me knows that if I want to internalize and apply what I read, I have to process it multiple ways myself. Therefore, I decided to write a series of PBL posts to reflect on the book as I read it. So here we go!
I found the first chapter inspiring and practical, as the authors back rhetoric with relevant classroom examples. In chapter 1, Ross and Erin provide the reader with a template for building a successful PBL classroom. They use a 5 step approach, which i agree with, but when I sat down and summarized chapter 1, I ended up with 6 essentials of Project Based Learning.
Use the first week or two to get to know your students and they each other. Skip sucky ice breakers. Instead, have them create a piece about themselves and share it on the classroom blog or wall. Ask student groups to design the learning space based on how they'd like to learn and then have them vote on the best design. Walk around and talk with individual students and get to know them. Be in the space and discuss non school related topics with them throughout the year.
Flexible Learning Environment
Create a physical and psychological environment that promotes comfort and collaboration. Let your students pick their own seats and give them a voice in room organization. Ask them for input on how they'd like to learn. This stimulates metacognition and gives choice. Give choices on assignment types and products students make. Be flexible on how students show evidence of learning.
Spread those throughout the room. You can strategically place articles, books, and pictures around the room. Students still enjoy "doing it old school" and making paper posters or paper slide shows, so have sheets of colored paper and markers readily available. Lobby your admin for new tech (iPads, Chromebooks etc.). Implement Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) learning. Sure students will get distracted by their phones, but remember that practicing staying focused is part of the learning process.
Instead of hanging pre-made laminated posters, have your students make them. As I am big on metacognition, I have student teams research and produce infographics on brain based learning strategies. Then, I post them in the room. Have students make 3 D models of subject matter concepts and use them to decorate the room. Take a class picture and print it out on a big sheet you can place on a wall. Let them assess each others' projects. Start genius hour and allow students to work on passion projects.
Model asking questions that elicit critical thinking and creativity. Many students come up with questions they already know the answers to when prompted to write questions, which often defeats the purpose. This is why it is important to teach students to ask questions that lead to deeper thinking and learning. Encourage questions that start with Why, What if, How as they get at more in depth understanding and creative problem solving. Students tend to ask deeper questions if they have background knowledge on the topic or the issue affects them on a personal level. Erin and Ross provide the reader with a couple more strategies to teach questioning.
There is no failure only feedback. I have no idea who came up with that, but I like it a lot. Such approach promotes taking risks. Teacher response to student failures is big as well. If they mess up the lab procedure or do not follow assignment directions to the dot, you can have a conversation about what happened and what they learned from it, or you can take points off their grade. Then, you can reflect on which approach motivates more to learn from setbacks and try again, and never take the latter route again! Always take the way to progress.
Bringing It All Together
So what's the blueprint for successful PBL implementation? Build relationships and a flexible resource rich learning environment that gives choice and voice, so that students own their learning, question, problem solve, and take risks.
You have the power to change the world. Use it often.
Sources: Hacking Project Based Learning: 10 Easy Steps to PBL and Inquiry in the Classroom by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy.