Saturday, February 7, 2009

Project-Based Learning: Notes and Quotes

Last week I asked students on TEAM to respond to some readings and videos on the topic of project-based learning. Some of the responses:
  • I watched the three videos from Edutopia, and the second one actually made me quite angry. In that video I saw something that I never see in my classroom; I saw students who cared about their work, students who cared about the world around them, cared about how others viewed them.
  • Though PBL is a great way to learn for students, it can be a difficult process for teachers and students to get used to. Teachers must be willing to spend the time to create PBLs and students must buy in to the process and work effectively to get the project done.
  • In the past, teachers just focused on the reproduction of information, but now teachers must make their students go deeper and work on meaningful issues and topics, where they find real solutions to real problems.
  • Ms. Friesen, seems to believe that "deep understanding" leads to a more profound level of "Inquiry". I find this a bit odd considering, when I have deep understanding of something, I no longer wish to inquire further about it. It is, as I have found to be true in teaching children, questions come forth most readily when "deep understanding" is NOT present.
  • My question is how do we completely follow the curriculum? Being a middle school teacher in NY I am responsible to prepare my students for Math, ELA, Science and Social Studies state exams. Test taking in a skill within itself. Realistically PBL would have to be coupled with orthodox means of teaching to prepare the students for what the state is asking.
  • I am however a little uneasy with the idea of shifting the control to the students.
  • PBL vs. traditional pedagogical regurgitation on tests seems a close cousin of the Internet vs. Web 2.0.
  • My only reservation about using inquiry is that it often takes a significantly greater amount of time.
  • Time is always the issue when speaking of this type of learning because in my school setting, I see my students for 42 minutes a day, have a strict and packed curriculum to fulfill, and have state tests to prepare for. It’s a little disheartening for me to learn about PBL because it is a way of learning that I believe would benefit my students for the future but at the same time, it is also a way of learning that I currently can not implement in my classroom because of New York State standards and the time constraints we have.
  • As a teacher with 43 minutes to teach a curriculum that ends in a state assessment or Advanced Placement exam, I know that I often ask this of my students and would love to change that. I often become frustrated with my students’ retention of material and I know that this could be improved if they were able to make more meaningful connections.
  • I think the best way for me to use PBL within my classroom would be to work with other teachers and have a combined effort. The teacher and I could come up with a project and work out the logistics.
  • However, there must be certain, institutional structures in place for it to be successfully implemented. Schedules must allow for curriculum design, professional development, teacher collaboration, and student participation.
  • Project based learning allows many students to shine who might struggle on typical assessments.
  • I want to make my instruction meaningful to my students, but I struggle to find those places where students find meaning.
  • I believe that students, especially young students need to have a firm foundation or basic set of skills before they are required to deal with abstract, intellectual tasks.
  • As a special educator, I feel that project based learning should be the core of most of the curriculum taught to student requiring alternate modes of education. When learning is engaging and has meaning to students, they grasp concepts much better than trying to visualize concepts from that which comes form a book. In addition this learning approach fosters the levels of thinking in Blooms taxonomy, even for those who's capabilities are compromised due to a disability.
  • Sharon (in the first video) wants us to change the type of work we ask students to do. Okay. I don’t ask them to regurgitate information. How does she want me to change the system? I can only influence what happens in my classroom with my students. She also wants the role of the teacher to change; I don’t think she realizes that the role of the student must change. Students have a perception of their responsibilities that doesn’t correlate with what she is asking them to do. She also does a great job dreaming about what we should be doing while ignoring curriculum requirements, state requirements, budgetary requirements, time restrictions, and students’ own perception of what school is.
  • I believe Project Based Learning should be a mandatory change in education. Life is all about choices and I think it is our responsibility as educators to change with the times in order to incorporate more PBL choices into our teaching. Once immersed in PBL, your job as a teacher changes and you become more of a planner and facilitator then a sage on the stage. I would I agree that my work as an educator has changed as I am forced to question, plan, schedule, monitor, assess and evaluate my students using a whole new mind set in order to achieve a PBL classroom. I love the authentic learning experiences that my students engage in when involved in PBL, but I need to be honest, it takes time to fully appreciate PBL because it sometimes takes longer for students to complete assignments and teachers to evaluate results.
  • When I first heard the term PBL (which was last week at TEAM), I immediately thought of WebQuests. WebQuests (for those who are not familiar) is an inquiry-oriented activity in which most or all of the information used by the students is drawn from the Internet. I was involved with a number of WebQuests when I was teaching in the city. I loved the idea of working backwards, having an end goal, and carefully planning how kids would successfully reach their goal. I've even felt that, since teaching on LI, there hasn't been much of an urge to train teachers to teach/question using the inquiry-model. This new (not so new) concept of PBL would be a great way for teachers to promote the idea of inquiry---encouraging students to think (ha! what a concept!) .
  • The idea of a Project Base Learning model has always been intriguing yet mystifying at the same time. At first, I'm always inspired and wished the projects described in the articles and videos would one day be a reality in my classroom. Yet, it doesn't take long for questions and doubts to arise and ultimately quench the inspiration.
How do we balance state-mandated test prep with engaging, authentic learning?? I don't have the answer. I can't speak to the high school experience because I teach elementary; I am not a classroom teacher, so perhaps I have a little more freedom; I don't have to teach to a state test, but I do have skills and standards to meet. I can only say this: Whether it's one project a year or more, YOU have the ability to design a learning environment that will open up students' minds to a different kind of thinking. YOU have the ability to give your students a voice, to make them see that what they think counts. YOU have the ability to give them the opportunity to connect what they learn in your classroom to the bigger picture. BUT, it takes time and it takes effort beyond the hours of the school day, hours that are so hard to find when you are already putting in so many extra hours just to keep up!

  • Excitement is contagious.
  • PBL is not the be-all, end-all, but can be a component ~
If you are pressed for time and need to include many topics in your instruction during a year, you may want to think about the concept of "uncoverage." This means making a deliberate decision about topics that you want to teach in depth versus topics that can be simply "covered." What parts of your curriculum can be easily and successfully handled through lectures or textbook assignments? What parts require more depth? Identify those topics that reflect the most important ideas and concepts in your curriculum and incorporate those topics into projects. Those are the topics with which you want students to grapple. The remaining topics you can deal with through direct instruction
. ~Buck Institute for Education
  • Time is always an issue for teachers! We need to reach out to like-minded colleagues to plan together. We need to take advantage of what is already out there and available on the web. There are many websites that list projects that other teachers have developed. Projects that invite your participation.
  • Start small.
  • Be willing to change your mindset.
  • Be willing to hand over control.
  • Deep understanding will naturally lend itself to deeper questioning.
  • Use web 2.0 tools to extend the learning past the 42 minute period.
  • Use web 2.0 tools to extend YOUR learning via PLN's (professional learning networks) such as blogs and other social networking tools. Use them to make connections to other teachers who are looking for collaborators.