Monday, October 20, 2008

Am I really needed?

I have said that I plan my classes so that my students can continue along without me. Not quite so (it is nice to be needed). Some trouble shooting, reminding, cajoling needs to be done that I guess I am needed for!

Presenting as a model teacher at the Classrooms for the Future bootcamp last week threw everything off schedule. It was exhilirating to present some exciting things we have been doing in class. As a result, we are not as far as we thought we would be.

Both Biology and Science for Living are using iMovies instead of oral presenting. As iMovie 08 is formatted a little differently there is a light curve. Most students are not taught how to plan and carry out these projects and we are taking it slow. Biology is using Google Presentations to work collaboratively on their projects. Slides will be saved as images and used in the iMovie. I have thwarted their inclinations to throw many pictures and words on a slide as much of the content should be spoken. Though more time is spent than I would like, I think it is time well spent. We have spent much time on the message they wish to convey and planning out each slide.

Academic Biology is struggling with a monster of a project I am unhappy about. The Monocot and Dicot unit is relatively unfocused and has no oomph. It is part of the lack of knowing where we wanted to go. It became more of a unit of content vs. an actual project. Because of this, the students are not liking it and I am not as well. That should be amplified when I go to grade it.

So, why did it turn out this way? I guess it is because I originally did not want everything to be PBL or authentic instruction. I know that is odd if that is where I want to actually work towards, but it is easy to forget where you are going and the year slips away. It is also hard to manage that many large projects. Instead, we tried to reign in, keep it focused, and missed some great opportunities.

This seems like a crossroads. I would really like a class where we ask big questions and it drives what the students do and they run through the meadows of knowledge picking what they need (nice thought impression...) But, there is still content. Is the best that I can achieve maybe one or two actual authentic activities, a handful of meaningful projects with many choices, and a few (like the project on monocots and dicots) activities that are just too teacher centered?

I realy should be happy that I have made any type of change and that I still have a vision to look towards. I heard once that this is a process that takes a few years to achieve. I can say I am getting better.

So what have I learned?
  • More assessments of a greater variety.
  • Student input on assessments.
  • More student feedback throughout the process.
  • Use the KWL chart more often (something I have not been consistent with)
  • Use checklists to help drive motion in the project (not used as often with academic though they need it just as much)
I have stepped back and made changes. It has also given me an idea for a presentation at a conference as my reflection is also some of the most asked questions when I present about a wikicentric classroom. As I have always said, I am not perfect in this, but I am reflective enough and resourceful enough to make it work.

For those who have or have not tried project based learning, what are your thoughts on creating projects? Is it difficult to keep focused on content that needs to be discovered by students in the time frames that you have? What works in your classroom?

Tags: PBL, project based learning, biology education, classrooms for the future


  1. I am just starting to set up the wiki pages for my pilot class--I am so new at this I don't even know how to say that ("the wiki pages", or just plain "set up wikis").

    I need a push. This might be it.


  2. Hi Louise,
    I just wanted to pop in and thank you for presenting at CFF Boot Camp. The model lessons were a hugh hit and we only have you folks to thank for that.

    In regards to PBL. For my first professional assignment I took over a class that was divided into modules. As I grew I changed the content covered, but kept the projects basically the same. I am proud to say we were able to cover issues like cyber safety and the history of communication tech in 7th grades. Did they all get the same experience, no. Would I say the kids all came away with a soild understanding, yes.

    I suppose pro/con really lies in the comfort level of the teacher. Some groups of students may love this. Others may not be able to handle the freedom. Either way PBL is still extremely prep heavy. But, when it works, it'e extremely rewarding as well.

    Talk to you soon,

  3. @Doyle: I set up a wiki and then create pages - either way you are correct. If you ever need to ask questions, I am here to help. Email or we can skype, work by phone. I would be glad to help in any way. Once you decide what you want, it really is easy.

    @Ken: Thanks for the great comments. I enjoyed presenting at the bootcamp and many of the questions there has led to more questioning of my practice including getting kids from point A to point B and assessment. I am actually putting another presentation in to PETE-C that addresses these. One day, I would like to pick your brain about your experiences, etc. Thanks again and hope to hear from you soon.