I’m back at another round of Innovator’s Mindset on Instagram, but felt the need to write a blog in the process. George Couros’ first two questions, based on Chapters 1 and 2 of his book, are as follows:
- How are you creating change in order to design new, relevant, and better opportunities for learners today, and for their future?
- How are you embracing failure, yet persevering in order to create something new and better?
I’ve asked myself and my colleagues of all ages many times over the years, “What do you remember about your learning when you were younger? What stood out to you?” Across the board, whether they are in their early 20s, 30s, 40s or 50s, they talked about projects that they loved doing or that impacted them, their extracurricular activities, hands-on learning and the relationships. Not one person mentioned their love of math sheets or whole group novel studies that involved reading a chapter and answering a kazillion questions. They all mentioned that they loved learning about things that were relevant to them…and believe me, the list was long and varied, just like their interests.
In comes our decision to introduce Project-Based Learning for all Grades 5 to 8 classrooms. This approach provides authentic, relevant, hands-on learning experiences for students of all ages, and is a serious departure from traditional methods of teaching when looking at the whole picture. Kinda scary…slightly overwhelming…and a ton of work! But, the team jumped in, although with some reservation, and rightly so. To get everybody on the same page, as their entry points were all over the map, we provided team planning sessions, mentorship with Instructional Coordinators, observations at a local high school in the Louis Riel School Division that builds its practice around PBL and passion-based learning, workshops with Big Picture Schools, the development of a Professional Learning Network that focuses on PBL, and lots of release time to plan, reflect and revamp.
The teams began their first round of PBL in the Fall, with Grade 5/6 students focusing on the question, ‘Who Am I?’ where they had to interview their peers and create a video autobiography of that person. Our Grade 7/8 students answered the question, “What do we learn from what others have left behind?” and then “What will others learn from what we leave behind?’ as part of a unit on archaeology. With this driving question, they developed museum exhibits that were presented to different peer groups.
Now in their second round, our Grades 5/6 students are developing a Museum of Caring, based on the question, “How can a story about a person or an event make a change in the world?” Our Grades 7/8 students are learning about diseases through the Science Curriculum to answer the question, “Is illness necessary?” The hooks for each were engaging and sparked many new questions as our students move forward with their research phase.
With all new initiatives comes a learning curve, in some cases more so than others. And I would be lying if I said it wasn’t tons of work. It takes a lot of time and planning…and learning to collaborate effectively with our teaching partners as we integrate curricular outcomes and learning experiences. And with this also comes a few hiccups, just to keep things interesting!
No attempt at anything for the first time is likely to bring about perfection. You will also very likely not blow it out of the park with its fabulousness. Yet, that doesn’t mean that you throw the idea away and revert back to traditional methods of teaching.
With our first round of PBL under our belt, teaching staff learned more about incorporating soft skills into the project cycle. Learning to collaborate effectively sounds like an easy thing, but if a student doesn’t know what that looks like within the parameters of a PBL…well, you may have a bit of mayhem. The same goes for time management. It is one thing to write notes down into an agenda…it is another thing to remain on task in a group to ensure that timelines are being met. So, with the help of a former Propel teacher, Lisa Albrecht, the team learned about different strategies to incorporate learning experiences at appropriate times through the second PBL cycle to support development of these skills.
Based on student feedback, teachers also recognized that the centers that they had developed to support student research were still very traditional in nature…the ‘read this, answer that’ variety of activities. With some help from an Instructional Coordinator, they were able to come up with activities for the second round that helped develop their inquisitiveness while providing more hands-on learning experiences.
At the same time, when the students presented their products to different peers, and were able to observe others in action, a number of students ask to revamp their projects to be able to present a second time, because they learned how to do it better. Now that is learning at its finest!
Failing at something isn’t a sign of failure. Not trying again just might be. But by giving teachers and students an opportunity to reflect on their learning, provide each other with constructive feedback and then another opportunity to revamp based on this learning, you have a recipe for success. And I know that when I hear our students yell in the hallway that they have to hurry up because they don’t want to miss PBL, that maybe…just maybe…this idea is working!