Year One with PBL

We have officially completed one school year with Project-Based Learning and what a ride it has been. Our team put in an extraordinary amount of effort to get this initiative up and running and despite a number of hiccups along the way, I’d say that Round One was a success.

We opted to develop three projects for our Grades 5/6 and 7/8 teams to allow our team to ‘ease’ into the process. With the help of our Teacher-Librarian, our teams were able to come up with integrative ideas based on our curriculum, two in French and one in English. Full-time PBL would have been overkill for us, as our team needed to be able to breathe in between each project.

In Grade 5/6, two of the projects that they worked on focused on these driving questions: 1. How do we tell a story about a person or event that has had a positive impact either locally or globally? and 2. Now what can we do as individuals or as a team to make a difference? This involved researching events and people, spending time at our Canadian Museum of Human Rights (CMHR) to learn about what makes a great exhibit and then setting up a Museum of Caring to present their own exhibits to our community. As a side benefit to this, five of our students’ displays were then chosen by the Educator in Residence to be a part of The 180 exhibit at the CMHR where they presented their work to museum attendees and then participated in a panel discussion in the evening. Not too many people can say that they have been presenters at a national museum. This then led to a collective fundraiser for Siloam Mission with a Pride-themed dance party to cap off their learning.

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The learning that went on was incredible. Research, public-speaking, writing of all varieties (memos, essays, letters of intent, etc.), not to mention the opportunities for developing time-management skills, resilience and perseverance. I was blown away by their professionalism and by the growth that I witnessed with a number of students who have normally shied away from public-speaking or taking on leadership roles.

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The Grades 7/8 teams worked on projects that looked at the following driving questions: 1. What can we learn from what others have left behind?; 2. Is disease necessary? and 3. How can we bring the Medieval Ages to life? The first involved developing archeological presentations that demonstrate how history has been impacted by our ancestors. The second had the support of graphic artists from a local company who helped students develop their own public service announcements. The third had students presenting their recently developed games to members of the Sharks’ Den and parents to garner investments for either their video or board games. What impressed me was the desire for many students to continue tweaking their work to make improvements. The process became the focus and not the final product. At the same time, I was amazed at their creativity, their openness about the process and their intuitiveness when it came to their understanding of their strengths and areas where they could improve.

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How do I know that this year was a success? Multiple ways.

  1. Our annual Tell Them From Me survey saw an increase in student engagement to 77%, up from 64% last year. Comments to open-ended questions saw a 100% buy-in with our Grades 5/6 students. Our Grade 7 students were also very much pro-PBL. Grade 8 students weren’t as sold on the idea initially, as this was an entirely new way of learning for them. Yet, by the third go-round, they were really enjoying the project, minus perhaps the stress that came with project deadlines.
  2. Reading test scores saw the majority of students at or above grade levels.
  3. Teachers indicated that more students were actively working on projects and on-task throughout the day.
  4. Behavior management issues decreased, as compared to last year.

The added bonus was that teachers in other grade levels were also impacted by the excitement that this initiative was causing in our middle years, so they too started to develop their own PBLs. Two of our Grade 3/4 classes tweaked an Optimal Learning Model project to answer the following question: How can we create the next best Tim Horton’s donut flavor? Students developed their persuasive writing skills, public-speaking and creativity when they presented their donut to the judging panel, including a representative from Tim Horton’s. And there were some very interesting and delicious flavors in the mix!

At the same time, when our Kindergarten teacher asked her students what they liked best about Kindergarten as a wrap up to the year, every single student mentioned the two PBL projects that they did this year, one on the Arctic and the other on Space.

So we’re headed in the right direction. This takes time, perseverance, creativity and an openness to learning on our part, but I believe that it is 100% worth every minute invested in the process. I can’t wait for Year Two!!!

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