PBL…Just Do It!

I recently witnessed a demonstration of a Spider Web Discussion with a Grade 6 class. This discussion is led and moderated by students. The students do everything. In fact the teacher just observes and assesses the discussion and really only steps in if absolutely necessary. Watching this method of discussion made me think of some of the courses and classes that I have taught and how my role in those classes was to guide students to work through projects, provide materials support, troubleshoot or help students to avoid major pitfalls (but not always). When I taught construction technology, web design or STEM the learning for the students was in the doing. I rarely “lectured” for more than 5 or 10 minutes. Students in my class were generally engaged, and were free to make and learn from mistakes. The approach was not always that of a Project Based Learning activity but there were a lot of the elements in everything that happened in those classes.

Image by Andrew White

In my new role as Tech Integration Coach I have been working with the MS Learning Coach and one of our amazing Arabic teachers to design a problem based unit for her advanced level Arabic classes. Arabic language classes are mandatory for students and although we have many students who are new to the language for a large percentage of our kids it is their native language. There is a lot of pressure from the parent community to provide strict “old school” curriculum but of course this type of learning does not engage our students. Our main goals are to have students meet the standards of the class by writing, speaking and listening to the language. We devised a “Student News” project where students can report on topics of interest. The topic and format is determined by the student or the group of students. The students are central to the learning process in this project. I am hearing from the teacher that the learning is more authentic and the kids are much more engaged. She tells me that she now has some time to conference with the kids, to give them one on one support and she still does some “traditional” lessons.

I have never really felt comfortable with the “sage on the stage” role. This may be why I have always been attracted to more of a project based learning style. I also learn better by actually doing something instead of listening to someone tell me how to do it. What I need to do a better job of is creating that central overarching question that hooks kids and grabs their attention. Questions like “What’s the better car: Dodge Viper or Shelby Cobra?” from Kevin Grant in the article Perfecting with Practice: Project Based Teaching are a great example of how to hook students in peak their interest in the subject matter. How can you not get excited about the physics of fast cars? Luckily for me I will have opportunities to see more great Project Based Learning in practice as Tech Coach at AIS-R. I know that in the Middle School my colleagues and COETAIL cohort-mates Francois and Craig are very keen on Project Based Learning. They are often encouraging other teachers to adopt this in their classrooms.

2 thoughts on “PBL…Just Do It!

  1. Finding the hook can be key. I have found that before kids can engage with learning, even with a great hook, they need to know how to think. What do I mean by that? If students are too used to a traditional classroom setting they are not willing to take risks or delve into a possible unknown, even if it interests them, until they are no longer concerned about finding the ‘right’ answer. What is your experience?

  2. Kristi,

    I couldn’t agree more! Before moving into my new role as a tech coach I was an elementary STEM teacher. In my experience with STEM students is that they really have a hard time with open ended problems that have more than one solution. They always ask “is this right?” or “is this how you want it?”. It is difficult to let go of that traditional way of thinking, it is so comforting (even for adults). Once you are able to change that culture in your classroom your kids are truly thinking and truly learning!


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