I decided that I wanted to use an integrated social studies / communication arts project for my next attempt at PBL in my classroom so today we started working on our Regions of Pennsylvania project.
There was a lot of prep work to get us to this point, and it started before our holiday break. In the two weeks leading up to break we learned about our region of Pennsylvania, the Piedmont region, as a class. Basically I modeled what I would do if I were in the students' shoes and had to do a project about a region of Pennsylvania. Through my modeling we talked about the 5 themes of geography, we talked about non-fiction reading skills and using a variety of text organization tools that help us work smarter, not harder. We talked about taking notes, doing effective searches on the Internet, making sure photographs can be legally used for our projects, and how to use tools like Google docs, Wordle, Fotobabble and Picnik.
Right before break the students and I took a brief look at the four other regions of Pennsylvania. Based on what the students previewed I asked them to order the regions from 1 to 4: 1 was the region they would most like to learn about, and 4 was the one they found least interesting. Over the break I assigned the students to groups based on their choices. In an effort to help each group have an equal work load I did try to keep a similar number of students in each group, but I did not consider student abilities or personalities when grouping. I gave each student their first or second choice.
Today was our first day working together, and I looked at it as a culture building day. Just like our PBL activity about the Iditarod I started by asking the kids some questions. We discussed the answers and shared these in a whole group setting, and the students recorded answers on our white board. Their answers looked like this (the second group's answers will be added tomorrow!):
After we talked about these questions as a class, the students broke into their groups and had to make these decisions:
1. What jobs do the people in our group need to do to meet our goals?
2. Who will fill each job?
3. Will we keep the same jobs for the whole project or will we switch?
4. What do we think we want to do for our project?
To help with this the students were given a folder that included a list of everybody's name and spots to fill in jobs, the rubric we use to grade this particular project (it is a social studies common assessment), and a set of blogging guidelines.
As I was planning for this project over the break, I was participating in several different discussions in my PLP community. One discussion in particular made me stop and think about fact that my emphasis, and consequently that of my students, was entirely on the product they create. I really want to change this to get the focus on the process as well. So one job I decided to require in each group is a Blogger, hence the blogging guidelines.
Each day one group member will be the Blogger. Their job will be to report out about what their group accomplished, what went well, what didn't do so well, and what the group's next steps will be. I selected the first students to fill this position tomorrow since I will not be in class to support them, but after this it will be up to the groups to decide who will fill this role each day. I'm looking forward to reading the first posts tomorrow to see how things go, and I'm looking forward to hearing whether or not having this role helps them start reflecting on what they are learning and how they are working each day.
As seems to be the norm this year, I'm not sure how this project will turn out. I think we're off to a good start, and I think the kids have the background knowledge that they need so I guess we will see what happens! Stay tuned!