We're seven days in to our Pennsylvania projects so I thought it would be a good time for a little update on how our PBL experience was going. When we last left off we had just gotten started with the projects by doing a culture building day, and the kids were raring to go! So what happened next?
Unfortunately, because of previously scheduled professional days, I was out of my classroom two of the next three days. The first day I was out of the classroom the students used our work on the 5 Themes of Geography and the Peidmont Region examples that we did together, and they developed their own sets of questions about their region. Each group had three questions from our curriculum that they were required to answer:
1. What is the climate of the region?
2. What landforms are in the region?
3. What are the natural resources in the region?
The groups were tasked with brainstorming other questions that would fit into the 5 themes and would provide people viewing our projects with enough information so they could learn about the different parts of our state. After doing their brainstorming group members worked together and decided which of the questions were going to be part of their projects.
Here is the first change I will make next time we do this project: I will go over the group's questions with them to talk about the information that the answers will give to our viewers and to make sure they fit with the 5 themes of geography. It got to the point, on day 4 or 5, where I had to go back with some groups to reword and change their questions. I know this was taking away some of their self-directed learning, but the groups were struggling with their research, and their answers weren't going to give our viewers any information about the region.
The research has been another challenge. As expected the kids jumped right on to the iPads and laptops and started googling and using random sites. If I had $5 for every time I said, "But how do you know that is about the ___________ region in PA?" and a student said, "Ummmmmmmmm...." Even though I started my model research in our text book and got almost all of my demo information from our book and links on our class websites, the kids still went right for google. It's been interesting to see the light bulbs click when the groups have asked for help, and we've found exactly what they've been looking for in their text book. One student actually said to me, "Wow. We wasted a lot of time, and it was right here the whole time."
The draw of the tech tools is strong, but unfortunately their tech skills are not so strong... at least not when it comes to searching. So another thing I will change for our next project is to review searching skills with the kids. It's frustrating that they aren't getting those skills in their tech class, but that's a WHOLE other post for a different day!
Our biggest challenges, which will probably not be a surprise if you've been following my blog, has been teamwork and staying focused. And if you check out our blogs here and here (look for posts by the regions) you'll see that the kids recognize it, too. While they recognize it, they aren't quite sure exactly what to do to fix it. I'm circulating but trying not to hover. I'm being a mediator when a group asks for help, but I'm trying to stay out of disputes unless it becomes really problematic. And I'm trying not to redirect students, but I do provide them with daily reminders about how much more work time they have left and the requirements listed on their project rubric.
Another big thing I'll change for next year (when we hopefully won't lose a week of school to historic flooding and odd smells)? More teamwork and collaboration. I'm envisioning spending the whole first month of school on team building, Daily 5 training, and individual assessments with kids to help prepare them for the rest of the year.
So where are we now? The kids have about three more total hours of work time next week, and their final projects are due next Friday. Of the 8 groups, 3 are already working on their presentations: 1 group is doing a podcast, and the other two are creating pages on our class blog. Today, I stood in the middle of my classroom, and just looked around in awe watching four groups work. It may have taken them six days, but today I felt like they finally "got it" and that was VERY exciting to me.
I also had a great conversation with my teammate today. She is not participating in PLP with me, but she has bravely agreed to try out my crazy schemes. Like many teachers, myself included, she said, "I just feel like I should have given them the questions so I know they're getting what they need." What they need = what's required by the curriculum. My response to her was that I know exactly how she feels because it is REALLY HARD to give up that control. And while we may not be able to guarantee that they are learning everything they "need" to know about the PA regions, we are giving them skills they really need in terms of teamwork and technology. I'm proud of her for going out on the limb and taking a risk with me, and I know that our next projects will only get better.
Look for our final update and the links to our final projects. I know the kids will love hearing what you think!