Saturday, October 26, 2013

Talk of Change - Embracing Project Based Learning

change_thoughts by MMcDonough
change_thoughts, a photo by MMcDonough on Flickr.


I gave my first Professional Development workshop yesterday on Project Based Learning (PBL). While I've talked to Colleagues, Parents, and Community members about PBL, this was my first chance to have a deeper, focused dialoug with educators about PBL. 

I was very cognizant in putting it together that I wanted to create opportunities for rich conversations and sharing of ideas, activities, and strategies. I borrowed and adapted questions from David Truss's presentation "7 Ways to Transform Your Classroom". The questions participants discussed together and shared thoughts on were a powerful part of the day, in my opinion. 

Selling anything, though, is not easy. As George Couros points out, we need to be strategic if we want to help others embrace change. George poses three questions that we can answer for Educators as we present change. Let me share my thoughts on them as it relates to PBL:

  • How will this save me time?
    • Such a valuable question for Educators. I want to acknowledge that adopting and settling into new Teaching practices takes time and energy, we all know that. For me the investment pays off in the product, and we'll get to that in a minute. In my experience the payoff with PBL is in two places. First, I save time preparing discrete tasks. My projects are almost always chunked into pieces that stretch over 2-6 hours of class time. So, once students are engaged in a new activity we roll with it for a few days, allowing me to do much more guiding, facilitating, informal breakout workshops, and formative assessment. Secondly, I save time in assessment. PBL lends itself beautifully to AFL practices that look a lot like students developing ownership by understanding where they are at and where they are going in their learning. This requires coaching and practice, but does not require that I collect small pieces of work daily, or even every few days to document the small steps in their learning journey. I should say to that my context is also a BYOD program. This saves a huge amount of time for me photocopying discrete tasks. I've moved my project outlines to Google Drive so students have current (and ever-changing) copies shared with them and they can be set up to comment on the outline or even edit as needed. 
  • We need to focus on different, not more
    • Yes. Some of the shifts I've been cognizant of in my practice as it related to PBL are in the ways I synthesize and summarize information, share resources, and share my expertise. As I move to PBL I fully desire to shift my instructional methods from Teacher centered to Learner centered. It strikes me as odd that so often we stand up and synthesize and summarize content for students. We need to teach students to synthesize and summarize content. If we are too worried about covering the content to let the students summarize it for themselves then perhaps we are trying to cover too much content (and I don't mean to get too involved in the debate over covering content here, I am more interesting in suggesting that this is one way that PBL is different and not more). My argument on resources is very much the same. Students need to be able to effectively find and critically curate content online. We are doing them a disservice if we find it for them, and we are doing them an even greater disservice if we do not teach our students to use a variety of resources. So we shift from finding and curating and sharing resources for our students to having them find, curate, and share their own resources. Lastly, PBL comes with a shift in expertise. Methods of Inquiry seek to involve community and experts outside the school. Although I'm not there yet in my practice, efforts to do this have been rewarding. I believe the same can be said about the learning community that exists within the classroom. Prensky writes about a Partnering pedagogy where we are all Teachers and we are all Learners. We need to shift our practice enough to allow students to embrace the roll as the experts that they are and are becoming.  
  • Is this better?
    • I believe so. In the presentation I respond to the "Why?" question with three arguments: because of shared experiences, because of shared findings, and because of shared understanding of best practice. There's a lot to unpack there, but I'll leave that to the presentation itself. After reading Couros's post the piece of this I feel I missed was the way in which its better for me. Ultimately I am most satisfied as a Teacher when the Learners I'm working with are most satisfied in their Learning. To that end, yes. PBL has allowed for deeper, richer, more meaning learning for my students and left me more satisfied in my Teaching!
Do you agree? What burning PBL questions are on your mind? Does PBL save you time? What shifts has it come with in your practice? Is it better for you and your students? What conversations are you interested in having as you consider change?