The grand finale of our PBL project was the public product. In PBL, rather than having students just do work for a teacher, students do work and then display their learning for an authentic audience. This raises the bar for students and how they display their learning. Publicly displaying students learning also adds transparency of what students are doing in classes, parents and family are invited to view and talk to students about their learning.
With the help of our site administration, our learning coach (thanks Jenny!), our incredible custodial staff, we were able to host over 300 people in our gym for our first ever PBL showcase.
My four chemistry classes as well as Lea Smith's anatomy classes presented to staff, parents, family, friends, and district office staff.
On my next post I will try to tie up some loose ends, do a bit of self reflection, and share some of the students thoughts about this project and PBL in general.
Questions or comments encouraged.
My students worked on their products for about a week and were ready for a dry run on their presentations. It was planned that we would present our learning in the gym on an evening during the week, the plan was to invite parents, family, teachers, and district personal.
In class a few days before our PBL showcase, students set up their projects in class. Students were given a BIE rubric for presentation, found here. We talked about how to keep eye contact with their audience and the use of body language. We talked about expressions and hand movements when presenting.
Most of my students worked in groups of 4. I had 2 students stay at the station where they set up their project and I had 2 students move to another group to watch a different presentation. Students would then give and receive feedback using Post-It notes (note to self: buy stock in 3M and Post-It notes!)
I also walked around and gave students feedback. Most of the feedback was reminding kids to talk to their audience instead of talking to their computer or poster or tri-fold board. I reminded kids to state their driving question and then highlight how they are going about solving this driving question.
Next post I will talk about grading and the big public product night.
Comments or questions welcome.
The driving question for this project was:
How can we solve the problem of plastics in the ocean/fresh water?
Previous posts I discussed other aspects of BIE's gold standard for PBL, for this post I am going to focus on critique and revision.
My students had done sustained inquiry involving research, reading articles, watching videos, as well as learning some chemistry behind molecular compounds/plastics. The students had decided on the type of product they felt would best solve the driving question, these products were mentioned in a previous post.
I had students create posters that included the following information:
Once students were done with this poster we talked about giving a receiving feedback from peers and from a teacher.
I showed this video:
Even though the students in the video are elementary kids and my kids are high school, this is a great video to show and then have a discussion on useful feedback and how it can drive a product to become better.
Following this we did a gallery walk, I had students hang their posters up around the room and I gave each student a handful of Post-it notes. Students were instructed to look at as many posters as possible and give one piece of positive feedback and one piece of advice for the groups project.
Of course when I try something new, it goes ok 1st period, but it gets better as the day goes along as I make small corrections. I found that giving students sentence stems for their feedback produced better quality feedback.
-I feel that you might want to try...
We started with something like this:
And moved into something like this:
After students collected the feedback they received on their products, I grabbed a few of the Post-It notes and put them on the document camera. I asked kids if the feedback was useful and specific. Students were very good at identifying good feedback from not so useful feedback. The hope is that they will continue to get better at giving and receiving feedback.
From here students began working on their products, I did daily check-in's with groups and individuals. Students used the critiques they received from me and their peers to revise their products. In the next post I will discuss how we did a dry run of the presentation to peers before the public exhibition of their product and their learning.
Another of the important aspect of Gold Standard PBL is the idea of student voice and choice in their project. Students are allowed some input and decision making on the direction of their project, how their learning will look, and what the product will be. The idea is to have students playing more of an active roll in their learning, rather that waiting for a teacher to tell them what and how to learn. The premise is that this will increase student buy in to their learning as it creates a sense of ownership.
Again for my first PBL unit, I posed the driving question of:
How can we solve the problem of plastics in the ocean/fresh water.
In looking back on the project, students had choice in how they will display their learning and what type of outcome or product they ultimately produced.
A few of the products that students chose to work on in this unit were:
While students were working on project, I continued to carve out days where students learned chemistry content that was related to plastics. Most of the content was on the basics of organic chemistry involving molecular bonding, Lewis structures, valence electrons, and periodic predictions of molecular bonds due to placement on the periodic table. All of these ideas form the basic knowledge of how bonding creates monomers and through polymerization, polymers or plastics are created.
The days that I did carve out of the project did not really have much if any voice and choice in them, it was back to direct instruction, practice problems, labs, and an exam.
There were days that I had set aside for the students to work on their project. On these days I would check in with each group to see progress and I required students to fill out a project work report daily that set goals and list what was accomplished in each class period. I will admit that on project days, some students were not using class time as well as others. This was frustrating. Even with group and individual check ins, there were a few groups that just wanted to socialize. For the next project, I will most likely give less in class time for project work and focus in class time on making sure students know the chemistry behind the project. Our school does have a 30 minute office hour block where students can freely go to any teacher for extra help or to work on projects, this time will be perfect for this. In addition to this, we did use group contracts for students where each group set its groups norms and rules. Going forward I really need to revisit these group contracts with students that are not using all of their class time wisely.
Questions or comments are always welcome.
To be honest, the sustained inquiry part of my first PBL project was undoubtedly one of the more difficult pieces for me. Students were given a driving question of:
How can we solve the problem of plastics in the ocean/fresh water?
Students now needed to do some outside research to determine the scope of the problem and to begin to come up with a solution.
Using BIE's project rubric for sustained inquiry:
After the entry event and after students had analyzed a website, students then created a "need to know" list of questions. I had each group brainstorm a list of questions they needed to have answered in order to answer our driving question. I then had groups narrow their lists down to 1 essential "need to know" question per group. These were put on my white board by periods, going forward I will put these on a piece of poster paper that we can hang in the class as my classroom is set up with sliding white boards. I would slide the white board so that 1st period could see their questions, but they could not see of the other classes questions.
Students were then given a project research document:
This document was pushed out in Google Classroom and students were instructed to create a shared folder in their Google Drive to be shared with their group. All of their shared documents and and anything project related could be placed in their Drive for access by all group members. Students were told to research plastics in the ocean/fresh water and to take notes in the right hand column of their research doc.
An interesting observation here, I had a few students that would ask me, how many websites or sources were required. My response was always, "do you have enough to answer your driving question?" Often kids would go back to work but some students seemed confused when I did not tell them to include at least 5 sources. Often times in the past on research projects I and other teachers had told students, you need X many sources and kids just would find that many sources to get the grade on the assignment.
My difficulty in this process was while some students would ask new questions and then seek out that information, I felt other students where just filling out the research document as a way to get points for their grade, there was not 100% buy in. After a couple days of project research, I had a few students that felt they had enough research and they would rather be doing other things on their Chromebook's. It was tough getting kids to dive deeper into the content.
For the next project I will be doing more individual and group check in's using BIE's critical thinking rubric, I did start doing check in's later in this project and will talk about that in a future post. The individual check in's are a great way to gauge students thinking and how they are coming along on their project.
Link to the critical thinking rubric:
This is the piece from the rubric that I will use in the future for sustained inquiry:
In addition to the check in's with students, this would be a great time to have students watch videos or read articles that I have found to be high quality on this subject, this would be great as a set up to a socratic seminar. I did not go this for this project but will in the future.
As always, comments and questions are encouraged.
Using Buck's Essential Project Design Elements from above, after the challenging problem/question, which I discussed in a previous post, we dove into the sustained inquiry portion.
My students started with an analysis of a website. In the age of fake news and propaganda, students must be able to discern a valuable website from a less than valid information source. I used the following web evaluation rubric:
My students were tasked with finding a website related to our project and running it through the rubric to determine it's usefulness. I feel this is a very valuable skill that students will need both for this project and later in life. As I write this, students have already started their second PBL project and it is great to hear kids using the metrics on the rubric to analyze websites they are currently finding for their second project. I have overheard kids saying, "there is no author listed and I can not find credentials. It does not seem like it has been updated recently, I am a little skeptical of this website." This is enough to make a teachers day.
More on sustained inquiry to follow.
As always, thoughts and comments are welcome.
My formal training in PBL is was through Buck Institute's Gold Standard PBL 101 workshop. My plan is to use the next series of posts to take you through the essential project design elements for my first PBL project in my general chemistry classes. Feel free to comment with suggestions.
The first step of this PBL project was the challenging problem or question, for my students the guiding question was:
How can we sold the problem of plastics in the ocean/freshwater.
Typically for Gold Standard PBL, the question needs to be a problem to solve or a question to answer.
Our entry event into this project was having my students watch two videos:
1. Midway, a Plastic island
2. Beads of destruction
Both of these videos are very powerful and created a great hook for kids that led them into the driving question. From the driving question, in groups students brainstormed need to know questions about plastics.
Underlying all of this was some of the basic chemistry of plastics including arrangement of elements on the periodic table and how that arrangement leads to different types of bonds and bonding which can be used in material science (NGSS, HS-PS1-2).
For authenticity, even though Atwater, Ca is roughly 100 miles from the ocean, within 5 miles of our school is the Merced River. The Merced is a river that tumbles out of the high Sierras, runs through Yosemite national park, and drops into the central valley where it ultimately joins the San Joaquin river. The San Joaquin flows into San Francisco bay and then the Pacific Ocean. Many of my students have been to the river, either fishing or just floating down the river on innertubes. The river feeds Lake Yosemite in nearby Merced, which again, many of my students have spent afternoons swimming or fishing or just having a family barbeque on the grassy banks. With this, students can identify with the the effects of plastic pollution on wildlife and began to see how microplastics could possibly harm them.
Isabella Bruyere is 10th grader, this is an important read, I feel one of the most important thoughts is:
So how did my love for school change? Simple: school stopped being about learning. As I entered high school, and even middle school, everyone around me, teachers and students alike, had the mindset of “cram cram cram, A’s, A’s A’s”. They’ll shove useless information into your head as fast as possible, “it’s okay if you don’t understand it, just memorize it and get an A on your exam!” The exam? An hour in a room of no talking, just bubbling in multiple choice answers while bubbles of anxiety grew in your stomach. School slowly became a place of memorizing facts just long enough to get the A, doing the bare minimum to get into the best college. Everything was just to get into college, to be better than your peers. Why help your classmate? Why not sabotage them so you have less people to compete with when it comes to applying to Harvard, Stanford, Yale. That is the mentality that I hate, yet it is the mentality of everyone around me, and maybe even myself.
Read the rest of this here. What do you think?
Not long after I became interested in project based learning, I read Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith's book, Most Likey to Succeed. The book was also turned in to a fantastic documentary. I highly recommend both (as always, read the book first, just saying). After reading about this study, I began questioning the need to keep doing things as we have always done in education:
The Lawrenceville School is consistently rated as one of the very best U.S. elite private high schools (according to Forbes). A decade ago, it ran fascinating experiment with students taking core science courses. When students returned after summer vacation, they were asked to retake the final exam they had completed three months earlier. Actually, it was a simplified version of the final, as the faculty eliminated any detailed questions that students should't be expected to remember a few months later. The results were stunning. When students took the final in June, the average grade was a B+ (87%); when the simplified test was taken in September, the average grade was an F (58%). Not one student retained mastery of all important concepts covered by the course. Following this experiment, Lawrenceville completely rethought the way courses were taught, eliminating almost half of the content to emphasize deeper learning. When repeating the experiment in subsequent years, the results were far more satisfactory.
As I began to think about project based learning, I became worried that I would never get through all of the curriculum needed. How could I do long term projects that required kids to research topics and be exposed to inquiry methods of teaching. These both would take time and I only have approximately 184 days with students. After reading the study done at Lawrenceville, I can better about doing less chemistry, but diving deeper into chemistry. Having students just memorize and regurgitate information for an exam, only to immediately forget this information, does not bode well for education in the U.S. Does this mean I no longer teach chemistry, not at all. My students still do labs, they still listen to lectures and take notes, they still work problems, but I am trying to incorporate more authentic experiences and less multiple choice tests.
The traditional teaching and learning of chemistry has been unchanged for over 100 years. Students sitting in a row, periodic table in hand, listening to a teacher lecture about how to calculate molar mass or work a stoichiometry problem or balance an equation. I've been doing this for 20 years. A few years ago my district went 1:1, now every student in our district now has a Chromebook checked out to them. Pew Research Center has found as of 2013, 78% of teens 12-17 have a cell phone, I would guess that number is higher now. Students now have immediate access to anything that Google can provide them.
On a recent lesson, I had students draw Lewis structures of molecules. As I bounced from student to student checking their structures I notice that quite a few of my 1st period students we drawing Lewis structures different from how I had showed them, the structures were technically correct but kids would not have known this unless taught by another teacher or if they looked them up. What a percentage of my students were doing was just to simply Google: Lewis structure CO2. Kids can now do this with a large % of basic chemistry concepts. I have found online balanced equation tools as well as online stoichiometry tools. Personally I have used Siri to quickly give me the molar mass of a compound when preparing reagents for a lab. I am not planning on abandoning basic chemistry concepts, I just do not plan on spending as much time on concepts that can easily be looked up.
I often hear fellow teachers argue that we should not allow kids to use their Chromebook or phone in class, but I don't feel this is a reflection of the real world. A person working in industry will use any or all of the available tools including the internet, and of course, we should be getting kids ready for the real world of work.
So what is answer? For me, it is to start asking questions that can not be simply Googled.