Monday, November 28, 2011

Project Based Learning and the Big Flip

Making the transition from teaching a standard, teacher-focused class to running a student-directed inquiry center is not easy. Despite all of the talk about blended learning, flipped classrooms, 21st-century skills, and so on, the fact is that most teachers remain most comfortable doing what they have been doing with, at most, minor alterations and accommodations to new technologies and methodologies.

I definitely fit into that description - until this morning. This morning, my 7th grade Chumash class began their first Project-Based Learning (PBL) unit. I have taught a wonderful unit on Korbanot for the past 10 years, and over time the unit has been adjusted slightly to allow for different projects, to make use of a wiki, and to incorporate more and varied material. However, the class was still essentially a "sage on the stage" performance starring yours truly. This morning, all of that was blown to bits.

I walked into the classroom and presented the students with a "memo" from Eliyahu HaNavi explaining that the Beit HaMikdash is about to be rebuilt and their were charged with the task of devising a plan to effectively integrate modern technology into the regular system of korbanot. In order to do so, they have to research the korbanot (instead of my teaching it to them) as well as several other details related to the Beit HaMikdash. I have been busy preparing online materials (such as this) as well as hard-copy resources to be used in the classroom. We will be meeting in the computer lab twice per week during this unit, and students are free to go at their own pace as well as to take advantage of built-in enrichment by pushing themselves to research deeper into certain topics or to take on additional topics (such as korbanot ha-of or menachot, which I have never included in this unit in the past).

I will be posting every few days as this project continues - it is as much an experiment for me as it is a new experience for my students. One reflection for now: As I sat in my study over the weekend preparing various outlines and materials (and many thanks to the Buck Institute for Education, the gurus of PBL), I was struck by the momentary discomfort when I realized that I was preparing to give up my role as the sole voice of authority in the classroom in favor of being a research advisor. I forced myself through that discomfort, and hopefully my students will reward me with several weeks of exciting learning and creativity.

More to follow - stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

Two wonderful things happen when we use project-based learning in our classrooms: (1) students learn more, (2) students learn more deeply. Though, as adults, we often know more than our students, we don't know everything. When students get to explore what interests them, within a topic area, they are more eager learners. The group, as a whole, often learns more by sharing their knowledge with each other, than they could possibly learn from a single person, regardless of how learned that person might be.

Students are now "prosumers." They both produce and consume information. With direction and some supervision, students become so much more than just sponges. They learn more skills than reading, taking notes, and listening. They are proud of their learning, which makes their learning stick with them longer. Even if they don't use technology, project-based learning works wonders.

I'm glad you decided to forgo your discomfort and choose this teaching strategy. I think you'll be astounded with what both you and your students will learn!

Nechama said...

Wow - it is huge to be able to "let go" of the stage and give the students an opening for creativity.

I am excited to hear about how you implemented it into Jewish studies, and look forward to doing the same.