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.