I am now two and a half weeks into my PBL experiment. On one level, it is working wonderfully. I have watched my students become very self-reliant in their learning - sometimes I feel that I am bothering them when I ask for 15 minutes every other day in order to teach them some small piece of material that I think is best done as a class. Several of them have searched for and discovered new resources online and added them to the wiki for their classmates to benefit from. They are learning how to divide and conquer with their working partners so that they can efficiently finish the material on deadline. And, of course, I have not once had to tell them to get to work.
And yet - I am left to wonder to what degree they are actually learning the material. When I frontally taught this material over the past 10 years, I could be content in the knowledge that the information had been accurately conveyed and that the big picture view had been applied. I was able to make little side comments that would provide "bonus" knowledge, and class discussion was generally very fruitful in terms of broadening the scope of what the basic material conveyed.
Now, I am left to wonder about all of that. While I spend virtually every moment in the classroom answering questions, working with small groups to discuss finer points that they might pick up on, and helping to guide student learning in a much more precise and individualized fashion than I ever before did, I am holding my breath until the final projects to see what they have really learned.
Of course, all of this may just be my basic teacher ego speaking. In the past, I knew that the material had been properly taught, but I had no guarantees that it had been correctly learned. In fact, it was a near-sure thing that student unit assessments would be handed in with weak attempts to parrot back the phrases that I had uttered, but without a deeper understanding of what they meant. In theory, a PBL classroom environment should solve much of that - while I do not yet know if everything is being learned properly, I do know that everyone is learning - and that might be a far more valuable lesson and experience than whether or not they can explain the intricacies of the אשם שפחה חרופה to me in a project.
All will be answered soon - the learning ends this Friday, and projects are due next week. Included in next week's lesson plans is time for reflection as a class (a crucial component of PBL). As always, stay tuned.