Thursday, December 1, 2011

PBL Update - How's it going so far?

Thank you to those who have commented, retweeted, and otherwise provided some feedback and encouragement about my initial post about my Project Based Learning experiment. Having now completed four days of the unit, a few reflections on what I have learned.

1) This is hard work, even though I am not really "teaching." Given the fact that I am doing this with an honors-level class, I have a roomful of very motivated students. What that means is that when I include material on their project sourcesheets that are for enrichment if they choose to do it, most of them are going to go for it. That keeps the pressure on me to keep materials ready and available, and to be around to explain things when they challenge themselves to study materials that might be slightly above them.

2) Structure is key, despite the lack of structure. On Tuesday, we spent class in the computer lab, mainly since the first round of materials were a series of online videos that I had created. Over the past two days, we have been back in our classroom (mainly due to lack of computer lab availability) with the students equipped with their Chumashim, notebooks and in some cases laptops. A number of students entered class yesterday unsure what they were supposed to do - wait, rabbi, you mean you're not teaching us? By the time I walked in today, everyone was already hard at work.

2a) My students are awesome. Did you catch that last sentence? 7th graders were working before the teacher entered the room! Amazing.

3) Flexibility is key. One of the early sources that they had to cover was a bit beyond their ability to comprehend. I let them all discover this on their own, then put on the board today that at 9:45 we would be learning that source together. This allowed them about 20 minutes to continue to proceed at their own pace, after which we had a 15-minute lesson that they had already learned some of the background material for and that they understood where it fit into the overall picture. The key for me has been to see when it is appropriate to help out each group of students and when I need to call everyone together for a mini-lesson. I think that they appreciate coming together once in a while, as it represents their notion of what "class" is "really" like.

4) Feedback and reflection. I am reserving the last two minutes of each class period for the students to reflect on what they have done, both for themselves and for me. I have made available feedback forms which provide space for both, and thus far they have been very helpful to me to know what they would want more of, and I believe it is helpful to the students to catch their breath and take stock of how far they have progressed and what their next steps are.

5) Is this for everyone? As I noted, I am doing this with an honors-level class, which means that motivation is relatively high, as are ability and skills. Could this work with a more heterogeneous class? I don't yet know. Part of my goal is to first try it out with this group so as to get an understanding of potential difficulties and pitfalls in a class where their strengths will help to make it work. Once that has been done, I can move towards encouraging it in other classes as well.

More to follow as we get further into this process. So far, it has been exhilarating.

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