My class's Project-Based Learning (PBL) unit is just about finished. Projects have been handed in and students will be presenting over the next few days. Before I sum up with my successes, a few lessons learned for future endeavors such as this:
1) Defining work expectations from the outset - We ran this unit over the course of three weeks, sometimes in the computer lab and sometimes in the classroom. Most students got into the mindset that all work was to be done in class. What resulted was a bit of a rush towards the end when they realized that there was too much material left to be done in the remaining class time. Takeaway for me is to help them realize that doing a little bit outside of class each night would help move the process along.
2) Grading system - For this unit, the students had about 20 small assignments along the way, which were a combination of google form questions, written reviews, and voicethreads. Of course, the end goal of the unit was a major project that called on all that they had learned. While I am not clear exactly what form it should take, it seems that presenting graded material as being part of a portfolio would be beneficial to all involved. For the students, it would help them to organize their work as they build towards the final product. For me, it would allow me to produce a final grade that takes all steps of the project into account, as opposed to having 21 distinct grades.
3) Review and reflection - After the learning was complete, we spent one day in a circle reflecting as a class on the process (more on the student reaction in a different post). Ideally, we should have be doing some form of reflection daily or at least every few days. I had intended for the last 2 minutes of each class to be a time for this, but 40 minutes passes by very quickly and I was never able to really establish the pattern.
4) Move beyond PowerPoint - Let's face it, when students use PowerPoint they aim for flashy backgrounds and all sorts of crazy entries for their text and images. Maybe I'm getting old, or maybe I am just no longer impressed by it. Or maybe I am aware of the many, many more ways that they can creatively present their material. One of my groups did make use of Prezi, which is PowerPoint on psychedelic drugs, but is definitely a change. No one went for the various animation or storytelling sites that are out there - the question is whether they knew about them, and, if not, how do I introduce them to such sites without taking too much class time (if any)?
This is not to say, by the way, that their presentations are not well-done. Many of them are visually appealing and display some real tech-savviness. But there is so much more out there for them to discover.
5) Plan better and more publicly - The Buck Institute of Education, the gurus of PBL, have many useful forms online that are helpful in designing these units (and a strongly encourage anyone contemplating PBL to visit the site). One form is a 4-week blank calendar to be used to plan out learning experiences. While I did make use of it, some of it was built as I went along. To a degree this was necessary, as I was still feeling things out and getting used to how long everything really takes. In the future, as I get better at this, I would definitely suggest having the entire thing built before the unit begins and posting it for the students. My students were generally great about walking into class and getting started before I got there - imagine if they knew exactly what was on the agenda for the day.
All in all, I think that this was an amazing experience and one that I will be repeating for future units. As I noted above, the positives will be forthcoming.
(By the way, tonight's twitter Jedchat was about PBL in the Judaic Studies classroom. Archives can be found here)