That's why I've done EDI. I've done data-drive instruction. I've done space-learning. I've done constructivist learning. I've done the Kate Shaffer writing method and the Kate Kinsella vocabularly method and probably loads of other Kates' methods that I can't even remember.
Flipped learning was one of those things - I pushed back against the idea because I thought it would never work with my students. Clearly, I was wrong.
But the latest one is PBL. Project-based-learning is something that always seemed a bit pointless. Students completed projects in my class, but I thought most of what I saw labeled as PBL was little more than an attempt to shove some artistic work into the same boring curriculum. I didn't see how changing a worksheet for a diorama made that much difference.
However, as Andrew and I have conceived our class structure this year, something began to change. We have become obsessed with authentic tasks and products, and have tried to keep everything within the lens of "Will this be useful to them later? Does this demonstrate some skill, process, or product that will prepare them as critical readers, writers, and thinkers?"
Within that framework, I think we've accidentally become project-based. In fact, that has become my new definition of PBL: Taking a skill, process, or product and making it relevant, in order to prepare students for the critical reading, writing and thinking tasks expected of them. When you do that, and you add the flipped mindset - making best use of face-to-face time to do higher-order thinking in ways that give students voice and choice and through the intentional and mindful use of technology - I think you get a powerful learning environment that feels less like school and more like fun. Challenging fun, but fun nonetheless.
As proof, I can only point to this: I have more buy-in and engagement right now than I have ever had at this point in the school year, especially when I've taught freshmen. They are self-policing each other. They are reflective about their learning. They are seeing some of the decisions that have harmed their academic habits and are trying to change them. They are convincing each other to work harder and do better. They tell me how much they like my class.
And they work their butts off, so it's not just because it's an easy A. Oh, speaking of grades, I get very few questions about grades these days. I attribute that to the feedback students get - that replaces the anxiety of not knowing how they are doing in my class, and they have learned to trust that I am willing to help them in exchange for them showing up and trying.
Here are some examples from this semester of what I'm calling Flipped PBL, of FPBL. Each addresses product, process, or subject-area content/skills.
1. The Photo Journal (Product)
Students is all of our classes (my three English 9 sections, my leadership class, and Andrew's desktop publishing, public speaking, and English 11 Honours) took a photo of each hour of their waking life and compiled them with short descriptions. These are being hosted in a website designed by a group in desktop publishing. To get to design the website, each group presented a video pitch with their mock-up design and how they would organise the pictures (by time, by class, by period, by location, by last name, by gender, etc.) and what the site would look like. Then my students provided feedback on the design, function, and overall presentation, and finally voted on their favourite and that group has begun to design the website.
2. Discussion Videos for Looking for Alaska (Process)
Both Andrew's English 11 and my sections of English 9 are reading Looking for Alaska right now. We are trying to teach them how to have a conversation, so we have started working on various ways to get students to engage more productively with one another. One way was to help them scaffold their thinking on a section in the book of their choosing and have them share their thoughts on video. Those videos will be exchanged with the class across the country. Andrew's kids have finished the book first, so they are making the first round. In order to make sure they have good insight to share, we have shown them model videos from our CoFlipBookClubRead The Fault In Our Stars, and then had them apply a critical lens - patterning - to the text in a close reading assignment. They will send the videos to my students, who will respond to the ideas and ask some follow-up questions, then will send them back for final reflections.
3. Genius Hour (Skill/Content)
I know this isn't the "traditional" genius hour set-up, but I think it works. In normal genius hour, students get a class period to create something - it doesn't matter what it is, but it has to be entirely finished in the time allotted. For this genius hour, students will be crafting something that shows something they have learned about learning, the brain, personality, the education system, and motivation. It doesn't matter what it is. What matters is that they make some meaningful connection to what we have learned and how it applies to them. For my students, this will also prepare them for Expressions - the whole school project in winter trimester - where they choose from the four colleges (visual arts, dance, music, and creative writing/drama) and perform something based on the school-wide theme (which are chosen by the seniors and the teachers collaboratively). Students work on it all trimester, and then present it at the end.
All three of these projects take a skill, product, or process and place it in a more real-world context than the traditional assignment. For example:
- In the traditional classroom, the photo essay product would be a narrative writing assignment that the teacher would see, mark up, and return. The student would then probably throw it away. Here, we could even track the change in our students over time if we continue this project. Plus, students will have an artifact of their life in the 9th grade (or 11th for Andrew's classes).
- In the traditional classroom, class discussion process would allow the same students who always talk to dominate, and inevitably, some students with really good ideas would be left out...and absent students would miss out, as well as there being no way to open up the conversation to another class, let alone one across the country. However, by making the conversations happen on video, our students have to think through how to communicate with someone they don't know about a topic as rich and varied as literature. They have to decide how personal and vulnerable they want to be, and they have to think about how their audience will view them. They have to dig deep into analysis because if they don't, they let their partner (both in the classroom and across the country) down. It also helps them engage in a format that has only gotten more popular - video blogging - and is a legitimate form of communication in the world now.
- In the traditional classroom, the skill of demonstrating knowledge would be taking a test. Students could guess, or cheat, or have a bad day and miss questions they would have otherwise known. But by making it artistic (particularly at an arts high school) and creative, students are forced to think differently, and wrestle with all the concepts and ideas we've studied. They have to determine which is most important and how to express their understanding most clearly. Plus they will get to see what the other members of their class create...unlike the grades on a test that become meaningless seconds after the student shoves it in their backpack or throws it in the trash.
And none of those required a single homework assignment (okay, most students took the pictures outside of class. But many did it during the time given in class). And all of them are fun and challenging and "real-world" applicable.
For those reasons, I'm learning to embrace project based learning. If what PBL is, at its core, focuses on making the skill, product, or process more relevant, then I can't see how it's a bad thing.
Think I'm wrong about PBL? Want to talk about examples? Leave a comment. I'd love to figure out how to make PBL better, or why I'm wrong to call this PBL so I can find a new term to try out. :-)