Monday, July 7, 2014

End of School Reflections Part 2: Project-Based Learning

This is a continuation of a week-long series of posts reflecting on the 2014-2015 school year, and directions for next year. Previous posts include:

End of School Reflections Part 1: Flipped Learning

Project-Based Learning
I was sold on the importance of Project-Based Learning a while ago, but this past year was the first time I really researched it and thoughtfully designed projects. I was able to fit two major projects into the Biology classes. One project was about food webs, energy pyramids, and populations. The other was about immunity. In both cases, the students had choices for their project topics and the format of the final product. I tried to embed the unit targets into the projects as well. Finally, there was an authentic audience for each project.

Result: These projects were a good opportunity for students to direct their own learning. But for some, this was challenging. Time management and motivation were a problem for a handful of students. Even though there was student choice in the projects, some students still didn't seem very interested in their projects. Maybe I need to incorporate more student choice?

The projects tended to drag on forever because the students had limited research skills. When I decided to let the students choose how they would create their products, I thought I would see all sorts of creativity. Although some students completed products that were really inventive and learned new skills to create those products, others just wanted the easiest route to get the project done, which meant they fell back on what they knew: posterboards and Power Point presentations. I created a rubric for grading the projects, but I feel like it still needs to be clearer so that students have a better idea of what quality work looks like.

There were some projects that never had an audience because of time issues. Again, despite all of these wrinkles, I need to remind myself of the great things students did: creating YouTube videos, designing websites, hand-drawn children's books, stunning infographics. With a few changes next year, I hope to get a few more students to that "great" level and a few more projects completed.

Actions:  First, I'd like to incorporate a day at the beginning of the year to teach students how to be productive and efficient researchers. I'm considering breaking the large projects I did this past year into smaller projects to help with time management a bit. Also, I may take away Power Point presentations and posterboards as options for products, unless the students can explain to me how they will use them in a different way. I want to incorporate more peer assessment throughout the projects. Also, I'm going to look at connecting my students with larger projects that are already happening in the "outside world," such as those found at Challenge Based Learning and the Center For Interactive Learning & Collaboration. I took pictures of all the student projects this year, so I now have work exemplars to use next year.

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