It is around the time of year that teachers start to...well do many things! Clean, plan, review, see the light....BUT! Before we can go on that wonderful vacation from forms, reports and marking.....I have maybe a few crumbs of wisdom to offer.
Over the last four years, I have slowly developed a greater capacity to reflect on my teaching year as a 'big picture'. I think I finally realized how important reviewing the year was when I knew I'd be teaching at the same school again for a second year. I had the same kids. I would be teaching similar if not the same subject areas. How could I not get into a rut of 'boring' teaching? How did I know what I was teaching was any 'good'? I wanted to 'wow' those kids next year so I decided I needed to beef up my existing stuff and determine what was worth keeping and what was not worth mine or the students' time to repeat. I'm really happy I decided to blog about my journey through PBL this year because I can go back in the archives and see how far I've come in this learning journey (and likely how little I understood in September about this massive topic).
Below are two examples of projects we journeyed through in the combined Health-Religion 7/8 class I instructed this year. Two of my favourite ones so far! This class is a challenge to say the least (40ish Jr. High students. One way too warm room. You get the picture), but the size and challenges of this class forced me to think differently about delivering material, which I am really grateful for. I needed that final 'push' to go full PBL and to just dive into it without fear.
I had taught both Health 7 and 8 before as well as Religion 7 and 8. When I began planning for this class, I asked myself "But did I teach these subjects 'well'?" I couldn't be sure if what I had done before was going to be successful so I took a risk: let's start from day 1and go full Project-Based Inquiry Style. WOW! I was so naive to think that this would be an easy task. My first challenge was to get students to jive with this type of learning. Actually, that is still a pretty big struggle for some learners in my classroom. That is something I still need more answers to: How does PBL work for those students who need more direct instruction and guidance? How can I build independent skills into the projects I make but support the students enough to take risks on their projects? I would say that the older students in my classroom (grade 8s) were able to do the inquiry-focused tasks more successfully than the younger students (grade 7s). I have discussed with my colleagues and we think that the gap between elementary and a Jr. High PBL learning environment is a lot bigger than we anticipated. SO - we need to fill that gap with independent skills...but how? when? who will do this? I still have so many questions about this going forward.
Starting a class of 40 students on the PBL journey required that my students to take risks in creating new and different projects. Gone were the days of posters, power points and boring me to tears. However, looking back, I realized that I ALSO had to take a risk in planning and implementing my class in this way. The biggest risk I had to take was to think BEYOND the curriculum. Once I could bust out of that box, I was free to create some truly awesome projects that I am really proud of. Here it is...are you ready? My crumbs of wisdom.....Do not be afraid! If you are willing to model the calculated risk-taking needed for Project Based Learning in your classroom, your students will follow your lead. Be bold. Be brave. The rewards far out weight the worrying.
Mrs. Katherine (Kate) Weber