I chose these two feedback results to evaluate closer. I am very pleased that those projects that were more 'rigorous' seemed to be more enjoyable to the students. Why should we be concerned with rigor in education? Well, let's look at the definition first:
"The termis widely used by educators to describe instruction, schoolwork, learning experiences and educational expectations that are academically, intellectually, and personally challenging. Rigorous learning experiences, for example, help students understand knowledge and concepts that are complex, ambiguous, or contentious, and they help students acquire skills that can be applied in a variety of educational, career, and civic contexts throughout their lives."
Rigor is that work that really makes them well...work! The projects that I believe had the MOST rigor involved were projects #1 (e-portfolios), #4 (positive life role model) and #2 (volunteerism). While students may have struggled to create and build the finishing products in these projects, what they did come out with was truly original and creative answers to our big driving questions. This is important to note: STRUGGLE does not mean FAILURE, but it can actually mean quite the opposite in Project-Based Learning. Struggle in project-based learning should really be considered part of the rigor of the project itself and important to the process of growth in project-based learning classes. As an educator, I would not say I feel particularly successful when I see my students struggling. My automatic response is to want to help them along - to solve the problem for them. As I learned early on in this year of PBL, I can not do this for them as it will totally defeat the whole purpose of the process. That is the thing - Project-Based Learning is not so much about the driving question, the formative assessments and authentic tasks, but I think it has to do more with students learning a NEW process of learning. Learning how to learn in a new way.
The students know it is beneficial to work in a pod. They get that, but they are also in junior high and sometimes self-control and focus are lacking. I was SO impressed with the mature choices they made in regards to their pod selection. Interestingly, it was almost identical to how I would have grouped them too. So what was the difference then? CHOICE is VOICE. When students were allowed to have control of their learning environment, they felt more responsible and almost protective of their pods. Family-type bonds formed among these groups faster and more authentically than if I had chosen the pods for them. Also, just to note, I reserved all right to question pod selection and all pods had to be approved through me prior to commencing a project. Questions I began asking sounded like this - "Do you think this is the best option for you? Why do you think this? What will you do if someone is off task in your group? How will you benefit from this group?". It was more of an interview than anything. Overall, student selected pod choices seemed to increase efficacy and energy with regards to our PBL classroom.
Mrs. Katherine (Kate) Weber