Sunday, November 29, 2009

Warning! PBL Classroom Ahead!

In about a week, Christine and I are going to be teaching some district teachers about using Project/Problem Based Learning in their classroom.  And as I sit thinking about what to cover, I realize that there are some caveats that need to be covered.  You see, talking about how and why is the easy part.  The difficult part is getting teachers to buy into the idea.  Because what usually happens is that teachers try one project and say they will NEVER try that again.  

So here's what I want them to know:

1. Expect noise and controlled chaos.
  • While students work on projects, they get excited.  And excited students tend to get noisy.  Expect to hear lots of loud discussion, much laughter, gasping as they finally get an idea or solve a problem, and constant calling of names as they call over their classmates to see exactly what they just discovered.
  • What can you do about it?  Set rules about noise volume, give students technological ways to talk (chat rooms are great for this), and close your door so as not to disturb others.
2. Expect your projects to take up more time than direct instruction.

  • Yes, it is true that projects take up more of your time.  And we all know time is at a premium.  However, your students will learn much more while creating and solving problems than they will by listening to a lecture, completing a worksheet or reading a text.  
  • What can you do about it?  Cut down your curriculum by focusing on the big ideas and not the small details.  For example, knowing the names and definitions of landforms in your area is much less important than knowing how people in your area adapt to the landforms in order to survive.  
3. Expect others to not quite understand.
  • I truly believe that the other teachers near our room think we do nothing but play in our classroom. When they walk by, kids are moving around, talking to each other, grabbing laptops, books, and other tools, heading off to the library, and looking for quiet spots to record or practice scripts.  From the outside, it certainly doesn't look like Christine and I are doing much teaching.  None of the preparation we go through is seen while students are working.  And often we are seen sitting with one group having a conversation.  Or even sitting on our computers checking collaborative documents and leaving messages for the students while they work.  Doesn't look the same as standing in front of the room lecturing.
  • What can you do about it?  If you really care, complain about the difficult work you do when you are in the faculty room with others. That's what everyone else does. ;) If you don't really care, close your door and keep doing what you're doing.  You really only need the support of the administration and the parents.  For them, send articles about PBL, share end products, and post work being done as a project progresses.  Share!
The more success we have with PBL, the more difficult it becomes to find reasons not to do it.  So expect noise and confusion.  Expect your schedule to be totally messed up.  And expect your students - all your students - to be engaged and learning.  And that's really all we should care about!

(If you want to know more about how to set up a project, Chris Lehmann gave a super presentation at NECC08.  Wes Fryer recorded it and you can view it here.)

Image: 'Hear for a Picture'

  'veritum dies aperit'

'The Burden of Thought'


loonyhiker said...

Of course you know that I think y'all do an awesome job! I remember when I had each of my students working individually instead of in groups and other teachers didn't think I did any teaching either. Even parents were a little concerned when they heard I didn't lecture to the whole class. Finally one of my students cleared it up to everyone by saying, " Our teacher doesn't teach - she helps us learn!" I was happy to know they felt they were learning something rather than just hearing me talk! :)

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