Reflections on my PBL

Yesterday, my class finished a project that followed the strict guidelines of project based learning (PBL). It was called "Can YOU Stop the Mongols?".  I used projects as my main learning activity through the entire year, but I haven't always followed some of the PBL essentials such as having an authentic audience.  Sometimes I prefer a low-key project that uses some of the essentials--I call this PBL-light.  However, I think the Mongols PBL went really well, but I have a secret to reveal.

I didn't have to work very hard.  Sorry. PBL is supposed to require a great deal of planning and work.  PBL instructors will tell you; its a great deal of work on the front end.  Now, I want to be clear...  I worked by butt every day in class, but I didn't have to do a lot of planning and preparation.  I started with a fun idea--something that the kids would be interested in and something that would challenge them.  Then I went over my standards.  I knew there were several that applied.  I tossed around the driving question for a while and settled on something simple and catchy.  I put together the document we used to layout the project.  All of that didn't take more than a few evenings.

The part that took the longest was making the entry event video.  I wanted a video that would really grab their attention and get them excited.  It took about about a week's worth of evenings, but now its made forever.  I finished the group member evaluation rubric and the final evaluation rubric after about a week of the kids working.  I made them both in one night.  I showed the kids this information after they finished their research and before they designed their plan. 

During class, I spent my time bouncing from one group to another--suggesting keyword searches for research, helping with technology, and asking them content questions to assess them.  For the actual grade, the kids made an individual project about some part of the plan to stop the Mongols.  Their grade came from my frequent questioning about Mongol basics, the group member evaluation rubric, and the completion of their project--we will have our final conversation on Monday about their grade.  I will go over my observation and ask them what grade they earned--I guarantee they will be right on.  After 180 days of self-assessment my kids are really good at it.  

As a group they had to take their individual project and integrate it into one presentation that displayed their plan.  Like threads into fabric, they brought all of their project into a PowerPoint, Prezi, mind-map,  iMovie, website, and a few other formats--their choice of course.  I was pretty impressed with their savvy presentations, though some groups struggled to pull the best from their individual work into a integrated project.  And I can't mislead--a few of the presentations were straight-up disasters.  

I learned that PBL doesn't need to be a stressful, meticulous, and difficult process.  You can put in a little work, make things as you need them, and improvise when you have to.  I think some people try to "over-structure" their PBL.  When the final project was presented, we had a whole-group discussion about the project.  The kids suggested things like making their own groups, giving them more structure, but probably the best suggestion was having a presentation before the final presentation.  Nearly every class agreed they would like a chance to edit their project after getting assessed and questioned by the panel.  1:1 computing and project based learning have made this a great year.  I'm not really looking forward to ending this year so much as I'm looking forward to starting all over again in August.  

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