Lee Hewes

is totes becoming a teacher…

Project-learning Swap Meet, 2013. #plsm13


Late last year Bianca and I went out for an impromptu dinner meeting with one of the guys from BIE. He was here to visit PBL school Parramatta Marist and naturally, given all the awesome that Bianca has been doing over the last few years, was interested in meeting her to talk about PBL. As is often the case, I tagged along (we tend to do a lot of stuff together). One of the things that came from the meeting was the idea of holding some kind of conference (for lack of a better word – we were thinking more like a meeting, or get together, something informal).

We left the dinner thinking of venues to hold our own little project-learning BBQ, thinking we’d kick out the elderly bridge players from Warriewood Community Hall for a day and hold the event there.

As was to be expected, the BIE have begun steps to holding the above mentioned conference – “PBL World 2013 Conference”. This is a positive thing, as such an event can only bring like-minded educators together to discuss project-learning and to learn from those who have experience in implementing it. However the cost of the proposed event, coupled with the requirement (and associated costs) of casual cover, transport, etc. make the event somewhat exclusive.

We started scheming and planning for more of a grassroots, free, DIY event that wasn’t particularly aligned with any institution, where teachers, academics, pre-service teachers, anyone with an interest in project-learning could come together, discuss, learn, connect and plan projects to implement throughout 2013 and beyond. In a sense we lucked out too, because Bianca had a prac student very much interested in project-learning, who worked at Thinkspace, Powerhouse Museum. A perfect venue for #plsm13!

You can get more info about #plsm13 here, it’s a collaborative space where project-learning idea ‘swappers’ (yes we decided to call it a swap meet, partly inspired by the Nirvana song) will continue to refine projects and share their experiences. As I’ve got this blog, I thought I’d also share my experiences of the day here.

The schedule for the day is below:


We were very lucky to have the brilliant Suzie Boss give up her time to Skype in from Florida to begin the day by answering questions that had been posted to the #plsm13 Wallwisher. Many of these questions concerned whether there is any research to demonstrate the effectiveness of project-learning. Suzie is very knowledgeable and was quick to address these concerns from the outset, discussing a few memorable studies, directing people to BIE’s research page, which has numerous links to project-learning studies.

It’s impossible to put everything that Suzie said here, but the following are some notes that I took during the discussion:

“If it sounds like I’m hedging a bit on the definition of PBL it’s because there is a huge range.”

“While you’re in the process of a swap meet, swap some definitions of PBL.”

“PBL is not that you do the learning and then you do the project as a celebration, the project is the learning, the project goes the whole way through.”

“We’re doing a project around a particular concept for a few weeks, then we’re moving on.”

“Importance of how you schedule the project to allow students to work at their own pace.”

“Some students may need help breaking the projects into smaller chunks.”

“What do I need to do today, if the project isn’t due until 3 weeks time?”

“A lot of kids have never been accountable to a team before.”

“How do we get through the process together, do we vote?”

“Think about: where are we starting? What have we done before? Where are we going?”

“Have some opening, closing, almost rituals to the day. Reflection.”

“Being really deliberate about taking the last couple of minutes to reflect on progress.”

“Sometimes you don’t think about your learning. Sometimes it gets away from you.”

“As a group, we could probably come up with 100 different ways to reflect about learning.”

“Come up with formative assessment tools together. Who can come up with the most outrageous?”

“A video confessional booth for students to reflect on their learning.”

“You don’t get the 2 on 1 dynamic in groups of 4.”

“Try to structure it so that everybody gets a piece of time over leadership of the group.”

At this point, Roger Pryor asked the following, quite important question:

“I wonder whether processes such as Groupthink get in the way of individual learning. If somebody prefers to work alone, and the goal is the best learning for that individual, does project-learning get in the way of that (and vice-versa)?”

We discussed this for a while and (I think) that the answer we came to was that these considerations should be part of the project design. If the project would be better approached from an individual perspective, then don’t make it a group project. However collaborative processes should be built into individual projects, by including peer feedback, the concept of classmates as ‘critical friends’. This is important, as there are fewer and fewer jobs left in which people work in isolation, and embedding collaborative processes into each project helps to ensure the development of ‘soft skills’.

A few final notes from Suzie’s Skype session:

“How do we get to the real world authentic stuff where students are actually making a difference in the world?” (Bianca’s question).

“The 3 As: Can this project raise AWARENESS, how can the project enable us to be ADVOCATES, to take ACTION?”

“Share stories with students and colleagues. Don’t you think our students can do this too?”

“Keep putting it out there, to have an open project. Put it out there as a possibility, see where it might lead.”

“A site called ‘What Kids can Do‘.”

“Service-learning to connect with project-learning.”

“Great idea (example of entrepreneurial success, design, advocacy, etc.)  – how would you turn this into something students can do?”

“High-Tech High has an awesome library of projects that you get some ideas from.”

OK, so they are my notes from what you can hopefully see was an amazing discussion with Suzie Boss. To learn more from her, you can check her out at Edutopia, where she is a regular blogger. We were so very lucky and grateful to have Suzie call in, what a brilliant start to the day!

Next up we had Tait Coles Skype in. Again, we were so appreciative of Tait giving up his time to talk with us. The time difference between where we were in Sydney and where he was in Leeds meant that he was awake, Skyping us at midnight, whilst it was snowing and he was in his pyjamas! Tait spoke to us about Punk Learning, why he developed it, how it works. He also spoke about his use of the SOLO taxonomy. My notes are below:

‘The crazy OFSTED system in the UK – Punk Learning is the antithesis of that.”

“QFT – Question Formulation Technique. Give topic, give students 20 minutes to write down as many questions as they can think of in relation to that topic. Then choose one question that they are going to follow up.”

“Ron Berger – culture takes time, not always easy but worth doing.”

“You might ‘lose’ your students, but hopefully others will take up the mantle.”

“It’s about getting more people to do it to be honest.”

Tait has this awesome idea of blending science with creativity – dramatic representations of the respiratory system, a chemical reactions poem.

“Students group themselves based on the questions that they want to answer.”

“My students call the ‘Extended Abstract’ in SOLO taxonomy the ‘Expert Area.”

“A simple way of getting experts in for projects is to find out if one of the parents is an expert.”

“Using the off-task moments as moments of reflection. Why are we off-task?”

‘The launch to Punk Learning is key. I spend weeks talking to my students about the attributes of a punk learner.”

“If you were to create a new language, what would it sound like?”

‘If teachers were robots, how would you design them?”

‘It’s not about numbers, it’s about philosophy, it’s about doing it right.”

“Punk Learning requires that the students have complete control.”

“If you are going to use my Punk Learning progress chart, please make sure that you modify it WITH your students, get the students to design it.”

“It’s not about copying ideas, it’s about stealing them and tweaking them.”

Tait’s blog is here, it’s awesome and very informative. I can’t wait to get into my own classroom and get my primary students designing their own Punk Learning progress chart. It’s going to be so much fun! Cheers to Tait for giving his time to #plsm13.

So that’s about it in terms of the notes I took and what I learned about project-learning from the day. There was also some discussion of the SOLO taxonomy, which looks like an excellent tool for ‘assessment as learning’, which is included in the NSW syllabus. I suppose that the major message I took from the day was that a combination of a project-learning style of pedagogy (perhaps also including something like genius hour, similar to Google’s 20% time), a formative assessment rubric (Punk Learning style), as well as an assessment for learning style taxonomy (SOLO) has wicked potential for students to own their own learning, whilst at the same time making it visible.

In addition to this, I came armed with some loose project plans, and as a result of the day I was able to make some connections which should be able to provide a reciprocal audience once it comes time to implement these projects.

We have set up an Edmodo group, designed to enable collaboration on projects, and it will no doubt help to this end. An additional goal project-learning swap meet is to document each project as a chapter of a book, which we hope to publish in collaboration with the Powerhouse Museum. Project-learning, ahoy!

Great day, awesome event, and hopefully the beginning of many to come. Please go to the above linked Weebly to check progress and register interest for future project-learning swap meets!


And here is a storify of the twitter buzz associated with the event. Too cool!

7 thoughts on “Project-learning Swap Meet, 2013. #plsm13

  1. Reblogged this on and commented:
    This is a very comprehensive wrap-up of our recent #plsm13 by Lee … it was such a great day! Hope you can come to the next one!

  2. Thanks for this Lee… really well said – I have tried to explain to a few people what the day was like, but this does it so much better! Unlike you, I didn’t make connections for a real audience that I will need for my kids – but that’s because I’m still working through ideas, and now my head is bursting with potential, I’ve got access to even more resources. I did, however, make connections with you and @tickytecky and @missjessm who helped me refine some of my ideas… truly amazing day. And I have no doubt that when I do nail down what we’ll do with year 8, that audience will emerge from the great connections with like-minded PLers. Thanks for a for a great write up!

    • Cheers, Denise. Hopefully when I get my own class we’ll be able to link projects together, which I think is really awesome after seeing Bianca’s work with Sienna’s year 2s. I think that doing that sort of thing would be great because aside from providing a reciprocal audience for each other, peer feedback, from seeing what happened in Jim’s class the kids get super motivated by connecting with other kids! 🙂

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