I’ll have to warn you. This post is quite long. I didn’t intend for it to be, it just ended up that way. I ended up cutting this task in two. I’ll post about the other four elements later.
I’m not much into the word ‘reflection’ as a descriptor of the process of evaluating how things have been going.
Maybe it’s because I’ve heard the word used so many times at university and elsewhere that it seems to have been ‘watered down’, not as meaningful as perhaps originally intended, or maybe it’s because I’m a cynical bastard who wants to pick things apart. I do think however, that if we are actually intending to add some purpose to the process of what many call ‘reflection’, we should be doing more than simply looking back on past events, revisiting them, seeing what happened. We should be evaluating what went well and what didn’t, with the intent of utilising this insight to increase the likelihood that similar events will have better outcomes in the future.
I hasten to add that this evaluative process is probably what most people are doing when they speak of ‘reflection’. But I stand by my assertion that reflection is not strong enough a word.
Insomuch as it might seem a mere matter of semantics, I reckon the word ‘evaluation’ is better, and that’s what I’m going to use from now on.
I recently completed my second prac, a month-load of fun up at North Star Public School. Whilst there, my supervising teacher (the awesome Michael Sky), the class (The Phenomenal 15) and I worked together on ‘Project Awesome’ – a PBL project on life stories.
The purpose of this post is to evaluate (reflect on) how that project went. As part of this evaluation I’m going to assess how well the project was able to achieve, or approach achieving the 8 essential elements of PBL as provided in this checklist here by the BIE.
1. Significant content
When we first started planning this project, Michael and I were unsure whether or not we had significant content covered. However when I revisit some of the stuff that the 3456 kids did, I become more confident that #projectAwesome13 had significant content at the core of its focus.
To begin with, this was a project focused on the NSW English Syllabus and, whilst I’m satisfied that students were able to achieve the intended syllabus outcomes of the project, I think that they learned more than that.
For example, I consider skills such as extensive planning and working toward a deadline as important skills for primary aged children to learn, and even though I hadn’t necessarily considered this as much as I should have at the time of planning the project, these skills were absolutely essential for students to learn in order to get their products finished on time.
For evidence of how tough this was at times, you can look at some of my previous posts, if you want.
Admittedly, some students were better than others at this planning process and definitely need to hone their skills in this area, but I think that with additional interesting and motivating projects in future, these skills would develop quite naturally.
Also, the 3456 students connected with a year 8 class from Davidson High School as part of this project, and this connection lead them to consider the lives and perspectives of those living in a different part of Australia. There were several classroom discussions around how, despite their differences, students from each of the classes were ultimately not as different from each other as they might have originally thought. ‘Different but similar’ was a phrase that regularly came up in class.
I believe the above to be important issues for primary students to engage with and I have confidence that significant content was a strong focus of Project Awesome. Rad.
2. 21st Century Skills
I don’t think that skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication and problem solving are necessarily 21st Century skills, but I definitely agree that they’re important skills, worth practising and it’s debatable whether anybody would learn them very well in a ‘traditional’ or ‘drill and kill’ classroom.
Here are some memorable ways that I think these skills were demonstrated by the NS kids during project awesome.
Critical thinking/problem solving
We all considered important aspects of sharing life stories:
Why is it important to do so? How much do you know about your family history? How can your experiences benefit, enlighten those of others (vice versa)? What makes a life story entertaining? What are the key themes, messages of that person’s life story, what can we learn from those? How are you going to visually represent your life story? How much time will that take?
These are some of the questions that we continued to revisit throughout the project, I’d call that critical thinking.
Much of the problem solving came through students working through how to get their products completed, both through technical difficulties and keeping the process manageable within the timeframe, by the deadline.
I think that there are at least a couple of senses of the word collaboration. One sense might be ‘everybody working on the same thing, all of the time’. And if that’s your sense of collaboration, then I’d say that collaboration was not fundamentally part of #projectawesome13.
However I think that there is another sense of the word collaboration which includes working together toward some kind of common goal, a shared interest, at various times, at varying degrees of intensity, depending on what other commitments each party might have.
In the absence of shared goals, a further sense of the word collaboration might involve the shared conversations and feedback which occur as people discuss with one another what they are doing and why, and help each other toward achieving this goal by sharing their insights.
As students worked together through Project Awesome 13, the latter two senses of collaboration above were certainly part of their learning experiences.
For example, answering the DQ ‘How can we teach others about the importance of sharing life stories?’ was a goal that the class shared, revisited regularly.
Part of this process involved continual updating of a KWL table which was on the project wall at the back of the room.
Also, as the students were working on a range of products depending on choice, they tended to work together in groups based on the type of product they were creating, for example, those making their own life stories in Minecraft tended to work together in collaborative groups, as did students making ‘Draw My Life’ representations of their life stories. This was a naturally collaborative process.
Additionally, even when students were working on different products to their peers, they would often provide feedback, encouragement and direction for others’work – much in line with the latter sense of collaboration above.
So I guess I’m confident that Project Awesome included collaboration as one of its elements.
I also think that the end product of a project dictates how much collaboration takes place, there would be less collaboration on a single person PowerPoint presentation than a class garden, for instance.
I could be facetious and say that the manner in which this ’21st Century skill’ was part of/developed through/used during #projectAwesome13 ‘speaks for itself’ … but I won’t.
I’ve mentioned how students were providing each other feedback and encouragement throughout the process of developing their products. There is also the fact that at the very beginning of the project Michael and I gave the students the choice between two projects, involving slightly different DQs and products. As part of doing this we ended up discussing the difference between the two projects, and ultimately getting students to commit to completing the project which we all thought was the most challenging.
There were also some deep classroom discussions around some of the themes in The Little Refugee (the picture book we analysed throughout the project). The students connected with a year8 class at Davidson, and had several discussions via Twitter and Skype around the texts they were reading in class, their pastimes and daily life in general.
Also, the things that the students were making as part of Project Awesome were fundamentally communicative, visual representations of their life stories.
Finally, the project ended in a presentation whereby students showed their parents what they had been doing in class, with several of the students explaining some of the process to those present, including the students in years K-2! 🙂
Taking the above considerations into account, I would say that #projectAwesome13 helped students to further develop their collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving and communication – AKA ’21st Century Skills’. I would say that important elements of the Quality Teaching Framework such as substantive communication and higher order thinking were part of the above situations too.
3. In Depth Inquiry
In the checklist linked to above, BIE defines this as a process whereby “Students are engaged in a rigorous, extended process of asking questions, using resources, and developing answers”.
I’m unsure of how ‘in depth’ the inquiry was as part of #projectAwesome13, but students were definitely engaged in a process similar to the that described above.
As we read The Little Refugee students had many questions to ask about Anh Do’s experiences as a refugee and subsequent life in Australia. As we connected with the Davidson students, each group had many questions to ask of each other, many of these questions and discussions related to making connections between the texts they were reading and the lives they were living. When it came time for students to create their own representations of their life stories, there were many questions around what constituted events that might be deemed interesting enough (or not) to share, and how was the best way to do this. The students used mind maps, timelines, HTML code (when creating 6 word memoirs) in order to plan and share their stories. The creation process itself resulted in many questions, particularly around the technical difficulties that arose for some of the students.
When focusing on the DQ, there were also the discussions around certain issues and recurring themes already mentioned above.
When I say I’m not sure about how ‘in depth’ this inquiry was, I mean that I’m unsure that the DQ was looked in to at length by all of the students, however I might be a little too self-critical here. After listing some of those things I can now see that there was a lot of inquiry and learning that took place throughout the course of the project in addition to that around the DQ itself.
4. Organise tasks around a Driving Question
I’ve already discussed how Michael and I gave the students the choice between two DQs, a decision which ultimately lead them to choose the DQ that was the most challenging of the two. I’ve also mentioned how the DQ was revisited throughout the courses of the project. The DQ was also put up on a project wall which was continually updated as we completed the KWL table posted on the wall.
So perhaps my previous concern regarding how in depth students’ inquiry was in relation to the DQ is unnecessary. I can however say with confidence that #projectAwesome13 was organised around a Driving Question.
This post has ended up more mammoth than I’d intended. I’ll post a follow up with the remaining essential elements later.