Back in 2013 Bianca and I ran Project Learning Swap Meet (PLSM) at the Powerhouse Museum, or as one of my students says, “AKA The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS).” This was a whole day of professional learning for primary and secondary teachers from all sectors, as well as academics, on Project Based Learning and how to design and implement authentic projects for students to engage in. Basically the ins and outs, the dos and don’ts of PBL.
As part of PLSM we were lucky enough to have a couple of Skype conversations with Tait Coles from the UK and Suzie Boss from Portland. Tait told us about some of the awesome concepts and philosophy behind Punk Learning, and Suzie shared her ideas about authentic Project Based Learning and some of her experiences of seeing it in action. During our conversation with Suzie, she spoke about service learning (an educational approach which combines student learning experiences with public service) and the 3 As of Project Based Learning. These are:
Awareness – through engaging in Project Based Learning, students raise public awareness about some local or global issue or problem that needs addressing.
Action – through engaging in Project Based Learning, students take action in order to solve or help to solve a local or global issue that needs addressing.
Advocate – through engaging Project Based Learning, students advocate for a particular cause.
After discussing the 3 As with Suzie, I was massively inspired, but still couldn’t really see how they could be achieved effectively within a classroom setting.
Enter the 5L Ocelots.
Over the last few years my class Minecraft projects (that’s Minecraft the actual game, not the super lame ‘Education Edition’ offering from Microsoft) have kind of been building (pardon the pun) on from one project to the next. Our Minecraft world has kept expanding as we keep adding more and more interesting builds along with each project. This is all pretty well documented so I won’t go into any great detail, if you want to know more about our Minecraft work, just scroll through some of my earlier posts.
I will however quickly mention #Project360.
Last year my class researched some of Taronga Zoo’s ‘legacy species’ of endangered animal from around Australia and south-east Asia. After researching the animals, their threats, and some of the things that we may be able to do to help the animals, my students built an endangered animal conservation park in Minecraft and made video tours of each enclosure which were recorded using the Replay mod and rendered in 4k 360º, uploaded to YouTube and can be viewed in 360º using Google Cardboard or some similar headset. We also put on a cinema day at the school and raised $150 for the World Wildlife Fund.
Now this was great, and you might already say that the 3 As of Project Based Learning were already enacted as part of this project – students raised awareness of the plight of the animals by making interesting videos and sharing them on social media, they took action by putting on a cinema day and raising funds to help save the animals, they advocated for sustainable living practices and other ways that we can each do our bit to help keep these creatures alive. However, things get even better.
Our work as part of this project saw us get an invite to the Young Creators Conference at the MAAS to showcase this work and some of our more recent VR work with the HTC Vive. We set up our Minecraft server at the museum along with a Vive, and we also brought along some Google Cardboard headsets so visitors could view our videos and explore our Minecraft world by playing the game and also experiencing it in VR. It was a great day.
During the event we were lucky enough to meet one of the national managers of the Stockland shopping centres who invited us to run a similar showcase at their Merrylands centre. We agreed and just this Thursday my students and I set everything up at their local shopping centre and ran a similar showcase for the public. It was really awesome.
Between 5 – 7pm, as customers went about their Thursday night shopping, my students invited them in to a little enclosed area just outside Woolworths to check out our work, to watch our videos and experience our work in virtual reality. We had interest from people as young as 5 and as old as 50. My students raised awareness of the plight of our local endangered animals and told customers the different ways in which we could help. They took action by conversing with parents and students from nearby local schools and other members of the general public, explaining what we were doing. They became advocates for the animals, for sustainability and sustainable living practices. They were amazing.
The event ran really smoothly and I was so impressed with how well my 10 and 11 year old students communicated with everyone and conducted themselves in such a public space. The 5L Ocelots truly rule.
I feel like I’ve finally managed to achieve the 3 As with my students, and it’s a bit of a milestone which felt somewhat vague and unachievable back in 2013 after that Skype conversation with Suzie Boss. It’s also opened up a meaningful connection with Stockland and the possibility for running further events in the future, perhaps even a holiday showcase when their centre is even busier.
After this experience, I feel that I would like to add a couple of As to the 3 As of Project Based Learning:
Authenticity – students engage authentically with community members outside of the classroom. Whilst this is a necessary component for any class project to truly live up to the ‘gold standard’ of PBL, it can’t hurt to add ‘authenticity’ to a list while we’re in the business of listing As.
Awesomeness – the learning should be awesome. You’re just going to have to take my word for it when I say it’s been awesome working on this stuff with my class and seeing how great they are at communicating their learning to the public.
I’ll put some photos below so you can have an idea of how the event looked. It’s really about getting students outside of the classroom and to realise that they do have the capacity to do things with their learning that extend beyond school. If they want to, they can change the world.